It’s a Hap Hap Happy Day

Always good to see people happy in their work…

It has been a happy day here too, even if we have not been tying anyone down.

We are feeding an orphan lamb…Oliver…who is a complete tyrant. He sleeps in Leo’s office and at five thirty a.m. on the dot he calls for milk….drinks three bottles. Sleeps.

Wakes again at six thirty..three more bottles. At this point Leo takes him out on a collar and lead to his pen…

Little does Oliver The Insatiable know that once that the nights are fine with the approach of the dry season he will be overnighting in his pen for a while before joining the other sheep …though milk will still be provided until he is independent.

The dogs are well and happy…chickens are laying even if the ducks are on strike…the garden is looking lovely… but it is a hap hap happy day as Leo has decided to give himself a goal to get on his feet properly after his accident.

We are off to Guatemala in December.

We should have visited Guatemala before, when the brother in law came over for a tour of Central America, but we only got as far as Honduras – a country which enchanted me. I am so glad we saw something of it before yet another U.S. inspired coup plunged it into insecurity once again.

BIL wanted to see the Mayan ruins at Copan, so we did that, but I have to admit that Mayan architecture does not do much for me. It might have done more had I not read Terry Pratchett’s ‘Eric’ just before the trip.

Copan-Honduras

Accordingly while BIL clambered about among the ruins all I could think of was a parrot shouting ‘Whotsit’ and The Luggage sprinting up the temple steps  annihilating all in its path..

Better still if we had visited the site ‘El Puente’ before going to Copan.

A subsidiary city of Copan it has been far less explored…but had a superb museum. I was lucky enough to have been given a guided tour by the director of the site…one of the most handsome men I have ever encountered…who put the city into its historical and geographical context for me. Beats a guide book any day.

I preferred the old colonial towns…drowsing in the wake of their history, like Gracias a Dios…once the capital of Central America …now quiet under the walls of the fortress San Christobal

gracias a dios fort san christobal

Coming out of the hot lowlands I can just imagine how those men in their armour and hot garments would say ‘Thanks be to God ‘ on reaching the cool uplands….

We returned by a route which, while marked as a road on the map, proved to be a track…dusty trails, rickety bridges. close your eyes and hope for the best, you name it…but we survived and ended up in Comayagua.. another one time capital, this time of Honduras.

I had wanted to go there to see the oldest working clock in the Americas.

comayagua cathedral 2

It does not look very impressive at first sight, high up on the tower of the Comayagua cathedral, but it is a fascinating piece of machinery.

clock-comayagua

It is connected by wires to a two hundred year old bell – La Emigdio – which strikes the quarter hours and to a three hundred year old bell – La Conception – which rings the hours.

Popularly supposed to have first been installed in the Alhambra under the Moors, then given as a present to the bishop of Camayagua by Philip II of Spain in the sixteenth century, experts have suggested that it could have been made in that period in what was then the Spanish Netherlands….

Spoilsports.

With only a week to spare we shall not see much of Guatemala, but there seems to be plenty to do in Guatemala City, if we are not mugged or killed. Apparently casual crime is a problem to the extent that there are armed police on the city buses….

Our lawyer’s daugter was a missionary there a few years ago and was glad to get back to the safety of Costa Rica. I wonder if it was a coincidence that he asked us whether we wanted to revise our wills in any way before we leave…

Still, there are museums aplenty to keep us amused, a botanic garden to explore and squares to sit in while Leo rests. I expect we will survive.

A friend who visits Guatemala often in search of textiles bemoans the replacement of traditional dyes by modern, neon bright ones, but has given me a good address for finding the real stuff in Antigua, once – you have guessed it – capital of Central America until partially destroyed in an earthquake in the late eighteenth century.

As the real stuff will probably be at surreal prices I think I might confine my research to the museums. As one who used, in another life, to spin, dye and weave I am looking forward to  seeing how the Guatamaltecans go about it.

loom-weaving-fabric-art

We will try to go to Antigua, however. Now a UNESCO site, it is sanitised beyond belief, but still worth seeing for its architecture…

Antigua_Guatemala

Having thought that our travelling days were over I am delighted that Leo has determined that they are not.

Things have changed about the way in which we travel though…no more day long bus rides and no more hotels in the back of beyond with polyester sheets. The goal is to get Leo walking confdently again, rather than to slide off the bed and break a hip so we are letting the ‘plane take the strain and have found a comfortable hotel in the city centre in what appears to be a safe area.

Of course, we may be tempting fate by talking about it…Leo could have another attack, there could be another hurricane, I could drop dead…but if it comes off I shall be delighted to be travelling together once again, after all my solitary journeys.

To have someone to whom to say

‘Look at that!’

 

 

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First World Problems

windows

My computer will not open the website I wish to consult.

It will not, in fact, open any website.

Investigation of the bowels of the thing reveals – eventually – that the Windows firewall will not allow anything to pass it.

Zilch.

I mess about with the tolerance levels of the Windows firewall. It appears that those levels resemble the attitude of the Rev. Ian Paisley to mention of the Pope.

And just like the Rev. Ian, the Windows firewall has no intention of changing its views.

Eventually I turn off the computer and take to strong waters.

The next day the computer will allow access. Clearly the Windows firewall has not the  staying power of the Rev. Ian.

Probably lacking the moral support of a piss and vinegar band accompanied by the lambeg.

Technology, in respect of the internet, is a wonderful thing. If only firms like Microsoft would not keep hiring people to bugger it up for those of us who buy a computer with the idea of being able to communicate….to learn…to switch the wretched thing on to access the world rather than to learn that Windows is configuring it – at length.

