Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nadine Pisani is Happier Than a Billionaire

A New Kind of Wealth in Costa Rica

     I have to admit it: before I began reading “Happier than a Billionaire (Quitting my Job, Moving to Costa Rica & Living the Zero Hour Work Week)”, I immediately lumped it into a catch-all category inhabited by dozens of other books I had seen with a similar premise. Boy, was I wrong. To begin with, I have since met the author, Nadine Hays Pisani and her husband Rob. They are definitely not a pie-eyed New Age couple, afloat in their own naïveté (not that there is anything wrong with that), nor are they a Bonnie & Clyde couple fleeing some lurid past. In fact, they are a level-headed professional couple who got fed up with the rat race and opted for a more rewarding lifestyle.
     In her book, Nadine presents the dilemmas and angst of taking the gamble, cutting the cord of a secure job (they were both chiropractors with a private business), and allowing yourself to freefall. I remember and it’s scary. But Nadine’s approach in her writing is unique because she uses humor to tell their story. She is able to laugh at herself and I admire that. She also does not candy-coat their experiences, presenting the beauty, the splendors and the reward of a more relaxed lifestyle alongside the frustrations, tiny remorses and fears that come with relocating to a new culture. Paradise has its nuances, after all. But it’s delivered with a quick East Coast wit where anyone and everything is fair game.
     Nadine also uses the book as a kind of memoir, often reflecting back to earlier experiences in her life, many times including her sister and her dad, who appear to be cornerstones in Nadine’s life. Her real anchor in this new environment is her husband Rob, a knight to her rescue in perilous times, the brunt of her venting episodes and generally an even-keeled genuinely nice guy. She is also able to include helpful facts about Costa Rica seamlessly into her story so they don’t feel like a history or geography lesson, not an easy feat.
     I particularly enjoyed Nadine’s depictions of the friendliness of people here throughout the course of everyday life, be it shopping for vegetables, walking your dog or chatting with friends and nearby customers in a restaurant, likening it to life in The States in the Fifties. “You may spend more time at the bank because the teller speaks to every person about their day,” she told me, “but then she gets to you and asks about your day…and it feels nice when she does”. One point Nadine learns from her experience is that we are all allowed to choose how we ingest what life deals us and I thank her for reminding me. And her humor! If she ever wants to look for a second occupation, she might want to consider “stand-up comic”. She told me she is actually already considering writing a second book about life here.
     Considering the fact that “Happier than a Billionaire” was featured on CNN, I think she is making a wise decision. Her book is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal. All comments on this article are gladly welcome.

Norm Shriever: Push-Ups in the Prayer Room

Norm’s Age of Discovery

     I’ve just finished reading an advanced copy of “Pushups in the Prayer Room”, Norm Shriever’s account of his year long global backpacking adventures and now I don’t know where to start this review. The book has a lot of interesting details and informative histories of the many places he visited, but it’s not that kind of travel book. I guess it is Norm’s delivery that really hooked me in. The book reads like he is speaking directly to the reader, something that is not as easy to do with the written word as it might seem. But when it is done correctly, is conveys a personal sense of familiarity and camaraderie and this book oozes a sense of kinship.
     In 1999, Norm and his buddy Shane literally dropped everything, bought open-ended airline tickets and took off with little or no agenda and only a little more clothing and money; they were in their late twenties and ready to drink, womanize and generally party globally. The airline tickets were good for a full year, so part of the goal was to see as many places as they could and put on as many miles as possible. In total, they logged more than seventy-thousand miles (the equivalent of nearly three times around the equator), visiting more than twenty countries in six of the seven continents, excluding only Antarctica, so they definitely got their money’s worth.
     The story Norm recounts gives the sense that he isn’t holding much back, that we are given privy to all the sordid details. Part of the success is Norm’s use of his own slang and colloquialisms and his own humor which I confess had me laughing out loud while I was reading it. I also like the fact that they used basketball as an ice-breaker. Being an old hoopster, I can relate to that. I also liked the fact that they continually trekked down the path less taken in an attempt to meet the real inhabitants of the countries they were visiting. Along the way, something happened: partying became far less important and absorbing the corresponding cultures took precedence. Another thing happened as they viewed abject poverty throughout the world: they came to recognize just how lucky they are, and this is another revelation I can identify with.
     Norm recounts his journey some eleven years after it took place; so obviously, it is being told by someone older than the twenty-something kid on a life-excursion. It is definitely touching, human and bust-a-gut funny at times. But the real story here is about that young travelling adult maturing and this makes the book special and well worth the read.
     It is also notable that the first country Shane and Norm visit is Costa Rica and that now, more than a decade later, the author has decided to call this country home and in fact, it is here that he wrote this account, after scouring the seventeen-plus notebooks he filled throughout his sojourn, now the testament to a young man becoming an adult. Check his website at: or email him at
     All comments regarding this article are gladly welcome. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Roxanne Oliva

