Ponce: the Puerto Rican Subotica
Muz: “No one will get that.”
RHOB: “My Serbian readers will know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Muz: “Okay, so twenty people will get it.”
RHOB: “That’s all I need.”
Muz had some time off between meetings on a Sunday in San Juan, so we decided to explore Puerto Rico’s second largest city, Ponce. Our guidebook noted that Ponce was home to a beautifully restored town center featuring fountains, a 300-year old church, and artistic carnival masks. “Let’s check it out!” I said, and dragged Muz away from the beach and into the rental car. (Before you feel badly for him, trust me. That pale man does not do well in tropical sun.)
Ponce’s city center is largely pedestrian, so we parked on the outskirts and wandered in. I was excited to see masks and pretty buildings and…well, I didn’t know what. I had read that the city had spent half a billion dollars restoring its architecture, but we entered the town center via a street lined with gently rotting wooden houses painted in bright colors. I wondered where the money had gone.
“Let’s see the church,” I said, and we walked to the Ponce cathedral, an impressively large white building that started out as a tiny chapel in 1670, and expanded as the town’s power grew. Our guidebook noted its beautiful stained glass windows and declared it a “must-see” of Ponce. We walked to the front door, with thoughts of Church on Sunday posts swirling in my head, only to find it locked. On Sunday. Hmmm.
We then wandered through the sleepy, largely empty town square toward the famous lion fountains. Even they seemed subdued.
The wildest building was the old firehouse/current museum, with a red and black facade that seemed at odds with the pastel colors all around us.
While it was all quite picturesque, I felt none of the energy that I expected in Puerto Rico’s second largest city. The colorful buildings, empty storefronts and quiet atmosphere made me think of Subotica. They both share ornate pastel buildings and a sense that their best days were sometime in the last century.
And just like in Subotica, we found a locked church, a sleepy town center, and a pedestrian area with expensive but elusive renovations. COINCIDENCE? Maybe I was watching too many telenovelas, but it seemed like I had stumbled on the world’s best plot twist: a secret twin!
Subotica and Ponce may be thousands of miles apart, but they had the same relaxed attitude and shabby charm. One sold mangoes, and another sold local honey. Though it wasn’t what I expected, it was a relaxing way to spend an afternoon and remind ourselves of our Serbian life.