Emperors clothes lost in translation

macron pilote

Presiedent Macron of France visits his decidedly unimpressed troops.

As usual he has dressed up for the occasion, this time taking from the toy box a uniform with insignia showing him to be a pilot….

Previously he had had  himself lowered from a helicopter to visit a nuclear submarine…wearing naval uniform….

As President, he is head of the armed forces which entitles him to wear appropriate uniforms, but in a man who had not undergone military service – normal for someone of his age when there was no compulsory conscription – it is a bit rich to assume a qualification – as pilot – which was certainly not awarded during his stint at the Ecole Nationale d`Administration.

No doubt some devotee of the ancient art of Arslikhan issued him with said uniform…but as head of the armed forces he should have recognised and declined the pilots`badge: the armed forces are notoriously chary of those who flaunt what they have not earned.

In the wake of a row with the chief of the general staff  over fiddles in the defence budget to make Peter pay Paul, Macron had proclaimed to a gathering of senior officers that he was the head of the armed forces and that any question as to his care for their interests was out of order.

Tell that to the poor buggers sent to fight in Mali in obsolete personnel carriers…

Needless to say, Macron`s uniform fetishism has formed the subject of exchanges with French friends…none of whom had or would have voted for him even against Le Pen.

For all of us he is the product of a media campaign supported by the proprietors whom he helped into their positions when a minister in Hollande`s government…a creature of the banks and big business.

So, as always, the consolation of the downtrodden is to extract the urine.

We imagined all the situations in which Macron could dress up…..

He could visit a creche wearing a nappy…

He could visit the Pope dressed as a choirboy…fine for this Pope but with his predeccessors better to go dressed as a nun…

He could make a state visit to Russia stripped to the waist and mounted on a horse a la Putin…

Or what about his arrival to salute the winner of the Tour de France…clad in head to toe lycra? No, forget that…the winner was not French.

Having taken President Trump for a meal  in a restaurant  in the Eiffel Tower perhaps he would follow that up by inviting another head of state to the Crazy Horse…clad in a G string with feathers sprouting from his posterior…

And just imagine his costume to receive the organisers of the Gay Pride March!

Come to that, what would Madame Macron, who would have been a worthy winner of a Butlins Knobbly Knees competition in her time,  be wearing?

brigitte macron

Given what she has been wearing to date, the mind boggles….and surmises…but French gallantry negates further speculation.

But then it occurred to me…we were laughing at Macron in a particular context…the context of French history and culture: we were comparing Macron with de Gaulle, with Giscard d`Estaing…we were laughing at a reference from one of Audiard`s films…Un Taxi pour Tobrouk… where one of the protagonists whose father worked for the Vichy government proclaimed that his father respected the law so much that if the Chinese took power he would become a mandarin and that if the Africans took over he would put a  bone in hs nose – while best not to contemplate what he would have to do if the Greeks took over..

How the blazes do you translate the sense of all that?

I know that I cannot…and have every respect for professional translators who manage to convey not only the sense but the nuances of the message of the speaker.

No nuances necessary, though, for Macron`s  speech at the Vel d`Hiv on the 75th anniversary of the round up of 13,000 Jews, including some 4,000 children, by the French police. They were crammed into the stadium for days without food or water before being shipped out to concentration camps whence but few returned.

He proclaimed that France was responsible for this atrocity…echoing Chirac, the first French President to acknowledge state responsibility: he criticised earlier Presidents…Mitterand, de Gaulle, for their refusal to do likewise.

For Macron, Vichy France was France: while one can understand the reticence of Mitterand given his associations with Vichy one can also understand the refusal of de Gaulle to accept that the Vichy regime was a legitimate government given his position as leader of those who opposed it tooth and nail.

Either Macron has no sense of history, or wrongly believes that the scars of the defeat of 1940 and its consequences are healed: in any case, he took the opportunity to condemn anti semitism in round terms in the presence of his guest, Netenyahu, President of Israel, and to agree with the latter that anti-Zionism was but another manifestation of anti semitism.

Which is where another serpent raised its head.

You can be Jewish without being a supporter of Zionism and to conflate the two is either a remarkable feat of ignorance…or a sop to his guest before calling on him to soften his policy towards the displaced Palestinians.

While those who are in fact anti semitic will take the opportunity to call Macron the Rochschild candidate once more those who are not will have further doubts about his ability to master any part of his role other than that of issuing soundbites……and wearing uniforms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solis swallowing wasp

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

Travelling? Not Just Now…

rain-in-puriscal

We have both been under the weather lately and the weather seems to have been under the weather as well….

