Sep 25, 201708:05 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
The Diamonds of San Juan
A Puerto Rico Story
What I remember most was the glittering diamonds on the ground. The plane was in its gentle descent over San Juan, Puerto Rico. The night was clear so the view was splendid as we felt the bump of the landing gears locking into place.
Below were houses and roads with hurried traffic and, seemingly dispersed through it all, were those diamonds brightened from the glow of stadium lights. Better than jewelry these were baseball diamonds, where young men could sparkle on their own. I thought about Roberto Clemente, one of the first Latin American players to become a big star in the American major leagues. Boys born on an island are raised on legends of swashbuckling seafarers. Fittingly, Clemente became a Pittsburgh Pirate. He played in 15 All-Star games and in 1966 was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He established a list of firsts for players who were Latin American and from the Caribbean, including having been the first of his genre to star in a World Series.
Puerto Rico comes to mind because of the tragedy of Hurricane Maria, one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the island. We know from our lives about the devastation of a hurricane, only the situation is worse on an island because there are fewer places to go. There is no neighboring state to drive to.
(In popular culture, Puerto Ricans are central to the plot in the musical “West Side Story.” The adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” concerns the class conflicts between young native whites and Puerto Ricans in New York City. The musical’s most hauntingly beautiful number is sung by native Tony to his Puerto Rican love interest. Her name, ironically, is Maria. “Maria,” Tony sings. “I'll never stop saying Maria!”)
San Juan is one of the Caribbean’s most important cities. It is a hub for airlines and cruise ships. When it suffers so do the rest of the islands. Frequently the tropics are referred to, with justification, as “paradise.” (My favorite color combination is sunset gold and sea green.) Even paradise, though, can have its demons; in the case of the islands they are hurricanes, earthquakes and, in some places, an occasional volcano. Last week two of the demons ran free; the second major hurricane in a week and the rumble from the ground in Mexico. Once more Roberto Clemente came to mind:
When he was home on the island he was involved in charity work including on Dec. 31, 1972 when he was part of a group that flew to Nicaragua to bring aid to victims of an earthquake. He was killed in a plane crash. Sorrow is also more difficult to escape on an island.
Paradise might be in finding inner-peace.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.