Friday, November 7, 2014

TOURIST FOR THE DAY in PUERTO RICO

Playing Tourist in Puerto Rico; Oasis goes to El Morro


Good morning and welcome to sunny El Morro. Did you know that Puerto Rico was under the Spanish flag for about 500 years until the United States came 100 years ago? Knowing that bit of information goes a long way in explaining the culture and attitudes of this beautiful island. El Morro was constructed on the protruding parts of the land surrounding the city to protect the island from invaders approaching by the sea, which explains why there is a wall going around much of the Old City (El Viejo San Juan). There is an El Morro in nearby Cuba, too, and it is made in the same style and material.


El Morro in San Juan is actually called Fort San Felipe del Morro but not by anyone on the street. I have a little confession to make; this photograph was taken a bit down the road from El Morro at another fort, Fort San Cristobal, though most tourists call all of these structures El Morro.

 I like this one near the entrance to the road leading up to the Old City because you can walk right into one of the sentries and take a look at the framed sea.
 

Come inside with me and let's take a look.






There is a mysterious story about one of these sentry boxes in San Cristobal, La Garita del Diablo (the Devil's Sentry). I must caution you that a legend has been circulating that says those who dare visit this most extremely situated and the first constructed lookout (1634) might mysteriously disappear. Though word on the street is that the only real disappearance was of a romantically involved couple who escaped by way of the sea in order to elope (Oh, how dangerously romantic!)

I'm feeling a bit hungry for lunch. Why don't we walk down the road and look for something to eat?

Or maybe first, we could cool off with a piragua? These traditional iced syrups are quite refreshing. Look at the selection on the glass. Spanish and English are respectfully placed side by side. Agua Fria/Cold Water! I think I will have an anise flavored PIRAGUA.

Do you see the large solid block of ice inside the glass cart? The man is shaving it with a special tool, which he uses to scoop up the ice into a cone and then pours flavored syrup all over the top. It's a handmade snowcone! I caution you to avoid the ajonjoli (sesame seed) flavored syrup,  except when selecting locally-made candy.






If you're like me, you might find the grainy texture disturbing in your cold piragua. Of course, there are a lot of healthy and calming B vitamins in sesame seeds so it's entirely your decision. The coco (coconut) flavored syrup is quite popular with the local residents.

For lunch, I would like to have a traditional pasteles with rice and beans. Pasteles are made from plantain and sometimes yucca root ground into a paste and filled with a spicy, but not spicy-hot, meat mixture. Unlike Mexican-style food, generally, Puerto Rican's do not enjoy hot peppers. The stuffed masa filling is wrapped in banana leaf, tied with string and boiled for about an hour. It's a tasty meal all by itself but presents a problem for vegetarians. (Be nice!) However, I have found several women who are willing to sell me a dozen garbanzo filled (chick peas), vegetable filled or sometimes soy filled pasteles. To be honest, I usually have to provide the textured vegetable protein meat substitute. If you are in FRESHMART in Condado on Ashford Avenue, you can pick up a half dozen vegetarian pasteles for about ten dollars.

Making pasteles is a grassroots (and underground) business that thrives during the holiday season. Obtaining the best possible pasteles is all about maintaining your local connections.

What meal would be complete without a side of crunchy salty tostones? Tostones are large unripe plantain bananas, sliced thickly and fried of both sides, flattened and fried again until golden (insert cholesterol warning here!). They are served with salt, ketchup, and/or a bit of garlic.

