Terraza of San Juan

sj
View out bedroom window toward Bay of San Juan.

YOU NEVER take enough photos when you should, probably because you’re too busy doing other, sometimes stupid, things like drinking.

I have too few photos of the 16 months I lived in Puerto Rico in the mid-1970s, something I sorely regret. But plenty of memories remain. Though relatively brief, it was one of the better periods of my ever-lengthening life.

The 16 months were split into two stays, first, 11 months, later, five months. The first was cut short due to a strike at The San Juan Star, the English-language newspaper where I worked. The second ended because I saw another strike on the horizon, so I left.

The two periods were close together. Following the first strike, since I spoke no Spanish at the time, finding other employment in Puerto Rico was next to impossible, so I packed my bags and flew to Haiti. After a few days in a Port-au-Prince guesthouse, I continued to Mexico City. I had no clear plan. I was just bouncing about.

What I remember most about the next few days in Mexico City was a meal in a second-floor restaurant downtown. It came with a salad, which I had almost finished when I noticed tiny snails creeping among the lettuce leaves. They were alive.

Then I bought a sleeper on a train to Ciudad Júarez across from El Paso, Texas. At Júarez, I walked across the border, spent the night, and flew American Airlines to New Orleans, which is where I had started my Puerto Rican adventure 11 months earlier. It was there that I received word that the strike had ended.

I flew back to San Juan where my job remained available.


silvinaThe penthouse apartment where I had lived before going to Haiti was still vacant, so I moved back in. An Argentine girlfriend returned too. It was almost like nothing had changed if you ignore that she was really pissed at me for leaving her.

Initially, on my first stay, I lived in an “apartment” in Old San Juan that had been carved from a colonial building on Calle San Sebastián. There were no windows. The walls were a foot thick, and the ceiling towered 20-plus feet above. It did have skylights. The plaster shed like a light winter storm, and I woke each morning with its “snow” littering my sheets. Sweeping was a nonstop chore.

A sportswriter who owned a large home on Park Boulevard in suburban Santurce saved me. His home was square on the beach, and there was a lime tree in the backyard to garnish Cuba libres. I rented a spare bedroom, but I soon moved next door to a better bedroom in a guesthouse owned by two aging queens from New York.

Then I found the penthouse apartment overlooking the sea on Calle Norzagaray in Old San Juan. That was the sweetest of all, and it was the place I abandoned when I flew to Haiti. And the home to which I returned from New Orleans. And the Argentinian too.

The penthouse, which was very small, had a terraza that was about half the entire space. That’s the Argentinian standing on the terraza in the photo. The bedroom faced rearward to the Bay of San Juan. The terraza faced the sea.

I remember three things about that rooftop terraza. One was the hammock. Another was the small police holding cell on the first floor next door. Past that was another rooftop apartment, but one floor below me. It was where the hippie family lived.

Mom, Dad and three kids, and they often were on their roof. We would wave now and then, but we never saw each other down on the street. It was an aerial connection. I envied those kids and wondered why I had not been raised that way, footloose and free on a rooftop in the Caribbean. But I was there then, which was what mattered.

And I had done it myself.

Labor strife was boiling again at the newspaper, and I saw the proverbial writing on the wall. I found a job in Florida and flew away. The Argentine later got pregnant with a Puerto Rican waiter in the restaurant where she worked. I never saw her again.

norzagaray
Calle Norzagaray as it looks today.

(Juicy details: The visit to Haiti is touched on here. More on the Argentinian here. A drunken night painfully barefoot in San Juan here. An unrelated night here in a brothel. The rented room in the home of the two New York queens where there were nonstop shenanigans of a sexual nature.)

18 thoughts on “Terraza of San Juan

    1. Don Guillermo: Thanks. I enjoyed writing this. When I started, I found I did not remember lots of the timeline and other parts, but as the day drew on it started falling into place in my mind. I do not have a real good memory, and it surprised me that I did remember some seemingly inconsequential details, such as using American Airlines to fly from El Paso to New Orleans. Why on earth would I remember the specific carrier from 45 years ago?

      It was a very interesting section of my life.

