May 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
a woman closes down the bakery for the day.
a motorcycle roars down the street looking for attention.
saprissa desperately looks for the winning goal against cartagines.
a not-so-young man wishes fairwell to his second family.
work day and noise, football and tears. life goes on.
December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
from the December 2012 issue of La Cadena (coming soon)
“DON’T LET THEM PAY FOR ANYTHING.”
The thought flashes across my mind, just for a moment, before I discard it as a bad idea. For starters, monthly expenses are high, having transformed me into an artist of the fortuitous drop-in.
“Hello how are you doing! Oh I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt your [insert meal of the day]. I’ll come back later. What? Would I like to eat with you? Well, if you must insist….”
For starters, I’m on a tight budget, (can I get an Amen?) and working for La Cadena isn’t exactly a money-making scheme. But I’m nervous about the upcoming interview with San José-based Passiflora. I’ve never interviewed a musical group before, let alone anyone outside of my familyor my community of Cerbatana. I’m nervous, like a kid who’s about to have his first kiss but doesn’t know where to put his hands or a kid on his first date, wondering if I pay for dinner and the movie or…I just don’t want to screw up.
Fearing complete and utter failure, the likes of which will surely be passed on by oral tradition and remembered within the world of music journalism forever, I desperately consult my bible of sure-fire journalisticpractices, the Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous, for other advice.
1. I am The Enemy.
2.I will not befriend them, but if I do, I will be brutally honest and ruthless.
In fact, I shall complement their folk-rock musical styling as ‘incendiary.’
Yes, yes this’ll go swimmingly…
I meet Mariana Echeverria and Martha Palacio at Restaurante Jardindel Parque, where we are briefly joined by Mariana’s adorable infant son. Between the familial presence and Mariana and Marta’s charming and quirky dispositions, my novice apprehensions and journalistic pretensions quickly disappear. After introductions are exchanged and a brief reference to their performance at the All-Volunteer Conference in 2011, we settle in. For two hours, we converse about the beginnings and evolution of Passiflora, musical influences and the creative process, balancing local and global sensibilities, the emergence of Costa Rican identity and the burgeoning art and music scene in Costa Rica.
LC: So, Passiflora. How did it all start? How did you come up with the band name?
ME: I had been in a band before Passiflora, me and two other women. We would all write our songs then perform together, but it wasn’t really like a collaboration. We went our own ways, though we’re all still good friends. I continued writing songs and I started playing with my friends. At the beginning, it was Christine [Raine], Tanya [Raine], Ana [Gaspar] and me. Martha, my brother [Alejandro Echeverria], [Manuel Mora and Hector Morales] came later…We’re all family really.
MP: I wasn’t there at the beginning. I’m a friend of Christine’s and I was helping to take care of Mariana’s son during a practice, and I said whoa, I want to be a part of that! How do I sign up? For me, the lyrics are what got me involved in the project, because, in Costa Rica, I hadn’t heard a group with lyrics that were so deep with harmonies, it was so original and different. I had never sang before Passiflora, most of us haven’t studied music before, and what’s great about [Passiflora] is showing people if you want to do it, to sing and create, just do it.
ME: With the band name, I was talking to Ana, and she was like, you know you should name it after a flower. That would be perfect because it’s very feminine. And I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ and this other day, this guy was talking about the passiflora, how it was a beautiful flower, and [Ana] goes, that’s it! Let’s call it Passiflora. And I’m like, OK Ana, whatever you say [laughs].
LC: So it really sounds like Passiflora is a family project. Does that influence how you record?
ME: Well, Noches en Vela was recorded at home. That was the first time we recorded anything. I did the editing because my friend, he gave me this program, and I was pregnant at the time so I had a lot of time for myself, so he taught me how to use it. He actually mixed it, did the equalization and mastering and all that…So people would come over and we’d record, which meant someone would have to watch over my son…..actually, everybody has to pitch in a lot.
MP: Yeah, we’d relisten to the recording and you can hear Diego [saying], “Mommy mommy!” and we’d go Shhh! But it’s all home made. When we heard the last version of the song, we were like, [gasp]. We couldn’t believe it! That sounds good…oh god, I don’t know if I’ll ever have that feeling again.
LC: Do you prefer recording music or performing?
MP: Well, I would say it’s a lot harder to record, because when you’re recording, you try to do it the best possible. And it’s not that you don’t do that on stage, but on stage, there’s adrenaline and the crowd and you just give 100% one time, not again and again and again.
