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(506) 223-1327           Published Friday, Jan. 6, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 5             E-mail us    
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Today is a day for making small gifts to kids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Christmas may be a faint memory for expats, but in traditional Costa Rican homes today, the 12th day of Christmas, is the Día del los Reyes Magos.

The evening is a time of fiesta. But there is prayer, too, as Costa Ricans pack away the portal or manger scene that has decorated the home since before Christmas amid ceremonies of worship and song.

The Reyes Magos are the three wise men or magi in English, although theological disputes rage as to their number or even if they were men. The Bible only mentions the visitors to the Christ child briefly in the Gospel of Matthew. The rest is tradition.
Tonight in many homes there will be the Rezo al Niño or prayers to the Baby Jesus.

In the same way that the three wise men are said to have brought gifts of frankincense myrrh and gold to the Baby Jesus, children sometimes are rewarded with gifts. These figures pre-date Santa Claus by centuries in the Latin world, and the tradition varies radically by country.

With the globalization of cultures, the rezo al niño is far from universal even here.

Today actually is a melding of several biblical events. The day also is called Epiphany, and commemorates the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist and the revelation of Christ to the world as the son of God.



Country becoming hotter for fugitives on run
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The old saying that for expats Costa Rica is for the wanted and unwanted struck home again this week.

Yet another suspected drug trafficker fell into police hands after running a business here since 1998 when he fled a trial in Miami.

A Canadian police officer was not as lucky. He was grabbed as he got off a plane. Police here said he planned to hide himself in Costa Rica to avoid facing an allegation that he had sexual contact with his daughter.

Over Christmas a convicted sexual predator fleeing a 30-year prison sentence was found  working in Flamingo as a real estate salesman, according to agents who arrested him.

In fact, some 50 persons on the run to avoid trial or prison were grabbed in Costa Rica last year by the various police agencies, including the local agents for the International Police Agency (INTERPOL).

The problem is that many more still are here. Security officials were anxious to announce the arrest of the Canadian policeman because they want the world to know the ports of entry in Costa Rica are tightening up.  Some donations from the First World governments have provided computers and the system to maintain an accurate data base of fugitives.
For years, those who sought residency here, including pensionados and rentistas, had to  submit to fingerprinting at the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Although not perfect, the system generally showed that applicants were who they claimed to be.

Of course, those who are the object of an arrest warrant elsewhere avoid fingerprinting. Most are what is known as perpetual tourists, who are suppose to leave the country every 90 days to renew their tourist status. The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería periodically has threatened to crack down on this practice.

But one twist is that fugitives can get their passport stamped or obtain fake documents easily. They do not leave the country and neither does their passport.

But with the new computer technology, police will be able to match up a passport number with immigration records to double check the validity of immigration stamps.

Lately immigration officials have asked expats to save their air tickets to prove they really left the country and for how long. Even they recognize that the current system is faulty.

A new law that gives the immigration police more teeth will also help officers crack down on the wanted.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 6, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 5


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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Workmen tidy up after making the repair

Water company responds
to published report

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Call it the power of the press or simply coincidence. Less than 12 hours after reporting in this newspaper a bubbling break in the domestic water pipe in north San José, work crews arrived and fixed the problem.

No one had responded to telephone reports of the water main break between Dec. 23 and Wednesday.

The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados sent a backhoe and a full crew. They had the broken pipe replaced in about an hour.

The break has caused a major loss of the precious resource, although it is hard to estimate the amount. The pipe was one and a half inches in diameter.

Motorists get a short break
from plate-grabbing cops


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tránsito officers will stop taking the license plates off cars that do not have a marchamo sticker until Feb. 1.

That was the word Thursday from Randall Quirós Bustamante, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes.

In order to pay the obligatory marchamo or road tax, motorists must show proof that their vehicle has been examined by RITEVE SyC, the company that does the revisión tecnica safety examination.

The problem is that the RITEVE stations are filled up with appointments for at least three weeks.

