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Hey guys,

We published an article in the New York Times this week about the three adventure-filled years we spent renovating our house in Vieques.  Take a look and share it with your friends!

Cheers, Patrick and Michael

Transforming an Island House, and Ourselves

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Okay, folks, I realize I’ve yammered on quite a bit about our garden over the past couple of years. So let me apologize in advance for bringing it up again.

But trust me, you’d have plenty to say too.

To begin with, the garden we inherited from the previous owner was an unqualified disaster. Not only was it overrun with scraggly, deeply unattractive plants, including a diseased avocado tree that yielded a couple of bowls’ worth of homemade guacamole before giving up the ghost…

Vieques May 2009 019

…it was also ornamented with such choice items as a rusted Buick chassis, several massive blobs of cement that looked like petrified cow patties, and four concrete pylons we dubbed Stonehenge South.

That was the back yard. Sad to say, it constituted the good news on the horticultural front.

The yard facing the road was even worse, though in an entirely different way. Whereas the back yard featured an over-abundance of singularly unattractive features, the front yard boasted almost no features at all.

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It was bare and rocky and unloved. And every time we planted something in it, said thing either expired of its own accord or got eaten by horses.

Or was dug up and thrown out by our gardener.

I’m not kidding. It was like we’d put an ad on Craigslist for “Worst Gardener in the Caribbean.” The guy who de-forested our garden and threw out our favorite plants even came with references, including an alleged stint as a gardener at Disney World. Come to think of it, he was pretty Dopey.

So we canned him and spent the next few months replenishing our garden and building a privacy fence…

Lattice fence May 2012

…at which point Hurricane Irene thoughtfully swept through and knocked our prize coconut tree right over onto the fence, splitting it in half.

We paid $700 to have that tree replanted and within two months it was certifiably dead. Then we paid $300 to have its carcass hauled away.

Next—well, next we hired a new gardener, who started out gangbusters. He and his cheerful, rawboned girlfriend completely transformed our garden in two days.

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We could hardly believe our luck. But on the third day he came over with a chain saw and climbed up into our mango tree and boy, did I smell trouble with a capital T. Before long, several enormous branches came crashing down onto the other end of our lattice fence, pretty much flattening it.

I swear, something about that fence said, “abuse me.”

We tried to be philosophical about the whole thing. Nobody’s perfect, accidents happen.

Then one day about a week later the same guy severed our gas line while trimming the bougainvillea bush near the back door. That was almost the last straw, until Michael reminded me that an even-moderately-okay gardener is hard to find in Vieques. So we kept quiet.

But pretty soon the guy seemed to lose interest altogether. As in, he quit showing up.

Our garden reverted to its former self within a month. As Jane used to say, nature happens fast in Vieques.

We have a new gardener now. He came with sterling references and seemed like a truly great human being when I interviewed him by phone.

When we finally met him in person we liked him a lot. He seemed to think our ideas were great and said “perfecto” a lot. I’m a sucker for anyone who thinks my gardening concepts are anywhere within ten miles of perfect, so I was pretty much sold.

He trimmed and replanted our garden, wired together our doomed fence and generally made everything right again. We were in love.

Until the next time we visited. “I give your garden a nice haircut,” he announced the day before our arrival.

Oh no.

He wasn’t kidding. In fact, he had scalped it.

Dying plant

All the lush tropical plants he had installed three months earlier were now pruned within an inch of their lives.

“Why?” I asked him the next day.

He scratched his head thoughtfully. “They will come back very booshy,” he replied.

“I want them booshy now, while I’m here.”

“Oh.”

So Michael and I went to the nursery the next day and bought a few hundred bucks’ worth of plants. After four or five hours of backbreaking work everything looked swell again.

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After that, I told our maybe-not-so-fabulous gardener “no more haircuts.”

He laughed and said “okay, sure,” as if the whole thing was one big joke. Which, of course, it is.

Unfortunately, the joke’s on us.

Book Cover Idea compressed

If you enjoyed this anecdote, check out my book Tropic of Sunshine (www.tropicofsunshine.com)

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Hey everybody,

It’s official–my book, Tropic of Sunshine, is a hit!

And it’s making lots of people laugh.

The book has gotten great reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes. Here are a few excerpts:

“Well written and hysterically funny.”

