Tuesday, 30 October 2012

A Day in the Life of....

I thought I'd give you relief from the psychodrama of the kitchen and The Neighbour and describe a fairly normal day....one involving a visit to government offices, a hospital appointment, lunch and a bit of shopping.
That should keep the blood pressure well under control.

Costa Rica's tax authorities have decreed that declarations will be made online.
Fine...except that their programme, endearingly called EDDI 7, uses Microsoft Office, which I do not have installed and am damned sure I'm not paying for.
There is an Microsoft access programme, just for use with the tax programme, which has disabled my computer on all three of the times I tried to download it, so there was not going to be a fourth.

Why couldn't they use an open access programme? Because that way no one would get a pay off somewhere.
Just as, while open access programmes are running well in two hospitals, the President has decided that some expensive programme has to be bought in for the Health Service as a whole.
Accustomed as we are to France, this is all too familiar.

The solution? Go to the tax office in San Jose and ask them to sort it out.

So, off on the bus, foolishly picking the sunny side for the hour's run, and into the office where, as usual in Costa Rica, the security guard acts as first filter. We need counter 12...on the left.

Counter 12 listens and sends us down the hall to 'the kiosk', which turns out to be a bank of computers with a charming man in charge who is simultaneously taking some six people through their online declarations.

While he moves from one to the other we hear alarming details of the tax situation of a bar owner....he has to make a monthly declaration of and pay tax on the supplies bought in...clearly no allowance for ullage here!

Nor the the sacred three percent breakages allowed to professional waiters...which is how I came to enjoy wines served at Buckingham Palace and the Mansion House by the waiters employed at functions who would set their three per cent aside before the evening commenced and flog it later at very attractive prices.
Nothing so vulgar as a label...just a white mark to show which way up the bottle had been lying in the cellar.

Form duly filled out online it is printed up and we take the bus into the centre to pay our asessment at a bank, as people working in government offices do not touch money. That is reserved for the people at the head of government offices.

We get on the wrong bus....a mainline one heading for its garage... and have to pay the full fare for the whole trip...or would have done had it not been for the provision by which pensioners pay nothing or very little for public transport.
It lands us near the head office of our bank where the queues in the main hall look formidable.

The young lady in charge of supervising clients in the use of the automatic ticketing machine...

Transactions under one million colones..
Transactions above one million colones...
More than one transaction...
Elderly, pregnant or disabled clients...

Leads us away into another section where we duly take a  ticket as outlined above and wait for our number to be called.
It is quite restful....people paying their taxes tend to be subdued...unlike the hurly burly of the main hall where little old ladies with ominous sheafs of papers queue jump with abandon and someone is always complaining that he was in the loo when his number was called so it is  unfair to ask him to take another number.
We cough up, get our receipt...and that's done.

Now for the shopping.

The butcher is not far from our house in San Jose...so not that far from the centre. It takes a walk down the pedestrianised central avenue for a few blocks, then crossing the main traffic artery, Avenida 2, and dodging behind the Ministry for Social Security to get to his little shop.
Except he isn't there any more.

The shop is...and a lady of a certain age explains the he was her manager and he has upped and away without notice. As the young lady on the till is also absent, I feel there may be an explanation somewhere....
It might also explain his extraordinary generosity in dishing out extra quarter kilos of meat and free smoked pork chops. It wasn't his money he was throwing away.

Still, the meat is the same high quality....

Having wrestled with the names for cuts of meat I now know that skirt is called cabeza de cecina and ask for some. It emerges from the cold room as a whole piece and the young man now doing the butchery work asks how much I want.
Two kilos.
The price is still the same...less than that of the central market butchers.

I see some butterfly cut steaks..and ask him if he has any better grade.
Yes, he has.
What he calls lomo - sirloin - but which is clearly lomito -fillet.
A kilo.
He cuts and butterflies beautifully, packs up my order and I pay.

Once home I weigh my purchases and discover that I have two and quarter kilos of skirt and one and a quarter kilos of fillet steak.
History repeats itself.
I must take a look at the new girl on the till next time...

At the bakery next door I see wholemeal loaves for sale..not, as usual, in a torpedo shape, but square and decide to buy there rather than take the trek up to the other side of the city where I usually buy bread so buy three.
If they're O.K. that's fine..if not we'll be eating pancakes and potato scones for breakfast until my next trip.

Back into the centre to our new lunch venue.
We had found it a couple of weeks earlier after a 6.30 am hospital appointment for a blood test to be taken on an empty stomach.
Needless to say, Mr. Fly was starving afterwards and we went in search of breakfast but all our usual haunts were just opening their shutters or could offer only a sandwich.

