Sunday, December 23, 2012

OMG - Ponce Museum of Art

Here in Puerto Rico you learn to expect to be disappointed.  You learn that if your meal comes and is wrong you eat it anyway...that if it takes 2 hours it isn't because they are harvesting fresh food for expect garbage, no soap in the bathrooms (or toilet paper or paper towels or even an open bathroom) and you expect to see piles of what once were live animals but are now carpet swatches or fur piles on the road. The trip to the Ponce Art Museum MADE ME CRY with joy and disappointment that the rest of Puerto Rico couldn't be this good. This museum is FABULOUS!!!!!!! It is located in Ponce along a normal garbage lined road with dirty buildings. There is a small parking lot next to the museum that has a guard sitting to watch the cars. Parking is free but you have to do the "back in" parking that is a bizarre "cultural" thing I suppose. When we first moved here the museum was closed and stayed closed for a couple years. We got tired of trying to figure out if it was open or not and basically gave up on it. Last week our friends called and arranged an in English Tour and we headed off. We left early since you cannot predict what will happen on the roads. Traffic was totally stopped in our direction (during prime holiday shopping on the only highway) while (during lunch) they decided to swing a new highway sign into position overhead. We got there, parked easily and were greeted with Roy Lichtenstein's Brushstrokes In Flight in front of a gorgeous building. No graffiti, no garbage around, no broken parts. Nice primary colors inviting you into the beautiful and spotless building! The space is full of bright natural light supplemented by nicely positioned spotlights. The building was designed by Edward Durell Stone and is a series of hexagonal galleries (14). The building renovation cost 30 million dollars and is 77,745 square feet of beautiful space filled with an amazing collection of art ranging from the 14th to 20th century.
You really need to have the guided tour to fully appreciate the collection. When we first went in I immediately recognized several pieces I had only seen in art history books and assumed were reproductions. They were real! This museum lets you REALLY LOOK at the pieces - no glass, no barricades, no cordoned off areas. I couldn't believe it! You cannot touch things (obviously - sensors will go off) but you can be an inch away and see brush strokes and crackles and detail. Photography is allowed without flash. I only brought my crappy cave camera since caving was on our agenda and I don't store the better camera in the tropically heated car. I did not have enough time and wish I didn't even bring the dam camera! The museum contains European art and Puerto Rican art and has one of the western hemisphere's most extensive pre-Raphaelite collections. There are 4,500 pieces. The museum started in 1965 when Luis A Ferre (governor) started buying up art. He bought things based on value, not popularity, with the guidance of Rubens specialist Julius Held and also Rene Taylor.  You can to to their website (part of which is in English, not the Collections part {but a name is a name}) 

I really miss art. Art makes living soooo much better. To look at something someone created and to see their emotion and view of the world tells a lot of the world, and lets you glimpse into things you may not otherwise examine. When I was selling my art photography at art fairs I was surrounded by creative people. Some of them truly created magical work that took you to other places. This museum brought back a wave of emotions I really miss. I prefer the more historical pieces but a few new works caught my attention (painting above and bellybuttons on right). I especially like the tormented soul below. Edward Burne-Jones' 'Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon' was a large unfinished work started in 1881 that was unfinished at the time of his death and you can see the lack of strings on the instruments, the braids are not completed, the people have no shoes. He worked on that painting for 17 or so years. You can see his process by what was left until last. The collection inclues Rubens, Rousseau, Jose Campeche, Boccati and more. Amazing!
Upstairs was a gallery where they had used string to show the lines of sight of selected people in all the paintings. They positioned the paintings so some of the lines of sight made it appear that figures in one painting were actually gazing at figures in another. I found this very very interesting!
The 2 hour tour ended at the Frederic Leighton "Flaming June" painting. Personally it wasn't my favorite but is a well known painting. I was impressed by the quality of the tour. When I say that I don't mean the quality for here - I mean the guide was extremely knowledgeable and adjusted who he said things to and what he said after he gauged interest and knowledge. There were 6 people in our tour and 2 apparently weren't really interested and left (they missed out). The museum is spotless, well staffed, well-designed...the placement of art and relationships between galleries were obvious and made sense. There is no way to see everything unless you have at least a half a day. The placards are in Spanish and English and are well written and presented. The curator, Cheryl Hartup, is from Portland Oregon.

