We Only Notice You When You’re Gone

At the beach in San Juan, our sunbathing was supervised by the concrete carcass of a one-time hotel.

Beach at Condado in San Juan: Notice the Abandoned Building Draped in Blue

And there were a few other abandoned buildings in the area, some small restaurants and some high-rise structures.  The city tried to cover up these buildings with 10 story “billboards” showing pictures of cool things to do in Puerto Rico, as if we would never be able to tell there was an abandoned building.  (“Wow, Myrtle!  It seems like there may have been an old building here at one time, but all I can see is that banner with a picture of the beach on it.”).  But the wind and sun had taken their toll, and now corners of the banners sagged or flapped in the breeze.

I wondered why these buildings were vacant and how long they had been abandoned.  Why on such a beautiful beach were these carcasses rotting away?  But then I read a story about a trip to Beirut in a book by Wendy Dale.  In Beirut, she, as a traveler, focused on the abandoned and bombed-out buildings, left to die.  But the locals see what is between–all the activity in the occupied buildings–the restaurants, the bars.

Abandoned building in Houston (there is another one in the background even uglier than this one) - photo: rutlo

I thought about it some more.  In downtown Houston, there are two ugly abandoned skyscrapers.  From the right viewpoint, it would seem as if the city was disintegrating.  But, I do not see these buildings anymore.  I see what is active.  When I drive in Houston, I notice the restaurants and the nail salons and the shops.  I don’t notice the “FOR RENT” signs in the vacant storefront next door.

Yet, walking along the main drag in Condado, San Juan’s hotel and beach neighborhood, I noticed all the empty storefronts (even though they were outnumbered by the occupied ones).  Owners come and go.  Hotels go bankrupt, shops close, condos turn to apartments, turn to dust.  This is true everywhere, why does it impact me more on vacation.  Why did I feel that San Juan was crumbling about me, even though it clearly wasn’t (as the $250 rate at the Marriott indicated).

It is interesting that on a vacation, when our glass would presumably be half full, that we notice the 1/4 empty instead of the 3/4 full.

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