Around the House

the road to the house
the road to the house
I did promise pictures in the comments on my last post, so here are a few which might give you some idea of the area around the house.
Clicking on the photograph to enlarge.

This, somewhat overgrown in the rainy season, is what you see as you enter the gates.
The cactus, called ‘tuna’ here, was the first thing which met our eyes when we first visited the finca…but then it stood alone on a bare slope above the house, solitary guardian of the property.
Things have changed somewhat since then.

A view from the front door
A view from the front door
This hasn’t though. From the porch we look across a neighbour’s land and the two large trees centre right are ‘higeron’….a parasite which starts from a seed being lodged in the bark of a tree and goes on to strangle and kill it, building itself into a massive tree around the dead body of its host.
In season these are full of parrots…small green ones…tearing the tiny fruit from the branches and making a din like a school outing on the helter skelter.

all mARCH 13 037 Moving to the left from the preceding photograph there is a ‘madera negra’ tree….here seen bare in its summer guise and harbouring a frequent morning caller….an iguana sunning itself in the top branches to give it the energy to start its day.
The tree is useful in supplying living posts for fences and buildings….push a small branch in the ground and it will root and sprout in no time at all which can give a bizarre air to small structures whose supports bear green leaves and flowers in season.

Fruit and veg corner
Fruit and veg corner
Onthe corner of the balcony a sprouting broccoli plant that stubbornly refuses to sprout anything but leaves sulks alongside the blue flowers of the climber and the tomato plant, with succulents and odds and ends planted out in milk cartons until they can take outdoor conditions. They don’t need to tell us to recycle…nothing gets thrown out here.

Any idea what these are?
Any idea what these are?
Though some pretty strange stuff comes in….these whoppers are grown from a seed given us by Don Melo who buys plantains from us….I’ve seen beans in my time but these take the biscuit…
They remind me of runner beans in appearance…but even when young the pod is very tough so no slicing and putting them down in salt, only the pink beans can be used. Having no broad beans here – they flower but do not set seed – I used them in a paella and the taste differed from that of a runner bean seed…more mealy but very nice indeed.

rainbow at sunrise
rainbow at sunrise
This is the only time I have seen a rainbow here, over the hills to the left. The early sun has risen over the top of the mountain behind us to light up the bare top of Grifo Alto, but it will be some minutes yet before the valley comes to life.
This is my view every morning – minus the rainbow – guaranteed to start the day on a note as high as the hills themselves.


The Green Season

Chinese cabbage and avocado...picked this morning from the garden
Chinese cabbage and avocado…picked this morning from the garden
The Green Season is what hoteliers and others in the tourist trade in Costa Rica call the rainy season – a phrase which does not have quite the same allure, conjuring up as it does the reality of life between May and November when the sunshine of morning is replaced with alarming swiftness by a lightning bolt, a peal of thunder fit for the worst excesses of Wagner and rain fit to soak you in seconds.

I have to admit to liking the rainy season….coming from the U.K. rain has no terrors for me and an afternoon on a balcony in the clouds is an ideal time to settle down to read the books I have ordered from Better World Books U.K. who not only supply used books in good condition at sensible prices but also devote the income to promoting literacy. You could do worse than give them a try.

Still it does mean I have to bustle about a little to make the most of the morning….the washing has to go out early and the veg has to come up in good time unless I fancy seeking out the watercress for the evening’s beef with a black plastic sack over the head and shoulders while Gotterdamerung plays out in the skies above.

I’m particularly pleased with this morning’s veg haul….not just the Chinese cabbage which defeated every attempt to grow it in France, but with the avocados.

Before we moved permanently to Costa Rica we used to come over to avoid the worst of a European winter and on our first visit my husband planted the stones from the avocados we were enjoying.
The fruit on the table are from the tree which sprang from one of those stones…so very much our own avocados.
They are a bit scabby….but they are ours. Untouched by chemicals. Unknown to Monsanto.

The table they are sitting on was made by my husband over forty years ago from an old wreck found in a house he was renovating, using Italian tiles left over from laying new floors.
It has traveled with him where other – ostensibly more valuable – furniture has been jettisoned and it is still in daily use for everything from butchering meat for the freezer to drinks at sundown.
It’s a bit bashed about..not in the first style of elegance…but it’s ours and it serves its purpose.

