Christmas is Coming…

 

festival-of-light

Christmas is coming,

The geese are getting fat,

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.

If you haven’t got a penny a halfpenny will do.

If you haven’t got a halfpenny then God bless you.

Communities in the north of Costa Rica are still coming to terms with the extent of the destruction caused by Hurricane Otto and this coming Christmas promises to be bleak, despite the rescue and restoration efforts of the official bodies.

Who wants to spend Christmas in a shelter, after all?

I have been struck, though, by the volunteer action from all over the country: once permitted to enter the affected areas vans have been arriving at the farthest flung villages with not only the necessities of life – but also the things that make life brighter.

One furniture factory has gone into full production to turn out beds and sofas…basic, but serviceable and attractive, to make houses feel like a home again: a police station had a whip round to provide a wheelchair for a boy who had lost his in the floods…the examples are all too many to quote, but hats off to those involved – and to the emergency services whose plans allowed such prompt access for the volunteer effort.

The children have not been forgotten….for some of them Christmas has come early as the volunteers brought presents too – pennies and halfpennies well spent by those contributing at Red Cross centres and at some of the major chain stores who put their fleets of vehicles at the disposal of the relief effort.

Let us now hope that the government agencies coping with the aftermath…rebuilding houses, trying to compensate for crops lost…will show the same energy and generosity as was brought out by the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.

Away from the disaster areas the Christmas frenzy is now upon us with a vengeance.

The pavements of San Jose, already a hazard to shipping with the vendors of socks, rip off DVDs, remote controls and amazingly random items laid out on black plastic sheets ready for the quick getaway when the municipal police are sighted, now boast herds of fibreglass reindeer upon whose horns you are liable to become impaled while trying to avoid the embrace of the inflatable Santa on the other side of the shop entrance.

A new horror promises to manifest itself: while buying a washing machine I saw that the shop was also selling hideously lifelike and lifesize Santas who sang carols and did a sort of shuffling dance….from ghosties and ghoulies and shuffling Santas Good Lord deliver us…

Music – if so it can be called – assails you in every store. Fortunately for my sanity ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ seems to have fallen from favour, but ‘Jingle Bells’ is still going strong.

I suppose that given the popularity of reindeer, it would be.

Curiously enough, I heard ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in one of the local supermarkets last week, so there is hope of the advance of civilisation yet…despite the horror of the butcher as I described to him how to make a haggis.

Poor man: he is still recovering from my annual demand for suet which he is firmly convinced serves only to dubbin boots.

The price of tomatoes and potatoes have soared as this is the tamale season and they are essential ingredients: luckily we have laid in a store of spuds which, if the weather remains unseasonably cold, should last through the New Year after which prices should fall again.

And unseasonably cold it is too….summer should have started some two weeks ago but for the first time since moving here I have opened the old suitcase containing our woollies and put a second light blanket on the bed as the rain is heavy and persistent and the winds are strong and cold.

This has done no favours to the ewes: accustomed as they are to dropping their lambs outside, Danilo has had to go hunting to bring them in before the newborns get chilled and weak and we currently have one in the house – a twin whose mother abandoned it in the driving rain. Leo is doing his best, but it is touch and go for the little thing.

Stop press: two in the house…

It will be a quiet Christmas for us – the way we like it. Which is just as well, given Leo’s poor health.

Our celebration has been to trawl through the cookery books, now that we finally have most of them out of the boxes and onto  proper bookshelves, to decide on some new recipes to try. An Ethiopian beef stew looks promising, as does  a Cincinnati style chili involving black chocolate and Worcester sauce.

Before Christmas though, things are somewhat more eventful. There is an art fair in San Jose at the end of this week…and we are invited to a christening party on the weekend which will involve the consumption of vast quantities of chicharrones (deep fried lumps of belly pork),  deep fried murpheys and plantains together with endless cold beers accompanied by football on the box and heated political discussion in all quarters of the house.

