Cuando llegaba el 18 de junio

20131125_105510Hay espacios pasajeros y hay localidades que se alejan de toda tensión. Cuando era niña y luego adolescente, había un lugar que colmaba todas mis ilusiones por dos semanas al año: ESJ Towers. Mi tía, qepd, tenía un time share allí en el verano.
Cada 18 de junio era para mí el día más codiciado, el día que más que Navidad o los Reyes representaba todo lo mágico para mí: Isla Verde, aire acondicionado y claro…¡la piscina!
El apartamento 365 era mi ventanita al mar, al mundo del béisbol en cable TV, a viajeros y viajeras que venían de otros lares a pasarse dos semanas en el ESJ.
Esas semanas eran maravillosas. Por las mañanas, contaba yo los minutos para que abrieran la piscina y trataba de arrastrar a mi tía temprano sin importar que el agua aún estuviera fría. Por las tardes, bajaba al mini-market y me compraba un FrozFruit de coco o banana. Bello era contemplar los atardeceres y escuchar el zumbido de los aviones despegando y aterrizando desde el aeropuerto.
Luego llegaba irremediablemente el 3 de julio, el día de entregar las llaves hasta el próximo año. Era el día de volver a la rutina en lugar de bajar al lobby para ir al Happy Apple o quizás al game room.
A principios de la década del 1990, llegó el definitivo 3 de julio cuando mi tía decidió vender el time share. En el 2003, ella murió en noviembre.
Este pasado lunes, el 25 de noviembre de 2013, mientras mis padres jugaban un ratito en el casino del Hotel San Juan, me picó la curiosidad y entré al lobby del ESJ. Para mi grata sorpresa, está igualito. Cada esquina, cada spot, salvo que ahora hay un cybernet area…
Me emocionó encontrar un añorado pedacito de mi memoria prácticamente intacto. Bien cuidado el lugar y todo.
Como pienso regresar a Puerto Rico en marzo con mi novio, le pregunté a la recepcionista a cuánto estaban las tarifas por noche para esas fechas. Cuando vi el nombre de ella le pregunté si llevaba décadas trabajando allí. Y sí, ¡era la misma Letty de cuando mi tía, Nancy Soto, hacía check in un 18 de junio!
Un lugar de mi historia personal, de mi memoria, intacto y disponible re-encontré en esa breve pasadita por allí.
Pronto tendré que buscar pasajes y hacer reservaciones. 🙂

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The Familiar and the Home/y

The familiar is that which is easily recognizable. It is so because we may have grown up with it or we have gotten accustomed to it. We may have even become experts at it.
Home is not just an address or a place of origin. It is where one feels mostly one self, most likely in the sense of the place that displays several vital affinities. For some, these may rely heavily on food choice and for others, it could be that the charm comes with the weather. It could also be about a personal resonance not too easy to describe. It has nothing to do with partisan/party line politics.

Back in 2003, I went to the Orpheum theater in Madison to attend a lecture by Salman Rushdie. He mentioned something about the concept of home that I found very enlightening. He said that the home where you grew up in, that would be the home of your parents (or guardians), but that your home is the one that you build or create.
To me, home is where all the layers of identity yield to a more unfiltered me. It could be a in room, an apartment, while on a train ride, or in deep sleep that I find it. Home is not just something physical but it is also an intangible sense of being where one feels at home, even if redundant.

The familiar may be or may have been one of many homes throughout a person’s lifetime, but home is not necessarily the familiar. Sometimes we travel and reminisce. And sometimes a place and its dynamics look familiar. Home, however, may be exactly what launches us into the “unfamiliar” only to realize that our home–our personal respite–is within that light, invisible, unchecked bag we can carry everywhere…or nowhere…a non-baggage claim piece that escapes all mundane scanning.

(This musing has been inspired by Old San Juan and nearby area.)

So, what do you do…?

It had happened to me before, but it had been a while.

A few days ago, after a long day of errands and work, I was on the bus heading back home. Content with the results of that long day, I was feeling peaceful, and I had just told my boyfriend (then at the hospital) that one of the things I like about riding the bus it that it allows me for a transition–from work to home, etc–and thus collect my thoughts and perhaps even enjoy a bit of people-watching.
So, I left the hospital room and wished my boyfriend a good night, went to the bus stop and got on the bus. On the next stop, a very young woman got on and sat next to me. She quickly introduced herself noting she was a member of a religious group. I said hello, but wanted to remain in my head, processing the events of the day, being thankful. Well…that didn’t last very long. She proceeded to ask a long list of non-sequitur personal questions, from where do I work to if I had children. I was politely replying but obviously not interested in furthering any conversation. That didn’t deter her.

The interrogation went on for a bit…

…until she asked me if religion has played an important role in my life.

