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¡Pura Vida! A Taste of Nature, Architecture, Permaculture and Lifestyle in Costa Rica

¡Pura Vida! from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

“¡Pura Vida!” is a phrase used daily in Costa Rica, which means “pure life” or “simple life.” It is not a slogan; it is a lifestyle, a way of being. Although I had initially planned to make a visual memoir as my 100th documentary, I ultimately decided to dedicate this occasion to our family experience in Costa Rica six years ago. Why? To raise awareness for the urgency of the need for a change in lifestyle as needed today. 

Covid-19 has globally brought us to a turning point. As it impacts the minds of billions of people since post-WW-II, the American Dream has reached a dead-end. It is simply non-sustainable. For the planet to survive and thrive, we must collectively change our mindset. Costa Rica offers a model worth studying carefully. 

The 25-minute documentary presented here tells much more than I may describe in writing, so consider this blog complementary to the film. Our trip was a 1,000+ km long drive nine-day vacation on a moderate budget, which we planned to combine between nature, permaculture, and architecture. 

The Trip

Gabby created the initial itinerary after consulting with Gabriel Saragovia, who lives in Costa Rica. Gabriel is the son of my old friend Efraim Saragovia, with whom I studied architecture at Israel’s Technion, and now lives in Florida. The father and son duo became sustainability-conscious developers of resorts in Costa Rica. They built Rio Perdido, an award-winning project, which was one of the highlights of our trip.

Our first stop was at La Ecovilla, a community of forty families from different countries, thirty of which having school-aged children. They focus on permaculture, not just as a source of food, but also as a tool for education. 

Finding La Ecovilla was not easy since the streets do not have names, and no signs were pointing us in the right direction. After climbing a rugged road carved from stone, surrounded by jungle-like vegetation, we found a nicely designed gate in the middle of nowhere. When it opened, it felt like entering another planet: Organic Architecture-inspired homes, homegrown food, and community areas geared towards creating a harmonious life with nature. In other words, a meaningful message for a future based on alternative values to a consumption-based society. 

After spending a few hours exploring La Ecovilla, Gabby navigated the one-lane Route 34 road through a tropical storm to our next stop, adjacent to the Manuel Antonio National Park’s entrance. 

The next morning, we were the first visitors of the day to enter the Park. Following a hike through the jungle, with toucans and sloths, we reached a beach that made me feel like a Spanish conquistador stepping on the soil of the Americas for the first time. Our company was birds chirping, iguanas sunbathing, and monkeys swinging between the branches. 

Our next destination was Malpaís, on the northern side of the Nicoya Gulf. We drove to Puntarenas to board the ferry which would take us to Paquera, a 1½ -hour ride surrounded by a view of islands and the sinuous coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

The path to our destination was an unpaved, bumpy road through the countryside of small farms and ranches. Occasionally we would see a herd of cows grazing on the rolling hills. 

The hotel we stayed at provided a sense of idyllic peacefulness. Without ostentatious luxury, its sparse buildings were immersed in a tropical garden surrounded by dense jungle.

We first explored Malpaís, a laid-back small village with a rocky shore of bizarre volcanic formations and a jungle forest reaching the shore. The main road that links Malpaís with Santa Teresa was the area’s main street, with shops, markets, and stores. 

After a few hours of walking on the beach and talking to people in the village, I got a sense of the vibe. It attracts young, educated people, escaping the traps of urban life. The crowd was quite international, with a strong American, Argentinean, and Israeli presence, which made us feel like a good fit for the place.

On our third day, we explored Montezuma, a small village known for its multi-ethnic bohemian atmosphere of young people looking for an alternative lifestyle. It is also known for its beaches, rivers, and waterfalls. 

It took us most of the next day to reach Rio Perdido, first having to drive back through the Nicoya Gulf. When we finally got there, our first impression was a sense of overwhelm.

“In the middle of nowhere,” five design firms – C2 Arquitectura, Vida Design Studio, Project CR+d, Garnier Arquitectos, and OUSIA Design – led by Gabriel and Efraim Saragovia, had created a masterful architectural complex with virtually no land movement

In respect to the existing natural land it sits on, the facility includes a unique thermo-mineral gorge with eight hot springs. The hotel’s main area was conceived to minimize the number of columns and ease the view of the surroundings. The prefabricated bungalows elevated above the original topography, give a sense of peacefulness, with a 180-degree view of vegetation. The place also has multiple swimming pools at different water temperatures.

Passive cooling techniques were applied throughout the facility that requires little to no maintenance. An “aerodynamic architectural structure” proved to be very effective in properly channeling the currents during the 4 months of heavy winds that this area experiences. Water use was taken into consideration as part of the reforestation effort for the native plant species. The treated water is directed towards the irrigation of thousands of plants.

Besides the architecture, the Rio Caliente hot water river is in itself, an important reason to visit the place. It is not only relaxing, but also has medicinal properties used by the natives for generations. 

For those in search of adventurous excitement, this ecotourism includes a state-of-the-art Zipline course which loops across the main canyon, tubing through the winding currents of Rio Perdido and trails for walking, hiking and mountain biking.

 Our final stop was at the La Paz Waterfall Garden and Zoo, near the Poás Volcano. This is a lush tropical forest with a huge waterfall, and many species of local wildlife, including birds, insects, monkeys and leopards.

 L.A. 2020

We are currently living during the worst global pandemic of the past century, the worst recession since the 1930s, and now we are on the cusp of one of the most critical elections in recent American history. The future is now, and it is daunting. Costa Rica, besides its natural beauty, is a stable democratic republic with a long list of attributes: it is the greenest country in the world, home to the highest density of animal species; It produces 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, has had no army since 1949, has spends 7% of its budget on education (U.S.: 3.5%.) There is much to learn from this small country.

