A Night in Nicaragua

park granada

A balmy summer`s night in Granada, Nicaragua.

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

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

calle calzado

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

So where was I?

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

The back story is as follows…

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

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

So…shopping!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing orange though, I noted…

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

gran hotel sj

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

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

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

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

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

The fruit drinks arrived..and were leisurely consumed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At once, senor!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don`t encourage them….

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

caff teatro nacional

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

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

He rose and took the waiter aside.

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

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

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

lake nicaragua

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

granada

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

Buses Nicabus G7 2013 (5)

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

hotel granada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chairs masaya

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

tourist market masaya

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

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

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

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

0130.Bus-local---Granada.jpg

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

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

This is where things went wrong.

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

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

carriages granada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I put up my hand…and that was that…

Translation.

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

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

A set up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh no…he doesn`t speak English.

Well, can you explain to him?

Oh no…I don`t speak French.

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

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

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

I addressed the young man in his own tongue.

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

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

Oh yes, but it was legal in the Netherlands…

Right, so much for the logical French mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want the French consul.

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

I don`t want the French consul.

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

The official translators refused to come until morning.

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

I did so….

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

Are they sending us to a hotel?

Yes, indeed they are. The Hotel de Police.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

e

The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring, Tra La..

I have just returned from an unexpected trip to England and blearily reviewing it a day after my return the images that remain have been those of the flowers that bloom in the spring.

When I left, the trees were blossoming here.

The llama del bosque

flamboyant tree llama del bosque

The roble

roble

The cortez Amarillo

cortez amarillo

On arrival in England the roadsides were covered in gorse in full flower – though its coconut scent was dulled by the chill – while  swathes of Spanish bluebells were taking over  from  tulips in the suburban gardens. Trees displayed that freshness of leaf undulled by the summer heat to come, the structure of their branches still visible under the sheen of green and, to my surprise, the horse chestnuts were coming into flower in the London parks where clouds of blossom were cast into relief against the Cambridge blue skies.

 

hyde park in spring

I remembered then Browning’s ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’..

OH, to be in England now that April ’s there
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough         5
In England—now!
II

And after April, when May follows

And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover         10
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—
That ’s the wise thrush: he sings each song twice over
Lest you should think he never could re-capture
The first fine careless rapture!
And, though the fields look rough with hoary dew,         15
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower,
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

There spoke the exile in his Florentine retreat – though goodness only knows what he found to be gaudy in the flower of the melon, that most unpromising  harbinger of sweet delight.

I was happy to see England in the springtime again, but cannot feel the regrets of an exile. I was privileged to have grown up with it, to have known it, shall never forget it, but cannot say that I hanker for it, any more than I hanker for England itself.

There were other flowers in evidence during my trip: those laid by people in memory of the policeman murdered at the gates to the Houses of Parliament.

Poor devil: he died, as have so many of his colleagues before, at the hands of a deranged person while doing his duty – in his case, guarding an entrance whose gates had to be left open to permit ministers to be driven to the Commons in time to cast their votes in a division.

Perish the thought that a minister should wait for an instant at a gate closed in the interests of the security of all those working in the Palace of Westminster.

They might be shot at if kept waiting? Good. The world would be a safer place if ministers were forbidden to have protection. Might give them pause for thought before putting the rest of us in peril and I suspect that – to paraphrase another song from ‘The Mikado’ – they’d none of them be missed.

In the aftermath of P.C. Palmer’s death we had the politicians braying that ‘terrorism’ had not succeeded in bringing down British democracy….

Of course terrorism hadn’t brought it down: the same politicians and their ilk had already done for it with their slavish adherence to the dogma of ‘public bad, private good’ when it came to principles of government, with the gerrymanderings of the Boundaries Commission, with their interests (paying) outside the House.

Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

Currently, like Ko-Ko in the second verse, there are plenty of people whose attitude to the flowers that bloom in the spring is to say that they have nothing to do with the case.

The Prime Minister has called a snap election, putting her trust in the British media to depict her as a female Moses who will bring her country to the promised land…..the land promised to private enterprise, where access to health care and education will depend on the ability to pay for it; where those thrown out of work will be demonised; where those too ill to seek work will be driven to suicide.

Given her proven ability to change tack while at the Home Office I imagine that once she has gained victory the new Moses will reveal herself to be Aaron, presenting the golden calf  for public worship.

