Chapter 5

You are, have been, and will continue to be the soul of this diary. I wish in one of the last chapters of this series to talk about the Puerto Ricans. 

The people of this Island, are as local as the endemic frog, the coquí. The "Boricuas" (the inhabitants of Borinquen or Puerto Rico) carry with them in their identity and their flag the word 'mix'. The "Taínos", Spaniards, Africans, North Americans, Corsicans, Cubans, English... The "Boricuas" are at the same time all races. All skin colors, all hair tones and all heights fit into a "boricua". Everything fits, with nothing to spare. 

But I think all the similarities y common features that during these months I have been able to observe and appreciate can be found where their enormous heart is, rather that in that exterior that many times serves to create groups, exclusions, prejudgements... 

But if there ever existed an essential condition to be or consider oneself "boricua", it would be without a doubt the joy. People during all these months of my stay have suffered one of the worst periods in many aspects of their recent history, but that not have for a day stopped singing, making music, dancing, and specially smiling or smiling at me. 

The "boricua" smiles and enjoys, and smiles and lives, with the most common or seemingly insignificant daily events. A good breakfast, a good cake, a good dance, and of course the good company and the encounters with other people are more that enough motives for lips to turn more concave. The "boricua" is a eminently social being, finds and recognizes himself/herself through patriotic symbols that are as humble and as charged with history and meaning as a plate of rice and beans with "tostones". In the majority of the cases it complements with an enormous generosity to others that becomes in many cases in extreme hospitality. 

The "boricua" is pleased by simply spending a nice time with good people. But if these people go to their country from abroad, they are even more interested in their culture, folklore, gastronomy, history, etc. The pride of the "boricua" turn into kindness and attentions with the curious visitor. 

In the last five months of my life, these have been the people that have treated me, that have attended to me, that have welcomed me until I have felt like I'm home. Therefore from here an enormous gratitude to them and my envy too. To their innate capacity for enjoyment in every moment or situations of life... cheers! 

Chapter 4

Greetings to all!

I hope winter is settling slowly for you, so that you have a chance to acclimatize better! In countries such as this one in which the seasons hardly change the climate or the landscape, the passing of time is signaled by the arrival of the festivities. Proper and strange festivities that paradoxically make people sing carols about snow and Santa Claus, in a temperature and environment that foreign eyes would think are the most appropriate to celebrate for example the Night of San Juan at the beach. I don't want to provoke envy but in this period during which not many Puerto Ricans go to the beach, today without being a very hot day we've had almost 30º. 

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Therefore time goes by, the seasons go by, and with more or less incidence, the days go by... and above all people go by too. Puerto Ricans go by, the ones who are known and the ones to be known, and above all I go by too. I go by around here, through their lives, through their land, in front of their eyes, even through their memory, though their conversations... but I go by. The day I made the calculations and realized that more than half of my scheduled stay in Puerto Rico had gone by already, it was not a very happy day. Those of you who know me will know that far from the thoughts of enjoying what time I have left here or what I have lived beyond possible limits, I prefer to internalize some what. About meetings and interactions that have been more prolonged with some, and other details that randomly or not have been put in front of me in this beautiful island. 

Therefore everything could continue to appear in the same tone that I have expressed myself in the previous chapters. Yes and no.

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Our brain, sometimes voluntarily and other time involuntarily leads us to take our thoughts far from where we are at... also invites me to think about the return, the work to resume, due dates for projects. I am waiting for the bus in a stop at the University of Puerto Rico and without wanting it I discover myself enjoying imaginary days in Mexico on my way back, a hypothetical Final Project that is being bound and delivered; embraces that are given in Spain when part of your mind and heart are still in the same place in which I am still waiting for the bus... And the buses here are slow, they go by at the same tempo that this Island advises you to enjoy it. The buses delay in coming and your mind continues on a trip around the world, while the sun is setting and shedding the last rays on a beautiful image of backlights and clouds with golden blazes that bring me back to Puerto Rico and invite me to take out my camera and try to capture it. 

