A.M.  Costa Rica
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Janaury to August 2002
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Jo asks: Why are peeves called pets, anyway?
This column was published Aug. 23, 2002

Being out of touch with the pulse of the United States, I don't know what the current pet peeves of U.S. Americans are, but, thanks to my friend Jerry, I have a list of things that annoy Ticos. A lot of them seem to be connected to modern technology and the proliferation of cars on the streets.

Here are some of them. You may find yourself identifying with the annoyed (or the annoyer).

Drivers who have their radios at full volume. Yes!

Women who put on short, short mini skirts then keep pulling them down.

People who ostentatiously place their cellular phones on the table in a restaurant.

Parents who give cell phones to their kids under 15 to take to school. (apropos of this, I remember a teacher telling me that one of her third graders with a cell phone called home and said, "Mami, come get me. The teacher was mean to me.")

People who pay for purchases of under 1,000 colones (about $3) with a credit card. Yeah, yeah.

Street corner avocado venders who display a cut one that is perfect, and you discover a bag full of rotten ones when you get home.

The fat doctor who urges you to diet.

Drivers who honk a nanosecond after the light has turned green, or those who move before the light has turned. Always annoying.

Parents who say their 7-year old is an expert at navigating the Internet.

 People who take advantage of their "ciudadanos de oro" to get privileges like getting in front of others in lines at the bank, etc. (Ooops, up until now my record was clean.)

Right now my big annoyance is having an appointment with someone for 9 a.m. and then being told they will be two hours late because their car is in the shop and won't be ready until 11, and you know when they call the shop, they will be told that their car won't be ready til 1, and so on until you discover you have spent the whole day doing nothing but wait.

The car in the shop is like the computer being down: everything stops.

I am having this problem at the moment because they are going to retile my apartment and I have spent two days putting all my possesions into the 
kitchen and the "maid" room that were retiled 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

when I moved in. I had this nightmarish thought that they were going to chip out the old tile before putting in the new. The dust, I thought, would permeate everything. Forever. 

But I was informed that they simply clean the old and glue the new on top. This means they have to redo the molding and all the doors because the floor is higher, or put another way, my ceiling is lower. I love high ceilings so much that when I lived in New York, I cut down the legs of all my furniture, dining room chairs, table, couch, everything so my ceiling would seem higher ó at least when I was sitting down.

So with help from my landlord I moved into a studio apartment they have in San Pedro. He gave me two sets of keys and off he went. I put my stuff away and wrote down all the things I forgot to bring, and fixed myself something to eat. Later, after the rain stopped, I decided to go to the store and COULDN'T FIND MY KEYS! I tore the place apart. Three times. 

I couldn't leave to find Henry, the caretaker because the door automatically locked when it closed. I couldn't call anyone because one of the things I had forgotten was my phone book. I began to feel as if I were in a Hitchcock movie and the plot called for me to eventually go mad and throw myself out the window.

Finally I managed to call my friend Lillian who called Darrylle who called Danny, the caretaker of the other building, who called Henry who came upstairs and helped me scour my apartment again ó to no avail. It was now 6:30 and I had a dinner date, so we closed the door on a towel to keep it from locking and off I went with his assurances that he would check on my apartment from time to time.

When I got home I had to ring the bell for Henry and he came out smiling. He had found my keys! They were right in the kitchen on the counter where I thought I had put them, but I had put my toaster oven on top of them! Rule No. 2 about finding things: Always look under other things.

I certainly hope that this happy ending means the that the dark cloud of bad luck that has been hovering over me for the past month and a half is drifting away because one of my really big pet peeves in someone who is always complaining. 


 
Gail's kids now have a chance for their future
This column was published Aug. 16, 2002

There is a popular refrain that begins, "The greatness of a country is measured by how it treats ___"   then you can fill in the group of the moment: "its children", "its sick,"  "its old people." Almost any group is used except "its millionaire CEOís."

One of the sad realities of Costa Rica, and especially San Jose, is the number of children who have had to make their home on the streets.  Most are there because they come from what we now call dysfunctional families: because their parents were abusive or because they were too much for their parents. (Usually these two conditions go together). 

Most of the kids living on the streets are drug users, usually of glue, which helps them get through the days of boredom and the long nights of hunger and the lack of any of the necessities that most of us take for granted.  It is encouraging that President Pacheco is taking note of their condition and the fact that the police are not their friends.  Fortunately for some of them, they have another friend. 

Sunday I was at a fund-raising brunch for these children ó or rather for the children who have been rescued by Gail Nystrom, founder and hands-on director of the Fundación Humanitaria Costarricense.  Thirteen of the 15 young people who have found a home thanks to Gail were at the fund-raiser. They call her "la Gringa loca."   Gringos call her the "Saint of San Jose." What she has taken on does require the vision and heart of a Mother Teresa, but instead of easing people to their death, Gail is leading these youths to a new life. 

When Gail talks about how scared she was when she picked up the first children, I remember with painful shame the night I was coming home in a taxi and saw a child who couldn1t be more than 5, sleeping in a doorway. I hesitated and asked the cab driver to slow down. But what went through my mind was "What do I do with him tomorrow?" "What if he is full of lice or worse?"  "What if he wakes up and bops me one and robs me?"  The voice inside me that said "He is only 5 years old, 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

for heaven sake" did not get heard over my fears.  So I drove on.

Gail didnít drive on, and she had just as many, if not more fears, than I.  The kids she picked up were in their teens.  They were like feral animals, distrustful and fearful, without adult friends, certainly not the police.  The early months were not easy.  They smashed things, they were rebellious, they challenged Gail at every turn, daring and expecting her to throw them out.  Instead, she gave them more love and worked harder with them. 

These were the teenagers at the brunch, and they were pretty impressive, social and gracious in dealing with grownups. Their art, their candles and the little grass grasshoppers they had made were on display.  I bought a drawing done by 18-year-old Daniel.  I really like it and expect one day he will be a well-known artist. 

16-year old Marianella told us about her life. When she talked about living on the streets, she had to keep remembering not to hang her head.  Then, beginning with a radiant smile, she talked about her life today.  These kids look after their home, do their own cooking, take classes (some are even learning English), and are planning some cottage industries to help support themselves.

If you are interested in helping them with their dream of becoming all they are capable of, you can write to Gail at gnystrom@racsa.co.cr, or call her at (506) 390-4192.  One of the things other young people are doing is serving as interns with Gail.  These young people are from other countries, often recent college graduates who are between graduation and knowing what they want to do with their lives.  I am sure this experience has affected their decision. 


 
Reparations (sort of) and some recommendations
This column was published Aug. 9, 2002

First, a little housekeeping: The overenthusiastic editorial staff of A.M. Costa Rica was convinced that I meant Goebbels as the author of the quote I included in my last column. I assured them it was Goering, who, in 1939 was appointed by Hitler to be his successor. Later Hitler changed his mind. 

Secondly, I said that we were served roast beef at the wonderful dinner given by the Little Theatre Group. Chef Mike Forbes tactfully informed me that it was prime rib, not roast beef. This led to a lively conversation at a party I attended that all prime rib is roast beef, but not all roast beef is prime rib. 

And now for some recommendations I've received: 
A Restaurant: I am a recent arrival and new resident in Costa Rica. I live and work in San Jose, and I love my new home. I have found a new "local" restaurant here to go after a long day at the office and have a cold beer and a good meal with friendly service, (I am Canadian so I know friendly). This restaurant is La Mina in Pavas. I would heartly recommend this establishment to any of your readers. There is even a free pool table which I watched them level the other day! La Mina is 75 meters east of the American Embassy, same side of the street. 

Brynley McKerron Hughes 
GISBeX Clearing Corp. S.A.


Lawyers: I'm writing to recommend two lawyers with whom I've worked since before my wife and I arrived here in October, 2000: Darrylle Stafford and Ulises Obregón. They work together with a third partner and make a really potent group. Darrylle is a North American and, consequently, has the typical North American appreciation of time and efficiency. He and Ulises get things done in a fraction of the time that any other lawyers I know here take. 

Ulises is the Costa Rican connection who does the filing of things and represents the firm as a Costa Rican attorney. They specialize in matters most often needed by foreign residents and business owners and have a stable of very satisfied clients. They have helped my wife and me from even before our arrival: set up our mail service, our bank accounts, get set up on the Internet, get driver's licenses, get our residency in absolutely record time, written our wills, etc., etc. 

Also, we bought land here before we met them, and the books and paper work were totally screwed up by the local lawyer we had used. Darrylle and Ulises got everything straightened out for us in record time. The most important thing, however, is that they have a fantastic sense of 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

integrity. Also important and their rates are very, very reasonable.

I've recommended them to several of my neighbors and all of them are extremely pleased with the services they've rendered. They really go the extra mile. I recommend them without any reservations whatsoever. They are: Stafford, Obregón y Valle, Consultores, Abogados, Notarios, Apdo. 11846-1000, San Jose. Costa Rica Tel: (506) 253-9655 . Fax: (506) 280-4576. Cel: (506) 386-9324 E-mail: ulimar@costarica.net.

Martin Rice 
Lagunas de Barú


I have my own recommendations if you are in the market for either Chinese products or an espresso coffee maker. On Calle 3 between Avenidas 8 and 10 are two little stores. One is Super Sony, which is crammed with everything in Asian edibles you could ever want. They even have some nice plates and bowls, woks and what have you. The people are very helpful and will tell you how to cook the strange looking vegetables they have. Their wall clock plays "My Darling Clementine" on the hour.

Right next door is Bazar Murano, carrying many things Italian. I found a stovetop espresso maker (after years of searching) for a reasonable price (about $9). I took it back because it didnít work. I couldnít find the receipt and was prepared for a hard time because the general policy in Costa Rica is no returns. But the young man who had waited on me, greeted me warmly as I entered and, once I explained my problem, said we would have to find out what was wrong. 

He then invited me to the back of the store where there was a little kitchen. I sat at the table while he filled the filter with coffee, then I watched the espresso maker do everything it was supposed to. I was then offered a cup of espresso, which I accepted, and drank while we had a nice chat. I must confess, the coffee maker still is not working properly for me, but I know it is my problem and I am determined to solve it.

If you have a recommendation to share, please send it to me and it will sooner or later get into this column. 


 
A day of make-believe and a day of reality
This column was published Aug. 2, 2002.

Sunday was an enchanted day of make-believe. The Little Theater Group of Costa Rica had a fundraiser that consisted of a play followed by a dinner. The play, "Art," by Yasmina Reza, was originally written for three men but director Tom Humes did a masterful job of making it custom-made for women ó especially for Ann Antkiw, Lisa DeFuso and Susan Liang talented members of LTG. 

Their characters were alternatingly hilarious, touching and infuriating (all of which they were supposed to be). It was no problem to make believe one was sitting in a Broadway theater watching a Broadway play.

Afterwards, we walked next door to the elegant home of Stefani and Kevin Glass, co-presidents of Little Theater. They had transformed their home into an elegant restaurant with service the equivalent of any in a Paris restaurant ó and certainly friendlier. (All of the servers were members of Little Theater and spoke perfect English). 

Chef Mike Forbes gave us a choice of roast beef or fresh salmon. Ummm. I had a great time with friends Mavis and Bill. Better than New York, better than Paris: All of this for the price of $30. That is really make-believe!

The next day, Monday, I came back down to earth at a luncheon where there was a panel discussion on the U.S.A. PATRIOT ACT, a new law in the United States to combat terrorism. In the handout was a quote; "It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a Fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a Communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of ther leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.

"It works the same in any country." 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

Was this a warning or a primer? Was it meant to be cautionary or a how-to? It depends upon when it was said and by whom. After the luncheon, I wasat the doctors in the Clinica Biblica. 

I had a longer wait than usual and began looking around for something to read besides the book I had (Ford Maddox Fordís "Parade1s End") which required more concentration than I was prepared to give it. I picked up a little brochure entitled "Torres de Terror." 

Essentially this pamphlet said that the the attack on the Twin Towers was punishment for the godlessness that the United States has fallen into. Because over the past 40 years God has been eliminated from public life and governmental offices, He has removed his protection. The pamphlet said this in several ways, quoting from the Bible. 

I could not help but wonder about the country of Israel. God has been everpresent to both the Palestinians and the Israelis, but he doesnít seem to be protecting them from violence and attacks. And these God-fearing, God-protected people are attacking each other! 

Looking on the back of the pamphlet, I saw that it was a translation from English, and had been printed by Buencas Nuevas c/o Grace & Truth, in Danville, Illinois.

Oh, yes, that quote I mentioned earlier was a statement made by Hermann Goering, Hitlerís deputy.

I am not sure what the connection is between these three occurrences, but I do know that the way things are going these days, and life being what it is, Iíll take days of make-believe whenever I can. 


 
Slaughter of trees prompts unequal battle with ICE
This column was published July 26, 2002

David and Goliath are at it again. Only this time it's Sandy and ICE. Sandy, who lives in Tilaran, is taking on the government-owned telephone and electrical company. 

Not long ago Sandy arrived home to discover that in preparation to putting up some telephone poles and wires, ICE workmen had chainsawed half her trees down to mere meter-high trunks. Upon seeing them, as she said, she went ballistic. These trees had for many years been a resting place for a variety of birds and a jumping off place for monkeys trying to cross the road. They were the home of bromeliads and orchids and other air plants. And they were a precious screen between the humans living on the property and the traffic on the road. 

Calming herself, Sandy managed to find and talk to the engineer in charge of this project. He admitted his men had no right to do what they were doing, so she was able to stop the tree slayers mid slaughter. (This sort of outrage brings out my purple prose.) 

Cutting trees without permission of the property owners is against the law. Even for ICE. Figuring it would be the best way to get some action and satisfaction, Sandy wrote to La Nación which published her letter (her first published piece in Spanish) outlining everything that had happened. In response to her letter, three ICE engineers showed up on her porch in a matter of days to defend ICE's actions. 

