People Find Costa Rica Frustrating….

sloth

There are, I  must admit, times when you feel like rolling your eyes, such as when you find that the lawyer responsible for the control of water use in your canton was appointed for a one year term some seven years ago and since then has been carrying on his business without having his nomination confirmed by the council.

Then you bring into consideration the fact that no one has contested his decisions – and certainly not on the grounds of total illegality – so when the council gets round to sorting it out and making him legal again there will be no practical difference.

Unless, of course, they appoint someone else….without informing the Environment Ministry or the lawyer concerned…

Let joy be unconfined!

It is a matter of studying the practicalities of life rather than the legalities when you live in Costa Rica, but I have seen some meltdowns on the Wagnerian scale among North American immigrants during the adjustment period.

I have more than a suspicion that I would not have taken things so lightly when living in France….but France goes in more for the letter of the law than the spirit.

Mark you, looking at the spirit of France, perhaps the letter of the law might be less restrictive.

All this came to mind when reading a post on a blog which I enjoy very much dealing with the renovation of a large house in the French countryside: there was a problem with the woodwork..and a potential problem with the man who was to solve it…the artisan francais.

In my experience those who were ‘living the dream’, having moved to France, were united in their praise of this specimen…repository of age old wisdom combined with the most modern techniques…

I can only suppose they had never encountered a proper tradesman in their previous lives.

Thus something I blogged about at the time:

Cometh the hour, cometh the artisan francais.

The problem is not so much the hour as the day, the week, the month, or, in some cases, the year. When will the blighter turn up? Will he ever turn up, come to that? More worrying, would it be best if he never did turn up?

The ‘artisan francais’ is the generic term for the French craftsman and covers everything from the plasterer to the local baker, but I prefer not to think about the baker at the moment, having grazed my gums on the razor sharp crust of a loaf with a lead weight interior, the result of his not following the instructions on the sack of ready mix from which he concocts his burnt offerings. I really must go to the supermarket and get some decent bread, made by guys who do follow the instructions.

All this comes to mind because this is the time of year to have the chimney swept, and I have summoned up M. Lalou and wife to come and see to it. It is a marathon job here, chimneys all over the place and no inspection traps, and they do a super job, even cleaning out the wood stove in the kitchen while they are at it. So why am I so annoyed? It is because Team Lalou cannot touch the chimney which serves the boiler and for this I have to wait for the boiler man…sorry, the ‘artisan chauffagiste’. The Lalous are perfectly capable of disassembling and reassembling whatever would be necessary, but they know and I know and, what’s more, the boiler man knows that if anything were ever to go wrong with the boiler or the chimney, the insurance would not cover the damage, as an unqualified person had intervened. I wouldn’t be too convinced that the insurance would work anyway to judge by my last experience. There was a violent storm two years ago which knocked out some bricks from a chimney stack which in turn damaged the slates on the roof. I duly descended on the bar at lunchtime, hijacked the local roofer, who calls himself Monsieur Misery because he is to be found everywhere – this is what passes for a joke in France – and sent his estimate to the insurers.

Two months later, by which time I had given up and sent M. Misery up to make the repairs to avoid further damage, the insurers smugly replied that according to the nearest meteorological station no high winds had been reported in my area and they weren’t coughing up. Their nearest meteorological station proved to be some 50 kilometres away. It wouldn’t be too much to expect that if there were to be a fire in the boiler chimney, I would be found to have used unauthorised fuel! Anyway, insurers are universal. I sincerely hope that the artisan francais is not.

The boiler man will come when he thinks fit, cancel goodness only knows how many firm appointments when richer pickings loom into sight, will do all sorts of unnecessary things and present me with a bill of eyewatering proportions. Or rather, he will send his underpaid assistant to do the work, reserving to himself the delights of making out the bill. I could not believe the first bills I received…I was paying more in the backwoods of France than I had been in central London! My senses have becomed deadened by repetition these days…the frisson of horror at the sight of the envelope from the builder is nowhere near so powerful.

Why don’t I get another boiler man? Because the artisan francais doesn’t believe in competition and one man won’t touch anything on another man’s territory. To each his prey. Further, he has a strong suspicion that if he touches the lash up the first guy made of the job, he will get the blame when inevitably it all goes for a can of worms.

To some extent I can understand their taking on work which they can never hope to carry out in a reasonable time, infuriating though it is. It is very difficult to sack an employee in France, thanks to legislation cooked up by an unholy alliance of unions and employers which may be appropriate to large enterprises but not to the little firms of electricians, plumbers, etc who also fall under its sway. Thus, even when things are booming, a little firm will not take on staff to meet the demand because if later there is a downturn, the wages of these staff will have to be paid even if there is no work for them to do.

