Sunday 30 December 2012

New Year, New Start

The tradition of the Christmas creche is widespread in countries with a Roman Catholic cultural background and Costa Rica is no exception.
Public buildings, like the Teatro Nacional in San Jose. have the creche, or 'portal' set up either outside - the weather being clement - or inside.
Banks and offices also create their portals and the approach of Christmas is the sign for children to ask that the home portal be set up, the figures approaching the manger day by day.

My favourite, though, is this one set up by a friend; an artist in wood and paint, a postman in his day job, while he was building his new house last year.....

Amid  the mess and the detritus of a building site, he made this portal for his family, to make it really Christmas....and I discovered it on being invited, as every year, to his New Year celebrations.

For that event it didn't matter that the house was unfinished as everything took place outside to accomodate the assembled, friends, waifs and strays all perching on chairs brought out for the elderly or on logs, stones and building materials for the rest: the elderly ladies refusing (for form's sake) to believe that the wine was not fruit juice and glugging away happily; the children playing with the dogs; the beer circulating, plates of food on the trestle table and the television brought out to add its contribution while waiting for midnight and the national anthem.

The centrepiece was the fire...with a vast cauldron perched on breezeblock in its midst where lard sizzled, awaiting the plantains, potatoes and pork pieces - chicharrones - which would form the main event of the feast.

The master of the house is also a master cook of chicharrones and served his offerings at midnight as the anthem blared out and the skies around exploded in fireworks.
Hot food, cold beer and good company to celebrate another New Year...what would it bring?

It has been, on the whole, a great year...good news on my husband's health,  The Neighbour hammered by the court, the work on the house in San Jose advancing and plenty of discoveries made in what is still our new life.

There has been a downside, though, which has made blogging less of a pleasure than it used to be....the stalking by those who want to know what we are doing by the backdoor, as it were, rather than doing the normal, open thing of using the 'phone or e mail.

I'd hoped we were done with that, but I was mistaken as I discovered when one bright spark telephoned my mother to find out whether I was actually in Europe or whether, as he said, I was using the blog as a red herring.

There are limits, and having a woman in her nineties bothered by the unpleasant obsessions of others is one of them. It also made me aware of the number of times I had decided not to write something beause of the eyes at the keyhole and I have decided not to continue with this blog...nor with French Leave. The pleasure is tainted.

You have given me so much....friendship, support, information...opened my eyes to so much,...and I am very grateful.

I will continue to blog elsewhere....and would be delighted to give you the new address if you would care to e mail me.

Happy New Year to you all.

Thursday 20 December 2012

You mightn't happen to have a piece of cheese about you, now?

I landed at Juan Santamaria airport on the evening of the eighteenth of December.
The cheese landed on the evening of the nineteenth, having taken a little break in Madrid.

It, and the suitcase containing it, have just been delivered to the door by a charming gentleman who, intrigued by the aroma of his cargo, enquired as to the nature of the contents.
He recoiled as if faced by a striking snake when I freed the zips and with the driving force of a thousand horse the collective odours of the cheeses of France and England made their presence known.

He gathered himself together.

Had something died?

Costa Rica is not a great cheese producing nation.

All stacked away in the fridge...not ideal, but when in the tropics....I can count my journey as finally over, and look forward to the first band of visitors arriving tonight, the only anxiety being whether - having contumaciously decided to travel via the United States - the packages of whole smoked fish will get past U.S. customs.

I have enjoyed seeing friends, meeting and telephoning fellow bloggers, visiting old haunts and new; have managed to do most of the admin things which needed attention, have visited mother, but am truly relieved to be home, where not only has the kitchen been finished but the exterior of the house has been painted in a most dashing combination of deep yellow and green.

The dogs were as delighted to see me as I was to see them, the newly hatched ducklings are waddling about in their pen and reducing the contents of their water bowl to sludge in the space of an hour, the hoses are laid out for watering and every house I passed on my way home was alive with Christmas lights.

And what do I remember of my trip?

That the fashion for Mod style pork pie hats has returned for girls in France.

That ankle boots are worn...usually looking incongruous on the end of stick thin legs.