Normally at this stage of the rainy season we have sunny mornings followed by cloudbursts and thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening so there is plenty of time to go shopping and get the washing out in safety.

This year we have three volcanoes blasting their socks off, rainstorms for which cloudburst is a totally inadequate description giving of their best at all hours of day and night, thunderstorms creeping up on you unexpectedly at which point you beat  Usain Bolt to get into the house to pull out all the plugs and when rain and thunder take a breather you find yourself living in the clouds – an  occasional glimpse of the top of Grifo Alto being vouchsafed to you when a breeze shifts the white world enveloping you.

And with the rain comes landslides and with the landslides comes an absence of telephone and internet until the men from the electricity board struggle out to do repairs.

Oh…and powercuts. Not many, but neatly timed to catch you when you are cooking supper after dark.

Thus anything involving the oven takes place before lunch: evening recipes favour items which can be stirred with one hand while holding a torch in the other.

Still, at least it is warm, though we must be acclimatising as we found ourselves grumbling this morning at 5.30 am when the temperature was only 21°C which is 69° Fahrenheit for those who have never come to terms with Celsius.

Give me 21°C in the U.K. and I`d probably be shedding the cardies at a rate of knots which would astonish an exotic dancer…here and now I am wondering where I put the woolies.

Not only have we been under the weather…so have the dogs.

Poor Sophie was run over: a visit to the vet sorted her out, but although she came out all bathed and beautiful with a red ribbon bow round her neck she also brought with her a bug which laid her so low that only Leo`s devoted nursing pulled her through.

He sat with her through three days and nights, keeping her hydrated and warm until the little thug returned to herself, by which time the bug had spread to the others, manifesting itself in seas of vomit and diarrhea – just what you need when getting washing dry is not high on the weather`s agenda and washing the floor means going over it with a dry cloth afterwards unless you fancy it being a skating rink, given the absence of breeze to dry it.

Deep joy.

So our  travelling plans have been put on hold until we and the weather are on top of ourselves again….which may be some little time.

Not that we have been entirely confined to the house….

I went to San Jose a couple of times to retrieve documents from the water board and, returning, called Danilo from the bus to meet me at the bus stop nearest the house – now accessible again after three years as the bridge has now been repaired.

As usual, I said I was at Los Abuelos and asked him to pick me up at the Maravilla.

In so doing, I had fallen into the nature of giving directions in Costa Rica… where vital points are not all that they seem….

Los Abuelos was a big family style caff on the main road to the capital….it closed three years ago when the electricity board discovered that paying its bills  had become a very low priority.

La Maravilla was a depot which closed down two years ago.

Danilo obviously knows where both are….but without local knowledge you would be sytmied.

Looking for a government office in San Jose some years ago I was told to follow the railway line and turn left at La Luz.

Railway line…yes. La Luz, however, turned out to be a caff which had disappeared some twenty years ago.

Street directions which involve the Los Pinos depot…which has been closed for ten years  leaving no trace left behind…

Turn right at the fig tree…yes, you`ve guessed it. It is now a six lane roundabout…but you still turn right.

Go past the German`s place and turn left at the football pitch. The German left years ago and the football pitch is now a bus depot.

But, thinking back, indirect directions are not new to me.

At one period in France we had a house in a road called the Rue de la Francmaconnerie; in reality a tiny alley in the centre of the old town.

However, as I was to learn, no one seemed to call it that.

It was referred to as `la venelle qui mene ver La Biche`: literally the alleyway leading to the doe.

Eat your hearts out, Costa Ricans! Make sense of that!

In fact the alleyway, after a few twists and turns, did indeed end up opposite an old door with a doe`s foot serving as a knocker.

pied de biche

But why was the doe`s foot knocker of greater importance than the official name of the street?

Because the door was the entrance to the oldest of the men`s clubs of the town…a place where everything was settled over  a few hands of cards and rather more glasses of wine. It had an official name, but everyone called it the Pied de Biche.

So, just as in Costa Rica…you had to know!

 

 

 

 

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

London has once again been the target of a murderous attack on its people: not the politicians…the people, as in Manchester so recently.

The attacks appear to be on a society, not the politicians who, with their noses up the arses of Bush and Obama, helped to destroy what stability there was in Irak, in Libya and in Syria while their paymaster, Saudi Arabia,  destroyed Yemen.

