Night of the Long Quills

The Ashes series ended early in the evening…my time. England collapsed again…even the captain going down to a bug caught by eating jelly and ice cream at his son’s birthday party.

Hang the selectors!

Hang the England – and Wales – Cricket Board who have sold the game down the river for a mess of Murdoch’s pottage!

Hang the ‘experts’ who ruin every promising young cricketer they get in their clutches by sending them to the gym to produce huge torsos on little legs and then rub every spark of originality out of their game!

Hang the sports psychiatrists and sports nutricionists!

Bring back Geoffrey Boycott! He might be in his seventies but his mind is young and his analysis is spot on.

boycott

And with him in charge the old guard of players hanging on to their lucrative central contracts might have to earn the money they rake in or make way for the youngsters. The way things are these days those youngsters might be drawing a pension before they get their chance.

Remarkably, after venting my spleen, I went to sleep as soon as my head had touched the pillow that night. Note to self…vent spleen more often…

Only to be awoken an hour or so later by the thuds as the bulk of Stein – one of the American Staffords – hit the bedroom window.

Not fancying the entry of Stein, who weighs more than forty kilos, surrounded by shards of glass I put on my dressing gown, took up the torch and went out to investigate.

No, he was not keen to join us…he had other prey in mind.

Casting the beam of the torch upwards I saw something clinging to the  eaves…

Putain de merde! A porcupine!

porcupine

Not what you want to meet on a dark night…and you certainly don’t want your dog to meet them.

When threatened they cast their spines which have tiny barbs, making them very difficult to extract…treat your dog at once if you want to avoid infection.

Too late to do much except to put Stein in his pen to avoid problems…such a good dog, he went quietly despite the attraction of the prey.

Back to bed.

One hour later, it was Bunter, the other American Stafford, kicking up.

The blasted porcupine had moved to the far side of the house and Bunter was at full stretch to try to catch it.

Bunter in the pen likewise..though with more difficulty as he is still – and always will be –  just a huge pup. More than forty kilos of pup.

Back to bed.

More uproar. The porcupine was in the rafters over the balcony and the thugs disapproved.

Thugs locked into the house, and peace finally prevailing.

Slept, dreaming of ECB worthies hanging from lamp posts.

The morning brought counsel.

The porcupine was still ensconced in a corner of the balcony. The dogs stilled wished to have at it.

Danilo arrived and we decided to trap the animal…which is a protected species…and take it to the appropriate authorities.

Dogs calmed with boiled eggs.

Momentarily.

Danilo collects an empty dustbin and balances on the wall of the swimming pool.

I take up a long pole and disturb the porcupine…which is displeased. A volley of spines is cast while I try to  encourage it down the electricity cable to which it is clinging.

It is the size of a small dog, its paws can cling well and its tail is prehensile.

Not to speak of the spines. Volley after volley fall about Danilo who is underneath it.

Poor creature…it is terrified, chattering its teeth and grunting…

Finally he traps it…then puts the barbeque grill on top of the dustbin and ties it shut before taking it to the car.

Not a passenger with whom one would care to share the space.

We drive carefully over to the local Environment Ministry Office.The door is locked.

Danilo calls out that we are here.

A woman answers that they are not open yet.

Yes you are. It is past eight o’ clock.

But they are in a meeting.

That’s all right. We have a porcupine here…we can just let it loose in the office for them to deal with later…

The door is unlocked and a chap  comes out with a vetinary cage.

Just give me a hand, will you?

The porcupine is unwilling to leave the dustbin and thus ensues a ballet of its feet and our hands trying to dislodge it without being spiked.

Finally it is rehomed and the cage is placed alongside that of a possum which has been brought in with machete wounds and is awaiting the arrival of the vet…

Both animals, once signed off fit, will be released in the National Park, some fifty  kilometres down the road from us .  Costa Rica cares for its wildlife.

We return home.

Leo is wondering why his breakfast is late…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.K. Repel Boarders Force

Mersea-Island-Essex-1024x609

It appears that the British government…if one can so designate the shambles…have made a blunder.

