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Archive for the ‘Cities’ Category

The city is alive with a diversity of people passing through, dancing the dance of life. I walked down to the civic center bart in the early morn – workers in suits streaming up the elevator and walking up the street, some more casually dressed, and those who live in the area and it made me think how the city is so alive and open and tolerant with so many types of people living here.
Still, when i get down i think about how amazing it really is – people, men and women and some who are a bit of both, of a variety of backgrounds, from places around the globe, of different colours, values, material wealth, young old and in between live, work and/or play (or for some merely survive) in this place. And coexist. But at times that is all.
It draws people in and away, at times overwhelms, like it has to me. I see the drawing in on the bart in the streets, people on their phones, chatting or texting away connecting with what is not physically present. And with their ipods or a few with papers creating their own world inside.
I leave the city on the bart to the land of suburbs where people live everyday, I think about it more – by those who live around, it is the Bay Area, San Francisco only a small part, existing more in the minds of some tourists i think. I get off in Walnut Creek, a place i had heard of, a mini-core, and think of the nodes around, the nuclei, how there really isn’t a centre to which the energy is drawn, but how it is spread out, in a multi-tangled web, centre is not dead, but is just a part like so many other areas, other centres.
I look at houses on tree-lined streets and i want a life there. A life where so many different people live – for the areas around are as diverse, if not more so, But the zones are more spread out, but in the city there are zones, for different activities and for different people, they are more tightly linked, and the boundaries porous as you pass through, but they are real. But i pass through, areas like vallejo, napa and i think of my journey up from the south a few days ago, they are linked but a web of roads, of trains, of thought, in the definition of an area, and through these roads we move.
I go out and away to a place that is hard to get to. To a place where people seek refuge and similar minds, similar vibes. A place away from it all, where you can create something new. A world where you vibe and can leave behind the complicated dance. Can you? Should you? Can you really create such a space. Some are more open some are closed – difference is people may know you and accept you or reject you based upon who you really are.
The city offers so much opportunity for connection, but how little really happens, Not possible to connect with it all. You choose, draw back, accept, reject, some of what you do not call flows though and other is blocked, But you cannot connect with all.
I think about this more as we enter on the highway, 6 lanes of cars in each direction, closing the human energy in, separating it, creating an energy of it own. By cutting ourselves off from the common energy of all, we the drain energy of the earth of “fossil fuels” and pave the tops of the ground, blocking more flow.
But i think about the cars again as i play the familiar game in a bus – looking at the number outside, and plucking them off the road as i fill up the bus with people in my mind. But as i leave the city with the intensity of the buzz, i realize what i have heard about before – that time in the car, time alone behind the wheel, is often the only time people have to themselves, to be alone with thought. Alone, or connecting, the cell phone and the radio bringing the outside in. but in the self-contained bubble, the create a world, less effected by the outside, travelling along, self-contained through space, not touching but following the flow – unless it slows down or there is a crash, and still having to negotiate a way through space, but protected by the bubble that encases, the bubble that is material.
But with the car the sprawl increases, the zones of diversity and chaotic energies. and why do we need it alone. i have been sleeping in dorms, with others in the room, and i think that a garage is larger than family homes in much of the world, and how many still share a bed not only with their husband or wife, and did for a long time too. And why now do we need to much personal space, is it the intensity of the world we live in? That in urban/suburban areas you just cannot take it all in?
I go out to the country, to the small towns where all is much more calm. It is a different zone, more homogenous, or split in two or three. And i remember there are zones in the city, neighborhoods where you go, or do not, or rarely, depending on who you are, but they intersect and cross over, and are porous, as is all.
I travel past the chains that cover the landscape, the Bank of america, mcDonalds, taco bell, walgreens and walmart and the list goes on. I often see them as an eyesore, of a stripping away of what is unique in different places, of corporate control, but today i think differently, – maybe they are a way of reminding us how time and space are so linked, and despite our differences and distances how much alike we all are – the sameness in the diversity of life.
The city is long gone in my mind as i finish this entry. I am in a town where people talk and say hello – it is manageable here, and nature surrounds. Still there is a divide, and the city comes here – for the roads come through and energy travels.