Until now transit police have been pulling the plates from offending vehicles. About 1,300 vehicles have had their plates lifted because they did not have a marchamo sticker on the windshield. Police will continue to give tickets, but the plates will stay on the vehicle, Quirós said.

Meanwhile, those who claim that RITEVE SyC holds an illegal monopoly are planning a major protest Jan. 16.  Last June the Sala IV constitutional court upheld the delegation of state power to a single contractor. But the Movimiento Cívico Nacional  says it will protest until the unpopular revision tecnica requirement is eliminated.

No presidential candidate has come out strongly against the vehicle inspection program, although several have been critical of the current state of the nation's roads. The protestors say that terrible roads damage the vehicles, making it impossible to keep them in good shape.

This is the same group that closed down the highways in 2004 with blockcades and strikes.

U.S. trying to set up
early U.N. elections


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Kofi Annan's second term as U.N. secretary-general is set to end next Dec. 31. But already the contest to succeed him is heating up.

In a recent conversation with reporters, Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton suggested the United States is hoping to accelerate the process.

"The focus for us beginning now is the selection of the next secretary-general, and the current secretary-general will serve out his term, I don't think there's any question about that, at least in our minds, but I think our focus now has to be to pick a successor, and we have suggested for example that we might consider having the election in the middle of year, not waiting till the end of the year," he said. "But having it during June, July, something like that"

A few candidates have already stepped forward. Among the front-runners are Thailand's deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Sri Lankan peace negotiator Jayantha Dhanapala. Both are being given close scrutiny, not least because they are Asians, and by tradition, the top U.N. job rotates among regions. According to that tradition, it is Asia's turn.

Only one Asian has held the top U.N. job. That was Oo Thant of Burma, whose term ended in 1971. Annan recently said there is a strong feeling among the U.N. membership that the job should go to an Asian.

There is little democratic about the way the secretary-general is chosen.

In effect, the choice is made in closed-door consultations by the five permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China. The name of a single candidate is then submitted to the General Assembly for approval.
Professional Directory
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Real estate agents and services

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 6, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 5







They found a fountain of youth in Costa Rica
My friend Dorothy celebrated her 89th birthday this month.  She called to say "Happy New Year" and laughed and said “Isn’t it terrible? I’m 89.”  I think it is rather wonderful.  She spent her birthday on the coast with friends playing bridge.

Bridge is her passion.  Dorothy has many passions, strong likes and dislikes and laughs at herself all the time.  Like right now she is reading Peter Watson’s book, “The Modern Mind,” and says, (laughing), "I don’t know why I got it; I’m having a terrible time trying to understand it.”

According to the description of the book, it is the intellectual history of the 20th century. Dorothy doesn’t like to read fluff.  According to her, she has never been sick.  She still looks like a tousled white-haired tomboy teenager.

Then there is Norma.  She is as far from tousled as one can get.  I don’t know anyone who is more groomed, well put together and coordinated than Norma.

She must have as many shoes as Imelda Marcos because she seems to have a pair to match every outfit.  She still does her impeccably coifed hair herself.  Norma is not just a fashion plate.  She shows up at most of the gatherings I am invited to and always brings something absolutely delicious to eat — and not simple to make — like homemade bread. Her passion seems to be people and preparing good food, which she loves to share. On her next birthday Norma will be 92. 

Then there is Mavis, the youngest of this terrific trio.  At 86 Mavis seems to be going backwards in time.  She looks younger and more vital than she did when I first met her when she was about 79.  Although she taught for a while, most of her life Mavis has been a writer —she has authored many books —  and a voracious reader.  Perhaps that is why she has been the prime mover of the Women’s Club Book Club for so long.  Scrabble is high on her list, too.  Her life has not been particularly easy, but it has been full.  She has visited some 45 countries. Besides reading and writing her other passion is her family.

Each of these women (whom I have adopted as my
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

 
role models) has lived in Costa Rica for more than 30 years.  I like to think that that has something to do with their long, productive and active lives. 

I was thinking about them as I caught the bus to go across town to pay my rent.  I stopped off at the Chavarria farmacia to have my blood pressure taken. (I am sure all of them look after their health).  Pharmacies have onsite doctors who will do this, usually for free or a small fee.

