Terraza of San Juan

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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.

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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.)

Crackers, peanut butter & Coke

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NOW THAT I do not have a family anymore, the original one, the one I was born into, I think about them fairly often. I miss them a lot.

Downstairs yesterday evening, alone and sitting on the scarlet sofa, reading the Kindle, I got hungry, so I stood up, and walked into the kitchen for a handful of unsalted peanuts, which I brought back to the sofa where it was comfortable.

Incense was burning, and the light was low.

My mind traveled from the peanuts to peanut butter and then onto crackers and Coke. That’s what my paternal grandparents, who were born in the 19th century, packed for road trips in the 1950s in their Chevrolet. They were in their 60s at that point.

When they arrived from Atlanta to our North Florida home, they’d still have some of those snacks in the Chevrolet, and then later, when they packed to head home, Grandmother would make more and bag them. They’d buy Cokes along the way.

My paternal grandfather owned a small general store during the Great Depression, and they survived fairly well, much better than many folks. My mother’s people who were farmers also weathered the Depression better than most due to growing their own food.

My mother’s parents owned Fords, but they never made trips, ever, which was different from my father’s people who were quite fond of driving about. Since my mother’s parents did not travel, I don’t know what they might have favored for road snacks.

It was not until last night that the fact that my maternal grandparents did not travel at all dawned on me. Maybe farming keeps one close to home, feeding the cows, plowing the fields, but I think it was more a matter of personality.

My mother’s father died when I was 12, and even then Grandmother tended to stay put. We visited her, not the other way around. Maybe she intuited something.

During a rare visit to our home in New Orleans a decade after she was widowed, she tripped and fell one night, was hospitalized, went downhill and slipped into death.

Her last trip. Hundreds of miles from home. She was 81. My favorite grandparent.

Funny where a handful of peanuts on a cool evening will transport your mind.

First day of fall

AUTUMN’S ARRIVED, and it’s still raining. I shot the video yesterday from the bedroom. Yesterday also was my child bride’s birthday. She turned 59 though she still looks 40.

One more year, and she can get Mexico’s Old Folks Discount card, which I’ve had for years. That gets you into museums, etc., free most of the time, but its best feature is travel discounts, often 50 percent. The two of us will be able to use buses and planes for the price of one. Of course, we almost never use buses or planes, but we may rethink that habit.

Our last flight occurred in 2013. A trek to Mérida.

Just before that, 2012, a trek to Havana.

Nothing since, at least by air.

We celebrated the birthday with a lunch out and have a trip planned to Querétaro next weekend to continue the birthday festivities a full week. Among the thrilling activities planned for Querétaro will be a visit to the new H.E.B mega-supermarket which has traveled down from Texas. Perhaps we’ll see some Lipton tea.

Querétaro is one of Mexico’s best cities.

The rainy season has about a month to go, although it could stop on Oct. 1 as it did one year. Normally, however, it drags on into October and sometimes dumps rain on the eve of the Day of the Dead just to be annoying and muddy. Hope not.

Back from the chaotic capital

WE RETURNED Wednesday via bus from Mexico City.

After spending four nights in our condo.

There is good news, ecstatic news for me. We rented the place to a nephew who started this week at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, a prestigious university that’s difficult to get into.

Our condo is walking distance from the school.

The not-so-good news is that his family views rent as money wasted, so they will be looking for somewhere to buy.  How soon we do not know. We may sell them our place. I hope so. I have left that decision to my child bride.

I vote a resounding yes. She, on the other hand, holds the typical Mexican view that one should never sell property under any circumstances whatsoever.

But she does see the inconvenience of its being in Mexico City.

It seems every visit to the nation’s capital is worse than the previous, traffic-wise. A friend who lives there says that each time a new thoroughfare is constructed, a new subway line opens or a Metrobús route is inaugurated, congestion just gets worse instead of better.

The young tenant and his mother arrived by bus on Wednesday, dumped a ton of baggage in the condo, and spent the night in a nearby hotel. The following morning, we left town, and they moved in.

She won’t be staying. Just him.

So, as things stand, our twice-yearly visit to air out the condo, chase the bugs away, and mop up dust is now canceled. May it ever be so.

I shot the video on our way back. There were only six other people in the two-decker ETN bus. It looks empty because it mostly was.

A few months back, I decided to never visit San Miguel de Allende again. I hope to make the same vow for Mexico City. Other destinations call and, of course, it’s ever spectacular here on my Mexican mountaintop where we live in peace.

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(Note: In the middle of the return trip, the bus was stopped by immigration agents, and the passengers were asked for identification. They were looking for illegal aliens, of course. It was a first for me and, strangely, we were in the middle of Mexico. It was akin to being in Kansas. I flashed my official, laminated, full-color, photo-included voter ID.)