One Man And His Doghouse

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Some tourists come to Costa Rica for the thrills of white water rafting, zip lining through the tree tops, or even surfing…but locals have their own quiet way of having a thrill.

We had ours yesterday. We crossed the bridge connecting us with the direct road into town for the first time for months.

Readers of the previous post might wonder whether the council had had a change of heart and decided to make the repairs.

Fat chance.

What had happened was that one of those disgruntled by the meeting had taken it upon himself to hire a bulldozer last Sunday and blocked the stream with the remnants of the bridge and all the rocks it could scoop up – a four inch pipe embedded in the rubble to carry the water through.
A few passes on either side to lay earth on the top and lo and behold – a bridge!

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Note the natty yellow tape to prevent you from falling off it into the stream:
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What, you might ask?
No obligatory preliminary study of soil stability?
No obligatory anti seismic construction plans passed by the College of Engineers?

The Isambard Kingdom Brunel of the three valleys is unrepentant.

The hell with the lot of them.

Danilo brought us the news on Monday and we were keen to set out for the bridge but he shook his head.

Let it settle a bit first…see if anything happens.

Apart from Don Antonio, having drink taken, falling into the stream despite the existance of the yellow tape nothing of consequence had happened so Danilo allowed us to use it today.

He stopped on the other side to point out that it would never last….this is the dry season and very dry it is too. Not much water in the stream.

Ah, just wait until we get the rains! One cloudburst and the whole thing will be blown apart by the pressure of water!

Having seen two bridges lower down the valley disappear in this fashion his pessimism is probably justified so we’ll make the most of it while it lasts as this way into town is a lot easier on the car than the precipitous back road we have been taking recently.

There had been changes in our absence.

Where Dona Martha’s stable had stood there was now a tatty tin structure and a compound containing motorbikes and quad bikes in all states of disrepair.
Apparently one of her husband’s sons by a previous marriage had returned to live in the town and persuaded his father to let him use the land for his repair business.

I preferred the stable and I suspect Dona Martha did too as she had a certain tight lipped look about her…

A house on stilts had been built on the top of the hill at the junction with the main road. As the hill is over 800 metres above sea level I can only assume that the owner of the house has been listening to too many of Danilo’s jeremiads on the subject of the rainy season…or that he knows something we don’t.

Business done – buying paint in quantity before the half price offer ended – we returned by the same route but two thirds of the way down to the bridge our eyes were caught by something new to the scene.

If you roll up to the photograph at the head of the page you might well spot it too…

Can you see it?

A red band in the middle of the photograph.

We hadn’t realised that it could be seen from there….it was part of the frontage of our new house.

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It has been a long time a-building as Danilo is doing it himself – while running the finca and driving us about. He has taken on his son recently – good with welding and electronics – and is accompanied by his many dogs.
Under normal circumstances the floors would have gone down before any painting took place…but the offer was too good to resist and, once bought, The Men wanted to try it out.

The back of the house is not so vivid…
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And it has not yet been settled – three falls, three submissions or one knock out to decide the winner – whether the grassy area under the roof will be a conventional tiled terrace or a covered garden….

But the views are stunning:

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Even the one from the kitchen window:IMG_2714

So roll on the day when we move up the hill.

Still, we’re not there yet, so we drove on down to where we live now….the one time holiday house which is now bursting at the seams….where I was delighted to see this:
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Flowers on the trunk of the guanabana tree by the back door, which, if the rains keep off, may produce these:
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Massive green fruits with a white flesh…wonderful for drinks and ice cream – and held to be effective against cancer.

Not, as far as I know, effective against anything but good to eat with mayonnaise are these peach palm fruits which we bought ready cooked from a stall in town to form part of supper.
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Oh and why the vivid frontage of the new house?
Because it is directly in the line of sight of the house of the unpleasant North American who has done his best to prevent us from building, from threatening to cut off the water to denouncing us to the council – not applying for planning permission – and the social security authorities – not paying our workers’ national insurance.
Thwarted on all fronts he can now have the pleasure of sitting on his front porch and getting an eyeful of the Red Infuriator.

That’ll learn him.

Windmills in the Head

Georges Michel. Windmills at Montmartre
Georges Michel. Windmills at Montmartre
They formed part our historic landscape in all their manifestations and together with water mills fed us and clothed us before we turned to other means to our ends, careless of the balance between pollution and production.
Now that we are reaping the consequences of our lack, first of knowledge and then, unpardonably, of care we are looking back to natural sources of energy: sun, water and wind.

