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Chilly verdant greetings to you from blustery Monteverde. The air has an arcticistic feel to it. We may be in the tropics, but we are in the mountains, and it is just dang chilly…and not at all white. I must admit, I miss the snow.
This week of Christmas festivities has been glorious – meeting up with friends on the street, twinkly nights in dressed up houses, the food flowing on festive tables. In Monteverde, on Christmas Eve, the group of traveling carolers, ebbing and flowing in numbers throughout the evening, grew so much this year that to fit all the requests in, they had to start their singing at 3:15 on a cool afternoon. They walked and sang and snacked until sometime after 11 p.m.
I had spent the afternoon with Wolf and Lucky – listening to our friend Wolf who has not stopped talking for over a week (more on this later) – and playing a renegade game of Scrabble with Lucky. She couldn’t believe she was taking the time to play Scrabble on Christmas Eve. The carolers arrived about 5 and, as is their habit, sang two carols in fine harmony. I then joined them and visited a few houses of expectant listeners armed with warm agua dulce and cookies before heading home.
It’s a wonderful tradition in Monteverde, this Christmas Eve roving community caroling choir. I heard that they had over 40 houses requesting that the carolers stop by – that’s a lot of carols sung and a lot of treats (squares, fruit, tamales, juices) consumed. Fortunately, there are lotsa young folk, along with the older and aging neighbors, who look like they will keep up the tradition just fine.
It is great to be back in the Cerro Plano apartment although it is a very cold building and the weather took a bad turn a couple of days ago. Poor Roberto has been very cold, as is poor Kay. We spent much of the week hunkered down with Tyra the dog, and Miel and Oly the cats. There has been lots of seasonal cheer to keep us all warm despite the chilly winds.
Oly and Tyra hadn’t met until I came, so now I am keeping an eye on them. If Oly the kitten gets too close to Tyra the bowl bully, everyone snaps and fur flies. Oly also had never gone outside until I came, and now that he’s had a taste, he is getting restless to explore the great outdoors. Given the chance, he moves carefully down the long balcony, wondering what is around the corner.
Christmas Day was a real potpourri. Roberto made rice and beans in the morning, the smell of coconut wafting about and exciting our senses; we took it to the community lunch where we feasted with friends on food that arrived from every house. Then Santa Claus rolled in on his bicycle and tossed candies to tthe excited kids.
Roberto and I didn’t stay after the lunch, but instead walked up to our friends Saray and Melvin’s. She invited us to be part of an afternoon spent with a Japanese film crew and tamale making. Under the big trees we watched Saray toss about her Tica charm and teach the young soap opera actor the fine art of making tamales.
From grinding the corn without losing his fingers, to assembling the perfect pockets of tamale love, to cooking them in the big cauldron of water over an outdoor fire, the nameless Japanese heartthrob did as Saray demonstrated with the friendly crew looking on. Apparently this is to be part of a series for a TV channel in Japan, taking well-known actors and having them host a travel show.
This particular episode will highlight three countries – Jamaica, Costa Rica and Cuba – and the theme is finding the passion of the country. In Costa Rica’s case, the passion is for nature, and so Monteverde is a great venue to demonstrate that.
Saray, Melvin, their kids and his sister Ana were perfect hosts, animated teachers, and I hope that they will have a place in the final product. I know from experience that hours of filming, regardless of the expenses incurred, end up on the cutting room floor. But we all will be happy to see our friend Saray become a big star in Japan!
After the film crew left, we ate the tamales, and gathered around a huge campfire that kept us warm against the night chill. Roberto kept us warmer still by singing calypso songs and Spanish boleros, accompanied by the boys on drums. To finish off the night, and this blog, and this year, we oohed and aahed as the kids set off fireworks. With sparklers, we wrote our wishes in the sky for love, joy and good health for 2011!