That travel by Eurolines resembles an ill managed retreat from Moscow.....
Firstly, their bus no longer leaves outside the front door of Tours station but from a layby about a kilometre away down a dingy side street deserted at night, where the office does not open until you have started to board the bus, only to be repelled and sent to the office to get a boarding pass.
Then you are decanted  at Lille station in the dark of a winter morning where the perversity of SNCF is such that it first refuses to open the doors, leaving the Eurolines stragglers outside in the wind tunnel and then refuses to close them, so that the said stragglers have to find refuge from the chill in the only warm places - the ticket office and the loos, the haunts of SNCF employees.
Staff at the franchised caffs have to work in the cold.
Unloading the luggage at the Chunnel  is another joy.....large smug young customs officers watching tired travellers struggling to put luggage on a scanner, the ritual stop and search of a Bulgarian, the queue for the loos.....the only pleasure being on the approaches to Victoria Coach station where social mobility is such that areas of the South Circular are becoming sub gentrified.

That a first visit to Spain was a delight.

That while the majority of men above middle age in Southampton are well built and fair haired those characteristics seem to disappear when considering younger men.

That travelling on the bus in Southampton is a friendly, chatty affair.

That the carol concert by candlelight would have been improved by some mulled wine.

That the food available in the U.K. is infinitely varied and of good quality.

That my days of lumbering two overloaded suitcases, a cabin bag and handbag across Europe are over.

Roll on Christmas, I'm just about ready for it. Cheese and all.


Saturday 24 November 2012

We're no awa' tae bide awa'

Supposedly sung by the 51st Highland division going into the bag at St.Valery sur Somme in 1940.

Father wouldn't know...he and a few mates had found a fishing boat..hull smashed in to avoid use by the Germans according to French orders... repaired it, and, bailing all the way, messed off to the other side of the Channel.
What, they wondered, had the French thought that the Kreigsmarine would do with it....invade England with six men singing Wir Fahren Gegen Engelland?

The subsequent court martial was not impressed by their opinion...they had disobeyed orders which were in their own interest. They could have been drowned.
Health and Safety is older than you think.

Spirited defence by the prisoners' friend (officer with bugger all legal knowledge but wise in the ways of courts martial) and the shortage of experienced troops got them off to fight again, rather than polishing dustbins in the glasshouse.

But it came back to me today as I packed for a trip to Europe...
I'll miss my blogging friends as I flit from Costa Rica to France, England and Spain with internet access severely limited.


I'm no awa' tae bide awa'....I'll aye come back and see ye.

Thursday 15 November 2012

A Week is a Long Time on Avenida Segunda

A week ago, riot police were hauling demonstrators away in paddy waggons, politicians were slugging it out with police and human rights organisations were accusing Costa Rica of police brutality as a peaceful demonstration protesting at mismanagement of funds for hospitals and clinics turned into a violent confrontation between demonstrators and police.

Today there was another, bigger, demonstration with the same purpose, filling Avenida Segunda....but this time marked by music and mutual respect.

The police from the Fuerza Publica (the ordinary police) lining the road were all women.....the squad of men held in reserve in case of problems were kept well away and no riot police were to be seen.

Observers from the Defensoria de los Habitantes (Ombudsman's office) were stationed at key points along the route.

This time, the marchers and their petitions were received by the board of the Caja (Health and Social Security department).

The same sort of marchers as service workers, but with more students this time, accompanied by clowns and musicians, exercising their right of peaceful protest.

The politicians embroiled in altercations last time presented flowers to the women police officers.
The march dispersed in the early afternoon.

Laura Chinchilla's government showed its hand last time.
The reaction of the Costa Rican people has shown them that it was the wrong hand to play.

Friday 9 November 2012

From Peace to Hours.

We were driving into San Jose yesterday.

The Men were going to continue work on the house there while waiting for the next instalment of kitchen units from the carpenter...I was going with them to go to the Social Security (Caja) offices to query a rise in our contributions.

First we wanted to check out a DIY emporium for a cooker hood...a quest which made it clear that when developers acquire the rights to land they take no thought for the access thereto.
We finally made it after three dead ends and near heart failure as we thought  we would be going through the toll station twice.