Having made redundant numbers of those serving in what is now called the Border Force which is supposed to protect the sceptred isle from foreign incursions in the absence of the army which is busy doing America’s bidding elsewhere, it seems that it has dawned on the cretins that said sceptred isle is fairly vulnerable to foreign incursions as, like the various invaders before them, the current lot do not tend to arrive at Dover passport in hand.

Desperate measures have been tried.

Existing staff have been paid overtime…be still my neoliberal heart.

Totally inexperienced agency staff have been hired…neoliberal heart start beating again to the rhythm of private profit from the public purse.

All to no good.

So now they are considering calling for volunteers.

The press has jumped on the idea, ridiculing it with images from ‘Dad’s Army‘, the comedy television show about the wartime Home Guard, featuring  Corporal Jones, veteran of the campaigns in the Sudan, who is firmly of the opinion that Johnny Foreigner – whatever his hue – does not like it up him.

It being the bayonet.

corporal jones

Before going ahead the shambles might like to consider a pilot project currently operating in southern England…in an area once controlled by the Hawkhurst Gang in the eighteenth century, when smuggling was as big a business as now…but then involved booze rather than people.

Let us eavesdrop on a meeting of the committee…..

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen….and let us show our thanks to Bob the landlord by ordering a round of drinks.

Right…let me just check…two Teachers, one Bells,  two pints, one port and lemon, one dry sherry and one gin and campari.

Thank you, Bob…oh, that’s nice……crackers!

Cheers!

Right. Do we need to approve the notes of the previous meeting?

What do you mean, what meeting, Deidre? You must remember, we had it in your flat!

Bob! Another gin and campari, please.

Fine. Passed nem con.

Now, Dave, could you bring us up to date?

Yes, Mr. Chairman. As we all know, the creek is a weak point. There there  is no marina, no harbour master, no customs office and yachts come and go as they please.

Indeed they do! Just look at Mr. Saxon who takes his cat with him when he sails to the Bahamas every year. That cat never goes into quarantine and goodness only knows what it frequents with out there…

Bob! Another gin and campari, please…

So we need to keep it under observation.

Mr. Chairman, may I suggest co opting Mrs Bracegirdle onto the committee? Her back bedroom window overlooks the creek and she owns a pair of binoculars which belonged to her late husband.

But would she be willing to sacrifice her time, do you think?

Oh, certainly…it would just mean her moving from the front bedroom window where she keeps an eye on that new restaurant which replaced the fish and chip shop.

I’ve had my doubts about that place..full of fifth columnists.

Well just look at the customers! Coming down from London after the place had a write up in ‘The Guardian’….

‘The Guardian’! Tells you all you want to know! People who would turn their noses up at skate and chips but don’t turn a hair when their food comes with muck smeared over the plate….say what you like, Kevin could be a funny bugger but his fish and chips were the best!

And just look at the owner! Wears his hair in a bun…no hairnet, you notice. Kevin always wore a hairnet under his hat….and cavorts with those Italian waitresses…

Hang on..Bob? Two Teachers, one Bells, two pints, a port and lemon, a dry sherry and a double gin and campari.

Thanks!

What is all this about Italian waitresses? And buns?

Well, that is why I suggested co opting Mrs. Bracegirdle. She knows all about his goings on with the waitresses while he is pretending to be gay to please the London lot…

What goings on?

Well…out the back of the restaurant…she says it is very continental…

But how can she see what goes on out the back? Her windows overlook the street…

If she crouches down she can see the reflection from Mr. Harbottle’s greenhouse next door…

And what does she mean, ‘pretending to be gay’…no…on second thoughts…

So do you think she could be persuaded to move to the back bedroom?

She will do her duty by her country, certainly…but she might need a thermos flask…

Bob! Same again please…

Right! So much for the watching…but what do we do if she sees some illegal immigrants coming ashore? Like those Vegans, hitchhiking the galaxy….

Call the police?

What? The police? As much use as a chocolate teapot.

You’ll ring them up and some sarky so and so will ask why you think they are illegal immigrants and accuse you of racism.

No, we’ll have to make a citizen’s arrest.