Further, they have to pay an enormous amount to cover the social security payments for themselves and their employees, which is one of the reasons why the bill with which they present you is so exorbitant. Your money is not going to pay the workman’s wages so much as to support the immense waste and extravagance of the French social security system. There are genuine benefits, like paid time off work while ill, but there are also the parasitic elements, like the private ambulance services who are more like taxis than ambulances proper and whose bills are reimbursed by the social security budget. Sit in the waiting area of any French hospital and you will find as many ambulance drivers as patients. Many of these patients are perfectly able to go to the hospital unaided but, as the service is paid for by the state, they take full advantage. Your plumber’s bill will reflect this state of affairs.

Not every part of your massive bill is explained by circumstances outside the control of the artisan. These days, the taxman demands that his estimate and bill include every nut, bolt and widget that he proposes to use, itemised and costed. Gone are the days of ‘one septic tank and installation 50,000 francs’. This is fine for the taxman, even if the artisan has to take a lot more time concocting the fantasia with which he presents you when you ask for an estimate for repairing the gutters, but it does the client no favours.

Being a small business, there are no economies of scale. The artisan typically will have an account at the big builders’ merchants who give him a discount of ten per cent of the value of his purchases at the end of the month. As he passes on all his costs to you, he is not too worried how much he spends…that ten per cent glistens ahead of him at each purchase. Some of the brighter sparks are now buying at the discount DIY warehouses…where the quality is excellent… and pricing to the client at the builders’ merchant prices, which more than compensates them for the loss of the ten per cent.

I have just had a bill from my plumber for replacing the thermostats on my radiators. He is charging me eighteen euros for units I have priced at what I suspect to be his supplier at three euros. Everyone is happy…the warehouse has made a sale, my plumber has made a small fortune on fourteen radiators and the taxman can see fourteen units in and out of his books with value added tax duly paid. Who am I to strike a discordant note amidst all this rejoicing?

If you wish to get to know your area really well, employ an artisan to work on your house. He will start, then disappear without warning. You will have to retrieve him from all the other jobs he has started only to disappear without warning. Touring the area, you will see his van outside someone else’s house and it is now down to you to stand at the foot of his ladder if he is visible, or knock on the door and and seek audience with him if he is not. He will be a bit like the Scarlet Pimpernel

‘They seek him here, they seek him there’..

but being made of better stuff than the average French revolutionary you will dig him out of his hiding place and persuade him to return. I used to have a lovely little dog who liked to dig around the footings of ladders….he was a great force of persuasion in his time. Apart from recovering the errant artisan you will meet some very nice people…other clients on the same quest…and discover that your village is more interesting than you thought.

He has returned, and it is now that your troubles begin because he attempts to do the job for which he has contracted with you. You have clearly in mind what you want while he has clearly in mind what he proposes to do…the match will not be perfect.

I wanted an extra telephone line run into the house. It could run along a ledge which circled the house at first floor level and enter the house through a hole on the rendering to come out where I wanted it, in a room on the first floor. Invisible. I explained this, and went off to the garden. Luckily I returned before too long, to find the brute about to make a hole in the ornate plasterwork ceiling of the hall in order to bring the wire through the front door, up the stately stone staircase and along the first floor landing! To make matters worse, he proposed covering the wire with those dreadful white plastic strips that disfigure all French house interiors. Very visible, and using a lot more by way of materials for which he could charge me.

More important was the problem with the builder doing my kitchen extension. Having seen the rest of the house I knew that I needed a damp course. He prevaricated

‘We don’t have damp courses in France.’

That is self evident, you only have to look at the problems of damp in French houses. I insisted. He finally agreed and then I did something stupid. He had disappeared for while, so I went off for a week. He must have had me under surveillance because while I was away he struck. I returned to find the exterior wall in place, but no damp course. The kitchen had to be dry lined, all my kitchen measurements had to de redone and the dry lining was, of course, an addition to the bill.

He and his guys had an endearing habit of mixing a load of cement at about ten to twelve and then knocking off for two hours for lunch. The cement, now well solid, would be chipped out and dumped under any handy shrub. This is so common that there is a phrase for it..’cadeau empoisonne’…the poisoned gift. My lawnmower did not appreciate it.

Well, you might say, why do you reserve your venom for the french craftsman? There are bodgers and cowboys all over the world. Because they’re what I’m lumbered with by the French system.

