Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A change in temperature

Yesterday was hot!! But thankfully Tico's love their ice cream so finding a cone of your favorite flavor is never a challenge. San Jose has been an average of 75 degrees each day, peaking midday when everyone's out for lunch. 12:30/1 usually lands me right in the heart of the city to switch busses and seeing 60% of population holding ice creams cones is a beautiful site, in an alternate universe type of way.

I've only really felt the heat on the weekends when visiting the coasts. My first weekend a group of us visited Puerto Viejo, a small Rasta town on the south east coast. Best time I've had in a long time. After riding the bus for 5 hours we walked a dirt road for 20 minutes along the beach to our hostel. Rocking J's: pot-smoking, hammock-sleeping hostel and 5-Star resort for hippies worldwide. Mosaics on the ground, walls and pillars, paintings covering the tin bathrooms, and lost&found belongings of travelers past glued into the tables: photos, lighters, necklaces, ID's...I shared a spacious 3-person tent with my friends Kayla, and Lindsay. The sand was black and the water was salty, the people a blend from the Caribbean, North and South American areas. Saw some great live music both nights and relaxed near the water in the sweltering sun during the day. Saturday we hiked Cahuita National park and I found a great piece of Bamboo I can only hope makes it through customs. The animal sightings were a tad sparse compared to what we'd been told to expect but, at one point, when I noticed tiny monkey less than a foot away from me I was satisfied.

Saturday night we found ourselves at Johnnie's Place, a club on the beach with indoor dancing, outdoor tables and street food vendors everywhere. I bought a meatstick and some pot from an old skinny Rasta who kissed Lindsay and I goodbye after making our purchase. Even though she bartered with him we probably could have gotten it for cheaper but enjoying it on the shoreline with water at my feet after a few beers was more than good enough. We shared it with two guys from the band we saw earlier. An old Italian keyboardist with amazing stories that made for an enlightening yet frustrating one-way conversation. And a guest vocalist originally from New York who's been living in CR for 8 years. I found myself on the beach with him late that night and he told about the 3 acres of land he owned which he was currently building his house on. A tree fell on the first one because even though all his friends told him to cut them down to begin with he "didn't move here to cut down trees". He also described the garden on this land where he's planted 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables...I strongly considered staying at the end of the weekend.

Sunday afternoon I bought ice cream, cookies, an apple, and some bread and boarded our bus with my new walking stick. I slept like a baby although my body was aching. I should have packed thinner socks, and applied more sunscreen but I really can't complain. When your first meal at a new place is a giant basket lined with cheesey french fries, topped with a fried egg, avocado slices, thick bacon, and fried plantains with a side of fresh squeezed Mango juice for 3 bucks you know you've arrived.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Senorita Escarlata en la Cocina con la Ropa

One of my biggest concerns before arriving in country was my host family. Knowing that they would be providing food and shelter for me and not knowing a damn thing about them, I was hestitant. Am I physically able to consume rice and beans three times a day? Will the language barrior land me in some sitcom-esque sitatuation ending in humiliation and failure beyond rapair? Who's washing my underwear?

My luck in this situation is beyond words. My familia Tica is large, welcoming and up for a good time. The youngest son taught me a phrase that sums them up perfectly: "Tuanis", which is actually Spanglish stemming from "Too Nice" and is used in slang to indicate a general well being or coolness. The house my roommates and I stay belongs Anajance and Marco Rodriguez a newly married couple in their mid-late fifties. They also own a home in Guanacaste and a hostel in Playa de Hermosa where they spend most of their time, so they are only at the house once or twice a week. Anajance has three sons who are in and out of house on a day to day basis as they bounce from the various houses their mother, father and step-father own. Alejandro is 31 and lives in San Josa with us all the time. He prepares all our meals and acts as our older brother. His English level is just enough to communicate on a regular basis without too much confusion. He's straight forward, takes care of us well, and loves to joke. His eight year old son, Felipe, is at the house twice a week and is learning English in school. His birthday was earlier this month and they threw a party for him yesterday at the local Roller Rink! We were unable to go but enjoyed the leftover cake, which was decorated with a huge Autobots symbol! The other two brothers, Esteban, 25, and Sergio, 23, come and go as they please traveling from beach to city to surf, work or go to school. Good vibes all around.

Although Alejandro generally kept out of our ways the first week my roommate Lindsay (so amazing, 26, from Philly) and I broke through last week and had a great night out with him and Esteban. I picked up some Guaro, a popular Costa Rican liquor made from sugar cane, and shared a nice family toast with my "brothers" and "sister". From there we headed to a local bar and practiced our Spanish and English well into the night. Last night we (Lindsay, my other roommate Emily, Jersey, 24, and I) hung at home with Alejandro and Sergio playing cards and having beers. When we ran out of traditional card games Sergio broke out Clue and it was fantastic! They're so laid back, and willing to help us with our Spanish, I really couldn't have imaged a better host family.