However, given that the godfather – who will be doing the deep frying – has also invited us to a karaoke evening at his favourite bar the night before I begin to wonder whether the only sizzling at the christening party will be that  of Alka Seltzer tablets hitting the  water.

All of the above are dependent on how Leo is feeling on the day of course…so, as one says here, we shall be going ‘si Dios quiere’.

And if He doesn’t, then we can enjoy our pwn pictures,  look for another recipe and choose some music to accompany the meal, which will be different, but just as enjoyable.

Though we do not go in for them, Christmas decorations are beginning to go up on the houses.

I have it on good authority that the Santa Claus novelty loo seat cover – dumped on me by my mother and seized on by the cleaning woman – still has pride of place on a certain front door, but cannot go to see for myself as the bridge, which collapsed two years ago, is not yet repaired.

Danilo found an engineer at the site in October…and word was that it would be repaired by the end of November…but then Hurricane Otto took a hand and resources were directed elsewhere.

Don Freddy has been round to see us again….the bridge was to be repaired starting on 15th December, but Danilo has since reported that the chairman of the development committee – in charge of the works – has been admitted to hospital as an emergency case.

It is only by the existence of good hospital provision that this most orthodox of Catholic gentleman has avoided the fate of the heretical Bishop Arias in that his bowels burst while he was on the loo.

Well, that puts the bridge repair back again, I suppose….

Might put it back permanently….he’s gone to a private hospital…

They’re not likely to kill him!

No perhaps not….but he’s got the money for the bridge…

 

 

 

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puris in the rain

The Chinese export drive is going well in Costa Rica: even.our little town has two outlets for oyster sauce, soaps whose artificial scent hits you from the length of a cricket pitch and plastic kitsch which flies off the shelves.

Once  someone tells the Chinese about the selling power of ‘bondieuserie’ they will be the economic masters of the Catholic world….container loads of creche figures will wend their way across the oceans, lustrous  Sacred Hearts will leer from every wall and saints of all varieties will display their attributes – though St.Ursula’s eleven thousand virgins might pose a problem in the smaller dwelling.

Still, they are not doing too badly as it is… our local post office has been overwhelmed by stacks of packages containing flashy watches costing less than a quid – to be sold on by optimistic gentlemen for considerably more than a quid to other gentlemen who are not – so far – aware that all that glisters is not gold.

As Danilo is continually losing watches while cutting cane, my husband has laid by a stock of Chinese watches with which to replace them…and, having acquired the bug, has explored other areas of the  Chinese ‘Ali Baba’ website.

Notably seeds.

As a gardening addict he has become enthralled by the offers of ‘violet bamboo’,  ‘pink laburnum’ and other such delights.

As has our postmistress, whose office resembles Kew Gardens on speed as it is. You just hope it is an employee of the post office who emerges from the shrubbery behind the counter when you go to pick up your post.

Unfortunately, what is described online is rarely what pops up in the seed trays: something claimed to be jackfruit has the unmistakable air of a marrow while the foot long beans look for all the world like tomatoes…

To be fair, the supplier has agreed to replace anything found to be unsatisfactory…but, one asks oneself, with what? Radishes?

Small stuff passes customs without problems – the staff can’t read Chinese characters – but tools are another matter. They weigh distinctly more so customs will seize them on the grounds that they must be worth something in import tax and, having seized them send you a little note to say so, together with a demand that if it is something bought online you produce a receipt….

Clearly customs officers buy nothing online…you try working out what it is you bought from a plethora of orders and then matching it up with the inscrutable Chinese markings on the package.

In practice this demand is waived….unless you upset one of the officers….but it is wise to print up an invoice – any invoice – just in case you meet with a jobsworth.

Then off you go to collect your goodies.

First, the bus to San Jose. One hour on the bus, or an hour and a half if you are mad enough to travel on a Monday when the Gadarene swine are returning from the beaches.

