The Ponce Chronicles (Part 6)

The labors of Jayce.

Jayce, known to her immediate family as Julia, has taken on the surprisingly herculean task of scrubbing the kitchen cabinets. This is a tropical clime, and it appears that the aforementioned tenant has not done any cleaning of any kind in the year she was here. The cabinets are frightening caves full of insect and pest droppings of all kinds. Jayce gloves up and moves in. And spends days, literally, and I literally mean literally, scrubbing out the kitchen cabinets.

Huntsman spider Edith1_croppedOne last shelf in a series presents a particular challenge: a large, exceedingly flat, fierce-looking spider, tucked protectively into a corner behind a shelf bracket. Poisonous? Carnivorous? Murderous? Our imaginations abound. We (and by “we” I mean “Allysen”) decide it must be a Huntsman spider, known to be somewhat shy and fond of eating cockroaches. Its value in the pecking order shoots up, in our estimation. Besides, it’s probably huddled against the appalling racket the tree guys are making, just outside the kitchen wall.

Jayce names the spider Edith, though Allysen says she’s pretty sure it’s a male. Okay, it’s gender fluid, then. Jayce talks to it quietly, privately. I don’t want to hurt you. I know this is your home. But I have to clean. Can we work it out?

Edith, who had wedged itself between the shelf and the shelf bracket, says nothing. But two days later, this spider is gone, and we have not seen it since. Probably went to find someplace less crazy to live.

Before I leave Jayce’s section, I’ll point out that she kept at the kitchen cleaning right up to about fifteen minutes before she left for the airport for her flight home (a few days before us). I failed to get an action photo, so here’s one of her relaxing between cleaning bouts. JDC at table_sm

The labors of Allysen

Allysen has been mostly at arm’s length from the physical labor, but she’s arguably the busiest person on the hill. She’s the project manager on a project with a tight deadline. Since most of the workers speak little to no English, and I speak little to no Spanish, she’s the one who has to talk to everyone. She’s busier than a one-armed paper hanger—constantly on the phone, or running this way and that to confer with the crews. I practically need to make an appointment to talk to her, and even then barely ever get more than a half-minute conversation before a phone call interrupts us. I wonder how long she can keep this up without cracking.

A couple of observations

Several things are remarkable about this journey. One is the sheer number of things that can go wrong in a house—and all at the same time. Veronica didn’t help, with her wanton destruction of property. But at the same time, this house requires continuous upkeep against the elements—far more so, I think, than our house in Boston. And for the last few years, it has gotten less than the upkeep it needs. I see now how fast it can catch up with you; Nature is attempting to break this place back down to its constituent elements. Like Downton Abbey, it needs a full-time staff. One person could work full-time just moving around the property reseating and mortaring brick. The house is not large, but it’s built on a hill. It was built by Allysen’s parents around some lovely cork trees, and the trees are not being kind in return. Relentlessly, they are pushing at the brick, and leaning closer, ever closer, to the roofs of the two parts of the house.

One thing you learn quickly in the culture here is the power of who you know. Without our neighbor Frances we would have been dead in the water, trying to find the right people to do this work on short notice. Frances wears many hats on this island, and seems to know everyone who’s anyone. She also manages some properties—and has learned, through years of experience, who will show up on time and do the job right, and she has cultivated working relationships with them. When Frances asks someone to drop what they’re doing to come and help, they tend to do it. Also, when the city accidentally shuts off water to the hill, which they do with some regularity, Frances is the one who gets it turned back on with a phone call.

Then there’s the work ethic. While we have encountered the stereotypical “it’s not my job” worker, none of them are working for us here. I cannot believe how hard these people keep at it. The electricians and carpentry/masonry crews labor for seven or eight hours straight—with only brief lunch and water breaks. While I’m busy with myriad small repairs—or making extended runs to Home Depot, Ace, and Sears—these guys are doing backbreaking physical labor, and guzzling bottled water that we’d picked up as an afterthought. The tree guys will be the most amazing, but more about them in a later chapter.

Finally, a few thoughts on local courtesy. As anywhere, I suppose, it’s a mixed bag. I was a little shocked by how many times people stood in my way in doorways or supermarket aisles, oblivious to my polite “Perdón!” In this respect, the lack of common courtesy seemed worse to me than even the renowned New England brusqueness. And I hate to say it, but women were noticeably more likely than men to be rude in this way. Of course, I was pretty conspicuous as a Northerner, but still. On the other hand, I had many interactions with sales people and so on, and was surprised how pleasant most of these interactions were. Even when we had no common language—the percentage of those who spoke English was really pretty small—most people seemed eager to help, and we always seemed to end our conversations with a smile and a handshake. Explain? I can’t.

(Coming up in Part 7, Lemon or Lime?)

[To read The Ponce Chronicles in order, start here.]


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