How Safe is Costa Rica?

 Interview with Harry Bodaan, Part III

 According to the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which produces the Happy Planet Index – a study of 151 countries that measures happiness, life expectancy and environmental sustainability – Costa Rica ranks no. 1 again as the happiest country in the world according to the current report released in June 2012. 

Many visitors are surprised to learn that Costa Rica is one of 21 nations worldwide that operates without an  army.  The military in Costa Rica was dissolved following the brutal 44-day civil war in 1948 that resulted in great casualties for a young nation.   A victorious junta followed, led by Jose Figueres who became the first president creating a new constitution that guaranteed free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the army.

 

Today, in a country that has no military, Costa Rica thrives as a peaceful, progressive nation.  Costa Rica’s economy is the strongest among its neighbors in Central America, with a GDP that is growing steadily (43.106 Billion US in 2012). In 2010 the rate of crimes against property was 1,825 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 2,941 cases per 100,000 in the United States reported that same year.

On the environmental front, Costa Rica is aggressive in the international drive to save the planet, implementing countless laws favoring conservation and setting new standards of  ‘Green’ that other countries should admire if not emulate. 

Yet despite encouraging stats relative to the economy and  crime rate, national security and public safety in Costa Rica remain key issues affecting both residents – including more than 130,000 ex-patriots from the United States – and more than 1.5 million tourists who visit the tropical paradise annually. 

In an exclusive interview, Harry Bodaan, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of Aguirre, discusses the politics of public safety and the ongoing drug wars in Central America:

What do you believe is the greatest threat affecting the citizens of Costa Rica specific to the economic development of the nation? 

For me the most troublesome issue that could bring down this whole country is what is happening in Mexico and some other countries like Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Beliz.  And that concerns the transnational drug trade.  Today Beliz has the sixth highest homicide rate in the world, thanks to the drug cartels. I think the U.S. Government (especially the DEA), should be much more willing to help the Central American basis with sufficient aid and not a band-aid I know it’s not easy because of the economic situation in the US but any funds such as the CARSI funds (the remnants of the old MERIDA Plan), should be viewed as an investment.

 What exactly is the Carsi Fund?

CARSI stands for Central American Regional Support Initiative and is used to combat the drug trade in Central America and Mexico. As you might know the US is the largest consumer of cocaine, marijuana, Mexican heroin and the major consumer of Mexican methamphetamine, ecstasy and other drugs.

No, I did not know that the United States is the largest consumer of drugs worldwide.  I would have thought the global consumption of drugs would surpass the US consumption. That’s not the case?

No, the US is the largest consumer. Cocaine production starts in Colombia or Bolivia at zero dollar value. When it gets to Costa Rica a kilo of cocaine is worth about $3K.  By the time it makes the shores of the US that same kilo is worth approximately $30K depending on the purity.

When that kilo is chopped up into crack cocaine that kilo will fetch about $170K. In Costa Rica we do not confiscate by the kilo but by the tons. In the last two years alone more than 30 tons of cocaine was interdicted which probably represents only 2-3% of what comes through here.

Are telling me that 30 tons of cocaine was confiscated from the waters of Costa Rica in the past few months?

 That’s right, and one ton has a street value of about 25 to 30 million dollars. So multiply by 30 – that’s close to a billion dollars. And according to the DEA at the US Embassy, that only represents one or two percent of what goes through this country.

Those figures are unfathomable; it’s hard to comprehend.

Unfortunately these are the facts.. You can Google them yourself; this type of information is readily available. Then consider that a police officer’s salary is no more than approximately $400.00 – $700.00 per month. This means the officers are prime candidates for corruption, a major problem in these parts of the world.

What you are saying is that the low salaries leave the officers open to pay-offs?

Yes, and to complicate things more not only did Costa Rica eliminate its military in 1948, it also did away with its national police which I personally think was a dumb move because it has left law enforcement very ineffective and not at all ready to deal with the proliferation of the transnational crime syndicates which are much better equipped and much better funded than the various Costa Rican law enforcement organizations.

Why was dispelling the military a bad decision in your opinion?

When any type of disaster strikes in Costa Rica, the country is over reliable on external aid. The country should have at least a National Guard that is trained in dealing with national disasters. As is, Costa Rica relies too heavily on US Aid such as assistance from SouthCom or training programs provided by CARSI and CALEE funding, and now on assistance programs from other Central American nations.

It is easy to eliminate a military but the reality is that every time help is needed Costa Rica depends on other countries and needs to go begging. China just donated $25 million for a new police academy, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 How many officers are working in the Canton of Aguirre?

At this moment we have no more than five traffic officers working the entire canton. This means there are never more than two officers working at the same time in this 340 sq. mile county unless there is a Special Operation. This is great for speeders but terrible if you are in a traffic accident.

Only traffic officers can stop cars. Regular police, i.e. Fuerza Publica, are represented with about 70 officers divided into three shifts. They only have four patrol cars and two working motorcycles and most areas are not accessible in our canton because of mountainous terrain which again, is great for the drug dealers.  

How does this lack of funding for police affect public safety, and how do the people respond? 

The fact is that Costa Rica is fighting the drug trade with its hand tied behind its back, either by design or coincidence but [officers] are terribly underfunded.  In a country where bank managers and other heads of governmental institutions make as much as $35K – $40K a month (more than the president of Costa Rica), and congressmen make $6K per month, this is an absolutely outcry. The top 20% of Costa Ricans make as much as $45K per year close to the US per capita income of $48K while the bottom 20% makes less than $400.00 per month. This is a recipe rife for civil unrest.

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For more information on Harry Bodaan and La Mansion Inn visit:

La Mansion Inn  and  sallyricefotos.wordpress.com ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________                                              Police Forces in Costa Rica

 There are several police forces in Costa Rica, all of which have specific duties and responsibilities. Communication between these various groups is lacking, and a source of much discussion among critics of the system.

 The largest police contingency is the Fuerza Publica, under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Public Security (Ministerio de Seguridad Publica). Dressed in blue, these officers are responsible for crime prevention and response.

 Other police departments include: The Immigration Police (Policia de Migracion), Border Police (Policia de Fronteras), Drug Enforcement Police (Polcia de Control de Drogas), Tourism Police (Policia Turistica), and the Transit Police (Policia de Transito).

If you are a victim of a crime, you would contact the Judicial Investigative Bureau (Organizmo de Investigacion Judicial), known as the O.I.J.

                                                 

                                                         Did You Know?

Costa Rica is roughly the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. It has a population of approximately 4.6 million inhabitants with more than 2.1 million living in the areas surrounding the capital city of San Jose.

