Thursday 22 December 2011

Nature's Carols

While at breakfast this morning, I heard this sound....the beating of wings as first one then another Montezuma Oropendola flew into the madera negra tree beside the balcony.

The first two were followed by two more, taking the early morning sun...and I began to hope that they might form a colony.

In previous years I had seen singletons crossing the valley, but this was the first time a group had appeared and as breakfast continued they began to chatter .

This was the first bird I heard...and then saw...in Costa Rica, when visiting the country for the first time and I was lucky enough to see one performing its mating ritual on a tree near the house in which I was staying.
It would be the first bird about in the mornings, warbling and swinging forward on its branch as if bowing to the mate it was trying to attract, its flash of yellow tail feathers making it easy to spot.



I would be delighted if the group were to take up residence as their nests are spectacular...though I think they usually prefer dead trees or those more scarcely furnished with leaves than the madera negra...but we shall see.

In the meantime, I am delighted by their presence....wonderful breakfast guests!

It has always amused me that while Costa Rica has many magnificent birds it has chosen perhaps the most drab as its national emblem... the clay robin.
Mark you, there is something to be said for not plumping for something exotic like the quetzal, as did Guatemala, only to find that it has declined to the point of extinction.
Not flashy, Costa Rica.











The calls of different birds...from parrots to laughing falcons via blue grey tanagers....enliven the balcony all day...nature's carols.





I am not sure if the bird calls will be audible...but you can hear a vast range on this site to whet your appetite.
Try the Laughing Falcon...worse than the Laughing Policeman!
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Wednesday 14 December 2011

Christmas Shopping II

English: Self-made photograph of a Brita kettl...Image via WikipediaMother is a living, fire breathing advertisement for the success of the British welfare state.

Still living independently, at 95 she had a hip replaced and this year, at 96, she has had a knee replacement and her doctor tells her that she should now be good for another ten years!

She has help in the mornings and evenings, has a shopper for the heavy stuff and a wonderful young woman who mucks her out once a week and keeps me in touch with the things mother would rather I did not know...like finding her on the kitchen table leaning on her zimmer frame to remove the batteries from her smoke alarm in case it went off while she was cooking her Christmas roast.

She shouldn't have been either..... on the table or contemplating cooking her Christmas dinner...as she had planned to come out to us over Christmas and the New Year, but her plans have been scotched by her doctor who has told her not to take a long haul flight for several months yet, for fear of thrombosis following her op.

Believe me, the Skype was hot after that little announcement.
She had me consulting every flight comparison site in creation to find a way of breaking the flight into shorter components to get past the medical ruling and I am now an expert on how to get from Southampton to Milan via Amsterdam in order to catch a twice weekly charter flight to a provincial airport in Costa Rica while ensuring that only the cheapest ticket offers are used.
All to no avail.
The Atlantic crossing was something even mother could not overcome, but the research will not be wasted.

When she does get the green light to travel there is no way that she and American immigration officials should meet.
One request for fingerprints and a mug shot and she'll be over the counter before you can say Homeland Security, thrusting her British Legion badge into the operative's face and announcing that she hadn't fought Hitler to be treated like a criminal by...of all people...Americans!
Depending on their speed of reaction they might have her in an orange jumpsuit before she gives them chapter and verse on America's late entry into two world wars and her views on what should be done to President Bush...but I wouldn't place any bets...
So she'll be travelling on other routes...direct from Madrid, or via Mexico City...or the charter from Milan.

So, unexpectedly at home for Christmas, mother needed to get her shopping done.
Online.

But not quite as you might think. She has resisted all attempts to get her online, even with offers of specially adapted keyboards and goodness knows what else by a very helpful lady from some section of the local social services.

No. She doesn't want to be swamped by spam.
(I have a sneaking suspicion that she is thinking of the canned variety of said...but best not to ask...)
And she doesn't want to be swamped by pornography....there's enough of that on the television.

But you can keep in touch with people....

There are some people you don't want to keep in touch with...the telephone's good enough for me...I can see who's calling..and anyway, people are always breaking into it. I don't want my details going all over the world...

So it works like this. She makes a list. I ring her on Skype. She gives me the order. I put it online and Tesco deliver.
Easy peasy.

Not this time.


She has two good neighbours.....both elderly.
The three of them have various disabilities and problems, but they work on the Norn system....sharing the abilities between themselves to keep all three of them going.

Mother is now mobile and can add up faster than the till.
Barbara has back problems but has good sight.
Adolpha (my nickname for this vegetarian of Austrian extraction) is hard of hearing but can carry the trays from the buffet once the other two have sorted out what is on offer and at what price.

So what's the problem?
The problem was that Barbara had just bought a mini jug kettle from Tesco to avoid her carer heating up more water than necessary for one cup on tea.
Mother wanted one.
Fine.
I added it to her order.
I  rang her to tell her it was on its way.

Now, ringing mother has to be well planned.
Since her young days as a hurdler she has been keen on...not to say obsessed by...sport .in all its forms and the television offers a great variety most afternoons.
So before ringing it is advisable to check BBC and ITV programmes online to make sure not to commit a gaffe.

Interrupted in contemplation of Formula One she can be testy.
Interrupt the Hennessy Gold Cup and you've got Krakatoa on speed.

The seven hour time difference doesn't help, either.
Still, all prepared, I rang her number...only to be answered by Adolpha.

Who's that?

I told her. I also said that I'd wanted to tell mother that I'd ordered her kettle.
Fatal error.

I could hear her reporting to my mother....

There's some woman on the 'phone who wants to sell you a kettle.
Noises off (mother).
Adolpha returns to the telephone.

She doesn't want one.

Receiver goes down.

I ring again.
I get Adolpha.

I've just told you she doesn't want one. It's a disgrace, harassing elderly people...if you don't get off the line I'll call the police. And how do you know she wants a kettle anyway?

Reports to mother again.

Something's not right here...how would this woman know you've ordered a kettle? She must have hacked at your daughter's computer....they're not safe...nothing's private these days...

Returning to me

She doesn't want one. Understand?

Receiver down again.

The next day, another attempt.

The receiver is picked up and a voice says suspiciously

Hello?

