MY AUNT MINERVA IS LIVING IN A DREAM WORLD. Her graceful two-bedroom apartment is nestled within an unassuming apartment complex in the comfortably affluent Bella Vista neighborhood of Santo Domingo here in the Dominican Republic. Bella Vista has no real distinction from its even more well-heeled neighboring wards apart from accessibility: The bustling Avenida Sarasota stands to the north, whisking you away to the array of malls and restaurants that straddle it. To the South, you can drive down through the El Portal neighborhood to la Avenida Independencia, flanked with corporate headquarters, government offices and a university on the way to the seaside beauty of the Malecon.
None of this effects the tranquility of her eloquently appointed little abode. It’s cozily feminine: Light pastel yellows and greens set the tone of her sitting room, where a picture window frame of clapboard shutters is wide open to admit the light. They give the place the appearance not of being a city apartment, but a remote cottage in the middle of a placid woodland grove. Lovely embroidered fabrics flank every piece of furniture, and her needlepoints dot the walls. My aunt still plays LPs, mostly boleros from the great grand orquestas of the 40s and 50s. “That was my simply my era,” she remarks when she changes records. There is one digital station that plays crisply recorded instrumentals of those big band tunes, and that will play whenever the turntable isn’t.
Although she is a sensible woman who built a long career as a lab director, she gets pretty gleeful about her favorite, simple pleasures: sweets and flowers. She adores the dulces criollos that are the specialty of Dominican candy shops and bakeries. They do super-sweet renditions of dulce de leche called crema de leche. She loves bars of leche de coco: Condensed milk and butter are mixed with coconut. She fumes if her favorite varieties haven’t been made on the day she goes to pick out candies. You can’t ever turn down her offers to share some, as she’ll meet your decline with an annoyed frown. She composes her special snacking moments out of this beautifully wainscoated, defiantly rustic kitchen where I love to stand and munch. An active member of the Sociedad Dominicana de Orquideoligía, my aunt has made a passion of cultivating various species of orchids that peek out from all the corners of the apartment. She delights in their delicate beauty and frailty depending on the weather of the day. I’ve seen her cheer on a couple of the plants that fight their way to late blooms or that shed sickly leaves. Many of them rest along the back fire escape, overlooking a parking lot. But the sun sets in just the right way there, and pierces through all the petals with beautiful warm light. I spent the weekend of the Epiphany at the apartment, and my favorite thing to do was walk down to Mirador Sur Park. The park easily stretches 10 kilometers of great views and every tree that grows on the island. The Avenida Mirador Sur that adjoins it was closed to car traffic a few years ago, and has become an incredibly popular outdoor gym.
Bikers, runners and boot campers all take to the Avenida throughout the day to work out there. The view is great and its just a wonderful thing to see people from every walk of life; the faces of Santo Domingo in all shades and shapes. I never want to wake up when I go to my Aunt Minerva’s apartment.