Not just another pretty face. Costa Rica has culture!
FIA: International Art Fair Costa Rica

Several months ago I had an interesting conversation with a visiting travel agent from abroad. We had a very nice talk about the wildlife and our nature reserve, as well as a discussion about our hotel's design aesthetic. This industry professional was a well educated and obviously well-travelled individual. At one point our guest asked me to define our client profile and when I mentioned people interested in culture, I was interrupted with a resounding, "but there is no culture in Costa Rica!" .huh? I thought as I stared incredulously into those confident eyes.

The National Theater, built 1890 San José, Costa Rica

Those of you who know me well could imagine the tremendous amount of restraint I had to muster as my guest kept insisting on the point. In short, I was able to pull myself together and calmly (relatively) explain that Costa Rica is a very young country and that the culture may not have the strong indigenous traditions of some of the other Latin American countries, but culture is indeed alive and well.

The contemporary arts scene is particularly vibrant. Music festivals abound and range from folk music to reggae to classical. Theaters are more numerous per capita in San Jose than in any other city in the Americas. The Art City Tour, organized by our good friend Henry Bastos, boasted over 700 participants after just the third edition of this one evening event.

Street Theater in San José, FIA Costa Rica

This is a particularly exciting time of year for art lovers in Costa Rica. FIA is a 14 day international art fair designed to offer the Costa Rican public quality artistic productions in music, dance, theater, street theater, performance, visual arts, film, and children's programming. This year's special guest country is Spain, however, over 20 countries from Europe, Asia and the America's are represented. A total of 115 productions, 53 from abroad plus 62 from here in Costa Rica, are offered in three cities across the country.

La Sabana park, San José, Costa Rica

The largest venue is La Sabana park, located in the western section of our fair city of San José. Last week I got to see the construction of performance decks along the lake, right next to the new outdoor roller skating rink (it is very cool). La Sabana is the city's largest and most beloved public park and home to a large public sports complex, the Costa Rica Museum of Contemporary Art and the national futbol stadium.

Even without FIA in operation, San Jose can be a enjoyable part of your vacation. For a better understanding of Costa Rica, I always urge interested visitors to explore San José and its cultural heritage as well as the arts scene -often they are pleasantly surprised.

FIA runs from March 18 to April 1, 2010. For specific information on FIA please go to:

The next Art City Tour is scheduled from April 21. Please contact Henry Bastos at, for additional information and to get a copy of GAM, a monthly calendar publication that lists cultural activities in the San José area (also on Facebook).

--Carlos Rojas

March 2010

Concha Buika, Spain
FIA Costa Rica

Peter Brook, Switzerland
FIA Costa Rica

Sursum Teatro, Costa Rica
FIA Costa Rica

L'Exposé, Colombia
FIA Costa Rica

    click for webpage
José Pablo Solís Información Lentitud 200 x 210 cm

The human desire to collect is also shared by many members of the animal kingdom. Gathering food and storing them for future consumption in times of scarcity is an obvious survival tactic. Then there is the pure pleasure of collecting. Some bird species cannot resist shiny objects, for example, which they amass for no apparent reason other than basic attraction and desire, for the sheer pleasure of possession.

This simple trait, the desire to collect, manifests itself spectacularly in humans when it comes to art. As an art dealer, one of the most fascinating parts of my job has been coming to recognize the many motivations for collecting art. People buy art for status, to decorate, or even to fill walls in a big house, as mementos of a trip, anniversary or as a gift to a loved one. I believe that any motivation is valid, but like in most things in life, buying art for the pure pleasure of it is the most rewarding. In fact, in many instances history proves that most valuable collections are the ones created by the collectors who eschew investment tactics and embrace a straightforward passion as the primary mandate.

Not to say that judgment and acumen should be tossed out the window, but a cultivated eye most inevitably starts with simple passion and desire which are then refined over time.

Henry Jackson Genus Series 0904 monotype
A conversation with a relatively new client last week reminded me of how buying a piece of art can mean so many things at the same time. This particular client has developed a very sophisticated eye but at the beginning she considered her taste to be very conservative. One of her earlier acquisitions surprised me at the time. The subject matter was not quite controversial but it was definitely more challenging than many of the other pieces she and her husband had bought. Besides giving me an idea about where their collection could develop in time, I wondered what exactly drew her to that piece. There was something deeper in her immediate attraction to the work than met the eye.

Over a year later, during a studio visit to purchase a Federico Herrero from his residency at Monte Azul, we were discussing their rapid development as collectors of contemporary art when I brought up the afore mentioned piece. The collector revealed to us that she was immediately attracted to the piece because it recalled a very specific moment in her life, a fond memory about coming of age and self discovery. It was a very funny story in fact, and the joy it brought to her was obvious and added a new dimension to the piece as well. This turned out to be a pivotal piece for the collection as it challenged what she initially considered her taste in art and allowed her to expand and enjoy a much broader range of work.

Karla Solano Instalación múltiple

The interpretations of a work of art are as numerous and individual as the people who see it. Each one is completely valid; there are no wrong opinions. Buying a work of art, whether it's a spontaneous splurge or acquired under strict guidelines, becomes an opportunity to share with others. For some it may also be a way to recall fond memories either from a distant past or of the moment in which it was acquired. For others it could be the opposite and perhaps stand for something completely new, or even for nothing at all other than the joy or pride it brings to your space.

The common thread is that an original work of art connects us to our own humanity. On a personal basis, the acquisition in itself delights us. On a community level, it connects us to a basic desire that we have elevated into a form of art in itself, allowing us to share the sense of accomplishment with the artist. And at Monte Azul, that little bird who caries off a shiny bobble to keep in its nest reminds us that nature and culture share more than we often realize.

