Hit the Road

teletica.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little background might help.

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

But this government takes the prize for unpopularity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Busy Night in Rural France

la Nouvelle Republique

Hello Victor! You’re an early bird today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about the gendarmerie?

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

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

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

I suppose it was about prices?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurse! The Screens!

countesschichi.blogspot.com

Having a temper on the volcanic side of volatile is not too good for my blood pressure and I’m not at all sure that the sight of a woman old enough to know better flapping her bingo wings as she advances on the perceived source of the problem while upbraiding it in the manner of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel would be good for anyone else’s either.

Though since leaving France, explosions have been far less frequent.

I can cope with Danilo’s urge to go left instead of right and to depart from the motorway (yes, we have one) on a side road miles before the turn off given in the directions. Scarcely a rumble.

Bureaucracy? A doddle!

The repairman who has been telling me that the strimmer will be ready tomorrow for the last three months? A shrug. Though he can’t count on that continuing once the rainy season sets in again.

The legal system? Not a problem (so far)….and as a senior citizen my papers get priority in the Constitutional Court. The sheer joy of having the local mayor told that if he didn’t repair the damage to my cafetal caused by his roadworks gang within three months he would be in the jug!

The expat bloodsucking community? Their stings have no effect.

So why the need for screens?

Because I still have a house in France and all that goes with it….tax demands, bank accounts, you name it and when the post arrives it inevitably contains something to make Krakatoa look like a side show.
While friends are very good about alerting me to changes that might affect me, I do read one or two of the national dailies online to keep up to date as well and yesterday’s news was a humdinger.

President Hollande, popularity plummeting like a lift with no cables, has decided to get out and about and meet the people. Whether they liked it or not. And they didn’t.
Whoever had that bright idea must have been trained in the Ecole Nationale d’Administration like Hollande himself.
We’ve come a long way from de Gaulle’s tours of the provinces and Hollande is no de Gaulle, even if on his first trip he was to sleep in a bed made specially to accommodate the General’s lanky frame.
You could almost hear the roars of ‘Who’s been sleeping in my bed?’ from the graveyard at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises.

So he went to Dijon where after being greeted by trade unionists with cries of ‘What about your promises?’ (99,500 jobs having been lost in France this year) though being spared further contact by his security detail strong arming them away he announced sedately that anyone was welcome to speak to him as long, one supposes, that they don’t ask about his promises.

Having failed to cut the mustard in Dijon he returned to Paris where his government appeared to be slipping on the ice left in the streets by the inaction of the Mayor.
They have to shave another four billion euros off expenditure to keep the deficit down to only 3.7 % as there is a likelihood that the EU will finally pay attention to France’s overspending after decades of the equivalent of the Gallic shrug.
So that was the signal for the Ecology minister, Delphine Batho, to mess off to Cherbourg to inspect the windfarm in the seas off the coast, using a governmental Falcon jet and a Navy helicopter for the occasion.

Not much hope of economies there, then. Not for anything remotely ‘green’.

Which brings me to the need for screens.

The French parliament have passed a law designed to reward ‘virtuous’ users of gas and electricity by permitting variable rates of payment according to the quantities used.
Good idea, you might say and indeed this scheme already exists in a vestigial form.

But, of course, this being France, it is not so simple.
You can’t just have a series of categories which are charged at increasing rates to reflect your usage, permitting you to decide independently whether to turn off the electric fire in order to run the kettle.
Allowing such independence would be tantamount to opening the floodgates of anarchy.

No no, Big Brother will take care of it all for you. All you will have to do is pay.

There will be different categories depending on what sort of fuel you use, where you live and how many there are of you.
There will be forms to fill out.
And the utility companies will be sending round people to fill them out for you in case you decide to invite your granny and her sisters to afternoon tea and add them to your total for the purposes of the form.
Thus, one imagines replacing the 99,500 lost jobs at a stroke….

Interestingly there will not be a category for the size of your house. There is an ideal size (so far unstated but rumoured to be the size of a dog kennel for dachshunds) and all calculations will be based on that.

But I’m not there…why am I worried?

Because I leave heat on in the winter to keep the bones of the old house warm and my last winter’s bill – up some thirty percent to pay for blasted windfarms – was enough to induce the habdabs as it was.
Multiply dachshund kennels to fill its volume and I’ll be paying the four billion in economies on my own.

And it hardly increases its appeal to clients….only families large enough for mum to have been awarded the Vichy medal for producing eight children could hope to afford the proposed bills.
Perhaps I should enter into talks with the English council who are building a property to house a lady with eleven children, a horse and a husband taking flying lessons all paid for by benefits.

My house would be cheaper and the husband could fly them back to the U.K. to sign on when necessary.

Left Hand and Right Hand

tropical beach
Now…you’re in the tropics.
It’s warm and you want to take the family to the beach so you pack a picnic, including a cold box for the beer and soft drinks.

You find a wonderful site under the palms, the swimming is safe inshore and you settle down to enjoy yourselves; loungers, sunglasses, a glass of something cold….the only blot on the landscape being the two chaps who’ve set themselves up a bit too close for comfort, smoking and throwing the cigarette butts about.

The police arrive…..you know smoking is illegal in most public places in Costa Rica so you hope that they will tell them to stop.
No…..they don’t.

They have come to tell you you can’t take beer to the beach.

You give up.

Next day you take the family to the fair and bull ring at Zapote, a suburb of San Jose.
In the arena, drunks career about waving their shirts while bewildered bulls do what comes naturally…chase the nuisances.

The Red Cross treat over one hundred idiots injured by goring or trampling….their task complicated by the the idiots’ state of inebriation.
Outside the ring the police arrest fifteen people for smoking in a public place.

Shops are open, people are going to work…but government offices lie silent, awaiting the return of their normal occupants to participate in the ceremony of taking down the creche after January 6th.

One group of people are impatient for the return to governmental work to come about.

Fuel tanker companies have been waiting for more than five months for the Environment Ministry to renew the licences for their vehicles. They have undergone inspection, have brought their fleets up to scratch…..but no licence renewals have been forthcoming and the expiry date is January 31st 2013.

They are seeking to discuss the situation with the appropriate officials…who will not be available until the creche has been dismantled.

No licence renewal, no petrol stations supplied. No transport, private or public.

They have decided that if no early discussions are possible then they will have to take action.
Not blocking the roads to inconvenience the public…but blocking off the Environment Ministry.

It will be interesting to see if the government try to deploy their unpopular riot police again when faced with tough lorry drivers as opposed to health workers……

The only question is:

Should they block the idle sloths out?
Or should they block the idle sloths in?