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.

 

 

 

 

If You Knows of a Better ‘Ole….

better 'ole
When we added an extension to this little house it took the form of a wide wooden balcony running the length of the house and more…the further part being divided off to make a large bedroom with more windows than walls: the palms and the guapinol tree with the red orchids in front; the bamboos and wild poinsettias at the side; the bougainvillea and more poinsettias behind, all reflected in the mirrors.
It’s as close as we can get to having the outdoors inside, and to keep the more disobliging insects at bay a mesh screen runs round the room, covering the gap between the top of the wall and the roof supports….breezes can blow through, but the stingers stay outside.
IMG_2272

This is all very well, but just lately the breezes have become gusts…and, for Costa Rica, chilly gusts. We are used to the Trade Winds blasting away in December, but they have obviously decided to visit us for rather longer this year and are still happily ripping off roofs in exposed areas, and, more particularly, keeping our bedroom well aired.

Fine for us…but not for the poodle.
The poodle was born and brought up in Costa Rica…in a ‘normal’ house where the walls meet the roof…where breezes do not play upon its sacred person while it is snoozing on the bed.
The poodle is displeased.

Not so displeased that it does not follow my husband to bed at night…it likes to keep a close eye on him and cannot wait for me to clean my teeth and close up the household for the night – a process which involves digging out the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi from his lair behind the sofa and evicting him before something alerts him in the night and he decides to raise the household; removing Black Tot from the laundry basket into which she has plunged as soon as my back is turned; checking that Arthur is on the balcony and not out hunting armadillos and going six rounds with the Alsatian who goes out, forgets why he wanted to go out, returns to base, drinks the water bowl dry, remembers why he wanted to go out, goes out, finds a bone overlooked earlier….by which time the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi has slipped in behind the sofa and the eviction process begins all over again.
I could have had a promising career as a bum bailiff had that animal come into my life earlier….

Finally getting to bed by the light of the bedside lamp I find that there is a well kent face missing.
The poodle.

Did she not come in with you?
Of course she did!
So where is she?
Try calling her!

We call.
Silence, not even a snuffle….Arthur, roused, scratches at the door.
I go out to see if she has been left behind on the balcony, or whether she is lurking, catlike, to trap a lizard.
No sign.
Did she get left behind in the house?
Lights on, evict Black Tot from the laundry basket and lock same in bathroom to prevent recidivism. The Alsatian wakes up, drinks the water bowl dry again and wishes to go out. And in. And out….
While a shadow slips silently behind the sofa….
No sign of the poodle.

Lights are on on the bedroom into which Arthur has insinuated himself.
My husband is lying on the floor looking under the bed….
Arthur is lying on the bed watching him with interest….
Arthur removed with swipe from towel.
Arthur stands, immobile, looking towards the wardrobe…then his periscope ears begin to swivel.
The right hand door of the wardrobe moves slightly; Arthur leaps in – and shoots out backwards bow legged in a flurry of jerseys and tee shirts.

Those of you who know the Moomin books will know of ‘Moominland in Midwinter’ where as part of Moomintroll’s advenntures he encounters the hairy eyebrowed Dweller Under the Sink
dweller under the sink

The Dweller was not pleased to be disturbed from his hibernation….and the poodle was not pleased to be disturbed from its nest in the wardrobe, carefully fashioned from the softer elements of the clothes contained therein.
It had expended thought and energy on building its shelter against the wild elements and did not take kindly to being disturbed.
It had, faced with the Trade Winds, found a better ‘ole and gone to it, only to be rousted out by a hairy brute with no finer feelings.
Low growls punctuated by high pitched snarls rent the air. The boot button eyes flashed like the rising sun on the obsidian of the sacrificial knife.

Chastened, Arthur slunk back to the balcony.
Chastened, we went to bed and turned out the light.
The wardrobe door creaked slightly.
From the house the unchastened Costa Rican King Charles Corgi made the night hideous until a yelp indicated that the Alsatian had had enough.
The poodle growled a last low warning – and the household slept.

The poodle has the right idea….if things don’t suit you as they are, look for a better ‘ole.

But try to reconnoitre the ‘ole first….otherwise you run the risk of finding that you have swapped one pit of evil smelling slime for another. Not so easy under fire, agreed, but when you have the leisure for investigation – do it. It won’t save you from all nasty surprises, but at least you will have avoided the main ones.

I thought of this last night.
I was too tired to read so turned on the box and enjoyed the latest episodes of the French police thriller ‘Engrenages’ which the BBC translates as ‘Spiral’, all bad language, bad behaviour and attitude on the part of all concerned.
Then I flicked through the other offerings and found one of those ‘Escape Anywhere Abroad’ programmes, where smarmy presenters drag starry eyed punters round unsuitable properties in unsuitable places to the sound of unsuitable background music.
If it’s an accordion, it must be France, and France it was.

