September 14th, 2010

A Lovely Walk

The Sleep Inn Hotel has a new promotional video on YouTube. The street scenes in the video reveal the results of recent beautification efforts in the area around the hotel. The street behind the Sleep Inn, Avenida 3, was once known as the Paseo de los Damas, or the street of the dama trees. These trees still line the street, creating sun-dappled shadows on the sidewalks, which have been widened and refurbished with granite pavers. Intrepid guests of the Sleep Inn might enjoy a pleasant eastward walk along the Paseo de los Damas.

Walkers can leave the hotel by way of the curving staircase and turn east once they are outside. Avenida 3 skirts the graceful trees and quiet shade of the Parque España. Then, the walk heads past the Centro Nacional de la Cultura (National Center for Culture), a gracious late-19th-century building that was once the Fábrica Nacional de Licores (National Liquor Factory). The center now has a museum and theater, and visitors can see interesting art exhibits and performances there. Farther east is the Estación del Atlántico, the Limón train station, where walkers can see an old narrow-gauge steam engine. After years of disuse, the train is now fully operational and will take riders to Heredia. The station itself is charming and provides a glimpse of the Costa Rica of long ago. The eastward walk finally leads to the old Aduana (Customs building), which has now been modernized and serves as the venue for art exhibits, theatrical events and dance performances. The renovated Aduana is an intriguing blend of classical and modern architecture.

The Sleep Inn is proud to be a part of this lovely section of San José.

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September 14th, 2009

Quince de Septiembre

September 15 is Costa Rican independence day, and the entire country will join in the celebrations. Costa Rica received its independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. Before becoming independent, Costa Rica was a Spanish colony, and Guatemala served as a regional government center. In September of 1821, Guatemala declared its independence from Spain, simultaneously declaring Costa Rica’s independence as well. The newly independent Guatemalans gathered together to give a cry of freedom on the evening of September 14, 1821.

Because the Guatemalans carried torches, or faroles, during their evening celebration, torch-carrying has become an integral part of independence day celebrations in Costa Rica. At 6:00 on the night of September 14, torch-lit parades make their way across many Costa Rican towns and in San José. Traditionally, the Costa Rican national anthem plays during the parade of the faroles, and several radio stations often broadcast the anthem simultaneously at 6:00.

Schoolchildren have long played an important role in Costa Rica’s independence day celebrations. The country prides itself on its educational system, and Costa Rican patriots have long argued that the country’s future freedom rests on the shoulders of its schoolchildren. Many of the participants in the farol parades are schoolchildren who have made and decorated their own torches. On September 15 itself, Costa Rican schoolchildren parade through the streets, waving flags and singing patriotic songs. Costa Ricans celebrate the fact that schoolchildren–and not members of the military–head their patriotic celebrations.

Interestingly, Costa Rica did not learn of its independence until October of 1821, as it took a month for the information to reach Costa Rica from Guatemala.

Learn more about faroles.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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July 13th, 2009

The Lyrics of Costa Rica’s National Anthem

Costa Rica’s national anthem opens with a mention of the country’s flag, whose symbolism is so important to Costa Rican civic life. Alluding to the red, white and blue of the flag, the anthem praises the reddened faces of the country’s laborers, the white of peace and the blue skies above. A paean to tranquility and hard work, Costa Rica’s national anthem embodies the ideals of this peace-loving country.

In translation, the anthem’s lyrics read as follows:

Noble homeland, your beautiful flag
Expresses your life to us:
Beneath the limpid blue of your sky,
Peace reposes, white and pure.

In the tenacious struggle of fruitful toil,
That reddens a mans face,
Your sons, simple laborers, achieved
Eternal renown, esteem and honor.

Hail, gentle land!
Hail, honorable mother!
When someone tries to stain your glory,
You will witness your people, strong and valiant,
Exchange their rough tools for weapons.

Hail, homeland! Your generous soil
Gives us sweet sustenance and shelter.
Beneath the limpid blue of your sky,
Long live labor and peace!

In the original Spanish, the anthem’s lyrics read as follows:

Noble patria tu hermosa bandera
Expresión de tu vida nos da:
Bajo el límpido azul de tu cielo
Blanca y pura descansa la paz.

En la lucha tenaz de fecunda labor
Que enrojece del hombre la faz,
Conquistaron tus hijos, labriegos sencillos,
eterno prestigio, estima y honor,
eterno prestigio, estima y honor.

¡Salve oh tierra gentil!
¡Salve oh madre de amor!
Cuando alguno pretenda tu gloria manchar,
Verás a tu pueblo, valiente y viril
La tosca herramienta en arma trocar.

¡Noble patria! tu pródigo suelo
Dulce abrigo y sustento nos da;
Bajo el límpido azul de tu cielo
¡Vivan siempre el trabajo y la paz!

