August 1, 2021

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Between memories and beyond beautiful things

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“… Because a road lasts what it lasts

the foot of the walker on the road ”.

Jose Angel Buesa

To compadres Mildred and Héctor López Palermo, “El Menor”.

To Negré and Yiyín González.

The Hotel Ponce Intercontinental, now happily undergoing restoration, holds lasting memories for me.

It opened its doors in 1960, my third year in Ponce.

A few years later, a very romantic and simple film arrived in our cinemas, which stayed in our hearts forever.

For reasons that are justified in the plot, it has a double title: Rome Adventure or Lovers Most Learn, starring Angie Dickinson, Rossano Brazzi, Troy Donahue and the young Broadway star, Suzanne Pleshett, who was promoted by Hollywood for her close resemblance to a young Elizabeth Taylor.

From the publicity point of view, the film had as a “hook” the presence of one of the “Latin-lovers” par excellence of that moment, Rossano Brazzi, and also a beautiful actress that the Press of “gossip of the heart” associated romantically (one of several actresses) with the newly elected president of the United States, John F. Kennedy.

The young actor who is paired in the film with Pleshett and who was later her husband for only a year, Troy Donahue, had a particular detail that I came to know many years later.

Panchito Mattei -an adoptive Ponceño like me, but born and raised in Adjuntas, and close to Churumba Cordero, Jaime Julio Yordán Conesa and this server- studied with that actor (whose real name was Merle Johnson Jr.) and with him current President of the United States, Donald Trump, at the New York Military Academy.

Panchito lives today in the state of Florida, happily alive and healthy.

The film I’m talking about is very visual, very colorful. The action that most remained in our memories is that of the Pleshette, short, five feet four inches, and Donahue, a giant for his time, six feet three inches, touring the city of Rome, its fountains and its many monuments on an Italian “scooter”.

At one point, as a marginal action in the plot, they get off the motorbike, enter a bar that is in a semi-basement, settle at a table and order drinks.

After a while, the until then little known Italian singer in America, Emilio Perícoli, appears on the small stage of the place, and sings a song that was enough with that single presentation to become famous and make him world famous until his death: Al Di Lá , translated into Spanish as Beyond.

These kinds of surprising experiences occur in cinematography.

Some years passed and a concert was announced in Ponce by Emilio Perícoli, in the Party Room of the Hotel Ponce Intercontinental.

I immediately began to prepare myself emotionally and financially to go to that show with my girlfriend Lunita (she weighed 93 pounds), then wife and mother of our three children, who by then was still living in Yauco.

At that time, I was a proofreader and occasional columnist for the Catholic Church weekly El Debate, equivalent to the weekly El Visitor, so I was making some money.

In addition, I resorted to personal loans to the closest roommates in the house of Doña Julita and Don Toño González -on Avenida Muñoz Rivera number five, a house through the Tastee Freez-, which we used to reciprocally in similar occasions.

He wanted to send the bride to make a “corsache” of white orchids in advance, which were her favorites, and in due course ask for a bottle of champagne to be consumed at the hotel table that would last us cold in her champagne, all night.

At that time, in Ponce there were three lines of taxis, all with the same fixed rate of use: half a dollar to any part of the city and a dollar to the Intercontinental Hotel.

On the night of the concert, we arrived in a taxi, as if in a shiny golden carriage, just in time for the presentation of the already internationally renowned artist, who was pedantic to the audience and disappointed us from the start.

Hollywood had gone to his head.

He came on stage and began to teach us, literally, how to pronounce his name correctly, especially his last name.

All the time, he would tell us in English: “My name is Emilio, E-mi-lio, say it with me. E-mi-lio, say it with me. Perícoli, Pe-rí-co-li. Not Pericóli. Pe-rí-co-li. Not Pericolí. Pe-rí-co-li. Say it out loud with me ”… like in an elementary school.

Zafante the pedagogical choral repetitions, otherwise the room reigned in a deathly silence, a respectful availability to the one who dictated the phonetic course. Puerto Ricans often confuse good manners with servility. But this would rather be a topic for another column.

One of the Ponceños who occupied a table with his wife was Dr. Enrique “Coco” Vicéns, whose character and conduct, not always prudent, several readers still have to remember.

For the moment, a raucous cry was heard in that classroom, I mean, in that Party Hall, an emotional explosion that shook the foundations, launched by Coco: “Millo, stop talking and sing one!”

He sang for more than an hour and, frankly, he did very well, because he was a very good singer.

Often times, celebrities come to Ponce to learn a lesson.

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