Ode to Joy

If I were to say that I grew up in a musical family it would conjure up an erroneous vision.
No one played an instrument….and when the school obliged its pupils to learn to play one father perused the options – recorder or violin – and announced that he was against torturing cats, so the recorder it was – ghastly thing.
My fingers were all thumbs, it made an abominable sound in my hands and it was quietly agreed between the music department, my father and myself that life would be better for all of us were I to have a session in the library instead.
I suspect that this agreement came in the wake of Rhonwen’s father storming the school bearing her violin and announcing that lessons were all very well, but that in future his daughter could practice on school premises and thus avoid waking her baby sister.

In other fields further agreements were reached…..the school made a token gesture towards fitting its girls for home making (something the headmistress regarded as the ultimate failure unless undertaken in support of elderly parents) by giving classes in needlework and cookery in the first year.
I thus achieved not one but three library sessions per week (double periods at that).
An unfortunate incident involving lighting a gas oven with a taper saw me removed from the cookery room – and my parents spared the horrors of rock hard raspberry buns – while sewing the skirt I was supposed to be making to the skirt I was wearing at the time saw my time at the sewing machine cut short in drastic fashion.
And if you think you can’t sew one to the other, you should have seen the school uniform winter skirts of that era.
Built from serge so stiff it could stand up on its own, six gored and long enough to cover the knees of a giraffe we used to reckon that it was an initiative on the part of the school governors to keep the Clyde shipyards in operation.
Only the rivets were lacking.

But father loved music…and sang – when he was not smoking.
You knew when father was home as soon as you opened the door: whorls of blue smoke would engulf you in the hall, which was imbued with the odour peculiar to hand rolled tobacco – known to us as tram driver’s glove – in maize paper wrappers.
Venturing further into the house, father would either be silently smoking while reading the newspaper – articles varying from Manchester Guardian leaders to the racing page of the Daily Mirror – or be concocting something in the kitchen…and singing.

He sang just about everything except hymns.
Opera, light opera…music hall ditties, folk songs, political stuff….it is thanks to him that I have a vast ragbag of musical memories which rise unbidden to the surface, from ‘se vuol ballare’ from “The Marriage of Figaro’

Via the Red Air Force song:

‘Propellers roaring, roaring to the battle
High in the air above the clouds we speed
Our bombas are ready, machine guns rattle
Against the world’s imperialist greed.
Fly higher, and higher anf higher
Our emblem’s the Soviet star
When every propeller is roaring’ class front’
Defending the USSR’.

(For some reason this does not seem to exist on Youtube but I was delighted to hear it played as part of Moscow’s recent VE day celebrations.)

To ‘Stop your tickling, Jock’

‘Jock of Hazeldean’

And the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco:

And the explanations came with the music…why ‘The Mikado’ was written when it was…who was the butt of ‘HMS Pinafore’…
Why the operas of Verdi were so popular with supporters of Italy’s Risorgimento: Verdi – Viva Emmanuel (Victor Emmanuel of Savoy) Re D’Italia….his love and knowledge of history bubbling through the music.

Having a voice like the Muckle Flugger on a foggy night does not deter me from giving song in the mornings and most of my repertoire comes from my father…though I have to hold him blameless in respect of ‘The Hole in the Elephant’s Bottom’, which you can look up for yourselves if so inclined.

He was not so enthusiastic for ‘stand alone’ music…so it was due to the school music department that I grew to enjoy orchestral music: those two Welsh ladies – while sending me once more to the library during choir practice – gave us all a grounding in the history of music and its stylistic manifestations which illuminated the records they played to illustrate their lessons.
They ran a music club so that we could play records in the lunch hour…and gently allowed our emotional development to echo itself in music; always ready to explain, to offer other examples…it seemed at the time a relief from the rigours of study, but, looking back, their instruction was equally rigorous – just couched in a different fashion.

The school was conscientious in taking pupils to the theatre…to the ballet…to the Greek play at some public school whose name I have forgotten, but will never forget the thrill of hearing classical Greek spoken which enlivened my plodding attempts to learn it…and to the Proms.