You switch off at night.

No…Windows is configuring….you have to sit up or trust the brute not to stall.

You switch on in the morning…

Would you believe it? Windows is still messing about with the computer’s innards like an incompetent surgeon in search of a missing swab.

So while you wait you think you will check Facebook on your mobile ‘phone.

Fat chance. The blasted thing wants to download an upgrade – echoes of the Grand Old Duke of York – but on having agreed to its request it will smugly tell you that you do not have enough space in what is laughingly called the memory and you must then abandon other sites such as Kindle in order to make space for it.

Not a chance, Facebook!

Between being able to read books I have chosen and a screenful of ads which bear no relation to my interests there is no contest.

How Facebook believes that I wish to know fifteen methods of cleaning my oven without using harmful chemicals is beyond me, but whoever devised that algorithm has his airse oot the windae.

Come to that I can live without those who post that they are feeling down, wait for fifteen concerned souls to respond in terms of increasing anxiety and then say that they will reply by pm.

First world problems, comes the smug, dismissive reply from the yoga mats…..

Quite right the yoga mats! It is indeed, which does not make it any less of a problem, indicative as it is of a society where companies believe and act as though those who buy their products are supplicants before their altars rather than the foundation of their fortunes.

Mark you, I am beginning to believe that companies produce items as a sort of front for their real activities, such as buying up their own shares to boost the price on the stock market which in turn increases the value of the options held by their directors who all appoint one another in a game of musical chairs in which chairs are added rather than removed and a golden parachute takes them from one set of chairs to another when their incompetence becomes notorious even in their own ranks.

Incompetence used to be regarded as a Third World problem…’If only they knew how to manage things better…’ but is fast becoming the mark of the First World.

To work out the price of a ticket from London to Milton Keynes requires an Enigma machine while the French railway company, SNCF, managed to advertise cheap  tickets to be sold ‘at dawn’ which, had they ever existed, had vanished long before Bright Phoebe rose above the horizon to the chagrin of all those who had set their alarm clocks in order to take advantage of the offer.

U.K. embassies no longer issue passports….banks can’t tell their arse from their elbow when it comes to security…websites go in loops…

I tell you

 

 

Ichabod….The glory will be departing from the markets of San Jose

borbon veg

When I was first blogging about Costa Rica and about its capital, San Jose, in particular, a blogging friend advised  me to make the most of that grubby, shambolic place while I could. Soon, she said, it would all be pavement cafes and carriage trips round the sights.

She was right. The carriage rides have not yet arrived – the horses would have to wear gas masks such is the level of pollution from buses and cars which have presumably passed the annual M.O.T. test  – but pavement cafes are beginning to be with us as are, of course, cycle paths. Two are planned but only one is as yet in use. In an exercise in fatuity it runs down the middle of a pedestrianised boulevard where the lycra clad unco’ guid can enjoy themselves by making those on foot hop out of the way…two wheels good, two feet bad.

We have gastronomic festivals, self conscious fusion cuisine…food trucks…and bars where black shirted men with buns perform solemn rites over coffee machines. I would not say that these high priests exact a tithe, but  couple of coffees can soon make a hole in the shopping money.

Art deco and art noveau buildings have been tarted up…a stunning new museum of jade has been opened….the streets are clean….the homeless have been shifted from the centre….but still the tourists do not come.

Not surprisingly…for years the guidebooks have been directing tourists to the beaches, the rain forests and the ruinously expensive eco lodges run by exploitative hippies…not to speak of yoga retreats ditto.

Visitors are advised to eschew San Jose…unless they are men in search of paid female company in which case they are directed to hotels which call themselves gentlemen’s clubs and to the casinos and bars of Gringo Gulch where practitioners of the art of wallet extraction lurk in search of their prey.

Otherwise the tourists visit San Jose only to get the first bus out to their destination…so something, it seems, must be done to keep some of their money for the capital.

First bright idea…move the artisans’ market from its perfect spot under the National Museum in the centre of the city  to a concrete box several blocks away in an street which has nothing to attract any tourist whatsoever, unless they are admirers of the concrete brutalist style of architecture which inspired the building housing the offices of the CAJA – the national health service – which looms over the surrounding area.

caja

So far this has not worked as the President is firmly in favour of the market remaining where it is, instead of being replaced by further parking for a bloated ‘charitable foundation’ alongside. He does not have the law on his side…but he has prestige. However the mayor of San Jose can wait…the presidential elections are coming and the next incumbent may favour the bloated ‘foundation’.

So, in the meantime, attention has turned to the other markets…the Central…the Borbon and Coca Cola.

The Central has a bit of everything, from flowers to fish via meat, cheese, spices, medicinal herbs and caffs galore….

mercado centrsl

The Borbon has butchers and fishmongers, but its main role is selling wholesale and retail veg and fruit….

Mercado-Borbon-suelo-fertil_LNCIMA20170611_0022_1 borbon 8

Coca Cola specialises in hardware and electrical supplies…though, of course, having greengrocers and suchlike….. and it is one of the busiest bus stations in San Jose, whence the tourists fresh from the airport leg it to the beaches of the Pacific coast.

coca-cola-bus-station

While the Central is regarded with favour by all, the other two have a dubious reputation…pickpockets at every turn and babies barbecued to order.

Absolute nonsense, of course. I would not frequent either at night…but I could say the same of many other areas in many other cities.

The only time my purse was stolen was in a Chinese owned supermarket by the Central. It was returned to me by the ‘regulars’ who sell sunglasses, watches and TV remote controls on the benches nearby.

