Thursday, July 31, 2008
And then my morning got even better: an email from my broker announced that one of my previous offers for a new place with a view, after I withdrew it, got now a counteroffer from one of the owners. The owner now asked for 20% less than the initial asking price AND was throwing in additional sweeteners.
And astounding change of mind in such a short period of time.
So I - happily- accepted the counteroffer without trying to bargain on either size of the deposit or the length of the lease ( although I most likely could have) and made an appointment to sign the contract and hand in my deposit on Monday.
OK, I will celebrate the end of this search after signing the contract... if there is no little clause hiding in there that would kill the deal - I might be blond, but I was once a lawyer, so I usually read even the smallest print before I sign anything.
Still, I enjoyed today much better than the last three days of cold and feeling cranky. ;-)
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
My first encounter with Puerto Rico - before I ever agreed to come live here for a while - was old San Juan - an architectural gem - courtesy of the Spanish.
I had hoped that the whole island would be like that, would have the visual charm of Spanish cities and villages. Yet as soon as I steered the wheels of my car outside Old San Juan I have seen mostly construction monstrosities: tasteless, concrete bunkers, heavy, shabbily built, "decorated" with garish colors.
This is particularly true on the so called low end: in housing developments where - horrifyingly overpriced -concrete bunkers are put so tightly together, that they look like ghettos, not like places in which people would want to live. And yet, as hard it is to believe, some locals want, and some locals do.
Now drive through any typical Puerto Rican village and all you'll see a variety of architectural monstrosities:
Even when local developers make an attempt at modernity, it all feels terribly uinspiring and falls flat. (And I am not even commenting on the floor plan here, just on the outside look).
Now, I wonder, WHY that overwhelming ugliness of houses on a beautiful island, with good architectural heritage: both Spanish and Caribbean? What caused - and causes - this reigning ugliness????
Surely it can't be that Puerto Ricans, as a nation, totally lack taste?
There are great Puerto Rican painters, with terrific taste, but where is a Puerto Rican Gaudi?
And no, the ugliness of Puerto Rican dwellings it is not a fault of the dominant construction material: concrete. Cocrete does not need to be ugly, does not need to be dull. It does not limit design options. On the contrary: it can be airy, whimsical, beautiful! And it is inexpensive.
Just look at the top two pictures to see what - with a dose of fantasy - can be done with concrete: quickly, inexpensively, sustainable, environmentally friendly and .... as far away from the crude yet tastelessly overdecorated (with garish concrete "gingerbread" ornaments, so beloved in Puerto Rico, for example) Puerto Rican bunkers of single family homes.
There is a social profit organization called Architecture for Humanity and their motto is: "building a more sustainable future using the power of design". (Check what they designed for Kathrina devastated, poor Biloxi!) Puerto Rico, more than perhaps any other place in the world, needs its own chapter, needs Architecture for Puerto Rico, before the remaining natural beauty of the island will be completely destroyed by the ugliness of its housing!
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Such a pity, because the other side of the condo buildings - where large bedroom windows are - has a view of salt fields and of famous Playa Sucia. Obviously the bedrooms beg for large private balconies and for buildings to be turned around, so that the entries would face the road and the salt fields and the bedrooms with their large balconies would face the quieter side and even prettier views.
Now try to convince me that the developer of this property in the best location in west PR had even an once of brain! Ha!
Now the interiors: the space of a one bedroom condo (and it looks like all of them are one bedrooms and the same size) was about 400-450 sf. That would be OK for me - I could do some serious minimalist living there, if the floor plan was even minimally acceptable, but it was not.
The bedroom took more than half of the space - overcrowded with two full size beds... while the front had a wall of kitchen cabinets and appliances in full view of entry, a tiny table and a futon sofa bed - the only "reminder" that it was supposed to be a living room there - only someone cut out all the space for it! It was hard to even turn around without bumping into something.
I was told those tiny places usually house about 6 people! Imagine, in such a tight space! Puerto Ricans must be used to/like? serious overcrowding and no privacy whatsoever! At the beginning of the week the space was practically deserted: I have seen only a handful of cars parked there. But I had a terrifying vision of what it might look like - and sound like - on a weekend with kids running wild along the entry balconies - since there is no space for them to play indoors when it rains and no amenities to use to play outdoors. Would I be able to relax after hard week's work accompanied by abundance of kids? Definitively not! I hate loud music and noise of any kind.