The punters on this occasion were a retired couple, comfortably off, who had holidayed in France for years and now wished to make a permanent move. They wanted a house – their sanctuary – with room for the family to visit, a swimming pool ditto, and some land – for reasons which would become clear.
They also planned to use it to run therapeutic courses for retired people – keeping the husband’s hand in as a psychotherapist.

Viewing the first house – and all subsequent ones – the wife would exclaim…
‘Oh, so French….shutters…’ and they would move off on a voyage of exploration.

The presenter walked them through the big open plan kitchen..
‘Oh, I can see myself here, cooking and talking …and – maybe – a glass of wine!…’
The sitting room, where the stairs to the top floor made a bad impression…to the main bedroom which he suggested would be ideal for people attending the courses.
‘Oh no!’
‘We’re not having them in the house….they’ll be in tents outside.

Thus the need for land.

They reminded me of an American I met – briefly – here. He was explaining to an admiring group how he had found and purchased a vast tract of land on which to build his dream home – and then came his Damascus moment:

‘It was so beautiful that it wouldn’t have been right to keep it to myself…I just had to share it!’

I took it upon myself to explain to the group that he was selling plots of building land rather than indulging a philanthropic whim and he was not best pleased, thus the brevity of our encounter.

On the box the search continued…all the properties would need revamping – even if the paying visitors were destined to remain under canvas – and at no point did the presenter mention planning permission, let alone costs….and certainly didn’t mention the formidable formalities entailed when setting up a business.

He took them to meet expats who could show them the ropes….put them wise to the pitfalls….
They themselves had lived in France only six months, did not speak French and the only advice on offer was to be aware that draught beer was not available in the locality.
A lot of talk about the French this and the French that….but without French how would they have known?

Cut to the couple making breakfast in the kitchen of the first house, which had been lent them for the duration of their visit.
The wife is breaking eggs into a frying pan….
‘Fresh eggs from the farmer…’
The yolks are pale and the whites spread across the pan in the best traditions of an egg which has seen better days …many better days….

The husband is cutting up a baguette….it is taking him a great deal of effort. He clearly has one of the French rural bakery specialities – brick hard dough surrounded by crust resembling razor wire.
‘That’s the thing about France, the bread is fresh, not like the stuff in England which lasts ten days…’

Clearly the couple weren’t going to buy any of the places they had been shown…they were coming back to explore the area at leisure….but if their knowledge of France was as stereotyped as it appeared to be, and if they were incapable of telling fresh eggs from stale I reckon that they will need all the money they have to cushion themselves from the realities.

‘.

Meet and Greet

puris busI travel into the capital, San Jose, fairly regularly….if not on the trek to government offices or courts then just to go shopping…and it all starts at the local bus station.

The bus company have invested in modern, less gas guzzling coaches and I loathe them.

Not only is the leg room minimal but they are also stuffy, leaving me miserable and bunged up at the end of the hour and a half run. It used to be just one hour…but the traffic congestion is such these days that the jams begin as soon as you come down from the hills onto the autopista where traffic from the coast joins that from this side of the Central Valley.

And, worse, the first step into the new coaches is a long way from the ground.
Grannies now have to be heaved up by a combination of the inspector at ground level and the driver from within with much giggling and innuendo and extracted on arrival by a reception committee of security guards. If grannies wish to leave the bus at unmanned halts the driver calls to people waiting there to assist, and, this being Costa Rica, they do.
With the old buses I could swing up with no problem…now it’s more of a heave. Should the day come when the heave has no effect I shall either:

A. Take a chainsaw to the avoirdupois or

B..Send for a team from the Royal Navy Field Gun Competition ….

The Navy never could march….(ducking howitzer shells from those with naval connections)…..Come on, Pompey!

Once arrived in San Jose I start the walk from the terminus….first exchanging greetings with the lady who sells newspapers at the entrance.
Heading uphill into the centre I am still surprised by the number of people with whom I am on exchange of greetings terms.
I asked the chap at the fish stand how on earth he could remember me with thousands of people passing every day.

None of them are gringos…

He has a point. Most of the American expats regard the area of the city where the bus terminal is situated as being an place where babies are barbecued to order and men with machetes leap from the shadows to chop off your ring laden fingers.
As I tell them – well, the few that speak to me – they seem to be confusing it with Paris.

With one man – the wheelchair bound beggar opposite the Banco Nacional – I am on snarling rather than greeting terms.
Having seen him legging it for his bus one evening, chair under arm, he is off my giving list and will remain so as he apostrophised me as a ‘puta de gringa’ when I passed his pitch without offering a contribution.
I told him that had I been a ‘puta’ of whatever skin colour, I should not be walking but could have afforded a taxi.
He was neither persuaded nor impressed.

And then comes the street seller who greets my approach with a happy smile and an enquiry as to how things are going.

He has not seen me for a while….?

I explain that I had been in Spain for a month…

Ah! That’s why you’ve put on weight! Now, how many pairs do you want?