Yum! Warning: these must be eaten fresh or not at all because they can get quite dry and hard. Tourists who eat dried out tostones are often disappointed and left wondering what is all the fuss about?

~~~Make your own! If you make these at home, cut thick slices diagonally, fry in oil for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from pan, flatten -I use the bottom of a plate- on a board, and firmly press down. Return the plantain disks to the hot oil. Lightly cook on each side again, remove and place on an absorbent towel. Cook just one large green plantain banana at a time, and serve immediately.

Note: If your plantain's are turning yellow, they do not make tasty tostones. Let them ripen, slice, and gently fry them once on each side in hot oil. These are called amarillos. Also, when looking for plantains in the States, go to Chinese grocery stores and/or look for "macho bananas,"  which is a most curious name! ~~

For lunch or dinner, I can recommend an atmospheric restaurant in the Old City, Raices (Roots), which is known for its mofongo, which is mashed plantain filled with garlic spiced meat. The servers wear white traditional costumes with headdress, and serve food on old fashioned looking tables, complete with a wood and tin service. Two recommendations here: arrive before you are hungry and bring your credit card because service can be slow and the food pricey. That's okay. Afterall, you are getting a taste of Puerto Rico from the past. Just drink a Pina Colada and enjoy the atmosphere. If you don't want to sit in an air-conditioned space, you can eat at an outside table while listening to Puerto Rican folk music. Street life in Puerto Rico is always entertaining but may be somewhat overwhelming. If you prefer a more authentic experience, you can try Cafe Manolin on 251 San Justo in the Old City. In fact, I prefer the diner feel of Manolin's and enjoy plain mofongo surrounded by a plate of salad. You will notice that many local residents enjoy this restaurant, which serves hearty portions at economical prices.

I should clarify a point here, traditional foods are not special occasion meals. These foods are eaten every day all around the island. Why just this morning, I had freshly made hot tostones with a sprinkle of sea salt crystals and a tiny bit of ketchup. (Plantains are available all year, but in season locally grown freshly cut plantains are of the highest quality and flavor.) Back to the subject of restaurants, Raices servers dressed in costume and rustic tables set with tin cups and wooden dishes are not commonly used anymore -  except for festive decorations at various cultural activities. Puerto Ricans have access to many of the same stores as those in the United States; consequently, most people ordinarily wear the same clothes as the US tourists and use "regular" cups and plates. One exception is that sometimes US tourists dress in safari clothes - complete with a hard wide-brimmed hat, a many pocketed vest and tough leather boots. I think these tourists thought that they were going to a jungle! What a surprise it must be to discover that Old San Juan feels like an old European city.

Today, there is a blend of both old and new in foods as well as with all things related to culture. For example, take the traditional El Noche San Juan festival, which is both formally and informally celebrated during the summer solstice, specifically on the birthday of John the Baptists (San Juan/St. John). This wild night combines all things pagan and Catholic into a modern synergistic mix. If you can handle crowds and would love to throw yourself backward into the cleansing surf a few times after midnight, come to any of San Juan's beaches on the night of June 23, throw yourself backwards into the ocean three times, and be blessed with good fortune by Yemayá, the Ocean Mother, or St. John (as you wish).


Another cultural blend is found in reggaetón music, touted as the real Puerto Rican music of today, I remain reserved. (Follow the link to read about Puerto Rican culture and music.) Have you heard of the group Calle 13 (Street 13)?  I located a Calle 13 reggaetón video that has an interesting sound when combined with the well known salsa singer, Ruben Blades. You can see the barrio (neighborhood), La Perla (The Pearl) just below El Morro. As a matter of fact, it's right over the wall and next to the sea. I have been down as far as that atmospheric old graveyard (seen in the video), but probably tourists would not be welcomed (read safe) inside this neighbor.


Warning: these lyrics are not tourists friendly. Yes, it's true, we are said to be in the way. Listen carefully to these Spanish lyrics, which say tourists are blocking the view while they take pictures of the view. If like me, you don't particularly like reggaetón music, you should still take a look at this exceptional video. Ruben Blades, you're worth it!



It's time for farewell and goodbye.

Would you just look at that sign in the photograph which coincidentally reads, Oasis El Morro .

Visitors and potential tourist alike, though we are finished with our Oasis El Morro tour, I hesitate to overload your royal reading patience with anymore today. Stop by for future
