Monday, July 20, 2009

Tope, or Any Excuse to Party

Pizarro, on his horse, and me

Ticos love to party. Any reason will do. For example, this Wednesday night is a party to commemorate the third anniversary since my friend Lupe was crowned La Reina (Queen) of Santa Ana. Mind you, every year a new queen is crowned, which is in itself cause for celebration, but Lupe is such a wonderful, friendly, generous, outgoing person, that her past coronation is celebrated every year. Unfortunately, I have other plans for Wednesday night (a formal party at a financial institution) and can't attend Lupe's party.

The cause for celebration this past Sunday was a tope, or horse parade. The streets were roped off at 8:00 that morning, so unless you knew the back roads, you had to walk. Hundreds of men (and some women) spiff up their horses, or rent horses, and parade downtown with beer can in hand, to the applause of the onlookers. I don't quite understand the thrill of a tope - for the riders, for the onlookers, or especially for the horses who foam and sweat and have to walk slowly and stop on pavement - but it is party time nevertheless, with lots of booze.

People lined the streets in the morning, jockeying for good viewing spots. This not being my first tope (pronounced toe-pay), I didn't arrive until 2:00pm, which was when the officials began parading past the viewing site where my friends were set up.

There is a vivero, or plant nursery, on the main street where I have bought vegetable plants. It is owned by Carolina's family. Carolina and Hildreth show up at the same parties I do, and they were at the tope. In fact, Carolina's family had prepared food for sale inside the vivero, but I ate before I left the house. Susan, Yalile, some other acquaintances and I stood in front of the vivero, watching the parade of horses and riders.

What was different for me about this tope was that I knew about 12-15 of the riders. Thanks to Susan, and her friend (and now mine) Yalile, I have met many ticos in this city. I tried to take pictures of everyone I knew, but the horses didn't always cooperate.

After two and a half hours of standing and watching the horses and admiring the hot-looking guys, Susan and I walked down to one of our favorite haunts, El Coco, for a little refreshment. Then we drove up to Dos Oy, a big stable where the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) hosted a big party with food and music.

Oscar on his horse

Boys on Horseback

Susan, me, Yalile and Victor

Frank on his horse

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lisa's 50th Birthday Bash

Lisa, surprised at finding her friend Barbara from New York at her party

Lisa Defuso is one of the most beloved people I know in Costa Rica. Her personality is big, loving, friendly, compassionate, tell-it-like-it-is. An onstage and offstage talent, she's the current president of the Little Theatre Group. She knows how to throw great parties, and for her 50th birthday, her friends returned the favor.

I've known Lisa for a few years, but have been getting to know her better since February when I joined the Thursday Ladies Lunch group that Lisa started years ago. Most Thursdays we have lunch at Robin's Kitchen, but occasionally we dine at other restaurants or at each other's homes for special occasions.

This special occasion was coordinated by her close friend, Rosemary Rein. The party had a Moroccan theme, Lisa's Harem. We were all supposed to show up with veils and belly dancing clothes, and bring Moroccan food to share. I volunteered to make a special birthday scrapbook for Lisa, with pictures, stories and birthday wishes from her friends. And there was a very special surprise - actually three big surprises.

When we arrived, we were ushered into the rancho (covered patio) in the back yard, where we feasted on wine and delicious Moroccan hors d'oeuvres while waiting for the guest of honor. A friend of Lisa's, Sheila Robinson, had constructed and decorated three refrigerator-sized boxes to hide three very big surprises. Rosemary had flown in Lisa's mother, Rosalie, sister Lori, and good friend Barbara from New York for the party, and they were inside the boxes, waiting to be discovered by Lisa. When Lisa finally arrived, decked out in a beautiful blue belly dancing outfit, we all cheered. We had all been keeping the secret of her family's visit for a few weeks, and we could hardly wait for Lisa to open the boxes. When she did, it was a very moving experience for all of us.

