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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

e

Travelling? Not Just Now…

rain-in-puriscal

We have both been under the weather lately and the weather seems to have been under the weather as well….

Normally at this stage of the rainy season we have sunny mornings followed by cloudbursts and thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening so there is plenty of time to go shopping and get the washing out in safety.

This year we have three volcanoes blasting their socks off, rainstorms for which cloudburst is a totally inadequate description giving of their best at all hours of day and night, thunderstorms creeping up on you unexpectedly at which point you beat  Usain Bolt to get into the house to pull out all the plugs and when rain and thunder take a breather you find yourself living in the clouds – an  occasional glimpse of the top of Grifo Alto being vouchsafed to you when a breeze shifts the white world enveloping you.

And with the rain comes landslides and with the landslides comes an absence of telephone and internet until the men from the electricity board struggle out to do repairs.

Oh…and powercuts. Not many, but neatly timed to catch you when you are cooking supper after dark.

Thus anything involving the oven takes place before lunch: evening recipes favour items which can be stirred with one hand while holding a torch in the other.

Still, at least it is warm, though we must be acclimatising as we found ourselves grumbling this morning at 5.30 am when the temperature was only 21°C which is 69° Fahrenheit for those who have never come to terms with Celsius.

Give me 21°C in the U.K. and I`d probably be shedding the cardies at a rate of knots which would astonish an exotic dancer…here and now I am wondering where I put the woolies.

Not only have we been under the weather…so have the dogs.

Poor Sophie was run over: a visit to the vet sorted her out, but although she came out all bathed and beautiful with a red ribbon bow round her neck she also brought with her a bug which laid her so low that only Leo`s devoted nursing pulled her through.

He sat with her through three days and nights, keeping her hydrated and warm until the little thug returned to herself, by which time the bug had spread to the others, manifesting itself in seas of vomit and diarrhea – just what you need when getting washing dry is not high on the weather`s agenda and washing the floor means going over it with a dry cloth afterwards unless you fancy it being a skating rink, given the absence of breeze to dry it.

Deep joy.

So our  travelling plans have been put on hold until we and the weather are on top of ourselves again….which may be some little time.

Not that we have been entirely confined to the house….

I went to San Jose a couple of times to retrieve documents from the water board and, returning, called Danilo from the bus to meet me at the bus stop nearest the house – now accessible again after three years as the bridge has now been repaired.

As usual, I said I was at Los Abuelos and asked him to pick me up at the Maravilla.

In so doing, I had fallen into the nature of giving directions in Costa Rica… where vital points are not all that they seem….

Los Abuelos was a big family style caff on the main road to the capital….it closed three years ago when the electricity board discovered that paying its bills  had become a very low priority.

La Maravilla was a depot which closed down two years ago.

Danilo obviously knows where both are….but without local knowledge you would be sytmied.

Looking for a government office in San Jose some years ago I was told to follow the railway line and turn left at La Luz.

Railway line…yes. La Luz, however, turned out to be a caff which had disappeared some twenty years ago.

Street directions which involve the Los Pinos depot…which has been closed for ten years  leaving no trace left behind…

Turn right at the fig tree…yes, you`ve guessed it. It is now a six lane roundabout…but you still turn right.

Go past the German`s place and turn left at the football pitch. The German left years ago and the football pitch is now a bus depot.

But, thinking back, indirect directions are not new to me.

At one period in France we had a house in a road called the Rue de la Francmaconnerie; in reality a tiny alley in the centre of the old town.

However, as I was to learn, no one seemed to call it that.

It was referred to as `la venelle qui mene ver La Biche`: literally the alleyway leading to the doe.

Eat your hearts out, Costa Ricans! Make sense of that!

In fact the alleyway, after a few twists and turns, did indeed end up opposite an old door with a doe`s foot serving as a knocker.

pied de biche

But why was the doe`s foot knocker of greater importance than the official name of the street?

Because the door was the entrance to the oldest of the men`s clubs of the town…a place where everything was settled over  a few hands of cards and rather more glasses of wine. It had an official name, but everyone called it the Pied de Biche.

So, just as in Costa Rica…you had to know!

 

 

 

 

Pennies and Pesos

foreign coins

When in junior school we were expected to write essays, to develop our mastery of the arts of communication.

