Monday, June 10, 2013

Green Phoenix

The Noble Act of

     The province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica has the distinction of containing most of the remaining Tropical Dry Forest in all the Americas. Technically, a dry forest receives less rainfall than a wet forest, and typically has a dry season that spans about eight months, as anyone who lives here can attest. Although it is rich in biodiversity, it remained largely unnoticed as it shrank in size. Its use as pasture land expedited its decay and ironically, when the cattle were removed, the decay escalated as the jaragua grass that had been planted to feed the cattle overran local fauna and became fuel for dry season fires, which further diminished the forest. Enter Daniel Janzen, an American entomologist working in the area who realized the magnitude of rich life here and the futility of trying to discover and study it if it would become only a memory in a few short years. This is where the book “Green Phoenix” by William Allen begins. A team of Costa Rican and American scientists and volunteers soon ventured out of the classroom and into the political, ecological and social world arenas to not only preserve the quickly vanishing forest but to boldly propose to regrow the forest, to connect the tiny islands into a corridor resembling its original status. The notion was initially considered outlandish, but the determination and passion of those involved pressed the idea ahead, against seemingly insurmountable odds.
     Allen does a good job of portraying the main characters and their character flaws in this book, as well as how all the participants are able to put aside their egos for the cause. The project is a group effort but to succeed, they needed a spokesperson to pitch the cause. The result was that “The Janzen Story” (part Crocodile Dundee, Part “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, part “Nutty Professor”) started to overshadow the story of the project to everyone’s dismay, especially Janzen, who came to distrust most reporters.
      Allen also includes some incredible detail about the delicate and intricate balance between the entire eco-structure, how plants, trees, birds, mammals and insects are interdependent on one another. A breakthrough revelation was the discovery that this same interdependency occurs between the rain forest and the dry forest through migratory mammals, birds and even insects. He also does a wonderful story detailing the work of many others involved, including the huge help Arias provided almost immediately after becoming the president of Costa Rica.
     The project is a model success story, one that will finally succeed in reclaiming the forest to its pristine form, “in about one hundred to one thousand years,” in the words of Daniel Janzen. Throughout their endeavors, the team is confronted with hurdles, from poachers, gold miners, squatters and even hostile land owners near the park. But they persevered, and along the way they learned to be creative. The final result can be viewed in about three centuries, but until then, Costa Ricans can be very proud about what they have preserved and returned to Nature for future generations.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Radha Torches Tamarindo

Radha Torches Tamarindo

     Originally from Panama, Radha Kunja began her musical career at the age of twelve and has performed in Cuba, Nicaragua, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and The U.S. She has been singing in Tamarindo since last February, steadily building a following here. She has been wowing them at Le Beach Club with her “Retro Latin Cabaret music”, as she calls it. Radha confesses to having a nostalgic side, that she has visceral, spiritual experience while singing these songs; this is apparent to the astute observer. Radha embraces her role as diva and definitely lets her singing take her away. The audience is permitted to go along with her, if they allow themselves to. Her rendition of “Summertime”, for example, is haunting, strong and ethereal at the same time.
Radha performing with Jesse Bishop
Guitarist Jesse Bishop told me that his sets with Radha “range from ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ to ‘Roxanne’”. When I saw them perform, they also covered “Fly Me to the Moon”, the Patsy Cline song “I Fall to Pieces”, a gripping rendition of “Quizas, Quizas” that received a wonderful response, the classic “Makin’ Whoopee” and a heartfelt rendition of “Me Voy Pal Pueblo”, a song that had an early influence on Ms. Kunja. Between sets, I strolled onto the beach with Jesse and Radha to hear them practice an upcoming song, truly an intimate experience.
     Christian and Heidi, the owners and producers of Le Beach Club, should be commended for offering these early performances (7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tues. & Thurs., 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday), with no cover charge, as a form of diverse cultural entertainment in Tamarindo. They, too have a passion for art and the community.
     On Tuesdays, Jesse performs with bassist David Herzovich and Brad Schmidt on sax; Jesse, David and Radha play on Thursdays, and Radha performs solo on Fridays, a completely different format than the prior night, with Ms Kunja singing to music recorded by musicians in Cuba, Peru and Argentina with arrangements specifically for Radha. These songs are all Latin: valses criollo from Peru, boleros from Buenos Aires and tangos from Cuba. During an intermission, she explained a bit about the songs: “Que Te Pedi’”, a Cuban ballad, “Piensa en Mi”, from Mexico. She feels these songs and their musical styles are being lost in time. She wants to keep them alive, so is performing and now recording them with the help of Nano Fernandez in his studio in Santa Ana. The disc will include “Me Quiero Morir”, a bolero by Costa Rican Ray Tico.