This gentleman is my supplier of reading glasses…the cheap ones that I can leave lying about for emergencies to avoid having to look about for the proper ones.
I first met him when we had not long been in Costa Rica and he offered us glasses at 1,500 colones a pair (about £1.50). My husband – veteran of the floor of the London Stock Exchange – fixed him with a look and replied that the very same glasses were being sold outside the hospital San Juan de Dios for 1,000 colones a pair.

Did he swear? Was he unpleasant?
No, he laughed and said that we could not blame him for trying…we were gringos after all…and lowered his price.

Since then my trade goes to him, rather than the other offshoots of the glasses empire which are situated outside the hospital, the cathedral and the HQ of the Caja – the health service.
SJ cathedral I settled on two pairs – having left a couple of pairs in Spain for future emergencies – and checked the strength I required against the back of a packet of dried plantain chips which seems to be the standard test material although the outlet in front of the cathedral uses a Bible.

Having a document case with me I was having trouble getting at the purse in my handbag and my supplier whistled up the young lad who sells eucalyptus sweets further down the road.

Hold the bag; can’t put that down in the street… and no she doesn’t want any of your sweets, she’s put on weight!

Let no one say that customer service is dead!

Nostalgie du Pays

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the Front de Gauche, after the success of the hard right parties in the European elections in France in May this year.

Even if you don’t normally watch videos, even if politics leave you cold, even if you don’t understand French, please take the time and have the patience to look at this – a man visibly moved by what is happening to his country.

 

Va, la France. Va, ma belle patrie. Allez les travailleurs, ressaisissez-vous, ne laissez pas que tout ça soit fait en votre nom. Ne permettez pas… Ne permettez pas que la France soit autre chose que ce qu’elle est dans le coeur du monde entier…

 

Forward, France, Onward , my beautiful country. Workers, organise; do not permit all this to be done in your name. Do not allow…Do not allow France to be any other than that which she is in the hearts of the whole world.

 

This came back to me in the wake of the murder of the young  Canadian soldier guarding the war memorial in Ottawa….we can know our country is not perfect, but we can love it despite – and sometimes because.

The corpse of that young man travelled the 310 miles of the Highway of Heroes – named as such when the dead from the war in Afghanistan were brought home  -with, it seems, every inch lined by people wishing to express solidarity with his family and solidarity with the values of the country in whose service he died.

Because the people of Canada have not reacted with hatred, but with sorrow, not by instigating witch hunts, but by expressing their love for a young man whose life was needlessly lost – and by setting up a trust find for his young son.

Practical, kindly, level headed people.

 

So why should this remind me of the words of a defeated French politician?

 

Because the love of country is a strange and unfathomable beast.

 

You can loathe  a system yet love the people who live under it….

You can live under oppression yet find relief in the memory of ancient freedom…

You can experience nostalgia for a way of life that once you knew, that you know to be gone, but whose memory lingers like the scent of lavender in your grandmother’s handkerchief drawer.
A scent which comes to you, softly, faintly, when you least expect it and rouses memories of times past.

Apollinaire in his ‘Cors de Chasse’ says that memories are like the calls of the hunting horn, dying away in the wind…but for me those calls bring the past vividly to life…while you live and remember, these things are real.

And the love of country seems to me to be to be a love of your memories…not the abstract ideals trumpeted by politicians who defile the very ideals of which they speak.

Much as I, a Scot, loathe ‘Flower of Scotland’, that dirge now sung on all national occasions…the lines ‘fought and died for your wee bit hill and glen’ conjure up for me my grandfather’s farm…the cattle in the byre, the sheep on the hill, someone cursing the reaper binder and all its works …and although I know that all that world has passed its memory still attaches me to Scotland.

I might know of the Declaration of Arbroath and all the tarradiddles about its real intention; the Wars of Independence, the Darien scheme which brought the country to its knees …but Scotland to me is my own small world when young; the neighbours – ‘canty and couthy and kindly, the best’…the soldiers of my father’s regiment, so kind to me when a child….my grandmother – the terror of the family – explaining to me that every stranger who knocked at the door was the Christ and was to be received with respect and assisted if in need…not that that prevented her from asking the Christ to chop a few logs…

I never really took to England…formed too early in Scotland, I suppose. Perhaps had I grown up in Edinburgh and gone to the right schools…but I had not.
I lived there, I worked there, but despite knowing a number of good kind people, overall life there confirmed my father’s view of the English.

The English? They’re like kippers. No guts and two faces…
Unfair, I know and untrue in private life, but all too evident in the public sphere.

I remember the miners’ strike in the Thatcher years…and how glad were the other union bosses that Scargill would not take the – by then – legally obligatory ballot for strike action…those yellow bellies sold out their own movement and now we have unemployment…people working zero hours contracts…and tax evaders ruling the roost.

I enjoyed the county shows…the magnificent animals and their proud owners…but no landscape held me, no one place anchored me.