‘Sorry, senora…not one of ours…a bloody African! We saw him lift it and we stopped him. Not having these illegal immigrants giving us a bad name.

Did you report it to the police?

Are you joking! As if they could give a damn…too busy chasing poor buggers selling veg without a licence!

I just wonder if, with the new vision for the markets, these gentlemen will be driven off as have all but the most intrepid of the street traders …if so, a great part of the pleasure of shopping will have gone with them.

street traders

These are working markets….the idea of the Borbon offering organic veg and ‘gourmet’ items is enough to make the blood run cold.

And who will be paying for the ‘improvements’?

Guess.

What will happen to my hairdresser…

Mercado Borbón, San José, Costa Rica.

Who does me a cut for two thousand colones which equals that for which the Italian artist of Kensal Rise charges me thirty seven quid. She has been here for years, since the hotel which housed her salon closed down, as has the gentleman on the right, at whose stall I buy my ginger and garlic.

And what about our favourite caff?

IMG_20170517_120551

It will be struggle for them to keep going if their rent goes up.

Mercado de la Coca Cola, San José Costa Rica.

And what of Coca Cola?

The idea is to put a roof over the area between the bus station and the market, with smart caffs lining the area….to attract the tourists before they mess off to the coast.

Have they no idea?

How better to trap the fumes than by throwing a roof over the whole area….

And haven’t they noticed? The whole place is full of caffs…offering comida tipica – local food. Or isn’t that good enough for tourists…

Furthermore, the streets linking the markets are to be lined with trees.

Tree lined streets are one of the pleasures of the public and residential areas of San Jose…but the streets between the markets have such narrow pavements that the sellers of illicit DVDs hardly have room to set out their wares…

It isn’t gentrification…were it to be artists and ‘creatives’ would have been given space to spread themselves, as they have in barrios in the east of the city. Where they tread developers follow and the original inhabitants are driven out to the suburbs.

I do ask myself who subsidises these creative leeches on society…but that is another question for another day.

Why am I so upset by the proposed changes?

Because while the man who sells vinyl discs is lauded and will figure on the tourist trail  the men who run the goods between the lorries and the stalls, the stallholders themselves, risk being priced out of the place…

As a tourist I prefer to see the markets which local people use…as an example there is a tourist market in Masaya in Nicaragua…very sanitised and tranquil.

masaya old market

Also in Masaya is the local market just up the street…where you can find all you wish and more for half the price under its corrugated iron roofs.

In the former, if you want a hammock, you can choose one which they have for sale…in the latter, if you don’t see just what you want a runner will take you to the hammock makers’ street down by the lake.

I know which market I prefer and it is not one where the only traders to be found are the ones who can afford the organic produce certification process.

I prefer one where the man at the veg stall tells you that you can see he doesn’t use chemicals by the bugs in his lettuces.

 

 

 

 

 

Time Travel, without the Tardis

fontenoy1

 

My father sang from morning to night, when not absorbed in finding the right combination for a five horse accumulator….opera, light opera, folk song, dubious ditties from the music halls and the army , songs of liberation, songs of despair…

Thanks to him I am probably the only person – apart from Mark Mills in Mayenne – to know the words and music to ‘The Hole in the Elephant’s Bottom’.

I grew up with his voice – a light tenor which did not quail at producing the Song of the Hebrew Slaves, nor Stenka Razin – though his lyrics were not those of the Red Army Choir.

 

 

To this day I cannot find a reproduction of the tune to which he sang ‘The Road and the Miles to Dundee’…nor can I reproduce it, having the voice of a honking seal…but his voice remains alive in my memory.

Why has this come back to me now?

Because with the limitations imposed by Leo’s state of health our world has closed down somewhat….no longer possible to get up one day and decide to take the bus to Nicaragua the next to look for vanished towns and petroglyphs….no more impulses to take a ‘plane and explore the old silver towns of Mexico….

We have become static…but only physically. Thanks to those who fed our minds when we were young we have plenty of material upon which to ruminate while sitting on the balcony looking out over the valley.

My father gave me music and an insatiable love of history, where picking up one thread will lead you to a whole stretch of fabric to explore.

I can still hear him declaiming Thomas Davis’ poem ‘Fontenoy’…

‘On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, hark to that fierce huzza!
‘Revenge, remember Limerick! dash down the Sacsanach!’

Not great poetry, as he would have been the first to admit, but what threads to follow!

Fontenoy was a battle in the War of the Austrian Succession, fought in 1745 near the town of Tournai in Belgium…then known as the Austrian Netherlands.

The French forces were led by Marshal Saxe,  one of the many  illegitimate sons of Augustus the Strong of Saxony, who had taken service with the French…..you could have many an hour of exploration  just following the thread of foreigners who became distinguished in foreign service…

Here are two….or perhaps three….

Eugene of Savoy

eugeneof savoy

Rejected by Louis XIV he took service with Austria and in company with Marlborough his armies knocked the French for six in the War of the Spanish Succession. Threads from Eugene lead back to the court of Louis XIV and the case of  the the poisons which blew the French court apart with rumours of murder and black masses performed upon the body of Mme. de Montespan, the current mistress of the king. Other threads lead forward to the wars against the Ottoman Empire and the tangled history of its oppression in the Balkans which gives rise even now to the qualms of states which have historically been in the front line against the Ottomans when faced with a massive influx of mainly Muslim immigrants.