Cooker hood aboard we headed for the centre.
Always a nightmare...this time it was Hitchcock.
Blocked...and not helped by a large bakery van doing deliveries in the lane toook half an hour to get to the park by the Merced church on Avenida Segunda, the main traffic artery of San Jose.
There, all became clear...the flags ahead indicated that a demonstration was taking place and that the police had closed the road.

I asked Danilo to drop me would be quicker to walk to the offices which were on that road...while the Men went on to the house.

I caught up with the march which turned out to be people working in and using several out of town hospitals campaigning for money for better which their loudspeaker commentary alleged had been and was being swallowed by corruption by officials and politicians.
Mostly middle aged people, some women with children, only one union leader....a peaceful demo, heading, as I was, for the Caja offices.

The gates were locked on the main road side, but security staff were letting people in by the rear entrance overlooking the gardens so I took a ticket and awaited my turn.

The marchers were outside and the loudspeaker was giving it needed to cup your hands behind your ears to have a conversation.

A security guard accepted the petition the march leaders presented, but they were not allowed into the building....and no one from the Caja board of management would meet them either inside or outside, dismissing a march as being no way to negotiate.

I think what was to follow could have been avoided if the Caja board had had the courtesy to meet the march leaders as the demonstrators would then have dispersed.
As it was, the marchers stayed on the road, blocking it completely and San Jose's traffic - which flows like treacle at the best of times - was almost at a standstill.

Query answered I went to have lunch with The Men and came back via the Caja offices just before 1.00 pm, surprised to be following a running file of riot police...plainly these were the reserves as their clear shields only bore a piece of packing tape with their number written on it in ink as opposed to the official 'Policia' shields borne by the front liners.

On Avenida Segunda the riot police had succeeded in pushing the marchers to each side of the road and were holding the line of the pavements. Pedestrians coming from side streets were allowed to cross and cars were starting to come through as the traffic police, the Transitos, brought up a winch lorry to haul the marchers' loudspeaker van away.

I've been at a number of demonstrations in my time and the atmosphere on the pavements...from marchers and onlookers alike... was one of good humoured resignation, broken by cheers and shouts of support for the man in the loudspeaker van who was, by this time, holding forth at length on the iniquities of named politicians and giving it as his view that the current government were trying to run the Caja into the ground as an excuse for privatisation.
He was playing the national anthem when the Transitos applied the chains to his van....and the cheers of support broke into gales of laughter as the winch lorry moved majestically forward and the chains parted, leaving the van where it was.

''Only in Costa Rica!'

I went off. Another winch lorry had succeeded in hauling the loudspeaker van away and people were beginning to disperse.
Everything was peaceful, traffic was beginning to move....the drama was over.

So how was it that some hours later the road was again blocked...riot police were charging demonstrators...and opposition politicians were involved in violent altercations with the police?

Because some officious policeman had rounded up eleven demonstrators for blocking traffic and this brought not only the original demonstrators, but students of the University of Costa Rica and passers by back onto the road to protest at police brutality.
The politicians said they were there to negotiate with the police and thought they had arranged the release of the eleven....the release agreement was denied by the police chief in charge of the scene and protesters started throwing the contents of roadside waste bins at the police.
There were more arrests, jostling, injuries until the street was finally cleared in the early hours of the evening.

How had this happened in a country where people will do amost anything to avoid confrontation?

Corrupt institutions have been a fact of life in Costa Rica for years....but now people are no longer relying on colluding newspapers and television for their information. They have mobile telephones...they have the internet...and despite the draconian criminal defamation laws they are using them to good effect.
Whistleblowers have emerged in government departments....which has brought about a law against divulging 'secrets'...not just those of national security, but the dirty little backstairs secrets of collusion on contracts, ministers 'forgetting' to pay their taxes....with a maximum penalty of ten years in the jug.
The law has been taken to the Constitutional Court, the Sala Cuarto, where it is hoped it will be thrown out...but it indicates the government's response to public disquiet.

The classic Central American government response. Crush it. 

