Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I showed up at the county courthouse promptly at 9 a.m. this morning, ready to do my civic duty along with a few dozen other people. I had to surrender my cellphone (which felt almost like I was giving away my kidney!) to the guards inside the imposing double doors of the courthouse, and I climbed the stairs to a second-floor courtroom (I'd never imagined courtrooms would be on a second floor!).

The courtroom looked like it was taken out of a TV series or feature film (I know, I know, it's the other way around), with dark wood paneling, a huge, raised bench for the judge, and wooden, church-style benches facing the judge for all of us prospective jurors and the few spectators. The judge's door, to the right side of his bench, had a glass window with the words "Judge's Chamber" inscribed on it in black, and when it was ajar I could see a large ceiling fan whirring slowly, reminding me again of some movie. The jury sat in comfy red, but oddly swiveling chairs to our left.

The first 13 prospective jurors were promptly called, and about 2 hours into the process, after the prosecution (a 20-year veteran of the law) and the defense (a 2-year newbie to the bar) had talked to them (and to us) about some of the concepts they (we) would be hearing in the criminal case they would try, the process of voir dire began. This is basically the procedure through which each side selects and rejects jurors to make up the actual jury that will try the case in a balanced way (so the prosecution and the defense both pick and choose who stays and who goes) and it's foundational to the U.S. system of trial law.

Sitting on the bench, quietly observing the process, I was taken back to my 18 months at Georgetown Law School, a time I don't remember much of because little of it was pleasant or exciting or very interesting. But, as my husband often likes to point out, I've forgotten much of what I learned in that year and a half, so it was fun to review a lot of it as I watched first the prosecution and then the defense do their thing.

Three or four jurors were excused before the deputy shuffled the cards with our names on them and, in calling it, mispronounced my name in the way many Ohioans tend to, by giving it a mid-Western twang that has little to do with its French-based spelling and which reveals to me those who can't possibly conceive of the "i" in my name rhyming with anything but "eye."

I promptly occupied the chair for the 13th (or back-up) juror, but when the judge asked me if there was any reason why I could not serve in the jury, I asked to meet him in chambers (how simultaneously cool and intimidating that was!). I heard a collective groan come up from the jury pool since everyone was eager to get the case started and every delay meant a later, and later start.

As I whined about yesterday, I felt there were many reasons for me not to have to serve that day, but when push came to shove, the reasons I gave the judge had nothing to do with my comfort but with my ability to serve impartially and well. The judge, who like everything else around us looked like a character from a movie with his well-appointed white hair, his bow tie, and his nice yet imposing demeanor, promptly excused and thanked me, after instructing me: "Say no more."

The experience, as the juror's information sheet said, proved to be a lot more interesting and revealing than I had imagined. I was truly moved by how seriously my fellow jurors took their roles and how thoughtfully they answered the questions posed to them by the attorneys and by the judge. They all really seemed to believe in the concepts of "innocent until proven guilty" and "reasonable doubt" as the standard the state had to meet. It was like a different world within those wood-paneled walls.

But, in other ways, it wasn't that different at all, since I was the only person of color in the entire room, and certainly the only non-native English speaker (as far as I could tell). So that was my experience this third time around with jury duty, but, if the past is the best predictor of future outcomes, I bet I'll get called again. Still, one woman there said she had been called to serve six times!

"The first time I was excited," she said. "But on the sixth? Not so much."

She was no minority so maybe my theory about quotas is not correct after all. Still, I hope that the next time I get called to serve I am really able to do so, although I'm pretty sure that any defense attorney worth her or his salt would get rid of me right away. Especially after she/he finds out that I did 18 months of law school and dreamed of being a federal prosecutor. That should make for a pretty quick voir dire adiós for me!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Adversarial relationships

That's what Darwin has with the squirrels, and that's what the U.S. legal system is based on, which I should know, having devoted 18 months of my life to a misguided stint in law school more than 20 years ago. And that's what I'll get reacquainted with tomorrow when I've been summoned to jury duty in my new county.

Because of my trip to Puerto Rico in early March, I was excused for the first two weeks, but for the past three I've had to call a number each Monday evening to find out if we're summoned. The dreaded message came in today's recording, which said all jurors had to be at the court by 9 a.m. tomorrow.

