Cultural Romance

Cultural Romance

A Story by bourgeois hippy

A little memoir from a trip of mine.


October 2008

It had been my first night in two weeks away from the isolated organic finca, and I’d already met three Swiss, two more Austrians, and one very cute German.  I wished I spoke German better solely for the latter acquaintance, whose eyes had sparkled as they shared that initial reconnaissance with my own for those special two extra seconds.  I’m not sure what those two seconds told me exactly, but seeing her fingers slide up and down the fret board of my guitar with more grace than I could have ever hoped to have had myself, complemented with her blonde hair and gleaming blue eyes, told me that something magical was in the air.

At first I thought the formalities in Spanish (such as asking names, nationalities, purpose of visits) were purely situational; we were in Costa Rica, after all…  But what western German in their early twenties didn’t speak English, especially with an American?  Apparently a few, because once my rattling freight train of Spanish shook a little too violently and I tried to ask her something in English, the train derailed and she looked at me blankly. 

Truly showing my heritage, making such assumptions. And while it would have helped, I hadn’t dared try my German with her. I didn’t need to set the train wreck on fire; not before I’d had a drink or two at least.  The few phrases, verbs, and grammar I knew in German were purely from friends and off the streets, as they say; thus I drove my single semester-studied Spanish with a bit more confidence.

She left before the party started, so it had never come down to discussing things in a deeper manner. Much to our benefit. I hadn’t bothered thinking too much about it afterwards; I was off traveling now, and these things happen more often than not.  I’ve always been blessed to never having to worry about misleading or stressful situations with girls, because I can never get things past the preliminary speaking stages to begin with.  Not that most travelers do worry, but I can see from an American standpoint that one could worry about making a phone call, sending a romantic e-mail, or on a bit more generic level, buying condoms.  I guess that’s why traveling had been becoming a new type of romance all in its own to me—I began to seek it in different ways.

The night was a fun one—it had to be, by nature, given that it was the first night since my arrival staying in an actual city in Costa Rica.  Their small little urban house was located in a barrio of San Isidro, which neighbored what was my electricity-less, warm water-less wooden hut in the banana tree covered hills leading to Mount Chirripó, where I’d been working on an organic farm for the last three weeks.  I’d been aching to take a break from the clutches of my lonely sixty-year old employer (if you will), and the two other volunteers had the perfect solution: come meet their friends in the city.  I jumped on the offer, and plunged into my first time seeing how Europeans live and entertain themselves abroad. At first I thought it was the same way Americans do-- with lots of beer, smoking, and music.  It took a few days, but soon I saw the amount of soul and passion going into everything we did.

After two nights of meeting German speakers, dining in the most gourmet [homemade] fashion, and drinking watery sweet Central American cerveza, I returned to the farm for two more days of banana tree uprooting, organic coffee processing, and bug bite scratching before deciding it was time to move on.  I’d felt that unique reignition of the travel bug, the wanderlust, the joy and romance of meeting people foreign to me again; and I had to succumb to my passions while I still had the time.  There was more to be learned down with the others, more activity to take part in, and more life to live.  I bid a fresh, spring water farewell to my British hostess, and hitched a ride into town for the last time, stopping off to buy two liters of beer before moving into my new friends’ house.

The next week introduced me to the lifestyles of other wealthier-worlders living abroad in a developing nation.   Building relationships was something common and wonderful to me while traveling alone, and something I’d spent the last year of traveling Europe doing, but the two unique things I hadn’t encountered for so long was the language barrier, and the shared out-of-place element.  The language barrier had been more of a language fence at first, given that they’d all studied English for years in their area of German speaking Europe, but once we’d get our Spanish confused with English or French, and wandered the boundaries of the four different dialects of German present (two Swiss, one Austrian, one German), we’d laugh and forget about climbing any fence or breaking any barriers.

Seeing these Europeans find ways to cook delicious meals with all different types of available food completely foreign to them and their homeland was as inspiring as eating it. Noticing their formidable hygeine with no warm water around and little more than a trickle of water coming out of the shower was just shocking and downright embarassing to the lazy slash economic American who showered as sparingly as myself.  Seeing their arts and crafts put together with such precision made me want to paint on the mural covered wall; seeing the Austrian kid start reading the Bible to ‘see what all the fuss is about’ and subsequently giving up booze and smoking two weeks later made me want to grin and join him—just for the support he may need.  I’d never seen Europeans live before, and was beginning to understand a lot more about them.