Which brings me to the Ode to Joy.
My father had introduced me to Schiller….his was the remnant of a generation which looked to Germany for its culture and was brought up on German literature…and I had heard and responded to Beethoven before…but this was the first time I was to see and hear a performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

The second part of the programme was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which, as it progressed, took me further out of myself than I had theretofore experienced; I looked at my friends alongside – all were as involved, living it.
And then the final movement and the Ode to Joy….I can still remember how it affected me: borne up, the heart overflowing, the senses overcome.
For someone wary, withdrawn, it did indeed reveal Schiller’s ‘Joy, daughter of Elysium’.

It changed me.

I have heard it since – notably Bernstein’s concert at the fall of the Berlin Wall with its cry of ‘Freiheit’…and heard parts of it again on a programme in a series called ‘Soul Music’ on BBC radio tonight, which led me to play the whole symphony again.

And to recall the supreme irony…that the European Union, that oligarchic institution in which the people of Europe have no voice, has the damned sauce to use the ‘Ode to Joy’ as its anthem.

The words of this are supposed to read ‘meep. meep, meep’ but sound more like ‘me, me, me’.
How apt for the EU, that perversion of democracy, which quibbles while children drown.

If it wasn’t for the European Union and President Obama this would be Paradise.

travel-to-costa-rica.com

The European Union has been poking its nose into Caribbean and Central America for some time now.
It has built itself offices in Barbados: top of the range 4x4s are parked outside the best restaurants in Nicaragua, and it has been advising Costa Rica on:

A. A grand plan to zone the Gran Area Metropolitana – the capital and its major suburbs.
Result? Vast amount of money spent and no plan forthcoming.
Just what might be expected of the EU.

And

B ….more successfully…how to raise taxes.
Also what might be expected of the EU.

The Costa Rican government are eager to follow the advise of the experts on how the twisting of balls will miraculously result in blood gushing from stones and tried eagerly to bring in VAT – that most iniquitous tax – until the Constitutional Court stopped their gallop on the grounds of technical failures in the passage of the appropriate law.

As an alternative, the government brought in a luxury tax…thus making it even more difficult for poorer people to vary their diet.
Since when has an aubergine been a luxury?
Answer…when you buy it in a supermarket catering to the high end trade which obeys the law.
If you buy it from the chap on the market he has as little interest in collecting the tax as you have in paying it.
Olive oil is also a luxury…but the chap on the market doesn’t sell that, so people are stuck with palm oil and its by products.

Another bright idea from the EU was to give local authorities a sound tax base from the rates on property, and experts were seconded to help in this laudable effort.
What seems to have resulted is that ‘technicians’ have clicked on to Google Earth, have calculated the extent of your roof space and whopped on a tax according to their measurements.
Up to you to argue the toss…and if you haven’t argued by the due date there’s no appeal.
Except you didn’t know what would be charged until you went to argue…..and our local authority has discovered a black hole in its finances following the departure of the last mayor.

The Man from the Ministry would be in attendance at the Municipalidad (local government offices) on Tuesdays and Fridays running up to the deadline and Violetta suggested I go with her for support in case of problems.
We went on a Tuesday. The Muni was shut for a conference.
We went again on the Friday. The Muni was open, so we entered and took our place in the queue.

Now the Muni is housed in a traditional colonial style building with offices round a central courtyard, wide eaves giving shelter from the sun. The door of the appropriate office was open and customer number one was being dealt with.
We were third and fourth in the queue and sat on the chairs provided. As time passed, more people arrived, the supply of chairs ran dry and staff brought out benches.
People began chatting. People produced their papers, comparing same. Problems were perceived.
A member of the local tax staff was raked out of her lair and the perceived problems were explained. At length.

There were members of vast families with incredibly confused documents thanks to the habit of chopping a bit off a holding to give to a son or daughter to build a house and not remembering to get it registered properly….there were cadastral plans which resembled blobs on flypaper….there were people whose property was held in a company who had not supplied themselves with a power of attorney….