Lisa's belly dancing instructor performed and led those who were willing through a belly dance. Then we went into the house to taste the delicious Moroccan fare. Rosemary's house has many rooms and patio spaces, and it was fun moving around and visiting with friends in different nooks and crannies. We even had a fortune teller give free tarot readings.

The spotlight then fell on Lisa as she opened her birthday presents. Some were silly, some were beautiful, all were meaningful. The last gift was the scrapbook that I had made, which expressed the love that so many of her friends have for her.

We adjourned to the dining room for desserts and birthday cake, and sang Happy Birthday to our very special friend.

I took many pictures. Click here to see them all.

Monday, July 13, 2009

More Beep Beep

On June 30 I posted a blog entry about my beeping horn. It would beeeeeeep, unprovoked, without my even being in the car, for five minutes, then beep itself to death. I had to buy a new horn and a new fuse, and then the cycle would start all over again. Four different mechanics could not fix the problem and I was told to go to the Nissan dealer, where I would be charged an arm and a leg and be without a car for two days.

So last week I drove to the Nissan dealer in San Jose, followed by my wonderful student, Santiago, who volunteered to drive me home from there (and drive me back the following day to pick up my car). The head of service gave me terrible news: they did not have the special tool required to open the steering column because the tooling changed in 2001, and I had a 1997 model. Plus, Nissan was not allowed to open the steering column because I had an airbag, and they couldn't tamper with an airbag. And even if they could fix my car, it would cost $2000.

I pleaded with the guy. I told him I didn't want an airbag anyway. I told him about the report that came out several years ago about short people being injured more by airbags than by collisions. He wouldn't budge. I felt like I was living in the Twilight Zone. I had a car without a horn, that needed to have a horn in order to pass the annual inspection, but the horn could not be fixed. I had a dead car. I could not sell the car because no one would want to buy it. He suggested that I find a mechanic who could rewire the horn to put a push button on the dashboard. It would be a functional horn that would pass inspection but that would look ridiculous and be awkward to use. Another suggestion was to find a used steering wheel without an airbag and have a mechanic switch out mine with the airbag for one without. That could work, but then the red light on the dashboard that says "Airbag" would always be lit.

So I went home and put on my thinking cap. The next day I again called the mechanic who specializes in electrical systems and told him what Nissan had told me. I must have sounded pathetic, because he took pity on me and said he would help me.

Two days later I brought my car to Mario Alfaro. Actually, I brought my car to a garage in Escazu, and Mario met me there. He is a visiting mechanic, like a surgeon with operating rights in different hospitals. He gets called in to work on the hard cases. As he was examining my car, I asked him how he learned to speak such good English. He said he taught himself. He also taught himself about electrical and electronic systems. Mario is a humble guy who is very smart and talented.

In less than one hour, Mario analyzed the faulty wiring, found the source of the problem (a short on the steering column caused by the cruise control system), located the elusive tool to open the steering column, and fixed the problem. He charged me only $26, and that included a new horn.

I am a happy driver once again, with a horn that works.
Beep beep

Gringo Bingo in Grecia

Chalk up another first for me. I played Bingo on Sunday, for money. Patty asked if I wanted to join her, Fermina, and a new friend who is moving to Costa Rica from Scotland, Annie, to play Gringo Bingo in Grecia. I don't remember ever paying to play Bingo before, and I wondered how I would be able to pay attention to several cards at once, but the event was a fundraiser for the innovative English Conversation Hour begun by my friend, Lair Davis, over in Grecia, so I said sure. The program provides an hour of English conversation each week for folks who are learning English.

Grecia (means Greece) is a lovely town northwest of and a little cooler than Santa Ana. Fermina drove and it took about an hour to get there, without much traffic to speak of.

About 65 of us plunked down $9 each to sit in a somewhat smoky room (ack) and wait expectantly for our numbers to be called. For each game, we had to match the called numbers to a different pattern on our Bingo cards. There were 11 games total, and each game came with a sizable prize, mostly donated by area businesses.

