We Do It Our Way

Tour de France riders, eat your heart out. Forget the water bottles and snacks handed out from the cars, do it the Costa Rican way…find a passing cow and help yourself! You need to know what you’re doing though, or you might risk a hefty hoof in your derailleurs which would leave you looking more jaundiced than your jersey – but at least you can be sure you’ll pass a dope test.

Not that Andrey Amador, the only Costa Rican riding in the Tour de France, will be looking for a handy cow.

A long serving Grand Tour ‘domestique’ he is riding for Team Ineos this year and Costa Rica will be keeping an eye on his prowess – something to keep minds off the blasted bug which has hit the country.

In which respect, the wheels have fallen off the campaign to contain it.

All went well in the early days. Existing hospitals were reorganised, a special hospital set up and the populace told to keep themselves to themselves to protect the vulnerable. Those presenting with symptoms were treated with the hydrochloriquine and zinc cocktail which produced excellent results save in the case of those with grave pre existing health problems. Then the WHO banned that treatment, so the hospitals turned to the use of dexametasone and steroids (anti inflamatories), oxygen therapy – including EMCO which is an extracorporean oxygenation machine – interleukin inhibitor and antibiotics -when the patient is reinfected by other pathogens. Not so effective…..but funding depends on WHO approval.

It also depends, it appears, on the numbers of cases reported.

Initially, when the cases began to spike, it was put down to the number of Nicaraguan ‘informal’ workers coming down for the fruit plantations’ picking and packing campaign. The Nicaraguan government deny there is a problem with the bug – even hold fiestas at which attendance is strongly recommended should you wish to keep in good odour with said government – and encourage their nationals to seek care in Costa Rica. Care which Costa Rica will provide nomatter the status of the person seeking it

No doubt the influx is a factor. Imagine a couple of infected people arriving and living in the squalid, hugger mugger conditions provided…or who go to visit family living in Costa Rica…

But the numbers have jumped…have high jumped….and anecdotal evidence is that when one person is tested positive, all those in their household are counted as positive also….inflate the numbers and increase the funding.

We had had confidence in our health service…and their management of the situation.

We still have confidence in the dedication of the medical staff – even if they cannot use the most effective tools.

We no longer have any confidence in the way in which government and the management of the health service are handling things.

Contracts for masks which are useless handed out to some tart running a communications business….numbers inflated to drum up funding…which ends up in whose pocket?

Good treatment banned, leaving staff to do their best with what they have….

Government ministers giving their statements all masked up…then being filmed mask free in close bikinied company on a yacht off the Pacific coast….or tucked up in de luxe hotels on the beach – mask free, of course.

Vehicle restrictions which all would accept in the cause of reducing infection, but which have turned into a money tree as traffic police impose fines for all and any infraction, hitting hardest, not the fly by nights, but the hard up guy who depends on his unlicensed motorbike to get to work to feed his family. Why it does not dawn on government that the high price of getting a licence, and for keeping a vehicle on the road hit the most needy hardest is beyond me…but Costa Rica prides itself on being eco friendly, so the poor continue to pay while the country flaunts its green credentials.

And now, having been so slow to close the borders, we are to allow tourists back in. To be fair, as a tourist, you stand little risk, unless you decide to visit the shanty towns around San Jose, the shacks housing the workers in the banana and pineapple plantations or the hospitals, but the risk to the local population of allowing tourists to enter with minimal restrictions is something else…just so that the largely foreign owned tourist trade can recoup its losses.

Tourism counts for only some eight per cent of GDP…but it has clout…and doubtless the transfer of funds from one pocket to another.

And in our little town, the reported case of one of the employees at the Walmart outlet has been made much of….whereas the absence from service of staff at the locally owned supermarket has been passed over in silence…

This virus has been presented as equivalent to the Black Death, which is nonsense. We have the means to combat it if not to utterly defeat it.

But perhaps the consequences mght be similar…..either people submit to the ukazes of their increasingly detached governments, or they strike out to free themselves of unjust restrictions in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

I fear that it will be the former…I would hope it would be the latter.