According to their national assocation, you can trust the French craftsman because he is qualified and knows his stuff.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

You can become a qualified whatever you want if you can show three years’ experience and can pass a course which shows you how to fill out your tax forms. I know of one expat builder who specialises in turning out suitably pre qualified workers….one week they’re drawing unemployment benefit, the next week, when the pressure from the labour exchange becomes too strong to withstand, they are roofers. Working on three storey buildings on crippleboards…the unstable wooden scaffolding what somehow becomes invisible when a labour inspector visits the site….they undertake the skilled job of replacing a slate roof. Or they become plasterers. There is another special word to describe the style of plastering they offer…’rustique’ – rustic. If you see a plastered wall with undulations visible in dim light, surreal scraper patterns and the odd lump of unmixed plaster, that is ‘rustique’.

I wouldn’t place money on the ones who have done an apprenticeship, either.

Plumbers want to leave all the pipes exposed

‘for when there is a leak’.

What do they mean…’when’!

Electricians want to festoon the walls with wires covered by white plastic strips

‘for when there is a problem’.

Why do they think I am employing them, rather than just creating the problems myself?

The only reason I will have the artisan francais on my premises is because, nomatter how bungling his work, nomatter how ugly the results, nomatter what damage he causes…here, lovers of Flanders and Swann will begin to sing ‘The Gasman cometh’ and anyone who does not know Flanders and Swann can jolly well rectify the situation…

the insurers will not pay if anyone but an artisan francais does the work.

Since, given their level of competence, there will be problems, you will need the insurers to pay.

Thus, you have to employ the artisan francais.

QED

32 Comments

Filed under Costa Rica, france, Uncategorized

Hit the Road in Costa Rica

hotel-costa-verde-cows

This is what the tourist industry would like you to think of as a traffic jam in Costa Rica.

Or, even better, this:

Unfortunately, the reality is more like this. The dreaded Lindora Radial linking the two sides of the Central Valley  which you are obliged to take unless you fancy driving all the way to  San Jose and then out again.

lindora

Those of us who have to suffer it know it all too well…but, on the airport side at least,  there should be a notice stating

‘Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate!’

And probably a Red Cross station handing out bottles of water and sandwiches, for once you enter its maw you have no way of knowing how long it will be before you are disgorged at the other end.

It is a planning nightmare.

There are factories – thus works buses and delivery lorries.

Offices – every man in his own car.

Shopping malls- every woman likewise.

Access roads to all of above used as rat runs to try to beat the jams and thus making them worse as their users try to rejoin the main road.

It is the road to the airport….it has bridges where the road is reduced to two lanes….light controlled junctions in gridlock….

It makes for the worst journey in the country.

So why not bite the bullet and drive up to San Jose and out again?

Because the rush hours are like this:

traffic-jam-df

Mark you, the traffic does at least move, unlike  the Lindora Radial…but it is dispiriting to drive in these conditions into the capital and then out again, not to speak of the danger of La Platina deciding to do its worst.

This is La Platina:        platina

A plate, as its name suggests, in the flyover which takes the Interamericana highway over junctions leading to major towns, busy suburbs and the airport.

A plate which is supposed to expand and contract with the changes in temperature.

A plate which doesn’t.

I cannot remember a year since we moved here when the blasted Platina has not played up, requiring repair work which severely disrupts the already treacly traffic movement.

This year it has been decided that ‘something must be done’ and major works, instead of patching up, is underway. Consequently nothing much else is.

Back to the Lindora Radial, then….

Traffic congestion has become so appalling that the current government have had to take it seriously….apart from anything else, it is embarrassing for a country which hawks it green credentials at every opportunity to have such a grave problem of pollution.

It has been proposed that as many civil servants as possible should work from home rather than travel to San Jose to work…but no one has proposed taking their expensive cars away.

There is a project to reduce the number of buses running into the city centre…but the bus companies are kicking up and a remarkable number of ministers supporting the project have bitten the dust.

There was going to be provision for tax relief for electric cars…but the legislators voted it down  before going home from the National Assembly in their gas guzzlers.

Take the train?

Thereby hangs a tale.

One Figueres, son of the founding father of modern Costa Rica and President of the country in his turn in 1994 closed down the railway system that took goods from coast to coast and passengers from the major towns into San Jose, thus leaving the country at the mercy of the road haulage and bus interest.

train-13

Only recently has the suburban network been restored and connection with the major towns around San Jose  re established, but it is a ramshackle affair, a narrow gauge railway running through the streets of the capital and only at rush hours:

Figueres junior now wishes to return to power after a lengthy spell spent living in Switzerland: he is seeking his party’s nomination for the next Presidential election.

His campaign posters are everywhere…..

