Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 2

Ponce, Puerto Rico (Stacey and Corina)

On are second day in the fair sunny land of PR, we headed down to the south and west to Ponce, which is one of the larger cities outside of San Juan.  I think it’s actually the third largest?  Regardless, it’s a big city with colonial-style architecture throughout and several big tourable mansions.  We were excited to go.  Unfortunately, jet lag/stress/lack of sleep caught up with Corina, so we ended up starting out late, after noon.  Then we got caught for the first time by the characteristic Puerto Rico traffic, which springs up for no reason on various short stretches of road across the island.  It’s not event traffic, or rush hour, or anything in any way predictable.  As I came to find out all too well, traffic on the island is its own beast, always ready to pounce on the unwary.  A 1 hour 20 minute drive on this trip took us just over two hours.

When we reached the city, our hostess, Norma, was still in class.  We decided to immediately attempt to find the Hacienda Buena Vista, one of the famous local coffee growing places up in the mountains behind the city.  They gave tours showcasing their shade grown plants and native species reforestation projects. So we followed signs deep into the windy roads of the countryside, trusting our lives to my reblooming driving skills on the narrow curves.  Of course, once we finally made it up there, the gate was shut.  The Hacienda was closed to all but school groups during the week – as this was Friday, they wouldn’t be open to us until 8:30 the following day.  So, back down the mountain.

By 3:30 pm, we were back in Ponce proper.  By this point I was in need of a bathroom, and in desperate need of food.  So we drove into the center of the city where several tourist sites were, parked, and proceeded to attempt to find someplace to eat.  This proved to be more difficult than it first would seem.  The first restaurant we entered, empty except for the proprietor and two servers, promptly explained they were not currently serving food, but told us there were several establishments just down the street to the left.  The next three places we entered were empty.  By ’empty’, I mean the doors were wide open, the tables and chairs were set out properly, the fans were circulating the hot afternoon air, and there wasn’t a single staff person to be seen.  Nor was there any indication that food was available or that kitchen staff might be returning soon.  It was downright creepy.  We continued to walk, searching in vain for a restaurant with both people and food in it.  At last, returning to the central square where we’d begun, we found a sandwich shop and cafe that we’d somehow missed on the first round.  At last, we had a delightful lunch on a balcony overlooking the main square.

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Corina, recovering from our empty restaurant ordeal.

We then took a look at the buildings on the square, a cathedral and the old fire station, the ‘Parque de Bombas’.  Inside, there was an old fire truck, several pumps, and a variety of fireman’s tools and gear.  I began to feel that we would actually get to do something that day.

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Corina got close to the spitting lion.

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Then we went onward and upward (literally) to the giant cross that sits up above the city.  I don’t know why it’s a cross, but I took full advantage of the viewing ‘arms’ to look out towards the ocean.

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We also visited the nearby Japanese garden, which was small, but surprisingly nice.

Finally, we met up with Norma and went out to dinner with some of her friends.  I had a great time.  We went to a bar after dinner, sat out on their patio under the stars, listened to music from all sides, and talked with some of Norma’s friends.  Despite all the entertainment though, I promptly fell asleep in my plastic patio chair.  It was a good day.

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I’ll huff, and I’ll hurricane puff…

As an architect (or at least, a former student of architecture) I have an interest in new ideas people have about building.  Ok, mostly I am interested in residential building.  Corporate and industrial structures have little interest for me – they’re less structured to adapt to people.  I find the robotized warehouses of parts not made for people distinctly claustophobic and wrong, despite the fact that they may be highly useful and space efficient.  So – with my intense people-scale residential interest – I was delighted to see a new hurricane house testing project on a massive level.  Of course, it’s aptly named The Three Little Pigs Project.  Never say they don’t have humor in Canadia.

But what is most interesting with the project – outside of its name – is its process.  They’re taking their time figuring out exactly why a hurricane collapses a building, and how.  The ultimate goal is still prevention and building better houses, but it’s deliberate over the long term, which I kinda like.  Pinpointing stressed areas does have a certain validity for the grand work of making houses stronger.  And the way most roofs attach to houses and the way walls themselves are constructed, ‘balloon framing’ has a whole new meaning.  In addition, after New Orleans and all the legal scutwork of various insurance agencies, even research involving exactly why and how a house fails is extremely important. Go Little Pigs!

