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.

 

 

 

 

A Glass Half Empty Day

building works 003I’m a sort of optimistic pessimist…if the glass is half empty then there’s room for a top up….but there are days which leave me in no mood even to pick up the glass in the first place.

Yesterday was one of those…..on the face of it a fine day for being up on the building site, deciding where to build the corral and chicken housing and planting more trees and shrubs.
The work had, despite the early start to the rainy season, been going very well so what was there to spoil the mood?

A prat, that’s what.

There is a big reorganisation of water rights and usage going on in this area after the mess made by The Neighbour when the developer was trying to get permission for housing further down the valley.
It has taken ages…meetings, checking title deeds, visits to government offices, more meetings, gentle persuasion exerted on the man who thought his neighbours should pay him for permitting the new main pipe to run through his finca, appointments with a taxation tribunal to arrange who should in fact pay what to whom, and finally, more checking of title deeds, but we seem to be in sight of the objective…water for everyone (except The Neighbour) at an agreed usage.

Being a glass half empty person, it occurred to me that long before this process ended we would need to begin building and as part of The Neighbour’s reorganisation had seen the water removed from our cafetal where we wanted to build we had to get a secure supply there to enable work to start, rather than waiting until the big reorganisation was completed.

There is a convenient spring on the finca next up the mountain…and until the Neighbour started messing about the pipes had run over that finca and through our own so we thought we would ask the owner, a North American, if we could come to some arrangement by which we could use that water and reinstate the pipes.
We had only met him once before….when he stopped us on the road to tell us that unless we paid him for the telegraph posts which carried the ‘phone line over his land he would sell them to someone else and leave us without a ‘phone.
ICE – the electricity board – did not take his attempt at blackmail kindly; especially as the posts were theirs…

So it was no surprise that he refused downright to help us out in the matter of water – even though there was a partial right of way and customary use over the whole line had been established for more than forty years.
So we told him that we would seek a concession to take water from the spring from the Environment Ministry and re establish the right of way for the pipes.

His response came a few days later when his North American neighbour came by for a coffee and got straight down to business.

We did not want to apply for a concession.

Yes, we did.

No, we certainly did not. X (the owner) doesn’t want anyone on his property.

He won’t have anyone on his property. Once the line is laid there’s no need for anyone to go there. No one did before when the pipes were there.

You don’t understand. X doesn’t want anyone on his property. You don’t want to go ahead with this.

But we do.

No you don’t. Y won’t like it. You don’t want to upset Y.

Who the blazes is Y?

You don’t know Y?.

We had never heard of Y, but enquiry showed him to be another North American, living a high life and popularly supposed to be involved in the drugs trade. He did not come to call and was found hanged in his garage some months later….

So we went ahead and – after much dirty work at the crossroads – obtained our concession. The re establishment of the right of way is taking longer, but the Environment Ministry inspector said that if we took the water pipe from the source down the bed of the stream that runs from it then we were on state property – the state owns all watercourses – and so not trespassing on the North American’s finca.
It meant going about three times as far with the pipes…but if it got the work started…fine.

And so the foundations went down and the walls went up.

Then we had a call from the owner of the finca. He wanted to see us to talk about the water. He would come to the building site.

He duly arrived. He was chatty, admired the site and the house and then said

I’m cutting off your water.

We have a concession.

No you don’t. My lawyer has seen the Ministry lawyers…there were irregularities in your application. Its not worth the paper it’s written on. I’m getting a concession…that will be the only one…and I’m cutting off your water. This week.

It was suggested that he leave before Danilo’s dog Rowley took a dislike to him and after saying how disappointed he was in our lack of willingness to discuss the matter he left.

So what now?

We know we have a legal right to the water…..but what do we do if his workmen rip out our pipes?
Replace them of course and sue him for the damage but it all takes up time better spent on building.

Do we believe the ‘irregularities’?
No, but as he has a lawyer whose list of contacts compensates for his ignorance of the law it is well to check with the Ministry.
More time wasted…but I believe in belt and braces.

Nothing we can’t cope with.

But what I find so depressing is that someone could set up a meeting at the building site….appear to enter into our enthusiasm for the project and then pull the ‘cutting off your water’ stunt, designed to ruin everything we were working to achieve.
He has to have a strange sort of mentality to find that satisfying.

