Sunday, 24 June 2012

With a Bimbo in his arms and a Gleam in his Eye...I blame Gordon Ramsay

Mr. Fly is a man for gadgets.
Not the ipod, ipad and ipoke sort of thing, luckily, as both of us are defeated before we start by things with buttons to press.

The mobile telephone spends more time being hurled away in despair than it does being used...because we don't know how it works.
It can - and does - play music at us, display a calendar worthy of an optician's bottom line, show imperative messages when its owners want more money, but as for calls...forget it..
It makes a noise like an authoritarian frog when the inevitable wrong number appears on the screen and on the rare occasions that we recognise the number the caller at the other end has given up by the time we work out which section of which button to press.

So he is attracted by nothing covered by the generic term 'implode'.

Kitchen gadgets are the favoured species.

I have lost count of the times I have been presented with a machine for cutting onions which always seems to involve persuading the onion to plop into it at the right angle and then risking permanent damage to the wrist while trying to force the cutting part through said onion.

Corkscrews. We have an entire battery of implements for uncorking bottles, from models made from 1914-1918 shell cases, via things with two handles which involve making sure the bottle is on a non slip surface, Swiss army knives and two pronged butler's devices. The only thing so far lacking is a sabre for the champagne.

Fruit juicers are in disfavour after it was discovered that the expensive Braun model took more time to clean than it took fruit to ripen, but in its brief span of life between leaving its carton and entering the kitchen cupboard it left its mark in local folklore.

We had picked the grapes on the vine round the house and I had them in the kitchen ready for making jelly.
The Braun, not yet in disgrace, was on the worktop.
Someone who shall be nameless decided to make grape juice.
The combined efforts of the Nameless One and the Braun resulted in a decor with a strong emphasis on purple and it was at that moment that Gaston appeared in the doorway with a bucket of lettuces for us.

Oh no, he said, coming forward in fascinated horror.

You'll never make wine like'll be here a twelvemonth.

Attempts to convince him that we were making grape juice got nowhere...
Who would make grape juice when you could let it ferment and have something worthwhile.

We hadn't long moved to the area  and to distinguish us from other British immigrants we were thenceforward referred to as the ones who tried to make wine in the mixer which at least was one step up from the couple referred to as the ones who were discovered in their underwear in the church.
They say they were sheltering from a thunderstorm. The village was not convinced.

I have had long warning of the new gadget.

The standard of sausage roll in the caff across the road from the San Juan de Dios Hospital had suffered a noticeable decline....the pastry having won its battle with the Mr. Fly cast an eye over the choices made by other customers and decided on a toasted sandwich.
The filling here was romping home by five lengths.....lettuce, tomato, ham cheese....
It cast the poor sausage roll into a shade more like Stygian gloom.

From then on, the toasted sandwich was the snack of choice, comparisons between the produce of various caffs being made and close attention paid to the items of which they were comprised.
You want the equivalent of a Michelin rating on the toasted sandwiches of San Jose...look no further.

So it was no surprise to find a toasted sandwich maker among our other purchases at the duty free store in Golfito.
It was duly delivered to the house in San Jose and brought home.

I've never had one of these gadgets, so, wondering what the little plastic cup was for, I read the instructions.
This was a mistake as they were generic for several models and mine had an unexplained green light as well as the red one mentioned in the text, so I decided to ignore it.

The hotplates washed and dried and anointed with cooking oil, we are ready for the off.

This is where the baleful influence of Gordon Ramsay comes in.
At the advent of every new gadget, Mr. Fly assumes control of the kitchen.
Things are reorganised....working methods overturned....explanations are demanded as to why I keep the alarm clock on top of the pickled onion jar.
The answer - because I can see it there when I'm timing something - judged to be inadequate.

The ideal position for the sandwich maker being the spot where I keep the slow cooker the latter is thrust into my arms and, in extremis, I put it on top of the oven housing.
I shall, no doubt, be wondering where it is later....

The fridge had been ransacked among cries of

What are you keeping THAT for?

An array of items stood ready.

I cut four slices of bread.

NO! Not slices! They just cut the loaf in half...

Well yes they do, but their loaves are the Costa Rican equivalent of a baguette and we were dealing with a torpedo shaped wholemeal number.
Still, in the spirit of the Light Brigade, mine not to make reply, mine not to reason why even if I was pretty damn sure that someone had blundered, I cut the torpedo in half crossways and in half again lengthways and awaited the next instruction.

