Monday, January 25, 2010
Puerto Ricans are loud. I realize that sounds extremely stereotypical and uneducated but those things don't concern me because it also happens to be true. I don't personally know any Puerto Ricans on an intimate level (however you want to interpret that) and I haven't spent enough time in the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhoods of the majestic nightmare that is New York City to mean "Puerto Ricans are loud" in the Jerry Seinfeld sense of anglocentric befuddlement. It's a stereotype that I never really knew existed. But over the recent Christmas/New Year holiday my girlfriend and I spent two weeks in Puerto Rico and I am telling you right now that those fuckers are loud. All the time. Music is omnipresent and inevitably BLARING, be it the pounding goofy gangsterism of reggaeton or the classier leanings of some laid-back salsa. No matter the tune, the undeniable fact is that some tune will always be present. It pours out of open car windows, the doorways of high apartment balconies and tiny boomboxes on the laps of street dudes. Then there are the fireworks. Ubiquitous throughout the holiday season, celebratory explosions would shoot randomly from the streets into the skies with absolutely no warning. As in: directly from the streets and straight up into powerlines. At all hours of the day and night. The people themselves are in a seemingly constant state of chatter; boisterous, proud and admittedly pleasing to the ears. Spanish is a tight language and the particular dialect in Puerto Rico was so singular and fast-flowing that it rendered my limited talents in español basically useless. Everyone patiently suffered my stumbling through one incomplete sentence and immediately responded in English so masterfully learned that my shame was plugged in and amplified so much that Space could observe it. The Moon knows I'm a terrible bi-linguist.
The experience as a whole was solid. Old San Juan is a bonafied good time punctuated by epic colonial forts and the kind of architecture that makes you want to drink mohitos in the cobblestone streets all day, wearing an ice cream white suit & a panama hat, grabbing the asses of some possible prostitues and maybe drunkenly waving a gun around while some guy follows you and plays a horn. No one was doing that and I can't imagine why anyone would be, but that's what I wanted to do. The beaches in San Juan and the surrounding area are probably not the nicest on the island, but they did the trick for me. And I never tire of laughing at German accents or bonering over THICK LATIN CULOS. The tiny island of Vieques was a mixed bag; the southern town of Esperanza was a sloppy tumble of gross U.S.tourists thankfully salvaged by its incredible ocean views and the surrounding beaches that sort of changed my limited understanding of what "paradise" could actually mean to a person as broke as myself. The northern town of Isabel II was a differenct experience altogether; we spent the 2 days following the New Year there and were greeted by a gaggle of stumbling amiable zombies, wasted from 2 days of opulent rum consumption. They wandered around glassy-eyed and smiling, stopping occasionally in doorways to dance by themselves whether there was music playing nearby or not, and engaging my girlfriend and I in some of the most entertaining and warm conversations either of us has probably ever had with a total stranger, booze-influenced or otherwise.
I went to Puerto Rico with zero expectations and left with probably a lot less insight than I should have gleaned, but my overall impression is that of a genuine and welcoming place that deserves much more time and inquiry than I was able to grant it. The culture-shock was more of a slow burn than a jarring confrontation, its impact most likely softened further by the fact that I was reading Werner Herzog's "Conquest of the Useless" while I was there. Herzog was struggling with his own concepts of human nature in relation to the necessity and interpretation of art while slogging through the armpits of South America. I was trying to get a tan and eat as many plaintains as possible while floating around in the friendly rat-tail of the Caribbean. I imagine that's part of why he has spent his life as a cinematic Indiana Jones and I'm sitting in the school library listening to Tangerine Dream and avoiding my Spanish homework.
Different strokes, I guess.