Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Off To Vote We Go

Giles
Giles

Click on the images to enlarge.

Costa Rica votes in the Presidential election this Sunday and, bluntly, all we haven’t had so far is the seven dwarfs.

We’ve had one party’s candidate pull out claiming that his election backers were secretly in league with the candidate of another party…..the backers protesting their innocence and claiming that the now ex candidate had wanted to impose on them support for an ex President of Costa Rica caught with his hand in the till…..

We have had a four times married candidate decide to marry for the fifth time – one more heave, one might say – and send his new dentist wife round poor districts of the country offering free dentistry, working from a van painted in the party colours….

We have had the interesting revelation that two of the main contenders are under investigation for misuse of public funds and influence in one case and for breaking electoral funding law in the other while a third can proudly proclaim that his only brush with the law was being arrested on a demo….

One – the one with campaign funding questions dating back years – is proudly unmarrried and is trying to court the religious conservative vote…..whose party’s candidate is the man who succeeded the one who pulled out….

The internet is alive with photographs of the five times married candidate’s last campaign rally….his party’s photographs giving the impression of the main approach to San Jose filled by his exultant followers, other showing the said enthusiastic followers filling about one block in ten….

Foreign owned firms have issued ‘guidance’ to their workforce, warning of the danger of the loss of jobs if they vote for the candidate who was arrested on a demo…..

American expats are packing their gear in readiness should the demonstration attender be elected, firm in the belief that the Red Hordes will immediately invade their gated communities to loot their gas fired barbeques and end civilisation as they know it….

People generally are complaining that the parties are not sending out vans laden with material in the party colours to drape round their houses….that the parties are spending the money on undermining each other on the internet instead is not regarded as a good enough excuse….

And a newspaper has cancelled a last minute pre-election poll on the grounds that it would confuse voters so close to an election. Rumour has it that it showed that the candidate who has the support of the newspaper’s owners does not show up too well in said poll….

Apart from that, it’s like any other election: wild promises, backstabbing and dirty work at the crossroads.

What did interest me was an article in ‘La Nacion’ – the newspaper which cancelled the election poll – detailing the arrangements made for transporting the voters and feeding the volunteers on election day.

I’m all too familiar with the problem of getting out the vote, taught the dark arts of which first by my father, who remembered the days when the dead walked and the war cry was’vote early, vote often…’ and later by a superb Labour Party agent who was to meet an untimely death.
He knew his election law to the last nth – and he knew the ways of the voter with an uncanny prescience, like a hunter stalking his prey.

Giles
Giles

From the article there is a clear disparity between the parties of the better off and the others: the others lack transport.

This echoes the cry heard at every election, local or national, in the offices of the Constituency Labour Party and which I first heard as a child.
‘The Tories have cars!’

Indeed they did and their party workers could afford to run them.
It was a great advantage and one my grandfather on my mother’s side would do his bit to nullify.
He would arrange that I spent the day before the election with him and his wife – partly to be out from under my parents’ feet, partly for his own ends.

A cynical gentleman injured in the First World War he had had the distinction in the Second World War of being drummed out of his local Air Raid Warden service in that he did
A. Not get past the Rose and Crown with vital messages when on exercise resulting in the gasworks being (theoretically) blown up
and
B. Causing alarm and despondency by creeping up on gossiping housewives and bellowing ‘Gas!’ swinging his gas rattle the while.

So the bystander might have been surprised to see this spry but elderly gentleman stepping out on the evening before the elections, a child at his side carrying a wicker pannier…not quite his image.
But, long before Baldrick, he had a cunning plan…and it involved potatoes, not turnips.

From his somewhat doubtful knowledge of the internal combustion engine he had worked out that if the exhaust was blocked the car would not go, so as we strolled along on his predetermined and well researched path he would point out a car with a flick of his finger and my job was to crouch down as if adjusting my shoelaces, insert a potato in the exhaust and shove it up as far as possible with the small stick I carried in the pannier.
Not all the cars were parked on the road…some involved darts into gardens and I was coached that if approached by indignant householders I was to plead incontinence and shyness in equal parts.

As I recall I survived these evening strolls unscathed and was rewarded by a lemonade in the beer garden of his local pub before we returned home and the reproaches of his wife to the tune of ‘keeping the child up late and is that whisky I smell on your breath?’

Did it work? I have no idea.
Election day was spent with the house full of people comparing electoral rolls with the returns of the canvassers and the reports from the tellers outside the polling stations – grandfather despatching sorties to get out the votes from whichever part of the area appeared to be backsliding.