I cannot fathom people….more and more of them are living with the effects of unemployment and the resulting lack of tax revenues to fund proper services and yet the turkeys still vote for Christmas at the bidding of the butcher.

Flowers in France too, for the policeman killed on the Champs Elysees as the country goes to the polls in round one of the Presidential election.

The outgoing President Penguin congratulates himself on his record…yes, well done, thou good and faithful servant of thyself. As first secretary of the Socialist Party you sabotaged the campaign of that party’s candidate (and the mother of four of your kids), Segolene Royale, to gain the presidency and now as President you have sabotaged your entire party and given your support to the bankers’ candidate, Macron, whose chief claim to expertise in economic management seems to lie in having transformed the millions he made while working at Rothschilds bank into wallpaper for his flat.

Panic in the dovecotes at the thought of Marine Le Pen gaining power or, probably worse for the powers that be, Jean-Luc Melenchon  who said of the press reaction to his growing presence in the polls:

“Once again, they are announcing that my election win will set off a nuclear winter, a plague of frogs, Red Army tanks and a landing of Venezuelans,”

Roughly the sort of thing that the British press says about Jeremy Corbyn.

One thing is sure…if the British vote for May and the French for Macron then both countries can forget the years of social justice…..the golden calf will be a full sized Minotaur before they can blink and the hopes of themselves and their children will feed its maw.

Thoroughly depressed I set off on my return….U.K. to Costa Rica via the Netherlands and Canada. Yes, I know….but Scots blood will out: the fare was less than half that of the direct flight.

A change of flight time at the last minute left me with an overnight at Amsterdam Schipol, guarding my luggage like a broody hen its egg as the check in would not open until morning.

It was a salutary reminder of how nice people are: a young woman offered me one of her biscuits and accepted a cucumber sandwich in return; an armed policeman looked after our bags while we went to the loo and the gentleman at the coffee stall brought our drinks over to us to save us  from moving our mound of cases.

And then the flowers that bloom in the spring reappeared. As the dawn broke, the tulips in the tubs outside the Departure area began to glow with what looked like an internal light…strange, other worldly and utterly beautiful.

A good note on which to leave Europe….a reminder that while all seems dark there is yet hope.

And to greet me on my return….sitting on my desk….this little orchid. A true welcome home.

IMG_20170421_150525

 

 

Continue reading “The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring, Tra La..”

Cometh The Midnight Hour, Cometh The Neighbour

bcr

The Neighbour, he of the crisp white hat with the curly brim, has been very quiet for a while following his excursion into the world of casino gambling using someone else’s money.

However, things have been changing in our little corner of the world…violent crime has entered the area – usually on a motorbike and armed with a gun.

We were used to the normal sort of crime….the regular burglary of the jewellery store followed by the inflated insurance claim; the settling of accounts between the rival Chinese (money) laundry gangs and anything involving local council contracts, but things have changed.

In the past year the post office has been raided, as has one of the bank branches;  small shops have been targeted too, as have the more notorious money lenders  of the area who suffer the double whammy of losing their cars as well, because the raiders can’t load safes onto the back of their motorbikes.

Where are the police? Well, you might well ask.

They claim that they are busy dealing with the rampant drug trade and, to give them their due, they are trying to do just that. It doesn’t help that once they arrest someone the local judge lets the bugger loose on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

Given the level of competence of the local prosecutors (the Fiscalia)  it is perfectly possible that the case presented to the court does not, indeed, show sufficient evidence to arrest a dog in possession of a bone, let alone a dealer with a house full of crack cocaine in packs ready to sell and vast amounts of unaccounted for cash.

We have had recent experience of their expertise – a case in the long hangover from the fight against the developer – where their idlenesses were content to copy almost word for word the documents supplied by the defendant’s lawyer and on this basis recommend to the local court to reject our case – the which it did with alacrity.

We appealed and a judge from San Jose came out to determine whether our appeal should be allowed.

She listened to the recording of the original trial and summoned all the parties. – though by this time the prosecutor had become bored and had messed off.

Her decision was that the submissions of the local prosecutors’ office had no foundation in fact and, furthermore, their treatment of the case was not only illegal but also contrary to the provisions of the Constitution, so we could indeed lodge an appeal.

Unfortunately, the police do not have the same liberty as ourselves and are stuck with whatever garbage the prosecutors produce for the delectation of the local judge….probably, in the case of the chap with the houseful of crack cocaine, that he just happened to be passing at the time and stopped to see what the police were up to…

The more cynical among you may be wondering whether it is indeed incompetence…or something else.

