Wednesday, February 22, 2006

So how do you play Briscas?

(The instructions to playing Briscas are in the second paragraph. You will miss a sweet story, though if you rush.)

Briscas, is an old Spanish card game, played in Puerto Rico and I used to play it with my grandmother. I can still remember all those afternoons when Abuelita was alone and I was asked to go over and spend a little time with her. Now that I look back, I wish I could thank that person who insisted on it. Having spent most of my childhood and youth, traveling around the United States and Panama, my relationship with my Grandmother up to then had been very happenstance and shallow. I hardly knew her, except as a background figure that lived with Titi Georgina and Evie. So those Grannysitting times, as I call them now were my opportunity to get to know, Abuelita, doña Tinita, or Catalina as she was baptized, better. She shared her wisdom with me while giving me a very tight knuckle crunching grip just to show me who was in charge. As we played she also told me stories, and never enough of them, as I think back now, about how she first saw her husband to be, riding into her life, on a white stallion, almost like a prince charming. He in fact was a very handsome blonde headed blue eyed Criollo, from Spanish roots, her second to third cousin. She was Morales Morales and he was Morales Acosta. These Morales liked keeping it in the family. Abuelo, who was so attractive, while Abuelita was precious and simple, had a big family in el campo. They had ten children together and he had some on the side. I can always remember in disbelief how Abuelita told me that she had allowed Don Pepe to bring a little boy, who was his to spend time with her own children, because it wasn't the little boy's fault that he was the product of a... well I can't remember if she ever said affair, but I knew he was his son. I always thought she was a saint... she was so humble. So different to me. How I loved and admired her for it. So among all the stories and the lessons, and the conversations, we played cards. That is when Abuelita and I played the complicated game of Briscas. I could never count the cards, though I knew which ones were valuable. In fact I would always lay down my cards for others to count and dang did they do it fast. Math wasn't my thing, but on Monday at the airport in Isla Verde, the mystery was broken. I even started counting these cards fast, too!

Okay, to play Briscas. You have to have Spanish cards or it is not Briscas or Medieval, because the Spanish cards, look like Medieval royalty while American cards look like starched people run over by an asphalt pressing tractor. So get your cards right. The Aces, are worth 11 points, the threes are worth 10 points, the kings are worth 4 points, the 11s are worth 3 points, and the 10s are worth 2 points. Notice that the 11s are not queens, but a knight on horseback and the 10 card is someone from the gentry. There are four suites. The clubs are calles Bastos or Bastago, The cups are called Copas, the Swords are Espadas, and the Golden Coins, I can't remember if they are just Oro, but you get the idea that they are sources of power. That Copa, looks like something from the Church. Each game is different in a sense since you deal 3 cards per person and then you put a card face up and the deck slightly on it, so you can see the suite that is going to be dominant throughout that game. You throw down a card,and everyone around you follows suit, so to say. So let's say the espada is face up, the weakest of all espadas can beat the strongest of any other suite. So a two of swords in that game will beat a king of Bastos, or Oro, or Copas. So you want to play carefully, so you can win the cards that have most points. A point average of 60 to 60 is a tie, and if you make more than 60 points you won that particular hand. So there you have it. I learned to count the points, and now I can play again! What I liked about playing with these people at the airport was that the game wasn't used to "win," but to have a good time. If someone made more than 60 points you didn't have to count to the last card to show them how many more you made than them or vice a versa. Que linda es mi gente, y que corazones bonitos tienen. I guess it was that sweetness that reminded me so much of my Abuelita.

For all the readers who will read this later and the comments, originally I had written that the tie was 80 to 80 and I have been corrected and revised the article with the correct amount of 60 to 60 as a tie.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Twists and Turns, and an Open Road