So to answer my above questions, Yes I can eat rice and beans with every meal and actually find myself missing it when it's not included. The language barrior has been an interesting obstacle but everyone is so cool that their have been no real problems or embarassments. And Alejandro hires a cleaning lady to come and do our laundry (although we still have to gather our garments and undergarments from the clothes line in the yard afterward)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Counting Holes with Costa Rican Children

Each weekday after my Spanish class I eat a home-cooked and packed lunch (generally rice, beans, and ____) then travel on two busses for an hour to an hour and a half to my project. The location, a daycare called Rayito de Luz (Ray of Light) is nestled in Quebrada, a small mountain town. The children range from toddlers to 10 and 11 years old. They are amazing. Excitable and energetic as most kids are, they scream GRINGA every day as I walk up to the fence enclosing their building. (Although "Emeelee" is heard more often now that they remember my name).

I'm tempted to kidnap an adorable set of sisters whose inquisitiveness and attitude remind me of my childhood. Genesis is 6 and loves learing English and Emily is 4 with the personality of someone 5 times her age. Last week Emily and I counted the tiny ant holes in their yard all the way up to 38. Although she went over some more than once it was great exercise for us both in Spanish counting. Then yesterday I twisted her around and back on a swing for 20 minutes only hearing "Otro vez" and "por favor" between the giggles.

Not being able to have full conversations with them is great motivation for me to work on my Spanish but in the meantime I feel like we have a good understanding of each other: What qualifies as kind behavior & what's mean, which games to play inside & which outside, and the 2 letter difference in the word used to tell them "I'm tired" as opposed to "I'm married". There's no doubt I will miss them.

Mostly we play outside...swings, slides, y avionceta. Sometimes they need to be engaged a little more though. My second day I bought flowers and taught them to garden, having them repeat the colors of each in English as we went along. I ask them to repeat "green" several times as their "aweeeen" pronunciation is adorable. We also sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (in English), and play Pato, Pato, Gonso (Duck, duck goose!)

Today the women who run the center made me a bread and jelly sandwich with warm horchata to eat with the kids during snack time. It was pouring rain so we stayed inside, which was difficult to keep under control, but it still managed to be one of my favorite days so far. They don't have many toys since they're prone to bring them home or throw them over the fence but my improvisation skills rose to the challenge and reminded of what little is actually needed to have a simple, fun time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tune In and Unplug - My first accounts of Costa Rica

I've been in Costa Rica for 72 hours and could already fill 100 pages with observations. Any nerves I had prior to this trip evaporated with the ascendancy of my plane out of JFK airport. Aside from the excitement, and security I felt in the program I'm volunteering with I knew I had a number of comforts packed neatly in my suitcase and carry-on to help me stay positive if anything should go awry in transit and/or during my stay. Among them were carefully chosen artists and albums (most being fairly new to me) to lay foundation for the development of sensory memories specific to this experience:

Surfer Blood - Astrocoast
Ok Go - Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
Devendra Banhart - What Will We Be
Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

What I secretly hoped for, though, was that my fastidiousness would be blown to bits by the unplanned days ahead of me like an inadvertent chemical explosion. Days that would, instead, introduce me new sounds, smells, touches, tastes...

They have! I've learned Salsa y Merengue dancing (muy basico), am living in a beautiful home outside San Jose, working with preciosos chicita's in a rural mountain area, and taking Spanish lessons. I'm super busy but am able to take it all in. My bus ride to work is about an hour and a half so my musical selections have come in handy but I'm happy to say no cell phone, little computer, and little iPod are working wonders on spirit :)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Where Are They Now: Twin Peaks Giant Cast

Back in the early nineties David Lynch and Mark Frost assembled one of the largest and most dynamic ensemble casts on Twin Peaks. This collection of absurdly dark and comically naive characters bustled through their mountain town with the kind of magnetic energy that makes it impossible to pick just one favorite character. Pearing in on this sinister and mystical community 20 years later makes one wonder why in the hell we haven’t seen most of their faces since. Lynch is famous for casting actors without even doing so much as a read through- simply sitting down and having a conversation with an actor is all the explorative director needs- so there’s a chance that some of them were never standout performers to begin with. But sharing the journey of finding out who killed Laura Palmer is a bonding experience that begs the curiosity of where these actors have gone since the untimely ending of their landmark series.