I was directed to the door to the consultation office and read a sign that said that the doctor would give injections only of medications bought at that pharmacy.  That reminded me that I had been thinking of getting vitamin B shots, so I bought a small bottle of vitamin B 12 and a needle for under $2.
 
The doctor, a young woman, probably not long out of medical school, listened patiently while I made my requests. When I asked her a question about my blood pressure, she responded by asking me as many questions as a personal doctor would have and gave me a thoughtful answer.  She then took my blood pressure and gave me the shot, explaining that my little vial contained eight more shots.  That surprised me.  What a bargain!  I told her I would be back for all of them. 

When I asked whom I should pay, she shook her head.  "This is a service of the pharmacy and they pay me,” she said.

I continued my journey, thinking about my own passions and realizing that I see at least two of these women at the Sunday morning concerts when I attend.  Dorothy and I laugh a lot over our own foibles. I enjoy scrabble and talking with Mavis, and like Norma, I love to cook.  And finally, we have our love of Costa Rica in common. I hope these similarities stand me in good stead for the future.



Old standby Machu Picchu continues to delight
In the past few years, Joan and I have dined in about a half dozen Peruvian restaurants, most of them attractive and most of the food tasty and satisfying. Before coming to Costa Rica, I used to frequent only a single Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco, Fina Estampa on Mission.  I loved the seafood stews and soups, the tongue blistering hot sauce and the purple corn and diced apple, cinnamon-flavored drink, chichi morada.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cuisine eluded me until we settled here. Step by step the spicier ceviches, cold potato appetizers, pickled strips of grilled beef heart (anticuchos), potent pisco sours, caramel and meringue suspiro limeño and many other dishes have imprinted my brain in the “Oh, this is very good” center.
 
All my old time resident friends have reminisced about the days when the only Peruvian restaurant was unglamorous Machu Picchu off Paseo Colon. It was clearly one of the finest eateries of any kind in the entire country. When a local friend confided almost apologetically that she still returns frequently despite the absence of glitz, glamour or romantic trappings, she added that the great food, reasonable prices and familiar friendliness have survived changing times.

With this recommendation in mind, I chose to take three houseguests from California with us to Machu Picchu, three unpretentious wholesome people who had all loved a prior trip to Colbert in Vara Blanca. I doubted that they would be put off by the lack of fresh flowers or candlelight at Machu Picchu.
 
The five of us, Fred, Marsha, Charlie, Joan and I ordered too much food, unaware of the very large size of the portions, devoured it all like gluttons and had a ball. It was great. With Tom and Rico, two other California houseguests in tow a week later, we returned for lunch. The menu was the same at lunch as at dinner. Every nook and cranny was packed with animated diners who all seemed to greet the waiters by name, like old friends.  Another fine assortment of tastes and textures arrived piping hot and aromatic. We ordered less and didn’t suffer overload.
 
Between the two trips and among the nine of us, we sampled the following:

COLD APPETIZERS

1) Causa Limeña, a savory citrus, mashed potato base with a chicken layer and a topping of Creole spiced onions and avocado. ¢ 1,890.

2) Causa Machu Picchu, a creamy potato salad base topped with fried shrimp and pickled red onion leaves. ¢ 2,300.

HOT APPETIZERS

1) Anticucho, pickled strips of beef heart, grilled and served on skewers — the most tender and tasty version of this great snack that I have had. ¢ 1,600.

2) Tamalito Peruano, small Peruvian-style tamales  filled with chicken, peanuts and black olives and beautifully complemented by the hot habanera sauce on the table. ¢ 1,600.

3) Papa rellena, a spicy meat-filled roasted croquette of mashed potato that Rico likened to “a good potato knish.” ¢ 1,600.

SALADS AND SOUPS

1) Spring salad, a nice assortment of fresh vegetables including avocado, red peppers, onions, tomatoes and lettuce. ¢ 1,600.

2) Chilcano, a mild, thin, but flavorful, white fish soup loaded with large pieces of sea bass, perfect for people who don’t like robust spicy Peruvian dishes.
¢ 1,600.