Monday 5 November 2012


When you climb up to the coffee plantation above the house, this is the view you have looking down into the Central Valley...the mountains in the distance being some forty kilometres away.
And this is the view in the other direction, across the gravel road to the mountain behind, where the spring which serves us with water is situated. Behind it, just three kilometres away, is the town....but you would think yourself miles from anywhere.

On these slopes, the coffee was rooted up years ago, when the boom of the seventies had subsided, but you can still see the terraces, now grazed by the brahma cattle.
While these are the slopes still down to coffee...the white dots are pickers.


And it's not a simple job...the coffee plant is not an amenable beast.
It puts forth a couple of early ripening berries on each wand, which have to be removed for the rest to ripen.

So pickers have to work the whole cafetal for very little in terms of financial the pickings are few.
We try to do this ourselves with Danilo, but Don Antonio will always help out too.

This is the coffee plant ready to harvest....if we want the best prices we want our pickers to take only the red fruit, but the pickers need to fill the cajeula...the official measuring unit, a square metal make it worthwhile coming out, so we compromise and go to a firm which will accept yellowish fruit as well....but, as their notice firmly fruit picked off the ground and no twigs!

The photographs show sunshine, but such are the conditions in our marginal for coffee... that the main haul of the picking is done in driving joke wearing one stout bin bag as a kilt, another one slit to make a hood and cloak, filling the picking baskets tied round the waist,  sliding down the muddy terraces to tip them into the sacks and, finally, bringing them down to the lower road to be weighed and paid out.

The coffee just about washes its face in money terms....pickers will be more difficult to get in the future....we are wondering whether to put the whole area down to pasture...whether to grow something else....or whether to keep on the coffee as a hobby.

This year's weather looks kindlier than previous years....we shall wait and see what the accounts tell us.

Saturday 3 November 2012

And shall Trelawny Live, or shall Trelawny die...

By Tre, Pol and Pen, ye shall know the Cornish men....but this one slunk in under the radar rejoicing in the name of McGuigan.

Our friend, the ticket of leave man, brought him over this evening, in the company of a bottle of Teachers, to escape their current lady friends discussing clothes, furniture and the urgency of Ticket of Leave Man and McGuigan purchasing more of the same for them.

It started politely enough....we all enjoy military history and whisky... and I have fond memories of Teachers as forming the essential other half to cider in the post match 'must have' chaser of the LSE Rugby Club...Dublin Dynamite.
You didn't need to be counselled to take it in saw to that for itself.

Still, no cider being in the offing, things remained civilised.
The American presidential election; Dumbo A versus Dumbo B with Goldman Sachs pulling the controversy.
The European Union; intent on a new Versailles Treaty to make the Clubmed pay for the daftness of German and French bank investment decisions...and Goldman Sachs pulling the strings.
Costa Rica...where the ruling elite could teach Goldman Sachs a thing or two....

We moved to the Highland Park.....and to discussion of more contentious matters.
Nationality. Patriotism.

Ticket of Leave Man reckoned he had no alliegance to governments so dozy as to get  involved in Korea and Vietnam...let alone Iraq and Afghanistan.

We reckoned that Locke's contract had long been broken on the side of the U.K. government.

McGuigan burst into song.

A good sword and a trusty hand
A merry heart and true,
King James's men shall understand
What Cornish lads can do.
And have they fixed the where and when
And shall Trelawny die
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why.

And shall Trelawny live
And shall Trelawny die
There's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why.

We loooked at him askance. Where was the philosophy nurtured by the spring of Highland water?

McGuigan explained. His philosophy was simple.

His mother's family were descended from Cornish miners who, unable to make a good enough living to keep their families, followed the gold rush to California and settled there...sending money home until things were stable enough for their families to follow them.
If, he reckoned, Cornwall had been independent, the money made from the mines would have stayed in Cornwall...and he wouldn't  have been born in the U.S.A.
As it was, his mother had married into a family descended from Irish he was doubly rebellious.
A quick chorus of

The bold Robert Emmet the darling of Erin

gave foundation to his claim and the night became hideous with song.

