This morning in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, we came across a riot of pigeons and schoolchildren in a square near our hotel. It appeared to be a field trip to feed the pigeons. Kids lined up to receive plastic bags of what looked like corn feed, then threw or carefully offered the corn to the pigeons. Posted by Hello

Friday, February 18, 2005

24 Hours in Old San Juan

Darlene's sister Deborah had business in San Juan yesterday, so the three of us flew from St. Thomas (population 51,000) to Puerto Rico (population 3.9 million) and back, staying overnight at the Hotel el Convento . I had never been to Puerto Rico, except for one airport layover years ago. Now, back on St. John (population 4,200) my impressions from 24 hours in Old San Juan include the following:

At the same plaza, schoolchildren lined up to feed pigeons and later in the morning adjacent streets were barricaded, a Telemundo TV van sprouted a tall satellite dish, and husky men in dark suits with curly wires poking from their collars scanned the crowd in anticipation of an Official Event at a government building. The mood was so intimidating that I didn't dare take photos, for fear of triggering a rapid response to a profile of a terrorist posing as a tourist. Facing the same plaza, at Marshall's discount store, I sat in the weary-men seats by the door taking notes while Darlene and Deb shopped. The main impression from that vantage point was the politeness and gentleness of the employees and shoppers, most of them locals. One elderly man sat down in the chair two over from mine and crossed things off a small piece of paper, then stood up a minute later to rejoin his wife. He greeted me with "Buenas dias" when he sat down, but shifted to a formally pronounced "Bye" when he left, realizing I was not a Spanish speaker. At the hotel, I read a business journal on a high patio this morning, with a cup of strong coffee. It said one out of every three salaried jobs in Puerto Rico is with the government, which has projected a $1 billion deficit this year. Yesterday afternoon, I came across a man drunk, suspended, bending over as if he were about to crumble slowly onto the sidewalk. He was too far gone to ask for spare change. At a cigar store, the salesman picked up a cigar, cut it and lit it for me before I could stop him. I ended up taking advantage of his two-for-one special, which in reality turned out to be three-for-one, including the one I walked out of the store smoking. It was a genteel hustle that I paid for again in the middle of the night, when my mouth tasted sour from tobacco despite several doses of the hotel's complimentary bottle of Scope.

The island of St. John feels safe and serene tonight, with the waves swishing to shore at Frank Bay across the street and the overhead fan in our room whirring quietly. We fly home in six days to Denver, population 557,000.

From left, Lola, Mauri Elbel, me, MaLinda Nelson, and Jaime Elliott stand for a group portrait in front of the Tradewinds office in Cruz Bay. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

All-Girl Band of Tough Journalists

St. John Tradewinds Publisher MaLinda Nelson and her 100-percent female staff exude a compassionate intelligence and enthusiasm that is simply different than the male-dominated newsrooms I worked in 30 years ago, when cynicism and competition seemed to go with the over-supply of testosterone. Which is not to say the Tradewinds staff shies away from hard news. Their coverage has raised tough questions about the Virgin Islands attorney general's office not filing charges against the driver of a liquor truck who mowed down a boy at a crosswalk in December. And when a parks construction project is finished 10 months after the target date, the Tradewinds makes an issue of it. So I've been very impressed with this band of newspaperwomen and was glad they agreed to take time out from the pressure-cooker tension of the office for a photo this morning. They have graciously made me feel right at home in their midst during my stint as an adjunct itinerant feature writer.

It looks as if my reporting for the paper will taper off during the last week of our stay, because I'm struggling to get Darlene's sister Deb's new computer up and running, as well as that of her roommate Maria. I'm amazed and impressed at MSN's online chat help function, which is politely performed by technicians with names like Shakuntala and Sabeer, but a couple of sessions today were cut short when I lost the connection right at the crucial part of their instructions. So it's a struggle, and I'm determined to have both laptops running smoothly before Feb. 24th when we fly back to Denver.

No matter. The Tradewinds will keep churning out the news each week, and back home I will eagerly await each new issue.

The real reason marriages stay together: she just keeps looking better and better. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Wild donkeys roam the island of St. John, but as you can see from this photo, their wild status doesn't mean they are afraid of cars or tourists. This fellow nuzzled into our rented Isuzu, maybe looking for Cheetos. Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Lunch Sunday aboard Wind Spirit. Scene of what shall be known as the Wind Spirit Agreement, in which Darlene absolves me of all guilt for excessive time spent on the computer in return for four hours of my time each week teaching her anything she wants to learn about techno stuff--computer, digital camera, cell phone, electric toothbrush, what EVER. Yet another life-course correction made here in the islands. Posted by Hello

Dave Valentin at the Beach Bar in Cruz Bay last night, sitting in with Steve Simon's Jazz Islanders. Valentin is fond of quoting his mentor, the Latin music great Tito Puente, who told him, "If you are tired, stay home; if you can't walk, sit down; if you can't drive, don't; but if you are going to play, PLAY!"
 Posted by Hello

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