Can you still do that? I thought you got into trouble if you tried to arrest someone…the police are very touchy, you know.

Yes…too idle to do anything themselves but they don’t like you showing them up…

We’ll have to say we thought there would be a breach of the peace…well, there will be one if Mr. Armstrong is there with his cosh…and that we were trying to prevent them leaving the scene…

And we’ll have to watch our language. Don’t want anyone claiming racism.

Then you’d better not have Mr. Harris out there…remember the uproar at the fete when he called the ice cream seller a spic?

So we need to cover the creek every night after Mrs. Bracegirdle goes to bed.

And in the winter we need to cover it while she is watching her soaps in the early evening…ideal time to smuggle people ashore while the nation is glued to ‘Eastenders’.

So that’s one person down there from about eleven o’clock onwards and if he sees anything suspicious he calls us out.

Call Mr. Armstrong first…he lives nearest and he can keep them busy with his cosh while the others assemble.

It’s a bit parky out there at night…

We’ll have to wrap up warm and lurk in the bus shelter.

There’s a terrible smell of pee in that shelter…

Take a bottle of bleach with you.

Are you sure about bleach? I thought vinegar was the thing…

Or hydrogen peroxide…

The council should  never have closed the toilets….

Well, I think we’ve taken things as far as we can tonight…Dave, would you make up a list of able bodied members willing to go on the watch rota?

Certainly, Mr. Chairman. I’ll make the rounds and report at the next meeting.

Any other business? No?

O.K. Bob, one for the road all round and can you call a taxi for Deidre?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Guid New Year Tae Ane and A’

Here comes the first foot…bearing coal for the outer man and whisky for the inner…

first footing

Let us find a new voice for the  year to come…

‘For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.’

Let us find a voice for ourselves. for those whose voices are never heard, and may we speak for freedom and justice.

 

But not forget the fun of seeing in the New Year… years ago German friends introduced us to their cult New Year clip

Dinner for One

We too watch it every year..as much in celebration of our German friends as for the absurdity itself…part of the ritual of the passing of the old year.

And so we remember…

Happy we’ve all been together

 

And look forward.

 

Many thanks to all of you kind enough to follow …and to comment…on this blog. I enjoy your company.

Lang may your lums reek.

One Man and his Negotiable Cow

negotiable cow

I was about to assemble a spaghetti carbonara for lunch when the dogs took off en masse, barking and howling.

From the kitchen window I could see that they were heading for the front gate and assumed that it was yet another of their false alarms…they are territorial, to an extreme. No walkers, motorbikes or cars are allowed to pass without a stern warning as to the potential consequences of hanging about.

But the barking and howling persisted so I turned off the pan…muttering oaths…and went out to  find that a man leading a cow was walking up the drive, both completely unmoved by the canine frenzy.

My heart sank. This was David, the new partner of the daughter of the man who is renting our old house down the hill, together with the lower pastures, while preparing to build a  house for the daughter on land he owns opposite us.

That was over a year ago. So far an electricity post has gone up…neatly situated directly opposite our gate…and there things have stalled.

Finance is the problem. Things went wrong when the father became ill and for a long time could not carry on his business of selling fruit and veg on the markets. His wife and daughter could not take up the slack and the then partner of the daughter was unwilling to contribute his income from delivering things after dark in order to help the situation.

Further, the daughter refused to sell her herd of cattle. Since all the family land was taken up with producing fruit and veg for the markets she was obliged to rent land to run her cattle….and as she did not want to sell any the whole thing was a lose – lose situation which was a drain on the family resources even when things were going well.

As always, financial distress produced problems in relationships. The partner left, much regretted by ourselves as not only did he deliver things after dark  but he was also a wizard with animals, and the daughter took up with another chap…

David. The man leading the cow.

I have learned my Spanish on the hoof…but generally it works. It might not be pure Castillian…but it works. Having picked up Spanish here in Costa Rica it works quite well with Costa Ricans – generally.

Not with David.

He is a nice young man…he is wonderful with the daughter’s young son…but in terms of intelligence a Toc H lamp beats him hands down for illumination.

