A Prayer for Puerto Rico

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Crescent moon high above the Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Vlad loved Puerto Rico. One of his dreams was that we’d go there together some day, perhaps even circumnavigate the island by kayak (though he warned me about sharks).

Vlad knew the island well. For many years, he collaborated with a colleague at the Institute for Neurobiology at the University of Puerto Rico. That meant taking regular trips to Puerto Rico, at least annually, sometimes more often. And he took advantage of those trips to explore the island and its environs.

View of La Perla from the Institute of Neurobiology

Entirely aside from the exciting work he did with his colleagues, Vlad really loved the place itself: the warm, moist tropical air, the vivid colors, and most of all, the people.  He often told stories about his time there. One of my favorites was about the “palmetto bugs” that scientists caught from the lab floor for experiments (apparently it was cheaper and easier to catch your own than to order them from suppliers.)

View from the Castillo San Felipe del Morro

But my all-time favorite story was when he talked about how the scientists in his lab were almost universally young, beautiful women. I didn’t believe him, so he forwarded a photo “as evidence” (as he put it). Unfortunately I can no longer find it, but the photo indeed featured a half-dozen or so mini-skirt-clad young women holding martini glasses and smiling at the camera (it was an evening outing of the lab). Not exactly the first image that comes to mind when one thinks of “a gathering of neuroscientists”–no wonder Vlad was enamored of the place!

Beyond the sheer physical beauty of the island and its inhabitants, Vlad also appreciated its many biological wonders. Among  them: the bioluminescent bay
at Vieques Island, the bat caves, and the El Yunque Rain Forest.

Clouds after sunset, San Juan, Puerto Rico

I know he would be deeply saddened by the devastation that Hurricane Maria has wreaked on Puerto Rico. Fortunately the Institute for Neurobiology has reported that it has survived; but recovery will be a long, slow, painful process for them, and for everyone affected by the storm.

If you want to contribute, here is a list of charities that have been highly rated by CharityWatch and are contributing to Irma relief in Puerto Rico.

19 responses to “A Prayer for Puerto Rico

  1. My thoughts and prayers are with these people.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Diana Szatkowski

    I am touched by your warm, funny, and sad post. The photos are beautiful too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A moving post – on many levels.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A very touching post, Johna

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this post, and Vlad’s incomparable photos. Reminds me of years spent in a similar location, and how many ‘canes, in other forms, have occurred this past calendar year… Praying for Puerto Ricans, and all on planet Earth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      You are most welcome Del! I really wanted to counter all the images in the news with a reminder that Puerto Rico is truly a magical place… and with luck, will remain so.


  6. Loved the post, Johna. I’ve never been to PR, though I have friends who live there still. I can see why Vlad liked the place. As an insect neurobiologist, I also liked the allusion to “palmetto bugs” which is an euphemism for the really large cockroaches (genus Blabera) that you find there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Ha, yes I know about the palmetto bugs/cockroaches thing… lived in Florida for several years. The story about catching them for research purposes may have been apocryphal, or may not.

      Vlad really was in the habit of capturing his research animals live. The crabs, I recall, came from Chinatown (one of the grad student’s tasks was to go and purchase them). And there was that unfortunate incident where the big crab ate all the other ones…Ah, the glamour of science!


  7. My prayers are with them and Puerto Rico.


  8. What a nice tribute…I can totally understand the love someone who lives in NYC has for anyplace in the Caribbean. It’s just so relaxing, so different…I went to Puerto Rico once, when I was pretty young, with a boyfriend, and my parents never knew about it. :-) Got badly sunburned, but it was wonderful. We went out to El Yunke also. I love the story about the cute neuroscientists. I wonder what they’re up to now…if they’re still there, from what I hear, even though places like that may be up and running, so many people can’t even get to work because of all the other problems with infrastructure. Which was a longstanding issue…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      I think they might be ok if only because they’re in San Juan, which is kind of the command center for the rest of the island. That said, I’m sure work is pretty well disrupted (not to mention the experiments that have been ruined, etc…)


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