And what do we end up with? These monstrosities.
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Flying over Spain white rows of the things mark the line of every hilltop…beautiful Lake Nicaragua is desecrated by them…
Wherever they are placed they are aesthetic crimes.

But we can become accustomed to aesthetic crimes….we quite like old mill buildings once it is not our generation feeding the maw of the looms and we can browse arty crafty boutiques run by crafty arty people before stopping for a sustainable if not sustaining lunch.
In time we will be accustomed to wind turbines too.

But why should we be? They are inefficient, their unpredictable output requiring power plants to be on permanent stand by…..and they are a scam in which the taxpayer is scalped to produce private profit.

As may be plain, I am agin them.

They were making their appearance as I was leaving France…and locally a group of farmers seeking to install these horrors on their land were threatening people living in the lotissement downhill of the proposed site with consequences should they protest. Those wind turbines were going in!
Luckily, the lotissement dwellers took umbrage at the bullying.
Now that the French have discovered commuting, the traditional village power brokers don’t have it all their own way any more…..people moving out to live in the country hold down decent, responsible jobs…they don’t have land in the commune…it’s more difficult to threaten them.’
They banded together and all these years down the line they have finally won. Those wind turbines will not be going in.

The resistance to the installation of wind turbines is growing. Especially after the hike in the price of electricity paid by the consumer in order to subsidise them….fifteen percent on your bill in these days of straightened circumstances tends to get your dander up, after all and if that doesn’t rouse the somnolent dander it is guaranteed to spring to life on learning that the very people on the local council voting for wind turbines to be installed are those owning the land where the said installation will take place and for the which installation they will be handsomely paid.

Decentralisation of power, for which France has so often been congratulated, is nothing more than an enlargement of the trough so that more snouts can find fulfilment at the expense of the taxpayer – that rara avis who has less than the tax efficient three children, hasn’t enough money to be able to hide it in investing in fictitious resorts out in the Dom Toms or in three legged racehourses at Chantilly and is not able to reduce his liability by having several publicly funded posts the income from which is counted separately when arriving at his liability to tax.

Decentralisation of power has meant that people making decisions are very close to the action….and that requires an advanced appreciation of ethics – something not necessarily conferred on maires together with the tricolour sash of office.
Usually their activities are greeted with the Gallic shrug of resignation….
What do you expect? Of course he’s going to feather his nest….

Sometimes it goes wrong.
In February 2010 a violent storm hit the Atlantic coast of France. At La Faute sur Mer, in the Vendee, the sea wall gave way and 29 people – mostly elderly – died, drowned in their houses.
Stones were inevitably turned….it appeared that the maire and his deputy had actively pursued development in an area which was known to be prone to flooding.
That the deputy’s son in law was the estate agent pushing the sales.
That it was stipulated that the houses had to be on one floor only…where flood risk regulations demand two floors so that people have a chance to escape the flood waters even if taken by surprise….

After the usual kerfuffles – it was argued that it was the fault of the purchasers for purchasing where they did but that time honoured chestnut did not wash this time…the case came to court and the maire has been sentenced to be jugged for four years. He is horrified, and is, of course, appealing the judgement.

But that he came to court at all marks a change from the virtual immunity of elected officials from prosecution and it is this which is worrying the lobbying organisation representing the promoters of wind turbine installation in France…France Energie Eolienne….which has written to all the Deputies in the National Assembly to warn them of the terrible consequences if the law which governs the behaviour of elected officials is not changed.

It appears that consumer groups have been advising those who resist the installation of wind turbines on how to bring their maire to book….shock, horror, outrage on the part of FEE.
If this goes on, maires will be too frightened of being taken to court to permit more installations.
Something must be done!

Their answer is to relax the law which governs the actions of elected snouts in troughs….so that maires will not be inhibited from setting up wind turbine installations on the farms of their grandmother’s cousin once removed…or even on their own.
Considering what the snouts have managed to do while the current law is in force relaxing it looks to me like a recipe for rampant corruption…

But there is always hope.

Hope that their action in lobbying to free maires from the fear of prosecution might bring about two desirable objectives.

To take a closer look at what passes for local government in France, a closer look at the magouilles, large and small, which favour the staus quo and those with status.

And to take a much closer look at the wind turbine industry…its efficiency, its value for money.
Never mind the eco publicity on recycled loo paper….follow the loot.

Danger! Men at Work!

The view from the cafetal
The view from the cafetal

This will be the view from the terrace of our new house up in the cafetal. At the moment only the foundations have been laid and the whole project will take some months to complete as it is an ‘in-house’ job, but it is advancing at a steady forward creep, having overcome the usual administrative hurdles whose purpose might best be expressed as ‘you can’t do that there ‘ere’.

