August 3rd, 2011

Making Her Rounds

It’s romería time again, and the streets from San José to Cartago have been filled with pious pilgrims making their way to the Basílica in Cartago. Most have made a promise to La Negrita, the patron saint of Costa Rica, and they walk in honor of that promise. Some have come from countries outside Costa Rica, and many have completed the last hundred meters of the journey on their knees.

A Cartago resident and friend of the Sleep Inn told her own firsthand account of the pilgrimage and the important day after. She reported that she had spent the night of August 1 in San José, just so she could make it to work on time on August 2. She said that the thousands of devout pilgrims flowing into the city on August 2, the Virgin’s day, made the streets impassable for outgoing Cartago citizens but that the spiritual energy was palpable in the city. Most of the pilgrims, she said, arrived in time to attend the 9:00 AM mass in the park, where the Virgin, clothed in her festive garments, was presented to her followers.

But the festivities do not end on August 2, because the following day marks the start of another important time for worshipers of La Negrita. On August 3, Costa Ricans celebrate “La Pasada,” when the clothed Virgin is transported from the Basílica in Cartago to that city’s cathedral, where she will remain for a month. Our friend tells us that this journey mirrors the Virgin’s long-ago journey from San José to Cartago, when the country’s capital made the same shift. After her month at the cathedral, La Negrita returns again to the Basílica to await the next influx of pilgrims on August 2.

Costa Ricans describe La Pasada as a moment of incredible spiritual feeling. The streets of Cartago are carpeted in blossoms of yellow and white, the colors of the Virgin, and the clothed statue passes in front of her adoring masses. Schoolchildren are given the day off, and store owners decorate their windows in the Virgin’s yellow and white. A glow of spirituality infuses the city and those who witness the procession, whether or not they consider themselves devout followers of La Negrita.

This last August 2, 2011, an estimated two million pilgrims completed the romería to Cartago. This year marks the 375th anniversary of the Virgin’s first apparition.

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May 27th, 2011

A “Little” Country

Visitors to Costa Rica often wonder why the Costa Ricans are called “Ticos.” The name “Tico” comes from a charming peculiarity of Costa Rican speech–the frequent use of the diminutive. “Tico” is a word ending that suggests “littleness.”

Several suffixes indicate smallness when attached to the end of a Spanish word. These suffixes include “-ita,” “-ito.” For example, a dog (”perro”) that it small might be called a “perrito.” Or a girl (”niña) who is small might be called a “niñita.”

But Costa Ricans often take this notion of smallness one step further, doubling the suffix. When this doubling happens, a “t” often appears before the final suffix, rendering it “-tico,” the famous nickname for a Costa Rican. Interestingly, this phenomenon happens with the word “chico,” one of whose meanings is “small.” In the diminutive, the word is “chiquito.” To indicate something really small, someone might use the word “chiquitico,” with the “-tico” suffix.

“Poco” is the word for “a bit,” so “a little bit of water” would be “un poco de agua.” A Costa Rican would typically use “poco” in a diminutive form–”poquito”–”a little bit.” But most Costa Ricans would further miniaturize the concept to “poquitito” or “poquitico.” Thus, a Costa Rican who wants a drink would commonly ask for “un poquitico de agua,” using the “-tico” ending.

Costa Ricans all generally have very cheerful dispositions, and their use of the diminutive illustrates this national tendency to be cheerful and pleasant. Something small is generally considered something inoffensive or even attractive, and the smaller the better.

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February 7th, 2011

Fall in Love With San José

Visitors to Costa Rica often fall in love with its beaches, volcanoes and tropical rain forests. But in their rush to the mountains and coasts, some visitors—and some locals, as well—fail to fully explore the capital itself, missing out on some of San José’s cultural attributes. The Costa Rican Ministry of Culture and Youth (Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud) wants to redirect attention to the city and to promote its finest features. To that end, the Ministry is sponsoring a months-long program called “Cultural Corridors: Fall in Love With Your City” (“Corredores Culturales: Enamórate de tu Ciudad”).

The Cultural Corridors program encourages tourists and Costa Ricans alike to spend their leisure time in downtown San José, enjoying its parks, art exhibits and cultural performances. The program began in February 2011 and will continue through July 2011. Activities begin at 11:00 AM on each Saturday of those months.

