Monthly Archives: September 2015

Ode to Joy

If I were to say that I grew up in a musical family it would conjure up an erroneous vision.
No one played an instrument….and when the school obliged its pupils to learn to play one father perused the options – recorder or violin – and announced that he was against torturing cats, so the recorder it was – ghastly thing.
My fingers were all thumbs, it made an abominable sound in my hands and it was quietly agreed between the music department, my father and myself that life would be better for all of us were I to have a session in the library instead.
I suspect that this agreement came in the wake of Rhonwen’s father storming the school bearing her violin and announcing that lessons were all very well, but that in future his daughter could practice on school premises and thus avoid waking her baby sister.

In other fields further agreements were reached…..the school made a token gesture towards fitting its girls for home making (something the headmistress regarded as the ultimate failure unless undertaken in support of elderly parents) by giving classes in needlework and cookery in the first year.
I thus achieved not one but three library sessions per week (double periods at that).
An unfortunate incident involving lighting a gas oven with a taper saw me removed from the cookery room – and my parents spared the horrors of rock hard raspberry buns – while sewing the skirt I was supposed to be making to the skirt I was wearing at the time saw my time at the sewing machine cut short in drastic fashion.
And if you think you can’t sew one to the other, you should have seen the school uniform winter skirts of that era.
Built from serge so stiff it could stand up on its own, six gored and long enough to cover the knees of a giraffe we used to reckon that it was an initiative on the part of the school governors to keep the Clyde shipyards in operation.
Only the rivets were lacking.

But father loved music…and sang – when he was not smoking.
You knew when father was home as soon as you opened the door: whorls of blue smoke would engulf you in the hall, which was imbued with the odour peculiar to hand rolled tobacco – known to us as tram driver’s glove – in maize paper wrappers.
Venturing further into the house, father would either be silently smoking while reading the newspaper – articles varying from Manchester Guardian leaders to the racing page of the Daily Mirror – or be concocting something in the kitchen…and singing.

He sang just about everything except hymns.
Opera, light opera…music hall ditties, folk songs, political stuff….it is thanks to him that I have a vast ragbag of musical memories which rise unbidden to the surface, from ‘se vuol ballare’ from “The Marriage of Figaro’

Via the Red Air Force song:

‘Propellers roaring, roaring to the battle
High in the air above the clouds we speed
Our bombas are ready, machine guns rattle
Against the world’s imperialist greed.
Fly higher, and higher anf higher
Our emblem’s the Soviet star
When every propeller is roaring’ class front’
Defending the USSR’.

(For some reason this does not seem to exist on Youtube but I was delighted to hear it played as part of Moscow’s recent VE day celebrations.)

To ‘Stop your tickling, Jock’

‘Jock of Hazeldean’

And the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco:

And the explanations came with the music…why ‘The Mikado’ was written when it was…who was the butt of ‘HMS Pinafore’…
Why the operas of Verdi were so popular with supporters of Italy’s Risorgimento: Verdi – Viva Emmanuel (Victor Emmanuel of Savoy) Re D’Italia….his love and knowledge of history bubbling through the music.

Having a voice like the Muckle Flugger on a foggy night does not deter me from giving song in the mornings and most of my repertoire comes from my father…though I have to hold him blameless in respect of ‘The Hole in the Elephant’s Bottom’, which you can look up for yourselves if so inclined.

He was not so enthusiastic for ‘stand alone’ music…so it was due to the school music department that I grew to enjoy orchestral music: those two Welsh ladies – while sending me once more to the library during choir practice – gave us all a grounding in the history of music and its stylistic manifestations which illuminated the records they played to illustrate their lessons.
They ran a music club so that we could play records in the lunch hour…and gently allowed our emotional development to echo itself in music; always ready to explain, to offer other examples…it seemed at the time a relief from the rigours of study, but, looking back, their instruction was equally rigorous – just couched in a different fashion.

