Danger! Men at Work!

The view from the cafetal
The view from the cafetal

This will be the view from the terrace of our new house up in the cafetal. At the moment only the foundations have been laid and the whole project will take some months to complete as it is an ‘in-house’ job, but it is advancing at a steady forward creep, having overcome the usual administrative hurdles whose purpose might best be expressed as ‘you can’t do that there ‘ere’.

Well, you can, but only after jumping through the usual hoops and parting with extravagant amounts of money in order that your own plans should be signed off by a real architect, who estimates the building costs and takes a fixed percentage fee based on his own estimate….
But exorbitant though that fee might be it’s a damned sight worse if you are rash enough to get him to do the plans as well.
Apart from involving a delay of several months while he takes a holiday on the upfront portion of the fee, then recovers from the holiday, then it’s Christmas and New Year with the family at the beach and only when January ends does he run short enough of money to think of completing the job.
Together with all the others he has been sitting on for months.

You have to be careful, too, that the house does not run the danger of being considered – for tax purposes – as ‘luxurious’ which would bring it into a higher tax bracket.
The money raised from this tax is supposed to be applied to improving the standards of housing of the poor, but as the body supervising this process believes that charity begins at home and is busy rehousing its relatives on the proceeds, both from a fiscal and moral point of view it is better that the house is not classed as luxurious.

We had thought to build a house here before – and then changed our minds. Luckily…. as the Italianate villa with a tower that we had first had in mind would have seen us paying enough annual tax to enable the supervisory body to house the entirety of its sisters and its cousins, whom it reckons up in dozens and its aunts.

We like our original house, tucked in as it is under the hill, but despite adding a balcony and extra bedroom it is bursting at the seams and we need something larger, if only to house the books.

There is, too, the fact that we are not getting any younger and it would make things easier to be on flat ground.
While indoors is fine with the current house, going out involves walking steeply up or downhill to get to garden, stables or pool.
Up on the top, with a bit of leveling, we have a flat area all around the house and on a lower level, another flat area on one side for housing for the sheep, cattle and poultry and on the other side somewhere flat for the veg garden.

Planting on the approaches
Planting on the approaches

A house, however, is nothing without its surroundings, so we spent part of the last rainy season transporting the plants Leo had been growing on in pots up to the house site, to give an avenue of palms interplanted with gingers in the short term…to be ruthlessly hacked out should they start to run amok. Thugs they may be, but they are beautiful when in flower.

gingers in flower
gingers in flower

Not that beauty was lacking to start with….
arriba 018
This tree gives the pink fleshed guavas I use to make jelly and I love its shape.

But the guava now has company.

unluxurious residence for tax purposes...
unluxurious residence for tax purposes…

This bijou residence is where Danilo spends the night – and will continue to spend the night while materials and tools are on the site, as the entrance from the road is now wide open and he worries about theft.

Down towards the road
Down towards the road

He is not alone. He has his two dogs for company, Calamardo and Rowley.
Calamardo is a black and tan specimen, rangy and intelligent.
Rowley is a brown pit bull type, stocky, half blind and single minded.
Both are lovely dogs once you get to know them, but while getting to know Calamardo is easy, approaching Rowley makes the etiquette of ancien regime Versailles look like a picnic.

You have to be accompanied by Danilo as master of ceremonies: you do not arrive on foot – if you wish to retain same.
On arrival, Rowley will hurtle towards you, to be intercepted by Danilo. You may then open the car door – and leave it open for Rowley to sniff you and the car. He circles you widdershins several times and then pees on a tyre.
You are now accepted at court.
The next time you arrive Rowley will hurtle towards you and give you a lick. Half blind he may be but his sense of smell is acute.

I have not discovered what happens if he does not pee on a tyre…but having seen him demolishing the thigh bones of oxen with consummate ease I prefer not to contemplate the prospect.

So far no attempts at theft have been made….but Danilo has had other visitors.

Further along the road is a spot much frequented by those seeking a little privacy for their romantic interludes and not willing or not able to pay for a couple of hours in one of the many ‘pay by the hour’ hotels, the car windows open to the warm night air.
You can estimate the usage by the number of takeaway boxes and cans of soft drink thrown from said windows into the hedge alongside.