As I recall, they were to fill at least two pages – in normal size handwriting to avoid the clever dicks who could make three sentences cover the whole surface – no two sentences were to begin with the same word, none was to begin with ‘I’, the use of ‘nice’ was forbidden and spelling was to be impeccable. Dictionaries provided.

We were held to be too old for pencils, so the oeuvre had to be written with a dip pen and there were to be no blots on the page, which required careful assessment of  the passage of the ink monitor. If he or she had remembered to fill up the inkwells before registration then the ink was all too fluid; if not, it was sludge.

If not depressed enough by these instructions, the titles on offer were hardly inspiring: the first week of the autumn term would inevitably offer us ‘What I did on my holidays’ where we were all aware that a bowdlerised version would be the best policy – Janet  and John rather than the fifties version of ‘Trainspotting’ for kids – if the wrath of betrayed elders was not to descend on us after examination of our books on parents’ evening.

Another thriller was ‘How to light a fire’: best to stick to the authorised version there too rather then relate a third hand version of what Dennis’ elder brother had managed to do with a Bunsen burner in the chemistry lab of the local grammar school. From what I recall, texts mentioning the technique of setting fire to the spills of newspaper with father’s cigarette lighter were particularly frowned upon….marks would be deducted… as matches were held to be more appropriate for children. Bringing glowing coals on a shovel from a fire already burning was regarded as cheating (marks deducted)…but not, apparently, dangerous.

Then were was, finally, ‘A day in the life of a penny’, where the imagination could be given full rein – unless, like one disgruntled schoolfellow upon whom the muse did not  smile, you decided to place the penny immediately into the slot on the door of a public loo and then describe its gloomy incarceration until liberated by the attendant at the end of the day. Marks deducted for not entering into the spirit of the thing.

Our pennies had a lurid time…those donated for the class Christmas party went (allegedly) to fund an orgy of crisps and ginger beer for the school staffroom; others went wild on the shove ha’penny board at the fair. They were reclaimed by pressing button B in a public ‘phone box and were spent immediately upon sherbet fountains and gobstoppers in the nearby sweet shop…

button B

They dropped into the leather satchels of bus conductors and emerged at exotic locations like Leatherhead bus garage; they even entered bank vaults whence they were liberated by masked robbers while corpulent bank managers writhed helpless in their bonds.

These were, of course, proper pennies. Two hundred and forty to the pound pennies, not the decimal abomination which was foisted on us in the seventies with the result that junior school maths lessons no longer included the calculation of the price of one and seven twelfths of a yard of cotton at eleven pence three farthings the yard while showing your workings, which was a means of separating the strong from the feeble minded in double quick order. At least there was some point to this example……you could see yourself measuring and paying for cloth while you could most decidedly not see yourself performing that other gem of maths lessons i.e. removing the bath plug and then opening both taps while you calculated the rate at which the bath would fill – or not. More likely to be calculating the risk of the thunder of parental feet on the stairs as the hot water boiler swallowed coke like a thing possessed.

But at least we were only dealing with one currency.

On my recent trip to Europe I found myself juggling with several, thanks to finding a relatively cheap flight which meandered its way from Costa Rica via a stop off in Toronto before heading for Amsterdam, whence there was a direct flight to Southampton.

No one wants to know Costa Rican currency which rejoices, to the Anglophone ear, in the name of the colon. Yes, I know it refers to Christopher Columbus, who called himself Cristobal Colon when he moved from Genoa to Spain, but its other connotations are irresistible and probably account for the reluctance of currency dealers to have anything to do with it at close quarters.

Thus I needed to provide myself with foreign currencies for my trip, if only to keep hunger at bay for the duration of the twenty four hours it would take to leave point A and arrive at point non plus..

I had notes and coins left over from previous trips, separated in different sections of my travelling purse and kept in my no. 1 carry on bag for easy access.

Fine in theory, but all went awry in Toronto Pearson airport.

After a five hour flight I had a five and a half hour stopover and was tempted to seek nourishment. The only sit down offerings were a place which appeared to serve doughnuts though closer inspection of the poster at the entrance showed them to be dim sum and a burger place with queues stretching out into the main concourse of the terminal.

Having checked the doughnut prices I could see why there were such queues at the burger bar.

Neither appealed, so I thought I would check out the snack bars. To my dismay they were all run by the same firm with the same offerings…ciabatta resembling a reclaimed nappy, finger sandwiches which an old rugby playing friend would have described as ‘society sandwiches – six to a gobful and you only get five’ – and filled rolls which would have needed a probe to find the contents while the roll itself promised to pull out every filling you possessed.