In the past, those in revolt attacked those directly responsible  The bombs, les machines infernales, sought to kill the politicians, without thought, no doubt, for the coachmen, footmen and other servants who might well suffer as well.

But they did not attack the populace at large.

Now, thanks to the destabilisation of secular regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, our government has given legitimacy to the barbarians whose resistance  backs up their claims to combat the  west`s commercial hegemony in those territories.

The same barbarians who think it good to kill people who do no harm…just as our government has done in their countries.

An election comes in the U.K. on June 8th.

Whatever your views, whatever your background, do not vote for parties who will perpetuate arms sales to corrupt regimes because a vote for these sales will perpetuate the killings of innocent people.

 

 

 

Pennies and Pesos

foreign coins

When in junior school we were expected to write essays, to develop our mastery of the arts of communication.

As I recall, they were to fill at least two pages – in normal size handwriting to avoid the clever dicks who could make three sentences cover the whole surface – no two sentences were to begin with the same word, none was to begin with ‘I’, the use of ‘nice’ was forbidden and spelling was to be impeccable. Dictionaries provided.

We were held to be too old for pencils, so the oeuvre had to be written with a dip pen and there were to be no blots on the page, which required careful assessment of  the passage of the ink monitor. If he or she had remembered to fill up the inkwells before registration then the ink was all too fluid; if not, it was sludge.

If not depressed enough by these instructions, the titles on offer were hardly inspiring: the first week of the autumn term would inevitably offer us ‘What I did on my holidays’ where we were all aware that a bowdlerised version would be the best policy – Janet  and John rather than the fifties version of ‘Trainspotting’ for kids – if the wrath of betrayed elders was not to descend on us after examination of our books on parents’ evening.

Another thriller was ‘How to light a fire’: best to stick to the authorised version there too rather then relate a third hand version of what Dennis’ elder brother had managed to do with a Bunsen burner in the chemistry lab of the local grammar school. From what I recall, texts mentioning the technique of setting fire to the spills of newspaper with father’s cigarette lighter were particularly frowned upon….marks would be deducted… as matches were held to be more appropriate for children. Bringing glowing coals on a shovel from a fire already burning was regarded as cheating (marks deducted)…but not, apparently, dangerous.

Then were was, finally, ‘A day in the life of a penny’, where the imagination could be given full rein – unless, like one disgruntled schoolfellow upon whom the muse did not  smile, you decided to place the penny immediately into the slot on the door of a public loo and then describe its gloomy incarceration until liberated by the attendant at the end of the day. Marks deducted for not entering into the spirit of the thing.

Our pennies had a lurid time…those donated for the class Christmas party went (allegedly) to fund an orgy of crisps and ginger beer for the school staffroom; others went wild on the shove ha’penny board at the fair. They were reclaimed by pressing button B in a public ‘phone box and were spent immediately upon sherbet fountains and gobstoppers in the nearby sweet shop…

button B

They dropped into the leather satchels of bus conductors and emerged at exotic locations like Leatherhead bus garage; they even entered bank vaults whence they were liberated by masked robbers while corpulent bank managers writhed helpless in their bonds.

These were, of course, proper pennies. Two hundred and forty to the pound pennies, not the decimal abomination which was foisted on us in the seventies with the result that junior school maths lessons no longer included the calculation of the price of one and seven twelfths of a yard of cotton at eleven pence three farthings the yard while showing your workings, which was a means of separating the strong from the feeble minded in double quick order. At least there was some point to this example……you could see yourself measuring and paying for cloth while you could most decidedly not see yourself performing that other gem of maths lessons i.e. removing the bath plug and then opening both taps while you calculated the rate at which the bath would fill – or not. More likely to be calculating the risk of the thunder of parental feet on the stairs as the hot water boiler swallowed coke like a thing possessed.

But at least we were only dealing with one currency.

On my recent trip to Europe I found myself juggling with several, thanks to finding a relatively cheap flight which meandered its way from Costa Rica via a stop off in Toronto before heading for Amsterdam, whence there was a direct flight to Southampton.

No one wants to know Costa Rican currency which rejoices, to the Anglophone ear, in the name of the colon. Yes, I know it refers to Christopher Columbus, who called himself Cristobal Colon when he moved from Genoa to Spain, but its other connotations are irresistible and probably account for the reluctance of currency dealers to have anything to do with it at close quarters.

Thus I needed to provide myself with foreign currencies for my trip, if only to keep hunger at bay for the duration of the twenty four hours it would take to leave point A and arrive at point non plus..

