Thursday, January 21, 2010

Alexandra Duguay

Alexandra Duguay was a spokeswoman for the United Nations. For the past seven months, she had been living in Haiti with her boyfriend Marc-André Franche, an aid worker also employed by the U.N.

I met Alexandra and Marc-André two summers ago at a party thrown on the rooftop of their beautiful residence in Manhattan's Financial District. At the time, Alexandra had still been working as a U.N. press officer in New York. I'd been invited to attend the get-together by my friend Thoma, but wasn't acquainted with anyone else who was booked to be present. Cut then to me, lugging one or two contribution bottles of red wine in my satchel-thing for blocks and blocks. It was really sweltering out, glasses-down-the-nose hot. So, obviously, when I showed up at the designated address and rang the buzzer — and subsequently was greeted by the host, a beautiful Québecer woman-in-red-dress — I felt like a total asshole, very wet-towel-slapped, and certain the impression I was exuding matched that of any thirtysomething deciding to revisit the college swim-test on a lark. And yet: no break of cool from my host — she, Alexandra, couldn't have been more gracious. As Ms. Duguay ushered me inside and started commiserating re: the heat (sensing, I sensed, that I felt I was personally looking pretty shit and haggard), it was apparent that her sense of hospitality and sympathetic instincts were, in equal parts, enormous, and as the night wore on her poise and intelligence also made lasting impressions. The same applied for Marc-André. I remember being stationed near the laptop while he diligently YouTube-searched for footage of Serge Gainsbourg's 'incident' with Whitney Houston on French TV in the '80s — after that, for clips of SG's defiant recitation of "La Marseillaise"/"Aux armes" before that unwholesomely FN-populated crowd. I recall too that after the videos went off, Marc-André and I spoke for a little while about L'Homme à tête de chou — which was nice, as he's the only person I've ever met who not only knew what it is, but knows it. Needless to say: we hit it off. And although I haven't spoken to Marc-André, or Alexandra, since then, I'll remember that night for its beautiful atmosphere, a molecular sense of camaraderie, and the fact that there I came into first-contact with two dear-to-this-day-friends in Danielle DiGiacomo and Tina Rodriguez.

Two nights ago around 12am local time, after a nearly seven-day search, Alexandra's body was pulled from the rubble of the collapsed U.N. headquarters at the Christopher Hotel in Port-au-Prince. I've read that rescue workers said she was likely killed instantly in the tremor's upheaval. Small consolation, and maybe hardly any at all when I think about Marc-André's working across more than six days at the U.N. site to recover the woman he loved and lived for, who might have been either dead or alive — his persevering in the effort with the single-mindedness that is all that can, and must, exist. Until the end, and the full, the total, disaster.

Over the last week, those who were close to Alex and Marc-André and their families — and those like myself who had only known them at the distance of acquaintance, never thinking there was any 'finality' to the last time we'd passed one another by (surely there'd be more occasions for catching-up) — kept continual vigil at a page on Facebook that was open to the public, refreshing it every couple of hours or minutes for news on the Wall conveyed by Marc-André in Haiti to Alexandra's mother, resilient, determined... Her mom delivered the final news a few hours after the recovery.

1,500 people became members of this Facebook group as a show of solidarity with Alexandra, her loved ones, her family — and it's impossible to say just how many thousands more both on and off Facebook have viewed the page across the last week. These figures reflect the grief surrounding one individual, the life knocked out of her body, crumpled, by the quake. — There are 200,000 like her.

The numbers and the stories are a dumb-show for the dead, and they are a bitter poison for the living.

Mais c'est l'aimée non tourmentée. L'aimée.

L'air et le monde point cherchés. La vie.

—Etait-ce donc ceci?

—Et le rêve fraîchit.


My friend Danielle, mentioned above, sent a note around the other night regarding Alexandra which I've asked her to share here.


As many of you know, I lost a wonderful friend in the horrible tragedy that was the earthquake in Haiti. Alexandra Duguay was an amazing woman I met two years ago, when I was her teacher at NYU Continuing Education. She was brilliant and passionate and hard-working; my star student. But she also immediately became a good friend. She was open and generous and wonderful and beautiful. She took me to the U.N. for drinks, for parties, to her apartment for a barbecue with her incredible boyfriend, who also worked at the U.N. They were a truly madly in love, adorable couple who were incredible, full of life people. He would pick her up from the U.N. on his Vespa every day, and they would cook and train for the marathon at night.

The last time I saw her, she was volunteering her time to help me research the documentary about Cambodia that I am now producing. She told me she and her boyfriend were moving to Haiti, because they felt working at the U.N. in New York was ineffectual and they reallly wanted to make a change. That was about 7 months ago, and it was the last time I saw her.

I have been devastated to lose such an incredible person; but she is one of more than 200,000 people to have been lost to such a senseless tragedy. So it is in Alexandra's honor that I have set up a charity page to help all the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. It's what she would've wanted.

To donate, please click here:

Donate to Haiti – In Honor of Alexandra Duguay.

And for more about Alexandra, here is her Facebook tribute page:

Hope for Alexandra Duguay.



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