Why had he come to see us leading a cow?

Because the cow had a problem.

Thinking that I am neither a veterinary surgeon nor an animal psychiatrist I continued.

And what is the cow’s problem?

I should have remembered the first rule of advocacy…never ask a question to which you do not know the answer.

David went off at a rate of knots….from which I eventually disentangled the following…

The cow was worth one thousand dollars…

My backside.

He had bought it himself. With his own money. …

Pull the other one, it has bells on.

He, David, had worked his fingers to the bone clearing the lower pastures…

So he should as keeping them clear was part of the letting agreement.

But the cow had punctured its intestines on a tree stump hidden by the undergrowth…

The undergrowth that he had worked his fingers to a bone clearing.

They – no, he – would have to pay for a vet.

Yes, they are not generally charitable institutions.

But the cow would die anyway…

Why pay for a vet’s opinion when you are better qualified to give a prognosis?

We owned the finca….

Yes.

So we were responsible for upkeep…

Read the lease. No, as you were. Get someone to read the lease to you.

Thus we should pay him one thousand dollars for the moribund cow…

This is where my Spanish let me down. I was unable to translate  ‘Awa’ an’ bile yer heid’   in any way which would accurately describe the strength of my views.

Examination in chief revealed that the case put forward by David was not his own creation. His lady partner had coached him….it must have taken hours…

It appeared that there had been vast expenditure on Christmas presents for the child so   money was needed to pay the bills…including the rent owed to us.

Thus the lady’s bright idea.

The cow is on the pasture up here, under my eye, and appears distinctly alive.

Danilo is inspecting the lower pasture and directing David in clearing it properly.

I am hunting high and low for my copy of A.P. Herbert’s ‘Uncommon Law’ wherein the case of the negotiable cow may be found….just in case the young lady has any other bright ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas

nativity

I know it is a little early, but i thought I had best post this before it becomes too late!

Shopping having given me a surfeit of Jingle Bells and the accursed Lttle Drummer Boy who can stuff his drum where the sun does not shine I take refuge in this, ‘Balulalow’, as arranged by Benjamin Britten.

It is a rendering of a Scottish carol, published in the sixteenth century in the ‘Ane Compendious Buik of Godly and Spiritualt Sangis’ though only the final verse is sung here.

O my deir hart, yung Jesus sweit,
Prepare thy creddil in my spreit!
And I sall rock thee in my hart
And never mair fra thee depart.
Bot I sall praise thee evermoir
With sangis sweit unto thy gloir.
The kneis of my hart sall I bow,
And sing that rycht Balulalow.

The full carol was a loose translation of Luther’s carol ‘Vom Himmel Hoch da komm’ ich her’, so I thought you might like to hear that too…

A merry Christmas to all of you kind enough to read this blog…and let us hope and strive for peace on earth.

Though I am not sure that I can summon up goodwill to the Little Drummer Boy…….

Sexteando in Guatemala City

avenida sexta GC

Guatemala City.…home from home for a Scot!

Porridge for breakfast and a bus system that lets you ride all day for one Quetzal…about 10p….as long as you don’t get off.

I should qualify the porridge, though, known as ‘mosh‘….it is made very thin to resemble a drink and is flavoured with cinnamon and sugar. The sort of Scot who takes his oatmeal standing and flavoured with salt would find it effete…but I liked it as a starter to the breakfasts we took each day in a caff we found while looking for one recommended in the ten year old guidebook which Higher Authority was using as a vade mecum on the grounds that

A….buildings could not be moved.

and

B…it was a false economy to buy an up to date guide when only visiting for a week.

This policy led to many architectural discoveries…from Spanish colonial to art deco

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via pure fantasy….while pounding the back streets in search of long vanished Argentinian steak houses.

post office GC

Returning to the caff, that too would delight a Scots heart…a full breakfast for one pound fifty….mosh, followed by a plate of refried beans, cheese, fried plantains, sour cream and a choice of eggs cooked several different ways or, if feeling like making a splash, a pork chop for thirty pence more, accompanied by coffee and bread such as I had not tasted since leaving the U.K. all those years ago…a crisp crust , feather light within…not a Glasgow morning roll, to be sure, but not far off!