 

 

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Cabo Blanco Turns 49

      

     Nestled far from the beaten path at the southernmost tip of the Nicoya Peninsula where dirt roads are highways lies Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve –  Costa Rica’s oldest protected wilderness area.

To honor the park’s 49th anniversary, local residents of all ages gathered on Sunday, October 21, to celebrate – rain or shine.

The festivities, held at Plaza Cabuya  (the soccer field clubhouse in the adjacent pueblo) featured dance troupes from the local schools, an orchestral performance by students attending the Montezuma Music School and a soccer match between local residents that included several of the nine park rangers employed at Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve.

Cabo Blanco Celebrates its 49th Anniversary Las Mujeres de Kinder –a volunteer group of mothers of kindergarteners who fundraise for the primary school –  kept busy  serving generous portions of local dishes made to order for a hungry crowd. The program which began at 11 am ended  just in time for the anticipated afternoon downpour.

Cabo Blanco covers 12 square miles of tropical forests with numerous hiking trails surrounded by pristine white-sand beaches that give the park its name.

Cabo Blanco, although quite small in comparison to the other 20 national parks in Costa Rica, is a moist microclimate –  home to the howler monkeys and a nesting spot for brown pelicans.

Francisco Perez Lopez who has been a park ranger for 15 years, is proud of the important work done at the reserve.  “Cabo Blanco falls under the jurisdiction of ACT (Area Conservacion Tempisque), a national conservation organization responsible for protecting wildlife and nature throughout the Nicoya Peninsula.”

Children of Cabuya attend the 49th anniversary of Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve.

The area known as Cabo Blanco was entirely off-limits to visitors prior to the late 1980’s due to strict efforts to preserve the wilderness. Since then several trails have been opened to tourists, although the park is only open from Wednesday through Sunday from 8am to 4 pm in an effort to help keep foot traffic to a minimum.

To see images of Cabo Blanco’s 49th anniversary celebration visit: sallyricefotos.com

For more information on national parks in Costa Rica please visit: www.costarica-nationalparks.com

 

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Opinions: Jungle Culture in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Cliffs of Manuel Antonio

It’s “todo bien” this, and “como no” that, always  followed by “Pura Vida!” Everyone knows each other – lots of hugs and other forms of warm greetings. But after all the chillin’ it’s all about business here, with tourism being numero uno.

Locals hang out at the bus stop at the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica. In July, the ‘wet season’ or winter, brings little tourism to the area, despite warm weather and beautiful beaches year-round.

 At the top of Hell’s Hill, not far from the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park is “La Terraza” – an outstanding restaurant with an open patio (the new normal), overlooking an ocean dappled with mini islands just offshore.  Across the street from La Terraza the beautiful Hotel Costa Verde offers spectacular views of the national park from its restaurant situated in the canopy of the rainforest.

This is where, cradled in comfort, I take in breakfast each morning seated in one of the oversized, deep cushioned sofa-chairs watching families of sloths linger upside down and monkeys play in the treetops nearby. Pure heaven.  But sadly, during the “wet” season (notice the sub-out word for “winter”), Costa Verde’s patio restaurant is only open from 7-11 a.m.

After the first storm I encountered upon my arrival in Quepos  – apparently tied to the tail of the hurricane that struck New Orleans a few days prior – the weather calmed down and began to feel rhythmical. Mornings are consistently sunny, while in the afternoon things get questionable with thunderstorms that can be momentarily intense yet very manageable.

It is still hot and intensely humid; that sensation never seems to lift. It’s all about life inside the sauna here in Manuel Antonio, in late August 2012.

 Eventually I broke down and purchased a uniform: Flip flops (classic rubber baby), for $8 a’ la Rite Aid, and a sarong which cost a whopping $11 US from a vendor at the entrance to the park. But hell, these were desperate times.  Even a one-piece bathing suit is suffocating here.

In this heat and humidity you might guess it’s a bit tough getting motivated. Another angle on Pura Vida: Just chill, because with the slightest movement you will soon be drenched in your own pools of sweat, glorious downfalls of pure clear water oozing from each one of your pores from head to toe. And you will feel exhausted from it all! So chill baby, chill…

That’s when you realize the important significance and influence that climate and environment has on the culture of a people. It’s refreshingly obvious.

Hanging out on the beach today, where service happens in the sand on lounge chairs surrounded by Coconut and Banana trees, I met Ryan and Marta from Tri-Cities Washington.

They gave me the skinny on the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant there – the “accidents” and  “the cleanup process” that according to Ryan who worked as a general contractor, “would take over 150 years just to get to a safe spot. And that’s just according to company news, not from EPA.”

“We sure won’t see it in our lifetime, you can bet that,” he said. Marta sat beside him and nodded with a defeated and sarcastic expression. “Yeah, you can tell everybody back home that you met two glowing, radio-active people,” she added.

Marta explained how her own father – an engineer on cleanup duty – had to wear hazard gear each time he went out into the fields surrounding the plant. I was shocked to hear about these accidents at this nuclear plant, and why I’d never seen coverage. “They try their best to keep it under wraps, but the locals know what’s going on,” Ryan said with the air of a spy.

“Kind of like Erin Brockovich?”  I asked them.

“Exactly,” said Ryan.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” Marta said.  “I’m really dreading going back; I don’t even like my job anymore.”  A lawyer specializing in contracts, Marta worked for a large engineering firm, the one involved in the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Plant.

Marta explained that one of the top computer techs responsible for in-house security measures had been found with over 1000 rounds of ammo stashed in his office, and subsequently he’d been fired. It happened last week, the day before Marta left for vacation to Costa Rica.

“It was really creepy. Everybody was scared he was going to come back and kill us all. The company put file cabinets in the hallways – just in case we needed someplace to duck and hide if he returned on a shooting rampage,” Marta exclaimed.

“Yeah, as if a thin piece of metal and some papers is enough to save you from an AK 47 Riffle.” Ryan said in disbelief.

“And one of my colleagues was sent home because she had open-toed platform shoes on.” Marta added eyes wide open.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you can’t run in those shoes. It’s too hard. You can’t run for your life in high heal shoes.”

What a crazy world we left behind, I said. “Pura Vida is all one can say.”

“Yeah, Pura Vida,” Ryan answered and Marta nodded as they said good-by and headed off the beach and back up the path I call Hell’s Hill that leads from the beach side bar at Hotel Arboleda to the main road.