I had notes and coins left over from previous trips, separated in different sections of my travelling purse and kept in my no. 1 carry on bag for easy access.

Fine in theory, but all went awry in Toronto Pearson airport.

After a five hour flight I had a five and a half hour stopover and was tempted to seek nourishment. The only sit down offerings were a place which appeared to serve doughnuts though closer inspection of the poster at the entrance showed them to be dim sum and a burger place with queues stretching out into the main concourse of the terminal.

Having checked the doughnut prices I could see why there were such queues at the burger bar.

Neither appealed, so I thought I would check out the snack bars. To my dismay they were all run by the same firm with the same offerings…ciabatta resembling a reclaimed nappy, finger sandwiches which an old rugby playing friend would have described as ‘society sandwiches – six to a gobful and you only get five’ – and filled rolls which would have needed a probe to find the contents while the roll itself promised to pull out every filling you possessed.

Or sushi. As far as I am concerned you can stuff sushi where the monkey shoved its nuts at the best of times…and this was not the best.

And the prices! I know Toronto Pearson Terminal 1 provides hundreds of chained down iPads for the use of passengers free of charge, but given the Scots heritage of Canadians I would have thought a few defibrillators might have been a good idea….two dollars ninety five for a small bottle of Perrier with orange!

Which is bad enough in Canadian dollars. But you can also pay in U.S. dollars…if you will accept change in Canadian.

I worked out the relative exchange rates, which turned rip off into tear apart , but, with some four hours still ahead of me, succumbed to the Perrier and put a two Canadian dollar piece into my purse which, in a state of shock, I managed to upend.

Moneys previously segregated made joyous reunion….the rainbow purse came into being.

I managed to navigate Amsterdam Schiphol without recourse to money….but on arrival at Southampton, having eschewed the rip off taxi for twenty quid, tried to pay  the bus driver ten quid for a week’s season ticket with money including Euros….firmly declined.

Glasses on and a rummage through the purse produced the necessary pounds sterling and I was on my way to my mother’s.

That night I tried to reorganise the rainbow purse, happily chucking coins featuring the royal bonce to one side and coins without on the other.

Infallible.

No. As I discovered when trying to feed the printer in the local lending library, Canadian coins also have the royal bonce on them and the machine discriminates against coins from the ex colonies….

But I am at a loss to know how I managed to put this

mexican peso coin into the pounds sterling pile.

I discovered that I had done so at H.M. Passport Office when I went to renew my papers.

The very helpful chap on the desk said that my passport photographs – taken in  Costa Rica – would not do. The background was glaringly white instead of being a discreet cream or gray. White upsets the recognition devices on the DIY passport machine at airports apparently.

Since most of them seem to be put of order there must be a lot of white backgrounds about…

Not to worry…there was a photo booth in the entrance……he would keep my place open while I took the necessary mugshots.

You know these photo booths…the revolving stool is always set for midgets and then spins out of control….you are still trying the read the instructions when the thing goes off and on the next try it catches you mouthing obscenities as you try to fit your eyes into the rectangle outlined on the screen….and it helps if you do not try to feed Mexican pesos into its maw.

Especially if its maw is situated in H.M. Passport Office.

Hot and bothered I eventually returned to the kind gentleman and only when I handed over the photographs did I glance at them.

I am accustomed to passport photographs which make me resemble the Missing Link…they have done so since I first had a passport….but this one was special.

With wild hair and glaring eyes it bore a close resemblance to whatever abomination it is that adorns the Mexican peso coin….

He perused it with that lack of visible emotion which used to be the mark of the British civil servant and looked up.

‘Well,’ he said. ‘The proportions are right. It’ll do.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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..”

The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life

ibera-plane-sjo

You know, I know, we all know that we should not make decisions when we are tired.

We are, at this moment, recovering from our folly in not heeding this maxim: our only excuse being that we were too tired to remember it.

Every month or so we take the car into San Jose to stock up with items unobtainable – or more expensive – in our little town.

Earl Grey tea…rice noodles… bones and ox kidneys for the dogs…cheap tomatoes…fencing wire from the Chinese tat emporium… five kilo lumps of fresh cheese from Turrialba and proper wholemeal bread from a baker who seems to be the only one in the area to be able to make  a loaf which is neither sweet nor as heavy as  lead once ingested.

