Daily Outtake: Working on Oso Blanco

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo
**
One of the subjects in which I have a profound interest is preservation.

Preservation of all sorts, really, but especially the preservation of places. This interest is inextricably related to my desire to rescue “quiet” stories, the impetus behind so much of my work… and definitely my best work and that which I enjoy the most. There’s that desire, always, to inscribe in our collective memory the stories of what happened there, wherever “there” is, and anytime a “there” is obliterated, its stories tend to go with it. It’s as if the physical place has to exist for the bulk of our memories to persist.

This garita (or sentry box) is not a part of Oso Blanco, but it's part of a structure that has been deemed worthy of preservation. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

This garita (or sentry box) is not a part of Oso Blanco, but it’s part of a structure that has been deemed worthy of preservation. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

One of the “theres” that is of ongoing interest to me is Puerto Rico. Having lived there for 2.5 years, I was always fascinated by how sites of history were preserved and how they were wiped out, and how value was imposed upon a place, often by the weight and perceived significance of the stories that transpired there. The forts in Old San Juan? Saved. Colonial era houses? Saved? The wall surrounding Old San Juan? Also saved, at least for the most part.

But Oso Blanco? Well, that’s another story.
**
Oso Blanco was a state penitentiary that opened in 1933 and operated until 2004, when it was shut down by authorities because the retrofitting needed to bring it up to code was deemed too expensive. It would be cheaper to move inmates to other facilities or even construct a new facility. For nearly 10 years, the prison, certainly the largest structure from the Art Deco era in Puerto Rico, sat unoccupied, its eventual fate a subject of unresolved debate.

But then, earlier this year that debate picked up steam and suddenly, everyone seemed to have an opinion about what should be done with the massive building. Architects and preservationists insisted Oso Blanco shouldn’t be demolished. Politicians and commercial developers insisted that the cost of rehabbing it was prohibitive and that simply letting it crumble into eventual oblivion on its own was a waste of perfectly viable commercial space.

And so, it was decided that Oso Blanco would be tumba’o.

I’ve been following the story for a while and wanted to look at an aspect of it that hadn’t really been covered in the media, especially in the United States, and so I’ve been researching for a few months. Today, I wrapped up that research with a couple of interviews and I’ll be filing the piece for Latin Correspondent in the morning. Hope you’ll head over there to read it.

Categories: Puerto Rico | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Daily Outtake: Harvardian for a Day

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
Yesterday, I got up at 2:30 AM, was out the door by 3, on a bus bound for Boston at 4, and arriving at South Station just in time to hop on the T and walk across Harvard Square for two appointments at the university’s Museum of Natural History and a thorough walk-through of two exhibits.

My office for a day. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

My office for a day. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

I was there to work on my long-form feature about Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, two 19th-century glassmakers who supplied Harvard and many other individuals and institutions around the world with glass models of marine sea creatures and flowers.

All of the objects you see here are made of glass. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

All of the objects you see here are made of glass. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

I first saw the Blaschkas’ work last year at the Corning Museum of Glass and was captivated by the few pieces the museum displayed. The objects– hyacinths, squid, and octopi– looked entirely real; I was amazed by their fidelity to real-life. I took a snapshot of the glasswork and the artisans’ names with my phone and made a note to read more about them.

This is how stories and projects begin.

I started reading about the Blaschkas and became intrigued by everything about their story, including how their work has survived nearly 150 years. I’ll be telling you more about all of that soon, in my piece for Contributoria, but for now, I’ll leave you with this photo, one of more than 4,000 pieces from Harvard’s Blaschka glass flower collection, and one of my favorites:

The Blaschkas' pitcher plants. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

The Blaschkas’ pitcher plants. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

Categories: Art | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Daily Outtake: Making Cake at Floor Level

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
Some friends and I were talking recently about sibling effect: the idea that second and third children (and beyond, if your constitution is strong enough to have more than three) tend to achieve developmental milestones more quickly than first-born kids because they have an older sibling(s) to emulate. We marveled at how true the theory seems to be: At one, Orion does things that Mariel didn’t do until she was three, and already 14-week old Olivia is laughing and making attempts to hold her own bottle.

It occurred to me last week, as I watched Mariel and Orion interact with each other, the reason sibling effect is so powerful–the reason it “works,” if you will–is because the older sibling is more or less at the younger child’s eye level. There’s a big difference between seeing the world as a sea of shins and knees and being able to look right into the eyes of someone you love and have them recognize you and engage you.

It’s so obvious, but most of us don’t adjust our own behaviors or approach accordingly to meet children at their own level– literally.
**
I was making a cake yesterday morning as Orion puttered around the kitchen, throwing a jar of salt out the window (thankfully, the super’s wife was not down below, bagging garbage; otherwise, she might have gotten bonked in the head) and making his general rounds. In short order, he was cranky. He had crawled up on the trashcan and then on a bucket of paint to try to get to my level, but it wasn’t working; neither object put him at ideal height. He was still a head or more below where he wanted to be.