Sandy managed to counter all of their contentions and blatantly false claims with facts, all the time keeping her cool and remaining courteous (a must in Costa Rica). They finally offered to plant two trees for each one they had cut. Sandy could not accept that offer because she and MINAE, the 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

environment ministry, had already filed a complaint against ICE. The engineers then said they
would try to block the suit. ICE didn't know it then, but Sandy is a member of the Tilaran Environmental Commission and president of the GreenSource Ecological Association. 

My money is on Sandy and MINAE. If they win the suit, ICE will be fined and have to plant many more trees than they offered. 

Sandy's experience reminded me of the letter to A.M. Costa Rica from Jean Hebert. Ms. Hebert has suggested that we start a directory of business and services that are recommended by readers who have had experience with them and a good word to say about them. (I wondered who would recommend ICE). 

I agree with Jean that this sort of directory would be very useful, so if anyone wants to send in a recommendation of a business, a specialty store with a good product, a restaurant with good food and service, nice places to stay throughout the country, and a lawyer or doctor, that you have found to be honest, efficient, and trustworthy, send it to me and I will post it in this column. 

Please give complete information so that other readers can contact the source easily. It would be useful to me, too, because I am getting letters from readers with questions that I cannot answer. 


 
There's no more running away with the circus now
This story was published July 19, 2002

One of President Pachecoís recent decrees has been to ban the use of all wild animals in circuses or other public spectacles. Put another way, no so-called wild animals will be allowed to join the circus in Costa Rica. Only domestic animals need apply. Many people are applauding this decision.

I am, of course, against cruelty to animals on any level. I am against cruelty to people, too. And I cannot argue, for instance, that circus animals are often treated like members of the family and therefore are not abused, because there is much cruelty against defenseless children in human families.

Nor can I argue why would an animal trainer abuse his money-making charge when I have heard declarations (most recently from Robert Blake) from many child movie stars that they were badly abused by their parents, who then spent all of the money they made. So I am not at all surprised that animals who support their trainers, are abused by some. 

However, I am objecting to this decree for two reasons: one, I donít think there are many "wild" animals in the world today, except for those existing in totally isolated areas of the world where no human has set foot. Any animal exposed to humans is to some extent, domesticated. 

Even alligators and snakes have been touched by humans, and some even have been in movies. 

Secondly, what makes us so sure that animals donít want to go into show business.? Once, when I was watching a dolphin performing in a Florida water show, I marveled at the grace and astonishing leaps and moves of the dolphin and the joy she seemed to exude. She reminded me of a ballerina. This made me think that the similarities could be deeper. 

When a young girl decides to become a ballerina, she gives up a lot, and she goes through a lot. She no longer has a normal life with her family and friends. She rehearses and practices endlessly. She makes her body do things most of us wouldnít even try. She has to watch her weight and her feet are tortured and become misshapen. But she persists for the pleasure of doing it and the applause, and I suppose, for the money, although I 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

havenít the slightest idea how much a prima ballerina makes.

This water-dancing dolphin was getting paid in fish and applause. And seemed to be having a great time. I suddenly had this little scenario of a pod of dolphins (or flock or gaggle, or extended family group) swimming around in the ocean having a good time leaping out of the water and doing somersaults. And one member of this group, a young female, is very good at it and decides she wants to become a professional. Her loving mother says "Go for it." So she leaves her family and swims to where she might get noticed (a sort of watery Hollywood). 

On the way, of course, she practices leaping and somersaulting. She lets herself get lured into a water show, and soon sheís learned a lot of tricks, and the rest, as they say, is history. She becomes famous, loved, rewarded, applauded, appreciated and never has to hunt for food again. She likes the life, but some of her fellow dancers donít, so they just didnít learn and were sent back home, if they were lucky

 My dolphin could have been an elephant, or maybe a lion.

My children and some friends declare that I donít like animals. That is not true. I like animals the same way I like people ó when I get to know them ó and some I like and some I donít (and as my friend Sandy says, we tend to like people who like us and vice versa). I do tend to like most human babies over 6 months old., And I am very fond of Ripley, my daughterís gorgeous and rather goofy Vizsla.

I also respect animals and donít at all think of them as dumb because they canít speak our language. After all, so many of them have learned to understand our language. But how many of us can understand what dogs or dolphins are saying to each other? So I am objecting to this decree that gives the hook to animals, not from disregard for their welfare but out of respect.


 
Happy birthday to my mother who turns 94 years
This column was published July 12. 2002

Sunday my mother will be 94 years old. She was born Mickey Roda, or at least I thought she was. But recently she told me her name was actually Dominica, and they changed it when she went to school. Today, she is known as Margaret Carlson. I think she got tired of being associated with a mouse.

Mom was the oldest of eight children of Italian immigrants. Although she was an A student, loved school and hoped to become a teacher (or her dream future ó to be an actress and a dancer), she had to leave in the 9th grade to help care for her younger siblings.

In her early teens, she married my father, more by mutual agreement of the families than my mother. She was widowed before she was 30 and found herself facing the Depression with four children to support. She did this by opening a beauty shop in the village of Mayville, New York.

Her shop was successful, partly because she was very good at what she did, partly because she was beautiful, charming and funny, and partly because during the Depression getting your hair done was a cheap way to feel better.

I remember during that time that it was not unusual to see a strange, scruffy looking man sitting on the steps of our side porch with a plate of food ó a tramp who had gotten off the train in Mayville. After my father died, I recall my mother giving his clothes to a poor man. She was holding up a jacket to see if it would fit. They were both crying. Later, one of these hopeless wanderers told me that our house was marked as a welcoming place to get a hot meal.

Mom was a strict disciplinarian, which is perhaps why I didnít appreciate how funny she was until we were both older. My sister Annetta, who was the oldest of the three girls, got the brunt of most of it and most of the responsibility for the rest of us (except for my brother who was four years older and almost in another world).  He kept to his attic bedroom experimenting with electricity and inventing things. For a long time, I thought he was actually Thomas Edison.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

Movies were our favorite pastime, and when Mom at first said no, Annetta, Donnetta (the baby of the family) and I would tap dance into the beauty shop, do a waltz clog and belt out a song that weíd learned from Judy Garland, ending with our plea for money, also sung. If that didnít melt Momís heart, it worked on her customers.

When I reached the age of 31, an age that I could remember my mother being, I forgave her every spanking, every shouted word, everything. I knew I could not do what she did. And, too, I wondered, with her beauty and her brains, what she might have been or done had her lot been different.

A widow a second time at 67, (she married a great guy at 47), she has lived alone and kept her own house until about a year and a half ago when she moved into an assisted-living residence. My sister Annetta is still taking responsibility now, not only for Mom but also as the glue that keeps our family in touch.

At the age of 86, my mother got her first passport and came to Costa Rica to visit me. That was when I learned she was afraid of two things: deep water and snakes. She told me that although she missed me, she understood why I wanted to live here.

The last time I visited Mom she was still at home and we were beginning to worry about her forgetfulness. She knew this. We had invited company for dinner. I was in the kitchen and Mom was setting the table, complete with candles.  After a bit, she came into the kitchen and said, "Well, Jo, at least you donít have to worry about me setting fire to the house. I canít remember where I put the matches."

Mom is considered a member of the Greatest Generation.  And any way you want to measure it, she qualifies. Happy birthday, dear Mom.

Normal just doesnít live here anymore, it seems
This column was published July 5, 2002

Friends have come to my rescue with sympathy, commiseration, and two have even offered a loaner computer. So it is time to move on, get on with my life and get back to normal. However, it isnít that easy.

Within days of my own robbery, I was told of a friendís cousin who was shot four times when thieves stole his motorbike. He is now paralyzed. Then, my neighbor told me about his friend whose house was broken into over the weekend. The thieves poisoned the guard dog, cut the metal fence and broke into the house where they emptied it of all the electrical appliances. 

Children are being kidnapped and killed. A retired police official is being implicated in car theft. Enough pedestrians have been mugged on First Avenue to make it a dangerous place ó with no police around to help so far. Normal doesnít exist anymore.

The sad and frightening thing I am coming to realize is that this country, which during the 80ís was an oasis of peace in Central America, has changed. While other Central American countries were at war, this beautiful little country without an army was both safe and peaceful. It now seems as if the lawless have formed their own army. They may be disorganized, but they obviously are more than the police can handle.

Earlier there were gunshots somewhere in the neighborhood. Once, when I heard a small explosion, I knew it was just someone celebrating a birthday or a holiday with firecrackers. As I listened to that crack, I was just as certain that it was a gunshot.

The theft of my passport, of course, required a visit to the U.S. Embassy.  It is a three-hour bus ride for me to Pavas. Engrossed in my book, I missed the stop on the first bus and decided to walk along Sixth Street to catch another bus. After walking a block, I saw two homeless boys ahead of me. One was sitting on the sidewalk and the other, a tall skinny teenager, was standing, just looking at me. I immediately became frightened and decided to cross the street when a taxi came along. I hailed it and got in, hating the idea that I had now become so fearful.

At the embassy in the passport room one meets others whose passports have been stolen. Some of their stories were worse than mine. One young man had come overland from the U.S. He had no trouble 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

in Nicaragua, Guatemala, or Mexico. But one day in Costa Rica and his wallet and passport were picked out of the side pocket of his jeans where he thought they were safe. He said, "They say that the embassy will help you if youíre in trouble or are robbed, that they will give you money.  Not true. They wanted $60 before I could get a passport. When I told them all my money was stolen, they told me to contact my family."

A kindly grandmother, who has been coming to Costa Rica for eight years, was there with her granddaughter. When their car overheated, the nice people who offered to help instead stole her purse. Then they evidently followed them to the house of friends where they were staying and when they all went to the OIJ to report the theft, the thieves broke into the house and emptied it of everything. When she had explained to the embassy that she had nothing, they simply told her they needed $60 to issue her a new passport. 

By now I was angry, and my anger was directed towards the embassy. My
own passport, which had cost $40 to renew, was costing $60 because I had been foolish enough to get robbed. I was planning all the sarcastic and nasty things I was going to say to the consul if I ever got waited on.  But for the moment I escaped into my book. A character in the book, a
Vietnamese woman was saying, "First, you must reject hate. Hate and fear on two sides of the same coin. Hate imprisons you in time . . . . Once you let go of hate, you are free of time and of the past."

I read that sentence over and over again. At the moment I thought I was more full of anger than hate, but obviously they are related. I didnít want to be trapped in the past.

When I was finally in front of the consul, I was no longer angry. I even felt a little sorry for the pretty woman on the other side of the window for all of the anger she must have to absorb.

I am just going to have to adjust to a new kind of normal.

Living in Costa Rica is sometimes not so great
This column was published June 28, 2002

Complacency can be a dangerous thing. I live in an apartment building with a day-time maintenance man and a guard at night. We have a tall fence in front with a locked gate. I have two locks on my door but seldom use both because one always seemed enough and I always had trouble coordinating them. I not only was complacent, I often was rather smug talking about how safe I was ó Iíve even left for a month without a worry.

Yesterday I came home after lunch out. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. I opened the door, and as I did, I saw a small part of the door jamb was splintered. On the floor in front of me was part of the lock, some splinters of wood and lots of screws. On the dining room table were a couple of computer disks, a folder with papers and nothing else, most notably not my laptop. It was there when I left at 10:30. 

I looked around. Everything else seemed normal. I walked into my bedroom. My old brown purse that I hadnít used in months, was in the middle of the floor. Next to it was an old straw hat. Although my bedroom has not benefited from my clear-the-clutter activities, I knew I hadnít left either of those things there.

I walked three steps to my closet. It looked like the aftermath of an earthquake. Everything that had been on the shelves was on the floor ó except, as I was soon to discover, my computer carrying case and my passport.

In my still cluttered office the only things missing was the box of my back-up disks of all my columns and the book I was writing. 

I have heard people whose houses have been broken into say that they felt violated. I didnít feel so much violated. I felt as if someone had taken away my life 

"Get a life," is a popular joke saying. Well, someone had gotten mine, and now I was going to have to get another one. No passport, no computer with all my files, addresses, no back up. I walked into the living room (by now I was feeling as empty as a person without a life could feel) and decided to watch the news to see who was worse off than I. No remote control!

Of course I had to report it. I canít tell others to report crimes and not do it myself. I had called in the day superintendent and the manager of the apartments had come, both to give me sympathy and not much more. It was 5:30. I didnít want to go anywhere, but my neighbor Ulises, insisted, saying he would go with me to help with translation. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Ulises Obregon is not only a neighbor and friend, he is a lawyer, and I figured that that couldnít hurt. The OIJ, referred to as "the oeejota," is the court building next to the new pedestrian walkway. We entered the office marked Recepcion de denuncia. Denouncing the thieves was the least of what I wanted to do to them, but it was all I could do. 

We took a ficha and sat down to wait. There were maybe a dozen people in the room before us, but I figured half were friends or family. Two people in shorts, obviously tourists, were there with two backpacks. I spoke briefly with them and learned that one of their bags had been stolen shortly after they arrived. "Welcome to Costa Rica," I thought bitterly. 

After over an hour Ulises took my ciudadano de oro card to the processor in the other room to see if that would speed up my complaint. It did. First a young woman took down the information, then another young woman took more particulars and told us to wait. In a few minutes she took us to another office where investigating detectives told us they would be by that evening before 10 and not to touch anything.

When we got back to my apartment, I insisted we have a drink (isnít that what just about everybody does?) and we had some snacks while we waited. Just before 10 two young detectives, one male, one female, showed up. Unfortunately, neither of the thieves had stopped to have a glass of water so she couldnít dust for fingerprints. 

The male detective opened a case to reveal a portable and began to type faster than I ever have. Oh, for a portable typewriter, I thought. The sum total of the evening was three pages (all carbon copies) detailing the disappearance of my intellectual life. As I was getting ready for bed I remembered my tape recorder, the only other thing they might have carried out unnoticed. They hadnít taken it. The reason was it was under a stack of books on my bed table. I hadnít got around to putting that in order yet.