Don Freddy dropped by at the house later on and we were discussing it with him.
He repeated what we had already heard about X’s none too savoury way of life…..taxi drivers talk….and provided a possible key to explain the behaviour.

You building up there, on the road to his house, must bother him….you’ll be able to see who comes and goes.

But we’re not interested!

That’s not a risk he wants to take.

Don Freddy might have a point.

Hit the Road

teletica.com

Unless you can afford to travel by light aircraft, getting from place to place in Costa Rica involves driving.
There are commuter trains running between the capital and its feeder towns it is true but the wonderful rail lines running from coast to coast are a thing of the past…..
They were allowed to fall into disuse about the same time as a minister was developing a road haulage business….

Thus you travel by car or by bus…on the roads.

And the roads can be something else.
There are a lot of rivers in Costa Rica – crossed by bridges which only seem to be inspected when they fall into said rivers, with or without buses on them at the time.

There is a bridge – or overpass – on the main road north from the capital with a sort of expanding plate to allow for the expansion and contraction of materials.
Just mention ‘la platina’ and the reply will be…not again! The thing is always falling apart and one suspects that there are a lot of road ministry officials crossing their fingers that it won’t do so on the day of the arrival of President Obama.

Unkind voices also suggest that given the weight of the armoured car he uses to protect himself when travelling there is a distinct chance that the repair to the vast two lane pothole between la platina and the airport will give way with unpleasant consequences for intergovernmental relations and unexpected opportunities for Joe Biden.

Given the mountainous nature of the country, road travel can be slow….but the government has come up with solutions.
Toll roads built by foreign companies.

There is one already, running from the capital to the Pacific coast.
Operated by a Spanish firm, it has not been a resounding success.

Yes, you can drive to the coast in an hour and a half as opposed to about four by using the old road….though you have to watch out if you are a contrarian….should you wish to drive from the coast to the capital at the start of the holiday period you will find that the traffic police have dedicated both lanes to getting people from the capital to the coast – so you will be on the old road, like it or not.
And yes, you did read both lanes…there are but two.
With lots of toll booths.
The other thing you have to watch out for is falling boulders as the firm’s engineers weren’t too hot on soil consolidation…..either that or money needed for engineering works engineered itself somewhere else.

Fired by this example, the government have now decided on another toll road, from the capital west to San Ramon – a large town by local standards and, more importantly, inhabited by coffee barons who have a perceived need to get to the capital more swiftly than by travelling on the overloaded Interamericana highway where you always seem to be behind a truck crawling uphill and puffing out enough black fumes to furnish a London Particular.

Wonderful…the plebs can use it too after all….so why was Laura Chinchilla, the President rated the worst in Central America for the second year running, greeted by people demonstrating against the road when she gave the annual address at the commemoration of Juan Santamaria, the soldier who died defeating the American led invaders at the second Battle of Rivas in 1856?

A little background might help.

Recent governments have been embroiled in financial scandals, dodgy dealings and practices so reminiscent of the European Union that one wonders, rather on the lines of the limerick detailing the exploits of the young gay gentleman of Khartoum, who did what and with which and to whom when it came to learning how to fiddle the public purse.
Presidents have appeared in the dock with the regularity of clockwork automatons on the Dad’s Army town hall clock….only to be sentenced to house arrest pending their appeal….
Presidents have encouraged open cast mining projects which pollute the watercourses and destroy the habitat of rare birds while angling for carbon credits…

But this government takes the prize for unpopularity.

Whopping tax increases…while the tax minister forgets to declare the value of his property.
A law gagging whistleblowers to avoid any unfortunate recurrence of publicity about the absentmindedness of ministers.
The fiasco of the road along the river frontier with Nicaragua….seemingly with two committees running it; the official one with technicians and the real one run by….. the President’s relatives.
The sheer waste of public money.
And the threat to Costa Ricas’s tradition of peaceful protest.

Costa Ricans do protest quite a bit….if it’s not taxi drivers it’s one or other of the main unions, or old age pensioners, or animal welfare campaigners blocking the streets of San Jose….but it all happens peacefully.

