Monday, 24 September 2012

Off the tourist trail in San Jose

If you find mention of Barrio Mexico in the travel guides it comes with the warning of danger.....
Absolute fiddlesticks! You wouldn't walk about there at night, but that goes for a lot of more supposedly salubrious places as Gringo Gulch in the centre of the city where the would be sex exploiters meet with the would be wallet expropriators in a ritual danse macabre.

It's well worth a visit in daylight if you enjoy architecture.....dilapidated, beaten down but still unbowed, art deco rules in Barrio the following photographs show:

Not only in Barrio Mexico, but in more central areas too...

While art nouveau is not lacking either

The house above is being restored after years of neglect as part of San Jose's plans to make the city once again the attractive centre of art and culture that once it was.

All over the city there are enclaves of super architecture....sometimes one house surviving in a street, sometimes a a walk through the city promotes not only corpore sano but also mens sana.

Just steer clear of Gringo Gulch....



Sunday, 23 September 2012

photographs of San Jose

I thought we might have a wander round San Jose, so first we'll drive into the city...keeping our eyes well open...

and yes, that is indeed a train you see in the middle of the road. Narrow gauge trains run through the streets at rush hours, transporting commuters  to and from their places of employment.
There are no level crossings, gates, or lights, the trains advertising their presence by ringing bells, blasting sirens or hooting mournfully depending on the engine involved.
It does not do to be listening to your music player, plugs in ears, while crossing the lines unless you harbour a death wish.
On the other hand they are a great incentive to drivers not to tailgate in heavy traffic, thus alleviating the gridlock that is the curse of San Jose.
The gridlock could have been eased had the  council not taken it into its head to revamp several of the main traffic arteries at the same time and had it thought to instruct its sub contractors not to allow their diggers to break into the water mains as the gridlocked driver is not noticeably comforted by the sight of the resulting fountains.
Nor by the presence in the road of concrete manhole covers (the metal ones having been stolen for scrap) pushed up by the force of water.
Still, it will all be over soon. The mayor will either be selected as his party's presidential which case the money will be diverted to campaigning...or he won' which case he will prefer the city to be a bit run down so that he can point the finger at the new regime.
San Jose is pretty compact...look down almost any street and you will have a view of the mountains which encircle a morning's walk will take you over most of it and if the legs are weary the buses are cheap.
Pensioners travel at reduced cost or free, the idea being to encourage people to get out of their houses and keep lively, thus free admission to museums and galleries and reduced entrance to the theatres.
Balm to the decrepit Scottish heart....

There is the public the central Post Office
The National Theatre

Or the National Museum, originally a nineteenth century fortress built to control the turbulent 'Josefinos' as the inhabitants are called. These days, instead of being greeted by sentries you enter the buildings through a cloud of butterflies in the plant filled entrance. Pure magic.
Religious architecture, like the Merced church
Or the domes of HolyTrinity floating over Barrio Mexico
A stunning contrast to the tin sheets covering the facades of the buildings below. Which do not exist on the upmarket Barrio Amon, where the coffee barons built their mansions and which now is home to sex tourists and druggies. Still looks good though.

Or here...
Before walking away into Barrio Otoya, past the Foreign Ministry building, Casa Amarilla.

I lost my heart to a house in Barrio Otoya....from the outside....but it was not to be!
Time for lunch down in my the taxi drivers' caff, open from morning to night. Good cheap food, freshest possible ingredients and a cook who can astonish you with her versatility.

And just yards away from my off for a siesta before resuming the tour another time.






Thursday, 13 September 2012

Previous Post

It has served its purpose...thank you all for your kind words.
I shall delete it now....and try to delete the cause of it from my mind!

Saturday, 8 September 2012


The Neighbour has accused me, together with Mr. Fly and a police officer, of depriving him of water by turning off the tap to his property one afternoon in March, so accordingly I, together with Mr. Fly and the police officer, attended court today.

The staff are becoming old friends, but there was one well kent face missing....that of Licenciado Luis who has been translated to a drug ridden hole on the Caribbean coast where his challenge will be to prove to the narcotraffickers who make children pick dope rather than go to school that he is of use to them before they decide to show him he should be by shooting up his house.

Instead we had a middle aged judge who had the air of one happy to swap the shoot outs and drug raids which form the fodder of the central courts for the fresh air and bucolic charm of our little town.

Since this case might touch on the general water dispute which is waiting settlement in the capital, I thought it best to engage as my lawyer the inspector of water rights for our canton who has been a tower of strength in the battle against the developer.
However, come the hour to enter the lawyer.
His secretary said he was in court somewhere else and would arrive as soon as he could.

