Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lies, lies, lies, yeah

Have you ever watched House Hunters International on HGTV? We get HGTV down here on the cable channels, and it's one of my favorite channels, beside BBC Entertainment. So I tend to see House Hunters International on a somewhat-regular basis, and lately it seems they've been doing Costa Rica a lot. Esposo and I both think that someone there has an interest in selling Costa Rican real estate, due to all the shows they've been doing down here.

One of the things that really irritates me is the tendency by real estate agents to gloss over all the negatives about Costa Rica just because they want to make a dollar or two. For example, a recent show had a couple looking at a house in Jacó (I think it was a couple, anyway, or it may have been a single guy. whatever). The couple or guy was buying property in Costa Rica without ever having even visited the country. I mean, seriously, how stupid can you be? I guess you must just be rolling in the Benjamins to buy property in a foreign country without ever having lived there. Or you're really, really stupid. Either way, he gets down here, looks at a few places, and on one of the houses there are bars all over the windows. He asks the real estate agent about this, and the guy flat-out lies to his face, saying basically they're a holdover from Spain and really just for decorative purposes. Ha! Are you kidding me? They're a vain attempt to keep theives out of your house (it doesn't work most of the time anyway, so I say forgo the stupid bars altogether). The dumb Gringo didn't even question that. Wow.

Yesterday I picked up a real estate magazine, one of those freebies they pass out all over the place. In it was a list of common household expenses and what things cost here. One of them had a live-in maid, with Sundays off, as costing $200 a month. If you paid a live-in maid that paltry amount, you'd be committing a crime. The minimum wage here is (according to esposo) 167,000 colones a month, or about $300. That's not including insurance through the caja, mandatory if you have a full-time employee (a friend of mine, in fact, pays her part-time employee's caja because the woman's other employer refuses to pay it at all). This is going to cost around another $200 or so, perhaps a little less. But let's just say for the sake of argument, a full-time live-in maid will cost you about $500 a month. That's still really cheap, people. $500 a month means you a paying someone $125 a week to clean your house, wash your dishes and clothes, scub your floors, dust, straighten up, all that stuff maids do. (In my opinion, it's still not enough.) So why lie about it and say it costs $200? So you encourage the Gringos to rip people off, thereby creating even more resentment in the locals towards us? Yeah, great idea. And people wonder why their maids steal from them. Pay a decent, living wage, treat people with respect, and if you can't do that, don't have a maid at all. I personally cannot afford to pay a maid what I believe a maid should be paid, plus I just don't like the whole inherent class thing that goes on, plus my last maid stole my wedding ring (and yes, we actually did pay her well), so I don't have a maid.

I receive on a bi-weekly or so basis a newsletter that is full of real estate info for Costa Rica. I really don't know why I'm still subscribed to the newsletter, as I find most of it bullshit and nothing I really care about. It's obvious the lies and half-truths told in order to sell real estate, and truly, it just pisses me off. For example, the writer of the newsletter once stated that there was no water problem in Escazu. What? Surely you don't mean this Escazu, here in Costa Rica? Cause I beg to differ. Ask anyone who lives there how often their water goes out during the summertime. Ugh.

Look, I live here, I even like living here, most of the time. But it doesn't do anyone any good to tell people they're going to find all the ameneties and infrastructure and this and that like they'd find back home; if you want to go live in the middle of the rainforest all by yourself somewhere, then maybe you'll find paradise, otherwise this country is a lot like any other country: it's got its good points and its drawbacks. Some of the reasons I live here are because my son can grow up without fear of being shot at school or arrested for bringing an aspirin to class, no one really bothers me about the fact that I have 9 dogs (other than our idiotic neighbor who complains about everything), the weather is good, and I have great friends. Some of the things I don't like are the always-increasing crime and the government's refusal to do anything about it (sticking their collective heads in the sand doesn't count), the way Costa Rica positions itself as so very eco-friendly when it is anything but, and the way Costa Ricans are so self-centered (along with their poor treatment of animals). I bet my neighbor has different things he likes and dislikes about living here (e.g., pros: legal prostitution, cons: cows in the lot next door).

So all I can say is, if you have any thoughts of coming down here to live or stay for an extended period of time, do your homework. Don't be that dumbass on House Hunters who bought a house without ever having lived in Jaco. Hell, we moved around the tiny town of Ciudad Colon five times! Even within one small town you'll have a whole bunch of different neighborhoods. By the time we finally figured out which part of town we liked best, esposo got a job offer and we moved to Grecia. Hmpf. Rent, walk around town, get to know some people (evne if they aren't Costa Ricans, try to get to know some other Gringos who have lived here long-term).

