Santo Domingo, the Nymphs of the Botanical Garden
I feel that I cannot continue like this. Surreptitiously I sled into fantasy, Baedeker’s type inutile tips, fairy-tales, podcast cheap history courses, supermarket politics, crowd psychology and unnecessary artist twiddling. The main issue and the raison d’être of my unremitting addiction with this blog is DEATH. Death is the major determinant of our life, brutally or softly harrowing our destiny from even before being born and a lot after our demise. Think only of the fantastic blossoming and solid persistence of inheritance trials all over the world. The only ones who have nobody to sue to get a better share are the miserable and oppressed poor who are getting flea for free. Notwithstanding the immense importance of Death in Life the majority of people are stubbornly refusing to relate to it, idiotically pretending to resuscitate once upon a time, or arriving on its threshold in a state of stupor, barely knowing where their nose is, pretending they never had a fly to their pants and pierced with tubes in a manner to make jealous a hedgehog. Did the two nice black women volunteers of Mothers against senseless killing (MASK) who got gunned down yesterday, the 30th of July 2019, in Chicago’s Englewood, during a street vigil, have an understanding of how much DEATH is with us? I wonder if they had time for it! Would the much more famous and powerful association of Black Lives Matters take up the case? It remains also an open question. While righteously denouncing police violence and white supremacist mayhem they seem little interested by the fact that 93 out of 100 murdered black people are killed by black thugs We live in a mighty delusional world…but let’s go back to Santo Domingo and my Bravado express.
The bus was fine, forget the antediluvian Tica bus with which I was plodding in Central America 40 years ago. On the track thousands of fairly young black men, Haitians I was told, were tightly seated on the sidewalks for kilometers. They wore colorful plastic helmets and held spirit levels. It was clear that the construction business is booming even if these people were momentarily unemployed. The road was following the exaggeratedly beautiful seashore, the vegetation was vivid and vital and the garbage abundant. At the arrival in Santo Domingo I was assaulted by a gang of taxi drivers with cavernous voices. To walk alone, in company only of your suitcases, is sheer suicide. I got the FEAR and kept it for the rest of the trip, boarded a four wheel immediately and hit the hotel after a 42 second drive and some 10 dollars less. Safe! Life matters. They are not dangerous boroughs, crime can hit everywhere. There are three golden rules: go with a group, don’t get into an empty street and if alone avoid being overdressed. Pocketless bathing pants, beach sandals and an archaic Nokia phone will suffice.
Barrio Colonial, the neighborhood I was living in, close to the monuments and the stupendous shoreline, was quite pleasant and supposed to be safe. I arrived at this conclusion considering the absence of street police and the opulent use of iron fencing at any place that can incite a burglar to sneak in including a cat’s hole. I had a meeting with the tourist police, who keep an office located on El Conde, the main, of course, tourist street. They were two short legged ladies with impressive steatopygous buttocks to render jealous the 32.000 years old Venus of Willendorf. No, they snorted, they do not have any city plan and marched me out.
Whores, I know that the Imperator will become mad at me using this consecrated term, were much more friendly. They came to me, told me their name and shook my hand. When it became clear that I am not a customer we separated in amiable terms.I was nevertheless attacked on the same street. I went to an honorable hairdresser shop and asked for a haircut. A good worker can handle my mane in 3 to 4 minutes if he is particularly slow. I checked the price before: 350 pesos, i.e. 6.85 US $. Fine, let’s start. Suddenly and during the time that hairdresser was toiling a squad of fat ladies (see above) and a slim partially boy jumped on me. They rubbed my face, my arms, my neck and my calves with a disgusting smelling white cream, cut my fingernails extra short, began to polish them, plucked a few invisible hairs from my ears and launched various massages on some of my limbs. Then I understood that if I was not interfering I would get the whole treatment including a provisory bed companion and a bill to shock a petrol Arab emir. I started very gently in full accord with my character, age and education to shout like a madman. I roared ladron voy matarte con la navaja, policia, policia! Everybody laughed. They were nonviolent. Haitians. They announced the price, some 60 US bucks. How much do you want to pay? Less or nothing was my genuine answer. Finally we settled for ten, only three more than the worthless initial agreement and I left prouder and relatively wiser than at incipio.* I felt part of local culture, at least a quasi-particle.
