Coffee Break

water damage 039A sunny mid morning finds us on the balcony with coffee, cake…and friends.
Dona Mery, Dona Estrella, Don Freddy and ourselves chewing the fat on life in the three valleys and the upcoming project to concrete part of the road from town.

As no mayor or eminent politician lives in the three valleys the road when we first arrived was simply a wide track with hardcore rolled into it from time to time when the lorry from the pig farm could no longer get traction.
It ran from the main road at the entrance to town downhill all the way to a small bridge whose supports were eaten away by the torrent below and then it rose again on the other side, where it forked.

One track led uphill and is supposed to be the emergency exit from town if the main road were to be damaged by an earthquake: this road runs over a well developed faultline and thanks to a mixture of meddling and neglect on the part of the council is next to unusable, turning into a river bed in the heavy rains.

The other track led downhill alongside our coffee plantation and now continues to the embryo massage parlour project on the other side of a large stream.
It is an embryo project because unless the owner combines it with a zipline the clients are going to have one heck of a job reaching the welcoming ladies in their individual cabinas with all mod cons – well, water anyway – as every attempt to install a bridge has resulted in said bridge being washed away by the stream.

Then the developer appeared – he preceded the massage parlour chap who bought him out when the courts chucked out the development project – and one day, the developer having influence, the bridge supports were replaced and safety rails were installed.
The safety rails lasted about three days before a lorry bringing materials to the development took them out, but the supports are still there.

Then the man who owns a big finca up near the main road decided to get together with his neighbours…a garage, a general store, a man hiring out bouncy castles and sundry others….and concrete the track from the main road down to the entrance to his property.
The developer was all for this and used his influence to get a grant to pay for the materials – hardcore, metal mesh, sand and cement – while the neighbours would supply the manpower.

Except that there were not enough neighbours to supply it, so fundraising to pay for labour was necessary.
Raffle tickets, dances, chicharone (pork crackling) feasts – all were hawked up and down the three valleys for, as the people organising it said, everyone downhill used that stretch of road so it was only right that everyone should contribute.

But not everyone downhill was content to do so.
Those who did not have a car said they didn’t mind what the road was like as they would still be walking.
Those with cars said that those who drove lorries should pay as it was lorries that wrecked the road.
Those with lorries said that the people who said that they walked actually took taxis so they should pay too.
The Indians half way down the hill said that they were indigenous people and should not have to pay.
Everyone who was not an Indian said that they jolly well should.

No one, significantly, said that the local council should pay. There are some things it is not even worth discussing.

Most people coughed up something and the stretch of road was built….a concrete section (known as the motorway) reaching about a quarter of the way to the bridge which is when the materials ran out.

Things stayed like this for a few years until a female dynamo moved into the three valleys.
She and her husband built a modern house enclosed by walls and an expensive ironwork gate; they planted palms along the verge to their house….but something was lacking in her House and Garden world.
A proper road.

She had, of course, joined the development association and she started the ball rolling on improvements.
Her first project was to collect enough money to put down hardcore on the section leading down from the end of the concrete road.
Quite a few people, ourselves included, said it was a waste of money that could be put to extending the motorway.

With a toss of her elegant head she proceeded to beguile the association into backing her project and now, a year later, the road is as bad as ever.

So now she is fundraising for a concrete stretch.

But it won’t follow on from the existing stretch.
No…that would be too simple.

The owner of the pig farm by the bridge has managed to get a grant for materials….but as he suspects the money won’t buy enough to reach from the existing stretch to the bridge, he wants to start at the bridge and work upwards.

It is this that we are discussing when Don Anselmo appears, bearing gifts.
He has brought us pickling onions from Santa Ana and tomatoes from San Ramon, stopping in on his way to check his cattle on grazing he has rented down by the stream.
Fresh coffee and cake circulate and discussion continues.

Well, says Don Freddy, people are putting more in this time than last.

They would, says Dona Estrella. There’s more people down here than up top and most of them have someone working. Apart from that there’s a fair few young lads willing to do the work.

And even Carlos is putting his hand in his pocket, says his aunt, Dona Mery. He’s giving a calf for a raffle.

What’s the matter with him…ill or something? Normally he wouldn’t even give you the time of day! Must fancy his chances with the new senora!