Given his record with public transport I suspect that he will lose more votes than he gains by having his posters put up alongside the Lindora Radial

 

36 Comments

Filed under cars, Costa Rica, public transport, Uncategorized

Always Keep A-hold of Nurse For Fear of Finding Something Worse

trump

It would seem that the U.S.A. has failed to follow the advice of the father of Hilaire Belloc’s   ‘Jim’ – the little boy who slipped away from his nurse at the zoo and was promptly eaten by a lion.

In the frenzy of a presidential election the U.S.A. has slipped the hand of its nurse – the Republican and Democratic parties – and despite the best efforts of the keepers – the newspapers – to prevent the tragedy, has had the imprudence to be eaten by a lion , though in this case the lion is named Trump rather than Ponto as in the poem.

A pity…President Ponto has a certain ring about it…

A number of questions have been raised about the lion in the course of the campaign and after it: questions aimed at gaining popular support to put Ponto back in the cage.

His hair for a start.How can you trust a man with hair that has a half life of its own?

His business practices. How can you…no, wait a minute, these seem to be fairly typical: screw the little man and play the tax system.

His attitude to women. How can you possibly…no, hang on, in his circles he is more than likely to meet the sort of woman who doesn’t mind being treated as a commodity as long as she gets her share of commodities as a payout. Plenty of them about to this day…..

Well, all right, if none of that is working, what about the ultimate horror….he is the Manchurian Candidate….Russia’s most dangerous weapon, aiming at the overthrow of the U.S.A from within.

If that doesn’t have the populace bellowing ‘mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’ before rushing out to film the lion being dragged from his cage to star in the stake and faggot show then nothing will.

For if you can’t count on Americans to foam at the mouth at the mention of Russia then the world as the CIA claims  it to be  has come to an end.

It’s not a new thing, this paranoia.

In 1964 the Labour Party  came to power in the U.K. under the leadership of Harold Wilson.

I repeat..Labour Party…Harold Wilson…. who was decidedly not Che Guevara in a Gannex raincoat.

An American friend with whom I had been at school came to say her farewells: her father’s firm were withdrawing their American staff forthwith before the Communists took over.

What did they think it was? Hungary? Tanks rolling into Grosvenor Square? Every lamp post boasting its capitalist prey?

About that time Leo was – having been dragged back from Madrid – collecting his father’s rents in north London.

The tenants varied from hippies working for the British Telecom fibre optic project and stoned out of their minds on the weekends to gentlemen who attempted to intimidate the young rent collector while other gentlemen took it upon themselves to support him and show him that Madrid had nothing on London.

It was thanks to one of the above,  Smithy, that he drove a getaway car for the first and so far only time in his life.

No, not a Porsche…a Volga, a Russian car he had picked up for a song in a  car auction in Belgium. A local garage had converted it to driving on the proper side for the U.K. but after  that it ran on air…or rather on paraffin. You could hear its Perkins engine hammering from miles away: the injectors needed regular and frequent cleaning, but it was a real tank. All it lacked was the cannon. Car after car ran into it on London’s North Circular and car after car was ripped apart while the Volga emerged unscathed.

volga

Smithy – who is worth a post to himself – was a demolition specialist – another post to itself – but not a great hand at working in co operation with others….especially foremen. Altercations were frequent, and on this occasion Smithy had decided to get his retaliation in first.

He asked Leo to give him a lift to the building site to collect his pay….and when they arrived told Leo to keep the engine running as he would not be a moment.

He was as good as his word. He entered the site, collected his pay and bade farewell to his foreman with a Glasgow kiss – a balletic movement which culminates in the skull of gentleman A meeting the nose of gentleman B with sufficient force as to break same.

However, outings in the Volga were not restricted to business trips.

Smithy and his friend Belfast Jim liked to frequent the loucher parts of the capital around Earls Court and Notting Hill: interrogation having revealed that Leo’s experience of life in Madrid under the rule of Franco had been – in their view – somewhat subfusc they determined to show him why they were in agreement with Dr.Johnson when he said that the man who was tired of London was tired of life.

They had the experience…he had the wheels.

Accordingly he was taken to parties where respectable stars of British television threw caution and their clothes to the winds under the influence of weed and hooch….

The gay bars where admission was by password – remember, this was before the passing of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which gave limited freedom from prosecution to homosexual men.

The late night drinking clubs….which is where they met the American tourist.

All was going swimmingly until Belfast Jim suggested that the party remove to a club he knew frequented by M.P.s.

Nothing loathe the party removed and all went well until they reached Parliament Square where, even at that time of night, traffic was dense. Numerous lanes of vehicles were in constant movement.

parliament-square

Belfast Jim chose that moment to draw attention to the comfort of the car..roomy as it was it could also double as a hotel room as the seats folded to make a double bed….