Or sushi. As far as I am concerned you can stuff sushi where the monkey shoved its nuts at the best of times…and this was not the best.

And the prices! I know Toronto Pearson Terminal 1 provides hundreds of chained down iPads for the use of passengers free of charge, but given the Scots heritage of Canadians I would have thought a few defibrillators might have been a good idea….two dollars ninety five for a small bottle of Perrier with orange!

Which is bad enough in Canadian dollars. But you can also pay in U.S. dollars…if you will accept change in Canadian.

I worked out the relative exchange rates, which turned rip off into tear apart , but, with some four hours still ahead of me, succumbed to the Perrier and put a two Canadian dollar piece into my purse which, in a state of shock, I managed to upend.

Moneys previously segregated made joyous reunion….the rainbow purse came into being.

I managed to navigate Amsterdam Schiphol without recourse to money….but on arrival at Southampton, having eschewed the rip off taxi for twenty quid, tried to pay  the bus driver ten quid for a week’s season ticket with money including Euros….firmly declined.

Glasses on and a rummage through the purse produced the necessary pounds sterling and I was on my way to my mother’s.

That night I tried to reorganise the rainbow purse, happily chucking coins featuring the royal bonce to one side and coins without on the other.

Infallible.

No. As I discovered when trying to feed the printer in the local lending library, Canadian coins also have the royal bonce on them and the machine discriminates against coins from the ex colonies….

But I am at a loss to know how I managed to put this

mexican peso coin into the pounds sterling pile.

I discovered that I had done so at H.M. Passport Office when I went to renew my papers.

The very helpful chap on the desk said that my passport photographs – taken in  Costa Rica – would not do. The background was glaringly white instead of being a discreet cream or gray. White upsets the recognition devices on the DIY passport machine at airports apparently.

Since most of them seem to be put of order there must be a lot of white backgrounds about…

Not to worry…there was a photo booth in the entrance……he would keep my place open while I took the necessary mugshots.

You know these photo booths…the revolving stool is always set for midgets and then spins out of control….you are still trying the read the instructions when the thing goes off and on the next try it catches you mouthing obscenities as you try to fit your eyes into the rectangle outlined on the screen….and it helps if you do not try to feed Mexican pesos into its maw.

Especially if its maw is situated in H.M. Passport Office.

Hot and bothered I eventually returned to the kind gentleman and only when I handed over the photographs did I glance at them.

I am accustomed to passport photographs which make me resemble the Missing Link…they have done so since I first had a passport….but this one was special.

With wild hair and glaring eyes it bore a close resemblance to whatever abomination it is that adorns the Mexican peso coin….

He perused it with that lack of visible emotion which used to be the mark of the British civil servant and looked up.

‘Well,’ he said. ‘The proportions are right. It’ll do.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life

ibera-plane-sjo

You know, I know, we all know that we should not make decisions when we are tired.

We are, at this moment, recovering from our folly in not heeding this maxim: our only excuse being that we were too tired to remember it.

Every month or so we take the car into San Jose to stock up with items unobtainable – or more expensive – in our little town.

Earl Grey tea…rice noodles… bones and ox kidneys for the dogs…cheap tomatoes…fencing wire from the Chinese tat emporium… five kilo lumps of fresh cheese from Turrialba and proper wholemeal bread from a baker who seems to be the only one in the area to be able to make  a loaf which is neither sweet nor as heavy as  lead once ingested.

Buying in bulk as we do, on the return trip the car is loaded with crates and sacks the contents of which have to be sorted, packed and divided between stores, fridge and freezer – after feeding the chickens, the ducks, the lambs and the dogs, not to speak of ourselves.

We have always done this in one form or another, but we are not getting any younger and there are moments when the mounds of kidneys to be diced and packed, peppers to be grilled and skinned and the rest of the gallimaufry awaiting attention can feel daunting.

That was the situation last week when the ‘phone rang.

Leo answered it: I paid no attention, assuming it was the chap who was supposed to come with his bulldozer the next day, checking that all was in order.

Then Leo came round into the kitchen, looking shell shocked.

‘I’ve done something awful.’

‘You haven’t cancelled him?’

‘No! It’s something else entirely….I knew I shouldn’t have done it while I was talking to him…’

It turned out that the man on the ‘phone had been one of the fleurons of  Leo’s family tree….his half brother.