I could not possibly say. Nor even indicate  my views by a nod and a wink.

But the crime wave – and the drug trade – go on unabated.

Thus The Neighbour.

We heard about his reappearance  yesterday when Don Freddy came over to tell us that the bridge between us and civilisation was to be rebuilt, some two years after it was carried away in heavy rains.

In the meantime we have been taking the back road up to town – as have the  cattle lorries from our side of the stream which have managed to damage an already doubtful drainage system now on the verge of collapse.

The good news had been given to the barrio’s development committee – of which Don Freddy is a member – at the monthly meeting, which had been attended by The Neighbour, nattily attired in sparkling white trousers, highly polished western boots, a black shirt and, of course, the crisp white hat with the curly brim which he retained during proceedings.

Unkind supposition had it that he could not take it off as he had not been able to afford to have his hair dyed recently….

Delicate enquiry as to the whys and wherefores of his return from hibernation revealed that he had come forward in order to perform a public service.

Given the crime wave, he declared, no one was safe in their own homes.

As a man whose past history included waving his revolver on peoples’ doorsteps it was felt that he could speak from experience…

The police, he declaimed, were useless.

Not much argument there, then…

He had , however, the solution.

He usually had.

The committee must appreciate that he had, shall we say, a certain reputation.

It did indeed so appreciate: visions of roads being blocked by his lorry, people being attacked with machetes and certain missing goods rose to its collective mind.

It was time to use that reputation to good effect. As a security guard for the inhabitants of the barrio. He would, he declared, be willing to give up his nights to patrol the area, armed with his revolver, to deter criminals…in return for a small honorarium.

But, said the committee, it did not have the power to engage a security guard, let alone the funds to pay for one.

Not a problem.

A.There was no need to enter his offer in the minutes and

B. As the bridge was about to be built they could go a bit light on the cement and pay him that way…in cash.

Don XXX, slated to be in charge of the works ( and the cement) protested.

What was the problem, asked The Neighbour. Surely Don XXX  didn’t mind giving up some of his own prospective pickings to further the public weal….

But we all know that that revolver isn’t licenced, said Dona Mery. Suppose you shoot someone…

Simple. If it wasn’t licenced it couldn’t be traced to him….

The committee asked for time to consider his kind offer and the official meeting broke up.

I asked Don Freddy why they didn’t report his unlicenced firearm to the police.

No point, said Don Freddy. He has friends in the Fiscalia…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Not Charlie. I’m The Doorman.

All must by now be aware of the murderous attack on the offices of the French magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’, leaving so many dead or seriously wounded in its wake while the security forces thrash around in the search for the culprits.

What appears to be the cause of the attack? The publication of rude drawings of Mohammed with more or less witty commentaries. Alongside rude drawings of rabbis, priests, popes and politicians with equally more or less witty commentaries which have, so far, led none of the groupies of those so attacked to assault the offices with kalashnikovs.

I was never a fan of Charlie Hebdo…it drew on the tradition of the muck raking pamphleteering of the nineteenth century where fact could be overlaid by scatalogical innuendo to bring down opponents, allied to the more modern French passion for strip cartoons- Bandes Dessines – where ‘strip’ seems to be the main interest where female subjects are concerned. Macho, sexist, downright rude.

But sometimes extremely funny.
mohamed
Mohammed bewails his sort…how hard it is to be worshipped by stupid bastards.

I also disliked it because it was run, edited and supplied with material by people who used and misused their perceived views of ‘les beaufs’ – the Parisian hoi polloi – to reflect views not publicly acceptable in their own social, PC milieu, however much those views were subscribed to sub rosa.

There was always a whiff of de haut en bas in a publication which appeared to be designed to allow the ‘haut’ to revel in the perceived views of the ‘bas’ without admitting that those prejudices mirrored their own.

France has been on a terror alert for years…there is a programme called ‘Vigipirate’ which seems to consist of putting crush barriers in front of small rural primary schools and not much else. It costs a fortune to administer and is..as events have proved….totally useless.
Ah, says the spokesman, that’s because it was it was designed to reassure the public rather then to be effective.
So you can’t park outside the school without the police moving you on but you can attack a building already subject to threat just as you please.
Or so it seems.

One of the editors of the magazine had a personal police bodyguard…who died in the attack.
Would it not have been better to have had a police watch on the premises? That way the poor chap on the door of the building might not have died.
Still..he’s not a journalist…not someone who matters…except to his family.