As I took note of this European lifestyle, I slowly adapted to do what I could to be a little less American around them. Americans are not hated by Europeans, we just happen to live life differently enough to make them not enjoy our company too much.  I saw meals prepared like they were the last, making each one turn out absolutely perfect with no time limit whatsoever.  While this is definitely a trait of the time spending traveler, I still would not have even contemplated such an art with all the free time.  When the Swiss would return from work, the cigarettes in their mouths would make them happy, not relieved. I smoked enough of them to appease myself, and even found them in my mouth while I tried my hand at cooking.  I didn’t bathe a lot more, but I did was my clothes a bit more frequently. One can’t escape from everything, however, as we spoke English primarily all day together.

I began trying to take advantage of the situation and pick up some more German, and in due time I could catch drifts of conversations going on in the house.  How foreign yet sweet the Swiss gals sounded in English, but all the while so similar and familiar in their native tongues.  It was a pity my Spanish hadn’t been progressing as much as it should have been, but at least I used it in town on trips to use the Internet or buy groceries.  I’d pulled out my « 501 Spanish Verbs » at least twice in those several days.  Nevertheless, I made enough connections with my French, and even English, and looked more into the history of the Spanish language on the Internet.

I love language. I love how the mind interprets communication in all different senses, and learning languages stimulates one of those neurons.  Despite speaking primarily English with my newfound friends and « housemates, » I knew what went into the words coming out of their mouths, conversation after conversation, thanks to spending a year in France trying to learn French.  I saw how their minds converted grammar rules they’d learned and managed to translate thoughts and gests, jokes and inquiries, asking me for help when they couldn’t figure it out themselves.  Don’t ever think that there is nothing to learn from chatting with a foreigner in your own native language. I was a live dictionary around to help them shape this foreign language more finely into their minds, as this aid began to mold precious memories of choppy, harsh stories and experience into my own word-oriented mind.

With growing friendships and nothing but free time around the house, we did plenty of talking, spanning countless topics over countless gourmet dinners night after night.  We spoke of travel over steaming plates of beans, rice, and vegetables topped with gourmet Austrian sauces, we debated world politics, however limited our viewpoints were, over fried yuca patties with strange cheese; we discussed linguistics and language over yumpi stew with grilled plantains...  Our topics were as fresh and savory in my mouth as the finely prepared cuisine every night. The way we analyzed what we saw in the worlds was all based purely on where we came from and what we’d seen.

The Swiss, being from the tri-lingual nation they are, came to agree with me that they have a national inclination towards language.  Their minds are exposed at a young age to at least three different languages (Swiss German, French, Italian), with different dialects of each of them. It was my belief that for most of their coherent lives they are more than capable of picking up any language in very little time, with very little trouble.  Much less time and trouble than a gringo grown American, freshly harvested and shipped off on an airplane to go learn « culture. »

We cooked together, we fixed the leaky roof together, we made drum circles and music together.  We pieced together mirrors from broken televisions, we painted murals of banana tree swirls and animals lounging, we shared music and drinking games.  We swept the dirty living room floor, we emptied countless ashtrays, we did laundry. We walked, hitchhiked, or ran all the way home, soaking wet in the rain.  We lived together, dealing with the oh-so-different climate, the language, and the insects.

It was only after this first week of living with these two Swiss, social working volunteers for the city, and these two Austrians, fresh-out-of-high school travelers, that I began to realize that I was comfortable and content.  I knew that this meant only one thing: I had friends I trusted and loved.  These four, who were such a mystery to me at first with their beer and corny English jokes and German accents, were now people that would smile back at me when they would walk back into the house and see me hanging around, painting a picture on the wall or writing in my journal.  These four, who’d just looked at me like another guy passing through at first, now knew and cared about my life, and complimented my guitar playing or cooking on a frequent basis; and I did the same the other way around, because I’d wanted to.

That sense of travel love and comaradery, that aura of wanderlust began to simmer constantly in the air in that house, and soon I realized why. The same thing had been happening for close to ten years now; German speaking Europeans would come to volunteer in the city and the original owner of the house passed it on. The artwork collected, the cobwebs under the oven multiplied, and the life of the house pulsed on. Life was good for us all, as it was for them all before us. That’s when I began learning strange lessons I never thought I would.