And, I will now take this opportunity to plug Michael Alan's blog, Do'in Costa Rica. My regular readers know that I rarely plug anyone's blog, but I think this one is great. He sometimes comments here, and I have to say, his blog is really, really funny and he always tells it like it is. And he swears a lot, like me, so what's not to like? :-D So go over there and check it out, especially if you're thinking of moving here!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Random sillyness

1. A sign at the Parque de Diversiones:

Danger, Will Robinson! If you have been recently cut in half and sewn back together, or if you have a giant tumor/basketball/triplets in your stomach, do not ride this ride! Which just so happens to be a very mild little "train" that takes people around the park! Danger!

2. My son says to me the other day, "Mommy, how do you say 'effin' delicious'* in Spanish?"
"I don't know, I think that's one you'll have to ask your dad."
"But how do you say it?"
"I said I don't know. Ask your dad!"
"I know how to say it."
"Really? How do you say it?"
"Efemente delicioso!"

* We are trying to cut back on the swearing around here, so we say now "effing delicious" instead of "fucking delicious," though personally I prefer the latter.

3. On a teabag from the Asian market:

Sing along with me, now: "Oh, if it's homely tea, it must be for meeeee...."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

One of those things

...that grates on your last nerve, gets under your skin, makes your teeth grind together, etc.

L. wrote about this very subject on her blog quite a while back, and ever since then I've noticed more and more people mispronouncing the French word voilá. It is not "wa-lah." It is certainly not "mwa-lah." It is "vwa-lah." Are Americans just that freaking lazy? I mean, seriously? The last straw was watching something the other day on Food Network with a chef, who really ought to know better, in my opinion, saying "And walla! You're done!" (I think it was Tyler Florence. I could be wrong.) It really jerked my chain though. Dude, come on! If someone like that can't pronounce a very common French word correctly, someone in production should have alerted him to the fact and corrected him.

I know this is a Costa Rica blog and people speak, for the most part, Spanish here, but I spoke French rather fluently long before I could speak Spanish (not anymore though, damn Spanish has replaced the more elegant French in that part of my brain that has only room for one foreign language at a time). So here's a Spanish example for you: When I lived in Monterey, California, there was (is still, I suppose) a road that runs through the main part of downtown, Calle Principal. Those of you who can speak Spanish properly will know how to pronounce this, but in California, everyone says "Cal Princy-pal." And it sounds so ridiculous. (It's "Cah-yea Prin-see-PAL" for those who don't know.) However, if you go around saying to someone, I'll meet you on Cah-yea Prin-see-PAL, no one will know where the hell you're talking about. So you have to say Cal Princy-pal, as much as it pains you to do so. For as much of California as has Spanish names (because, along with the rest of the Southwest, it was all part of Mexico not all that long ago), you'd think Californians would have some sort of clue about how to prounounce these things. They don't.

Ok, that's my rant of the day. Have a great weekend! ;-)

Friday, March 13, 2009

The people in your neighborhood

If you've ever driven, or more accurately, sat in traffic in Escazu, you might have seen the mentally-challenged bald guy who hands out flowers at various intersections. I find him friendly and he never fails to bring a smile to my face. It could be from living a few years in Santa Cruz, where we had our very own brand of crazy, that he doesn't scare me like he seems to do to some people. Sometimes I miss the Santa Cruz crazies. I'm pretty sure he gets the flowers for free somewhere, but I always give him a few coins anyway.

Well anyway, the other day we were driving through Escazu sitting in Escazu traffic and I see the fella up ahead at the light, trying to give these rather beautiful bouquets of lilies to various drivers but having no luck (and I should mention that he never asks for a handout for them, ever. But I figure he probably doesn't have a job and could use the money so I give him some anyway). The light turned green, we slowly moved forward, and as my A/C is on the fritz at the moment, I had my window down. Suddenly he was there, throwing the lilies in the car at me! I was a little taken aback, but man, they smelled so good, so I dug out a few coins and handed them to him. Did I mention how much I like this guy?

Acosted with a bunch of flowers. Asi es Costa Rica!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A $20 cup of coffee

Tonight I had what is, in all likelihood, the best coffee I've ever had. Ever. A friend's husband works for a specialty coffee exporter here in Costa Rica, and we just so happened to be next door to his office this evening. She asked us if we wanted to come in and see the office, and who could say no? Of course! The smell emanating from the building was unbelievably good -- sort of like the chocolate smell that permeates the air when you're anywhere in Hershey, Pennsylvania, only here it was coffee.