From my location, La Casa de Huspedes Colonial I walked to pay my respects to the hero of my childhood Don Cristobal Colon once the heroic discoverer of a New World – today, especially for the CORRECTS, a rotten colonialist and cruel tormentor. You choose. His impressive XIX century bronze statue filled up to the nostrils with feeling, it was the style of the time, to hell with Frank Stella, is located a little bit off-center in the today Parque Colon. It tops an elaborate three storied stone pedestal On the lower platform steps, portrayed in submissive, eventually engaging and definitively sensuous posture is the Taino She-cacique Anacaona who probably was clueless about what would happen to her and to her people. In memoriam. Western Civilization shuns violently anything I have to say about its becoming even if I am ready to give some crisp details and the inscription is on the wall. RIP. From his strategic place the Discoverer, to come back to him, friendly rules a crowd of tourists, guides, souvenir vendors, petty thieves, excited honeymooners, women professionals (I finally found the right term), bored, partially rioting college material, municipal fanfare and pigeons. He is the pigeons’ king. He is turning his back to the stupendous basilica Santa Maria La Menor, the first church built on the American continent. I will come back to that; they would grow later like mushrooms, but this one is a pearl. His raised left hand is much more talkative. It is pointing north west towards the new countries he hopes to discover, the noble Spaniard barrio that once will be built there by his brother Bartolomeo and undoubtedly towards the fabulous Alcazar raised by his son Diego (who married into money), the first governor of the island many years after his father’s demise. Confidentially, I realized that the bronze Ocean Admiral was tweeting to me: Boy, what you are looking for, the Amber Museum is just behind you on El Conde 107 and the even more important Museo Mundo del Ambar of Jorge Caridad, who is a nice and sly guy, on Arzibispo Merino 452, is very close to here. And now blast off!
To make it short the desire to come to grips with local amber was not less strong than to meet the admiral. The two museums especially the one of Jorge Caridad were outstanding still being equally divided in the presentation of a glamorous collection and an extensive mercantile area. The informative effort was amazing and eventually a barely alphabetized regular Joe will come out with some ideas about amber’s origins and age, 45 to 35 million years ago (even more, even more) , preceding the mammals by dozen millions of years. Keep off gorilla! Even a mediocrely seeing fellow, me, will be fazed and thrilled by the gorgeous hues such as red, green, yellow, I will say honey, and black carried by the big lumps or the tiny bits of amber The resin from which amber comes is a substance the trees produce for outer repair and to keep enemies at bay. Sometimes insects are caught in and that’s it. If the insect is complete and good looking the price of the piece goes up very much. I am no sadist….but I know some insects that deserve it well! After some 30 million years and million tons of continuous pressure and mineral impregnation, the resin becomes amber. I liked it for thousand reason and especially because it is still alive that means that the enormous molecules, the polymers forming it, keep moving inside much more than the glass molecules which move also for centuries. According to quantum mechanics both materials are between solid and liquid. The theory being still fresh, it would be wise to end with it here. I took the coffee Jorge made for me and I was off. I was, financially speaking in the red, unable to buy anything there and I do not like malls. Possibly I am overly educated for that and more certainly, I have here and there some cash problems. I was directing my steps towards the only restaurant offering acceptable comida creola when I discovered in a little, empty uninteresting street the STORE. It didn’t smell mall, nor fancy gallery, but it was undoubtedly a boutique for connoisseurs; I am not one but I can recognize the store’s gestalt even through the door’s glass. I checked again the showcase and got hooked by the tasteful presentation. Of course the owners were two grey haired old Japanese, much younger than me, calm and polite. You say Japanese, you mean style. In we go. I scrutinized the customers, a foreign dealer speaking too much, but a true professional and a local lady beauty silently choosing. That was my place and here I would find what I wanted for my daughter and my daughter in law. How I arrived to get the objects at the price I was ready to pay, I do not want to disclose both for copyright reasons and because it will not work with somebody else. Not offense intended!