A trek from the bus station down to the CAJA (Social Security) offices in the centre  where you interrogate the drivers of buses proclaiming their destination as Zapote as to whether they pass the office you need.

Costa Rican bus drivers being obliging souls they are kind enough to tell you and to offer to tell you when to alight.

After a drive across the ring road and passing the official Presidential residence you are put off the bus outside the blood donor centre – neatly placed alongside a couple of butchers’ shops – and trek round the corner to the Post Office Central Sorting Office, where your parcel awaits.

Once inside it involves three immobile queues, the transfer of money and as the whole exercise takes about a day of your time generally you don’t even try to import tools directly.

You go to a shop.

You could go to a shop in our little town…you have a choice of several…but all are expensive and some are frowned on by Danilo as being vehicles for laundering money.

His favourite is the one called officially the Agrocomercial, but known to everyone more familiarly as ‘Macho’ Cruz, this being the name of the elderly owner and founder who is behind his counter every day, clacking his false teeth in greeting and asking after friends and families.

As the cunning old blighter also tried to charge me a mark up of sixty per cent on a water pump I am wary of his geniality and prefer to go to the Maravilla where they know that I check the prices of the goods which will be delivered later by lorries bearing the ineffable inscription ‘Thanks be to God that there is the Maravilla’….

Better prices by far are available in a nationwide chain known as ‘El Rey’…the King….but that means a trip to San Jose. See above for disadvantages of same…

Until my husband had a bright idea….from the bus he had seen another outlet of El Rey, opposite the mega mall on the outskirts of the capital. It would save about twenty minutes’ drive and – most importantly – was on our side of the toll booth.

As the interior doors had arrived we needed to fit them and for this purpose required chisels.

To my certain knowledge we possess enough chisels to set up our own emporium, but the masters of the universe who had done the packing for our move had no idea in which box or bag they had packed them and after a couple of hours of swearing and bad temper it was decided to give  up and go and buy some more.

At El Rey.

If the BBC are still looking for someone to present ‘Top Gear’ then I suggest that they consider The Men and our clunking Japanese tin box of a 4×4 in the exotic surrounds of Costa Rica.

Leo was used to driving in London, where without quick reactions you could be blocking an intersection for hours until someone succumbed to road rage and killed you.: Danilo used to pick up coffee for one of the major firms in Costa Rica and has no equal on mud tracks and bridges with more gaps than slats. A sense of direction, however, was clearly not a requisite of the job and we have ended up in unexpected places more times than I care to remember.

I sit in the back and take a book.

However, we set off confidently…El Rey was opposite the mega mall on the main  road, the autopista. What could go awry?

The weather, for a start. We had just emerged from the hills when the heavens opened, visibility closing to next to nothing.

So much for spotting landmarks:  we should have to rely on memory for the right turn off…

Which is how we arrived in the forecourt of the Construplaza, a vast builders’ merchant situated some kilometres before our destination.

Why are we here?

We can ask for directions!  El Rey must be right opposite. We just can’t see it through the rain.

But this is the Construplaza!

Yes! The mega mall!

After some snarling it appeared that in all his years of driving on the autopista Danilo had never registered the existence of the mega mall- a complex covering several acres but containing nothing of interest to him – so had assumed that the term referred to the builders’ merchant – a much more alluring prospect.

And once gripped by an idea, shaking his faith in it is quite an operation.

Firm instructions having been given to continue on the autopista until sighting the mega mall we  drove off, only to enter an underpass and emerge on a country road on the other side of the road we sought.

Where the blazes are we going?

To El Rey, of course…opposite the mega mall!

Back to the autopista!

But it’s just down here….

And we turned into the car park of Pequeno Mundo –  one of a chain of vast warehouses selling everything China has thought to export, from clothes to food via garden furniture and interior design tat.

But this is Pequeno Mundo!

Same thing! Sells rubbish, doesn’t it?