“Hell’s Hill” leads from the ocean to the main road of Manuel Antonio, at the entrance to Hotel Arboleda and La Terraza

Hell’s Hill has now been baptized Hell’s Highway.  This ex-hill should be a training route for the marines the grade is so severe. Secondly, this steep driveway looks more like the 405 after you’ve had a few days to climb up and down this, this, you-know-what.

With my apartment situated smack in the middle, I’m forced to climb and descend this highway twice a day, just short of 1200 steps round trip. I know; I’ve counted.

Let’s start with the small guys carrying big loads. Armies of ants that defy logic regarding what they are able to support on their backs.  You can see them from a distance: big clumps of oddly shaped green leaves and twigs moving across the highway at top ant speed! I have to broad jump just to pass by that intersection – daily.

Next you’ll find  lizards of all shapes and sizes that sunbathe, always in the same spot, and their numbers are staggering. You can’t see the small ones because they are so well camouflaged against the pavement.  Their coloring is remarkably exact, matching whatever surface they rest upon.  You only notice them if you step on one or when you frighten them.

Suddenly it feels like something from a horror movie under your feet as the ground comes alive and starts moving rapidly beneath your unsuspecting body. It just gives you the shivers for a moment.  It’s very startling. But the reptiles are all harmless, and it’s just the visual, constant jilting of your senses that gets your attention.

Reptiles in Central America

Iguanas are everywhere in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The iguanas are next on the highway chain. Creatures of habit with a gentle disposition,  they stick to their own neighborhoods and sunspots. It’s the same handful of reptiles guarding prime territory every day. They are big – some longer than my limbs.

In the trees above, monkeys play, and sloths do what sloths do. Not much. Pura Vida!

 Walking up Hells Highway tonight, I could hear Jordan’s music. He comes to play on Tuesdays and Fridays at the restaurant La Terraza. He’s also a nature guide at Manuel Antonio. I ran into his tour the other day. I spied on him, a few feet from his group. He was a good guide. It was cool to see him  playing music in the restaurant that same night.

Jordan, 19, was playing Eric Clapton’s song ‘Here in Heaven’ as I rounded the corner on Hell’s Highway, drenched from the heat and breathless, with my computer in my backpack eager to get some work done.  It was heaven to finally reach the patio and set up my office with a 180-degree view of the ocean, despite the humidity.  After about an hour the sky changed. Dark clouds moved in fast.  We were perched on a bluff above the ocean, with a clear view of angry waves building.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, an enormous gust of wind blew in through the patio.  An invisible blast of energy from beneath the hillside sent dishes, glasses and flower vases flying, crashing to the ground. The lights went out and instantly rain fell in massive sheets as the wind continued to whip through the delicately constructed structure. I dove on top of my computer, grabbed the tablecloth for cover and ran for the bathroom. Inside I carefully dried it off and wrapped it with layers of paper towels and put it in the backpack.

It wasn’t a hurricane but it felt like one. Exciting, but I didn’t make it home for over an hour even though my house was a five-minute walk down Hell’s Highway.

Manuel Antonio – Images | sallyricefotos

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Interview: Harry Bodaan on Local Politics and Culture in Quepos Costa Rica

Harry Bodaan, owner of La Mansion Inn and President of the Chamber of Commerce Industry and Tourism for the Canton of Aguirre, shares stories of his life experiences that brought him from Holland to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, and the fascinating people he met along the way.  This interview provides great insight into the current economic and political scene in Costa Rica, and the goals Bodaan has for the future here in the “happiest country on earth.”  (Part II of III)

 As a native of Holland, can you give us a brief background on how your career evolved?

Bodaan: [laughs] That’s an oxymoron. You’re taking a 40- year history and asking me to be brief? Basically, I met my wife in Frankfort, Germany and then I left for the United States where I got married. I worked for Hilton Hotels as Food and Beverage Director, and worked my way up to General Manager. In the early 80’s I ended up in Washington DC, as General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the National Press Club. During an average week, we had as many as 10 thousand visitors.

Isn’t that a big switch going from Hilton Hotels to the National Press Club?    

Bodaan: No, because everybody eats and everybody drinks, although the Press Club was big–more than 40 thousand square meters occupying the top two floors of the National Press Building a few blocks away from the White House. We offered no less then 10 press conference rooms and people needed to eat and drink. We had bars, restaurant facilities and banquet rooms. But the job soon became something more.

You mentioned that you established relationships with over 300 international leaders.  How did that come about?

Bodaan: At the press club we had 35 committees that I was interacting with and one of the most important was the Speakers Committee. Their task was to invite movers and shakers from all over the world to come and address the National Press Club.

After the White House and Congress, the National Press Club is the most sought after forum in Washington DC, if you want to make an address.  Back then it was not unusual to have a press conference with as many as six hundred journalists present.

It was very exciting; I literally met hundreds of heads of states, ministers, and kings and queens.

What were the circumstances that brought you to Costa Rica?

Bodaan: It was a very important time in history for Costa Rica.  During that time President Oscar Arias came to speak at the club, to address the US population about the injustices in his country by the CIA, and he spoke to Congress. Over 18 months, he came to the NPC three times, and we got to be acquaintances.

This was the time of Oliver North, John Poindexter, and the Iran Contra Scandal. The CIA operative John Hull was lending his landing strip in Guanacaste for the re-supply planes. These planes were used to make shipments to the contras in Nicaragua. This was the most tumultuous time between the US and the Costa Rican government because President Oscar Arias had the airstrip blocked by the Guardia Rural and the planes could not land anymore.

The last time Don Oscar came to speak at the club, he invited me to visit his country and so I took him up on his offer. At that time there were only 17 hotels in Manuel Antonio with a total of 163 rooms; that was it. When I saw Manuel Antonio, I fell in love with the area and hoped that I would retire here some time in the future.

But you moved from Washington DC to  Moscow before settling in Costa Rica.  How did that happen?

Bodaan: After almost 12 years at the Press Club in Washington DC, I had become a friend of the press attaché of Russia.  I had helped him with the advance planning for some of the speaking appearances of their heads of state, like Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. Because he knew me and because of our friendship, I would get notice of their upcoming visits before anyone else did. I remember the time Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin came to Washington; I got to know them personally, and was fortunate to be able to socialize with them.

Fast forward. What better way to show the rest of the world that Russia was serious about Glasnost and Perestroika than to start an independent press club in Russia modeled after the National Press Club in Washington DC?  I was selected to organize the club infrastructure from scratch which I slowly brought to fruition at the Radisson Slavijanska facilities in Moscow, the IPCC.M.  When the International Press Center and Club, Moscow Club had reached 1000 members after about three years, I left Moscow to pursue my other dream in Costa Rica.