The tourist was impressed.

What was the make of the car?

It was a Russian model…but there was no time to give further information. At the mention of Russia the tourist emerged from his alcoholic haze and with a cry of alarm opened the door and leapt out into the night….no doubt happy to have avoided a one way trip to the Lubyanka.

Goodness only knows what will be made of the dodgy dossier on Trump in the U.S. A., but one thing is certain: there is no way that a film depicting Trump and tarts could be used to blackmail him.

Just think about it; on his current form as displayed in the run up to the election, far from being ashamed and embarrassed  – and thus open to blackmail – he would be waving the photographs about shouting

That’s me on the right…check the hair…

24 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

For a’ That and a’ That…

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A man’s a man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a cuif for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

But it won’t come unless we make it so

We have to have trust in ourselves and in each other: open our eyes and our minds, have confidence in our joint ability to create the decent society we all need in order to be the best we can.

We have to stop the rape of the commonweal by private interest; put roofs over heads and food on the table – and this not only in ‘poor’ countries, but in first world countries too where the cynical ruination of the national wealth is blamed on the greed, incompetence, immorality of the very people who are the first victims of that system.

And how do we do it?

For a first step we must stop allowing our masters to divide us: recognise that the ‘benefit scroungers’ are those who avoid tax, whose companies are given the unemployed as cheap or free labour, who award themselves pay and benefits out of all proportion to any benefit they bring to those said companies.

Starve them of funds…don’t use their companies.

Then stop voting for party candidates, locally and nationally.

I know that local government in the U.K. is a broken reed, kept on a short rein by central government and then used as an Aunt Sally to bring the democratic process into disrepute.

We need properly independent councillors who will not toe party lines, who will explain to their constituents exactly why their services are going to hell in a handcart and to take a firm hand on the remuneration packages of their officials.

Only with a solid structure of local government can we hope to reclaim national government from the party system and to build that structure we need to recreate communities – genuine ones, not the artificially empowered ‘communities’  which have a symbiotic relationship with the power structure in which their self appointed leaders deliver the votes and in turn have the recognition – and the funds – to dominate those who are forced to depend on them for a voice..

It is a long road…but our parents and their parents have walked it before us.

We may be but dwarfs on the shoulders of those giants…but what giants!

For their belief in justice they faced what we do not – the gallows.

We have their blood, we have the memory of their sacrifice, we can not only resist, but we can win.

Happy New Year to you all.

26 Comments

Filed under community, politics, relationships

Christmas Day in the Doghouse

We had planned a quiet Christmas: Leo was not feeling too good and did not want to go to friends which was just as well as we had an orphan lamb to feed on top of the normal routines.

Jose had come to slaughter some sheep just before Der Tag, so I was fully occupied with butchering and looking forward to the sort of Christmas Day when the feet go up and the gin oges down but one ‘phone call after another announced  that  – as we could not go to them – friends would come to us on the 26th. Not for long, not to tire Leo, but just to say hello and have a chat.

Knadgers! I had mince pies and sausage rolls made but to cater for all eventualities salvaged the sheep offal to make a pan haggis – too late to rescue the stomach, which had been buried with the intestines – then started on the pastry for the Black Bun and whopped together a cloutie dumpling mix while waiting for fish to defrost to make a ceviche.

Too late to set out for San Jose for reasonably priced whisky, as Leo was not well enough to be left for too long, but with beer, wine and fruit drinks that area was covered.

Luckily I had not left Leo as he became very ill – and at one point it looked as though a trip to hospital would be on the cards – but by the time midnight was upon us he had improved so at 12.30 am I fed the lamb and went to bed.

3.30 am.The lamb woke up again and started bleating for milk. I would swear that it has a loudhailer concealed in its blankets…

With the kitchen light on the dogs woke up and wanted to go out. Front door opened for them and milk heated for the lamb.

Lamb fed and returned to its box in the spare bedroom. Lamb displeased. Lamb turned its box over and skittered round the room until the box was packed with the blanket in the exact way desired by lamb. Lamb settled.

An almighty kerfuffle outside shattered the peace of the early morning hours and set off every dog for miles: the night was hideous with barks and howls from Jose’s spaniels up towards the town to Chancho’s pitbulls across the  still unrepaired bridge.

The lamb took up its loudhailer again.

The porch light revealed a view of the agitated hindquarters of five dogs whose forepaws were busy throwing up showers of earth and twigs from the shrubs by the path while the puppies ran round trying to get a better view of proceedings.

Finally The Poodle emerged from the maelstrom bearing a very large dead rat.

