A taste of Italy in the jungle

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Sunday, September 23

I love it when a plan comes together.

I went A Team last night here in the jungle, pulling together a Tico-infused version of one of my favorite meals, Seafood fra Diavalo. It took advance planning and a liberal dose of red wine to pull it off.

On Friday as I hobbled up and down the aisles of the supermercado here in Uvita, I stocked up on garlic, onions, basil, oregano and pasta. I also secured the best Chilean boxed wine money can buy, knowing I’d need that to enhance the tomato sauce I’d be using as a base. Finally, I picked up a package of frozen local seafood — white fish, mussels, clams, crab and shrimp.

So far, so good.

When Gian arrived yesterday morning to deliver Sara’s incredible pizza, focaccia and ciabatta, I had the final components of my master plan. While I was cooking the sauce, I added a liberal amount of wine and an almost equal amount of my favorite Tico hot sauce, Spicy Life. I’m having a hard time getting the cook top here to simmer. Even at its lowest setting, the flame is a bit too much so I cooked the sauce for only an hour or so. Normally, I’d do that for several hours on a low simmer.

The picture really doesn’t do the final product justice. While I’d be reluctant to serve it to Italians like Gian and Sara, it was more than adequate for El Gringo Feo. I ate it with a big hunk of ciabatta and a piece of rosemary focaccia. For dessert, a chunk of Costa Rican chocolate and another glass of wine. ¡Que sabrosa! (Y muchas gracias, Sara y Gian, por el pan.)

After dinner, I decided to hang out in the bar area since the evening rain had started, making the prospect of a return to the Treehouse rather wet. My ankle has been improving slowly but I’m still not wanting to make a mad dash through a tropical downpour. I spent an hour or two reading the latest book I’ve embarked on, Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It’s a fascinating, sobering, concise view of our history on the planet, and at times it’s nothing short of brutal. This should be required reading for anyone who rejects evolution. The science is compelling, and Harari is quick to concede when the scientific record is vague, conflicting or incomplete.

There’s a section where he discusses the Aché, a group of hunter-gatherers who lived in the Paraguayan jungle until the 1960s.

When an old Aché woman became a burden to the rest of the band, one of the younger men would sneak behind her and kill her with an axe-blow to the head.

I recoiled when I read that. It’s so cold and foreign to our world view. But then I started thinking about it. I live in a society that has decided those who can’t afford health care can be left to die slowly and horribly of cancer or other afflictions, many of which could be cured or even prevented with the right medical care. I guess the difference is that rather than having a young man brutally eliminate a member of the herd who is a burden, we have wealthy old men who do essentially the same thing with laws and platitudes about not being able to afford to care for those who are a burden. It’s not blunt as a blow to the head, but the end result is pretty much the same.

I also found fascinating Harari’s argument that the Agricultural Revolution was a step backward for Homo sapiens, not forward. The population explosion it fostered threw things irreparably out of balance. “We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us,” he writes. He doesn’t soft-sell the life of hunter-gathers, as the passage I quoted above makes clear. But the more you read about the history of Homo sapiens, the more you wonder if we’re really moving forward. Early in the book, he ominously notes that Homo erectus was the longest reigning human, living in the eastern regions of Asia for 2 million years. “It is doubtful whether Homo sapiens will still be around a thousand years from now, so 2 million years is really out of our league,” he writes. It’s tough to argue the point.

Maybe DEVO was right. We are de-evolving …

I shifted over to Shakespeare’s poetry after getting thoroughly depressed about our prospects of beating Homo erectus’ 2-million-year record. As I read Venus and Adonis, the storm grew exponentially, with the thunder and lightning (trueno y relámpago) mirroring poor Venus’ fury at being unable to seduce Adonis. It got to the point where the electrical tempest was so vicious I was genuinely afraid, wincing each time there was a flash in anticipation of the roiling explosion of thunder that followed in successively shorter intervals. Surprisingly, we never lost power, though when things subsided and I returned to the Treehouse, I noticed the low-voltage lights outside weren’t on and once I got inside, I discovered that one set of track lights was completely burned out. All three bulbs gone. There’d been some sort of surge up here, even though I didn’t notice it down in the kitchen area.

I emerged from the Treehouse this morning to run down to the kitchen for some bread to eat with the anti-infammatory drug I’m taking for my ankle. As soon as I stepped out, a shimmering blue morpho butterfly floated by, dipping here, zagging there, riding the morning breeze with calculated randomness. I felt a bit like Moses emerging after the flood, but my rainbow was a single hue and had wings. After I got my bread and a banana, I returned to the Treehouse, where the rains have resumed. The deluge wasn’t done, merely paused. It’s rainy season, after all. Here’s hoping there’s no trueno y relámpago this time around …