Your brother’s my cousin’s ex-girlfriend’s son? A Costa Rican screenplay

You know what is truly pura vida, to me, after 13 years?

More than a beach or a rainforest porch, more even than a cafecito or a birra bien fría, pura vida might consists of sitting in the back of a taxi while, in the front seat, two Costa Ricans figure out how they know each other.

180408Taxi

Courtesy of The Tico Times / Photo by Alberto Font

It’s always entertaining, always funny, always different, and usually better the older the two people are – except I guess it tops out around 60, because if they’re older than that, they’ll probably have figured out each other’s family histories before they even open their mouths.

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Why learning another language keeps us young

IMG_3653Published in The Tico Times on June 5, 2017.

When you’re tuckered out from a long day using Costa Rican slang at every conceivable opportunity, how do you announce you’re ready for bed? With a little local color, of course. So when my husband needed our four-year-old daughter to hit the hay the other night, he said to her, “OK – a planchar la oreja.”

Planchar is “to flatten” or “to iron.” When you’re off to “flatten your ear,” it means you’re ready to put your head down on your pillow. It’s my favorite expression for going to bed, followed closely by “voy pa’l sobre.” A sobre is an envelope, and the expression conjures up the cozy feeling of slipping between tightly tucked sheets; I love the mental image of someone slipping into an envelope and snuggling up to sleep.

Our daughter burst into tears and grabbed her ears in a true panic.

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Waiting for gray (bochorno)

IMG_7086.JPGDear E.,

The longer I live in places where you can wear flip-flops 12 months a year, the more obsessed I become with seasons.

It’s not as simple as missing them. If I could choose right now, I’m not sure I’d wish the seasons of my childhood back into my current life. But I’m fascinated by the way those memories find us at odd moments, and how we reconfigure them among the smells, sounds and sensations of entirely different climes.

Last week I was telling you your favorite bedtime story, the same one you ask for every night. In it, you discover a set of keys that unlocks little doors hidden in the nooks and crannies of our house, doors that go unnoticed until you discover them one rainy day. There is one key and one door for every color of the rainbow, and each door reveals a different landscape: an orange grove, a blue Maine lake, green hills that we run across and roll down.

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Of maes and men*

My dear daughter: I may be getting a little ahead of myself, since you haven’t yet learned how to put on socks, but here are a few thoughts on relationships – in case they still exist when you are an adult and have not yet become an app of some kind. (Here you’ll say, “App? Man, she is SO OLD.”)

At the heart of Costa Rican language and, in many ways, the heart of the way your father talks, is the word “mMaeae.” A little like “man” (as in “hey, man”), a little like “dude” (in a certain time and place), with complex origins and rules of use I won’t get into here, it is the way many Costa Rican men – and, from what I’ve seen, some women in specific contexts – address each other. I call your dad El Mae, or El Mejor Mae que Hay. Before you were born, we called you “la maecilla.” It’s actually engraved inside my wedding ring, as a bit of a joke. I kept trying to think of something to put in there that would capture the feel of us in a few characters. When the woman told me to just put your dad’s initials, I smiled and gave them to her: M. A. E.  Continue reading

On motherhood and hunger (como el león del Bolivar)

I’ve come to Costa Rica three times in my life. The first time, I was seven, and I remember absolutely nothing about the whole trip except seeing an enormous crocodile in the canals of Tortuguero. The third time, I was twenty-five, beginning the six-month visit that has continued for ten years. But in between was a college summer when I worked as a highly improbable intern at the national newspaper La Nación and lived with the greatest family in Costa Rica. Don Memo and doña Hannia sealed my fate, planting the seeds for my return years later. They ensnared me in a net of good food, exuberant kindness and costarriqueñismos that I would never quite escape. In a very real sense, they paved my way to you. Continue reading