San José’s parks will act as the main “corridors” in the Ministry’s new plan, because they connect the city’s museums and theaters and act as outdoor exhibition and performance spaces. The Sleep Inn is conveniently located right near several of the parks that serve as the focal points of the program, and each of these parks will have a particular cultural focus. For example, the Park of Spain (Parque España), almost directly in front of the Sleep Inn, will be an exhibition space for the visual arts—painting, sculpture, engravings and art installations. The Park of Peace (Parque de la Paz), in front of the Escuela Metálica, will host urban sporting activities—dancing, circus acts, roller skating and BMX riding. The Morazán Park (Parque Morazán) will be the new music center, and musical groups will perform all genres in the kiosk that stands at the center of the park. Other cultural activities are planned for the areas immediately surrounding each of these parks—and surrounding the Sleep Inn.

The Cultural Corridors program has three goals. The first is to celebrate Costa Rica’s history—not just in terms of dates and events, but in terms of what it means to be a Costa Rican. The program aims to create a certain nostalgia for the Costa Rica of long ago—a quieter and more tranquil time. The program’s second cultural goal is to encourage both locals and visitors to establish—or reestablish—their relationships to the city’s parks and to reclaim these parks for rest and relaxation. The Ministry says that the fast pace of urban life has reduced the parks to mere walkways, as people hurry through them from one errand to another. The idea is to encourage people to spend some time in the parks, talking to one another and enjoying the urban oasis the parks create. The third cultural goal is to promote multiculturalism in the city, celebrating the artistic and historic contributions of Costa Rica’s various ethnic and cultural groups.

Founded forty years ago, the Ministry preserves and promotes cultural diversity in Costa Rica, encouraging all social and economic groups to participate in national cultural activities. The Sleep Inn is proud to find itself at the hub of the Ministry’s new and exciting cultural plans. Sleep Inn guests should remember to inquire about activities happening during their stay.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 15th, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Costa Rica celebrates its independence today. Enjoy this rendition of the Costa Rican national anthem, played by the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica.

Read more about Costa Rican independence day.

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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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February 15th, 2010

Paco y Lola

With the February 2010 election of Laura Chinchilla as Costa Rica’s first woman president, Costa Ricans have naturally
begun to consider the changing role of women in Costa Rican politics and in Costa Rican society. Just as women’s roles have changed and expanded all over the world, the role of the Costa Rican woman has shifted with the times. Nowhere is this change more evident than in the well-known primer, Paco y Lola, which almost every Costa Rican child used to learn to read.

Just like Dick and Jane, Paco y Lola, first written and edited in 1958 by Emma Gamboa and Ondina Peraza, focuses on the daily activities of a nuclear family, teaching children how to read the names of objects and activities they might encounter on an ordinary day. Paco y Lola reflects the social attitudes of its time. In one section of the book, the father reads (”Papá lee.”), while the mother toils away in the kitchen, kneading a mound of “masa” to make tortillas (”Mamá amasa la masa.”). Paco and Lola each take part in fairly typical gender-prescribed activities, and the book reflects the typical values–and 1950s furnishings–of the mid-century Costa Rican family and home.

Despite what many have described as sexism–or outright “machismo”–in the first edition of Paco y Lola, the book functions very well as a Spanish reading primer. Its authors have a clear appreciation for the joys of pronunciation and language and a great sense of alliteration and word play. The authors make reading both entertaining and fairly effortless for their young readers.

Spanish vowel pronunciation has less variation than vowel pronunciation in English, and the authors make the most of repetition in teaching readers how to recognize and pronounce vowels. (In “Mamá amasa la masa,” for example, readers get a good sense of the short Spanish “a” and the opportunity to pronounce it in accented and unaccented syllables.) Once young readers have mastered the vowel sounds, they can take on any number of longer and more complex word and sentence constructions. The book rewards the persistent with a great deal of vocabulary and interesting lessons about Costa Rican activities and animals. Paco y Lola also provides painless lessons in the use of the accent mark, or “tilde,” whose rules students will later memorize in school.

Post-1958 editions of Paco y Lola have strived to eliminate the gender inequalities of the first edition, and readers of the newer version can now see a truer reflection of Costa Rica’s increasing gender equality. In either its original or its updated form, however, Paco y Lola is an entertaining and effective Spanish language-learning tool.

