As I do so often after dinner I went for a walk this evening along the waterfront. It's our last night in San Juan, Puerto Rico and I haven't much explored the lonely, abandoned wharves of the old city harbor. Some years ago, container shipping moved from San Juan south west to Ponce and nothing has replaced what is now gone. What's left are old warehouses rife with broken windows and the rusted machinery left behind when the port relocated.
There's something I love about abandonment. I guess I'm used to it, comfortable with it, and in cities all around the world I have sought it out, looking through shattered glass and faded paint for what was before what was disappeared.
It had rained all day in San Juan and no one was out. The emptiness added to the melancholy of the night. Steam lifted off the water in the harbor and the clouds hung low making a night like the nights they used to show in British movies of the early 50s, a night shrouded in mist and fog and smoke.
I was alone amidst the old piers, walking with no one, unsure of where I was going or how I would get back once I got there. But I felt no compulsion to head home, or even to check my iPhone for directions. The best way to find something along the waterfront is to get lost.
Ahead of me, on a rotted pier jutting out into the water like a finger from the hand of Ichabod Crane I saw a clump of Puerto Rican men, drinking and smoking and fishing and laughing under the halo of a single 60-watt. I walked slowly to them.
"Buenos noches," I offered.
"Buenos noches," they replied.
"Has cogido muchos peces?" I asked..."Have you caught many fish?"
The shortest one in the group stepped forward and spoke to me, "No venimos a pescar, vamos a llorar a los peces que han escapado de nosotros." We do not come to catch fish, we come to mourn the fish who have gotten away.
"Si," I replied, "yo entiendo."
A dog barked in the distance and I knew that was a sign to return to my hotel, to mourn my fish who have gotten away. I bid the Puerto Rican men goodnight. I wished them luck and walked, alone and melancholy, mourning that which has escaped.