When I first arrived here someone (A Tico, as I remember), said that Costa Ricans are opportunists. It seems that if you donít do everything you can to keep your home safe, thieves feel almost obligated to use that opportunity to rob you and teach you a lesson.

Music hath the charm to clear out the house
This column was published June 21, 2002

I was gratified to learn that I am not the only one who has a problem with clutter. I got some encouraging letters and some very good ideas. Jerry Ledin said that when chaos seems to be winning he picks one area, like his bedroom, and organizes it and keeps it pristine so he will have some haven of sanity to retreat to. I tried that, then decided that I see my bedroom in the light only a short while, but spend a lot of time in my kitchen, so I have tried to keep that orderly. It works. Thanks, Jerry! 

Shirley Yamada was full of ideas of how to tackle the clutter. (She is obviously a recovering messy person). One reason we keep stuff is we canít stand to waste things. We are the recyclers. We are the ones who remember the Depression. But giving away our stuff (those things we havenít used or worn in months, maybe years) is not wasting and lessens the pain. 

In Costa Rica there is always someone who will appreciate our stuff. First, Shirley points out, there are garage sales that raise funds for various organizations and charities that we can give our good things to (I love garage sales, which may be part of my problem.) 

The Canadian Club has a garage sale every September, and members will pick your stuff up. More ideas from Shirley: She keeps a clean waste basket in which she puts her Ďthrowawaysí for the maid. The maid can then choose what she wants or pass things along to others. 

The shabbier items can go to the guard. Shirley tactfully puts these things in with the newspapers. She makes sure everything she throws away is clean and by a stretch of the imagination, useable. Compared to about 80 percent of the rest of the world, we are blessed with plenty ó more than we need. Thank you, Shirley. You are a creative cleaner-upper. 

Weíre in the middle of the concert season. During the season our National Orchestra presents a concert on Friday nights at the National Theater and again on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. at the auditorium in the Childrenís Museum. One hears some exquisite music for an incredibly small fee. I go Sunday mornings. Staying awake afterwards is easier.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Listening to and watching our orchestra is a singular thrill. I never have a negative thought while I am at the symphony. This past Sunday, watching it was even more enjoyable with emphasis on the joy. 

The orchestra has been auditioning new conductors. Sundayís candidate, Harvey Felder is from the United States ó Milwaukee, Wisc., to be exact. He is the first conductor who, I felt, had the same Ďorganicí relationship to the music. I think of Hoffman as a "minimalist." 

Felder was like a conduit for the music, using his body to express it. If I suddenly were struck deaf, I felt I could still hear the music, just watching Mr. Feldman conduct.

Having a National Orchestra enables residents of Costa Rica to enjoy the talents of musicians from all over the world ó and new musicians from here. The orchestra also goes to schools and towns other than San José so that many are able to experience the joy of music. 

Now I am hearing that the orchestra is in dire need of money in order to continue giving us the pleasure it has in the past. Its very existence is in jeopardy. 

Margaret Underwood, Grace Woodman and Jerry Ledin have worked tirelessly to get the foreign community to buy season tickets, but more is needed. More patrons are needed ó those generous people who love the arts and make it possible for our lives to be enriched by their generosity.

Maybe all of us clutterbugs who are not rich enough to be patrons, could clean out our homes and raise money for the orchestra by organizing the biggest garage sale in Costa Rica. 

I could let go of a lot of things knowing I was helping an organization like the National Symphony Orchestra.

Going there vs. getting there: It's trip that counts
This column was pubilshed June 14, 2002

Sunday morning is a favorite time of mine. I watch C-Span early in the morning and find out what Americans living in the States think. Later, there are some more interesting programs that I can watch while I do my ironing. American writers are being featured, and this week it has been Jack Kerouac, most famous of the Beat Generation writers. 

People were calling in to tell of their experiences involving Kerouac or other "Beat" writers of the time. I was tempted to call and tell them of my own experience.

I was living in Los Angeles in a large old house with my husband and daughter. We shared the house with my brother-in-law (who owned it), and two writer friends. The three of them were publishing "Coastlines", an avant-garde "little magazine." Meetings of interesting people were always happening. 

This particular evening a group of about 25 people had gathered downstairs in the living room, sitting on the floor and passing a jug of red wine. We were upstairs in our bedroom. A skinny young poet in blue jeans began to read his poem, and I wanted to hear it, so I went down and sat on the stairs where I couldnít see but I could hear. I was absolutely blown away by his new poem which was entitled "Howl," and I ran upstairs to tell my husband to come listen because Allen Ginsberg had to be the Walt Whitman of our day.

When he finished his reading, someone acused Ginsberg of not being "sincere." He replied, "Iíll show you Iím sincere." And then proceeded to take off his clothes until, I suppose, he was naked before them. During this performance, most of the women ran out of the living room, and there was general mayhem. I went back upstairs wondering what the world was coming to. It was 1956.

Kerouacís "On the Road" is classified as a "roadí book (no surprise there). Road books are different from travel or guide books in that they are more about the trip than they are about the destination. They include vignettes of the people one meets on the journey and observations of the customs, culture and idiosyncracies of the people in the different 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

stops along the way. (A.M. Costa Ricaís Patricia Martin manages to combine some of both in her articles). 

Travelers have been writing road books since the Greek geographer Strabo. In the 14th century, Ibn Battutah wrote about his travels in Africa, Asia Minor, the Maldives and India. His observations have been an important source for historians writing about the social and cultural life of those places. Its wonderful title "The Gift of the Beholders on the Peculiarities of the Regions and the Marvels of Journeys." Sort of says it all. 

There seem to be two kinds of people in the world. Those who enjoy the journey and those who want to "get to" wherever they have decided to go. (Although I fall into the first category, some of my best friends are the destination types.) With todayís air travel in the State it is, it is understandable that people are just anxious to "get there." ó especially if their destination is Costa Rica. It is really a pity that train and ship travel has become so limited.

One of my favorite memories when I first visited Costa Rica was the train trip from San Jose to Limon. We didnít go all the way to Limon. I canít even remember whether we got off in Guapiles or went all the way to Siquirres because we rushed to get the last bus back to San José. Whatever our destination, it was the ride that I remember. Even the ride on the packed bus back to San José was memorable for the people on it. The train took us through countrysides and mountains, over rivers and parts of the country where there are not even backroads. 

As we all know (and often forget) it is, after all, the journey in life not the destination that is important. It is the people we meet "on the road" and the experiences we have that make up the stories of our lives.

Stepping down as the Queen of Clutter is not easy
This column was published June 7, 2002

I had started cleaning out some files and papers when I thought I was going to move. Although it felt good to get rid of some stuff, I couldnít seem to continue the campaign. I have since decided, for reasons of health, that moving right now is impossible; but I would like to recommend Maria Mojica and her son Jamie Sobalvarro as two very helpful and conscientious real estate agents if you are looking for an apartment. Jamie speaks English and translates his motherís knowledgeable insights. His number is 353-5507. 

Then, last week, Mavis, dear friend that she is, again invited me to spend some days with her in the hopes that the country air of Ciudad Colón would be good for me. Mavis has books everywhere, including on the top of the headboard of the bed I was using. Looking through the row of books, I saw one that spoke to me. (I tend to believe that things donít happen by accident.)

Eugene DíAquili (I believe he was a social scientist) wrote an interesting paper with the premise that among our basic needs is the cognitive imperative ó the need to create order in our world. In other words, most people donít like chaos. 

I was thinking about this one day when I stopped to look in the window of Lehmannís Liberia downtown. The window dresser was filling it with boxes of jigsaw puzzles. I enjoy putting jigsaw puzzles together. I like the process of creating order out of chaos ó all those jumbled pieces become a picture! Then I wondered why it was that I couldnít seem to extend this pleasure to create order to my apartment. There on the shelf in the bedroom of Mavisí home was perhaps the answer: "Clear you Clutter with Feng Shui" by Karen Kingston. 

We all know that clutter can make you disorganized. I comfort myself when I canít find something that I will find it when I am looking for the next thing I canít find. Kingston maintains that having clutter in the house keeps you from living life to the fullest, and clearing clutter allows "fresh winds of inspiration to enter your home and your life." 

Who wouldnít like that? Then she tells you something that is quite helpful if you have low self-esteem about your ability to keep things neat. She says substitute the word Ďcouldí for Ďshouldí ("I 
could get rid of all of the junk in this room"), and 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

the word Ďwonítí for the word Ďcanít.í ("I wonít clean the mess in this drawer right now.") These are empowering words, or at least donít make us feel like such wimps when it comes to clutter.

Another suggestion she makes is to list all the places that are cluttered from drawers to shelves in the kitchen to closets to whole junk rooms. Then order them from the least (or smallest) mess to the biggest and cross off the list as you clean up. People like to cross off items on a list, she says. I like to, too, when I can find the list. 

All of this fired me up so that I could hardly wait to get home to start the project.

I mean, how long can you just hang out, enjoy good conversation, read, play scrabble and have your meals served to you? It was time for action. 

Sunday I returned home. First I had to get used to city noises again. No more that Johnny two-note bird that annoyed me in the country. Instead I hear the seemingly interminable wail of the train as it proceeds through the city once again. And Monday night I was awakened by the roar of the crowd. I got up, wondering if they had built a stadium near me while I was gone. No, the sound was emanating from the whole city from various homes and bars. Cheering Ticos responded every time Costa Rica made or almost made a goal and the roar rose over the city below me. I couldnít help but smile. 

But back to clutter: so far I have cleared out one cupboard of the jars I have been saving just in case they might come in handy. And I did throw out an old journal just to see how that felt (I havenít missed it), and I have taken a couple of stacks of books to Moraís. Unfortunately, holding up my progress are all of the habits and routines I have collected that are still in my apartment. (When you go on vacation, you leave them behind.) First I am going to have to clear them out. I could do that tomorrow!


 
Unexpected fast times at the Clinica Carlos Duran
This column was published May 31, 2002

It is said that 85 percent of medical expenses are spent on the last six months of life. Nobody over 70 needs statistics to tell them that they spend more and more time seeking, waiting for or undergoing medical attention. Some even plan their lives around their doctor appointments. You might call it an avocation of later life (although not a fun one), especially for those of us who have national health insurance. 

I was scheduled to have some blood taken at the Clinica Carlos Duran, and after my 10 hours spent in the clinic and in Calderon Guardia Hospital, I had low expectations. Armed with my book, but no breakfast, I entered the clinic a few minutes before 7 a.m. The sun was still wearing its cool color, and the air was fresh. There were few cars and fewer people on the streets. 

Inside the clinic I was astounded. Half of San Jose seemed to be here. In the large waiting room there must have been 200 souls waiting, sitting, and standing. A cluster of people filled the hallway that led into the smaller waiting room where the lab window was. It looked chaotic. My heart sank, but soon the chaos became identifiable as different side-by-side lines. Every time I visit the clinic I forget that no one (except myself) goes there alone. Every patient is accompanied by at least one, and as many as three family members or friends. That must be why no one else brings reading material. 

Once into the small room I learned that window One had a very short line. There were only three people in front of me. After getting my paper stamped, I followed the woman in front of me to another line, one that led to the row of pews, actually, to the last row of pews. 

Pretty soon I was sitting down in the last pew and 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

opened my book. Before I could begin to read, everyone in the row got up and moved along one place, the end person going to the row in front. The people in the front row moved to the front row across the aisle and then one by one into the lab. A pleasant young man stood at the door to the lab directing the inattentive people to enter. I had to smile as I rose and shuffled along in a regular and orderly fashion. Keeping us busy kept us from getting annoyed with the wait, I figured. 

Once I got to the lab, the technician taking my blood was most friendly and even tried a little English on me. I, in turn, complimented her on how quickly and painlessly she did her job. Lots of experience, she explained needlessly. I was told to return in three days to pick up the results. 

By 7:45 I found myself outside the clinic sipping a cup of very good café con leche which I had bought at the volunteersí table for 150 colons. The sun was golden and it was going to be a beautiful day, all of which was ahead of me. 

The only thing I had to do was remember to make an appointment with my doctor in three daysí time when my test results would be ready (at which time I would pick them up), and check my calendar for my upcoming dentistís appointment. Oh, yes, and fill that prescription the doctor gave me. 

In  praise of theater and of lady with one in patio 
This column was published May 24, 2002

Last Sunday I attended the annual general meeting of LTG. Just about the first thing I did when I arrived in Costa Rica in 1992 was to see a stage performance of "Mousetrap" presented by the Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica. It was being performed in the Laurence Olivier Theater. 

I had been a member of little theater groups in the United States beginning in Gettysburg Pa., later in Boston. When I moved to Hollywood, I decided I had to make a choice. Hollywood, land of the movies and wannabes. Did I want to get caught up in that? I decided to give up my amateur acting. Leaving Boston when I did meant giving up a leading role in "Death Takes a Holiday." 

In Hollywood, of course, I fell in love with a wannabe actor/writer/director and found myself involved with theater again when my husband and his brother bought a theater. After a several years of struggle (Hollywood is a movie town), we sold the theater. This enabled us to move to Majorca for three years. Now that I think about it, it is strange we didnít try to start a little theater group there among the English-speaking community. One reason we didnít, I think, is that starting and nurturing a successful little theater group is a lot of work. 

Somehow the expats of Costa Rica have managed to do that for over 50 years. Seeing "Mousetrap" fired my interest so I attended the next meeting of the Little Theatre Group. It was being held in a bed and breakfast in Los Yoses. There I met the high energy, tireless people who keep theater alive. Many of them are still with the group and still my friends. Very quickly I got involved in "putting on plays." Mysteries, comedies and farces (and an occasional musical) are the usual fare of little theaters. Eventually, I actually got a leading role in a farcical mystery in which I had to faint three times. 

