Sunday, November 30, 2014

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Tomorrow is the first day of December, and many of us have already experienced winter weather, so I thought that you would enjoy photographer Juan F. Tituaña and poet Jerry A. Scuderi's collaboration inspired by Juan's recent trip to Puerto Rico.  His essay will serve as an introduction as will the photograph of a city street in Old San Juan, the historic part of the capital.
Photography by Juan Tituaña

October 2013 – A week in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (by Juan F. Tituaña)
The minute I left the airport heading to my hotel, I was engulfed with the friendly lifestyle and warm salsa beat of the island. It looked and felt as if I was in a foreign country, so I could not get it out of my mind that I was still in the United States where I didn’t need to worry about a passport or exchanging my American dollars.
I was attending an annual conference my company had planned on October of last year.  Did I object to going?  Who would?  I arrived 4 days before the conference began and stayed 4 days afterwards so I could to travel and roam the city with my camera and gear. 
The city compelled me to get out of my hotel and explore. By 7am, I was having breakfast nearby at Cafeteria Mallorca – a favorite of the locals. After my daily breakfast ritual, I made my way through miles and miles of narrow cobbled stoned streets.  I searched and found many favorite spots to photograph I talked with many locals – a construction worker gutting one of the historic row houses, a young couple relaxing by the sea, a man by bar who described a baseball game on TV that night – one of their own, a professional baseball player was playing in the semi-finals of the World Series (see photo).  I met a local chef and ended up having dinner at his restaurant the following night.  (see kitchen photo) The manager of The Poet’s Passage – a popular poetry recital place, gave me a historical perspective of the city. (see photo)  
For the avid photographer, the city provided many other casual encounters with the locals and found that some of my best photo shots were always around every corner.  Interacting with the locals is a must, it is essential – in my case – to capture the city, its people and the soul of the island, with my camera.  Puerto Rico is a haven for photographers!  The colorful palette of the city streets and its people made the trip worthwhile but there was more I wanted see and do but could not.  For once, it’s nice to have “unfinished business” – more reasons to return to the old city – my Old San Juan.  
 Photography by Juan Tituaña

Photography by Juan Tituaña
Photography by Juan Tituaña
With these two photographs from The Poet's Passage, a coffee bar and artisan's shop in Old San Juan, I think that it's time for a little poetry. Even if it's not Tuesday night yet.  Enjoy Jerry A. Scuderi's "Salsa Island":

 Salsa Island   

 Run Puerto Rican maiden
over cobblestone streets ;
glow radiant girl
to all whom you meet .

 Bake braided missy,
pass city stone walls .
Awed tourists trolley
as history calls .

 Smile vendors attentive
to your bronze emblazoned face .
Glory floral island
benevolent to haste .

 Tap steel drums nimbly
through your blooming slim lines .
Seek out festivity
with suitors in mind .

 Unfurl salsa island
local flavors and flairs .
Pastel promenade spirits
are inviting you there .
                                               Jerry A. Scuderi 11-27-14    

Let's return to Juan's images from Old San Juan.  In the next few images, people are very important, and being fluent in Spanish, Juan was able to interact with them.

 Photography by Juan Tituaña

Photography by Juan Tituaña
Photography by Juan Tituaña
Photography by Juan Tituaña
We'll finish the exhibits of Juan's photographs with images taken by the water.  

Photography by Juan Tituaña
Photography by Juan Tituaña

I know that you would like to know where Juan took these photographs.  Here are the notes that he sent me to include:

Photos in Old San Juan  
1: Street bus in a busy narrow street – bus rides are free in Old San Juan.

2: Local government building with Puerto Rico and US flags

3: Facade of the popular “Poets Passage” building and entrance 

4: Sala Poetica (Poetry hall) sign inside “Poets Passage”

5: Local bar where I hanged out most nights - college age students with their weekend gigs. They played and sang great salsa/pop music while locals danced right outside in the street.  Since we became almost regulars for a week, we started getting good discounts on food and drinks.   

6: Man and I talked for a while - he said that night the outside bar was full to capacity with locals - I asked him why - he said because one of their own was playing professionally in the semi-finals of the World Series

7: A chef in his kitchen.  The night prior a colleague friend and I casually met his photographer wife while she was shooting a large ship docked in pier.  We ended up having dinner at his restaurant the following night – awesome Caribbean atmosphere and food.  