What did you do when you got to Costa Rica after such an exciting and ambitious background? It must have been quite a culture shock.

Bodaan: It was, but I joined a friend and his wife; they were building the El Parador Hotel – a 160-room hotel located just down the street which at the time was under construction. While in Moscow he had called me for help with the start-up of this project, and I later joined him as a minority partner. After five years I started my own place, La Mansion Inn.

You continue to be very involved in politics.  What are some of your civic duties and responsibilities here in Costa Rica?

Bodaan: Well, since about four years I am the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry of Tourism of the Canton de Aguirre. I am also Advisor to the Mayor, and I am part of the Special Advisory Council to the Minister of Tourism (Comite Mixto) and Chairman of Sister Cities International for Quepos. We have a Sister Cities Agreement with the City of Fort Lauderdale. I also head of the Security Committee for the Chamber and am the Coordinator of the Quepos Law Enforcement Task Force.  This is important, and if you ask people of the canton what is the primary concern of its citizens, it is security. I’m happy to say crime rates are at the lowest level in ten years and law enforcement is doing a great job.

Downtown Quepos, Costa Rica

 It seems odd that Manuel Antonio is so up-scale, while Quepos appears economically depressed. These two inter-dependent neighboring areas are so dramatically different. What is the reason for that?

Bodaan: Yes, they are so close, and yet light years apart. The reason goes back generations– back to the time when the United Food Company came to Costa Rica. People in Quepos think that the people in Manuel Antonio don’t care about them, however nothing could be further from the truth.

Manuel Antonio is a tourist area, and Quepos is quite the opposite.  But what people have to understand, is that for Quepos to improve, people are going to have to pick themselves up by their boot straps, nobody is going to do that for them. They have to unite.

Going back to the United Fruit Company, decades ago, they came here from the United States and built enormous banana plantations. People came from all over the country to find jobs here.  The United Fruit Co, which was taken over by Palma Tica, provided work for literally thousands of people, and the company took care of them, you know, like modern slaves.

People lived in compounds and they were fed through the company cafeteria. They received minimum wage but at least they had a job and were taken care of.

Over the decades people got used to not thinking for themselves. It’s not the same as it was for people in San Jose, even though they are Costa Ricans – but the people and the coastal mentalities are completely different.  The same phenomenon took place on the Caribbean coast. That’s where the large Banana plantations were. So, over the years people have gotten used to hand outs. If you had a problem, you talked to your supervisor. If your wife was sick, the company doctor would care for her. If you needed a loan, you got an advance on your salary, etc. etc.

Even today, people are talking about this problem, but they are not moving to resolve it, and there is a sense of feeling helpless on the part of the people in the area of Quepos. Sometimes I feel they act like children, because it seems that they are waiting for someone else to solve their problems. Now they turn to local leadership and the Chamber [of Commerce] for example, to solve their problems for them, but as I said, they lack initiative. They don’t realize that if you want help, you first need to help yourself.

Downtown Quepos seems small for such an important area. What is the population of this area and what are the major industries that support the region?

 Bodaan: Right now in Quepos proper, we have about 8-9 thousand people, but the population is very spread out. The canton Aguirre covers an area of about 493 sq. kilometers, almost 340 sq. miles, and has a population of about 28 thousand. The mayor of Quepos is truly the mayor of the entire canton region, and most are employed in the tourist industry, agriculture, fishing industry and Palm industry.

Palma Tica, the second largest employer in the Canton de Aguirre (after Tourism) has 1,500 employees. The third largest industry is Martec (commercial fishing), with 250 employees. They generate about 23 million dollars in income for the region.

What is the average income of people living in this area of Costa Rica and how does that compare to neighboring countries?

Bodaan: Most people are getting at least minimum wage, and on an annual basis the per capita income is about eight thousand dollars.  In San Jose, it’s up to about 11 thousand per year, which is the highest of any of the seven Central American countries.  So the economy is quite strong here.

Daily Life in Quepos, Costa Rica

Three or four years ago, just before the economic crisis, we had over a billion dollars in new investments for the canton of Aguirre. The investment climate is quite good. Now, as a result, we have 180 rental houses as well, some of which fetch as much as $15 thousand a week in rental fees – although many of them are illegal.

 

$15 thousand per week is expensive, and they are illegal? Who owns these properties?

Bodaan: When I say illegal, I mean they are not registered. Many are ex-pats who have come here and built their million-dollar dream house and then they decide to rent them out. Take a look at Trip Advisor and double source it, you will see and incredible amount of houses for rent. Yesterday we had 124 listed on Trip Advisor alone.

 As President of the Chamber of Commerce, what is the process of getting things done?  Is there a lot of bureaucracy or do things run pretty smoothly?

 Bodaan: For anything to work, I always split things in three. If I ask the local government to be of assistance on a project, and the federal government, we need to have the support of the private sector as well.  You need all three components for things to work.

If, for example, the private sector needs something and we have the support of the federal government but the municipality is against it, it’s not going to work. For that matter, if the local government wants something done and it has the support from the federal government but not the private sector, then that too is not going to work. You need cooperation from all three to get things done.

Is there an issue or situation the local government is facing now that will help illustrate how this ‘trilogy’ comes into play?

Bodaan: We keep seeing examples of this. It’s no secret that there is a large movement right now of the transnational drug trade in this country. Tons of cocaine is being shipped though our country, and one-way to combat crime is to install a Camera Surveillance system throughout the region. The private sector came up with a 200 thousand dollar system that would be strategically located in 16 positions throughout the area and the private sector was on board to help.

But when we turned to the local government, but they did not have funds for that, nor was their willingness on their part to go forward with the idea.  So, we condensed it from 16 cameras to 4 cameras in key parts of the city. The cost was 65 thousand dollars, and the private sector was willing to cover the cost. We set up a meeting with the federal government representatives, and they cancelled three times, even though we had a firm commitment from the private sector.

This is a perfect example, because we had support from the private sector, and the local government, but the missing like here was the federal government.

Do you think they did not want to participate because they are connected in some way with the drug trade, or are they getting bribes from some unknown source?

Bodaan: Perhaps, we don’t know. According to reliable sources 63% of the Mexican municipalities are infiltrated by one of the seven drug cartels – why not here?  Is is a lot easier here than in Mexico. You know a lot of money is floating through Costa Rica right now.

Proposed location of the Municipal Parking Facility for Quepos. The parking structure would help reduce crime while providing much needed parking for tourists visiting Manuel Antonio National Park.