It reminds me of the attitudes of an earlier age which we thought – hoped – were forgotten…

All quiet along the Potomac

Not an officer lost, only one of the men, moaning out all alone the death rattle.

I sincerely hope that this incident will not prove to be an excuse for governments to further restrict the liberties of their citizens in the name of ‘security’…because ‘security’ it is not….

The services listening in on Tante Fanny’s conversations with her neighbour did nothing to prevent this incident: neither did the mad restrictions on what you can do with your own money when you move it through banks…and where were the CCTV cameras which are supposed to prevent crime and do nothing of the sort.

How could the police reaction have been so late and so puny in scale, giving rise to the death of officers? They might well be called upon to face danger in their job, but they don’t have to be put into danger by the poor planning of their superiors.

How could the perpetrators drive off through Paris without let or hindrance?

In meeting the threat of terrorism, this incident shows that the authorities have put in place neither prevention nor cure.

Already, politicians are playing games…the Front National should not be allowed to join in a march showing solidarity with the victims, trumpets a Socialist Party politician….
Already this appalling crime has become a debating game for the talking heads.

I hope that people will not let it fade to this…when marching, when putting up ‘Je Suis Charlie’ on their Facebook page, I hope that people will show their determination to defend freedom of expression -including against their own governments.

Bennie Hill and the Bold Gendarmes

We’ve had a plethora of visits just lately….from neighbours dropping in for coffee  to friends coming for dinner via the Man from the Water Board, the CID (or the OIJ as they are known here) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Man from the Water Board came to inspect the great water reorganisation project and succeeded in arousing the fury of The Neighbour (cut off from said project) to the extent that he has been busy turning off the stopcocks all over the Three Valleys  in order that pressure higher up the system will burst the pipes…

Let no one say that he lacks a knowledge of physics and roll on the date of the penal court hearing for non respect of the law….though it is rumoured that the man with the tilapia farm is not prepared to wait that long to see The Neighbour get his comeuppance.

I don’t mind the Jehovah’s Witnesses….they feel called to spread the Gospel – which is considerably more than the local Catholic priests get round to doing – are perfectly polite, not at all pushy and we revel in common stupefaction that I can read aloud the Spanish language verses of the Bible  which they present to me.

All I can say is that with the shades of my Scots Presbyterian headmistress hanging over me I am prepared to give it a try in any language….Miss Dickie’s views on reading the Bible were trenchant and had distinct staying power.

Further, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have the approval of Monty the lamb, who has decidedly territorial instincts allied to a fleet turn of foot, an acrobatic capacitywhich would put Olympic champion ice dancers on their mettle and a good line  in charging and butting.

The Witnesses pet him and he behaves…like  a lamb.

The CID (OIJ)  – two young men imbued with a great deal of legal theory and sociological claptrap – came as part of an investigation into The Neighbour’s recent activities, hydrological and other.

Apparently the Fiscalia (Prosecutor’s office) can’t (or more likely won’t) investigate any complaints about The Neighbour while he is awaiting his appearance in the superior penal court for crimes of omission and commission.

Undaunted, people have taken their complaints instead to the OIJ who are not altogether pleased by this, occupied as they currently are by a major fraud on  ‘movement of cattle’ dockets in the local branch of the Agriculture Ministry involving the husband of a mayor; a public employee whose dispute settlement procedure involves a claw hammer and a link to an Anmerican run paedophile pornography business flagged up by the FBI.

I suspect that the boss decided that sending these two tyros out on the track of The Neighbour would get them

A. Onto the ground

and

B. Out of his hair.

They refused to get out of their car until the Alsatian was persuaded to have his siesta inside the house and then sat down with us in the porch, brandishing clipboards, forms and biros…..

Was this our complaint?

Yes it was.

Did we want them to go ahead with it?

Yes we did.

Were we sure that the whole thing did not arise from our failure to understand Costa Rican culture? After all we came from a North American background, did we not, where everyone kept themselves to themselves whereas Costa Ricans were continually in and out of each other’s houses, the relationship between neighbours being most important….

No we were not North American. Scribble, scribble on the form.

Costa Rican culture was very like that of France, where the relationship with nearest neighbour,  ‘le grand voisin’, was extremely important. Scribble, scribble….

Further, we were not aware that Costa Ricans and more exactly The Neighbour expressed their relationship with their neighbours by trying to hire someone to bump them off, even if done incompetently.

