“La Coincidencia Increíble”

“These guys are gonna die for sure. Trust me. They are from the Caribbean just like I am.”


“But the guy promised me yesterday they would survive!” I pleaded.

The delivery guy for the nursery and I were discussing the survival odds for five banana trees I had purchased here in Atlanta.

I bought the trees to replace the banana trees that died the first winter after we moved into the house. The previous owner had planted them. I grew up in Florida and knew very well that they do not tolerate cold weather. Only months after we moved in, the first frost hit and the leaves turned brown. Rather than cut the leaves off, I let them be, because I believed they would insulate the stalk against the cold. Various local experts have differing opinions on the fate of banana trees. I grew increasingly suspicious that the previous owner stuck them in the ground to increase curb appeal in the backyard garden.

In the nursery where I bought the new banana trees, an older employee, an apparent salt of the earth who seemed to know what he was talking about, assured me that if I chopped off the stalks and covered them with plenty of mulch, the trees would survive our cold Atlanta winter and come back next spring as hearty as ever…

The delivery guy was Latino and when he arrived, he briefly spoke in Spanish to the Mexican workers who were laying sod for a landscape contractor I had hired to replace some of the Emerald Zoysia in my backyard. He was a very nice man and we struck up a friendly conversation as we unloaded my plants from his truck.

“Caribbean?” I asked him, “WHERE in the Caribbean?”

“I’m from Puerto Rico.”

“No kidding? My wife is Puerto Rican! Where on the island?”

“San Juan – Bayamón, Guaynabo…”

“We used to live in Rio Piedras and I had a studio in Old San Juan.”

“Oh really? I used to have an apartment on Sol Street.”

“Calle del Sol?”

He nodded. This was unbelievable. My studio was at #3 on the same street!

“What number on Sol,” I asked.

“Number three.”

“Oh my God, you’re kidding! Was your landlady Mary Benitez?”

“Yes, Mary with all of the facelifts!”

“That’s her. OK, I have to show you something…follow me inside.”

He followed me into the kitchen and I introduced him to Vicky. They chatted in Spanish while I went to grab a photo of the Calle del Sol studio I was looking at only yesterday. What prompted me pulling them out was a story of mine that I had found and was scanning to post to my website – just yesterday.

Javier Vilá says he is not Puerto Rican by blood (he’s part Italian, part Spanish) but feels like he’s Puerto Rican because that’s where he has lived for most of his life. He is probably not quite my age. He’s been living in the US now for eight or nine years.

Javier smiled when he saw the photos of the apartment from the street. The trees from the other side of the walls of la Casa Blanca shaded that end of Calle del Sol. Steps down the hill, the street takes a dramatic left-hand turn and right there is an incredible view of the brilliant green waters of the San Juan Bay along with the distant moutains of western Puerto Rico.

But Javier did not recognize the inside of the apartment. After a few minutes of discussion, we established that he was living there well before I had rented it as a studio. Mary’s husband was living when Javier occupied the place – while Mary had been a widow for quite some time while I was there. Mary lived upstairs in an elegant apartment with perhaps the best view in Old San Juan. We determined the rental apartment below went through some major rennovation. When I was there, it was basically a small, shotgun apartment with a front door to Calle del Sol and a back vista of the garden of the Governor’s mansion. I used to see all of the parties and goings-on. The back balcony was a great spot for an evening cocktail with the wonderful breeze blowing through the apartment, provided the front and rear windows were opened. Because of the higher elevation in the rear, I don’t believe I ever closed those rear windows nor the back door. In fact, one morning after a hurricane had passed through, I went down to see if there was any damage in the studio. The rear door had been left open but nothing had blown away…

Mary was a big part in the story I had found – the one I had written in 1994 – the one I scanned for the web site just yesterday.

But it all checked out as Javier & I compared notes on restaurants, bars, shops and neighbors. He even confirmed the names of some of the local homeless people, some of whom were quite the characters in Old San Juan.

Javier was interested in my artwork. I showed him a few pieces and he told me that he was a painter as well. He told me he would email some images of his work.

After he left, I couldn’t get over what a coincidence that was. I wondered if there was a message somewhere in the chance meeting. Vicky seemed unimpressed by the incident. Afterall, it was only a small apartment 1,544 miles away on an island of 4 million people. Maybe I should play the lottery this week?

It was on my mind for the rest of the day.

Those five banana trees, should they live their days out in my backyard, will be part of a great story.



[NOTE: To read the other Calle del Sol story mentioned above, click here to read “A Great Lesson In Trust, Patience and Humility”.]

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