The Nutcracker Suite (Cascanueces) is coming to Teatro Nacional! This was a family tradition ever since I can remember. My mom studied ballet at the Settlement House in the Lower East Side of Manhattan as a teenager. I studied ballet from the age of five at the Lea and Gia dance studio on West 4th St in Greenwich Village. Those were lean times, yet Momma Micki found a way to get her girls ballet lessons!
Teatro Nacional is an architectural delight and considered the finest historical building of San Jose, located in the heart of the city, cattywampus to the Gran Hotel de Costa Rica in the Plaza Cultural. The interior of the theater, which opened in 1897, is exquisite with lavish furnishings, patterned after the Paris Opera House. The gilded columns. in shades of blues with beautiful angels and cherubs painted on them, provide elegant warmth and coziness at the same time. As soon as the performance dates were announced, I set about securing tickets. And I wanted the best seats in the house, of course!
Don, in his quiet way, went online and reserved the Presidential Suite for Opening Night! Well, we had the suite reserved and paid for, but we didn’t have the tickets yet. The next day, Don said he had to take care of some business in Alajuela.
“Ooh. I know, I know! I’ll just go with you. It’s only a few more minutes to San Jose. You can drive me in and I’ll just run in and buy tickets at the Box Office! Yay!”
At this point, we had invited two couples to join us since we had the suite where President John F. Kennedy stayed in 1963. We had seen the photos online, and there was a fair sized living room, with a bar, so we planned a cocktail party before the 8:00 performance. What better way to ensure a perfect evening than to go directly to the Box Office, study the seating chart and purchase the best possible seats; hopefully six in the front row Grand Tier!
I had actually tried to buy tickets online, but for some reason, the system kept throwing me out. Being an experienced New York and San Francisco season ticket holder, I understood the best seats would, most likely, be gone. If I couldn’t get through online, I would simply go to the Box Office window, study the seating chart, and handpick the best available seats.
As Don and I sat in the gridlock on Paseo Colon, a major thorough-fare in San Jose, he casually asked: “What day is it?”
My eyes widened as I gasped: “It’s Tuesday! Oh, no, it’s TUESDAY!”
As part of traffic control, the government has restricted driving days coinciding with license plate numbers. On Mondays, plates ending in 1 or 2 are prohibited from driving in the central city; on Tuesdays plates ending in 3 or 4 …yeah! Our plate ended in 4! The fine for driving in the city on the wrong day was bad enough. The time involved as well as the humiliation of being stopped were worse. I stared straight ahead and held my breath. We were merely blocks from the theater. If we were lucky, I could just run in, grab the tickets, and get out of town rapidly.
If you have ever been to Costa Rica, you know; NOTHING happens rapidly.
As we pulled up to the curb outside the theater, Don asked if we should park and go to lunch. I looked at his outfit, shook my head: “Nope. You’re wearing shorts. You shouldn’t even get out of the car.”
“Where should I go? There’s no parking!”
“Go around the block if you have to. I’ll be right back.”
I dashed across the plaza and made a bee-line for the gate, not noticing the line of people along the side of the entrance. I smiled at the guard and chirped: “I’m just running in quickly to buy some tickets for a future performance.”
He shook his head and pointed to the line. It was just past noon. The people waiting in line were there to purchase tickets for an afternoon symphony starting at one o’clock. The sky was threatening rain. I had changed purses; my folding umbrella was in the bag I left home. I dug in. If I got wet, so be it. At least I would have the tickets. I didn’t understand why we were standing on line in the rain while there was a long awning stretching across the courtyard that would have sheltered all of us. I might have suggested it if I were in San Francisco or New York.
The rain started lightly. The man in front of me opened his teeny, tiny folding umbrella. I bent my knees, squinched my shoulders together, and made myself as small as possible. He never knew I was under that umbrella with him! Finally, the line moved forward and we shuffled into the lobby of the theater. The line moved quickly and I was standing at the window with my credit card, my Costa Rican driver’s license, and a smile. I explained to the ticket vendor that I wanted tickets for December 5th, opening night of the Nutcracker. He was quiet, and then said: “You can’t buy them here. You have to go online to Mundo-Ticket. We don’t even have any to sell. It’s all online. Good day!”
I just stood there with my lips pursed. He repeated: “Good day!”
Well! No tickets today. We were two weeks away from opening night, the Presidential Suite was bought and paid for. Two other couples booked rooms in the same hotel and were planning to attend our pre-theater cocktail party. No ticky, no bueno. Time to go to plan B.
I walked out of the theater and wondered where I would find Don. I figured I would call his cell and find out he was hiding in a public parking lot. Remember, we were not supposed to be there on Tuesday.
Costa Rican taxis, the official ones anyway, are red. Our car is also red, which is a story unto itself. Never paint your car a different color in Costa Rica (future blog). There at the curb, in the line of taxis, was my husband, patiently waiting. I sprinted, in my stilettos, dodging puddles (it was still raining). He was hiding in plain sight!
I jumped into the car. “No tickets. Let’s get outta here, before we get a ticket. That set me off in a giggle fit. “No tickets, now we don’t want a ticket?”
As we pulled away from the curb, I was hoping Don knew the way out of San Jose. I knew I didn’t! All too often, I have been caught in the maze of one-ways and grid-lock not knowing if I was going in the right direction. This has not changed in the twenty-plus years I have been coming here. Don turned on his GPS system, which kept a constant banter of “turn left, in 200 meters, turn right, etc.” not knowing about the one-way streets, or that there are no street signs. Motorcycles darted in and out, as usual. The law states that every motorcycle rider must wear reflective straps, and not wanting to make eye contact, I was certain each one was a transit cop ready to pull us over for being there on Tuesday. At one point there actually was a Transit Motorcycle Cop sitting at a light right outside Don’s window. My head snapped front and center, my heart was pounding, I stopped breathing, my nostrils flared, my eyes went wide and I sat rigidly until the light changed and he sped off. I know they won’t take us to jail for driving in San Jose on a Tuesday, but stll … I was guilt-ridden and couldn’t wait to get to the city limits.
When we got to the “Ring Road” as some call the Circunvalacion, which, as the name implies, circles the city. Turns out the actual road is still considered within city limits. Our friend, Oscar, got a ticket for driving there on the wrong day, and he’s a tico! I didn’t breath until we were out of the ring road.
So, it was a no ticket, no ticket day!
We did get the tickets, but it was no easy feat. It took several trips to the Atenas Post Office, a trip to Heredia to pick up a note from Oscar’s wife, Alejandra, authorizing us to pick them up, and this was all done the day before the performance. Meanwhile, the hotel sent Don an email saying we couldn’t have the suite because somebody else wanted it for the week, and they would gladly give us a junior suite at a reduced rate. We had already purchased the champagne and caviar for the pre-theater cocktail party and the whole group was looking forward to enjoying the ambiance of the historic place where John F. Kennedy stayed in 1963. Don stood his ground, the hotel honored our reservation, and we had a fabulous cocktail party.
The performance was magnificent, our seats superb, and we had a memorable night-on-the-town in San Jose!
My mom, Micki, was in the US at the time, and voiced her disappointment at missing the Nutcracker. I assured her, I would be happy to go again. She returned just in time for the final performance on December 15. We got all gussied up and sat in the same section our group was in on Opening Night. Turns out, there is not a bad seat in the house. The small, intimate theater is made up with many tiers of seats, and reminds mom of the Met in New York. She’s still mad they tore it down in 1967. Now that we both live in Costa Rica, we have the privilege of attending cultural events at the Teatro Nacional. It has been restored and its elegance maintained. And now I know how to buy tickets!