The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 2

In our first week on the island, we’ve kept to our promise to relax and rejuvenate. Our good friend Crystal arrived from L.A., and we’ve spent a lot of time just gazing out from the hilltop. Sunday evening, we took in a free concert on the Plaza by the Ponce Orchestra. Today (Tuesday), we drove to see the rainforest at El Yunque National Forest. This is not the Amazon; it is small, charming, and still recovering from the hurricanes and earthquakes of recent years. The signature La Mina waterfall remains closed, but smaller pools and waterfalls were open. Allysen waded right into one of them. I, with my exosuit (portable O2 concentrator) on my back, had to stand clear and enjoy her splash.

Tomorrow, our thoughts turn to some repairs, but mostly I’m staying hands-off and seeing if I can focus the book.

The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 1

With Covid behind us, we have arrived for our annual visit to Casarboles, the home that Allysen’s parents built in Ponce, Puerto Rico, back in the early 1970s. The house and grounds are lovely, as always, and all the previous years of work are paying off. Also, last year saw a lot of extra work done by Allysen’s brother and a friend. Yes, there is plenty still to do, but this year we’re going to be more relaxed about it and give ourselves time to just enjoy being here. And for me, fingers crossed, to write. Is this us?

The pool deck I rebuilt is still standing!

So far, we’ve mainly slept, shopped for supplies, and hung out on the dining veranda enjoying the view. The trinitaria are in full, gorgeous bloom. (Can you find Waldo?)

The Ponce Chronicles, Winter 2023 — Part 4

We’re in the final throes. We leave Monday morning, and it takes at least a day to clean up and put everything away. Myriad small repairs underway. The wooden door just got its fourth and last coat of polyurethane. Looks pretty good, if I say so myself.

Allysen is taking a crack at sanding the surface of one of four giant mahogany disks cut from the tree that went down in Hurricane Maria. These will make great table tops, if they can be smoothed from the uneven cuts and finished adequately. (I’m amazed anyone was able to slice these things at all.) Dunno if it’s doable or not, but they’re quite beautiful pieces of wood.

You know how I said I was reserving time in this trip for writing and enjoying the tropical environment? That proved to be mostly a lie—at least the time for writing. There was just too much to do, and no one else to do it. At least the pauses between tasks, looking out over the hill, were restorative.

Last night we finally got together with our dear friends and neighbors Frances and Che. Frances is recovering from a medical procedure, but she looked great. Che’s English can be hard to understand, but there was one thing he said that I got: “If there’s anything you need, anything at all, you’ve got it. We are family.” Pause to make sure I understood. “We are family.”

That seems like a good place to wrap this season’s run of The Ponce Chronicles. Probably the next time you hear from me, I’ll be back in Boston.

The Ponce Chronicles, Winter 2023 — Part 3

Yesterday was Allysen’s birthday! We celebrated by…er…spending the day waiting to see a doctor at the “urgent” care clinic in downtown Ponce. In a freak accident, Allysen somehow scratched her eye with her thumbnail and was in considerable pain. After waiting four hours to be seen, we were told “We’re not really equipped to treat eyes,” which would have been nice to know at the start. But we came away with a prescription for some eyedrops, and they seem to be doing the trick. She’s feeling much better today and was able to do her regular work at the computer.

We did celebrate in more proper style with a nice dinner at Vistas rooftop restaurant, overlooking the city.

This was Crystal’s last day here, so I drove her to Mercedita Airport at the obligatory 4 a.m. hour to catch the JetBlue flight out. Before leaving, Crystal singlehandedly painted an entire bedroom for us! Bless you, Crystal. (For readers who do not know Crystal, she was the one who first introduced me to Allysen back in the day, when she—Crystal—was a housemate of mine in Cambridge.)

I know I said I would do no sanding, because lungs. But we had a half-sanded varnished door which had to be finished or it would be ruined by the elements, and I absolutely was not going to let Allysen keep sanding it with a possibly scratched retina. So I extended my O2 hose, donned an N95 mask, and finished it with a power sander. I was covered with dust, but my airways remained clean under the N95, and now it’s finished. Sanded, I mean. We still have to polyurethane it.

Too much remains to be done to leave on our original date, which was tomorrow. So I changed our flights, and we are staying until next Monday. Wish us luck!

Here’s another shot of the pony that sometimes comes up to our back fence, munching on an offering of greens. We don’t know his real name, so I call him Horsie.

The Ponce Chronicles, Winter 2023 — Part 2

Work continues apace, here in Ponce. Our friend Crystal flew out from California to join us, and she’s been painting up a storm in one of the bedrooms. I have been working on a multitude of nagging repairs. Allysen has been project-managing, while holding down her regular job, no mean feat.

On my first trip to Home Depot, in the evening, I was driving down Las Americas Avenue and found myself looking straight ahead at a breathtaking view of the crescent moon and two planets. The first chance I got to take a picture was in the parking lot at Home Depot. Not great resolution, but here’s the moon with Jupiter (above and to the right) and Venus (below).