Until recently, when the government tried strong arm tactics against a small group of protesters asking for more support for rural hospitals.
Turning out the riot police for a small band of health workers was a bad move….and the government was forced to back pedal.

All sorts of simmering discontent came to the fore after this.
The never ending corruption and incompetence of government was no longer going to be able to count on the acquiescence of a traditionally laid back population…you might be able to tax Costa Ricans, but you can’t silence them.

Then came the announcement that a Brazilian company had been chosen to build and operate the new toll road.
A company already in trouble with contracts in Ecuador and Bolivia.
A company which had until very recently employed the minister responsible for awarding the contract as a consultant – during which time he had ‘forgotten’ to pay his social security contributions.
And the tolls were going to be expensive.
Too expensive for the plebs.

People decided to demonstrate…peacefully…when the President gave the traditional address on Juan Santamaria day. They assembled with banners and marched towards the square in the centre of Alajuela…the hero’s home town… only to find that the police had blocked access to all except the children’s bands and invited politicians.
Not even the parents of the children performing could get through.

Another strand of traditional Costa Rican values had been attacked….even if they are only pretending, Costa Rican Presidents are expected to mix with the people on a footing of equality and to have Chinchilla surrounded by bodyguards, the police holding the people at bay, was too much.
Insults were hurled…and not a few rocks.
The President left hurriedly.

Negotiations are now under way – negotiations refused previously…
Police are raiding the offices of the ministry awarding the contract….
The Ombudsman (woman in this case) is ready to step in….
The President – hailed as ‘favoured daughter of Mary’ by an over enthusiastic bishop at her election – has asked the Roman Catholic Church to act as mediator….

But it is worrying….a government that thinks it doesn’t have to listen to its citizens can only be compelled to do so by citizens throwing rocks.
Translate this to Europe…with well armed police forces trained to control crowds what will it take to compel a European government to listen to its citizens?

A Busy Night in Rural France

la Nouvelle Republique

Hello Victor! You’re an early bird today!

Well, I’ve been at the wine fair with Gerard so I thought I’d drop in for a glass…see who’s around…
Yes, a drop of Claude’s rose will do nicely….

No one here yet, Victor…probably still all at the wine fair! Claude didn’t enter anything, I see.

No…he doesn’t these days. Fed up with all these clever dicks making special vats for the judging from what he said last year when that filthy devil Patrick from Les Deux Biscouilles won a bronze for his Gamay….I reckon he bought that in from his wife’s brother over at Ste. Conasse.

Mark you, Victor, the whole wine world is going crazy….you know Zizi’s place?
Well, three young guys have taken it, split it up in plots under the limit to have to pay insurance to the Mutuelle Sociale Agricole and they’re producing all sorts of stuff the A.O.C. doesn’t allow and they’re doing well!
You wouldn’t believe the labels they put on their bottles….‘Les Cabernets sont au Fond du Couloir’….’L’Enfant Terrible’ but it sells like there’s no tomorrow!

Whole world’s going crazy if you ask me. Now the Post Office is going to deliver the post by drones…

Are you sure that’s not an April fool stunt?

It sounds like one but nothing would surprise me these days….
The drones will probably carry bombs to drop on those who haven’t paid their taxes….and talking of taxes, did you see Hollande on the box?

Did I not! I had it on in here and had to turn it off because the guys wanted to put a hammer through the screen! There he sits, like a turd on the pavement, telling us he’s going to see it through! All right for him stuffed to the gills on public money…let him try making it!

Oh, he knows how to do that all right! Years of double and triple payment as a politician…expenses galore….fiddling his tax returns…we’ll find out next he has a Swiss bank account!

Just like his minister for the budget…busy telling us all we had to make sacrifices and sitting on a pile in Switzerland…not to speak of some underhand contracts with the pharmaceutical firms.
And what’s the prime minister getting out of this project for a new Nantes airport?

It won’t be a camper van he’ll be using for his holidays in the future….probably a private jet on the new landing strip….
Here, give me another glass….

You sure? I’m not being funny but you must have had a few at the wine fair…and you know what the gendarmerie are like these days!

Not to worry; there’s no risk today. The police are getting pissed at the wine fair and there’ll be no gendarmerie out today.
Cheers!

Why won’t they be out? It stopped raining this morning….