In my short time here I have seen the changes…worried about the future for my friends’ kids and grandchildren…it was an oligarchal society, but one which recognised that social justice reinforced its rule.

This virus has ripped up the underbelly of that society….but will people submit…or react?

Costa Rica was never a paradise…but it was socially stable….will our friends’ grandchildren find that they didn’t know what they had until it was gone?

And will this virus be the catalyst?

If You’ve Been to a Party, You can Foxtrot Oscar

Until this week, our little area had been relatively untouched by the bug…two people who had returned from abroad and that was about it. People took the recommended precautions and all seemed to be going well until a bunch of idiots decided to have a Fathers’ Day party. A well attended Fathers’ Day party. Needless to say, one turned out to be affected with the result that the area is shut down again a week after opening up while the authorities try to trace all the participants.

I suspect that the bug ridden party goer is not exactly flavour of the month locally and his protestations that he thought it was all right to go to a party because he didn’t feel ill just add fuel to the fire.

On the whole, the shut down has not been too bad from a daily life point of view….one could go shopping, attend the farmers’ market, while the prohibition on driving at night has been almost a blessing as has the absence of passing callers trying to sell something you both know that you do not want, an event which starts with the caller honking a horn if in a car, or shouting at the top of his voice if not, both of which start the dogs into sound and action and involve turning off the cooker, finding and putting on my outdoor shoes and trecking down the path to the road. By the time I get there I could guarantee that if you were offering me a free pass to heaven I’d turn it down, so a plastic fir tree car deoderant stands no chance.

I knew that the restrictions had ended when a chap came to the gate selling subscriptions to a cable television service. My argument was that

A. I did not want a television service

and

B. There was no cable provision in this road.

His argument was that as he was working on commission A and B were of no interest to him whatsoever.

The main problem of the restrictions comes with the enforcement of the rules as to which day you can use the car, according to the last digit on the numberplate. We, for example, cannot drive on Thursdays and Saturdays – and, annoyingly, that is every Saturday, while we could drive on Sundays except that there is nowhere to go.

This restriction does not bother one of our neighbours. He rejoices in a car with no numberplates – let alone licence, insurance and all the other administrative inconveniences – but needs a co pilot to manage the Whatsapp which will tell him where the police are currently lurking. He was swearing well last week when he was holed up in the hardware shop’s car park for over two hours while the traffic police set up a road block just down the road. He had contemplated making a run for it but in the end decided it was safer to wait until it rained, at which point the police would be bound to disappear….and did.

He is not alone in his lack of the usual paperwork…wages are low, the costs of keeping a vehicle on the road are high and any number of people depend on old bangers or motorbikes to get to work – particularly important now when jobs are so scarce.

Which is why the Traffic Police – the Transitos – are not flavour of the month either.

While I don’t think they have ever achieved that accolade, their current reputation locally is at its nadir.

First, a little history.

The local official was noted for his habit of haunting the roads round the hospital, ready to pounce on any car or motorbike without the proper plates, insurance sticker or certificate of roadworthyness. He had bumper results which looked good on his record.

Fine, you might say, that’s his job. Well done that man.

Yes, but when you think that people have brought someone ill to be treated, or are visiting someone who has been kept in, the last thing on their minds is making themselves legal before making the trip – even if they could afford to which in many cases they could not. The fines, which are out of all proportion to normal incomes, ensure that those affected cannot easily get back on the road.

So his harvesting round the hospital was not appreciated.

Representations were made, but to no effect. He continued harvesting.

Eventually, someone set fire to his house, which achieved what using the usual channels could not…he was transferred.

Peace reigned…until the arrival of the bug….and with the bug, the Transitos. And with the Transitos – the previously transferred official, on the grounds that he knew the area.