After the show closed, I went off to Nicaragua for my three days out of the country when I was still doing that. I was sitting in the patio of the Italian Gardens motel ó a place that didnít have a garden or anything Italian about it ó when a woman and her husband entered. Her face was black and blue. A friendly sort, she came over to introduce herself, opening with the comment that her husband was not a wife-beater, she had just had a face-lift. As I started to introduce myself, she exclaimed, "I know you! I just saw you in ĎExit the Bodyí in Costa Rica!" 

I was delighted; of course. I was an international star! "How did you like the play?" I asked, hoping for some kudos.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

"I didnít pay much attention to the play," she said. "But I just loved your haircut. As soon as my face heals, Iím going to get mine cut like that." 

There was no point in asking her how she liked my faints, I decided.

Putting on plays was always complicated by the need to find a theater and then places to rehearse. We seldom got into the theater until the week of the performance. Iíve seen or been in productions in theaters from The Sabana to Sabanilla. One year we even resorted to dinner theater in order to get free space in the Italian Cultural Center. We moved so many times our audience had trouble finding us. 

Weíve stayed afloat but rentals took most of our profits. But that is Little Theatre . . . until a few years ago. Our then president, Blanche Brown witnessed the agonies of location and offered the back patio of her house in Escazú as a permanent home for our productions with a no interest loan to build it. Can you imagine having theater instead of a nice covered patio attached to your house? 

Blanche could do it, I suppose, because in the States she was the director of a large preschool located on her property. If you can put up with the noise of 4-year olds at play, I suppose rehearsing actors are a piece of cake. 

The building went forward in 1999, and our first production in our new home was "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers." That season, in a burst of enthusiasm, LTG put on nine productions. 

At our Sunday meeting, Stefani and Kevin Glass, two past presidents who have worked tirelessly (actually, all the presidents have been tireless) were elected co-presidents for the coming year. 

Our treasurer, Shirley Amack, announced that we had paid off the building debt. In gratitude to Blanche, it was unanimously (and with much applause) voted to name our very own, permanent, free-and-clear theater, The Blanche Brown Theater. 


 
A few gems from the file will make you fall down
This column was published May 17, 2002.

I have been cleaning out my files in preparation for moving. I should have started the job months ago, but I am glad I came upon the files I did when I did. The day before, I spent 10 hours in the examining rooms and hallways of the emergency sections of Carlos Duran Clinic and Calderone Guardia Hospital. I took myself there when I found I was having trouble walking and breathing at the same time (I wouldnít even think of chewing gum). 

To put it mildly, not I or any of the other patients in either place were happy campers. I asked a nurse how many people passed through the emergency hospital each day and she said between 300 and 500. Finally, at 10 p.m. I was released, feeling hungry, tired and very happy to go home, but no wiser or better.

The next day I knew I wasnít going anywhere. It was a day to recoup, and so I started going through files. I sat on my bed with a pile of stuff in front of me. One of the first things I came across was a long list of advice for people hoping to lose weight. The comment I liked and remember was: "If you want to change anything, first you must change your thinking." Thatís pretty wise, I thought. 

I remember articles and comments by athletes on the importance of visualizing. I would apply that to myself. Then I came upon the treasure that lifted me out of the doldrums left by my experience the day before. It was a fax dated Friday, Feb. 22, 1991 and was signed, "Laugh! Jennifer." I have no idea who Jennifer is, but this evidently came from a Air France Bulletin in 1989, before global economy and English language schools had made their impact. They are notices written in English throughout the world. Here are some:

A Bucharest hotel lobby: "The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable."

An Austrian hotel catering to skiers: "Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension."

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: "Our wines leave you nothing to hope for."

Outside a Hong Kong Tailor shop: "Ladies may have a fit upstairs."

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

A Rhodes tailor shop: "Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation."

Sign posted in Germanyís Black Forest: "It is strictly forbidden on our Black Forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose."

An advertisement by a Hong Kong Dentist: "Teeth extracted by the latest Methodist."

In a Rome laundry: "Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time."

A Bangkok temple: "It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreign if dressed as a man."

In a Tokyo bar: "Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts."

In a Copenhagen airline ticket office: "We take your bags and send them in all directions"

In an Acapulco hotel: "The manager has personally passed all the water served here."
 

By the time I finished these little gems I was laughing so hard tears were flowing and I nearly fell off the bed. Once, when I was watching Fawlty Towers, a British sit-com with John Cleese, I did fall off my bed laughing. 

The reason people actually fall down laughing is that laughing reduces the tension in our muscles so they canít hold us up. I donít know if anyone has ever tested them, but I bet tears contain unused adrenaline that otherwise could do harm to the body.

It is true, laughter is, if not the best, very good medicine for whatever ails us. 

The time has come to move from city she loves
This column was published May 10, 2002.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling better than I have in weeks. It had rained all night, and I periodically awoke to the sound, loving it. I especially like it when it begins to rain after sundown. Then I feel like I am living in Camelot. Feeling better, I thought, was the result of my new regimen of vitamins and exercise, but dear Mavis informed me that it was the negative ions the rain brought with it. She was right, of course. Negative ions are good for you, and they are present in water.

I am planning to move to Moravia. Some of my friends are very unhappy about this. One thinks Moravia is at the end of the earth. Another insists it is in Europe and Freud was born there. I explain that it is not. Moravia is a suburb of San Jose. Then they are sure they canít get there from where they live. That stumps me, because it is beginning to seem as if you canít get anywhere in the metropolitan area from anywhere else.

The influx of cars onto the streets and roads of Costa Rica is far greater than the increase in the number of people via immigration and birth, I am sure. What has not changed is the infrastructure. Streets that accommodated carts, buses and a few cars remain as they were ó generally three lanes, at best, and ridden with potholes which require erratic driving to avoid. I am told that adding to the problem is the changeover from shipping freight via train to trucks ó huge trucks, which hog the road and eat up the streets. 

A further problem is the clash of two cultures: the culture of the car (very familiar in the States) and the Costa Rican culture of social interaction. It is not uncommon to see a parked car on a busy street, with someone standing in the street chatting with the driver. And putting on your flashing lights means never having to move your double-parked car while you run into a soda or chat with a friend. Tico drivers do not honk at these transgressions, but a nanosecond is the time it takes a Tico to honk his horn at you once the light has turned green.

A trip from Escazú to my house, which normally 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

takes about 25 minutes, Tuesday, took us an hour
and five minutes. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. We figured that perhaps it was people leaving early from work because Wednesday was Inauguration Day and a holiday. I donít think Abel Pacheco, the new president, will be able to solve this traffic problem. We may have to settle for one of his grandfatherly hugs and a homily. The traffic jams will just get worse for the next four years.

Which brings me back to why I am moving to Moravia and a more residential area (so residential I am just a block from the cemetery). All of this traffic has, of course, brought with it pollution and noise. And the pollution is beginning to get to me, as is the long walk to the bus stop, and the streets without traffic lights that I must cross. Pedestrian deaths in Costa Rica, I believe, are higher than anywhere else in the world. If one were to tally things up, cars probably kill more people in one year than all the wars combined for the past ten. 

I must admit, among the reasons for moving is the thought at the back of my mind that I have heard that we are new people every seven years. I have been in this apartment for seven years. I have enjoyed it immensely; I have also cluttered it with paper and stuff I donít really need any more. It is time to rid myself of all this clutter, start a new life and learn how to look at a piece of paper once and get rid of it one way or another. 

I am surprised that there is not a 12-step program for people who canít throw things away. Since there isnít, I will move. And I am told that it is more humid and rains more in Moravia. That means more negative ions. That should be good for me. 


 
A voice from  West Bank shows up unexpectedly
This column was published May 3, 2002

I had lost touch with Nina. It wasnít her fault. She is a remarkable corespondent ó especially when you consider how busy she is and how many people she keeps in touch with. I just didnít answer her last letter, which was from somewhere in South Africa, I think.

I met Nina in 1986 when I inherited her as a resident adviser when I began working at the International House ó a residence for foreign and American students. Nina is Norwegian with blond hair and a radiant smile helped by perfect white teeth. Nina stayed at the I-house on and off for the seven years I was there. 

As a resident adviser and later as my assistant, she always did more than I expected of her without ever taking either one of us too seriously and while bestowing on the world the blessing of her (sometimes intentionally loopy) smile. She didnít seem to have an idea of what she wanted to do as a career, except perhaps revolutionize the World Bank. She was always taking a new course of studies, and she was always working at some temporary job. 

What she did do, eventually, was return to Norway to work for the Norwegian Government. They have placed her in the ghettos of Norway and the countries of Africa ó wherever there seems to be the need for her sunny disposition and accumulated knowledge that she has translated into wisdom in dealing with people, especially the disenfranchised and forgotten.

I sent her an e-mail recently hoping to reconnect. I soon got back an e-mail that said, "Greetings from Jenin." I should have known. Nina has been in the West Bank since the middle of February with the Norwegian Representative office helping to coordinate humanitarian aid and re-construction activities. After being in Jenin for a week and telling me of some of the horrors she had seen, she said: 

"Iím tired and exhausted. Last night I set aside some time just to cry." 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

She added,"I find it extremely challenging and 
interesting to try to keep my head clear and do constructive things rather than dwelling on the complete hopelessness of the situation. Itís so absurd you wouldnít believe it . . . . 

"The night before they pulled out, they dug up and destroyed water pipes, electricity net, telephone net, vandalized the office of the governor. And, as the soldiers pull out, the international community stands there ready to pull in (to try to repair the damage). Iím disillusioned with the short collective memory we have. Absurdities have become normal."

She is so right. It is heartbreaking and absurd, as absurd as children smashing each otherís sand castles.

Israel has every right, I suppose, to keep the territory gained in the Ď67 War. But they might not have persisted in building settlements there if they had remembered the effect the punishing terms of the Versailles Treaty had on a defeated Germany after World War I. It certainly helped set the stage for the success of a man like Hitler. 

Perhaps a more positive response, like their own form of a Marshall Plan, towards the Palestinians would have avoided a lot of this bloodshed and destruction ó and hatred. I am surprised that the religion of neither group has been able to inspire any acts of charity or forgiveness. To be fair, none of the major religions has been noted for bringing peace.

Meanwhile the United States appears to have  decided that Columbiaís human rights record qualifies it to receive $60 million in military aid.

Nina is right. Absurdities have become normal.

The long wait for rainy season becomes shorter
This column was published April 26, 2002.

The yiguirros are chirping like crazy. I say  chirping, but the sounds these robin-like  creatures make are not even as melodious as a  chirp. Local lore has it that this one note  melody of birdland is a request for water and  announces the rainy season. I can hardly wait.  Iíve had enough of summer and dust and dry  skin and worrying about the water shortage  getting worse. 

In preparation for all of this, I have started  trying to take cold showers. It didnít start out  as preparation. I started taking cold showers  because I keep reading that they are healthy,  and Katharine Hepburn and thousands of Costa  Ricans do it every day and swear by it.  Actually I am killing two birds with one stone.  (Just a manner of speaking I wouldnít hurt the  yiguirro because this little nondescript  dun-colored creature is Costa Ricaís national  bird, which I think is wonderful.)

My shower takes at least two minutes to warm  up, and I have decided that instead of waiting  for it to get warm, getting right in and starting  out with a cold shower is both healthy and  conserves water. The negative thing about this  is that my water pressure results in a shower  that falls like gentle rain so my cold shower  doesnít have the invigorating effect that a  powerful blast of water would. Itís more like  an enthusiastic Chinese water torture. But I am  getting used to it.

At least, when the rains come I wonít be  devastated if I donít have my umbrella.  Actually, I am starting the season with three  working ones. All different sizes; a big one (a  gift from a casino) that could double as a staff  should I choose to take a hike, a smart black  one with a loop so I can dangle it from my  wrist (another promotional umbrella that my  daughterís friend, Cathie, gave me) and one  that fits in my purse but is quite heavy.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Itís heavy because I wanted one that was wide  enough so that my pant leg didnít get wet every  time I took a step. This last one I found in a  great little store devoted to selling and repairing  umbrellas. It is the Paragueria Rego and it has  been in business for 54 years on the street  behind the Iglesia de la Merced just off Avenida  Segunda. 

Armed with any one of these umbrellas I am a  menace on the streets of San Jose. Bobbing and  weaving and avoiding poking someone in the eye  seems to come naturally to Ticos. Some things  you learn more easily when youíre young ó like  speaking another language, or riding a bicycle or  driving a car, or how to do the umbrella ballet on  a crowded street. 

Ticos have obviously grown up learning how to  wield umbrellas. They even sell tiny ones in the  supermarket, and I see little tots with their very  own umbrellas. I never owned an umbrella  when I was growing up. When it rained, if we  were allowed to go out at all, we put on some  rain gear and went out and stomped in puddles  and picked up what we called "angle worms." I  still know how to do that. 

The words "disculpe," "perdon," "lo siento," and  that international word, "OOPS!" become part of  my vocabulary during the "green" season. I  make use of these words quite frequently once I  have opened my umbrella. Sometimes I use  them all in one sentence. 


 
Consider side effects and Costa Rican 'natural' cures
This column was published April 19, 2002

Lately it seems that I am taking more and  more pills, each one for a different problem  and one for the side effects of one of the other  pills. This bothers me. When I was working, I  had an assistant who was taking eight different  pills, five of them to treat the side effects of  the others. She became very ill and never  recovered from the operation she had to have  in spite of the first pill she was taking to cure  her problem. 

Anyone who watches television is aware of the  number of ads for different drugs ó and of all  of the incredible side effects you are expected  to endure in order to get relief from one  ailment. The drug makers seem to think that if  they list the side effects of their drugs (even if  one of them is "sudden death"), they are off the  hook. What is also disturbing is the high cost of  all of these medications.