ME: Yeah, with recording, you’re more perfectionist; while live, it’s more about the feeling. Recording should be about the feeling too and you can hear that, but you do it many times, there’s usually just one guy listening over and over, rather than someone sharing the music.
MP: Also, we record one by one and it’s not like we’re all together on stage and we can see each other…
LC: …and you can feed off each other’s energy.
MP: Yeah that’s the difference. But at least with recording, you get a lot of feedback, like you can hear your voice and find out what you’re doing well, or not so good…
ME: I think we were all musicians who didn’t study music so any chance we have to learn more…we appreciate it so much. And we all work, we all have jobs, and I have 2 kids…I haven’t formally worked for a year…it’s something we do very passionately, because it’s you know, there’s nobody supporting us or anything. We do it, how do you say? con las uñas, with our nails, and I think it’s really authentic.
LC: So Passiflora is as much an exploration of personal creativity as it is an exploration of self.
MP: Yeah, totally. You know, we often joke that Mariana just randomly picked people off the street, like, “You! You can sing!” to be a part of Passiflora. But it’s something that’s great about the group, that we can inspire people to let go if you want to dance, dance; if you want to sing, then sing.
ME: Well, I really feel like I just got lucky, I really do, that I had friends who were also musicians.
LC: In Noches En Vela, you sing in three different languages, English, French and Spanish. Do you feel more comfortable singing in any one of the languages?
ME: Well, English is the easiest for me, for writing, because I have so much influence of music in English. In English it just happens. But I want to write in Spanish much more, because I want for the locals to understand me, because I feel like it’s a small group [right now], really, that can understand me. I will continue to write in English because it’s what comes most easily, but this [Costa Rica] is where I live, this is where I have to…make my name.
MP: Yeah the goal right now is to transmit in Spanish what we have in English. We had this concert where my whole family came, and it was great, they were the loudest and we were so happy to have them there but at the end my mom says, ‘really loved it but, what were you saying?’ She doesn’t speak any English. So we started thinking that we should really [write] more songs in Spanish.
LC: Why does English come so easilyfor you? Did you grow up learning English?
ME: Well, my mother raised me in English and my father is from here; I was born here. I wrote a lot of poetry in Spanish but the music I heard was mostly in English. My mother was transmitting most of the music because she was around more. I’m sure if I had two Latin American parents, I would have grown up listening to Spanish music.
MP: I grew up listening to more Spanish music because my parents are Colombian.
ME: I just feel it’s so important to be local. I was raised very cosmopolitan because my mom is half Costa Rican but her mother is French and my father has a background from all over the place…and so I felt kind of like a citizen of the world. I’m not a nationalist and I don’t identify to a language so much, so why should I sing in Spanish if it’s easier for me in English? But now I feel that if you live in a community, and you don’t have much of an opportunity to travel, and I don’t…I should be really local about this, like our food and our clothes should be more local, and we should buy from our neighbor and we should listen to the music our neighbor makes because that creates union.
MP: It’s really beautiful to communicate in different languages so you can communicate with more people. And you know, we think of ourselves as a marimba, it has all these different sounds, like our voices are these different sounds, but we don’t know how to play it, and we’re just discovering how to put it together.
LC: Who are your musical influences?
ME: From childhood, Paul Simon and for harmonies, Peter Paul & Mary. Bjork is like my goddess.
MP: Yeah Bjork is …beyond.
ME: More underground influences…Coco Rosie and The Knife.
MP: I grew up listening to Latin music, like Souza, who sings about the people and has lots of drum.
LC: Is there a strong music community in Costa Rica?
ME: It’s been slowly moving, but for whatever reason, it has really exploded the last three years. I don’t know why but it’s been very exciting to be a part of it. You know, before, I think [Ticos] were more insecure. We’re thought of as the happiest people in the world, but it wasn’t like that. We didn’t really have a strong identity. But lately, there has been more support for Costa Rican groups. Music has always been around [in Costa Rica], but not the support.
LC: Do you have any upcoming performances planned?
MP: We’re trying to get into Festival Internacional de las Artes for next year and TransitArte again, which is here in Parque Morazán where we can play for whoever comes through the park.
ME: We’ve been working so hard lately that, with the time left in this year, I don’t think we’ll do any concerts. We’ve had so many musicians come in and out of the band, and we’ve just figured out who we want, so now we’ve focused on practicing together, you know, trying to build….cohesion. Also Manuel is mixing some live footage, which has old and new songs, so it’ll be an LP.
LC: Are you working on any new songs? Is there a deadline for when they’ll be ready?