Click here to read about the Costa Rican flag.
Click here to read about the Costa Rican coat of arms.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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July 6th, 2009

Costa Rica’s National Anthem

In 1852, Costa Rica had just declared its independence from Spain and would soon need to defend itself from American imperialists. During a relative political lull, Juan Manuel Mora Porras, Costa Rica’s president, prepared for diplomatic visits from the United States and Great Britain. He realized that the country was ill-prepared to receive foreign visitors, because it had no national anthem. The president quickly commissioned an anthem to be performed for the visitors.

At the time, Manuel María Gutiérrez was the director of San José’s military band, and he dashed off the music to the anthem in time for the official visits. Although Gutiérrez was a consummate musician, he was not a lyricist; he wrote only the rousing music to the national anthem. Its words would not be written for another fifty years.

In 1903, the Costa Rican government, headed by President Ascención Esquivel, sponsored a lyric-writing contest for the national anthem. The poet, José María Zeledón, won the contest’s 500-colón prize with a passionate poem about peace, national bravery and the good hearts of the country’s laborers. Interestingly, Zeledón used the pseudonym of “Campesino”—a reference to Costa Rica’s honorable labor force and to one of the country’s true ideals—when he signed his name as the anthem’s lyricist.

Costa Ricans heard the complete national anthem—and Zeledón’s lyrics—for the first time on independence day, September 15, 1903.

Listen to the Costa Rican national anthem.

Read more about the history of the Costa Rican national anthem.

Read more about the American imperialists and Juan Santamaría, the Costa Rican hero who defeated them.

Read more about the Costa Rican idea of the campesino.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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October 15th, 2008

Juan Santamaría May Not Be Who We Think He Is

Juan Santamaría is Costa Rica’s most important hero, although the reason for his fame is the subject of some debate. In the mid-1800s, Costa Rica nearly fell under the control of American forces led by William Walker. Because Costa Rica did not have an army, the country’s defense rested in the hands of farmers and other civilians, who fought off the Americans with various tools and farm implements. Juan Santamaría, a young boy from the province of Alajuela, joined Costa Rica’s makeshift defense team.

The Costa Rican contingent fought fiercely, according to legend, and William Walker’s gang took refuge in a large house in Guanacaste—La Casona. As the Costa Ricans lay siege to La Casona, it became apparent that the only way to defeat the Americans would be to burn down the building itself. The leader of the Costa Rican fighters asked his forces to line up facing him. Then, the leader asked for a volunteer to step forward and take up the torch that would burn down La Casona. Juan Santamaría bravely stepped forward and seized the flaming torch, asking only that his mother be taken care of, in the event of his death. Juan Santamaría then set fire to La Casona and defeated the American forces, collapsing to his death moments later, from a bullet wound.

All across Costa Rica, Juan Santamaría is celebrated. Several statues depict him with his flaming torch. One of the most well-known stands in front of the Asamblea Legislativa, Costa Rica’s congressional building, and the other is in Alajuela, Juan Santamaría’s home. Costa Rica’s main airport is named after Juan Santamaría, and April 11 is a national holiday commemorating the day of Juan Santamaría’s death.

However, there is another side to the Juan Santamaría story. Costa Ricans never take themselves—or their national heroes—too seriously. Every Costa Rican schoolchild learns, in the classroom, the story of Juan Santamaría’s heroism. Outside the classroom, those same children laugh about a less heroic Juan Santamaría. In this other account, Juan Santamaría was more foolish than brave. He joined the Costa Rican fighters without fully understanding the conflict. When the Costa Rican forces lined up to face their leader and one brave soul was asked to step forward, the foolish Juan Santamaría stayed standing where he was. His more wily fellows each took a step backward, leaving Juan Santamaría a step ahead of them. He became the unwitting volunteer who had to take up the torch. All across the country, this other Juan Santamaría is the subject of many jokes.

Juan Santamaría’s name is a source of joy for all Costa Ricans—joy for a national hero and joy for a national myth gleefully subverted.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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October 10th, 2008

Presidential Elections, 1970’s Style

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Costa Rican presidential elections were spirited, colorful affairs, far more entertaining than the more serious elections held in other countries. With the passage of time, however, Costa Rican elections have become more straightforward and similar to elections elsewhere.

Different Costa Rican political parties have always had their own signature colors, which every Costa Rican immediately recognizes. Years ago, political parties distributed cloth flags to all of their supporters. Costa Ricans proudly announced their party affiliation by hanging their flags everywhere. Around election time, people attached flags to their car antennas and windows, to the rooftops of their houses, and, using several broomsticks as makeshift flagpoles, to the tops of mango and lemon trees in their yards. At election time, the country was festooned with green-and-white and red-and-blue striped flags.