Not mother, clearly.

Is that Adolpha?

No! Wrong number!

And down goes the receiver again.

I did catch mother the following day and gave her the news of her kettle.

Oh, you might have to cancel that.
There's been some telesales woman on trying to sell kettles, and I wanted to  get a price...but Adolpha put the 'phone down on her and the next day I think it was her again...about the same time...and Barbara did the same before I could ask her about the price....but she might ring back...

Yes. mother...she well might...










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Thursday 8 December 2011

Christmas Shopping

Caña india is planted here to form hedges and windbreaks, and very stately it can look, too, but the flowers are a bonus...they smell wonderful.
The plants down in the garden have been blooming for while now, but the younger ones near the house have just started and every slight breeze sends their scent through the rooms...soft, heavy and sensual.

I just wish someone would make a perfume of this...it would beat a lot of the commercial big name stuff hands down.

I've always liked wearing perfume and I laid in a stock of my favourites before moving to Costa Rica - luckily, as I've seen none of them here!
(Watch out the next visitor from France...you will have to find room in your luggage not only for anchovies but also for a large bottle of Eau de Nice!)
I tried some newer ones when I was in London, but nothing really appealed  except Flowerbomb.....until I saw the price. They should have named it Screaming Habdabs.

One relief here is that men do not go in for the 'knock you down and drag you out' aftershave lotions typical of rural France....by the time you'd gone through the kissing routine at an AGM you would be reeling from sense fatigue...no wonder so much was passed on the nod!

Still, I'll be looking at perfume when Christmas shopping in San Jose as well as in the self described upmarket suburb of Escazu......home to expat business men and ambassadors, with its numerous malls and speciality shops, not to speak of its housing.

Gated communities and tower blocks.....condominiums.
Those lowering blocks always remind me of overpriced Glasgow tenements, while if I wanted to live hugger mugger with communal sports facilities and pool, an open prison would be a better bet.
I just don't see the attraction.

Security, say those who choose this way of living...but who wants to live with guards on the gates?

Still security can be a problem at this time of year.
December is the month of the 'aguinaldo'...the thirteenth month, when employees are paid a sum equivalent to a bonus month's pay.
People have money in their pockets, the shopping areas are crowded and bag snatching is a real worry.

The police in San Jose take it seriously. Tall platforms are erected at intervals in the main shopping streets manned by police keeping an eye out for trouble, while detachments stand on almost every junction.

I know it works, because last year I was walking in the pedestrian area with a friend when her bag was snatched.
The man was off and running before we could react....but the police had spotted him and he was brought to the ground in the next street.

We all went to the police station to sort out the formalities...and we were both shocked by the appearance of the robber.
He was young, his clothes of poor quality but spotlessly clean and he was crying.
Not an experienced thief, either, or he would have thrown the bag away as soon as the pursuit started.

My friend identified her bag, was relieved that the contents were intact, and asked the police what would happen to the young man.

Well, we'll want to see his papers. He says they're at home, so we'll take him there...but I know what it will be. He'll be an illegal immigrant....couldn't find work and desperate for money. He'll end up being taken to the immigration lock up and be sent home. Nicaragua by the look of him.

Poor young devil.
My friend could not afford to have lost the contents of her bag...not so much in money terms but in terms of her papers, bank cards and all the odds and ends that take an age to replace once lost...endless queues and paperwork.....but what a contrast between our lives and his.

Trying to make a better life, help his family at home, setting off - and probably paying the 'fixers' to smuggle him over the frontier - in the hope of finding work, and meeting nothing but disappointment and despair.
Poor young man.

My friend asked if she could refrain from laying charges.
Yes, but it won't do him much good. He won't be charged anyway...just sent back.

Could we give him some money?

You could, but there are some hard cases in that lock up...they'll soon have it off him.

We gave him some anyway...something to enable him to make 'phone calls, buy soap and odds while he was awaiting his return, but nothing could stop his tears.

I wonder where this young man is now....I'm sure his family were delighted to have him back with them, but the basic problem won't have been solved.

People need work to maintain their self respect and poor countries need investment, not aid.
They need to be allowed to develop in their own way, not constrained by the ideologies of the IMF and the World Bank.
And they certainly don't need politically based embargos on their economies.

I have no faith whatsoever in the NGOs...as institutionalised as national governments...but I do have faith in people helping people direct.

So while I'll be looking at perfume I won't be buying.
I'll put the equivalent to a group in San Jose run by Nicaraguans helping illegal immigrants to get their position regularised and finding them work.

I think the money will smell sweeter that way.








Wednesday 30 November 2011

Back in court...

After the adventures with Licenciado Luis, I found myself in court again this week, as a witness for my husband who was seeking a new protection order against The Neighbour, the old order having expired.

A different court....the family court...and a different judge, a young man newly in post.

We had been walking up the road from our house to meet the telecoms engineers who were rerouting the telephone lines after the storms when The Neighbour's car appeared, heading towards us with a woman in the passenger seat.
We moved to the side of the road to let him pass...always a good idea with The Neighbour whose driving is erratic at the best of times....only to find that he was aiming his car at us...swerving away at the very last moment, laughing.
His passenger was white in the face with shock.

The old protection order having lapsed, my husband sought new measures of protection and, accordingly, we arrived at court this morning , as did The Neighbour and his lawyer.

He might have done better without his lawyer, because left to himself he would just have denied the whole thing, but his lawyer presented photographs of the scene which clearly showed that there was ample room to manoeuvre on that section of the road while the lawyer claimed that The Neighbour was obliged to pass within an inch of our bodies in order to advance and also because the lawyer saw fit to bring up the judgement against The Neighbour in the matter of trying to hit me with a riding crop through the window of the car as being totally unfounded...when it might have been better to remain silent on his client's violent ways.

The judge delivered his decision.
Protection Order granted for one year.
The Neighbour should be ashamed of himself, attacking someone old and ill and, furthermore, The Neighbour should be warned that this was not someone who could be cowed.
The British, said the judge, had a respect for the law....and any and every time The Neighbour overstepped the mark, the British would come to court for a remedy which the judge would be only too pleased to grant,  so...in the Scots phrase, The Neighbour should ca' canny.

