Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Guanacaste Rutas de Viajes

New, Improved Guanacaste Travel Routes

     In 2008, Luciano Capelli and Yazmin Ross released their joint effort: “Guanacaste: Rutas de Viaje – Travel Routes”, a photographic and written journal of this unique Costa Rican province. It has been one of the most popular books in Costa Rica for the last five years. Have I really been admiring this book for half a decade? The original project took nearly three years to assemble. Luciano told me he had to decide which photos would appear in the book among the five thousand that he took. So it really is no surprise that he wanted to present a new version of the book. The 2013 edition contains one hundred thirty-five new photos. Beginning with the first two photographs in the book, the images are stunning. The patience needed for this kind of selection speaks for itself. It is not every day that a photographer can catch a school of manta rays leaping out of the water, as if on cue… He also confided that he used a very high-resolution printing process, along with augmenting his own photos with about fifty others by Pablo Cambornero and Simone Manzo in addition to the underwater photos of Diego Mejia. Luciano also employed Guido Scheidt and Frank Nierhoff of the Flying Crocodile, with their gyrocopters that we can see flying over our heads at times, in Tamarindo and Samara.
     Just as it was difficult to edit the photo selections down to the original version, it must have been equally hard to choose the new ones for this new edition. But when I opened the cover for the first time, I was amazed at the new shots. It is easy to see why Capelli wanted to put out this new version. I am sure these new photos have been “calling” to him for their deserved exposure for some time. Luciano also expanded the book to include the entire Nicoya Peninsula, including Montezuma and the beautiful beaches of Malpais, where the road ends and the legendary band got its name. 

     The entire book has been revised: some of the original photos have been moved on the page and sometimes even to other locations in the new book and Ms Ross’ printed words (in Spanish and English) have been reconfigured on the page. It is still a book of seven chapters: the introductory “Routes to Get Lost In”, followed by Marine, Volcano and Pre-Colombian Routes, then Routes of Tradition, and finally Ranch, Nature and Summertime Routes. There are new photos as the cover page for each section, kind of a new introduction to each chapter. Even the breath-taking cover photo of Witches Rock is new, a kind of variation of the original, with its panoramic, overhead view of the beach and island.
     Deciding which version I like better is like asking me to choosing between apples and oranges. And asking me which is my favorite new photo is like asking me which is my favorite day of the week; Monday: the rainbow road starting “Camino de Luz”; Tuesday: the bridge at Playa Conchal; Wednesday: the sunrise shot of an ash-spewing Volcan Arenal; Thursday: the jaguar at dusk; Friday: the hidden spot on the Tempisque; Saturday: the shadow-play in the Colorado lowlands; Sunday: the yellow full moon hanging over the Pacific Ocean at dawn. I do recognize that the new edition is a pristine version, one worth owning, but I also think the two editions would look nice side by side on any coffee table. The new “Guanacaste: Rutas de Viaje – Travel Routes” is available at the Jaime Peligro bookstores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal.

Pura Vida, Detroit Style

Pura Vida, Detroit Style

     Cops grow a tough shell. They have to, I am told, or they’ll never make it. The violence, injustice and dark underside of the human condition that they witness on a regular basis hardens them. Everyone is a suspect. They eat hoagie sandwiches while cracking jokes together at gruesome murder scenes. Take, for example, Detroit homicide detective Jacob Miller: he’s been on the job for thirteen years, seen it all, hell, even his dad was a cop, even if they aren’t speaking to each other any more.
     Jacob Miller is also the main character of “Pura Vida”, the first novel by Jim Utsler, who has been coming to the Tamarindo area for a dozen years, each year trying to stay a bit longer. But back to detective Miller who, along with Albert, his work partner of five years, decide finally that enough is enough in regard to a drug dealer by the name of Willy, who has taken “scumbag” to a new level with some of his unspeakable practices. So the two cops decide to teach him a little lesson and abscond with some of his money in the process. Their real problem starts when Albert shoots and kills Willy. They do a poor job of covering it up and eventually get thumbed. Miller decides to rat his partner out for in exchange for a short term at a minimum security federal pen. During his five year stint, he meets some higher-end crooks and finds a way to skim a fellow inmate who has illegally hidden a lot of money in off-shore accounts.
     When he is released, Miller knows he can’t stay anywhere near Detroit, so he grabs some of his money and makes his way to the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica, moving into a little town that looks a lot like Tamarindo and Langosta. Utsler’s portrayal of some of the atypical ex-pat characters here is a hoot, something, I believe, he enjoyed lampooning. But wait! One of the affluent gringas turns up dead, brutally murdered. And Miller cannot resist re-donning his detective’s cap and solving the crime. This actually lands him in a tureen of trouble as his good gesture receives international press coverage, and the guy he burned in The Pen hears about it.
     Utsler told me he wanted to write a novel about revenge and he certainly has accomplished that. I think he did a splendid job of portraying Miller’s detached character and I particularly liked the language used for the main character’s inner reflections at the beginning of some of the chapters. And there is also a bit of romance, which may be part of the subject matter for Utsler’s second novel, which he is currently writing. Jim assured me that it will be “driven by the same search for some sort of passive-aggressive salvation as in ‘Pura Vida’”. I will definitely read it.
     “Pura Vida” is available at Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo.