Clearing away the glasses later I reflected on the eclecticism of our musical heritage...and in particular on the songs we were taught at school when young.

Running from
Summer is icumen in

The Agincourt Carol

Who is Sylvia

Hearts of Oak

I wonder how many have survived multiculturalism and political correctness.


Tuesday 30 October 2012

A Day in the Life of....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the shopping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed they did. One of the caffs was open...the sort where you sit on stools at the counter...and the smell was inviting.
Hot trouble at all. He was soon presented with a plate of fried fish fillet and 'sweated' potatoes... cooked in stock and then finished in a little chili and tomato for a derisory price.
So we were going there for an early lunch.

A good job we went was packed out a few minutes' later and the takeaway trade was going like a train. We chose our meals, and while they were cooking a little bowl of consomme with finely chopped veg was put in front of us. I  like soup...and I could cheerfully make a big bowl of that my lunch without any complaint!
Newcomers, we had to be inspected by the resident wit among the regulars and teased along with the staff who moved like greased lightning among their pots and pans.
Super food and super ambience...but it will never get a Michelin starched linen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fury of the matriarchs who assail the nurses' office.

General muttering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we make it.


Saturday 27 October 2012

Expat Blog Awards 2012

I've been nominated for Costa yet the only nomination for here but I'm sure more will follow!

I've copied and pasted (thank you Ayak, I can remember you teaching me this) the details below:

The Expat Blog Awards 2012 which will be decided late December, where a Gold, Silver and Bronze award will be given for each country.
One judging criteria will be based on reviews left on your listing, and so it's a good idea to get some of your regular readers to leave a quick note for you.
Of course, this isn't the only judging method, but it does show you have some loyal readers and let's us hear their feedback.

So if you wish to take a look, here's the link:

There are some super blogs on their list, which is arranged by country, so you might well find further blogging material to occupy the time you should be using for ironing, pretending to work or digging the garden.

I'll be putting up the Expats Blog link on my blogroll as soon as I can work out how to do it!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Coming to You from Fortress Balcony

The long promised kitchen renovation has last.

The new kitchen units are in the dining room, blocking all access to the book shelves. The oven has been dismounted from its 'temporary' position on a table in the kitchen and is also in the dining room, blocking the door to the kitchen.

The 'temporary' rack has been moved to the balcony.....all unopened goods now live in the office where it dos not behove you to make too quick a move if you don't want an avalanche of tins of tomato with chili around your feet.
Not to speak of a pack of refried beans braining you from above.

A remarkable number of small tables, stools and chairs have also moved to the balcony from kitchen and bathroom, together with the table which once held the oven and a sprawling box of old cloths for cleaning which the dogs have taken as their own and managed to spread over three times its original size.

Inside the kitchen the two and a half burner monstrosity on a half sized  table has been moved centre stage....The Men do not intend to go hungry.
It was supposed to come out onto the balcony but there was no room.

I have arranged menus involving as little use of pots and pans as possible.
Man A demanded mashed potato and cabbage to accompany his one pot stew.
Amazingly he is still here...on the grounds that he was to control progress.
He wants a souffle squawk for potatoes and cabbage and he'll be in it...face first.

The plan was to remove the huge traditional sink from the area between the kitchen and bathroom to the outhouse which already shelters the smoker, and run water to that so that basic washing up and what not could continue.
The Men had been thwarted in their first plan to use the handbasin in the bathroom as it was too small.

To remove the sink the wall between it and the kitchen had to come out, so furniture, etc, is covered  in old sheets and the fun begins.....lumps of breeze block fly through the air and the dogs and I take refuge in Fortress Balcony as dust billows through the doors.

It takes all day, thanks to the Man A changing his mind about total removal and deciding to make an arch.
Arch still not made as Man B has never made one before and is showing the whites of his the plan to get all the dust making jobs out of the way on day one falls to the ground.

The sink, however, is removed, by dint of Man B calling his son and the two of them heaving it out on rollers.....the chorus of the Hebrew Slaves runs through my mind.
Goodness only knows how, but they get it up on its new stand....and The Men return to the fray, chipping off concrete that is proud of the walls and making ready for a start on a new wall at right angles to the original one.
Measurements are made and holes drilled in the floor to take the iron bars.

