Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Night at the Opera

Freddy Mercury and a BalrogImage by aran but whothehellgivesadamn via Flickr
After the stuffy heat of the day the cooling night breeze from the window was more than welcome. Not so welcome was the animated conversation enjoyed by two men standing under it.
Why not shut the window?
Because the window had no glass.

We were in a room in one of the 24 hour hotels around our bus station in San Jose.

The sort where you have to ring to be let in through the iron gates...and ring to be let out again.

Is that why the window has no provide an exit in case of fire? has bars, just like the hotel entrance. Just no glass.

The room is spotlessly clean, as is the en suite shower room....though the sheets are polyester and slip from the mattress and the pillows could best be described as the sort of cushion you find on the ends of has a television and a fridge - provide your own contents.
There is a water dispenser on the landing, but no cups. The young man in charge brought us his own drinking mug and allowed us to keep it overnight. Clearly, cups, too, are the clients' responsibility.

What were we doing there?
Spending the night after missing the last bus home.

I will pass over in unaccustomed silence the curtain lecture delivered to the party who had obstinately held to the view that there would be buses that did not figure on the timetable - suffice it to say that this party was male - which probably rivaled in animation the conversation taking place on the pavement, and tell you instead how we came to be there, in a hotel in the back streets of Coca Cola....territory where no tourist treads unscathed, according to the guide books.

First, let me explain Coca Cola. This is an area of central San Jose which once boasted a Coca Cola bottling plant. The plant has long disappeared and bus stations and stops have taken its place, but the area is still referred to as...Coca Cola.
This is where our bus from the country comes in and, in due course, as signaled by the timetable, leaves.
According to the guide books, it is an area to be avoided, crawling with pickpockets and...darkly...worse.

We had arrived in the early evening and walked up to the city centre, squeezing past the queues at the bus stops, skirting the vendors of pirated DVDs with their wares laid out on black polythene sheets on the pavement, ready to be whisked up and away at the approach of the police, checking the pavement for missing manhole covers and noting the prices of the limes, sweet peppers, celery and coriander on sale at every corner, although this time we weren't shopping.

The streets were crowded with workers making purchases on their way to the buses that would take them to their homes in the suburbs, the 'barkers' were calling their wares at every shop we passed, traffic groaned and roared along the main artery.....San Jose was alive.

We stopped at a cafeteria where we had had good Mexican food the week before....but that was at lunchtime. Now it was tired and disappointing. We made a mental note not to be hidebound in future...and not to leave it too late to walk away from a place and try another.....for we did not have much time.

The curtain went up in half an hour and we still had some walking to do. Past the square in front of the cathedral with its statue of that unspeakable misogynist John Paul II looking as if someone had sculpted it from ice cream which had begin to melt....past the ministry buildings...until we arrived at the square in front of the Teatro Nacional, spotlit classical figures waving laurel wreaths against the night sky.

For this is really multum in parvo....a little gem of a theatre in the grand style of the nineteenth century, all marble floors and painted ceilings, where nymphs rise  triumphantly aloft bearing patriotic flags.
The coffee barons of the period were responsible for this edifice, believing, like the rubber barons of Manaus, that no city could call itself civilised that had no opera house, but the crowd is much more democratic these days.
Not a black tie to be seen, but some very pretty dresses as we filed past the ticket collector and, in our case, were directed to the gallery.

From the floor plan when booking, we had expected that the seating would be rows of seats... but nothing of the sort.
The usher gave us a programme and showed us to the door of our box....we had the front seats and behind us were four more, all raked to give  view of the stage....comfortable solid wood and leather armchairs, not the flip up seats we had been expecting...and no need to be up and down like yoyos as the late comers arrived.
Civilisation indeed.

We were in plenty of time to people watch....the orchestra was arriving in bits and drabs, greeting each other and unpacking their instruments before tuning up.
It was a large orchestra, and overflowed into the boxes around the pit. If the occupants of those end boxes were lucky, they had the harp alongside them...if unlucky, the timpani and cymbals.
The conductor arrived, not dressed in the Malcolm Sargent specials but in a sort of loose sweater and baggy trousers... the lights went down...and the occupants of the box next to the cymbals and timpani got it in spades as with a lunge of his baton  he launched his troops into...

The overture to 'Carmen'.

Believe me, you do not want to sitting next to the cymbals during the overture to 'Carmen'.

It was a modern dress performance...well, 1950s....and was for the most part well produced. As usual, the children's chorus over scampered and over pushed and shoved and, as usual, the director seemed to think that the adult chorus rushing hither and thither was a good idea but as the production went on things calmed down and the singers were superb.

The one disappointment was that they did not provide the toreador with a proper suit of lights in the final act.
He appeared, duly clad in little black hat, stockings and black shoes...he even had the characteristic flat footed walk of the bullfighter.....but instead of breeches he had something baggy that looked like a pair of cut down jogging trousers and his jacket was merely tinsel.
Such a magnificent singer deserved better.

When it was over, we started the walk back to the bus station, in search of the bus that was not on the timetable.
The shops were closed, the fast food outlets were pulling down the shutters, taxi drivers congregated on the corners, hoping for passengers.

After nearly coming to grief in an uncovered water meter cavity we turned into the pedestrian walkway, where the pavement surfaces were level and safe, only to narrowly avoid being run down by two men on motor scooters.....the municipal police, protecting the public.

This walkway, so crowded in the day, was deserted, just another couple of people ahead of us, and Mr. Optimist by my side decided he would like a beer, vaguely remembering seeing a bar in the parallel street.