"It's your civic duty," I've been reminded when I've complained of being summoned as a juror in almost every place I've lived in when neither my husband nor most of my friends have been chosen, ever.

I was first summoned while I was a senior at Harvard and remember having to plead my excuse in front of the judge, who listened to my reasons (I was finishing my honor's thesis and studying for my honor's comps) and dismissed me without a single question or hesitation. Then I was summoned in 2005, when we lived in the big city near my small college on the hill, right before I was to do my Ph.D. candidacy exam. I wrote a pleading letter, requesting an excuse and was promptly granted one.

Here in this farm county, though, I only got excused for 2 weeks of the 5 weeks of jury duty I was summoned for in March, and only because I was in Puerto Rico dealing with my father's illness. Now that I'm back here, I'll have to see whether I can persuade the judge tomorrow that serving as an actual juror would be simply too disruptive in too many ways. We'll see.

I think there's something odd about the fact that I, a Latina, have been summoned so many times when, again, none of my closest friends (except for my wonderful friend KG) have been. I've never been summoned in Puerto Rico and I wasn't called when I lived in Washington, D.C. But this is the third time in 30 years or so that I've come up in the juror pool.

I'm not one to believe much in coincidences and would likely tend to believe that someone somewhere is thinking that, as a Latina, I fulfill some kind of quota, but I'm not sure why I should have to bear more of a civic burden than most everyone else.

While it is a very important service, and I would be glad to do my duty under less stressful circumstances, I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I'm the one who gets repeatedly selected to serve.

And, now, with my father's illness and a difficult semester that is still five weeks away from completion, this just becomes one more thing to worry about. At any rate, enough whining. We'll see how it goes tomorrow. I'll let you know!

Friday, March 27, 2009

A love of pansies

One of my favorite moments of early spring is when pansies arrive at the nursery. Earlier this week, when I did the one-hour each-way drive to the big city so my wizard stylist could do my hair, I made an obligatory stop at Starbucks, sneaked in a quick lunch with my wonderful friend, KG, and planned a detour to my favorite nursery in search of spring pansies.

I was in luck, and found some gorgeous baskets and planters with both my preferred color pansies, the deep yellow and crimson and the purple and blue, as well as violas, the smaller version of pansies that always strike me as so friendly because of their smiling faces and sunny dispositions.

I've loved pansies ever since I saw them when I first arrived in the United States 31 years ago, in 1978. I've moved around a lot since arriving in Boston so many years ago, but every place I've lived this side of the Atlantic I've found a way to have pansies in both early spring and early fall.

These cool-loving flowers don't do well in the summer heat, so they don't exist in my tropical island and I don't really remember them much in Washington, D.C., where I lived for a few years during my ill-fated stint in law school. But everywhere chilly I've lived, they've been a faithful companion and lifter-of-spirits because of their bold colors and hardy nature. I guess their boldness and deep, impossible-to-ignore hues remind me of my beloved tropics.

Today, my husband took these gorgeous pictures so I could share them with you and I think these snapshots truly capture the simple prettiness of these happy flowers. After bringing them home earlier this week, I dusted off my flower stands and placed the pansies in front of both doors to the apartment so I could see them any which way I come home.

Pansies are hopeful little flowers, whose frost resistance allows them to brave the huge temperature swings of March in Ohio when we go from 60-degree days to 30-degree nights. This morning, there was a layer of frost on the grass when I awoke to 31 degrees but the pansies, though a bit downcast at first, perked up considerably as the day warmed and the sun came out, even if for a short while.

After the brave snowdrops and daffodils and crocuses sprout from the ground, the pansies are the next sure thing that tells me winter will soon be relegated to a bad memory, and that warmer, more welcomed and cheerier weather is just around the bend.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bald eagle, Part 2

This is my student's picture of the bald eagle we saw yesterday. The eagle, probably a female because she was so large, sat on that branch for a long, long time and was still there when we all left.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Big bird day

Today, after I'd taught my two classes, met with students for my full office hours, attended a lunch meeting and a faculty seminar, my husband and I went in search of bald eagles in an event sponsored by my small college on the hill's environmental center.