James Keith

james keith

Forced to flee Scotland by the failure of the Jacobite rebellion he took service in Russia and was  part of the conspiracy which put Catherine the Great on the throne but as the eye of that lascivious monarch turned on him thought it advisable to take service under Frederick the Great of Prussia whose attentions were reserved for his guards. An intriguing story from his time in the Russian service finds him meeting another exile in foreign service…the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire.

"These two personages met and carried on
their negotiations by means of interpreters.

“When all was concluded they rose to separate, but just before leaving,the grand vizier suddenly went to Marischal Keith and, taking him cordially by the hand, declared in the broadest Scotch (sic) dialect that it made him ’unco’ happy to meet a countryman in his exalted station.

“As might be expected, Keith stared with astonishment, and was eager for an explanation of the mystery.

” ‘Dinna be surprised,’ the grand vizier exclaimed, ’I’m o’ the same
country wi’ yoursell, mon! I mind weel seein’ you and your brother, when
boys, passin’ by to the school at Kirkcaldy; my father, sir, was bellman o’ Kirkcaldy.’

The Scots…they get everywhere…

But who fought at Fontenoy?

The English and the Dutch on one side, the French on the other, but with the French were the Irish Brigade,  successors to The Wild Geese,

Wave upon wave of Irishmen left their native land after the failure of rebellions against England…in the sixteenth century it was the Flight of the Earls where the men went mostly into the Spanish service…in the seventeenth the Wild Geese, the Jacobite army under Patrick Sarsfield who were forced to leave under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick following their defeat by William of Orange’s forces – , the King Billy of the Troubles in Ireland – and entered the service of France.

On Fontenoy all was lost for the French…the English were advancing solidly despite the hail of fire….when at last the Irish Brigade were thrown in, advancing with the bayonet to the cry of

‘Cuimhnigidh ar Liumneac!  Remember Limerick!

They turned the day. The English, who had been steady under terrible losses and who were in sight of victory, had had enough…they did not break and run, but they retreated, leaving Marshal Saxe the victor of Fontenoy…and the French masters of the campaign in  the cockpit of Europe.

Not least because the British were called home to deal with the ’45…Bonnie Prince Charlie’s invasion of England…..

And what do these threads have in common?

People displaced from their homes by war and politics, doing what they can to keep body and soul together.

And in today’s world, from Syrian refugees to African child soldiers, we don’t seem to have learned very much.

We two might be obliged to be stay at homes these days, but the threads of history can still allow us to travel in time and give us a context to today’s world and its problems.

All while drinking tea  – or something stronger – on the balcony.

 

 

 

 

The Wanderer`s Return

Princes

I don`t know if you grew up with those illustrated books featuring Victorian images of historical events – you know the sort of thing, the  two princes looking angelic in black velvet before being bumped off in the Tower, Richard Coeur de Lion languishing in his prison while Blondel sings beyond the walls, Boadicea and her daughters being whipped by a Roman tax collector – but if you did then you might be able to help me.

What was the name of the man who walked through London stark naked with a dish of flaming coals on his head and was he foretelling the Great Plague or the Great Fire? Or could it have been the Popish Plot?

The illustration is as clear to me now as when I first turned the page as a child…..but my memory has failed to dredge up either his name or the event he was foretelling, which  is infuriating for one who has always rejoiced in having the memory of an elephant when it comes to trivia while admitting to haziness on more immediately relevent phenomena.

I would like to be reminded because I was thinking of following  his example when visiting my bank in London…apart from the naked bit.

There are limits.

The bank, it appears, wishes to know its customers, or so it says.

Having been a customer of said bank for twenty seven years I feel that if it doesn`t know me by now then it has missed the boat.

It knows that it gets regular payments; it knows I don`t take up its offers of loans to go on holiday, to buy a car or to undertake plastic surgery, let alone buy a house; it knows it is a waste of time to try to sell me insurance; it knows that it has never had the pleasure of charging me for an overdraft and it knows that I am displeased when it makes a mess of a simple transaction because its systems are designed by overpaid cretins who probably do borrow money for holidays, cars and plastic surgery and pay for everything on a credit card so do not understand that I would like to make a transfer without having to find and turn on a mobile `phone in order to receive a code which will be outdated by the time that I have found the right glasses to read it, pressed the wrong button which promptly effaces it, try it again and finally change glasses to read the computer screen.

That is if the whole process hasn`t alerted some Dr. Strangelove security system at the bank which promptly freezes my account.

It is not alone in its lunacy, I know. Leo`s broker in South Africa refuses to deal with his bank as it claims that said bank is money laundering on the basis of regular payments of twenty to thirty quid to Better World Books UK.

What could be more suspect than buying books, after all?

Same broker rashly forwarded internal e mails about the problem which were written in Afrikaans. As Leo has an old fashioned form of Flemish he found the e mails totally clear – if unflattering – and expressed himself accordingly. In Flemish.

So, as Leo`s specialist decided that an op would not be necessary on his broken leg and as mother`s birthday was looming, I took a bolt to the metropolis to allow my bank to renew its acquaintance with me, leaving him in the charge of Danilo and Maria, a Nicaraguan lady we have known for years, to give twenty four hour cover in my absence.

Breaking the habits of a lifetime, I coughed up for a direct flight with British Airways which spared me the hassle of changing `planes in odd corners of the world and suffering the current whims of the bored people manning the security lines.

None of them seem to like the packets of coffee in my carry on bag. Madrid doesn`t like them because they are all regularly square….Toronto thinks that as coffee is organic matter, it could be used in a terrorist attempt….while Amsterdam wants to know why I don`t just buy my coffee in Holland.