Silent throughout proceedings, The Neighbour rose in his wrath.

He had witnesses.

Where were they?

He didn't know he was coming to court.

Yes he did. He had had the proper notice.

I never! And, anyway, the foreigner buys my witnesses! He buys them up!

Who were they?

My daughter who was in the car with her baby! As if I'd drive like a madman with my grandchild in the car!

You had proper notice...and are you suggesting that your daughter could be bought by the complainant?

No I did not know....(turning on his lawyer) You must have known and did not tell me!

An empassioned dialogue between lawyer and client ensued while we rose to leave.

The Neighbour and lawyer rose to leave as well, but the judge put up his hand.

No, senor.....you stay here.

Why? What for? I've work to do, I have to earn money to pay this useless lawyer...

That's your problem, senor.....but there are another six cases of protection orders  to be heard against you today and ten more tomorrow....so you would do well to sit down and wait for the next complainant.

In the waiting area, chairs under the porch of the court building, we met up with Dona Mery, very fine in a new flowered pinny.
The next complainant.

Don't you have a lawyer, Dona Mery?

No need....The Neighbour hasn't paid his guy, which is why he didn't tell him he was coming to court......

Sunday 27 November 2011

Licenciado Luis and the Last Chance Saloon

Powerscourt Waterfall, near Enniskerry, County...Image via WikipediaThings are pretty warm in Costa Rica at the best of times, but in the three valleys things are hotting up even more and, as you might imagine The Neighbour, he of the crisp white hat with a curly brim, is in the thick of it.

He has managed to sell his three hectares of unregistered land for a vast sum to a purchaser connected to the chain of Chinese restaurants in the local town.. and has sold it with water rights.
Water rights that The Neighbour does not own.
So he has been busy re routing the water again to the fury of those affected...including me. The area down to coffee is now without a water supply, which is distinctly inconvenient.

The whole matter has gone to law...in San Jose, not in the local town where Licenciado Luis is still presiding over the courts, as for some reason based on experience it is felt that an equitable solution is more likely to be found in San Jose.

But Licenciado Luis is a judge in a hurry.
A cold draught is curling about his feet and for a man with power he is in the state so wonderfully described in '1066 and All That'......
'Uneasy lies the head that wears a throne.'
For rumour has reached him that the Three Valleys committee have reported him to the judicial disciplinary board for his total disregard of property rights when last The Neighbour started playing with the water supply.

And if the head of Licenciado Luis is uneasy, even more so the head of the banker, who is relying on L.L. to crush any legal challenges to  future attempts to develop the land further down the valley...and, it appears, the uneasiness has also affected the chop suey merchant.

The restaurants with which he is said to be connected deserve a description to themselves as they are a success story worthy of emulation.
This is a small town yet it boasts five of them.
Only one ever has any customers...and they are there for the spit roasted chicken.
The others are empty, day after day, night after night......but all five produce tax returns...right on the button...showing that they are doing great business.
Vast quantities of oyster sauce, noodles and chopsticks are shown on their books......customers bills go through the till not under the table.....but no one is sitting at those tables and there's nary a thing in the dustbins.
Even the stray dogs have cut them from their itinerary.

I asked Don Freddy about this phenomenon.

Well, I suppose they thought it best to run their funny money through restaurants......even the police here might have woken up if they'd set up a chain of laundries...

So we have two powerful men who want results in a hurry before Licenciado Luis is posted somewhere where the sun shines all too much and the pickings are few, and L.L. is happy to oblige.

After life in rural France, I am accustomed to the bizarre ways of local courts, so when the court bailiff arrived with a summons I was only mildly surprised to find that there was no mention of the whys and wherefores on the form presented to me for signature.
Only the name of The Neighbour as the person I had apparently accused of whatever it was we were to go to court about.

Any idea what this is about?

Search me, I only deliver the stuff...

Up to the court house the next day to ask for the dossier.
The clerk produced a file entitled
'Settlement of the water question'.
Inside was the dossier....which concerned a complaint I had made six months earlier about The Neighbour trying to attack me with a riding crop through the window of the car.
This case had long bitten the dust at the hands of the local prosecutors as the two policemen present at the scene apparently suffered from blindness coupled with Alzheimer's Disease.
Nothing about the water issue.

But the prosecutor's office refused to proceed with this case.

I suppose new evidence has come to light.

What new evidence?

Search me, I only file the stuff...

Costa Rican legal procedure requires communications about legal dossiers to be faxed to a lawyer...so I walked down into town to see the lawyer I use for odds and bits.

Yes, she had the fax.

No, the case about the riding crop was closed...this is about the water issue.

So why is there nothing about water in the file?

I'll ring the court and find out.

Well, it seems the judge would like the affected parties to get together and make a joint application to the court about the water. I'll organise a reunion.

Fine. What about the assault?

I'll ring the court and find out.

No, it's all about the water.

Fine.

I contacted the lawyer hired by the committee of the three valleys, a busy young woman in San Jose.

I'll be on the bus this afternoon. Do nothing, sign nothing until we meet.

That afternoon, over coffee in a local caff, we determine that no new evidence has emerged about the assault...at least, not anything figuring in the dossier and that the whole thing is an attempt by Licenciado Luis to get the water question into his own hands, rather than in the hands of the court in San Jose.
Still, there's always the attack...we can't ignore it...it's the only document in the dossier.

She proposes interviewing the two policeman, and we go to the police station.
They are on night duty, so are at home.

My lawyer gets talking to the duty officer, a woman, and in no time they are on to the open sexism of the bosses of the local station and the complaints the woman has had to make which have effectively backsquadded her career.
We emerge with a copy of the daybook for the date in question and the addresses of the officers.

The daybook is written in gobblegook...no way of discovering who did what to whom or when, so we drive off to visit the policemen.

The younger one emerges yawning and, once prodded, starts to remember being there at the time and witnessing the incident. The lawyer calls Danilo over to listen in and then returns to the car, busy scribbling.

Got the bastard.

How so..he'll never turn up to give evidence.

No problem. I'm not only an advocate but a notary too...so I'm writing up his statement as an official notarised document with Danilo as witness. We can introduce this in court.

