Toonbots message board: Return to the Caribbean

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Michael Sun Aug 21 10:36:13 2005
Return to the Caribbean

So yeah: there's now a plan. More than that, there are purchased airline tickets, BritAir through London to Miami, this Saturday. We're going to stay in Miami looking around for a day or two, just to get an idea of the place we've been through a couple of times already, and then it's back to Ponce, Puerto Rico.

In Ponce, they have a saying: "Ponce is Ponce; everything else is parking." Ponce was close to being the island's capital, and came within a hair's breadth of being the capital of the second country on the Puerto Rican island (had actually been granted that status by Spain about a year before the US invasion changed everything.) Ponce is the largest city in Puerto Rico: San Juan is a metropolitan area composed of four or five cities. (A good trick trivia question.)

Ponce has a population of some 200,000. It has no public transit (well, it kind of does, but it's undocumented and used only by certified grandmothers.) It has no library. It has no bookstores unless you count the "Catholic bookstores" which are actually places where you can buy a Bible or gilt iconography. And there's a textbook bookstore which kind of counts. But no, that one doesn't have an SF section, either.

Ponce has several schools, all of which suck.

There would appear to be no actual reason to move there, you'd think.

But the PonceƱos in specific, and the Puerto Ricans in general, are the most wonderful people on Earth. In eight months in Ponce, we made more seriously good friends than in ten years in Bloomington (well, to be fair, the friends we made in Bloomington tended to move away when finished with their degrees.)

Most oddly, we both have an interesting feeling of freedom in Puerto Rico which we don't feel in either the States or in Hungary. There's just a sense that you can try anything you want, and it can fail or succeed, and it *just won't matter*. If it succeeds, everybody respects you. If it fails, they feel sympathy. But it's not going to make any difference in how they feel about *you*. You're you, and you chose to live in Ponce, and that's all anybody really cares about, when it gets down to it.

In Hungary, there's a new entrepreneurial spirit and you can try anything you want, but people will hate you for being different. They won't say it, but they'll envy you. And in the States, I just can't get past the damned politics long enough to feel free.

A Hungarian doctor might be competent, might not, but will see you as an unwashed specimen of the people and treat you accordingly. A doctor in the States just sees you as a lawsuit waiting to happen and won't give you any real information at all. A Puerto Rican doctor figures you're in charge of your health, and will talk to you like a real person in trying to figure out how best to proceed. Lab work is done by independent labs; if you get the doctor to prescribe lab work (or if you know a doctor, and everybody does, and they just prescribe what you want) then you can damn well go get your own urinalysis done and spend a day of quality Google time and interpret it. And nobody feels the need to tell you that you shouldn't do that. It's your own business. Everything in Puerto Rico is your own business.

There's a sense of "we're all in this together" in Puerto Rico, too, which makes my wife feel safer, having grown up in a nice Communist state and seeing the unbridled kleptocracy of the US and the New Hungary as a threat to her existence. The government in PR is more of a matter of pageantry than anything else. It's nice to have it there, and complain about the excise taxes they use to pay for things (the original construction of El Morro by the Spanish in 1548 was financed by an excise tax on imports, and they still charge you a couple hundred dollars to bring your car there -- if it ain't broke, they don't fix it down there.) But the government doesn't really affect your daily life in any way at all, especially down in Ponce.

They just bought a set of five gigantic steel letters (PONCE) which they placed on the freeway leading into town, just so you can't miss where you are. It sounds tacky, doesn't it? They look damned good. Somebody has a nice eye. Everybody thought the mayor was a total fool for spending money on that when there are real problems in town, but I think it was a wonderful romantic gesture.

Romance: the Spanish culture *is* romance. Ever read Don Quixote? Well, to be fair, neither have I, yet. I've read the first two chapters in Spanish. In a few years I will have gotten all the way through it. But the point is that Don Quixote lives in a fantasy world. He sees normal people around him as knights and princesses, or terrible monsters. He is literally insane. But he imbues his surroundings with magic.

Ponce is like that. The reality is prosaic, a strange little town on the big blue sea. But their history goes waaay back to a time of wizards and sorcerors, through high times and low times, and romance in every corner. The place is magic. And we're going back.

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