 You don’t need a woman to be in love, I came to realize on a conscious level.  You don’t need to look at life any differently than the simplest sense of it all: if you are happy, you are happy.  When you are loved, you love.  When you awake with the peacefulness derived from your hangover, the tranquility of life itself soothes you day and night. When this tranquility has taken place, we all are one, and that misconstrued, self-prejudiced image of your cultural background in your head dissolves into the serenity of the clouds, waiting to rain and nourish your world. Yes, life was good for us all.

 By that time in my trip, it was almost time to move on; but not before I saw a Costa Rican beach.  The whole group of volunteers hopped on the bus and off we went through the rolling green hills of the central coast, passing Coca-Cola owned land and people.  Weeks before, I would not have tried not to take out my iPod on the bus, for fear of showing the Ticos that I wasn’t from around there.  Weeks before, I would not have hopped on the bus in a tank-top and hawaiian flowered bright blue swim trunks.  Weeks before, I didn’t realize that you receive the stares either way, when you are white. Not American, just white: the Germans were spoken just as much English to from the various children as I was.

The beach was beautiful: palm trees and coves, warm water and white sands, exotic birds and sexy seashells… Everything a tourist dreams of when they think of a Costa Rican beach.  These things went straight through my head, however, as the first thing I noticed when I stepped foot on that smooth sand, was that she had met us there.  That angel I’d met on the night that I wanted to believe propelled me into the beauty I now perpetually lived in… Seeing her put me in a trance, watching her walk into the ocean, talking to her friend.  Her golden hair got caught with a gust of wind as she smiles at her friend and dives under a wave. She reemerges, with wet hair and a big smile on her face. Qué bonita…

I was luckily blessed to be more than comfortable around those who I’d been spending so much time with, and thus I approached my angel with confidence, sitting next to her on the beach. Her smile showed me a whole demeanor of unbelievable tranquility and positivity, and I finally placed what I’d seen in her blue eyes the week before: that sense of life and beauty that I’d felt taking presence in my life the past few days.  Instead of dwelling on the pointless fact that I seemed to be the last to experience it, I was overjoyed that I could sense it in everyone, even Costa Ricans. Instead of wondering what made me so opposite of what I was experiencing, I embraced it and lived in its arms.

After we sat together, we swam together. After we swam together, we did handstands together. After that, we juggled together. Her patience astounded me; I think I must have bent over to pick up the ball at least one hundred times in that single hour. But she laughed, and I laughed.  We juggled all throughout the afternoon and evening together, smiling into eachother’s eyes under the rain pattering on the roof of the five dollar hostel, drinking Caribbean rum while trying to keep four hands in rhythm with passing six balls back and forth.  While I would have liked to, we must have spoke no more than twenty words together the whole day.  I’d thought my Spanish would be better yet sentences could still not leave my mouth in a coherent fashion. Forced to use simple words or phrases, we got by using all three languages and despite the laughs, the jests, and the lack of verbal communication, nothing had been left unsaid.

As the only non-German speaker, away from the crowd for so long, I was left out of the loop of the fact that the whole bunch was planning on going to the discoteque down the road later that night. ¡Que fantastico!  The group split up into different pick-up truck cabs, toasting drinks along the rocky path. I was so lost in my imagination of what was about to happen I didn’t even notice how far we drove in the darkness. I didn’t complain, however, when we were dropped off at a huge open hut right on the sand of a beautiful cove. I didn’t complain at all.

It took some time for the group to begin to dance, but soon the alcohol kicked in and the place was alive with reggaeton house beats and sweaty bodies getting in trouble by security for taking their shirts off.  I’d lost her in the crowd before being able to dance with her, but with the whole club in the mood for having fun, I felt little sorrow and only enjoyed myself all the more, doing what I do best: not chasing after girls.  After about two hours, I went outside to smoke a cigarette, where I ran into my Austrian « housemate » and the group’s sole Costa Rican friend, who suggested that we all go take a walk down to the water.

We walked across the bridge and the twenty meters to the ocean, and our native friend unexpectedly pulled out a freshly rolled joint.  We smoked, our feet in the water, language walls up in three different directions yet laughs and hugs all around.  With handicapped Spanish speaking and similarly paralyzed comprehension, we enjoyed ourselves under the moonlight penetrating the soft layers of forgotten rainclouds.  The water felt so lovely on our sandaled feet, and the rustle of the Pacific wind on the nearby banana trees made peace with the heavy thumping of the music just half a football field away.  I smiled, unable to ask anything more of this pura vida experience made artificially even better with the recent addition to my brain cells.  I rocked my head to the music, following the others back inside. I remember hearing a cricket directly under the tiny bridge; its voice got progressively louder as we approached, and never ceased to chirp as we must have walked right over it.