Some hints before you go. It is very cold in the Museum - bring fleece and wear pants. There is coffee available at the entrance to be consumed before or after you go in (little muffins and drinks for purchase). There is also a restaurant that looks like it has non-Puerto Rican food in it. We will try it next time. It is best if you call to find out what time the English tour is if you need it in English. Definitely have the tour. Entrance is $6 which is a steal! If you are interested in art restoration you can make an appointment to observe restoration work upstairs. For real. They are closed Xmas, Easter, 3 Kings Day, Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. They rotate exhibits and their website is pretty decent. I still cannot believe you can be so close to the art! All the framing is original or at least from the same time period. In one case they found artist notes about who made a frame for the original piece of art and they went back to that frame builder (whose family still built frames) to have one recreated from the original notes and sketches. This place is amazing and even I will drive the 2  hours or more to go back! All I can say is that it is so wonderful I cried. Go there!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dumpster-Diving...Oops, I Mean Caving in Puerto Rico - Cueva Jaguar

I haven't been feeling well lately so we decided to go for a "short" and "easy" cave adventure- off to the Arecibo area to a cave called Cueva Jaguar. I think maybe it is named after the car since there were car parts and garbage of all sorts around. Maybe there was even a mattress on top of the car when it went over the embankment or something. Anyway, both Tom and Jeff had been to this one and warned me ahead of time about the garbage. They also said it was a simple and easy cave with 2 leads they wanted to follow up on. Ha! The garbage was as expected but didn't go into the cave (a relief). Jeff was the first to locate the hole and the look on his face is because he just tossed a maggot infested dead rooster out of the way because I was dry heaving and wouldn't climb over it. Yup - many Puerto Ricans love to chuck garbage everywhere (note their house in the upper left of the photo - bet that smells good)! (Jeff on garbage heap and Tom coming through cave entrance)
Once inside it is muddy without garbage anywhere. Amazing. I don't think we even saw any graffiti which is rare for a cave this accessible. We had to climb under some semi-stable rubble or drop down a short drop to get in. The cave is directly under the road initially anyways, and seemed like a short and straight shot. Boy were we wrong! There was a lot of crawling required even for me. Duck walking wasn't working. We did some ups and downs...some hole wiggling. Nothing super small. The straight-shot kind of ends in a nice big room with some collapse. The guys did a lot of looking on top of the collapse on the last trip. This trip sent me down the "Katrina holes." The first hole kept going and going and going. I called for the guys to follow and they did, up to a point. Then I was solo for another 8 minutes of crawling as fast as I could. I ended up at a small hole I maybe could have gone down, but there was fast moving water down there and no one would be able to follow so I went back. Hmmm, another level in the ant farm? We continued looking along the edges of the room for more passages and found another one the had potential. Climbing and crawling...the big room...formations and bacon..the way on

The next passage looked kind of small so I was sent in. It was low and full of water. I crawled in and submerged on my belly and could feel silt building up. Off came the helmet (no room) as I went further and it was really low but opened up a little. I knew Jeff wouldn't like it. I then looked at a parallel lead on my belly to the right and it looked bigger. I went in and it continued on...and on...and didn't look like it had an end. I went back for the guys and we all headed down the path of no return!
The water got higher and the ceiling lower and in a couple places it was helmet's off or a quick duck-under. We went a little while and the passage forked. I forget if we went up or down stream first, but we ended up in a lot of water. Then came the swimming. My thumb has been bugging me and trying to hold on to rough, sharp rock while swimming for distances you can't predict isn't easy. The further in we got the more we started thinking about what would happen if it starting raining. Already there were waterfalls and spots where water gushed in from the ceiling (above). Not really smart but VERY exciting! We went and went and went. Then we went down the other passage. F o r    e  v  e  r  ... It is always bizarre coming back because you don't always realize how far you have gone. It was a long ways! Then we missed the place where it forked, you know, the way back to the main cave. It all looked familiar because we had just done it! Luckily we got it figured out (and Jeff didn't get us lost) and started out. It took forever!