The member of staff took a deep breath and began to send people to the appropriate places to get their documents sorted…a vast file took off for the Post Office where copies of powers of attorney could be obtained…others were busy on their mobiles summoning family members whose signatures would be needed and a few were sent in search of their lawyers.

She inspected the remnant. My documents were passed as being adequate, as were those of Violetta and number two in the queue.

Chatting resumed.
I don’t mind waiting in Costa Rica….the chatting is good for my Spanish and the knowledge I pick up of all the infinitesimal trivia which make up the bricks of daily life is invaluable.

The first customer came out and number two rose to enter the office as the Man from the Ministry came out at the charge, heading for the exit.
Given the sheaf of papers clutched by the first customer I wondered whether he had decided to make a permanent bolt for freedom, but the local lady explained that he had gone for a coffee.

After half an hour people were wondering loudly if he had gone to pick the coffee rather than just drink it and when, a little while later, he was seen entering the courtyard, number two shot into the office, ready for action.
But he had headed instead for the loos on the other side of the building.
After some little time Don Hugo went over and kicked the door.
The Man from the Ministry emerged and, drawing breath like a diver about to plunge into the depths, entered the office.

This interview went smoothly and then Violetta and I entered together, neatly blocking his attempt to escape round the corner of his desk.
Resigned, he started the process.

It appeared that the Ministry has designated the base value of land in the canton according to criteria which seemed as much of a blank to him as to us…but since ours were at rock bottom we were not complaining.
So, given that, he moved on to the nature of the property itself.

He pulled up a map showing the contour lines which in both our cases evidently passed muster as hilly…

On to the next…the house itself. He pulled up Google Earth. Our houses appeared as faint blurs. Google Earth had clearly not been doing much updating lately.
Collapse of EU system.

Well, Senoras, said he, let’s just say traditional build, traditional materials….tax as last year and no declarations of value for another three years.

We agreed, signed and left at a smart trot. Mission accomplished.

Another lesson the Costa Rican government has learned from the EU is to cover a rip off by claiming that something which is going to cost you an arm and a leg is for your own security.

So now we are faced with changing our car’s number plate in order to have a ‘secure’ one.
One with a sort of watermarked map on it…one that can’t be duplicated for nefarious purposes. Supposedly.
One that costs an arm and a leg.

Our household operates on a sort of division of labour basis.
If it’s fiscal or legal it’s mine.
If it’s the car it’s his.

So my husband was OIC of Operation Replace Numberplates.

There are two ways of doing this.

A. You go to the National Registry special office in the suburbs of the capital bearing your documents, proof of payment for arm and leg at a bank and your numberplates.
You queue.
Once your papers pass the desk you wait an hour until the new numberplates are handed over.

The Men were going to the San Jose house…not too far from the offices…so I suggested that this would be the best solution.

No, it appeared that it would not. It involved wasting time waiting in the National Registry when much more exciting activities could be undertaken.

So it would be

B. You go to the local post office armed with your documents, proof of payment for arm and leg at a bank and your numberplates.
Once your papers pass the desk you wait six working days for the return of your plates…and in the interim cannot take the car on the road.

Danilo had to change the plates on his motorbike, so The Men decided to make a joint trip to the Post Office.

All went swimmingly…..

Except that the six days had lengthened to twelve….
Except that there would now be two weekends to add on…and the public holiday on May Day and, to add insult to injury, the day on which the President of the U.S.A. arrived in the country for a visit whose purpose eludes me would be a non working day for civil servants in the San Jose area – mostly because they would be unable to get into work for all the security cordons in the centre where offices for four blocks round his destinations will be off limits to their normal occupants.

Given that May Day is a Wednesday and Obama arrives on Friday a fair number won’t see much point in going into work on Thursday…so don’t hold your breath for the twelve working days either…Costa Rican civil servants can make a French ‘pont’ with the best of them.

Normally there would be no great problem.
We can drive up the back road into town…park the car behind the football pitch – a no go zone for the traffic police – and walk up the hill to go shopping or get the bus into the capital.

But there is a complication.
A friend from South Africa is arriving at the airport on what will be working day thirteen.

Fingers crossed!