The son of his father’s Spanish mistress.

Twenty plus years younger than Leo.

Last sighted over twenty years ago.

Who was not only in Costa Rica but was at that very minute in a taxi bringing him from our little town and should be at our gate shortly.

Well, not shortly.

We were sorting out the sheep for the evening when the taxi drew up at the house gates along the road.

The assembled dogs arrived, giving tongue.

A lugubrious face peered from the rear window. For some time.

Eventually, prompted by the taxi driver requesting payment, the entire person descended and the taxi departed.

The dogs bayed cheerfully.

The person shuffled.

The dogs bayed again….

‘Well, come in’ said Leo.

‘I don’t know how to open the gate’…

He was not, you understand, frightened of dogs..he was allergic. They were filthy things, carriers of disease…

The nine carriers of disease barked and leapt for joy..they don’t often get visitors who behave like the man whose feet are being shot at in the Westerns and intended to make the most of it.

Finally the Will Kemp of Estepona made it to the house and sank into a chair on the balcony.

He had, it appeared, come to Costa Rica to find the only remaining member of his family. Given that he has endless cousins on his mother’s side and Leo’s sister and brother all living this seemed a little thin.

As Leo had carefully never given him his address after the last encounter, he had had, he said, to track us down.

Would the great white hunter like something to drink? Tea, coffee, beer, fruit juice?

Wine.

He did not like tea, Costa Rican coffee was disgusting, fruit juice – God only knew what fruit was involved out here…and he was allergic to beer as he was gluten intolerant.

Happily involved with a bottle of banana wine he expanded. On his gluten intolerance.

After some ten minutes of a blow by blow description of fifteen years of diarrhea I thought it time to cook supper.

He was at my shoulder in a flash.

No condiments! I will be ill!

So we had plain fried fish, fried potatoes and fried tomatoes…not what we had planned for ourselves.but if he had a diet problem…

I dished up.

Where is the salt…there is no flavour to this food…

He managed to finish half a bottle of banana wine – luckily it had a label indicating that it was a Sauvignon/Semillon from Argentina or no doubt he would not have touched it – discoursing the while on his gluten intolerance and its problems, in the presence of a man who has two major illnesses and had recently spent five days completely paralysed in a major hospital.

Reminded – by me – of Leo’s problems he brushed them aside. Leo should take out private insurance, as he had done. Private medicine showed him that he was gluten intolerant and it changed his life

I left them to it while I washed up.

Leo then enjoyed a session of hearing how dreadful Costa Rica was…no culture, childish television, terrible food….why had we moved there? And to this awful house?

Digital Camera

Had he seen any of the sights?

Yes…the Teatro Nacional…nothing special..

teatro-nacional

Museums? Pre-columbian gold? Jade? Contemporary Arts?

What museums? Oh yes, there was a hole in the ground by the theatre, but it looked dirty…and he might get mugged…

gold-museum

Pity he missed that experience…

Clearly he had thought to stay with us on his jolly to Costa Rica…but the dogs had put paid to that so eventually he departed by taxi, promising to return in a few days’ time.

‘Come early,’ said Leo. ‘I’m better in the mornings. And if you get here in the morning Danilo can pick you up at the bus station which will save you getting another taxi.

Two days later we had a ‘phone call at ten to two. He is in our little town, at the bus station

‘Wait there and we will pick you up in about twenty minutes.’

‘No! I will get a taxi! I cannot stand around in this shithole!’

church-purical

Some ten minutes later a taxi driver called us.

‘Can you give me directions?’

‘Yes, sure..they are working 0n the bridge so you will have to come by the back road..’

Voice from the back of the taxi…go by the bridge…go by the bridge…

They eventually arrived an hour later having tried the bridge to find that it is impassable during working hours and so have had to retrace their steps via the back road.

Again the lugubrious face waited a long time in the taxi.

It dawned on us that he was waiting for us to pay the driver.

As the driver was of our view that he will wait a long time until hell freezes over the face was obliged to pay.

He entered the house. the dogs, roused from post prandial slumber, eyed him hopefully, but there was no sign of dancing.

Leo, rashly, asked if he had had lunch.

No.

Well, we have something left from our lunch…chille con carne.

By this time I had retired to bed, having broken my big toe the previous day. Leo was in control.

‘What is in the sauce?’

Leo showed him the chili sauce which I use. The ingredients label is in Spanish – the only language which he understands.

