Costa Rica Roadside Details. And Rhythms. And Digression.

I remember learning, back when I was studying sign painting and lettering, that letters don’t just flow out of your brush. You have to learn how a brush behaves…and how paint behaves. So many variables. What kind of hair your brush is made of. What kind of paint you’re using. How thick or thin your paint is. What surface you are painting on. Temperature and humidity change how paint behaves. How you stand—your posture and stance in front of your work can actually change the orientation of your letters on your work. What you have eaten, or not eaten, whether you have recently had tea or coffee, can affect your co-ordination. And your attitude!  Your attitude affects what you do. If you’re impatient, you can’t do good work. You have to allow enough time to see what you’re doing, to be aware. So many variables…so many details.

When traveling, if not driving, I like to take photos. Taking photos at highway speed is an interesting exercise. Sometimes you have a few seconds to decide you will press the exposure button. Sometimes you have a fraction of a second to make that decision. Sometimes you have to let go of conscious decision-making and let impulse take over when you press the trigger. Later on comes the pleasure of seeing what your intuitive self has captured.

Here is a collection of images gleaned from last winter’s final Costa Rica road trip, when we left the Southern Zone and returned to San José, from where we would leave for home in a few days. There’s a lot to see along the road.

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A fact of this Age of the Automobile is that cars die. They break, they crash, they burn, and they die.  They still contain “It’ll come in handy some day.” parts and pieces. People and businesses store these corpses, hoping for an eventual payoff. 

Our van had to make a quick stop at a hostel in Jaco to pick up a couple of passengers. When we arrived, they had not even packed, so we got to sit around in the blazing heat for an hour or so, until they got themselves together.

In the hot blue sky above was a row of palm tops.

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Delays are an opportunity to look at things, like the steel fence at a hostel.

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Hostel fencing, Jaco, CR. 


We finally left, passed through town streets, enjoying the scenery.

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Graffitic calligraphy decorates an in-town wall. 


As we leave the town, we re-enter the Costa Rica of fields, of agricultura and ganaderia, of land fenced in. I again admire the country’s living fence posts.

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At the right time of year, a branch plunged into the earth will root and grow. In a few years it’s fence post height. Periodic top-pruning, or pollarding, maintains the height and creates wonderful gnarled forms where the tree is periodically pruned.

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We pass a field, see plowed ground, and admire an area of greensward.

In the background are rhythmic rows of recently-planted teak.

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We periodically pass sideroads, which go to destinations unknown to us.

What’s at the end of that road?

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We near the city. Fencing becomes more serious, more industrial, more hostile.

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And then we reach the city.

There, different rhythms prevail.

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At the beginning of this post I digressed before I even got started. What I was going to write about first was a photography show I saw years ago at a local art gallery. The photographer’s subject was stones, stone walls in particular. Since I love stones, and stone walls in particular, I was really enjoying the photographs, feeling in my body what the labor and thought required for that work had required. I was also enjoying the visual rhythms set up by the layers of stones. In a way those rhythms are similar to the rhythms that are set up in a line of lettering. Script letters, in particular, require that the spaces between letters be carefully considered, just as a wall builder has to be careful with the spacing and placement of the stones.

And then I noticed something about one of the photographs. The picture was of a coursed stone wall. Just the stones. And either by initial design or by post-exposure choice, the elements in the photo’s edges were perfectly symmetrical. Whole stones on one side of a row were matched by whole stones on the other, and where there were fractional stones at one side there were fractional stones on the other. At the time, I thought “Hmmm, that’s interesting!”. I had noticed how deliberately the photographer had composed their image.

It turns out that that moment stayed with me, and over the years has became an important lesson. A lesson that crops up again and again.

Which is that photographs are not necessarily of something, and that what a photo is “of” is not important at all.

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