Now, the stated aim is to enforce the vehicle restrictions…no traveling at night unless your work requires it, and having the correct numberplate to travel on any given day. That is fine with almost everyone. The drug dealers have adapted too. Even given the situation the number of home delivery van services is astounding…

However, thse are the Transitos…..not content with roadblocks to check numberplates they are going to town on issuing fines for bad parking, and confiscating the numberplates of cars and motorbikes without all the appropriate documentation. It costs a fortune in money and time to get them back…not to speak of getting all the appropriate paperwork first…

Not surprisingly, this makes for bad feeling. The current government is not popular as its answer to a fiscal deficit that makes a black hole look infinitesimally small is to whop up the taxes and invent new fiscal fines while exempting large companies from the consequences and paying out what are known as luxury pensions to state officials….in some cases to the grandchildren of state officials. So, given the context, a troup of Transitos whopping up the fines in our little town does not go down well…..

Still, people here are nothing if not inventive. The Transitos have noted that, having confiscated a numberplate, they come across it again when doing a control some time later.

Investigation – and probably an informant – revealed that certain lawyers in the town have a very nice business in accepting sworn statements that numberplates have been lost, passing these through the National Registry and thus obtaining replacements before the Transitos’ cumbersome notification system can swing into action.

Is it time to open Joanna Southcott’s box?

Rulers, of whatever complexion of domination they claim to exemplify, are not generally a very intelligent lot. They get to the top by low cunning allied to the use of someone else’s money and, if they are sensible, once in power annihilate the someone else before he, she or it demands payment in kind.

Current rulers, either not being sensible or in thrall to Stockholm Syndrome, generally fail to do this and thus put their countries in hock to some very dubious hes, shes and, in these days increasingly, its.

However, that is not their chief concern…their armies do not go out to fight to protect their country…they are sent out, usually ill equipped, to protect and promote the interests of the hes, shes and its who put their government into power.

And the rest of the population? Can go hang as long as they vote the right way at the right time, ‘informed’ by the very media which promotes the politicians who will keep the media owners in luxury yachts and expensive women.

I was a child of the post war settlement in the U.K…..under governments, both Labour and Conservative, which recognised that good housing, good health and good education were the essentials if the nation was to thrive as a whole…governments which had a sense of nation, of society. Governments whose members had seen for themselves the results of the Depression of the thirties and the world war which followed hard on its heels.

And then came the Thatcher/Reagan years of deregulation, letting the wolves loose in the sheep pens…the years, in the U.K., of Blair and Mandelson, where wealth accumulation counted for more than societal justice…the years of Brown’s conjuring tricks which left the National Health Service paying private operators for the privilege of running the hospitals – which saw the gold reserves sold off for a song to the extent that South African gold miners were buying it in for less than their costs of production – in order to shore up the banks when the balls they had been juggling fell to the ground so spectacularly in 2008.

Banks before people. A sea change in national culture, feeding on the individualism and greed which had replaced the post war settlement as a paradigm. The individualism and greed of those who bought their council houses for a song used to justify the overweening greed of the really rich.

I had left the U.K. for France in the 1980s…and was that an eye opener! At least the U.K. had had its war…those returning determined not to suffer the inequalities of birth any more…in France the system remained unchanged…never mind the Trente Glorieuses, people knew their place and the ‘fils de papa’ would always trump the guy with good ideas but no money. An education system in which not only was there only one answer to a question…but there was only one question to answer!

Having lived there, in an area where the Front National was strong, I can see why both central government and the EU were loathed and how state power punishes ‘unorthodox’ thought and action. No wonder Macron thinks the corona virus outbreak is a perfect opportunity to crush the ‘gilets jaunes’…those who, week in and week out for over a year, have opposed his austerity measures which have ruined their lives.

Now living in Costa Rica, I see the same phenomenon….the state is bust as it will not attack the monopolies of the rich, any more than it will reform the bloated public service sector, the poisoned chalice it inherited from the governments of the 1980s, keen to gain adherents with the promise of jobs, pensions and perks. Driven to desperate measures by its full hearted response to the arrival of the corona virus it has sought a loan from the IMF.

Any study of history would show that the strings attached to a loan from the IMF will destroy the social fabric of a country…positing as it does private interest over public weal.