Giles
Giles

Which brings me to the other part of the article….the parties announcing how many volunteers they proposed to feed – and with what.
Grandmother sustained the troops on her wonderful victoria sponge cake and tea: in later life the Labour Party offices would be sustained on election day on sandwiches and cigarettes.

Costa Rica does it on a meal of arroz con pollo – literally rice with chicken – which strikes me as being a sort of chicken risotto using whole portions of poultry. Beats sandwiches hands down.
All parties bar one are serving their volunteers this traditional dish.

The exception is the party whose candidate is the one with problems with previous election finding, who refuses to marry and is courting the conservative religious vote.
They are supplying burritos..a flour tortilla with a filling of minced meat, cheese and salad with a tomato sauce.
We shall see whether these torpedo shaped recipes for indigestion propel him to victory or depthcharge his chances.

But not on Sunday.

For to win outright a candidate needs to obtain more than forty percent of the vote, and, from the polls published so far, barring skulduggery on the scale of Tammany Hall crossed with the European Union, no candidate is likely even to approach that figure.

So it will all need to be done again in April…and no, not on April 1st.

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How Penguins Part from their Partners

Wikicommons Pere Igor
Wikicommons Pere Igor
Driving to and from the hospital at Poitiers I would be reminded that this was a landscape known to man for a long time, and that my preoccupations were nothing new under the sun.
Megaliths abounded in that area; menhirs and dolmens, bearing witness to the antiquity of the human presence – and how many more would there have been had they not been destroyed by forces of, successively, religion and agriculture.
In the commune where I first lived a dolmen had been blown up as late as 1912…..it was ‘in the way’.
North of Taize was a group of four…one clearly visible from the road, that Roman road from Poitiers to Nantes which was frequented by St. Hilaire of Poitiers, Apostle of Poitou and his follower, St. Martin of Tours in the fourth century A.D.
St. Martin les Baillargeaux, Noize
St. Martin les Baillargeaux, Noize
The church of Noize, now standing out in the fields far from the village, was named for St.Martin.
Its earlier parts date from the tenth century A.D, and it is supposed that, like many Christian sites, it took the place of a pagan temple…but I can’t imagine that either St.Hilaire or St. Martin would have left such a temple untouched.
baptisiere St. Jean, Poitiers l'internaute.com
baptisiere St. Jean, Poitiers
l’internaute.com
Normally I would have driven on..to the hospital outside Poitiers at La Miletrie, and with some time to spare would have visited the Baptistry of St. Jean, said to have been founded by St.Hilaire in the period when baptism by immersion was the rule…but today I will turn aside between Taize and Noize to go to Oiron, via Bilazais.

fontaine de bilazais site officiel de la commune de oiron
fontaine de bilazais
site officiel de la commune de oiron
Bilazais is today, as it always was, an undistinguished little village……but it could have made its fortune had an entrepreneur taken it in hand in the great days of the spa, at the end of the nineteenth century. Its waters were the equal of those at Bareges in the Pyrenees…but in the late nineteenth century it was easier to go from Paris to Bareges than to Bilazais…so the fountains of Bilazais slumbered on…the source no longer even used for the health of the old people in the almshouses in Oiron, just up the road.

Those almshouses had been founded by Madame de Montespan.….once the mistress of the Sun King Louis XIV…. when, retired from the court, she took up residence at the Chateau d’Oiron.

Chateau d'Oiron monuments. nationaux.fr
Chateau d’Oiron
monuments. nationaux.fr
An ambitious woman, she had succeeded in becoming the king’s mistress by pretending to befriend the then holder of the title, Louise de la Valliere, and – with or without the aid of black magic – had succeeded in supplanting her.
The relationship was so notorious that in 1675 the Church refused to allow the king to take communion at Easter unless he parted from his favourite…..and eventually the his Most Christian Majesty agreed to the separation….which lasted no time at all and once reunited added two more illegitimate children to the quiverful already produced between them.

In her turn she was to be supplanted…first by a silly girl who died in mysterious circumstances….then by the woman she had hired to bring up the brood of royal bastards, Mme. Scarron, whose aim was to draw the King back onto the path of virtue….and did it so well that after the death of the Queen Louis married her.

But the Sun King was courteous where women were concerned….he would raise his hat in their presence whether the woman be countess or chambermaid…..and Mme. de Montespan was not banished from Versailles.
She remained at court until her children, now legitimised to the fury of the aristocracy, made splendid marriages and only then did she retire from public life. Comforted by a generous pension she turned her attention to improving her chances in the afterlife by taking to religion and good works. Thus the almshouses at Oiron.