And Mito at the pig farm is giving a porker for chicharones which is decent of him since he was the one that got the grant.

I’m putting in too, says Don Anselmo, as my lorry uses the road a bit, but it’s not a good moment.

What’s the problem?

Well, you know I buy and sell a bit and last week I bought six calves at auction and put them down on the grazing here.
Well, one’s missing. A nice black brahma calf.
I’ve looked everywhere…upstream and down, along the roads, but no one’s seen anything.
I hadn’t even had time to brand them….’

That’s a loss, all right!

Yes…it’s always something with farming…
I must be off. I’ll nip round on Tuesday if you’re fishing out your tilapia then and make you some ceviche! Give me a ring!

He takes his leave and we hear his lorry start up ouside.

I was thinking, said Don Freddy.
From what Mito says, the grant won’t be enough to take the road right up to the existing bit.
The new senora is going to find that she has concrete uphill and downhill of her…but the same old rocks outside her house.

And I’ve been thinking too, says Dona Mery, rising to her feet.
I’m just going round to Carlos’ place to have a look at that calf he’s giving.

Bet you it’s black, says Don Freddy.

The Green Season

Chinese cabbage and avocado...picked this morning from the garden
Chinese cabbage and avocado…picked this morning from the garden
The Green Season is what hoteliers and others in the tourist trade in Costa Rica call the rainy season – a phrase which does not have quite the same allure, conjuring up as it does the reality of life between May and November when the sunshine of morning is replaced with alarming swiftness by a lightning bolt, a peal of thunder fit for the worst excesses of Wagner and rain fit to soak you in seconds.

I have to admit to liking the rainy season….coming from the U.K. rain has no terrors for me and an afternoon on a balcony in the clouds is an ideal time to settle down to read the books I have ordered from Better World Books U.K. who not only supply used books in good condition at sensible prices but also devote the income to promoting literacy. You could do worse than give them a try.

Still it does mean I have to bustle about a little to make the most of the morning….the washing has to go out early and the veg has to come up in good time unless I fancy seeking out the watercress for the evening’s beef with a black plastic sack over the head and shoulders while Gotterdamerung plays out in the skies above.

I’m particularly pleased with this morning’s veg haul….not just the Chinese cabbage which defeated every attempt to grow it in France, but with the avocados.

Before we moved permanently to Costa Rica we used to come over to avoid the worst of a European winter and on our first visit my husband planted the stones from the avocados we were enjoying.
The fruit on the table are from the tree which sprang from one of those stones…so very much our own avocados.
They are a bit scabby….but they are ours. Untouched by chemicals. Unknown to Monsanto.

The table they are sitting on was made by my husband over forty years ago from an old wreck found in a house he was renovating, using Italian tiles left over from laying new floors.
It has traveled with him where other – ostensibly more valuable – furniture has been jettisoned and it is still in daily use for everything from butchering meat for the freezer to drinks at sundown.
It’s a bit bashed about..not in the first style of elegance…but it’s ours and it serves its purpose.

It’s a quiet life now that the courts have thrown out the proposed development further down the valley….except for collecting and collating the deeds we will need prior to the inspection of the water systems disrupted by the would-be developer’s henchman.

The said henchman has quietened down….still a would-be bully, but now cowed by the courts and by loss of face following a failed machete attack on a sturdy but unarmed gentleman which ended in loss of henchman’s machete and a rock through the windscreen of his van as he reversed from the scene of his humiliation.

Not that initiative does not rear its head….a chap appeared at the door last week trying to interest us in a contribution to laying hardcore on the road from the bridge down to his property (bought from the would-be developer) to benefit his new business.

What might be the nature of his business?

Massage parlours installed in log cabins. He was sure it would attract foreign tourists but no American would travel down the road in the state it was in at present…so, as it would benefit everyone on the road, would we like to contribute?

How would it benefit the neighbours?

We could set up a restaurant.

We declined with thanks.

Life, though pleasant, is not without its inconveniences…

For example, I would be delighted if we could sell the house in France and be free from the taxes and maintenance associated with it.

