Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Museo Nacional de Costa Rica

I guess the night-blooming cereus bloomed last night - the blossom was open this morning, but not full, the way it would be about midnight.

There are several other buds looking close to opening, so I'll try to check late tonight, and get some photos. 

The scent of night-blooming cereus is supposedly quite wonderful.

And Virgin Islands herbal lore says that one should pick the cereus blossom at night, when it has just bloomed and is at it's peak - put the blossom into a bottle, and fill the bottle with alcohol (I think probably rum) - then leave it to sit and steep for several weeks.  One spoonful (or so) of the alcohol is supposed to help prolong your life, and cure pretty much whatever ails you.  Since the plants flower infrequently, the blossoming of a flower is a major event - so that's probably how the story about the curative powers of the flower came about.

 We walked down the street to the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica - the national museum.  (I liked the direction sign for the volcano - how many times do you see street signs for volcanoes?)

The Museo Nacional is in an old fortress, the Bellavista Barracks.  I think the fortress was built in the mid 1800s, although the literature isn't too clear about this.  It really is a beautiful old fort, with turrets, wide walls, crenellated tops, the whole bit.

Bellavista was used as the military headquarters in the civil war of 1948 - we aren't too clear on who was fighting whom during this war, the exhibit of Costa Rican history was closed and Richard and I aren't really up on Central American history. At any rate, you can still see bullet marks (as in gouges) on the façade of the building, especially the turrets - I'm guessing one faction was shooting out from the fort while the other side was shooting at the fort trying to get in.

Today, the museum houses the (temporarily closed) historic exhibition, as well as exhibits portraying the archaelogic finds from the pre-Colombian civilizations of Costa Rica.  A large funerary area was found on the Nicoya peninsula, and the artifacts included remarkable well-preserved ceramic vessels and figures, stone carvings, and of course gold.

The gold amazed me.  There were absolutely gorgeous disks, headpieces, jewelry - made with incredible detail and almost dainty fussiness, especially when one considers that these items were made by people who only had fire and tools that they made themselves.  I have no idea how they managed to make filigree pendants, or leopards holding tiny monkeys - the work was not only beautiful aesthetically, but the technique was just beyond belief.  I know how much work goes into either fabricating or casting a piece of jewelry - that people about 500 to 1000 years ago could make these exquisitely detailed items was just mind-boggling.  How does one solder something without a torch?  How does one make wire for filigree without the implements we have now?  How does one even cast gold without a centrifuge?  As I said, mind-boggling!

 But my favorite part of the museum was the first exhibit, the natural history portion - which was essentially a butterfly garden.  We walked in to this highland rainforest, with dripping plants overhead and bright flowers mimicking the forest floor underneath.  And, of course, butterflies - mostly several kinds of blue morphos, some zebra longwings, some black and white butterflies whose names I don't know.  (Yes, we have not yet been introduced.)

It was somewhat early when we arrived, and rather rainy outside - so it was fairly dark in the butterfly garden, and the butterflies were fairly still.  They were closed up on the plants, or sitting on the walls of the garden.  They were pretty quiet, just hanging out.

But after we went through the entire museum, maybe two hours later, the day had warmed up a bit, the sky wasn't as dark, and the exit took us back through the garden - and the morphos were busy and active and flying all over the place!  I'm guessing it was morpho mating season - one morpho would land, and all of a sudden three morphos would fly over and they'd all start playing what looks like butterfly leap frog in mid-air.

Plus I was wearing a blue sweater, and morphos kept circling me - in fact, one kept circling my head, I'd catch glimpses out of the corner of my eye, and ended up spinning around like a top or dreidl a few times, trying to see this butterfly.  They were just fluttering all over, happy as could be to be in the air and with flowers and with their friends and potential girl- or boyfriends - so a few morphos were willing to pose for me, and I was able to get a few photos.  (And I know, they probably were just showing off and trying to attract a mate, but hey, a good photographer grabs the opportunities presented.)

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