Meanwhile I have been thinking about writing  about the ubiquitous Ficus. This remarkable  tree seems to grow in all climates, altitudes  and sizes. Sandy, who grows bonsai, says that  Ficus even make nice bonsai. I love trees. 

Anyway, so the other day when I was  downtown and walking through Parque  Morazan, I stopped in front of a huge tree, first  because I always notice the roots of trees, and  this one had magnificent ones. 

Many of the roots were above ground, making  wonderful spaces which reminded me of when  I was little and one of my favorite pastimes  was making a plan of a house at the foot of a  tree, using the roots as walls As I looked up, I  saw that it also had magnificent branches. One  had even grown a ridge to support another  branch. I believe trees have consciousness. A  little plaque stated that the tree was a  "Higueron Ficus Jimenez ll." Really, I thought, a  Ficus?

As I was contemplating this, a voice said  something like "Pick up a leaf." A gentleman  sitting on a park bench had been watching me.  I walked over to him and asked if that was  indeed a Ficus. He said no, it was a Higueron  and the leaves gave off a milk that was good  for treating ulcers. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

He then went on, quite passionately, to tell me that the earth grew all of the necessary cures for  what ails us. That most of it was free or nearly  so, but that man made drugs and charged exorbitant prices for the drugs. In the campo, he  said, when a dog or cat has stomach trouble, it  will find a particular plant and chew the leaves,  and the juice cures them. "Just watch the animals  and learn," he said. 

And the ancients, I thought, remembering  something I had read about the Indians of the Andes who chewed the coca leaf. It not only  helped them survive in the rarified air. It curbed  their appetite and gave them energy. Addiction  was not a problem. Modern man came along,  isolated the part that gave a high and developed  a drug for which we have, indeed, paid an  exorbitant price. I remembered reading that the  coca leaf contained vitamin B complex, among  other nutrients, that seemed to prevent the  deleterious side effects. How many other natural  medicines have we turned into drugs with  harmful side effects, I wondered? 

It is funny how things like that happen. I tend to  believe that there are no accidents or coincidences. This Ďchanceí encounter with the  man on the bench was telling me something. For the moment, the mighty Ficus will have to wait,  as I am now caught up in reading about  alternative treatments for ailments. It seems to  me that allopathic research into the efficacy of  herbal and other "natural"remedies is limited  mainly to warning us about possible side effects,  perhaps as someone has said, because these  treatments cannot be patented.

Costa Rica is an ideal place to do this research  because the Central Market has stalls that sell  medicinal herbs and there are many  practitioners of homeopathic medicine here. It  certainly canít hurt to check out what Mother  Earth has in her medicine chest. 
 


 
Cowgirls arenít the only ones who get the blues
This column was published April 12, 2002

Lately I have been thinking about book titles, not the contents of the books themselves, just their titles. Like, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues." That has been going through my head for a couple of days. Then I thought about "War and Peace." Then up came the title, "The Woman Who Made Love to Men to Take the War out of Them." 

It was not until I discovered that I had assembled all of the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on my kitchen counter that I realized that I was depressed. Even grown up ladies get the blues. Chocolate chip cookies, as well as spaghetti with garlicky tomato sauce are my usual defenses against the blues. 

As I beat the sugar and butter mixture, I thought about why I was feeling so down. The irritating wind that wonít quit wasnít helping. I canít hear it in most rooms of my apartment but I can in my "office." But mainly, I knew it was the news, the news from everywhere, including Costa Rica. 

In the local news was the sad information that the losing presidential candidate, Rolando Araya Monge, had been beaten up by a group of celebrators ó not disgruntled losers, but happy victors of the opposing party! At the same time I read that there was a drive-by shooting in Sabanilla, a suburb of San Jose. "Paradise Lost," I thought. The peaceful, nonviolent beauty spot of the world that was once Costa Rica is disappearing. 

The news from the U.S. is even worse. The war on terrorism looks like it is going to expand into a world war. The powers that be know that Americans are poor readers, yet CNN now adds a moving scroll of news items different from what is being discussed and pictured. So we are expected to read one thing and absorb it as we watch and listen to something else. Enough to depress anyone, especially since the news in the crawl space is seldom mentioned above and is often more important. 

Some days ago I read in that crawl space that the 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

testing of nuclear bombs in the 50s has resulted in some 50,000 cancers in the United States. I saw that item just once. Meanwhile, over and over I see 
information about all of our personal habits that can lead to cancer. More than once, moving across the bottom of the screen has seen the warning that women who gain more than 38 pounds during pregnancy are more prone to breast cancer. I think the government is just trying to shift the blame. One way or another the U.S. is becoming a "Cancer Ward." 

My cookies were in the oven by now. I wondered if perhaps as I bit into one (like half the world I eat several while they are still warm), it would jog my memory of happier times, like the little madeleine cake did for Marcel Proust. Hmm, thatís why I was thinking of "Remembrance of Things Past." Then immediately came to mind, "Nostalgia Isnít What it Used to Be," and I realized that living in bygone days doesnít work. We only have the present ó "Be Here Now," as the title says. 

I took my cookies out of the oven, and as soon as I could handle one, took it with me out onto my balcony and looked out over the city I love that is increasingly getting more and more polluted, then at my pitiful plants. I must do something about them, I told myself for the 50th time. Then I thought of "Candide" and did think of the message there. Perhaps the answer to my blues over the woes of the world about which I seem to be able to do so little is to cultivate my own garden. 

Meanwhile I will go back into the kitchen (that is really my garden) and make a pot of beautiful red, spicy tomato sauce. It canít hurt. 

Jo Stuart takes a Semana Santa visit with Mavis
This column was published April 5, 2002

As beautiful as this country is, for me, living in Costa Rica is more about friends than it is about places. I no longer have a need to visit the beaches and rain forests again. But when it comes to friends, well, I can see them over and over again. 

I knew who Mavis Biesanz was long before we met. Her first book on Costa Rica, "The Costa Ricans," was my reference for learning about the culture and people. 

When we finally met, I felt a bit intimidated, but we seemed to have a lot of things in common. To begin with, we both grew up in the snowbelt of the United States (and I loved her book, "A Finnish-American Girlhood"). 

We both had more than a passing interest in anthropology. It was my major in college, and much of "The Costa Ricans" and later "The Ticos," another of her books, written with her son and daughter-in-law, Richard and Karen Biesanz, is anthropology. 

We both were sort of goody-two-shoes academic achievers. Mavis outdid me here. She graduated from college magna cum laude while working at four jobs. And we both love to play Scrabble.

So when she invited me to spend the week before Easter at her home in Ciudad Colon, I said yes. Normally, Easter Week is a very quiet, solitary time for me. The world seems to have gone to the beaches, and I am left with a peaceful San José but little else. This would be different. 

It was different. Peaceful, totally relaxing, with little to do but enjoy ourselves (which meant we read, talked a lot and played a lot of Scrabble). I didnít even have to cook. Mavisí sonís Thai cook Som Kid sent us meals for the week. You can imagine my confusion and thoughts when first she said, "Som Kid will be bringing our meals."

One day Bill White, our special and mutual friend, who has the Julia and David White Artistsí Colony in Ciudad Colon, invited us to lunch at his new house. He built it above the tennis court, and it is a joy of country living. His assistant, Ron, and I are trying to convince him to replace the virtually unused tennis

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

court with a bocce ball lane and perhaps a racquet ball court.

Another day, after a short walk, as we were about to enter the house, a tall pretty woman with auburn hair suddenly appeared and began speaking to us in Spanish. She explained that she had been watching a family of iguanas and felt as if she were living in a prehistoric park. 

Christina turned out to be German (we soon switched to English) and Mavisí new neighbor. In the middle of their moving in she invited us for a visit. (I could never have done that), and we had a glass of wine with her, her husband Martin and their son, Douglas. 

Martin is the new rector of the University for Peace. I am thrilled that finally the University for Peace is actually functioning as a university and is in the hands of someone who is both a visionary and pragmatic. (I know that sounds like an oxymoron.)

On my last day, Mavis and I went out to Grecia where many more friends had gathered at Ruthís to say farewell to Bonnie and Arnold. Ruth no longer is in the pineapple growing business, but when she was, she and Norma produced the sweetest, most delicious pineapples I have ever tasted. 

Bonnie and Arnold came to Costa Rica as Peace Corps workers and stayed on for the next 10 years to spend part of the year in the village where they volunteered. They are going back to California more or less permanently. They are good friends I am going to miss. However, it was one good farewell party.

And that was the week that was. I discovered something that doesnít take a philosopher to learn: spending time with friends really beats spending a week alone.


 
Jo tells why she decided to move to Costa Rica
This column was published March 28, 2002

I recently heard about a new book recommending the 20 best countries in the world in which to retire. That must have been fun for the author to research. Many years ago I read "Bargain Paradises of the World" when I was looking for some place where my young family and I could live while my husband wrote full-time. I chose Majorca, Spain. Today I doubt that I could live in Majorca.

I investigated only two countries before I retired. At the insistence of a friend who was living there, I first went to Chapala, Mexico, to see what that was like. The climate was nice. The produce in the local markets looked awful to me. We had to wash it in disinfectant, and each time I washed vegetables, I thought of a dear friend who died of amoebic dysentery in Mexico. I have always felt an underlying violence in Mexico. I was not comfortable there.

I never read a book or an article on Costa Rica. Instead I visited the country three times to see if I could live here. I remember my first visit, driving into the city from the airport, looking at the view and feeling the air. Without having talked to anyone except the taxi driver, I thought: "I could live here." As you can see, this was not a decision based upon much research.

On my second visit, I stayed in Escazu for a week or so. On my last day I was walking up the road to catch a bus when I saw a young woman come out of a house, turn back to the lady inside and say, "Iíll see you next week." I stood in the middle of the road bracing myself against the wave of envy that washed over me. I wonít be here next week, I thought. I wanted to cry. I didnít know what the rest of that young womanís life was, but I was ready to trade places. Thatís when I knew I would settle in Costa Rica. 

What I have just said would in no way convince anyone who asks, why I chose Costa Rica. So I have other reasons. 

First of all, I knew I was going to live abroad when I retired. I couldnít afford to live in a U.S. city, and, secondly, I have always felt that change was a life-extender (at least, it takes longer to tell the story of your life than it would if you stayed in the same place). 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Learning to adapt to something new renews us. And if the truth be said, I was still suffering from reverse culture shock after my return from Majorca 30 years before. I had become a recycler, a make-doer, a small-and-simple-is-better person, and that is not always easy in the States. In Costa Rica one can practice all of these habits. 

Of course, a prime attraction was the fact that Costa Rica has no army and over the years has developed a peace mentality. I have always felt that war was not the long-term answer to anything, and even short-term created more problems than it solved. The main thing that war accomplishes is to destroy families. 

Family is very important in Costa Rica. Perhaps that is really why they abolished their army and the possibility of war. Some American friends have responded that Costa Rica doesnít need an army because the United States would come to its rescue and defend it. 

My response is that in Costa Rica the money that would have been spent on weapons went towards education and medical services, so who is the more advanced country?

However, everything has a downside, and the downside of "peace at any price" seems to be a character trait known as passive-aggressive. That is when someone will not confront you head-on, but will get back at you in a roundabout way. 

Compared to the downside of a competitive freedom-first people which is aggressive-aggressive (shoot first, ask questions later), Iíll take the former. In the United States there seems always to have to be a loser. Here, most people work for a win-win situation. I can live comfortably with that as I learn daily to adapt. 

Learning to be patient has its rewards, Jo finds
This column was published March 22, 2002

"Patience, patience, patience. Thatís what we need," said the man waiting with me at the door of the X-ray Department of the Clinica Duran. "And lots of it," he added. 

I nodded my head in agreement. I had been here last Wednesday in the reception area with my doctorís order for a chest X-ray. When my number was called, I was told I was in the wrong place and should go directly to X-ray. The little man on the other side of the dutch door had told me to come back Monday morning at 8 a.m. Now it was 8:15 on Monday morning and the same little man behind the dutch door was telling me that I should go to reception and make an appointment. 

I balked. "But you yourself told me . . ."I began. I worked at sounding perplexed rather than annoyed. He immediately conceded and told me to go sit down until someone called me. Sure, I thought. But I hardly had time to open my book when my name was called loud and clear over the loudspeaker and within 15 minutes I had had my X-ray and smiling assurance from the little man that I could pick it up in three days to take to my doctor. . 

By 9 a.m. I was on the 13th floor of the Caja Annex where Linda (the expat, who is the resident information guru) told me I should go to hand in my receipts showing that I had changed the required amount of dollars into colones in the past year in order to maintain my status as a pensionada. 

Except for two cleaning women, I was the only one there for about five minutes. Then a pretty young woman appeared at the window, looked over what I had and said it was fine and gave me a receipt for it. I knew it could not be fine, just like that. "Is that all?" I asked. "Donít I have to get some stamps or something to put on the receipts or proof that I am who I am?" She just laughed and assured me the matter was taken care of.

Back on the street at 9:15 I didnít quite know what to do with myself, so I wandered through the Artistica furniture store and then walked to the farmacia for a couple of items. As I headed for the bus stop, I recalled that fares had gone up in the past month. 

A new law and executive decree was in effect. It stated that citizens and residents with a Ciudadano de Oro (gold card) would ride free on buses going as far as 25 kilometers and get a 50 percent discount if they were traveling 26 to 50 kilometers and 25 percent discount on more than 50 kilometers. 

When I boarded the bus, the driver took my little ticket without looking at my cedula or gold card. It is going to be so nice not having to make the bus driver wait while I fumble around in my wallet for 
the correct change. 

The hikes in the fares for others would pay for it. I had been told that this was already happening but 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

people were waiting for hours in long lines to sign 
up. Since I had expected to wait hours anyway, and my bus stop was right next to the Caja, I went in. I was told to go around to the side of the building. There, under an awning were rows of folding chairs and dozens of "ancianas" ("senior citizens) in the chairs. 