It’s a quiet life now that the courts have thrown out the proposed development further down the valley….except for collecting and collating the deeds we will need prior to the inspection of the water systems disrupted by the would-be developer’s henchman.

The said henchman has quietened down….still a would-be bully, but now cowed by the courts and by loss of face following a failed machete attack on a sturdy but unarmed gentleman which ended in loss of henchman’s machete and a rock through the windscreen of his van as he reversed from the scene of his humiliation.

Not that initiative does not rear its head….a chap appeared at the door last week trying to interest us in a contribution to laying hardcore on the road from the bridge down to his property (bought from the would-be developer) to benefit his new business.

What might be the nature of his business?

Massage parlours installed in log cabins. He was sure it would attract foreign tourists but no American would travel down the road in the state it was in at present…so, as it would benefit everyone on the road, would we like to contribute?

How would it benefit the neighbours?

We could set up a restaurant.

We declined with thanks.

Life, though pleasant, is not without its inconveniences…

For example, I would be delighted if we could sell the house in France and be free from the taxes and maintenance associated with it.

Much though I love France and the friends we have there, I dread to think what new schemes this or successive governments will dream up to extract blood from already squeezed stones.
I see today there are proposals to tax the use of computers, laptops and tablets the justification being that they access public broadcasting channels….
They might better spend their energies mending the finance ministry’s computer which blew a fuse last week and is not yet up and running again.

Until recently when you bought a television set in France the shop asked for your details and forwarded them to the appropriate official body who would put you on their list.
Therefore anyone with half a brain paid in cash and gave a false name and address.
Some shops winked at this…others demanded ID.

To counter this act of civil disobedience, measures provided that every house would be deemed to have a television set unless it could prove otherwise…
And the standard of proof is high.

If you have never declared ownership, you might get away with it but if you used to have one and then threw it in the bin in disgust at the moronic level of programming you are in trouble.
You can’t just dump a television. France being France you will need proof of disposal.

Burglary? Certificate from the gendarmerie.

Dumped? Certificate from the guardian of the dump.

Put it on the bonfire? Fine for pollution.

No such problem here. You put it out and it promptly disappears. No questions asked.

I know which system I prefer.

The Conquistadors of San Jose

La Nacion

In my last post I moaned about the march of progress in the avenidas and calles of San Jose with particular reference to parking ticket machines which have, quite apart from forcing me to empty the garage and perform gymnastic exercises quite inappropriate to my age and form, threatened the livelihood of the parking ticket sellers.

I am glad to report that, much to the fury of the Municipalidad, these gentlemen have struck back.

They have taken up their station at the Dalek on their patch of turf, have equipped themselves with designated bank accounts with a card with which to operate the thing and are offering their services to drivers at their regular rate of tip.

Their scheme is a roaring success.

You don’t have to risk your bank card….either through it being swallowed by the Dalek or misused by the Muni…you don’t have to get out of your car in the rain to look for the blasted machine…and if you are a regular customer the gentlemen will top up your ticket.

Win win for everyone…except the Muni, whose anticipated revenues from traffic fines and impounded cars have gone up in smoke.

The Old Order Changeth…

I can’t say that I wasn’t warned…..when in a previous existence I was waxing forth on the delights of San Jose Pueblo Girl suggested that I was probably there at the right time…once the street cafes, pedestrian zones and horse drawn carriages for the tourists arrived I’d be looking back with nostalgia.

Well, some little time later…I am.

San Jose could be grubby at times but it was always full of life….people selling sweets at the bus stops; itinerant vendors all offering the same thing at the same time ( a Mr. Big somewhere in the background I used to think) from cheapo reading glasses to watches via shoes for children; fruit and veg sellers on the corners and in office doorways; knocked off mobile ‘phones on sale in the street; pirated film and music discs laid out on black plastic sacks causing you to do a hop skip and a jump to avoid treading on them; people selling lottery tickets or newspapers on almost every corner.

San Jose could be dilapidated…..but that too was part of its charm for me. Neglected treasures to be discovered on every walk.

And now what do we have?
No horse drawn carriage rides for tourists…as yet…but a street cafe has appeared opposite the Post Office, buildings are being restored and….we have pedestrian areas.
We also have yellow lines on the roads, parking places and, horror of horrors, parking ticket machines.