Louis XIV had a sense of his own worth which attached to anyone to whom he had given marks of favour: the glamour of his attachment extended to seeing that his favourites – and ex favourites – were respected.

Francois Hollande, President of the French Republic, has a well developed sense of his own worth too….at his recent meeting with the Pope in the Vatican he had his backside well anchored to a chair while the other Francis was still on his feet. Someone should tell him that one may be an atheist without being impolite.

But the signs were there….at the handover of power he turned on his heel to enter the Elysee Palace, leaving Sarkozy and his wife to find their own way to their car, which may have been the inspiration for Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s song…Le Pingouin.
I don’t propose to inflict it on you….you can look it up for yourselves on Youtube….but the penguin of the title is popularly supposed to be Francois Hollande.

A clumsy gait, but a superior air; sure of himself; a sly narcissistic cheapskate; and cold hearted to those around him.

Judge for yourselves….

But he is scarcely the Sun King, our Hollandouille: where the former would have raised his hat to his former mistress the latter could only manage…..the finger.

Givingthefinger

Not Much Bread……..But Plenty of Circuses

hollande on scooter
Hello, Clement! You look a bit fed up! A glass of Claude’s rose?

Thanks….it needs something. I’ve been up to my ears all day: Plouc’s never in the office so I have to deal with all the old biddies…and if they’re not in the office they’re on the ‘phone.

I hear he’s standing for maire in the elections….so I suppose he’s out pressing the flesh.

Tell me about it! I just wish he’d find a bit of time to do his job as a notaire! I’m sick and tired of forging his signature.

What’re his chances?

Pretty good…mark you there’s not much opposition given old Georges’ antics – he won’t be re elected and people are none too keen to join his list.

Not surprised when you think of that water tax he dreamt up!

Well, there’s not much you could do about your yard, was there….you could hardly take up the tarmac with people parking and deliveries and all…

They get you all ways with water!
First it was ‘Cut down your usage…be responsible….buy water butts’.
So you do that and then the water bill goes up all the same because they don’t have enough money to keep the system going. Or so they say!
Then along comes Georges with his bright scheme to avoid paying for a new sewage works….wants the rainwater to soak into the ground instead of going into the drains….so he charges you an arm and a leg for every square metre on your property that is covered by roofs or tarmac!

Yes, even Plouc pulled out that old outhouse when he saw the bill for the tax.
Old Georges couldn’t care less if Plouc is going to be the next deputy……he reckoned that Plouc would have to splash out round here as it’s his own backyard so he didn’t have to worry about keeping in with him.

Yes, but why’s Plouc standing for maire if he’s going to be the deputy? I thought they were going to stop politicians having two jobs….

Well they haven’t…and there’s not much chance of getting it through the parliament any time soon. The turkeys won’t vote for Christmas, so Plouc reckons it’s safe to stand for maire and that it will help him when it comes round to the general election….you know, planning permissions and whatnot.

So you’ll be seeing even less of him, then?

Not really…they don’t stay up in Paris all week….they clear off on Wednesday night to spend time in their constituencies….so I suppose he’ll he in the office about as much as he is now…
Oh, hello Victor!

Victor! We’re just talking about the elections! Claude’s rose?

Ah yes…he made a nice drop this year. Elections? Well, I’m voting for Georges!

For Georges! After what he got up to!

Oh, that water tax…didn’t bother me…us farmers were exempt…
But you talk about old Georges…what about our beloved President? Now that’s one who’s really been up to something!

Well, no more than others before him. They’re all at it….always have been.
Look at Chirac – yes, thanks, another glass…the night Princess Diana died he was off with some woman and no one knew where he was until he turned up in the early hours.

And Giscard d’Estaing..colliding with a milk tanker…

Not to speak of Mitterand! Though that was more of a settled sort of thing – a whole other family rather than tarts – he had female ministers for all that.
No, Victor he’s not the first and he won’t be the last!

And anyway, it’s his private life…he has a right to privacy.

Oh, does he? And if he does why don’t we?

But we do, Victor…people can’t take photographs of us without our permission,, so why should they take them of Hollande without his?

It’s not photographs I’m talking about! Young Laurent’s been telling me that now the taxman and the police can bug our ‘phones and monitor anything we do over the internet without even having to get a judge to agree to it!

That won’t bother you Victor! You’re too mean to sign up for the internet anyway!