Much though I love France and the friends we have there, I dread to think what new schemes this or successive governments will dream up to extract blood from already squeezed stones.
I see today there are proposals to tax the use of computers, laptops and tablets the justification being that they access public broadcasting channels….
They might better spend their energies mending the finance ministry’s computer which blew a fuse last week and is not yet up and running again.

Until recently when you bought a television set in France the shop asked for your details and forwarded them to the appropriate official body who would put you on their list.
Therefore anyone with half a brain paid in cash and gave a false name and address.
Some shops winked at this…others demanded ID.

To counter this act of civil disobedience, measures provided that every house would be deemed to have a television set unless it could prove otherwise…
And the standard of proof is high.

If you have never declared ownership, you might get away with it but if you used to have one and then threw it in the bin in disgust at the moronic level of programming you are in trouble.
You can’t just dump a television. France being France you will need proof of disposal.

Burglary? Certificate from the gendarmerie.

Dumped? Certificate from the guardian of the dump.

Put it on the bonfire? Fine for pollution.

No such problem here. You put it out and it promptly disappears. No questions asked.

I know which system I prefer.

A Slithering of Solicitors

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You would think I was making a collection….the young lady dealing with the fight against the developer here; the local water inspector-cum-lawyer; my regular one; the Argentinian one in Spain; the Flemish one in Belgium and the English one in England.
At the moment I am rejoicing at being free of a French one in France….but I’m not counting my chickens…
While I have property in France there is always the possibility of a notaire darting from the undergrowth to sink his fangs in my wallet.
And…apart from the proposed development…I don’t have a complicated life.

Yet now I have acquired another solicitor…..who came to see me yesterday evening.

I was on my own, my husband having gone to see a friend, so when I heard a car pass the house and then stop I assumed that it was someone looking for the goat farm further down the valley….I reckon people get so desperate looking for it they turn in at any likely gate to ask for directions.
But when there was prolonged silence, I thought I’d better go out to take a look, remembering that what is normally a clear turning circle has been complicated by having building materials for the extension dumped at salient points.

There indeed was a car…a very new, very shiny, very expensive 4×4.
There was also a driver, who had alighted to try to move the wheelbarrow to allow him to turn.
And there was the Alsatian, sitting between the wheelbarrow and the car. Just looking.

Did he need directions to the goat farm?
No. He had come to see my husband.
Ah…in that case he was out of luck.
I would do instead…..he had come to help me.
Do I need assistance?
Yes, senora.

Intrigued, I sent the Alsatian indoors while my visitor moved the wheelbarrow, marking his elegant slacks with cement dust, and turned his car.

Could we talk inside?
If he wished. He didn’t have the air of a mad axeman.

We settled on the balcony, the Alsatian sitting between us, just looking, while my pouchy little visitor came to the point.

My husband had been to the Fiscalia, had he not? Where he had confirmed his accusations of The Neighbour, had he not?

I nodded.

Well, fixing me with a compassionate smile, he had come to help me. He was a lawyer…a Costa Rican lawyer.
Ah, not from the Intergalactic Federation, then.

He knew the law…all the details….
So I should damn well think if he was taking money for practicing his black arts.

And he had come to tell me that there was no point in going on with these complaints….I would be wasting money on a lawyer…all for nothing.
So he was not offering to represent me, then.

He had thought it best to come down and advise me before things risked getting out of hand…
For whom?

After all the Neighbour was a violent, unpredictable man.
Yes, I knew that. I’d seen his then lawyer restrain him from attacking a judge.

And there was no point in having problems if they could be avoided.

So you think my husband should withdraw his complaints to avoid being marmalised by the Neighbour?

Hands raised in horror…. Alsatian shuffling forward eagerly.

No, no…nothing of the sort!
Ah, I had been too crude…missed the subtleties.

He had just come to explain how important good neighbourly relations were in Costa Rica.

Important everywhere, Licenciado. But how do I have good neighbourly relations with a man who has diverted water from my cafetal? I have to take cisterns of water up in the car to do my spraying…

But he has an order from a judge, allowing him to do so! You signed it yourself!
Shome mishtake shurely, ed.

No, Licenciado. What he has is an agreement with someone else to allow him to take pipes across that person’s land.

Then your lawyer must have signed it for you!

No, Licenciado….neither we, nor our lawyer had anything to do with that agreement and it doesn’t entitle him to divert water from my property.