There are twenty two zones in Guatemala City and I suspect that some of them bear out the reputation for dirt and danger which was proclaimed by the guidebook but the experience of the zones down the spine of the city was decidedly different. I have never in all my puff seen so many street cleaners to the square yard…..they wash down the pavements early in the morning and then spend their day picking up litter and sweeping away rubbish. The place is spotless.

As to danger, the city crawls with police of all sorts, from the ones who mind the zebra crossings who wear gaiters at one end and pith helmets at the other to those in black who pile out of pick up trucks in response to goodness only knows what and the paramilitary ones in green fatigues who patrol fully armed.

Many shops have their own security guards, armed to the teeth with pump action sawn off shotguns, while chemist shops, in particular, look like old fashioned zoo cages – you half expect Guy the gorilla to appear to take your order – so I imagine that security could be a problem if control were to be relaxed.

The original city bus services had had a bad reputation for crime, whether it was robbing passengers or shooting the drivers to extort protection money from the owners and in response the city has set up two systems which avoid the drivers carrying cash – the Transurbano which covers a great deal of the city and access to which is made by a card which can be topped up, rather like London Transport’s Oyster card, and the Transmetro which is accessed by paying a Quetzal into the slot machine at each station, guarded by a policeman, and is the one on which you can make a tour of the city just by changing lines at the junctions. The old red buses are still there though, belching fumes as they lurch round corners  with the young conductor hanging in the open doorway to hoist potential passengers aboard…

transmetro

There are two types of taxi… white ones with black chequerboarding and yellow ones. The first roam the city and charge by agreement, the second is summoned by telephone and charges by the meter. There is also Uber apparently, but as I have no wish to encourage the leeches who run it I don’t use it.

We met the first type when starting on the museum visits….we were staying in Zone 1, the historic centre of the city, as it is good for walking. The museums we wished to visit were in Zones 10 and 13…a long way down the spine and mostly set in parkland, way off the bus routes.

You have not lived until you have sat behind a Guate taxista who, in heavy traffic, is driving with a tablet in one hand to access a map and a mobile ‘phone in the other, over which a mate is giving him directions. And even then he took a wrong turning…..

church GC

I thought it might be a Russian Orthodox church…but it was certainly not the museum we were heading for. Still we made it eventually and were assured that the museum staff would call us a taxi for the return trip.

Indeed they did. A yellow one.

Given the traffic, exacerbated by repairs on one of the main roads through the city, the meter was mounting up alarmingly…so Higher Authority commanded a change of destination.

‘The nearest Transmetro station’.

Money ceased to hemorrhage and we were back at the hotel for a Quetzal.

I had never felt much attraction for the pre-Columbian cultures of Central America, but the exhibitions of the Popul Vuh museum changed my mind. The flowing movement of the painted ceramics, then the melancholy of the incense burners and  the funerary urns  recalling the canopic vases of ancient Egypt was that which, finally, gave me the human link which had previously eluded me.

museo-popol-vuh pot

 

Interest in the Maya thus kindled I was sorely tempted by reviews of a restaurant offering a fusion of modern and Maya cuisine, just round the corner from the hotel.

La Cocina de la Senora Pu.

The lady in charge is an anthropologist and her message is that Mayan culture survived the colonial period in its essentials…as demonstrated by the syncretism of religious practice and the perseverance of cooking styles.

Temptd by the blurb on her website I ventured out to take a look but was repulsed by the style of the place. The customer eats at a bar surrounding the cooker at which the owner exercises her arts and that is much too close for comfort for me. I like to have a table far from the maelstrom without interaction with other diners…let alone the chef… and the reaction of Higher Authority on learning that he was expected to sit on a stool at a bar to eat his dinner would certainly have ruptured any idea of social harmony and drawn unflattering comparisons with the conquistadors.

la-cocina-de-la-senora

Do I regret it? In a way, yes…I was curious….and in a way, looking at the photographs of the food supplied by the restaurant, no. The sauces would have to be jolly good to make me eat some of those veg.

la-cocina-de-la-senora dish

As a one time spinner, dyer and weaver I was keen to learn more about the traditional arts of the Maya women.

