San Juan, like many large cities around the world, is made up of many sections. There’s the touristy Old San Juan, the government area of Puerta de Tierra, the beachfront and beautiful areas of Condado and Isla Verde, the rich Miramar, Hato Rey–a veritable Wall Street district, the educational Rio Piedras…and then there’s Guaynabo.
I live in a very nice apartment in the center of Guaynabo, but everyone who lives around the apartment is poor. Very poor. The conditions here don’t equate to Haiti’s poor population, but rather to a much warmer and sunnier and latino version of the Bronx. There are bars over every window and door and I find it wholly depressing to wander the streets of this area. Years ago, I might have been excited by the sun and the brightly painted buildings. But having been to Massa Marittima in Tuscany, I know what potential a place like this has.
On Saturdays, I tend to flee Guaynabo, heading north to the nicer areas of Condado and Old San Juan. Aside from just looking nicer, I can actually talk to people up here. Many of the poorer people in San Juan (read: Guaynabo) know about as much English as I do Spanish. So I end up having great conversations with people who do know English. So far, these people have all been significantly older than me or have been tourists who are here for a week, here for a day, here for an hour until their cruise ship boards. I’ve met lovely people from Michigan, Ottawa, Chicago, Philly, New Jersey, etc. This helps me not in the least as I’m here, trying to make friends with anyone between the ages of 20 and 30 and they’re here for the next 17 minutes. So if your dentist has a bridge-partner who has a son whose long estranged friend is down in San Juan, have him or her shoot me an email.
Anyway, a little bit now about what I have done. On the 19th, I visited the HUGE mall Plaza las Americas. I saw, oooh…about a 1/4 of it and bought quite a few books at Borders which, of course, is right across from the movie theatre on the second floor. I had lunch at a place called Passions. I was told they had great treats, so I had to buy a slice of chocolate cake. It was so rich, I could barely finish it.
After Passions, I headed out to wait for the bus. I hate the bus system in PR. It’s as ridiculous as that in Italy. The busses are supposed to come every 15-30 minutes, depending on the route. But it’s so lax that you could end up waiting hours. When the bus finally showed up, I took it up to Old San Juan to the San Sebastian Street Festival. So many people. I hung out around Calle San Sebastian until mass at 7 in the Cathedral (so much better than the sad–albeit more convenient–church in Condado). I was a little early, so I sat towards the front (the first 3 pews were reserved).
It was the Vigil celebration of St. Sebastian’s Day. I should have guessed. A quartet played high-class (from what I’ve been told) Puerto Rican chamber music. A woman in a traditional dress read the readings. Women sang who could take your breath away. And two photographers and a camera man ran about the front of the church like crazy, filming the bishop, the other attendants, the musicians, and of course, yours truly, sitting very close to the front and having no clue how to respond to anything in Spanish. The great couple sitting beside me said that it was being filmed so it could be shown tomorrow in Spain on a national broadcast. Yay for my ignorance!
The following week started out boring although we went out for ice cream on Thursday and to a party on Friday (our neighbors were throwing one for a relative visiting from the states). I left before the relative’s plane landed to take Julie home, but it was just nice to see people. And yesterday, I went on a walking tour of Old San Juan…meet great people who were all on their way out of town…and enjoyed a Pina Colada all before heading to mass in Condado. After mass (which ended at 5:30), I took a bus to the train (which operates more like German transportation than Italian) to another bus and ended up back in Guaynabo around 7:45pm. Over two hours to get back. If I was in a car, the same trip would have taken 15 to 20 minutes, tops. But alas, I’m carless and thus I have to rely on shoddy transportation. I think I’ll have to take a cab once my Spanish lessons start.
But for now, I’m off to see what I can do before Julie wakes up for her nap. Take care everyone and write!!