Penthouse playmate

Puerto

WITH ABOUT 85 percent of one’s life lived, it’s easy to focus more on the past than the future. I tend to do this especially at 5:30 in the morning.

Two periods in my life stand out as being particularly tasty. During both I was living in the Latin world, and during both I was living with Latin women. I married the second, but not the first though I considered it.

I drank a lot.

The second, of course, is my current, third and final wife who is Mexican and was a civil engineer. The first was Argentine and was a hooker. I rescued her from a life of sin. She found work as a legitimate waitress, and we cohabited in a penthouse atop a five-story apartment building overlooking the sea in Old San Juan in the early 1970s.

Readers who’ve hung around here for a spell have heard all this before — do forgive — but the focus today is the top photo, which I do not think I’ve posted previously. I could be mistaken, but no matter.

I have the memory of a tree trunk.

I do not recall who snapped the top photo. We rarely had visitors there on the roof. There was no elevator up the five floors and the stairwell risers were not uniform, making it an arduous ascent.

We tended to go out no more than twice a day. Once was to go to work — mine at the newspaper and hers at the restaurant, both night jobs — and then there was the second descent for whatever, groceries, lunch.

The likely photographer was Luis Muñoz Lee, a good friend and the son of Luis Muñoz Marín, the “George Washington” of modern Puerto Rico. Muñoz Lee was an artist and he also worked with me on the newspaper out on the John F. Kennedy Highway.

Luis, like me, was quite taken with the Argentine who was not your typical ex-hooker. She was very bright and incredibly rebellious.

She was just 20, and we fussed a lot.

In the top photo, the door to the left was the entrance from the stairwell. The door I’m leaning against, wearing my knockout bell bottoms, was the living room door. I was just inside that same door facing the opposite direction in daylight when I snapped the photo below.

Things come back to you at 5:30 a.m. If you’re lucky, you have photos.

And if you’re really lucky, you have people who will listen to you ramble on about them 40 years later.

silvina

My Haitian vacation

Fish

WHILE WRITING THE PREVIOUS post, which was for April Fool’s Day, I went looking for a black dude in a top hat for the illustration. I did a photo search for Papa Doc Duvalier, and there it was. No surprise.

Papa Doc, a nasty piece of work, was a longtime dictator of Haiti, and he died in 1971. Just four years later, I landed, traveling alone, on an Air France plane in the capital of Port-au-Prince. I had flown there on a whim after quitting my job on the San Juan Star  in nearby Puerto Rico due to an ongoing strike.

(Thanks go out to the Communist Party for that, Red amigos.)

I was footloose, in my early 30s, and jobless with no gainful employment in sight.

I had a reservation at a guesthouse. I don’t recall how I found that guesthouse or made the reservation. It’s been a long time, and the internet did not exist in those ancient days. I took a taxi to the guesthouse from the airport. I asked the cabbie who was president, and he told me it was Baby Doc, the son of Papa Doc.

Obviously, I had done little homework before flying to Haiti.

What I recall about the guesthouse, which was very nice, is that it was painted canary yellow and had a big swimming pool. The only other guests were a couple of fellows from France prowling for underage prostitutes. One evening they invited me out on one of those excursions, but I took a pass.

I remember nothing of my room at the guesthouse. What I recall is the sunny side porch where we were served breakfast eggs while a parrot sang nearby, and I remember fresh orange juice and cut fruit.

And I remember swimming solo in the pool on warm afternoons.

Taxis took me downtown, which was not far away, and I would wander through mobs of people. Once I took a jitney to somewhere, probably just so I could say I did and write about it almost 40 years later. A nice-looking passenger offered to be my “girlfriend” for a price, but I took a pass on that too.

The tongues of Haiti are French and Creole. I speak neither, and I encountered few people who spoke English. This was a major problem, of course. I had no French-English dictionary or phrase book. At one point, I needed toothpaste, and I had no idea how to ask for it. Funny what sticks in your mind.

One thing that stuck with me was a night walk through the very center of town. It wasn’t late, 10 p.m. or so, and the unlit sidewalks were strewn with sleeping bodies, homeless people, lying head to toe. The quantity was shocking, and there I was walking among them in the dark. A dictatorship is safe.

Another day, wandering aimlessly through a shanty town, I saw the word Bar at the entrance of a small cinderblock building. I entered, sat and ordered a nice cold one. There were no trappings of a bar, and the “bartender” told me he would be right back. He vanished out onto the dirt street.

About 10 minutes later, he returned with a cold beer that he had clearly purchased elsewhere, perhaps on credit. I drank that beer and paid. I did not order another because I didn’t have all day.

Okay, I did have all day, but I left anyway.

Another day, I don’t remember when or even how many days I was in Haiti, I visited the Grand Hotel Oloffson just so I could say I had been there and sipped booze in the beautiful bar. Graham Greene set much of his novel The Comedians  in the Hotel Oloffson during Papa Doc’s terrible times.

I see the hotel has dropped Grand from its name, but otherwise it looks the same.

Yet another day I went snorkling on a coral reef, motorboated there with a bunch of tourists who looked more touristy than I did with my black pirate beard. I said nothing to them, and I remember treading water on the sea’s surface, snorkle in my mouth, looking at the sinister mountains, dark and green, in the distance.

Haiti is not a happy place. Though the colors are bright, and so are the fish in the emerald sea.

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(Note: I touched on this trip in a post I wrote years go on the now-defunct Zapata Tales.)