The judge asked The Neighbour if he would wait.....inevitably the Neighbour would not.
He was, after all, a busy man, too busy to be hauled into court for all this nonsense and he didn't have time to wait for overpaid lawyers.

But brought the one is hauling you into court. You brought yourself.

Nomatter...the busy man could not wait so the case proceeded.

His lawyer...surprisingly enough the same one as in previous proceedings....announced that the whole thing was simple. His client only wanted peace and liberty to go about his affairs and he, the lawyer, believed that all  other parties wanted the same thing.

The policeman said he didn't want anything of the sort. He had carried out his duty and he wasn't accepting being accused of anything.

At this point the judge noticed that he was wearing his gun and told him he should have removed it before coming into court.

The policeman replied that in that case all the other parties should be frisked in case they were carrying concealed weapons.

Uproar from The Neighbour....much ado about something....?

A telephone call to the police station revealed that no female officers were available to frisk me. If I couldn't be frisked no one else would agree to be so we went on with the case.
Gun notwithstanding.

The lawyer resumed. He believed that The Neighbour and ourselves had come to an agreement and that now all could be forgotten...we could shake hands and make a new start.

The policeman said he wasn't going to shake hands with the Neighbour. He knew what he was. He had...

The judge intervened to tell the policeman that he wasn't included in the hand shaking.

The policeman asked what he was included in then.....he'd been accused and he wanted vindication.

Well you can't be vindicated just like that...we have to hear the case.

So what's all this peace and love stuff, then?

The judge asked The Neighbour whether he wanted to press charges on anyone, on someone or on no one.

The Neighbour's lawyer replied that there was an agreement between the parties and that all it needed was the judge's fiat to have it recorded.

Echoes of Licenciado Luis' last attempt to settle the water question arose in my I asked the lawyer what the agreement might be as I had heard nothing of it.

It was a settlement in this very court.

The judge asked for the dossier number and sent for the file.

I asked why, if it had been settled, would the judge's fiat be needed now.

The judge said he'd read the file.

He did.

It appeared that Licenciado Luis had managed to get Don Alexandro into court with a dodgy dossier and got him to agree that the Neighbour could cross his land, allowing him to move the first part of the water system's pipes.

But what has that to do with us?

It means that a judge has said that it's all right to move the pipes. You accept that and my client will drop the charges.

No. Let your client justify the charges he's brought against us...that's why we're here. Not to discuss a case that's before another court.

That's right, from the policeman. Get on with it.

But, said the Judge, isn't the water problem at the base of all this? If we could just settle it....

With respect, Judge, it is being settled elsewhere.

A tap at the door and my lawyer entered. Handshakes all round and a resume of progress from the judge.

The whole thing is simple, said my lawyer.
The Neighbour has brought charges. He has to justify them. Has he any witnesses?

The Neighbour surged to his feet.
Yes..he had...the judge had the list...he could was as plain as the nose on his face that with all those witnesses we had to be guilty.

Yes the judge had a list. We had a included the alcalde, the priest, four cousins, the lady friend and his lawyer.

But your witnesses need to be here, Senor. It's not the job of a judge to go and haul them out of their houses to appear.
And you, Senor Lawyer, were you a witness,, because if you were these proceedings are void.

No, I wasn't a witness.

Explosive noises from The Neighbour, hat thrown on the ground. What sort of a lawyer was he if he wouldn't be a witness? What was he paid for the Neighbour would like to know!

Would you say you are a violent man, Senor? asked my lawyer.

Fists raised, The Neighbour headed for him and was pulled down by his lawyer.

I see you are.

More exploding boiler noises while his lawyer kept a firm hold on his arm.

Case dismissed and The Neighbour bound over to keep the peace.

But my lawyer had something more to say.
He agreed that the main case was to be heard in San Jose...but he had a suggestion to make which might address the question of water use to defuse future problems and which might be of assistance to the court in San Jose.

He proposed that, wearing his hat as inspector of water rights for the canton, he would arrange with the council to make a formal inspection of the springs, water volume and water use in the Three Valleys area and call for all parties involved to produce proofs of their various claims.

Crook! Bellowed the Neighbour and headed for the door, only to be restrained by the policeman.

Good idea! Said the judge and wrote it up as part of the proceedings.

As we left after signing the judgement, the judge was sitting by the window wiping his brow.

His clerk came out while we were waiting for the copies to be handed out and asked

The judge wants to know whether you did cut off his water....just out of interest.

