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
Posted in Caribbean, Home renovation, Humor, Puerto Rico, Travel, Vieques, tagged bathroom renovation, caribbean, design, diy, gardening, gay, home, home renovation, House, Humor, island life, lifestyle, puerto rico, second home, travel, vacation home, vieques on November 1, 2013| Leave a Comment »
Posted in Caribbean, Home renovation, Humor, Puerto Rico, Travel, Vieques, tagged bathroom renovation, caribbean, design, Disney world, diy, gardening, home, home renovation, House, Humor, island life, puerto rico, second home, travel, vacation home, vieques on September 3, 2013| Leave a Comment »
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…
…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.
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…
…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.
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.
He wasn’t kidding. In fact, he had scalped it.
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.”
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.
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.
If you enjoyed this anecdote, check out my book Tropic of Sunshine (www.tropicofsunshine.com)
Posted in Caribbean, Home renovation, Humor, Puerto Rico, Travel, Vieques, tagged bathroom renovation, caribbean, gay, home, home renovation, House, Humor, island life, lifestyle, puerto rico, second home, travel, vacation home, vieques on July 8, 2013| Leave a Comment »
Our roof in Vieques is a happenin’ place.
All these years I’ve been naively imagining that the real drama of our lives was playing out down below (okay, there hasn’t been a whole lot of drama, but work with me here), when in fact it was happening right over our heads.
Michael has ventured up on the roof a few times through the years, though as far as I know he hasn’t experienced any Major Epiphanies up there and honestly hasn’t given the place a lot of thought in between visits.
Maybe he should.
Our first inkling that anything out of the ordinary was happening “upstairs” came during a recent visit to the island.
Shortly after we arrived at the house Michael jumped into the shower while I migrated towards the bottle of Grey Goose that Jane had very thoughtfully parked in the freezer.
As I stood in the kitchen taking blissful inaugural sips of my bodacious vodka tonic I heard a loud gushing sound just outside the window.
Stepping out onto the balcony to investigate, I craned my neck around the corner of the house and saw, well, basically nothing—except some rather puzzling wisps of steam rising from the side yard.
“Did you hear anything unusual while you were in the shower?” I asked when Michael emerged from the bathroom five minutes later.
“Nothing but the tell-tale clink of ice cubes,” he replied, staring pointedly at my drink. “By the way, isn’t it a bit early even for you?”
“Grow up,” I advised.
He looked crestfallen but rallied quickly. “Okay. Make me one too.”
As I handed him his own double-sized cocktail I repeated my question.
“So did you?”
“Hear a noise when you were in the shower?”
He gave me a look of pity mingled with exasperation. “Okay, let me get this straight. You’re asking if I heard gushing water while I was standing in the shower?”
“Yes,” I replied, already sensing an innate weakness in my line of questioning.
“News flash—a shower consists of gushing water. That’s its whole reason for being.”
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but as deeply fond as I am of Michael he can sometimes be maddeningly linear in his thinking. As in, he tends to dwell on that whole cause-and-effect thing. Sigh.
“This was outside,” I persisted. “And it was loud.”
That got his attention.
“Go turn on the shower and let’s see what happens.”
I did as I was told.
“Jeez!” I heard him exclaim.
But my euphoria was short-lived. Next he uttered a phrase that never fails to strike fear in my heart: “I’m going up on the roof.”
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I agree. Collectively speaking, I do have lots of hang ups, including (but not limited to) electricity, air turbulence, giant iguanas and unexpected capital expenses. And now we can add “Michael careening around on the roof” to the list. Yipee.
I can’t help it. He always seems so cavalier about the whole thing. Even the way he gets up there sends shivers down my spine.
Just picture this: while I cling nervously to a much-too-short stepladder, he stands on tip-toe on the very top of the infernal contraption (the red part you’re never supposed to stand on)…
…and hauls himself up with a wing and a prayer onto the roof.
Did I mention the fact that the exact spot where he usually wriggles his way onto the roof is less than twelve inches from the spot where our municipal power line connects to the house? In other words, the whole scenario constitutes a double-header for two of my most rampant neuroses—vertigo meets fatal electrocution. Yipee.
On this occasion he had barely hauled himself up when he started hurling instructions downward.
“Turn on the shower,” he yelled. Short pause. “Please.” He’s a remarkably nice man, even under duress.
For the second time that day, I trotted into the bathroom and turned on the shower without actually getting wet.
After sneaking a couple of sips of my abandoned cocktail I wandered back onto the balcony duly fortified.
“You won’t believe this!” Michael exclaimed. It was unclear if he was talking to me or the gods above.