Desperate for hot food he had a stroke of genius. There is a sort of wholesale area behind the central market ...people would be working there in the early hours...the same people would be needing hot food...

Indeed they did. One of the caffs was open...the sort where you sit on stools at the counter...and the smell was inviting.
Hot food...no trouble at all. He was soon presented with a plate of fried fish fillet and 'sweated' potatoes... cooked in stock and then finished in a little chili and tomato for a derisory price.
So we were going there for an early lunch.

A good job we went early...it was packed out a few minutes' later and the takeaway trade was going like a train. We chose our meals, and while they were cooking a little bowl of consomme with finely chopped veg was put in front of us. I  like soup...and I could cheerfully make a big bowl of that my lunch without any complaint!
Newcomers, we had to be inspected by the resident wit among the regulars and teased along with the staff who moved like greased lightning among their pots and pans.
Super food and super ambience...but it will never get a Michelin star...no starched linen.

Time to finish the shopping on our way to the hospital.
Christmas is coming. The first fibreglass reindeer are appearing and shop displays are largely in green, red and gold, while notices everywhere offer goods on part payment.

Even without the shop displays you would know Christmas is coming. The price of tomatoes.... used in the tamales which are traditional for the season....is doubling and the profiteering will soon hit all fresh goods.
Next time out with the car we'll stock up on potatoes and onions in the Plaza Viquez feria.

Shopping bags full, we arrive at San Juan de Dios hospital, where patients are forbidden to enter with shopping bags - whether because of the crush within or the fear of what might be  taken out in them I don't know.
Mr. Fly explains to the security guard that we live in the country and that, with an afternoon appointment he can't be sure to be able to shop afterwards before  taking the bus home.
We are nodded through.

San Juan de Dios is a hospital of many parts, from nineteenth century cloisters and tile, to tip top modern via a bit of art deco and some concrete brutalism. Offices are dotted all over the place, not always geographically related to the departments they serve.
Luckily today we do not have to go to the neurology secretariat, situated as it is next to the morgue, but go directly to the consultation area in a ground floor annexe where the sun never shines as there are no windows.

The routine is as follows.
You have a dossier which contains all the notes of your consultations at the hospital, together with copies of notes from consultations at other hospitals. It is kept in the central archives of the hospital.
Every day, the dossiers needed for the scheduled appointments are brought out and distributed to the consulting areas, where they sit in the reception area.

You arrive at reception and show proof of your identity (your cedula), your affiliation to the national health service (the CAJA) marked on a folding cardboard carnet issued by your local health centre and proof that you are up to date with payments into the CAJA.
You then pass over the carnet which is issued by this particular hospital, noting all your appointments. When they run out of lines they paste paper slips over the pages until...with a busy schedule...the carnet bulges like a politician's wallet.

This carnet is attached to your dossier and, in due course, the nurses working your consultation area will come and collect the completed dossiers, then start calling patients to be weighed and to check their blood pressure....something done as a routine at every medical appointment.

We sit down - every patient must be accompanied - and wait. A whole draft of people are called for the weigh in...but not Mr. Fly.
Another draft goes up...not Mr. Fly.

The matriarch beside him tells him to go and check with the nurse.
He does so.
No dossier in his name in the nurses' office.

The matriarch begins to wind up another matriarch....

'Typical! What do they call this...a system? He's been here an hour....it doesn't take an hour to get a dossier down the corridor...'

The matriarchs send Mr. Fly to the reception area. He returns, to say that they can't find his dossier, have lost his carnet and that he has to see the doctor to get a new appointment.

Fury of the matriarchs who assail the nurses' office.

General muttering.

The nurses pass the buck to the doctor.
Mr. Fly is to stand by the consulting room door and shoot in as soon as it opens....but he begins to tire quickly, so young man is uprooted from his seat by the door by a gentleman who is accompanying his wife and her mother and Mr. Fly sits down.

The door opens. Mr, Fly is propelled to his feet and through the door by the gentleman who steps in front of the next patient in the line in a move worthy of the rugby field.

The door closes.
It opens sharply again and Mr. Fly and his doctor move at speed down the corridor to the reception area.

General murmurs of delight and expressions of appreciation...
'That's Doctor Kenneth for you...patients come first...now we'll see some fun....'

The two men return, Mr. Fly resumes his seat by the door and the consultant sees his next patient.
The matriarchs encourage Mr. Fly that all will now be sorted out.

