Saturday, 30 July 2011

From the oak tree to the stinking toe......

Bean pod of BacĂș or Guapinol (Hymenaea courbaril)Image via Wikipedia
Saint Louis, Louis IX of France, might have been a disaster as a crusader but was regarded as pretty hot stuff as a judge, to the extent that his subjects would approach him to settle their problems while he held court under an oak tree in the park of the royal fortress of Vincennes.

Current common view is that the local judge....hereinafter referred to as Licenciado Luis to protect the guilty...has a fair way to go before he approaches the reputation of the sainted version.
Farther than the romero (pilgrimage) to the Basilica of Cartago for the feast day of La Negrita - taking in Fatima, Lourdes, Compostela and Jerusalem en route.
The only resemblance is the presence of a tree....not an oak, but a stately guapinol...the stinking toe.

There has been trouble at t'molina in the three valleys lately and, of course, The Neighbour is involved, messing around with the water supply that comes from the spring high up on the mountain.

While he normally contents himself with blocking pipes to create a temporary nuisance, this time he has been re routing the system, leaving a number of fields and coffee plantations with out any water at all, but, equally seriously, he has been changing the diameter of supply pipes, reducing the supply to the tanks which serve the houses and businesses in the area.

There have been a few unpleasant encounters and a number of people have hauled him off to the court where Licenciado Luis officiates, waving protection orders, the deeds to their properties and statements from lawyers.
The first duty of a Costa Rican judge is to achieve reconciliation of warring parties and in this respect L. L. cannot be faulted.
Under his benign influence The Neighbour promised to undo that which he had done and the aggrieved parties accordingly agreed not to take matters further.

Unfortunately, The Neighbour, never one to spare a thought for sins of either omission or commission, nor wasting time on respecting agreements one minute after making them, has not undone that which he had done.
He has, in fact, continued on his merry way.

There have been more unpleasant encounters and it was felt that it would be wise to make a joint submission to the court, rather than approaching the matter piecemeal....particularly as Don Armando has come up with the goods.

One man has been buying plots of land at the very far end of the last valley...the one in which I live.
Or rather, he has been giving loans to other people to buy them at exorbitant interest rates and then foreclosing when they could no longer make the payments.
Working in one of the local banks, as he did, he was well placed to know who would be likely to come up for a scheme like this.....the hopeful poor.
As a result, he has accumulated a neat holding of flat land, ideal for building, at minimal cost.

However, to get the local equivalent of planning permission he has to show how he will get water and power to the site. Particularly water.

Thus it is that he has 'employed' The Neighbour to do the dirty work so that he can show the appropriate authorities that there will be a sufficient supply for the number of construction sites he plans to sell.
Thus all the reductions in supply.

How did Don Armando find out?
His sister's daughter in law works in the same bank.

A meeting was called at Don Freddy's rancho.....the Costa Rican weekend retreat, with a building for shelter, loos and a kitchen set in enough land for the kids to play, horses to graze and fruit trees to grow, neatly to hand for making cool drinks.
People had gathered and Don Freddy was summing up the situation when another car drew up.
The Neighbour. And he was not alone.
Accompanying him was Licenciado Luis.

L.L. said that he had had enough of the situation...he was sick of hearing about it...and had decided to attend the meeting to try to settle things once and for all.
Clearly, he said, The Neighbour also wished to settle things, since he had had the good idea of telling him about the meeting, so he was happy to do his duty by listening to everyone's point of view and trying to achieve a lasting settlement.
He pulled a chair into the shade of the guapinol and prepared for action.

There was a lot of it, so it was lucky that we were still in the 'little summer' that breaks up the rainy season or the guapinol would not have provided adequate shelter from the afternoon rains.
Neither would the rancho have been sufficient.

The litany of trespass vi et armis, insults, threats and loss of income both actual and potential went on all afternoon, until eventually Licenciado Luis held up his hand.

'I don't want to know about the past.'

Thus consigning legally protected property rights to the dustbin of Costa Rican history.

'I am here to try to manage the future.'

With ambition like he was wasted on us. He should have been on a plane to Washington D C to have a word about defaults in the shell likes of Congress, Senate and President.

I't is clear that the new development will bring benefits to all of you.'