Tourist for the Day posts and enjoy playing tourist with me.

© Cynthia Pittmann
2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reflection on Insights Gained from Falling

Photo credit

I fell into a hole.

It really was just a broken place in the sidewalk but I had a flash of insight, which is why I' m writing about it here. The fall was accompanied by one of those familiar memories of the future where an event seems to be repeated but it's the first time it happens - as in déjà vu.  Has this happened before, I questioned. I tried to think of similar experiences of falling. The first memory I thought of happened after moving into a new house in Puerto Rico. I was jogging and following my bliss down a quiet side street

in a romantic dreamy fog when

Photo credit
I noticed a large Victorian house to my right that was set in the middle of a lush green yard filled with slightly overgrown but cultivated plants. (It looked like this photo of a sub-tropical Victorian home in Springfield, Georgia.) Still thinking about the possible residents of this romantic looking home, my senses were jarred by the view of a new condominium building project. Reflecting about the possible demolition of the aging house, I was suddenly shin deep in a small metal encased hole in the sidewalk. I was cut and a bit in shock. I realized that the accident happened because someone did not replace a cover over a water meter. At first, I was angry because of the missing cover, but then I wondered why I didn't see the hole right in front of me. I felt uneasy as I remembered that when I was younger, I was often told that

I had my head in the clouds. I was a daydreamer. 

Keep your eyes on the road! (photo credit)
Once while driving on the scenic panoramic route on California's coastal highway (California State Route 1), I was so captivated and excited by the view that I nearly drove off the cliff. Talk about entering the moment! So I remember that time of falling into the hole and wondered if I was daydreaming. I keep thinking of Alice and her adventures while she was falling into a hole. I'm showing myself in my own looking glass by observing the way I react.

Thinking now, I remember that I had sprained my ankle exactly twice in my life, and both times I had to be rushed to the emergency room. The first incident happened because I was riding on the butterfly handlebars of a new pink Schwinn bike that my younger brother was steering. (I was twelve.) I was thrilled with the fun loving ride until my foot caught up in the spokes of the front wheel. The second time occurred at the same age. I was when I was sitting on the wheel cover of a tractor driven by my father and my foot slipped into the wheel. In both incidents, I remember the face of the driver, my brother and my dad, looking pained and guilty, which may have contributed to my profound hurt at being wounded. I felt seriously sorry for myself both times. I have an insight as I realize that I want someone else to be guilty and sorry when I am hurt.

The incident of falling into an uncapped-water-meter hole on the sidewalk repeatedly returns to my mind because I notice that I'm looking for someone to blame.

Years ago when I moved to Puerto Rico, I complained to my director about the parking problem at work. I am a bit ashamed to admit to it now but I was overly critical. It bothered me that people would park their cars everywhere and sometimes double park so that I could not leave. In busy times, cars were parked on the sidewalks or drivers would create a middle parking lane behind the legally parked vehicles, which made it impossible for them to leave because they arrived early enough to park their car in an assigned space. My director listened to my explanation about being late to class because I was blocked in and she said, "Yes, this is a small island and parking is competitive." Was I supposed to infer that people didn't have a choice but to break the rules? My angry reaction to illegal parking occurred many years ago. I've learned that rules are flexible and subject to interpretation by the drivers.

The most recent time I fell into a hole, I realized my orientation had changed. I no longer took it for granted that the sidewalk ahead would be evenly paved over. I accepted that I needed to look out for myself in this life. I know I cannot prevent every falling incident (read mistake) from occurring but I noticed that I have accepted responsibility for my own well being rather than blaming others. I realized that thinking or focusing on someone's behavior (rather than my own) resulted in my victimization. I have to pay attention in life.

Living in Puerto Rico (where my expectations are frequently challenged) has taught me to pay attention. I'm grateful for this experience.

Friday, October 10, 2014

LEARNING TO TRUST

Reflection on Trust During Troubled Times

David: Why do people do such terrible things?
Sophie: Like what?
David: Like beat people, and kill them, and make them prisoners.
Sophie: Most people don’t do that, David.
David: My friend Johannes always used to tell me, "Trust no one."