The bus arrives and I continue my path, still in Puerto Rico. I pay and ask the driver about the bus stop I am looking for and... again in the Island of Enchantment transformed now in the smile he lets out while telling me he will let me know when we are near it, surprises me yet again. Meanwhile I sit, my thoughts return to a trip that pause in the immense spectacle of vital experiences that I am observing. 

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I continue to love this country and above everything else I continue to love its people. I still have so much to live here, many people to meet and continue meeting. If the second half of my stay here contributes barely half of the first part, I would be more than satisfied.  

A big hug for all! And many thanks for cheering for me.  

-Seba

Chapter 3

Hello again!

In previous diary entries I have talked to you about the courses that I've been taking. I suppose you could have gotten to think that I would have lots of leisure time. Well, additional to those courses, I am contributing about twenty hours a week with research at the Archive of Architecture and Construction of the University of Puerto Rico [AACUPR]. This job has also enabled me to meet very good people, in addition to putting me in contact with the primary sources which include blueprints, watercolors, and other documents generated by the best modern architecture production in the Island. On the other hand, I collaborate as an Teaching Assistant of a design course in which I am also getting to know some interesting students. These activities in addition to my courses occupy most of my time during the week, in the campus of the University of Puerto Rico. It is a wonderful place to work, with a profuse vegetation and a sensible ordination of the campus so that it is a pleasure to tour it. 

On the other hand, I would not want to forget to collect in this diary the difficult situation that the country lives in right now. In the last few months, the government has fired more than 23,000 employees (know that the Island has a population of a few more than 4M); imagine the proportion of families affected. To that effect today there's a National Strike with great repercussions and which final route ends in Plaza Las Américas, a mall that proudly shows its emblem of being the biggest in the Caribbean). I hope no altercations occur, despite that the citizens' mood is comprehensibly more and more agitated. 

I write this third chapter in what would be the theoretic midpoint of my stay here. I don't know yet the date of my return, or if my route to Spain will take me to a new country to know or a friendly embrace to encounter... I hope I can determine that soon with the idea of buying the tickets and reassure those who wait for me in Spain. These thoughts about future travels, countries or destinies have brought me to some reflections about the condition of the travelers, their questions, their searches, their comprehension of the local scene... to which have helped the great gift in form of a book that has come to me flying from home: "Invisible cities"... I leave you with some of these thoughts. 

Marco enters a city; he sees someone in a square living a life or an instant that could be his; he could now be in that man's place, if he had stopped in time, long ago; or if, long ago, at a crossroads, instead of taking one road he had taken the opposite one, and after long wandering he had come to be in the place of that man in that square. By now, from that real or hypothetical past of his, he is excluded; he cannot stop; he must go on to another city, where another of his pasts awaits him, or something perhaps that had been a possible future of his and is now someone else's present. Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.
'Journeys to relive your past?' was the Khan's question at this point, a question which could also have been formulated: 'Journeys to recover your future?'
And Marco's answer was: 'Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveller recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have.'

Ítalo Calvino. Invisible Cities.

-Seba

Chapter 2

September 7, 2009

Hello again to all! Before starting, I would like to congratulate the recently married couple and wish them the best of luck and happiness from now on! Hope that you had a good time on that day and even though you don't need me to say it, you know I would've loved to be there with you. I would also like to thank everyone who responded, commented, criticized or just read the first of the chapters. 

Precisely a month from today I set foot in Puerto Rico, and times flies by fast, very fast. Making a brief review, I think the work and effort invested to come here have been worth it. I really feel extraordinarily well received, for everything and mainly by everyone. 

It is evident to me that those who have contributed exceedingly to this journey are the Puerto Ricans I have been meeting, encountering, and greeting... I don't know if this will become a mono-topic across the diaries, but the open, affable and attentive character of the people here is positively surprising. Even coming from the South of Spain, where we assume ourselves more kin than the rest of Europe... the difference is the less shocking.

Impressions that I believe can be explained with the simple detail that crossing gaze with a lad or gal on a sidewalk, on the train or the market (without knowing him/her a bit), will be answered with a sincere smile on their face. Conversations in line to buy food, in the library, in the classes... a natural approach and spontaneous, sincere and grateful that is not looking for more than the crossing of impressions, or exposing their opinion about any issue, from the most trivial to the Island's politics... politics... 