A friendly young man with an earring in his ear gave me ficha number 98 and personally took me to the third row where he told me to sit next to a lady with ficha number 97. I asked him how many hours, more or less, the wait was. He assured me it was "un ratito." I settled down and dug my book out of my bag. I had actually been looking forward to reading it. It was 9:40. 

Before I finished one page, we were told to move from row three to row two, and the people in row one entered the building. Aha, I thought. Very clever. They will keep moving us about, and we will think weíre getting somewhere. In a couple of minutes we were told to move to row one. I put my book back in my bag. In a couple of more minutes I was inside the building and told to sit at one of the two desks. 

A very pleasant older gentleman asked me if I spoke Spanish "bastante." I said I spoke enough for the kitchen, but not to discuss politics. He proceeded to explain to me what I was to do to ride free, peppering his speech with English words here and there. 

He gave me 31 tickets printed in pale gold. Each ticket was perforated into three sections. One for trips up to 7 kilometers, one for trips between 7 and 14 kilometers and the third for trips up to 25 kilometers. The nice man explained to me that I should come back in a month, on a Friday, to get more tickets. 

He was in no hurry to rush me and he was very helpful. He said I should show my gold card and cedula when I presented my ticket to the bus driver but probably soon wouldnít need to. I realized that in Costa Rica, patience is often rewarded with really pleasant encounters with people graciously doing their jobs.

As I left (noting that it was 10 a.m.), I tore off ticket number one. I stood in the line waiting for the bus. And we waited. A wind with an icy edge had come up. The line got longer. I have never waited so long for a bus. The girl next to me said, "In Costa Rica, one needs patience."

I smiled. "Sometimes we do," I agreed.


 
A little trick to help you remember to remember
This column was published March 15, 2002

Lately more and more friends are asking me to remind them to do something or do I remember the other name of "whatshername." In a way, this is flattering. They must think I am not afflicted with the loss of memory that seems pandemic among the expats here. 

Some of us are actually forgetting what we are talking about in the middle of a sentence. I have a solution for remembering forgotten names: I just go through the alphabet because I know that that name is in there somewhere. It can take a couple of run-throughs, but it usually works. It does, however, slow down conversations. Then we really forget what we were talking about.

The other day I happened to be looking up how to remove water rings from wood in a little book I have and I came across a chapter on how to remember things. (The book is Meg Brackenís "I hate to Housekeep Book." remember her?) The suggestion I liked was aimed at remembering a short list of things. It helps when you wake up in the middle of the night and think of three things you have to buy at the store. I tried it the other night. First what you do is simply remember a flagpole, a pair of red bloomers and a tricycle. (One, two, three. Got it?). 

Still in bed I pictured a cup of coffee balanced on the flagpole. Then the rubber gloves, one on each leg of the bloomers, and finally a bottle of soda water careening down a hill on a tricycle. I didnít get to the store for two days, but once there, I remembered the kilo of coffee, the rubber gloves and the soda water. But for the life of me, I couldnít remember what I had associated with the rubber gloves. I kept seeing them on the antlers of a reindeer. Whatever works, I figure. From now on, number two is a reindeer. 

Forgetting is one of the downsides of being a member of the over-the-hill gang (Thatís not an insult. Thatís a euphemism). Last week was not a good week for me, and I topped it by getting a virus in my computer. Unknown to me, it sent out an ersatz message to everyone in my address book, which, if they opened it, or their antivirus program didnít catch it, would have played havoc with them, too. 

My computer got the virus because I forgot to update my virus program. So this is an apology to everyone who got that message (donít even think 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

of opening it. Delete, delete!) and a lesson to us all. That should also be a feature of maturity: we can now put into practice all of the lessons we have learned throughout our lives . . if we could just remember them.

This week started out much better because the concert season has begun. You have to love a country that turns an old airport into a public park for all the people and a former prison into a childrenís museum with an auditorium where performances like the symphony can be held. And then adopts the idea of Sunday morning concerts for those of us who tend to fall asleep at the Friday evening ones.

I am not a music critic, but I have found that when I am listening to and watching the performance of classical music I never have a negative thought. If my mind wanders at all, it is always to something very positive. 

It was a wonderful concert on Sunday beginning with a joyful overture by Bedrich Smetana and then works by Rachmaninoff and Richard Strauss. I thought the pianist played one of the sweetest pianos I have heard in a long time. Both of the longer works contained passages that have become familiar because they have been used as themes for movies. 

The beginning of the Strauss opus, "Also Sprach Zarathustra," was in the beginning of the movie "2001: A Space Odyessy." The Rachmaninoff had an incredibly romantic section that I was sure was used in "An Affair to Remember." I turned to my seat companion and asked, "Wasnít this part the background music for "An Affair to Remember." With Cary Grant and whatshername when they met on the top of the Empire State Building? 

He said he couldnít remember, then he muttered something else. I think he said, "Just listen to the music," but Iím not sure. I hope Iím not losing my hearing, too.


 
There is a special trick to combating the snarls
This column was published March 8, 2002

When some friends, back from a visit to Florida, mentioned that a medium- sized watermelon was $10 in the supermarket, that seemed like a lot to me, and I decided it would be interesting to compare prices. I would, I decided, go to the Saturday feria (farmersí market) and make a note of the prices of fruits and vegetables.

Saturday didnít start out to be a great day. As my mother used to say, I got up on the wrong side of the bed, or I was at sixes and sevens . . everything was in a snarl. There are enough descriptions of how I felt that make me think itís pretty common. I had offered to make the main dish for a charades get-together at noon, and as soon as I awoke I was regretting my offer. 

And although I was up at 6 a.m., my neighbors, who usually give me a lift to the feria, were not at home. I just didnít feel like walking the mile or so. But I had my coffee and set off. My mental outlook did not improve, even with walking. I was simply feeling sorry for myself, and nothing was going to change that. I noticed another woman walking across the street a little ahead of me. She obviously was going to the feria because she was pulling a cart. If I kept her in my sights I couldnít get lost. Sometimes I daydream as I walk and lose my way. 

I was thinking about my friend Jerry, and what he said the other day when he was giving me a lift somewhere. Jerry used to be director of personnel at a university, and I have found people in personnel have an almost knee-jerk response of "How can I help you?" to people who even look like they could use some help. Heís just generally a nice guy. 

We were discussing the ever-increasing traffic and how maddening it was. He said that when he finds himself especially annoyed with other drivers or with traffic in general, he lowers his annoyance by doing three kind acts. He was telling me this as he braked and waved to the car in the next lane to get in front of us. Usually after the third good deed, he said, he had been thanked so much and felt so good about himself he no longer was annoyed.

I was thinking this when I saw a taxi and I hailed 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

it. As I got in, I asked the taxi driver if he would 
stop down the street for the woman with the cart. I then called to her and asked if she would like to ride. In a moment we were putting her cart in the back seat while she got in the front of the taxi. At the feria, she blessed me enough for three people, and I was beginning to feel a bit better. 

There were a number of stands selling watermelons. They must be in season. And the price varied from 100 to 150 colones a kilo. (Thatís about 15 cents a pound.) Some were halves and they looked delicious, but I wasnít about to carry one home. Instead, I bought four tomatoes, three red peppers, a large cauliflower, a small broccoli, a papaya, a small pineapple, four carrots, a Daikon radish, a box of strawberries and a dozen Cala lilies. All of this came to approximately $4.90.  To be perfectly fair, I should include the cost of two taxis, about $1.30, and admit that in the supermarket watermelons are 170 colones a kilo.

When I got home and was putting everything away, I remembered something else my Florida-visiting friends said: "There we found ourselves eating processed food and a lot more meat, and we realized that we eat so much healthier here." 

This doesnít mean there are no processed foods here. But it is easier to resist them. Costa Rica also has a lot of "exotic" unfamiliar vegetables and fruits that I never buy simply because they are unfamiliar. 

That made me think of something T.H. White said in "The Once and Future King." When youíre sad, learn something new. Maybe when youíre in a snarl, you should try something new. Next time, I will buy one strange fruit or vegetable. Or is that just throwing a monkey wrench into the situation? 


 
The pursuit of pleasure in all of its forms
This column was published March 1, 2002

Iíve been reading Lionel Tigerís book, "The Pursuit of Pleasure." Lionel Tiger is an anthropologist some of whose other books I read when I was studying the subject. He did what I said I was hoping to do: major in anthropology and a minor in nutrition and then study the people of China by eating my way across their country. (I wanted to prove the adage "You are what you eat.") 

"The Pursuit of Pleasure" is about enjoying food, as well as the other pleasures of the body and mind, like wonderful smells, sex, play, and being with other people, to name a few. Tiger argues that humans (and probably other animals) have a basic need to experience pleasure. We are not just pain avoiders. We actively seek out pleasure.

Learning that tourism is the biggest industry in the world supports the idea. People travel to other countries in the hopes of new, exciting and pleasurable experiences. But thinking about this made me wonder if war was the second biggest industry. Tourism and waging war have something in common. In both, hoards of people invade another country, but the course of war is violence and pain, and the course of tourism is usually friendship and pleasure. 

And now we get to Costa Rica and the reason people flock here (and return many times). I am sure it is because this little country, which has no means to wage war, offers so many avenues of pleasure ó the kind of pleasure Lionel Tiger is talking about. For starters, I canít think of another country that can offer within the course of one day, a hike in a misty pine forest, swimming in tropical waters from a sandy beach (just lying in the sun is a major pleasure for many), playing a round of golf in spring-like weather, and listening to a world-class symphony orchestra and enjoying a gourmet dinner in elegant surroundings at the end of the day. 

You might be exhausted, but you could do all of these things in Costa Rica. And almost invariably they are offered by a friendly, gracious, caring people. That certainly adds to the pleasure. 

Governments, as a rule, seem to find it easier to tolerate violence than to accept pleasure, especially if that pleasure involves sex. Thus, many pleasurable experiences are prohibited, governed, tempered or controlled, as if society were afraid that order would be disrupted if people enjoyed themselves too much. 

Even private pleasures are frowned upon. Look how shocked so many were when Dr. Joycelyn Elders suggested teaching young people to masturbate to help curb the spread of AIDS. That on top of her support of legalizing some narcotics was just too much and she was forced to resign. It is too bad, because some studies have shown that while intercourse seems to heighten oneís aggressive tendencies, masturbation seems to have a calming effect. Instead, President Bush has announced that he is setting aside something like $125 million to teach abstinence. Maybe that also will have a 
calming effect if he includes money to teach Cold Showers 101.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

I cannot speak for other countries, but the United States is one of the most violent, and at the same time, one of the most puritanical countries in the world when it comes to sexual pleasure. The news and entertainment media tend to talk about sex and show violence. The obscenity laws are aimed at censuring what is deemed sexually repulsive or offensive or appealing to a prurient interest. 

There are no such laws aimed at violence ? unless perhaps, the violence is combined with sex. Although the United States is a religiously diverse culture, officially sex is a moral issue and seen as connected mainly to reproduction rather than to pleasure.

Costa Rica, nominally, is a Catholic country, although it allows religious freedom. There is no stricture dictating the separation of Church and State. Yet, in Costa Rica there are discussions on television (complete with illustrations) on sex education and prevention of pregnancy, billboards advertising the use of condoms and warning against SID (AIDS). And prostitution between adults is legal. 

The prostitutes here are often unmarried mothers who are supporting their children. They are also often lovely, educated and intelligent. One of the dumbest questions I hear people ask prostitutes is why do they "do it." That is, sell sex? Let me see, if I could prostitute my mind standing at a counter nine hours a day for say, to be generous, $20, or prostitute my body for two hours a day for perhaps 200 or more dollars, which would I choose? (when answering this question, please try to remember that not everybody thinks that sex is disgusting and equals sin). 

The more interesting question would be why do men patronize prostitutes (something they have been doing probably even before marriage was invented)? Since space is running out, I wonít try to answer that question now, but for male touristsí pleasure, at least, prostitution in Costa Rica is legal as long as everyone is an adult and no one is being exploited. 

Gambling, also considered a vice in some countries or states, is also legal in Costa Rica. Generally speaking, I do not think the stakes are as high as they are in say, Las Vegas. Only drugs, the third member of this particular "axis of evil" is illegal here. 

And I wonder, if it were not for the U.S. and its concerns, if Costa Rica would not re-think the role of marijuana. It is, after all, pretty benign as mind altering drugs go, and I can speak from experience that medically, it is indeed a pain avoider.
 


 
Voice of America comes up with interesting stories
This column was published Feb. 22, 2002

Sunday mornings are a favorite time for me. I get up early, put coffee and water in my top-of-the-stove espresso maker, fill my hummingbird feeder on the balcony, crumble some bread for other birds, and turn on C-Span to listen to what the subject is for that day and what the opinions of the people will be. 

Last Sunday, at 6:30 a.m., the program abruptly went off the air and on came a "talking head" that said he was the Voice of America with news for people around the world. He spoke very slowly. The week before this person had come on and, in disgust, I had turned off the TV and later told my friend Bill about it, mimicking sarcastically the slow careful pronunciation of the man. 

Billís reply was "I wish my Costa Rica friends would speak to me in Spanish like that." Adhering to a principle I have followed more or less all my life ("Donít knock it if you havenít tried it.") Last Sunday I decided to watch and listen.

What followed were some of the most interesting news stories I have heard in a long time and a great relief from the repetitive news I usually get.

One story was about land mines. Afghanistan has more unexploded land mines than any other country. Russia planted many, but there are hundreds if not thousands of undetonated cluster bombs the Americans have dropped that are very dangerous to children and other civilians. 

Land mines, it seems, cost about $30 to make and place and over $100 to safely detonate. 

Some scientists are experimenting with giving cows Vitamin E instead of the antibiotics they have been giving them in past years. The antibiotics were supposed to help them grow faster and ward off infections. But there have been side effects, as we all know, of compromising human immune systems and creating bacteria that survive current antibiotics. 