But I came to England as an outsider..as a child…

When I moved to France it was as an adult, eyes wide open.

I had made the move as, at that point, property was much cheaper, as was the cost of living and I could still work by fax….without the commuting, without the hassle. Less money, more time.

I was lucky…the neighbours were decent, welcoming people…I made friends with them and, through the man who ran the library in the local town, met others of a more literary bent.
I began to get to know the place through their eyes….

And what a place it was!

I felt at home as I had not since childhood…there was a real inclusion in local life, an expectation that I would participate.
And participate I did, in the Maison Pour Tous – the local centre for activities for all, young or old – in the walking group, in the gardening club, and the Am Dram, playing Feydeau farces under the manic direction of the local dentist.
Unfortunately I wasn’t then eligible for the Old Age Pensioners meetings…a real den of iniquity under the guise of cards and knitting.

Walking the dogs in the evening I would be invited to join the game of boules in front of Jules’ farmhouse, or get hijacked by Papy into helping him fix the window of his little Renault van..Edith would pile us all into her ancient 2CV and we would visit Alice in the next hamlet, her garage full of the implements invented by her husband, who had been a surgical instrument maker…

These people let me into their world and gave me a great love for France – not the France of the caste of vain, incompetent buffoons who run the place, nor the France of the colour supplements where people sit at cafe terraces inhaling vehicle emisssions, nor yet the France of culture and architecture – but the France of ordinary people getting on with their lives as best they can and what those lives bring forth.

I love to keep in touch with it all…I can still see in my mind’s eye the woods at the back of my first house where the flowers of the sweet chestnut trees burst in yellow fireworks against the soft green foliage….I can still ‘hear’ the town band on its erratic way round the commune on July 13th.

Costa Rica has proved to be an amazingly happy place in which to have landed and has conquered me hook, line and sinker…

But, from time to time, I have nostalgie du pays.

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.

Making a Meal of Nostalgia

 gallo pinto cocina.ahorra.net
gallo pinto cocina.ahorra.net

We have just had our six monthly visit from a health worker from the local clinic.
He visits every house in his area by motorbike over the gravel roads, dossiers and equipment in the box on the back which he slings over his shoulder to bring into the house.

We’ve come to know him well…a football fanatic, his first cry today after the regular greeting is

‘Italy! Uraguay! England!…..poor Costa Rica!’

Clearly the draw for the football World Cup could have been rather better arranged to his way of thinking!

It’s as much a social visit as a medical one….we discuss all manner of things including, of course, football, before we turn to the purpose of the visit.

How are we?

He checks my husband’s hospital appointments, asks about medication, if he has any problems….takes our blood pressures and asks if we are eating healthily.
Not just are we eating plenty of fruit and veg…but which and how much…and what else are we eating?

Which starts another chat about foreign food, its tastes and traditions.
How did we get a taste for Indian food? What do we think of Costa Rican food? What did we have for breakfast this morning?

He departs, the dust rising behind his motorbike as we see him off at the gate, and we go back to the house.

But what did we have for breakfast this morning?

My husband is breakfast chef in this establishment and split second timing is required of his commis (me).
Have I prepped the onions? The garlic?
Am I sure that there aren’t any tomatoes which need using more than those produced for inspection? Investigations are made followed by a triumphant return with one more with a soft spot…
Have I beaten the eggs with some black pepper and some of his potassium salt substitute?
Is the toast on? Does it need turning?

And what is the result of all this activity?

He has made us sick.

Or at least this is how the dish was christened by his sister as a child.

The onions are softened in olive oil, the quartered tomatoes follow on the top. When they are softened the crushed garlic is added and finally the beaten egg is turned into the pan and mixed in.
The result is piled on hot buttered toast….and despite the appearance which explains the nickname of the dish it is really very, very good.

I know what our health visitor had for breakfast too.

Gallo Pinto. Speckled Cockerel.

Based on rice and black beans, usually cooked off on the previous day, it sounds dull…but not at all!
The rice may have been cooked in plain water, but the black beans were cooked together with onions, garlic and coyote cilantro with its heavy persistent flavour.

To make breakfast his mother will have fried up chopped onion, garlic and sweet pepper and turned into the mix the rice and beans, finishing it with chopped cilantro (coriander).
It will have been topped with a fried egg, a fried plantain or natilla – sour cream – and is a great way to start the day.

When I was a child it was assumed that you could not hope to do a good day’s work, or do well at school, unless you had eaten a good breakfast and my mother would cook either bacon and eggs, or sausage, mushroom and tomato; boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, or poached eggs (plural you note) to be followed by toast and marmalade and to be finished half an hour before leaving the house in order to digest it.

It was a habit I stuck to…and blessed it when working where lunch meant ordering a sandwich in a brown paper bag from one of the nearby Italian sandwich bars accompanied by a cup of instant coffee.
It might have meant getting up earlier but thanks to that breakfast there was no need or desire to snack and enough energy to get home and cook an evening meal….the ranks of Spud-U-Like, KFC and the Star of India never tempted me on the way back from the station.

