by Carolina Bello & Pablo Franceschi
A reencounter with a neglected neighbour is the starting point for this performative documentary that reflects on what we lose when urban development neglects communities’ physical and emotional geographies.
Listen to this story narrated by the river
I can hear it from my house, and sometimes smell it and feel it, but I cannot see it. Everything seems to be built so that he goes unnoticed, so that he lives hidden, invisible and fearful behind walls and fences. It’s like one of those lonely neighbours that nobody knows, but who is known for living there before everyone else: nobody speaks to him, nobody visits him, nobody asks him anything.
The Uruca River is born in the heights of Valle del Sol, in the western side of the capital, where the wind hits the mountains forcefully and where his transparency still shines. From there, his waters have witnessed how, in just a few years, the little town he had seen born, transformed into a small industrialized rural city; where cows, hundreds of cars, hens, exclusive residentials, call centers, and horseback riders live all together. Without any hesitation, modernity invaded his banks and turned its back on him. His riverbed now wanders between walls, pipes and trees, between shoes and stones, between plastic and sand, between oblivion and memory.
To the naked eye, he seems harmless, he travels through town calmly and with restraint, but stories have it that in the past (1916) he flooded houses and memories with stones and mud, in a current that dragged a part of the Tapezco hill. Thousands have feared him ever since, as the threat that his fury could make the entire town disappear has always been there. For decades, processions were organized in his name, crying for mercy, and today, he is monitored by the authorities in case his threat becomes imminent. But despite this, not so long ago, he was ‘the’ recreation space for many: old and young, rich and poor, native and strangers. The river was a excuse to meet and partake every weekend, not just with humans, but also with birds, trees, mushrooms, horses, flowers and thousands of insects… He was once part of everyone’s lives, but with the accelerated and aggressive development of the area, the river fell into deep oblivion and today he wanders occasionally through the memories of the elders and of some younger ones who remember him with joy and nostalgia.
The morning I met him, he made me feel like I was elsewhere, in another time, even. I became aware of all the time he had been there without me noticing him and of the tangle of sensations and thoughts that invaded me just by looking at him. This necessary encounter triggered other encounters: we invited those who had spoken with nostalgia about him—as if speaking of a dead person—to come see, smell and listen to him again. To reconnect with him. This unleashed a series of emotionally-charged moments, in which memories, stories and questions emerged:
“Whenever there was a flood I would come down to the fig tree, and there over a plain of stones, I would find dolls and toys. Mom couldn’t buy them but the river gave them to us”—Marta remembers her childhood by the river. She also used to visit him every weekend when she first got married. However, 40 years have gone by without her even “taking a peek at him.”
‘’I have lived by the river since I was 4 years old but I haven’t come in years… so many that I can’t even count them”— said Cristina at 60 years old, when we took her back to the river.
Jorge can’t remember how long it has been since he last came to the river, but he estimates it has been more than 25 years:“The space for the river and the animals has been increasingly reduced due to urbanization, and that is not fair.”
At Peña de los Pericos, Calincho recalled his adventures in this place more than 20 years ago—”On fridays, we would leave school early, and spend the whole afternoon here.”
This story of love and coexistence—that ended up becoming one of abandonment and oblivion— between the river and the community, repeats itself far and wide across the Central Valley. We have built our houses with their back towards those that had been the guide to erect them in the first place. Rivers were key to establish the first colonial cities, build roads and mark paths. But at some point in history this was ignored. “Indifference causes violence”, I once heard somewhere. We could deduce then that attention forges love, care and affection. Rivers’ voices are necessary to build fairer and healthier cities, because in addition to interconnecting ecosystems in their journey, they are spaces of coexistence and encounter where social classes and communities also interconnect, as well as memories and traditions. The history of a community is written through the ties we create, not just with other humans, but also with public and natural spaces that remind us that we are part of an interconnected whole that needs to be considered in its totality.
Photography & Video
Carolina Bello & Pablo Franceschi
2020. Santa Ana, Costa Rica
Published July, 2020
Volume 3, Issue 1