I was used to overcrowding once, long time ago - in communist Poland - where there was such a huge shortage of apartments (forget houses, these were only for party bosses and similar... unless, of course your family had one standing from before the war, but as heavily bombed as Poland was, they weren't many of them left), that an extended family or two (5-10 people) had to squeeze themselves in about 600 sf of the average three tiny rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, because even after you paid full amount of a condo price (forget mortgages, there were none) to a state owned "cooperative", you had to usually wait 10-15 years for the condo to be built and delivered ( I know, it must sound utterly unbelievable particularly to Americans, but it is sadly very true), and in the meantime you were overcrowded and, on top of that, asked to pay some more money every few years or so, due to inflation, which, officially, did not exist in a socialist economy! (And yes, a car, if you wanted one, even a tiny Fiat 126, or crummy East German Trabant, you had to fully prepay, too, and wait 5 years on the average... paying some more every year).
Typical Polish apartment houses from communist era
So we hated our overcrowding with a vengeance and hated commies who made us living like sardines in a can, who made us paupers and tried to make us slaves. I seriously doubt that any of my old Polish neighbors would voluntarily entertain an idea of buying a too tiny and too badly designed condo for his/her family if he/she had any other choices - and mortgages, oh boy!
So why do Puerto Ricans, who should tell their brainless developers to go stuff themselves- do - actually buy such crap??? Amazing!
Stockholm - Soedern
Then I lived in Stockholm, which, being a typical Swedish big city is in 63% (yes, 63 %!) inhabited by SINGLE HOUSEHOLDS!
Swedes love their privacy, may be a tad in extreme, and yes, I, too, liked it a lot - no wonder, after forced overcrowding before....
Even after I got married to my Swedish hubby, we both kept our separate apartments in different parts of the city for almost half a year until Erik started building us a lake house - a vacation property, for which we needed the money. When it was ready we decided to live there together most of the time (it was located only about 10 km away from a commuter train), keeping only one of the apartments in Stockholm (for late night work, entertainment outings and bad weather), and then, I, working for a bank, got a sweet deal for bank's employees: 125% financing on a bank's owned house in the Stockholm's archipelago - one of the scenic wonders of the world - and - lo and behold - finally got a permission from Polish authorities to reunite with my daughter, who was, in a way, a commie hostage for almost 3 years. That's when Erik, I and daughter started living like a normal (in American sense) family: together in only one house in the suburbs and one vacation villa in the country.
But I am ranting and ranting and ranting and said nothing yet of building codes and developers brains. What gives?
Well, due to a cold I have taken an afternoon nap and then I had this weird dreams, where I was looking inside Puerto Rican developers skulls looking for their brains... and could not find any.
Yeah, I firmly believe that a total brainlessness is a required (?) characteristic of Puerto Rican developers. Particularly condo developers.
And the question is: where are building codes? Where is their enforcement? Why are the brainless guys (I firmly believe they are exclusively guys - women usually have at least an ounce of common sense if not an actual brain) allowed to take the best, most scenic pieces of land, some of them quite unique and put uninhabitable horror multifamily dwellings on them???
I remember that in Sweden we used to gripe about the strictness of Swedish building codes, which dictated even the minimum length of a hat shelf in the entry! (Yes, I am not kidding! Not only you had to have a hat shelf in every entry - the hat shelve had to be of a specified length!)
Only, for the monstrous condos already having been built - and even sold to unsuspecting Puerto Rican buyers, who, perhaps, lack exposure to anything better... what shall be done with them?
Reconstruction of a badly design single family house is a lot easier than reconstruction of badly designed apartment houses.
And if those monsters are the only condos in a place you love - what do you do? Rent a view and a location and try not to get furious several times a day trying to live in an unlivable space????
Monday, July 28, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Brandywine Heirloom Tomatoes
Early Long japanese Eggplant
Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans **
Magenta Magic Orach
Mustard Spinach replaced by Japanese Mizuna mustard green
Royal Burgundy String Bush Beans**
Roma Paste Tomatoes
**These three items are available in very limited quantities. The Kentucky beans are on their last days of yield…being replaced by a new batch, which we expect to be producing in a few weeks. Purslane is extremely hard to germinate. We only achieved about 30% of our seeds. Sorry! Posibly after this first cut, it will gain strength and build itself up to a higher yield. The Royal Burgundy beans are really a test-run. They look beautiful! If it looks prolific and healthy enough in our environment, we will pursue a full crop next time.