In short: ¡Pura Vida!

Sustainability, Vanguard Art and Pop Music Two Trailers and a Music Video Share Time and Space

One: My Green Journey Trailer (2:30)

Two: Jasper Johns and Vanguard Art Today Trailer (2:30)

Three: My Believer Music Video (3:21)

The connection of three short videos on sustainability, vanguard art an pop music is time and space. They were all three produced during May 2018;  all three share space here. Why?

The trailers and posters for My Green Journey (17:48) and for Jasper Johns and Vanguard Art Today (35:34) were done in connection with my submission to several film festivals, as part of the required press kit (both films on Vimeo Private for now). My Believer, a music video, was produced in connection with an advanced video editing class that I took at Golden West College.

  1. My Green Journey

This documentary is a brief “autobiography of a vision.” It tells of Ruth Meghiddo’s path from architecture to urban farming and shows how sustainability can be improved by using the principles of permaculture design. Combining earthy pragmatism with futuristic visions, she shows how her concepts of permaculture and eatable gardens within our habitat may help to transform the world we live in.

2. Jasper Johns and Vanguard Art Today

What was supposed to be a short video reporting on Jasper John’s exhibition at The Broad evolved into a short documentary that illustrates Johns’ path from being an unknown artist in New York during the 1950’s to becoming one of the leading artists during the 1960s and 1970s. My research lead to the questions “what is vanguard art today? Who are today’s Jasper Johns working within the present reality? Is there an equivalent in architecture?” The documentary tries to establish a link between one of the most important artists of the 1960s avant-garde, and some of today’s avant-garde artists in multiple disciplines and media: painting, sculpture, film, video-art, choreography, architecture. It provides a stimulant example for the young generation of artists.

3. My Believer

My Believer is an experimental music video, my first and so far only one covering this genre. It is the result of my explorations during an advanced video-editing class that I recently took at Golden West College, taught by Thien A. Pham, a professional editor.

A long story short. In taking care of my “continuous education” in filmmaking, I enrolled in the class during the Winter semester of 2018. There were about students, out of which I was one of the few older than twenty years old and the only one above the teacher’s age. During the classes, we reviewed films’ techniques and special effects, and edited trailers, commercials, and segments of feature movies. Thien A. Pham, originally from Viet Nam, also gave us some insight on Chinese and South Korean filmmaking, which rarely reaches the American Public.

One of the assignments was to edit a music video. We were given the original music of “Believer,” created by Imagine Dragons, and also some clips produced by Adam Henderson, winner of the Adobe Creative Cloud’s Grand Prize.  We were asked to re-edit the visuals freely while covering the entire original recording. Although neither the music nor many of the clips on violence were “my cup of tea,” I took the opportunity to experiment.

Advanced Video Editing Class “selfie” by Thien A. Pham. May 22, 2018.

Radio Day A Radio Interview Hosted by Nancy Pearlman

 Radio Day from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

 We went to the open-house day of the “Pearlman Cabin” in Idyllwild, designed by John Lautner.  While being at the event, Nancy Pearlman asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed for her  KBPK 90.1 FM Environmental Directions program. I said, “Yes, when, where?” “Today, here,” she said. “OK,” I answered, surprised.

Pearlman Cabin, Idyllwild. Architect: John Lautner.

Pearlman Cabin, Idyllwild. Architect: John Lautner.

Nancy Pearlman

Nancy Pearlman

Nancy Pearlman is an award-winning broadcaster, environmentalist, college instructor, anthropologist, editor and producer and who has made safeguarding the earth’s ecosystems a career. Since 1977, she has hosted and produced the country’s longest-running environmental radio show: Environmental Directions. 

I thought the main subject of the radio interview was going to be John Lautner. Unscheduled, and spontaneous, we touched many subjects: Wright, organic architecture, sustainability, Lautner’s architecture, the cabin’s integration to nature, Idyllwild, organic architects, Ruth’s Farm Urbana, solar energy, desalination and irrigation in Israel, population growth and a view of the future.  Several weeks later Nancy sent me an unabridged copy of the recorded interview, edited by Robert Payne. I decided to produce an abridged version of it, including relevant images and background music. The result is in the documentary included here.

John Lautner / Bob Hope Residence

John Lautner / Bob Hope Residence

John Lautner is one of the few Frank Lloyd Wright’s disciples I appreciate for his originality. He absorbed the essence of Wright’s philosophy without becoming an imitator of “the Wright’s style.”

I met him once. The encounter was circumstantial. During the late 1980s, a couple of clients we had planned to buy the Concannon Residence in Bel Air, designed in 1960, and wanted us to remodel it. We went to visit the site. The house was in very bad shape. It had been abandoned for more than five years by its owner, and puddles of water from leakings were everywhere.

Concannon Residence

Concannon Residence

Since Lautner was still an active architect, I suggested to visit him and check if he wanted to do the job, or if he had any particular suggestions. We went to his office, on the 7000-block of Hollywood Boulevard. In the middle of the waiting hall there was a huge model of a house at scale 1:20. When we entered his private office, a tall man with a grave voice stood up and shook our hands. I explained to him why we came. Facing my clients, he asked “with whom of you two shall I talk? I deal only with one person. If you have any differences of opinion, you solved them at home.” After listening what they had to say, he decided to delegate the project to us.  Before leaving, he handed to me a complete set of working drawings.

Our clients had indeed different opinions. So much so, that they ended up divorcing before the house was bought, and the project vanished. Recently, thirty years later, I learned from Lautner’s daughter, Judith, that the Concannon Residence had been demolished.

 

Stevens Residence, Malibu.

Stevens Residence, Malibu.

Segel Residence

Segel Residence

The problems ahead of us are not only quantitative, they are also qualitative. The message is how to create spaces for people in tune with resources and Nature.