     All the compositions sung by Radha have strong lyrics. They are nostalgic songs, more passionate than romantic. Radha steps onto the stage prepared: black gloves that extend above here elbows, black dress with spaghetti straps, black high heels and nylons. When she begins, it is startling to hear a voice so strong emanate from such a petite body. She has control of her voice, the mike, her stage presence. The music takes her away. Her entire body becomes the song, something that needs to be witnessed to be appreciated. A passion for music is not something one can pretend. Radha has the passion and the talent as well.
     Radha performs at the Beach Club in Playa Portrero and at Soda Mediterranea in Playa del Coco. Radha, Jesse and David also perform at the Exclusive Resorts next to the Four Seasons in the Papagayo Peninsula.

Diana Renee: Tell Me About the Telarana

Tell Me About the Telarana
Diana Renee: A Poet in Our Midst

     Diana Renee is an anomaly. She is currently living in the state of Washington, “near the North Pole,” she told me in jest. But she was born in Pennsylvania and traveled cross country with her family to live in Montana for a year. In 1995, she moved to Costa Rica where she lived for five years in Guaitil, near Santa Cruz and for another ten years in Playa Tamarindo. She returned to The States but still visits here in her body sleeps, she confided, and her soul has free time to visit the garden at the house here where she used to call home.
     Diana is an accomplished journalist who wrote wonderful articles for The Howler, which were also spot-on in their accuracy. But she has been writing poetry since the age of ten when she was so taken by the Rocky Mountains during her aforementioned family excursion that she simply had to describe it and voila! her first poem was born. Now Ms. Rene has decided to publish some of the poetry she created during her fifteen years in Guanacaste. The book is titled, “Tell Me About the Telerana (media vida de poemas)”.
     The poetry is flowing and flawless, autobiographical and rooted in nature. A lot can happen in a person’s life in fifteen years and Diana depicts and expresses her half-life here in all its naked beauty, with the wonder of life and abundance of Nature here as both a backdrop and canvas for her art. The writing can be sparse yet rich, abundant with life without overflowing. Some of the poems were written in English, some in Spanish. Some are presented in this single version while others have been translated, presented side-by-side versions in the book. Still other poems are written in “Spanglish” which, the authoress confessed, is her favorite format for her poetry. Some of the poems are published only in the language in which they were written, because Diana felt the translation would not do the original poem justice. The book is divided into nine sections, the titles as bilingual as the poetry itself: Cielo, sun, stars, viento; Peces/Fish, aves and other creatures; Tress, tierra, grass; Night/la noche; Dientes, bones; Gritos/Shouts, cries; Belly, heart/corazon; Rain, tormenta, river, mar; Mountains, stillness, esperar. We watch Diana become the life around her, or do the mountains and trees become her? Diana may visit us in her sleep but a big part of her heart will always be here, as she demonstrates to us in her poetry. I particularly like “boat poem”, where we discover from the poet:

I prefer the tickle of fish
to the safety of sand

And “Biking Home at Night”, where the poetess explains:

I make my swooping left turn
while watching the stars
and dodging potholes I haven’t noticed
in years.

     I can relate exactly to what she is telling me, but I could never explain it in those terms. She is concise and prolific, spare and voluptuous in her use of language, which is why poets are venerated.
     “Tell Me About the Telerana” is available at the Jaime Peligro bookstores in Playa Tamarindo and Quepos.