Santo Domingo, Dominican RepublicMarch 29, 2016
In your city, how can we tell that we are in the year 2016?
Definitely smart phones and the internet. We are all obsessed with technology to the point of madness, at all social levels.
What in your city reminds you of the past?
The Plaza de la Cultura is a large green space made at the mandate of Joaquin Balaguer in the 70s, where there was once one of Trujillo’s houses. As a child, I often went because it was near my house. The National Theatre, the Museum of Man, the Museum of Modern Art, the roofs of the old Mannequin restaurant: all hold for me a nostalgia of my past, when there were fewer people in the city.
Which building or intersection in the city would make us think that we are in the future?
None of them. I never feel in the future in Santo Domingo.
Where in your city would be the best place to lose track of time, freeze time, or gain time?
In the colonial zone. For me personally, it would be "La casita". It is a small house that I bought four years ago and that I have been restoring gradually. Sometimes I live in it; sometimes I rent it through Airbnb. It's great because it’s tiny, but for me it’s my headquarters from which I participate in the activities of the area. "La zona", as we say here, is in full swing: Many new places, houses being restored, small businesses mixed with the history of the first European city in America and the greatest social diversity of Santo Domingo business.
What song or local band would you recommend for an everyday playlist?
Oscar and Ricardo. They don’t do songs; their music is based instead on improvisation with lots of percussion. Luis "Terror" Diaz is always great, and a lot of Bachata: Luis Vargas, Chicho Severino, Ramón Cordero and what’s on the radio.
Which museum or cultural space is generally omitted from a typical cultural excursion, but is definitely worth visiting?
The Museum of Porcelain: hardly anyone goes there and it’s beautiful. It’s in a Moorish-inspired house where there is a very important collection of European and Asian ceramics. The best thing about it is the house itself and the collection of porcelain cats.
El Secreto Musical is a bar/nightclub in a popular neighborhood, Villa Consuelo, where on Tuesdays the national soneros club has a very special party where they play Caribbean music.
In which bookstore can you find new or second-hand publications on art history, exhibition catalogs, or artist monographs?
In el Conde there is a stall with used books that the owner, Daniel, sells at a table, but if you ask, in the back of the Saviñón building there is a storehouse where, among the dust and chaos you can find good books, magazines, and CDs. In the library of the Cultural Center of Spain, although the books there are only for consultation. Casa Quien sells some catalogs and books, and in the bookstore Cuesta, though it’s more commercial, many things turn up.
What dish most embodies your city, and where would you find it?
In the Meson de Bari. That's on Hostos street at the corner of Salome Ureña; they sell a cativías de lambí that is to die for, but any Dominican food is good there, and they have dishes that you can’t find everywhere, like goat stew, and Guinea hen with wine and crab. María la Turca in José Reyes is a temple of sweets and their picaderas and conconetes are the best. I highly recommend the fruit vendors who have many types of excellent fruit, and of course, La Barra Payan, which is a traditional cafe where they only sell sandwiches and batidas from fresh juices, and best of all, it’s open 24 hours.
Where can you find the best coffee (or tea)?
In "La Cafetera" in el Conde, if you are walking around the area. Actually, coffee in Santo Domingo is normally made at home, and for me the best coffee is the café greca that is offered there. Sometimes you come across street hawkers walking around selling coffee and ginger tea; those are good too. But the best, the best are the juices in Santo Domingo. Those from La Barra Payan are the most classic, but they’re good everywhere.
What is a monument that reveals a hidden past?
Once I had the opportunity to enter the sewer system in the Colonial Zone. They’re tubular brick tunnels, and they made a big impression on me. Unfortunately there aren’t any guided tours or public education programs.
Outdoor or public artwork worth visiting:
It’s not really a monument. The National Botanic Garden is one of my favorite places. It is one of the largest green spaces in Santo Domingo; the entrance is spectacular and there are many plants and pavilions. My favorite pavillions are those for the aquatic plants, the ferns, the butterflies—where I made my last exhibition—the Bromeliads, and the Japanese Garden. On weekdays you can request a tour of the Herbarium, where they have an impressive collection of dried plants organized by subject, type and origin.
Where would be the best place to view the sunset in your city?
Any tall building in Piantini. If there are no clouds and if the view faces west, you can see the mountains—spectacular. Or, on Avenida España, there is a lighthouse and at the tip of the tower, you can see a very interesting perspective of Santo Domingo and the sunsets are amazing.
Next Sunday, let’s meet at:
I like going to the flea markets on the corner of Duarte and Paris or the ones on Luperón. I’ll have lunch with my family or watch movies with my friends. I always recommend that visitors go to Bonyé, the ruins of San Francisco, or a free outdoor concert with good music and a popular vibe.
Which book transports me to your city?
Papi, by Rita Indiana Hernandez. It’s so exaggerated and hysterical and feels Santo Domingo.
What aspect of your city most inspires you?
What I like most about my city is its people, above all my friends. The uninhibited nature of Dominicans and their conversations. Street vendors. I love living in a city where it’s summer all year and where the plants are so happy; I’m really inspired by the gardens and the blossoming trees.
Where would one probably get lost: geographically, emotionally or historically speaking?
Emotionally and historically: in the Colonial Zone. It is very small but there are always new things happening. Geographically speaking I am sure that I have missed "that side", the Oriental zone in the eastern part of the city and across the Ozama River. I have not gone very far on that side and it’s another world. There is a very famous street with many "La Venezuela" clubs in Dominican style! From the little I know, there are many works by a street artist whom I admire a lot and who for me is the best urban artist of Santo Domingo; his name is Pirin. He’s a kind of Dominican Jean-Michel Basquiat whose messages are laden with irony, truth, and hallucinations.
If you were to be commissioned today to create an artwork “about” this city, briefly describe your proposal.
I've always wanted to make a communal public garden, I imagine in a city park or a vacant lot, and from that garden, to investigate new ways of living with nature in the city.