From the Office and Backyard to the Road, Boat, or Plane–Backstories and
Side Stories While on Assignment. Updates on Personal Projects, Too.

Archive for March, 2013

Heels and suitcase wheels clack on the tile floor. The movie “Casablanca” plays continuously on two TV screens, and is projected across a rear wall. Oversized paintings and photo portraits by San Juan artist Carlos Mercado—colorized in aqua blues and red ochres—are hung in large frames above the Moroccan-style furnishings of bed-like couches, carved-wood, and patterned upholstery. All of this is in the long, narrow lobby at the CasaBlanca Hotel in Old San Juan. For under $130/night, we’re booked in a fourth-floor, walk-up room. Some of the 30 guestrooms have balconies, but we’re in “The Marrakech” that’s Paris-tiny and includes a window on the interior courtyard. Lean out from the bed, open the wooden shutters, and you can look down to the tables in the lobby café—people are drinking coffee, typing on laptops, or talking over card games. No in-room telephone or hair dryer, and the sheets and bedding are thin (mattress, too). It’s all clean and comfortable—basic, but it works. For a “wake-up call,” the desk clerk bounds up the stairs and wraps firmly on the door to make sure we’re up and about. On the first afternoon, we walk up two more flights to a rustic rooftop deck with a few lounge chairs and five empty stone tubs as big as horse troughs that are fitted with faucets and shower hoses. I turn a faucet handle, and the water flows. (“It’s nice to bathe up there at night,” Juan at the front desk later explains, but we never make it back upstairs.) Mornings, Jorge is behind the bar to make espresso, café con leche. Over coffee, I hear other guests complaining about street noise from the night before on narrow Calle Fortaleza. I didn’t notice—always returning after long days walking downtown and touring the countryside in a station wagon loaded with four or five people (and a cooler of iced-down bottles of Cava and cans of Medalla Light in the back).

I’m happily assisting Peter Frank Edwards, who’s on a photo assignment here. With our local friends, we follow two-lane roads on the interior of the island, past coconut and banana trees, and the fattest, tallest bamboo stalks I’ve ever seen. (More reports from those adventures to come.) Rock and roll, soul, and Latin jazz plays on the car stereo—and well past dark every night we make our way back to CasaBlanca, where nothing disturbs my Puerto Rico rest.

– Sandy Lang, March 2013

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