Because they’re sleeping off being out all night at the supermarkets.
Didn’t you hear?
All the big supermarkets were targeted last night by the Young Farmers.
They blocked the entrances to the car parks and the doors with piles of stinking old straw…covered the trolleys too so you can imagine the state of it all after a night of rain.
Young Laurent was down there with my muckspreader…he said it was like the War of the Worlds…tractors, trailers, state of the art stuff out there working under the lights, dumping this filth…twenty or so farmers at each site, all starting at once….quite an experience for the lad.
He was too young to go when we blocked the petrol pumps a few years ago…

But what about the gendarmerie?

Oh, once the supermarket bosses saw what was happening on their security screens they went down there…and the gendarmerie turned up to protect the farmers from being attacked.

What…a couple of office slugs against twenty farmers….!

Very nasty these bosses….they can make very wounding remarks…
Anyway, that’s where the gendarmerie have been all night so we won’t be seeing them out and about for a while.

I suppose it was about prices?

Yes….the supermarkets are squeezing the producers until the pips squeak….especially the milk boys.
And not just them. Did you see that tanker that overturned last week? Full of Spanish goat milk!

Well, yes, but the cheese factory boss said it was a one off…the local guys’ production falls in the winter and he has contracts to fulfill…

I’m not so sure….I bet the Young Farmers would like a look at his books!
But anyway, this can’t go on, the supermarkets squeezing the suppliers like this….

Well yes, I suppose they’ve had to cut everything to the bone as it is.

Too right! And if they don’t get an increase in the milk price how’re they going to pay for those state of the art machines they’ve all been buying: that’s what I’d like to know!

Ah, Clement! Just up from the wine fair?
Let’s have a couple of Claude’s rose….

A Slithering of Solicitors

wallpapers.free-review.net

You would think I was making a collection….the young lady dealing with the fight against the developer here; the local water inspector-cum-lawyer; my regular one; the Argentinian one in Spain; the Flemish one in Belgium and the English one in England.
At the moment I am rejoicing at being free of a French one in France….but I’m not counting my chickens…
While I have property in France there is always the possibility of a notaire darting from the undergrowth to sink his fangs in my wallet.
And…apart from the proposed development…I don’t have a complicated life.

Yet now I have acquired another solicitor…..who came to see me yesterday evening.

I was on my own, my husband having gone to see a friend, so when I heard a car pass the house and then stop I assumed that it was someone looking for the goat farm further down the valley….I reckon people get so desperate looking for it they turn in at any likely gate to ask for directions.
But when there was prolonged silence, I thought I’d better go out to take a look, remembering that what is normally a clear turning circle has been complicated by having building materials for the extension dumped at salient points.

There indeed was a car…a very new, very shiny, very expensive 4×4.
There was also a driver, who had alighted to try to move the wheelbarrow to allow him to turn.
And there was the Alsatian, sitting between the wheelbarrow and the car. Just looking.

Did he need directions to the goat farm?
No. He had come to see my husband.
Ah…in that case he was out of luck.
I would do instead…..he had come to help me.
Do I need assistance?
Yes, senora.

Intrigued, I sent the Alsatian indoors while my visitor moved the wheelbarrow, marking his elegant slacks with cement dust, and turned his car.

Could we talk inside?
If he wished. He didn’t have the air of a mad axeman.

We settled on the balcony, the Alsatian sitting between us, just looking, while my pouchy little visitor came to the point.

My husband had been to the Fiscalia, had he not? Where he had confirmed his accusations of The Neighbour, had he not?

I nodded.

Well, fixing me with a compassionate smile, he had come to help me. He was a lawyer…a Costa Rican lawyer.
Ah, not from the Intergalactic Federation, then.

He knew the law…all the details….
So I should damn well think if he was taking money for practicing his black arts.

And he had come to tell me that there was no point in going on with these complaints….I would be wasting money on a lawyer…all for nothing.
So he was not offering to represent me, then.

He had thought it best to come down and advise me before things risked getting out of hand…
For whom?

After all the Neighbour was a violent, unpredictable man.
Yes, I knew that. I’d seen his then lawyer restrain him from attacking a judge.

And there was no point in having problems if they could be avoided.

