Ichabod….The glory will be departing from the markets of San Jose

borbon veg

When I was first blogging about Costa Rica and about its capital, San Jose, in particular, a blogging friend advised  me to make the most of that grubby, shambolic place while I could. Soon, she said, it would all be pavement cafes and carriage trips round the sights.

She was right. The carriage rides have not yet arrived – the horses would have to wear gas masks such is the level of pollution from buses and cars which have presumably passed the annual M.O.T. test  – but pavement cafes are beginning to be with us as are, of course, cycle paths. Two are planned but only one is as yet in use. In an exercise in fatuity it runs down the middle of a pedestrianised boulevard where the lycra clad unco’ guid can enjoy themselves by making those on foot hop out of the way…two wheels good, two feet bad.

We have gastronomic festivals, self conscious fusion cuisine…food trucks…and bars where black shirted men with buns perform solemn rites over coffee machines. I would not say that these high priests exact a tithe, but  couple of coffees can soon make a hole in the shopping money.

Art deco and art noveau buildings have been tarted up…a stunning new museum of jade has been opened….the streets are clean….the homeless have been shifted from the centre….but still the tourists do not come.

Not surprisingly…for years the guidebooks have been directing tourists to the beaches, the rain forests and the ruinously expensive eco lodges run by exploitative hippies…not to speak of yoga retreats ditto.

Visitors are advised to eschew San Jose…unless they are men in search of paid female company in which case they are directed to hotels which call themselves gentlemen’s clubs and to the casinos and bars of Gringo Gulch where practitioners of the art of wallet extraction lurk in search of their prey.

Otherwise the tourists visit San Jose only to get the first bus out to their destination…so something, it seems, must be done to keep some of their money for the capital.

First bright idea…move the artisans’ market from its perfect spot under the National Museum in the centre of the city  to a concrete box several blocks away in an street which has nothing to attract any tourist whatsoever, unless they are admirers of the concrete brutalist style of architecture which inspired the building housing the offices of the CAJA – the national health service – which looms over the surrounding area.

caja

So far this has not worked as the President is firmly in favour of the market remaining where it is, instead of being replaced by further parking for a bloated ‘charitable foundation’ alongside. He does not have the law on his side…but he has prestige. However the mayor of San Jose can wait…the presidential elections are coming and the next incumbent may favour the bloated ‘foundation’.

So, in the meantime, attention has turned to the other markets…the Central…the Borbon and Coca Cola.

The Central has a bit of everything, from flowers to fish via meat, cheese, spices, medicinal herbs and caffs galore….

mercado centrsl

The Borbon has butchers and fishmongers, but its main role is selling wholesale and retail veg and fruit….

Mercado-Borbon-suelo-fertil_LNCIMA20170611_0022_1 borbon 8

Coca Cola specialises in hardware and electrical supplies…though, of course, having greengrocers and suchlike….. and it is one of the busiest bus stations in San Jose, whence the tourists fresh from the airport leg it to the beaches of the Pacific coast.

coca-cola-bus-station

While the Central is regarded with favour by all, the other two have a dubious reputation…pickpockets at every turn and babies barbecued to order.

Absolute nonsense, of course. I would not frequent either at night…but I could say the same of many other areas in many other cities.

The only time my purse was stolen was in a Chinese owned supermarket by the Central. It was returned to me by the ‘regulars’ who sell sunglasses, watches and TV remote controls on the benches nearby.

‘Sorry, senora…not one of ours…a bloody African! We saw him lift it and we stopped him. Not having these illegal immigrants giving us a bad name.

Did you report it to the police?

Are you joking! As if they could give a damn…too busy chasing poor buggers selling veg without a licence!

I just wonder if, with the new vision for the markets, these gentlemen will be driven off as have all but the most intrepid of the street traders …if so, a great part of the pleasure of shopping will have gone with them.

street traders

These are working markets….the idea of the Borbon offering organic veg and ‘gourmet’ items is enough to make the blood run cold.

And who will be paying for the ‘improvements’?

Guess.