ME: Well now that you mention it, we should have a deadline…but I have about 8 songs that I’m working on, and Ana has a song that we need to get up and running
MP: I think were concentrating on recording [older] songs and were practicing a lot.
ME: And when they’re ready, they’ll be available on our website, passiflora.bandcamp.com.
October 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
I want to tell you about these signs. I want to tell you about where they came from and how they came to be. They look simple, yes? Bright and hopeful. Promises in the process of being fulfilled. We tied two to the fence that guards the school and hung the other in front of the bakery, right around the trunk of the tree. Johan and Enrique and Christopher were each actor and witness to a sign’s installation, brief roles made possible with permission from Don Manuel, the school director, or Panaderia Barrantes; whose respective consent would be useless still if the signs weren’t made ready by Don Alvaro who bore the holes with a wireless drill, a virbiqi, and who donated the wire and chain and the black paint that lays across the back surface of each rotulo; and though vital, his labors would still have been needless if those students from school, Teto and Elizabeth, Daniel and Brandon, Hilary and Alison, Valeria and Felipe, hadn’t painted the landscapes and the messages:
Cuidemos La Naturaleza!
Protejamos El Ambiente!
Reciclemos Por El Ambiente!
And if I hadn’t invited the kids, and if Johan hadn’t helped paint and Nacho hadn’t brought the wood from his father’s farm in Lanas, well perhaps there wouldn’t have been a story at all.
Asi es una comunidad.
October 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
caffeine, that creative agitator that great enhancer of feeling of moment of focus resolute, that glorious stuff is coursing through my veins at a hundred and twenty miles per second right now. in these moments, i need a book to devour, a guitar to play or a photographic puzzle to solve. i need, i need, i need anything right now that will whisk me away from the incredulity of the scene taking place before my eyes. and it’s a sight. it’s all my mind is really focusing on right now, too resolutely, focusing right on that diaper. my god, that is one fucking huge diaper.
i’m cupping my empty coffee mug, sitting in the living room of my neighbors, the Hidalgos, the original family of Cerbatana, the first family of Costa Rica, post-colonization, if you asked me. probably not true but i’m digressing. it’s the home of the patriarch and matriarch of the whole gang, affectionately called papa change (pronounced chan-ge, a wonderful union of “jose angel” which makes perfect sense because of course we all know that “chepe” is commonplace for “jose” and can you tell i’m on my second cup of coffee right now, dammit i’m tangentializing again, i made that up, oh and yes!) and mama lila. the latter is a sweet heart hard at hearing who has come to worry and wonder about me. the former, the illustrious change, the progenitor of this story, and between himself and mama lila, of 14 fully grown sons and daughters with kids of their own who, tambien, have kids of their own. and, and, yes the diaper!
i’m sitting in their living room for cafecito (thus the empty coffee mug in my hand, unsweetened, thank you) and papa change is sitting on his wheelchair. yes, he’s old, 88 this year, and he’s sick, has been for sometime now. whether it is a result of that sickness or his age or his inability to get to the toilet, which i suppose really is a collusion of it all, he simply can’t hold his….you know what i mean. hence the diapers. at present, his granddaughter, deceiving because, again, she’s a fully grown woman with a family of her own, is fanning papa change …..with one of his giant diapers.
a number of thoughts suddenly populate my mind, like lantern bugs lighting up in the night. should i be here right now? should i be laughing or should i be horrified? is magally being insensitive, barbara, as they’d say (of course not, she is magally, jaja)? most likely, she is, but some quick words about magally. she’s a fast talker of the renowned street style, comical witty mischievous and irreverent in the same breath, all the time, every time. and she’s helped care for papa change and mama lila with what appears to be an unwavering devotion and love. so, perhaps insensitive, but completely magally, completely devotion and love. and really completely humane, i decide. if she’d behaved any other way…well, it wouldn’t be the same.
anyway, magally’s flapping away with the diaper, then sets it down on papa change’s lap while she leaves the room to get something. and change, animated in spurts due to sickness and perhaps an ever-present pain, comes to life again, grabbing the diaper and defiantly throwing it to the ground. now, we could interpret this in any number of ways, but all the combinations seem rather meaningless. it becomes crystal and overbearingly clear that papa change is going to die. sure we all will, but in the context of the reason i’m even here at all, if i may continue this solipsistic inquiry, to continue the struggle and thus progress of life, another’s struggle is coming to a close. i didn’t imagine seeing this part of life during volunteer service. it’s touching and sad and magical all at the same time. i’ve heard volunteers speak of their own “only in Costa Rica” moments, things that have happened with members of their community, leaving one amazed and flabbergasted. I can’t help but reject this feeling, that these are unique moments to Costa Rica, less so than they are moments of life in general, with us as privileged members watching life unfold in otherwise foreign settings, touched that the hidalgos, your host family, your community member, would let you into that private moment at all.