Mama’s Got a Squeezebox

     Who is Roxanne Oliva and what is that style of music she plays? This is the question I ask myself as I listen over and again to her solo album “Box Candy”. The first song, “FiFi’s Closet” sounds Middle Eastern, while the second song, “Willow Slip” sounds Celtic, like an Irish jig. The third song has an ear-catching intro and what sounds like an Arabic and Medieval wedding, with a rock drummer for backbone. When I looked at the CD jacket, I discovered the song is titled “Playa Negra”, which really piqued my interest. I also noticed that the CD was recorded in Sonoma County in California, where I lived prior to moving to Costa Rica nine years ago. It truly is a small world.
     Contacting Roxanne to write the article, conduct an interview and compare our Guanacaste and Sonoma overlaps was a shear joy; she truly is a Renaissance woman, and yes, she plays that style of music as well, along with Cajun, polka and whatever else you can imagine. She also plays the harp, and percussion and wind instruments. Although she has a formal music degree, she told me that she generally plays by ear and/or by improvising. Unbelievably, she did not pick up an accordion until the age of twenty-six.
     But back to her instrumental CD of original compositions: “Blue Box Waltz” would fair well anywhere along the Danube. “Mr. Missing” is a rich harmonic tango, half steamy, half light-hearted, her “tribute to bipolar men”. Roxanne lives in the Playa Negra area for about two months each year, and it is her favorite place to practice and compose- she stores three of her twenty-one accordions and several wind instruments there. “The tropics are not gentle with musical instruments,” she recounted, “so I store them in layers of thick plastic. Once, after months of storage, I unwrapped an accordion, started playing, and a scorpion crawled out!” Inspiration, perhaps, for a forthcoming song.
Accordion-slingin'  Roxanne Oliva
     But back to her CD, which is peppered with guest fiddlers, guitarists, percussionists and several songs backed by KAZAMOZe, a band with whom she collaborates. One of their songs, “Pay My Way” is a collage of sound and utilizes the only vocals on the disc, as well as a barrage of stringed instruments. Roxanne also plays with the “post-eclectic” trio Youkali, and the all girl accordion band Sweet Penny Royals. She has appeared on more than thirty albums, including the soundtrack “Liberty Heights” which she recorded with Tom Waites, after he scoped her out incognito at one her live shows. And, I am not making this up: she was the cover girl for the Accordion Babes 2011 Pinup Calendar.
     But back to her CD: my favorite song, “Each Part Was Played” has an atonal backdrop and a sweet, sentimental accordion riff up front, sounding at times like an immense cathedral organ. And “Freedom’s Fanfare” is an up-tempo affair, a danceable song that sounds like it has gypsy and Eastern European influences.
     So who is Roxanne Oliva and why do I keep listening to her CD, “Box Candy”? One way to find out is to start a campaign to entice her to play live in Tamarindo the next time she is here. In the meantime, “Box Candy” is available at Jaime Peligro Book store, where they will sample the CD for their customers.
     All comments regarding this article are gladly welcome.Please check out our Facebook page at Tamarindo Jaime Peligro.

Alex Shelter

Gimme Shelter

     Alex Shelter is a traveling minstrel, and that’s a good thing, because it brings him to Tamarindo from time to time. Originally from Paris, Alex has been spending the past few years playing throughout California and Central America. On the way, he has collaborated with the likes of Camille, Beth Hirsch, Subsonic and Muzak, to name a few. The comfort and familiarity in the recording studio that he garnered with these musical encounters comes through on his new CD, “Free from the Past”, an eleven song introspective, biographical journey that definitely reflects the musical avenues that have influenced him as well. I am pretty sure that I can hear the influences of the music of both Neil Young as well as Fred Neil in Alex’ collection of songs. And he looks a little like a young Eric Clapton on the cover photo.
     The album itself was recorded at the New Old Sound Studio in Lyon, France and was produced by Chris Hierro, of Back to Mono Records fame. Alex sings and plays guitar, harmonica and piano on the album, backed by a five piece band comprised of violin, flute, bass, and two percussionists. Additionally, on three of the songs, a string section is used, arranged and conducted by Marie-Jeane Serero, who has also worked with Vangelis.
     The CD opens with “Bad Man”, a nice retrospective, confessional intro for the album. The title, “Free from the Past” (which is also a short song on the album) may be a message from Alex that by recording this album he has purged himself of his former life, but the depth of the songs seems to infer that his past will always touch him. “Remind Me to Forget You” is a touching song about a love lost, a parting of ways that also seems to indicate that the past is still very much alive in Shelter’s songs. “I Hate Getting Old” is a harmonic Neil Young inspired song where Alex laments about his memories fading, another reference to the past from which he has freed himself.
     One of the most moving songs is “I’ll See You in Heaven”, a tune about reconciliation between Sr. Shelter and his father. In fact, the entire album has a kind of cathartic feel to it, a way for Alex Shelter to confront major hurdles from his past, itemize and deal with them, and then move on with his life. Toward to end of the set, a corner appears to be turned, and songs like “It’s Worth a Try”, “Happiness” and the final “And I Hope” all reflecting a revitalized, optimistic nod to the future.
     When he is in town, Alex plays solo weekly at Voodoo Lounge and the Langosta Beach Club. He’s currently on another one of his gypsy tours of South America, Europe and California, but when he returns next month, he will be playing everywhere here again, as usual, probably with a few new songs to play for us. Until then, his CD is available at the Jaime Peligro book store in Tamarindo. 
     All comments regarding this article are gladly welcome.