One of the car park attendants approached to offer us the shelter of his umbrella to cross to the shop and kindly gave directions.

Back to the autopista! Opposite the mega mall!

Sighting the mega mall in a break in the weather we achieved the turn off, circled the roundabout and crossed under the main road…..

No sign of El Rey.

Back to the autopista! There must be a slip road..

Under the main road, round the roundabout and back to the autopista where, as we emerged from the feeder road we saw the huge structure of El Rey warehouse on the other side.

Turn off!

Where?

Here!

Which brought us to another underpass alongside a river and we emerged into a smaller shopping centre featuring several shops and something called The Outback Grill.

That’s changed hands…it used to be called Hooters.

What is Hooters?

Tarts with tits.

Well, no tarts with tits today…but no El Rey either.

An attempt to penetrate further by way of the service road ended in defeat…and still no sign of El Rey.

Back to the autopista! It must be on the other side of the river…

Returning via the underpass the navigator thought it a good idea to cut off a dog leg by driving through the mega mall car park…until realising that this required payment at which point the three point turn required would have delighted a driving instructor but reduced the drivers queuing to enter to noisy fury.

Driving off to the accompaniment of the blaring of horns we took the dog leg, circled the roundabout and ended up on the other side of the autopista in an industrial estate which was closed for the weekend.

Still no sign of El Rey.

Back to the autopista!

Shall we drive into San Jose to the El Rey there? We know where that is!

No! I’ve had enough! We’ll buy it at home!

O.K. then, ‘Macho’ Cruz it is….

 

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Let joy be unconfined..well, mine anyway…

puris sapo

I can write again!

No, I had not lost the use of hand or eye: I had lost the use of my USB mouse.

I was left with the ouija board on the laptop.

Does it transmit calls from the Other Side?

No…but it might as well because every time I touch it strange things arise from nowhere: I am thinking of calling it Glendower as it  defies Hotspur’s cynicism and produces the goods…

To be fair to it, my coordination is not of the best: but I am frustrated by thinking that I am scrolling down when in fact I am bringing up advertisements….or altering the screen proportions from something only seen on optician’s test sheets to an intense view of one word. Extremely frustrating and profoundly inhibiting.

How did my predicament come about?

My ancient USB mouse had been confiscated by Higher Authority.

Higher Authority’s approach to computers could best be envisaged by imagining him shouting ‘Montjoie St. Denis!’ while hoisting the oriflamme to indicate that no quarter will be given as he prepares to give combat.

The results frequently resemble those of the French at Agincourt…

Squawks of frustration and alarm are heard from the office. Dogs slink under tables.

An infuriated figure appears, announcing that the screen has  turned purple…or that the page he was looking at has disappeared…or that EVERYTHING has disappeared….

He returns to the fray, only to emerge again with the news that his mouse won’t work.

As it is

A: made in China

and

B: its functioning depends on a batch of rechargeable batteries purchased in France in the Dark Ages which in turn rely for boosting on a temperamental machine which refuses to light up to indicate whether or not it is working

this doesn’t surprise me.

The saga of changing and charging batteries takes its course until we run out of charged batteries and the fatal announcement is made:

You’ll have to give me your USB mouse.

Which leaves the household in peace again – odd occurrences of purple screens apart – but leaves me with the ouija board.

Usually this situation lasts only until the batteries are all charged again…but this time it has lasted for all too long. Higher Authority likes my old USB mouse far better than his fiendishly clever Chinese one – easier to hold for paralysed fingers.

Why not buy another?

Because this is Costa Rica where maintaining stock is an art yet to be acquired by shopkeepers.

Discovering a void on the shelf where the item used to be you ask the young assistant if there are any more in the stock room.

Obligingly he will disappear and return to tell you, beaming the while, that they are out of stock, adding helpfully that they must have sold them all..