You have another project to build a parking lot that would help the city generate revenue. Can you tell us about that?

Bodaan: Oh that is another example of how we need the three components for it to work. Building a municipal parking lot is one of our missions.  I took a rather large Municipal Delegation, 17 people, to our Sister City, Fort Lauderdale to learn about how we could generate more revenue for Quepos. We met with the budget director of the Municipality of Ft. Lauderdale to discuss various sources of income. One of them was parking and parking fines.

Ft. Lauderdale takes in about 12 million dollars each year in parking fines. One of the things we wanted to do here was set up a Municipal Parking Facility. The Mayor of Quepos at that time was in favor of the project. But the Mayor that replaced him was not, even though our proposed parking structure would bring in about $100 thousand per year to offset the municipal budget, which is currently running at a deficit.

 

But who would pay those fees? If the locals are already working at minimum wage, where would the income come from? 

 Bodaan: No, no, it’s not that. Those who have a car can afford 500 colones ($1) to pay for parking. And currently, we have a big problem of congestion in Manuel Antonio.

The plan is to build a municipal parking lot in downtown Quepos where the tourists could safely park their cars and then take a shuttle bus that would be paid for by the parking fee – basically to whisk people to Manuel Antonio and back.

That was the plan but it never went anywhere because someone was against it. It seems like a logical solution to a big problem.  The city was short $40 thousand dollars to pay for the project, so the private sector stepped up and offered the municipality to raise the shortfall. But even then nothing was ever done.

 The new Marina will certainly generate tremendous income for Quepos and the canton of Aguirre.  Can you tell us about that project?

Bodaan: Harold Lovelady, from Texas, started the marina project. He retired from the IT industry, and wanted to dock his boat here, because Quepos was once known as the best place to fish in the world, and he brought his boat but there was no place to dock.  He wanted to build a marina for 5 or 6 boats, and the plan took off. That was about 10 years ago. Now it’s a mega project that once finished will offer 306 slips for boats –all different sizes to accommodate sport fishing boats and larger yachts – the type of mega yachts you see in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s about a third of the way done now. It’s been taken over by a Costa Rica/Nicaragua conglomerate that took the ball and is running with it, so there is no longer any financial interest from the United States.

They are building this beautiful marina which will help me, as president of the chamber, achieve my goal, which is to double the per-capita income within the next 5-7 years

 That seems awfully ambitious, is that possible in such a short time?

 Bodaan: It’s already happening. Costa Rica is one of the most advanced economic areas of the region. The per-capita income is increasing due to the I.T. Industry, Free Trade Zones, On Line Gambling Centers and number of Foreign Call Centers that keep expanding around San Jose.

Yes, you mentioned that Amazon and American Express are here. What   other companies are based here?

 Bodaan: Citibank is here, and Intel, which has almost 5 thousand employees. And the largest export product of Costa Rica, which no one ever guesses, is microchips, which is a two billion -dollar industry. This is helping Costa Rica tremendously.

In addition, I believe President Laura Chinchilla is doing a wonderful job for the country. Last year alone she attracted more than 2.1 Billion dollars of foreign investments to the country. You know she just came back from China, and she just secured more funds. On top of the 65 million dollars received for the National Stadium, she secured another 25 million for the National Police Academy. That is in addition to the nine million dollar donation for discretionary spending. So slowly but surely, the US influence here is waning, and the Chinese are basically taking their place.

How do you feel about that? Is the China influence a good thing for Costa Rica?

Bodaan: Well, it’s not for the United States. But in world politics and concerning the global economy I believe it’s good. You know, it will make it a more balanced playing field.

What do feel is the greatest obstacle, or challenge Costa Rica faces in these times of global economic stress?

Bodaan: Once again, my biggest fear is that Costa Rica follows the example of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, where the divide between rich and poor is becoming bigger and bigger which has caused unrest amongst the masses resulting in changes in government and anti-Americanism. Last week in the Tico Times, there was an article about something I’ve been talking about for years: The top 20 % of Costa Ricans earn almost as much as the per-capita income of the United States. The top 20% of Costa Ricans earn close to $45 thousand per year, whereas the average income in the United States is $48 thousand.

Independence Day celebrations in Quepos, Costa Rica

Now, on the other hand, the bottom 20% earns less than $400, so there is an incredible difference, which is problematic. Therefore, my goal as president of the Chamber is to level that, whereby every middle class Costa Rican can afford his or her own house, his or her own car, just like the US.

Are these goals shared by people with money in Costa Rica?

Bodaan: Unfortunately, a lot of people who own those big expensive houses don’t give a damn about the local economy, so they don’t participate in anything and they don’t contribute to the tax base.  A lot of these funds are paid off shore, so a lot of the money never makes it to Costa Rica.  I’m not asking for much, just for some money to help the school, to help the kids, to help the educational system.  But somehow, there seems to be a considerable number of ex-pats who leave the United States and leave behind their social responsibility.

Sadly, this is the problem we are facing. You can’t blame kids for wanting an iPhone, jeans or sneakers. But the parents cannot provide that, so what you see is a large percentage of high school dropouts. The kids get into drugs or prostitution to get what their counterpart gets in the United States.

For this reason, my advice for American families is to take their kids to Costa Rica. If you have nagging children, come on down and see what kids have here. What little they have to enjoy their life with. And yet, Costa Rica is one of the happiest countries in the world.

Little girl playing in the park, San Jose, Costa Rica

Quepos, Costa Rica – Images | sallyricefotos

(This is part II of III articles about Harry Bodaan, and life in Costa Rica)

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Opinions – Impressions of Costa Rica

       Quepos and the Road Home

Sidewalks in Costa Rica

 It was  deserted, dark, and pouring down rain when the minibus arrived in the  seaside pueblo of Quepos, even though the Footprint guidebook stated that it “pulsates with crowds and accommodations are hard to come by on a weekend.” It was Saturday night albeit the middle of Costa Rican’s so called “winter.” Claims  of Quepos hustle bustle  lifestyle are  confusing if you are lucky enough to travel  in the lowest of low seasons: the US summer.

Downtown Quepos consists of only about four blocks and a few side streets.  Even if these streets were bustling, it’s still as tiny as a footprint and with most structures one story high, it’s just quaint, yet far from any European version of that.

Quepos is much less refined, and the architecture gives no cause for gazing and wonder. But there is a certain charm to the town that you will see  if you are patient enough to peel away the layers of the onion.

Observing the small towns we passed through on the bus from San Jose to Quepos, the lack of infrastructure was visually apparent. Costa Rica in general does not excel in the execution of sidewalks and curbs in both rural and metropolitan environments.