My plan when I arrived in Santo Domingo was to spend some days in the city and then rent a car and travel to two or three famous amber mining sites such as Bayaguana, Sabana del Mar and Santiago de los Caballeros. When I understood that the renting of the car does not include the loan of a fully loaded, well registered, freshly oiled gun, I dropped the project. I hate to make it public but my beloved parents didn’t provide me with any genetic victim proclivity. It is quite a crime today, I know, the CORRECTS abhor defensive killers, but what I can do? Nobody is perfect. So instead of playing Indiana Jones I went to a hospital to check the not so perfect state of my leg burn. A thin and shy lady doctor wearing a kind of khimār, was she Muslim? examined me without touching the wound, prescribed medication and advised a second visit to a specialized clinic. When I asked how much I had to pay they all laughed and kicked me out. I left after threatening that I would come to visit them any second day. General empathy. At the other clinic, Dr Abreu I believe, a huge one, I got the same reception which made me conclude that Santo Domingo is infested equally with Criminals and Good Samaritans.
It was time to go to the God’s house which is floating like a magic ship, that is a kind of fixation, but I will argument it, on the southern side of the Parque Colon. Let’s put it simply, it is a pure jewel. It was launched by the dwarfish, ferocious pope, Jules II de la Rovere who was Michelangelo’s patron in
1504. The blending between the gothic mode, the vault of the nave and the plateresque stupendous west façade is on the border of perfection. The interior space is so light and the overall vibrations are so positive that even extremely dense and basically petty critics, including yours truly, cannot avoid to be moved. Add to that the blond sandstone that seems to come out from an enchanted quarry and you will have a vague idea of the marvel. I immediately called out God. Lord you have a fine abode here….It was desacralized, he mutters with a kind of grumpy tone…Do you mean that noble English Brother of the Coast? Neither brother nor coast and for sure not noble; a bloody pirate I will call him, the cursed Drake. Lord please, control your language, there are children around…That happened just 433 years ago…and there are many historians who think that his presence on the premises saved the basilica…Yes? he said. While he was burning one wonderful building of the city after another until they paid the killing ransom? …Historians, he continued with an unmistakable accent of despise and disgust?….The same who take Jerusalem for the capital of Palestine? I felt that I inadvertently upset the Principal. He is a Jewish God after all. I couldn’t handle such amount of hate. I hit with my forehead, the baldness make it bigger, on the threshold of the wonderful west facade and I escaped into nature.
I went to Tres Ojos grottos. To understand what they are imagine a demiurge child who received some three or four deflated balloons for his anniversary. He left the palace of his divine parents and ran to a nearby rocky outcrop covered by shore vegetation, stuck each plastic flat contraption into some stone crack and blew it up with all the might of his divine whale lungs. What he got was a set of giant spherical caverns. With some mighty hits of his index finger he connected the caverns one to another and forced a little river which was quietly flowing on the surface into the ground, enough to fill the bottom of each cave with the most transparent cum iridescent water table I ever seen. Of course he dug a channel to give the again reunified underground stream an outlet to the nearby sea. I haven’t the foggiest idea how. Why did you do that, bad boy asked the divine parents? I want to create a microclimate he coldly answered. I can tell that I never was so close to the gates of paradise than when I was ambling between and within the caves. They were half circling an enormous depression filled with luxuriant vegetation. The stalactites and the stalagmites growing from the bottom and the ceiling of the grottos according to some strange interaction and standard chemical reactions conveyed to the ensemble an outstanding romantic aura. I had the compound for myself for a long moment while tourists went to lunch and filled my tank with perfumes and freshness that only a rain forest can provide. Bats, I haven’t seen nor smelled any, in spite of their presence being highly advertised by treacherous guides and media. I left this fabulous cenote (as they are called all over Latin America) reflecting that it could very well serve as dream location for a couple ready to indulge into an ecological betrothal.