It says a great deal for the effect on me of the pleasant way of life in Costa Rica in general that this response does not elicit – as it would have done in France – the urge to disembowel the lad without the assistance of cutlery: but then in France he probably wouldn’t have gone to look in the stockroom either…….He might even have shrugged.

So I have had to wait until the inscrutable workings of Providence filled the shelf with the items I required.

The young lad was in attendance again, beaming.

But why did I want a USB mouse he wished to know. They were old fashioned. He understood that old people (me) didn’t keep up to date, but I should really go for a wireless mouse – much better!

I thanked him for his advice, but  declined.

Best to let sleeping mice lie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtue Rewarded, the Bodyguard’s Tale

The Men have a project.

The project requires heavy duty electric cable.which  is not available locally unless ordered especially and risks costing an arm and a leg.

Solution?

Buy it in San Jose.

Fortuitously, Geraldo also requires cable of the same dimensions – and his son knows where to buy it.

cocacola

In the Coca Cola market where – anxious gringos would have you believe –  babies are barbecued to order and men leap from the shadows to cut off any finger bearing a gold ring.

There is some slight foundation for this folk tale: I was shopping for veg there when a gentleman sidled up alongside and advised me not to wear my tiger eye ring as it was genuine and might attract persons less respectful than himself.

What about my wedding ring? I enquired.

What do you take us for, senora?  We are not barbarians: of course we respect a wedding ring..but that tiger eye might attract the interest of the wrong type.

How do you know it’s not a fake?

We know.

 

Normally Leo would have accompanied Danilo and Geraldo  –  he loves the Coca Cola where bargaining is the breath of life – but, recovering as he is, he could not cope with the journey and a long morning of negotiations.

He would give Danilo the money – cash speaks louder than bank cards in the Coca Cola  – and Danilo and Geraldo would pick up what was needed, taking our car for transport.

No! This would not do!

Why not?

Danilo was worried  that he might be mugged with all that money on him. I should go with them and carry the money.

And what if I were to be mugged?

No problem…Geraldo and I will protect you.

 

So it was arranged that there would be a joint expedition to San Jose: the gentlemen would buy the cable and then I would pick up bulk bones and offal for the dogs and a freezer load of wholemeal bread from our favourite baker.

We set off……to a running commentary from Geraldo on the latest scandals relating to houses that we passed ……until arriving in the centre of San Jose where Danilo had planned to use his favourite parking lot.

It was full. It always is.

He proposed pulling up in front of it until the queue disappeared and then driving round the block to enter.

I proposed driving to Coca Cola and seeking on street parking.

As it was my car I eventually prevailed against the sucking of teeth and dire warnings of roaming the streets forever….

We pulled up in front of the shop recommended by Geraldo’s son and were directed to a spot further down the road where a ‘guatchiman’ (watchman) was paid to look after the car. Distinctly cheaper than the parking lot.

The shop recommended by Geraldo’s son did not have the cable of the dimensions required.

However, as we left a gentleman approached us with an offer to sell us the cable in question. We followed him to a back street lock up whose garage door – once raised – revealed  reels of cable in all dimensions – save  that which we sought.

Not to worry , he said…I can get it for you.

Thinking that we just bet he could we beat a retreat saying that we needed it today and started combing Coca Cola for the cable we required – and its price.

Leo on form would have loved it…by the time we had checked every stall my feet hurt and my brain was scrambled but eventually we hit on the shop we needed.

Our order was measured out on the pavement , upon which a series of five metre marks were indicated by strips of yellow paint. Danilo stationed himself at one end and Geraldo at the other to see  that no hanky panky took place while the staff pulled cable from the drum. All duly approved by the committee, our cable was rolled and we turned to Geraldo’s order.

But there was a problem. Geraldo had brought money enough to pay for the cable on his son’s estimate of prices. This cable was slightly dearer.

He would come back the next day and take the cable on the bus.

Nonsense. I lent him the money which he would pay me the next day – as he did.