The evening was rather dreary and I suggested that perhaps we should stay and do it another time, but my husband (who works at home all day) was ready with his binoculars, rain jacket and baseball cap, so off we went. Once there, there were about 50 people waiting to be driven to the place where a nest of eagles has been spotted, and we went in the second go round after waiting about 30 minutes.

My trusty little digital camera can do many things, but it was not up to the task of photographing the beautiful bald eagle perched atop a tree through the lens of a telescope. Still, one of my first year students, who was also there, volunteered to try for a photo and got what I think is a funky, kind of Poesque picture, where the eagle looks more like a raven in a Halloween rendition.

If you look closely, you can see the eagle as a rather big black smudge on the left side of the lens. She took a much better photo with her own digital camera and said she'd e-mail me a copy, so I'll share that here when I get it.

Earlier today, while I was at my office, my husband got lucky and caught a glimpse of our elusive Pileated, who can be heard daily carpentering away at the trees or calling in its loud, monkey-like yelp.

I can't express how much I love this huge bird, with its Pájaro loco red Mohawk on its head and its Guazón-like black-stripes-over-white make-up. It's simply a treat to have it so near and so often visible.

While we enjoyed a day of big birds, Magellan continued her observational research on squirrels. Unlike Darwin, who's known to charge the window and suffer the consequences of his "shoot first, ask questions later" approach, Magellan simply sits, looks regal (if a little plump), focuses intently, and gets somewhat excited when the squirrels try to climb to the suet cage. But she gets only a very little excited, nothing that requires too much exertion or even much of a change in pose.

Except maybe a little squinting of her Caribbean-blue eyes against the sun.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

O Spring, Spring, wherefore art thou Spring?

Yesterday it was finally warm and sunny enough that we arranged our erstwhile porch furniture in the courtyard of our apartment complex and I was able to sit in my favorite rocking chair for a while to read in the sun. What a treat!

Magellan, who couldn't be more spoiled, I'll admit, also got her treat (to Darwin's jealous frustration) and spent a little time wallowing in the sun on top of her favorite outside sofa. She does honor to her Puerto Rican cat-ness by being a sun worshiper.

They are few and far between but pretty spring flowers have begun to sprout, providing some color to the otherwise still dismally brown and dessicated landscape.

However, Ohio is being true to itself and temperatures will plummet from the 70s today to the low 40s tomorrow and Friday, and we won't go up into the 60s until sometime next week.

I spent a little time outside this afternoon reading, and we even sat with Dr. S for a little while, chatting, but then the temperatures started dropping and it just got too cold to sit outside any longer.

When I arrived in Ohio, eight years ago, it snowed on March 19, 2001 and that was the first snow Magellan ever saw. It was my first snow in 13 years. At least there's no snow in the forecast for this week. We'll see what the next one brings.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The first ride

Today was warm (in the upper 50s) and sunny so, after I began the process of organizing myself for the second half of the semester, which kicks off tomorrow, my husband and I decided to aprovechar the relatively good weather. So we dusted off our motorcycle gear, and inaugurated the year with our first ride together.

Although it was a bit cooler than I like it when the bike rushes into the wind at 60-plus mph, my husband led us purposefully to the lake country in our county, which I didn't even know existed, and which isn't that far from my small college on the hill.

While the colors are still too muted to speak of spring, we did find a pair of swans in a pond that preened happily for us, and a red barn against a blue sky, which always speaks of Ohio.

When we got home, Magellan was right where we'd left her, curling up on the Turbo Ball toy that is Darwin's, but which she has now laid claim to, it appears.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We're home

This morning, we got up before dawn, said adiós to my parents shortly thereafter, turned in the rental car, and later boarded the first of two planes that would bring us back home to Ohio.

I'm always surprised when I fly over Ohio at the huge expanses of cleared, flat land, mostly farms, perfect for capturing the shadow of our plane as it approached for landing.

We traded the nightly serenade of the coquies and the reinitas for 40-degree weather, a grayish sky and denuded trees. But my husband keeps insisting that spring is around the corner.

It was very hard leaving my parents behind but my plan is to wrap up this demanding semester and fly back to Puerto Rico as soon as possible thereafter so I can spend most of the summer with my papi and my mami without having to worry about my work here.