A friend had given me addresses in Antigua where I would find the real thing…natural dyes and natural fabrics… but as Higher Authority overdid the walking and was thus confined to the hotel for a day I had had to renounce a visit to that sanitised home of yoga mats and boutique hotels.

Instead I visited the Ixchel museum,  home of indigenous textiles…alongside the Popul Vuh.

I was intrigued by the clay figures of Mayan women of the classic period with their geometric hairstyles…the Mary Quants of their time….. but less intrigued by the failure of the museum to demonstrate more clearly the  techniques of dying and weaving, particularly the use of the backstrap loom

backstrap loom

though the exhibits did show the colours and patterns typical of each area when producing the huipil, a rectangular garment with a hole for the head

Huipil-(Guatemala)-45317

and the cortes, a wrap wround skirt secured by a sash.

cortes

 

Dress changed in the colonial period…to be assimilated, men wore more European style clothes…but traditional  dress was preserved in the ‘cofradias’ the groups of people who held themselves responsible for the upkeep of venerated statues and the like….again, something more marked among women than among men.

The museum was good at showing how weavers now use ready dyed artifical thread…and a lot of sparkly stuff…to produce their wares, while still keeping a link to the traditional colours and designs of their area which went a long way to explain the forty shades of bling encountered on the streets where the vast majority of the women wore Mayan costume.

And there was, of course, the railway museum.

museo-del-ferrocarril

Not only could I wallow in photographs of steam trains crossing spidery viaducts

steam-locomotive

but I also learned that the Guatemala and El Salvador rail systems had a unique gauge, that a bankrupt government handed the Guatemalan railways over to the United Fruit Company whose hold was so complete that Guatemalans had to pay to use the port they built on the Caribbean coast and that it was to break that monopoly that a later president built the road to the coast which in turn broke the railway.

A long conversation with the staff about the role of the unions in advancing social welfare, a joint rant about neo liberalism…and my day was made!

Staying in the old city centre I was well placed to see the procession which brought the Immaculate Conception from the church of San Francisco to the Metropolitan Cathedral….complete with petards, men selling balloons and a band playing lively pasadobles which incited those pushing the attendant saints  on brown wheelie bins to pass at a fair lick.

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Two gallant gentlemen had hoisted me up on the wall of the park to enable me to take photographs while below us an elderly lady was  informing her neighbours that this, for example, was Saint Theresa. Presumably the Avila one rather than the Lisieux one.

‘No’ said a gentleman with the lapel badge of one of the cofradas ‘That is Saint Clare’

Then she spotted Saint Francis….no it wasn’t, it was Santo Domingo…and so it went on while the float bearing the Immaculate Conception made its solemn way to the cathedral steps. Just as well that the eighty odd men bearing it were able to ignore the band as trying to leg it to a pasadoble would have led to instant disaster and possibly thirty years more in Purgatory.

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Assisted to the ground by the two same gallant gentlemen I made my way back to the hotel, passing the bar where Che Guevara downed a few beers in his time, in a gallery off the main square.

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I would return to the cathedral to take a closer look….

cathedral GC

You see the pillars in front? They form a monument to those who ‘disappeared’ during the bitter civil war in Guatemala, where villages were razed to the ground on suspicion of aiding guerrilla bands trade unionists and activists were snatched on the street, never to be seen again.

cathedral pillars

Twelve pillars….but there could be twenty and still names would be missing.

Ordinary people, a baker, like the chaps who made my breakfast rolls, snatched and never seen again. His wife sought information for years…and found it when a building housing police archives collapsed. She learnt that he had indeed been snatched…and, amazingly, that he had been under surveillance for seventeen years previously.

Just take a moment to think…seventeen years in an age of pen and paper and police informers… in our era of camera surveillance and interception of electronic communication any government fearing dissent could act in an instant.

We too have our secret…and not so secret…police.