La Opera Andina

     Inspiration comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, in a plethora of locations, at any given time of the day; Jerry Garcia once said it happens “in the strangest of places, if you look at it right”. For Bolivian musician Cristobal Colon, it came as he gazed upon a waterfall deep in the Bolivian jungle. A longtime fan of Jimi Hendrix, he felt a vision, the apparition, the voice of Hendrix telling him that it was time to stop thinking and start creating the opera he had been mentally formulating for some time. In the liner notes, Colon also explains that the Andean Opera “was inspired by the beautiful nature in those too few areas that have not endured the ‘Progress’ of mankind”.
     The eight-part opera was composed by Colon and Miguel Angel Lima, who contributes percussion as well as the quema flute playing. Colon supplies vocals, guitar, charango, bass and percussion. The female vocals by Cristina Baden add a dimension that I think helps round out the entire sound. The music has an obvious influence from indigenous Andean music, but certainly a sound and flow all its own. And I know I heard a direct influence from the Jimi Hendrix song “Red House”.
     The opera opens, appropriately, with “El Naciamento” (Birth), a song about the unique physical and emotional connection between mother and child. The opus moves through the phases of “Growth”, based on the Bolivian rhythm called “tinku”, a song basically about youthful rebellion in the face of all he has learned and been born into. “Separation” is a passage devoted on the time in a man’s life when he considers himself completely independent. The music is a fusion of modern Andean Rock and Afro-Blues music, at a tempo that invites dancing. The fourth entry, “Loneliness”, also based in the Bolivian “tinku” rhythm, pulls away the analogy of child and mother to proclaim the opera one about mankind and his Mother Earth.  “Destruction” is a mix of spoken and sung lyrics that deal with the negative footprint humans have stamped into their home, their planet. Inspiration was the first entry written for this opera. Appropriately titled, it reflects a ray of hope on a new shining sun.  “Solution” offers a positive slant, reminding people not to play the “blame game” but to move together to find ways to repair our global home. Finally, “Animals”, which is based on the song of the “chulupia”, a bird native to Bolivia, perhaps a reminder of the joys that still exist on this planet.
     The music has wonderful rhythmic changes, recorded with pristine deftness by Yuval Zekharya in “Mezcal Ladyland Studios”, another obvious Hendrix reference. The entire CD spans seventy-seven minutes, including two bonus tracks and I found the booklet enclosed very helpful for me to follow the story wrapped inside the opera. I’m sure that somewhere, Jimi is smiling down at this accomplishment.  
      The entire project was financed and supported by Ginger’s Paradise, nestled in the jungle of Bolivia. They have a cool site at . The CD is available at the Jaime Peligro bookstores in Quepos and Playa Tamarindo, where they will gladly sample the music for their customers.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Nadine Pisani and her Happier Sequel

     The story of Nadine Pisani’s deserved success with her first book, “Happier Than a Billionaire” has been well chronicled. It is a humanistic look at the first year she and her husband Rob spent living in Costa Rica. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wrote a review saying so because I felt she had shown both sides of living here and she had done it with her adroit humor, not an easy task. At the time, I’d asked Nadine if she had any plans for a second book and she replied that she had already begun a follow-up.
     “Happier Than a Billionaire – The Sequel” has been recently released. After reading only the first few pages, I had the sensation of seeing an old friend again. The book revolves around the couple’s second year here, adjusting to their new environment in Guanacaste and building their dream home in Paradise. And here she is again, Nadine the storyteller, addressing her audience directly like she is chatting with each and every one of us individually. She was good at this in her first book and I couldn’t help noting as I read the Sequel that she has actually gotten better at her craft.
     Nadine and Rob are Mr. & Mrs. Yin and Yang: she likes to plan, is hesitant, cautious; Rob, on the other hand, likes to plunge into it, be persistent and approach the goal perceiving a positive result. It creates a nice balance, a symbiosis in this Dynamic Duo. Their likelihood of success would be a lot less if they were two gung-ho types or an overcautious couple tumbling together into Central America. But together, they are able to take on all comers: a seemingly senseless municipality, makeshift mechanics, killer bees and lurking crocodiles, lunatic fringe neighbors and even a month-long visit by Nadine’s parents and a visit from Rob’s mom. 

Nadine in front of my shop
     I appreciated Nadine’s explanation early on that this form of paradise is not necessarily for everyone, because that much is certainly true. Along the way, she discovers herself taking the time to appreciate the little things in life, to exert patience over panic, plus utilizing her unique humor as a form of catharsis.
     I particularly enjoyed reading her entries about trying to publish her first book – the one that subsequently took off like a house on fire. I like witnessing that, seeing her push to make that happen. Throughout both books, it is the authenticity of the writer’s “voice” that makes the book such a joy to read. Nadine told me that in part, one of her goals for writing a sequel was to prove to herself that she wasn’t just a “one trick pony”. I believe she has cleared that hurdle with sparkling colors. “Happier Than a Billionaire: The Sequel” is available at Jaime Peligro book store in Playa Tamarindo.
     So what’s next for the wonder girl? Nadine recently revealed to me that she is looking into starting her own production company and that her first project will be a cooking show. Mangia!