What will happen to my hairdresser…

Mercado Borbón, San José, Costa Rica.

Who does me a cut for two thousand colones which equals that for which the Italian artist of Kensal Rise charges me thirty seven quid. She has been here for years, since the hotel which housed her salon closed down, as has the gentleman on the right, at whose stall I buy my ginger and garlic.

And what about our favourite caff?

IMG_20170517_120551

It will be struggle for them to keep going if their rent goes up.

Mercado de la Coca Cola, San José Costa Rica.

And what of Coca Cola?

The idea is to put a roof over the area between the bus station and the market, with smart caffs lining the area….to attract the tourists before they mess off to the coast.

Have they no idea?

How better to trap the fumes than by throwing a roof over the whole area….

And haven’t they noticed? The whole place is full of caffs…offering comida tipica – local food. Or isn’t that good enough for tourists…

Furthermore, the streets linking the markets are to be lined with trees.

Tree lined streets are one of the pleasures of the public and residential areas of San Jose…but the streets between the markets have such narrow pavements that the sellers of illicit DVDs hardly have room to set out their wares…

It isn’t gentrification…were it to be artists and ‘creatives’ would have been given space to spread themselves, as they have in barrios in the east of the city. Where they tread developers follow and the original inhabitants are driven out to the suburbs.

I do ask myself who subsidises these creative leeches on society…but that is another question for another day.

Why am I so upset by the proposed changes?

Because while the man who sells vinyl discs is lauded and will figure on the tourist trail  the men who run the goods between the lorries and the stalls, the stallholders themselves, risk being priced out of the place…

As a tourist I prefer to see the markets which local people use…as an example there is a tourist market in Masaya in Nicaragua…very sanitised and tranquil.

masaya old market

Also in Masaya is the local market just up the street…where you can find all you wish and more for half the price under its corrugated iron roofs.

In the former, if you want a hammock, you can choose one which they have for sale…in the latter, if you don’t see just what you want a runner will take you to the hammock makers’ street down by the lake.

I know which market I prefer and it is not one where the only traders to be found are the ones who can afford the organic produce certification process.

I prefer one where the man at the veg stall tells you that you can see he doesn’t use chemicals by the bugs in his lettuces.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas is Coming…

 

festival-of-light

Christmas is coming,

The geese are getting fat,

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.

If you haven’t got a penny a halfpenny will do.

If you haven’t got a halfpenny then God bless you.

Communities in the north of Costa Rica are still coming to terms with the extent of the destruction caused by Hurricane Otto and this coming Christmas promises to be bleak, despite the rescue and restoration efforts of the official bodies.

Who wants to spend Christmas in a shelter, after all?

I have been struck, though, by the volunteer action from all over the country: once permitted to enter the affected areas vans have been arriving at the farthest flung villages with not only the necessities of life – but also the things that make life brighter.

One furniture factory has gone into full production to turn out beds and sofas…basic, but serviceable and attractive, to make houses feel like a home again: a police station had a whip round to provide a wheelchair for a boy who had lost his in the floods…the examples are all too many to quote, but hats off to those involved – and to the emergency services whose plans allowed such prompt access for the volunteer effort.

The children have not been forgotten….for some of them Christmas has come early as the volunteers brought presents too – pennies and halfpennies well spent by those contributing at Red Cross centres and at some of the major chain stores who put their fleets of vehicles at the disposal of the relief effort.

Let us now hope that the government agencies coping with the aftermath…rebuilding houses, trying to compensate for crops lost…will show the same energy and generosity as was brought out by the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.

Away from the disaster areas the Christmas frenzy is now upon us with a vengeance.

The pavements of San Jose, already a hazard to shipping with the vendors of socks, rip off DVDs, remote controls and amazingly random items laid out on black plastic sheets ready for the quick getaway when the municipal police are sighted, now boast herds of fibreglass reindeer upon whose horns you are liable to become impaled while trying to avoid the embrace of the inflatable Santa on the other side of the shop entrance.

