Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Island of Enchantment

Magnet# 67: Coqui in Puerto Rican House

Material: Ceramic

Purchased By: Dad

Today marks the anniversary of U.S. troops gaining control of Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, paving the way for the area to become a United States territory. This came after years of occupation by the Spanish.  During that time, the natives of the island were enslaved and forced into hard labor.  Disease, suicide, and violence by the Spanish had nearly killed them off entirely.  When the Spanish finally freed them in 1520, only to import African slaves to work in their places, they had been reduced to a fraction of their former population.  Over the years, the natives gained minor representation within the Spanish Parliament, but remained impoverished and dissatisfied by their situation, rebelling at one point.  Because of this, they gained a semi-autonomous rule until they were invaded by the United States and Spain signed over control of the island.

At first, life under United States control wasn't all that different from that of the Spanish.  Military control was established and Puerto Rican officials were appointed by U.S. Presidents.  Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens in 1917, but tensions continued, resulting in massacres, even after residents of the island were given the right to elect their own governor.  It wasn't until 1952 that the country became a Commonwealth with much greater rights.  By then, money from FDR's New Deal had made its way there, helping to industrialize the area and give its inhabitants a higher quality of life.  Nowadays, tensions between the two countries have calmed down and it seems we're in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Puerto Rico calls itself "Las Isla del Encanto" or "The Island of Enchantment." With such a lofty claim, they'd better be able to back it up. So what exactly can one be enchanted by there?  Well, evidence of the Spanish rule can still be seen at locales such as Fort San Cristobal, the largest fortification they built in the New World.  Old San Juan was the first establishment of the Spaniards and features quite a few preserved buildings from those days as well as the fort of El Morro.  Or course, the island is filled with all sorts of beautiful beaches to be enchanted by, including the Seven Seas and Rincon Bay.  Beach goers can simply relax or engage in activities such as snorkeling, sailing, and fishing.  Andrew Zimmern was enchanted by an area in the mountains of Puerto Rico known as the "Pork Highway."  He visited it for an episode of Bizarre Foods and learned that they roast so much pork there that they've become one of the best locales in the world to sample the meat.  Andrew said it was come of the best he'd tasted - and he's eaten plenty.  So that's a great place to visit if you're a meat lover.  Personally, I'd make a beeline for the Ponce Museum of Fine Art.  That's where Flaming June, the most famous painting by my favorite artist, Frederick, Lord Leighton, is usually on display. My Dad said it's the pride of the Museum and that, during his business trip there a few years back, he saw advertisements and billboards featuring the image around the island.  Seeing it in person would absolutely be enchanting for me.  However, it and another Victorian painting in the Museum by Edward Burne-Jones are currently on loan to Tate Britain, so I guess I'd better wait a bit if I want to see them in Puerto Rico.  Of course, there's also the opportunity to see and hear the coqui, the cute little frog that's the unofficial animal of the island and is featured on this magnet.  But that's another post entirely...

No comments:

Post a Comment