"I had meant to read Graham Greene's novel The Comedians before I got to Haiti," says Ron Fimrite, "but I had about 15 pages to go and I thought I'd just finish it on the way. I was talking to Don Delliquanti about it when this woman behind us on the plane said, 'My God, they won't let you take that into the country! They consider it anti-Haitian literature.' I had visions of getting off the plane and going straight to the pokey, but I decided to brazen it out. Fortunately, we got through Customs in a matter of seconds, and the whole time we were in the country we saw no police or military forces to speak of."
Fimrite, Photographic Assistant Delliquanti and Photographer John Hanlon were in Haiti to learn about Haitian-sewn baseballs for the story beginning on page 24. Fimrite was to write the story, the others to provide the pictures from which Artist Michael Ramus would work. Their arrival was announced on page one of Le Nouvelliste, Haiti's oldest newspaper: SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FAIT UNREPORTAGE SUR HAITI. With fame thus thrust upon them, our men proceeded to act accordingly.
In Port-au-Prince they bunked in the John Gielgud Suite at the Grand Hotel Oloffson, aptly called the Gingerbread Palace and the setting for Greene's "subversive" novel. "Typical tropical splendor," Fimrite says. "We entertained nightly on our veranda. I liked it so much I'm going back for vacation on my own money."
Hanlon was so taken with the paintings on the walls that he bought one on the spot. Fimrite followed suit but reports, "My wife rejected it immediately and put it in storage. She said it looked as though it had been painted by numbers. And I was sober when I bought it," he adds gloomily.
August 26, 1973
As it turned out, Fimrite & Co. were not always so sober. On the following day the group took a midafternoon tour of a local rum distillery, a tour including all the free rum one could drink. Between the three of them they managed to conscientiously work their way through all 17 liqueurs—coconut, mango, hibiscus, mint, etc. How much did they drink? Fimrite says, "I did my best." Delliquanti says, "More than I've ever had in a concentrated dose." Hanlon was unavailable for comment. But what they do all remember is the bathing suit Delliquanti bought on the way back to the hotel.
"I suddenly realized I had come to Haiti without anything to swim in," he says. "It was hot, and we could hardly wait to get into the hotel pool." By then it was 3:50 p.m., and the shops were going to close in 10 minutes. Racing down the road ("The goats and children were flying every which way," Fimrite says), they made it to a store in time for Delliquanti to purchase his bathing costume.
"It was horrible," Fimrite says. "Black in the back; black, white and powder-blue in the front." Mrs. Fimrite would no doubt have burned it instead of merely putting it into storage. But Delliquanti thought it looked fine, "at least at the time," he says. Back at the hotel he put it on—and went to sleep on the bed.
Fimrite says taking a nap was the best possible thing to do in that bathing suit.