'Like a properly made up road.'

Oh. People used to the unmade up road whether travelling on it in 4x4, ancient car without a licence, motorbike, horse or on foot take a lot of persuading that a made up road compensates for loss of water on the land where they have grazed their cattle for years.

'I have the solution.'

Washington D.C. again.

'You should form an association to manage the water supply, and then you can pay this good man for all the work he has done to make your futures better.'

For a moment there was silence, as no one recognised The Neighbour under the guise of 'this good man'. Then, as the muttering turned to indignant shouting, Licenciado Luis rose to leave, The Neighbour clearing the way, hand on the hilt of the machete at his waist.

One woman stood in his path. Dona Mery, all four foot nothing in a flowered pinny.

'You're a disgrace! Associating with something like him!

Chin jerked towards The Neighbour.

'You can't speak to me like that! I'm a judge! I demand respect for my office. I'll call the police!'

'You do that! But they can't touch me!'

'No one is untouchable!'

'Well, I am this afternoon! The two policewomen are off duty and the men aren't allowed to manhandle get off out of here! We'll go to San Jose with all this....and then we'll see who's untouchable!'

A committee has been formed, the next full meeting arranged and a preliminary plan of action has been agreed upon...

Never a dull moment.
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Thursday, 21 July 2011

The bus into town

I took the bus into the capital yesterday to deal with some paperwork.

As government offices open at 7.30 am and the queues can build up, depending on the office concerned, I took a reasonably early we were driving up the steep back road to town at about 6.00 am, the four wheel drive grumbling its way over the ruts and holes.

The views on that back road are spectacular....the stands of wild bird of paradise flowers opening up suddenly to reveal the whole valley far below, soft in the early morning light...but the highspot for me in this season is a tree with yellow fruit standing amidst the sugar cane. The form of the fruit is the exact shape of the round baubles on a Christmas tree and in the morning they glow lemon in the sunshine against the spears of cane.
Coming back in the evenings, when the sun is red below the clouds in the west, they shine brightly, a brilliant orange, the cane now just a sombre background.

Up in the town, where the feeder buses are coming in from the villages I queue as the main road buses fill up and depart under the control of the inspectors, busy checking that every seat is taken, that old  age pensioners get their half price fare and that the baggage doors are firmly shut.
None of your chicken buses here...though I do admit to once bringing back a duck in a plastic bag with its head sticking out of the top.

If you are of a nervous disposition it would be as well to disregard one of the more popular notices over the driver's position, roughly translated as
'I go with God and if I do not return it is because I have gone on with him.'

Not coming from a Catholic country, the habit of the more devout driver of crossing himself before setting out can also give rise to slight niggles of worry in the back of the mind as the bus pulls out of the town and starts to descend from the hills, swooping down the sharp bends with the front of the bus seeming to hang out over the edge of the road with a sharp drop below.

The passengers are usually sleepy at this hour, pushing the seats back to doze comfortably to the background of light music on the radio.
A few are chatting or busy with their mobile 'phones but the ones who astound me are the young ladies making up their faces.

As the bus swerves and swoops, out come the mirrors, the eyebrow brushes, the eyeshadow, the eyeliner and mascara, the foundation, the blusher, the lipstick and lip liner... all applied with an accuracy that defies belief.

Costa Rican women are generally decorative.
Finger and toe nails shine forth with wonderful designs and adornments...the woman sitting next to me on the bus had pale blush coloured nails, each displaying a bunch of three cherries. Discreet peering revealed that the toes had received similar attention.

At this hour of the morning most ladies are wearing clothes suitable for work...trouser suits for the bank clerks, polo shirts labelled with the name of the employer in the commercial sector, fairly discreet dresses....but later in the day the non workers will be flaunting their feathers.
As a cynical remark has it, their motto must be

'Push it out, stuff it in and don't forget the spandex'....

There are some wonderful sights and large ladies do not feel in the least inhibited from wearing what they please.
I cannot imagine that anorexia is common in Costa Rica.

I always take a book for the potential queues at the offices I need to visit but, despite being a reader of the back of cereal packets if nothing else is available, I don't read on the bus.
The scenery is too interesting.