The older policeman plays hide and seek for half an hour before announcing that he doesn't remember a thing.

I wonder you can stay employed with Alzheimer's, says the lawyer and we drive back to town.

The day of the case dawns, we turn up and are ushered into Licenciado Luis' presence...all very informal.
He sits at a desk and introduces the young man beside him as a law student sitting in on proceedings to gain experience.
The young man bears a close resemblance to a basset with piles....distinctly lugubrious.
The clerk with his computer sits behind them, withdrawn from the protagonists.
The Neighbour (wearing his hat in honour of the occasion) and his lawyer are already esconced and we take our place alongside them on the sort of sofa you need a grab rail to get up from.
The lawyers exchange glances and The Neighbour asks

Who's she? We expected the local woman...

His lawyer tells him to shut up and Licenciado Luis begins.

With the water.

As the neighbours haven't got together about the water, he thinks it best if he makes a decision to settle the matter once and for all.

The lady lawyer indicates that she wishes to be heard by raising her forefinger.

Well?

With all due respect, there is nothing about water in the dossier, judge.

He produces the cover and shows it to her.

Look, there....settlement of the water question....and the neighbours have done nothing...

Agreed, judge. But the only documentation inside the folder deals with an assault.

With all due respect, advocate, you are from the big city, San Jose. We do things differently here...in a neighbourly fashion.
I have parties to a dispute here, and I propose to settle it.

I raise my forefinger.

With all due respect judge, all the parties to the water dispute are not here.

Well, senora, you are and he is and that's enough.

The lady lawyer raises her forefinger.

With all due respect judge, that may be how you settle things here, but it is not a method in accordance with Costa Rican legal procedures.

Take your client outside and discuss this....

So we leave and are discussing the nature of the judge's parentage in English when he and the basset pop out into the corridor and head...very slowly...for the loos.
We suspect that the basset understands English and elaborate our suppositions.
Judge and basset return, eyeing us in no friendly fashion.

We go back to court.

Well, is your client ready for conciliation over the question of water?

No, judge. We are here only to discuss the assault.

He turns to me.

Senora, coming from a different culture you perhaps do not understand that here in Costa Rica we try to conciliate, not be antagonistic.

With all due respect judge, I understand the process of conciliation all too well.
I and other people affected by his activities have come to conciliation several times.
He promises to mend his ways and just carries on as before, so, again, with all due respect, may we turn to the assault he made on me?

The Neighbour is now up on his hinds...you've got to give him marks for agility getting up from that sofa....

I never assaulted her and anyway it was on my property and what's more...

His lawyer pulls him down and tells him to shut up. He bounces up again

And anyway nobody saw it...

The lawyer raises her forefinger.

The facts are as stated in the claim in the dossier and I have here the witness statement of the policeman who saw the whole incident...

Thr Neighbour is on his feet again

Well all right then, I did it and it was on my property and I was justified and she deserved it and what's more i'd do it again...
His lawyer pulls him down and this time he stays down.

Licenciado Luis and the basset look at each other....clearly the lesson has not gone to plan.

All right. He admits it and that's an end to the matter. Fined court's costs.

The Neighbour and lawyer leave at the gallop....The Neighbour starting to shout as they hit the corridor about how much he paid the policemen and what he'll do to the one who blabbed...

We rise to leave....and behind the basset's back the clerk grins and raises a fist in salute.

Is that all he gets for trying to hit me with a riding crop?

Well,here it is, but I'm just lodging notice of appeal...we'll see what San Jose thinks about it...



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Monday 21 November 2011

Here be Vets...

Antique map 54Image by Changhua Coast Conservation Action via FlickrI had made an appointment to have the puppy spayed at one of the charitable spay and neuter clinics.....half the usual vet surgery price even with a donation thrown in.
The local town sessions have halted until after Christmas so it was the town down the road...a long ribbon strip development place with loads of condominiums and no soul.

This being unknown territory, the men decided that Danilo....ex delivery driver in his past employment life... would get the directions, and, very important this, he would write them down.
There have been many interesting experiments in Danilo getting directions and not writing them down...we have seen many places we would not otherwise have thought of visiting and have met many charming people who have directed us to other places we would not have thought of visiting in the course of being asked for directions.

As in the case of the pigs, the men had the whole thing under control.
The car was at the door, all dogs not involved were outside and Man A crouched by the back door while Man B drove the puppy into his arms.
The puppy had other ideas and left by the front door...leading the other dogs in a joyous tour of neighbouring properties encouraged in this by the shouts of Men A and B in pursuit.

Other dogs, returning, made for their water bowls in the house while the puppy sat outside.
Man A stationed Man B on one side of the open porch and himself on the other in order to effect a pincer movement, thus driving the puppy into the house.
Clearly one of them was operating on von Moltke's variation of the Schlieffen plan, disproportionally strengthening one of the wings, as the puppy shot between them followed...like the  taxis of the Marne... by the reinforcements returning from the water bowls.

A tour of the tilapia ponds and back to the house...dogs clearly delighted by the unaccustomed entertainment and the puppy wagging its tail fit to bust. All soaking wet.

Capture puppy on the sofa by throwing a towel over it...technique gleaned from  Alice and the Pig Baby...leg it for the car to find wet Alsatian installed on the back seat. Drive him out to find him leaping in again through the tailgate.
Where the puppy goes, he goes.

Use diplomatic means to dislodge him....bribe of smelly bone.
Alsatian dislodged.

Shut all doors. Drive off.

We are onto the main road and past a number of bends before Man B discovers that in all the excitement he has left the instructions by the telephone.
Man A assures him that there will be no problem.
Man A is Danilo.
Man B believes Man A.
I decide to enjoy the scenery.

It is a half hour drive on the main road down from the hills...the rainy season is ending and trees are coming into flower...the puppy drops off to sleep.

Now, for what follows, it is helpful to know that most Costa Rican towns are laid out on the grid pattern...Avenidas (avenues) go one way and Calles (streets) run at right angles to them.
The centre of town is where Avenida 0 crosses Calle 0.
On one side will be ranked Avenidas and Calles in odd numbers...on the other Avenidas and Calles in even numbers.
So directions should be simple.