The Vitamin E so far, looks promising in accomplishing the same results without the side effects of antibiotics. My, I thought, I would much rather get an extra dose of Vitamin E than unneeded antibiotics which when I have had to take them have left me with an upset stomach and a cough.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

The next news essay was about a new cancer treatment that has been tested on rats. Although this treatment does seem to reduce the tumors, it also ages the rat (I donít remember if the treatment deprives the tumor of blood or oxygen or what causes the aging). 

The control rats, with untreated tumors, survived longer than rats who were cured. The conclusion the researchers came to was that old age is a defense against cancer! 

This contradicts what doctors have been saying for a very long time, i.e. that the reason that there has been an increase in cancers in past years is that people are living longer. Canít have it both ways, guys. Perhaps if we admit that the increase in cancers is in part due to our environment, more could be done to combat it.

The last news item was about the island of Sardinia. There, people live to a very ripe old age (cancer free, from what I can gather). Sardinia has a larger ratio of centenarians than other countries or islands. Many people there say it is due to drinking red wine every day. Researchers are studying the people, hoping to find a gene that accounts for the longevity. 

I wonder when we are going to come to the conclusion that traits are a mixture of nature and nurture? The interesting additional fact is that in a world where women generally outlive men, there are as many old men as old women in Sardinia. I am thinking of personally checking this out. I have a special affection for islands in the Mediterranean. But then, I thought, I have a special affection for Costa Rica. Life expectancy here is on a par with most so-called advanced countries. 

I got all of the stories in slow, clear English. I wondered if I would have understood it if the newscaster had spoken in slow, clearly enunciated Spanish. 


 
We-the-people power a good step toward peace
This column was published Feb. 15, 2002

Usually I am happy to write about the pleasures and occasional frustrations that make up living in Costa Rica. But recently it has been difficult to dwell on these subjects when I am so aware of what is going on in the rest of the world. 

Hardly a day goes by that I am not grateful to be here where I donít have to be thinking about a possible terrorist attack or a bomb falling. Not that Costa Rica is without violence or crime. It has its share. But it is still a country committed to peace, and so peace is what we will get. It is the saber rattling of countries committed to war as a means to peace that has me worried.

A friend in the U.S. forwarded a letter from Israel. It was about a recent demonstration by people who are also becoming committed to peace via peaceful means to co-existence between the Arabs and the Jews who live there. 

According to this letter, over 10,000 Jews and Arabs gathered in the Museum Plaza in Tel-Aviv to speak out for peace and to support the growing number of Israeli soldiers who are refusing to "serve an army that kills children."

Reading the letter made me remember 12 years ago when I was taking my dream trip, a train ride from Athens, Greece, to Oslo, Norway. I was leaving Norway after visiting my friend Nina and she had come to the train station to see me off. While we were sitting in my assigned compartment making the small talk people make when they must part, we both noticed a youngish man on the platform saying goodbye to friends. We noticed him because he was wearing a pale blue polyester bell-bottomed suit. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows and smirks. Who, in 1990 would wear such a suit, we communicated.

As it turned out, of course, his seat was in my compartment, right next to me, and we had a conversation, which is what you do on trains. He was a botanist or biologist (It has been 12 years, and I have forgotten details) and college professor from the Czech Republic, formerly part of Communist Czechoslovakia. 

For years, he said, he had applied for a permission to go to Norway to study at a special institute, and for years his 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

government refused, even though Norway had a grant waiting for him. 

Then in November of 1989 something unbelievable happened. It started when people were gathered in Prague to celebrate something like the end of the Nazi occupation, and their own police fired into the crowd to disperse them. This was, he said, the final straw of the oppression they had lived under. 

The celebration turned into a demonstration against the government, and the next day tens of thousands more showed up in the square to quietly protest, and the next day, even more. He said that he lived outside the city, but arrived on Monday and joined what was now over a million people, "who were like one organism, with one mind" protesting their governmentís policies, demanding free elections. 

In a matter of days, the Communist Party leadership resigned, and the rest, as they say, is history, and this young scientistís request was finally granted and he put on the only suit he had and traveled outside his country for the first time in his life. He was on his way home after one of the most exciting six months of his life.

This manís story has stayed with me because, well, how can you forget such a powerful illustration of what a group, a huge group of peaceful people can accomplish? They can topple a government. I believe they can stop a war. 

In Tel-Aviv, on Feb. 9 of this year, the people were not displaying their national flag; instead they waved black flags, because these flags symbolized pain, death, bereavement and the immorality of crimes committed in the name of war. Shulamit Aloni, a former minister of the government, and now a conscience of the country, said, "All of you are the harbingers of a mass movement that has already begun." I hope she is right. All that is needed are millions of people "with one mind:" declaring that the road to peace is peace.

Election day here in the civilized 'Third World'

Election Day in the Civilized 
'Third World'

As I write this, today, Sunday, Feb.3, it is Election Day in Costa Rica. It is always on Sunday so that everyone can vote, and since people must vote in their own province, it is also a reunion day for families and old friends. To make it even easier, free transportation is offered so that people can go home. To insure clear-headed voting, liquor is not sold from Friday night until Monday morning.

I have been watching TV only periodically this Sunday, mainly to get glimpses of the different provinces around the country. The weather is beautiful everywhere. I decide to walk downtown during the last hour of voting, while it is still light. On my way, I ask some men sitting on the front steps of a house if they know who is winning. No, they say, they wonít know until 9 p.m. tonight. There will be no winner until all the provinces are heard from.

There are something like 13 candidates representing every party and philosophy you can imagine from Libertarian to Communist. According to my neighbor, Darrylle, there is even one candidate who is running on a platform of change, just change, with the philosophy that anything is better than what they have. 

The three main candidates are Abel Pacheco, Rolando Araya and Ottón Solís. The only one I have met is  Solís who left the Partido Liberacion Nacional and is now heading a new party, the Partido Accion Ciudadana. He is running on an anti-corruption platform (in fact, everyone is running on an anti-corruption platform, to some extent). I heard him speak at a luncheon I attended some months ago. He was eloquent and idealistic. He has a Ph.D. in economics. He said that if corruption is not stopped, the people of Costa Rica are going to vote in a dictator. Many of us were impressed, and I even thought that he might have a chance. 

On my way downtown I walk past the three justice buildings and notice how clean the streets are. They are spotless, swept clean even before the new broom has been elected. I notice the cleanliness and the noise. The noise is coming from the cars, sometimes alone, sometimes in caravans, displaying the different flags representing their parties and honking their horns. The flags, they can use every year, unlike placards and leaflets. 

I decide to go via the new esplanade between the National Park and the courts. It is most pleasant ó another three or four blocks for pedestrians only. The houses and other buildings along the way all look newly painted and for some reason the district makes me think of England.

Once again on a trafficked street, the cars and flags and horns are celebrating. Everybody is waving at everybody. 

There seem to be a lot of yellow and orange flags so I ask two young women, also on their way to town, which party they represent. (I really already know, I just what to start a conversation.) They tell me it is the party of Ottón Solís. "There are a lot of them," I remark. "Yes," they smile. "Maybe weíll win." 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Once downtown I find a table at the News Café (and wonder if I am going to make this my hangout. I find a table on the low balcony that juts out onto Avenida Central, the walking mall, and is the closest thing to a sidewalk café I can find.) It is quite pleasant sitting there with my notebook. 

It has been years since I have written anything in a sidewalk café. I decide Iíll have a cappuccino, but nobody comes to take my order. Finally, I call a waiter over and ask him the names of the three parties. He doesnít know. I show him I am shocked. He smiles and placates me by saying he is not Tico, he is Colombian, and he goes off to ask another waiter. I get the information, but forget to ask for a cappuccino, and no one asks. 

I stay downtown until after dark, then find the beautiful breezy day has turned quite chilly, the breeze has turned into a wind with an icy edge. 

I walk to three different corners, even the corner across from the Del Rey Hotel. There are always taxis there. But there are few now, and those few prefer to take the Gringos and their young new acquaintances. 

Finally I am on Second Avenue and have just seen my bus leave. I wave a taxi just as three young men do. The taxista signals them he is picking me up. I apologize to them and thank him profusely. 

As we ride along I ask him who has won the election. He says Pacheco is in the lead, but there will have to be a runoff. "In Costa Rica," he says, "We donít lean toward the left or the right; we go down the middle." We donít have an army, we donít fight wars, instead we plant beans and rice and live in peace." It sounds good to me.

When I get home I turn on the TV. Pacheco, the most grandfatherly of the three front runners (and who is also a psychiatrist) is speaking, explaining to his cheering supporters that there will be a runoff because he won just under 39 percent of the vote and the law says the winner must garner at least 40 percent. Solís got 26 percent. Pacheco urges his followers to go out and vote when the time comes. Once over 90 percent of the voting population voted. In recent years the number has been dropping.

In answer to some question I donít hear, he says, "Costarricenses hacen todo con gusto." ("Costa Ricans do everything willingly and with pleasure" is my translation.) Yes, you do, I think, and you do it with considerable grace and good sense too.

I turn off the TV and have a thought I often have: The best thing Costa Rica has to offer the world is its own example.

The many faces of waste here and elsewhere
This column was published Feb. 1, 2002

Lately I have been thinking a lot about waste. I suppose it began when I heard that the U.S. government had settled upon Nevada as a dumping ground for nuclear waste and the citizens of Nevada were protesting. It does seem that with each new improvement in energy and speed there has been an increase in waste. We have even left junk in space. 

Did we ever worry, I wonder, about the half-life of horse manure when horses and other animals were our source of energy? Initially, of course, it wasnít very pleasant, but eventually it was recycled as fertilizer. Nobody wants to fertilize with nuclear waste.

Waste is an interesting word with a lot of interestingly related meanings. It can mean to destroy or devastate, it can mean to squander and it can refer to what is left over and useless, and it can even mean to kill. As I walk along (I am on my way to the Clinica Duran to keep my 7 a.m. doctorís appointment), I say, "If we continue to waste and make waste, weíll get wasted." I wonder, does "Haste makes waste." mean that the faster we want to go the more waste products we can expect? 

I once came up with a solution to some of our waste problems. Everyone gets a compactor and turns trash into handy little bricks, then covers the bricks with epoxy and builds a house with them. Thus we can live in our waste before it buries us. I have not patented this idea.

Sometimes we waste without meaning to. Years ago I was staying with friends in Brazil and threw away what I thought was an empty tube of shampoo. Their maid pulled my tube from the waste basket and showed me, by slitting it open with a razor, that I had at least three more shampoos left in that tube. To this day I wonder how much toothpaste and creams and (you name it) are left in our new and better packaging.

The route I take to the clinic begins with a shortcut down the hill on a path that is lined with garbage and tall grass so I look out for rats and snakes. I never have seen them, but I do see again the homeless man sleeping against the last house on the hill. It also takes me through a very poor barrio and as I walk I get annoyed with people who lament every abortion and say that there is enough food to feed every person conceived. 

Enough food is not the problem, distribution is. And even if there were enough food, would we be able to handle the extra waste and garbage? I think this as I see garbage bags stacked up on the street and smell the fumes from a sewer. I also wonder if there is as much lamenting over infant mortality.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

I arrive at the clinic, check in, open my book and settle down to wait for a while. The place is filled with people so I expect a long wait, but by 9:30, I am beginning to wonder. The doctor is seeing people who have come in after me. I go up to the desk and ask when I can expect to be seen? The woman takes some time finding my file then tells me that my name was called but I was absent. No, my name was not called, I insist. Muttered, maybe, but not called, or maybe it was pronounced so creatively I didnít understand it. 

The custom in the clinic is for the exiting patient to call the next person. Stuart is not easy to say for a Spanish speaker. The clerk takes my file to a cubicle where a nurse is taking blood pressure and tells me to stand in that line, showing me by putting her thumb and index finger just a hair apart, that the wait will be short. But it isnít. The nurse takes everyoneís pressure but mine. I have asked, and their appointments are for 10 a.m. I am getting annoyed. 

Finally, when she takes my blood pressure, it is higher than usual. I am not surprised. I go back and sit down and the clerk again makes her finger gesture. She has put my file in the doctorís office. I expect to be called momentarily. At 10:10 I am beginning to wonder why this appointment was made in the first place. I had seen another doctor a month before and she scheduled this appointment but she is not here. For the life of me I cannot think what I am going to tell this doctor. 

I am too angry to listen to what he may tell me, so I get up, tell the clerk, thank you, but I canít wait any longer. I march out of the clinic and stand outside wondering whether I should take a bus or a taxi home. Then I realize I am so angry, that the adrenaline must be accumulating in my system. We pump adrenaline (epinephrine) when we are frightened or mad ó in moments of high emotion ó and it helps us in the flight or fight response. 

But in our modern society it is difficult to fight or flee. I am convinced that adrenaline becomes dangerous waste in our bodies and makes us sick if we donít get rid of it. So I decide I better walk home ó fast. As I go along I begin to think of the ways I can cut down on my own wasteful ways. 


 
Wedding bells are ringing for the two Sandys
This column was published Jan. 25, 2002

Two of my dearest friends in Costa Rica are getting married. Sandy S. is marrying in January and Sandy P. is getting married in February. Both women have been members of my writing group over the years, and I admire them beyond expression.

Sandy S. came to Costa Rica about 12 years ago and with her then-husband. They bought some property outside of San Jose with the hopes of starting a bed and breakfast. Being in the country, the property had plenty of banana trees as well, and Sandy learned to make dozens of recipes calling for bananas, which were always threatening to overwhelm and over-ripen. Other than a charming manuscript of her experiences, the bed and breakfast venture was not a success, so the property was sold and Sandy moved to northern Costa Rica with a total and abiding aversion to bananas. 