Sophie: Oh, life wouldn’t be worth living if you did that, David. You can be cautious, but you have to let people in.
David: How do you know if they’re bad or not?
Sophie: David, most people are good. They have families and friends, and they just want to live their lives as happily as they can. Oh there will always be bad people in this world and you will usually know them when you meet them, but sometimes you won’t. But you can’t let that stop you from living your life fully and freely. And making friends and seeing the goodness in people because if you can’t do that you will never find any happiness.



Do you ever wonder how you can trust again after a difficult experience? I admit that I struggle with this one. Sometimes I think I'm a bit like the 12 year old David in the quote above. He was taken by himself to a Bulgarian concentration camp when he was young because of his family's political beliefs. Growing up away from his family in a lackluster environment surrounded by guards who are quick to administer punishment changes the way he interacts with people. He forgets how to smile. When unexpectedly he is given a chance to escape, he sets off on a journey across Europe to Denmark carrying important secret papers which later turn out to be his personal identification and the information needed to reunite him with his mother.

The story is compelling, but it is his interaction with Sophie, the Swiss woman who helps him to get in touch with his mother that is the most moving. She is played by Joan Plowright, a favorite English actress who plays a similar role, Mary who takes care of Luca Innocenti, in Tea with Mussolini. Both Sophie and Mary are exactly the kind of people I admire. In both of these roles, we meet creative, self-sufficient yet engaged with others woman; these women are not afraid to reach out when help is needed. Admittedly, I like Joan Plowright best in Enchanted April, where she plays Mrs. Fisher, a woman whose feelings have contracted so much that she has lost the ability to feel compassion for others, but then her time in Italy thaws the her heart and she realizes the importance of yielding to creative impulses and allowing connection with others. (photos from Facebook fan page)

Why am I pulled toward this type of character? I think I have to continually learn the trust lesson. I imagine myself sitting down and discussing life over a cup of Earl Grey tea with a wise woman like Sophie. If I let my imagination go further, I can envision that I might be a woman like Sophie in the future...and maybe a little now. However, at the moment, I'm feeling more like David-cut off and fighting with my own emotional demons- I'm particularly battling with trust issues.

Perhaps you know that my own mother was murdered by a neighbor. (I have told the story before-just click the link.) I don't know if you realize how perplexing it is to that young person who resides inside me -ever an innocenti- she who cannot comprehend how someone familiar and well-known-a lifelong neighbor- could do something so cruel.
You read about people- this past weekend in Puerto Rico, for example- who kill their own spouse or family, and then turn the gun back on themselves. It seems like such a foreign experience. You never think you will have to confront that type of situation with anyone you personally know.

I have never been able to connect the act of murder with the known person who was my neighbor.

Factually, I know he did it. I've looked at him in photographs and in court but it never made sense to me. I think about his behavior more as a symptom of society's sickness and lack of tolerance for difference. I have to make myself remember that it was his hand that pulled the trigger.

It was Jim Brooks who killed my mother and her partner, Christine.


No, even after writing that statement, it still feels remote.


While viewing I am David, I allow myself to feel upset. After the movie, I watch an episode of Friends and found it extremely amusing. I laughed out loud. I felt freer somehow and more open to all emotions. I know it is important to feel. I also know that trying not to feel leads to depression. Did you know that when you have trouble, it often acts like a trigger for a cluster of repressed feelings, and there are some things that you just don't want to remember. Noticing myself going through this emotional roller coaster made me realize that I need to remember to feel and allow myself to trust people again.

Sophie is right:
 "...there will always be bad people in this world and you will usually know them when you meet them, but sometimes you won’t. But you can’t let that stop you from living your life fully and freely. And making friends and seeing the goodness in people because if you can’t do that you will never find any happiness." 

I'll take that wise woman's advice!


(Note: OWL)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Writers Notebook: Remembering Dreams


Remembering Dreams