Aha! That was the perfect moment to gracefully disengage, so I replied: “that would require a really long answer and it’s been a really long day.” She then told me how that was “totally OK” and that she “totally” wanted to respect my space. Which reminds me…

Back when I moved from Madison to Milwaukee, there was one afternoon (right before taking the Badger Bus when I was finalizing the moving saga) that I chose to sit under a tree facing Lake Mendota and spend a bit of time in contemplative silence. I was feeling grateful for all my experiences in Madison and was going through a list in my head of all the wonderful people I encountered while living there.

It didn’t take too long for a group of young religious proselytizers to approach me and interrupt what was a deeply spiritual moment of reflection. They pretty much asked me questions related to the 10 commandments. Thankfully, one of them (like the young woman on the bus the other day) gave me the cue to exit the situation politely. This also young woman asked what would I call her if she told me a lie. I said that I did not know her that well to call her anything and added that I was not a religious person. I guess they were expecting me to go with the default answer, i.e. “lier,” but based on their reactions to my answers–especially this one–it looks like the exchange between us was not scripted as they would have thought.
In any case, it was funny and odd to find this sort of intrusion–even if mild or perhaps well-intentioned–in moments where all I wanted to do was to connect in mind and spirit to a situation, reflect, and contemplate.
And in both, religion’s role was to interrupt…
So, what role has religion played into my life? Hmmm, where do I begin…?

Fall

The dwindling daylight. The crisp and almost frozen blue in the sky that will linger until February; that of course, when the cloud cover dispels a bit. The beautiful reddish and golden leaves about to fall or perhaps already resting on the ground. The contemplation of some, the need for raking for others. We look forward to the holidays, yet these could be stressful or even challenging for many people. If anything, we remember summer and when in early June, 9pm still had a sliver of somewhat still-blue skies, right before night fell. And better, yet, now that we are into the darkest stretch of the season, we have an excuse to become cats. Yes, stay in whenever, wear comfy clothes, read, nap, write, watch movies, and keep on dreaming!

Making Sense: Graciela Limón and The Madness of Mamá Carlota

A memorable reading is always a treat to find. When you are able to incorporate that reading into one of the courses you teach and notice how the students respond positively to it, you feel you should not miss the opportunity to meet the author. The first novel I read by Chicana author, Graciela Limón, was The Memories of Ana Calderón (1994). And in October 2012, I had the chance to converse a bit with her.

I was attending the biannual Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Conference in Houston, and, among the invited writers to the event were: Josefina López, Lyn di Iorio, and Limón herself. In a funny and heart-warming moment of serendipity, I was about to purchase her book when one of the staff members told me Limón was standing right behind me. She was about to be interviewed for television, so at that moment, I decided to wait until the evening reception to ask her to sign the copy of her new novel, The Madness of Mamá Carlota (Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2012), I had just bought.

Indeed, during the reception, I was able to approach her. She signaled me to sit beside her as she was about to sign the book for me. I told her that I have included Ana Calderón in my US Latino Literature course and that, one semester, a student referred to that reading as the perfect dessert for the class because I had “saved the best for last.” Limón was moved by the comment and replied: “well, that is the best compliment ever.”

We actually chatted a bit about our creative projects and I was excited to get intoThe Madness of Mamá Carlota as soon as possible. The reading met and exceeded expectations. It was both enjoyable and engaging. In typical Limón fashion, the text richly enmeshes the political context of nineteenth-century Mexico with a fictional account of the historical figure of Empress Carlota (Charlotte Habsburg). Moreover, it gives Carlota three very supportive companions: the Chontal sisters, thus highlighting a sense of solidarity among women who were ultimately “left without a choice” (216) from radically different social and ethnic backgrounds. The novel shows us how the unlikely yet deep bond between characters who embody a strong sense of resilience is established and developed with integrity. As the narrative tells us: “Empress Carlota had become a liability. She was too strong, too influential and too outspoken” (158). Nothing like a projected aura of madness from those in power and yet afraid of her, to undermine her personhood and her power.

During her talk after the reception, Graciela Limón expressed how, while conducting her research for the novel, she wanted to find more about the biography of Charlotte Habsburg beyond the madness that got the Empress sent to Castle Bouchout in Belgium later in her life. Was that version of her biography–that is, the madness–a way to erect yet another fortress around the Empress that would prevent others from delving deeper into the other historical players at the time? Was the madness just a way to dismiss her as yet another background character to the lives of powerful men such as Maximilian? Limón, frustrated with the seemingly generally accepted diagnosis of madness for this character, decided to make Carlota a protagonist in a fiction that, ironically, humanizes her more than official history has so far.

The Madness of Mamá Carlota is a story in two voices: the instances in which we find Carlota narrating in the first person scattered throughout a third person narration beautifully crafted to allow us to ponder about the questions the story and its history pose and urges the readers to pose. And, as in The Memories of Ana Calderón, it is up to the so-called fallen or mad women to make sense of it all.