So you think my husband should withdraw his complaints to avoid being marmalised by the Neighbour?

Hands raised in horror…. Alsatian shuffling forward eagerly.

No, no…nothing of the sort!
Ah, I had been too crude…missed the subtleties.

He had just come to explain how important good neighbourly relations were in Costa Rica.

Important everywhere, Licenciado. But how do I have good neighbourly relations with a man who has diverted water from my cafetal? I have to take cisterns of water up in the car to do my spraying…

But he has an order from a judge, allowing him to do so! You signed it yourself!
Shome mishtake shurely, ed.

No, Licenciado. What he has is an agreement with someone else to allow him to take pipes across that person’s land.

Then your lawyer must have signed it for you!

No, Licenciado….neither we, nor our lawyer had anything to do with that agreement and it doesn’t entitle him to divert water from my property.

So, pausing and fiddling with his mobile’phone, if you had the water back you could have good neighbourly relations?
Right…that’s the deal he’s looking for.

Anything is possible.

I’ll be in touch.

I saw him to the door, accompanied by the Alsatian.

Licenciado!

Yes, senora?

My husband said that there were about thirty other people in the Fiscalia confirming complaints….

Dancing in the streets at Chiottes la Gare….but only if it rains.

Let joy be unconfined! Sabrer le champagne!

As part of the shake up in the policing of France, responsibility for keeping the peace in Chiottes la Gare is being removed from the Police Nationale (the ones in caps with an office on the main road into town) and given to the Gendarmerie (the ones in kepis with an office next to the Lycee).

The commissariat of the Police Nationale will close….its occupants thrown to the four winds.
No, no such luck…they will be found posts elsewhere….but, as one opined soberly, these posts might be in – gulp – ‘les quartiers chauds’…the hot spots, the high risk, high crime suburbs of major towns…the ghettos for immigrants.

Well, if they are I don’t fancy their chances….they’ve got a quartier tiede…a lukewarm mini suburb…in their current jurisdiction which has hotted up very nicely under their control.
Where once the neighbours complained about loud music now they thank their lucky stars if they come down to find that their car has not been burned out.

They also have jurisdiction over a campsite for what are politely known as ‘gens de voyage’, ‘bohemiens’…known to the exasperated populace at large as ‘manouches’…the gyppos.
One resident took umbrage when the site caretaker asked him to clean up the area round his pitch which looked as if someone had lobbed a bomb into a used car showroom.
Outraged by this impertinence he started his chainsaw and chased the caretaker from the site….he later turned up at the caretaker’s house and threatened his wife and child.

Where were the Police Nationale?

Probably tucked away safely in their offices which, as they say, are open twenty four hours a day to enable people to lodge complaints while the Gendarmerie lurk behind locked gates, access controlled by an intercom on permanent answerphone.
Very true, but if they are too busy receiving complaints to go out to deal with what is being complained about it is no wonder that the populace regard them with a jaundiced eye.

They claim that they provide a presence on the ground….well, not when it’s raining. The first spot and they’re all back in the commissariat receiving complaints.

They claim that their action is social, as much as preventative…..as evidenced, I suppose by the experience of a young lady who, returning from a visit to her mother, her new baby strapped safely in the car, was followed by a police car all the way from the suburbs to her home in the centre, at which point they alighted and gave her a fine for having one brake light out.
She was unlucky with her weather.

Pause for appropriate music….

Local politicians will be, of course, sorry to see them go. Fifty officers and support staff…and families…will be leaving. Fifteen gendarmes will be replacing them.
I must take a look a the census figures to see if the maire is on a borderline between two rates of remuneration according to the number of people in his bailiwick.

But even if the maire does not suffer financially local bigwigs will mourn their loss….after all, they know how things are; how things need to be run.

They know that when an ex maire adjoint parks at the bus stop on market day they will issue a ticket and then cancel it. Appearances are saved…equality and all that…by the issue of the ticket; faces are saved by its cancellation.

They know that they are not to interfere with the social housing louts installed in the old town, where beautiful old buildings have been martyred to provide gimcrack flats for the ‘youf’ who have been displaced from areas of Paris where they spoil the ambiance for the bourgeoisie by parading their pitbulls and dealing in hard drugs.
Why do they not interfere? Because these properties are owned by the town’s bigwigs and they want no interruption in the rents paid them by the social services.