An introduction to France showed me the horrors of the Continental Breakfast.
Bread…a croissant…pain au chocolat…jam….chicory flavoured coffee -or, more likely, vice versa.
Ye gods and little fishes!
Battle of Agincourt explained.

Living in rural France later I was to discover that this was not the norm.
My elderly neighbours had soup for breakfast with the dry bread from yesterday soaked in it. Proper soup with veg from their own gardens with plenty of flavour and goodness.
Croissants…jam? Bof!
The coffee was the same though….

In Belgium I had their sort of breakfast…cold meats and cheeses…proper bread – even pistolei….and good coffee.
Battle of the Golden Spurs explained.

Even now. long retired, we cling to the solid breakfast routine.

Lunch is usually lighter. Danilo lunches with us on working days and is now well accustomed to the frequent arrival on the table of ‘worms’.
Chinese worms, Italian worms, worms worms.

Pasta, in all its shapes and forms.
Yesterday I made pasta shells with a sauce of broccoli, anchovy, sweet pepper and chilli….today it is linguine with spicy sausage in a sauce of tomato. onion, garlic, herbs and paprika.
Tomorrow it will be a stir fry with noodles.

In the evenings we generally have a plate of soup with bread and cheese. Easy to digest before bed and endlessly different with the range of veg available.

I have to admit to wondering how we ever managed to wade through all the courses we ate at lunch with French friends….only to start on the leftovers again in the evening….how it was that, had I taken a ‘selfie’ in those days, it would not have revealed something which would have had Captain Ahab sharpening his harpoon.

I couldn’t do it today, that’s for sure!

But I do have an atavistic longing for a good Scots breakfast…..

Not so much my grannie’s breakfast, copious and tasty as it was, but that of our holidays on the coast where we had access to that paradisiacal element – morning rolls.

Every summer the children of the extended family would be banded together somewhere on the west coast of Scotland; parents taking it in turns to act as warders. It gave both them and us a great deal of freedom.

While morning rolls were a staple…children sent to the bakery at an early hour…the other items of breakfast depended on the whims and tastes of the adults.

There was always porage. Proper porage, cooked on the back of the stove overnight and eaten with salt, with milk, or with brown sugar and cream according to your age. Youngest sweetest.

Then you might have a Loch Fyne herring coated in oatmeal and fried, accompanied by potato scones…goodness only knows where those herring have disappeared to…..

Or if Uncle Andra was in charge it would be an Arbroath smokie. to be eaten cold.

Or Ayrshire bacon with a fried slice of cloutie dumpling alongside.

And king of kings, the slice of square sausage.

A damn sight more solid than the snows of yesteryear, but gone from me just as certainly.

A Busyness of Bloggers

marksinthemargin.blogspot.com
marksinthemargin.blogspot.com

Adullamite, whose blog gives me a great deal of pleasure, said in a recent post

‘I looked through the usual blogs, commented on one or two and will do on one or two others once I have read all the words. The blogs are so good, taking me all over the world, into lives I would never know otherwise. People in different worlds than mine with very different lifestyles….and differing views educate, inform and entertain better than the so called professionals do. They of necessity are limited to what pays, blogs reveal the heart! That is why they are good. At least the ones I choose to look at are.’

Thus he sums up what I enjoy about the blogging world – people talking about what they observe, what interests them, what moves them, what is important to them, what they ferret out – and the blogs I follow, return to time after time, are those with heart.

But they are as rare as hens’ teeth.

I look at the WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’ section from time to time in the hope of finding a new blog to read…but less and less often.

I need a translation to know what LBGT might be…but I suspect it has nothing to do with gin and tonic…..

I couldn’t give a hoot about people moaning on about their ancestors’ slavery – it’s a rare family that hasn’t known oppression in its past and I’d be a damn sight more interested if these bods would look at current slavery practices with the same anal attention they give to their families’ pasts. Get involved…do something….stop grizzling.

Parenting blogs…yuck!
‘How I refused to believe that my little girl was a pain in the backside and interpreted her last minute refusal to take part in the Nativity play which had taken so much work to stage as an example of an independence that would one day enable her to say ‘no’ to drugs’…Double yuck!
There are some brilliant blogs on being a parent – take a look at some of the family posts on Mark Charlton’s Views from the Bikeshed or Stephen Herrick-Blake’s Bloggertropolis where the love just shines through in both cases…but parenting….no.

Exhibitionists pretending to dally with racism to give an unholy thrill to their audience…not that either.

Expats whose posts seem to consist of saying ‘Wow!’…..

The self promoters – oh look I have five thousand followers….

People who can’t use their own language…..

But enough of ‘Freshly Pressed’ as the blogs I see there , with honorable exceptions, show more attention to technique – to tricks – rather than content.

And content is what counts.