It was the day the planning inspector was to see if the developer had enough water volume for his proposed estate....The Neighbour had cut off our side of the valley so Dona Mery asked us if we would go up and check the taps on the pipes further up....taking the policeman who had come out to answer her call for assistance.
We opened the tap to supply water again, but not so much as to deprive the new line completely of water.

But why did Dona Mery call you?

We had the car.


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

UFOs and R and B

I have never seen an Unidentified Flying Object.....

Things flying in my direction over the years have been cricket balls with shouts of 'catch it'....
A poodle thrown at me when I complained about the way it was being treated with cries of 'take it' (I did )...
A pair of worn out trousers (relic of old French tradition of rough music)...
A bag of used nappies (returned to sender)....

All of which I had no problem in identifying.

Any more than I had problems in identifying things I have sent flying in my turn.....
Cricket balls....

But I do know what a UFO is.

In my household it is the thing in a bag which emerges from the depths of the freezer like Grendel's mother seeking revenge.....
An Unidentified Frozen Object.

Under normal circumstances the things I have shoved into the freezer in a hurry stay where they were the fast freeze section on the right hand side. A collection of mis shapes from which to avert the eyes when diving in for something more mainstream with a label.
Occasionally I will  defrost a few of the mystery parcels  and make something with the contents, which has given rise to some unique combinations - the results passing muster on the home front on condition that the haphazard nature of the selection principle remains a dark secret.

No man wishes to know that, rather than lovingly crafting his evening meal from choice ingredients, his wife has been frantically searching the web for combinations using the parsnip,sweet peppers and chicken liver which met her gaze once the ice was off the plastic.

This week, the UFOs manifested themselves in decided manner when Mr. Fly assumed control of the kitchen.
Well, not the kitchen, exactly, more like the menu planning.
Executive chef....not chef de plonge.
He is, it appears, tired of rice and beans for lunch.

So am I, but as Danilo has lunch with us and Danilo cannot contemplate life without rice and beans figuring largely in his diet, rice and beans it is. Not every day...but often.

A typical Costa Rican housewife would tart up the R and B with beef in sauce, or fried chicken or fish, or a pork chop, or a slice of steak, accompanied by cabbage salad, a 'picadillo' of potato, chayote or plantain mixed with diced peppers and onions and optionally some pasta in sauce - all of which explains why they are up at the crack of dawn to fit in cleaning the house and cooking the lunch.

Not signing up to this agenda, I compromise.
We will have cassoulet...with some rice for Danilo on the side.
Or risotto.....with beans ditto.
Anything Chinese with pineapple will be acceptable, as will spaghetti bolognaise, as exceptions to the R and B, but for a potato addict like Mr. Fly it is all too much.

There would be changes.

He assembled the cookery books and spent an evening muttering
'Why did we buy this...?'

Those classed as acceptable were then studied in more depth while I replaced the discarded numbers on the shelves.

There was silence but for the turning of pages and the occasional cry of
'How'd they expect me to get oysters in Costa Rica!
Ditto 'salmon' - well you can, but it's flown in from Chile at vast expense.
And as for 'lamb'...forget it.
I once saw a leg in one of the high end supermarkets. It was greyish in colour and resembled a cross between an emaciated rabbit and a surgical stocking. It cost the equivalent of twenty pounds.

A plan in mind, he headed for the freezer to check the availability of meat and fish.
Where's the tilapia?
Note made to the effect that Danilo would spend the next morning fishing tilapia from the ponds and I would spend the next morning marinading half for smoking and filleting the rest.
Glory day for Danilo's cats.

Ah! Stewing pork!
A lunge into the freezer to extract his prey upset the delicate balance of its contents.....and the UFOs poured down  into the main section.

What's all this stuff?
 Now in English law, should a defendent not speak, a pre trial trial would be held to determine whether he or she was 'mute of malice' which case he or she could be enthusiastically tortured until saying something...or 'mute of visitation of God', in which case everyone would be disappointed.
My lack of reply could be argued as being in the latter category,  in that I could think of no generic term for the avalanche of little plastic bags of odds and ends now covering the pork section.

Luckily attention now turned to the fridge, where yogurt was discovered, maturing happily behind the cheese mountain which is unwrapped every day, coated in fortified wine and wrapped in fresh cheesecloth to produce something worth eating at the end of three months.

The spices were inspected...a note made to order fenugreek on eBay.

The lunch menus for the next two days were announced.

Day 1. Pasanda. Beef curry served with.....rice.

Day 2. Fabada. Of which the principal ingredient is...beans.