When we did get out we were back in the big room where we could snack and drink something and rest. We crawled our way toward the entrance and went down to another passage that kept going but we were out of energy and it was getting close to our time deadline (we always tell a person on land to call for rescue if we aren't out at a certain time). Then we peeked into another lead near the entrance and IT kept going. So it looks like we will be dumpster diving again this dry season so we can get a look at these new passages. If they are anything like the 3 we explored on this trip it'll be amazing. This was not an "easy" or "short" trip as expected. Apparently the guys didn't do much on their other trip! We were in the cave for 5 hours or so and didn't explore everything there. So it was back out and over the garbage heap where the throw-the-garbage home owners were really nice and brought out cokes and malta for us. This is the problem with Puerto Rico - love/hate at every turn.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Excerpts From the Book "You Can't Make This Shit Up" - Business Sense

This installment doesn't have any photos which kind of goes along with the whole gist of the chapter anyway. This chapter is about how businesses are run in Puerto Rico. I could go on and on about, well, almost every place we have been in (or tried to go into) but I will instead focus on a few comical examples to make my point.

Ode to the Elephant is a restaurant in Rincon that we have heard has Thai food of varying quality depending on when you visit. We have never looked too hard for the place for numerous reasons. We are told it is kind of like 110 Thai (but maybe not at "good") and that isn't reason enough for us to drive there. We did hear from a friend who drove from Mayaguez to Rincon with her husband for dinner. The address on their signs is incorrect, there aren't signs once you get close to the area and when you do get there...on a SATURDAY night....they aren't open. That's right. CERRADO. Closed. A restaurant that is closed on a Saturday. Why not call ahead you ask? Come on, it is Puerto Rico and no one answers phones. You should use telepathy to figure out where and when it is open.

During the week I found myself in the Aguadilla Mall (oh the horror) for some reason or another. I was there around lunch and everyone was lined up at the entrance waiting for fried mashed potato balls and empanadas and stuff. Lots of shoppers around. Out of the corner of my eye I spy Baskin Robbins!!! Hallelujah...the thought of maybe Jamoca Almond Fudge...Nutty Coconut (you know there is no way Fudge Brownie will be there) was dancing on my lips. I haven't had ice cream in a few years. I get to the door and guess what? CERRADO. Closed. Captive people shopping at the mall around lunch and ice cream is closed. They open AFTER 1pm. Makes good business sense.

We finally found good tasting (not exactly healthy) bread at the Aguadilla Farmer's Market. Unfortunately it was a one time thing since he is always out of bread (you know, the only thing he is selling) when we get there an hour or two before it closes. How many hours is it open you ask? Only 4 but apparently he just wants to sit there for the final two hours and watch other vender's (the other 3 tables) sell things. Maybe he can hold some? Nope. Maybe he can bring some next week and hold it? "email me" I email and guess what? No response and no bread. Week after week I try to explain that if he would take orders and have people pre-pay he could make a whole lot of sales since there are always people there looking for the bread that isn't there.  Nope. Apparently he thinks "volume" is selling 8 loaves or so.

Another mystery was solved on Jeff's birthday. After driving by this place for a year now we decided to stop in. We have looked at this place and never seen cars there, but it looked new and we thought maybe it wasn't open yet. After diving a little later than usual we were passing by and saw cars parked behind The Cheesecake Shoppe! Jeff thought it had cheesecake. I thought it looked too large to have only cheesecake. We parked after being guided into a patch of dirt by the watch-the-car guy. We went in and at that moment saw the big sign that the building blocks so you can't see it from the road. You know, the one that says what the business is. We walk in and see glorious cheesecakes in a case. Someone comes up right away. I ask to see a menu. The guy looks at us and says "there is no menu." We stand there. "Is there food other than cheesecake" we ask? "Yes," he says. "Can you tell us what there is?"  You get the gist. It turns out that they have about 8 tables, have been there for years (like more than 8 or something) and have people waiting outside for hours on the weekend. Unfortunately there isn't anywhere to officially wait except inside your car or standing in the dirt. There is one chair inside and that is it. No awning, no benches, nothing. We returned in the later afternoon and there was an open table. What do they have? "Over 50 types of Imported Beers Imported Wines" - just not the one beer I wanted (they probably had one of each kind at some point). They have "Old Fashion Pizzas" made with "potato cheese" (which is code for cheddar). They have a cheese plate, and a wad of bread (that looked good) with a pot of oily chorizo. There are also 8 or so cheesecakes which are all super-duper sweet. Their motto is "just say cheese,,," It is actually a super thin-crust pizza that is good if you are in the mood, but who can eat a wad of bread with oily meat followed by flat bread with oily cheese followed by a cheese plate followed by cheesecake? Every diabetic and obese person in Puerto Rico apparently. Just a side story about the "potato cheese" - if you are getting an omelette or something here in PR and don't want american or liquid cheese, ask for "potato cheese" and you just might get cheddar! Really! Hours for the Cheesecake Shoppe are Thursday and Sunday 12 - 9 and Friday and Saturday 12 - 10. Doesn't that make sense? As a side note, there are plenty of people working there - each waiter has only 2 tables maybe so service is (for here) acceptable.