All swept up.....and a new day dawns.
Man A has by now decided that the new wall only needs to be at half height so a discussion ensues as to whether it would not be best to take out all the bars and cut only what was needed, or just to chop across the lot in situ.
Out they all come and are cut to size. The one that is saved is reverently placed in the outhouse. It will come in handy.

Emphasis moves to concreting the walls, and I retreat to Fortress Balcony again.
When I emerge at coffee time it is to find the existing sink unit standing proudly alongside the hob.....and the tap disconnected.
The water supply to the old sink has been forgotten in the discussion about the new wall.

Further, to get to the only working tap apart from that in the bathroom I have to go through the dining room, doing three rounds with the cooker and units, to escape by the front door as Man B has parked his barrow full of cement just inside the back door.
On return I find that the hob has been placed  in front of the tea and coffee packs.
Problem solved by using the tongs from the barbecue to reach what is required....after a trek to the outhouse to retrieve same.

Man B fetches a bucket of water for washing up the cups. Thank goodness Costa Rica has products for washing up in cold water....huge tubs of what looks like the dentifrice paste I used as a child.
I remember in time not to pour water down the sink.
Retire to Fortress Balcony.

A stir fry has been planned, and the ingredients are prepared on the balcony.
All morning, the only sound has been the swish of trowel on wet concrete, but as I light the burner for the stir fry I am blasted with debris and covered  in dust as Man B cuts through a breeze block with an electric saw.
I suggest he returns to his concrete.

Lunch is served on the balcony followed by acrimonious discussion with Man A about exactly what control was he exercising in forgetting to get water to the old sink.

No agreement having been reached I wash up.
This entails piling everything into two buckets, taking the dentifrice and moving outside to the above ground fish tanks which are served by a continuous water supply.
Deft work with the hoses and articles are rinsed, washed and rinsed again.
It starts to rain.
As I pour away the surplus water into the drainage ditch behind the tanks an anxious voice cries from the interior

Don't let any of that water get into the fish tanks....

It rains harder.

Over afternoon coffee our local version of the International Labour Organisation hammers out a deal.

The water will be connected to the old sink tomorrow.

The arch will be made immediately afterwards.

All those interesting little lumps of concrete will be removed from the floor.

On pain of death...theirs....will the new units be put in place before the walls and ceilings are painted.

In recognition of which I agree to stop singing 'Right Said Fred'.


Monday 15 October 2012

Getting to Know You...

Ir used to be Columbus Day...commemorating that hopeful mariner's arrival in the West Indies.
Given the consequences.....illness, slavery and death....Central American states now prefer to celebrate a Dia de Culturas...celebrating native and incoming cultures.

Thus the picture on the right...a troupe of Chilean dancers taking part in the celebrations in the parks of San Jose.

It's a great way of appreciating just how many different peoples have come to make their lives in Costa Rica as government agencies and schools set up events over the could sample food from Russia, Italy, Chile,China, Nicaragua and the West Indies in booths set up at the Migracion offices...normally resembling a Cecil B. de Mille crowd scene but decorated by the staff to be attractive and welcoming.....

You could watch demonstrations of crafts from Guatemala and Peru...

Or you could just enjoy the dancers.....

Sunday 14 October 2012

Compare and Contrast...the Dengue Carrying Mosquito and Politicians

Remember those old exam and contrast?

Well, I can do no more than suggest you go to the super blog of


link here

And see what she has to say in her own inimitable style.