Well, the top photograph shows the view in daytime…at night too it is a beautiful spot under the stars and the wide open entrance has, of course, attracted business from the hedgerow.

Danilo reckons it takes just a few moments after the car starts bouncing on its springs before the couple realise that they are not alone….Calamardo at one window, Rowley at another, breathing heavily.
Collapse of stout party guaranteed.

He was telling us about this over coffee this morning when Don Freddy called in.
He looked grave.

You should take a few precautions, you know…

The dogs won’t hurt them….they’re only curious.

No no…you should take a torch and pencil and paper.

Whatever for?

To note down the number plates of course! Don’t you see…you could look them up on the Registro Nacional the next day and threaten to tell their wives!
You could make a fortune!

Meet Monty

Monty
Monty

Monty was born three weeks ago, but his mother rejected him. So, instead of being outside with this lot:

Four baby lambs, two three weeks old, two a fortnight old.
Four baby lambs, two three weeks old, two a fortnight old.

Monty is living in the house….and spending more time in the garden as he grows increasingly independent.

His mother and another ewe gave birth to twins on the same day – and both mothers rejected the males; butting them away quite roughly, so we took them into the house.
One little chap was just too weak to make it, and we thought we had lost Monty too on the second morning. We looked into his box expecting the worst…but a little grizzled head was lifted slightly, and Monty battled on.

Leo spent endless time getting him to take milk – he had no idea of sucking, so Leo rehydrated him first with water around his mouth, then rubbing milk into his lips until his mouth opened…and then coaxing him to take milk from the bottle.
And why Leo?
Because when he was a little boy of seven, his sister was born and his job was – when he had done his homework, finished his rows of weeding in the garden and washed up after supper – to get the baby girl to take a bottle before rocking her to sleep in her pram. No easy task, from what he remembers!
He reckoned that if he could get his sister to take a bottle, Monty would be no problem…and so, after a day of patient coaxing, it proved to be.

Monty slept and drank, slept and drank….and then began to take an interest in his surroundings. He tried to latch onto the Alsatian – who fled to the sofa and then, as Monty became capable of reaching the sofa himself, would take one look at the approaching lamb and head for the hills…

The Alsatian, legging it
The Alsatian, legging it

So Monty is making do with Leo….

Leo and the Lamb
Leo and the Lamb

We bought the sheep last year – with a view to mutton – and they were a distinctly mixed lot.
Monty’s colouring is predominantly that of the Barbados Blackbelly breed – apart from the white tip on his tail – but you can see from the photograph of the other four that they are a decidedly diverse little bunch!
We certainly won’t be winning any prizes for best in breed, but they are easy to keep, out on the pasture in the early morning to get the grass while it is wet with dew, then up to the shelter in the heat of the day to chew the cud and vociferously demand extra rations of sugar cane and banana stems – vastago – chopped small.
Taking a bucket of bananas in to them needs a talent for swift movement, otherwise their sharp little hoofs have your feet pinned to the ground in seconds while they jostle for the contents.

And Monty?
The aim is to wean him and reintroduce him to the others…he accompanies Leo into the shelter to cut cane and, while not exactly accepted, is not attacked either, so the next step will be to go out on the pasture with him for increasing lengths of time.

That’s the aim…..but I wouldn’t be altogether surprised to find that we have to get another sofa for a sheep….because these two won’t be too pleased

Fifi and Tot
Fifi and Tot

if Monty takes over their bed….

Bed? Whose bed?
Bed? Whose bed?

When History Repeats Itself

Parc Monceau Gustave Caillebotte Commons wikipedia.org
Parc Monceau
Gustave Caillebotte
Commons wikipedia.org

Paris has never appealed to me: I regard it as a place to slog through to get to somewhere more interesting and am relieved that I have rarely had to stay there for more than a couple of days.
I must be a provincial at heart – not even that gem of a book ‘Paris des Pas Perdus’ by Alain Rustenholz can enthuse me enough to check out whether or not the Eiffel Tower is painted in three different shades of grey to make it look as if it tapers.
For one thing I would have to pay an entrance fee and for another I much preferred to return home to see my own Eiffel Tower…the metal spire of the village church designed by Eiffel and destined to become the subject of a French rural version of Bleak House as the village, varying departmental architects of Batiments de France and a firm of painters slugged it out in the courts for years to see who was to take the blame for the paint peeling off it and who was to pay for the solution.
I could have told them the answer: they must have used that wonderful French invention – non stick paint.
It would peel from my shutters in under a year, so no wonder it peeled from the steeple in two.