All went swimmingly, as I had two empty seats next to me and could thus avoid the nuisance of the man in front of my original seat who, not content with reclining it to its fullest extent imediately after take off, jumped about in it excitedly while watching cartoons on the IFE. He did not even return the seat to its upright position in order to eat…had I been forced to suffer his antics for ten hours he might have received the contents of a container of chicken curry on his cranium. Hot.

Needless to say, an evening spent in the company of an old friend over several tissue restorers removed all wish to emulate he of the flaming coals…just as well, as London was suffering from a deluge which would have doused the fires of hell on the day I set out for the bank.

My regular bus had changed its route as the Mayor of London – whose name and portrait seem to appear all over the place like Big Brother – had decided that too many bus routes served Oxford Street and had had some of them shifted. Thus instead of a two minute stroll I had to leg it for some distance, arriving like the proverbial drowned rat.

It might not have improved my temper, but it is impossible to be angry with the recepionist who does the triage of clients, or with the girls of the counter staff.

They know their bank is not universally beloved of its customers thus it is unfair to ask them to keep smiling while you foam at the mouth and gnaw the carpets….so I asked what more the bank wanted to know about me.

It appeared that it wanted a photocopy of my current passport.

But I could have sent you a certified copy!

No, I could not. That would not do.

It used to do when I lived in France.

Probably trained to observe when a customer was about to brake frith and cracke heads I was directed to a supervisor in an office out of earshot.

Ah! They had noted that my old passport had expired.

And?

They needed my new one, for their records.

Why?

Because they had to know their customers.

It was then that I realised that knowing your customer had nothing whatsoever to do with my banking habits but everything to do with ticking a box. The system could not give two penn`orth of cold gin whether I was likely to run amok with a credit card and blow the entire assets of the bank on botox….it just needed a photocopy.

So why could I not send you a certified copy?

You could…from the U.K. They do it at the Post Office.

Why not from Costa Rica?

Oh, that`s regarded as a dodgy country…a lawyer could be pretending to be you and siphoning off your pension.

Thinking that the average Costa Rican lawyer would regard my state pension as not worth bothering to  pick up if dropped in the street I produced my passport. The photograph  of a wild eyed woman with her hair on end would be enough to convince any bank official that this was not a customer to be encouraged but the box ticker showed no reaction and made her photocopy.

That was it. The bank now, once again, knew its customer.

The rest of the trip passed peacefully: I took Mother to see the film  `Dunkirk` to celebrate her birthday. Made a change from cake and flowers, though her friends had organised that too.

The cinema boasted all round sound and it lived up to its promise. Mines exploded under your seat, bombs unleashed themselves at your head while waves lapped incessantly around you. Mother said that while all the actors were remarkably clean for men who had been retreating for days the film was accurate in reproducing the distinctive sounds of the different aircraft. She had been straffed by a Heinkel when walking home from the sanatorium in Belmont and she remembered it well.

Of course, I had news from the home front in the daily telephone call:

Maria has brought her daughter, Stephanie, with her. (Aged about seven) She has used up all your printing  paper for drawing. (Give her all those old envelopes you hoard…)

Stephanie is using at least one loo roll per day. Is this normal? What does she do with it? (No idea, but stand by to unblock the septic tank…)

She is playing on my computer. I`ve had to use yours. (Aargh!)

I was fed up with rice and beans so I asked Maria to cook me a spaghetti carbonara. (And?) She garnished it with red peppers and coriander…

I don`t need help any more. I`ve sacked Maria. (I know she called me and told me. What you don`t know is that she has arranged for Luzmilla (cleaning woman) to deputise…)

Luz is here and she refuses to go away! (Good luck with that!)

My return trip was uneventful except for the ritual disembowelling of my suitcase at San Jose airport as, once again, I drew the elderly customs officer who regards it as his mission to preserve Costa Rica from outside influences.

Whats`s this?

Chorizo. Spanish.

But you came off the `plane from London.

They sell it in London. Look at the label.

Oh yes…it`s in Spanish. What are these?

Kippers.

Spanish?

No.

Could you open the bag?

On your own head be it.

Jesus Maria, close it up!

So home, to find the house sparkling clean, the dogs pleased to see me and Leo able to walk a short distance with a walking frame that Danilo had made him.

All is well…though I am still looking for either of my two rolling pins……

Where would you put a rolling pin….? Any ideas?

 

The man with live coals on his head….I remember now…he was called Solomon Eagle and it was the Plague.

solomon-eagle-or-eccles-1618-1683-a-quaker-a-pan-of-live-charcoal-D9CXRT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emperors clothes lost in translation

macron pilote

Presiedent Macron of France visits his decidedly unimpressed troops.

As usual he has dressed up for the occasion, this time taking from the toy box a uniform with insignia showing him to be a pilot….

Previously he had had  himself lowered from a helicopter to visit a nuclear submarine…wearing naval uniform….

As President, he is head of the armed forces which entitles him to wear appropriate uniforms, but in a man who had not undergone military service – normal for someone of his age when there was no compulsory conscription – it is a bit rich to assume a qualification – as pilot – which was certainly not awarded during his stint at the Ecole Nationale d`Administration.

No doubt some devotee of the ancient art of Arslikhan issued him with said uniform…but as head of the armed forces he should have recognised and declined the pilots`badge: the armed forces are notoriously chary of those who flaunt what they have not earned.

In the wake of a row with the chief of the general staff  over fiddles in the defence budget to make Peter pay Paul, Macron had proclaimed to a gathering of senior officers that he was the head of the armed forces and that any question as to his care for their interests was out of order.

