Costa Rican Notes #1: Herman Hesse and Blondie in the Same Frame

(I have the privilege of spending some away time from AlterNet in Costa Rica, and will be sharing a few experiences, to keep in touch. :) ) 

San Jose, the sprawling capital of Costa Rica, with more than 3 million residents, has a reputation for being an ugly city, and with good reason.  The mish-mash of architectural styles, and the scattering of parks which often seem to have more cement than grass,  is part of the bleak picture. And then there is the omni presence of  global mega fast food , actual all American global mega fast food -- I've been in many cities around the world, but I  have never seen so many McDonalds. And Taco Bells and KFCs. And you name it. Ugh.

Yet, like in most places, if you venture away from the Central spine of the City, in to more interesting neighborhoods, there is much more to see.  In my one day of walking in different directions, I found two cool spots... I assume there are more some where in this town.

I wondered into the Amon neighborhood  and discovered Kiosco SJO, a high-end cafe hybrid  where you can get a excellent latte;  they give you your espresso separately to pour into you steamed milk... very civilized.  Along with the restaurant -- the menu looked good -- is a stylish art and design gallery with an emphasis on sustainability and local artist's work  There are books, photographs, furniture -- all pretty pricey --  but seemingly high quality.  A good place to sniff around. This spot is all about the weaving together of green and commerce -- one  vision for the future.

That evening, before heading to the Pacific beaches, I stumbled upon a bar restaurant, which was also a hybrid. It had a concert venue behind half closed doors inside it's bowels.  The place had two separate literary names.  I'm not sure which is which, although the fact that there is a long quotation from Argentine writer Julio Cortazar on the back of the menu, may mean the food and drink part is called Reyuela, which is Spanish for HopScoth, the English name of a 1963 Cortazar's novel (published  in English in 1966) described  as an introspective stream-of-consciousness novel where characters fluctuate and play with the subjective mind of the reader, and it has multiple endings. This novel is often referred to as a counter-novel, as it was by Cortázar himself."

The second name for the establishment is el Lobo Estepario, which translates to Steppenwolf in English, another noteworthy novel made famous  the '60s, this one by Herman Hesse (and of course also the name of the  Canadian-American rock group, famous for "Born to be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride," which likely took it name from the novel as well). According to the Wikipedia "Steppenwolf combined  autobiographical and psychoanalytic elements;  the novel was named after the lonesome wolf of the steppes. The story in large part reflects a profound crisis in Hesse's spiritual world in the 1920s while memorably portraying the protagonist's split between his humanity, and his wolf-like aggression and homelessness. The novel became an international success, although Hesse would later claim that the book was largely misunderstood."

I was very surprised to learn that Hesse wrote Steppenwolf and his other more famous novel Siddhartha, in the 1920s.  I read both of these books in 1969 or '70, when Hesse, was an archetype writer for the  more spiritual side of the emerging "60s generation. I doubt that most of us hippie, eager readers knew that the books were almost 50 years old.

So two hip establishments, one following the more linear path carving out the future with pricey design and quality, while the other, is much more cyclical, circling back to the wisdom of the '60s and the '20s.  As I sat in the restaurant  contemplating this notion, the sound from the concert venue became unavoidable. Peaking my head in I saw -- three guitar players, and a drummer - with the lead singer belting out sounds -- they seemed like a hundred Nirvana wannabes.  Except the lyrics where in Spanish.

When I sat back down, I looked up at the TV, to see Debbie Harry staring me in the face, streamed from  an international classic music video  channel.  There was Blondie in all her/their  glory, from somewhere in the '80s. I laughed at the multi levels of irony, sitting in a throw back '60s bar in Costa Rica because Ms. Blondie and I went to high school together in Hawthorne, New Jersey.  She actually was  two grades ahead of me. There were many Fall Saturday afternoons when Debbie  was  twirling the baton with  the majorettes and the school band, while I roamed the gridiron trying to score touch downs.  That the older Debbie, become the international  icon for  the punk generation in her 30's, the music that was a reaction to /rejection of the '60s,  while the  younger me became  the prototype Woodstocker and SDSer rolled into one, certainly was worth a few thoughts about the past, with perhaps Hesse and Cortazar looking over my shoulder. 

AlterNet / By Don Hazen

Posted at April 17, 2012, 7:51am

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