The school was conscientious in taking pupils to the theatre…to the ballet…to the Greek play at some public school whose name I have forgotten, but will never forget the thrill of hearing classical Greek spoken which enlivened my plodding attempts to learn it…and to the Proms.

Which brings me to the Ode to Joy.
My father had introduced me to Schiller….his was the remnant of a generation which looked to Germany for its culture and was brought up on German literature…and I had heard and responded to Beethoven before…but this was the first time I was to see and hear a performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

The second part of the programme was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which, as it progressed, took me further out of myself than I had theretofore experienced; I looked at my friends alongside – all were as involved, living it.
And then the final movement and the Ode to Joy….I can still remember how it affected me: borne up, the heart overflowing, the senses overcome.
For someone wary, withdrawn, it did indeed reveal Schiller’s ‘Joy, daughter of Elysium’.

It changed me.

I have heard it since – notably Bernstein’s concert at the fall of the Berlin Wall with its cry of ‘Freiheit’…and heard parts of it again on a programme in a series called ‘Soul Music’ on BBC radio tonight, which led me to play the whole symphony again.

And to recall the supreme irony…that the European Union, that oligarchic institution in which the people of Europe have no voice, has the damned sauce to use the ‘Ode to Joy’ as its anthem.

The words of this are supposed to read ‘meep. meep, meep’ but sound more like ‘me, me, me’.
How apt for the EU, that perversion of democracy, which quibbles while children drown.

37 Comments

Filed under music

Hey, Big Spender

We were having lunch when the sound of cars on the track below the house sent the dogs into a frenzy.

Normally, they take no notice….they know all the regular cars: Hugo’s SUV, Luis’ pick up, Franklin’s van and the two motor bikes which bring the Mariachi’s workmen to his finca down over the river.
These come at their appointed hours and apart from the odd grumble from the poodle pass without challenge.

But today the dogs were out in full fig: Arthur, periscope ears rotating as he gave tongue….the two pups hanging over the edge above the track presenting their less attractive profiles as they barked in baritone…Black Tot and the poodle yapping hysterically and bouncing up and down to see over the bushes.
Danilo’s dogs joined in, nothing loath: Calamardillo showing his crocodile teeth….the Hyena giving it laldy…and tiny Bigote – more hair than dog – yapping along with the best from his vantage point on the table in the porch.

The cars had stopped by the time we had left the table and gone to investigate.
Two large, shaven headed men were looking up at the canine reception committee, then a hard faced woman peered out from the lead car and seemed to call them back.
The convoy turned in the entrance to our neighbour’s corral and departed whence it had come.

Lost? Plenty of people do get lost, thinking that there is a road through the valley….

But it appeared that they were not lost…they were on a quest.

All was revealed when the young man who delivers goods after dark turned up with a further installment of wire fencing.

Had we seen the enforcers?

Well, we’d seen the men and the two cars.

Yes, the enforcers. They’re looking for The Neighbour

He of the crisp white hat with a curly brim has been remarkable by his absence of late.

Yes, he would be. he’s lying low.

The fencing unloaded, the story was recounted over a beer.

The Neighbour – while ostensibly making his living from transporting cattle – has other occupations.

He works for one of the local Mr. Bigs doing goodness only knows what which pays very well in cash
However, when the opportunity arose to do some moonlighting for another of the local Mr. Bigs in the same line of business he seized it with both hands.

Flush with this doubling of his income, The Neighbour has been extending his social horizons.
Banned from every bar in town and for several kilometres around he decided to go further afield and betook himself to one of the casinos with which San Jose is blessed.

casino san jose

This did not please the lady who has moved in with him in the hope of one day depriving him of his house by accusing him of ill treating her and thus being awarded possession of his property under the provisions of the law protecting women from domestic violence..
The hostesses in the casinos look considerably more like Shirley Bassey than she does and are even more expert at cash extraction.

Apart from the hostesses and their lack of apparel, the casinos have other attractions….free meals and snacks…and free booze.

The Neighbour’s dream.

Until it turned into a nightmare.