 

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Another city, i sit and observe, watching life stroll by, drink coffee, smoke and write. A sadness overwhelms and i do not know what i do here, why i am here. Awoke this morning to the sound of cars rather than of birds or dogs or something. I sit here watching – i know that i am part of the interplay of life that goes on, just as i see others, others see me, but despite all the people i feel alienated and cut off in a cafe in the main square. San Cristobal is both a tourist town and a real city with people going on about their lives, and i do little, like i have in many places, and here i feel lost. I know the calm inside should be regardless of where i am, but i dont know why i am here. Life goes on – work, study, family, friends, suffering and indulgence, but i cannot relate. I want to talk to god and the spirit, but i do not connect with the spirit that lies inside us all. And i walk up and down the streets, over and over like i have so many other places. looking but not seeing, hearing the noise but not the voices, feeding myself on coffee, smokes, a bit of food, but not on god, or so it seems, though i try. I do the circle of the churches, not ornate and welcoming as i remembered (but i now think that was another city, or was it just my imagination) but they seem harsh and cold, with flat ceilings and bloody crucified Jesuses on crosses, and dark painting of pious looking saints in the front above the altar surrounded by gold (or copper) – it is austere and not joyous – though one on the hill was full of flowers on the altar and people praying and a louder procession left from the cathedral yesterday – but they are not places that lift my spirit and call to me. in a few i sit briefly and others i walk around, stare blankly and leave, feeling cut off and wanting to join with god.
So i sit and drink coffee – the pace of life goes on with little boys incessantly, persistently, selling their wares, forceful at times, almost aggressive and refusing to leave until you get harsh on the 6th no. And the women and little girls and grandmothers left alone selling. And i remember this feeling – as i sit here, rich compared to them, indulging in a coffee with time to sit, becoming at times closed and hostile, not a five minute break, cannot be.
And i remember thinking, in san marcos, thinking of my return to the us, where i am on the outside, one of them, that we/they – the beggars, the homeless, the poor, are but shadows – shadows of poverty and wanting that exist in the shadow of indulgence and ¨the good life¨ – a life not for all, denied to many, and with the disparity borders get drawn even more intensely, and the gap grows and i sit here drinking my coffee – a privilege, a normal habit but a luxury for some. And it is more here, a little barefoot girl – 3 or 4 goes around asking for pesos, learning to beg – but am i really any different. And the guilt grows, i buy a trinket, but it is just a drop in the bucket, more to assuage my guilt. At times i think they are there to teach compassion and loving and giving.
But it is more in the tourist zones and in places where the gap is big. The eyes that look longingly at the table – mainly of the young who have not yet learned to avert them, the young like the shoeshine boys who later sit outside another cafe indulging in a frozen mocha. But i know that look, face to face with what you cannot have, standing outside, looking on, longing, for i too have had that look many a time.
And the peddlers and beggars are more intense here than they have been elsewhere in central america. Is is just the gap – for you go through much of the rural areas (except near here) where people are poor, but still seem to have something – not as ground down. Or is it also another loss, a poverty that is not only material, but spiritual, a poverty that is deeper, that cannot be solved by buying a trinket today. I think of my time in Nica, which was poor in material things, but also seemed rich – a sense of spirit and connection that existed in places with the very basic simple life. Or is it the people – but no – i have seen the maya in their communities and know that not all are pushy sellers, the aggressive merchants, but here with those who now live in the slums on the edge of town, the aggression is worse. Or where there is the gap – tourist land, pana at the lake, or the frequent thefts in san marcos. but i drift away from this place.
And is that what i see here, amongst those, like me at times, the travellers who wander, looking, or those who live the good life – possibly materially wealthy, but spiritually poor, and seeking to fill up. A woman with goods walks by, i avert my eyes, do not want to see, cannot buy from all, she reminds me, i hang onto what i have, close my heart instead of open it, or do i, for it aches with pain and guilt. A smile, a kind word is not enough, and their resentment of me turns to resentment of them. i try to open my heart, send love, a smile.
And the traffic circles on and people walk through and i am back to searching, on how to leave this place, feeling trapped, no where to go, enthusiasm down, flight to usa in a week and have no home, my temporary privilege, the one sitting on the seat facing the square is over, to i the one who looks on longingly and cannot join in. And in many ways does not want to – the feeding of emptiness, of internal poverty.
And in the city i long once again for where i am not – a place to be in nature, commune with god, and light up and see the spirit inside all. and perhaps i am here to learn, to do that here as well, the calm inside when there is noise without, and to feel the interconnectedness of all, and not apart, and to remove the veil from my heart and soul in the places where it is more difficult.