It looks like the Corni di Toro stuffing peppers are in no hurry to mature! Sorry, guys, I hope by next week!
Other News From the Farm
The Asian Yamato Cucumbers and the Homestead Tomato transplants also look very healthy and promising!
Lima bean seedlings are looking great! We are waiting for the full moon this coming Thursday in order to transplant them to the ground.
Three other varieties of pepper seeds have also germinated, also going to ground on Thursday, together with Nasturtium (beautiful eatable flowers with peppery leaves) and Marigolds to help us with our un-welcomed critters…
Purslane ( Verdolaga/Portulaca)
Originally from India and the Middle East, considered a “weed”.
Can be eaten as a leaf veggie in salads or cooked like spinach. Also used in soups/stews.
Purslane contains more Omega-3 Fatty Acids than any other leaf vegetable plant! Also Vitamins C and B, Carotenoids & minerals. It’s 2 pigments are very rich in antioxidants.
Magenta Magic Orach
Deepest red of all, makes it a lively addition to any salad! Orach is originally from the Alps, often called Mountain Spinach.
An outstanding culinary expert within our group suggests lightly-sauteed mustard greens over pasta…..in a soft olive oil base…hmmm!
PHOTO GALLERY UPDATE LINK:
Monday, July 21, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Now I am soon to start a new assignment with my new office located in south Mayaguez. A "bit" far for a daily commute from Patillas, so, after getting back from the States last Saturday, I drove to the West Coast on Monday to search for a place in the area of Cabo Rojo (Joyuda, Boqueron). I did a search on classificados, contacted a couple of brokers, made appointments and spent three days looking for places.
There is no shortage of suitable dwellings. Lots of condos on the beach are for sale and rent - the sales and rents are down and new condos are under construction. Typical buyer's market you would think.
I found several condos I liked and made some offers - reasonable, even generous in my opinion, though a bit lower than asking price -but no more than 10-15% lower even though in the USA - as I read - 25% lower bids are now the norm . To my astonishment not a single one was accepted!
If they agreed on price they tried to hike up terms (like the length of time, size of deposit, etc).
I wonder, are owners of condos in Cabo Rojo not aware of the current economic situation?
Are they unaware that their apartments were left empty during the summer season (which in that area of Puerto Rico IS the high season)?
Would they rather have them empty through the remainder of the year than accept a price a bit more realistic that the one they dream of getting?
Is there some aspect of culture that make them unable to count and be realistic?
I wonder... is there a cultural divide between north and south of Mayaguez?
Or, perhaps, in Rincon, Aguada, Aguadilla, Isabella etc. landlords are used to renting to foreigners, while Caborojans rent mostly to vacationing Sanjuanero families, not to "gringos", so my "no-nonsense" and "to the point" negotiating style seems too culturally shocking to them?
Well, I hired a broker to help me with that and do the actual negotiating. Perhaps I need to switch a broker....
Anyway, I decided so far to move back to my old place in Aquada, so I don't have to drive from Patillas to see any condo and don't have to appear to be in a hurry to close any deal.
Wish me luck in finding a reasonable landlord in Cabo Rojo - and a broker skillful in culturally appropriate negotiating .
Thursday, July 10, 2008
I know that, come September, I'll become seriously overextended workwise, but during the rest of July and August my obligations won't require more of my time that 20, max 30 hrs/week.
Thus I can DO something - even if only on a small scale - to help improve availability of fresh produce on the West coast...... by starting a C.S.A farm.
C.S.A stands for a Community Supported Agriculture and is a concept where consumers buy up front shares in the output of the farm.
That allows a farmer to know his/her income is secure for the season, come drought and/or high water, because consumers share in the risks. It also allows him/her to start farming again ( I know of farms in Las Marias area, which have not been farmed for years, as their owners tried to make a living working elsewhere ), buy seeds, equipment, implements.
That allows a consumer to be assured of a preagreed upon share of all - or part - of the produce grown ( and of meat or dairy if produced on the farm as a part of its concept) delivered to him/her - or picked up at the farm - weekly or twice weekly during the entire producing season, which in PR is all year round.
