Sunday, July 30, 2006

Mmmmm... coffee!

I love coffee. I love it so much that I drink it almost every day. Mostly I love Costa Rican organic coffee (freshly ground at home, of course), but have been known to drink non-organic when it's the only thing available. I love coffee so much that I am starting a new business selling Costa Rica's delicious organic beans and ground coffee over the internet to the rest of the world. I love coffee so much that esposo and I used to own a café in Ciudad Colón, that was so lovely and wonderful and different that the locals didn't "get it" and we had to close because we couldn't afford to stay in business. (Our house brew was the aforementioned Costa Rican organic.) And still I love coffee! I do not blame coffee for the café's closure.

Today we broke down and went to Port City Java over in Lindora (across from AutoMercado) in Santa Ana. Besides Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica is the only other country outside of the U.S. with a Port City Java café. I had tried to avoid Port City Java, since I knew it was a chain and hoped that it was not in any way, shape or form related to Starbuck's (who now own part of Café Britt, though few Costa Ricans know that). It turns out (thank goodness!) Port City Java is not related to Starbuck's (at least not as far as I can tell), so I can now go there for a cup of coffee with a clear conscience.

I must now confess: I love Port City Java! I had a mocha freeze with a gingerbread shot, and it was absolutely delicious. (And they use Monin syrups, much much better than "the other brand," which are far too sweet for my tastes.) Esposo had a simple iced coffee, done better than most anywhere else I've had one in the country. Prices for both are cheaper (and the drinks far, far superior) than the cappuccino chillers at either Pop's or TCBY. He also ordered a brownie, which came warmed (!!) and it was just chocolate heaven. (Side note: What would heaven be without chocolate, anyway?) They also had several vegetarian choices for lunch, surprisingly listed before the other menu items (I have never seen that anywhere in a meat-serving estabishment), so we'll definitely go back for eats one of these days. All in all, Port City Java is the kind of place that we have missed since leaving California, and it quite reminds me of Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co. quite a bit.

Why aren't there more coffee shops in Costa Rica like Port City Java? Costa Ricans love coffee and grow the best in the world, in my opinion. It's amazing to me that this is one of the very few coffee houses in the entire country serving a full menu of various, different coffee drinks. Sure, there are many cafés that have cappuccinos, espressos, lattes, etc. But how often do you see a steamer or a milky way on the menu, or just something fun and different, like chai?

When we had the café, invariably the locals (read: small town folk) would order a black coffee, sometimes with sugar, sometimes with milk, but rarely a mocha, latte, or something — god forbid — even more unusual. However, I think with Costa Ricans traveling outside the country more frequently, and the influx of foreigners into Costa Rica, this is all slowly changing (for the better). More international restaurants have opened in the past few years, and more will continue to open (we finally got one authentic Indian restaurant, though I'm still waiting for real Thai). This can only be a good thing, right? I mean, we're not talking about Wal-Mart setting up shop all over the country... oh, but wait -- Wal-Mart recently purchased a majority of shares in MultiMercados (which owns Perimercados, AutoMercado and Mas x Menos, the "big three" of C.R. supermarkets, among others). What this means for local farmers and businesses, and consumers, remains to be seen.

But I am rambling. Back to the topic at hand: Hooray for Port City Java! I, for one, am glad they're here.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Beep, beep!

The drivers in Costa Rica are, on a whole, absolutely horrible. They try to run you off the highway, beep at every freakin' green light (unless you jump it while it's still red), and yell at you if they do something stupid. Seriously, it is way out of control. I think the main problem is that there are not enough highway patrol officers here, and people know it, so they figure their chances of getting caught doing anything really stupid are slim to none. And, usually when you do see a highway patrol, they're just checking for speeders. It is rare to see one actually driving around on the highways. (Side note: regular police officers cannot give you any kind of ticket for a moving violation, another point in favor of idiotic drivers.)