So I guess the point of this is to point out that people here just don't get it. People want your product but you don't open, bring it or increase your restaurant hours? What kind of businesses are these? I guess they are the ones that are missing opportunities... here in the land of missed opportunities.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Watercolor Skies

   Smoke clouds...                                                       


God beams (or alien tractor beams)

Marshmallow puff


Double rainbow

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cueva Barbudas and Monte Encantada

During Thanksgiving week Jeff had a few days off so we went caving. On Black Friday we headed to a couple of caves 15 minutes from our house. These caves are on 112. The first is kind of interesting because they pump water out of it...probably is our drinking water. There is a huge shaft in it and you can hear the pumps and feel the vibrations. We parked on 112 and walked around the guardrail for maybe 10 minutes and went down the steep slope (note Jeff at the top) toward the black hole in the lower right of the second photo (cave opening). Here Jeff is inside looking at all the water.
The little half circle is usually where you go in but the water level was too high for us to do it. When you get to the other side there isn't much head room and I don't really want to drown.
That was that in that one. Then we walked another 10 or 12 minutes to a nearby cave - Cueva Monte Encantada. This had a huge opening and was nicer than I remembered. It isn't an extensive cave buy hey, it is 15 minutes from our house. There are a lot of bats inside. There were some rooms to explore - Here is Ron. There is a 30 foot drop and a pool of moving water at the bottom of it. It is hard to tell from the photo but the triangle-like thing has dirty/muddy water with a darker curvy line of moving water at the bottom. Going to and coming from where you cannot tell.

Here is Jeff doing some exploring .It is unfortunate we didn't have a real plan for the day. Jeff took the day off and we expected to do a cave unknown to us. Well that just didn't work out. We did get to go caving though and we will make sure there IS a plan for the next trip!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Groundcovers - Flat and Taller

I spend a lot of time digging out perfectly good lawn. I enjoy having some lawn, but unfortunately I don't want everything to be lawn and some of it is on a such a slope that it is impossible to mow without mowing over your foot or flipping the mower over. In those cases I start digging and think about what to install after the fact. I have come up with some favorites that provide useful and interesting covers for the dirt. Things I do NOT have to mow. This photo shows part of the front of the house - a part that was only lawn when we moved in almost a year ago. It shows my favorite plants for hard to deal with places.
The flat ground cover was a plant I originally bought to cascade out of some drain hole free planters on the wall. The spot is full sun. It looked alright but kind of ratty so I just threw it on the ground and to my surprise it took off and looked fabulous! Now I rip out handfuls and bury them all over as I excavate more and more lawn. I water maybe the first few days and them let them go! They flower like crazy and spread like rock stars (that didn't come out right)...
In the top photo is the "firecracker plant." I don't know what the real name is and it won't help you find it anyway. This plant gets about 2 feet tall, flowers continuously, attracts humming birds and spreads when the flower-laden tips touch the ground. It is drought resistant and wonderful! I put some here, in a shady area, and it isn't blooming as much as I'd like so I will relocate it to sun. This stuff I found on the property and have been moving it around. It sends our crawling runners and is a nice green. No flowers yet and I don't expect they will be impressive but it is a different height and texture for a different look on the sloped property. Gingers are always good if you want a clump of blooming spreading stuff. There are gingers many different heights. I have some I swiped from the jungle that are a few inches tall and I have 8 to 10 foot tall torch gingers. They hold the soil, put up with neglect and spread easily.
This doesn't look like much yet but I had some at the other house. The plant looks kind of ratty up close but there is a perfect place for everything and in front of the boring cement wall in front of my house is the spot for this one. It will completely fill up the soil from the wall to the road and will have purple flowers all the time. You can mow it, use the trimmer or hand cut it if it starts looking bad. You can drive on it and it pops back up. Perfect for this spot! I will post another photo when it fills in. Also it doesn't require perfect is that? I have seen it in full sun and part shade. Then there is mani. Not the edible peanut, but the yellowing flowering ground cover that is great for dry places mani. It spreads like mad once it gets going (which takes time). You can mow it, use the trimmer, walk on it and it is great. It may dry out during the dry season but will pop to life with a little rain. Great for slopes.
Last there is my absolute new favorite - Lantana. I know. I know. I poo-pooed it for a long time too. I have 8 different kinds of butterflies in the yard and orange and yellow flowers all the time. I like the smell of the foliage when you brush against it. It isn't flat but you can keep it bushy and low with a little pruning. I haven't figured out how to successfully propagate it but hey, you can't have everything! So there you have it - solutions for slopes. Why fight these rotten areas when there are cool things to plant? If you don't like what you do you can always pull them out and put them somewhere else!