First, on one side of the bus, the views are of the far mountains and the little white villages tucked into the valleys below while on the other side the road is lined by towering bamboos, their tops curling over like young fern fronds uncurling, wild heliconias flaming beneath among the bouganvilleas, red, orange and purple.
Later, heading downhill, the views are on the other side of the bus, down into the central valley and across to the Poas volcano on the other side, crossing land laid aside for the remnants of one of the indigenous peoples of Costa Rica  where home made herbal soap is sold at one house and numerous roadside stands sell handicrafts...hats, baskets, hammocks, all, as the postman notes, bought in from Guatemala.

Then past the turn off for the U.N.'s University for Peace, where rich people's kids 'study' dispute resolution and obtain a diploma which gives them a 'shoe in' to jobs with the NGOs.
The NGO industry disgusts me...but that's another story.

Houses start to line the road, most well above it, reached by steep flights of steps, their gardens full of flowers.
People are walking along the road to the next bus stop, a few cows are being led out on tethers and dogs bound around the heels of the machete carrying men off to work in the fincas.
In the next town, a sprawling, ugly ribbon development sort of thing, the shops are open, people are breakfasting in the cafes, the little trucks are setting up on the roadsides, selling fruit and vegetables....the peach palm is in season, hands of red fruit ready to be cooked.

The road levels out and industry rears its head....motor repair shops, bigger enterprises, until finally the new office blocks appear on either side as the bus heads in through the outer suburbs.
People wake up, pull the communication cord to halt the bus as their destination looms up, the doors open back and front and the little community breaks up, heading for their working day.
The new national stadium donated by China...and, to general disgust, built with Chinese materials by Chinese workers while Costa Ricans needed the jobs....looms up across Sabana Park where it's as well to enjoy the red and purple trunks of the eucalyptus trees now, before they are felled to be replaced by native species then the bus runs into the capital proper.....the rush hour commuter train hooting to warn the traffic at the totally unguarded crossings, the concrete brutalism of the town hall looming behind the little shops and houses with tin roofs....then the new tower blocks going up in an attempt to lure the middle classes back to the centre and finally the shuffle round the one way system past the classical architecture of one of the oldest schools in the capital to the bus station, where we descend, thanking the driver, to join the bustle in the streets.

It's commuting...but not as I knew it.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Seven Links Project

Whore of Babylon (french illuminated "Boo...Image via Wikipedia
Ayak of Ayak's Turkish Delight sent this over to me.....and while it will be pleasant to resurrect some blog posts - thank goodness she didn't plump for French Leave...I'd be here to Doomsday -  I started to put my ears back in fright when I saw the first category....'My Most Beautiful Post'.

I don't do 'beautiful'....I do 'ghosties and ghoulies and long leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night', I do 'miffed', I can ghast flabber to a nicety....but beautiful

However, onward and upward. Ours not to reason why...

First...the  rules.
One has to be nominated by another Blogger....thank you Ayak, I'll be speaking to you later....

Then one publishes seven links, one for each category...

Then one drops five more bloggers in it...

The categories.

My most beautiful post.
Why don't I do the sense of deeply meant, moving or heartfelt?
I am of a reticent generation when it comes to emotion.....I might and do feel it, but it's written expression does not come naturally to me.
As I think I commented on one of Pueblo girl's posts, I use words to cauterise emotion.
So I'm offering Round the Garden in this section, with some photographs of flowers in the area round the house.
Well...they're beautiful, aren't they?

My most popular post.
Like Ayak I was a bit bemused here by views, comments and whatnots. While Shark attacks again came out on top on the stats, I know that a lot of this was because of the publicity Ayak kindly gave it in welfare circles...and I think it belongs in another category  Law South of the Pecos it is.

My most controversial post.
Please Adjust your dress before Leaving didn't make any waves on the net...but it certainly upset a few American expats in Costa Rica!

My most helpful post.
Coming to Costa rica...or getting away from France.  When it's time to go it's time to go....and I wish people wouldn't be constrained by worrying about what other people might think or make of their decision.

A post whose success surprises me.
Alistair Cook and the Whore of Babylon.....the sheer kindness of people commenting on the Stylish Blogger award amazed me...and, with current news in mind, how apt to be thinking of The News of The World again....!

