‘Butterfly in the City’ a Genuine Ode to San José

September 29, 2006

Several smaller groups make up the species we know as the foreigner living in Costa Rica.

There s the beach expat, whose mere mention conjures up the lyrics of any Jimmy Buffet song.

There s the suburban expat, living the good life in the eastern or western burbs, who might come into the city to attend a performance at the National Theater but otherwise wouldn t be caught dead in San José. (Perhaps being caught dead in the city is exactly what they fear.)

Jo Stuart typifies another group whose voice we rarely hear, that of the urban expatriate resident. She lives in the city, shops in its markets, walks its streets and takes public transportation.

(She proudly does not own a car.) She writes about San José, too, with a genuine appreciation for what it is and a willingness to accept the city on its own terms.

Stuart, presently a columnist for the Internet daily A.M. Costa Rica and former contributor to The Tico Times, has compiled a collection of 96 of her favorite columns from both publications into a new book, Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica.

The 214-page book makes for a fun, breezy read. Columns are grouped into six sections dealing with sights and logistics, culture, food, politics, health and people. (In the interest of space, my paraphrased list is far more pedestrian than Stuart s cheery chapter titles.)

Each column can stand alone, completely out of the book s context, so it s entirely possible to scan the table of contents and skip around, starting with the titles that intrigue you. Happiness Is a New Water Heater and Learning the Umbrella Ballet in San José might catch your eye. (Actually, all the column titles compete for your attention.) But do start with San José is Beautiful,

No Matter What They Say, the column with which Stuart kicks off her book. I m not sure if the title was chosen before or after pop star Christina Aguilera came out with her hit song, but its use is quite apt here. It s Stuart s introductory ode to the little things about the city that make her smile, and will help you get a grounding in the real Tico feel of San José.

Stuart freely admits she is not entirely Pollyanna in Pura VidaLand, and writes about the frustrations of living in San José.

Differing concepts of service, mechanical bugaboos and never-ending bureaucracy have all tried her patience at one time or other, as they do ours.

To her great credit, however, Stuart never once lapses into that whiny, preachy Why can t Costa Rica be more like (fill in the blank with the name of your home country)?

Greek tragedy of a chorus we hear from so many foreigners who live here. The pleasures far outweigh the aggravations for her. If anything, I have this funny image of Stuart going back to visit the United States and trying to convert people there to the niceties of life in Costa Rica.

Long-term resident or short-term visitor, one read, and you ll be converted, too. Butterfly in the City is available at 7th Street Books (Ca. 7, Av. 1/Ctrl., 256-8251), Toad Hall (La Unión on LakeArenal, in north-central Costa Rica, 692-8020) and Lucky Bug Gallery (694-4515, Nuevo Arenal).

 

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