Scruff followed with a few baby  rats in  her mouth, neatly arranged with tails hanging down and led her puppies off for a feast by the hen house.

Such is the prestige of The Poodle that the other dogs made no attempt to claim her rat as she strolled with it to the bench by the front door and settled herself to guard her trophy.

They came inside and resumed the sleep of the just.

The lamb decided that it would be more diplomatic to put down its loudhailer.

The local canine chorus ceased.

Tea for me and for Leo  – and off to bed. Again.

Hail shining morn, my backside!

We may be in the tropics and the shortest day may have passed, but it was still not light until after 5.30 am, so we had a leisurely start to the day and after letting out chickens, ducks and sheep took a late breakfast on the balcony.

The Poodle’s balcony.

Digital Camera

Luckily she was still guarding her rat at the other side of the house, so we got away with it.

Peace reigned, the sun rose over the mountain behind the house and the view was a symphony of green and gold. Perfect.

Then we heard the sound of a chainsaw.

It is illegal to fell trees within 50 metres of a watercourse but as we watched a large tree went down by a stream leading to the river in the valley, on the property of a retired money launderer.

No chance of being caught as civil servants do not work on public holidays, which accounts for the frenzied activity in builders’ merchants just before Easter, Christmas and August 15th…ideal time to build a house before anyone can interfere with queries as to planning permission.

We retired to the inner balcony and passed the morning with books, coffee and cake – with intermittent feeding of the lamb in its pen once it was warm enough for it to go outside.

Leo had a nap, we had lunch in peace and Leo returned to bed, feeling tired.I was washing up when it started….a cacophony of snarling and yelping on the porch.

Tea towel – terror of the puppy dogs – at the ready  I shot out there to find The Poodle ensconced on the bench and beside her the puppy she likes best – Napoleon – who was busy eating the rat’s head while his brother and sisters raged below. The Poodle wore a sort of proprietary beam while the busy Napoleon gave every impression of one very happy with his lot, which was to change as the tea towel was deployed, followed by sharp work with brush and dustpan and the carcass thrown to the chickens.

Disconsolately Napoleon went to sit by their run, watching as they tore into the treat. I made a mental note to avoid being kissed by Napoleon…

The afternoon passed peaceably after that until tea time when with an eldritch screech The Poodle took off for the fields like a dose of salts, followed by the adult dogs.

I think the screech frightened the puppies because they all decided to tuck up on Leo’s foot, so I was able to close the front door on them and go down to investigate.

The screeching and barking grew in volume….Jose’s spaniel and Chancho’s pitbulls took up the theme…

A I can’t limbo dance under the wire I had to go round by the gate so by the time I reached the field the scene was  set.

The dogs were encircling the trunk of a tall guarumo tree.

guarumo-with-ants

Experience had taught them not to approach it too closely as the tree has a symbiotic relationship with some of the nastiest stinging ants I have yet met, but they were certainly on guard around it, for perched precariously on the upper branches were a number of vultures…

Every flap of a wing produced a screech from The Poodle and a chorus of barks from the rest – evidently the pack, not  taking into account the wonders of flight, thought that they had the vultures treed for the duration and were intent on making the most of it.

At that point Julio turned up, bringing a home made tonic for Leo – and to help me close up the sheep for the night. He was, he said, escaping from his house which was hideous with the din of over excited children…..

We counted the sheep and lambs…none missing. So why had the vultures arrived?

Julio looked around.

‘There’s your answer. Jose didn’t bury the guts properly when he did the slaughtering.’

It took some persuasion and the use of leads, but together we managed to return the dogs to the house where they threw themselves on their beds with an air of those who have done their duty.

We chatted over a beer or two, then Julio went on his way and we had supper, followed by an early night. apart from getting up to feed the lamb at 10.00 pm

Later I was awakened by a furious scrabbling  from the puppy box and in the darkness a small fat body plopped onto the bed and snuggled up to my ear, taking a comforting nibble of same

Not wanting to waken Leo I switched on the mobile ‘phone on the bedside table and in its dim light found that my affectionate visitor was – you’ve guessed it – Napoleon.

By that time too shattered to care if I picked up the Black Death  I turned off the ‘phone and went to sleep until the lamb woke me on the morning of Boxing Day at 2.00 am….