But across from those grim memorials a Christmas Fair was taking place in the square….music, fast food, loos whose posters announced ‘Two Quetzals to get in, exit free’…and an ice skating rink where a hard hat was issued with your ticket.

I soon saw why…clearly the locals are not adept at the art of skating. Crowds shuffled along the sides, holding on for grim death and wailing in unison when some bold soul headed out for the middle, only to fall in a heap to be picked up by the attendants.

I left Higher Authority sitting on a wall while I went to fetch him a hot coffee and was impressed to see that the patrolling police homed in on him at once…an elderly man on his own in a venue meant for families with kids..

It was all very discreetly done, but they had no intention of having any risk of unsavoury behaviour so we were all relieved when I turned up with the coffee and the subject turned to policing in Europe!

The hotel was nearby…the Pan American…an art deco institution in the city.

hotel-pan-american

We did not have one of the rooms with balconies overlooking the streets below but were perfectly comfortable…the water was hot, the shower pressure was great and the bed was comfortable. I could not have wished for more amiable staff…we needed the lift to travel up and down to the reception area and one call to reception had it at our disposal…and what a lift! A hand operated Otis, all gilt and mirrors, run by one or other of the two young men who did all the running, fetching and carrying around the hotel. It was a privilege to travel in it!

Further, the hotel was situated alongside Avenida Sexta  – 6th avenue – once called the Calle Real and for years the shopping centre of the city before the glitzy malls took over. Despite the prevalence of fast food franchises it still attracted people…en masse before Christmas…and so we did what those before us had done and went window shopping on Avenida Sexta….

Sexteando.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feet of Cement

cementazo

An earthquake of 6.5 shook the country recently.

We had had an early night as we had a crack of dawn start for a hosital appointment the next day but had hardly settled down before the dogs started yodelling. We thought they must have heard the coyotes who have been roaming the mountain behind us for a couple of weeks now but then they fell quiet as the house began to sway back and forth. It was like lying on a jelly.

It lasted a few minutes only and we had no damage. Friends have told us that the danger comes when the action is percussive and we did experience one of those in the original house down below…it was like a hammer drill doing its worst, but luckily, as the epicentre was only ten kilometres away, it was deep, at seventy five kilometres down, unlike the latest one whose epicentre was off the Pacific coast, and only ten kilometres down.

Still, it took the country’s mind off its problems for a moment.

Problems, you ask? In the land of Pura Vida where the people are amongst the happiest on earth according to some survey which is no doubt selling something?

I don’t know where they find these people as most of my friends are usually moaning….perhaps they  interview politicians.

Others interviewing politicians at the moment are the police. It is fairly normal for previous presidents to be investigated by the police, but only after a discreet passage of time when the proceeds have been salted away, so what has occurred to upset the applecart?

Cement…that is what.

No, not cement as in disposing of bodies while road building – the time it takes this country to get a road built the body would have disintegrated enough not to need burial anywhere – but cement as imported from China.

A happy duopoly controls cement sales in Costa Rica. It has no doubt paid well for its position over the years so was far from pleased when it looked as if the President was encouraging the import of cement from China with the aim of lowering prices.

Intolerable! Have his guts for garters!

So the duopoly set the hounds of the press on the job…or at least those parts of the press where it had influence….and finally they dredged up  one of the bosses of the Customs department who said that he had an e mail from the Deputy Finance Minister telling him that the ‘Big Chief’ – supposedly the President – wanted any shipments of Chinese cement to get through Customs without the usual old Spanish practices so that it would still be fit to use when released.

Shock horror!

Then the hounds went further. They discovered that one of the state banks had made a huge loan to the importer – with the cement as security –  the major part of which loan had ended up in his private coffers, while no cement ever arrived in Costa Rica.

And this is where things started to  go wrong.

Aiming at the President, the duopoly accidentally put one of their own in the frame.

The Chief Prosecutor.

This man, a stalwart of the old regime in Costa Rica, was an expert in delaying and burying unwanted dossiers and had been found with his fingers in the bank’s affairs, dividing the investigation into a myriad of mini investigations which would run into the sand, leaving those responsible at the bank to live a quiet life in the offices which had been refurbished recently at vast expense from the bank’s money…..i.e. public funds.