So, pausing and fiddling with his mobile’phone, if you had the water back you could have good neighbourly relations?
Right…that’s the deal he’s looking for.

Anything is possible.

I’ll be in touch.

I saw him to the door, accompanied by the Alsatian.

Licenciado!

Yes, senora?

My husband said that there were about thirty other people in the Fiscalia confirming complaints….

A Muddle of Mentalities

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I suppose culture shock only exists if you have enough of a handle on the culture concerned to realise that it differs from your own…..and that culture doesn’t have to be foreign.

I remember being on holiday in Luxor years ago where my husband taught me to swim….well, to keep afloat…in the pool at the hotel.
There were not many guests in the hotel, but those around the pool seemed all to be British….middle aged couples and a few families with children, most of whom were in the pool, throwing balls about and enjoying splashing as much as swimming.
We were reading in the shade when we became aware that a little girl was parading round the surrounds of the pool and that in her wake people were gathering up their belongings and heading for the hotel.
Our turn came and we too skedaddled.
The little girl was pulling forward her swimsuit bottom and asking if we wanted to see her willy.

Whatever was going on there, it was certainly culture shock and we wanted no part of it!

Running recently between Costa Rica, France, Spain and England I had an exposure to different cultures – so brief in the case of Spain that I hardly had time to register more than that the cleaners all seemed to be of Arab appearance and the ticket clerks laughed and said ‘Pura Vida’ when I booked my train journey using my best Costa Rican Spanish.

In France friends told me of their troubles with their bank…..who did not take out the standing order which paid their mortgage and promptly took them to court for non payment.
They were lucky enough to have a tough minded retired Belgian lawyer friend to stand up for them as it was clear that the court was minded to ignore the fact that the bank had not taken the money in order to concentrate on the non payment……

How French!

And I have just read the latest episode in the dreadful saga of the Hobos in France blog…apologies, but I cannot get a link to work…which bears out my own and others’ experience of the French legal system…if in doubt lose the papers and if all else fails…lie.

Coming from a background of English law, it shocks me…but I have a nasty suspicion that the English legal system has now gone so far to the dogs in terms of accessibility that it is emerging at the nether end.

The Costa Rican legal system has…so far…been good to me and I do like the attempts made by the judge to reconcile the parties…..as far as possible from the English mindset where it is thought that if the parties have come to court it is because no reconciliation was possible and the court is there to try the matter.

But there is a general reluctance in Costa Rica to have an open disagreement….it is seen as impolite and uneducated to brawl and shout the odds.
You express your disagreement non verbally…by not doing whatever it is that the other party wants.

So I followed the Costa Rican cultural norm when considering what to do after a conversation with another immigrant who lives up on the mountain between us and the town.

He is an American, or, as I have now learned to say, North American, and is a lawyer.
He bought his finca from another North American, and became distinctly disgruntled when he became aware of the difference between the price he paid and the sum his seller originally handed over. In consequence he has become somewhat of a dog in the manger where his property is concerned.

I met him on the back road to town and, amazingly, he stopped his car and got out. He does not usually speak…I suppose as he isn’t being paid to do so he spares himself the effort.

Bypassing the usual courtesies he informed me that the poles bearing the ‘phone line which passes over his property belonged to him. A man had offered him a good price for these poles….but he would give me the chance to buy them, in order to be able to keep the ‘phone line.
Unimaginable…that he thinks I’m stupid enough to come up for that, and that anyone would even contemplate threatening to remove someone’s ‘phone access.
Not to mention that there are several others on this line…among them men with machetes…

My first instinct was to tell him to stuff the poles where the monkey stuffed the nuts…..but, being in Costa Rica, I smiled and said I would think it over.

Up in town I dropped into the ICE offices (electricity and telecommunications) and recounted my tale to Don Carlos on the desk. He telephoned someone in the back office who emerged, print out in hand, to demonstrate that the poles belonged to ICE and that any attempt to meddle with them would meet with disapproval.
He then attempted to sell me a mobile ‘phone to be able to contact them should any such thing occur.

So, sure in my rights, I did nothing.

But if he comes the old acid again I shall encourage Don Antonio to remove the copper cable whch runs over his land, carrying the power for the North American’s water pump.

Pura vida!