Buying in bulk as we do, on the return trip the car is loaded with crates and sacks the contents of which have to be sorted, packed and divided between stores, fridge and freezer – after feeding the chickens, the ducks, the lambs and the dogs, not to speak of ourselves.

We have always done this in one form or another, but we are not getting any younger and there are moments when the mounds of kidneys to be diced and packed, peppers to be grilled and skinned and the rest of the gallimaufry awaiting attention can feel daunting.

That was the situation last week when the ‘phone rang.

Leo answered it: I paid no attention, assuming it was the chap who was supposed to come with his bulldozer the next day, checking that all was in order.

Then Leo came round into the kitchen, looking shell shocked.

‘I’ve done something awful.’

‘You haven’t cancelled him?’

‘No! It’s something else entirely….I knew I shouldn’t have done it while I was talking to him…’

It turned out that the man on the ‘phone had been one of the fleurons of  Leo’s family tree….his half brother.

The son of his father’s Spanish mistress.

Twenty plus years younger than Leo.

Last sighted over twenty years ago.

Who was not only in Costa Rica but was at that very minute in a taxi bringing him from our little town and should be at our gate shortly.

Well, not shortly.

We were sorting out the sheep for the evening when the taxi drew up at the house gates along the road.

The assembled dogs arrived, giving tongue.

A lugubrious face peered from the rear window. For some time.

Eventually, prompted by the taxi driver requesting payment, the entire person descended and the taxi departed.

The dogs bayed cheerfully.

The person shuffled.

The dogs bayed again….

‘Well, come in’ said Leo.

‘I don’t know how to open the gate’…

He was not, you understand, frightened of dogs..he was allergic. They were filthy things, carriers of disease…

The nine carriers of disease barked and leapt for joy..they don’t often get visitors who behave like the man whose feet are being shot at in the Westerns and intended to make the most of it.

Finally the Will Kemp of Estepona made it to the house and sank into a chair on the balcony.

He had, it appeared, come to Costa Rica to find the only remaining member of his family. Given that he has endless cousins on his mother’s side and Leo’s sister and brother all living this seemed a little thin.

As Leo had carefully never given him his address after the last encounter, he had had, he said, to track us down.

Would the great white hunter like something to drink? Tea, coffee, beer, fruit juice?

Wine.

He did not like tea, Costa Rican coffee was disgusting, fruit juice – God only knew what fruit was involved out here…and he was allergic to beer as he was gluten intolerant.

Happily involved with a bottle of banana wine he expanded. On his gluten intolerance.

After some ten minutes of a blow by blow description of fifteen years of diarrhea I thought it time to cook supper.

He was at my shoulder in a flash.

No condiments! I will be ill!

So we had plain fried fish, fried potatoes and fried tomatoes…not what we had planned for ourselves.but if he had a diet problem…

I dished up.

Where is the salt…there is no flavour to this food…

He managed to finish half a bottle of banana wine – luckily it had a label indicating that it was a Sauvignon/Semillon from Argentina or no doubt he would not have touched it – discoursing the while on his gluten intolerance and its problems, in the presence of a man who has two major illnesses and had recently spent five days completely paralysed in a major hospital.

Reminded – by me – of Leo’s problems he brushed them aside. Leo should take out private insurance, as he had done. Private medicine showed him that he was gluten intolerant and it changed his life

I left them to it while I washed up.

Leo then enjoyed a session of hearing how dreadful Costa Rica was…no culture, childish television, terrible food….why had we moved there? And to this awful house?

Digital Camera

Had he seen any of the sights?

Yes…the Teatro Nacional…nothing special..

teatro-nacional

Museums? Pre-columbian gold? Jade? Contemporary Arts?

What museums? Oh yes, there was a hole in the ground by the theatre, but it looked dirty…and he might get mugged…

gold-museum

Pity he missed that experience…

Clearly he had thought to stay with us on his jolly to Costa Rica…but the dogs had put paid to that so eventually he departed by taxi, promising to return in a few days’ time.

‘Come early,’ said Leo. ‘I’m better in the mornings. And if you get here in the morning Danilo can pick you up at the bus station which will save you getting another taxi.

Two days later we had a ‘phone call at ten to two. He is in our little town, at the bus station

‘Wait there and we will pick you up in about twenty minutes.’

‘No! I will get a taxi! I cannot stand around in this shithole!’

church-purical

Some ten minutes later a taxi driver called us.

‘Can you give me directions?’

‘Yes, sure..they are working 0n the bridge so you will have to come by the back road..’