When her marriage broke up, Sandy went through a number of years establishing herself as a person in her own right (coming here with a husband a woman is more or less an appendage with everything in his name). While doing this, she studied Spanish, really studied Spanish and while I am still speaking kitchen Spanish, Sandy speaks it well enough to teach it (which she does), to do translations ó she is currently translating a book of poetry from Spanish to English. 

Then she decided to become a citizen of Costa Rica, a country she has grown to love. Becoming a citizen is not easy, it requires in-depth information about the countryís history, arcane knowledge of Spanish grammar, not to mention fluency in Spanish. Sandy passed the first try.

For relaxation, since she loves to ride, Sandy raised a couple of horses and, as a good citizen, has become an involved member of her little community and even ridden in local parades. In the course of all of this, she met Roger, another expat and a talented and versatile craftsman. After some years of a growing friendship, and supporting each other through tough times and celebrating the good times, the two are getting married. 

Sandy P. has probably visited and lived in more countries than any secretary of state. The difference is in the way she traveled and how she lived. I donít understand how she is not constantly jet-lagged. She has lived in a Chicago ghetto in fear for her life during the uprising in 1968. She and 
her husband and daughter were the only white 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

family in a black neighborhood in the American South. She has kept house in a primitive apartment over a noisy bar in an African village. She has shivered in a cold water flat in Belgium, to mention a few. Sandy lived in these places because she worked for NGOs (non-government organizations), often trying to repair the damage that industrial countries wreaked unthinkingly or just trying to help with problems overlooked by governments. 

After her marriage broke up, Sandy moved to Costa Rica and became a consultant to NGOs as well as other organizations that seem to have lost their vision. The lessons Sandy has taken during her lifeís work have made her one of the wisest women I know. She is one of the few people I know who can say "Do as I do" (not "As I say"). 

Her wisdom, like all good wisdom, is laced with love. Like another friend of mine, Sandy knows how to nurture friendships, and takes the trouble to do it. She has single-handedly established "traditions" here in Costa Rica with some of these friends. A Christmas celebration dinner at her apartment every year with our writing group, and an annual "Gourmet Hot Dog Dinner" with another group of friends are two that I am involved in, and I am sure she has others with other friends. Sandyís writing tends to essays about her experiences, especially with the people she met in the villages in Africa. There is a spiritual dimension to all she writes.

After living for years in a difficult marriage in impoverished conditions (partly as a result of her choice of work), Sandy now lives very comfortably in Costa Rica and, not to sound corny, has found romance with Harry (they met at a dance, which I think is romantic). Although coming to it from a different route, Harry shares her desire to help others help themselves. They are getting married on Valentineís Day. 

As much as I have always loved other peopleís weddings, I canít attend either, but I will be thinking of them both with love on their days.

Some oversimplifications about life that seem true 
This column was published Jan. 18, 2002

My thanks to my friend Grady for the heading of this column. I ran into him the other night, and over coffee we discussed our life and times. Iíve been thinking about our conversation.

I told him I didnít think my non-gambling friends understood much of my column on gambling. We agreed that the briefest advice on gambling is "bet a little and win a lot." That is similar to advice about the stock market that is the most valuable: Buy low and sell high. Canít go wrong if you follow that advice.

Through the course of my life I have received and garnered plenty of advice ó and given my share. Most are simple guidelines that have helped me in day-to-day living like, "First, make sure it is plugged in." The other day my laptop suddenly went black. Each time I re-started it, it lasted only a minute and then went black again. Even the battery light went off. Of course, my heart sank. I couldnít bear to face the consequences of such a disaster, so I just left it. Later going back to it, I noticed the cord lying on the floor. I had disconnected it in order to connect my iron. I plugged it in, and my computer came merrily on, all lights blazing. 

The second most valuable simplification has been "Left loose, right tight" (this is sometimes expressed in cuter language, which I donít care for). It is incredible how often this has come to my rescue, whether it is trying to loosen the top of a jar or tighten a screw. (I also discovered that if you put on a rubber glove or just put a rubber band around the rim of the jar top it helps to open it ó it doesnít help with a screw). Remembering that simple phrase can solve many of lifeís problems. 

I used to work in student housing. I was what was once called a "dorm mother" and later (when men got into the act) residence hall director. It was about 1 a.m. when I heard the heavy metal doors at the end of the hall slam open. I put on my housecoat and opened my door just when about every other door in that wing opened. Coming down the hall were three very large and quite drunk football players.

"Weíre looking for the party," one said. "Whereís the party?" Student doors slammed shut. I walked out into the middle of the hall hoping to stop their progress. 

"Iím so sorry," I said, smiling in a friendly way. "But all of the parties are over in this dorm. I guess you gentlemen might as well leave." 

They stopped, and we all just looked at one another for a moment. Then one said, "Yeah, I guess we might as well leave." And they did. Once again it worked: people tend to behave the way you expect 
them to. This works very well in Costa Rica where 
 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

most people want to do the right thing. Of course, this could be put under the heading "Do unto others ..." 

By now I was having some chicken fingers (not as good as KFCís nuggets), Grady was eating lemon pie, and I was telling him another way we simplify the world is by dividing people into two kinds. Like those who have more money than time and those who have more time than money (explaining, as I have before, that by definition the idle rich and the working poor donít fit into this division). Thus, the ones with more money spend it saving time, and those with more time, spend their time saving money. Grady liked that, but he said that, in fact, there are three kinds of people in the world: those who know, those who donít know, and those who donít know they donít know. Those who donít know they donít know, he said, are the scary ones. 

Since then I have been thinking about that and trying to come up with examples, and then I got two in a row. Just like when you hear a word for the first time (or are introduced to someone new, you see that word or person time and again right after that.) 

Well, I was watching C-Span ó itís practically a hobby of mine ó and first there was the director of the Center for Disease Control talking about anthrax and how little we know about the infection and beware of doctors who donít say "I donít know" when they donít, because they are very scary people. Later, on the same program there was a discussion of aid to developing countries from industrialized countries. 

Annoyed Americans called in to say that the generosity of the U.S. should be curbed because the money didnít go to the right people anyway and why were we always helping countries that didnít like us in spite of our generosity? Finally, the host held up a printed chart showing the15 richest countries and their foreign aid records. 

The most generous country in the world seems to be Denmark. The U.S. came in last in terms of the money they give to less fortunate countries, whether it was measured per capita or in dollar amounts. A lot of us Americans do not know that ó and donít know we donít know. That may not be scary, but it can be embarrassing. 
 


 
In case you wondered how to play at the casinos
The column was published Jan. 11, 2002

A new casino has opened in downtown San Jose. That makes nine, more or less, by my count, in roughly a 10-block area. This one, the Fiesta, is on Avenida Central, the cobblestone walking mall that goes from Paseo de los Estudiantes to the Central Mercado. I wonder how this new casino will affect this promenade, since prostitutes tend to congregate near the casinos.

In case you didnít know, both gambling and prostitution are legal in Costa Rica. This fact attracts many tourists in search of easy gaming and pay-as-you-go (so to speak) sex.

I happen to be in favor of the legalization of both. Anthropologically speaking, both prostitution and gambling would be considered universal traits, that is they exist in just about every society in the world past and present.

Many people (that is, more than one) have asked me what kind of gambling they have here. They feel uncomfortable going into a casino without some knowledge of the games. I can give you a nutshell course. Here, the most common games are "Tute," a form of poker and "Rommy" a form of blackjack. There is also craps, and roulette. And of course, just about every kind of slot machine you could want. Usually you buy special coins to play the slots (ranging from 25 to 100 colones or 7 to 30 cents U.S. in worth), but some machines take bills.

I havenít played craps much, but it seems to be the same game as in Las Vegas. Rommy is usually played with four decks of cards. You get two cards, just as in blackjack, and then can ask for more. If you go over 21 you "bust." Making 21 with a face card and an ace, gets only even money. The big payoffs are on three of a kind or a straight of three numbers (3 to 1) Three sevens or six, seven and eight (which add up to 21) pay 5 to 1. Although normally you bust if you go over 21, if you have a straight or three of a kind, you still win.

To play Tute, the player puts up an ante. The minimum is usually 500 colones (or $5.00 if you are betting with dollars). You are dealt five cards, which only you see, and if you like your hand you make a bet, which must be twice your ante. The game only proceeds if the dealer holds a king or an Ace. If he/she doesnít, you keep your ante. Winning pairs pay even money; two pairs 2 to 1, three of a kind, 3 to 1, a straight, 4 to one, flush, 5 to one, Full house, 15 to 1, poker, or four of a kind pays 20 to 1, and a straight flush 50 to 1. If you are feeling lucky, you can participate in the "acumulado" and add an extra bet on the side in 100-colon increments. If you get a straight or better, you win extra. Each casino is different in its pay off.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Roulette is U.S. style with a zero and double zero, which are green. All other numbers, up to 36, are red or black. Some casinos have a roulette wheel (the kind you see in 007 movies). All have the canasta, a round cage in which numbered ping-pong balls are whirled. You can bet the numbers or red or black, odd or even, sections of number, or even rows. 

You buy colored chips. Usually the buy-in is 5000 colones ($14.60). And unless you specify differently, are worth 100 colones each. Or you can buy dollar chips. The different colored chips are only to differentiate your chips from someone elseís. If you are a heavy bettor, be sure to ask what the maximum is because if you put out more and win, you will be paid only on the maximum bet allowed. 

The pay-off is 35 to 1 if you a bet a number "straight up" The pay-off goes down the more numbers you cover with one chip. To cover groups of numbers (like all odd numbers, or all black numbers) you can play the outside. If you bet the numbers, youíll have to put at least four chips out there. The minimum on outside bets that pay two to 1 is a stack of five. On bets that pay even money, the minimum is usually 10 chips, whether dollars or colones. 

Most casinos do not pay you your winnings in cash at the tables. They will write a check which you cash in at the caja, or cashier. In some, you change your playing chips for "fichas de valor" and cash them in at the caja.

Although the casinos in San Jose may not compete with those of Las Vegas or Cannes for size or glamour, they have their own particular offerings. All of them serve free drinks to gamblers, including fruit drinks; many of them serve free food. 

The Colonial regularly serves bocas to the players, and has special dinners; both the Aurola and the Barcelo Amon serve a free buffet (the Aurola on Fridays and Saturdays), and the Gran Hotel and the Del Rey will bring you a plate of food at your table. Some have periodic "rifas" worth thousands of colones, so donít throw away that little numbered piece of paper they give you. It may be the only thing you win all evening. 

A full plate of Costa Rican bocas for the holidays
This column was published Jan. 4, 2002

Beginning a New Year can be daunting, so I am going to do what Costa Ricans do: diminutize it. Here, just about every noun is reduced (or softened) by the ito/ita or ico/ica ending, all of which mean "little." Thus, you wait a momentito. The doctor may ask how your broken brazito (arm) is. That's how Costa Ricans got to be called Ticos.

In this spirit I am offering up bocas, or better yet, boquitas, tiny tidbits, like hors díoeuvres, to begin the feast (figuratively speaking) that I hope will be yours in 2002. 

Iíve been trying to clear out piles of paper. Papers are my nemesis. I hang on to everything, and Iím not even sure why. My friend Margaret gives away her magazines within a week or so of getting them. Iíve had some of her magazines since 1996. And of course, clearing out paper means re-reading stuff. I came across an old journal in which I had written that Amjad, a Kuwaiti I had met, told me he had the valley between Pakistan and China, the place, he said, that is called Shangri la. He said that time there did indeed stand still and people lived a very long time. Women of 90 had babies. I tried to find something about this part of the world. The closest I got was the country of Bhutan and according to the almanac, the life expectancy is in the 50ís.

But life expectancy is tricky. Itís calculated by averaging ages of death of a population and when there is a high infant mortality, it can be pretty low and we think everyone grows old and dies in their 50ís. Life span is something else. Amjad also said that the husbands in polygamous marriages (he had four wives) had it tough because they had to treat all the wives equally. Thus if he bought a jewel for one wife, he had to buy jewels for the other three. I have mixed feelings about polygamy. 

Itís a little scary to think that 4,000 years ago Pakistan was a thriving civilization, and part of the India-Pakistan subcontinent, with fertile valleys watered by the Indus River. Pakistan and India have been fighting ever since they were separated in 1947. 

Water is essential to civilizations and to individual life. My daughter Lesley is always trying to get me to drink more water and sent me some interesting information. Did you know that lack of water is the number 1 trigger of daytime fatigue? That 8-10 glasses of water a day can significantly ease back 
 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

and joint pain for up to 80 percent of those who suffer from them. That as little as a 2 percent drop in body water can cause short-term memory fuzziness, trouble with basic math and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or printed page? That 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated, and the thirst mechanism in nearly 40 percent of Americans is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger? A doctorís advice might better be, "Drink two glasses of water and call me in the morning." 

In Costa Rica we usually have plenty of water. We are well into the dry season, yet we had a rainstorm on Dec. 29. Maybe it rained Jan. 12 last year. 

I say this because this is the beginning of Las Pintas here. Las Pintas is the name given to the first 12 days of January when the weather each day is supposed to forecast the weather for the corresponding month of the coming year. Thus, if it is cool and cloudy on Jan. 1 (which it was), it is going to be like that all January. February should be warm and sunny with occasional showers. 

I shall leave you with a bit of advice that I learned from the blind 100- year-old grandmother in the book, One Hundred Years of Solitude. She found the things that other members of the family lost. I remembered this yesterday after spending 15 minutes looking for my notebook and finally found it by recalling that I had it when I was looking through the bookcase, writing down some titles (for a charades game) and noticed that the nearby VCR was dusty. So I went and got a cloth and dusted it. Then I went off and did something else. Eventually I found my notebook on the VCR. 

You lose things, says grandma, when you interrupt what you are doing to do something else. So, the best way to lose weight, I suppose, is to interrupt the consumption of bocas, or any meal, have a glass of water, and go do something else, like exercise?