‘No! I cannot eat that! I will be  ill! It contains gluten!’

Later examination showed that there is no gluten in the listed ingredients.

He decided to make for himself a Spanish tortilla..potatoes, onions and eggs.

Some half an hour later I emerged to find that he had taken off his shirt..revealing a revoltingly hairy back….had half peeled and then discarded slightly blemished potatoes which were now useless…had taken only the hen eggs – as being brown – and had used almost a whole bottle of olive oil – super expensive here.

He beamed at me.

Did I know how to make a Spanish tortilla?

Indeed I did, without need of his tuition. I also, in the words of the old music hall song, knew how to raise a bunion on his Spanish onion should I catch him bending tonight

While I cleared up the carnage he told me at length how awful Costa Rican food was.

How it cost him 12,000 colones to be sure to get a gluten free meal.

Why didn’t he go to the caffs on the market? Rice, beans and protein for about 2,000.

soda

A mou of disgust. He could not possibly enter such a place…

Then he asked why we had no mangoes as they were in season…well, they are at lower altitudes, but ours won’t be ripe for a month yet.
‘But they are in season’….
He wanted us to show him the finca…I could not walk far thanks to the curse of the toe and Leo certainly couldn’t but directed him down the one and only road which runs alongside our land.
The dogs escorted him to the gate, hopeful of dancing….but he disappointed them..
I made us some tea.
He returned  ten minutes later saying that he was worried that he might get lost.
Oh, what were we drinking? Tea…no, he would have a coffee. That man must have hearing so acute that he can hear the clink of a tea cup at a mile’s distance.
Leo then suffered a long recital of how none of his mother’s family would have anything to do with him. Hardly surprising since she worked all her life to support him while he lazed about on benefits and her handouts and at her death sold her house  to live on the proceeds. Not something to endear himself to people who loved his mother.
Then followed a far from delicate enquiry as to Leo’s testamentary dispositions…..and the strength of family ties.
Supper time eventually came.
Leo had point blank refused to eat another meal like that of the first evening and asked me to make a Balti….absolutely no gluten in the recipe ingredients.
I called them to the table and put the Balti, the rice and his tortilla on the table.
Our guest settled himself.
First, though,  he had to wash out the wineglass at his place setting.  An insect had settled in it…probably alive with gluten.
Then he complained about the dogs settling in in expectation around us.
I invited him to start, indicating the Balti.
He smirked and said that he could not take gluten…didn’t I remember?
I showed him the herbs and spices I used….all gluten free – including red pepper flakes – ‘gluten free’ on the label.
He licked a finger, pushed it into the flakes and licked it again. No, it had gluten. He could taste it..
I left the table. Before I raised that bunion..
He ate the tortilla he had made, complaining to Leo that I had knowingly made something he could not eat.
Leo told him that while he was quite right not to eat something containing gluten, he had been told – and had been shown – that the meal was gluten free and that once he had finished his meal Leo would call him a taxi.
‘No..later. I can make another tortilla if I’m hungry.’
‘Now.’
Why? He had come thousands of miles to visit Leo …how could Leo throw him out?
Quite easily. No effort at all.
I was in the bedroom, seething quietly, when he barged in – knock? Call? Gracious me no! He wished to explain that thanks to me cooking something he could not eat his brother was going to throw him out It was not his fault if he could not eat something full of gluten…
I was not polite in two languages.
Having called a taxi Leo escorted him to the door and went to clear the  table.
He then made a reappearance in the bedroom and I was even less polite in two languages.
Leo removed him with an energy unexpected in a man of his age and health and he finally left with the carriers of disease barking in triumph as the taxi pulled away..
With any luck it will take him another twenty years before he tries again.

People Find Costa Rica Frustrating….

sloth

There are, I  must admit, times when you feel like rolling your eyes, such as when you find that the lawyer responsible for the control of water use in your canton was appointed for a one year term some seven years ago and since then has been carrying on his business without having his nomination confirmed by the council.

Then you bring into consideration the fact that no one has contested his decisions – and certainly not on the grounds of total illegality – so when the council gets round to sorting it out and making him legal again there will be no practical difference.

Unless, of course, they appoint someone else….without informing the Environment Ministry or the lawyer concerned…

Let joy be unconfined!

It is a matter of studying the practicalities of life rather than the legalities when you live in Costa Rica, but I have seen some meltdowns on the Wagnerian scale among North American immigrants during the adjustment period.