Doing a bit of a recollection I want to tell you I'm taking two courses in the University. One of them Architectural History of Puerto Rico and the other one Introduction to Social Sciences. This second one has a curious story. Let me tell. At the beginning I was not enrolled in it, but instead I was enrolled in a course about the evolution of urbanism in the Island. The first day I went to class the classroom where the class should have taken place was wrongfully assigned. So that I was there, in a class, for an hour and a half, thinking it was my class, with a quite lively group of people who had traveled, knew a lot, a bit older than me as well as younger. 

They talked, and we talked, about society in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, about their nature, their current problems in the Island... interesting topics enlivened by a super dynamic and restless professor with incredible experiences in the field of social work. As homework for the next day we were assigned the reading of some articles from Pablo Freire about awareness and education that a good friend introduced me too before, and... once I became "aware" that this was not my class, I decided to change and stay on it. The people of variable origin and age also has an explanation, it's a program in the University for older students and for that reason the classes are late in the day. A great group in which I have a lot of fun with, I participate and learn.

To begin the end, two weeks ago I went to a Rubén Blades concert in the Coliseum of Puerto Rico. For those of you who don't know him, I recommend it; he is a Panamanian singer/songwriter who sings the themes for every day, for every house, with a salsa rhythm that forces you to dance. Rubén is over 50 years old but he stayed for a three hour concert! Without stopping! Incredible. On the other hand, he has been Tourism Minister of his country and has multiple social and political recognized commitments.

I particularly recommend a song from Rubén Blades, titled "Patria" (Homeland)... and on the thread of this topic today's farewell appears... from a country that has always been a colony, a word like that one, homeland, you can imagine how ample and variable that concept can get to... Borges says:  

Oda Escrita en 1966 (Ode written in 1996)

Nadie es la patria. Ni siquiera el jinete (Nobody is the homeland. Not even the horseman)

Que, alto en el alba de una plaza desierta, (That, tall in the dawn of a deserted plaza,)

Rige un corcel de bronce por el tiempo, (Governs a bronze steed by time) 

Ni los otros que miran desde el mármol, (Nor the others that look from the marble)

Ni los que prodigaron su bélica ceniza (Nor the ones who lavished their warlike ash)

Por los campos de América (Through the fields of America)

O dejaron un verso o una hazaña (Or they left a verse or a feat)

O la memoria de una vida cabal (Or the memory of a full life)

En el justo ejercicio de los días. (In the just exercise of the days.)

Nadie es la patria. Ni siquiera los símbolos. (Nobody is the homeland. Not even the symbols.)

Nadie es la patria. Ni siquiera el tiempo (Nobody is the homeland. Not even time.)

Cargado de batallas, de espadas y de éxodos (Loaded with battles, spades and exodus)

Y de la lenta población de regiones (And of the slow populations of regions) 

Que lindan con la aurora y el ocaso, (That border with the dawn and the sunset) 

Y de rostros que van envejeciendo (And of faces that age)

En los espejos que se empañan (On the mirrors that fog)

Y de sufridas agonías anónimas (And of anonymously suffered ) 

Que duran hasta el alba (That last until the dawn) 

Y de la telaraña de la lluvia (And of the spiderweb of the rain)

Sobre negros jardines. (About black gardens)

La patria, amigos, es un acto perpetuo (The homeland, friends, is a perpetual act)

Como el perpetuo mundo. (Si el Eterno (Like the perpetual world. If the Eternal)

Espectador dejara (Spectator would stop)

de soñarnos (dreaming about us)

Un solo instante, nos fulminaría, (Only an instant, would fulminate us)

Blanco y brusco relámpago, Su olvido.) (White and abrupt lightning, Its forgetfulness)

Nadie es la patria, pero todos debemos (Nobody is the homeland, but we all shall)

Ser dignos del antiguo juramento (Be worthy of the ancient oath)

Que prestaron aquellos caballeros (That those gentlemen gave)

De ser lo que ignoraban, argentinos, (Of being what was ignored, Argentineans,)

De ser lo que serían por el hecho (Of being what by the fact)

De haber jurado en esa vieja casa. (Of having sworn in this old house.)