Now, I'll be honest with you: I'd rather start a C.S.A in an expat rich part of the Dominican Republic, than in relatively expat - and seasonally tourist - rich West Coast of Puerto Rico, because expats in DR are predominantly continental Europeans, while expats in PR are almost exclusively Americans.... and Europeans not only eat far more fresh produce than Americans do, they are also far more accustomed to - and comfortable with - all kinds of cooperative endavors.
But, living in PR, I'll do it here. Anyone game to sign up as for the core group of shareholders?
Come on, join me. (please email me soon).
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Sunday, July 6, 2008
- enjoying as much organic - especially heirloom - produce as possible, since in Puerto Rico it is - sadly - practically impossible to get: nearly all green produce is close to wilted and devoid of most of its nutritional value due to long transportation -- if I want fresh organic green I need to grow my own (whether i do have time and space for it or not) ... or find an organic farm and beg, as they are usually short on produce...
- enjoying live cultured milk products, like kefir and yogurts. There is plain yogurt (without addition of sugars disguised as fruit) on Puerto Rico's south coast,but it is dead yogurt, devoid of any live cultures, of probiotics. And on the west coast I haven't found even dead plain yogurt: all is sugary, brrr. So I'll have to purchase kefir corns and yogurts starters, take them with me and make my own.
Doesn't eating healthy in Puerto Rico sound like a lot of work for you?
It does to me.
I regret having committed myself to another assignment there, which forces me to return for at least another half a year... I would rather live someplace where I would NOT have to devote that much time to growing and preparing my own food, somewhere where healthy food is abundant. Like in Europe... but with dollar at almost 1.60 to euro that is an expensive option for anybody, whose (fixed) income is mostly in dollars...
Well, I know I will have fun in Puerto Rico again. That's not a problem. There are nice people, nice beaches and plenty of other attractions.
But lack of certain products and services that I consider indispensable - and which should be available there - irritates me right now.
My favorite orange cauliflowers, light green broccoflowers, broccolini, rapini and the other delicious fresh veggies unheard of in Puerto Rico - I'll miss you dearly! :-(((
P.S. For the record: upon my return I found broccoflower in both Selectos and Amigos and LIVE yogurt, even goat yogurt (very pricy, but available) at FreshMart.
Friday, July 4, 2008
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Yesterday I was testing an advisory tool - sorry, this one for Swedish nationals only - on the best country - to retire to, slanted heavily - since it is a Swedish tool - towards limiting the total tax burden, but taking into account health care, climate, culture and a few other factors.
I plugged in all requested - albeit general - parameters.... and was pointed to France as an optimal choice - by far.
Hmm, I thought, I really need that abundance of - yummy but so full of saturated fat - cheeses, which, living in France, I would not be able to resist, since stinky cheeses - accompanied by well aged wines - are one of my major culinary weaknesses.
Next I made a comparison with a few other EU countries, which are favorite European expat destinations, like Spain, Italy and Cyprus, but both tax and quality of health care factors weighted so heavily, that France won hands on in any of those comparisons.
Intrigued, I made - now outside the tool, as it does not include USA as a likely retirement destination for Europeans - a comparison between a retirement in Puerto Rico and one of the French islands in the Caribbean for a "typical" EU national who worked in the US long enough to be entitled to Medicare and Social Security, but retained his/her EU nationality.
Gustavia, St Bart
Even in pricey St Bart, which - being once a Swedish colony could be a "natural" choice for Swedes - such a hypothetical retiree would save money and gain access to better French health care.
And if the said retiree chose France proper, he/she would also improve dramatically his/her quality of life, through access to more diverse cultural opportunities, better food , etc.
An additional factor would be legal system based on Napoleonic code, which I consider superior to both British and US legal system... but I am biased, I studied law in continental Europe.
So, if one likes islands - Corsica or Martinique?.... that might be !the question! ;-)
On the other hand, current issue of "Islands" magazine, lists three islands in, say extended Caribbean, on its list of 10 best islands in the world to live on: Beguia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Eleuthera in Bahamas and Ambergis Caye in Belize. All of them English language dominant. None of them French. Perhaps a better choice for Americans?
P.S. But "Islands" magazines first, most spectacular and by far most budget friendly choice is Palawan in the Philippines, where a "typical 3 bdr, 2 ba house" rents for $400 a month!