Teatro Nacional, San José
Our flight landed in San José after dark, so we saw little more of the Costa Rican capital than the stream of tail lights on the roads from the airport to our hotel until the next morning. To the best of my knowledge, no one has described San José as a beautiful city. Its commercial thoroughfares were lined with fast food outlets and casino billboards. Heavy traffic clogged the streets leading to the city center. Buses were ubiquitous, mobile factories for producing malodorous exhaust. The incessant blasting of horns and cries of lottery ticket hawkers was muted as HL and I approached one of San José’s few historical landmarks, the National Theater (Teatro Nacional). It was not a relic of Spanish colonialism, but a monument to the pretensions of the conquerors' heirs, Costa Rica’s coffee magnates. Their cultural ideals were European, so the design and ornamentation, including the marble on the lobby pillars, all were imported. An Italian sculptor, Pietro Bulgarelli, was commissioned to make the statues of the Muses that grace the lobby.
La Comedia (Comedy) by Pietro Bulgarelli
One must take a formal tour in order to see the interior of the theater. Our guide was a young woman, an actor who spoke fluent English to our group of assorted foreigners.
The National Theater opened in 1897. Its roccoco second-floor foyer was undergoing restoration. I watched several people there engrossed in the painstaking application of fresh gold leaf to plaster flora and fauna. The work was supposed to be finished in six months. Meanwhile, the theater was open, though there were no shows scheduled during our time in San Jose.
Restoration in progress in the second-floor salon
After the tour, we had lunch in the Café del Teatro. We resisted the pastries, but I succumbed to a postprandial cappuccino on the premises where coffee grandees once indulged their Europhilia. On reflection, I should have ordered two.
Cappuccino Alma de Café, a specialty of the theater café