Costa Ricans also assigned each presidential candidate a signature horn honk, which simulated the candidate’s name. Monge’s honk was one long and one short beep in mimicry of him name, while Carazo’s was three beeps with an accent on the middle beep. Supporters of each candidate rode up and down the streets, honking for their candidates, flags whipping colorfully behind them. When supporters of the same candidate encountered one another on the street, they honked in cheerful greeting. Opponents tried to out-honk one another, and the streets were lively with these car-horn debates.

The elections themselves were particularly interesting. The presidential ballot consisted of one single sheet of rough paper. Printed horizontally across the paper were photographs of each candidate and an empty box under each photograph. Voters arrived at their polling places and dipped their thumbs into indelible purple ink. Then, to cast their votes, they pressed their inked thumbs under the photograph of the candidate of their choice. Each vote consisted of one thumbprint.

The ink served two purposes. Because it couldn’t be rinsed off for several days, it kept people from voting twice. It was also handy for voters who wanted others to know they had done their civic duty. People walked up and down the street, giving one another purple thumbs-ups and cheering. Others piled into the backs of pickup trucks, shouting, waving flags and showing everyone their purple thumbs.

The election process may now be more streamlined, and elections are no longer determined by thumb-printed pages pushed through the slots of ballot boxes. However, elections were certainly more fun in the past.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 11th, 2008

A Pretty Little Lesson

Costa Rica’s escudo, or coat of arms, appears on the “tails” side of every Costa Rican coin and decorates the central red stripe of the official Costa Rican flag. The escudo is aesthetically attractive, and its various elements reveal some important facts about Costa Rican civics and geography.

The three mountains in the center of the escudo represent the three mountain ranges, or cordilleras, that run through the country–the Cordillera Central, the Cordillera de Talamanca and the Cordillera de Guanacaste. Some say that the peaks represent volcanoes found along each of the mountain ranges, and the escudo recently has been altered so that smoke now emerges from the mountain peaks.

The green at the base of the mountains represents the fertile soil and rich vegetation of Costa Rica’s Central Valley.

The blue water in front of and behind the mountains alludes to Costa Rica’s Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, while the ships at sea indicate both Costa Rica’s nautical history and the fact that the country’s ports are free and open.

The seven stars in an arc above the mountains represent Costa Rica’s seven provinces—San José, Cartago, Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas, Guanacaste and Limón.

The rising sun refers to the newness of the country when it first adopted the escudo and to hope for its prosperous future.

The golden border represents Costa Rican coffee—the golden bean, or grano de oro.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 8th, 2008

Costa Rica’s National Bloom

Costa Rica’s national flower is the Guaria Morada, a purple bloom with a trumpet-like shape and several surrounding petals. The center of the Guaria Morada is often yellow or a darker purple than the petals.

Technically, the Guaria Morada is an epiphyte, and it once grew on trees in the Pacific region and in areas of lower elevation. Several generations ago, Costa Ricans cultivated Guarias Moradas in their own gardens, and typical Costa Rican houses often had a profusion of these beautiful flowers draped over their tile roofs and garden walls. However, because of over-cultivation and overexploitation, the Guaria Morada grows wild only in limited areas now.

Visitors to Costa Rica can see the Guaria Morada in national parks and botanical gardens. Costa Rica’s old five Colón bill also has an image of the Guaria Morada among its other intricate designs.

The Guaria Morada grows in all of Central America, although it is most abundant in Guatemala and Costa Rica.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 4th, 2008

What’s in a Flag?

The flag of Costa Rica is attractive both in its graphic simplicity and in its wealth of symbolic meaning. Adopted in 1848, the flag has three colors, which allude to those of the French flag, a symbolic recognition of the ideals of the French Revolution.

A Costa Rican government decree of 1848 provides the first official description of the flag—a “tricolor” made up of five horizontal bands. The central red band is flanked by two white bands, which, in turn, are flanked by two blue ones. Each band takes up one sixth of the flag’s width, except for the red band, which is two-sixths of the width.

Each of the flag’s colors has its own meaning. The blue stripes represent the blue of the sky and, by extension, purity and tranquility. The white stripes represent peace, an ideal of particular importance to a country with no army. The red represents the blood shed by those who fought for Costa Rica’s independence, although it has also come to symbolize the blood pulsing through the veins of the people and the reddened faces of Costa Rica’s hard-working laborers.

The unadorned red-white-and-blue flag serves for unofficial purposes. For official state and maritime purposes, Costa Rica flies the Pabellón Nacional. This flag has the same five horizontal stripes but also includes the country’s coat of arms, or escudo. The escudo floats on a white elliptical background, whose dimensions are also specified in the 1848 governmental decree. The white ellipse sits on the flag’s broad red band.

Costa Rica’s flag, whether in its official or its unofficial purpose, is a great source of national pride for its people.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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