Flush on the attractions of the casino he appears to have ventured past the one arm bandit area into the maw of the beast – the gaming tables – and there to have laid down some four thousand dollars on one turn of the roulette wheel.

Whether it stopped on the red or on the black our informant had no idea…but he lost.

Collapse of stout party.

He could pay…but he was now skint.
And he had immediate calls on his money – because the money he had lost was not his, but money belong to Mr. Big 2 which The Neighbour had collected on his behalf.

Resourceful as ever, The Neighbour betook himself to Mr. Big 1 and negotiated a loan of four thousand dollars to tide him over.
He then paid this to Mr. Big 2 and settled down to a period of enforced domestic economy to pay off Mr. Big 1.

Enforced domestic economy had not pleased the lady resident on his premises. In return for the donation of her favours, not to speak of the washing, ironing, cleaning and cooking, she expected considerably more than a diet of rice and bananas, while his refusal to share the remaining whisky on the grounds that decent women did not drink alcohol only exacerbated matters.

She took herself off to Mr. Big 1 and revealed to him that The Neighbour was
A…working for Mr. Big 1’s rival Mr. Big 2
and
B…the money he had borrowed was to pay to Mr. Big 2.

Then, wisely, she retired to her daughter’s house to await results.

Mr. Big 1 was displeased. He intimated to The Neighbour that
A… he wanted his money back. Now.
and
B…there was no future employment for The Neighbour’s talents. Not at his address.

The Neighbour had a problem….he might not have future employment with Mr. Big 1…but if he did not cough up it was likely that he would have no future at all.

His solution?
Sell the truck he used to transport cattle.

But he has not only to find a buyer willing to pay his price…he has also to have the sale ratified by a lawyer – and they don’t work at week ends.

So until both conditions are fulfilled The Neighbour has been lying low…and Mr. Big 1’s enforcers are hunting him down.

We wait with bated breath to see if the previously resident lady will reveal to Mr. Big 2 what The Neighbour was doing with the money entrusted to him….in which case the dogs will have a lot more barking to do.

43 Comments

Filed under Costa Rica

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

IMG_2830The pressure cooker hissing gently; dogs snoring; a warm and heavy head on my feet; catching up on the Great British Bake Off – peace at last.

Bunter – on the right above – is sleeping under my worktable, snoring happily. Black Tot is sleeping on top of the washing machine, curled up on her blanket. The other dogs are sleeping in the office.

The morning had been its usual hectic self…whatever were we doing to take on two more pups!

One, Stein – on the left above – has settled down since he came to us four months ago, but the other, Bunter, remains a pup.
A huge pup.
A huge loving pup full of energy.

After breakfast on the balcony he bounded into the kitchen, ready for action.

He played with a plastic bottle, waving it like an indian club…he reduced yet another cardboard box to flat pack status…he leapt on the garden chair and bounced it round the kitchen….he found the chayote, threw them in the air and chased them round the floor.
He supervised stripping meat from the duck carcass. At least this required him to sit down.For at least one second at a time.

After twenty minutes of high octane performance he went to sleep…flat out, relaxed, snoring fit to bring down the walls of Jericho.
Relaxed as only a pup can be, happy in the knowledge that it has fulfilled its obligation to keep you entertained and on your toes.

Two loads of washing went out to make the most of the sunshine.

A young man we know had called to see if we wanted a quantity of heavy duty fencing wire. His price was very reasonable and included delivery. Tonight.
All his deliveries take place in the hours of darkness but as yet none have been followed by a visit from the police.
As he also has available several tons of asphalt, however, his delivery methods may have to change.

Friends called to collect tilapia to start their own fish production: they stayed to a lunch of St. Omer beer and home made pork pies. The latter were a bit lop sided…but then weren’t we all by the time lunch was over.

We fed the sheep, fed the ducks and chickens – and watched Bunter’s matinee performance.
Much as before: minus the chayote but plus a box of fifty packs of spaghetti which I thought I had stored out of his reach.
And we all know what thought did.