I’ve logged in to blogs about France and found myself enjoying music I’d never heard of….The Diary of Amy Rigby….
Films and how to view them from the blog which ceased to be written with the death of its eponymous owner – Boris in Ayrshire.

Discovering the difference between English and Australian thunderboxes thanks to Days on the Claise

Romanesque architecture illustrated by marvellous photography on the Via Lucis blog…

Recipes with a context on Cheffiles

It’s the sheer vitality of it all that counts…and I haven’t told the half of it.

And how many blogs lack just that….vitality.

Pedants who tell you what each French word means – without the faintest idea of what is happening in their own French backyard….

The well connected – to each other – who receive your comment on their post with a pale ‘thank you for your contribution’ and return to the contemplation of their well connected friends’ navels, minds closed to anything outside their own world…

Photographic blogs….which leave me asking whether the technique of taking a pic has taken over from communicating something through that pic….

Oh, stop grizzling, woman!

A blog with heart, with vitality, doesn’t need to be a literary master piece, nor does it have to be about the extraordinary….but it does need a blogger who tells you how it is – lets you see their world as they see it – and who enjoys the relationship with readers through the comments section, which is, in my view, the best part of my blog!

Just doing a swift trawl through the blogs I enjoy I can visit Scotland, England, Wales, France, Spain, Gibraltar, Belgium, Turkey, the Gulf states, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S.A……

I can learn about knitting, crochet, ceramics; cooking and preserving; riding and walking; animal rescue and architecture; religion and politics; wildlife and town life; I can see the sights and discover their history…..

And it’s all thanks to those special bloggers – those with heart.

Christmas is Coming….

christmas tree hopital de ninosAnd San Jose abounds in fibre glass reindeer and inflatable santas to add to the perils of the streets.
The lights have been switched on at the tree outside the Hopital de Ninos and the municipality has declared war on unauthorised street vendors.

It seems to have worried the municipality that the street vendors have encroached on the muni’s prerogative by hiring out sites to each other, the contract assured by a few heavies, as opposed to the muni’s system of licensing street sellers and sending the police to chase the others who just nip round the corner and come back when the police have given up.

My money is not on the muni.

Christmas music has taken over in the supermarkets….and the decorations are going up in the three valleys.
And very nice they are too though they cannot – could not – rival those of the area where I used to live in France; I reckon that it could have been seen from space over the Christmas period though unknown to the world and to GPS at all other times.

One item catches my eye each time I pass.
A Santa Claus, all white beard and whisker on the red oval background.
I know things about that santa which cannot be revealed to its proud owner.

Some time back I was visiting my mother before Christmas as part of those ‘let’s see if the house in France has been taken over by squatters’ trips.
She was sorting out her Christmas card and present list and held out to me in some annoyance the item which now adorns a door in the three valleys.

Hilda won it in a raffle for the blind and passed it on to me! What does she think I’m going to do with it!

Well if you don’t want it….

I certainly don’t!

Then it will come in handy for wrapping up this bottle of port I’m taking back.

And so it did.
The port emerged from the suitcase unscathed – as I had not passed through U.S.A. airports with their Fagin trained baggage handlers – and I laid the wrapper aside for disposal.

The next day the woman who mucks us out each week came for her regular session which has The Men heading for the hills and the dogs lying low under the balcony while mops are flourished and dusters deployed.
She saw the wrapper and asked if she could have it.
Of course she could.

After all, what was I going to do with a festive loo seat cover?

But I still feel vaguely guilty as I pass the house…..

Needless to say, The Neighbour (some of whose history is available on the page just under the header) has decided to contribute to the Christmas spirit.
He has let it be known that in his view we are responsible for the ruination of local solidarity – that is, his reign of terror – and that he expects every Costa Rican to do their duty and ostracise us until we move out.

And if any Costa Rican does not then he will take measures to encourage them: he will kill off their cattle, poison their dogs and take a machete to anyone he encounters when there are no witnesses.

Clearly a conviction politician.

We don’t know everyone on our road….though we know a lot of people after the mess made of the water distribution by the people behind The Neighbour….

We are not universally liked by those we do know….the ‘soy pobre’s (I’m poor) who think we should give them plantains rather than sell them.
As I’ve said to a number of them…they have plenty of land to plant their own plantains, to sow beans and maize….and if they can’t be bothered, that’s their problem.
I’m not a charity for the idle.

The Neighbour is, I think, at his last throw of the dice.
Thanks to new laws and the courts his power as a sort of witchdoctor is in sad decline….people have seen that he can be taken on.

So now he goes for the race card…..and he will have some success.

But I think I can live with being ostracised by idiots….I’ve had that all my life.

Mind your Language

caedmonIt was my husband’s birthday this weekend and we had the best of all celebrations.
Time to ourselves.

We closed the gates to the drive and settled down to undisturbed peace.

Yes, of course we had to collect eggs, let out the chickens and ducks, change their water, put in fresh feed and then bang them up again in the evening.