Tell that to the poor buggers sent to fight in Mali in obsolete personnel carriers…

Needless to say, Macron`s uniform fetishism has formed the subject of exchanges with French friends…none of whom had or would have voted for him even against Le Pen.

For all of us he is the product of a media campaign supported by the proprietors whom he helped into their positions when a minister in Hollande`s government…a creature of the banks and big business.

So, as always, the consolation of the downtrodden is to extract the urine.

We imagined all the situations in which Macron could dress up…..

He could visit a creche wearing a nappy…

He could visit the Pope dressed as a choirboy…fine for this Pope but with his predeccessors better to go dressed as a nun…

He could make a state visit to Russia stripped to the waist and mounted on a horse a la Putin…

Or what about his arrival to salute the winner of the Tour de France…clad in head to toe lycra? No, forget that…the winner was not French.

Having taken President Trump for a meal  in a restaurant  in the Eiffel Tower perhaps he would follow that up by inviting another head of state to the Crazy Horse…clad in a G string with feathers sprouting from his posterior…

And just imagine his costume to receive the organisers of the Gay Pride March!

Come to that, what would Madame Macron, who would have been a worthy winner of a Butlins Knobbly Knees competition in her time,  be wearing?

brigitte macron

Given what she has been wearing to date, the mind boggles….and surmises…but French gallantry negates further speculation.

But then it occurred to me…we were laughing at Macron in a particular context…the context of French history and culture: we were comparing Macron with de Gaulle, with Giscard d`Estaing…we were laughing at a reference from one of Audiard`s films…Un Taxi pour Tobrouk… where one of the protagonists whose father worked for the Vichy government proclaimed that his father respected the law so much that if the Chinese took power he would become a mandarin and that if the Africans took over he would put a  bone in hs nose – while best not to contemplate what he would have to do if the Greeks took over..

How the blazes do you translate the sense of all that?

I know that I cannot…and have every respect for professional translators who manage to convey not only the sense but the nuances of the message of the speaker.

No nuances necessary, though, for Macron`s  speech at the Vel d`Hiv on the 75th anniversary of the round up of 13,000 Jews, including some 4,000 children, by the French police. They were crammed into the stadium for days without food or water before being shipped out to concentration camps whence but few returned.

He proclaimed that France was responsible for this atrocity…echoing Chirac, the first French President to acknowledge state responsibility: he criticised earlier Presidents…Mitterand, de Gaulle, for their refusal to do likewise.

For Macron, Vichy France was France: while one can understand the reticence of Mitterand given his associations with Vichy one can also understand the refusal of de Gaulle to accept that the Vichy regime was a legitimate government given his position as leader of those who opposed it tooth and nail.

Either Macron has no sense of history, or wrongly believes that the scars of the defeat of 1940 and its consequences are healed: in any case, he took the opportunity to condemn anti semitism in round terms in the presence of his guest, Netenyahu, President of Israel, and to agree with the latter that anti-Zionism was but another manifestation of anti semitism.

Which is where another serpent raised its head.

You can be Jewish without being a supporter of Zionism and to conflate the two is either a remarkable feat of ignorance…or a sop to his guest before calling on him to soften his policy towards the displaced Palestinians.

While those who are in fact anti semitic will take the opportunity to call Macron the Rochschild candidate once more those who are not will have further doubts about his ability to master any part of his role other than that of issuing soundbites……and wearing uniforms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solis swallowing wasp

A Night in Nicaragua

park granada

A balmy summer`s night in Granada, Nicaragua.

Under the trees of the park in front of the cathedral the local ladies had set up their charcoal burners; the aroma drawing passers by to the folding chairs set up by their stands.

On the Calle de Calzada the restaurants had set out the tables in the street for the crowd who wanted Guinness, burgers and chips

calle calzado

The lighted windows were bright at the hotels and restaurants serving the more recherche fare…at recherche prices.

So where was I?

In the police station. Not a patch on the other attractions of Granada and no food on offer either.

The back story is as follows…

Two women friends had been visiting us in Costa Rica: one my age, the other much older.

We had had a lot of  fun, starting with the discovery that the lady who had brought me harissa found that the lid of the pot had worked loose in her luggage, giving her an entire wardrobe of clothes with oily orange stains and a pot with very little harissa remaining inside it.

So…shopping!

We flogged ourselves round the shops of Escazu, the upmarket suburb of San Jose, without success. My friend  liked designer clothes…but not at Escazu prices.

So we took the car to the centre of San Jose to hit the Ropa Americana…the secondhand clothes shops.

Except that not all the contents are secondhand. A lot of the stuff is new…complete with tags…and you can find some real bargains.

My friend shops with precision..she knows her size (in every world measurement known to woman)..she knows what fabrics she likes and she knows her style. As always the staff were very helpful: she would emerge from  the changing room  saying

I like this…but with some detail on the sleeve.

Immediately a bevy of assistants would fan out into the shop to seek what she wanted and would sometimes find it.

Try getting that service in London – unless you are the sort of woman who is accompanied everywhere by bodyguards paid for by her seventy year old husband.

Our shopping trip was very successful:  my friend`s wardrobe was replenished at minimal cost but in maximal style.

Nothing orange though, I noted…

We had  taken Danilo with us as we needed the car for the spoils and so went together to the terrace restaurant opposite the Teatro Nacional which had caught my older friend`s eye, with tables set among the borders of coffee plants which separate it from the traffic roaring along Avenida 2.

gran hotel sj

Service was slow….clear sign of a place which thought that coffee plants in the centre of San Jose were attraction enough to draw customers.

