Food of the Day: Tamarind Piragua in Old San Juan

For many of us in the Diaspora, this is more than a treat. It is like going back in history to the time we experienced the island as just one more islander (or as our parents did, for those in the second generation). It is also a reminder of the little things that matter in understanding life in the Caribbean. La piragua o el frio-frio is not simply a syrup in ice, as people around the world may see it. It is the product of the artist-worker on the street who makes his living by saving other people from the excesses of the Caribbean sun. And if the piragua (or frio-frio for Dominicans) is of tamarindo, then we are transported back to the country side, to where the romantic diasporan believes the island (DR or PR) is still pure and uncorrupted by modernity.

Repeating Islands


This Puerto Rican shaved ice is refreshing and perfectly sweet, The Daily Meal reports.

Maybe it is the longing for summer that made me crave a cold cup of shaved ice in the middle of December. Whatever the reason was, I found myself day-dreaming of the sweet and tangy tamarind-flavoured piragua I had (more than once) when visiting Old San Juan in Puerto Rico.

Piragua, Puerto Rico’s version of shaved ice, is a delicious way to cool down on a hot and sunny day. Sold from small push-carts on street corners and even the beach, piragua can be had in a range of flavors — most of the piragua carts I encountered offered assortment of more than 15 different flavoured syrups, from more common ones like strawberry and lemon, to the more unusual flavours like tamarind and even chile.

To make a piragua, the shaved ice is dumped into a…

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Listening to John Brown’s biography & “book-googling it”: How we interact with technologies

I promised a student I would blog about this. So, here it is.

Today, in my Topics 4004 seminar course, a student seemed to have coined a phrase that reflects how the academic world interacts with new technologies.


These days in class we are listening and reading Evan Carton’s biography of John Brown, at about three chapters per class (two x week). I think that finishing the semester with an exciting reading is a good idea. This is part of adapting to the semester’s rhythms, understanding that after the Thanks Giving Break professors are not unlike lame duck incumbents. Since the students have reached the point of diminishing returns, this couple of weeks require a different approach, like changing gears as we near our destination.


Carton’s book reads well. In fact, on the first day reading it, I overheard a student commenting that she would rank Carton’s book on the same level as Harry Potter’s series in regard to narrative appeal and reading ease. But we do more than simply reading it. We listen to Michael Prichard narrate the book while checking on the text every now and then.

Most of the activities in the classroom require familiarity with the text and with the narration. One of the intentions of this new, if not odd, approach to reading, is to bring students closer to the subjects of study by engaging one more sense in the way we read. This goes along with recent literature on multiple intelligences and on the various ways we learn. The listening part is made easier, and more interesting, when the reader is a professional narrator, an actor with book-narrating experience.

book words

Since the emphasis is on the listening part, students can get their text through multiple sources. Some have the actual hardcopy. Others have it in a pdf format. The latter is the most common one, and it happened that for today’s chapters the file was not OCR’ed (OCR). This means that they could not use control-F key to find keywords. This set the context for a problem in need of solution.

Today’s in-class exercise required students to find the chronological order of 12 quotes I had selected from the book. The idea was that students would reconstruct the order of the events in the quotes and discuss their importance. So, after explaining the instructions they got collaborating with each other to find the quotes in the book.

book google

The frustration among those with the book in pdf format was evident from the start. Differently from what has happened before with OCR pdf files, today they did not have the advantage of using the control-F key to search for words in the text. But it did not take long for one of them to discover, or better said, “to remember” that Book Google could replace the control-F key function. In other words, it could serve in a similar manner as if having a pdf file that has been OCR’ed (OCR). Because of the types of activities, we perform in class, I require students to bring their laptops or tablets to class. And this student, as if hit by an epiphany, said out loud, we can “book-google it,” and so they did. And soon all were “book-googling it” and quickly found the quotes’ order.


It is common knowledge that the verb, “to google” has replaced longer phrases like, “to search the Internet.” Now I see the beginning of a similar trend in speech to replace the phrase, “to search in book google” for “to book-google it.” Though dictionaries have yet to catch up, the term “to google” is now synonymous of “to search.”

engaged students

This event also showed me how in the student’s minds, the logic of one form of technology is easily transferable to another, as long as it serves similar purposes. In the end, what I witnessed today was adaptability and a deeper engagement with the reading material reflected in the students’ high participation level.

Jimmy Jean-Louis: Bordering Excessive

This is revealing!

Repeating Islands


Thanks to Jo Spalburg for sending us “Bordering Excessive” by Jimmy Jean-Louis, in which the Haitian-born actor tells of his recent adventures on a sad journey crossing the border from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. For lack of space, I have only included excerpts; it is well worth reading the entire opinion piece. The most poignant sentence—“I felt that the soldiers were completely disrespecting these two human beings, even the fact that I had portrayed one of the greatest heroes of our time, Toussaint Louverture, did not give me enough courage to raise my voice”—resonated long after reading the article and reminded me of similar heart-rending situations in which suspicion and hatred undergird human relationships.

Having flown to Santo Domingo to attend the “Dominican Global Film Festival”, I came to the conclusion I was too close to home not to make a quick trip across the border to visit my mother…

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A look at big migrant shipwrecks in the Caribbean

Repeating Islands


Major deadly shipwrecks involving migrant vessels from neighboring nations of Haiti and Dominican Republic, the Associated Press reports:

_ Feb. 7, 2012: At least 21 people killed and 30 reported missing when overloaded boat with migrants capsizes near Dominican Republic. Boat was trying to carry about 70 people from Dominican Republic to U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

_ July 27, 2009: Sailboat with estimated 200 Haitians aboard runs aground on reef and sinks off Turks and Caicos Islands. Authorities report 119 survivors, 15 confirmed dead and dozens missing.

_ May 13, 2009: Boat overloaded with about 30 Haitian migrants sinks off Florida’s coast, killing at least nine people including infant. U.S. authorities Haitian who allegedly piloted craft with human smuggling.

_ April 20, 2008: Speedboat carrying about 25 Haitians takes on water and capsizes shortly after leaving Nassau, Bahamas, popular waystation for migrants trying to reach Florida. Only three people…

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