Duty done we headed for the central market car park where I asked Danilo pick up a sack of bones and offal, giving him the money, while I  went to draw from the cash machine at the Banco Nacional down the road and do some general shopping.

BancoNacional

No, no, no! Thus Geraldo.

He, Danilo, could not let me loose, unescorted, in San Jose!  What was he thinking of?

So it was that I found myself shadowed by a tiny man of over seventy years of age – the Costa Rican version of Cohen the Barbarian – as I entered the Art Deco edifice of the Banco Nacional. Drawing my money I was about to sort out my bag at the table provided, watched over by security guards.

No, no, no!

I must put my card and money away at the cash point…who knew who might be watching!

But there are guards…

Guards! Where will they be if you are mugged on the doorstep…?

Prisoner and escort – we must have looked like the Queen of Tonga and her lunch – headed back to the central market. Pausing to buy tomatoes from my regular supplier I found that  Geraldo had been vetting the bags prepared for sale and advised the stall holder to give me a bag of my choosing…and was given another for himself.

We met Danilo in the Central Market hauling the  huge sack of bones and offal to the car and went to buy fish and prawns.

Geraldo insisted on sifting through the prawns..something that – as they were on offer – I would not have done… and was rewarded with two fillets of fish for being so careful of my interests…

We were loaded by this time so I sent him with the bags to join Danilo at the car while I ventured into the Mercado Borbon – reputation even worse that that of Coca Cola – in search of pigs’ liver for sausages.

Three minutes’ later he was at my side…hailed by my regular butcher as my body guard and given a half kilo of sausages for his lunch…

Off in the car to  the bakery where Geraldo insisted on inspecting every loaf..and was given a chili pastry for his pains……

 

On the way home Danilo remarked that he was never given freebies..

That, said Geraldo, is because you don’t know your job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

From One Market to Another

harlemfoodlocal.com
harlemfoodlocal.com
I had come home from shopping in San Jose…and was glad to offload the two heavy canvas bags whose contents had survived the hour’s run in a hot bus.
I enjoy poking about in the two main markets, the Central and the Borbon and go to my favourite shops where by now, like the other customers, I am included in the jokes and the teasing that dart across the stalls and today, just after the election results, the discussions.

Here, Jorge, shouts the butcher in the Borbon, here’s a gringa that likes our new president!
Can’t be a gringa, then, replies Luis who sells hot peppers.
She’s not a proper gringa, bellows Jorge on the greenstuff stall. She’s from England!
Scotland, shouts Henry from the petfood stand, making what I now know to be his imitation of bagpipe music….which, curtailed as his eldritch shrieks might be, inevitably brings to mind the title of the pibroch ‘Too long in this condition’…

Things are quieter over in the Central where I buy my coffee at the Moka stand just inside the backstreet entrance.
There are better known coffee brands…particularly one which controls the airport shopping lounges and has the tourist tours pretty well sewn up…but for me the best coffee on general sale is to be found on this little stand at the quiet end of the market.
I know the men serving there by now; we enquire as to each others families…and, of course, today, we discuss the election results as with other customers I drink a coffee while waiting for my order to be to be ground and bagged.

journeytotheperfectcup.blog
journeytotheperfectcup.blog
For ‘normal’ coffee,made in the chorreador (sock) I buy Poas suave…grown on the slopes around volcano Poas north of San Jose….but as I have just been presented with a new gadget – an expresso and cappuccino maker – and have learnt how to use it without either blowing it up or scalding myself I asked for advice on the best coffee to use and returned home with a bag of Caracolillo, or Peaberry, coffee…beans which, instead of splitting into two as do normal coffee beans, remain unitary and are supposed to roast more evenly.
We shall see.