Tired of the nods and becks of the only visible waiter Danilo – keen to have visitors to Costa Rica properly treated – went off in search of assistance.

He returned with a head waiter and two female accolytes who presented menus and waited  patiently for our orders.

The ladies wanted a fresh fruit drink to quench the thirst generated by shopping followed by white wine. Danilo…driving..stuck to a fruit drink.

The ladies ordered plates of carpaccio of fish. Danilo ordered grilled fish with rice and beans.

The fruit drinks arrived..and were leisurely consumed.

The table  adorned with empty glasses, a furious Danilo set off once again in search of assistance.

The head waiter and acolytes returned, cleared the table and served the wine with a further fruit drink for Danilo.

Where, he asked, is the food? These ladies have been waiting at least twenty minutes! Just how long does it take to open the fridge and slice some fish?

The head waiter eyed him…he had a problem in assessing his status.

Danilo, to show his countryman`s contempt for San Jose, would normally wear an old tee shirt and torn jeans together with wellies.  Given that he was escorting visitors he had compromised: clean pressed jeans, newish tee shirt…and shoes.

All the ladies were respectably attired and, in one case, wearing a large diamond pendant on her necklace.

The head waiter had a problem…this unsophisticated chap had in tow three somewhat upmarket ladies…he must have hidden talents!

At once, senor!

The carpaccio of fish was superb…well worth another glass of Chilean white from a head waiter now hovering.

Danilo viewed his fish with disapprobation. It was not grilled…it was poached…

Would we, asked the head waiter, care for coffee?

Before we could speak, Danilo replied that, on current form, we could not wait for the coffee berries to be processed…no, just give us the bill!

The bill eventually arrived..the head waiter somewhat bothered as to whom to present it.

His dilemma was solved by the older friend scooping it in and paying in cash – which Danilo promptly counted and returned the sum in excess of the bill to her purse….

Don`t encourage them….

We adjourned to the cafe of the Teatro Nacional where my friends ordered patisseries and cappuccino while Danilo and I contented ourselves with the latter.

caff teatro nacional

Except that the waiter in the Teatro Nacional had resolved the problem which had bemused the head waiter of the terrace restaurant.

Danilo`s cappuccino came with a heart and cupid`s dart design….

He rose and took the waiter aside.

I could not hear all of the conversation but the gist of it was that if the waiter thought that he, Danilo, was a gigolo he could come outside and accept a bunch of fives while, furthermore, the ladies he was escorting were the wife and friends of his employer and Europeans at that, not some dried out old bats coming down to Costa Rica to pick up young men – here a sweep of the arm over surrounding tables – and could the waiter not tell the difference between real diamonds and costume jewellery.

His coffee was removed and replaced with one with a fleur de lis design…

The  wardrobe replenished we did the usual visits…volcano, waterfalls, little towns with quaint churches….but I thought it a shame that they should come to Central America without visiting Granada in Nicaragua, once the port from which the fleets sailed for Spain in the time of Drake, crossing Lake Nicaragua, down the Rio San Juan to the Caribbean and on to Europe.

lake nicaragua

A Spanish colonial city, burnt in large part by a would be American dictator in the nineteenth century, it is still a gem…

granada

We booked tickets on one of the bus services which travel from San Jose to Managua, calling at Granada….while it is fun when younger to travel on the bus to the frontier and elbow your way in true jumble sale fashion through the queues for customs and immigration, given the age of my older friend discretion  was the better part of valour and we took the service where the conductors shepherd their clients through the formalities at the frontier as painlessly as possible.

Buses Nicabus G7 2013 (5)

My friends had the seats immediately behind and above the driver where they had a superb view of the road…and a equally superb view of said driver eating his lunch from a plate on his lap while guiding the bus with two fingers….but we arrived unscathed and found a taxi  – well, a young man with a car – to take us to our hotel, a restored colonial style house a few blocks from the centre of Granada.

hotel granada

Setting out to explore the next day it was obvious how much Granada had changed since I first visited it with Leo years ago.

Then we had stayed in a hostel: the bed had had cushions for pillows, slippery polyester sheets and an ensuite shower which consisted of an overhead tap in an enclosure of corrugated plastic sheeting.

Leo had spent most of the first night slapping himself in an attempt to kill the mosquitoes….on emerging the next morning he was greeted with a large brandy offered with the respects of the staff who had mistaken his actions for those of wild sexual passion….

We stayed there for three nights and in that time it was impossible for him to buy a drink…they were lined up on the bar from staff and regular customers as soon as he showed his face. Men came to look at him…

Now, Granada had changed: boutique hotels, chi chi restaurants….we were not objecting as we took wine stops in cool courtyards on our tours of the old streets…but it was no longer the haphazard, casual place that it had been. Professional tourism had arrived and the waiters were chasing away the crowds of little boys who moved from place to place offering sweets and matches for sale, thinking that they annoyed the customers. Given the type of customer, it is probable that they did but I had liked the saucy little devils with their hard sell and their backchat.

On the last day of our trip I took my friends out to Masaya to see somewhere less affected by tourism.

We took the collective mini bus from down by the market and were dropped in the town centre in time for lunch…and what a lunch!

Fresh fruit juices and whole grilled fish  with salad does not do justice to the meal…all I can say is that fresh meant fresh….and no, we did not climb up into these tall chairs to enjoy our meal.

chairs masaya

We visited the stalls selling ceramics, clothes and leather goods in the old fortified market building:

tourist market masaya

And then walked up the road to the town market which covered acres under its corrgated iron roofs…

As always, a gentleman offered his services to find the best deals…

As always I accepted, made my own deals and paid him a retainer…he has a living to make.