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    2. Don Guillermo, P.S.: The Argentinian, whose name is Silvina, was deported back to Buenos Aires with her baby. She now has two or three more kids, and she runs a couple of taxis in Buenos Aires. She has a Facebook page. She didn’t age well though she was quite hot when she was 20. I have a number of photos of her, one shows us both standing under a light at night on the penthouse terraza. It reeks of the 1970s. I was wearing bell bottoms, for God’s sake.

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  1. A great read Felipe, as always, I didn’t take enough pics years ago, and lots of the ones I did take are lost somewhere or with an ex-wife. I’m thinking those are lost now too.

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    1. Kirk: Thanks, and as far as photos being left with an ex-wife, I think you can kiss them bye-bye. I left many with my last wife too, and now I wish I had them back.

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    1. Ricardo: I wrote this in large part for myself because my memory of that time was/is fading. Concentrating on it brought lots back into place and perspective. It was a mental exercise, plus it was a really fun time.

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  2. As always, a tale well told.

    I have been digging through some old photographs to do just as you mentioned — to capture some memories before they entirely fade. I do have another motive, though. I am getting tired of reading and thinking about the virus.

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    1. Señor Cotton: I’ve decided to let the Kung Flu do whatever it’s going to do as I go about my life while exercising common sense. That’s been my approach since May 10.

      I enjoyed writing this post even though I left quite a bit out to not drone on excessively. I shipped a motorcycle down at the get-go, and I sold it before leaving the first time which left me without wheels when I returned. Just as well because the penthouse did not come with parking and leaving a bike out on the street overnight would have been nuts. I had a second girlfriend, Mary from Brooklyn, who was so taken with me that after I finally landed back in New Orleans — the Florida gig only lasted a couple months — she followed me there with her damn cat and moved right in. I do not remember now how that relationship ended, but end it did.

      Ah, the memories.

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  3. There is a temptation to live in the past. But, I noticed that when people do, they only remember the good things. Sometimes it really helps to forget other things. My kids say it will always be 1955 in our house.

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  4. Though I was but a lad in the ’70s it seemed problematic at the time. We had Watergate, inflation, gasoline lines, a severe recession, the ever present threat of annihilation from the Soviets, and polyester. Yet from today’s perspective, it seems almost idyllic, given the horrors we face today. And the idea that a newspaper writer could afford to live in such a fabulous place also seems like a relic of the past.

    Thanks for a bit of momentary escapism. I need it.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where it suddenly occurs to us that we simply have too much accumulated crap to make a hasty escape.

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    1. Kim: There were problems in the 1970s, of course, but I was having a good time! The newspaper writer to whom you refer, I’m guessing, is the sportswriter. Truth be told, now that I think on it a bit more, I’m not sure if he was the owner or a renter. In any event, it was a spectacular place. My penthouse rented for about $100 a month, if memory serves, and I think it does.

      Lots of accumulated crap? Time to get busy. Cull down significantly. You’ll feel freer, and you will be freer. You never know when rampaging “protesters” will start battering down your door — peacefully, of course — there in Boston.

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      1. I am actually working on getting rid of stuff. Today I started work on my semi-abandoned motorcycle, a 2004 BMW Boxercup Replica. I haven’t ridden it since 2013 and I need to sell it. I bought a battery, but discovered that there is some rust in the filler neck part of the gas tank. I’m hoping I can get it cleaned up so that it doesn’t clog the fuel injectors.

        And yes, I’m seriously thinking of moving on, though I’m a little nervous about the prospects of CDMX as the current global depression winds on.

        I’m also as close to gun ownership as I have ever been, given that I live in a house that would be EXTREMELY easy to break into by a mob. And with scores of U.S. mayors seemingly on the side of miscreants rather than solid, tax-paying citizens, I’m not sure I can count on the police if things get dicey.

        We’re living in scary times.

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        1. P.S. In terms of renting in a nice locale, no. I’m referring to you. Could a newspaper writer today afford a room in such a nice spot? My sense is no. Though I don’t have data on this, it seems like you, in your youth, were able to live on a shoestring in places that now require pretty good incomes to even consider renting a room in.

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          1. Kim: I was an editor not a writer. That’s what confused me. What I was being paid at the San Juan Star was quite good by Puerto Rican standards of the time. It was union wage even though I never joined the union, and they never asked me to. I’ve never been in a union anywhere. As for current prices there, etc., I have nary a clue.

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