The music was nothing short of nirvana at that moment, and it took me away.  We danced and we danced, with every second the experience getting more and more exciting.  I danced, until I looked up and saw that she was dancing right in front of me.  I grinned as I increased the intensity of my dance moves, throwing them out towards her.  She shook her head at my lasso, competing it with a wavy robot movement.  I laughed at her, and we continued to dance off until it turned into a miming of our juggling ensemble earlier in the day.  I’d drop to the floor to pick up my dropped ball every few seconds.

She laughed, and my whole being filled with sensations from every corner of my emotional universe, this climax in tow with the eyes of the angel I was staring into.  I moved closer and placed my hand on her waist, grabbing her hand with the other.  The music peaked with my night as we didn’t break eye contact for minutes.  We spun around through the crowd, smiling and laughing in our mimic of a tango, inching closer and closer and quickly regressing, only to repeat the movement...

After what felt like hours, she suggested un cigarillo.  I led her to the little bridge before the ocean, the entire way wishing I would just grab her hand.  We sat there, puffing on our cigarettes, looking at the night, our arms gently brushing.  She cracked a joke in English, and I laughed.  I spat out some slang in German that I’m pretty sure would have offended anyone who didn’t know me, but she laughed and continued talking in English.  She wasn’t bad.  I threw some more German into the mix, and Spanish moderated our communication.

We moved closer to eachother as the stars in her eyes shone brighter than those smiling upon us from above.  I could hear my heart pounding, yelling at me in four verbal and three bodily languages to kiss her.  I thought hers told her the same thing, but I didn’t know in how many languages. While I looked into those eyes, every aspect of my emotional being from language to travel to undefined love to the inner joys derived from intoxication pulsated through my blood. I was experiencing the maximum level of bliss my being could let me. Time stood still. I didn’t even need to kiss her.

In that instant of contemplation, that instant of emotional intention to comprehend the realizations deciding to make play in my spirit, the other Austrian « housemate » showed up right next to me.  As drunk as us, he pulled out a cigarette and began yapping away something in German.  I stood there, transfixed on the dark outline of the tide.  Through conversations switching to English for a bit, a bit of silly translating (she thought I understood more German than I let on), we never made eye contact again.  He suggested we go back inside. I went to use the rocks as a restroom as I felt the cool breeze of the ocean on my face, the rainclouds almost fully disappeared to show a full moon.

Refocusing my thoughts on my blonde angel, I was brought back down to earth. The moment was lost, and I didn’t feel much like dancing anymore.  I wandered around the inside of the club for ten minutes, drinking a few more beers in an effort to find another friend, I took my beer outside.  I stumbled to an outcropping of sharp rock jutting out from the soft leftovers of the tide, and I lit a cigarette. I could hardly see straight as I laid down and stared at the stars, blurring into one grand fireworks show thumping along with the music. 

I had all but cluttered emotions.  For the first time in the weeks I’d been abroad, everything was in place and coherent.  Everything had its own setting and purpose in the auras in the air, and I saw my own place in them for the first time, as the thin papery clouds blurred even more the image I had of the starry sky.  The moon spoke more to me in that moment of clarity than I could have ever hoped to convey in written or spoken words the next day or even the next minute.  I lived in a world full of dreamscapes and not one passion of mine went unfulfilled ; I even discovered others.  I’d been a part of beauty and love in every way my soul knew how to.

I smiled at how I’d just had one of the most romantic experiences of my life. A romantic experience spawned by something more than attraction, more than a connection, and more than conscious thought.  A romantic experience derived from the air I breathed and shared everyday for two weeks.  A romantic experience topped off with a girl I didn’t even kiss, and couldn’t even have a conversation with. A girl I communicated with on levels I’d never imagined existed, that succeeded at such a higher stratum than simply talking.  A girl I knew that, in the simplest way, despite the barriers of friends, nationalities and languages, was an angel.  Because everyone is an angel, when you are at peace and in love.



© 2009 bourgeois hippy

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Added on August 4, 2009


bourgeois hippy
bourgeois hippy

Hollywood, CA

It's hard for me to spit out words in an effort to create thought for myself to read later. Sometimes these thoughts are so hard to rationalize that I often wonder if they're anything but the dreams t.. more..