A post which I feel did not get the attention it deserved.
None of my posts deserves attention....I write for my own pleasure.
 There is, of course, the one that Blogger swallowed and has not regurgitated which featured visions of The Neighbour nattily clad in crisp white hat with a curly brim and loincloth, swinging through the trees to cut off the neighbourhood's telephone lines yodelling
'Me Tarzan, you stuffed!'
But thanks to Blogger you'll never see it!

The post I'm most proud of.
Shark Attack. I know sharks are not the most endearing of creatures...but no living thing should be treated like this...and thanks again to Ayak for putting out the word.

Now, five bloggers who can offer plenty of the goods in all of the above categories.....but only if they have the time and group pressure here.

Pueblo girl.....I have a long memory, my friend....

Pacificmelody's Blog......for all the things I can't say and do...

Blogitandscarper.....he's a lot more than EEEEEOOOWWW....

Sophie's Words...which might be new to you....

And the glorious HATTATT...which will need no words of explanation once you take a look.

Good reading!

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Saturday, 2 July 2011

Testing Times

Car RepairImage by izahorsky via Flickr
There are times when I think that events in world history occur when women go away for the weekend and leave men to their own devices.
Deprived of the voice of reason and a suggested programme for the day, stuff happens.

A day out with the Wandervogelers turns into an invasion of Poland.

A get together round the BBQ and Joan of Arc goes up in smoke.

Off to the football match and Honduras and El Salvador go to war.

They shouldn't be let off the lead.

On the domestic scale too, stuff happens.
I had been away in the U.K.for a few weeks, going fifteen rounds with mother to get her organised for her forthcoming knee operation, so the men had been left to their own devices.
Propaganda messages came over the line every night....all quiet on the Western Front...until a few days before my return when I raised the question of being met at the airport.


 'Ah' is a danger sign. Something which has been concealed - and for good reason - is about to be revealed.

At this point it is advisable to sit down with a glass of wine, ensure that the rest of the bottle is to hand, and make oneself comfortable in the best traditions of  'Listen with Mother'.
It will be an interesting story, told with pathos.

They hadn't wanted to bother me....very wise, gentlemen...but they had forgotten that the car needed to go in for its annual control.
They'd gone over it and toddled in, sure that it would pass.
It didn't.

Well, I could have told them that before they started.
Vehicle control tests in Costa Rica  are the monopoly of a company called RITEVE and, like all monopolies, it makes the most of its position.

Under no circumstances - unless money changes hands round the back of the bike sheds - will you get away with a pass certificate the first time round.
Twice is normal, three times common.

We had taken our German vehicle in last year and the operative, finding nothing else wrong, had maltreated the engine in order to push the emissions just over the fail limit.
Outside, waiting for the certificate to be delivered, we were approached by two men whose small van was parked in the yard.

Had we had a problem with the tyres?
No. Emissions.
Oh. Pity, because we hire out tyres to get you through the test.

Indeed they did.
As we waited, customers arrived, tyres were checked and stock brought out of the van. Customers disappeared, returned with their fail certificate....but with tyres marked as in order....and tyres and money changed hands.
All this in clear sight of the RITEVE buildings.

Curious as ever I asked them how they were so bold as to park and conduct their business on the premises.

Well, people usually have their own 'arrangements' with their own garage, but for those that don't we provide a service and it's easier for them to find us here.
And it saves wear on the tyres.
And there's no problem with getting the tyres back.

But don't RITEVE kick up?

No, why should they? We have an 'arrangement' with the guys who work here...nothing to do with the company.

Well this year, our gentlemen, forewarned on emissions, had ordered some gunk from Europe which apparently removed any risk of failure in the test and had shared it with the postman, whose car had a real problem of emissions.
Both passed the emissions test with flying colours, but our sturdy German workhorse had failed on brakes!

There had been a problem with the brakes during the year. Driving home from town down the gravel road something metal had flown off and disappeared into the undergrowth. Part of the brake system. No one seemed keen to look for it, given the presence of venemous snakes, so we had to get a replacement.
Thanks to a commercial problem, the supplier of parts had closed down.
What to do?
Not a problem. A Japanese spare part had been adapted and we were on the road again, after testing the brakes at our garage to make sure all was in order.

