Tuesday, February 28, 2012

All good things...

On Saturday morning, we returned the little Fiat 500 that we rented Friday to attend the commemorative event for my father, returned the keys to the tiny studio at the beach that we called home for three weeks, and my mom drove us to the airport for the two flights back to our colder but much-missed (by me) home.

While I am not much of a traveler, and while I will never again spend so much time away from home (we've discovered that a week and a half is my maximum), I can still appreciate the unique sights that traveling offers, sights that would be missed if not for the experience of traveling.

The photo above, which is not very good, captures a glorious sunset as our plane approached Ohio on the descent with the canopy of cumulus clouds just right below us.

I am very happy that we spent those three weeks in Puerto Rico. Not only was the time ridiculously productive for my Whiting purposes (one book chapter written, another chapter for an edited collection revised and submitted to the editors, the talk I will give at OSU this Friday on the book project finished, conceptual and drafting work on the final chapter of the book started, and syllabuses for the fall drafted) but my husband and I really enjoyed our simplified lives, especially the long walks on the beach in the mornings. I also really appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family in ways we had never had a chance to do before.

We're also sold on the Vacation Rentals By Owner idea and don't foresee ever returning to a hotel if we have that option. Indeed, I've even looked into the possibility of renting a studio in Cambridge when I return in May for an exhibit on Louisa May Alcott. The short-term rental of a fully furnished and functional studio will be a fraction of the cost of any hotel near the library where I will do my work.

Fun was fun but fun is done and I'm so glad to be back home with my furry children, though that means I don't have as much uninterrupted time (since there's always puke or pee or poop or a combination of all to clean or be concerned about). Being home is sweet precisely because that's where the matters of the heart are both work and joy.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Celebrating JMGP

During our last full day in Puerto Rico, we drove our rented Fiat 500 to the University of Turabo for a commemorative event in remembrance of my dad's legacy as a scholar of postcolonial and cultural studies and as a professor.

The event was held at the García-Passalacqua-Acosta Reading Room at the university's library, which now holds almost 4,000 of the books my dad collected over his lifetime, most of which are underlined and commented on and have a summary of themes with page numbers written on the first page, all in his own hand.

I was one of the invited guests who said a few words about my dad's work and, while it seems like I'm singing opera in this photograph, I really enjoyed sharing my understanding of how my dad changed the scholarly landscape in Puerto Rico.

Most important, my mom was very pleased with how the event went, especially because all those present remembered something special about my dad as a teacher and life-long student himself.

There are now plans to hold a three-day seminar in the summer on postcolonial and cultural studies and they've invited me to come and give one of the sessions. This means the world to me, not only because I will be keeping my dad's important legacy alive, but also because it gives me the chance to give something back to students and teachers in my own country from which I am usually so far far away.

This was a lovely way to end the three weeks we've spent here, which have been amazingly productive.  I have been able to finish and/or begin on all the scholarly and work-related projects I had on my "to do" list and I've been able to reconnect with lots of friends and family (and even my 10th grade English teacher!), who I hadn't seen in a long long time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

¡Feliz cumpleaños, papito!

 On my dad's 75th birthday today, I was invited to a radio program to discuss his contribution to postcolonial and cultural studies, the fields I teach at my small college on the hill, and I had a blast.

I haven't been on a radio program since the days when, as a journalist here, I had to host the local Overseas Press Club's show on Sunday mornings, to which my dad was a regular visitor, especially when other guests canceled and I was left with empty air time. On those times, and I know there was at least one or two, I'd call him and he would gladly meet up with me and we'd have a great time discussing the recent news. Good memories, indeed.

After the radio program, we drove on our rented Fiat 500 (probably the car I'll replace my trusty Scion with in a year or two) to Old San Juan, where I lighted a candle in honor of my dad's birthday. I've been meaning to do that for a long time but never seemed to remember or find the right time to do so in previous trips here. But my husband and I made a point to do that today, and I was very glad we did so.

I placed the candle in front of the Virgen de la Providencia, which very appropriately for my dad's memory, has the beautiful Puerto Rican flag behind her.

I hope my dad, wherever he is, feels all the love we have for him and how he is sorely missed. ¡Feliz cumpleaños, papito!

