The Saint of San Jose
Deep in the heart of the Costa Rican jungle rests a bustling, metropolitan oasis. It bears the namesake of Saint Joseph, the father to the Christian prophet Jesus. Much like the saints themselves, San Jose is an exemplary model, in that it embodies the fullness and diversity of the Costa Rican Spirit.
My first full day in the multifaceted San Jose began much the same as the days leading up to it. The gentle drizzle just outside the window made my roommates and I reluctant to rouse ourselves from the comfort of our hotel beds. Only the promise of a warm, fresh breakfast prompted us to make the tired trek down the stairs and face what the day had in store for us.
Upon taking our seats at breakfast, we find that our tour guide from the previous day, Patricia, will be joining us again. Patricia is as Costa Rican as they come, and an absolute whirlwind. My friends and I take the time to enjoy our pinto gallo and juevos, but Patricia flits around among us. Much like the city itself, she never quite rests in one place. She asks one table if they got enough rest, and another if they are enjoying the food, each encounter as genuine as the one before.
The morning is taking just a bit longer than normal to really get going, but I chalk it up to the sheer size and nature of twenty five college students. No sooner than when the entirety of the group had settled nicely on the formidable charter bus, Patricia regrettably announces to us that there has been an unexpected change of plans.
Alejandro Tosatti, our original San Jose insider, was unfortunately called away on other urgent business, leaving Patricia to take charge of our ragtag group. Patricia apologizes profusely for the external conflict and whatever shortcomings she may encounter throughout the day. She emphasizes that this is not her usual gig. However, seeing her heading the front of the bus, clad in her floor-length, brightly-colored dress, complete with accentuating jewelry, she is still radiant with excitement and the promise of a full day.
I hold my breath as our enormous charter bus effortlessly rounds a tight corner, only to have it completely taken away as a majestic, soft, pink building is revealed. Its metallic textures don’t quite fit in with the stony structures surrounding it, but the layout of the encompassing barrio makes it clear that the area was constructed around this late seventeenth century gem.
After the compulsory “ooooohs” and “aaaaaahs” have subsided, Patricia eagerly imparts a little Costa Rican knowledge upon us. This building, the Escuelas Graduadas, was not originally destined to reside in San Jose. Initially, its framework was bound for Punta Arenas, Chile, but was confused with Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The happy accident is now sits comfortably in the central district of San Jose, much like the local ticos.
We encounter a few more stone-faced ticos, as my classmates and I spill out of the bus and onto the Banco Central de Costa Rica plaza. Fernando Calvo’s Presentes greet us with their intense solidarity. Combined with the foot traffic of San Jose, this piece reminds us Gringos of both Costa Rica’s past and present- how they exist in a simultaneous dynamic. My classmates pose and take selfies, but Patricia stands pensively in reverent awe of her own tangible history.
With another sharp turn, my classmates and I are fully immersed in el supermercado. I’m immediately bombarded with unusual sights and smells, and I have to fight the urge not to give in to sensory overload. I catch a glance of Patricia, and its obvious that she’s in her element. She effortlessly navigates the twisting aisles and hordes of people, always careful to excuse herself con permiso.
Her courtesy extends beyond the massive swarms of people, even to the market itself. Each item of produce we encounter warrants an explanation of its use, origin, and name. When our group stops momentarily to examine a sea sponge or mull over some dried flowers, Patricia exchanges words with shop keeps. Her conversations are so extensive and involved that she gives off the impression that these encounters aren’t merely routine. When I ask her if she knows these vendors, she replies with a nonchalant “I do now.”
At last, Alejandro Tosatti finally makes his debut when we manage to make our way to the Costa Rica National Theater. He and Patricia embrace affectionately, and she introduces him not as the director of the theater, but as her “very dear friend.” He extends a sincere apology for his earlier absence, and offers to make up for it in the form of an extended tour of the theater.
The theater is bursting with Italian Venetian art, with seventeenth century masterpieces just around every corner. Alejandro mentions that the theater’s exquisite making is due to the fact that San Jose was and continues to be a city built around the theater. That statement weighs heavily among the baroque paintings, and echoes across the marble floors as I relate the fixtures inside this building back to the makeup of San Jose.
As my classmates and I file out of the theater, we each earnestly express our gratitude to Alejandro for his time and for the opportunity to experience such an exceptional aspect of San Jose. This is an arrangement he would propose “only for Patricia,” he makes sure to add.
As I board the bus for the second time today, bound for lunch, I realize I’m experiencing what may be my only quiet moment for the day. I take the time to reflect back on my time in the city, and my mind wanders to Patricia. She’s the epitome of the spirit that San Jose so proudly emboldens. She’s diverse, she’s hospitable, she’s humble, but busy. Everyone she encounters is worth her time, and every encounter is authentic and natural. She’s a saint.