The next and last day I decided to continue with the same energetic immersion into nature and go to the botanical garden. I took a criminal moto concho, there are people who never learn, and hit the enormous, beautiful and rich Moscoso garden 2.000.000 square meters of holy ground, after turning around for 90 minutes. I paid the concho and cursed him and myself from the bottom. I was already dead tired and so down-and–out that I took the last place in a three wagon train making the tour of the garden. I was seated in the last wagon with my back to the guide positioned in the first. That means that I had to discover the garden backwards, a situation which drives me crazy if I am in a normal state. I was not and beyond that I neither heard nor understood a single word from what the guide was eructing. I broke in tears of gratitude for the Principal when we had a ten minutes stop to visit the Japanese garden and the facilities according to needs and interest. A veteran of famous authentic Japanese classics – Ryoan ji, Rikugien, Kenroku-en I decided to hold on and go for the real thing. When I already arrived on the shore of a dirty lake where aquatic fowls and shameless turtles were begging for food I began to have some doubts. Then the Principal got in action, thanks God, and brought in front of my bewitched eyes the most amazing flock of whitely dressed black swans. Well, let’s be more precise. It was a group of mostly young girls in this blessed state where the border between girlhood and womanhood is fading away and the lady in becoming carries for some short time the charm and the glamour of the two states. They were moving and standing and coming together and separating like in a spontaneous ballet mixing freedom of youth with disinhibited body language. Add to that, that for some of them the sensuous white dresses they wore were revealing more than hiding and you will have a pale image of the occurrence. I took some photos from far away and quite rejuvenated by the gift I received from above I sent the train to hell and I visited the garden by myself. It should demand two or three days so rich was the vegetal collection and so articulate the arrangement but after I invested some two hours in my endeavor I felt the need of urgent assistance. A taxi came and brought me back to the hotel in a whiff. I still had time to reflect on one of the trees I saw that was called Bois Inmortel (error theirs!), erythrina leptopoda. You eat its fruits and keep alive for ever or drop dead on the spot?! You see, we are slowly going back to my blog’s theme! At the hotel I told about my encounter with the afro-caribbean nymphs and asked for the possible reason of the gay and jolly cortege…. Probably girls who are making a party before getting married….and they designated the custom by a name that I discovered to be inaccurate. Also, I have seen twice in the city girls in quite pompous** dresses being photographed by professionals as a part of a pre-wedding ritual. They were very different….Maybe it was an academic achievement celebration? But the few young guys, quite thin and small, who accompanied the girls looked like drones near the fully developed bees, it couldn’t be the same promotion …Tomorrow I am going to the Dominican Republic Embassy to check it out….
With infinite respect
*PS. At my return I found a comment upon El Niche Barbershop, the place where I barely avoided to get robbed and raped, by a local guide. He called it: a tourist trap. Check it out, Ctrl+clik, you will enjoy:
**PS. I was unable to go to the Dominican Republic’s embassy for some real or virtual reasons and I decided to leave the question open and floating. But that was without to count with the manic thoroughness of the Imperator who dug with the obstinacy of a giant armadillo and came out with a glamorous answer. The smartly dressed, smashing young ladies who got my full attention and boundless admiration were quinceaneras, 15 years old girls, who all over Latin America are celebrating their symbolic coming into Womanhood with the impetuosity of caravels of the Ocean’s Admiral in the Dreamland. I feel compelled to mention that the Imperator has heavy doubts about the Nymphs of the Botanic Garden as part of the quinceaneras tradition. Research continues feverishly!!!