Except that no one uses Avenida and Calle numbers. Directions are from noted landmarks, like banks, petrol stations and shops.
This is exceedingly frustrating when the original bank, petrol station or shop has changed hands or moved and the directions stay the same.
Thus....from the fig tree, three hundred metres north, two hundred metres east, when the fig tree was cut down twenty years ago.

In this case Man B rehearses Man A as the town approaches.

Where are we headed?

We have to pass the bank.

Which bank?

The bank we have to pass.

Slight hissing and wheezing noises can be heard...human, not mechanical.

O.K.....after the bank we have to pass, what then?

We go to the big bakery and go three hundred metres east and fifty metres north.

O.K. I know where the bakery is.

We arrive at the bakery, pass it merrily and turn to the left on the next Calle.

Why did you do that? We're supposed to turn at the bakery.

We can't. It's one way. Just three hundred metres and we turn north....

Except that that is another one way.

I'll ask directions.

First a gentleman at the roadside is approached who goes back to his house to get his wife.
She directs us to a palatial equine institution on the outskirts of town.

This isn't it. Go back to the bakery.

We miss the bakery again.

The wheezing and hissing is louder.

Turn to the right!

Why?

Because you turned left last time!

It isn't here! There aren't any vets this side of town.

But this is held at a private house...it's not a veterinary surgery...turn right!

We turn right and approach the bakery on a parallel road.

It's not here!

Look, get out and ask. Turn left at the junction. We must be so close!

Man A descends from the car, turns right at the junction and disappears.
After five minutes it appears that he has taken the car keys and that we are locked in.

More wheezing and hissing. The puppy wakes up...intrigued.

Can you climb through the window without setting off the burglar alarm?

No.

Man A returns, beaming.

You've found it!

No, but the man in the bakery says Marcos the vet will do the op if you nip round to the surgery....it's on the other side of town...near where we were...

He is encouraged to start up the car again and turn left. We drive until we hit the entry to a condominium.

It's not here. It has to be the other side of town...where all the vets are....where Marcus will do the op..

Before Man B, human boiler, blows all safety valves we see a woman carrying a cat box.

Man B takes no chances. He descends himself to ask her for directions.

He returns to the car with the woman and cat box. She gets in and puppy and cat gaze at each other in common mistrust. She directs Man A to the next turn left.

No it can't be here! All the vets...

Just turn!

He turns. Two doors up the road we see the large sign on the gates...spay and neuter clinic.
We've made it.

It is a most relaxed affair, clients foregathering in the garden where loungers, iced tea and coffee await...the tranquilizer is administered and we settle down to wait about an hour before the op itself.
We meet several very nice people, enjoy the spectacle of an indignant West Highland terrier legging it for the exit with owner in hot pursuit, and the Men decide to go to the Saturday market while the puppy drowses on my lap.

The market is two blocks down the road....a straight road. They are gone some little time...Captain Oates comes to mind.
They reappear. Man B is making human boiler noises again.

What's the matter?

It's a straight road, right?

If you say so.

He only comes out of the market and turns in the opposite direction...

Don't tell me....heading for where the vets are...



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Friday 18 November 2011

Speak Out - Domestic Violence

Something brushed under the carpet in too many societies.

Something thought of as happening only among the lower orders.

Something that doesn't happen to you.

Well, lift the carpet and recognise what is under it.....domestic violence is a stain on society and it needs to be recognised and rejected.

Costa Rica knows there is a problem.
The traditional 'macho' society has two sides....the man who feels responsibility for his wife's happiness and the man who feels that his wife is a chattel, worth a bit less than his car, to be caressed or kicked at will.

Costa Rica is trying to tackle the problem.
Family courts, protection orders, financial provision for women and their children, associations to financially empower women.....they're doing it.
They recognise that domestic violence is about control, and the remedy is giving women independence.
It's not easy, there are no sudden advances, but the will to do it is there.

Costa Rica has lifted the carpet and is sweeping hard.


This short post is in support of Speak Out...a day to bring a dirty secret into the open...and started with Wanderlust's blog, which is well worth a visit.






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Sunday 6 November 2011

Beware of the Perfume

Flower of Yard Long BeanImage via WikipediaElection day in neighbouring Nicaragua.....and it looks as if Ortega will be re-elected for a third term in a landslide.
The guerilla fighter of the Sandinista uprising against the Somoza dictatorship has become, in his turn, corrupt and keen to hang on to power to the extent of managing to manipulate the bodies overseeing the constitution to allow him a previously forbidden third term of office.
Enriching himself and his cronies he is hand in glove with business and the Catholic Church, whose influence is shown by the ban on abortion in Nicaragua, causing misery to the poor and no inconvenience to the rich, who, in the manner of the Republic of Ireland and the U.K., just carry their unwanted foetuses to Costa Rica for elimination while the Church follows the example of Nelson.
But he'll be re-elected, all the same.

I'd been in the garden when my Nicaraguan friend called round, having headed down there after a heavy downpour to pick the beans before they became tough and stringy.
The sun had come out and as I slushed through the wet grass the heavy scent of the canna india was in the air, pink pom pom blossoms hanging down over the green and yellow leaves perched high on the top of the tall bare stems.

I don't know what these beans are called, but they look like oversized asparagus peas, four lines of frills running their length and they make a wonderful soup - as long as they haven't gone woody.

An easy going recipe too, with not too much emphasis on quantities.

Dice and sweat off some onions, then add the beans, cut into pieces, chicken stock and either fresh tomatoes or tomato puree...just until the stock turns rose in colour if the latter.
Cook until the beans are soft, then puree and seive and add cumin to taste.
It is a soup recipe I have from friends in France...for using up the stringy beans, but it works wonders with these as well and is a good stand by in the freezer.

The bean patch was in full blossom...a wave of lavender blue flowers the length of the section of poles over which they run, and the scent was overpowering...sweet, soft and sensual.
John Clare would have recognised this New World equivalent of his field of English broad beans...

