Sunday, October 21, 2007


I haven't posted in a while, mostly because of my pesky new job, but today is different.

Our next-door neighbor, Don Pablo, was robbed today. He was out of the house at the time, and someone broke in and stole $9,000 in cash, a pile of jewlery, and who knows what else. They ripped off the iron bars from one of the windows to get in. They did it in broad daylight. They killed his dog.

Whoever it was, they were quiet. His house is right next to mine, and I was home the whole time. I was working, so I didn't have the radio or the TV on, but still I didn't hear a thing.

I keep saying "whoever," but we're pretty sure we know who did it. Whoever it was knew he wasn't home, which means they saw him leave (he doesn't have a car, so you can't go by that). Whoever it was knew he is an eccentric old man who lives alone in the nicest (well, the most expensive, as I say, he's eccentric) house in the neighborhood, and that he keeps a lot of cash in the house. Whoever it was knew how long he would be gone, because his nephew picks him up every Sunday and drops him off four hours later.

The person we suspect has had no electricity in his house for months (he was caught stealing electricity from a neighbor), and no water for longer than that (he can't afford to pay his bill, which is $30/month). Oh yeah, and this person has tried to rob Don Pablo in the past, but he was so hopped up on goof balls that he couldn't pull it off.

Of course, without proof, there's nothing anyone can do, except keep an eye out and be extra vigilant with our own safety and property.

Did they really have to kill his dog? Que lastima.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hay Luz

Hurricane Dean passed us to the south by a pretty good margin, but we had heavy rain and winds, and we have not had power or water for 3 days. The power finally came back.

It's easy to tell when the power comes back, because the entire neighborhood erupts in applause and cheers. If you've ever flown into San Juan, you'll know what I mean. When the plane lands, there is much rejoicing.

With any luck, we'll have water in a couple of hours, which is a good thing, because some of us are starting to smell. I like a self-administered sponge bath as well as the next guy, but it doesn't compare to a real shower.

Friday, August 17, 2007

No hay aqua ahora

Even as I was finishing up my last post, the plumber showed up to replace the faucet in the downstairs shower. We will have no water for the next six hours, and the sounds of him busting out the concrete and block walls so he can replace the pipes will no doubt leave me with a headache.

The plumber wears mid-calf rubber boots, which is not reassuring. Lovely guy though. The first time he was here, we tried to pay him after the first day of a two day job. It sounds much more poetic in Spanish, but basically, he said "You don't pay the musician before the music is over, or the quality of the performance will suffer."

No hay luz, no hay agua

Well, there are now, but hurricane Dean will be moving just to the south of us (we hope) in about eight hours. At that point, it will be a category 4 storm, with 5 being the strongest. While it will miss us, we are still in for some nasty weather. We will almost certainly be without power for a day or two, and our water is delivered via electric pump: when there's no power, there's no water.

This is George, which passed us to the north in September 2003. We were without power and water for more than a week.

So we do what we always do: stock up on batteries, water, and ice, and charge our iPods. We get the lanterns and candles ready, and make sure plenty of good reading material is easy to get to.

We will secure the perimeter, bringing all the outdoor furniture indoors. We will close the windows, which are louvered aluminum: there's no glass to worry about. We will fill five-gallon pails with water so we can flush the toilets. We will make sure we have a full propane tank so we can use the stove (but not the oven, which is electronically controlled).

I write this now because when the storm comes, long before we lose power, I will lose my Internet connection. I will also lose my TV signal. Both come from a satellite, and both disappear when it's very overcast.

I leave to your imagination what else we do when there's no power, water, Internet, or TV.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Must Hate Dogs

Of course, I don't really hate dogs, at least not all the time.

Everyone here has at least one dog, usually of the yappy little mutt variety. These dogs are more alarm systems than they are pets. If anyone or anything gets within viewing distance, the dog alarm goes off until the person or thing goes away.

This is our dog, Bengie. Bengie warns us if anyone approaches. Unfortunately, he also warns us if a pigeon, chicken, cat, or stray leaf approaches. He's treated better than most. He sleeps indoors, watches TV at night, and is generally pampered.

Not so the neighbors' dogs. Neighbors on three sides of us have dogs that remain chained in front of the house at all times. They are well fed, but generally ignored. I can always count on one of these dogs to bark uncontrollably for an hour, usually around 2 AM, and usually in response to the pack of stray dogs that roams the neighborhood every night looking for love and food.

Cats, on the other hand, are cool. This is Cochise. He's two years old, and smokes French cigarettes. At least, he says they're French cigarettes.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Give Me That Quiet Religion

It's a Tuesday evening around 7:15, and I was just settling down to watch a little TV, when the sweet background noise of the coquís was shattered by a religious gathering next door. The majority of islanders are Catholics, and Catholics here are loud. They bring their own powerful amplifiers wherever they go. They have guitars, cuatros, and maracas. They sing, they yell, and they pray, often at the same time. They get very excited. Many in my neighborhood take turns hosting these meetings, but this is the first time it's been right next door.