A new horror promises to manifest itself: while buying a washing machine I saw that the shop was also selling hideously lifelike and lifesize Santas who sang carols and did a sort of shuffling dance….from ghosties and ghoulies and shuffling Santas Good Lord deliver us…

Music – if so it can be called – assails you in every store. Fortunately for my sanity ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ seems to have fallen from favour, but ‘Jingle Bells’ is still going strong.

I suppose that given the popularity of reindeer, it would be.

Curiously enough, I heard ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in one of the local supermarkets last week, so there is hope of the advance of civilisation yet…despite the horror of the butcher as I described to him how to make a haggis.

Poor man: he is still recovering from my annual demand for suet which he is firmly convinced serves only to dubbin boots.

The price of tomatoes and potatoes have soared as this is the tamale season and they are essential ingredients: luckily we have laid in a store of spuds which, if the weather remains unseasonably cold, should last through the New Year after which prices should fall again.

And unseasonably cold it is too….summer should have started some two weeks ago but for the first time since moving here I have opened the old suitcase containing our woollies and put a second light blanket on the bed as the rain is heavy and persistent and the winds are strong and cold.

This has done no favours to the ewes: accustomed as they are to dropping their lambs outside, Danilo has had to go hunting to bring them in before the newborns get chilled and weak and we currently have one in the house – a twin whose mother abandoned it in the driving rain. Leo is doing his best, but it is touch and go for the little thing.

Stop press: two in the house…

It will be a quiet Christmas for us – the way we like it. Which is just as well, given Leo’s poor health.

Our celebration has been to trawl through the cookery books, now that we finally have most of them out of the boxes and onto  proper bookshelves, to decide on some new recipes to try. An Ethiopian beef stew looks promising, as does  a Cincinnati style chili involving black chocolate and Worcester sauce.

Before Christmas though, things are somewhat more eventful. There is an art fair in San Jose at the end of this week…and we are invited to a christening party on the weekend which will involve the consumption of vast quantities of chicharrones (deep fried lumps of belly pork),  deep fried murpheys and plantains together with endless cold beers accompanied by football on the box and heated political discussion in all quarters of the house.

However, given that the godfather – who will be doing the deep frying – has also invited us to a karaoke evening at his favourite bar the night before I begin to wonder whether the only sizzling at the christening party will be that  of Alka Seltzer tablets hitting the  water.

All of the above are dependent on how Leo is feeling on the day of course…so, as one says here, we shall be going ‘si Dios quiere’.

And if He doesn’t, then we can enjoy our pwn pictures,  look for another recipe and choose some music to accompany the meal, which will be different, but just as enjoyable.

Though we do not go in for them, Christmas decorations are beginning to go up on the houses.

I have it on good authority that the Santa Claus novelty loo seat cover – dumped on me by my mother and seized on by the cleaning woman – still has pride of place on a certain front door, but cannot go to see for myself as the bridge, which collapsed two years ago, is not yet repaired.

Danilo found an engineer at the site in October…and word was that it would be repaired by the end of November…but then Hurricane Otto took a hand and resources were directed elsewhere.

Don Freddy has been round to see us again….the bridge was to be repaired starting on 15th December, but Danilo has since reported that the chairman of the development committee – in charge of the works – has been admitted to hospital as an emergency case.

It is only by the existence of good hospital provision that this most orthodox of Catholic gentleman has avoided the fate of the heretical Bishop Arias in that his bowels burst while he was on the loo.

Well, that puts the bridge repair back again, I suppose….

Might put it back permanently….he’s gone to a private hospital…

They’re not likely to kill him!

No perhaps not….but he’s got the money for the bridge…

 

 

 

To Market, to Market….

busescostarica.blogspot.comUnder normal circumstances we take the bus to San Jose….it’s a lot cheaper than taking the car and it doesn’t get lost, despite the best efforts of traffic policemen, accidents and roadworks to divert it from its destination…like the bomber, the Comtrasuli bus will always get through.

It’s a good service, in clean modern buses, although whatever the age of the bus there are always those signs of religious observance which strike the eye of an anglophone protestant….Jesus bearing a crown of thorns hovers over the entrance; you are informed that He is Lord; His mother is asked to pray for you and some buses even bear the information that one is travelling the same road as Jesus and if one does not return to base it is because one has followed Him.