Until they took the car for the test.
There, it appeared, the operative had noticed the substitution and had called foul.

This was the state of play at the moment of 'Ah.'.

No, there wasn't a problem for the test. Our garage would put on the proper part and the owner would take the car in.
I thought you couldn't get parts.
We can't. This is the one he keeps to put on cars to go through the test.

But the problem is meeting you at the airport. The car won't be back until the next evening.

'Oh' is a comment which ranks with 'Ah' as encompassing a great deal that is probably best left unsaid but which is well understood.

But we can sort something.
You could get the bus in to San Jose and get a hotel....
Not at fifty dollars a night I'm not.
I'd been thinking of the outfits round the bus station....about twelve dollars.
If you think I'm arriving at the bus station about eleven o'clock at night laden with luggage and looking for accommodation in a hotel which rents rooms by the hour in the daytime....think again.
But it would be that night we spent on Montparnasse station....
Interesting, yes. Doable, no.

Well, I'll get someone to pick you up.

Next night.

I've fixed up a couple of possible lifts.
Ivan's car has just got through the test, and he's happy to let us borrow it.....except Danilo says it has a problem with the brakes.
So how did it pass?
He went to the test station down near the coast with his cousin and poured brake fluid into it just before the brake test while his cousin had an argument with the test operative about the windows.

By this time you might well be wondering what is the point of a system which is designed to improve road safety if everyone gets round it by borrowing tyres and spare parts and then replacing the old ones and going merrily on their way with a pass certificate which bears no resemblance to the reality.

There is no point.

By setting up a private monopoly the state has abdicated all responsibilty for the outcome. The test costs an arm and a leg and by the time he's gone through it three times the average Costa Rican driver is financially paraplegic.
The only worse outcome is not passing it at all, in which case you are stuck with using the cargo taxis to move heavy goods which leaves the average Costa Rrican financially tetraplegic.

Costa Rica has an obsession with raising money from motor vehicles....and before anyone gets up on their hinds and starts applauding this green initiative let them look at the practical results.
Import taxes double the price of a new vehicle. Spareparts likewise. The annual test is a real burden. Traffic and parking fines are out of all proportion to average income...although here the Constitutional Court has taken notice and promised action.
Altogether, with what Costa Rican raises in penalising its people for running cars it could solve a fair proportion of the Greek debt.
But people in the country need vehicles.
Public transport is superb. You can get to work from remote corners with minimum difficulty.....but what do you do about  heavy shopping, or animal feed, or bulky deliveries?
You need a vehicle.

Perish the thought that, once the monopoly expires, the control tests could be farmed out to approved local garages....there might be thought to be 'arrangements' with the clients.
Very  possibly, but no worse, I suspect, than the 'arrangements' already arrived at and with the advantage of spreading the profits in local communities rather than collecting them in the hands of one (foreign) company.

Still, I arrived at the airport, struggled through the mass of taxi drivers and was the postman.
As we chugged home on the sharp bends of the mountain road, the exhaust belching black fumes at moments of supreme effort, he told me that although RITEVE's monopoly runs out next year the government could not find any local companies to make tenders for the business it looked as though we were stuck with them for the foreseeable future.

Did you bring any of that gunk back?

Yes. Four tins.
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Friday, 1 July 2011

The Alexanders of the internet

When Blogger last went haywire, I had trouble accessing the e mail account associated with my Google account, so, fool that I was, I decided to bring things up to date.

When will I ever learn to let sleeping algorithms lie!

The result was that Blogger did not recognise the new Google account as giving access to my blog and instead set me up with a whole new blank...or blankety

I tried -  and probably misunderstood - the solutions put up by both parties, Google and Blogger, undecided as to which was the Evil Twin, with no success whatsoever and then abandoned the whole problem as I had to go to the U.K. when my 95 year old mother needed a hand with her arrangements to go into hospital for an operation on her knee.

You can put a lot of things to the back of your mind when you're sharpening the scythes on the hub of a wheelchair.

I returned....still no way of accessing my blog....and then the Gordian knot uniting Google and Blogger in internecine strife was cut asunder by the great people at BlogCatalog.

I don't know what they did, but it worked, so many thanks to the modern Alexanders!