Curbs are high, often bridged with a slab of concrete to make the drop down to the street less severe – but it’s all willy-nilly.  Certainly these sidewalks and curbs are no good for anyone who is physically disabled.

Bottom line is: Quepos is tiny with a rugged skin and right now it’s pouring like a mother.

The second claim that needs to be addressed concerns the weather and the fact that everyone keeps telling me it’s winter just because it’s raining.

No it’s not!

Listen, I come from California – Southern California for that matter, where we don’t have winters to speak of;  I’m not talking about the snow in the ski areas that are destination locations, I’m talking about the difference between East Coast and West Coast.

California is Hot.  Northern Americans are all familiar with the New Years Day Parade that takes place in Pasadena.  It’s always sunny, and that’s our so-called winter. But we still have to wear a jacket at night, and socks and shoes….. even boots, sometimes, in winter….in California.

But here in Quepos, Costa Rica – I don’t care what anyone says, This is not winter.  It ‘s so hot, walking barefoot  and naked would be best. It’s like living in a very hot, wet sauna. Despite a predictable afternoon rain no one carries umbrellas or rain gear.

But after all, we’re in the thick of the rainforest, where the jungle meets the Pacific shore. Quepos is the last town just a few miles north of the entrance to one of 20 national parks in the country: Manuel Antonio, with 1700 acres of land and 135,906 acres of marine reserve including stunning beaches.  All that for an entrance fee of $10.

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

“Where do you want me to take you Signora?” The bus driver snapped me out of a daydream as I scoped out the town from inside the bus.  “I’m trying to find the restaurant Dolce Vita.”

The recommendation came from the French chef at Mansion Park Bolivar, back in San Jose.  A transplant from Paris, Gerald was tall with a shaved head, big silver earrings and a half sleeve of tattoos. He was cool, and he had turned me on to his friend Terry, who owned an Italian restaurant in Quepos called Dolce Vita.  “You must call her, she knows all about the town, she will help you find a good place, you will see.” Gerald said in Spanish with a thick French accent.

Now that we had arrived in Quepos, I scanned the signs looking for anything italian. “There it is,” the driver said, pointing out the window caddy-corner down the street.  “Mucho gusto, pura vida,” I answered leaving the comfort of the air-conditioned bus. Once in the street, I ran for cover towards Dolce Vita. The whole restaurant was open in the front, essentially an enormous  covered patio with a short concrete ledge at the front where you could sit and really see everything around you – the perfect example of “al fresco.”

“Buenas Noches, esta` Terry?” I asked the waiter. He answered in perfect English. “She’s gone, but she’ll be back in a few minutes.”

After a quick interrogation I learned that Emilio had grown up in the states, around New Orleans, and that he’d moved here three years ago. Emilio’s parents were from Costa Rica, so you could say he was returning to his roots. Now 28, Emilio prefers his life here now, much more than in the United States.  Pura Vida.

A few minutes later Terry bopped in like Pippy Longstocking with a short pixie cut, and full of energy.  I gave her the lowdown on Gerald and the hookup.  She got on the phone in an instant, eager to help, and in no time she’d found a place for tonight and another alternative for a month long stay to look at in the morning.

“If you don’t like these options, we will find you something else, don’t worry,” she said with wide eyes and a Cheshire cat smile.

Lucien arrived a bit later, one of Terry’s friends. He owned jewelry stores back in the states, and here in Quepos he ran a business escorting clients out on his luxury catamaran to see the surrounding islands or for diving excursions.  While we talked Emilio served a plate of pasta that awakened more memories of Italia.

“This is so good Terry, so authentic, so Italian.” I said in between huge bites of spaghetti al’pesto.

“Bueno, I am Italian, from Sardegna,” she said, and I was in heaven again.  Teresa shared stories about her move here long ago, and pura vida.

After dinner, she drove me down the street to The Wide Mouth Frog, an international backpacker’s hostel.  For $35 I got a private room with a bath. The room was situated directly across from a triple lane lap pool surrounded by a portico. Adjacent was a lounge with a TV, and couches. A covered patio sat between the TV room and an outdoor kitchen.

A uniformed guard walked around the grounds with a flashlight, for security.  Along with a fresh bath towel, the manager gives you a rule book, hand made, that was to be read, and then returned to the front desk in the morning. It had to do with noise factors and drugs. Strictly forbidden, and 10 pm was “put it to bed” time.

The next morning the storm was pounding harder than ever, but it was still so hot. On the open patio beside the outdoor kitchen, breakfast was being served. It included rice, beans, fresh fruit, oatmeal, and a few other things I didn’t recognize. A French family with two grade school kids gobbled it up, while a 30 something couple from Germany headed out into the storm with backpacks.

Quepos Downtown

Terry, owner of Dolce Vita, checks out the fresh catch from a local fisherman

Teresa arrived not on Tico time, but precisely at 10 am, as was our plan the night before. We drove seven kilometers along a winding two-lane road that stretches from Quepos to the entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park.  As the park’s only access road, it is well packed indeed, with hotels, bungalows, restaurants, a few gift shops and adventure excursion/tourist service stations sandwiched in along the way.  The road culminates in a roundabout, with a few hotels on either side of the park’s entrance on a short side street at the end beside the entrance.

But as thick as the businesses are that line both sides of the road, they are dwarfed by the surrounding jungle, except at night, when the neon lights are shining, and you can’t see the canopy above you and the thick vegetation that seems to be slowly swallowing the structures, like that scene in Jumanji when the vines start growing inside the house.

Along the way, the rain poured, but no one carried umbrellas and everyone was dressed in shorts and sleeveless tops, because it’s so stinkin’ hot.

Not far from the park entrance Teresa made a sharp turn right down a curvy road with a dramatic descent that felt like a roller coaster ride.  I was glad for the traction on the tires as the road had distinctive patches of slippery moss.

View from the patio at Hotel Arboleda

Down below, a woman emerged from a two-story building set in the middle of the jungle, right on the beach.  Pleasant and soft spoken, Janet is the owner of the two story apartment set half way up hell’s hill.  This rustic hotel, La Arboleda,  currently had  beach front apartments available for $18 per night. One space featured a large kitchen area, one bedroom and bath with a shower, and a long balcony that looked directly over the ocean.

“Welcome to your new home,” Janet said after I handed over thousands upon thousands of colones to cover one month’s rent.

