Travel writer Joe Baur interviewed me on the latest episode of his fascinating podcast, “Without a Path.” We share not only a love of Costa Rica but an obsession with Costa Rican slang, to the point where we both wrote books about it – check out his, “Talking Tico” – and it was great fun to shoot the breeze with him.
Listen in to our conversation about reasons travel is particularly important for U.S. citizens, why “the greatest country on Earth” is such a ridiculous concept, the immigrant secret identity and more.
Also, subscribe to Joe’s podcast for weekly interviews with “creative types, adventurers and the occasional hope for humanity about the travels that have helped define their lives.”
Published in The Tico Times on June 5, 2017.
When you’re tuckered out from a long day using Costa Rican slang at every conceivable opportunity, how do you announce you’re ready for bed? With a little local color, of course. So when my husband needed our four-year-old daughter to hit the hay the other night, he said to her, “OK – a planchar la oreja.”
Planchar is “to flatten” or “to iron.” When you’re off to “flatten your ear,” it means you’re ready to put your head down on your pillow. It’s my favorite expression for going to bed, followed closely by “voy pa’l sobre.” A sobre is an envelope, and the expression conjures up the cozy feeling of slipping between tightly tucked sheets; I love the mental image of someone slipping into an envelope and snuggling up to sleep.
Our daughter burst into tears and grabbed her ears in a true panic.
Hi there – just wanted to say thanks so much for your support and readership, and to share my first two columns in The Tico Times, which are inspired by (and will sometimes overlap with) “The Dictionary of You” and will run every other Monday from here on out. The column, “Maeology,” looks at Costa Rican culture and the expatriate experience through the country’s language and slang. I will continue to add them to the “Portfolio” section of the blog as they appear.
A love letter to Costa Rica’s second language, Nov. 10, 2014
The amazing true story of tuanis and brete, Nov. 24, 2014
I’ve come to Costa Rica three times in my life. The first time, I was seven, and I remember absolutely nothing about the whole trip except seeing an enormous crocodile in the canals of Tortuguero. The third time, I was twenty-five, beginning the six-month visit that has continued for ten years. But in between was a college summer when I worked as a highly improbable intern at the national newspaper La Nación and lived with the greatest family in Costa Rica. Don Memo and doña Hannia sealed my fate, planting the seeds for my return years later. They ensnared me in a net of good food, exuberant kindness and costarriqueñismos that I would never quite escape. In a very real sense, they paved my way to you. Continue reading
Part of becoming a parent is gaining the ability to wax poetic about some pretty mundane shit – including, well, shit. Enough bleary-eyed diaper changes will make a philosopher out of anyone. Nothing, though, can compete with a bubble wand in terms of making a person ponder the fleeting nature of life. In the movie “Knocked Up,” Paul Rudd’s character describes it: “I wish I liked anything as much as my kids liked bubbles… It’s totally sad. Their smiling faces point out your inability to enjoy anything.”
It’s really true. Watching a kid chase bubbles puts us, as adults, to shame: the simplicity of the game, the intensity of the joy. Continue reading
(My dear: This is one is for me to ask you to read when you’re a teenager, for you to actually read in your 20s, and for you to appreciate, maybe, when you’re… well, 35.)
I had heard it a few times over the years, but now that I myself am 35 years old, one day it hit my ear in a new way, and I had to ask your dad. “Why is that medio treinticinco means crazy? Is that the age when you lose your mind?” Uuy, pero ese mae está medio treinticinco, huevón.
He explained that, no, there is a simple explanation: 35 is, or at least it was at some point, the police code for a nutcase. It’s the number that crackles over the radio when a cop picks up a guy who thinks he’s a chicken, or a wild-eyed woman who believes herself capable of driving through San José in less than two hours during Friday rush hour. However, despite this clarification, I can’t help but associate the expression with my age – which is my favorite age thus far. That’s partly because of you, but also partly because blowing out candles thirty-five times seems to have freed up something in my brain. Or maybe it knocked something loose. Continue reading
I slip out of the house into the cool evening. It’s late-summer twilight in New England, God’s attempt at justice for those who live in cold climates. These endless sunsets that stretch long past dinner make it possible to end the day with a run – a luxury impossible in Costa Rica, where the sun drops like a dead weight at six-ish, year-round. (I know, I know. I can feel the wrathful eyes of Mainers upon me. I’m not complaining, and yes, I know I haven’t scraped the ice off a car in 15 years. But you know it as well as I do – a Maine summer, for all its brevity, is perfection.)
I’ve got a good hour of light left, but it’s dim enough that the living-room window looks cozy as I pass it, and I pause, torn, reluctant to turn away. Inside, two heads lean together, conferring in front of the record player, your grandmother’s grey, yours brown, both equally tousled. A Sesame Street record starts to play. I make myself keep going, past the For Sale sign and into the street. Goodbye for now, mi choza, I think. Choza, one of the first words your father taught me. Literally a hut made of palms, but also a comfortable slang word for home. This home, for a few nights more at least, is mi choza gringa, my stateside place to hang my hat during the pat thirteen years. Continue reading