Two loads of washing came in as the sky darkened…this is the rainy season and the afternoons are almost guaranteed to be wet. Soaking wet.

Two loads of washing which were not immediately ironed….there are limits!

The rain came down heavily so it was time for a cup of tea…and time to talk, brought on by something we had noticed last night.

We had had supper early, sitting out on the balcony as the sun went down over the hills between us and the Pacific Ocean…the sky pink and grey after an afternoon of violent thunderstorms.
As the light faded, the street lights appeared, one for each house….none to the right at San Antonio – the hill had been bought by a consortium who wished to develop it, unsuccessfully. No water.
On the left, however, creeping out from the town, there were lights where there were none when we bought the finca…and more to come. There are signs of construction on all the ridges.
The council has even given planning permission for houses to be built around the spring which feeds the river below us…

In front of us, however…no street lights.

That part of the Three Valleys remains, if not pristine, then at least rural, agricultural.

And that is what had led to our chat.
Had we done the right thing…moving here…not just to Costa Rica, but here?

It had been our holiday house before moving…but when we moved we walked into the nightmare of a local fight against a well connected developer.

As it all happened just as we were moving there had been no time to consider whether or not so to do: it was a case of just getting on with it.

We have had unpleasantnesses – galore – but also much kindness and the chance to gain a full speed ahead apprenticeship into the workings of the country which might otherwise have taken several more years to achieve.
We now know where we are with a number of people locally….and they know where they are with us.

Armed with what we now know, would we come to Costa Rica again, as it were?

Yes: like a shot.

Not just for the climate and the beauty of the place, lovely though it is, but for the culture of mild anarchy which prevails…and the fact that there is always a way round things.
A winding way with many turnings…but always a way.

No country is a paradise, either for its own people or for immigrants: there are always downsides.
All depends on whether you can live with them.
After life in France in the last years before our move we certainly can.

There is a whiff of change in the air…a conflict of generations and a conflict of ideas…a possibility of political realignment on the international economic scale.

Would we come not just to Costa Rica but here, this little place, again?

Yes.

It’s a small town, the one up the road, and while we’ll never be ‘of’ the town we’ve progressed beyond the jokes at our expense to being part of the general joke scene, something I’d not come across before, where once in town your progress is one of constant greetings, involving insults, innuendo – and real kindness.

When Mantequa asks why you’re alone…is it that you’ve lost all your money and can’t afford to pay your chauffeur… it is de rigeur to ask him how come he is standing on the street corner when he is too ugly to attract any passing trade let alone that of women with money.

At which point old Rigoberto will pop his head out of the bar alongside and advise me not to talk to Mantequa

But then, senora, you were not to know that he is ‘maricon’ (homosexual).

Exit stage left at surprising speed for one of his age pursued by Mantequa threatening vengeance and both to be found in the bar together a few minutes later.

Coarse?
Yes, but when you drop in to see your lawyer after doing your shopping you’re exchanging jokes about the influence of Napoleon’s sexuality on French and – by derivation – Costa Rican law.

The town, like the country, resembles the horse from Surtees‘ ‘Mr. Facey Romford’s Hounds’, Multum in Parvo…a lot of horse in a little skin…and, like that celebrated equine, when the town or the country has one of its ‘going days’ there’s no holding it.

I saw the attempt to use riot police to disrupt a peaceful demonstration in the last presidency..and saw the city and the university turn out to put them to flight.

I saw the unknown candidate elected as president this time around…here, the people still have a voice.

And, speaking of voices, here comes the young man to deliver the fencing….the dogs awake in a cacophony of barking, the ducks protest from afar and the trees in front of the house deliver a shower of water as the birds roosting there rise in their indignation.

Not set in stone, our lazy Sunday afternoons, as is this:

And does anyone remember this one?

33 Comments

Filed under Costa Rica, culture, immigrants, puppies

Open the Cage and Let Them Out

open the gates
Politics is in the air at the moment.