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Today we're one week away from returning to Ohio and, though I am happy that the return is nearer than it has been, our time here has been mostly relaxed and just as I had hoped it would be. The photo above is our view on the mornings when we walk to the nearest Starbucks.

And this is the view from the window in front of which my husband suggested that I set up my laptop. The photo is dark but it gives an idea of the difference between working in a basement office (albeit a space I love back home) and what working here has been like.

Our walks down the beach have yielded a few treasures, including these lovely tiny pink shells.

And I finally got to cook a full meal in our mini-kitchen with my new mini-caldero (the aluminum pot in the front which we use to cook rice). It didn't come out perfectly but my husband was happy with his rice and black beans, Puerto Rican style.

We also like to go down to the beach, steps away from our building, and sit and read and my husband once thought about getting in the ocean but it was too rough and cold. Yes, cold. It's not cold like Ohio-cold, but it's been cold for Puerto Rico, as the meteorologists here keep pointing out.

Still, it's been perfect for us and we are both so glad we did this. So glad, indeed, that when we return in the fall for a conference of one of the major organizations in my discipline, we are planning on renting an apartment in an area near the conference hotel instead of getting a room there. Not only will I save almost $400 by not staying at the pricey hotel, but we've also both realized how much more we prefer this type of more independent (I guess I'd term it) living when we're visiting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Old City

On Thursday, we took the bus from Isla Verde (for all of 75 cents) to Old San Juan and walked a good amount around the historic and narrow cobblestoned streets, which always offer up fantastic snapshots.

We walked from the bottom of the city up the hill to where the ancient Iglesia San José is located. Bombarded during the invasion in 1898, the church has been under renovations for a long time and I was glad to see that they have restarted offering Mass on Saturdays. When I lived in Puerto Rico, a long time ago, I used to love to drive to the Old City and attend Mass here.

We also got fantastic views of the ancient cemetery, where my father's ashes now rest, and of El Morro, the old Spanish fort that is now federal property.

What never ceases to amaze and delight me when I'm here is that Puerto Rican celeste blue that nothing can imitate or approach.

My husband walked through the city and took some great pictures, including one of the Abraham Lincoln School, which includes a statue of that U.S. President, built in 1926. That's one of the ways U.S. colonialism has worked here, by teaching Puerto Rican children to admire American presidents rather than their own artists or poets or leaders.

We always stop at La Bombonera, the old café where they serve the best mallorcas on the island. My mom mentioned that it might close, as so many other places have over the past few years in a declining economy (the adage is that when the U.S. catches cold, Puerto Rico gets pneumonia and the U.S. has been dealing with pneumonia so imagine where Puerto Rico stands), so we figured we should make a point of eating there just in case.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The idea

A few years ago, when I first conceived of the idea that we would, someday, come and live in front of the beach in Puerto Rico,  I had no notion of how or when that thought would find its fruition. As we end our first full week here, I am deeply grateful that the experience has been as I first imagined it, lovely and restorative.

We walk practically everywhere so we're getting plenty of exercise (my husband more than I because he runs and walks up and down the stairs several times a day--two times going up is usually my maximum and then I opt for the rickety elevator), we don't have to hurry home, as my husband likes to point out, to tend to needy furry children (which I don't mind at all and even miss), and there is no set schedule for the days that unfold as they will.

Unless we're invited out by friends, we usually stay in and my husband fixes a quick lunch and what I'm calling his "Dagwood Sandwiches," with the pan de agua we both like so much. There's always walking on the beach and each day we see or discover something new and interesting or are regaled with a vista that is breathtaking in its beauty.

I've got to say that getting work done in this environment is ideal, even beyond how I first imagined it so many years ago. Must be because the brain, unencumbered by other concerns and busy-ness, can dedicate its neurons to the task at hand and ideas come fruitfully and the time is always there to get them down on paper, or to sit and read, something I find so difficult back home when there's always something else to do or somewhere else to go.

This morning, after our daily hour-walk to and from the nearby Starbucks, we stopped at the panadería for some baked goods and I was struck by the bounty of delicious confections that were available. My husband got a dessert with dulce de leche and almonds, and I picked up a huge mallorca (the pastry at bottom left) and a slice of flan de queso for dessert at some not-far future time.