some months have passed since, let’s call it, the diaper incident. another anciano, don manuel, father of well-regarded ephraim, also my neighbor, passed away. his was a long, aching deterioration, whose end was marked by a reunion of his enormous family, and of all things a party-like atmosphere. papa change lingers on, clinging to life with the aid of a respiration machine, looking at times grim, then rallying once more. morbidly, one can’t help but imagine what the end will be like, how you’ll react, how you’ll feel, will their be a big party, especially being witness to the build-up. i can’t help but wonder what happens to mama lila, when she’s gone, what happens to the family. i wonder about other costa rican families, much smaller now like most families of the world, the hidalgos a remnant of another time, an older costa rica that is almost extinct. i wonder about my father and his parents who i knew so briefly, about my mother and her parents i’ve only known in stories, and about my own enormous family equal to the hidalgos in number.
i’m scratching at something, no, not physically, but something nonetheless, and i can’t reach it, grasp it, can’t quite fathom plato’s chair. the world is changing just as i assumed i’d come to understand it, that even as seemingly concentrated i am on a single point who’s center is infinitely smaller and smaller to the point it’s not there, yet everywhere, that as i think these thoughts and type this very sentence that it’s already past, swept along time immemorial. that there, right there, there was coffee and community, community in family, community in everything, everything, everything all the time.
July 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
desde muy lejos me vine pasando rios y puentes solo para venir a ver tu colochito en la frente uy uy uy mamita.
del cielo cayo un panuelo pintado de mil colores y de una esquina decia guanacaste de mas amores.
bomba! ey ey ey! ayer pase por tu casa, mi tiraste un limon, el limon cayo en suelo y el sumo en el corazon.
June 4, 2012 § 7 Comments
i have longish hair now. it constantly falls across my eyes, obscuring my vision and instilling new hand gestures into my corporal lexicon, you know, the type usually reserved for those most follicle-ly talented of individuals. for whatever reason, sasha vujacic, katie holmes and jay chou come to mind.
que pelo mas largo!
que pelo mas negro! parece casi azul!
the people say.
six months have passed since my last ill-advised self-mutilation of a haircut, a benchmark only slightly eclipsed by another anniversary, that of one year as a volunteer. how it’s crept up on me, like the hair now grazing the back of my neck. if i’m not wary, it’ll drown me yet.
there’s a line in The Odyssey when Odysseus, battered but unbroken by the trials of his journey, reaches the shores of his homeland. his unkempt sea-conditioned hair hangs before his eyes twenty years removed from its last encounter with a razor. my luscious locks (yeah i just wrote that) are a point of pride because i’ve tried on numerous occasions to grow out my hair, failing miserably each time. but more so, it’s one of only a handful of physical indications (the others being my disappearing waste line and my eviscerated not so optical-white chuck taylors) that i’ve undergone any sort of changes during this peace corps odyssey. i’ve had my share of encounters with the proverbial siren and cyclop, caught between that rock and hard place. truly, deep reverberations of self-discovery are not of the physical realm.
i thought a long time about what i would write for this particular post. i listed a number of topics i wanted to cover, ranging from Costa Rica’s international relations with China and Taiwan, the capitalist/socialist character of the government and society, the huge cultural gap between this generation of youth and their predecessors, etc,….in a few words, there are more than a few great similarities to the US. anyway, i couldn’t write it. i also wanted to talk about some of the work i have been doing. i could’t write that either. it’s now clear that i’m far too entrenched in this experience to properly render a well developed thought or opinion. i find myself in the throes of great introspection. though a struggle, it’s been enriching, as has been the relationships i’ve been fortunate to have visited upon me. another year remains, and i wonder how i’ll feel at the end of it. there are points of encouragement in my personal and professional worlds, which i sometimes wish didn’t bleed into each other so. but i am happy.
i’ve learned that a peace corps volunteer is a displaced individual, stranded in the sea, forced to confront moments of great humility. it’s life experienced at your most desperate, at your most earnest. but the trajectory from the point at which i began to where i find myself now suggests to me that though displaced, the peace corps volunter (eventually) emerges the individual discovered.
here’s to another year.