Yes, we had to chop banana stems and fodder grass for the sheep and cattle and not get knocked over in the stampede for the bananas as we shut them in for the night.

Yes, we had to give the dogs their wash and deflea session.

But we did not have to speak to anyone else.
We did not have to put ourselves into the mindset of another language or culture.
We could think and speak entirely as we pleased.
All the time.

And what did we find?

For the most part we spoke to each other in English….but when we were talking about local stuff it was surprising how much Spanish we used…I can only imagine because the source of our information, whether oral or written, had been expressed in Spanish which had come, in its turn, to define the mode of discussion.

It would not have ocurred to us that the lunacy of a situation in which the leader of H.M.’s government is a foul mouthed coke head could be discussed in any language other than English, but it was interesting to find that the same process led to discussion of the character of the ex Mayor of San Jose and Presidential candidate using any number of Spanish phrases.

I would not say that it was perfect Spanish, either in use of grammar or pronunciation, but it was the Spanish that came to us spontaneously.

I enjoy the proper use of language, but not to the point of pedantry.
Language lives, evolves; it has to do so to be able to reflect the experience of its users.
I do not understand texting ….but it is an offshoot which has developed to enable those with more time than sense to communicate with each other and as such is no less legitimate than any professional jargon – which is double dutch to anyone outside the charmed circle.

I would never make a translator.
I see languages in their own compartments: products of their own cultures and dependent on those cultures for their meaning.
I can enter those compartments; enjoy the contents, but I can’t bridge the compartments to translate – it is too easy to be clumsy and swift yet takes forever to translate one context to another.

I would be quite capable of the translation classic..the English phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ translated into Russian and then retranslated to English as……. ‘absent idiot’.
But on the positive side, as a translator I could block the work of the European Union for years…..
Any offers?

Expat blogs can be a sort of translation…..illustrating one culture in the light of another in the person of the blogger…and there are many fine ones in the blogosphere.
There are also the others….

Those on Costa Rica which would lead the unwary to believe that the country is populated solely by wild birds and monkeys…like the tropical house at Kew Gardens with the lid off.
Or those which seek to persuade others that Costa Ricans are simple, happy folk, whose only concern is to help the gringo – reminiscent of slide shows of missionary activity in darkest Africa.
Or those that want to sell you overpriced property. ‘Trust me, I’m a gringo!’

There aren’t so many of the rose tinted blogs about life in France these days – if you discount the American girls in Paris rotting their teeth on macaroons – as reality in the shape of taxes eats into the dream world of pink wine and baguettes.
But, by golly, there are still a few blind mouths about….

Those who have a holiday home there and spend their time visiting other expats with holiday homes and eating in restaurants: any criticism of France, any comment on the realities admitted to by anyone French, and they fly up like a fighting cock.
‘Touche pas au grisbi!’ Don’t go for their bundle of golden dreams.

And then there are the pedants: wedded to a certain idea of France (pretty damn far from that of de Gaulle) based on its literature, architecture and gastronomy as they have learned to appreciate them in their home countries. So far gone are they that some of them would even eat an andouillette.
They ‘know’ France…but they don’t know their neighbours.

I was reading of the death of a film director, Georges Lautner, and one of his films came immediately to mind.
Les Tontons Flinguers. A take off of gangster films.
Not so much for his direction, but for the dialogue written by Michel Audiard – a man who had an ear for France.

One of his characters says
‘Les cons, ça ose tout! C’est même à ça qu’on les reconnaît.’
Pratwits…they are capable of anything. That’s how you know them for what they are.

The pedant would soon tell you that is not French…not proper French. ‘Les cons’ is plural and ‘ca’ is singular…
What the pedant can’t tell you is why audiences – French audiences – rolled about.
If you want to connect with old France…find a Youtube download with subtitles to make things easier…and enjoy.
The scene where the assembled crooks sample the products of the illicit still is a classic.

Audiard was also responsible for the dialogue in another of my favourites…but I don’t think that it is subtitled…
‘Les Vieux de la Vieille’ where a trio of First World War veterans decide they are better off in an old peoples’ home than in their own – until they meet matron.
I saw the last of the world that that film depicted….in all its hardship and obstinacy…when I was first in France.
But then…I knew my neighbours.

I’ll let the pedants tell you how to pronounce ‘crapule’ while I leave you with a classic from Georges Brassens

‘Quand on est con, on est con.’
You can be an old ‘con’ you can be a young ‘con’…but you’re still a ‘con’.

Coffee Break

water damage 039A sunny mid morning finds us on the balcony with coffee, cake…and friends.
Dona Mery, Dona Estrella, Don Freddy and ourselves chewing the fat on life in the three valleys and the upcoming project to concrete part of the road from town.

As no mayor or eminent politician lives in the three valleys the road when we first arrived was simply a wide track with hardcore rolled into it from time to time when the lorry from the pig farm could no longer get traction.
It ran from the main road at the entrance to town downhill all the way to a small bridge whose supports were eaten away by the torrent below and then it rose again on the other side, where it forked.