“I loved this book! A fun, breezy tropical read about two guys who bought a house on a Puerto Rican island and restored it despite a million setbacks. I read it in two afternoons and enjoyed every page. A fun escape!”

“A fast-paced, extraordinarily funny story of how two men won the battle of attrition against a bevy of surly workmen, faced down terrifying local flora and fauna alike, and triumphed over their own trepidations to create the home of their dreams.”

“The book made me laugh out loud and gave me such a great sense of what the island must be like. Now I want to go visit!”

“It’s so well-written you can easily imagine yourself on those beautiful beaches and you may find yourself planning your own trip.”

We hope you’ll grab your own copy soon—and join in the fun!

Patrick

http://www.tropicofsunshine.com

Book cover

 

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Ever fantasized about stretching out on a gentle hillside beside the ocean for a good long snooze?

Depending on how long you’re actually planning to remain in the horizontal position, you might want to consider the Vieques Municipal Cemetery.

Vieques Cenetery MF

Granted, most of the cemetery’s inhabitants have made longer-term commitments than you’ll probably want to make. In fact, a good number of them seem to be anticipating very long stays, and quite a few have even built little houses for themselves.

Vieques Cemetery MF II

But a less binding, more vertical, commitment is also possible. Just stroll five minutes west of the village of Isabel II in Vieques, and you’ll find yourself in the quaint cemetery that’s not only beautiful in itself but also boasts a million-dollar ocean view that’s—well—to die for.

Vieques Cemetery IV

I’ve always been a sucker for cemeteries. When I lived in London and popped over to Paris on a regular basis, I visited the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery several times to stand before the graves of such luminaries as Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

Pere Lachaise

More recently, Michael and I spent a couple of hours in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, where everyone who’s anyone in BA society is buried (or should I say housed), including Eva Perón of Evita fame. Lots of the mausoleums in the cemetery have glass doors, and when you peep in you can see the coffins laid out, unprotected, on marble shelves. You almost get the sense that if you knocked extra hard the residents would rouse themselves from their slumbers and invite you in for a cozy chat.

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The last time Michael and I were in Vieques we decided to explore the island’s cemetery, which we’ve driven (or biked) past scores of times without stopping. Although it’s not a sprawling necropolis like Père-Lachaise or Recoleta, it tells the usual sad and poignant tale of all cities of the dead—lives lived to the fullest, lives cut too short, spouses laid out side by side for all time.

It’s an interesting spot to reflect on your own life, if only for a few bittersweet moments.

And though it’s smaller than Père-Lachaise or Recoleta, its view is much better than either.

Take that, Evita!

[If you enjoyed this sketch of Vieques, you’ll find lots more like it in my book, Tropic of Sunshine, available on Kindle, Nook and Apple iBooks. www.tropicofsunshine.com]

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Don’t know about you guys, but Michael and I are pretty much maxed out on this whole winter thing.  Our quota of gloomy, frigid days has long since been reached–and now we’re casting our thoughts southward to sunny Vieques.  Here’s a recent photo of our house, complete with the blooming vine that has just about taken over our relatively new lattice fence. As Jane always says, nature happens fast in Vieques.

Exterior of house (side) May 2012

If’ you’d like to know more about our eight-year adventure renovating our house, during which we battled every possible impediment from dry rot to drunken gardeners, grab a copy of our book, Tropic of Sunshine, http://tropicofsunshine.com and transport yourself to a land of sunshine, laughter and warmth.

http://tropicofshine.com  is available on Kindle, Nook and iBook for only $3,27.

It’s guaranteed to get you through these last, dreary, completely unacceptable days of winter!

Patrick

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Hi everyone–and Happy New Year!

Just a quick note to tell you that Vieques Dream House Diary had over 31,000 views in 2012, with visitors from more than 150 countries.

Woo hoo!

If you’d like to read more about our zany adventures renovating our Puerto Rican dream house, grab a copy of our recently-published book, Tropic of Sunshine, available on Kindle, Nook and iBooks.

Then sit back and share the laughs–most of them at our expense!

Book cover

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Love the holidays?

Great!

Pour yourself some mulled wine, grab your e-reader and curl up by the fire with a copy of my book, Tropic of Sunshine.

Book Cover Idea

http://tropicofsunshine.com

Hate the holidays?

That’s okay too.

Tropic of Sunshine barely mentions Christmas.

Enjoy!

(available on Kindle, Nook and iBooks)

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