The Gendarmerie are a bit more unpredictable….they have rushes of blood to the head…and they are likely to claim manpower problems when drafted in by an ex maire to close a street to traffic while contractors unloaded materials to martyrise yet another beautiful old building in the town centre.
His beautiful old building, just like all the others on that side of the road.
The Gendarmerie might be prone to ask where was the authorisation from the council.
Not so the Police Nationale.
They closed the road.

I was interested, because I had bought an old house to restore in one of the side streets served by this road to which there was no access to take a lorry except through a garage on the road itself.

I needed to unload sand and gravel there…in quantity.

I went to the Hotel de Ville and asked for an authorisation. It would take at least a month, I was told.
In a month the Turkish building firm I had engaged would be on holiday…and time was of the essence as some of the work was urgent.

I consulted the builders’ merchant.

To hell with the council…his guys could unload the lorry right at the door blocking only half the road…they were experienced…they knew the town backwards.

I consulted the builders.

Yes, they would guarantee to have the materials shifted in twenty minutes if I would agree to them bringing two more men on the site for the job.

I rounded up friends.
Yes, they would act as marshals for the traffic.

We were away.

The lorry arrived on time and tipped the material accurately. Only half the road was blocked. The builders were busy with shovels and barrows in instants, the friends were at each end of the obstruction, explaining and apologising.
There was no problem…it was a quiet time of day….it was all going swimmingly.

Then the Police Nationale arrived. They parked their car alongside the diminishing heap, thus blocking the road completely.

You’re blocking the road.
Shovelling proceeds

No, you are.
Shovelling proceeds.

You’ll have to stop.
Shovelling proceeds.

Nonsense.
Shovelling proceeds.

By this time hooting has started from the cars at both ends.

You’re causing a public nuisance…listen to that hooting.
Shovelling proceeds.

No…that’s down to you. You can park in the side street and talk to me.
Shovelling proceeds.

You can’t tell us what to to.
Shovelling proceeds.

No…have to be a local bigwig to do that: then we’d see you hop!
Shovelling stops as voices are raised.

I’m warning you…this is outrage to a properly appointed officer of the French Republic! Where’s your authorisation from the council?
Shovels are put down to allow shovellers to give the scene their full attention.

I don’t have one, just like the ex maire for whom you blocked the road last week.
Shovellers close in a bit for a better view.

Don’t chance your luck!
Shovellers pick up shovels, scenting trouble.

I don’t have to.
Tahsin! Can you give me Osman and Ramazan a moment please?

Hefting their shovels, the edges silver and sharp as knives, they stepped forward, Ramazan built like a brick shithouse, Osman nearly double the size, stripped to the waist, bandanas round their brows.
They moved forward again.

Don’t you ever pull a stunt like this again!….

And the Police Nationale were off…or would have been had they not been blocked in and forced to listen to somewhat unflattering views on their probable paternity before making their escape.

I don’t give much for their chances in ‘les quartiers chauds’

——————————————-

And if you want a bit of fun, follow this link and see what the wonderful Coluche, founder of the Restos du Coeur, thought of ‘les flics’….and here‘s a link to the video if you want to try your French

Illustration from http://www.victorianweb.org.

Some things are too good to keep to yourself….

We are building an extension which does not entail anything like the disruption to daily life experienced with the kitchen makeover, as it is, after all…an extension.
On the end of the house.
Away from me.
Dust is blown away into the garden…..
Nothing has had to be moved out to remain infuriatingly elusive for weeks….

The Men need feeding, true…but they do anyway.

We had planned to build a new house up in the cafetal and had gone so far as to have plans drawn up, install a septic tank and plant trees in readinesss…..and then we thought…
No.
The views are beautiful up there it is true and we would still be sheltered from the strong winds of December by the mountain behind but we’ve grown to love this little house and the garden we’ve made around it and, at our age, what on earth do we want with a whopping Italianate villa on two floors with a tower!

So…the extension.

The Men are at the stage of painting the inner walls and yesterday, having a number of things to do in town, went to buy more paint to match the wall they had started on, taking the paint lid with them as well as the mix number.
The young man in the shop set up his machine…and looked puzzled.

