Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Melia on Our Lady's Day

I was in Puerto Rico with Gary Walker and Jorge Jimenez about ten years ago. The purpose of the trip is complicated, but wasn't intended to be fun. It was work all day, then drive to the next town, find a hotel and a place to eat and drink far into the night. On day two or three the rules changed when we hit Ponce and the Hotel Melia. All of central Ponce is old, some buildings 200 or 300 hundred years. The tourist hotels and "progress" are all a few miles down the road along the beach. The only place to stay in the old town is the Melia on the town square.
As we entered the lobby of the Melia a man greeted us with a deep bow. In thickly accented English he said, “Gentlemen. Welcome ... (a sweeping gesture of the hand) ... to The Melia!

The Melia is over a hundred years old but it has an elegance that only comes with age. She is a fine looking older lady, with slightly thread-worn clothes, but with definite class and breeding. Her floors are hand-painted tiles, with wood paneled walls reaching up to the high wood ceilings with chandeliers and slow turning paddle fans. All that is missing is a fat man in a white suit and panama, smoking a cigar at the round table behind the palms.

After signing in we talked to some of the other guests. It became apparent that the Melia had a chef - a chef good enough that people came from the U.S. to just to eat. Professional eaters. They sat around talking and reading books, waiting for the next meal. So, after we spent the evening walking around the old town and stopping at the open front bars for a drink or two ... or three, we were looking forward to breakfast the next day.

Morning came early... to cannonfire and military music, singing and voices garbled through bull horns. In my grogginess all I could think of was the recent protests and "Yankee Go Home" signs we had seen painted on walls. "Shit, there's been a Goddamned revolution!" After I got my clothes on and stepped out on the balcony, I could see the parade was less threatening. There were a bunch of old soldiers, a brass band, and children in their crisp, clean school uniforms marching with flags. It was sunup on December 12, the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I still don't know what the cannons had to do with Our Lady, but they certainly scared the BeeJesus out of me, so I guess they did have some religious significance.
(coda option 2: "... they certainly scared the Hell out of me...etc")

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

that's cool, I mean the vaguely noir writing style. Also, I'd like to hang out there for a while.

mw

Gunnar Berg said...

Thanks...coming from a pro and all. It's the Melia photo that threw you off.

reverend dick said...

The Melia looks as though it were built from Legos. The interior is nice.Y'all should have been so lucky as to stay at El Convento in Viejo San Juan. It is classy.

The fat man you were looking for is certainly there, eating mofongo, but he is now wearing a polyester track suit and large cubic zirconia medallion. He could well be smoking a fine cigar, but he is uninterested in espionage.

The best things? The coffee is amazingly good. And the rum. But you know about that.

Gunnar Berg said...

The Lego building is the fire station. The exterior of the Melia is elegant white Spanish colonial.

reverend dick said...

You're right.

But the cannon shots, that's why I have returned (this time), the cannon shots. Were there also lots of jeeps honking non-stop and flashing fog lights? That would be muy authentico.

A23 said...

That sort of reminds me of me and Hamachi at the Ambos Mundos in Havana.

There is no hot water, and there is a man with a machine gun (I like to call him Kalish when I am remembering this) posted just across from the front door at all times.

Ernesto's room was right above mine, and if you look in, there is a typewriter on a small white desk and a few other things that supposedly belonged to Papa.

I like that part of the world.