Order a copy of Paco y Lola.

Learn more about verbs in Spanish.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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November 16th, 2009

Costa Rica, in Haiku

Costa Rica has long inspired literary and artistic tributes to its natural beauty and charming lifestyle. Painters and poets, enchanted by Costa Rica’s history and its people, create great artistic works with the country as their inspiration.

This posting showcases three haiku pieces that pay tribute to facets of the Costa Rican experience that visitors always find remarkable. The first haiku describes the ominous beauty of Costa Rica’s volcanoes, which lend a thrilling, dangerous edge to the country’s otherwise serene beauty. Visitors to the Magnolia Restaurant can enjoy a similar geologically themed painting, by artist Denis Salas, in the niche over the piano. The ethereal grays and blues of the painting suggest the smoky landscape around an active volcano. The haiku captures the volcano’s explosive energy:

Active volcano,
Red-rimmed, rumbling at night.
The violent earth speaks.

A second haiku draws its inspiration from Costa Rica’s abundant tropical fruit, a real tourist favorite. The lively fruit paintings in the Sleep Inn breakfast area similarly celebrate this marvelous tropical abundance:

Slices of sunshine
Lying on a morning plate.
Fresh mango breakfast.

A final haiku hearkens back to Costa Rica’s past, a quieter time when ox carts and their drivers slowly crisscrossed the countryside, delivering farm goods and supplies to a country not yet industrialized. Just outside the Sleep Inn’s smoke-free casino, guests can enjoy a beautiful depiction of the ox carts in old Costa Rica. The haiku showcases this same nostalgic sense of history:

Oxen and driver
In the days before cities.
Driving on the brink of change.

Read more about Costa Rica’s volcanoes.

Read more about Costa Rican mangoes and other tropical Costa Rican fruit.

Read more about Costa Rican ox carts, now a part of the UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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October 11th, 2009

Columbus Day Complexity

Costa Ricans, like Americans, have historically celebrated Columbus Day on October 12. Originally, the subtext of those celebrations was that Christopher Columbus (known as Cristóbal Colón) had brought civilization to previously barbarian lands. People in Costa Rica commemorated the introduction of the Spanish language and of European customs into their land after Columbus’s 1502 arrival in what later became the port of Limón.

In later years, however, many Latin Americans rethought the meaning of Columbus’s “discovery” and began to mourn the destruction of the native cultures and languages that flourished before the Spaniards’ conquest of the New World. Antonio Casa, a Mexican philosopher, declared in 1918 that Mexico ought to celebrate the “Mexican mestizo race,” and not Christopher Columbus, on October 12. The mestizo race–”la raza”–was created through the intermarriage of the Spanish conquerors and the indigenous population. According to Casa, the people of Mexico should celebrate their own mixed heritage, the result of the Spaniards’ intervention in Mexico’s original culture. Other Latin Americans adopted this idea of celebrating La Raza, and October 12 became El Día de la Raza, a celebration of the mestizo race. Christopher Columbus ceased to be the civilizing hero of Latin America and became the enemy of the area’s original peoples.

As in Mexico, Costa Rica changed its Columbus Day celebration to honor El Día de la Raza. On October 12, Costa Ricans now celebrate their indigenous culture and the contributions of precolombian society to present-day Costa Rica, and not just the glory of the Spaniards’ arrival. The celebrations honor the Spanish-indigenous intermingling and the racial mixtures that contribute to Costa Rica today. (However, Costa Rica never had a significant indigenous population, and some might argue that there has been little indigenous influence in the country.)

Among certain academic circles in Costa Rica, there has been yet another shift in the Columbus Day/Día de la Raza story. For various intellectuals, El Día de la Raza has given way to a still newer conception of race and culture in Costa Rica. Some now encourage the country to adopt El Día de la Cultura, a yet-more-universal celebration of global culture, on October 12. This new holiday supposedly recognizes the Spanish influence in the country, the indigenous response to the Spanish arrival, and also the interrelationship of many different cultures that make Costa Rica what it is today. In particular, El Día de la Cultura is meant to honor the African influence on Costa Rican culture. Some scholars, like Mauricio Meléndez Obando, argue that Costa Rica has long downplayed the importance of African race and culture in its history. They believe that the slave trade and an African presence shaped Costa Rica to a far greater extent than most realize. Persuasive though their arguments are, these academics have not convinced most Costa Ricans, who still celebrate El Día de la Raza on October 12.