Gamely (because this seemed like a Seminal Moment), I climbed up the stepladder and teetered uncertainly near the top rung. “Believe what?”
“Turn off the shower.”
I should have quaffed my whole drink while I had the chance. “Really?”
Bossy, yes, but still undeniably polite. I turned the shower off, then faithfully resumed my position at the foot of the stepladder.
“I took pictures,” Michael hyperventilated. “You won’t believe it,” he said, huffing his way down to terra firma. “It’s Old Faithful on Steroids.”
He wasn’t far off the mark. Here’s what he saw.
A little background seems in order here. Along with all the bad things we inherited when we bought our house, we inherited a few positive things, including solar panels on the roof, which have always made us feel vaguely Green and virtuous without the slightest effort on our part. Sweet.
But on the rare occasion when we experienced a sunless day or two in Vieques, we sometimes received a friendly complaint from guests that they had “enjoyed” a very chilly shower. Not good.
So we decided to install a back-up heater that would warm up the water when the solar panels fell short of their task.
This innovation seemed to work fine until that fateful day when steaming hot water started spewing off our roof with a vengeance.
Even before Michael climbed up on the roof that day he mentioned that the fault might not be with the safety valve itself but in the way our new water tank was hooked up to the electrical system. “it’s causing the water to overheat way beyond the safety level,” he commented, “which is causing the safety valve to activate, which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.”
And when he got up on the roof he saw instantly that they guy who had installed the heater had done an embarrassing lousy job of wiring it.”
But when he told our property manager his theory, she was skeptical. “It’s the safety valve,” she insisted. “It’s obviously faulty.”
After a few friendly rounds of “I’m right/No, I’m right,” they got bored and gave up. Instead, they decided to call a reputable electrician to climb up onto the roof and give us his slightly more expert opinion. He came by later that day. “It’s the wiring,” he said flatly after being up on the roof no more than five minutes. “I’ve hardly ever seen such a shoddy job.” Michael tried not to look too terribly pleased with himself. I’m sure it was a mammoth struggle but he brought it off manfully.
In any case, the electrician re-did the wiring, we turned on the shower, and, amazingly, there was no geyser of dangerously hot water spewing onto our bougainvillea plants. Hooray.
Once that little problem was settled it was time to tackle the other “complication” Michael had spotted up on the roof.
This was the air conditioner, which the last time Michael had looked at had seemed just dandy.
Not so much anymore.
Now it looked like a rectangular block of metallic Swiss cheese.
“Oh god,” Michael gasped when we looked at the photo.
“Can’t we just replace the case?”
He gave me one of his patented Looks. “It’s not just the outside, it’s the whole thing. It’s shot.”
I sighed. “Like our budget.”
Our new air conditioner was installed the next week, at which point we began ghoulishly theorizing about what roof-focused disaster would occur next.
Locusts anyone? How about a touch of plague?
Or maybe one of those gigantic cisterns we’d had installed to ensure that the house had a supply of fresh water at all times would spring a Titanic-sized leak.
Or, who knows, perhaps a high wind would scoop up our TV dish and catapult it into ongoing traffic like a gigantic vengeful Frisbee.
Now that would be a whole different category of fun.
The sad truth is that, despite popular opinion, the elements are NOT gentle in tropical climes, particularly regarding unprotected objects stuck up on your roof.
They destroy things right and left with savage glee–including, especially, your bank account.
[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]
Posted in Caribbean, Home renovation, Humor, Puerto Rico, Travel, Vieques, tagged bathroom renovation, caribbean, design, diy, gardening, gay, home, home renovation, House, Humor, island life, lifestyle, puerto rico, second home, travel, vacation home, vieques on March 26, 2013| 4 Comments »
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!
Posted in Caribbean, Home renovation, Humor, Puerto Rico, Travel, Vieques, tagged bathroom renovation, caribbean, cemetery, design, diy, gardening, home, home renovation, House, Humor, island life, lifestyle, puerto rico, second home, travel, vacation home, vieques on March 12, 2013| 3 Comments »
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
Posted in Caribbean, Home renovation, Humor, Puerto Rico, Travel, Vieques, tagged bathroom renovation, caribbean, design, diy, gardening, home, home renovation, House, Humor, island life, lifestyle, puerto rico, second home, travel, vacation home, vieques on February 4, 2013| Leave a Comment »
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.
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!
Posted in Caribbean, Home renovation, Humor, Puerto Rico, Travel, Vieques, tagged bathroom renovation, birkin bag, caribbean, cocoa puffs, diy, gardening, home renovation, House, Humor, island life, lifestyle, puerto rico, second home, travel, vacation home, vieques on January 6, 2013| Leave a Comment »
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.
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!