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I have walked around the centre of Granada too many times, circling the central squares, walking the restored streets in the centre of town so many times that i should know them by heart by now. Finally had the guts to walk down to the lake, had been wanting to for several days, but i felt afraid to venture beyond the zone, the zone that is marked in darker green on the tourist map. Still, i have not really felt the energy here, have not really looked, too consumed by the voice in my head that says “what the fuck have you done now – just what have you gotten yourself into this time girl.?” wondering just what i am doing here, why i have come to this land.

What is it that i hope to see? What is it that i have to prove? I pace the streets, the same ones over and over, feeling like a street walker of sorts – see a few others who do the same.

Maybe it is because i have not really met anyone since i arrived despite moving between hostels – the first one empty, talked to a couple, her mainly as he was sick for a day and a young german girl who i could tell felt as caged as i but i was exhausted that first night and just wanted to sleep. It was recommended by the woman who i met on the bus, attached to a non-profit centre which felt good. Yet it was the people who used the centre who took up the common couches in a group and i felt like hiding in my private room – a guys bonding and tv watching and i felt lonely. I walked around, not in the present, wondering where to move to and checked out the other places – most seemed just as bare except 3 – one a party place, the other a pothead place, and the one where i am now – a much younger crowd and i do not seem to bond with any – more in groups sticking to themselves – and many who are on the way to the beach and spend intense late nights at the bars – so that may influence how i feel here.

But i also feel like Granada is a large tourist city – an old montreal, a quebec city where you do not venture beyond the walls. Is it because i have entered a poorer country and notice the difference, the street dogs are skinny not like in Costa Rica, and when i do see the side streets and look inside the homes i see it, as i did when we crossed the border and the simple country homes of costa rica (which looked poorer as we approached the border) became shacks. Is it just a city vibe descending upon me? Is it a new culture shock? Or is it travel without a purpose? My plans messed up by the time on my tourist card 30 vs the 90 in my passport so it is hard to commit. I spend time sitting in cafes, in front of the computer, yes, maybe this is gift i had been given since i said i wanted the time and focus to write and it has been forced upon me. Or is this a realization of what i have felt before, travelling, observing, standing on the outside. That the difference between those who visit and those who reside is so great – and i am on the other side.

I visit the churches – magnificent outside, but so plain within – high ceilings but devoid of much decoration. I climb the tower in one and look out over the city, much greener than it appears from the street, as all the trees are in the courtyards to the homes. The centre area is nicely restored, smoother sidewalks, fresh bright paint of blue, orange, yellow etc. on the buildings you walk beyond, sidewalks crack and paint fades. It does not seem dangerous like a big city, few policemen or armed guards, just outside the banks where they sit bored, watching the money changers who patrol the corners outside.

It is dusk, i hear the birds sing outside in the park, gathering in the trees.

I was not the only one who feared the walk to the lake – just a few blocks beyond where the dark green zone and the pedestrian area of Calle la Calzada ends. I went today, a Sunday, and a few families walked down the emptier boulevard. I had walked some side streets on my way there – past homes, a few horses grazing on an empty lot, kids playing ball in a street. There is little down there at the lake, polluted is seems. A few from the hostel were wondering about going down and had been told to be careful so it was not only me.

My new hostel is on the edge of the market area which goes on for blocks – narrower streets with vendors selling shoes, lotto tickets (everywhere) food, bras, DVDs with tvs set up on the street which at night a few sit on chairs and watch, taxis (not the uniform red of Costa rica) but a variety of cars, many beaters, most older, some independent, others granada taxis, and a few buses mainly longer distance, and the bicycles other with more than 1 person, and the mini bikes and motor cycles, a few horses with carts (the nice horse-drawn buggies do not include the busy market on their route), and the people, buying, selling, bread comes out at night, a few men carrying large bags on their heads, and a few women baskets, all walk on the shady side of the street (it is hot here and the sun is strong) and the sidewalk is full of vendors, so it is a mix of pedestrians and vehicles. The market building itself is dark inside and a bit of a maze – i enter breifly – in the front section many bras, tshirts and shoes, yes more shoes.