They just so happened to be doing a cupping today, and asked us if we wanted to taste a cup of coffee, which just so happened to be 8-time internationally award-winning Herbazu coffee. Again, who could say no?

I am not one for drinking black coffee. Usually black coffee, to me, is too bitter and bothers my stomach. But I figured at a place like this, one drinks black coffee. So I asked for just half a cup and steeled myself for the experience. I should not have been concerned! It was so smooth, with a natural sweetness and cacao-like aftertaste that was simply coffee heaven. (So, yes, I had a second, full, cup!) Absolutely no sugar or milk-like substance necessary -- in fact, that would be downright wrong with coffee this good.

Another girl who was there with us also never drinks black coffee and loved it. So there you go. She asked the barista how much a cup of coffee like this would go for, and he said from $10-20 per cup. Well, I've never had such expensive coffee before! But I can see why it would cost so much, and honestly, if we could even buy it in Costa Rica (we can't; it's only for export), I would, definitely. If any of you out there get the chance to buy a cup of Herbazu at your local coffee shop, try it! I think you won't be disappointed. And I found a place where you can buy it, in the UK, here. It seems silly to buy Costa Rican coffee from the UK and have it shipped to Costa Rica, but I just might!

P.S. My friend's husband's coffee is called Cafetin San Martin and it's also really great!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Raven's 80s y Más

I may have mentioned before that esposo, a chef, likes to listen to 80s music when he's cooking. Don't ask me. Anyway, I acquired for him Billboards Top 100 Hits of Every Single Freakin' Year of the 80s. Yes, that's 1,000 songs. From the 80s.

Tonight we were listening to 1983, one of his favorite years, apparently. Now, back in 1983, I was in high school and let's just say esposo was a youngun'. So I kept asking him, Do you remember this video? And typically, his answer was, No. Ok, so there was no MTV during the 1980s in Costa Rica, either, which could have had something to do with his severe lack of 80s music video knowledge. And thus, I am here to enlighten him on all that he missed. Thank the FSM for YouTube!

A selection of music videos from Billboard's Top Hits of 1983

Dexy's Midnight Runners, "Come On Eileen"

I'm sorry, but if you don't totally and completely love this song, you either didn't live through the 80s or there's something wrong with you. The overalls? The fiddles and banjos, and they weren't even from Appalacia? Seriously! When you're finished watching the below, check out Save Ferris's version. Because they really kick ass on this song. And is that the dude from Dexy's making a cameo or is it my imagination?

Men at Work, "Down Under"

Who didn't want to go to Australia during the 1980s? Between Men at Work, Midnight Oil, Kajagoogoo, and INXS, we all wanted to take a trip to the strange and interesting land down under, admit it.

Golden Earring, "Twilight Zone"

This song just rocks, that's all there is to it. The director was obviously in love with spy movies ala 007 (well, who wasn't). And? I'm pretty sure naked chick did not appear on MTV.

Toto, "Africa"

Seriously, though, I still love this song. Even though the keyboard player looks like he has, uh... issues. Ok, you can start making fun of me now. "Gonna take a lot to drag me away from you, there's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do..." Uh huh.

Eddy Grant, "Electric Avenue"

Along with "Pass the Dutchie," a stoner classic. This sort of sounds like the precursor to reggaeton, which I can't stand. But I like this.

Kajagoogoo, "Too Shy"

Speaking of weirdo Australians... "Honey, do you remember this video?" "Nope." Peg leg pants alert! Woo-hoo!

Adam and the Ants, "Goody Two Shoes"

Not mentioning any names or anything, but this was my personal theme song for a very good friend of mine back in the day. I can safely say she is now anything but! :-) Personally, I liked the song "Strip" better, but that was 1985, and thus, sadly, not eligible for inclusion in this particular list.

Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing"

I loved Marvin back in the day. Loved, loved, loved Marvin. The day he died I stayed home from school and cried in my room all day. Anyway. Who could listen to this song and not want to do it? Not me.

So just out of curiosity, and because I know there are a heck of a lot more readers out there than comment, I would love to hear what your favorite videos/songs from the 80s are!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Pappadams and Onion Rings

Last night esposo and I tried out the new Brad's Grill in Lindora (Santa Ana). We were going to go to Kalu, but they've packed up and moved back to Barrio Amon in the city (total bummer -- I loved their food!). That left a Peruvian seafood place (not exactly our style), a sushi place (great for veg lunch bento box, but this was dinner time), and a very expensive Italian restaurant (we just weren't that hungry). So we walked around, bitching about the fact that Kalu was closed, and noticed a hockey game playing on the HD tvs in Brad's. What can I say, I love hockey!

