Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Off To Vote We Go

Giles
Giles

Click on the images to enlarge.

Costa Rica votes in the Presidential election this Sunday and, bluntly, all we haven’t had so far is the seven dwarfs.

We’ve had one party’s candidate pull out claiming that his election backers were secretly in league with the candidate of another party…..the backers protesting their innocence and claiming that the now ex candidate had wanted to impose on them support for an ex President of Costa Rica caught with his hand in the till…..

We have had a four times married candidate decide to marry for the fifth time – one more heave, one might say – and send his new dentist wife round poor districts of the country offering free dentistry, working from a van painted in the party colours….

We have had the interesting revelation that two of the main contenders are under investigation for misuse of public funds and influence in one case and for breaking electoral funding law in the other while a third can proudly proclaim that his only brush with the law was being arrested on a demo….

One – the one with campaign funding questions dating back years – is proudly unmarrried and is trying to court the religious conservative vote…..whose party’s candidate is the man who succeeded the one who pulled out….

The internet is alive with photographs of the five times married candidate’s last campaign rally….his party’s photographs giving the impression of the main approach to San Jose filled by his exultant followers, other showing the said enthusiastic followers filling about one block in ten….

Foreign owned firms have issued ‘guidance’ to their workforce, warning of the danger of the loss of jobs if they vote for the candidate who was arrested on a demo…..

American expats are packing their gear in readiness should the demonstration attender be elected, firm in the belief that the Red Hordes will immediately invade their gated communities to loot their gas fired barbeques and end civilisation as they know it….

People generally are complaining that the parties are not sending out vans laden with material in the party colours to drape round their houses….that the parties are spending the money on undermining each other on the internet instead is not regarded as a good enough excuse….

And a newspaper has cancelled a last minute pre-election poll on the grounds that it would confuse voters so close to an election. Rumour has it that it showed that the candidate who has the support of the newspaper’s owners does not show up too well in said poll….

Apart from that, it’s like any other election: wild promises, backstabbing and dirty work at the crossroads.

What did interest me was an article in ‘La Nacion’ – the newspaper which cancelled the election poll – detailing the arrangements made for transporting the voters and feeding the volunteers on election day.

I’m all too familiar with the problem of getting out the vote, taught the dark arts of which first by my father, who remembered the days when the dead walked and the war cry was’vote early, vote often…’ and later by a superb Labour Party agent who was to meet an untimely death.
He knew his election law to the last nth – and he knew the ways of the voter with an uncanny prescience, like a hunter stalking his prey.

Giles
Giles

From the article there is a clear disparity between the parties of the better off and the others: the others lack transport.

This echoes the cry heard at every election, local or national, in the offices of the Constituency Labour Party and which I first heard as a child.
‘The Tories have cars!’

Indeed they did and their party workers could afford to run them.
It was a great advantage and one my grandfather on my mother’s side would do his bit to nullify.
He would arrange that I spent the day before the election with him and his wife – partly to be out from under my parents’ feet, partly for his own ends.

A cynical gentleman injured in the First World War he had had the distinction in the Second World War of being drummed out of his local Air Raid Warden service in that he did
A. Not get past the Rose and Crown with vital messages when on exercise resulting in the gasworks being (theoretically) blown up
and
B. Causing alarm and despondency by creeping up on gossiping housewives and bellowing ‘Gas!’ swinging his gas rattle the while.

So the bystander might have been surprised to see this spry but elderly gentleman stepping out on the evening before the elections, a child at his side carrying a wicker pannier…not quite his image.
But, long before Baldrick, he had a cunning plan…and it involved potatoes, not turnips.

From his somewhat doubtful knowledge of the internal combustion engine he had worked out that if the exhaust was blocked the car would not go, so as we strolled along on his predetermined and well researched path he would point out a car with a flick of his finger and my job was to crouch down as if adjusting my shoelaces, insert a potato in the exhaust and shove it up as far as possible with the small stick I carried in the pannier.
Not all the cars were parked on the road…some involved darts into gardens and I was coached that if approached by indignant householders I was to plead incontinence and shyness in equal parts.

As I recall I survived these evening strolls unscathed and was rewarded by a lemonade in the beer garden of his local pub before we returned home and the reproaches of his wife to the tune of ‘keeping the child up late and is that whisky I smell on your breath?’

Did it work? I have no idea.
Election day was spent with the house full of people comparing electoral rolls with the returns of the canvassers and the reports from the tellers outside the polling stations – grandfather despatching sorties to get out the votes from whichever part of the area appeared to be backsliding.

Giles
Giles

Which brings me to the other part of the article….the parties announcing how many volunteers they proposed to feed – and with what.
Grandmother sustained the troops on her wonderful victoria sponge cake and tea: in later life the Labour Party offices would be sustained on election day on sandwiches and cigarettes.

Costa Rica does it on a meal of arroz con pollo – literally rice with chicken – which strikes me as being a sort of chicken risotto using whole portions of poultry. Beats sandwiches hands down.
All parties bar one are serving their volunteers this traditional dish.

The exception is the party whose candidate is the one with problems with previous election finding, who refuses to marry and is courting the conservative religious vote.
They are supplying burritos..a flour tortilla with a filling of minced meat, cheese and salad with a tomato sauce.
We shall see whether these torpedo shaped recipes for indigestion propel him to victory or depthcharge his chances.

But not on Sunday.

For to win outright a candidate needs to obtain more than forty percent of the vote, and, from the polls published so far, barring skulduggery on the scale of Tammany Hall crossed with the European Union, no candidate is likely even to approach that figure.

So it will all need to be done again in April…and no, not on April 1st.