I venture beyond to the bus area to Rivas where i might go, a block beyond the market down a narrow side street. All are helpful, i look at the unpaved lot with old yellow school buses, a crowded one pulls out, and i wonder about the romance of bus travel in this area. The expresos that go to Managua and then with a transfer to Leon, while cramped mini-buses with open doors to let in some air, do not seem so bad.

I shut myself down and hide inside quiet a bit. Most are friendly, the vendors are not agressive, a few beggars, and a few kids that seem to be trouble, wanting food from the table at restos, but seeming strung out.

So many kids, in arms and all. the sidewalks and streets vary from packed to empty with little in between.

Still i wonder why i am here? That as a poor gringa i am a rich nica and can enjoy the cafes and places to stay that i could not at home? What do i want to do here – write but about what if i shut myself down and do not reach out? I feel caged – makes me appreciate the freedoms of home.

I do not know what to do with myself? Volunteer – but where – i want internet connection so not an isolated farm. my time here is shorter than i imagined – need to cross north or south and that has been eating at me. but with that, have wasted at least a day, which has become valuable, mulling over it. I am not as in love with Granada as i had imagined. Yes, the colonial centre has been restored, but i had been expecting something more, had rushed up here, had built it up in my mind perhaps too much so.

I have taken few pictures here – do not feel as comfortable pulling out the camera. Do i head north up to Leon another colonial town or down to isla ometepe? Only tomorrow will tell. Or is this just culture shock?

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Central Squares

Again this is an entry that i started some time ago, the time when i devoted part of the day to writing. I yearned for a central park when i was in the tourist towns of manual antonio, monteverde and montuzuma, and now i have been around them but i do not linger. I hung around the various squares in San Jose, but never stayed long, watching people, children playing, families gathering, people listening to music, and a few tourists taking photos – myself included.

I came to Granada, as a colonial town, one with a restored parque central dominated by the huge yellow cathedral off to one side. Yet i do not linger there – it is dominated by the locals, who have claimed all the shady benches, and i do not feel right sitting there alone – the tourist blocks the run towards the lake, with the outside tables at the restaurants seem the place for that. There are vendors selling hotdogs, cigarettes and drinks, souvenirs, and snacks, and two shady stands set up with tables in the corners to buy coffee or icecream. As many times as i walk through it, i do not stay, it is not a place for me to people watch and i am disappointed.

But i do not know why – i had the same feeling in many of the squares in Mexico, those that i idealized and yearned for – some were ok for a woman, a gringa, alone, and others were fine when i wsa with someone else, but others were for the locals, the place where they can relax and live their lives.

But still, they provide a centre, a place that you can come back to, a public place with trees, as many of the homes and buildings are built straight on the sidewalk, the leafy gardens hidden away in the courtyards. And for those who have, that is the private place for retreat.

And around this square, here in granada, are some restos and bars where you can sit outside and watch all go by. And the traffic around it is sane – actually the traffic on the narrow one way streets in general is same. Another smaller square abuts this, and the pedestrian street is off beside the cathedral. Yet where the action and chaos is is the market place.

I was in one more town, Liberia, in costa rica, not a tourist town, with a central square, not leafy and green, only a bit of shade. i sat there briefly consulting my guide, it was a place to sit. Crossing into it was a challenge, as traffic whizzed by on all the sides, A smaller church at one end of course, and restos around. Yet, it provided an anchor to the place, the middle of the commercial zone, and a few paused here to sit a while – maybe it was the lack of shade, but was not a place where children played.