That title somewhat summarizes my President's Day weekend in Puerto Rico. I flew into PR on Friday night on a very nice flight. Got my car and went to my apartment to be surprised with no running water! Fortunately, there were about four half gallon containers in the kitchen stored in the heater closet and I was able to salvage the situation by filling and refilling these at mom's house or at the nearest spiket. A situation with a solution. Visited with Mom that evening.
Saturday was filled with sleeping in late, running an errand with Mom, and sightseeing. San Cristobal was a blast, the breeze was wonderful and the temperature was in the low 80's. Got back home and still no water. Sarita and Michelle went to Rincon and I was disappointed because it is beautiful there but they were supposed to come back on Sunday, so everything is cool. And frankly, I didn't want to miss church on Sunday. No se puede estar en la misa y en la procession. An old Spanish saying is that you can't be at mass and at the procession, both at the same time, i.e., you have to make choices.
So on Sunday, I slept in late and woke up at 7:30 am. Slept in late? Well, as late as I could, so I decided I would go to the beach to exercise. Knowing how much crime there is on the island, I drove up the beach to verify that a lot of other people had the same plans, and when I saw a lot of people, I decided to go, too.Once I was on the beach, I noticed four fully dressed men oggling at women. They were very much out of place and I hesitated to approach them. A gentleman was passing me and I commented to him about them and he suggested I ignore them, and then my sandle fell in the water and I had to chase after it, and when I recovered it, the men started to walk along side me on my left. The man, I had spoken to , looked back, slowed down and waited for me, and walked with me a ways until these other men stopped following me. If you know Isla Verde, you know you have to turn around sometime. I wondered what could I do, so I called 911, the guy took down the information and put me through to the police. It must have been the non emergency line because they never picked it up. I said Oh my God and there are the guys again. Just then a police vehicle turned up the street and started patrolling the area. The four men were oblivious to the police at first, but as soon as they saw the police, they started walking away to a fence near a building, so I approached the police vehicle, which by this time had stopped to chat with a scantily clad bikini dressed girl on the beach, to tell them what had happened and they went and confronted the guys, who pretended they were angels. Anyway, I was about to quickly walk home, when the guys spotted me again as they were finishing their conversation with the police so instead of walking home, I made a quick decision and I asked the police to drive me home to the condominium, which they did. The four men walked past me and one of them started to sing a song loudly, but I ignored it and got in the car with the police. Gracias a Dios.
Later I went to church. That was the turning point. That Sunday, Neyda, was preaching about the importance of the blessing, receiving a spiritual blessing. It was Rhema for me. At the end of the service, the elders were receiving people and giving them blessings. I can still feel the elder's, huge hot hand on my forehead, saying the Lord bless you, and protect you, the Lord make his face shine upon you, and give you peace. [May the Lord make effective the utterance of His Word.] After that, really neat things started to happen to me. First Mom and I, drove to Corozal, but the four o'clock sun was bothering her eyes and we had to turn around. So I decided to drive back through Dorado, and we stopped briefly at the beach, just across the street from where the caña used to grow with it beautiful creamy colored guajana ondulating in the wind, so I could take some pictures. While evaluating whether to take pictures or not, I overheard some people's conversation about some lost keys. I noticed a man and his son with their long fishing poles standing erect in the sand and their lines in the ocean, but the ocean was dark, then realizing no worthwhile pictures could be taken as the sun was almost down, I decided to leave. I turned and saw the man looking for his keys in the sand about 15 feet away, and thought, not in the sand but in the grass, and I looked down, and there they were, the keys, tangled sideways among the twisted roots of the sandy grass. I picked them up and said, looking at the man," aqui tiene sus llaves,"like the most natural thing in the world. He couldn't believe it, I couldn't either, and neither did his friends. I guess I needed to have stopped there. They were so happy and me, too. And I left.
Next we stopped at real neat place that Daddy used to frequent to buy carne de jueyes, and we got bacalaitos, alcapurrias de jueyes y carne. Mom ate a little of everything and was delighted. In the background you could see the original huts that daddy got his jueyes from, but the yard was now filled with about five or six flapping banner ropes giving the front yard a festive atmosphere and two kiosks serving lots of local favorites, including shrimp and king crab mofongo and tostones rellenos, and pastelellos de chapin. It was a place full of memories and now a new one with mom, who ironically will probably not remember any of this. So Michelle and Sarita decided to spend another night at Rincon and called us as we were driving home.
Monday was busy, and I "coincidentally" met some real nice people at Costa del Sol who offered to help me get my water situation solved. It took up a lot of my time to try to fix the situation that I didn't make it back to Mom's to say good bye. Michelle and Sarita, came late also, so I didn't get to see them at all. Just as well since Sarita had a really bad cold. Anyway, I was at the airport by 1:30 and the plane was delayed, and we didn't fly out till five. But the neatest thing happened at the airport. I again was overhearing a conversation. A young man was trying to teach a girl how to play Briscas, which is a very old Spanish card game. I first played Briscas with my grandmother, abuelita Tinita, but mom called her Mamita, so now I call my mom, mamita, too. Anyway, I could never count the points or really follow the game too, well, and this young man invited me to play. His Peruvian friend was having a hard time learning and so he invited me. We played for a while and she started understanding the game, and we invited another lady to play, with her son who took turns with her, and we had such a pleasant time that before we knew it, it was time to go. I had gone full circle. I finally learned how to play briscas! Thanks Abuelita, for all the pleasant time I had with you, squeezing my hands and granny sitting with you. Now because of Rosita, I now carry a little notebook and I know how to count the points in Briscas! Un beso abuelita alla en el cielo y un besito a Rosita, too.
To my surprise, the airline had put me in first class, how about that? Not to bad, not too bad.