A beanfield full in blossom smells as sweet
As Araby, or grove of orange flowers;
Black-eyed and white, and feathered to the feet
How sweet they smell in morning's dewy hours!
When seething night is left upon the flowers
And when morn's sun shines brightly o'er the field
The bean bloom glitters in the gems of showers,
And sweet the fragrance which the union yields
To battered footpaths crossing o'er the fields.

Faced with such beauty, how could the mind think any ill? But moralists over the years seem to have a thing about the influence of flowers.....

The families of saffron pickers around Pithiviers were warned to keep the sexes separated during the evening sessions of removing the pistils from the mauve flowers....the mind boggles at the inferences drawn by the unco' guid from the activity, but their minds always seem to turn to filth unthought of by others.
Likewise the dangers of beanfields....was it the scent, or was it the possibilities of concealment that drew down the wrath of the self proclaimed godly?

Seeing my friend waving from the top of the garden, I went back, past the tilapia ponds and the papyrus which is now, with the perversity of all plants with runners, extending across the steps rather than parallel to them. I shall wait until it establishes on the other side and then cut out the bits on the steps...but that's for the next rainy season.

Aha, says he. Beans! Doesn't Pythagorus tell us to abstain?

Because of farting, or because of voting?

Today...voting!

We go inside to drink coffee, and I ask him how it is that Ortega is so popular.

Well, it's not as if people don't know how he has become over the years...but what's the alternative?
He does provide education, services, and keeps the economy going despite all the interference from the U.S., so people have jobs, and after these floods and landslides the back up has been pretty good...the Sandinistas have been handing out building materials to repair houses in poor areas...and, above all, he's not seen as 'perfumado'.

Perfumado?

Oh, it's a term for those who think they're superior...an elite...better than ordinary people...living in a different world.
He might be getting greedy, but he's still seen as one of the people, and while that lasts, he'll stay in power.
He's got rid of the worst of the poverty, too. Well, you've seen Honduras.

I had.

And it's not just the poverty....people know what happens when you have a U.S. backed government in power...they remember Somoza and if they didn't they have the example of Honduras next door.

Ortega might be greedy, but he offers freedom from fear...and that's worth a lot when you've known it.
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Sunday 23 October 2011

It never rains but it pours...

wet, wet dogImage by Ilja via FlickrWe have the rainy season..the mornings are hot and sunny and then it pours and thunders in the afternoons.
The prudent housewife washes her clothes and bed linen early.

But now we also have depressions over the Caribbean.
Rain all day.
Rain  all night.

This house is in the clouds most of the day.

How do I bless the day that I grew up with the old tradition of washing clothes and linen...you had enough in your trousseau to ensure that you would not run out of sheets, shirts and chemises before the six monthly big wash took place.
Washerwomen came round to undertake the task...
After beating the fabrics on stones on the river bank to release the blood, sweat and stains,  the spots which were left would be lifted away by the home made soap and the supply of hot water which drove the farm hands frantic with the demands for yet more wood for the fires under the coppers...

I saw the last of that era in my early childhood...by the time I'd grown up the washing machine had taken over, even in the country, and easy care fabrics were all the rage.
But I still hoarded sheets and pillow cases...and I'm glad I did faced with day after day of rain and no prospect of drying things.

My troubles are as nothing compared to those of people in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala...so many deaths, so many homeless as the continual rains produce landslips and mudslides....here in Costa Rica, out of the main blast of the weather system, there have been five deaths so far, evacuations to refuges and the Inter American highway is closed as often as it is open, but the worst thing that has happened locally is that the electricity lines came down, closely followed by the telephone lines.
I felt really sorry for the repair crews, soaked despite their oilskins, trying to replace posts in sodden ground, going from door to door to check on the service.... too busy even to stop for a coffee.

It is not encouraging to go out, so it was lucky that a parcel of books had arrived just before losing the internet...I had plenty to read and plenty of time to do it in as the coffee had been blown to the ground by the storms leaving nothing to pick until the next lot ripens in about a week's time.
By which time I hope that our chief picker has recovered from an insect bite which blew his arm up to five times normal size and sent him to seek attention at the local hospital.

The chickens disapprove and the ducks strongly dispute the claim that rain is 'fine weather for ducks'.
They sit gloomily on the edge of the tilapia tanks, only shifting slightly to release excrement and then resuming the hunched posture of deep misery.
They could go to shelter in their pens...but that would be too easy. They could not express as much resentment that way.

The pig doesn't seem to worry. She turns up in her pen at feeding times, then skids off down the hill again on her quest for roots, startling the cattle as she swooshes by like a four legged downhill skier.

The dogs definitely do not approve.
A dog who has nipped out in a dry moment to answer a call of nature does not appreciate being caught  in a downpour before completion of mission and is reluctant to repeat the experiment.
Shut out on the porch until forced to perform before being allowed back in the house is not their idea of life and it won't be long before their shop steward approaches me with the updated canine version of the contract of engagement of seamen on the sailing ships carrying coal from Newcastle to London....

'Duff out, dumpling home
Poop in the cabin foul weather'.....

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Thursday 13 October 2011

As not seen on the Web

View of San José from the Museum of JadeImage via WikipediaWe have done rural for years...countryside England, la campagne Francaise and now el campo de Costa Rica...and it has always been a delight to have space around us, to watch the colours of trees change under the shifting light, to listen to the birds and to grub around in the garden.

But, once again within reach of a capital city after so long away from London, the old Adam is resurgent.

There are theatres, cinemas, museums, art galleries.

There are expos...tours....fairs...even demonstrations!
Last Sunday we could have 'done' two of them...petition against animal cruelty first, from the Parque Central up to the Legislature, followed by OAPs against violence to the elderly once we'd got there.
The OAPs aren't daft...it's a sharp climb up to the Legislature from the centre....best to get the bus and start the demo at the top.

Last time I went shopping there the municipal parks department tried to give me a tree to plant in my garden to bring back greenery to San Jose and I had to decline, not having a house there.
Walking along to the shops from the parks department stand I became aware of numbers of ladies carrying not only shopping bags but also trees....as if Burnham Wood was come to San Jose.

But it all started us thinking...the upshot of which was that we decided to buy a small house  in the capital so that we could stay overnight, or for a few days, when there were things we wanted to see or do, not to speak of being able to regard with equanimity hospital appointments which can take place at 6.30 am.


