Crossing Over

The Website of Author Marina Budhos

Category: Education

We are Puerto Rico

December, 2017–San Juan, Puerto Rico

Corny as it sounds, as we’re touching down in Puerto Rico, there’s a rainbow arching over the land mass.  I can also see the vegetation has begun to spring back, though it’s hard not to notice the skeletal waste and bare branches.  San Juan itself looks stable but battered and worn.

We’re staying at La Concha—a mod late fifties hotel that makes me feel as if we’ve walked into the casino scenes in Cuba in Godfather II—marble floors, low space age furniture, elongated hexagonal lattices and orange slats over the balconies, a clamshell roof on the restaurant.  The elevator doesn’t work, so we all follow the work men to service area and go up, squeezed behind huge laundry trolleys.  I learn later that the hotel, which sits right on the ocean in Condado, survived the hurricane—they did not even board up the glass windows.  Wind crashed from the ocean and then swirled in circles around the wavy roofs.  Water sloshed down the low marble steps of the lobby but they managed to drag out the sodden rugs, and stayed open the whole time and FEMA workers and administrators are staying here through February.

That evening we walk on the beach, and see block after block of hotels and apartment houses, all stable, surviving, a few swaddled in scaffolding.  And yet most of the windows are dark—Puerto Ricans who have left, the apartments now abandoned.  Occasionally we see a generator hooked up on the street, but by and large the electricity is working in this part of San Juan.  Walgreens and CVS are glaring bright boxes down the block, freshly stocked.

That evening we head out for a meal at Café Tresbe, a hip outdoor place that serves tacos, empadillas, and tamarind-flavored barbecue wings, all out of a repurposed container.  The place is low-key, groovy, and we might be in Austin with the strung lights and music and murals.  Across the way is Sabrina’s, another restaurant with seafood and vegetarian fare. 

Later, when we return to our area, we walk over to the Condado Vanderbilt, an elegant turn-of-the-century hotel that’s been completely redone—a sunken bar area of velvet settees, dark wood, and sleek statues.  But it is utterly empty—the lounge area, the bar, where the staff wait expectantly; the restaurant and the terrace where the ocean pounds below.  Continue reading

Kara Walker & The Real Sugar Links

On Kara Walker’s A Subtlety is a marvelous, yet maddening installation at the old Domino Sugar Factory.  Here’s why:

When I stepped inside the vast Domino Sugar Factory for the opening of Kara Walker’s installation, A Subtlety, I nearly wept.  For over a century, the iconic Domino Sugar Factory, which shut its doors a decade ago, has loomed on the Brooklyn waterfront, an enigmatic, forgotten carapace.  Now, with Walker’s sculpture, it is not just the doors of the factory that have reopened–we have also flung open our shared history of sugar.  It is a history I know well, for my own family traveled from northern India as indentured workers to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean.  My great-grandfather gave away his share of land in Uttar Pradesh to his two older brothers and set off to seek a new life in British Guiana, which rivaled Jamaica and Cuba as one of the largest sugar producers in the world. Continue reading

Guest Blog on Nonfiction Matters

Here’s my guest post on my husband’s blog-column in School Library Journal, “Nonfiction Matters”.

Recently, I’ve been delving into the past. My school past, that is. Yesterday, in one of my periodic organizational fevers, I went to the garage and pulled out a box of old school work from elementary school. My mother had thankfully saved it and I, in turn, have managed to carry the crumbling folders and yellowed pages from address to address, from my studio apartment in Manhattan, to the storage bin in Harlem, and out across the river to our New Jersey home, where we clog up the nooks and crannies of our house with far too much paper and books. The both of us are hoarders of the past, probers of the past, in different ways. And as we’ve raised our two boys here, guiding them through the sometimes bewildering maze of their education, our own past, our own experiences in school–for better or worse–flicker and inform some of our passions.

I have always nurtured a nostalgic, glowing image of my elementary school years—siphoned into gifted classes, taught by ambitious, gifted teachers, I remember those years as extraordinary adventures in reading and learning. I wrote and drew and made projects; reams of paper came home each day. Sometimes I wondered if was misremembering or casting those days with a nostalgic hue. But dragging out those boxes, I knew I wasn’t just romanticizing the past. What I immediately noticed was how many projects and book reports we always did—far more than I’ve seen my son do in his years in elementary school. Continue reading

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