Thursday 11 October 2012


Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica, should be wearing a hazard suit as she surfs a wave of polluted water in the latter half of her term of office.
Declaring herself as 'firm and honest'  in her election campaign was tempting fate...and fate never resists temptation.
So we have had scandal after ministers who 'forget' to comply with tax laws....the whistleblowers threatened with legal proceedings...wives of ministers running lucrative consultancies which mysteriously always win the contracts awarded by...ministers....(so far just like Europe, but people make a fuss  about it here)....but most of all the stench arising from the building of the new road along the Rio San Juan which forms the border with Nicaragua.
Two committees overseeing official, the other, run by her totally unqualified brother, with more power than the first......Transport Ministry officials living suddenly high on the who think it's a good idea to fill low lying parts with container bodies covered with logs which promptly collapse once wieght is applied....and enormous environmental damage. 
Proclaimed as a means of securing the borders...and bringing electricity and communication to remote settlements....a cynical section of the population wonder if it was not rather to use public money to open up estates bought by politicians who think there's a fair bet that Nicaragua will succeed in building a transocean canal there.
So with all this going on, you wouldn't imagine that a little photocopying would bring more problems around her head.
No,she has not been photocopying parts best left private.....but she has exercised her veto on a law protecting intellectual property....with the exception made for copying material for educational purposes.
The firm and honest Presidenta will make no exception. No photocopying. None.
Coming from rural France where if a document had to be supplied in triplicate you were getting off lightly, I was not surprised to see so many general shops and specialists offering photocopying.
I was surprised at how cheap it was, though!
And then I noticed how many schoolchildren, students and teachers were in the queue.
Administrative demands for copies are few....their offices have photocopiers.
Educational need for photocopying is vast.
Forms, worksheets....and textbooks.
This was the subject of the allow photocopying for educational purposes, recognizing that schools...and universities...just don't have adequate supplies, and that the cost of books is prohibitive for all but the offspring of well off families.
The exception that the Presidenta vetoed.
And the students per photograph up top.
Unfortunately a peaceful protest was hijacked by those with other agendas, resulting in policemen being injured and one politician soaked when a bag of urine was thrown at him, but, luckily, everyone seems to realise that this was not the intention of the protest organisers and the debate is on.
A textbook author has worked hard to produce his tome.
His publisher has put money into printing, publicity and distribution.
Is it fair that students can profit from their efforts simply by copying it?
Will not authors and publishing houses just fold their tents if there is not an adequate reward?
But what of the students?
Even in my day, when university libraries were funded to the hilt, there would not be enough of certain texts to go if you had not bought your own you were jostling for a sight of it.
Students were even  known to get to the library as it opened as essay time approached!
But we either had money from parents or grants...or both... and I found it was perfectly possible to buy all the textbooks on the reading lists and a fair few others without breaking the bank or reducing the incidence of visits to the Student Union bar. 
I'm not sure what I would do now when the fees are high and the prospect of a student loan threatens to blight the rest of your relative youth., but I suspect I would do what I always used to do - something which appears to be a dying art among students.
Take notes.
Taking a note, reading it back and checking that you have all the elements is good training when using the information in essays and for having revision material for examinations.
It's not bad training for most things in your working life, either....but less and less students seem to be able to do it.
Instead they seem to cling to the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text, feeling that wholesale regurgitation is better regarded than a summary of the points.
From what I saw of education in France they might be right...I suspect it is similar here but don't know enough yet to say.
But even taking notes is not a solution if your library doesn't have copies.....and you don't know anyone with a book you can borrow.
I don't have a solution fair to both parties...though I think perhaps publishers could licence a reasonable amount of copies per year to educational if I have to plump for sides then I suppose I'd go with the students....
Or to suggest to the firm and honest President that it might be an idea to fund education properly...and transparently.
Though I could make that suggestion to leaders of countries far better off than Costa Rica, too, where it seems that feeding the faces of the your cronies is more important than feeding the minds of the young.

Monday 24 September 2012

Off the tourist trail in San Jose

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

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

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

While art nouveau is not lacking either

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

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

Just steer clear of Gringo Gulch....



Sunday 23 September 2012

photographs of San Jose

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

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

There is the public the central Post Office
The National Theatre

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

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

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

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






Thursday 13 September 2012

Previous Post

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

Saturday 8 September 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a settlement in this very court.

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

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

The judge said he'd read the file.

He did.

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

But what has that to do with us?

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

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

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

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

With respect, Judge, it is being settled elsewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

No, I wasn't a witness.

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

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

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

I see you are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But why did Dona Mery call you?

We had the car.