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Making a Meal of Nostalgia

 gallo pinto cocina.ahorra.net
gallo pinto cocina.ahorra.net

We have just had our six monthly visit from a health worker from the local clinic.
He visits every house in his area by motorbike over the gravel roads, dossiers and equipment in the box on the back which he slings over his shoulder to bring into the house.

We’ve come to know him well…a football fanatic, his first cry today after the regular greeting is

‘Italy! Uraguay! England!…..poor Costa Rica!’

Clearly the draw for the football World Cup could have been rather better arranged to his way of thinking!

It’s as much a social visit as a medical one….we discuss all manner of things including, of course, football, before we turn to the purpose of the visit.

How are we?

He checks my husband’s hospital appointments, asks about medication, if he has any problems….takes our blood pressures and asks if we are eating healthily.
Not just are we eating plenty of fruit and veg…but which and how much…and what else are we eating?

Which starts another chat about foreign food, its tastes and traditions.
How did we get a taste for Indian food? What do we think of Costa Rican food? What did we have for breakfast this morning?

He departs, the dust rising behind his motorbike as we see him off at the gate, and we go back to the house.

But what did we have for breakfast this morning?

My husband is breakfast chef in this establishment and split second timing is required of his commis (me).
Have I prepped the onions? The garlic?
Am I sure that there aren’t any tomatoes which need using more than those produced for inspection? Investigations are made followed by a triumphant return with one more with a soft spot…
Have I beaten the eggs with some black pepper and some of his potassium salt substitute?
Is the toast on? Does it need turning?

And what is the result of all this activity?

He has made us sick.

Or at least this is how the dish was christened by his sister as a child.

The onions are softened in olive oil, the quartered tomatoes follow on the top. When they are softened the crushed garlic is added and finally the beaten egg is turned into the pan and mixed in.
The result is piled on hot buttered toast….and despite the appearance which explains the nickname of the dish it is really very, very good.

I know what our health visitor had for breakfast too.

Gallo Pinto. Speckled Cockerel.

Based on rice and black beans, usually cooked off on the previous day, it sounds dull…but not at all!
The rice may have been cooked in plain water, but the black beans were cooked together with onions, garlic and coyote cilantro with its heavy persistent flavour.

To make breakfast his mother will have fried up chopped onion, garlic and sweet pepper and turned into the mix the rice and beans, finishing it with chopped cilantro (coriander).
It will have been topped with a fried egg, a fried plantain or natilla – sour cream – and is a great way to start the day.

When I was a child it was assumed that you could not hope to do a good day’s work, or do well at school, unless you had eaten a good breakfast and my mother would cook either bacon and eggs, or sausage, mushroom and tomato; boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, or poached eggs (plural you note) to be followed by toast and marmalade and to be finished half an hour before leaving the house in order to digest it.

It was a habit I stuck to…and blessed it when working where lunch meant ordering a sandwich in a brown paper bag from one of the nearby Italian sandwich bars accompanied by a cup of instant coffee.
It might have meant getting up earlier but thanks to that breakfast there was no need or desire to snack and enough energy to get home and cook an evening meal….the ranks of Spud-U-Like, KFC and the Star of India never tempted me on the way back from the station.

An introduction to France showed me the horrors of the Continental Breakfast.
Bread…a croissant…pain au chocolat…jam….chicory flavoured coffee -or, more likely, vice versa.
Ye gods and little fishes!
Battle of Agincourt explained.

Living in rural France later I was to discover that this was not the norm.
My elderly neighbours had soup for breakfast with the dry bread from yesterday soaked in it. Proper soup with veg from their own gardens with plenty of flavour and goodness.
Croissants…jam? Bof!
The coffee was the same though….

In Belgium I had their sort of breakfast…cold meats and cheeses…proper bread – even pistolei….and good coffee.
Battle of the Golden Spurs explained.

Even now. long retired, we cling to the solid breakfast routine.

Lunch is usually lighter. Danilo lunches with us on working days and is now well accustomed to the frequent arrival on the table of ‘worms’.
Chinese worms, Italian worms, worms worms.

Pasta, in all its shapes and forms.
Yesterday I made pasta shells with a sauce of broccoli, anchovy, sweet pepper and chilli….today it is linguine with spicy sausage in a sauce of tomato. onion, garlic, herbs and paprika.
Tomorrow it will be a stir fry with noodles.

In the evenings we generally have a plate of soup with bread and cheese. Easy to digest before bed and endlessly different with the range of veg available.

I have to admit to wondering how we ever managed to wade through all the courses we ate at lunch with French friends….only to start on the leftovers again in the evening….how it was that, had I taken a ‘selfie’ in those days, it would not have revealed something which would have had Captain Ahab sharpening his harpoon.

I couldn’t do it today, that’s for sure!

But I do have an atavistic longing for a good Scots breakfast…..

Not so much my grannie’s breakfast, copious and tasty as it was, but that of our holidays on the coast where we had access to that paradisiacal element – morning rolls.

Every summer the children of the extended family would be banded together somewhere on the west coast of Scotland; parents taking it in turns to act as warders. It gave both them and us a great deal of freedom.

While morning rolls were a staple…children sent to the bakery at an early hour…the other items of breakfast depended on the whims and tastes of the adults.

There was always porage. Proper porage, cooked on the back of the stove overnight and eaten with salt, with milk, or with brown sugar and cream according to your age. Youngest sweetest.

Then you might have a Loch Fyne herring coated in oatmeal and fried, accompanied by potato scones…goodness only knows where those herring have disappeared to…..

Or if Uncle Andra was in charge it would be an Arbroath smokie. to be eaten cold.

Or Ayrshire bacon with a fried slice of cloutie dumpling alongside.

And king of kings, the slice of square sausage.

A damn sight more solid than the snows of yesteryear, but gone from me just as certainly.