With that loan bang goes what is left of Costa Rica’s social coherence…the coherence which has permitted the people to accept guidance as to staying at home for all but unavoidable trips to town…

It will become like the U.K. where overweening police believe that they can corral the population nomatter what the law might say…law which has, without opposition, destroyed the civil liberties of the mass of the people in the name of controlling a virus which, as yet, seems less harmful than the outbreaks of bird ‘flu or pig ‘flu…

We feel this as, given Higher Authority’s susceptability to any sort of ‘flu, we have been isolating ourselves on and off for decades….but never under the auspices of a police state.

A friend in France has been joking that Macron has exceeded the powers of the Sun King, Louis XIV…who had only one man in an iron mask to silence….if Macron gets his way it will be a whole masked nation doomed to silence.

Is it the end of days? Is it time to open Joanna Southcott’s box?

Even were it to be so, you can count on current governments to act like King Tarquin when faced with the Sybil and her books….too expensive and we’re not buying a pig in a poke – while expecting the people of their country to do just that at their hands.

Let Gin Be Unconfined

After a few rough months we were finally lifting our heads again…we had had a visitor, life was returning to normal…and then you all know what happened – Corona virus. So now, as we are both elderly and Leo is more than vulnerable, we are supposed to stay on the property, have no visitors, wash our hands to an extent which would alarm Lady Macbeth – well, you know the drill. Distinctly frustrating, but at least we are not shut up in a small flat in this baking weather.

And, once the sun is over the yardarm we can enjoy a gin and tonic and look out over the valley below.

Makes me think of the First World War song to the tune of ‘in and out the window’…

Breaking out of barracks’, not to speak of ‘parading all unbuttoned’….giving rise to fourteen days in barracks…’as we have done before.’ ‘Yes, and we can do it, yes and we can do it, yes and we can do it, as we have done before.’

No doubt that we can…we have been living in each other’s pockets 24/7 for many years as Leo has been too ill to work since in his forties and so far homicide has not been on the menu.

Thanks to having lived in France, at the first sign of problems we stocked up on essentials so were not taken by surprise by the Presidential address to the nation which sent the entirety of said nation out in search of rice, beans and toilet rolls.

Why toilet rolls? I suppose in this digital age there are less newspapers available to be cut into squares and placed on a hook in the loo. As children visiting an appallingly pious aunt – who was as tight as a duck’s arse, watertight – we used to be intrigued by the newspapers spread on the floor by her cleaner after mopping same – excerpts from ‘The News of the World’ – a scandal rag whose reporters always ‘made an excuse and left’ when in tight moral corners. Even the aunt did not use Bronco or Izal…disinfected glossy paper rolls which left more liquid on your hands than on their surface, so time in the loo could be well spent trying to match one square of the NOTW with the follow up of the reportage.

As my father – who detested this sister – said, where did the newspaper come from? The cleaner hardly brought it in herself. Furtive equiry at the newsagent revealed that she had it delivered – ‘for the staff’. As if ‘the staff’ would have had time to breath under the supervision of Aunt Ellen, let alone read a newspaper…

As things are quiet on the confirmed cases front in this area I did go out to the feria – the farmers’ market – on Saturday morning. All very well organised with one entry point, then down the ramp where a large lady in an overall squirted soap on your hands and directed you to the basin provided with running water. Another overalled lady then gave you one paper towel to dry your hands before releasing you into the market area. The number of stand holders was down – including the lady from whom I buy tomatoes – no kissing or hugging – and the clients were few.

It appeared that, as usual, I had missed the action. It all went off on the Friday evening.

As this weekend marks the end of the month, people have been paid. Having been paid they want to shop, thus lines of cars blocking the roads as the supermarkets limit access – and a crowd headed for the feria.

The local news service is usually at the feria, to promote it, but this time they produced film of people pressing to enter, and the aisles, if not crowded, at least somewhat busy with people not keeping a distance. The commentary criticised the organisers of the feria, emphasising the risk of contamination and the clip went out that evening.

