Today we went to downtown San Jose, and immediately my outlook improved. It is gritty, a little shabby, and thoroughly entertaining. No thieves in sight, but lots of regular people going about their days. We bought postcards, I took photos (not enough, as I didn’t get to go to the Mercado, but maybe I’ll talk everyone in to a second trip on Thursday), and we ate lunch at Pizza Hut. Ok, so it wasn’t a completely local experience, but still. If ever I am in San Jose for more than a day again, I will insist on staying at one of the grand old hotels in the downtown area so that every morning I can go out and say hello to the old guys who sing on the corner and the shoe shine man in the square, on the way to get my coffee at the little shop near the Libraria National. That’s the real San Jose.
After lunch, we headed back to the hotel, amid a misguided but valiant attempt on Inga’s part to get Maya and Ben interested in a coffee plantation tour. (Telling them the tour is ‘only’ 1 1/2 hours wasn’t the best tactic.) Needless to say, she lost that battle. Nerves were a bit on edge when we returned to the hotel, so we went out to the pool, but the clouds and the wind worked against us, so instead we walked around some of the nearby shops, bickering the entire time about how we should spend the next few days. Fun, fun! A moment of genius struck, as it does on rare occasions, and I suggested that tomorrow we spend the morning shopping at the mall (!) followed by some time at the pool (if there is sun). It was as though someone had flipped a switch, and happiness returned. Thank. God. No coffee plantations, no waiting in the lobby for an hour for our friends to appear, just a day of doing fun stuff completely lacking in cultural value. Hooray!
With tempers set back to normal, we walked to Kinyu & Inga’s house for dinner, and had a great evening. I have to say a few words about their son Ariel. Ariel was born with Down Syndrome and had 3 or 4 operations during his first year on this planet. Kinyu & Inga traveled regularly to Toronto and Philadelphia for years to special institutes that worked with Downs’ kids. They were tireless in their dedication to making sure he was not hindered by his situation, and at the age of 19, he is amazing. A-MA-ZING. He was always an outgoing kid, even at the age of 3 when I first met him with his parents when they visited us in New York. We took them out to eat in Little Italy and he had these three enormous Italian men who ran the restaurant (it was a ‘family’ restaurant, in the mafia sense of the word) wrapped around his little finger by the end of the meal. They all stood at the door and waved good-bye when we left.
Nothing has changed. Ariel is now the head of the Costa Rican Special Olympics delegation. He speaks regularly in front of large crowds on behalf of the Special Olympics. He himself competed in the Special Olympics a few years ago and won both a gold and silver medal in tennis. He counts Rafael Nadal, the number one tennis player in the world, among his friends. He is also acquainted with the former President of Costa Rica, who invited Ariel to walk with him at the inauguration of the new President last year. He works at IBM in the Human Resources Dept., and gives motivational speeches to the employees. The day that we tried to go see the volcano, he went up to someone while we were eating lunch and introduced himself. Turns out the guy was a Costa Rican celebrity, and within minutes he was at our table shaking hands and saying hello. This is an impressive 19 year old guy, never mind the fact that he does all this with Down Syndrome! Yesterday while Joshua spent some time on his own with Kinyu and Inga, they played a tape for him from a fundraising radio show Ariel had done a few months ago. The show was taking calls live, and some guy called in and was insulting Ariel, imitating how people with Down Syndrome speak, and basically being a jerk. Before anyone on the show could react, Ariel took the microphone and said, “We’re here to raise money for the Special Olympics, not to entertain this kind of comment. Let’s move on and talk to someone who wants to help.” And that was the end of it. As Joshua said, Ariel is the perfect example of what you can do if you don’t make excuses. “Oh, I can’t do that because I….” People say that all the time. “I’m too short” “I don’t speak well.” “I don’t have time.” Whatever it is. Ariel refuses to limit himself or make excuses for himself because he has a disability. He takes responsibility and control and you cannot spend more than a few minutes with him without being impressed.
Enjoy the photos!