Initial entry

Ososi where i stay is a wonderful small town, but i have felt that something was missing, but it was a something that i could not define. But now i know what it is – it is the parque central or central square that forms the centre of most cities and towns that i have been in in this land.
The square is an essential feature of the towns, it is their hearts, the core, though the city or town may have spread far beyond, and other parks and squares may have been built as well. But the centre is the centre it is the heart. And where one should be in Orosi lies the soccar field, also an essential component of Costa rican towns, but it is not a place to gather.
The parque central is the heart, it is a relief from the craziness outside, a place to rest and reflect, and a place to gather, for people alone, for children to play, friends and lovers. It is the place in the centre of the maps ‘ a defining place from which you can explore, if you can find your way back you know how to go out in another direction.
They are often leafy, with trees and benches below. You can sit and watch the world go by. And while there are similarities each has its own flavor.

I fell in love with them on my trip to mexico a few years back – the zocallo they were callled, and they were full of life – often a church on one end, and in colonial towns historic buildings surrounded, and cafes were laid out upon the endges. Here there are no cafes in the towns where i have been, a fast food chain somewhere on the perimeter in the larger places, but still. And while the village green is a part of old new england towns, and i spent time in the squares in new york they are not as ingrained part of the culture, and i wonder if they still are here.

In Alueja it was the place to where i returned over and over again, trees, benches, music and later in the week vendors as well. On the peremiter are banks, a few stores, a heladeria )ice cream places and people line up at the special counter at McDonalds for icecream. on the edge is a church.

In Cartago the center square has few trees, but it is large. It sits beside las ruinas, the remains of an old church that had been rebuilt too many times and now is an open structure with gardens within. It is near the market, the local buses stop on one edge and the other bus companies stop within a few blocks. There are panderias near by, and banks, and stores, the centre of the shopping district. Traffic whizzes by, but on one end are the ever too rare traffic lights to you may easily cross the street. While not as removed, it is an oasis, and when you find your way there, directions finally make sense.

I spent but a few moments at the square in Hereida that one day i was there, but dogs lounged and children played, people ate lunch and there was more life than in the fancier gardens that belongs to the church that sat on its edge.

My favorite so far has been the square in Turrialba though it held less human life, and it was mainly men who sat about. Still it has many trees, and wooden sculptures of monkeys and other animals, a new gazebo, and like the town, they are trying to bring life to it. It sits across the street from a newer church, and signs inside announce the free wifi available in the town. I feel life coming back, the town was poorer at the edges, and from above it sprawled out a bit more – the shop streets led out from the park and some sodas and restos surrounded it – the traffic was less crazy as they had built a new bus station up the hill a few blocks away a few years ago.

Afterwords

What i long for is a square to sit and reflect, to write and relax and people watch. My morning in New York at Bryant Square was one of those moments – i could be there, sit and write. What will i find as i journey on – i do not know, but i will find out.

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Do you ever have that sneaky feeling that you have gotten on the wrong bus? Well i did today, and i was right, so spent the day circling around, riding the bus through zones i had not planned. I had wanted to go to Heredia but got on a bus to San Jose instead. And the roads i took, the journey itself, effected how i felt about my destination. The journey itself is part of the trip, and the how, and the what you pass through on the way there, can help determine how you interpret the place when you arrive.

I had spotted the bus stand yesterday with a big “Heredia” sign hanging above and had seen many buses with that destination flow through town. I knew where the stop and station was, just around the corner and down the block from the market, i was sure. But this morning i took the long way there, down the street where it was, i thought, down another block and it was not there – i knew it had not disappeared over night. Cut through one bus staging area that i knew was not it, up the block to a corner that looked familiar, and over through another place where people gathered for the red Tusa buses and finally to the end where a line of people waited to board the bus. Next to the  the sign that said “Heredia”.

One bus pulled out full just after i arrived, and a few minutes later another one pulled up – a san jose-alejuala sign on the front so i asked. Asked the man who was talking to or at me, not sure of the words he spoke but understanding his message, but when i asked Heredia he said yes. Asked the guy who counted the people. Did not ask the driver who collected my fare. I should have asked again – but the “autopista” sign was over on the next lane so this had to be right.