He was kind enough to bring our shopping bags to the bus stop where we were scooped up by the conductor and instructed to hold tight as the packed bus whirled away.

0130.Bus-local---Granada.jpg

Quick, said the elderly friend. Take a photograph…this is the first and last time you will see me pole dancing!

In no time young men had given us their seats and we returned to Granada in the late afternoon.

This is where things went wrong.

I wanted to go to the market to buy shoes.For some reaason I can buy my size in Nicaragua but not in Costa Rica.

My friends wanted to take a carriage tour of  Granada. I would always willingly forgo this as not all the horses are well cared for, so we agreed that we would meet up at the hotel.

carriages granada

Shoes bought,  I had returned to the hotel and was sleeping when the receptionist roused me with the news that my friends had been attacked on the corner of the street.

I hurried down to find that my elderly friend had had her diamond pendant snatched as she walked to the hotel: neighbours had come out of their houses to chase the thief ….but he had escaped, using a bicycle lying in the gutter half a block away….and to care for my friends. Chairs had been brought on to the street…remedies had been applied….

The hotel staff were superb in helpng to calm and care for my friends…but the owner (French) was only concerned to insist that it was not the fault of the hotel. Clearly it was not…but some concern for her guests would have been welcome.

Finally the desk clerk got to the nub of the matter.Never mind if the thieves could be caught…my friend needed a police statement for her insurance company…

He called (and paid for) a taxi to take us to the police station on the other side of town.

The Granada police station reminded me of English police stations in the sixties…clean, yes….sophisticated…no.

Unlike English police stations, however, this one had been baking in the heat all day and it certainly did not run to air conditioning.

We waited on a bench in the entrance while some young men emerged from an office in handcuffs and were taken away in a van.

A police officer emerged in their wake and asked if any of  us could speak Spanish.

I put up my hand…and that was that…

Translation.

The problem was that I was not an accredited translator in Nicaragua so while I could describe what my friends had seen my translation would have no value in law….the police chief who turned up confirmed this and then with a wink said…but all they want is a statement for their insurance and for that you don`t have to be accredited.

I was turned over to a gentleman who took down my friends` statements and thought that that was that, but he called his boss as my friends had described how a young lad had jumped up alongside the driver shortly after they had left the park and had chatted to them in English, asking them where they were staying then had jumped off later before the driver dropped them off on the road leading to the hotel saying that he was not permitted to drive up to it.

A set up.

The boss explained that he had a very shrewd idea of who the culprits might be…but by that time the pendant would be in other hands…sold for next to nothing to a fence to buy drugs….and unless my friends were willing to wait to see an official translator and attend both an identity parade and appear in court there would be little point in arresting the malefactors.

Drugs! We have to combat it or it will be the ruin of our society!

While we were waiting for the statements to be typed up the paddy waggon brought in two young people.

They had been arrested disembarking from the ferry from the Rio San Juan to Granada having been found to be in possession of marijuana.

Nicaragua does not tolerate drugs or drug use: the rules are clear…..

However, the Granada police know that a significent number of the visitors to Granada use drugs. Appearances in the criminal courts do not help the business community, so other measures are taken…

A preliminary interview revealed that neither had a word of Spanish. Their passports showed that the young lady was from New Zealand and her male companion from France.

The official translators would have to be called but, in the meantime, could I assist the police with their enquiries?

Cold drinks would be provided for my friends if they were willing to stay…

Indeed they were, feeling that they were inside one of the police dramas they both love, and cold drinks were  accordingly brought: cola in a plastic bag with a straw tied into the knot closing the bag. Different…but it was a drink and it was cold.

The boss explained to me that the idea was to frighten the wits out of the young couple and then put them on a bus for somewhere…anywhere..out of Granada. The official translators would have to make out the formal papers relating to their apprehension, but could I assist in explaining what was going to happen.

I started on the young lady, explaining what the police intended to do and asked her if her companion understood.

Oh no…he doesn`t speak English.

Well, can you explain to him?

Oh no…I don`t speak French.

I explained this to the boss whose ruddy countenance turned purple.

I suppose the only language they have in common is hash!

I explained that I could speak French as well as English and he breathed again.

I addressed the young man in his own tongue.

He explained that he thought it very unjust as he was only carrying marijuana for his own use.

But did you know it was ilegal to do so in Nicaragua?

Oh yes, but it was legal in the Netherlands…

Right, so much for the logical French mind.

I explained what the police wanted to happen again and he pouted.

It was getting late. He had booked a hotel in Granada.

The police chief wanted to know which, obviously thinking of mounting a raid.

He didn`t remember.He had the name on his mobile `phone…which did not work as he did not have a local SIM card and the police station had no wifi.

Anyway he did not want to get on a bus to be sent into the void…

I tried explaining that in the circumstances it might be a good idea to do so as otherwise the police chief might decide…business community or no business comunity…to throw the book at him.

I want the French consul.

The boss was going purple again as this was translated and asked me to explain that were the consul to be called the young man would certainly be in for an overnight stay in the hands of the police  as there was no way the said consul was likely to shift himself before a late hour of the following morning.

I don`t want the French consul.

Our documents were ready…but the boss had to take a `phone call.

The official translators refused to come until morning.

Could I explain to the young couple that they would have to remain in police custody overnight?

I did so….

The New Zealander was phlegmatic about it, the Frenchman hopeful of better quarters than a bench in a police station.

Are they sending us to a hotel?

Yes, indeed they are. The Hotel de Police.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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