Otra Menu Menos CaroPosadsa Vista Mar
April 13, 1998
I am in the middle of five overlapping conversations. At the left end of the table, Roger and Sid are discussing the waning days of abstract expressionism in New York, Sylvia and Floriano are trading stories of the West Village where she grew up and where Floriano has lived for the past 45 years. Across from me, Lillian and Bobby are arguing the merits of statehood and commonwealth status for Puerto Rico, and to my right Patrice and the two german women are working out the geography their home country, while Angelina, Bobby's wife, and Tony, her brother, are working on their sibling rivalry. Meanwhile, Lydia, Alexandra (Patrice's daughter) and Anthony (Bobby's son) are across the resturant playing games and having a pre-teen, teenage discussion.
We're all here because Bobby and family are leaving tomorrow, and yesterday Bobby (the "Bobby always gets what he wants" from last year, Bobby) drove to the end of the island to a secret goat farm to buy a baby goat for tonite's meal. The farmer slaughtered and dressed the goat, and today Olga prepared 'fricassee de la cabrita', a hearty stew of chunks of goat meat, so tender the meat falls right off the bones. We have a side dish of boiled potatoes, smothered in gravy made from the stew broth, and a huge platter of white rice with a side dish of red beans and gandules, along with tostones, arepas, and papas fritas.
Bobby and family have been staying with Olga for the past 15 years.
We first met them about five years ago, but got to know them last year
when our stay overlapped with theirs for about five days. Roger and Floriano
have been coming to Olga's for almost 20 years and we've coincided with
them four or five of our 11 visits. Sid and Sylvia are in Vieques because
Sid and Bobby were on jury duty in New York together. Bobby told Sid that
he didn't want to get assigned to a case, because he had tickets for Puerto
Rico for the following week. Sid told Bobby the same was true for him.
Bobby asked Sid about his plans for visiting the island, convinced him
that he must visit Vieques, and then made last minute arrangements for
a room and a car for Sid and his wife, which was not easy, given that this
was the Easter weekend and everything was booked-up long ago. However,
"Bobby always gets what he wants", and as I watched some of his maneuverings,
by last Friday, Good Friday, he had a room and car waiting for Sid and
Sylvia when they arrived, late in the day.
Roger, Floriano, Sid and Sylvia have just proposed a toast to the recent passing of Richard Bellamy, who, as they recall, ran the Green Mountain Gallery, one of the earliest 13th Street art galleries in New York. Claus Oldenberg had his first shows at Bellamy's gallery. Sylvia remembers because she grew up in the neighborhood, and was a teenager at the time. She says she recalls roller-skating into the gallery. Floriano and Sid are both in their late 60's and each spent many nights at the Cedar Bar. Roger, who is my age, was a pre-teenager at the time, but knows intimately of those days by way of Floriano's stories. Sid offers a second toast, which turns out to be the one that I learned from Lillian's father during my first visit to Puerto Rico, eleven years ago. "Salud, amor, dinero y tiempo para gustarlo. (Health, love, money and the time to enjoy it.)". I couldn't have said it better, myself.
Patrice is here because Lydia befriended her daughter Alexandra today at the beach and Lillian invited them to join us for dinner at Olga's. They're staying at Bananas, in the room just vacated by Steve, his daughter Stevie and his son Gianni, who Lydia befriended yesterday and who we brought to Olga's for dinner last night. They left Vieques for their home in Bayamon this morning; back to work and back to school. I had met the two german women at the beach yesterday and this morning told Patrice that I hoped she'd have a chance to meet them during her stay here. She and her daughter live in New Jersey. Her ex-husband is Puerto Rican. She moved to the states in her early twenties, but this is her first visit to Puerto Rico. Alexandra claims that coming to the island was her idea.
At the moment, we're drinking a spanish rioja that I bought earlier today in Isabella Segunda, the small town on the north side of the island, which is also the port where we catch the ferry to and from the main island. Getting to the other side of this island is not always easy, even though it is only three miles away. Once we're settled here in Esperanza, on the southern, caribbean side, we enjoy a remoteness, secluded from the rest of Vieques, the main island of Puerto Rico, and certainly the rest of the world. No newspapers, no television, no NPR, and with the exception of The Trade Winds, Bananas, and our group at Olga's, very few north-americans. I have found three ways to get from Esperanza to Isabella Segunda: via publico, the one-dollar taxi; via a bicycle which you can rent for $10 per day; or on foot. In the past, I have most often walked, usually getting a ride part of the way from generous locals who stop and offer me a ride, usually in the back-seat with their kids. Today, I tried to rent a bike from the guy at Don't-Yank-My-Chain-Bike-Rental, but maybe because it was Monday, he never showed up to open his shop. Almost everyone had left the island as of this morning, so the day was very quiet, just us stragglers left on the street. We had the beach to ourselves today, except for Patrice and Alexandra. I decided to walk to town today. I needed to get to the post-office to send in our state and federal taxes and I wanted to get them in the mail at least one day ahead of time. Just as I set off for town, a publico drove by, so I paid my dollar and jumped on. I planned to by wine for tonight's dinner, so I asked the driver to recommend a liquor store. He suggested the supermarket, which seemed ok to me.