One track led uphill and is supposed to be the emergency exit from town if the main road were to be damaged by an earthquake: this road runs over a well developed faultline and thanks to a mixture of meddling and neglect on the part of the council is next to unusable, turning into a river bed in the heavy rains.

The other track led downhill alongside our coffee plantation and now continues to the embryo massage parlour project on the other side of a large stream.
It is an embryo project because unless the owner combines it with a zipline the clients are going to have one heck of a job reaching the welcoming ladies in their individual cabinas with all mod cons – well, water anyway – as every attempt to install a bridge has resulted in said bridge being washed away by the stream.

Then the developer appeared – he preceded the massage parlour chap who bought him out when the courts chucked out the development project – and one day, the developer having influence, the bridge supports were replaced and safety rails were installed.
The safety rails lasted about three days before a lorry bringing materials to the development took them out, but the supports are still there.

Then the man who owns a big finca up near the main road decided to get together with his neighbours…a garage, a general store, a man hiring out bouncy castles and sundry others….and concrete the track from the main road down to the entrance to his property.
The developer was all for this and used his influence to get a grant to pay for the materials – hardcore, metal mesh, sand and cement – while the neighbours would supply the manpower.

Except that there were not enough neighbours to supply it, so fundraising to pay for labour was necessary.
Raffle tickets, dances, chicharone (pork crackling) feasts – all were hawked up and down the three valleys for, as the people organising it said, everyone downhill used that stretch of road so it was only right that everyone should contribute.

But not everyone downhill was content to do so.
Those who did not have a car said they didn’t mind what the road was like as they would still be walking.
Those with cars said that those who drove lorries should pay as it was lorries that wrecked the road.
Those with lorries said that the people who said that they walked actually took taxis so they should pay too.
The Indians half way down the hill said that they were indigenous people and should not have to pay.
Everyone who was not an Indian said that they jolly well should.

No one, significantly, said that the local council should pay. There are some things it is not even worth discussing.

Most people coughed up something and the stretch of road was built….a concrete section (known as the motorway) reaching about a quarter of the way to the bridge which is when the materials ran out.

Things stayed like this for a few years until a female dynamo moved into the three valleys.
She and her husband built a modern house enclosed by walls and an expensive ironwork gate; they planted palms along the verge to their house….but something was lacking in her House and Garden world.
A proper road.

She had, of course, joined the development association and she started the ball rolling on improvements.
Her first project was to collect enough money to put down hardcore on the section leading down from the end of the concrete road.
Quite a few people, ourselves included, said it was a waste of money that could be put to extending the motorway.

With a toss of her elegant head she proceeded to beguile the association into backing her project and now, a year later, the road is as bad as ever.

So now she is fundraising for a concrete stretch.

But it won’t follow on from the existing stretch.
No…that would be too simple.

The owner of the pig farm by the bridge has managed to get a grant for materials….but as he suspects the money won’t buy enough to reach from the existing stretch to the bridge, he wants to start at the bridge and work upwards.

It is this that we are discussing when Don Anselmo appears, bearing gifts.
He has brought us pickling onions from Santa Ana and tomatoes from San Ramon, stopping in on his way to check his cattle on grazing he has rented down by the stream.
Fresh coffee and cake circulate and discussion continues.

Well, says Don Freddy, people are putting more in this time than last.

They would, says Dona Estrella. There’s more people down here than up top and most of them have someone working. Apart from that there’s a fair few young lads willing to do the work.

And even Carlos is putting his hand in his pocket, says his aunt, Dona Mery. He’s giving a calf for a raffle.

What’s the matter with him…ill or something? Normally he wouldn’t even give you the time of day! Must fancy his chances with the new senora!

And Mito at the pig farm is giving a porker for chicharones which is decent of him since he was the one that got the grant.

I’m putting in too, says Don Anselmo, as my lorry uses the road a bit, but it’s not a good moment.

What’s the problem?

Well, you know I buy and sell a bit and last week I bought six calves at auction and put them down on the grazing here.
Well, one’s missing. A nice black brahma calf.
I’ve looked everywhere…upstream and down, along the roads, but no one’s seen anything.
I hadn’t even had time to brand them….’

That’s a loss, all right!

Yes…it’s always something with farming…
I must be off. I’ll nip round on Tuesday if you’re fishing out your tilapia then and make you some ceviche! Give me a ring!

He takes his leave and we hear his lorry start up ouside.

I was thinking, said Don Freddy.
From what Mito says, the grant won’t be enough to take the road right up to the existing bit.
The new senora is going to find that she has concrete uphill and downhill of her…but the same old rocks outside her house.

And I’ve been thinking too, says Dona Mery, rising to her feet.
I’m just going round to Carlos’ place to have a look at that calf he’s giving.

Bet you it’s black, says Don Freddy.