We took most of Friday off to drive into the mountains to a coffee plantation and café. Unfortunately, they were no longer giving tours of the plantation, but we had a nice lunch including coffee from beans grown right on site. And the drive along the winding mountain roads was exciting, as always. At a stop for gas, I learned of the existence of something called Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey. I did not buy a bottle to try, but I sort of wish I had.

Here’s the three of us in front of a water wheel at the coffee plantation.

And here, from the café, you can see some coffee trees growing on the hillside.

Sunday we took off to the beach, which is about an hour’s drive west from Ponce. There’s  a lovely secluded stretch away from the main public beach, which Allysen’s parents discovered decades ago, and is still the preferred place to go. We couldn’t see much evidence of it, but we were in the part of the island hardest hit by the earthquakes a few years ago. The epicenter was not too far offshore from where we were.

Because my meds require me to be very careful about sun exposure, I didn’t spend much time in the water, but here’s the splendid view I had from under a shade tree. That’s Allysen and Crystal cavorting in the Caribbean. Lunch afterward at a nearby hotel got me my first tostones of the trip—excellent.

Today…back to work!

The Ponce Chronicles, Winter 2023—Part 1

Here in Ponce, Puerto Rico, folks have been busy for a while. Allysen and Jayce came down in late January, and Allysen’s brother and a friend joined them, and a little later, their wives. I stayed in Boston with McDuff for that part. When I came down on February 14, everyone except Allysen had gone home, and I caught the baton in midair. Lots to do! (In case you missed the previous installments, this is work on the house that Allysen’s parents built in the 1970s and ultimately retired to.) If you look really closely at the picture above, you can see Allysen in the living room, working away at her job. And here she is, having just heard some horses go by on the hill above.

Some important stuff was already done. Andrew and his friend Paul replaced the two skylights that had blown off in Hurricane Fiona, and the bent gate was fixed, and Allysen and Jayce between them scraped and painted the stairs down from the parking pad. All of which was work I was delighted to miss! Because of my pulmonary fibrosis (can you hear the O2 machine puffing in the background?), I am officially off the “strenuous and hazardous” work details, meaning no heaving lifting, sawing, painting, etc. Nothing with dust or chemicals in the air.

That’s left me with a bunch of smaller jobs, like drilling into concrete to reattach a door to the tool shed (masked!), figuring out how to cover up a counter gap left from the earthquake a couple of years ago, figuring out how to put mosquito screen over various odd-shaped openings around the skylights where you have to attach to concrete, figuring out how to replace the broken cover over the pool pump equipment. But no deck building! No, no, no, not this year, and not any year ever again. Oh, and figuring out where and how to store the backup generators that somehow got stashed in a really inappropriate place.

Part of “figuring out” things is figuring out how to buy what you need. There’s Home Depot and Costco, of course, but they don’t have a lot of what we need. Take storage for the generators. The obvious solution is a small shed, and we even agreed on where one could go. But the two stores I just mentioned don’t have the right size. Amazon, of course, has everything, including exactly what we need. But most Amazon merchants won’t ship to Puerto Rico. Why? I don’t know. I’ve probably complained about this before, so I will spare you the rant.

Still, we’re making progress. We have vowed to spend some quality time on this trip actually enjoying the island where Allysen spent several years growing up, and we even have plans of where we want to go.

I am reserving more time to myself, to work on the book. So far, though, I have not found my way through the quicksand that has impeded my progress with the story. (If you are tempted to ping me and ask, “When is the next book going to be done?” please don’t. When I have something to report on that, I will report it.)

Meanwhile, I have seen only one (!) stray cat and no dogs, and that makes me a little sad. But we do have the occasional hummingbird, and a very sweet horse that wanders into the yard just below us, and that always brightens our day. And the trinitaria behind the house are beautiful!


The Ponce Chronicles: Fall of 2022, Part 2

posted in: Ponce Chronicles 0

Work has pretty much wrapped at Casarboles for this trip. The California half of the crew has already gone home, and Allysen and Jayce head back to Boston tomorrow. What did they get done? A lot, but not nearly as much as they’d hoped, by all accounts. A lot of cleaning, emergency plumbing, and uprooting of out-of-control flora. A lot of estimates from workers who promised to show up the next day and then didn’t. (What else is new?) So, things like broken windows and skylights are still broken. What can you do? Go back in February, is the current plan.

Although power was restored on their second or third day, internet service was not, so they were dependent on their cell phone data service for things like Allysen’s and Andrew’s trying to keep up with their regular jobs back home. I’m not sure how well that went, but I think I can guess.

One thing I do know, because you can see it here: They pumped the green swamp water out of the pool!

That pool will remain empty for now, because shortly after this picture was taken, they discovered that there wasn’t actually any water reaching them from the city, after all! No, they were draining the giant cistern all this time, and now it’s empty. Oh yay, no water! (Well, except for the small secondary cistern which, due to certain, uh, irregularities in the way it was hooked up, years ago, feeds just one toilet way in the back.)

Jayce also supplied me with some essential pictures of the cutest and most adorable of the stray cats wandering about this year.