Somos el porvenir de esos varones, (We are the future of these men,)

La justificación de aquellos muertos; (The justification of those dead;)

Nuestro deber es la gloriosa carga (Our duty is the glorious load)

Que a nuestra sombra legan esas sombras (That our shadow bequeath those shadows)

Que debemos salvar. (That we shall save.)

Nadie es la patria, pero todos lo somos. (Nobody is the homeland, but we all are.)

Arda en mi pecho y en el vuestro, incesante, (Burn in my chest and in yours, incessant,) 

Ese límpido fuego misterioso. (That limpid mysterious fire.)

A big embrace,

-Seba

Chapter 1

September 5, 2009

Greetings to all!!

I start here a travel diary, which I guess will have several chapters and from which I intend to get you a bit closer to my daily reality here in Puerto Rico. I am doing this primarily to make you participants in any way possible of this experience I am enjoying, secondly to make myself write, and thirdly and of course most important to maintain contact with you because I know many of you were interested in the details of my stay here. 

Of course the options are multiple and free: read it, print it, erase it, bind it, and even answering it!!

The first thing is thanking Lucas, who with his magnificent travel diaries from deep in Chile, from the coast in Chile or from the vicissitudes of a bus headed to Brazil, made me feel at times very close to him while contemplating what his beautiful pictures showed me. I take this idea from him. 

Copyright Sebastián Galafate

The trip, more than two weeks ago, not because of the lenght, full of layovers, changes in airlines, etc.. I found it less boring. I went from Malaga to Dublin, there I spent the night (fairly good for spending the night in that airport, with bars and sits everywhere to lay down...). From Dublin I went to New York, and once there and considering it was the airport terminal, the concept of fast food restaurants took another meaning.  Later I went to San Juan.

Once in the airplane I noticed how the environment was different, the warmth of the travelers was not the same as that of the Irish, not even alike... and a tranquil and parsimonious old man perfectly placed his luggage in the overhead compartment without a hint of the rush behind him, until the stewardess (of blonde hair and pale skin) urged him to take "pick up a bit of speed", while he returned him a look of sweetness comparable to the tension that accumulated in the woman's face.

After I finished in customs, almost with the same nerves from when I was headed to selection, settled in the spacious seats at the Emergency Exit of the last flight I had to take and already aware of the sympathy and the closeness of the People with whom I was encountering, I took off to San Juan.

The first day went by quickly, Karen (Puerto Rican girl who I had already met because she was in Seville and also because she was linked to the exchange between the schools of architecture Puerto Rico - Seville in which I am in) has to present her thesis (an contemporary architecture project in Old San Juan) and understood she was in a bit of a hurry, so I went on to help her together with other of her peers while I waited for the courses to start and the job at the Archive AACUPR. 

Here I present Karen's thesis, which obtained an outstanding pass and thereby in such academic manner I started my stay in the University of Puerto Rico. 

During the first days, I was specially surprised by the yankee "way" of many things here: a great quantity of fast foods, roads, cars, 24-hour supermarkets... but after that first shock of finding such forms distant from the caribbean culture in an island like this one I discovered and started submerging into the bottom of some of their manners, local culture, and folklore...  

Copyright Sebastián Galafate

In a few words, the belonging of this island to the United States for more than a century has left quite a mark on this People, but it is impossible to live with imported "ways" from other latitudes, climates and cultures in an environment such as this. 

I don't want to lenghten much today, so I conclude now. In this time of airports, waits and despairs... I have had a lot of time to read, besides Rayuela I have been with some poems from Benedetti amongst others and I leave you with piece of it:

Credo (Creed)

vos sabés (you know)

en esta excursión a la muerte (in this excursion to death)

que es la vida (that is life)

me siento bien acompañado (I feel in good company)

me siento casi con respuestas (I almost feel I have the answers)

cuando puedo imaginar que allá lejos (when I can imagine that far away)

quizá creas en mi credo antes de dormirte (maybe you believe in my creed before you fall asleep)

o te cruces conmigo en los pasillos del sueño (or you cross paths with me in the passages of sleep)

An enormous embrace and you shall know that I have you very present and therefore... are very close. 

-Seba