Before leaving on that sweet note, and speaking of good health, I want to just let you know that Wolf has entered a new stage in his medical journey. He’s been getting stronger, walking gently, eating well. But he has also been talking incessantly and becoming increasingly more manic. It has been over a month since he stopped taking lithium which kept his bipolar under control but was also responsible for a high level of toxicity in his system, damaging his kidneys and no doubt causing any number of secondary complications.
The day he left the Puntarenas hospital, he was given a new medication. The first week back home, Wolf was serene, in the present, and gracious. But since then, his bipolar condition has resumed. Obviously the medication is not doing the trick, but it is very difficult here to get him to a psychiatrist who could monitor him and prescribe the appropriate medication and dosage. Unfortunately, as time passes, Wolf is becoming more unstable and this is, of course, hard not only on him, but on those around him.
So once again, as I have asked so many times of you before, please hold Wolf in the light and pray that he will soon get the help he needs to get him through this very difficult time. And hold Lucky and the rest of the family in the light, as living with a person going through this is very difficult – I think more difficult than dealing with physical issues. May 2011 find Wolf, Lucky, and the Guindons – along with the rest of us – living with peace.
I know, I know. Somewhere in the world right now there is war, there is famine, there is heartbreak, there is suffering. By not watching the television, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or scanning the internet, I can avoid pondering these tragedies and injustices for a moment. I can linger in the peace that surrounds me here in Monteverde.
Above me an orange glow is slowly taking over the moon, as a lunar eclipse coincides with the winter solstice – how beautiful of a night is this!? I managed to stay awake till the appointed hour of 1:30 a.m. and took Tyra, my new dog friend, out for a walk. But the night is cold and the wind is strong, and I realized that I could watch the marvel from the comfort of the house, through the wall of windows facing to the northwest. So I brought Tyra into the house – a treat for her – and turned off the lights and have watched the sun, earth and moon at play. I know there are powerful forces at work making this spectacle happen, but from here it appears to be a most peaceful choreography.
I have left the Guindon house for the holidays. Wolf is doing much better and now has a nurse, so it is time for a break. I’ve returned to the apartment in the lower community of Monteverde known as Cerro Plano where I spent several months last year. At that time there was only the young cat named Miel (who our Caribbean cat is named after) but now there is also a rambunctious kitten named Oliver and the placid Tyra. Oly is hardly what I’d call a peaceful addition but Tyra, who survived life on the street (she was usually on the very busy corner near here) was brought into this loving place, bathed, fed, and pampered. Now she is a very happy puppy. These two had their first meeting yesterday and, as predicted, the kitten was in total control. For the most part, it was a peaceful encounter.
It is just days from Christmas. Monteverde excels at doing the season right – what they lack in snowflakes they make up for with a collective warm and glowing spirit. Each Sunday, following the hour of silent tranquility at the Friends meeting, carols have been sung since sometime in early November. There were recently three nights of the local choir, under the direction of Hugh and Phoebe Grey, singing beautiful arrangements of well-known and not-so-well-known Christmas music in a variety of venues. The choral part of Christmas will reach a crescendo on Christmas Eve, when the many people who love to sing will wander together from house to house, treat to treat, for hours sharing the good joy.
At the Monteverde meeting, there is a community gift exchange where two months ago, all who cared to pulled names. The only requirement about the gifts is that you make the gift yourself and you think sincerely about what the recipient may want or need. There are some beautiful homemade creations exchanged on Christmas Day. The emphasis is on thought and effort, not extravagance.
This week is one social fest after another, starting with last Sunday’s Christmas Wassail. A variety of people sang, acted, read poetry, and amused the gathered masses – there is so much talent in this town it is amazing. A big reason for this is that any little bit of talent is encouraged and appreciated. Kids here grow up not being afraid to get up and try something new, secure in the fact that no one will make fun of them no matter how undeveloped their talent may be. The adults have set the standard for being imperfect, often silly on stage and the audiences laugh with, not at, the performers. In this way, some remarkable musicians, writers and actors have developed their craft here.
Many local amateur (and not so amateur) musicians have gathered, under the direction of Heather Gosse, in something called the Kitchen Sink Orchestra. With a minimum of practice and a couple of dozen musicians at varying levels of experience, they did a fine performance of the Nutcracker Suite.