It was as we pulled out of town that feeling that i was on the wrong bus grew stronger. Though i did not know the route or the territory for i was going somewhere that i had never been, it grew as we headed out onto the autopista. There is a sign somewhere for Heredia, but i know it will go all the way to San Jose as it passes large hotels and more. The man who had given up talking at me got off the bus and then we turned in the direction of centro. I was not really focusing as the roads got crazier, more built up, and the traffic heavier. This was not where i wanted to be. the calmness i felt this morning was stripped away. We are caught in traffic, crawling slowly among cars, trucks, and so many different coloured buses, belonging to different lines, going different places. I notice the stench of diesel in the air. We turn the corner and arrive at a small terminal – a church is near and i debate whether to stay and explore this town. But no – i want something a bit calmer, and i don´t see the pedestrian street that someone had told me was by the terminal.

I walk over and ask the driver, the sign on the bus says ¨Heredia¨but i want to be sure. Yes, he say, it is. We wait a few moments, and then pull out, crossing over the pedestrian street a block away, then past run down buildings, the rows of used car lots and into more traffic. We are stuck in traffic. And as my impatience grows, and my bladder starts to scream, i realize that a traffic jam is a traffic jam, a definition of place in and of itself, and when you are in one it really doesn´t matter where you are. Finally the traffic calms, some trees appear, and we get to the short zone between the two, but once again it builds up.

We approach the university, and i take out my map and am realize that coming from san josé i am not sure where the stop is or which of the terminals on the map i will pull into. We get closer to the center, and i see the top of the church and a square of green, the central square i am looking for. The bus keeps going. The terminals should be on the other side of the park, and back a bit. We keep going and i get nervous. On an older corner building i spot the name of a street (a rarity in this land without street signs), way beyond where i want to be. We are on a one way street, maybe we will loop around and go back. We get to a Y with a gas station and keep on going. Someone rings the bell, we stop across from a megastore – i walk up “centro” i ask i am not understood, and i get off. Where the hell am i? It is beyond the map. I will walk back.

I turn around, and start the walk. Past the Y, the sidewalk gets iffy but i follow three students. It must be up ahead. The traffic is crazy with no (optional) stop signs, and i know i must eventually cross the street. The boys disappear, and i walk alone. A semi scruffy guy up ahead, his coat falls from his daypack  and i pick it up and call out to him forgetting the word for Sir, another man calls out to him in spanish, Senore. He thanks me and turns to speak to me in English and points me on my way.

I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I get to the centre park with its fountain and trees, to the church and enter but do not really see, the town does not look at all colonial to me, for it is not, much of it destroyed over time, and does not seem quiet. I wander around, and go have lunch – a much recommended veggie resto near the university – i imagine a cute courtyard where i can relax and linger but its air is institutional and the food is  mediocre.

I decide to head back, head back home. I go to find the bus stop. There are three that are there and no signs to indicate anything so I go to the one where the largest group is gathered. A bus pulls up that says “Heredia” on it and half the crowd gets on the bus. I ask a man where is the stop for Alajuela? He points to the bus as the last passenger steps on¨, i ask the driver if it is for Alajuela and he says yes. I pay my fare.

This road, while busy, is much calmed than the roads in or out of San Jose. Pass homes, condo complexes – everything with grated windows, and complexes with guard stations on private drives, but pass trees too. The road twists, a few walk along. If i had actually come this way, how different the experience in Heredia might have been. I would have seen it through different eyes. Someone once told me when i could not decide which path to take that it really didn´t matter for all lead to the same place. I now question that wisdom, for the path and the journey cannot be separated from the destination. You might arrive, but you will be changed along the way.

We came into Alajeula along a different route from the airport that the night before, i saw church tops and wonder if it will bypass the stop. As we get closer all looks familiar and i smile. I get off before the station in a corner that i know. I look at the bus and the sign still says Heredia. I have come back and now appreciate the tranquility of this town, and head off to a place i know for coffee, and over to the central square.

addendum 0 I edit this a day after it has been posted. I have been back to bus central, on a successful bus trip. As i waited for the bus to Volcan Poas this morning, i saw where i had made my mistake – across the street where i had been yesterday there was an old sign indicating Heredia, the big one up above was next to  where i now stood. And above the bus where i got on yesterday, was another big red¨”pista” sign. Maybe i was meant to take that journey.