No, it was not normal, they agreed, but how did we know about it? Since we were still alive, as it were.

Because the young man concerned had been to see us to assure us that if we were bumped off it would not have been by him, as

A. He had no desire to go to prison

B. He was not at all convinced that The Neighbour’s revolver was untraceable as claimed

and

C. He had made enquiries and six hundred dollars was well under the rate for the job.

Scribble, scribble…….

And then Monty appeared.

The gallant duo rose to their feet as one, clutching clipboards and pens to their persons and they and Monty performed a Benny Hill chase round and round the coffee table, Monty becoming more excited at each turn and finally leaping into the air in his version of a triple Salchow and ambushing them on their side of the table at which point the pair fled to their car and shut themselves in.

Disapppointed, Monty peered through the window and they shrank away. They drove away, seen off at the gates by Monty who had by then taken a dislike to the car which was depriving him of his playmates and was keen to make his feelings known.

Why, I wonder, did I find the words and music of The Bold Gendarmes running through my head…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victor…A Word…

john-piper-mosnac-dordogne.jpgOn a wet afternoon in western France a gendarmerie van pulls into the farmyard…its sole occupant gets out shouting

Hoy, Victor! A word!

Hello Jean-Yves! What brings you here? I’m in the barn…just a minute while I shut the doors and we’ll have a drink…

No, don’t shut the doors, Victor….it’s about what you’ve got in that barn that I’ve come about.

On your own, I see.

Yes, I’m trying to do you a good turn….let me see what you’ve got there. Yes, just as I thought!
Victor, you’ll have to get rid of it…put it back where you found it…and quickly.
There’s all hell to pay.
Everyone’s out looking for it and they’ve even taken us off speed traps and breathalysers.

Must be serious then!

Yes, it is!
Apart from you having stolen property in your barn…what the blazes do you want with a bulldozer that size? You haven’t got enough land to make it worthwhile – and how did you get it here from the new bypass anyway?

Ah! Typical!
Us farmers are getting robbed all ways…..diesel syphoned off, animals killed in our own fields, tools stolen, irrigation pipes nicked – even whole crops gone!
Look at that poor guy who had his whole field of garlic nicked….and the forty hectares of grapes that went missing overnight….not to speak of combine harvesters vanishing into thin air!
And where are the Gendarmerie? Breathalysing some poor sod who’s been out drowning his sorrows!

Well it’s not my fault….only a few more years to the pension, thank goodness.
It’s not what I joined for I can tell you…

No, I know Jean-Yves.
When you started there were still bars in your stations – and you were a hell of a lot nicer for it! I reckon that the rot started when they closed down them down.
You turned nasty about then…applying the law to people you knew…
Still, what I mean is that us farmers can have our stuff nicked left, right and centre…but let some big roadworks contractor miss his bulldozer – you’d think he’d got enough, wouldn’t you? – you’re all on red alert!
No wonder we’ll all be voting Le Pen in the elections!

That’s as maybe…but I can tell you that a big firm like Crapule gets a lot more attention in high places than you lot. Might be different if you were cereal boys…in the big league…but you’re not!
The firm thought the ‘dozer had been whipped off to Germany….like a lot of other stuff. You boys are lucky you’re not nearer the frontier.

Clever buggers, the Germans.

What do you mean?

Well, they worked out they didn’t have to have a war to get what they wanted this time….they thought up the E.U.
See, in the war they had to go round requisitioning…this way government – our government – does it for them.
They get cheap veg and flog expensive cars.
Bit like Vichy, really, but more efficient. Very hot on efficiency the Germans…

Come off it Victor! You’re not telling me the Germans are using the E.U. to nick combine harvesters and fields of garlic…

No, but they run the show, don’t they! Remember when Hollande got in and what he was going to say to Merkel?
Turned out to be ‘Jawohl’, didn’t it…
No, the E.U. lets these crooks from Transylvania in and they nick the stuff, take it to Germany and the Germans get it on the cheap…
Clever buggers, like I said.

Never mind all that! You’ll have to get it back there…or dump it somewhere…and sharpish!

Well, we’ve finished with it now anyway, so I’ll get Laurent to run it into Ste. Conasse tonight, dump it round the back where it’s dark. Just make sure you’re not out breathalysing between here and there.

No, all right…but who is ‘we’? You and Laurent?

No! There’s me, of course, and Jean-Antoine and Popaul…here, you’re not taking notes!