Recounting my morning over lunch, my husband said it reminded him of his days on the floor of the London Stock Exchange…when it still had a floor, and a wooden one at that.
The atmosphere was, he said, that of a real market….people you saw every day in the same place, jokes that built up, nicknames, daft pranks…before, as he gloomily added, they let women in and ruined it all.

stockexchangeHe had had no wish whatsoever to work on the Stock Exchange…or anywhere else for that matter.
He was, at that time, a student in Madrid having been sent there so as not to be under the feet of his father’s mistress and was having a whale of a time: the days in the Prado, the nights touring the bars in the company of the son of Franco’s chief of police.

But the mistress produced a baby whose imitations of the pipes put an end to the romantic idyll and, mistress and child gone, the father called his son back to the roost….he had to have someone to collect the rents on his property….thus ending the Madrid idyll as well.

Father then saw an advertisement seeking to recruit a trainee stockbroker: whoopee, with a son on the market he could gamble on shares without paying commission…and the die was cast.
Leo went to the Stock Exchange, where his employers promptly decided that ‘Leopold’ was too foreign a name and called him Paul.

It was a world to itself….no mobile ‘phones in those days. If you were on the floor and your office wanted to contact you they ‘phoned the waiter – a proper waiter – who worked on the entrance which your office used and he would flash up your number in lights on a board to alert you.

You fulfilled your clients’ orders by walking the floor and talking to the jobber who ran the book in the shares in which you were interested, playing a game of guess as to whether you were buying or selling, trying to get the best deal….you learned how to trade shares in a dead market…you learned who the dodgy dealers were and how they got away with it…you learned the nicknames – the Weasel, Mr. Round and Round…

He became very good at his job, enjoyed the challenges…but he says that what he enjoyed most was the sidelines of work…
Exploring the City in his lunch break, finding little tucked away caffs in the roof of Leadenhall Market, walking through double doors to find himself in a street between two office blocks that led to another street….and another…a complete maze.
And he enjoyed the people…not, on the whole, the Eastenders nor those who spent their time in the pub until summoned by their juniors to do a bit of work, but those who treated the place as somewhere to pass the time from more important matters, as exemplified by a friend of his who ran the smallest brokerage firm in the business but whose passion was frogs.
Word had it that if you were married to a wife like his you could understand his preferences, but be that as it may, this gentleman would collect frogspawn in his garden in Harrow and, in the season, solemnly bring in jars of the same for his colleagues to distribute around their bijou Surrey residences.

Then there were the pranksters, who would set fire to your Financial Times as you had it spread out in front of you…who would fill up their water pistols in the loos and let rip on the floor…even at the top hatted brokers in gilt edged stocks…and the elderly gentlemen who would while away quiet moments by fashioning aircraft from sheets of paper and attempting to launch them into the dome with the aid of rubber bands.
Successful attempts would see the fragile craft circling for weeks on the air currents.

Those were the days when your word was expected to be your bond…and when brokerage firms had to assume their own liabilities. Go bust and the firm was ‘hammered’.
Everyone was called to the floor and a waiter would tap with his gavel and announce that the firm of So and So was no longer trading.
It was a solemn moment, and one to give rise to second thoughts in those contemplating risky dealings.
No banks trading then on on their own behalf…no tax payers’ bailouts when they got it spectacularly wrong…no one was too big to fail.

He wasn’t around to see the Big Bang which swept away the working world he had known…he had had a final row with his father, obtained a mortgage on a wreck of a house which he restored and sold and decided that, as he could never afford to be a partner, there was no future in working all his life for others.
A series of events unrelated to work decided him…he packed it all in and set up his own business….but when he talks about that, his eyes don’t shine as they do when he talks about his days on the floor of the London Stock Exchange.

Which may explain why he always comes back laden with bargains when he does the shopping in the Borbon and the Central….

The ‘Phone Call

powerisastateofmind.blogspot
powerisastateofmind.blogspot

Friday morning for me in Costa Rica, Friday afternoon for my mother in England.
Time to call her for her shopping list.

