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Monday, October 21, 2013

Visiting Old San Juan

Puerto Rican Oasis
I want to share with you some of my everyday summer views of Puerto Rico. Many people think of Puerto Rico in a traditional somewhat nostalgic way, similar to this Sugar Cane painting that hangs on the walls of a local Old San Juan restaurant, Manolin Cafe but the reality is quite different.
 (Click here if you want to read an Oasis post about El Viejo San Juan.) What a lovely place to camp! I met Ms. D for lunch at Manolin Cafe- a traditional Puerto Rican restaurant frequented by city dwellers. I enjoyed the mofongo and Yaucono cafe served with hot milk.

If you haven't tried Puerto Rican coffee, it's time to be adventurous. In my opinion, it is the best coffee in the world. Confession: When I visit state-side relatives, I find my previously gifted coffee unopened and stored high on the shelves. 
My friend, Ms. D, knows where to go and how to spend money wisely. She suggested lunch at the Manolin Cafe because it has the best local food at the most economical prices. However, the value is not a secret! We had to wait at the door for a few minutes to be seated. And of course we ran into a friend because Puerto Rico is small, and you run into friends everywhere. Deeply immersed in conversation with our former co-worker and now world traveling friend Mr. G, we completely forgot to compete for our place in line. After noticing others who had arrived later than us being seated, I took the initiative  and excused us from the conversation. I was hungry!

 Finally, we were seated and it was well worth the wait. The photo is a half serving of mofongo, served with white rice and a mixed salad. I recommend that you do not order the rice with mofongo. It's too heavy. What was my waiter thinking? I find that being a vegetarian in Puerto Rico is a challenge. Often perfectly nice servers will give me starch with starch served with a side of starch. My growing middle may be blamed on such eating experiences as these!

Aside: Friends you have to try making mofongo. It's not too difficult as long as you have access to green plantains. Yes, you have to peel them with a knife, but it's worth it to try. Yes, they have to be sliced in one inch pieces, fried in oil until both sides are golden, and then briefly cooked again-but here is where you change your tostones to mofongo.

Place the fried plantain in a container and smash them with lightly roasted garlic until they are broken down into a nicely textured rounded pile. Flip unto a plate and serve with a little salad and Spanish olive oil. Delicious! (Click here if you want to try a more traditional recipe that includes meat.)

What I do differently in this recipe: I allow the plantains to get crisp so that when they are mashed, they continue to have texture. Also, I drop the garlic cloves in oil until they are a bit crunchy as well. Both of these changes make even the meat-eating Mr. enjoy the days when I serve his traditional food vegetarian style.
~~~~~~~~~~~ These Spanish looking baked clay tiles are on the floor of the Art School. Above them, an old picnic table on one side, and just behind the table, a scrap pile of boards and disgarded art projects. In spite of their neglect, I find the tile pattern beautifully arranged and pleasing to the eye. Doesn't it give you a feeling of another time? The art school is losing funding-drastically-and the students continue to work on their projects even though it feels as if the roof is caving in. It's a highly competive art school that produces students who can create in both the classical style art and more modern media, such as computer graphics. What a shame that art is the first to go when money is scarce.

Portions of this were previously published on June 20, 2010 in this blog and at Bloglandlane.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Valuing Subtle Shifts - Color and Time

Oasis Exploration: Relationships in Color and Time

One recent Saturday at the Esquela Artes Placticas in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, I encountered the concept of color gradation. The painting exercise we practiced was to take a color and mix it with white or black until an ever lightening or deepening shade results. While mixing and studying the color change, I reflected on how color represents time and that the subtle color variations are like moments in life. Most of the time we are not aware of subtle shifts in color. Green is green. Red is red. Blue is blue. Time is like that too because we notice that it's the morning, afternoon, and night. However, when a color is mixed with white or black in varying degrees subtle shades become visible. It is clear that green is a myriad of possible greens. Red and blue are potentials of color in which to dive! Our awareness of time is similar to our awareness of color in that we don't usually remember the moment. Anyone who has practiced present moment awareness knows this shift in perception. If you've gone on a mindfulness retreat, you know what I mean. Even the slogan Just Breath is a focusing practice that brings you into yourself so that you become aware of the real moment.

I remember a practice that I learned from reading G. I. Gurdjieff that is called (self) remembering, which is at any moment you turn your attention back on yourself and realize something such as, "Hey, I'm here. I'm alive." It's a practice of noticing that you are in existence. This self-remembering changes your daily experience of time.  I have practiced this technique on and off for years but at one time I consciously dedicated my focus to self-remembering for many daily moments for several months. What I discovered is that it altered my perception of time and my feeling of a solid boundary between my body and the space around it. Most of us experience time and life in chunky ways that are carefully divided by daily (and seasonal) routine.  We break it up every day into pieces such as waking up, eating, going to work, exercising, and  sleeping. The routine defines how we experience time.

For most of us, it is only when an event occurs that breaks our daily pattern do we shift in our awareness of time. Consider an unexpected event to your normal routine; for example, the arrival of an out of town guest. Suddenly you find yourself actively engaged in lively conversation at a restaurant well into the evening. It's past your bedtime!  You're so engaged in the moment that you forget all about your routine and your strategy of life management that organizes life into predictable chunks of experience. These occurrences let you know that time and pattern are constructs that make your life manageable but also invisible.  Unconscious routine can obscure gradations of color. However, a person's ordinary engagement with time can shift by consciously practicing various techniques. To illustrate, the method of periodically focusing on your breath can help you become aware of time and thereby, shift your ability to see, know and engage in more subtle ways. Try the self-awareness exercise below and pace it to your ever slowing and deepening breath.

I am here. I breathe. I am filled. I am empty. Inhale. Exhale. A moment. A string of moments. I am in life. I am life. Breathe.

Certainly the experience of breathing is ordinary but the awareness of breathing is another thing altogether. Conscious breathing can deepen your contact with a non-ordinary experience of life. Just as color has degrees and shades within what is normally classified as GREEN; time has degrees and shades that are made visible by strategies of consciously remembering.

Each moment is a prism of quiet vibrancy.

People have asked me that [what is the experience of inner awareness] before, and I always feel that they expect to hear the dramatic account of some sudden miracle through which I suddenly became one with the universe. Of course nothing of the sort happened. My inner awareness was always there; though it took me time to feel it more and more clearly; and it equally took time to find words that would at all describe it.

~~ Krishnamurti.

Color Gradations with 20 steps:  Complementary, Monochromatic, and Analogous Demonstrations