Tico Times

Just one look at the number of buttons is enough to daunt me….and the idea that you can have a mobile ‘phone app to use the thing turns my blood to ice!
It looks like a descendant of the Daleks and, from the reports of disgruntled users, acts like one.

It swallows your bank card – no cash payments allowed in case someone on the lower end of the municipal feeding chain – or someone with initiative and a claw hammer – gets their hands on proceeds reserved for those with electronic money transfer knowledge further up.
It spits out your bank card.
It charges you and won’t give up the ticket – probably a feature in the specifications laid down by those with electronic money transfer knowledge on the higher reaches of the municipal feeding chain.
It charges you and swallows your bank card. Ditto re specification.
It hurts your foot when you kick it.

It has forced us to clear out the garage at the San Jose house to enable the car to enter it….though it’s a hell of a performance. The garage dates from the days before 4x4s, so can take the car only if its doors remain closed.
The technique is to empty the contents of the car while still in the street – keeping a wary eye out for the meter men, the transport police tow truck and young men liable to grab a bag and run faster than you can – then lower the back seats to the floor, drive it in with the tailgate up, shut all the windows and climb out over the driver’s seat to exit via the tailgate. You can then shut the garage door and have a heart attack.
Scots blood will out.

Before these abominations you had self appointed chaps who would sell you parking tickets in the few areas where parking controls were in force. You paid the ticket and a tip and all parties were happy.
These chaps have had their livelihood taken away with no consultation….but it takes more than a municipality to keep a good Josefino down: they are now patrolling the yellow lined streets collecting the parking tickets of those leaving before their time has expired and flogging them to people who don’t want to use the Daleks.

Litter bins have been one improvement….the municipal street cleaners are super efficient….so the grubbiness is going, but so is the old way of identifying your destination – which was by its proximity to a local landmark. Thus my house was described as a lado del Escuela de Chile and al frente del American Bar.
This habit grew up because those with initiative and claw hammers had long since removed the metal street signs.
These are now being replaced (in plastic I believe) so I now live between avenidas 12 and 14 on calle 19T.
It’s just not the same.
And don’t all go looking it up on Google Earth.

The municipality is waging war on unlicensed street sellers too….much to my displeasure as the lady from whom I bought sweet peppers now has to be hunted down as opposed to being found on the corner by the Mercado Borbon – where, according to tourist guides, they all but practice cannibalism and in fact sell cheese, meat, fish and veg.
I buy my prawns there and no one has eaten me yet.

And not content with hassling those without licences, they have now started hassling those with.
Newspapers and magazines are sold from portable stands.

Diario Extra Costa Rica

The sellers have to pay for a licence to do this….but there is a problem.
There shouldn’t be, but there is.
The licence is only valid for one person…so if the holder has a hospital appointment, is not well, or merely wants to go to the loo no one else is authorised to sell from the stand.
Of course, no one has taken a blind bit of notice of this, but just recently a municipal official has instructed her staff to check identities…so if the official licence holder is holed up in the loo when her staff make a swoop he risks coming back to find his stand dismantled and taken away.
Keep taking the prunes.

But let me not forget the pedestrian areas.
The avenida central has been pedestrianised for years and it is, I must admit pleasant to be able to walk without traffic noise and on regular pavements, instead of going up hill and down dale on the other streets where each frontage owner makes his pavement to his own specifications.
We now have avenida 4 pedestrianised….and this year the old Paseo des Estudiantes has been turned into…

China Town. Barrio Chino.

This is the monstrosity erected at the entrance…together with concrete copies of one of the national treasures of Costa Rica, the pre Columbian stone spheres found over the southern half of the country.

Behind it is this:

Iglesia la Soledad.

I know which I prefer.

Un Grand Foutage de Gueule….or Urine Extraction on the Grand Scale
France is a country, a society, of entrenched monopolies….if the leaders of the various interest groups would just dress up in houppelandes and liripipes we should have no difficulty in recognising them as the successors of the masters of the trade guilds of the middle ages, carefully allowing only those who conformed to their rule to be able to work at a trade.