Our party of four sat at table with four other people. Of the 11 prizes, our table won six. Robert Lee, the guy sitting across from me, won three times and finally stopped playing for earnest because he would have been lynched if he had won again. Fermina won twice, including the final prize which was about $51, more than enough to pay for gas for the trip. And I won a dinner for two at La Galeria, an upscale steakhouse in Grecia that the locals were oohing and ahhing over, saying it was the best prize to win, and the fresh tuna was to die for. Patty told me to ask if it came with a date.

So at some point I will find someone to make the trek back to Grecia with me to dine at La Galeria. Driving there at night will take about an hour and a half each way, so I'm not as thrilled about winning the prize as a Grecian would have been. But any night that I don't have to cook means a good meal for me, so count me in.

From Grecia we drove further north to Sarchí, a town known for making furniture. Our quest was to find Annie's property that she had just purchased. From Sarchí, we took a road that brought us 4000 feet above sea level. The air became cooler and fresher as we drove up the mountain. Finally we came to two small A-frame houses and an acre of green land that extended steeply down the back toward a stream. This was going to be Annie's home when she made the move from Scotland, either later this year or sometime in 2010.

We celebrated the occasion with champagne, and I felt that I was making a new friend, although one I wouldn't see too often because of the distance (close to two hours from Santa Ana in normal traffic).

Fermina, Annie and Patty playing Bingo

My Bingo card

Annie and her new home

Toasting Annie's new venture

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Diane's Potluck and Natasha's 15th

Saturday night I got all gussied up in a new dress that I bought in Massachusetts to go to two parties. It may sound as though I go to a lot of parties, and I do go to more than I ever did while living in the US, but some weekends I stay home and don't do much. Really.

The first party was a potluck at Diane's. She and her friend Goose made barbecue ribs and chicken for the Fourth of July. I brought peppermint brownies made from scratch, which I didn't even eat because I was overdosing on Irene's delicious cherry cheesecake and someone else's cherry crumble. The ribs were so good that I didn't even get to taste the chicken. I got to see my Cariari friends, and that was a good thing.

Party number two was a major event. Yalile and Toro's daughter, Natasha, celebrated her 15th birthday with about 200 guests at Zamora Estate, the place in Santa Ana where I had the PC Club party a few weeks ago. I introduced Yalile to the folks who own Zamora Estate, and she and Natasha liked it enough to book their big party there.

A DJ played mostly techno pop with a heavy bass, but he squeezed in a little salsa for us older folks. Waiters roamed with trays of hors d'oeuvres, and there was an open bar. People wandered inside and out, sitting down by the pool where there were twinkly lights. Ana Brenes, a chef, cooking instructor and wife of the owner, was busy in the kitchen making delicious food for us. Roman Zamora, her husband, circulated to keep an eye on everything. He felt a little nervous about 85 of Natasha's schoolmates running around his property.

There were two spectacular events that happened later in the night. Hanging from from two limbs of a tall tree just off the porch were long, streaming ribbons. Spotlights lit up the ribbons to show us two acrobats, like from Cirque du Soleil, twisting and dancing their way up and down the ribbons. It was fascinating to watch close up. Then close to midnight, a comparsa group came in. About 15 members of this percussion group were dressed up in Carneval costumes and shaking their booty. It's not possible to stand still while a comparsa is playing. You have to shake and shimmy and move to the rhythm. It was noisy, but great fun. I helped hand out beads (think Mardi Gras in New Orleans), hats and noisemakers, and light sticks that glowed in the dark.

The birthday cake was adorable, and it was surrounded by dozens of wrapped gifts, but with all the music, dancing, and special effects, we forgot to light the candles and sing Happy Birthday to Natasha! Yalile yelled at Susan and me the next day, Why didn't you remember to sing Happy Birthday? As though it was our responsibility. Of course, she said it with love.

Margie, Patty and Ada at Diane's party

Natasha and Me

The birthday cake and presents

Front: Me, Carolina, Susan
Back: Someone hugging me, Hilberth