Esposo had an electric lemonade, which he thought was a martini but was served in a highball glass and quite blue and girly, actually. I liked it, but neither one of us could taste any booze (though, from the bright blue color, there was obviously some Blue Curacao in there somewhere). I just had a mint tea because I was still getting over being horribly sick with a head cold. I saw onion rings on the menu (lots of bar food, but if you eat meat [and we don't], you'll find plenty of other things there, very American-style with burgers and such). Hockey and onion rings? Holy hand grenade, Batman! We also ordered a spinach-artichoke dip (esposo loves that stuff), and he had a veggie sandwich on whole-grain bread. I think the most successful of the three dishes was the grilled veggie sandwich -- really nice bread, and basically I don't think you can go wrong with grilled veg, unless you burn them. The artichoke dip was a little on the thin side (not like the goop they serve at Friday's), and the onion rings were really good, though on the greasy side. I prefer my onion rings thickly sliced, and these were really thin.

Actually, the best onion rings I ever had was at a place called the Red Barn, back in Warren, Ohio (where I grew up). The Red Barn is long since closed (actually I think it's a mini-mart now), but they used to have these big, thick onion rings with a crunchy batter that was more like what you'd get on fried chicken than like a beer batter. Those were sooooo good! Oh so good. Actually my first job ever was cashiering at the Red Barn. Amish people would come from miles away for our fried chicken. My supervisor was a stoner, and the whole crew could do some serious partying. Some girlfriends from high school worked in their family's soul food restaurant, and they would come by with greens, sweet potato pie, and ribs (ok, this was back when I wasn't a vegetarian, obviously!), and trade me for fried chicken and onion rings. Those were the days!

But, as usual, I digress... Dinner at Brad's came to 14,000 (about $28), and I hate to say it, but I could taste the grease for a few hours afterward. I guess that's what I get for having those onion rings!

Today, esposo and son and I had lunch at Tandoori Palace, also in Lindora (in the shopping center where sCitibank and Taco Hell are located). We had been there once before with Chris and her daughter, and we all came away completely stuffed. They've raised their buffet prices since then (now 9,000/about $18 per person), and the a la carte items on the menu were expensive enough that we figured we might as well go for the buffet. Other than two meat-based items, the rest of the food was vegetarian. And, there were two Indian guys having lunch there, so I figured it must be good. :-) Our son insisted on having only a bowl of lentil soup, though we tried to talk him into pakoras or samosas. How many four-year-olds actually like lentil soup? He loved it. I can't tell you everything that was on the buffet, because I just don't remember the names of everything. But there was a chickpea dish that I always love, two different kinds of lentil dishes (one of them was moong daal), some spicy potatoes, rice, samosas (or was it pakoras? I never know.), and something else I can't recall. All of it was freaking delicious. I told esposo at the beginning of our meal that I didn't think I could eat $18 worth of food, but honestly, it was so good, it was totally worth it. They also bring you fresh naan and desert is included in the price, but I was far too stuffed to eat it. I truly thought I was going to explode. The woman who runs the place was so sweet, asking after our son and if he wanted anything off the kid's menu (he didn't; he was happy with lentil soup), and making sure he was eating something. I believe lunch came to 24,000 (around $48), and we both felt like it was really quite worth it.

It's nice that Costa Rica finally has some international options for dining out. Back when I first came here (10 or so years ago), there was nothing really. Some Italian food was as international as it got. You can imagine slim pickins for veggies like ourselves! But now there isn't much we don't have -- off the top of my head, I know of Korean, Lebanese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Peruvian, French, Italian, and a new Moroccan restaurant that we have yet to try (but have been dying to). So things are improving. At least in the Central Valley. I don't know how it is in the rest of the country, though I would think Guanacaste probably has some good stuff going on these days. What's happening culinarlily in your part of the country?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Vote for my puppie!

I entered a contest for Bissell vacuum cleaners, by which one sends in a pic of their pet and if enough people vote for the picture, the winner gets their pet on a package for a vacuum and, more importantly, can win money for their favorite shelter. As cute as she is, I'm pretty sure that Maddie's coat makes her ineligible for having her photo taken to be on a package, but shelter money could help so many homeless animals. So please vote, won't you?

P.S. Prefer cats to dogs? You can vote for C.C., and the money will go to a charity I've long supported back home in Ohio, Cats Are People, Too!