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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