Back to watching for manhole covers and for admiring the individuality of property owners in San Jose whose view seems to be that if the council makes them responsible for the pavement outside their property they will make up the said pavement as they see fit.
Some go in for tiles....very pretty but not non slip in wet conditions.
Others like steps.
Then there are the ones who prefer slopes so that the water from cleaning the shop front runs away more rapidly......

You learn to be pretty sharp on your pins in San Jose...pretty quickly.

Still, at night there is the advantage that you can see the hazards ahead which can be well concealed by the crowds in the daytime, so we navigated the street without incident and reached the site of the bar.

It wasn't open.

Mr. Optimist remembered another one alongside the bus station.

We walked on into the Coca Cola area - you remember, the bourne from which, according to the guide books, no traveler returns.
We saw nobody.
The bar was closed.
The bus station likewise......

The love of my life smiled happily through his moustache

'I've always wanted to try one of those 24 hour hotels.'

He is definitely not as green as he is cabbage looking....
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  1. You two are adventurers indeed! You tell a great tale.. I was with you all the way, dodging manhole covers, even yearning for a cold beer. But I draw the line at polyester sheets!

  2. Carmen is a favourite but it sounds like a bit of a Walk on the Wild Side.

  3. Suggest you discoverer a yearning to try one of those "very expensive hotels"... and steer accordingly.

  4. I think it's called 'living in hope' and when that doesn't work 'living with the unpredictability of spontaneity'.

    It sounds an adventure, anyway.

  5. Craig, polyester sheets are indeed beyond the pale!
    It interests me that the guide books to Costa Rica always emphasise the dirt and crime of San Jose and it's true that no tourist is seen where I do my shopping, but I like the place and don't feel uneasy there.

    Lesley, I'd thought about getting a taxi...but Scots blood will out...

    Steve, I can't bring myself to pay top dollar just for a bed for the night..
    My father remembered seeing doss houses in Glasgow in the thirties where a rope was strung from one end of a room to the other and men paid a penny to be able to slump over it for the night...I'd be the one begrudging the penny...

    Sarah, I had a feeling he was going to do the 24 hour hotel stunt ever since he suggested it as an option when I returned from the U.K. recently and the car was in the garage.

  6. A brilliant tale, Fly! You obviously survived the night in good humour.

  7. tell him next time to bring some crisp linen sheets in his manbag :)

  8. Waht an adventure - and with a dashing moustachioed escort...

  9. e, I had a feeling I'd been had when he insisted on walking down to the bus station

    Lulu's worse..he has grown Franz Joseph whiskers as a revolt against chemotherapy...but the moustache bit is very dashing!

    However a man bag does not fit his nineteenth century image...given warning I'd have hauled the sheets myself...but that would have spoiled the surprise..

  10. “By Gad I missed it! I actually missed it!!”

    Now I see what you meant earlier about this post not flagging up on your follower’s blogs or dashboards. Missed your ‘link’ sign altogether too. What a Duhhh! My sincerest ‘beg your pardons’ Fly Rica, as I have clearly failed thou.

    I will thus flail myself with rotting banana skins from sundown to sunrise, each and every day till your next post is published here, as penance.

    B,b,b…bluddy Blogger has clearly excelled itself this time around then. How strange is that?!

    Thank you for chalking up ‘mutum in parvo’ on your blackboard for me Mme Fly. I dutifully Goggled it for my homework, as you intended. You’re absoluetely bish bang bosh on as usual, ‘less’ really is so much more.

    Such a beautifully quilled journey tale of a night of contrasting cultures, from the shady back streets of Coca Cola Ghetto, then a Grande Opera in a box, thence to a less than grandiose finale for you in a spartan, windowless hotel room with a moustachioed cabbage! Ooooh (?)

    I clearly need to venture outside more after dark to choir practice, in a tuxedo and black tie…with a hirsute cabbage under my arm for good company.

    Off to my allotments to start getting dressed up for later then…

  11. Fly Rica: Re- “container of rotting banana skins on its way to you...”.


    Talkingcabbage recipesfor a moment longer still, take a gander at the third recipe down from the top of this linked page. Yummee.

  12. Bish Bosh Bash...ah, you'd noticed...

    That cabbage recipe just falls right. I've just seen the first savoy cabbage since moving here,duly bought it and will now be able to cook it with some of our smoked bacon.

    Many thanks!

  13. Really enjoyed reading your tale..and hope the savoy met expectations.

  14. Neil&Antoinette, glad you enjoyed it..San Jose, despite its reputation, is a great place.

    And the savoy is ever versatile...

  15. So I'm not your only Follower to not have this post show on my reading list. Reassuring to know it's not some silly mistake of mine.
    But what a great adventure - reminds me of some of my roamings with my husband - I think we were married then. Always there are little acts of humanity, like the loaned cup, that make up for the awfulness of polyester sheets (memories of a hotel room with half the toilet bowl missing are beginning to surface!)

  16. It sounds like an adventure! And your Mr. Optimist sounds like mine.

    It's interesting that people dress for the theatre where you are. They do at the opera in NYC. But not on Broadway. People often dress in jeans when seeing a Broadway show.

  17. Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden, I reckon it is a Blogger ploy to keep costa rica off the map so that their head honchos can enjoy their houses there in peace!

    Half the loo bowl missing! What do you think they did with it?

    Mary Anne Gruen, oh yes..never travel with an optimist...especially one with an agenda!

    People dressed, yes, but not in the sort of stuffed 'look at me' style of London.

  18. I wondered why there were so many new posts on your other blog and none on this, Fly, but now the mystery is solved. The last one showing on my blog-roll is your previous one.

    Wonderful account of what was obviously, despite the polyester sheets, a very enjoyable evening.

  19. Perpetua,
    it was a super evening...sheets notwithstanding.