This is the cake we made. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

This is the cake we made. (Photo: @collazoprojects

His frustration mounted and mine did as well; it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to make the cake if he couldn’t see what was going on. I decided to try something different. I moved all the ingredients to the floor, as well as the whisk, sifter, spoon, and measuring cups, and sat with him there, measuring and mixing, involving him in the process. He was delighted and I was, too. To be able to see his joy at feeling included and involved was gratifying.

I think it even made the cake a little sweeter.

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Daily Outtake: I want to love this book, but I can’t

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
This book arrived in the mail a couple weeks ago, a review copy I’d requested.

Sarah Jane Cervenak's book, Wandering. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

Sarah Jane Cervenak’s book, Wandering. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

The topic was–no, is–intriguing: “Combining black feminist theory, philosophy, and performance studies, Sarah Jane Cervenak ruminates on the significance of physical and mental roaming for black freedom….”

Right up my alley of interests.

I want to love this book so much, but I.just.can’t.

It’s just bloated with academic jargon, the kind of unnecessary intellectual puffery that sent me running from my PhD program. I’m not against 25 cent words– you know that– but why do we have to make important ideas so unnecessarily cryptic? Why do academic institutions push professors to write this kind of stuff when they could be writing about the same topics in much more accessible ways?

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Daily Outtake: Cleaning the Fridge, Making Wild Mushroom Risotto, and Remembering the Mushroom Man of Mexico City

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
When Orion, our one-year old, is awake, I get no writing done, save the shortest of emails, as in, “Thanks.”

This morning, I dropped our five-year old, Mariel, at school, and walked home, shuffling the order of assignments I needed to tackle today: a revision for GOOD; edits on an AFAR project; a new piece (my first) for VICE; two chef profiles for The Latin Kitchen; finalizing the transcription of my interview with Ruth Behar for Los Angeles Review of Books; and working on the text for the website of a friend. Plus, there are appointments for phone and in-person interviews to be made, published pieces to be promoted, and a couple ideas to pitch out to editors.

In short: a full work day.

I turned the key in the lock and heard “Ahhhh,” the “Good morning” sound Orion makes, and immediately started reshuffling. For four hours, at least, I wasn’t likely to get much of anything done- at least not in the writing department.

I could pack him up and head out to the library or I could go tackle something else on the “Rest of My Life” to-do list… something like doing a deep clean of the kitchen, Orion’s favorite place. He could pull pots and pans out of the cabinet while I scrubbed and consolidated and organized. And so it was settled: we would clean the kitchen while Francisco and Olivia slept and Mariel learned something, we hope, of value at school.
**
A few days ago, I’d spilled a cocktail shaker inside the fridge (of course) and in the process of cleaning up that mess, I’d found a package of dried wild mushrooms that have been taking up residence there since 2012. I put them in a bowl, poured hot water over them, and let them steep, moving the bowl from one place to another over the next two days while I decided what to do with them.

As we finished cleaning, I was confronted once again with the mushrooms. Either I had to use them or lose them, so I picked Orion up and headed to the computer. “Mushroom gravy,” I thought, but Google returned something better. Yes, wild mushroom risotto. Perfect for an overcast fall day.

Wild mushrooms and arborio rice. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

Wild mushrooms and arborio rice. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

We had all the ingredients (well, most of them; those we didn’t have could easily be substituted- red onion for shallots; two slices of bacon for pancetta) and so I set to chopping and stirring. Orion, hoisted over the stove, stirred enthusiastically. I felt accomplished: here we were, in the middle of a workday, making risotto for lunch. We even had a salad leftover from last night’s dinner and a Riesling from Long Island, picked up during Francisco’s visit there last week.

My little helper, enjoying the fruit of our shared labor. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

My little helper, enjoying the fruit of our shared labor. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

I served a bowl for us to share and Orion climbed atop the table, not willing to wait for spoon or fork to be lifted to his mouth. Hand dipped in the risotto, and then the wine, he grinned and laughed, and I was reminded again of how grateful I am to be able to work from home, even if it means continually reordering most of my days to shape themselves around my kids’ needs.
**
Making the risotto also reminded me of a curious encounter I had while walking with Mariel in Mexico City a few weeks ago.

Hurrying along from one appointment to the next, I was distracted by a sudden pop of sunset orange splayed on the sidewalk. Mushrooms! There was a blanket topped with gorgeous, damp mushrooms and a basket of beautiful, plump morels, the biggest I’ve ever seen. Leaning over them was a man whose face was wrinkled by years spent in the sun. Ever the writer (no off-switch, remember?), I started chatting him up, building up to the ask: his contact information. I was too busy to stand around and learn more about his mushrooms at that moment, but I wanted to know more… maybe even write a story about him and his wares, displayed humbly on a sidewalk in one of Mexico City’s ritziest neighborhoods (hey, the man is no dummy). But he rejected my request, as was only right. If I wanted to know more, I had to come back, he said. No website, no email, and no, he wouldn’t give me a phone number. Only his name: Francisco. Si, Don Francisco, I will be back. Back to learn all about your mushrooms.
**
If you’d like to make wild mushroom risotto, this is the recipe I used. As I said, I substituted bacon for pancetta and red onion for shallots. And the mushrooms I used were a mix– I don’t really think you have to use the specific ones she calls for here; whatever you have on hand will do just fine.

Categories: Food, Mexico | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment