There are characters for whom one immediately feels affection and who you would like to get to know better. There are people whose particular personalities make them seem like they live in another era or that, for them, the word time has been forgotten.
That is what Napoleon Arias Parageles is like. With guitar in hand and a catchy turn of phrase, the Samara resident makes any moment have music and mischief, with many Guanacaste residents who highly esteem him digging into their pockets.
His namesake is the French Napoleon Bonaparte, since his father was reading a biography of the military mastermind “and in those days I was born and they raised me like that,” said Arias.
In his 88 years, “Don Polo,” as he is called affectionately, greets me as if I were his grandson and starts talking to me as if we had known each other for a lifetime. His human warmth is impressive. As we talk, he shares some of his personal details: married twice, with 20 children, although he smiles a little and tells me that maybe he has forgotten to count one; the list continues with 80 grandchildren, 45 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.
I ask him how it feels to see his fourth generation with great great grandchildren and he comments carefree, “nothing since they almost are not family anymore.”
He wears shorts, sandals, sewn socks and a beach shirt. His grandfatherly gaze recalls the passing years and there is a kind of light on his face that lights up when he smiles mischievously.
Although he says he lives better alone than in bad company, he receives constant visits from family, acquaintances and even strangers. His home in Cangrejal of Samara is a reflection of his personality: a bohemian environment, humble and simple.
His favorite place is the front porch where he composes verses while enjoying the sea breeze, socializing and playing his guitar, which he learned to play by himself, purely by ear, when he was about 20 years old. He bought it for ₵1,000 (about $1.90).
Don “Polo” arrived in Caimital from Grecia when he was four years old. He moved to Samara Beach eight years ago from his farm in Pueblo Viejo to be closer to his family.
His songs have a rhythmic cadence and tell stories and personal experiences. In each of his performances, he is accompanied by his son, Efrain Arias Bonilla (62 years old), who adds the second voice to the melodies.
Don Polo already released his first album, Napoleon de Samara, which contains some of his most famous songs like “Mama Tacha,” which tells the story of Anastasia “Mama Tacha,” who had a goat that her neighbor milked secretly at night and for this reason several fights broke out between them, so much so that once they fought for 24 hours without letting go and the police had to come to break them apart.
With this song, Napoleon Arias won a music talent contest in Liberia in 2008, in which he was measured against renowned artists of the province. He recalls that at that time, when he took the stage nobody knew him and as he climbed onto the stage some in the audience whistled at him mockingly. However, once he started singing, the whistles turned into applause and at the end, the prize was already his.
While he tells me all of this, Don Polo is now on his third drink and when asked to play “Mama Tacha,” he grabs the guitar, and while gently caressing the strings, he gets up the courage to perform the song. “Because it even has to bleat (imitating the sound of a goat),” he says.
To make a song, he assures me that it is inspired by something. “Like by love of neighbor and of female neighbors,” he laughs.
Since he was a “carajete” (boy), Don Polo swung an ax and a machete, cared for the farm and hasn’t wrinkled his brow at booze or women. With the passing of time, life led him to try out several occupations, some a little curious like being a midwife and an impromptu nurse.
He was forced to learn to be a midwife because he had so many kids in order to help the women in his life during childbirth.
However, he didn’t do so well as a nurse because once he had to give one of his aunts a shot when her blood pressure was apparently bad and he was called to give her a shot in an emergency.
“They sent a fool to bring remedies and they took a medication that wasn’t the right one and I asked my aunt in which arm. She told me in the left because they had already given her shots in the other one several times and that was the last thing she said.”
Another unpleasant anecdote happened around 1948, when he was cut with a machete while he was sleeping during a vigil for belonging to the National Liberation Party. An opposing party member cut his forehead. “They sewed me up right there like an animal,” he related. Fortunately, the only thing left from that encounter was the scar.
Regarding the secret of his longevity, he tells me it’s because he drinks booze with honey every morning, and that feeds him and kills the worms. At his home, I can see that the bottle can never be missing. A son-in-law brings some every day from Santa Barbara of Santa Cruz.
Napoleon Arias is one of the most beloved characters of Samara. Interestingly, he does not like to fish. However, he remembers the time when the sea yielded an abundant harvest of things like conch shells and fish close to the beach’s shore, not like now when fishermen have to go out deep to get them.
Don Polo’s gaze has now seen many tides come and go in Samara and from the experience he has gained, he tells me that what he needs to do in life is to sit still. Finally, I ask him if he thinks about death and he answers me affirmatively, smiling: “Yes, but I’m not afraid of dying.”
Napoleon claims that the secret to his good health is due to being carefree, with music, dancing and a solution of liquor and honey that keeps him active.