Thursday, May 25, 2017


Getting dumped off the cruise ship at 6:00 AM is not my idea of fun, but it actually turned out well for us because that meant we had a full morning to finish exploring the parts of San Juan, Puerto Rico, that we had not been able to see before the cruise. We had a cab take us to a local hotel that would store our luggage for us, and then we went (by foot, mind you) to the territorial capitol building, or El Capitolio, as it is known locally.

It's a capitol that would make any state proud, and one that is significantly more majestic and beautiful than many we have seen. Built between 1925 and 1929, with the dome completed in 1961, the Neoclassical capitol is reminiscent of the US Capitol with its central portico, heavy columns, and dome (although the dome is much less ambitious than the grand dome in Washington, DC).
Puerto Rico Territorial Capitol Building in San Juan

US Capitol Building in Washington, DC

We spent quite a bit of time on Constitution Avenue, the street on which the capitol is located. The area across the street from the capitol reminded me of the National Mall in DC--full of war memorials and tributes to great figures in Puerto Rico's past.

They even have an obelisk, but instead of celebrating George Washington, it honors their police officers . . .

. . . and includes the names of those who fell in the line of duty:

I love that they have a Plaza del Muestros, or Teachers Square:

I'm impressed that teachers are given so much appreciation. If you're wondering, the photo bomber is my brother. I think he's gazing heavenward to look for our mom, a master first grade teacher. (Or maybe he's just being his usual silly self.)

There is a beautiful Holocaust memorial:

Dedicated in 2012, it pays tribute to the six million Jews worldwide who lost their lives during World War II. It is made of weathered steel shaped like an unfurled scroll and has four carved out images whoses shadows on the sidewalk are made of black granite. The statue's title is "In the Shadow of Their Absence," and the words on the scroll read "Let six million candles glow against the darkness of these unfinished lives."  It is simple and poignant.

There is also a tribute to the victims of the Lod Massacre, an event I had never heard of. In 1972, a terrorist attack in the Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion Airport) near Tel Aviv killed 26 people, 17 of them Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico. I was moved that this memorial stands with the Holocaust memorial as a testament against religious violence of all kinds:

Another must see on Constitution Avenue is the Paseo de los Presidentes, or Presidents' Lane. I was shocked to learn that since the US took possession of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War in 1898 , only NINE of the TWENTY-ONE sitting Presidednts have taken time to visit this important US Territory. (No wonder many of the Puerto Ricans, who can't vote and have no representation in Congress, want to become an independent nation.)

Theodore Roosevelt visited in 1908 after a trip to the Panama Canal, and Herbert Hoover visited in 1931:

Franklin D. Roosevelt, pictured here with his dog Fala and one of only three statues that show him in his wheelchair, visited in 1934, and Harry S. Truman visited in 1948:

Dwight D. Eisenhower visited twice, to and from a trip to Brazil in 1960, and John F. Kennedy visited in 1961:

Lyndon B. Johnson visited in 1968, but never left the Air Force base and did no hobnobbing with local officials, and Gerald R. Ford visited in 1976:

Barack Obama visited for four hours in 2011, and in that short period of time he visited the executive mansion, had lunch at a local restaurant, gave interviews to a local Univision TV reporter, and attended a Democratic National Committee event that grossed a million dollars for his campaign:

Only nine Presidents. Wow. This bothers me. Puerto Rico has a population of 3.4 million people, more people than TWENTY of our fifty states. Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States and pay federal taxes (but not personal income taxes), and yet our Presidents don't see fit to visit them. I would guess that since they can't vote and don't have representation in Congress, they are of no benefit to the President. That just doesn't seem right.

On a totally DIFFERENT note: Altar de tu Patria (Altar of Your Homeland):

I love the World War II memorial, and I love the fact that Puerto Ricans helped in the "defense of the nation."  We definitely take these folks for granted:

Unfortunately, the capitol building itself was closed on the morning we were there because of some big event that was happening later in the day. We were disappointed.

Then we tried the front door. It opened. Three of us--my sister Chris, her husband Stan, and I--stepped inside. No alarms went off. No armed guards came rushing to kick us out.

OOOOOH, super pretty!

Look at the cool ceiling!

There was a lady over in a corner who looked like she was cleaning, and she glanced our way (more than once), but she didn't say anything. That was a good sign. Why not walk into the next room?

WOW! It's the Dome Room! Look at that gorgeous dome!

Four triangular panels surround the dome, each depicting a scene from the country's history:

Beautiful arched ceilings connect the panels:

Friezes above the doors on the walls of the Dome Room illustrate more Puerto Rican history:

Unfortunately, at about this time security noticed our impromptu visit, and we were peremptorily ushered out of the building. However, we were neither arrested nor fined, so I would say it was a win for us.

On the other hand, we weren't going to wait around too long to see if they changed their minds. Time to move on.

One of the statues on Constitution Avenue is of a man I had never heard of, Manuel Zeno Gandia. I saw that he was both a doctor and author, which was intriguing, so I came home and did a little research. Zeno Gandia was born in Puerto Rico to wealthy landowners and received his medical training in Spain. He also became interested in politics there.

He returned to Puerto Rico and set up his medical practice, but he also began to write, and in 1894 he published what is considered to be the first serious novel to come out of Puerto Rico, a book called La Charca, or The Pond. Rather than presenting a romanticized tale of colonization, The Pond exposes the exploitation of poor Puerto Rican farm laborers who harvest the country's rich coffee beans enjoyed by wealthy people around the world, but who themselves live in harsh, squalid conditions.

After Puerto Rico was invaded in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Zeno Gandia became a vocal advocate for independence and traveled to Washington, D.C. to plead for his countrymen. His arguments were ignored, however, and Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States. For most of the rest of his life, he continued to work for independence. He died in 1930, his dream of independence unfulfilled.

The Pond is availabe in English. It's on my list.


  1. Informative, as usual. Loved the pictures of the inside of the capitol that I was unable to see. I love the Columbus connection.

  2. I was in the Lod Airport the day after that massacre in Israel. Security was extremely uptight - especially in the eyes of an American in 1972 when we did not have any airport security in the USA. The airport police did a very thorough search and opened my camera (exposing film) when they found a loose screw on my camera. Kinda scary for an 18 year old traveling alone.

    1. Russ, you have a knack of being at interesting places and interesting times. I love this story! We had no idea what was ahead for air travel, did we?

  3. The state capitol that never was.

  4. I'm glad we took a peek inside the capitol. It was worth the being invited to leave part.