8. Young couple by the sea.  I approached them and asked if I could take their picture.  With great smiles they said of course.  They were so easy to talk to and said they came a lot to this same spot to watch the sunset. They were thinking of getting married in a few years.

9: "Paseo de la Princesa" (The Princess' Promenade) at the old tall fort wall that surrounds the city. At night this promenade is full of couples - young and old, joggers and tourists.   A walk, a stroll, along here is common any day or night of the week.  The view of the sea at different times of the day is spectacular.

10. Scenic shot from nearby beach of “Paseo de la Princesa” at night. 

Juan also sent along the lyrics to  "En Mi Viejo San Juan" (Spanish and English), a classical bolero song, which, as he notes, is "considered like a national anthem for all Puerto Ricans living abroad and in USA."  The English translation is his own.

En mi Viejo San Juan (In my Old San Juan)

En mi viejo San Juan
cuantos sueños forjé
en mis noches de infancia,
mi primera ilusión
y mis cuitas de amor
son recuerdos del alma.

Una tarde me fuí
hacia extraña nación,
pues lo quiso el destino,
pero mi corazón
se quedó frente al mar
en mi viejo San Juan

Adiós (adiós adiós)
Borinquen querida.
Adios (adios adios)
mi diosa del mar,
me voy
pero un dia volveré
a buscar mi querer,
a soñar otra vez,
en mi viejo San Juan.

Pero el tiempo pasó
y el destino burló
mi terrible nostalgia,
y no pude volver
al San Juan que yo amé,
pedacito de patria.

Mi cabello blanqueó
y mi vida se va
ya la muerte me llama,
y no quiero morir
alejado de ti
Puerto Rico del alma.

In my Old San Juan,
where I forged
​ ​    
many dreams
in my childhood years.
My first illusion
​      my sorrows ​
of love
are but memories of the soul.
One afternoon I left
for a foreign country,
as fate would have it,
but my heart
remained facing the sea,
in my Old San Juan.

my dear Borinquen;
my goddess of the Sea.

I'm leaving now,
but one day I'll return
to search for my love,
and to dream once again
in my Old San Juan.

But time passed by,
and destiny fooled
my aching nostalgia.
And I could not return
to the San Juan I loved,
that little piece of my land.
My hair has turned gray,
life is leaving me,
death is calling me.
and I do not want to die
so far away from you,
Puerto Rico of my soul!

So that you may hear what this song sounds like, here is a link to Trio Los Panchos y Javier Solis' rendition :

The link below takes you to the history of the song *and* a video of its author singing it.

I'd also like to include a performance by the Puerto Rican drummer Giovanni Hidalgo at the Puerto Rican Jazz Festival:

This video is more informal:

Let's finish with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band's performance of "Manteca" and "St. Thomas":

Juan F. Tituaña is currently the Director at ELS Language Centers (a Berlitz International company) in Washington DC.  ELS Language Centers, Inc. is the world’s largest network of English language instruction and university preparation centers, with more than 65 locations in the USA, Canada, Panama, India, China and Australia. This year, ELS will place thousands of international students in university degree programs at more than 600 universities in the country. He received his graduate degrees in Education (Master’s and Doctorate) from the University of Maryland with Minors in Latin American History, Languages and Educational Communications.  He is also President of JFT Enterprises, LLC and specializes in media content translations, transcriptions and photography. He previously held positions as Manager and Director of Translations at one of the international divisions of the National Geographic Society. He has travelled and given presentations on the importance of learning English and translations in the present global market place to international students throughout the US, London, Paris, Cannes, Rome, Madrid and Buenos Aires.  He has taught Education theory, communications and photography courses at the University of Maryland, and adult ESL, GED, and US citizenship classes at local high schools in Montgomery County.  His passion is photography but also loves travelling, hiking, reading, listening to international music, trying new ethnic restaurants, watching international films and playing chess.  He likes meeting and learning from international students and people of other cultures.  At every chance, he likes to perfect his skills with languages so he reads books in Spanish, Italian and French

Enjoy!  Juan will be exhibiting more images from Puerto Rico in December.  These will be from the countryside so that you will be able to see more of this fascinating island.  


  1. I like photograph number 10 so much I want to move there. The poems are lovely.