She used to have a shopper, but when she retired and handed over to a younger woman mother could not get along with things.
Items would not be bought…didn’t have any….the sell by dates could be as close as the next day….oh, it’ll be all right…or some cheaper alternative would be provided…that’s the brand my kids prefer…

So now I call her on Skype, she gives me her shopping list and I go on line to Tesco and make the order which will be delivered to the door a week later.
Thus she doesn’t have to carry anything heavy and doesn’t have to go out at all if the weather is inclement.

So, the nine o’clock coffee out of the way I wind up Skype.

The ringing tone is answered promptly and my heart sinks as a suspicious voice asks

Who is it?

Glory be, mother’s friend Adolpha, over eighty and hard of hearing, has collared the ‘phone.

I tell her it is me and I’m calling to get mother’s Tesco list.

Fatal error. I hear her saying to mother

There’s some woman here from Tesco trying to sell you something.

As I am about to bellow a correction down the ‘phone in the hope that mother can hear it at the other side of the room, Luzmilla – Friday is cleaning day – comes in from the balcony shooing a dog before her. Volubly.

At the other side of the world Adolpha adds

Some foreign woman.

Seeing I am on Skype and assuming that I am talking to my mother Luzmilla shrieks a greeting into the laptop.

Sounds hysterical!

I suppose they have to meet targets, says mother’s voice.

Plenty of English people would like those jobs replies Adolpha, herself from Austria. It’s a disgrace and she doesn’t even speak English!
Now look here, whoever you are….

At this point I manage to get her to understand that it is me on the line…

Well why didn’t you say so!
Here, it’s your daughter.

We get down to brass tacks and mother is just wondering whether to change her brand of tea bags when Monty the lamb, unable to find Leo and in need of milk, nudges me sharply on the arm and bleats loudly.

What on earth was that?

Monty.

That doesn’t sound like a lamb….too loud.

Luzmilla, who fed Monty on her lap when he was tiny and adores him, tells me she will heat the milk while I’m on the ‘phone and as Monty bleats again as he sees the fridge door opening she replies with a bleat of her own.

More like a camel…No, I think I’ll stick to the same ones…Now, meat…

We set off again while Monty is fed and Luzmilla moves off into the bedrooms, her progress marked by the banging of the broom against the skirting boards.

Then the insect sets off. I don’t know where it is, I don’t know what it is though I imagine it to be some sort of over endowed cricket but it makes a noise like a dentist’s drill and can be heard over a wide area.

Now what’s going on….I’ve lost my train of thought…
An insect? No insect makes a noise like that…Danilo must be working somewhere…

Lamb chops – but loin chops, make sure they are loin chops – decided upon, the merits of gammon come under the spotlight as opposed to pork….and then the dogs bark furiously as Danilo’s son arrives on his motorbike with the day’s supply of fresh milk for Monty, to be received by Luzmilla with much shouting at the dogs to be quiet.

It’s a madhouse…whatever is going on? The milkman on a motorbike…still I suppose it’s better than mine – a new man I think, comes creeping around late in the morning, when he thinks I can’t get to the door fast enough to complain about the Gold Top! If that’s from Jersey cows I’m a Chinaman.

I think they must water it down, says Adolpha in the background and she and mother discuss the likelihood of this, oblivious to the seconds ticking away on Skype, their conversation ending in
You can’t trust any of them these days.

Mother decides on the gammon.

We have run through most of her list with a slight pause at Evian water as she was sent Buxton water in error last time and does not want a goitre at her age and then she thinks she will have a packet of breakfast cereal….

Puffed wheat, I think…
And then the guinea fowl strike up, legging it past the back door…

I know what that is. That’s those awful birds you had in France who kept trying to drown themselves….
Whatever possessed you to get some more….and don’t let them send me organic puffed wheat.
Tasted like cardboard and a tiny packet for the price….
Yes, that’s the lot….

We say our goodbyes and as I shut down the call I hear Adolpha’s voice in the background

They said it was organic, but how could it be? It came in a cellophane packet….what’s organic about cellophane?