So...househunting! Where to start?

It strikes me that if you are not looking for a particular location, for proximity to work, to schools, to family, then the housing market is a vast disorganised souk.

You want to move to France? You look on the agents' websites and find regions....some of which you've never heard of...and then departments in same with similar problem......
Where what you want is a site which gives you choices based on climate, shopping and airports offering cheap flights.
Or whatever else is important to you.

One day some enterprising estate agent will come forth with a site which gives you the information you really want....
Vineyards....colour of wine on offer....
British expat presence, ranging from zero (peaceful) to ten (smart work with chair and whip necessary to keep them at bay)....
Beaurocracy...watch out for Mme Machin in the sub prefecture...
Dentists...one has been sighted at...
Shopping....from IKEA to Noz...
And helpful hints....those thinking of moving to Deux Sevres  (two river Sevres) might find it significant that neighbouring departments refer to it as Deux Chevres (two goats).....

But thinking out of the box never characterised an estate agent and that goes for Costa Rica too.

Most sites offer you the choice of the seven provinces...some, daringly, offer you the choice of beach or mountain, but that's about as far as it goes.
Detailed research is down to you.

Like.....
Places to avoid.....
Barrio Leon XIII where no one can have an internet line because the technicians are too frightened to go in there to install anything.
Gated communities where the main occupation is bickering over the height of cut on your neighbour's lawnmower.
Yoga communities.

Transport.....
Unless you like watching accidents, nowhere near a railway crossing because there are no barriers and the only warning is the train hooting as it arrives.
Mark you, there aren't many railway lines so it's not a big bother...
Bus routes and buses. While in theory every bus has passed its annual vehicle inspection the black clouds issuing from some bus exhausts leave you wondering how this bus escaped the net...so you don't want a house directly opposite the bus stop.

Topography...
Barrio Aranjuez is quiet and cooler than the dead centre of town....but since you nearly kill yourself struggling up the hill to get home with your shopping it's a good thing that the hospital Calderon Garcia is sited there....
Barrio Amon is smart and stylish....but since you risk going base over apex getting back down the hill with your shopping it is a pity that no hospital is sited nearby...not to speak of its proximity to Gringo Gulch where men with antediluvian attitudes to women cluster in the hotels and casinos that cater to their tastes.

Shopping....
Little neighbourhood shops for everything from plantains to plantains....
Huge shopping malls where the mushrooms are inevitably mouldy and the food halls have fifty different names for fried chicken...
Specialist shops...
Farmers' markets
Proper markets...
Flea markets....
Men selling things of doubtful provenance on the kerbside...

And all this before you even get to thinking about the house itself....







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Wednesday 14 September 2011

For your next trip to Tesco.....

 If your idea of fun is asking the supervisor of the fruit and veg section of your supermarket for some unheard of essential ingredient for a recipe you've just found, then here are a few ideas for you  - some of the fruit from my last post.

How about some cas?


Or some pithaya?




Or a kilo of mamon chino?



Or a nice zapote?




Or even a few jocote?


                      I'm all right, Jack....until it comes to making apple pie....

Monday 5 September 2011

Yes, we have no bananas...I wish...

Flaming bananas...and I don't mean as in flambed....

The house is full of fruit awaiting processing with all the urgency that accompanies tropical conditions and ripe produce.
If it wasn't ripe when it came through the door it jolly well is by the time it's been there half an hour...or so it seems.
And it has to be used.

I've managed to palm off the plantains to the pig.....the 'quadrata' - .a sort of stumpy plantain - is,  for the moment,  quiescent, but the hands of bananas are being delivered to the kitchen with a speed and regularity which amounts to sadism....

I have made banana tortillas and banana tortilla mix for the freezer, I have made black bean and banana bake - which sounds foul but which is surprisingly good....and put more mix  in the freezer....I have made banoffee to the astonishment of Costa Rican guests....Banana bread and cake lurk, frozen, to be produced as an alternative to Turkish cake and the whole house resounds to the glop and gurgle of the airlocks as yet more banana wine shambles to be born.

And yet they come...

As if life was not complicated enough without the passion fruit...to be liquidised, strained and frozen for future fruit drinks and for caramel passion fruit flan....

And the tangerines...to dry the skins for Chinese recipes

And the lemon mandarins...to freeze the juice for future drinks...

And the Sevilles...snatched from Danilo to make marmelade..

And the limes...to make lime pickle....

And the pink guava. to be cooked and strained, before freezing...to make jelly in the future

And the cas...to be pureed and strained for drinks and to be sweetened for 'pretend' apple sauce with pork...

Not to speak of the purchases..

The pithaya for drinks...

The mamon chino as the local version of lichee...

The zapote....like an avocado shaped medlar...

Strawberries..for jamming.

And, unlike Europe, instead of making jam direct I am freezing the fruit or its extract as Costa Rica has a shortage of glass jars and little tradition of preserving.
Not for nothing do I think of it as the land of the plastic bag.

Sauces, jams, mayonnaise...you name it, it comes in a plastic bag, so, for preserving you come up against a huge barrier...
What to put it in?

I throw out nothing in glass..but still short of material I went to the recycling centre and had a huge row with the women running it who wanted more for an empty jam jar than the jar and contents would have originally cost - my Spanish may be basic but it was quite up to expressing my views on exploitative green actiion.

Oh, and here comes the sweetcorn to be cooked and scraped for the freezer...

And the jocote is nearly ripe...

And the oranges are just ripening again.....
And, sod me...the blasted lemons are ready...


Wednesday 17 August 2011

A Night at the Opera

Freddy Mercury and a BalrogImage by aran but whothehellgivesadamn via Flickr
After the stuffy heat of the day the cooling night breeze from the window was more than welcome. Not so welcome was the animated conversation enjoyed by two men standing under it.
Why not shut the window?
Because the window had no glass.

We were in a room in one of the 24 hour hotels around our bus station in San Jose.

The sort where you have to ring to be let in through the iron gates...and ring to be let out again.

Is that why the window has no glass...to provide an exit in case of fire?
No...it has bars, just like the hotel entrance. Just no glass.