Whether this has any relation to a new notice behind the driver’s cabin on all buses I am not at all sure.
This one asks passengers to observe the driver and, should he use a mobile ‘phone when at the wheel, they are to take a photograph and denounce him to the bus company.
Perhaps Comtrasuli are worried that the Almighty, omnipotent as He is, will use technology to summon the driver to His bosom and, more to the point, that he’ll take the bus with him.

Taking the car is an altogether trickier operation.
The diesel costs a lot more than a bus fare….which is about 85p per passenger….and The Men are driving and navigating.

Leo – navigator – is used to London driving where you are either quick or dead.
Danilo – driver – has no direction bump.
The combination makes for an interesting ride for the passenger – me.

The whole thing is further complicated by a collapse on the capital’s ring road which has turned the rush hour into the plural at both ends of the day and has led to roads unfit for major traffic being pressed into service.

First port of call is a major clinic, the Moreno Canas, where Leo has an appointment.
With shrieks of ‘Go, go go!’ from the navigator at the Sabana Park interchange The Men manage to get themselves onto Avenida 10 and we crawl past the concrete fortress of the Municipalidad – the town hall – its forecourt sporting a pink cow which was left behind when the Cow Parade hit town.
It also has fairy lights in a tree – perpetually Christmas for our worthy administrators.
Then past the Mercado Mayoreo – the city’s official wholesale fruit and veg market – though much better bargains are to be found up at the Mercado Borbon – where, The Men permitting, I intend to do some shopping later.

panoramio.com
panoramio.com
Past more traffic lights and we are alongside the cemetery – or cemeteries: first the Cementerio Obrero, the cemetery for the poorer classes – the workers

cemetery general sj

and then alongside it the Cementerio General, where the better off lie under a gallimaufry of urns, spires, domes and angels…but both places of rest are protected by razor wire and have police in attendance to deter theft, which is endemic in Costa Rica since the drugs trade began to regard the countries of Central America not just as being in transit for drugs on their way from Columbia to the U.S.A. but as new markets in their own right.

Turning right…and squeezing past a lorry which has come to a halt across the junction…we head for the clinic through a depressed area of the city…roadside garages, broken down pavements…and past the waterworks to the clinic entrance. Cars parked in every roadside bay and taxis double parked beside them.
Leo gathers his papers and heads for his appointment. Danilo and I head for the shops.

Swinging back right handed up between the cemetery and the waterworks – what a combination, I think – with the Numar factory behind us, souce of the palm oil cooking fat which fuels Costa Rica’s kitchens, we turn once more onto Avenida 10, squeeze past the lorry again and we’re off on the four lane downhill slalom past the Raul Blanco Cervantes geriatric hospital on the hunt for the shop which carries the best value for money house cleaning products that I know.
We have the car and we’re stocking up.

panoramio.com
panoramio.com
Well, we will be, when we get there.
We have to get to Avenida 6 and thanks to the one way system that means a left turn and then another…but how far to go before we turn?

At the garage – the bomba?
No, at least another block….yes, by the Castillana…
Are you sure?
No, but we can always go round again..
Yes, look, there’s the.Chinese tat shop. Go straight on another block and then left again.

Yes, we’re on the right road. There’s the dubious looking discotheque and the butcher advertising meat from a nearly virgin cow; but we’re stuck in traffic.
Avenida 6 serves as roadside terminal for a number of suburban buses; its high quota of bars means beer delivery vans litter the place and there’s always someone who just has to park right outside the barbers.
We approach the side street where the shop is situated…is it this corner?
No, we haven’t passed the booze shop yet.
Yes, here we are…that’s the Ropa Americana (new and second hand clothes shop) …turn left.
We’ve made it – and as we’re early there’s even parking right outside.

Loaded up, watches checked – yes, we have time to do the Mercado Borbon before returning to the clinic.

