Before we leave the tranquil—perhaps a bit hermetic, but we mean that in a nice way—precincts of the museum, it’s worth noting another Martorellian touch underfoot. This elaborate calligraphic noodling is one of Antonio’s specialties, as it was Lorenzo Homar’s, and it makes you wonder if there isn’t the rogue gene of a medieval clerk somewhere in the borinquen bloodline.
The museum is located to the left of the entrance to the campus just beyond greater downtown Cayey. It’s open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and weekends and holidays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For explicit directions and all other information, call 787-738-2161, extension 2209 or 2191, email the museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the very user-friendly web site. One way or another you’ll likely end up in contact with Jonathan.
If Ramón Frade and his last-century ways are just more than you can stand, who can resist a heaping plate of falling-apart pig meat, I ask you? After about twenty minutes of impossibly narrow, densely forested Highway One above Cayey, just before you reach Aibonito, sits the island-renowned purveyor of lechón asado, ñame, pasteles, arroz con habichuelas, el superdestacado relleno de apio, y to’: El Cuñao. Maybe crunchy pork fat isn’t your thing either, to which I say, stay in your condo and rot, sesos flojos.
This teeming lunch spot, which resembles a down-home country-western bar crossed with a park picnic shelter and is redolent at all times, let me warn you if you haven’t gotten my drift, with singed oinker flesh, has never let me down. I’ve drayed everyone from razor-sideburned, city-boy Peruvian faux sex bandits to delicate flowers of British curatorial royalty up there, and no one has complained. You can tuck into a snoot full of comida of the most criolla—including, if your tastes are twisted that way, icky morcillas and guineos I really can’t see the point of—and walk away with only a small, unassuming dent in your wallet. Some claim that the inns along la ruta lechonera, further north on the road to Guavate, serve fresher and más auténtico, but I’m betting there are few spots as convivial as El Cuñao.
However, we’ll see. Coming soon in Rotund World, the PR Lechón Challenge. Meantime, El Cuñao is open seven days a week from seven in the morning to six at night. It's located at km 65.5 on Highway One. Phone 787-263-0511.
While we’re waxing jolly and dwelling, perhaps even to an unhealthy degree, on delicias típicas y sabores ricos, we might as well just cut the crap and head over to that toothsome chocolate bunny in greater downtown Ponce’s generally threadbare Easter basket, the dead zone’s ever-hopping hotspot that’s so cool it’s well below zero, King’s Cream.
But first, an important bulletin just arrived at the Rotund News Desk, by way of an alert citizen who spotted it in day-before-yesterday’s El Nuevo Día. It appears that la cadena de restaurantes de comida rápida, Burger King, has delivered a check for $150,000 to the Museo de Arte de Ponce as part of a promised $450,000 which the Ponceño burgermeisters pledged to the museum’s ambitious remodeling program. It is rumored that MAP has agreed, in turn, to rechristen its most renowned holding, Frederick Lord Leighton’s “Flaming June,” as “Whopper’s Daughter.” The alleged name change coincides with the painting’s two- to three-year excursion through the most prominent museums of Europe during MAP’s renovation. Stay tuned.
Since we’re pillaging day-old, and staler, newspapers, it behooves us to report that the local Archdiocese of the Catholic Church, after a process which Archbishop Roberto González Nieves (no relation to Marysol, we hope) describes as “discerning,” is “inclined to think” that there is something fishy about the so-called stigmata appearing about the body of a young man who has apparently convinced some people in the Carolina vicinity that he’s the Second Coming, or something just as good. We’re not sure that anyone actually complained to authorities about this obvious swindle, but the Archdiocese nonetheless launched a wide-ranging, several-months-long investigation, and was able to report, finally, that the man had probably seen Mel Gibson’s bloody, anti-Semitic lash-fest, “The Passion,” one too many times and likely inflicted the damage on himself. Good job Church dicks!
Coming pleasantly back to Earth, let me just mention that the guanábana sugar cone at King’s Cream is so sublime, any attempt on my part to describe it would be rank profanation. This is not your seventeen percent butter fat, slather-it-directly-on-your- thighs, creamy-as-a-wet-dream product, but more sorbetty stuff, chunky with fruit bits or whatever. María and her intrepid crew sling it like galley slaves from dawn to the midnight hour, in their Spartan but sweet little hidey-hole opposite the cathedral and the Bombero’s Museum, proving that Ponce may be Ponce, but not always, and not in every way.
I’ll admit to another exception to the rule: Museo de la Historia de Ponce. The museum’s director, Jorge Alberto Figueroa Irizarry, must be one of the hardest-working hombres south of San Juan. I see him everywhere, at all hours. He’s the overseer of a gorgeously restored neoclassical dwelling on Calle Isabel which houses a series of breezy but highly instructive histories of the area and the island. It’s an ideal place to visit in the scorching heat of the afternoon.
Within the museum’s mercifully air-conditioned confines you’ll see the expected native musical instruments and vejigante masks, vitrines displaying milk bottles, souvenir scarves, notary stamps, and suchlike, and several really impressive dioramas. But the appeal is actually quite bookish, and much of what’s told reveals itself though plentiful wall texts, original newspaper clippings, and reproductions of old photographs and documents. Each part of the house offers a different efficient little exposition: native fauna, the origins and abolition of slavery here, the island’s bewildering political mutations, who’s who in music, and my fave corner, the most notorious habitués of the plaza: Cachaco, Juana la loca, and the fitfully snoozing Juan Ortiz, décano de los limpiabotas, among others.
I suppose it would be fitting, in an O’Henry sort of way, for the relentlessly carping editor of Rotund World to end up as a quaint, ghostly image in Ponce’s Museo de la Historia, caught napping by the fountain while vengeful borinquen pigeons merengue on his wispy skull. “A Don Joel,” the caption reads, “No le gustaba Ponce mucho.”
The museum’s address is Calle Isabel #49, 51, y 53, a place you’ve probably noticed in all its belle époque glory. Phone 787-844-7071. It’s open every day except Tuesday, from nine in the morning until five.