The tapping of heels announces the arrival of a secretary from reception bearing the dossier and carnet. She enters the nurses' office to a general murmur of
'That's Doctor Kenneth for you..he'll shift them off the their backsides...'
And she taps off again.

The door to the consultation room opens again and Mr. Fly is called.

'That's Doctor Kenneth for you....he knows the man's been waiting....'

With the two shopping bags, I leg it to the reception area to join the queue to make the next appointment..a queue which can take longer than the consultation...and in twenty minutes I am joined by Mr. Fly.

Good news:  all is stable, his appointments have been pushed from three monthly to six monthly intervals and once the oncology department give them the all clear in a year's time they can think about a new form of treatment.

New appointment in the carnet, off we go to get the bus, three blocks from the hospital.

Half way home it pulls into the bus garage which serves the intermediate town. Men rush out with a sheet of cardboard and investigations are made under the bus.
Followed by the hiss of hosepipes on hot metal.
Followed by a bus inspector fiddling with the controls.
Followed by return of the bus driver and a journey home in which the back doors must not be opened.

But we make it.



  1. I understand why they took my wine bottle opener from me at the courthouse yesterday. Apparently it's a 'weapon'& looking around at my potential fellow jurors, probably needed it. HOWEVER, no shopping bags at the hospital? Interesting. Contemplating people's allergies or the possibility of smuggling things back out the door, I guess. Cheers ~

    1. I think the latter...but when we were last in court the police witness was told to remove his pistol...and refused because no one else was frisked!
      A few posts back...J'Accuse.

  2. I was exhausted before you for to the hospital...what a day ! A success though... good food and a 6 month, rather than 3 month gap between appointments. Congratulations ! J.

    1. We try to group things...and it is a measure of what the CAJA have done for Mr. Fly that he can go through a long day like that...tired, yes, but get through it.

      Sending you all best wishes and good thoughts.

  3. A classic combination, Fly - the unutterable idiocy and inadequacy of systems on the one hand and the endless and wonderful variety of human life and attitude on the other. So glad to hear that the appointments are now six-monthly. That's a real step forward.

    1. And thank goodness for the variety of human life and attitude...or we'd never get through the systems!

      Delighted, as you may imagine, with the progress!

  4. OMG! I'm exhausted -- I congratulate you both on your fortitude -- though I'm sure the good food helped. Worth the wait to get the wonderful news that the appointments are now in 6 months though.

    1. That was lovely news, you are right....and that lunch was certainly good. We shall be going there again, if only to try a dish that intrigued me.
      In front of us was a plate with five filled canneloni...they were passed through an egg batter and fried on the griddle...looked super!

  5. Good news from the hospital - why do health services insist on making those of us who are not well jump through hoops. I love the butcher story and imagine him lazing on a beach with the till girl.

    1. The thing is, the nurses and doctors seem to have it together...but the secretaries really let the side down.
      On our last visit to oncology, where people who have had treatment are trying to get their next appointment, the secretary just shut up shop and went to lunch!
      Yes,she's entitled to her lunch, but who did she think was going to do the job of processing patients?

      I think fondly of the butcher too...he was a nice man and taught me the names of a lot of cuts of meat....and she was very pretty!

  6. I'm just astounded that you tried (and managed) to fit so many things in. I used to try, many years ago when I first came to Spain. Now I limit myself to a maximum of two things per day, otherwise I'm asking for frustration. On the plus side, it's so nice when people bend the rules (plastic bags) when appropriate, or resolve 'missing papers' problems personally (I had one of those recently).

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I think I messed this up...apologies!
      Yes, I am both relieved and delighted.

      I try to be flexible, recognizing that it can all go wrong!
      We knew that the one fixed point was the hospital appointment, so that if there were queues or problems elsewhere we could abort the rest - apart from lunch - without getting frustrated.
      As it was all went swimmingly, no queues at the tax office, short wait at the bank so plenty of time to walk to the butcher and back to lunch then do the rest of the shopping en route to the hospital.
      Had there been problems with the bags I could have taken them to the left luggage at the bus station a few blocks away - but didn't need to.
      I find people generally helpful if approached in the right way...and courtesy goes a lot further here than it did in France where it would sometimes be seen as weakness.

  8. I'm totally worn out reading this.....

    1. You could regard it as fulfilling your exercise requirements for the week...

  9. I second Adullamite!
    But you made it. And the news is such solid good news for you and Mr Fly.
    I know now how much that news costs in the waiting and hoping and being afraid to hope - so I am breathing a very large sigh of relief for you both and feeling thankful.