It’s not the same.

He called his boss who confirmed that it was not the same colour. The Men concurred.
My husband suggested that perhaps one of the nozzles was blocked.

No, no, I’ve done everything properly.

But we’ve started painting….

The boss intervened.

I’ll tell you what….I’ll give you double the paint in this colour for the price and then you can paint over what you’ve done and it will be all right.

Agreement was reached and, other errands accomplished the Men returned in the late afternoon to take coffee and discuss the next day’s programme.

There was the noise of a motorcycle engine and the Alsatian took off…he is not keen on anything disturbing his slumbers and a motorcycle rates at the top of his dislike list.
The engine stopped somewhere up the road and a voice was heard calling.

My husband went out to find the Alsatian sitting at the gates and the motorcyclist standing very still behind his machine. While actually a peaceful animal the dog has a certain way of sitting and looking that reminds one of the immovable object…and it was clear that the motorcyclist did not intend to be the irresistible force.

It was the young man from the shop. Cautiously he held out a small plastic wrapped packet.
It was paint, to add to the mix to get the proper colour. The boss had dismantled the machine and found that, indeed, one of the nozzles was blocked and this was the colour that should have come from it.

Just mix it in and you’ve got the paint you wanted.

My husband thanked him and went to get the money for the extra paint they had been given.

No! The boss said it was our fault….and he sent me out straight away in case you had started to use the paint.

Would the young man take a coffee…a beer?

No…he would not. He had to get back to work….and, once the gates were closed between him and the Alsatian, that is what he did, his motorcycle kicking up dust and stones on the road up the hill.

To me, this is something too good to keep to myself….that a shopkeeper is not only willing to get you out of a mess by giving extra materials…but also sends his shopman out with the pukka gear to get to you before you’ve started with the new stuff…..
Not just service…but thoughtfulness.

It wasn’t the only good thing that happened yesterday…..
There’s a new prosecutor at the Fiscalia….and he’s been getting to grips with his job.

My husband had been summoned to see him by telephone that morning and dropped in on his shopping trip…to find about half the inhabitants of the Three Valleys in the waiting area.

The new prosecutor had unearthed the files on the would be developer and his Mr. Fix-it…The Neighbour.

The people giving us all trouble with our water supply.

The new prosecutor wanted to know why all the complaints had been filed and parked in a cupboard.

From the noises coming from the offices it sounded as though these were not the only files parked out of sight and out of mind…….

From the noises coming from the offices it also seemed that the new Prosecutor was not very happy….

Secretaries came and went at the gallop…people were ushered in and out of offices at speed….my husband’s turn came.

Did he uphold his complaints ?

Yes, he did.

Sign here.

What will happen?

Well, the files won’t be going back into the cupboard….

So, a new judge up at the court and a new prosecutor at the Fiscalia……The Neighbour had better watch his step.

And the best of all…an improvement in my husband’s health.

He has been diagnosed with something enchantingly known as Miller Fisher/ CANOMAD…..which always has me thinking of Noel Coward singing ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen….which is related to the better known syndrome Guillain-Barre.

What it means for him is that should he catch a ‘flu, his antibodies – instead of going for the intruder – go for the sheathing of his nerves, leaving him progressively paralysed.

And it’s a quick progression.

From a tingling in the hands and lips it can be complete paralysis and coma within  two hours. Treatment has to be fast and has to follow a particular cycle to avoid death or permanent damage to the nervous system.

Well, over the years, over many attacks, the treatment hasn’t always been fast enough and the cycle hasn’t always been respected.

There are many consequences, but one in particular has been that his blood pressure swings alarmingly from high to low and back again…migraines at one extreme, faintness at the other. It doesn’t make life fun.

We’ve always taken precautions against high blood pressure…I don’t use salt, I use as few prepared foods as possible….but it’s the swings which have proved insoluble.

Until recently.

He has been reading  up on blood pressure and discovered that it is controlled by three elements…the kidneys, the nervous system and sodium and potassium ‘pumps’.

Well, the kidneys are fine…but the nervous system is shot to bits…so he reckoned his potassium levels needed to be upped to compensate.