Voice from the back of the taxi…go by the bridge…go by the bridge…

They eventually arrived an hour later having tried the bridge to find that it is impassable during working hours and so have had to retrace their steps via the back road.

Again the lugubrious face waited a long time in the taxi.

It dawned on us that he was waiting for us to pay the driver.

As the driver was of our view that he will wait a long time until hell freezes over the face was obliged to pay.

He entered the house. the dogs, roused from post prandial slumber, eyed him hopefully, but there was no sign of dancing.

Leo, rashly, asked if he had had lunch.

No.

Well, we have something left from our lunch…chille con carne.

By this time I had retired to bed, having broken my big toe the previous day. Leo was in control.

‘What is in the sauce?’

Leo showed him the chili sauce which I use. The ingredients label is in Spanish – the only language which he understands.

‘No! I cannot eat that! I will be  ill! It contains gluten!’

Later examination showed that there is no gluten in the listed ingredients.

He decided to make for himself a Spanish tortilla..potatoes, onions and eggs.

Some half an hour later I emerged to find that he had taken off his shirt..revealing a revoltingly hairy back….had half peeled and then discarded slightly blemished potatoes which were now useless…had taken only the hen eggs – as being brown – and had used almost a whole bottle of olive oil – super expensive here.

He beamed at me.

Did I know how to make a Spanish tortilla?

Indeed I did, without need of his tuition. I also, in the words of the old music hall song, knew how to raise a bunion on his Spanish onion should I catch him bending tonight

While I cleared up the carnage he told me at length how awful Costa Rican food was.

How it cost him 12,000 colones to be sure to get a gluten free meal.

Why didn’t he go to the caffs on the market? Rice, beans and protein for about 2,000.

soda

A mou of disgust. He could not possibly enter such a place…

Then he asked why we had no mangoes as they were in season…well, they are at lower altitudes, but ours won’t be ripe for a month yet.
‘But they are in season’….
He wanted us to show him the finca…I could not walk far thanks to the curse of the toe and Leo certainly couldn’t but directed him down the one and only road which runs alongside our land.
The dogs escorted him to the gate, hopeful of dancing….but he disappointed them..
I made us some tea.
He returned  ten minutes later saying that he was worried that he might get lost.
Oh, what were we drinking? Tea…no, he would have a coffee. That man must have hearing so acute that he can hear the clink of a tea cup at a mile’s distance.
Leo then suffered a long recital of how none of his mother’s family would have anything to do with him. Hardly surprising since she worked all her life to support him while he lazed about on benefits and her handouts and at her death sold her house  to live on the proceeds. Not something to endear himself to people who loved his mother.
Then followed a far from delicate enquiry as to Leo’s testamentary dispositions…..and the strength of family ties.
Supper time eventually came.
Leo had point blank refused to eat another meal like that of the first evening and asked me to make a Balti….absolutely no gluten in the recipe ingredients.
I called them to the table and put the Balti, the rice and his tortilla on the table.
Our guest settled himself.
First, though,  he had to wash out the wineglass at his place setting.  An insect had settled in it…probably alive with gluten.
Then he complained about the dogs settling in in expectation around us.
I invited him to start, indicating the Balti.
He smirked and said that he could not take gluten…didn’t I remember?
I showed him the herbs and spices I used….all gluten free – including red pepper flakes – ‘gluten free’ on the label.
He licked a finger, pushed it into the flakes and licked it again. No, it had gluten. He could taste it..
I left the table. Before I raised that bunion..
He ate the tortilla he had made, complaining to Leo that I had knowingly made something he could not eat.
Leo told him that while he was quite right not to eat something containing gluten, he had been told – and had been shown – that the meal was gluten free and that once he had finished his meal Leo would call him a taxi.
‘No..later. I can make another tortilla if I’m hungry.’
‘Now.’
Why? He had come thousands of miles to visit Leo …how could Leo throw him out?
Quite easily. No effort at all.
I was in the bedroom, seething quietly, when he barged in – knock? Call? Gracious me no! He wished to explain that thanks to me cooking something he could not eat his brother was going to throw him out It was not his fault if he could not eat something full of gluten…
I was not polite in two languages.
Having called a taxi Leo escorted him to the door and went to clear the  table.
He then made a reappearance in the bedroom and I was even less polite in two languages.
Leo removed him with an energy unexpected in a man of his age and health and he finally left with the carriers of disease barking in triumph as the taxi pulled away..
With any luck it will take him another twenty years before he tries again.