BN SJUp the street, another left turn and eyes peeled for the tower of the Banco Nacional to make our turn into the centre.
We crawl up to the junction with the main road through the city – the six lane Avenida 2, wait for the lights and then we’re across and into the street running past the coffee shop on one side and the Banco Central building on the other, with the bronzes of the ordinary people of Costa Rica in front of it.
banco central statues sj

Down Avenida 1 – an accident between a car and a bus, so a quick right turn up to Avenida 3 with all the tool shops in creation and then left again to return to Avenida 1 and the undercover parking lot.

mercado borbon sj Now, I like a bargain and I like the Mercado Borbon where you can buy retail at wholesale prices, but if you read the guide books it’s more a question of ‘here be dragons’ so you don’t find many foreigners doing the weekly shop there.
It is a noisy maze of alleys, steps, stalls and warehouses, but once you have your bearings all is well: I buy bacon on the bone to slice and freeze; kilos of tomatoes; Scotch Bonnet peppers; whopping prawns and then cheese for maturing at home.
I seek out cheap potatoes – only just over half the price of my local shops – and strings of onions.
We load the car and walk over to the better known Mercado Central to buy ten kilos of well fleshed bones for soup…a bargain at about 50p a kilo….and corvina to make ceviche.

Off to the clinic…down traffic clogged Avenida 1 and out onto Paseo Colon….looking for the towers of the tax offices to judge our turn up to Avenida 10.
Yes, there they are…turn left, up through the little park at Don Bosco and we’re back by the Muni….traffic lights, the lorry still not towed away and we’re back at the clinic where Leo is waiting by the chap selling fresh orange juice.
We’re off again, but this time following the road by the Numar factory at the back of the cemetery, to join the road home at Sabana.

How did the appointment go?

He said my optician must have good eyesight if she could see cataracts that small….I have to go back in two years’ time but he doesn’t think much will change.
Hoy….where are we going? This isn’t the right road!

No, but the police are up ahead and the traffic’s piling up….we’ll go back on the old road.

And so we do…crawling through the suburbs until we emerge into the countryside high above the Central Valley and head for home climbing up through the hills.

No joke, San Jose traffic…but then I came across this video which shows that things could be worse….pity the poor train drivers shown here!

The Conquistadors of San Jose

La Nacion

In my last post I moaned about the march of progress in the avenidas and calles of San Jose with particular reference to parking ticket machines which have, quite apart from forcing me to empty the garage and perform gymnastic exercises quite inappropriate to my age and form, threatened the livelihood of the parking ticket sellers.

I am glad to report that, much to the fury of the Municipalidad, these gentlemen have struck back.

They have taken up their station at the Dalek on their patch of turf, have equipped themselves with designated bank accounts with a card with which to operate the thing and are offering their services to drivers at their regular rate of tip.

Their scheme is a roaring success.

You don’t have to risk your bank card….either through it being swallowed by the Dalek or misused by the Muni…you don’t have to get out of your car in the rain to look for the blasted machine…and if you are a regular customer the gentlemen will top up your ticket.

Win win for everyone…except the Muni, whose anticipated revenues from traffic fines and impounded cars have gone up in smoke.

The Old Order Changeth…

costaricapuravida.unblog.fr

I can’t say that I wasn’t warned…..when in a previous existence I was waxing forth on the delights of San Jose Pueblo Girl suggested that I was probably there at the right time…once the street cafes, pedestrian zones and horse drawn carriages for the tourists arrived I’d be looking back with nostalgia.

Well, some little time later…I am.

San Jose could be grubby at times but it was always full of life….people selling sweets at the bus stops; itinerant vendors all offering the same thing at the same time ( a Mr. Big somewhere in the background I used to think) from cheapo reading glasses to watches via shoes for children; fruit and veg sellers on the corners and in office doorways; knocked off mobile ‘phones on sale in the street; pirated film and music discs laid out on black plastic sacks causing you to do a hop skip and a jump to avoid treading on them; people selling lottery tickets or newspapers on almost every corner.

San Jose could be dilapidated…..but that too was part of its charm for me. Neglected treasures to be discovered on every walk.