He bought a tub of salt substitute…potassium iodide and potassium chloride (I think)….sprinkled it on his food…and not only is his blood pressure stable but it is that of a young man.

With Mad Dog syndrome he could still drop dead tomorrow…..but in the meantime his quality of life has improved out of all measure!

That is certainly something too good to keep to myself!

 

A Muddle of Mentalities

costa rica phone lines www. happierthan a billionaire...

I suppose culture shock only exists if you have enough of a handle on the culture concerned to realise that it differs from your own…..and that culture doesn’t have to be foreign.

I remember being on holiday in Luxor years ago where my husband taught me to swim….well, to keep afloat…in the pool at the hotel.
There were not many guests in the hotel, but those around the pool seemed all to be British….middle aged couples and a few families with children, most of whom were in the pool, throwing balls about and enjoying splashing as much as swimming.
We were reading in the shade when we became aware that a little girl was parading round the surrounds of the pool and that in her wake people were gathering up their belongings and heading for the hotel.
Our turn came and we too skedaddled.
The little girl was pulling forward her swimsuit bottom and asking if we wanted to see her willy.

Whatever was going on there, it was certainly culture shock and we wanted no part of it!

Running recently between Costa Rica, France, Spain and England I had an exposure to different cultures – so brief in the case of Spain that I hardly had time to register more than that the cleaners all seemed to be of Arab appearance and the ticket clerks laughed and said ‘Pura Vida’ when I booked my train journey using my best Costa Rican Spanish.

In France friends told me of their troubles with their bank…..who did not take out the standing order which paid their mortgage and promptly took them to court for non payment.
They were lucky enough to have a tough minded retired Belgian lawyer friend to stand up for them as it was clear that the court was minded to ignore the fact that the bank had not taken the money in order to concentrate on the non payment……

How French!

And I have just read the latest episode in the dreadful saga of the Hobos in France blog…apologies, but I cannot get a link to work…which bears out my own and others’ experience of the French legal system…if in doubt lose the papers and if all else fails…lie.

Coming from a background of English law, it shocks me…but I have a nasty suspicion that the English legal system has now gone so far to the dogs in terms of accessibility that it is emerging at the nether end.

The Costa Rican legal system has…so far…been good to me and I do like the attempts made by the judge to reconcile the parties…..as far as possible from the English mindset where it is thought that if the parties have come to court it is because no reconciliation was possible and the court is there to try the matter.

But there is a general reluctance in Costa Rica to have an open disagreement….it is seen as impolite and uneducated to brawl and shout the odds.
You express your disagreement non verbally…by not doing whatever it is that the other party wants.

So I followed the Costa Rican cultural norm when considering what to do after a conversation with another immigrant who lives up on the mountain between us and the town.

He is an American, or, as I have now learned to say, North American, and is a lawyer.
He bought his finca from another North American, and became distinctly disgruntled when he became aware of the difference between the price he paid and the sum his seller originally handed over. In consequence he has become somewhat of a dog in the manger where his property is concerned.

I met him on the back road to town and, amazingly, he stopped his car and got out. He does not usually speak…I suppose as he isn’t being paid to do so he spares himself the effort.

Bypassing the usual courtesies he informed me that the poles bearing the ‘phone line which passes over his property belonged to him. A man had offered him a good price for these poles….but he would give me the chance to buy them, in order to be able to keep the ‘phone line.
Unimaginable…that he thinks I’m stupid enough to come up for that, and that anyone would even contemplate threatening to remove someone’s ‘phone access.
Not to mention that there are several others on this line…among them men with machetes…

My first instinct was to tell him to stuff the poles where the monkey stuffed the nuts…..but, being in Costa Rica, I smiled and said I would think it over.

Up in town I dropped into the ICE offices (electricity and telecommunications) and recounted my tale to Don Carlos on the desk. He telephoned someone in the back office who emerged, print out in hand, to demonstrate that the poles belonged to ICE and that any attempt to meddle with them would meet with disapproval.
He then attempted to sell me a mobile ‘phone to be able to contact them should any such thing occur.

So, sure in my rights, I did nothing.

But if he comes the old acid again I shall encourage Don Antonio to remove the copper cable whch runs over his land, carrying the power for the North American’s water pump.

Pura vida!