No, just interested to know what’s going on. That’s what policing used to be about…
So what the blazes were you three geriatrics up to? Put together you don’t have enough land to make that ‘dozer worthwhile…

That’s where you’re wrong!
It’s the eco tax…you know, the one on lorries that comes in in January. Going to be taxed by the lorry…tollgates going up all over the main roads…
Gerard over at the roads department in Benitierville put us wise! There’s going to be one between us and the abattoir! It’s only down the road…but we’ll have to pay as if we’d been coming from Normandy!

Well you weren’t thinking of using the ‘dozer to knock the tollgate down, were you?

No! We might be old but we’re not stupid!
We had a word with Olivier down at the abattoir and he reckons that we can get in on the back road from St. Ragondin round by les Deux Biscouilles without any problem.

But how are you going to get to St. Ragondin? You’ve still got the main road to deal with.

Ah. that’s why we wanted the bulldozer.
We’ve made a road across our fields to link up with the footpath that brings us out just this side of the village….where the old railway line used to be. A bit of hardcore in bad weather and we’re sorted.
So they can stuff their tollgate…we won’t be paying!
Eco this, eco that….just another word for tax!
It’s bad enough with their blasted windmills…electricity bill up through the roof…but a tax on going a few kilometres is a step too far!

Well, just get rid of it Victor…tonight! You don’t want anyone else knowing you’ve got it…the adjutant is up the wall!

Hang on a minute, how did you know to come round here?

Well, it couldn’t have been the manouches….they were having a face off with our boys with chainsaws at the campsite that night…..so the only other alternative was a totally irresponsible idiot…and that’s when I thought of you!

That evening, at the gendarmerie station, the adjutant answers the ‘phone.

Here, says a voice, I reckon you should know….

Know what?

Well, that windfarm at the back of Ste. Conasse…someone’s driven a bulldozer in there and there’s a hell of a mess….metal all over the place and the gyppos are carting it off by the truckload…….

The illustration is ‘Mosnac, Dordogne’ by John Piper.

Rise Up Like a Lion

leo monolulu 004

Our house in San Jose was burgled in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Our 99 year old neighbour telephoned us and then the police. She has a sense of priorities.

The police in Costa Rica are not an homogeneous force….the grunts on the ground are the Fuerza Publica (the Public Force)…known to our friends as the Fuerza Floja (the Floppy Force) whose role is to arrive on the scene, and make an inspection.
Normally they neither arrive nor make an inspection…there are exceptions of course, but generally they are useless.
Reminds me of our local Gendarmerie in France where someone had hung a notice on the gate to their offices reading ‘Do Not Disturb’.
So the Fuerza Floja didn’t come and didn’t inspect.

My husband answered the telephone and I saw a metamorphosis.
He is a pensioner…has been ill for years…but he rose up like a lion.
No, I was not to go…..it would upset me. He would deal with it.
He is an old fashioned man – very protective.

He called Danilo and they went to the house.
The bars protecting the house had been sawn through – the burglars invisible from the street.
Things thrown about, shit everywhere….the defilement of intrusion.

While Danilo started on repairs, Leo got to work.
He contacted the specialist police, the OIJ (like the CID), who were both efficient and sympathetic.
Every line was followed up…fingerprints, DNA and the Muni’s surveillance cameras which were, of course, not loaded.
So much for our local taxes.

He had the bars replaced and security lights and razor wire installed that very day.
Expats, immigrants, call them what you will tend to moan that you can’t get Costa Ricans to do anything in a hurry – but these chaps came out and set to work at once.
Perhaps it helps that they too use the local taxi drivers’ caff where we go for lunch.
The lady serving at the caff offered to clean the house and came round when she had finished work.
For added security she offered the services of one of her sons as night watchman complete with machete and two pit bulls.
I’ve met his dogs – nice animals unless startled, at which point you need to make a getaway at the speed of light if you don’t want your trousers shredded in unusual places.

He obtained estimates for the major repairs which will be carried out on Monday.

Flushed with his success he stopped off at the market and arrived home laden with vegetables, cheese and bacon, calling for beer.
He was a new man – or more accurately, the man he was before illness struck him.
Smiling, happy, confident.
Yes, the burglary was a nuisance…but not the end of the world.
Nothing he couldn’t deal with.

Leo may not have eaten of the prey and drunk the blood of the slain (Numbers 23:24), much though he would have wished to do so – but I am so proud of him.