Well, you can, but only after jumping through the usual hoops and parting with extravagant amounts of money in order that your own plans should be signed off by a real architect, who estimates the building costs and takes a fixed percentage fee based on his own estimate….
But exorbitant though that fee might be it’s a damned sight worse if you are rash enough to get him to do the plans as well.
Apart from involving a delay of several months while he takes a holiday on the upfront portion of the fee, then recovers from the holiday, then it’s Christmas and New Year with the family at the beach and only when January ends does he run short enough of money to think of completing the job.
Together with all the others he has been sitting on for months.

You have to be careful, too, that the house does not run the danger of being considered – for tax purposes – as ‘luxurious’ which would bring it into a higher tax bracket.
The money raised from this tax is supposed to be applied to improving the standards of housing of the poor, but as the body supervising this process believes that charity begins at home and is busy rehousing its relatives on the proceeds, both from a fiscal and moral point of view it is better that the house is not classed as luxurious.

We had thought to build a house here before – and then changed our minds. Luckily…. as the Italianate villa with a tower that we had first had in mind would have seen us paying enough annual tax to enable the supervisory body to house the entirety of its sisters and its cousins, whom it reckons up in dozens and its aunts.

We like our original house, tucked in as it is under the hill, but despite adding a balcony and extra bedroom it is bursting at the seams and we need something larger, if only to house the books.

There is, too, the fact that we are not getting any younger and it would make things easier to be on flat ground.
While indoors is fine with the current house, going out involves walking steeply up or downhill to get to garden, stables or pool.
Up on the top, with a bit of leveling, we have a flat area all around the house and on a lower level, another flat area on one side for housing for the sheep, cattle and poultry and on the other side somewhere flat for the veg garden.

Planting on the approaches
Planting on the approaches

A house, however, is nothing without its surroundings, so we spent part of the last rainy season transporting the plants Leo had been growing on in pots up to the house site, to give an avenue of palms interplanted with gingers in the short term…to be ruthlessly hacked out should they start to run amok. Thugs they may be, but they are beautiful when in flower.

gingers in flower
gingers in flower

Not that beauty was lacking to start with….
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This tree gives the pink fleshed guavas I use to make jelly and I love its shape.

But the guava now has company.

unluxurious residence for tax purposes...
unluxurious residence for tax purposes…

This bijou residence is where Danilo spends the night – and will continue to spend the night while materials and tools are on the site, as the entrance from the road is now wide open and he worries about theft.

Down towards the road
Down towards the road

He is not alone. He has his two dogs for company, Calamardo and Rowley.
Calamardo is a black and tan specimen, rangy and intelligent.
Rowley is a brown pit bull type, stocky, half blind and single minded.
Both are lovely dogs once you get to know them, but while getting to know Calamardo is easy, approaching Rowley makes the etiquette of ancien regime Versailles look like a picnic.

You have to be accompanied by Danilo as master of ceremonies: you do not arrive on foot – if you wish to retain same.
On arrival, Rowley will hurtle towards you, to be intercepted by Danilo. You may then open the car door – and leave it open for Rowley to sniff you and the car. He circles you widdershins several times and then pees on a tyre.
You are now accepted at court.
The next time you arrive Rowley will hurtle towards you and give you a lick. Half blind he may be but his sense of smell is acute.

I have not discovered what happens if he does not pee on a tyre…but having seen him demolishing the thigh bones of oxen with consummate ease I prefer not to contemplate the prospect.

So far no attempts at theft have been made….but Danilo has had other visitors.

Further along the road is a spot much frequented by those seeking a little privacy for their romantic interludes and not willing or not able to pay for a couple of hours in one of the many ‘pay by the hour’ hotels, the car windows open to the warm night air.
You can estimate the usage by the number of takeaway boxes and cans of soft drink thrown from said windows into the hedge alongside.

Well, the top photograph shows the view in daytime…at night too it is a beautiful spot under the stars and the wide open entrance has, of course, attracted business from the hedgerow.

Danilo reckons it takes just a few moments after the car starts bouncing on its springs before the couple realise that they are not alone….Calamardo at one window, Rowley at another, breathing heavily.
Collapse of stout party guaranteed.

He was telling us about this over coffee this morning when Don Freddy called in.
He looked grave.

You should take a few precautions, you know…

The dogs won’t hurt them….they’re only curious.

No no…you should take a torch and pencil and paper.

Whatever for?

To note down the number plates of course! Don’t you see…you could look them up on the Registro Nacional the next day and threaten to tell their wives!
You could make a fortune!