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I’m back down in the hammock in Cahuita sharing my last weeks in paradise with Roberto. We are in talks with the neighbors about buying the property across his moat, the Quebrada Suarez, a process that is a little confusing, a little frustrating, but we survive knowing that in the end whatever happens, we’ll be fine. I returned to the Caribbean last week after close to three weeks in Monteverde, taking care of the apartment and Miel the cat, spending time with Wolf, and listening to as much music as that prolifically melodic mountain could provide.

When I first arrived in Monteverde in 1990, I lived for a few months with the Villegas family – Yolanda and Mario and their kids Sylvia, Johnny, Diña, Dana and Daniel – even though half of them weren’t born yet -as they were beginning to build their Pension Manakin in Cerro Plano. This year, I needed a place to stay for a few nights before the apartment was ready, so I got a room at a great rate and witnessed firsthand what the family has done in twenty years of work.

The Manakin Lodge is a friendly modern large-roomed pension, with one balcony facing the forest, another facing the community where one can witness what has grown up around it in these last two decades. Their prices are very reasonable and the family continues to offer warm service, delicious breakfasts and a comfortable ambiance. Why anyone would stay at the large Hotel Establo when they can stay in a cozy family-run lodge I will never truly understand. The Establo has spread like an out of control disease up the hillside and you can now see its lights burning all night from as far away as the Pan American Highway. It has four restaurants within its borders – as close to an all-inclusive-type resort as Monteverde will ever get I hope. It doesn’t feel like sustainable tourism to me. 

While in Monteverde, I did four slide presentations for the community about Bosqueterno S.A. I was honored to play a part in sharing this incredible history of what I believe is the first nature reserve in Costa Rica, (http://www.bosqueternosa.wordpress.com), a country now internationally known for its national parks, biological preserves and wildlife refuges. In many places, this little country seems to be a great big untamed jungle and it feels that perhaps there is still land that doesn’t “belong” to anyone; however, as Roberto and I work out the deal with the neighbors here, one is reminded that every inch of this earth is “owned” by someone who probably has plans for it. The family who is selling their inherited land next door told us that another big chunk of their property, just a couple hundred meters away from Roberto’s isolated homestead, is expected to be bought by a man who wants to put in a large hotel and golf course! Karamba! That’s a scary thought. They paved paradise…and we all know the rest of that song.

 If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that I indulge in as much live music as I can manage. Everywhere I live, everywhere I go, music is there. From a community stage in a shady park, to a smoky room with tortured souls uttering sorrowful lyrics, on the streets of a foreign town of gyrating dancers, or in fine halls echoing with hundreds of years of choruses of hallelujahs – it doesn’t matter, music is alive and well and keeping us connected. The last month in Monteverde, I was blessed with a huge array of great music and lots of opportunities to dance.

It was the season of the Monteverde Music Festival. The community always made its own music and supported visiting artists – the Trostle family built the Casa Sunset and intimate gatherings were held there. The Music Festival began as a community-run event back in 1992 when Margaret Adelman (a multi-artistic Canadian with many years living in Monteverde) began a four-month festival, bringing classical musicians from San José to the Villa, a building with a stunning view over the Nicoya. Three nights a week the music-loving community would make the trek up the steep hill to hear these concerts and watch the sunset. The next year, Margaret moved the concerts to her nephews’ hotel, the Fonda Vela, where it stayed for a couple of seasons. As the years went by, different people took over the management of the festival and the venue continued to change. Any money gained from the festival was used for music programs and instruments in the area’s schools.

Patricia Maynard and her son Mark

In ‘98 and ‘99, Patricia Maynard took over the direction of the festival and brought in a wider range of music, reflecting the tastes of Costa Ricans and younger foreigners who weren’t as interested in classical music. The concerts were held in the Monteverde Institute’s new building. I worked with Patri for those two years, managing the home that housed the musicians. We ran close to seven weeks of nightly concerts each year. I describe my job as doing everything or anything for the musicians during the 22 hours that they weren’t on stage – then I could just enjoy the music. It was a lot of work, but also the best investment in volunteer hours I’ve ever given. I became friends with many of the talented musicians and their families and feasted on a wealth of delicious music – both Costa Rican and international. One of the highlights was when Ruben Blades came up the mountain with Editus – an interesting, dynamic man with a gift for gab, a sharp political mind, and a soul for salsa – and he did his own dishes!

In 2000, the Monteverde Music Festival ended up in the hands of a committee organized by the Monteverde Institute and eventually petered out. In the early years of the new millenium, Gloria Waissbluth., a former director of the Costa Rican symphonic youth orchestra now living in Monteverde, held concerts in the Galerón Cultural Centre, a small hall in Cerro Plano. At the same time, Patricia Maynard built Bromelias Café and Amphitheater, an outdoor acoustically-lovely stage set inside the flower of a bromeliad’s bloom, and continued holding concerts as well. She also has an intimate indoor stage in the cafe. The Galerón is now closed, but the Amphitheater continues to burst with live music. So the Monteverde Music Festival continues – even though its direction may change, its purpose of bringing top quality music to Monteverde remains.

Machillo and Ricky

Alan Calvo

 

This year, Patricia had a great roster with a variety of musical genres. She was aided by her son, Mark, home for a few  months from studies in Argentina and his friend Ricky. I’ve watched Mark grow from a little kid and always been impressed with his ability to help…he is now a young man with the ability to multi-task while smiling and has become a stage technician not only for his mother but for large concerts held in the big city. The sound team for the festival was mainly Mechas (a musician who plays regularly in Monteverde) and another guy. Patri also gets perennial help from her sidekick Alan Calvo, another sweet human being who can do just about anything and maintain that smile on his face.  