Do you ever wonder how you can remember dreams? Lately, I've been reading Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections and attempting to record my dreams every morning. If I can remember my dreams, I will have a view of the hidden me. I want to look into the parts of my personality that I hide from myself - risky business! I consider myself honest about my motives and practice self-witnessing. Maybe that sounds strange but those of you who are in some kind of meditation practice know that witnessing your thoughts and actions (without judging) can yield a tremendous amount of information about yourself. I am looking to find a creative energy source that will bring my writing alive with vitality. I've discovered other techniques to wake up the muse but I would like a more reliable routine that keeps me in touch with my imagination.


The goal is to wake up everyday, notice what in floating around in my mind and then immediately write down everything in my mind - take a "mental picture" as it were. Words, thoughts, images, sensations, songs and so on. I have discovered that I must notice my thoughts before I move from the bed. I cannot allow myself to talk or engage in any preliminary activity before I write or else I lose the thoughts. Some days I'm successful while others (like today) I get caught up in washing dishes, making coffee, preparing for the day and before I know it - the dreams are gone! What did I dream last night? What influenced my subconscious? Blank! My mind is unable to remember my dreams because I had too many intervening thoughts before I recorded my dreams such as - why hasn't anyone done the dishes in two days! It's a good thing I didn't cook dinner last night or else there would be more dishes. How can I get cooperation about cleaning the house? And then my mind goes analytical - Why are we so stuck in these social gender roles that I'm the one who breaks down and does the dishes first? It's enough to wipe out anyone's morning dreams! My thoughts are a giant eraser rubbing out the lightest dream pencil marks first but today, the entire page was all gone.


Mental palaver! Jung uses that word as in to arrange a palaver to mean conversations  he has with the Africans at night. He wants to know if they have dreams and if they provide some kind of insight into their daily lives. He attributes their resistance to sharing their dreams with him as evidence of a lack of trust or "shyness." Jung even offered rewards - cigarettes, matches, and safety pins for sharing dreams but they wouldn't budge. I'm thinking that maybe they didn't remember their dreams because of too much palaver! I have been recording by dreams every morning for two weeks - let's see if some pattern emerges. I have a safety pin in my pocket for good luck.  Do you have any dream wisdom to offer? How do you remember your dreams?

(Also posted in Writers Rising)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writer's Notebook: 5 Strategies to Improve Your Mood

Oasis Feature: Writer's Notebook (and we are all writers!) Is it a cloudy day in your emotional life? Do you have the blues? 

If so, I recommend these "5 Strategies to Improve Your Mood."


I'm working on writing my mother's story. Those of you who have been following Oasis Writing Link™ know that she was murdered in a hate crime many years ago. I believe this story is worth telling and yet, it is difficult to revisit the memories without holding on to the sadness. In fact, it's not only writing about her but also, I seem to become moody when her birthday approaches. Even Halloween symbols bring about strong memories of our life together because she was born on October 31st. I've decided that this is the year that I will tell this story. It's time to move forward, which is why I need a plan to perk myself up after I write.

These following tips can be used whenever you want to break your own downward spiral after an intensely emotional writing experience.

1. Turn on fun upbeat music! Do you remember "Popcorn" (see video below)? That's the kind of playful atmosphere you want to create for yourself in order to transition out of a blue mood.
2. Move! Go outside for a quick walk. It's possible any other exercise could break the mood cycle but moving in nature, noticing how your feet contact the earth, feeling the sun and wind on your face is a great way way to change your perspective.
3. Stop and contemplate a leaf, flower, tree, cloud. Look deeply but softly at the shape, texture, uniqueness of each beautiful aspect of nature. Remember that you share this unique beauty. Ponder on the life coursing through your veins and appreciate your own beauty-essence as you absorb nature's beauty.
4. Breathe in joy as you appreciate all that is life. As you deeply inhale joy, exhale any residue of disturbance that may be inside you without any sense of rejection. You are accepting yourself and all that is animating this world.
5.Make a JOY Plan. Decide to do something energizing in the near future, with the intention to create optimism. Encourage yourself and cultivate a happy hopeful disposition. Be imaginative. Do you want to go on a last minute cruise? Can you make a self-care appointment such as a facial, hair treatment or a mani-pedi for this weekend?  Do you want to see a loved one? If so, then plan a visit where you share a special meal, picnic or visit a favorite restaurant together. Remember to nurture yourself and keep it fun!