43 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Costa Rica, dogs, Uncategorized

Christmas in a Warm Climate

posada
As there is yet no sign of the bridge being rebuilt – two years after it was washed away – our Christmas will once again  be quiet.
I have missed taking part in the ‘posada’ when on the nine days before Christmas groups of friends get together to replicate the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, visiting a different house each night for prayers, Christmas songs -villancicos – and, of course, tamales.
I cannot scramble across the stream (now putting on airs as the local version of the Grand Canyon) and refused a kind offer to come to collect and return me on a motorbike….it is a long way round and our road down from town is not the best to navigate in the dark.
The French may hold that riding at the sitting trot is good for the liver but I can assure them that doing so on young Mynor’s motorbike is as good a recipe for rapid corporeal disintegration as I can imagine.
Neither shall I be making the boar’s head this year as it requires masses of hearty appetites to devour it in the tropics….or a fridge which is not full to its eyebrows with  maturing cheeses.
It’s a pity though, as I enjoy doing it: boning out the head, filling it with a pate mix and protecting the ears with foil before putting it in the oven where the heat expands the pate and puffs the flattened boneless head back to its proper shape.
I shall have to content myself with listening to Steeleye Span…
Christmas shopping has been at a minimum – just as well, seeing the price hikes – and I have managed to avoid – so far – two of the main local hazards:
A the man selling fibre glass reindeer recovered from the dump last year then
spruced up in his garage
and
B
the man selling hammocks made from recycled plastic which are guaranteed to take the skin off your backside in a fashion worthy of admiration by Chinese exponents of death by a thousand cuts.
Still, I shall think myself lucky if I manage to avoid Danilo’s cousin ( he has as many as Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruler of the Queen’s Navy) who lives in the fond belief that I want to buy a pedigree pup. From him.
He haunts me when shopping,  popping up outside the bank, the agricultural co op, the supermarket, like a portly Jack in the Box.
I’ve got a nice puppy for you..
I don’t want one.
Yes, yes, you do. Danilo tells me what a bunch of  mongrels you’ve got. You need a a dog with style
So what sort of pup have you got?
What sort of pup do you want?
I’m tempted to ask him for a Turkish Kangal but have a sneaking fear that some five years down the line he will turn up with one and claim his price.
Christmas always has its musical associations but neither the vilancicos nor the supermarket pap really do it for me….one a bit too plinky plonk the other too soapy.
I suppose it goes back to my years in England; when I was a child in Scotland, after all, Christmas Day was not a public holiday – or if it was this knowledge was very successfully concealed from me.
In no way would I return to live through an English winter….but the sound of the Sally Ann blasting out carols in the wet streets marks Christmas for me as much as listening to the Nine Lessons and Carols on the radio, and as summer has finally begun here, I can listen to this  without automatically reaching for the thermal long johns.
Best wishes to you all and let us hope and work for the time when there will be peace on earth – though for that to come to pass the Lord had better get a move on in respect of
scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts,  putting down the mighty from their seat  and exalting the humble and meek.

30 Comments

Filed under carols, Christmas, Costa Rica, Uncategorized

Culture on the Low Road

folk-groups

With the cuts in public expenditure in France, local authorities are reducing funding for what they were pleased to describe as cultural events. While some were well worthwhile, bringing top class performers to areas which would otherwise have no chance of seeing them in the flesh, like the Nuits Romanes in Poitou Charente,  a great deal of it betrayed the belief of official, authorised and therefore paid culture vultures that people should be provided with professional dispensers of approved culture rather than being left to develop their own.

Thus a rural village where some eighty per cent of the inhabitants are over fifty finds itself lumbered with a hip hop band for the Fete de la Musique: professional ‘story tellers’ infest the St Jean midsummer festival – probably sitting in a yurt to peddle their meretricious nonsense – while the only reason that the Bernache et Marrons (new wine and chestnuts) fair does not figure half naked men in red tights swinging from scaffolding towers is because it can be decidedly nippy in November in the Loire Valley.

So, on the grounds of every cloud having a silver lining, let us rejoice that  with the need to find money to pay the salaries of all the local government employees whose jobs have been duplicated by local government reorganisation people can, with a bit of luck, get back to doing what they like by way of culture.

Walks through the commune, pumpkin fairs, local folk dance groups, bands and choirs, fireworks on July 13th, the fire brigade ball (guaranteed bacchanalia) and, in my old area at any rate, amateur theatricals.

Some months after moving to rural France, I had had a toothache which oil of cloves would not touch, so I needed the dentist. Papy, my nearest neughbour, told me that there was no need to make an appointment, just to go down to the surgery in the village and sit in the waiting room, so that was what I did.

Two gloomy gentlemen were already in occupation – for some reason the usual round of handshakes doesn’t take place in dental waiting rooms – and one informed me that the dentist was out but would be back shortly. I passed the time looking at posters of teeth.

