Camille Pissarro

Death of Camille Pissarro – November 13

collage of eyes in the shape of the U.S. Virgin Islands overlaid with the words of the poem

Camille Pissarro Visits Charlotte Amalie for the Last Time

The hills have more houses
and there are no more clipper ships
the roads curl like smoke from the missing jungle
But the sand in the synagogue is the same
and my memory of the people
the ebony lady with her water jug
she still smiles at me descending
the hill with her hand on her hip

The impressionist painter Camille Pissarro died this day in 1903 – he is not only famous as an artist in his own right, but he was also known as the “dean of Impressionist painters.” He mentored and inspired almost every Impressionist name you can think of – C├ęzanne, Gauguin, Renior, Seurat, and van Gogh. But one thing I learned about him for my history poem (I guess if I’m not writing haikus, I shouldn’t call them history haikus anymore!), was that he was born to a Jewish family in Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, in the Danish West Indies. This is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I had always associated Pissarro with France and the French countryside, so it was fascinating to read about his early life and works in the Caribbean. I visited the U.S. Virgin Islands about seven years ago and toured the synagogue in Charlotte Amalie – it is the oldest synagogue in the U.S. and the second oldest in the western hemisphere. One of the most unique features of the building is that the floor inside is overlaid with a thick layer of sand. The reason given on our tour was that the sand is in remembrance of the persecution of Jews during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal – the sand muffled the sound of worship in secret synagogues.