 Quepos, Costa Rica – Images | sallyricefotos

Manuel Antonio – Images | sallyricefotos

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In Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, an Unusual Blend of Philanthropy and Luxury Raises the Bar in Paradise

 (this article is part I of III in a series on La Mansion Inn, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, and its owner Harry Bodaan)

Situated atop the rainforest canopy with a 360 degree view of the Pacific ocean, the five star boutique hotel “La Mansion Inn” is not your average luxury retreat, thanks to its owner Harry Bodaan, whose motto is: “Come as a Guest, Leave as a Friend.”

This spectacular hotel is located a few kilometers from the entrance to the national park of Manuel Antonio. One of 20 national parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio gained additional notoriety this year when Forbes Magazine placed it among the “top 12 most beautiful national parks in the world.”

With sophisticated charm, the 23 room La Mansion Inn features a fully appointed Presidential Suite, four penthouses, junior suites and deluxe rooms elegantly equipped with all the amenities one could wish for in this jungle paradise.

Each residence offers breathtaking views of the ocean and the rainforest with double sliding doors that open to a private balcony. On the rooftop, the Sky Lounge sits like a cloud above the ocean, where guests can lounge in the pool while sitting on underwater stools at an elegant canopied bar, or relax in the hot tub that mimics an infinity pool.

But there is much more to the La Mansion Inn than meets the eye, much more than the first class service, the contemporary architecture and surrounding beauty of the rainforest and warm ocean breezes. There is a humanitarian element, and deep sincere caring on the part of the owner – Harry Bodaan – and the staff that supports this distinguished hotel.

Thanks to Bodaan’s philanthropic efforts, the hotel sets a standard of community service that is exemplary, and many employees participate in non-profit activities. Bodaan himself is responsible for organizing the Traveler’s Aid Program, designed to assist local visitors in distress; anyone victimized by crime or hardship.

“I initiated the Traveler’s Aid Program whereby any tourist who is robbed and left with nothing can come to La Mansion Inn and we will put them up for free,” says Bodaan. “We help these people by giving them access to computers and telephones, so they can contact their families and their banks to cancel credit cards and important documents. We even give them money for bus tickets and such, whatever they might need,” Bodaan adds.

Truly, this good-hearted service from a five star deluxe hotel seems above and beyond the call of duty. But for Bodaan, it is fundamental to one’s social responsibility, and it appears he has a life-spring of empathy for humanity exemplified by the emotion he expresses when describing his innate desire to help people in need.

“I believe we are all here to help people. That’s what we are supposed to do in our lives, to make things better,” Bodaan states with dignified compassion.

The program Bodaan designed is paid for by donations from the guests who visit La Mansion Inn. On a strictly voluntary basis, a dollar–per–day gift to the Traveler’s Aid Fund is proposed to guests. “If a visitor stays five days, that’s a five dollar donation which is not much, and most people are happy to give.” Over the course of a year, the fund has potential to grow significantly.

But according to Bodaan, crime has dropped  in recent years, thanks in part to efforts from the local municipality of Quepos, the capital of the province of Aguirre, situated on the southern Pacific coast just a few miles from La Mansion Inn.

 Bodaan, who is active in local politics, is proud of the recent accomplishments regarding public safety: “I’m happy to say the crime rate is at its lowest level in ten years.”

When the funds from the Traveler’s Aid Program are not accessed, the money is distributed to other local social organizations and non-profits that need assistance.

“There are many other programs we support: Kids Saving the Rainforest, and the local schools. We help provide computers for the classrooms; we raise funds for the Mono Titi Alliance, which helps save the squirrel monkeys…”

And the list goes on, and on.

“The Traveler’s Aid Program pays for itself,” Bodaan explains. “The problem is that we currently have only about five or six hotels that participate in the program. Can you imagine how much revenue could be raised if all 87 hotels [that are in the area] participated, and the benefits that would bring to the community?”

Bodaan, originally from Holland, built La Mansion Inn following an illustrious career in the hospitality industry that began a few decades ago when he was general manager of food and beverage for Hilton Hotels after immigrating to Washington DC from Europe. Later, as director of the NationalPress Club, Washington DC, he met “world leaders, prime ministers, kings and queens,” managing as many as ten thousand visitors per week.

After 12 years in that arena, Bodaan was recruited by the former Soviet Union to open the first International Press Club in Moscow, modeled after the Press Club in Washington DC, a position Bodaan held for three years.

It was a long and circuitous route that eventually led Bodaan to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, where his intention was to retire.

“It’s ridiculous, because I came here to slow down, but I’ve never worked so hard in all my life.”

In addition to the Traveler’s Aid Program, Bodaan has taken his staff under his proverbial wing building strong relationships while mentoring those with ambition. He has taken his employees to Europe and to the United States “to help familiarize them with the world.” He encourages his ‘professional family’ to become involved in outside projects to benefit their community, and volunteer for social causes.

Bodaan – who also serves as President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of Quepos and Chairman of Sister Cities International Quepos – seems to personify the humanitarian spirit. It is this extra element of community service and sincere compassion for humanity, coupled with five-star elegance and sophisticated style that separates La Mansion Inn from any other first class property in the paradise known as Manuel Antonio.

“It’s all about building relationships, and bringing people together. Like I said, our motto is: Come as a Guest, Leave as a Friend.”

(this is part I of III articles: Harry Bodaan, Politics and Culture in Costa Rica)

La Mansion Inn, Costa Rica – Images | sallyricefotos

 Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Hotels & Resorts – Hotel La Mansion Inn

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John Nava Interview for VENTANA MAGAZINE

sectionheading

Art in Transition

John Nava on the evolution of art and the place of realism in a digital world.

By Sally Rice

This fall some of the most influential minds in the art world will converge on Ventura to explore the direction of representational art in the 21st century. Among the keynote speakers at The Representational Art Conference (TRAC), 2012, will be locally-based realist painter John Nava, whose brilliant work places him among the most significant artists of our time.

Perhaps one of Nava’s most critically acclaimed masterpieces is the series of tapestries he created for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, commissioned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1999. The Communion of Saints consists of 25 tapestries depicting more than 136 life-size saints from around the world and spans hundreds of years of human history. These tapestries, some of which measure 50 feet tall, are the largest in the world and were woven in Belgium—a place with deep historical roots of weaving craftsmanship—using the most advanced digital technology.

Nava studied fine art at UC Santa Barbara under Howard Warshaw, who profoundly influenced the artist and was responsible for his career choice as a painter. Following graduation, Nava became a college art professor before heading to Florence, Italy to do his graduate work.

John Nava at home in Ojai. Photo by Sally Rice.

From the comfort of his home studio in the foothills of Upper Ojai, Nava shares some insight on his philosophy and his personal experience as an artist.