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Alajuela not Alleluia

alajuela market area1
The town has opened up and i want to leave. It is not only that i am grimy and itchy eaten over the night, but i ask myself why am i here. It is an ordinary town.  Yes it is the closest town to the airport and the cheapest cab ride away when arriving fairly late at night. It is not terribly old or historic, it is a Central American small city where people live, carry out their daily lives. The few tourists who pass through are, like myself, either arriving or departing the country – the first or last nights spent here. It seem not like a place to linger for long – to live perhaps, if you were Costa Rican, but not to visit. The name Alajuela looks a lot like, and to me with my hopeless pronunciation, sounds a lot like, alleluia – so somehow i was expecting something grand here – despite what the guidebooks said. But it is in fact ordinary – no, not like the US, but a different type of ordinary.

 

And i said to myself, before i left, that i wanted to see some of the “real” Costa Rica, this valley where most people live in and around San Jose. But do I? Did I? Or was it just something i told myself i should – the sociologist, or anthropologist in me – to explore a terrain on its own merits. If i do not explore this way do i feel bad? Should i? That somehow i am not being a proper traveller, a real explorer of the world, but rather a tourist if i do not. But then, i think no, in the US and Canada, my native lands, i do not generally seek out the ordinary when i travel, the sprawling suburbs, the unknown small cities and large towns, the forgotten back roads that are not enclosed in spectacular scenery – i do sometimes end up there but it is generally not where i go. So why should it be any different here? But here’s ordinary is different from our own – a different flavour and pace to life, different sites, smells and sounds, so in that sense it is special. But will i go out spend more of my time in the tourist places, to see what is natural and wonderful, the places Ticas put on show and display to the world in promotional brochures, not merely the places they work and live.

Yes, maybe it was the grating over windows and doors, the metal blinds securing the store fronts, fences and at times razor wire when i came into town last night, a cab ride through empty shut up streets. But now the town is coming to life, stores are opening, people about, cars and busses stream through town.

A dance on the narrow sidewalks of down, though it is different from that of New York. Here the sidewalks  are narrow and crumbling like the streets with a drainage gullies or trenches between them and the streets, deepest at the corners, to flow away the rains that fall during the green season. You wonder how the women stroll along in their little hi-heeled shoes – or some of them at least. And the crossings are chaos – a few with a light, the rest with nothing – the few stop signs seem optional, as i follow others in order to determine when it is safe to cross. I am hesitant and unsure not knowing this dance – thankfully most of the streets are one way. How far do you step out in front of a parked or sitting car or truck in order to venture forward, and are there any unwritten rules to stopping – it is organized chaos that seems to flow.

Like the bus “stations” or more aptly called staging areas where i ventured too – several in the city, different companies with buses going in different directions can you find the sign where you want to go? The station? A bus? and i don’t think there is such a thing as a schedule or an office – but that is for me to figure out tomorrow. And the busses zoom down and pass constantly.

Homes, stores, restos – all is built directly on the sidewalk with no set back. The covers are up, through grates decorate all windows and cover the few vestibules there are. No trees on the streets though the central square is filled with palms and other trees. The park is a respite from it all – especially the market area which sits a few blocks away and blends into bus zone. Stalls outside and in selling fruits and veggies – potatoes and carrots are plentiful and cheap, green oranges, papayas, small bananas, and more, and in the market, with its narrow corridors and dim lights – many stalls stand empty – but there are those, and shoes and leather, and meats and fish and soft cheese and in the corners – the sodas – the cheap food stands where i should have but did not eat. The market seems older, ad gathers the smells of all that is for sale. Outside more sales, fruits and veggies, dollar store ware, men with lotto tickets and a few selling bootleg copies of the 2012 DVD. and of course the shoes, the shoes and cheap clothes, electronics and more – it all looks the same – the single (or is it 2 stories buildings) flat on the sidewalk, concrete painting in white or fading yellows or something, some signs that poke out over the sidewalk but it all blurs together and realize you have entered the same store three times.

I go back to the central square where the cathedral is locked up and closed. People sit on benches taking it easy beneath the trees, It was the centre when the town was built. I pause, no cafes on the square, a McDonalds across the way but i go out to find the English bookstore that promises espresso and more. It is wonderful, but i stocked up on books before i arrived and cannot carry another. I stop and write what i now type. And itch, and itch, i wonder what to do – i want a day to let the vibe sink into me, but i do not want to go back to where i stayed. He tells me of another hostel which i cannot find.