Cueva Ensueno - Dream Cave

It all started with a dream...the dream of making money by starting up a "tourist" spot in Puerto Rico. A dream that never did come to fruition for many reasons. We had been to this cave before but did not know the history. Ron Richards let us borrow his copy of "The Ensueno Cave Study," which was made by Russell and Jeanne Gurnee (with others) in 1988. The Gurnees are responsible for major exploration and "discovery" of the Camuy System. The expedition into this small cave was in February of 1987. It was being considered for development as a show cave by the Cordero family which owns it to this day. They managed the Camuy show cave for 5 years and had plans for a Hacienda presenting a turn-of-the-century coffee plantation in addition to the show cave. They purchased property around the cave and there were plans for a road to the location, plans for how to get lighting into the cave and water services. There were drawings of the whole shebang and it all seemed well thought out. About the cave: The cave is part of the Lares Limestone Formation formed in the late Oligocene (24 - 30 million years ago - unless you believe earth was made in 7 days and hasn't been around that long). It is an upper remnant of the Rio Camuy Cave System formed by "undersaturated water flowing into carbonates off of less soluble rocks in the interior." The river used to be at a higher level than it now flows. It used to flow through this cave. It is a decorated cave with a walk in entrance, small constriction in the middle and then a nice room of helictites.
We parked on the small road outside the gate of the property owner's house. There were caretakers out trimming and we asked for permission to cross the property and enter the cave. Ron was collecting temperature information and we just wanted a nice caving day! Inside we saw some evidence of where they were thinking of putting lighting. There were also damaged stalactites.

We saw a few scorpions. We had to go through a constriction that regular people would never go through. The plans had the owners tunneling a parallel hole alongside the cave so visitors could walk on a flat surface and see into the cave without having to duck or crawl or go through this part. After the constriction there is a room with some large stalagmites and stalactites and possibly evidence of earthquake damage (large things at odd angles that clearly have been broken and have regrown). Ron is in front of one of these. Up close you can see the cake-like formation has toppled! The cave then gets lower and lower and ends.
The stalactites on the roof of the cave in the main room had many helictites on them. You had to look closely to see them but once you start looking they were all over! If the cave had been developed it is doubtful you would have been close enough to see them. Here's Jeff under an impressive drapery with bacon. It is all very Doctor Seuss looking.
So why didn't this come to fruition? Many reasons. The cost to tunnel around the constriction, build the Hacienda etc etc was around a million dollars. The break even point was 189,000 visitors which means Puerto Rican's have to visit it. They estimated that more of those visitors would be Puerto Rican than would be from other places. If you live here you know that people here generally would not be interested in something like this in the numbers they projected. At $3 bucks a person for entry there is no way this would work! They could have made it work if they could provide food in a nice setting that was served reasonably fast and was well-priced, and in a clean environment but we all know that that indeed would be a DREAM...