As much as I’d like to share overdramatic stories of disappointment over the decisions our beloved Special Agent Dale Cooper has made in his career in recent years we all know what Kyle MacLachlan has to up so I will simply move on. Another actor you may or may not have semi-followed since is Lara Flynn Boyle whose hype has unfortunately followed her weight more than her acting career but nonetheless has made her a household name. The incredible talents of Grace Zabrinskie and Ray Wise have also continued working steadily since their equally zaney roles as the Palmer parents. Zabrinskie had roles in titles such as (Lynch’s) Inland Empire, License to Wed, and Big Love. And Wise held a laundry list of guest appearances on popular television shows before playing the Devil on the WB’s Reaper for two years. He currently has three films in post-production.

Now we can focus on those Twin Peaks cast members whose faces we haven’t seen in last two decades. Remember when Bobby Briggs turned Laura’s funeral “upside down”? Super-cute-bad-boy, Dana Ashbrook, was cast as Clyde Barrow in the 1992 TV movie Bonnie & Clyde: The True Story, then went on to play a short collection of small roles in series such as Dawson’s Creek and Charmed. This absence of work is disappointing considering Ashbrook’s impeccable comedic timing and inarguable good looks. But things are turning up for old Bobbo as he’s been cast in the regular occurring role of Jimmy in the Starz series “Crash”. Then there’s his sweetheart secret girlfriend and Double R Diner waitress Shelly Johnson. Madchen Amick has been one of the busier actors from Twin Peaks holding reoccurring roles in Gilmore Girls, ER, and Joey. Most recently she played Christian Slater’s wife in the short-lived My Own Worst Enemy and also appeared in Californication.

Amick’s relative success makes one wonder where Eric DaRe (Leo Johnson, her character’s abusive husband) could be. The answer is nowhere. Or nowhere locatable, I suppose. He’s credited as a casting assistant in Wild at Heart and a property buyer in Lost Highway, which really only further proves Lynch’s loyalty. As far as acting he was a medic in Starship Trooper’s, which totally counts, and coincidentally played two minor roles in films starring actors famous for other Lynch work (Thriller with Dennis Hopper, and Playing God with David Duchovny). But all in all Peak’s was his peak.

Most TP cast members have maintained minor acting careers through their connection to the show by occasionally being featured in B movies and popular TV series spanning the networks. Among them are Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran) who’s done voice acting for The Simpson’s and Pepper Ann, and James Marshall (James Hurley) who may be found in films ranging from Soccer Dog: The Movie to A Few Good Men. Piper Laurie (Catherine Martel) has also played a number of television roles over the years and will appear as an unnamed character in Hesher, a Joseph Gordon-Levitt-Natalie Portman-Rainn Wilson-set to premiere at Sundance 2010-feature.

One undeniable fact about David Lynch is that, while he’s able to find to the most uncomfortably eerie looking actors, he’s also able to find divinely beautiful women to fit his sirenous roles like a glove. Case-in-point: Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne). After solidifying her sex-symbol status by dancing mid-day in the Double R Diner like a doped up gogo dancer she went on to grace the covers of Playboy and Rolling Stone magazines. She also landed spots in a number of “Most Beautiful…”, and “Most Sexy…” lists in the early 90’s. Her acting career led her to a role in Gary Sinise’s Of Mice and Men, and to play Liz Taylor in their 1995 NBC miniseries about the actresses life. Her latest endeavor The Scenesters, a mockumentary about a serial killer taking town dipsters in LA, has her playing an A.D.A agent.

Now this could literally go on for 10 more pages considering the size of Twin Peaks cast, especially after the second season popularity drew in such names as Heather Graham, Billy Zane, and David Duchovny, so I’m going to have to stop eventually. But there are a few more major characters with minor careers worth mentioning. The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) is primarily a theatre actor and has been working with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for over ten years. The Giant (Carel Struychen) has played other giants in Men In Black, My Name is Earl, and three Adam’s Family films. The Man From Another Place most recently played carnival manager, Samson, in the HBO series Carnivale. Bob (Frank Silva) as many people know worked in the art department of Twin Peaks and other productions until he accidentally made his way into a shot inspiring Lynch to write a role for him. His production work was limited after Twin Peaks and in 1995 he died of AIDS. Sheriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean) has worked consistently in made-for-tv movies. Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) went on to do some sparse TV work before writing a semi-autobiographical book in 2007. And last, but certainly not least, the lovely Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer and Madeleine Ferguson) has been featured in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Desperate Housewives, and One Tree Hill.

If you remember correctly, the opening credits for Twin Peaks were about 2 minutes long so I’ll mention again that a ton of people have been left out. To find out about these unmentioned characters, and possibly meet them in person, check out Twin Peaks Fest 2010! Dates aren’t set yet but guest appearances are a guarantee along with the opportunity to relive the mystery with fellow die-hard fans.