I have more than a suspicion that I would not have taken things so lightly when living in France….but France goes in more for the letter of the law than the spirit.

Mark you, looking at the spirit of France, perhaps the letter of the law might be less restrictive.

All this came to mind when reading a post on a blog which I enjoy very much dealing with the renovation of a large house in the French countryside: there was a problem with the woodwork..and a potential problem with the man who was to solve it…the artisan francais.

In my experience those who were ‘living the dream’, having moved to France, were united in their praise of this specimen…repository of age old wisdom combined with the most modern techniques…

I can only suppose they had never encountered a proper tradesman in their previous lives.

Thus something I blogged about at the time:

Cometh the hour, cometh the artisan francais.

The problem is not so much the hour as the day, the week, the month, or, in some cases, the year. When will the blighter turn up? Will he ever turn up, come to that? More worrying, would it be best if he never did turn up?

The ‘artisan francais’ is the generic term for the French craftsman and covers everything from the plasterer to the local baker, but I prefer not to think about the baker at the moment, having grazed my gums on the razor sharp crust of a loaf with a lead weight interior, the result of his not following the instructions on the sack of ready mix from which he concocts his burnt offerings. I really must go to the supermarket and get some decent bread, made by guys who do follow the instructions.

All this comes to mind because this is the time of year to have the chimney swept, and I have summoned up M. Lalou and wife to come and see to it. It is a marathon job here, chimneys all over the place and no inspection traps, and they do a super job, even cleaning out the wood stove in the kitchen while they are at it. So why am I so annoyed? It is because Team Lalou cannot touch the chimney which serves the boiler and for this I have to wait for the boiler man…sorry, the ‘artisan chauffagiste’. The Lalous are perfectly capable of disassembling and reassembling whatever would be necessary, but they know and I know and, what’s more, the boiler man knows that if anything were ever to go wrong with the boiler or the chimney, the insurance would not cover the damage, as an unqualified person had intervened. I wouldn’t be too convinced that the insurance would work anyway to judge by my last experience. There was a violent storm two years ago which knocked out some bricks from a chimney stack which in turn damaged the slates on the roof. I duly descended on the bar at lunchtime, hijacked the local roofer, who calls himself Monsieur Misery because he is to be found everywhere – this is what passes for a joke in France – and sent his estimate to the insurers.

Two months later, by which time I had given up and sent M. Misery up to make the repairs to avoid further damage, the insurers smugly replied that according to the nearest meteorological station no high winds had been reported in my area and they weren’t coughing up. Their nearest meteorological station proved to be some 50 kilometres away. It wouldn’t be too much to expect that if there were to be a fire in the boiler chimney, I would be found to have used unauthorised fuel! Anyway, insurers are universal. I sincerely hope that the artisan francais is not.

The boiler man will come when he thinks fit, cancel goodness only knows how many firm appointments when richer pickings loom into sight, will do all sorts of unnecessary things and present me with a bill of eyewatering proportions. Or rather, he will send his underpaid assistant to do the work, reserving to himself the delights of making out the bill. I could not believe the first bills I received…I was paying more in the backwoods of France than I had been in central London! My senses have becomed deadened by repetition these days…the frisson of horror at the sight of the envelope from the builder is nowhere near so powerful.

Why don’t I get another boiler man? Because the artisan francais doesn’t believe in competition and one man won’t touch anything on another man’s territory. To each his prey. Further, he has a strong suspicion that if he touches the lash up the first guy made of the job, he will get the blame when inevitably it all goes for a can of worms.

To some extent I can understand their taking on work which they can never hope to carry out in a reasonable time, infuriating though it is. It is very difficult to sack an employee in France, thanks to legislation cooked up by an unholy alliance of unions and employers which may be appropriate to large enterprises but not to the little firms of electricians, plumbers, etc who also fall under its sway. Thus, even when things are booming, a little firm will not take on staff to meet the demand because if later there is a downturn, the wages of these staff will have to be paid even if there is no work for them to do.

Further, they have to pay an enormous amount to cover the social security payments for themselves and their employees, which is one of the reasons why the bill with which they present you is so exorbitant. Your money is not going to pay the workman’s wages so much as to support the immense waste and extravagance of the French social security system. There are genuine benefits, like paid time off work while ill, but there are also the parasitic elements, like the private ambulance services who are more like taxis than ambulances proper and whose bills are reimbursed by the social security budget. Sit in the waiting area of any French hospital and you will find as many ambulance drivers as patients. Many of these patients are perfectly able to go to the hospital unaided but, as the service is paid for by the state, they take full advantage. Your plumber’s bill will reflect this state of affairs.

