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A Wet Beethoven And A Stoned Fidel

By J.A. del Rosario

November 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

There is no autumn in the Caribbean. There are no roads covered in yellow and orange leaves, no elephant trunks full of sweaters to pull out of the attic and no hopes for early snows that could stretch Thanksgiving into a five-day holiday.

Down here there are only two seasons, dry and wet. We are in the middle of the wet season. For the past week, it has rained every day. And when it is not raining, the gray skies seem to be constantly dangling the threat over our heads.

This means that when it comes to fun, we have to look indoors.

This week, Puerto Rico's only international film festival, the San Juan Cinemafest, showcased a controversial documentary by Oliver Stone (more on this later). Also, classical music fans got a chance to watch the famed Orion Quartet deliver seven string quartets by the great (and tormented) Ludwig van Beethoven.

The one-week long Cinemafest brought movies from China, Europe and South America. For the past few years the festival has taken residence at the San Patricio Mall theaters in Guaynabo, only a 15-minute drive from Condado.

While the festival is not large, it has remained consistent and earned itself a loyal audience.

On the surface, holding a film festival in a shopping mall multiplex might seem odd, but San Patricio has come of age lately. What started out 20 years ago as a simple strip mall has expanded into an enclosed mall with all the staples of modern shopping. Throughout the festival, the movie fans gathered at the Starbucks next door to discuss their favorite films, and wait for the next showing to start.

And for those who need to have an ice cream after their movie, check out Piu Bello Gelatto stand in front of the Starbucks. Piu Bello is an Italian ice cream shop. What is so special about it? No milk for starters. Italian gelatto is a soft milkless ice cream. This process makes for amazing sherbets. Classic ice cream lovers don't have to feel left out, though. If you belong to the uncomprimising rocky road crowd, Piu Bello has got plenty of traditional flavors for you.

The most talked about movie is Oliver Stone's documentary on Fidel Castro, "Comandante," has already provoked charges of censorship, and could end up with more showings than any other festival movie.

"Comandante" consists of 30 hours of interviews with the socialist Cuban leader. The topics range from the JFK assasination, (Castro believes in the double shooter theory), to torture in Cuba ( he denies it exists), to Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot (he likes them both very much). The film was originally scheduled for Friday, but at the last minute the audience was informed that the copy had been damaged and the showing had been canceled.

By the next day, the island's top paper "El Nuevo Dia" ran an article in which the disgruntled audience suggested that the Puerto Rico's Cuban exile community, which totals approximately 40,000 people here, had censored the film.

The Cinemafest organizers vehemently denied the claim. They said the copy was not damaged, it just had not arrived on time. "Comandante" would still be shown, they promised, a whopping EIGHT times in a two-day period. That's probably more Castro than even the most fervent undergraduate socialists can stand.

The controversy has certainly awakened interest in the film. As for me, I already have a date with my Cuban grandfather to watch the film, and listen to his mandatory speech on the importance of term limits.

And speaking of men with large egos, Beethoven was in town this week. As part of its ongoing tour throughout the United States, the Orion Quartet stopped by the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center in Santurce to play two concerts of Beethoven quartets for local music fans.

Going to the Performing Arts Center has become more fun since the opening of the restaurant Tablas, directly in front of the concert hall. Tablas is a trendy spot with a lounge, a dining area and some outdoor tables that face the water fountains in front of the center.

While the main dining room strikes a more formal note, the bar area (which includes a lounge) is full of modern furniture, a curvy, snakelike bar surrounded by several TV monitors, for those who need a dose ofSportscenter to get through a classical music concert.

Tablas' menu is an eclectic mix of classic Puerto Rican dishes, and creative Caribbean cuisine -- in other words, standard dishes transformed into new and flamboyant entrees. One of the simpler ones (perfect for a before, or after show snack) are the plantain fries. These are strips of plantain toasted to the consistency of a bread stick, served with a green mint and basil sauce. It is perfect finger food to share with a few friends, or to pick at on your own.

Although inarguably great, Beethoven quartets are not exactly at the stature of Shakira when it comes to box office draw. But music fans who are not crazy about the stuffiness that accompanies classical music performances, a half-empty hall means you can lean back and enjoy the music without having to look as if you were quietly suffering through a lecture on Byzantine draperies.

Orion's performance came courtesy of ProArte, a non profit organization which promotes several music events throughout the year. A few months ago, ProArte hosted experimental dance company Pilobolus. That performance was a complete success. And the audience came away awed by the company's show, which was a mixture and dance and acrobatics. Something like a small-scale Cirque du Soleil.

For theater and music lovers, checking out the schedule at the Luis A. Ferre Performing Arts Center is a must. The performance hall remain in full activity during the better part of the year. One day you might find a pop concert, followed by a performance of the percussion extravaganza Stomp. Or you could sign up for any one of several plays that are always showing. Broadway fans can delight in seeing some of the biggest hits of the stage exported for foreign markets. The biggest show right now is a version of the musical Chicago. The show will open up this weekend, and for those who are familiar with the Kander and Ebb hit, seeing it in Spanish might be a slightly surreal experience; like dreaming with subtitles.

The highlight of the Orion performance was the Op. 130. A quartet originally commissioned to Beethoven by a Russian prince. The prince commissioned 3 string quartets, and Ludwig took two years to send the first one. By the time the third quartet was composed, word in Vienna had spread that the last movement, a fiery fugue, was unlike anything composed before, and throngs of people showed up to listen to the debut performance.

Well, the fugue ended up being such a hit, that Beethoven was later asked by a publishing house to separate the piece from the rest of the quartet and perform it on its own.

But the Orion Quartet, being dependable purists, performed the Op. 130 with the original ending.

Up in the balcony, while the quartet wrestled its way through the charged fugue, a dripping sound could be heard faintly in the background.

It was raining outside.

Plazoleta de Bellas Artes


You can also get more information about the calendar at the Performing Arts Center and Tablas at

J.A. del Rosario, a business reporter for The San Juan Star, is a remedial guitar player and an incorrigible nightcrawler. He can be contacted at: :

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