New space for DesPacio gallery
Congratulations to DesPacio gallery on their wonderful new space in central San José! Only 100 mts north of the main entrance of the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art and Design).

Opening with an exhibition of three and two dimensional works by contemporary artist Ángel Poyón of Guatemala.

For additional information contact:
Clara Astiasarán
DesPacio Galería

Manuel Neri Figure Study 1980

Paulina Ortiz Sotobosque I
fiber sculpture

Sebastian Mello Domingo
silkscreen on foamcore

Ileana Moya Los ingredientes
handmade paper

Alvaro Gomez Cuerpos del deseo
woodblock print

    click for webpage
Campesino with Fresh Flor de Itabo
La Flor de Itabo, a Seasonal Tradition served at Café Blue

As we approach Semana Santa, or Easter Week, the countryside is dotted with fruits and vegetables of the season. Tables all over Costa Rica are set with a bounty of sweet preserves and empanadas made from the large chiverre squash, various pickles and escabeches, and the ever present bacalao. It is also a time of year blooming with flowers from orchids to Flor de Itabo, which is consumed as perhaps the most unusual and one of my favorite dishes of the season.

Flor de Itabo is called yucca in English; its scientific name is Yucca Elephantipes and is a member of the agave family. Living in California I was accustomed to seeing a very similar plant where it is a common and hearty garden favorite. Its blooms are appreciated for their large cluster of brilliant white petals. In Costa Rica the blooms are larger and more profuse and the locals have enjoyed them in their meals for many generations.

I would describe the flavor as something like an artichoke, but with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The flowers are most commonly prepared in eggs like a tortilla española. Another way in which it is prepared is in a traditional picadillo, from the word picar: to mince or to chop.

The Picadillo de Flor de Itabo may be served as a main course at lunch or as a light main course at dinner. It also makes a great side dish.

Recipe for Picadillo de Flor de Itabo:
2 cups flor de itabo
2 eggs lightly beaten
4 potatoes cubed and precooked in water with salt
1 onion, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
Plus vegetable oil, salt, white pepper, cumin, cilantro

Its easy: pluck the flowers from the stems and remove the centers of each. This part of the flower gives it its characteristic flavor so it's best to leave some intact. Wash the flowers carefully in fresh water, dry and set aside.
In a sauté pan, at medium heat, warm the oil and add the onions until transparent but not browned, then add the fresh thyme.
Add the flowers until they begin to wilt, about ¼ cup water will help to cook evenly and avoid browning. Chicken stock may be used instead of water.
When the flowers are tender but not overcooked, add the eggs, potatoes, salt, white pepper, and cumin. Garnish with whole leaves of cilantro or finely chopped. Serve with warm corn tortillas on the side.

¡Buen provecho!

Chiverres at the market

Flor de Itabo (yucca elephantipes)

Picadillo de flor de itabo

    click for webpage

The International Cross Country Race To Chirripó
by Raven Solsong

The biggest event of the year on Chirripó Mountain is the International Cross Country Race to Chirripó, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica at 3,820 meters (12,531 ft). Runners from Costa Rica and all over the world come to compete. Only 200 get to run each year, ranging in age from 18 to 74 years old. The undisputed champion of this event is own neighbor, Don Francisco Elizondo Badilla. He is the only person to have run all 21 races to date and has a wall of trophies to show for his efforts.

The race is brutal: 34 km round trip - and the first 17 km is all uphill. It starts and finishes at the plaza de futbol in San Gerardo at an altitude of 1500m (4,920 ft); the turnaround point is Crestones Base Camp at an altitude of 3400m (11,154 ft). Most climbers do the return trip in a couple days, averaging 8-10 hours to base camp on the first day. The race record is 3 hours 15 minutes 3 seconds set in 2002 by Juan Carlos Zúñiga and Francisco's daughter Annel Elizondo Quesada set the women's record in 2000 with a time of 4h39m44s. Francisco's best time is 3h25m. Now, at over 60 years old, he runs it in 4h10m.

Chirripó Lake
Don Franciso Elizondo Badilla was born near San Gerardo de Rivas and has lived all his life here. He now owns and operates the El Descanso Hotel and Restaurant in San Gerardo catering to tourists and climbers, and owns a nearby finca. He has always been athletic: He played soccer as a youth, but decided to switch to a less dangerous sport when he got married and started a family. So he began running and competed in various 10-15 km races in the canton and surrounding areas. For his first attempt at the mountain in 1989, he trained for three months prior to the race. And on Feb 25, 1989 he became the first person to run up Chirripó Mountain. There were crowds of photographers waiting at the top to record the historic moment. They pulled him aside for photos, delaying him at least 5 minutes and costing him the first place finish. He made up time on the way back down, but missed the gold by a mere 30 seconds.

His family carries on in his footsteps. Daughters Annel and Carol have both run the mountain; Annel held the women's record for almost 10 years. Son César plays forward for Saprissa, a national soccer team. Don Francisco also credits his wife Yamileth Quesada Cordoba for supporting her family in all their endeavors.

Guests at Monte Azul can stop by El Descanso for -of course: a nutritious lunch or snack, only a 10 minutes from our hotel.

(adapted from the original article The International Cross Country Race To Chirripó by Raven Solsong in her magazine, Montaña al Mar, volume 8, February 2010. Contact her directly: and for copies of the current issue.)

foto Meghan J. Ward

foto Alexander Aguilar

Photo of the Month

A New Kid in Town

Baby Shakira the morning after she was born.
Why Shakira? If you'd seen her moves, you'd know!
By next year Shakira will help produce some of our famous Chevre cheeses, soaps and even cream a few cups of coffee.

--Carlos Rojas
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San Francisco 415 992 8065

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