The response was immediate. Someone associated with the feria announced that the maker of the film should be lynched for endangering the livelihoods of the stall holders, with which there was much agreement, among remarks that the news service was, as usual, trying to kick up a fuss to attract viewers.

The frontman for the news service – someone whom I find bombastic, to say the least – claimed that his work was essential and unbiased and that he would take those who proposed to lynch him to court.

He will be out of luck there….the courts are shut for all non urgent matters. I expect that his case may be put back until manana…and manana…and manana…

I find it interesting, however, that the film clip appears to have been removed, to be replaced by still pictures of the feria with the headline ‘The feria cares about your safety’…

As he cares about his, I suspect.

There has been a positive angle to the campaign to limit the spread of the virus…a curfew on use of the roads at night – 8.00 pm to 5.00 am on the weekends and 10.00pm to 5.00 am on weeknights. If you are not travelling to and fro your place of work, then you are not to be on the road. People in the centre are rejoicing, because the gangs of youths on unsilenced motorbikes no longer strut their stuff or, should they do so, a call brings the police down on them very rapidly. The silence in the evenings is most appreciated, it seems.

On Saturday night the dogs alerted me to traffic on the road…it sounded like three unsilenced motorbikes followed by a jallopy, to judge by the engine sounds, all going like the clappers up the steep hill to town. Collecting the dogs from the gate I saw that this assortment was being pursued by the local police dog van, complete with flashing lights, barking from within and, as the driver waved in passing, the siren. I think they were having fun.

This curfew, and the closure of the parks, is felt to be very unfair on the drug dealers….they’ll probably be asking for a rescue package shortly.

Any type of ‘flu is potentially fatal for Leo, so, over the years, with every ‘flu epidemic, we have become accustomed to shutting ourelves away. When in France I used to put a notice on the gate asking people to call on the telephone rather than entering if we were not expecting them, and this worked well.

I was telling a friend here that I must do the same and he said that I must be joking…one look at our pack of dogs belting to the gate would have anyone in their right mind legging it. So I did not put up a notice.

Yesterday I was washing the dogs. This needs careful preparation if one is to avoid having to hook dogs out from under beds, thus revealing more than I want to know about the fluff levels and have wet dogs dry themselves in our bedding after their ordeal. First close external doors – quietly so as not to alert them. Then close the gates to the swimming pool, as they can escape by running round its wall. Collect the gear on the table on the balcony. Close doors to the bedrooms. Entice dogs onto the balcony with a treat for Scruffy, who will be followed by all the others to ensure they don’t miss out. Close door to the house. Then grab first dog, pin against balustrade with knees and get to work…

I thought that they were kicking up more than usual…and as I cleared down the mess and let them out I saw that they had reason to do so.

Standing in my garage, sheltering from a shower, were two of the local God botherers.

There are notices everywhere telling people to stay at home, not to go visiting and there were these two, bold as brass, having opened the gate and walked all the way up the drive. To make matters worse, they knew that Leo was in poor health and at risk…but still they came.

Keeping them at a distance I asked what they wanted…oh, they had come to enquire about Leo’ s health…all with eyeballs rolling to the sky and the usual pious utterances…and while they were about it, could I give them the money to buy a gas cylinder?

Life in Costa Rica has softened me…when living in France they would have received a barrage of abuse and possibly a whack from a shovel in the posterior resgions. I contented myself with declining to assist them and shepherding them to the gates.

Once on the other side one of the ladies assured me, with a sugary smile, that Costa Rica would be safe.

Why is that, Senora?

The Virgen de los Angeles has flown over the country, giving it her protection.

The Virgen de los Angeles is the patron of Costa Rica…

and she has indeed flown from the national basilica in Cartago to cover the entire country, but not, you will be relieved to hear, under her own steam. The image was carried in a police force plane…it flew over us at about half past six in the morning last week.

The tempation was too severe.

A pity she did not drop you off a gas cylinder when she was passing.

Notices go up tomorrow…but for now – time for a tisue restorer.