Butter the outside. Outside buttered.
Lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and mayonnaise. Duly applied.

Put them in!

I open the lid, plonk the torpedoes on the bottom plate and cannot close the top.

With cries of frustration Chef replaces me at the hotplate but cannot close it either.
He then demonstrates with a wooden spatula how to poke the torpedoes to the back of the plate with one hand while squashing the lid down with the other.
It still doesn't close, but I suppose it sticks to the batter as it does not rise again.
Chef retires to the balcony warning me not to let the sandwiches burn.

Torpedoes duly toasted we ate them and, though the bread to filling ratio needed attention (let no one mention the sausage rolls) they were surprisingly pleasant.

We returned to the kitchen.

I suppose you'd better use those slices.
Oh, and you can use this up.
'This' being the remains of a smoked fish dip I had made for  lunch the previous day.

Sandwich assembled, toasted and tasted.
Absolutely disgusting...the dip had deconstructed itself under the action of heat and had become fishy primeval slime.
I now understood the purpose of the plastic cup.

I said you shouldn't use slices.

Calm restored, toaster plates cleaned, life resumes its normal aspect until a bright idea strikes.

If I take the toaster into San Jose, Danilo and I can have toasted sandwiches for lunch on two days......that will save eight thousand colones! The toaster will pay for itself in two weeks!

So, on the Thursday morning the toaster is packed up together with butter, cheese, tomatoes ham cheese and mayonnaise and whisked away to the renovation project.

On  Thursday night I telephone to ask how went the day.

I've got indigestion.

How?. Didn't you make a toasted sandwich?

Well....I bought a baguette - the way they do it here.


Well, it went all soft and squidgy......they can't have cooked the bread was like a lump of lead...

But you ate it?

Well, yes. I'd made it so I ate it. And then Danilo pipes up and tells me I should be making it with sliced bread.

So will you?
Thinking that in this household sliced bread is usually regarded as being akin to the Beast of Revelations, something against which the door is securely barred and bolted.

I'll give it a try. I haven't bought this machine for nothing....

Friday night. The telephone call.

How was the toasted sandwich?

Much better...they must have industrial toasters in the caffs to do those baguettes...I got a bimbo and it worked like a dream.

While thinking to myself that in the estimation of most men things work like a dream with a bimbo on the scene I was a little surprised.....
Up to that point Mr. Fly's oft stated view had been that, taken overall,  the expenditure required to maintain a bimbo was well out of synch with the gratification afforded by said.

And then it occurred to me.....the leading brand of sliced bread in Costa Rica rejoices in the name of


I'll bring a couple back with me....

You do for each arm.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Wrong Side of the Volcano

We took a trip to see a volcano this week.....Volcan Arenal, seen here from across the artificial lake created to supply hydroelectric power for Costa Rica.

Looks cool and sleepy, doesn't it? And so people thought who farmed its slopes until in July 1968, without any warning, it erupted, killing 87 people, covering an area of some fifteen kilometres in ash and weighing several tons being launched into the air.
A tragedy.

But as activity, less violent but very dramatic, continued, it was put to good account in Costa Rica's burgeoning tourist business.....where else could you see this, for example?
                                                      An amazing sight!

Hotels began to be built offering their clients views of nature's fireworks from the comfort of their own rooms...or sitting on the terrace, glass in hand, while the volcano rumbled and spat fire at close range.

As the tourist demand increased, other activities prospered too. Hot springs establishments....bird watching visits to the wetlands to the and windsurfing on Lake Arenal...

And just as well, because Arenal began to nod off again....

First the flow moved round to the other side of the volcano - depriving the expensive tourist traps of their main attraction  - and now seems to have ceased completely.
No rumbles.

I still see some pretty misleading publicity about Arenal...I have no idea if the guidebooks have caught up with the situation...but eventually the distributors will run out of postcards and flyers showing molten lava running down from the cone and the businesses dependent on its presence will die or adapt.

Death or adaption has been the choice of whole areas of Europe where traditional industrial production was a way of life.
Coal mines, steel mills...filthy dirty things that ruined the health of as many as they employed, if not more...but regarded as essential to produce the necessities that the nation required to be independent.

Governments decided that they did not need to safeguard these  industries any more...any more than they needed to maintain control of transport and energy supply.
The mines and factories closed, private enterprise took over the transport and energy industries - but never without a hefty subsidy from the public purse.