As to the weather, my desktop icon that tells the weather back home in Ohio said 18 degrees this morning and snowy, but the seven-day outlook for this island of glorious beauty is a lot more promising. I have to admit that while I am counting the days until I go home, a part of me doesn't want those days to go way too quickly.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Another thing allowed by being in Puerto Rico for an extended period of time with no set agenda (other than the scholarly work that needs to get done) is reconnecting with friends that I haven't been able to see much of when I've been here before.

Usually, that has been for shorter periods of time and/or to tend to family matters and this time, for the first time, it feels very different. Thus, yesterday, I was able to spend, lo que nunca, almost three hours catching up with my best high school friend (we've been friends since 1974!) at a nearby panadería where my husband and I can walk to from our temporary home-away-from-home. It was my friend's day off from his demanding job as a pediatrician and it worked perfectly for us to meet up there and enjoy good Puerto Rican-style sandwiches while we reconnected.

The ability to walk everywhere is part of the reason why I'm so very glad that we decided to rent an apartment in the area where we are. Not only is it much cheaper and comfortable than a hotel room (we're paying about $76/night for an efficiency that has everything we need to do our work and to be comfortable) but we save tons of money because we can prepare our own food. The kitchenette area, which is nothing more than a closet, is serviceable and clean and my husband enjoys making lunch for both of us on the days we haven't gone out to catch up with friends.

He runs on the beach a few times a week and then we take a long walk to the nearby Starbucks, and then I climb the stairs to the seventh-floor apartment at least once a day so I may return home a little more fit than I was when I arrived with all this walking and climbing stairs.

I've also finally realized how productive I can be during this leave when I have uninterrupted time to get my work done without having to attend meetings, plan events, meet with students, or many of the other things I did last semester. All in all, while I miss being home with my furry children and in my beloved old  house, I am very glad we decided to do this and that the fellowship I won enabled us to do so.

If we finally sell the country house near my small college on the hill, I might just create a "Puerto Rico Fund" so that we can spend at least two weeks every year here, maybe even right in this tiny studio that has been so welcoming to us this time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Caribbean blues are anything but sad

Every time I come back to Puerto Rico I'm reminded that you can't know the sheer brilliance of the color blue until you've been to the Caribbean. Green is another color that is completely redefined by the tropics.

This is only our fourth day here but it feels like much longer because we've more or less settled into a nice routine. Each morning, we walk about two miles round trip to a nearby hotel for my Starbucks and a copy of the local newspaper. My husband runs on the beach three miles every other day and then walks with me and we've made the point of going up the stairs to our seventh-floor studio at least once a day. Thus, we're both getting quite a workout, which is good, given that Puerto Rican food isn't generally low fat.

The long walks and working in the comfy studio, right across from a large supermarket, have now become our routine and I'm making good progress on my list of projects that need to get done while we're here. The best part is that, at the end of several hours of non-stop work on the computer, we can both take a break, walk downstairs, and spend some time gazing at the most brilliant blues and greens imaginable.

Not a bad day's work. No, not at all.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

¡Puerto Rico!

A little over 24-four hours after leaving Ohio, we find ourselves in a tiny studio apartment near the beach in Puerto Rico, where we'll be spending some time thanks to my research fellowship this year. We'd always dreamed to escaping the worst of winter back home but never had the time or the means to do so, and this became our opportunity.

It's not a vacation, by any means, since while here I have to revise a chapter for an edited collection, which is due Feb. 22nd,  revise the second chapter for my book project and start writing the third, and prepare a talk on my book project, which I've been invited to give at Ohio State on March 2nd. Also while here, I've been invited to give four talks, record a television program, and do a recruitment presentation for my small college on a hill to juniors at the high school where I used to teach.

But at least I get to do all that while overlooking (well, from a side window) the beautiful ocean and while being en mi país. We arrived last evening, after two flights and all the stress that always assails me when traveling, and were greeted by my mom to a delicious dinner of her inimitable arroz y habichuelas and a half of a local aguacate, which put to shame all the puny, wrinkled so-called avocados I can get in Ohio, and our favorite Pan Pepín.

This morning, my husband is already off for a run on the beach and then we plan to take a long walk to the closest Starbucks. Then, we'll see what the day has planned for us before I start on my list of "to dos," which seems less daunting precisely because I get to work on it from here.