    Do you think that all hospitals were built by the same brutalist? A sadist determined to make all sick folk feel a wee bit more wretched. Because that's what they all seem to be like here. All except the Maggie's Centres (google them - they are all different but are consistently and uniquely amazing buildings) - but they are not hospitals.
    I was in a dilapidated High School in Cumbernauld today. Truly brutalist. Concrete and red brick blocks. Some on rusting stilts. Many concrete steps. It made me realise (again) that we do not respect our children. We teach them in classrooms that leak, are damp, are cracked and broken. We give them substandard facilities. And then we expect them to be respectful.
    Public building design looks superficially better now than it did from the 1950s onwards - but the materials being used are just as poor (or worse) and will not last 20 years in this Scottish climate. Look at the Scottish Parliament! It is already looking shabby and discoloured from outside - and I've noticed when attending meetings that there have been faults internally.

    I digress. I'm sorry.

    Our butcher here is very good to us too - offering 15% discount on my orders - but that's because there are so many of us! He smiles and rubs his hands a wee bit when he sees me.

    The move to online Government forms is everywhere... So much must be done online here - and I fear for folk like my Mother and Father who just do not 'do' computers.

    I love your writing Fly. Thank you for the post.

    1. San Juan de Dios is a sort of add on as need building. Currently they are upgrading the operating theatres which are in one of the older parts of the builing, so you will, if not properly anaesthetised, be rolling along a nineteenth century cloister one minute and be in Mars the next!
      Building design here was dreadful in the sixties and seventies and we all wait with bated breath to see the design of the new National Assembly...not to speak of the cost of the damn thing!
      I agree about public buildings...the users need respect...and how telling it is that that is the last thing on the planners' minds.

      Yes...the menace of 'online'...and somehow I don't see the U.K. providing kiosks and charming men to sort you out unless put out to a private firm at vast cost and total inefficiency. Owned either by Branson or Hunt. (There has to be a limerick there...)

      Yes, it was good news...and thank you for what you wrote in response. Much appreciated!

  10. Only you, with your keen sense of observation, perspective and recall of the essential minutiae could contrive to write such an engaging report about a ‘normal day’ trip into town, comprising tax forms, blood pressure tests, meat, bread and breakfast on the hoof. With you both all the way with the off piste, alternative chow hounding finds. I must confess to being a bit of a home made soupaholic too, especially now our sun’s headed south for the winter.

    Thanks for the ‘Ullage’ part BTW. Had to lunge at the dictionary to unlock the secrets of that one.

    1. At least it wasn't Arslikhan you had to check out....

      Like you, we look for decent food wherever we go and it doesn't matter if it's cooked over a charcoal fire in the town square...if it's good, it's worth searching out.
      That soup was brilliant....tiny eyes of fat in a clear broth with finely chopped fresh veg. I'm going back to ask for just soup...

      Thank you for your kind words of the Expats Blog site...much appreciated!

    2. Ha Ha Ha! 'Arslikhan' what a mugging you gave me with that one. And don't thank me..."Thank You!" Nothing like Arslikan where Arslikan's due.

    3. Nothing like these old Persian arts....

  11. I was exhausted just reading this. But, as you say, and we all applaud, some rules were waived or bent, the lunch was good and,for icing, Mr.Fly is much improved.
    I'll have a drink now.

    1. Perhaps I should put out virtual sherry at the end of long posts...

  12. However much of a marathon it was, frankly it sounded a better kind of day than hurdling round the kitchen.

    Great news that Mr Fly has received the right treatment and is now feeling so much better. That's one worry less. :)

    1. It certainly was! I was beginning to get stir crazy....
      And yes, lovely news.

  13. How do you have the energy to deal with all this? Do you take cocaine? ;-)

    1. I think you can get it off the bush in Ecuador...something to do with indigenous rights....but not here.
      The answer to it all is not, as some would have us believe, 42, but a steady intake of porage.
      With guava jelly.

  14. What a thoroughly enjoyable post. Although like everyone else reading it, I'm quite exhausted! So many things about CR remind me of Turkey. The endless queues and waiting in government offices and hospitals, but also the kindness and cheerfulness of the people. Not to mention the wonderful food that can be found in the back streets.

    1. Perhaps that's why I like it here so much!
      We were lucky with our queues, I think!

  15. Another simple day then - and I thought mine was busy. But in a way its better than a sedate life in the Cotswolds or suburbia isn't it? I reckon you love it really.

    1. I'm not grumbling!
      I was lucky with the lack of queues or part of the programme would have had to be aborted...but that's not the end of the world either!
      There's always another day.