He was suspended and a young lady was appointed as interim Chief Prosecutor.

She seems to hold the view that prosecutors should prosecute and to that end has put the would be importer and the bank officials into preventive detention while she investigates.

Further, she has unearthed links between a magistrate, the Deputy Finance Minister and several politicians which she believes may give rise to prosecutions for the traffic of influence and has, with the consent of the courts, proceeded to seize their offices, computers and cars in search of evidence.

Mark you, this being Costa Rica, where the sublime usually descends to the gor blimey, the cars of the police seizing the gear of the Deputy Finance Minister were nicked for parking offences by the Municipal Police in San Jose.

She has also had a look at the mosaic of dossiers prepared by the Chief Prosecutor over the years in other sensitive matters, the upshot of which is that said Chief Prosecutor has decided to retire and a recent President is being summoned to explain how a mining company managed to get a permit to mine in a conservation area.

The country is reeling.

Action on corruption! Whatever next!

It does not come at a good moment for the politicians. Any of them. Because the Presidential elections are coming up in February and corruption is a major beef for the electorate.

Normally the level of enthusiasm of Costa Ricans for elections equals the energy of a crocodile in the early hours of a chilly morning, but this case has roused people to resemble crocodiles at midday, ready to wolf down anything in their path.

And what is in their path?

Politicians.

I can bet that the man who put up this poster is not going to vote for the PLN.

PLN elections

He seems to have strong feelings on the subject.

Historically the PLN held a firm grip on the vote as they were the party of the President who abolished the army and set up the CAJA – the NHS of Costa Rica. People were grateful and remained so for years.

Further, under the same recent President who is now being summoned to explain the mining licence, the civil service was expanded beyond anything that was necessary in order to form a client vote of those who benefited from the excellent wages, perks and pensions  – and their extended families.

Occasionally the PUSC, sort of Christian Democrats, would get a look in to keep them sweet, but basically the PLN had it all their own way, including in  local government.

The last elections brought a change….the people elected an almost unknown candidate, a university professor, who stood on a platform of opportunity for all, not the few.

Thus the enmity of the cement duopoly who regard such views as heresy.

He has had a hard fight. No majority in the National Assembly, ministries stuffed with partisans of the outgoing party….but the ship is slowly turning round. People are discontented with the slow pace of change but with the cement case there is a chance that they will see that change is possible…if they will back those who work for it.

Locally, too, politics is in the news.

This town is built on ground that is unstable…underground water courses run all over the place, let alone fault lines,  so holes tend to appear in the roads without warning. Ideally the council would use a study done by the University of Costa Rica which showed how to channel  and drain the area, but, of course, that would cost money and the council never seems to have any of that for infrastructure problems despite having a dedicated budget for same.

So the holes tend to be there for a long time.

puris holes in road

 

Exasperated by the inaction of the council a group of businessmen got together, hired an engineer and the necessary equipment and did the job themselves in the course of one night when they could reckon to be undisturbed by council workers or police who tend not to venture out after dark.

The alcalde – mayor – outraged by this demonstration of citizen power announced that the work was shoddy and would collapse within a week. Furthermore it would all have to come up anyway as the council was about to start a programme of repairs!

Several weeks later the holes remain mended and the council has managed to repair one road…the one leading to the fiesta ground which has been done in time for the annual high jinks surrounding the celebration of the town’s patron saint’s day.

Clearly it is not for nothing that the alcalde is a member of the PUSC.

I have been a trifle unfair to the police here.

They have a new boss. He is a local lad who has worked in other areas for years before being drafted back to his home town.

He wishes to clean up the place, but is a realistic gentleman.

No point rounding up the drug dealers and the wild young men who make the roads dangerous by doing wheelies, etc on onlicensed motorbikes during the week, as the resident judge for criminal affairs has a great respect for the presumption of innocence and tends to release anyone  daft enough to be caught by the previous police chief.

No…save the effort for the weekends, when a duty judge comes down from San Jose and jugs the lot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holes in the road.