The Ponce Chronicles: Fall of 2022, post-Hurricane Fiona

posted in: Ponce Chronicles 3

I’m writing this from home, where I’m holding down the fort while Allysen, Jayce, and Allysen’s brother Andrew and our niece Lauren take on the challenge of working on the house, known as Casarboles. In case you’ve been sleeping in a cave, Hurricane Fiona recently tore through Ponce and the rest of Puerto Rico, leaving shambles in its wake, especially in the least prosperous and most vulnerable areas. There’s city water on the hill, finally, but no power as of the arrival of our company on the hill—except from a small generator, plus another small one Allysen picked up at Costco on her way from San Juan airport. Update: The power to the hill was finally restored, on the evening of day three, Monday. There was much dancing and celebrating, by all accounts.

President Biden recently flew into Ponce* to visit the disaster, instead of following the customary official route of visiting San Juan, which (because it sits on the northern coast and is sheltered by the mountains) typically suffers the mildest effects of these superstorms. I think the folks of southern Puerto Rico appreciated the gesture, especially since it stood in stark contrast to a previous executive’s tossing of paper towel rolls to people who were reeling from Hurricane Maria.

This trip by Allysen and company was actually planned before the hurricane, to fix a bunch of things that needed fixing. Now there’s more to fix. Mostly, from this storm, it’s damage to skylights and windows and doors, and a bent driveway gate that had something land on it. Plus, a general ravaging.

Am I sorry I’m not there? Well, I can’t say I’m envious of what they’re facing. I’m not physically in shape to be able to do much work anyway, and I’m tentatively glad to have some time to myself here, to try to focus less on my health and more on getting some of my own work done. But we’ll see.

I’ve been unable to extract any selfies from the crew, or pictures showing much of the state of the house, but here’s a very nice sunrise, photographed by Allysen the morning after their arrival.

*Side note of complete irrelevance: years ago, when my private pilot’s license was still current, I rented a beat-up little Cessna and did a little sightseeing out of Ponce’s Mercedita Airport, from the very same runway that Air Force One landed on two weeks ago.

The Ponce Chronicles 2022, Coda

One final thought about our trip to Ponce. And that is to extoll the greatest invention since fire: the zap racket. Can anything be more satisfying than the snap! of a mosquito being electrocuted? Or the aroma of barbequed mosquito? I don’t think so. Even from another room, that sound brings ringing cheers, especially when it’s snap! snap!…snappity snappity snap!

Here ends the reading of The Ponce Chronicles 2022.


The Ponce Chronicles 2022, Part 6, The Final Part

My chronicling got derailed by a week of relentless activity. A pair of workers started showing up at 6:45 every morning (we are not morning people!!) to do concrete and brick repair, and to rebuild a pair of custom folding doors to the laundry area. In Boston, workers bring the materials they need, because for one thing, they know what they need. Not so in Ponce, where I repeatedly found myself clutching a hand-written list (in Spanish, which I do not speak) of materials I needed to buy at Home Depot. Kudos to the helpful employees of Home Depot Ponce, who deciphered my needs and filled my cart.

Allysen, meanwhile, went shopping for art to put on the walls to liven the place up. What she came back with astounded me: most notably an assortment of gorgeous x-ray photographic images of flowers, sealed in glass, by a remarkable artist named Albert Koetsier. Here are a few, up on the walls:

Trust me when I say that my photos do not do these pictures justice. In real life, they are stunning. And where did Allysen find these pictures? At a gallery? Nope. At a classy art emporium? Nope, although you can get his prints in places like that. Where, then? Marshalls. Yes, that Marshalls. We spent many hours hanging them in the right places. (I didn’t get around to taking pictures of them until we were in the throes of packing to come home, so no nicely staged pictures of the rooms, I’m afraid.)

Meanwhile, I closed off (for the third time) the Ho Chi Dog trail. I also channeled a jack-hammer operator and drilled inch-wide holes with a hammer drill through five-inch concrete in an attempt to drain a fish-pond area that cannot be kept filled (long story). It currently serves as a mosquito-breeding area, thus my attempt to keep it drained. Guess what? Five inches down through concrete apparently just put me into bedrock. No drainage! Aughh.

We made many other repairs (and failed to make still others), with occasional respites such as enjoying wine and cheese with our friend Cheryl, who is now director of the Museo de Arte de Ponce, a world-class art museum that is still rebuilding from earthquake damage from over two years ago.

We pulled an all-nighter the night before returning home. Final repairs, cleanup, packing, etc. I am somewhat north of my 20s and do not handle all-nighters the way I once did. (Okay, I am north of my 40s, also. Somewhat. And my 50s. And, er…) We watched a gorgeous sunrise over downtown Ponce and the ocean, complete with an exquisite sliver of crescent moon that you could just barely see here if I could figure out how to make WordPress display the full-sized image.

Then we got an hour’s sleep before heading for San Juan, rental car return, JetBlue, and total collapse after being greeted joyously by dogs and daughter at home. Three days later, we’re still recovering.

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