Kumary and Johnny

From Miami, our rasta friend Johnny Dread returned with his Tico-musical friends and brought some roots reggae back up the mountain. It was a windy cool wet night, but Johnny warmed us all with his sweet soul and truth speaking. Kumary Sawyers, the singer from Costa Rican reggae band, Kingolovers, and Sergio Camacho of Unity joined him as they have before.

I had a chance to see Martha Fonseca, a singer with a large repertoire, who has traveled the world and sang with many. As with so many of the Costa Rican musicians, she has a Tico humility about her with a voice as diverse as the land. Nice woman, lovely voice. 

My friend Veronica Zumbado came with the group Alma Gitana – flamenco guitar, sorrowful lyrics, contagious hand clapping and Alejandra, the sharp-heeled flamenco dancer. A hot night that brought your blood temperature up. The neighbours told me that they didn’t hear the music, but the staccato sound of the dancer’s shoes kept their hearts pounding.

A couple of nights later was a show with Humberto Vargas followed by the Latin-American Idol runner-up, Maria José Castillo.  I’ve met Humberto before – he is a humble, amusing, and talented singer-songwriter as well as guitarist. He played with percussionist Chinny, charming the audience and reminding me of why I like him. The amphitheatre was full this night, testament to the commercial appeal of Latin American Idol just like the big brother Idol in the north. I can’t say I was overly impressed with Maria José – she sang with a soundtrack, not live musicians, and only brought four songs to Monteverde – then when the crowd demanded an encore, she was at a loss for what to do. Of course, I think she’s only eighteen.

Humberto joined her for the last song of the evening which was a well known song though not by me – he played it on the guitar and she sang and finally I saw a bit of her natural talent, unfettered by production. The machine of the monster called Idol was apparent, but it brought the local Ticos to the show, and if that’s what the people want….

Me, Milton and all

There were many concerts that I didn’t get to see but the last two of the series were both spectacular. One was Maestro Milton Mascriadi – a professional contrabassist from the University of Georgia who plays internationally and was visiting Costa Rica. He arrived with a professor from the University of Costa Rica and eight of their students from both schools. It was magical seeing eight huge double basses on the stage – one of them a 320-year old beauty from Italy. El Maestro was charming and very talented, his fingers playing over that big bodied bass as if it was a tiny violin. The encore of the show was a piece for bass and violin, played by two of the students, and it was memorable. The night was gorgeous, though a little damp for the stringed instruments, with mists wafting through the open amphitheatre. Pure magic.

That evening the music continued inside with Parque en el Espacio, the acoustic version of a latin rock band. With a bonfire outside, Bromelias is a great place to spend an evening, especially when the music is fine. The highlight of Parque for me was the “hang”, the inverted steel drum instrument from Switzerland – I heard them played in a back alley in Barcelona last year – a haunting sound with a versatility that relies on the player’s prowess. 

The last night of the Festival was Costa Rica’s Celtic band, Peregrino Gris. Frequent visitors to Monteverde over the years, these multi-instrumentalists never fail to move the crowd. They are extremely likeable gents with big talent on a variety of instruments. Rolando, their violinist, was out of the country, but Rodrigo, Carlos and Eduardo with his bagpipes played their jigs, reels and soulful instrumentals with the same heart as always.

Costa Rica has a wide range of music and the Monteverde Music Festival has always been a great showcase for it. The schools have benefited both from the festival and from the arrival of excellent teachers who bring their talents with them. Right now there are three teachers at the Friends School – Jonathan Ogle, Heather Gosse & Tricia Wagner – who have added to the musical celebration through theatre, music and dance. Tricia’s latest big production was the musical Grease, performed by the Grade 7 and 8s at the Friends School, but she can be heard singing and playing guitar and reciting poetry all over the community, including at Bromelias open mic nights.

I once said to Heather that she probably never imagined when she took the job teaching here in Costa Rica that she would have such a big opportunity to play her violin with a variety of professional bands. With her husband, Jonathan, a cellist, she can be found not only playing, conducting the Kitchen Sink Orchestra, and singing, but the two of them have led the English country dances on alternate Saturday nights when it isn’t square dance night at the Friends School. I grew up square dancing but these elegant dances with delicate steps and lovely movements were new to me. Following the very organized and clear instructions of Jonathan and Heather brought order to a room full of many debutantes and brought a whiff of Jane Austen to the room. Jonathan also proves that you can keep order by speaking in a “small voice” – everyone stays very quiet just to hear you – a technique I need to try some day.

It isn’t unusual for Monteverde to be visited by touring groups and choirs, and Yale University has supplied a few of these over the years. This year is was a female acappela group called Proof in the Pudding who gave a couple of performances for the community. The chance to travel up that beautiful green mountain and perform for very appreciative audiences must be as great a pleasure for the visitors as it is for those of us receiving them.

Doug, Tucky, Ron and Arden

And lastly, there was the flowing of honey while I was in Monteverde. I was visited by my friend Tucky, whose daughter is married to a man named Honey in Canada. I was also visted by my friend Ron Honey and his wife Arden and their friend Doug – we all had a great time, and the two Canadian Honey families were joined over dinner, trying to make connections around this rather unique family name though they aren’t sure what the relation is. The next night, Martha Honey, a journalist (famous for a book written with her husband about La Penca bombings in Nicaragua back in the 80s) and expert on eco and sustainable tourism, arrived to show a couple of short documentaries on the perils of corporate tourism on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

I enjoyed spending time with all these Honeys – and appreciated the underlying message that Martha brought with her – as in so many other things in life, small is beautiful, community is sacred, a healthy environment is irreplaceable. Costa Rica still has it all, I hope they never lose the green magic nor the music that is a big part of that.

August 2014
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