The same public purse that funded governments'  preference for maintaining able bodied people on benefits rather than making any effort to replace the old industries with new.
Inculcating the dependency culture they would pretend to deplore.

Governments abdicated their responsibilities both to people and to nation, putting everything up for grabs in the name of the market.

The market.
Where everything which affects our lives is bought and sold to enrich others.
The market.
Pelf its only pride.

Governments - or rather the financial - media - political nexus which has replaced the traditional model - have been farming the slopes of green and pleasant lands undisturbed since they renounced their traditional responsibilities....their peoples drugged by the bribes of easy credit into falling into hedonism.
Lotus eaters.
But the lotus are running short on the shelves of Tesco.

Governments - or rather the political - media - finance nexus which has replaced the traditional model - are savvier than the farmers on the slopes of Arenal in the sixties. They know that those waked from a drugged sleep can be violent - thus all the 'security' measures justified by the fear of 'terrorism'.

How long before there is a social explosion from the other side of the slopes that sends pieces of their corrupt edifice flying to destruction?

And should it come, and when it comes, remember that you, middle class, law abiding, protesting peacefully at the loss of all you and your parents worked for, will be treated as though you were a lawless lout on the rampage. For such you will be in the eyes of those who make the  law. The law of the market.

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Friday, 15 June 2012

Steaming along nicely

This photograph, which I owe to the blog of Pedro Erik Wesson, shows a steam locomotive in its pomp working the tracks in the south of Costa Rica in the 1950s.....when Golfito was the port used by the American United Fruit Company to export produce from the region.

I've loved steam engines since I can first remember, not just locomotives but all and any of them...beam engines, steamrollers, paddle name it.
But then I grew up in a period where steam had not yet abdicated its rule....mighty steamrollers with the driver perched high up in his cab worked the roads, with foolish boys throwing pennies under the rollers and looking half delighted, half aghast at the results.

Dr. Beeching still worked for ICI and steam trains of all shapes and sizes roared or snuffled their way from end to end of the country, from the great expresses to the slow trains, serving quiet country stations. Not quite 'Oh Mister Porter' and Buggleskelly station....but not that far from it either in some cases.

Placed in the care of the guard for the journey to Glasgow on the Royal Scot no journey could begin without the ritual visit to the mighty locomotive at the end of the platform, the driver and fireman smiling down at the children gathered beneath them, the expulsions of steam indicating that the beast was ready to go....
Peering through the window as the train took a curve...the bridal train of white steam running back over the carriages -
The tunnels where it behoved you to close the tiny window panel if you were not to undergo the castigation of the aunts' reception committee when alighting with your white collar marked by smuts...

So what has all this to do with Costa Rica?

Well, we took a trip to Golfito in a light 'plane....
The company had a mad promotion of a trip for five dollars so we plumped for the south, thinking to go on to  botanic gardens on the Panama border.
As it turned out, the weather turned to persistent, heavy rain on the second day so the gardens will have to wait, but on our first evening we took a walk along the shore and came across this:

Standing idle, abandoned, rusty, this is the very train from the photograph at the head of this post. I reckon it has been there since United Fruit pulled out in the 1960s...the pursuit of profit being more important than the economy of whole region. No adjustments, no compensation....just upped and went.

There is something unwholesome about American colonialism.
First, the denial that is it colonialism.
Second, following from the first, that no consideration has to be given to the it is, after all, not the affair of government but that of business, which knows no morality.
Third, the willingness of American government to interfere in the governments of countries in which American business has an interest.
And fourth, the total unwillingness even to try to assume Kipling's 'white man's burden'. Decried as it is, there was at least a sense of responsibility underlying it.

To try to revive the area, the Costa Rican government decided to attract people there to shop....

They set up a duty free area...the Deposito Libre...where people could buy goods at reduced prices.
These days, you can buy one thousand dollars' worth of goods twice a year.
You have to take a ticket on day one, stay overnight - which helps the B and Bs and the caffs - and shop the next day.

All clear and simple you would think. But suppose you want to refit your will cost more than one thousand dollars. Do you come back in the next six month period?

Of course not. This is Costa Rica.

Inside the Deposito Libre are any number of ladies and gentlemen of the area who, for a small consideration, will let you use their tickets.
If you are on a spending spree you go to the checkouts accompanied by enough ticket holders to make up a crowd scene from a Hollywood Biblical epic and no official turns a hair.

So, unlike poor old train number 82,  Golfito is still steaming along nicely.

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