The room is spotlessly clean, as is the en suite shower room....though the sheets are polyester and slip from the mattress and the pillows could best be described as the sort of cushion you find on the ends of sofas....it has a television and a fridge - provide your own contents.
There is a water dispenser on the landing, but no cups. The young man in charge brought us his own drinking mug and allowed us to keep it overnight. Clearly, cups, too, are the clients' responsibility.

What were we doing there?
Spending the night after missing the last bus home.

I will pass over in unaccustomed silence the curtain lecture delivered to the party who had obstinately held to the view that there would be buses that did not figure on the timetable - suffice it to say that this party was male - which probably rivaled in animation the conversation taking place on the pavement, and tell you instead how we came to be there, in a hotel in the back streets of Coca Cola....territory where no tourist treads unscathed, according to the guide books.

First, let me explain Coca Cola. This is an area of central San Jose which once boasted a Coca Cola bottling plant. The plant has long disappeared and bus stations and stops have taken its place, but the area is still referred to as...Coca Cola.
This is where our bus from the country comes in and, in due course, as signaled by the timetable, leaves.
According to the guide books, it is an area to be avoided, crawling with pickpockets and...darkly...worse.

We had arrived in the early evening and walked up to the city centre, squeezing past the queues at the bus stops, skirting the vendors of pirated DVDs with their wares laid out on black polythene sheets on the pavement, ready to be whisked up and away at the approach of the police, checking the pavement for missing manhole covers and noting the prices of the limes, sweet peppers, celery and coriander on sale at every corner, although this time we weren't shopping.

The streets were crowded with workers making purchases on their way to the buses that would take them to their homes in the suburbs, the 'barkers' were calling their wares at every shop we passed, traffic groaned and roared along the main artery.....San Jose was alive.

We stopped at a cafeteria where we had had good Mexican food the week before....but that was at lunchtime. Now it was tired and disappointing. We made a mental note not to be hidebound in future...and not to leave it too late to walk away from a place and try another.....for we did not have much time.

The curtain went up in half an hour and we still had some walking to do. Past the square in front of the cathedral with its statue of that unspeakable misogynist John Paul II looking as if someone had sculpted it from ice cream which had begin to melt....past the ministry buildings...until we arrived at the square in front of the Teatro Nacional, spotlit classical figures waving laurel wreaths against the night sky.

For this is really multum in parvo....a little gem of a theatre in the grand style of the nineteenth century, all marble floors and painted ceilings, where nymphs rise  triumphantly aloft bearing patriotic flags.
The coffee barons of the period were responsible for this edifice, believing, like the rubber barons of Manaus, that no city could call itself civilised that had no opera house, but the crowd is much more democratic these days.
Not a black tie to be seen, but some very pretty dresses as we filed past the ticket collector and, in our case, were directed to the gallery.

From the floor plan when booking, we had expected that the seating would be rows of seats... but nothing of the sort.
The usher gave us a programme and showed us to the door of our box....we had the front seats and behind us were four more, all raked to give  view of the stage....comfortable solid wood and leather armchairs, not the flip up seats we had been expecting...and no need to be up and down like yoyos as the late comers arrived.
Civilisation indeed.

We were in plenty of time to people watch....the orchestra was arriving in bits and drabs, greeting each other and unpacking their instruments before tuning up.
It was a large orchestra, and overflowed into the boxes around the pit. If the occupants of those end boxes were lucky, they had the harp alongside them...if unlucky, the timpani and cymbals.
The conductor arrived, not dressed in the Malcolm Sargent specials but in a sort of loose sweater and baggy trousers... the lights went down...and the occupants of the box next to the cymbals and timpani got it in spades as with a lunge of his baton  he launched his troops into...

The overture to 'Carmen'.

Believe me, you do not want to sitting next to the cymbals during the overture to 'Carmen'.

It was a modern dress performance...well, 1950s....and was for the most part well produced. As usual, the children's chorus over scampered and over pushed and shoved and, as usual, the director seemed to think that the adult chorus rushing hither and thither was a good idea but as the production went on things calmed down and the singers were superb.

The one disappointment was that they did not provide the toreador with a proper suit of lights in the final act.
He appeared, duly clad in little black hat, stockings and black shoes...he even had the characteristic flat footed walk of the bullfighter.....but instead of breeches he had something baggy that looked like a pair of cut down jogging trousers and his jacket was merely tinsel.
Such a magnificent singer deserved better.

When it was over, we started the walk back to the bus station, in search of the bus that was not on the timetable.
The shops were closed, the fast food outlets were pulling down the shutters, taxi drivers congregated on the corners, hoping for passengers.

After nearly coming to grief in an uncovered water meter cavity we turned into the pedestrian walkway, where the pavement surfaces were level and safe, only to narrowly avoid being run down by two men on motor scooters.....the municipal police, protecting the public.

This walkway, so crowded in the day, was deserted, just another couple of people ahead of us, and Mr. Optimist by my side decided he would like a beer, vaguely remembering seeing a bar in the parallel street.

Back to watching for manhole covers and for admiring the individuality of property owners in San Jose whose view seems to be that if the council makes them responsible for the pavement outside their property they will make up the said pavement as they see fit.
Some go in for tiles....very pretty but not non slip in wet conditions.
Others like steps.
Then there are the ones who prefer slopes so that the water from cleaning the shop front runs away more rapidly......

You learn to be pretty sharp on your pins in San Jose...pretty quickly.

Still, at night there is the advantage that you can see the hazards ahead which can be well concealed by the crowds in the daytime, so we navigated the street without incident and reached the site of the bar.

It wasn't open.

Mr. Optimist remembered another one alongside the bus station.

We walked on into the Coca Cola area - you remember, the bourne from which, according to the guide books, no traveler returns.
We saw nobody.
The bar was closed.
The bus station likewise......

The love of my life smiled happily through his moustache

'I've always wanted to try one of those 24 hour hotels.'

He is definitely not as green as he is cabbage looking....
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Saturday 30 July 2011

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

Bean pod of Bacú 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?

'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 women....so 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 bus.....so 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 .....no.

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 beautiful...in 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 anyway....so  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 inclination...no 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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