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, 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, 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 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 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 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.


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 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'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 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 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.


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 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'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 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!


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'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?


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'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?!

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'.


Oh, it's a term for those who think they're elite...better than ordinary 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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