VENTANA: The focus of TRAC is to address the neglect of critical appreciation of representational art. Can you help us better understand that concept?

JOHN NAVA: I believe Michael Pearce and the others organizing the conference might feel that there is a great deal of work going on, of serious representational painters who are diligently working away and [creating art] with the traditions and skills of painting as they came down from the renaissance, for example, but they don’t get a lot of play. In the popular part of the art world, there is a great deal of focus on non-traditional technologies and means of making art, and non-traditional kinds of art.

I’m sure there are many people who walk into an art museum and see something bizarre, perhaps a piano hanging upside down from the ceiling, and they’ll ask, ‘What is that?’ It’s all part of the movement to expand the boundaries of art that began in the 20th century—and it’s been the focus of a lot of museum curators, art magazines, and exhibitions about the expansion of art.

But parallel to all of that, continuing in the background, are those artists who have continued to work in a traditional form. The TRAC conference serves to bring those people into the spotlight and give them some focus.

The artist created a tapestry for USC depicting 21 life-sized figures.

VEN: As a keynote speaker you will be discussing Painting in the Digital Age. Can you expand on that topic?

JN: I have to say, this is still forming in my mind. Did you ever see Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams? It’s this kooky doc about these ancient caves discovered in 1996. The point is, they are 30,000 years old, and in the caves you have the very first human image that was depicted, done with charcoal attached to a spear, almost identical to the way we would draw with charcoal today.

So the way we make pictures, and the way painters use brushes, is all very old; it’s a very primitive technique. In comparison, we all have digital cameras, and we go to movies and see 3D holograms, and there are all these special effects and image technologies, all these ways to make images.

Given all the power that those things have, it’s interesting to me that there is something about making a picture by hand, like a caveman, that continues. And we’re all doing it. All the painters are not making 3D movies, they’re engaging in this very ancient practice of making something completely by hand. It struck me that this was the key—the handmade process. I wanted to ask the question: What does it mean to continue on with this ancient process today?

John Nava Anadyomene, 2007 Oil on canvas: 48” x 36”.

VEN: How has art appreciation changed with these new technologies? How does this affect the viewer’s relationship with art?

JN: In order to appreciate something at Art Basil, or at the Whitney Biennale, for example, it requires an education, because it’s so obscure. What’s happened is that the definition of art has expanded to essentially be meaningless.

In the 19th century there was a very specific idea about what art was. But now, art is anything. This is basically the legacy of Duchamp. John Baldessari, a very important contemporary artist, said, ‘If you have a pile of concrete rubble with some rebar sticking out of it laying in the street, it’s just a pile of rubble with some rebar. But if you take that identical pile and put it in the middle of the museum of modern art, now it’s a sculpture, or part of an instillation.’ So the context makes the art. There is an interaction between the museum and what’s in the room to make the art. But if you have a Vermeer that was accidently thrown in the street, it’s still a Vermeer; it’s always what it is. That comes from a time when art had a different definition. So this idea of the artist as a designer, where there’s a concept and someone else executes it, is different from the old idea of craftsmanship, where you actually have the hand of Leonardo painting the mouth of the Mona Lisa. And that is the hand element that continues in handmade pictures, but it has been dislocated in a great deal of other art forms.

Nava’s USC tapestry installed.

VEN: Do you find this evolution problematic for you as a contemporary realist painter?

JN: The thing is this: I don’t personally take all of this as a tragedy. As long as people are not doing harm to each other, everything’s fine. I mean, my brother is a filmmaker. He works in a technology that’s much newer than painting. My son makes video games. He does three-dimensional models. And I respect both of them.

The world now is vast. It’s a much bigger world. People are sitting with you at breakfast and they’re looking at their laptop, or at their phone. People have this very scattered consciousness now. It’s difficult for people to focus on anything for very long. And painting is all about the opposite of that. So painters may be a little nostalgic for the time when they were at the top.

Let’s face it, not too long ago, say, up until the middle of the 1800s, if you wanted a picture of something, there had to be a guy who would paint the image, or a drawing, or an etching. And if you wanted to hear music, you had to physically go to where instruments were being played. Now we live in a world of images. You watch TV and the screen is divided up with a gazillion images going by simultaneously. You drive down the street and you’re bombarded with images, readouts on the dashboard, moving images on billboards. We live in a world of image glut.

Neo-icon painting by John Nava Stop Mad Cowboy Disease, 2005 Oil on canvas: 41” x 41”.

VEN: You had exceptional traditional training at Villa Schifanoia in Florence, Italy. Tell us about that.

JN: My wife and I moved to Florence for two years. It was a dream, an amazing experience. One of my teachers was Luciano Berti, the director of the Uffizi Gallery. We would have classes in the museum, in places that are not open to the public.

The whole experience was very inspiring. We had a car but we couldn’t afford gas, so we always had a horde of people come with us. We made a lot of trips to the countryside, going to Arezzo and Sansepolcro to see the works of Piero della Francesca. But for me, the most important and most inspirational artist in Florence was Masaccio, and the frescos in the Brancacci Chapel.

VEN: Would you say the fresco medium moved you more than other formats?

JN: I have always been a little bit restless, I think, and I’ve worked in a lot of different manners, but I always come back to that dry-surfaced, fresco style painting. It resonates with me the same way as the cave paintings. It’s very much about a wall, not a canvas. There’s something very ancient about it, and I respond to that.

VEN: Do you work according to a schedule, or wait for inspiration? Where do you find your muse?

JN: I work everyday, and I’m so behind; there’s always something I’m supposed to be doing. But things shift, and interests change for me. I’ve never been very interested in landscape painting. But in the last few years I’m finding it very inspiring, and I have an interest in doing big landscape paintings. I always focused on figure painting. But now I’m finding the figure in the landscape, and I want to look at that.

VEN: Where are you going now? What do you see in your future?

JN: I have several things I want to do: large projects that I can’t talk about. It’s a huge thing, on the East Coast. It would take me about two years or so. It’s not as big as the Cathedral project, but very close. I’m very excited about that, but I’m also happy to just go to my neighbor’s house and paint the Topa Topas. That’s nice too. That’s all I have to do. All I do is paint. 

The Representational Art Conference, 2012, presented by California Lutheran University, offers three days (October 14-17) of lively discussion in Ventura, including keynote speakers, academic papers, panel discussions, and exclusive demonstrations by prominent artists, bringing together thought leaders and practitioners who share an interest in the practice of the traditional studio techniques of sculpture, painting, and drawing media in the 21st century. For details, log on to trac2012.org.

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