Wine is not very popular in Puerto Rico, and supermarkets are often the main outlets for wines. Selections are skimpy, but usually you can find one or two decent spanish red wines. I decided to buy the wine last, so that I wouldn't have to carry it as I walked around town. After paying my obiesance to our governments, I stopped at the panaderia for lunch, having un-sanwiche-de-la-media-noche, which is a cuban-inspired sandwich of three meats, green peppers and pickle, heated in the kind of press used for making grilled cheese and served on a small deli roll. Then I went next door to Carolina's and bought two t-shirts. One has the official insignia of Vieques, a heraldic design with MUNICIPIO DE VIEQUES in block letters at the top, over an image of the Fort and a few typical small houses, and then on the bottom, again in block letters, ISLA NENA. The shirt is bright yellow and the design is in red, green, and black. The other shirt is green and in the middle of the chest in bright yellow with black outlines is a drawing of the Fort. At the top also in yellow and black is EL FORTIN and on the bottom in the same block letters is VIEQUES. The block lettering is patterned so that the letters literally look like blocks of stone. In the center of the design, in script is Conde de Mirasol (Count of Miralsol [Spain]). Radiating from the fort are thick bright orange lines, like rays of sunlight.
Besides the t-shirts, I also bought two greeting cards from a
very small rack of english language cards. Both are birthday cards made
by Magic Moments. One has a painting on the cover of a fly-fisherman knee
deep in a stream, landing a trout. Above him it says: Happy Birthday Greetings.
Inside it says:
On the opposite page is a drawing of a trout, jumping in the air, with a very frightened look, it's eye bulging out of it's head.
The other card has a painting of a bronco-buster, riding a steer, one
hand in the air, one hand holding onto the steer. We see the man and steer
from behind. The steer is jumping completely off the ground. The caption,
above says: For a Dear SON on His Birthday. Inside it says:
On the opposite, inside flap, is a drawing of the man astride the steer, this time seen from the front. One arm is still raised, the other gripping the steer, only this time he's holding on with his right hand and the left one is in the air. The steer seems to be landing on the ground, front legs first.
It's time for dessert, and Sylvia says can't we get another bottle of wine? I have more, back in our room above Colmado Ruiz, just around the corner from Posada Vista Mar, so I run back to the to retrieve it. This wine I bought on Bobby's recommendation. I was on my way to the supermarket when I ran into Bobby and Anthony who were in town doing their laundry.
"Where you going?" says Bobby.
"To the supermarket to get wine for tonight." I answer.
"Oh, no," he says, "let me take you to Julio the Wholesaler.
Everything is much cheaper there."
Julio's store, on a side street, behind a non-descript fascade, is packed with resturant supplies and wines and liquors. Bobby's right, the prices are quite good. In addition to the spanish riojas, I buy a bottle of Pierre, Soft Red Wine, bottled by Societa Cachet in Toa Baja, P.R. The wine is the color of red Kool-Aid. The bottle has a circular label, bright red, outlined in gold. Inside the main circle is a second circle of blue which says Pierre, four times. Inside the blue circle, is a small white circle which holds the Eiffel Tower. The wine costs $1.69 for 750 ml. Finally I choose a Soave, also produced and bottled in Puerto Rico. Bobby tells me that Roger recommended this wine to him. Roger said that he tried some of this particular Puerto Rican wine on his connoisseur friends in New York. He decanted the wine into plain containers and served it as part of a night of Puerto Rican cooking. They were very impressed with the full-body of the reds: "exactly like a fine rioja" and similarly impressed by the Soave: "a delicate, light, slightly sweet dessert wine." Just the thing to finish off tonight's meal.
Uncorking the bottle and pouring everyone a glassful, I say "Salud, amor, dinero y tiempo para gastarlo!"
Lillian stands up and begins to sing her song, 'El Preso Numero Nueve'. A hush settles over the room. All eyes and ears are on Lillian.
Next: Felice Pascuas