The Upper class can lack class at times.. no matter what country they come from.
Pumping Iron on Two Sides of Haitiâ€™s Class Divide
By MARC LACEY
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti â€” The grunts are no different. The clang of the weights sounds pretty much the same as well. And sweat drips off bodies at both the high-end Goldâ€™s Gym in Port-au-Princeâ€™s priciest suburb and at the far more humble open-air workout joint farther down the hill, known by regulars as the Temple of Pain.
But these two gyms might as well be in different worlds, situated as they are on opposite sides of the class divide that has long been such an entrenched part of Haiti.
â€œSomeone at Goldâ€™s would laugh at this place,â€ said Julien Spencer, 34, a burly bodybuilder who was lifting weights last week at the Temple of Pain, where the machines are made from scrap metal, car batteries and disassembled car engines, a testament to Haitian ingenuity. â€œHeâ€™d take one look at what we have and walk away shaking his head. Heâ€™d say weâ€™re crazy, lifting with all this garbage while they have their fancy machines and air-conditioning.â€
Mr. Spencer, who used to work as a trainer at Goldâ€™s, said he still remembered the first time he walked in there and looked around. His heart was beating fast, he said, and it had nothing to do with cardiovascular activity.
He could not believe all the luxury around him. What particularly caught his eye, he said, were all the electronic exercise machines, with lights and buttons and beepers. None of that is practical in his working-class neighborhood because the electricity goes off all the time.
â€œThose machines are great there, but I feel more comfortable here,â€ he said at the open-air workout pit the other day. â€œI like the vibe. My muscles prefer these homemade machines.â€
His remarks are tinged by the fact that he was recently fired from Goldâ€™s, after he argued with the management over his salary. He also had a problem with some of the clients he encountered, not the foreigners so much as the well-heeled Haitians, who he said were used to being waited on hand and foot. When he would remind some Haitians to put the weights away after they were finished, they would sometimes react with scorn. â€œTheyâ€™d say, â€˜Iâ€™m paying you for that,â€™ â€ he said.
And although he finished fourth in a recent bodybuilding competition in Haiti, Mr. Spencer did not dare advise ornery clients on their workout technique. â€œRich people think they know more than me about everything,â€ he said. â€œTheyâ€™ll get mad if you point out that they are holding their elbows wrong.â€
Technique is one thing that does not change based on the neighborhood â€” even though the free weights at the Temple of Pain are made from the lead from car batteries, and people have to stand on a chrome fender salvaged from a wrecked car to reach the pull-up bar.
Although class divisions are firmly drawn here, Port-au-Princeâ€™s power lifters note that income does not matter much when it comes to muscle mass.
â€œYou can have all the money in the world but you canâ€™t buy a body,â€ Mr. Spencer said, his pockets empty but his arms overflowing from a tight-fitting shirt. â€œThat makes me feel good. If the rich guys could buy fitness, they would buy it. Theyâ€™d leave us with nothing.â€
Robert Volcy, known as Junior, a four-time Mr. Haiti who grew up in a rough downtown neighborhood but now works out at Goldâ€™s, said the class lines of Port-au-Prince meant little to him. He now lives up the hill and works there as a sports promoter, putting on bodybuilding competitions that he says he hopes will demolish the stereotype that all Haitians are scrawny.
â€œI started out at a little hole-in-the-wall gym,â€ Mr. Volcy, 33, said, showing off biceps more ample than his questionerâ€™s thigh. â€œThose humble gyms are where I started, and I still donâ€™t think they are beneath me.â€
In fact, Mr. Volcy still goes back to them sometimes when he wants to get away from the networking at Goldâ€™s, where aid workers, diplomats, peacekeepers and elite entrepreneurs exercise and hobnob, and Haitiâ€™s poverty seems far, far away.