If it’s not Donald Trump in the U.S.A. then it’s Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. …and here, in my little town, the candidates are squaring up for the local elections in February next year.

So far, only one party has announced whom its candidate for mayoral office will be: the party currently holding power.

The party whose representatives are responsible for the ever immobile bulldozer, the dustcart that collects more dust than rubbish and – latest item, remember you heard it here first – the payment of over two million colones (some four thousand dollars) to an enterprise appropriately entitled ‘El Gusano’ (The Grub) for cutting down a tree.

Be that as it may, the party faithful, all sixty three of them, assembled this weekend to elect their candidate for February.

The list had been whittled down to three….the current alcalde (mayor) – pink shirt; a gentleman who had given long service to the party both in the council and the National Assembly – blue shirt and a hair style expertly imitating a wig – and a large gentleman distinguished mainly by his striped polo shirt, resembling a navigation buoy swept inland by a tsunami.

Now, the party nationally runs the rule over those of its members who wish to stand for office.

It doesn’t like to endorse those who have previously stood for office for other parties….or those who have less then two years’ membership of the party.
No problem for the local candidates there.

It will not endorse those who contravene the requirements of its ethics committee.
No problem there either.

It will not endorse those condemned by the justice system…
Ah! A hitch!
One candidate was refused the party’s approval on these grounds.
The one with long years of service at local and national level.

It appears that this gentleman had been an agent for the then monopolistic state insurance company INS. Apart from his other activities.
As an agent for INS he had accepted payment for car insurance and had duly delivered certificates of insurance to his clients.
Unfortunately, he had forgotten to inform INS of his transactions.

It all came to light when a client, passing the head office of INS in San Jose decided to check his policy…only to discover that INS had no record of it.

The state prosecution service became involved and eventually the forgetful gentleman was hauled into court.

The Costa Rican justice system allows for a conciliation process before action proceeds, and at that process, the future candidate offered to refund the nineteen million colones (some thirty eight thousand dollars) identified as entering into his possession but not into that of INS and was given three years in which to do so, in addition to a payment to benefit the National Children’s Hospital and the obligation to do one hundred hours of community service.

Simple, you would think. Condemned by the justice system…can’t be a candidate.

But this is to underestimate the abilities of this gentleman.

Instead of appealing against the decision of his party immediately he waited until the day before the election and took his case to the national Election Tribunal who decided that, as a long serving party member and not otherwise disqualified by internal party regulations, he could proceed with his candidature while he appealed his party’s decision in an internal tribunal.
No time for the party to disqualify him again, then.

First round of voting….the navigation buoy is eliminated. Pink shirt and blue shirt tie.

Second round of voting….blue shirt wins.

Deep unhappiness among those whose candidate was not successful…..who have launched an appeal to overthrow the decision.

With a bit of luck this series of appeals will last until after the elections…or they might do a re run and elect the navigation buoy.

Needless to say, the social media are fizzing…..very good for my Spanish vocabulary, if somewhat repetitive.

I have no idea what the reaction in the U.S.A. to Trump might be…I just wonder if he reminds anyone else of a troll (Norwegian variety, not internet)….but Corbyn’s candidacy for the leadership of the Labour Party certainly seems to have enlivened political life in the U.K.

It appears from the reaction of an unholy combination of press and politicians that his election will end civilisation as we know it.
Looking at said civilisation as exemplified by the U.K., I tend to think that that is no bad thing.

There have been years of privatisation – both openly and by stealth – of public assets. Sheer daylight robbery.

Years of kow towing to the U.S.A. government- the follies of whose evil policies are plain to all.

Years of grinding the faces of the poor….no proper employment resulting in artificially induced dependency; education designed to depress, not encourage talent; inadequate housing, poor nutrition.

But what seems to worry the powers that be the most is that Corbyn would like to hear what ordinary people think, what ordinary people want….and proposes to try to put those wishes into effect.

Shock horror!

Democracy!

29 Comments

Filed under Costa Rica, elections, politics