You can understand their attitude…to some extent. If they limited the numbers working at their trade they could keep their prices up and afford a bit of fur to line their houppelandes in the winter weather.

De Gaulle tried breaking the monopoly which he said was the permanent enemy of France…..the moneyed interest…so he set up the Ecole Nationale d’Administration to produce people to man the organs of the state.
As we can see today, the moneyed interest just sneered and made sure their kids monopolised the available places….and President Hollandouille busies himself stuffing people from his own time there – the ‘promotion Voltaire’ – into every well paid orifice the state affords.

His predecessor, President Sarkozy, came to power announcing that France needed reform and before his own party – startled that he actually meant what he said – could muzzle him he had attacked one of the sacred cows of France…..the monopoly of the artisan francais. The French craftsman.

One heard a lot about the wonders of the artisan francais in the time when the ‘living the dreamers’ monopolised what was written about France….he had served an apprenticeship (up to a point Lord Copper); his work was insured (it damned well had to be from what I saw of the breed); and he was a local independent workman.

It cost him a a packet to set up though and with unemployment growing the Great Reformer thought it would be good to allow people to try setting up their business without it costing the arm and a leg they would need to develop it.

Thus the new creation of something called the auto-entrepreneur who only paid contributions on what he actually earned as opposed to paying them on what some civil servant with no experience in business thought he should have been earning.

It has been a success. People have been able to try out their ideas without ruinous financial risk: people have stopped working on the black and have declared themselves – thus paying something into the state’s coffers as opposed to taking something out as being unemployed.
People may not make much money at it..not enough to pay the ruinous charges of the artisan francais…but enough to keep their heads above water.
A good thing, one would think, when times are hard.

So the Great Monopandouille wants to stop it.
Of course he does.
The scheme gives rise to unfair competition for the artisan francais.

While the simple answer would be to allow the artisan to operate under the same scheme as the auto entrepreneur which might make it financially possible for him to employ someone, unfortunately only paying up as a percentage of what is made would produce an immense shortfall in the social security budget, let alone leaving thousands of civil servants with even less to do than usual…and it would never do to try to reform the great monopolies of the health service and the state bureaucracy.

No,no…this product of the ENA, trained box tickers to a man, goes for the solution of the medieval guildmasters….if it doesn’t jump through our hoops it won’t be allowed to work.

After two years, it is proposed, the auto-entrepreneur must either cough up like the artisan francais or join the ever swelling ranks of the unemployed.
And very helpful that will be in reducing the deficit in the national finances.

With all the problems facing France, Hollande, Moi-je, President of France, can think of nothing better to do than to pander to interest groups to keep himself in power….which is what he did during his reign as secretary of the Socialist Party.
He doesn’t seem to have learned, to have understood, even to be aware, that running a country is a far cry from manipulating a bunch of brain dead would-be Borgias.

When his Interior Minister is busy allowing riot police to use tear gas at a demonstration where there are people with small children, could he not better employ his resources in clearing up the drug and crime ridden suburbs of the big cities where decent kids don’t stand a chance of setting up their own businesses…let alone entering the ENA?

But these are just ordinary people; people who have been marching in Marseille in protest at the lack of presence of the state in their areas, protesting at the corrupt police who are enforcers for the drug rings.
Much more important to reassure the bosses of the big companies that they can go on awarding themselves pay and perks at will…nomatter how dire their performance – after all, they’ve been to ENA. They deserve it.

Let it not be said, nor even whispered in Gath and Ashkelon, that the big cheese does not set an example in difficult times.
He has announced that he will not be lounging on the new garden furniture chosen by the light of his life for the presidential holiday home in the south of France.
No…he will be in Paris. At work. And so will his ministers.

They have to show they are there.

What is important, he says, is the impression.

Allo, non mais allo quoi!

Does he take the average French person for an idiot?
Impression of what exactly?

Selling off some of the wine from the Presidential cellars while those – far better – at the Lanterne (the house at Versailles on the books of the Prime Minister’s department but favoured by Hollande as by Sarkozy before him) remain at his disposal?

Announcing that the unemployment figures will improve – and allowing his ministers to do their bit by employing more and more advisors paid by the public purse?

The impression people have is that he is extracting the urine…..but what would you expect?
With the taxes he has imposed he has already extracted everything else.