West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Friday, October 28, 2005

La cosita más linda

Why would anyone in her right mind wait outside the squat concrete terminal of Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría for six hours? Wind, rain, cold (well, all right, if sixty degrees can be called cold), squalling children, and the somewhat dispirited busking of a lottery ticket vendor: el millonario es usted! Si no juega, no gane. Chances, chances para hoy… But there I stayed, marooned on my barely adequate life raft of a Neal Stephenson novel (Zodiac. Like I said, barely adequate.) And why? Well, my sweet love Matt was coming down for a visit. I got to the airport at 1 PM, just after his plane was supposed to have landed, only to find that the runways were all closed. An aircraft was having some kind of difficulty, the nature of which never became clear, in some strategic location, and it took them four hours to get the runway open. Rumors abounded in the crowd huddled against the terminal wall. The monitors kept showing the same useless information. For a while the suspicion circulated that no more flights would be allowed in until the next morning. This nearly drove me to distraction, since my sweetie was only scheduled to be here for three days in the first place.

At last the runway was cleared and people began to stream through the doors. There he was, my dearest love, sporting a cute little beard that he’d grown to match his passport photo. A great deal of words have been written on the subject of love, and specifically on the topic of seeing one’s beloved after an absence. I won’t add my own paltry metaphors to the mix; there are some things so wonderful that words are inadequate.

Matt’s an exceedingly good sport. I took him out in the jungle to help with a vegetation inventory transect. He took diameter measurements and lugged a garbage bag of plant samples around, only complaining occasionally about the bugs and the rain. He even wore, at my urging, his world-famous “freakish green clown pants.” Well, they’re famous up and down the Appalachian Trail, at least, and they deserve wider renown. More to the point, they’re his lightest, quickest-drying pair of pants; characteristics which are highly useful in the jungle and nearly make up for their utter ridiculousness as apparel.

On the day before he left, Matt and I wandered through the labyrinthine Mercado Central in San José. The market is an entire block of shops and craft stalls under one roof. One end is geared toward the tourist crowd: t-shirts, hammocks, coffee, leather goods, paintings, all manner of knick-knacks. The far side of the market is more for the locals: pyramids of fresh fruits and vegetables, a stinky aisle of fish and meats, bins of animal feed, dark corner booths where wizened old men concoct herbal remedies from roots and bunches of wilted leaves, and a booth selling plastic and styrofoam containers in all sizes.

Matt was looking for a good present for his mother. (Ruthie, if you’re reading this, I won’t spoil the surprise!) The first thing we considered was a little ceramic crocodile. It was a bit cross-eyed, which gave it a certain amount of character. It stood out more for the context than for its ocular peculiarity, though: everything else in that booth was intended for a Christmas creche. Recumbent mules and camels, robed shepherds and wise men, a plethora of smiling babies in cribs and angels suspended from the beams. The nearest shepherd stood mere inches from the crocodile’s jaws.

“I bet your mom would like it,” I said to Matt. “Every creche should should have a crocodile.”

“The thing is,” he said, “it would probably end up in the crib.”

I poked him. “Sacrilege!”

“Well, it would only be taking the place of Yoda.”

You can tell an awful lot about a man from the kind of home he grows up in. It’s a good thing we found each other— what are the chances of two such goofy geeks ever finding true love?

In the end, we decided not to get the crocodile. We got a lovely little (mumble, mumble) from one of the souvenir shops in the front of the market. I chatted with the woman at the counter for a bit while she wrapped up Matt’s purchase. She asked where we were from, and how long we’d been together. The U.S., almost two years. I told her that he was only here for a few days visiting, and how I wished he could stay for longer (with a hug for emphasis, while he stood there, a good sport, trying to navigate the tangled thickets of Spanish).

The woman beamed at us. “Dos jovenes tan enamorados. Es la cosita más linda.” Two young people so in love. It’s the most beautiful thing. And so it is. I miss you, Snookie.


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