Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Is there something the matter with me....?

De Etta Sanchez performs a hot stone massage a...                           (Photo credit: Wikipedia)A rash question....so there will be a pause to allow for the cries of
'Damn right there is......' followed by examples illustrating the point.

Calm having been restored by judicious use of chair and whip I shall explain why this thought has just occurred to me.

Young members of the family are visiting Costa Rica and see it as an unmissable part of the experience to stay at a 'boutique hotel and spa' on the coast.
Puzzled by my lack of enthusiasm they explain that they are both busy people - true - and need time to 'chill'.
In which case why not try a cruise to Alaska, one thinks but probably wisely does not say.

I take a look at the chosen resort.
It is miles from anywhere, so unless you call a taxi you are a prisoner of the hotel insofar as eating is concerned.
It is not at all clear from the hotel's website whether your food and drink are included in the astronomical room rates.
Hints garnered from Tripadvisor suggest that they are not.

It is on the beach.
Except that you can't swim off the beach in front of the hotel as it is decidedly rocky. You have to trot up the beach for some five minutes to find a spot where the waves are less likely to land you on something liable to impale you in a sensitive area.

The beach is empty, so the guests' feedback reads.
Yes, of course it is.
Totally illegally the hotel has wired off its stretch of beach which prevents local people from using it.

The hotel has a dojo.
Something Japanese....Sumo wrestling, perhaps, or an origami works....?
It's a space with stone Buddhas lurking just where they might catch the foot unwarily swung while undergoing yoga.
Two free sessions a day with a most sinister looking man covered in tattoos.

I have never understood the appeal of yoga.
Should I wish to have my limbs and body contorted into unnatural positions I would take up skiing which also has the advantage of apres ski as opposed to faddy health drinks and a distinct absence of people saying


The accommodation consists of separate units dotted about the grounds...one bedroom or two, closed in and air conditioned, with sitting area and - would you believe - shower and loo in the open air. There are head height walls but there don't appear to be any doors.
Hammocks are provided for every unit.

What happens in the rainy season? Nipping out of your air conditioned shelter for a quick pee while the thunderbolts sizzle overhead and the rain buckets down like Victoria Falls has very little going for it apart from desperation.
Follow that up by hoisting yourself into a wet hammock and you've got a head start on rheumatism at a young age.

Which is why, I suppose, they have a spa.
To me, a spa is somewhere you drink water which tastes foul, in the hope that your illness will also think it foul and shab off elsewhere.
However, things have changed.

It appears nowadays that a spa is somewhere where you are plastered with mud, wrapped in clingfilm and tenderised while having hot stones placed on your backbone.
Prices start at sixty dollars for an hour......oh, and another twenty dollars if you want exclusive use of a jacuzzi after the treatment. This, remember on top of the astronomical room rate.
I do not see the attraction.
Not at that price.
Come to that, not at any price. Put a hot stone on my backbone and you'll have lift off.

The hotel, in accordance with the image of Costa Rica as eco friendly, is itself eco respectable.
Thus your loo paper, once used, is placed in a bin in the open air loo to be collected by staff.
Bags me not that little task...
To me, that is not so much a mark of respect for the environment as an indication that the hotel's sewage disposal system leaves something to be desired.

Your towels and bedlinen will be changed only every three days - neatly coinciding with the average stay - so try to dry yourself in the sun if you don't appreciate damp towels.

Oh, and there's no television......giving you ample opportunity to read a book.
Just be sure to bring one along as there is no library.

Is it because I am retired, with plenty of time to 'chill' that all this strikes me as a waste of time and money?
Would I think differently if I were younger, my days and nights full with work and family?

When I was working at full capacity, my idea of 'chilling' was, depending on the time available, to read a book, visit an interesting garden, go to a cricket match, drop into a favourite museum or gallery, try a new restaurant or take off to a new area of France.

Under no circumstances could I have borne to be out of reach of a daily newspaper...even if local...and although in later life I took package holidays using hotels in wired in compounds, I used them as a base to explore. There would always be a local bus or taxi outside the security point - and I was away for the day.

And as for flopping about in spas...I can plaster mud on myself should I so desire.

The whole thing seems to me to be completely mindless.

Yet while I regard this sort of experience as a meretricious con trick, these hotels multiply across the globe, with people undertaking the horror of long haul flights to spend a week in their gilded prisons.

Clearly, there has to be something the matter with me....

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Sunday, 8 April 2012

No longer a fool....

A Birthday cake.A Birthday cake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)It was my birthday this weekend past.

No, let me not beat about the bush. It was my birthday on Sunday, 1st of April.

For more years than I care to remember, I have cursed my mother for not either letting go earlier or just showing a bit of fortitude and hanging on a bit longer in order to avoid lumbering her daughter with such a birthday.