That’s where you’re wrong! It does bother me!
They go on about terrorism and security – but you watch! One mention of where you keep your money and there’ll be a posse of gendarmes carving up your mattress before you can blink!

Yes but that’s different….Hollande wants what everyone has – the right to do what he wants in his own time.

What own time! He wanted to be President, didn’t he? Wasn’t too bothered about having Strauss-Kahn’s private life splashed all over the papers when that knocked out one of his rivals!

Yes, but you can’t confuse his public life with his private life…

No? Well just tell me how it is then that some young policeman who works as a security guard on the Ministry of the Interior can be suspended because he does what he wants in his free time?

It must have been something illegal…

No! Perfectly legal! He worked at the Ministry in the daytime and was a rent boy at night.
And how did they find out? Snooping on his bank account.
And they want him suspended because being a rent boy isn’t compatible with being a policeman.
So if they can ‘confuse’ his public and private life then why should Hollande be exempt?

Well, he’s the President, not some young kid doing something on the side….and even you aren’t going to say that Hollande is a rent boy!

No of course he isn’t, but you can’t say what he’s up to is very savoury.
And what’s more, aren’t they bringing in a law to make criminals of men who visit prostitutes?
Doesn’t that apply if you’re the President either?

But she’s not a prostitute, Victor! She’s an actress!

Takes off her clothes for money doesn’t she? Same thing!

But that doesn’t make her a tart, Victor! Hollande’s not paying her!

No, I don’t suppose he is – doesn’t pay for anything himself – but you want to look at who owns that flat in the rue du Cirque!
Some bint married to an actor who’s well up in the Corsican mafia.
Now you tell me what’s worse…some kid trying to make a bit of extra on the side, or a President of the French Republic who, with all the snoopers in the country at his service, gets himself mixed up with bandits!

Here, Alain, lets have another. A whisky this time…and none of your Clan Campbell!

Right you are! A Johnny Walker – a double – and on the house!
Go easy Victor! One free drink and you’re anyone’s rent boy!
What’s that, Clement?

Well, I tell you what….private life or not, Hollande’s not much of a man is he?

What do you mean?

Think about it.
He was living with Valerie Trierweiler when he was elected.
He doesn’t marry her, so that puts her at the sharp end of a lot of nastiness about being or not being First Lady.
Then he installs her in the Elysee Palace with a staff….making it as public as possible that married or not she has a status as far as he is concerned.
She goes with him on State visits. Except the Vatican, of course.
And then he has this affair – which he’s not denying – and leaves her twisting in the wind, a target for anyone who pleases.
You can’t live with someone and then treat them like this. Not if you have any decency.

Yes, I see what you mean. He could have told her what was going on…given her the chance to leave with a bit of dignity.

What! Him!
If he’d been straight with us, the electors, about what he was going to do he’d never have made President, nomatter how much everyone hated Sarkozy.
No, with his women he’s like he is with power….sits on his arse and waits for better times….

The way things are he’d better watch out that performing in the rue du Cirque doesn’t lead him to performing against the lions in the Circus Maximus…

I tell you what!

Yes, Victor?

When they cut out his prostate they should have been a bit more radical.

Making a Meal of Nostalgia

 gallo pinto cocina.ahorra.net
gallo pinto cocina.ahorra.net

We have just had our six monthly visit from a health worker from the local clinic.
He visits every house in his area by motorbike over the gravel roads, dossiers and equipment in the box on the back which he slings over his shoulder to bring into the house.

We’ve come to know him well…a football fanatic, his first cry today after the regular greeting is

‘Italy! Uraguay! England!…..poor Costa Rica!’

Clearly the draw for the football World Cup could have been rather better arranged to his way of thinking!

It’s as much a social visit as a medical one….we discuss all manner of things including, of course, football, before we turn to the purpose of the visit.

How are we?

He checks my husband’s hospital appointments, asks about medication, if he has any problems….takes our blood pressures and asks if we are eating healthily.
Not just are we eating plenty of fruit and veg…but which and how much…and what else are we eating?

Which starts another chat about foreign food, its tastes and traditions.
How did we get a taste for Indian food? What do we think of Costa Rican food? What did we have for breakfast this morning?

He departs, the dust rising behind his motorbike as we see him off at the gate, and we go back to the house.

But what did we have for breakfast this morning?

My husband is breakfast chef in this establishment and split second timing is required of his commis (me).
Have I prepped the onions? The garlic?
Am I sure that there aren’t any tomatoes which need using more than those produced for inspection? Investigations are made followed by a triumphant return with one more with a soft spot…
Have I beaten the eggs with some black pepper and some of his potassium salt substitute?
Is the toast on? Does it need turning?