And now what do we have?
No horse drawn carriage rides for tourists…as yet…but a street cafe has appeared opposite the Post Office, buildings are being restored and….we have pedestrian areas.
We also have yellow lines on the roads, parking places and, horror of horrors, parking ticket machines.

Tico Times

Just one look at the number of buttons is enough to daunt me….and the idea that you can have a mobile ‘phone app to use the thing turns my blood to ice!
It looks like a descendant of the Daleks and, from the reports of disgruntled users, acts like one.

It swallows your bank card – no cash payments allowed in case someone on the lower end of the municipal feeding chain – or someone with initiative and a claw hammer – gets their hands on proceeds reserved for those with electronic money transfer knowledge further up.
It spits out your bank card.
It charges you and won’t give up the ticket – probably a feature in the specifications laid down by those with electronic money transfer knowledge on the higher reaches of the municipal feeding chain.
It charges you and swallows your bank card. Ditto re specification.
It hurts your foot when you kick it.

It has forced us to clear out the garage at the San Jose house to enable the car to enter it….though it’s a hell of a performance. The garage dates from the days before 4x4s, so can take the car only if its doors remain closed.
The technique is to empty the contents of the car while still in the street – keeping a wary eye out for the meter men, the transport police tow truck and young men liable to grab a bag and run faster than you can – then lower the back seats to the floor, drive it in with the tailgate up, shut all the windows and climb out over the driver’s seat to exit via the tailgate. You can then shut the garage door and have a heart attack.
Scots blood will out.

Before these abominations you had self appointed chaps who would sell you parking tickets in the few areas where parking controls were in force. You paid the ticket and a tip and all parties were happy.
These chaps have had their livelihood taken away with no consultation….but it takes more than a municipality to keep a good Josefino down: they are now patrolling the yellow lined streets collecting the parking tickets of those leaving before their time has expired and flogging them to people who don’t want to use the Daleks.
.

Litter bins have been one improvement….the municipal street cleaners are super efficient….so the grubbiness is going, but so is the old way of identifying your destination – which was by its proximity to a local landmark. Thus my house was described as a lado del Escuela de Chile and al frente del American Bar.
This habit grew up because those with initiative and claw hammers had long since removed the metal street signs.
These are now being replaced (in plastic I believe) so I now live between avenidas 12 and 14 on calle 19T.
It’s just not the same.
And don’t all go looking it up on Google Earth.

The municipality is waging war on unlicensed street sellers too….much to my displeasure as the lady from whom I bought sweet peppers now has to be hunted down as opposed to being found on the corner by the Mercado Borbon – where, according to tourist guides, they all but practice cannibalism and in fact sell cheese, meat, fish and veg.
I buy my prawns there and no one has eaten me yet.

And not content with hassling those without licences, they have now started hassling those with.
Newspapers and magazines are sold from portable stands.

Diario Extra Costa Rica

The sellers have to pay for a licence to do this….but there is a problem.
There shouldn’t be, but there is.
The licence is only valid for one person…so if the holder has a hospital appointment, is not well, or merely wants to go to the loo no one else is authorised to sell from the stand.
Of course, no one has taken a blind bit of notice of this, but just recently a municipal official has instructed her staff to check identities…so if the official licence holder is holed up in the loo when her staff make a swoop he risks coming back to find his stand dismantled and taken away.
Keep taking the prunes.

But let me not forget the pedestrian areas.
The avenida central has been pedestrianised for years and it is, I must admit pleasant to be able to walk without traffic noise and on regular pavements, instead of going up hill and down dale on the other streets where each frontage owner makes his pavement to his own specifications.
We now have avenida 4 pedestrianised….and this year the old Paseo des Estudiantes has been turned into…

China Town. Barrio Chino.

costadevelopers.com

This is the monstrosity erected at the entrance…together with concrete copies of one of the national treasures of Costa Rica, the pre Columbian stone spheres found over the southern half of the country.

Behind it is this:

fotopaises.com

Iglesia la Soledad.

I know which I prefer.