As a youngster faced with mother's not so subtle campaign of undermining confidence and attempting to induce guilt I used to wonder whether she had done it on purpose as it fitted her campaign so well. Then decided that she probably hadn't but would have if she could.

A  plain little girl with glasses I grew to anticipate the mocking cries of 'April Fool' from those playground sharks who can detect unerringly the vulnerability of an unhappy child.

In later life, armour plated, it was a marker of people to avoid.
People who wanted to use that ritual to take me down a peg or two - not as friends can do with jokes be they never so coarse or brutally hard hitting - but slyly, waiting to see if they could draw blood.
No chance by then...they would have been better off trying it on a stone.
But I noted the attempt.

I escaped mother, gradually loosened the carapace I had adopted and had a pretty reasonable life. I enjoyed my work, I had friends and, finally, I was loved.

The birthday faded into the background.

Only to come bouncing back!

Last year Mr.Fly decided we would try a Peruvian restaurant which has a great reputation but which, being in a part of San Jose off our normal beat, we had not visited.
My birthday would be a nice occasion to try it.
We were house hunting at the time, so decided to explore the area nearby which is supposed to be developing -  according to the Mayor who wants to attract investment - before going to lunch.
Had I wanted to live in an area without local shops, but with a plethora of car parts emporia and decaying sixties housing it would have been ideal, but as it was it did not fit the bill despite the handy public transport belching fumes down every side street.
The development proved to be three tower blocks nattily brick clad to match the tower housing the tax offices alongside, conjouring up the horror of returning home three sheets to the wind and finding yourself in the wrong tower while someone waves a tax form at you.

As the area was so disappointing, we decided to head for the restaurant, crossing the central thoroughfare of San Jose, the Paseo Colon. Now, before Those Among You with a certain sense of humour start sniggering, 'Colon' is Christopher Columbus and no, the town has not named its main artery for a part of the human intestine.

We walked a couple of blocks to the restaurant, arriving some ten minutes before opening time. No sign of life, so we sat at one of the tables on the terrace.
A waiter emerged, and told us we could not sit there as the restaurant was not yet open.

'But we have booked for opening time and would like to sit down and, perhaps, have a drink.'

'No. It is a house rule. If we let you sit there today it would be tramps tomorrow. Nicaraguans even.'

Clearly we did not figure as his idea of the 'beautiful people'.

One lesson I had learned in France was immediately acted upon. If restaurant staff are sniffy, it's time to be off like an Exocet before worse befalls and you are expected to pay for it.
We decided to take our custom elsewhere and walked down the side street towards the city centre.

The side road was free of traffic fumes...but something else assailed our nostrils.
Not the smell of urine from the street sleepers...all was washed down here...but something much worse.
Something that reached down your throat  and twisted your intestines.
It was not just a smell...it was a Presence.

We looked over the wall.
Directly alongside was the open back door of the restaurant kitchen, bins ranged alongside.
We continued walking.

The Lebanese restaurant we had been heading for was closed, so we eventually partook of my birthday lunch at the counter of the Turbo caff at the Mercado Borbon -  and very good it was too as evidenced by the roaring takeaway trade for the stallholders.

This year, it so fell out that we had invited friends for Saturday and had been invited in our turn for Sunday before I remembered about my birthday. Still, what could be more enjoyable than seeing friends. That was fine.

But there was something lacking from my calculations.

Birthday cake.

Costa Rican bakeries have displays of large birthday cakes that take me back to the days when rationing finally ended and cakes of all sorts manifested themselves, exploding with ersatz cream, jam and butter icing at every orifice and bearing enough sugar flowers and ribbons for an army of fairies.
Costa Ricans like to give birthday cakes to friends and family. You see men walking to their cars with three or four in a gravity defying tower, preparing for a family get together on the weekend.

The first cake arrived on Friday morning, its kind donor almost invisible behind it. Two more followed later. Two more on Saturday, one with each group of friends. Another on Sunday.....

Agreed, in every case the donors arrived mob handed which saw off a fair portion of the cake - but there was always some left over and no way of recycling it discreetly to neighbours as it was the neighbours who had brought it or its fellow.
The fridge was beginning to resemble a cake shop.
The dogs were becoming indignant.

By the time we had returned home on Sunday with the remains of the cake given us by our friends the thing had run out of control.
What to do?

I decided to scrape the sponge layers free of jam, cream and butter icing and freeze them to make a trifle at some future date - no, more like four trifles...
The dogs were happy, jam cream and butter icing adorning their whiskers.

I was happy. Not only had I been spared the singing of  Happy Birthday, I had also been spared the horrors of April Fool.
No one knew of this European tradition....and I wasn't about to tell them!

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