As notions of race and culture become more complicated and multi-dimensional, Costa Rica’s celebrations of Christopher Columbus have become increasingly layered and segmented and, perhaps, ever more interesting. In some form or other, Costa Ricans will always celebrate their heritage and their culture on October 12.

Read more about Antonio Casa and El Día de la Raza in Mexico.

Read Mauricio Meléndez Obando’s thoughts about El Día de la Cultura in Costa Rica.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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October 5th, 2009

The Blue-and-White Mystery

One of Costa Rica’s most prevalent and iconic symbols is the traditional house, or “casa típica.” Visitors to Costa Rica will see houses of this type on hundreds of postcards, in paintings, and in historically accurate reconstructions of actual buildings. The house looks the same in almost every representation; it has a red tile roof, square openings for windows, whitewashed adobe (or bahareque) walls, and a bright blue band of paint at the base of those walls. This blue band is the most remarkable feature on these houses. Interestingly, the reason behind the blue-and-white color combination—and the blue band, in particular—is not entirely clear. People have developed various theories to explain the blue, and all seem equally valid.

Some people say that the blue-and-white decorating scheme is merely an homage to Costa Rica itself. Because the traditional houses all had red-tile roofs, their owners decided to paint the walls blue and white. Thus, their houses were red, white and blue, the colors of the Costa Rican flag.

Some believe that when these types of houses were built, blue and white were simply the cheapest paint colors available. The paint protected the houses’ adobe walls, and people merely used the most economical colors they could find. Of course, this explanation does not take into account the particular design of the houses. Why is the blue at the base of the walls?

Other people argue that the blue at the base of the walls serves a functional purpose. When houses of this type were popular, Costa Rica was a rural country, and the houses stood on either dirt or grass. During the long rainy season, water poured off the roofs of the houses and pounded into the ground, splashing mud onto the walls. If the walls had been painted white all the way to the ground, their bases would have been mud-spattered and dirty throughout the rainy season. The blue paint served to protect the walls from mud spots and to disguise any dirt. Of course, one might wonder why people chose blue paint, instead of brown.

Still other people agree with the rain theory but have a different idea about causation. They believe that houses were all painted white at first and that they all developed a rain-induced band of caked-on mud at their bases. The brown band was so familiar-looking that people began to appreciate its aesthetic beauty. The color-block look became popular and desirable. With the idea of replicating this banded look, people began to paint the bases of their outdoor walls, settling on blue as a color that would not continually remind them of mud and as a particularly snappy pairing with white.

Although the reason behind the blue-and-white combination on Costa Rica’s traditional houses may be unclear, the houses are clearly charming and fun to see.

Please let us know if you have heard any other theories about the painted design of traditional Costa Rican houses.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 29th, 2009

Arroz Con Leche

Rice pudding, or arroz con leche, is one of Costa Rica’s most popular desserts. Often made with the zest of an orange or a lemon, Costa Rican arroz con leche is always very sweet and very creamy. Historically, rice and sugar have been important cash crops in Costa Rica, and these two ingredients naturally found their way into one recipe.

Costa Ricans have a special fondness for arroz con leche, because most ate it as children. Arroz con leche reminds Costa Ricans of naptime, cozy evenings and grandmothers. In fact, arroz con leche is such a childhood favorite that every Costa Rican knows the words to a popular nursery rhyme about the dessert. Although the lyrics sometimes change slightly, the words are basically as follows:

Arroz con leche.
Me quiero casar
con una señorita
de la capital.

Que sepa coser
que sepa bordar
que sepa abrir la puerta
para ir a jugar.

Loosely translated into English, the words are:

Rice pudding.
I would like to get married
to a young lady
from the capital.

Who knows how to sew
who knows how to embroider
who knows how to open the door
to go outside to play.

The Magnolia Restaurant serves a particularly spectacular arroz con leche, which quickly runs out, no matter how much the kitchen makes. Be sure you’re at the head of the line the next time arroz con leche appears on the Magnolia’s buffet menu!

Listen to Arroz con Leche, the nursery rhyme. (In this version, the singer wants to marry someone from San Nicolás–”de San Nicolás–instead of from the capital.)

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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