After the program, everyone heads into the room where what seems like thousands of cookies, contributed by each household, await on platters along with two huge cauldrons of spicy wassail. The lines of people flow past the sugary confections, choosing their favorites and trying the new, often garishly decorated, Christmas sweets. This may be the one time that “peaceful” isn’t exactly an appropriate description – instead it is one huge sugar rush!
Later this week will be the Christmas Barbeque – succulent meats roasted on a slow spit (with vegetarian options), Finally there is the big community lunch following Friends meeting on Christmas Day, ending with the gift exchange. There are also house parties of course, and local musicians such as Turid Forsyth and Margaret Adelman, are in demand as musical accompaniment for more carol singing.
Wolf is going into this festive season with renewed spirit and strength. Following the departure of his three sons (and now Helena, his daughter, has also gone back to the U.S.), with the excitement and activity of the previous week having settled down, he seemed a little depressed. We all miss Carlos, Tonio and Tomas and his family. The house got noticeably quieter and the reality of Wolf’s situation settled in.
Fortunately many friends and community members came to visit, including neighbor and new mayor, Chepe Vargas, and an old friend, Gary Diller. It helped to ease the transition. His new nurse, Stefany Rodriguez, arrived and now takes care of his baths and other elements of his care. She is wonderful with him and he, of course, appreciates having a lovely young nurse taking care of him.
Throughout last week, Wolf’s mood was up and down, his mind everywhere. He was often talking non-stop all day, so much that he lost his voice for awhile. As long as he was in a positive mood, it was fun as his sense of humor is healthy. When he’s down, all we can do is wait for the bad mood to pass, knowing it inevitably will.
But what this has meant is that his spunk is back. Each day we have seen a remarkable recovery – he started walking a couple of days ago, he’s eating more enthusiastically and taking the pills without any problem. Wolf has many ideas in his busy mind of what he wants to do. Understandably he gets frustrated that he can’t do everything he wants yet, and is still very dependent on others. For him, he isn’t getting stronger fast enough.
One day Stefany and I took him to the Monteverde Reserve where he held court from the comfort of the old Toyota Land Cruiser. Reserve employees, guides and even the elusive biologist Alan Pounds stopped by to visit. Wolf didn’t want to get out of the car and into his wheelchair, something I think he doesn’t feel good about. After nearly sixty years of walking through this forest, the idea of being helped out of the car and pushed around in a chair is just too much for him. Now that he is walking, I’m sure he’ll be back up at the Reserve and getting himself out of the car.
As Wolf has improved, I’ve taken more time to get around Monteverde, do some book biz, play Scrabble, and go out to some special parties. One was the 60th birthday party for the lovely Deb Penn at the Mata e Caña. There was a lot of dancing to blast-from-the-past music and super dancers. The night satisfied my soul.
There was also a very sad farewell to Cindye Rushing and her daughter Hunter. They’ve been here over three years and are both very much a part of the community – Cindye feeds the folks, Hunter entertains them, and everyone loves them. It was just their time to return to the US for the next chapter of their lives.
It’s been a week of feeling the Christmas spirit blanketing us, just like a soft new layer of white snow. It is great to get out and spend time with the wonderful folks of Monteverde. It’s been chilly enough to wear seasonal clothes and drink warm drinks. Not exactly Canada, but not quite so tropical either. Although I’ve moved a couple kilometers away, I still feel warm within the bosom of the Guindon clan. There is a grand sense of relief that Wolf is doing better and is now actively taking part in his own recovery. The light that he has been held in by friends and followers all over the world has shone bright enough to bring the color back to his cheeks.
My sweetie Roberto has just come up the mountain. We will spend these festive weeks with Tyra, Miel and Oly, and take in as many community activities as possible. Tranquility has taken the place of worry, sunshine has replaced the clouds, and peace reigns. May it linger in each of your lives and all over this precious earth.