These ideas are not intended as avoidance strategies. If you have a genuine problem that needs resolved, I encourage you to seek advice or therapy from a professional counselor. My hope for you is that these five tips will provide you with a readily available mood shifting strategy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Inspired to Change




I’m organizing people, tasks, plans
at work and in my dreams. I’m
living my work life twice,
once awake and once asleep.
Let me out!

Walking down the street,
I’m shucked as new corn –
Exposed, raw, open.
It’s New York City in the fall
Curtains blown through -
caught, held, pinned.
(Muse refuse?)

 Outside the box
walking through Washington
Square in clear air
Green corners filled out
In secret places
rendezvous and parlez-vous
“Bonjour mes amies!”

Feeling life, living, alive
Holding together, letting go
Convex, concave
light and loose …
willpower?
– it’s now or never.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Visit From Tropical Storm Bertha

Batten down the hatches!? People are stocking up on crackers, water and batteries but so far the storm is not bad here in a Puerto Rico. Still everyone is "en casa" waiting. A few of us are outside, after all Beni needs his walk. Mangos are dropping like rocks in anticipation of an avalanche. A lady from the Dominican Republic wearing a knee length skirt and holding an tiger printed umbrella is collecting fallen mangos in a plastic bag. I hand her one that's fallen hard at my feet, call Beni, leap over newly forming streams and run into the corner building. It's a storm, and the streets are flooding but so far we're just fine.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mellow Yellow Gratitude

Oasis Reflection
 


 "The moment your judgement stops 
through acceptance of what is, 
you are free of the mind. 
You have made room 
for love, 
for joy, 
for peace."


The Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now


 The sun is shining this morning in San 

Juan, Puerto Rico. As the breeze gently 

catches the ocean mist, I'm reminded of 

the goodness in this life. It's so easy 

to forget to notice the beauty that 

surrounds us everyday but today I am reminded to accept:
 


I'm lucky! I'm so fortunate to live here on 

this beautiful island. I appreciate my 

friends and family all across the States 

and Puerto Rico who welcome me into 

their homes and make room for me in 

their lives.  It's good to know my health,

if not perfect is good ! (I've done my 

summer routine checkups and I'm fine.) 

I'm looking forward to little pleasure, for example,

soon we will have bikes to ride around the

town and to the beach! My girl is coming 

home for a couple of weeks! Oh, yes, I'm happy 

indeed! 
 
In our ordinary moments, we can let 

go and just be in this moment and 

experience it without any changes. 


It's lunch time now. My simple pasta is 

warm and sprinkled with freshly cubed

tomatoes. Soft and sweet peaches, 

freshly sliced, await. No, I think I'll try a 

bit of fruit right now with the pasta. Why not?!


I'm moving along at an even pace at 

home and at work...look for this, look for 

that ...it's a mellow yellow kind of day. 


I hope your day is brightly imbued 

with radiant joy.








MUSIC NOTES:

They call me mellow yellow
(Quite rightly)
They call me mellow yellow
(Quite rightly)
They call me mellow yellow

Some comments by Donovan about the lyrics and his inspiration:

"In an interview with the June 18, 2011 edition of the NME, Donovan was asked what the song was actually about? He replied: "Quite a few things. Being mellow, laid-back, chilled out. 'They call me Mellow Yellow, I'm the guy who can calm you down.' Lennon and I used to look in the back of newspapers and pull out funny things and they'd end up in songs. So it's about being cool, laid-back, and also the electrical bananas that were appearing on the scene - which were ladies vibrators." (What!? These are the songwriter's risqué words! haha)




Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Visit to the Blue Hole

I haven't seen my brother in 20 years. 
In the wake of Mom's unexpected death, he moved to the mountains in Tennessee and I moved to the island of Puerto Rico. It's common to look for peace and new surroundings when tragedy suddenly strikes. Nevertheless, the closeness you feel as siblings never goes away. It's so good to reconnect with my brother Richard!
We walked to the Blue Hole and I couldn't resist going in! Soon I convinced him to come in too! 
It's not so cold!! (I lied!) he looked at me in the water and decided to show me how it's done.

"Are you going to jump!? I exclaim. He tells me, "That's the only way." 
Sibling rivalry? He wins - hands down! 
Now Patrick the General decides it's time to join the party! It's his first swim ever!! 
Poor baby! The water is so cold! Better get him out, now! 
Life can be so hard. We have to make the most of the good times. 
 
Jump right in and live!!