Not every part of your massive bill is explained by circumstances outside the control of the artisan. These days, the taxman demands that his estimate and bill include every nut, bolt and widget that he proposes to use, itemised and costed. Gone are the days of ‘one septic tank and installation 50,000 francs’. This is fine for the taxman, even if the artisan has to take a lot more time concocting the fantasia with which he presents you when you ask for an estimate for repairing the gutters, but it does the client no favours.

Being a small business, there are no economies of scale. The artisan typically will have an account at the big builders’ merchants who give him a discount of ten per cent of the value of his purchases at the end of the month. As he passes on all his costs to you, he is not too worried how much he spends…that ten per cent glistens ahead of him at each purchase. Some of the brighter sparks are now buying at the discount DIY warehouses…where the quality is excellent… and pricing to the client at the builders’ merchant prices, which more than compensates them for the loss of the ten per cent.

I have just had a bill from my plumber for replacing the thermostats on my radiators. He is charging me eighteen euros for units I have priced at what I suspect to be his supplier at three euros. Everyone is happy…the warehouse has made a sale, my plumber has made a small fortune on fourteen radiators and the taxman can see fourteen units in and out of his books with value added tax duly paid. Who am I to strike a discordant note amidst all this rejoicing?

If you wish to get to know your area really well, employ an artisan to work on your house. He will start, then disappear without warning. You will have to retrieve him from all the other jobs he has started only to disappear without warning. Touring the area, you will see his van outside someone else’s house and it is now down to you to stand at the foot of his ladder if he is visible, or knock on the door and and seek audience with him if he is not. He will be a bit like the Scarlet Pimpernel

‘They seek him here, they seek him there’..

but being made of better stuff than the average French revolutionary you will dig him out of his hiding place and persuade him to return. I used to have a lovely little dog who liked to dig around the footings of ladders….he was a great force of persuasion in his time. Apart from recovering the errant artisan you will meet some very nice people…other clients on the same quest…and discover that your village is more interesting than you thought.

He has returned, and it is now that your troubles begin because he attempts to do the job for which he has contracted with you. You have clearly in mind what you want while he has clearly in mind what he proposes to do…the match will not be perfect.

I wanted an extra telephone line run into the house. It could run along a ledge which circled the house at first floor level and enter the house through a hole on the rendering to come out where I wanted it, in a room on the first floor. Invisible. I explained this, and went off to the garden. Luckily I returned before too long, to find the brute about to make a hole in the ornate plasterwork ceiling of the hall in order to bring the wire through the front door, up the stately stone staircase and along the first floor landing! To make matters worse, he proposed covering the wire with those dreadful white plastic strips that disfigure all French house interiors. Very visible, and using a lot more by way of materials for which he could charge me.

More important was the problem with the builder doing my kitchen extension. Having seen the rest of the house I knew that I needed a damp course. He prevaricated

‘We don’t have damp courses in France.’

That is self evident, you only have to look at the problems of damp in French houses. I insisted. He finally agreed and then I did something stupid. He had disappeared for while, so I went off for a week. He must have had me under surveillance because while I was away he struck. I returned to find the exterior wall in place, but no damp course. The kitchen had to be dry lined, all my kitchen measurements had to de redone and the dry lining was, of course, an addition to the bill.

He and his guys had an endearing habit of mixing a load of cement at about ten to twelve and then knocking off for two hours for lunch. The cement, now well solid, would be chipped out and dumped under any handy shrub. This is so common that there is a phrase for it..’cadeau empoisonne’…the poisoned gift. My lawnmower did not appreciate it.

Well, you might say, why do you reserve your venom for the french craftsman? There are bodgers and cowboys all over the world. Because they’re what I’m lumbered with by the French system.