The dentist returned. The street door banged against the wall, there was a strong smell of drink having been taken and a tall handsome man with black curly hair strode in…..his white coat liberally splashed with blood.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting, but I had a spot of bother just now…Come on Jules, let’s get these false teeth sorted!’

I think I was rooted to the chair in shock…otherwise I would have fled.

Georges, the other patient, turned to me.

‘Don’t worry, he had a problem taking a tooth out…it broke and he had to put his knee on Jean-Paul’s chest to get the leverage to get the last bit out. Bit of a shock for both of them, so they’ve just been over to the bar for a restorative.’

Don’t worry! What, I wondered would qualify as something to worry about? A broken artery, dislocated jawbone….If the tooth hadn’t been giving me such gyp I would have been away in Olympic record time for the one hundred yard dash – or whatever it is in metric. But it was so I didn’t.

Dentists have an unfair advantage. They stick needles in your gums so that your lips turn to wood and then make you keep your mouth open while they talk to you. You have no way of responding.

This dentist talked to me while finding and dealing with my problem tooth.

I was new to the commune. I was British. This was very convenient. He ran the amateur dramatic society. He was putting on a Feydeau farce. There was an English governess in it and none of his regular actresses could say ‘shocking!’ properly. So there it was. First rehearsal on Tuesday evening in the mairie annexe at eight o’ clock.

He had a copy of the play in my hand, my role marked in pencil, before I could mumble a word.

Shocking!

So here I was, my French far from fluent, with no experience of amateur dramatics since being in the chorus of ‘The Mikado’ while at school, being propelled onto the boards by a dictatorial dentist.

I studied the part…small, luckily….and the cues. I turned up at the annexe to the mairie and found I already knew some of the people there. Then the dentist arrived and things took off. He was a ball of energy and enthusiasm, a perfectionist and, inevitably, not only director but also leading man.

Like everyone else, I was pushed and pulled into place, was prompted and scolded and learned an enormous amount about staging farce.

Timing, timing and timing, keeping the action going, getting his actors to have a signature expression or tone of voice that marked them clearly for the audience, he was dedicated to getting his crew to give of their best.

It was all very convivial…there was always wine and cake at the end of the rehearsal, and I was included in the cake rota automatically which surprised me given the French suspicion of anything emerging from a British oven. I supplied treacle tart and to my relief it was asked for again.

I got to know people…my French improved dramatically…and I learned a lot about the commune as we worked.

Although amateur dramatics – like music – had always had a strong following in the area, until fairly recently these activities had been duplicated. Those who attended mass – known as ‘les grenouilles du benitier’ (literally ‘frogs in the holy water stoup’)  to those who didn’t – supported the priest’s theatre group and band and the others supported the republican groups.

In that village, the war between state and church had been such that – Clochemerle like – the public toilets had been set up next to the church on the main square……and were closed on Sundays! Respect for the church or a strong determination that believers shouldn’t be able to use the facilities?

The play was performed on the home ground first, in the salle des fetes and then toured neighbouring villages, always to packed houses and vigorous applause, two nights and a matinee a week for four weeks, the cast kept going by buckets of mulled wine backstage, dished out in an enamel mug.

It was fun, and I gladly joined up for several more years. It was always a Feydeau farce, there was always a place for a foreigner and in year two I even graduated to my own little round of applause as I entered, an accolade awarded by audiences to the regular players.

It came to an end, of course: the dentist left the area.

The lady from the chateau, whose cavities he had been assiduously attending to for some years, decided that enough was enough. She left her husband and, with the dentist in tow, moved to that Sodom and Gomorrah of the Atlantic coast, La Baule.

Shocking!

The last visit from the traveling circus took place in my time in that village…no lions or tigers,  but dancing dogs and the great attraction – the chicken that could count!

Not caring for the circuses I had not gone down to the trestles arranged in the square by the church….but I do rather regret not seeing the chicken tapping on the cards laid out on the sand.

Later, there was a new attraction – one which had nothing to do with the culture vultures.

It started with a man impersonating one of the iconic figures of French rural life..the old woman who ruled her family with a rod of iron: the show would start with this ‘lady’ roaring on stage on a solex, headscarf firmly tied under her chin, ready to wind up the audience with ‘her’ take on rural life: somewhat scatalogical and utterly hilarious.

Others copied….

These days the best known act is that of ‘Les Bodins’: much less scatalogical but reviving in its audiences memories of the old ways of rural life…set in a pastiche of a typical small farm of the not so distant past.

Here is an excerpt: you might not understand the words, but it is slapstick enough to be self explanatory given the title:

A dormouse has shat in the cheese.

High culture it is not…but neither are half naked men in red  tights.

26 Comments

Filed under culture, france, Uncategorized