Just a few delights from Costa Rica
We’ve been here for more than two weeks now, and I think we’ve found our rhythm. I’m now able to get to places without the aid of Google Maps, and grocery store runs are quicker because I know which aisles to go down. I’m remembering to put food away and wipe down the counter as soon as I’m done cooking, lest a long trail of ants marches in to claim all food as their own.
I do not like the bugs very much—including the massive ants that bite— but there are other things here I am appreciating:
We see butterflies everywhere. Everywhere! The other morning I sat in a coffeeshop, and there was a yellow butterfly inside with us, dancing around our heads. Every bush has butterflies fluttering nearby, including the bushes facing the patio of our house. I watch them as I work outside, sometimes two of them chasing each other, looking like they’re playing tag.
Smashing coconuts is a Beanie delight: she loves to smash fruit on the ground (at her previous school, her favorite day of the year may have been when she got to smash a mutantly enormous lemon behind the school building). Today during break at TIDE, she and her classmates discovered coconuts in the yard and also discovered it was very fun to throw them down and then eat from the shattered pieces.
“I’m telling everyone don’t bother getting knives for coconuts because it’s more fun to smash them.”—Beanie.
We see tiny baby geckos in the house every day, and outside our kitchen windows are the grown ones, moving up and down the glass after the sun goes down.
They remind me of when I was Beanie’s age and living in a house in Singapore, with geckos everywhere. I distinctly remember one falling from the ceiling into my mom’s teacup, which she was none too happy about. Here in Costa Rica, I always check my cup before I take a sip of drink, and I think about that ceiling gecko every time.
Beanie calls the skinny kitties lurking around open-air restaurants “skitties,” and they are a common sight, as are skinny doggies (skoggies?). Though skinny, most look fairly healthy and not starving. I think they regularly get table scraps from restaurant patrons. They’re also usually well-behaved, sitting under the table watchfully, just waiting for you to slip up and drop an errant piece of meat their way. Your loss is their gain.
This one “parking guard” from last Friday
Perhaps not so much a thing of delight as a not unpleasant surprise: In downtown Tamarindo, there are “parking guards” wearing reflective vests who will approach you after you park and demand money to watch your car. They don’t work for the city; they work for themselves. This past Friday, I didn’t see a guard near a space I spotted, so I parked. Beanie and I were walking away when we were stopped.
Guard: I watch your car.
Me: Oh, no, thank you.
Guard [pointing back-and-forth between himself and my car]: I watch your car.
Me [smiling and shaking my head]: No, but thank you.
Guard [shrugging]: Thank you, OK, thank you thank you.
Previous experience informs me some guards are not as easygoing, so I appreciate Mr. Parking Guard From Last Friday for not being too persistent and for not scratching my car while I was gone.
We still have several months to go, but Beanie has already collected two bagfuls of shells. At the end of our tenure, she will return them to their rightful homes on the beach. Beanie’s favorites are the long thin ones that she calls unicorn horns, and she plans to make shell art with some of those.
Dominic, our caretaker here, gifted Beanie with some beautiful shells he found on his beach walks. I’ve seen more pink clamshells here than I do in California, and I wondered why. Apparently, shell coloring results from pigments incorporated into the calcium carbonate shell or the organic protein layer covering the shell, called the periostracum. Tropical shells are more colorful than those found in cold water, possibly because they have more diverse food sources from which to incorporate pigments.
I was very much delighted to find some Asian ingredients at the supermarkets. My stomach might be the most Asian part of me, and I cannot go for two weeks without Asian food, or my stomach and I will both complain. In fact, one of my criteria for viable long-term places to live is accessibility of Asian food.
In my kitchen now are oyster and fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, and vermicelli. Most are from a brand called Roland, which looked vaguely familiar to me in the store. Roland imports foods of many cuisines, not just Asian, and they import into many countries; I believe I’ve seen their products somewhere else previously.
(I looked them up and Roland Foods has been around since 1934, founded by a man who fled Nazi Germany to France and later to the United States. After he arrived in the US, he started importing dried mushrooms from his supplier in France, and that’s how it all began. I poked around their website and had fun looking at old photos of their past products.)
I do wish the supermarkets here carried more Asian chili sauces though. I found sriracha, but I’m not a big sriracha eater. I want some Lao Gan Ma with my rice and vermicelli!
Addresses and the mail system
As an Amazon Prime dependent back home, used to almost instant online purchasing gratification, I suspect I’d find the mail situation challenging if I lived here permanently—but because I do not, it is charming. There is no standardized address system in Costa Rica: many houses don’t have numbers, many streets don’t have names.
If someone were to send you mail here, instead of a street number and name, they would write a distance in meters from a landmark, and perhaps the color of your house or other descriptor. Mail that goes through the post office can move languidly and unpredictably, especially if it’s sent from abroad and held up at customs. There are ways to receive packages more quickly, such as FedEx, but they are expensive.
It’s probably a positive thing to be giving my trigger-happy Amazon-ordering fingers a few months’ rest. Let’s just see if I miss the convenience terribly by the time we leave.
And lastly but not leastly, the delight of…
Sunset pizza with a view
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Pretty Good Things
The Address Book by Deirdre Mask
Hat tip to my friend Peggy, who recommended this book to me a few years ago. A fascinating, not dry, look at something most of us don’t give a thought to—our addresses. The full title of this book is “The Address Book: What street addresses reveal about identity, race, wealth and power.” Mask dives into the history of how streets got their names and numbers in different parts of the world at various periods, as well as what it means to not have an address, which millions around the world do not:
But the lack of addresses was depriving those living in the [Kolkata] slums a chance to get out of them. Without an address, it’s nearly impossible to get a bank account. And without a bank account, you can’t save money, borrow money, or receive a state pension.
Do you use what3words? I’m curious how many of you use it, or have even heard of it. It’s a system, available as an app and integrated into many GPS products, that divides the world into 3 meter squares and gives each square a unique three-word combination. The three words can be in any of more than 50 languages. The Eiffel Tower, for example, is prices.slippery.traps in English and goûtons.baisser.tapant in French.
An elegant way to convey precise location, especially in places with no addresses.
Taiwanese-American comedian Sheng Wang has a new Netflix special. He grew up in Houston, and delivers his stand-up with a laidback drawl and Mitch Hedberg-style. I like Mitch Hedberg, and I like this special.