By Mark Drolette
You know, I almost hate to admit this, but until I saw the inscription on the walkway telling me “DO NOT OPEN NOTHING HERE,” the thought of opening anything, let alone nothing, had not occurred to me. Especially in this particular place for, as far as I could tell, nothing could be opened here. (In which case, I guess, it all made sense. Sort of.)
I spotted this perplexing bit of double negativity while in Esterillos recently with my girlfriend. We were staying at a rundown but charming old hotel only meters from where the turquoise Pacific’s ridiculously warm waves were reaching their final destination on a crescent beach so long, wide, and deserted I half-expected Tom Hanks to emerge from behind a coconut tree with FedEx package in hand.
The only drawback to the scene? There were no views of splendid, half-finished, four hundred-story-high phallic paeans just like the ones up in Jacó, a few kilometers north. (It really is a shame the U.S. real estate crash is rippling into Costa Rica, thereby affecting development here. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the finer side of water shortages, inadequate sewage disposal systems and skyrocketing land prices simply doesn’t understand progress.)
But back to the inscription. Why was it written? What did it mean? Why was it in English? Why was it in bad English? How many consecutive questions are too many? (I think we just found out.)
I pictured its text -- DO NOT OPEN NOTHING HERE -- in a thought balloon above George Bush’s head and found it quite applicable (except for the “thought” part): It’s the same vernacular he uses (or should that be “ver-nukular”?) and makes zero sense.
Or perhaps the message was more cosmic. Maybe “Do not open nothing here” actually meant “open everything here,” thereby invoking the ancient spiritual principle of keeping an open mind, in turn reminding us of the Oneness of which we were all a part and thus leading even further to the opening of … an aspirin bottle at this point, ‘cause my head hurt.
As I pondered, I was struck suddenly by the logical explanation: There was no logical explanation! After all, this was Costa Rica. Check all logic at the border, please.
(An ex-pat who’s lived here for a while imparted choice information about de-Americanizing myself when she advised me thusly of Ticos and their ways: “Whenever you find yourself starting a sentence with ‘One would assume…,’ stop immediately. You will be much better off by assuming nothing about why Ticos do things the way they do, and then going from there.”)
I thought back to my one previous stay at the hotel, which (naturally) just happened to be when its owner had chosen to replace the eleven decidedly dangerous stairs that led to the second floor -- yes, where my room was. Several workmen arrived early in the morning, just as I was heading out to Manuel Antonio, where I stayed longer than I otherwise would have as I was leery of the hotel manager’s obviously unconfident assurance that the repair job would be finished in “three or four hours.” Sure enough, upon my return around 4:30 p.m., I discovered that a grand total of two -- count ‘em, two -- new stairs had been installed.
Three and a half hours later, with the help of a couple of the “workers,” I ended up crawling rather unceremoniously over a remaining two-step gap to get up to my room for the night. As I drifted off, I had visions of being stuck up there on the second floor for life, for who knew how the staircase would be configured upon my awakening? Come morning, I was in luck: All eleven steps were in.
Rimshot: They were little safer than the originals.
Why do I tell you this, tolerant reader, other than to bump my per-word fee? (As if.) Well, because the stair-raising incident occurred on my initial foray to Costa Rica, a trip during which I decided to make this country my home, and I knew even then if I could not deal with such oddness, I’d have no chance of making it here.
Now here I am, living happily in San Ramón. And there I was, a few weeks ago, back at the same hotel, staring at a truly weird inscription in cement that would remain forever cryptic. OK, I thought, I don’t have to know what it means or why it was put there or why it’s (kind of) in English. Sure, it’s strange, just as the staircase installation experience was strange, but then, I’m a little strange, too, and so it’s all worked out pretty well, this living in Costa Rica deal. And if the mysterious message makers don’t want me to open anything, or even nothing, well, that’s all right, too.
But I realized, as I headed to the nearby pool, that something, indeed, had been opened a little more anyway at that rundown but charming old hotel only meters from the ridiculously warm Pacific.
It was my soul -- to strange but captivating Costa Rica.
(published originally in The Tico Times)