Though the city centre is on a grid, street signs and addresses do not exist except on paper – if that. You describe a place in relation to something else, a landmark, a statue, a square, a school or hospital and give directions from there. I check out the place that appealed to me beside the hostel where i stayed last night with its depressing vibe. I ring the door and look inside and smile. On line it had not been clear if they had dorms but they do, i take a look, a brighter room with yellow walls, real walls not 3/4 walls where i was, walls that let the hall light shine on my face in the upper bunk all night. This place seems more joyful, the back patio yard is real with a covered kitchen and tables, books abound, and art and wood and i decide to take a loss and move over to Hotel Cortez Azul – the dorm is $1 cheaper than next door through i must double pay for the  night. I go out back, read a guidebook, set up my bed and smile. and begin to feel much better. The place you stay and first impressions can mark your stay in the larger place that surrounds.

I walk back out after a chat with someone, to the bank to get some local currency as they had been almost out at the airport in New York before i left. I cut through the square, lunch time is approaching, more people gather, reading, sitting, eating icecream and indigenous many plays the flute, a few street dogs also lay and listen. I go back to the market, and in one of the many stores find flip flops that fit so i can dare to take a shower – i buy some veggies and some fruit. But it is busy so i do not eat there. Go to a nicer resto – and was happy that my meal was $1 less than i expected and now i sit and type. Overwhelmed a bit by the zaniness outside, yesterday seems like years ago and Buffalo seems as far away as it is. Tonight the town will shut back down tight, and i will sleep – if not before then.

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I have left the city behind and now i sit at airport waiting to leave, smoking a last cigarette watching cabs drive by. I came too early of course, afraid that i would miss out, and now i sit biding time. In the city all was alive – more alive than anywhere i had been, did i crave the familiar, the institutional zone, full of people, but just people passing through, on their way to somewhere else – after all that is what an airport is for.

The city brimmed with life and now i sit alone unable to remember what was just a short train ride away – that island across the river that pulses and teems with life, a heartbeat of its own, amplifying the beats within each of us.

And what life and diversity there is, a motion in place and an energy you cannot compare – all beats louder and quicker, neurons fire and bounce off one another in rapid succession.

The Upper West Wide, a calmer place but populated with people living daily lives, trees, dogs on leashes, children in strollers and in hand, two matrons great each other and a group of worn down women gather by liquor store. An interplay where pedestrians and cars are on equal ground, walk, dont walk, look to see – on a busy corner a crossing guard directs it all – smiles and says hello.

I go to Midtown where the train will leave and where tourists and others passing through gather – Penn Station, The bus terminal, the Empire State Building nearby, hucksters sell tickets, tours and stuff – a t-shirt for $1.99, 18 postcards for $1 at a nearby shop, a temporary feeling to this area dominated by hotels, shops, and building of business. I walk around, feeling a different rush one i do not like as well. But find my way to my oasis of Bryant Square where life pauses for a while in relaxed mode, beneath the trees, with tables and chairs set out to lounge, the pond to skate, and a variety of people pausing to enjoy the moment. A camera flashes, an old man reads a paper, a younger one on a laptop, down and out chat and female suit strolls through sipping coffee. The diversity of Manhattans architecture on the perimeters and the diversity of its people within.

The inside teems with life, a gathering of nations, a dance on the sidewalks, people pulling bags behind, workers the dollys of drinks and chips to be stocked in a nearby store, a multitude of nations and languages,. the yellow cabs, trucks turn corners, people stroll through the chaos and it works. Aware alert but calm. A zillion stores in which to buy, grab a coffee or a bite, a bench to gather, it has all.

Manhattan is alive, a crossroads of the world with so many who live their lives in so many ways. People ignore and they greet – a gaze, eye contact avoided or met, a smile. People in bubbles walk around but the are linked, linked in this dance – or the multitude of dances – ballet, hiphop and waltzing all upon the stage. There is an energy you take with you for a while, the pulse inside, the beat – ba bom. ba bon- faster until you crash or join in the dance. .The streets are a stage and the life is the music, confusing and loud, but lively.

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