My present travels in Costa Rica with the photographer Lucas Foglia, through a sequence of chance connections and exaggerated truths, landed us the opportunity to be in the press section at today’s meeting between (Nobel laureate) President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica and the two contenders for the presidency of neighboring Honduras. We understand our work here more under the auspices of art than plain reporting—to the point that we ultimately thought more about the press corps gazing upon the performances than the content of the acts themselves, whose Spanish we couldn’t fully understand anyway.
This was the scene: reporters gathered in a cordoned-off half-block of street in front of Arias’s house, with all their thick wires, cameras large and small, questions, computers, recorders, hook-ups, makeup, grumbles, and banter. There was a stage set up at the front of our pen, by the entrance to the house, surrounded by potted plants and guarded by tourist police in white shirts armed only with the friendliest-looking of clubs. Most press stayed all day, mainly waiting from morning through evening. We arrived in mid-afternoon. Not long after, at the back of the press area, on the opposite site of the press section from the prepared stage, a cluster of protesters arrived, bearing flags and banners in revolutionary red, shouting familiar slogans. There was a charge to the rear, pulling correspondents from their posts at the presidents’ stage. I joined.
Dozens of bored reporters finally had something to do, fixing their lenses and microphones and adrenaline on the passionate ones making so much noise through their loudspeakers. Against militarism. Against the powers that be and their inexhaustible corruption. One dressed as Che. An effigy burned. I let my voice recorder take in a speech from one of the ringleaders, far too fast for me to understand. I took too many pictures that have already been taken before in countless places, at countless protests. My hope was to find somewhere its unique vitality, doubtlessly somewhere, awaiting its capture by a sympathetic observer who could make this event really exist by recording it, by broadcasting it, by turning it from what it was to what it represents.
On the other side, the large, immovable cameras still awaited the presidents. They fixed on an empty stage, or on the door from which these men would emerge.
Will this sacred dissent be heard over the decorous speeches, I wondered? They were loud. We, among our cameras and our wires that ran under us like roots in a forest, were huddled between two competing performances, each competing for its presence in the final ontology of that moment. According to research I’ve seen in cognitive science, while people may be able to talk abstractly about the possibility of simultaneous things, “in fact” (says the science) no—in the intuitive processes of human minds, only one event can happen at any given time and be an event, fully. As gatekeepers of event-ness in media culture, the cameras adjudicated a contest of two events, one on either side of the street.
Each had its violence, each had its peace. On one side, a gracious act of conflict resolution among the heads of inevitably murderous states (even, one way or another, military-less Costa Rica). On the other, a riotous cry for an end to injustice and bloodshed.
But I should have expected what happened. Well in time for the actual arrival of the men, as I listened to (and recorded) a long speech about the tragedy of politics from a Honduran photographer, the protests calmly faded away. I didn’t see if it was police or simply being finished that did them in, though I suspect some eerie combination of the two. The air was clear and quiet for, not too long after, the arrival of the powerful.
We stayed only for the appearance by Roberto Micheletti, the leader of the Honduran coup, flanked by Arias. Micheletti spoke—something about elections and the rule of law—but I watched Arias intently. He has a wonderful expression on his face, apparently always. So sad, so stern, so mournful. Whatever he is, for whatever it could possibly be worth, he does look like he carries all the suffering of the world in his expression, as one perpetually in the presence of futility, either right there before him or, at least, during a fleeting moment of progress, in the corner of his eye.
But I don’t know if that’s worth anything at all. I didn’t even get a good picture of him. And I still have to read all the papers to figure out what’s (really, factually, politically) going on, and who I think is on the brave side of right and peace and justice, which is the only peace. On the evening Costa Rican newscast, it goes without saying, only one of the two performances appeared. Only one event, apparently, really happened.
(Photos and video are mine, not Lucas’s, by the way.)