Some years ago, I read about a guy who'd gotten fed up with the incessent honking in New York City and created what he called honkus, posting them all over the city. I thought at the very least it would be cathartic to write a few of my own, and since my Spanish was not all that at the time, I didn't post them up all over town. Though now that my Spanish is better, I may give it another go... Here are the ones I wrote all those years ago, for your enjoyment and driving enlightenment:

driving lesson one:
¡vamonos, idiota!
green light? yell and honk

bus coming my way
driver wants to play chicken
one lane street? so what!

“Avoiding Potholes”
a game anyone can play
oops, there goes muffler

taxi in a rush
five o’clock work traffic jam
he makes his own lane

Chepe, on Tenth Ave.:
lock your car doors — don’t look now
crackhead on your left

accident ahead?
we could be here for hours…
nope, it's just a cow

phone case? newspaper?
flag? fruit? lottery ticket?
“Intersection Mart”

risking my life
an uninsured pirate cab
am I that crazy?

late night, San José:
scary cab driver pit stop
thank God, we weren’t robbed

bus doing ninety
praying for my life to keep
I need my own car

driver stops taxi
grabs guitar, sings a love song
best cab ride ever

neighbors, home at 3
a.m., honk their arrival
don’t sleep much lately

honking your car horn
the new national pasttime
move over, soccer!

Since I know that terrible driving is not restricted to Costa Rica, I'd love to hear your honkus, no matter where you're from.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Let's Hear it for the Boobs!

I was reading an article the other day in Mothering magazine about why we need a breastfeeding culture, and that got me to thinking, about a lot of things.

Last weekend, my son turned two. Two! Where does the time go? Well, I know I've spent a good deal of it breastfeeding! At his party, there were a couple of new moms (one from Canada, the other from the UK) who had 1-month old babies and -- YEA! -- they were breastfeeding them. What was odd to me, though, was that they both chose to breastfeed away from everyone else, in another little "rancho" down the way from the party. I thought this was strange, as I bf my son in front of God and everyone (as my grandma used to say), and don't think twice about it. But then I did realize that when I first began breastfeeding in public, I was a bit self-conscious about it and tried to find a bit of privacy wherever I could get it.

It took me about a month of sitting in a car, on a public toilet, etc. to get over that.

I have noticed that I've never seen a single Costa Rican breastfeeding mom hesitate to whip out a boob in a public place when her baby is hungry -- why are we (for lack of a better description) English speakers so apprehensive and insecure about our own bodies? That is a subject I could go on and on about, having recovered from an eating disorder many years past. Let's save that subject for a later date, shall we? The point is, not once have I received even a sideways glance at my public breastfeeding in Costa Rica; more often, it is a warm look and a smile, even from men (and no, they're not trying to cop a glance -- they do that quite openly here, so it's obvious when it's happening). No one is disgusted, no one is embarrassed or shocked that a woman would breastfeed in public. If anything, I've seen several negative reactions to someone pulling out a bottle -- and honestly, who can tell if it's filled with formula or breastmilk?

At said party, a woman from France relayed to me how natural it is in her country for women to breastfeed in public, much like it is in Costa Rica. She was surprised that the two women with newborns chose to breastfeed separately, especially since they were among friends. Another woman, from Arizona, said she was once asked to leave a public pool when she tried to breastfeed her daughter because, she was told, "it is indecent." I suppose at least in the case of the US, we do need a breastfeeding culture after all.

At two years old, my son is still breastfeeding and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. I have tried gentle weaning, but it only gets him terribly upset, and I figure there is no real reason for me to do so (other than the fact that I'm getting worn out by it), so I've stopped that. If it brings him comfort, so be it. My mother knows this fact, yet she still insists on asking me every once in a while, "Are you still breastfeeding?" Perhaps she doesn't realize how much that small question irritates me. Mostly she has -- and I'll give her credit for this -- kept her opinions to herself. Considering esposo and I are a couple of left-wing, tree-hugging, vegetarian/vegan neo hippies, we do, I suppose hold some radical ideas compared to mainstream society. I won't go into them here, because frankly, the choices that esposo and I have made for ourselves and our son are ours, and no one else's business. We are doing what we think is best for our family. So yes, Mom, I'm still breastfeeding.