I have nothing against any (or no) religion, but these people have ruined another evening for me and my family. We can't watch TV, we can't use the telephone, we can't even have a normal conversation. There's no way to shut out the noise.

Can we talk priorities? I'm trying to watch American Chopper, and they're trying to impress god. Don't get me wrong: these are good people, the celebration is not entirely unpleasant, and I have Tivo.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Puerto Rico Status

Puerto Ricans reflect on status as more die in war: 75% of Puerto Rican residents do not support the war, compared to 62% in the US. Puerto Ricans have been fighting and dying for the US since World War II.

Puerto Ricans became US citizens in 1917, and Puerto Rico's constitution came into effect in 1952; Constitution Day, July 25, is a Puerto Rican holiday.

"In the case of Puerto Rico, it must be noted that the name "commonwealth" for our present political status has no juridical value or international recognition. It came into acceptance after Puerto Rico's Constitutional Convention on February 4, 1952. Resolution No. 22 was approved establishing that "commonwealth" was the most convenient translation for "Estado Libre Asociado" because "Free Associated State" had juridical implication that was unacceptable to the U.S. Congress.". Guillermo Moscoso, The San Juan Star

So, the Puerto Rican constitution is valid only insofar as the US Congress says it is.

Puerto Rican residents cannot vote in presidential elections, have one non-voting representative in the House, and none in the Senate. Still, Puerto Rican residents consistently favor continued commonwealth status over statehood, and only a small minority favors independence. Puerto Ricans living in the US have full voting rights there.

Islanders don't pay federal income tax on money earned here, but we do pay local taxes, and contribute to Medicare and Social Security.

I doubt that Puerto Rico's status will change in my lifetime, and that's fine by me.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Driver's License

Carol and I actually got our licenses several months ago, but it was so horrible, I can only now talk about it. We got to the DVM in Caguas at 8:30, and reported to a class about the license test. What I didn't know was that the class was only available in Spanish (the test itself is available in English and Spanish). I don't speak Spanish, so the entire class was wasted on me. Carol speaks flawless Spanish, but she could hardly understand a word the woman said, so I doubt that Spanish would have helped me.

There were no manuals for the test in English or Spanish because "they haven't come in."

So we took the test cold. It was brutal, with questions like "What is the fine for drag racing on a public road?". There were a half a dozen questions about specific fines alone, and we both pretty much guessed. I got a 70 on the test (the minimum required to pass), and Carol got a 95.

The worst part was getting our names right, which took us two hours. They insisted on Carol using the name on her birth certificate (Puerto Rican women on the island do not adopt their husband's last name). We had to go to a lawyer, conveniently located in the building, to certify that she was know by at least three names. Similarly, they insisted that I use my mother's maiden name, which I could not even spell. The helpful woman running the show suggested that perhaps I didn't have a mother, and that I dropped from a plantain tree. She was visibly offended that I didn't want to use my mother's maiden name. We finally convinced her that we needed to use the names that appeared on all of our other documents, such as credit cards, deed to the house, etc. We also had to produce Puerto Rico voter registration cards, US passports, Mass driver's licenses, birth certificates, and our marriage certificate, which we had to return home for.

We finally got our licenses at 5 PM, and there was much joy.

Blue Laws

Blue laws? We don't need no stinking blue laws. Alcohol can be purchased in any store, at any time. Rum is the favorite hard liquor, and a quart of Palo Viejo (old tree) can be had for $6 and change. Rum is consumed  straight up; I haven't seen a mixed drink since I've been here. You can also get rum in all the tienditas (small community stores).

The most popular beer is Medalla (meh-die-ya), which is made in Puerto Rico. Medalla comes in 10 ounce cans. Until recently, beer had to be  sold in 10 ounce cans by law, to prevent imports of the more popular 12  ounce cans from the mainland.

About Don Luis

Ok, my name is Louis, but everyone here calls me Luis. They also call me Jibaro Gringo. "Jibaro" can be loosely translated in Puerto Rican as "hillbilly", and "gringo", of course, means "white guy". I was given this nickname (along with many others) shortly after my arrival here.

Living in Puerto Rico

This is a blog about my experiences as an Italian-American living in Puerto Rico.

I moved here three years ago with Carol, my Puerto Rican wife of nearly 30 years, to help take care of her family.

I lived near Boston for nearly 20 years before coming here. After 17 years the high-tech company for which I worked had no further use for me, or I them. Had I known what living here would be like, I would have done it several years earlier.

I was inspired to start this blog by another blog I just discovered: Blog Rican. The author is a Puero Rican currently living in Portland, Oregon. She writes beautifully and her blog is fascinating.