And what is the result of all this activity?

He has made us sick.

Or at least this is how the dish was christened by his sister as a child.

The onions are softened in olive oil, the quartered tomatoes follow on the top. When they are softened the crushed garlic is added and finally the beaten egg is turned into the pan and mixed in.
The result is piled on hot buttered toast….and despite the appearance which explains the nickname of the dish it is really very, very good.

I know what our health visitor had for breakfast too.

Gallo Pinto. Speckled Cockerel.

Based on rice and black beans, usually cooked off on the previous day, it sounds dull…but not at all!
The rice may have been cooked in plain water, but the black beans were cooked together with onions, garlic and coyote cilantro with its heavy persistent flavour.

To make breakfast his mother will have fried up chopped onion, garlic and sweet pepper and turned into the mix the rice and beans, finishing it with chopped cilantro (coriander).
It will have been topped with a fried egg, a fried plantain or natilla – sour cream – and is a great way to start the day.

When I was a child it was assumed that you could not hope to do a good day’s work, or do well at school, unless you had eaten a good breakfast and my mother would cook either bacon and eggs, or sausage, mushroom and tomato; boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, or poached eggs (plural you note) to be followed by toast and marmalade and to be finished half an hour before leaving the house in order to digest it.

It was a habit I stuck to…and blessed it when working where lunch meant ordering a sandwich in a brown paper bag from one of the nearby Italian sandwich bars accompanied by a cup of instant coffee.
It might have meant getting up earlier but thanks to that breakfast there was no need or desire to snack and enough energy to get home and cook an evening meal….the ranks of Spud-U-Like, KFC and the Star of India never tempted me on the way back from the station.

An introduction to France showed me the horrors of the Continental Breakfast.
Bread…a croissant…pain au chocolat…jam….chicory flavoured coffee -or, more likely, vice versa.
Ye gods and little fishes!
Battle of Agincourt explained.

Living in rural France later I was to discover that this was not the norm.
My elderly neighbours had soup for breakfast with the dry bread from yesterday soaked in it. Proper soup with veg from their own gardens with plenty of flavour and goodness.
Croissants…jam? Bof!
The coffee was the same though….

In Belgium I had their sort of breakfast…cold meats and cheeses…proper bread – even pistolei….and good coffee.
Battle of the Golden Spurs explained.

Even now. long retired, we cling to the solid breakfast routine.

Lunch is usually lighter. Danilo lunches with us on working days and is now well accustomed to the frequent arrival on the table of ‘worms’.
Chinese worms, Italian worms, worms worms.

Pasta, in all its shapes and forms.
Yesterday I made pasta shells with a sauce of broccoli, anchovy, sweet pepper and chilli….today it is linguine with spicy sausage in a sauce of tomato. onion, garlic, herbs and paprika.
Tomorrow it will be a stir fry with noodles.

In the evenings we generally have a plate of soup with bread and cheese. Easy to digest before bed and endlessly different with the range of veg available.

I have to admit to wondering how we ever managed to wade through all the courses we ate at lunch with French friends….only to start on the leftovers again in the evening….how it was that, had I taken a ‘selfie’ in those days, it would not have revealed something which would have had Captain Ahab sharpening his harpoon.

I couldn’t do it today, that’s for sure!

But I do have an atavistic longing for a good Scots breakfast…..

Not so much my grannie’s breakfast, copious and tasty as it was, but that of our holidays on the coast where we had access to that paradisiacal element – morning rolls.

Every summer the children of the extended family would be banded together somewhere on the west coast of Scotland; parents taking it in turns to act as warders. It gave both them and us a great deal of freedom.

While morning rolls were a staple…children sent to the bakery at an early hour…the other items of breakfast depended on the whims and tastes of the adults.

There was always porage. Proper porage, cooked on the back of the stove overnight and eaten with salt, with milk, or with brown sugar and cream according to your age. Youngest sweetest.

Then you might have a Loch Fyne herring coated in oatmeal and fried, accompanied by potato scones…goodness only knows where those herring have disappeared to…..

Or if Uncle Andra was in charge it would be an Arbroath smokie. to be eaten cold.

Or Ayrshire bacon with a fried slice of cloutie dumpling alongside.

And king of kings, the slice of square sausage.

A damn sight more solid than the snows of yesteryear, but gone from me just as certainly.