Incidentally, many women in Costa Rica choose to breastfeed their children to the ages of four or five; one midwife I know breasfed her daughter until she was six. I don't plan to go that far, but I have stopped putting artificial time limits on how long we will breastfeed, either.

Another thing that I do find at odds with Costa Rica's openness about breastfeeding is that it is a very hospital-birth oriented culture. When we first began looking at hospitals, the big one gave us the requisite tour, and were proud of the fact that they had about an 80% cesarian rate (!!), with over 95% of women choosing epidurals. In fact, they seriously questioned why I would want to have a natural childbirth, and I seriously questioned whether the women were getting 100% disclosure on the risk factors associated with cesarians and epidurals (doubtful, in any case). At said big hospital, you can even plan your cesarian in advance, complete with dinner and a glass of wine (you're going to need it!) the next day. Almost all of the women I know who did not previously plan a homebirth ended up "having to" have a cesarian (usually in one of the public hospitals). When asked why, they usually say that their doctor said it was necessary (again, why?), that their labor was not progressing "fast enough" (what is fast enough?), etc. The only two women I know of that had legitimate reasons for having cesarians both had planned homebirths with midwives, but did run into complications. There is even a woman I know personally (yoga teacher, well read, informed about natural birth, etc.), who ended up with a cesarian because her doctor said she "had to have one."

So you may be thinking, as I was, in light of the medical establishment's obvious hold on pregnant women's bodies (midwives are not legal here, though the practice thrives), why is the public so amenable to public breastfeeding? I can't answer that question. I have thought of possible theories, but each one is riddled with holes. If you have any ideas, let me know. In the meantime, I am grateful that the need for a breastfeeding culture in Costa Rica is not as urgent as it is in the US. I certainly would have told that guy at the swimming pool in Arizona where he could stick it! Of course, since breastfeeding was only exempt from indecency laws in Arizona in May of 2006, I probably would have been thrown out anyway.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

¿Quien habla?

Here's something highly irritating about Costa Rican culture: When someone calls you and they don't recognize your voice, they ALL (and I friggin' mean EVERY SINGLE PERSON does this) ask "¿Quien habla?" (Who's speaking?). This annoying habit seems to have come from the days when we didn't worry too much about revealing our identities over the phone, and our parents taught us to answer like a good receptionist: "Jones residence, this is Lolita speaking!" all with great cheer in our voices. Those days are over, but the Costa Ricans do not seem to have caught up with the times. (They have only recently stopped putting your entire credit card number on receipts, for goodness sakes!)

So when I get a "Quien habla" call, "None of your G-D biz" is what I say! Actually, I don't, but I don't tell them who I am, either. I usually say, "¿Con quien desea hablar?" (With whom do you wish to speak?). At this point, they do one of two things: 1) realize that they don't know you and don't want to talk to you, and hang up, or 2) haltingly give you some other stranger's name (er, ah, Gonzalo? Ofelia? Emilia? Raul?). This has led to me doing one of two things 1) letting esposo answer the phone or 2) letting the answering machine get it. The only time I will answer the phone now is if I recognize the phone number in caller ID. AGHHH!

Another good one is when you answer the phone and they simply say someone's name. "Raul?" Sometimes this name is phrased in the form of a question that sounds like they're asking you "Is this Raul?" Other times the single-word response is in the form of a statement, as if they're saying "Raul, glad you're home!" Either way, do I friggin' sound like Raul? J. Sucristo*, I hope not! Maybe my OB-GYN needs to recheck my hormone therapy dosage. In these cases, I will say, "¿Me parace Raul?" (Do I sound like Raul?) And then I usually get a "Er, um, ah disculpe señora..."

*J. Sucristo, sort-of meaning "J. Your Christ" but which originally meant "Jesus Christ!" and came from the back of a car esposo and I saw one day that had giant stickers reading (in Spanish, obviously) "Jesucristo" with the "e" missing. We have, since that time, used "J. Sucristo" in place of "Jesus Christ!" This way we can be sacreligious and inoffensive to the Spanish-speaking populous at the same time! Whee!