Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

I've now taken two trips into/around/through downtown San Jose, Costa Rica.

First we have one of the central plazas, near the National Theater, which is lovely, and a couple other buildings are like this - a courthouse, perhaps, and the national bank?


But the rest of it looks like this:

The peeling paint, covered windows - gates or bars or wood, lots of overhead wires... the best description depends on where you've been. It's not the best photograph... so instead, let's compare it... have you been to:

Hastings Street in Vancouver, BC?

NE 82nd and NE Sandy Blvd in Portland, OR?

Downtown LA, in an alley somewhere near the LA Times building?

After dark in Brooklyn, along Navy Street just north of Nassau?

20th arondissment in Paris, 10:30 PM, windy and desolate weeknight?

These are all places very reminiscent of downtown San Jose. Dirty, intimidating, alternately full of people (not necessarily kindred spirits) and creepily empty, swirling garbage, loud music, slamming doors, fireworks (I think) and a general sense of foreboding.

I know I should be used to it now, but the barred windows and buzzers to enter the simplest of businesses still catch my attention. The funniest part of downtown San Jose is that it has... sidewalks!! It's old enough to be the pedestrian part of the city, where I live in Escazu has intermittent sidewalks at best. I wonder, sometimes, if I overreact to the foreignness of the city, and then, in the car, on the way to dinner, Grace said, "Oop, there was the pedestrian street. Gotta drive fast across it so you don't get mugged!" She's full of mirth and confidence, but I asked about why she lives in a city so full of challenges and danger and bureaucratic nightmares (we talked driver's licenses and permanent residency)...

The answer turned out to be there in my question. It's about surviving. It's about thriving. About enjoying the mess, the madness and lawlessness of a foreign land. It's about being so strong in the face of something so unknown and dangerous, and feeling totally alive.

Tonight, I'm not so sure, personally. I'm feeling just plain tired. But isn't it a thrill - a spine-tingling, rah-rah-rah'ing, pure, perfect thrill - to know that there are people in the world committed not to a week's adventure, a month or season's adventure... but committed to embracing and living a messy and gritty and real adventure for a long period of years in their life? I'm glad to know about it, and I'm glad to have driven through downtown San Jose in order to find Cafe Mundo... seen below... where we had a delightful dinner and great conversation, a sultry, tropical night that became a surprisingly cool, windy evening.

(on the deck and the bar inside...)

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