Still, were I to be lumbered with a longer stay in Paris I think I could seek solace in the alleys of the Parc Monceau, still not all that different from its depiction by Caillebotte above.
Quiet today as when he painted it, but not many years before it had been one of the sites where the supporters of the Paris Commune were shot by the troops of the bourgeois French Republic in May 1871….those rounded up had their hands inspected to see if they had been firing weapons and those thus incriminated were sentenced to immediate sentence of death by firing squad by an ad hoc military tribunal.

Pavillon de Chartres Pavillon de Chartres Parc Monceau scholarsresource.com
Pavillon de Chartres
Parc Monceau
scholarsresource.com

This building at one end of the Parc Monceau is one of the few remains of the Wall of the Farmers-General, built in the late eighteenth century to encircle Paris at the behest of the ‘Ferme generale’ – the corporation of private individuals who collected most of the taxes on behalf of the government.

The royal government had long since given up the task of tax collection by that time.
It had hived off the function to the Ferme generale whose members would bid for the chance to collect a particular tax in a particular area….thus the government was guaranteed a certain income, and the members of the Ferme generale were guaranteed a whopping profit as – thanks to their spirit of solidarity – the bidding process was not exactly competitive.
They collected all sorts…taxes on land, taxes on that most basic of commodities, salt….and taxes on everything that entered Paris.
Thus the wall.

After a brief moment of revolutionary madness when the tax on goods entering Paris was briefly abolished before being rapidly reinstated, the wall remained – not to disappear until Paris was torn apart by Baron Haussmann in the 1860s, its narrow insanitary streets being replaced by the wide boulevards we see today and as the wall disappeared so did the tax which gave birth to it.

The wall had long outlasted its progenitors however: prominent members of the Ferme generale having filled the maw of Madame Guillotine the new French state took taxation into its own hands.
No more middlemen.

Well, not until recently, that is.

The previous government of France, that of Sarkozy, signed an agreement with a private company, Ecomouv which enabled that company to organise a system of tax collection on the usage of particular stretches of road by heavy goods vehicles in return for a fixed tariff to be paid to the French state.

Once the system was due to come into force there were protests – notably in Brittany whose hauliers claimed that they were being penalised for being at a distance from Paris, out on their peninsular.
Several of Ecomouv’s installations were destroyed and the Hollande government promptly announced that implementation of the tax would be postponed.

In the meantime, journalists at ‘Marianne’ have uncovered an opinion of one of the civil servants most closely involved with the Ecomouv concept that the infrastructure as set up not only enables the company to monitor heavy goods vehicles – but all vehicles

And not only that…with the technology available road pricing can be put into place.
You’re a rich bugger – your company can pay for your use of a road rendered empty by price fixing and lay it off to tax.
You’re a minister or high civil servant – the public purse can pay.

It all makes me think that the Green lobby has a great deal for which to answer.

Why do we use inefficient wind power when we can use nuclear power?
Because nuclear power produces spent uranium which has to be stored…or used in the military weapons which have made a devastation of Iran.
But if we use thorium we don’t have that problem.
Except that governments don’t see it as a problem. They like having depleted uranium available for military purposes.
Where is the Green lobby here?

What do we propose to do to enable people living in the country to access the services they need?
Public transport? Don’t make me laugh!
Elderly neighbours in France were already limiting their trips to town for shopping before I left.

Carbon exchange credits…what does that do apart from permitting polluters to continue to pollute?

I’ll have time for the Greens when they stop taking ‘planes to conferences; when they take into account the lives of the poor in first world countries and when they disassociate themselves from money raking enterprises.

But I won’t be holding my breath.