According to their national assocation, you can trust the French craftsman because he is qualified and knows his stuff.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

You can become a qualified whatever you want if you can show three years’ experience and can pass a course which shows you how to fill out your tax forms. I know of one expat builder who specialises in turning out suitably pre qualified workers….one week they’re drawing unemployment benefit, the next week, when the pressure from the labour exchange becomes too strong to withstand, they are roofers. Working on three storey buildings on crippleboards…the unstable wooden scaffolding what somehow becomes invisible when a labour inspector visits the site….they undertake the skilled job of replacing a slate roof. Or they become plasterers. There is another special word to describe the style of plastering they offer…’rustique’ – rustic. If you see a plastered wall with undulations visible in dim light, surreal scraper patterns and the odd lump of unmixed plaster, that is ‘rustique’.

I wouldn’t place money on the ones who have done an apprenticeship, either.

Plumbers want to leave all the pipes exposed

‘for when there is a leak’.

What do they mean…’when’!

Electricians want to festoon the walls with wires covered by white plastic strips

‘for when there is a problem’.

Why do they think I am employing them, rather than just creating the problems myself?

The only reason I will have the artisan francais on my premises is because, nomatter how bungling his work, nomatter how ugly the results, nomatter what damage he causes…here, lovers of Flanders and Swann will begin to sing ‘The Gasman cometh’ and anyone who does not know Flanders and Swann can jolly well rectify the situation…

the insurers will not pay if anyone but an artisan francais does the work.

Since, given their level of competence, there will be problems, you will need the insurers to pay.

Thus, you have to employ the artisan francais.

QED

Hit the Road in Costa Rica

hotel-costa-verde-cows

This is what the tourist industry would like you to think of as a traffic jam in Costa Rica.

Or, even better, this:

Unfortunately, the reality is more like this. The dreaded Lindora Radial linking the two sides of the Central Valley  which you are obliged to take unless you fancy driving all the way to  San Jose and then out again.

lindora

Those of us who have to suffer it know it all too well…but, on the airport side at least,  there should be a notice stating

‘Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate!’

And probably a Red Cross station handing out bottles of water and sandwiches, for once you enter its maw you have no way of knowing how long it will be before you are disgorged at the other end.

It is a planning nightmare.

There are factories – thus works buses and delivery lorries.

Offices – every man in his own car.

Shopping malls- every woman likewise.

Access roads to all of above used as rat runs to try to beat the jams and thus making them worse as their users try to rejoin the main road.

It is the road to the airport….it has bridges where the road is reduced to two lanes….light controlled junctions in gridlock….

It makes for the worst journey in the country.

So why not bite the bullet and drive up to San Jose and out again?

Because the rush hours are like this:

traffic-jam-df

Mark you, the traffic does at least move, unlike  the Lindora Radial…but it is dispiriting to drive in these conditions into the capital and then out again, not to speak of the danger of La Platina deciding to do its worst.

This is La Platina:        platina

A plate, as its name suggests, in the flyover which takes the Interamericana highway over junctions leading to major towns, busy suburbs and the airport.

A plate which is supposed to expand and contract with the changes in temperature.

A plate which doesn’t.

I cannot remember a year since we moved here when the blasted Platina has not played up, requiring repair work which severely disrupts the already treacly traffic movement.

This year it has been decided that ‘something must be done’ and major works, instead of patching up, is underway. Consequently nothing much else is.

Back to the Lindora Radial, then….

Traffic congestion has become so appalling that the current government have had to take it seriously….apart from anything else, it is embarrassing for a country which hawks it green credentials at every opportunity to have such a grave problem of pollution.

It has been proposed that as many civil servants as possible should work from home rather than travel to San Jose to work…but no one has proposed taking their expensive cars away.

There is a project to reduce the number of buses running into the city centre…but the bus companies are kicking up and a remarkable number of ministers supporting the project have bitten the dust.

There was going to be provision for tax relief for electric cars…but the legislators voted it down  before going home from the National Assembly in their gas guzzlers.

Take the train?

Thereby hangs a tale.

One Figueres, son of the founding father of modern Costa Rica and President of the country in his turn in 1994 closed down the railway system that took goods from coast to coast and passengers from the major towns into San Jose, thus leaving the country at the mercy of the road haulage and bus interest.

train-13

Only recently has the suburban network been restored and connection with the major towns around San Jose  re established, but it is a ramshackle affair, a narrow gauge railway running through the streets of the capital and only at rush hours:

Figueres junior now wishes to return to power after a lengthy spell spent living in Switzerland: he is seeking his party’s nomination for the next Presidential election.

His campaign posters are everywhere…..

Given his record with public transport I suspect that he will lose more votes than he gains by having his posters put up alongside the Lindora Radial