Dr. S and Geni's favorite titi D (of the doggy bed fame) came over to welcome us back, and then Dr. S drove me to the grocery store so I could replenish a nearly empty refrigerator and pantry. She even helped me find things and placed the groceries in an orderly fashion on the check-out belt, like my mami would do (and so much better than I usually do it!). It's such a gift to have such good friends!

The cats, of course, are ecstatic that we're back and tomorrow Geni will join us and the pack will be whole once again. Classes resume Monday and I have lots to do before then, not the least of which is getting organized around here so I can, at the very least, attain some semblance of normalcy after 19 days away in my greener, bluer, warmer, sunnier and beloved native home.

Monday, March 9, 2009

From mountain to coast

This past weekend, my husband and I went up to the mountains of the town of Aguas Buenas (loosely, Good Waters), where we once considered buying a house that would've had a similar view to this. The house is now abandoned and has become a platform for a cell phone tower, and while our favorite native restaurant has changed administration and become fancier than it used to be, we were still able to sit and enjoy the view and the food, despite the tropical storm winds that buffeted us and everything around us. March is decidedly a very windy month here, too!

True to his country-boy roots, my husband loves the mountains in Puerto Rico, with their lush greenery and their very windy roads (reminiscent of his beloved West Virginia). But I'm more of a coastal area girl and I love the sea, and this is part of my very favorite view in the world, as you come up into the Old City, with the Atlantic on your right. This was a picture taken from the moving car, so it doesn't do justice to the view, but you at least get a taste of the bluest of skies mirrored by the bluest of oceans.

The tapón, or traffic jam, was so monumental yesterday that we didn't get to go up into the Old City, as we planned, and instead had to return to my parents' home. But at least I got this shot of a part of the ancient San Cristóbal fort, one of the oldest in the Caribbean. If you look carefully enough, you can see the little round top of the head of a tourist on the left hand side of the fort.

This would've been the way we would've entered Old San Juan, but if the traffic was slow getting to this point, it was almost at a standstill when trying to get up the hill. Maybe we'll get one last chance tomorrow. On Wednesday, we head back home to 40 degrees less of temperature. I'm not looking forward to that.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Days of sun and breezes

My husband arrived Wednesday (Delta has this nifty system for keeping track of a flight's status) and the next day we spent several hours in Old San Juan. He had a meeting with one of his main freelancing clients, and I took advantage of the day to purchase $150 in texts in Spanish that I can't get anywhere else for my project of turning my dissertation into a book.

But before all that, we had breakfast at our favorite coffee shop, which has been around since the late 19th or early 20th century. As we walked into La Bombonera (roughly, the bonbon shop), we found out that the Travel Channel was filming an episode of Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods." I'm not actually sure what food they would find that was bizarre there, since everything sold is quite delicious and basically derives from the Spanish and European traditions that gave us our very fattening Puerto Rican pastries, but I'll try to check out the show's website now and then to see when the Puerto Rico episode is shown.

After breakfast, my husband went off to his meeting and I walked around to my favorite haunts in the Old City. I did a little shopping and a lot of walking up and down the hilly, cobblestoned streets (very similar in their hilliness to my small college on the hill), and stopped at my favorite Starbucks (even their coffee tastes better here!). I then met up with my husband and we did a bit more walking. We'll likely return to the Old City to get a few more things before we leave next week, and to get some pictures because the tropical rain didn't allow us to take any that day.

We've been staying at my titi E's small apartment in the city, and my husband took a picture this morning of the panoramic view from the living room. It's a cozy little place that she uses when she has business in the city (she lives about 45 minutes away in a beautiful retreat in the mountains), and she generously loaned it to us for the week. The apartment is only 10 minutes away from my parents' so it's been very convenient for us and, last night, my husband even walked to a nearby store to get some groceries before we called it a day.

At my parents' home, things continue to improve each day. My father gets stronger and my mother today will go to her favorite Saturday exercise class for the first time in months. Outside, the sun shines, the sky is pristinely blue and the ocean breezes blow, reminding us that we're on an island.

Slowly, but surely, las aguas vuelven a su nivel. God willing.