Since they seem to have everything pretty well covered and are very technologically sound (way to build your house out of bricks, guys), it almost makes me feel bad to be the hurricane.  I think they might need more of a Big Bad.  How about adding some earthquakes, locusts, diseases, or other ravages to the experiements?  I’d be happy to contribute a bit of huffing and puffing myself, if that could scientifically help.

Indianapolis and the big blue wall.

So. Last week I was at home in Indy for a week of vacation.  And what a vacation it turned out to be! But random stressors aside, I ended up seeing quite a few random and completely unexpected things.  I mean, who ever thought to see fried Pepsi?  How do you even fry a liquid?  Yes it is the State Fair and they do fry up a variety of weird things, but really?  And what about the doe and her faun leisurely eating in the green triangle between on ramp and highway?  Usually you just see the unfortunate aftermath.  However, the most unexpected thing I saw was the main branch of the IMCPL.

you must understand, the main library branch of downtown Indy has always been awesome.  The original building was from a time when they actually planned things out adequately for use, so it was both functional and beautiful.  Its later additions, while not as pretty, still allowed for an overactive imagination to climb up floor-to-ceiling shelves and really delve into hidden alcove of knowledge.  It was an immense treasure-trove for me growing up, and the quiet respect I had in those places will serve as a marker for my interpretation of future libraries.

However, the entire infrastructure was dated, and the library still needed more space for more books.  So they tacked on a giant modern building that was supposed to act as a frame for the old cool building and at the same time have all the advances of modern preservation and storage technology.  Everyone was unhappy, including me.  I didn’t want a giant glassy mass distracting from my awesome library.  But that’s what we got.

While I was home this time I was finally able to see the thing up close and personal, and there were several pleasant surprises.  I could say things here about the better, safer spaces for children, or the person-high shelving, or the updated HVAC that will keep books younger longer, or the various meeting rooms and performance venues or exhibit spaces now at the library.  But these are all pretty boring mundane things, so i will focus on the things that really surprised and pleased me.

3) Book Carts/Baskets – for the true speed-reader

Yes, we’ve moved beyond the day and age where you actually have to use your hands to hold your book selections.  For those who read more than they can hold onto with two hands, we provide free plastic ‘shopping’ baskets.  For those who read more than they can physically lift, there are also rolling carts that hold two baskets.  Also good for entertaining small children.

2) Pod chairs – a la Mork

No longer do you simply sit or even recline in a chair.  Now you can stuff yourself into a noise-cancelling pod and truly be secluded from the outside world.  And, if you’re in the mood, you can spin these things around for a little ride.  Or you can attempt to just lean way out without falling out – that could be enough of a ride right there.

Warning: pods really aren’t meant to fit two.  Extended two-person sitting may cause numbness.

1) And, the number one Greatness of the new library addition:  The Big Blue Wall (Shelly included only for reference)

Do I know why the top floor is twice as tall as any other floor?  Not really.  Do I know why the walls are painted an especially vivid blue color?  Excessively not.  But I do know it’s cool.  So cool, it makes me want to prance.  So cool, people set up photo shoots in odd costumes and tons of makeup in front of it.  And that’s pretty cool.  Go library.

Oh my WUSTL Archies!

I may not know what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I’m pretty sure of a few things I don’t want to do.  One of the primary ones it took me three years to realize was architecture.  I do not want to be an architect.  Sure, someday I may do something involving architecture or design.  I do have some knowledge and experience in those areas.  However, I will never spend the time or effort needed to become certified as an Architect.

Still, there are times when I wonder what my life would have been like if I had stuck it out and become certified.  Times when I see new products and buildings and I think “Oh cool,” or “I could do that!”  One of those times was yesterday, when I discovered this article.  In looking through some of the furniture, I was fondly reminded of my sophomore days in studio, when I too had the chance to design cardboard furniture.  For those of you not in-the-know, it’s uncomfortable.  Room-saving, trendy, and recyclable, yes; but also pokey in all the wrong places.

Still, it brought to my mind an important question – why aren’t I a designer?