3) Chupe de camarones, much bolder, spicier thicker soup with a stock thickened with milk and fresh white cheese, a fried egg and medium-sized nice shrimp. ¢ 2,300.

MAIN PLATES

1) Corvina Machu Picchu, sea bass fillet baked in a sharp white wine, paprika and cheese sauce and topped with large, juicy shrimp and a potato.
¢ 3,735.
Dr. Lenny Karpman

On 
the 
food
we eat

 


2) Corvina a la Florentina, another dish on the delicate side for gentler palates of baked sea bass in a white sauce with spinach. ¢ 2,875.

3) Corvina rellena de camarones, shrimp in sauce Americaine spooned in and over rolled sea bass fillets, well executed. ¢ 3,835.

4) Lomito a lo macho, a surf-and-turf variant with tenderloin of beef covered with shrimp, octopus, mussels and a well-spiced tomato based seafood sauce served with rice and potatoes, devoured with gusto and smacking lips. ¢ 4,065.

5) Brochetta mar y tierra, surf, turf and chicken brochettes served with a fresh salad. Only the skewers were left on the plate. ¢ 3,695.

On neither occasion did we try the rice or pasta dishes, but with such a strong Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine, I may try a Chufa (Chinese) plate next time.

One of the three large seafood platters, designed to be shared, arrived at a nearby table amidst audible gasps of delight. Several chicken and steak dishes also looked very appetizing. Both of our visits ended with a dessert of suspiro lemeño and a spoon for each of us to leave our palates caressed in caramel ¢ 990.
 
The chicha morada drinks and pisco sour were great. The choice of wines covers most of Europe, Chile, Argentina and California. There are nine cocktail choices from Peru and 11 others from the rest of the world. With nearly two dozen aperitifs and liquors, several different beers, seven coffees and a host of non-alcoholic drinks from which to choose, you will never be thirsty.
 
None of the hordes of happy diners that pack the place seem to care about the non-existent elegance. They come for the hearty, well seasoned, consistently fine food, efficient friendly service and reasonable prices. We plan to return.
 
Three and a half stars (out of four). $$-$$$

Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. & 6 to 10 p.m.
222-7348.

A block and a half north of the Paseo Colon – Kentucky Fried Chicken corner on 32nd Street between first and third avenues

__________

After about 70 food and restaurant columns, the editor of AM Costa Rica has chosen to discontinue “On the Food We Eat” in its current form.

I have really enjoyed the interactions with chefs, owners, waitstaff, diners, home cooks and readers. You have all treated me wonderfully and plied me with all sorts of useful information and accolades.
 
To complete the process and tidy up loose ends, I need to share that two trips to Flor de Loto confirmed that it is worthy of its new-found popularity, that Jurgen’s is truly a national top-10 restaurant with fine food, especially the rack of lamb for two, very attentive service and a romantic setting and that La Luz was fine for dinner.

Apologies to Tin Jo, El Grano de Oro, Sunspot Grill, Plinio, Il Retorno, Ginger, Monte Verde Lodge and Pecora Nera. Formal reviews of your marvelous restaurants were scheduled for early 2006.
 
Muchas gracias and buen provecho,
Lenny Karpman


 
A.M. Costa Rica

Fourth news page

Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

Home Calendar Place a 
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 6, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 5


U.S. seeking to increase study of foreign languages
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
and by the A.M. Costa Rica staff
               
President George Bush launched the National Security Language Initiative Thursday. The initiative is a plan to develop foreign language skills from early childhood through university for U.S. students.

Part of the plan is to create a National Language Service Corps — at first for some 1,000 Americans with proficiencies in critical languages to serve the nation by, among other things, work in schools under a new teacher corps.

The initiative will dramatically increase the number of Americans learning critically needed foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi, and others, according to the U.S. State Department.

The initiative creates new and expands existing programs from kindergarten through university and into the workforce. The president will request $114 million in fiscal year 2007 to pay for the plan, the State Department said.

The U.S. government has faced critical shortages of foreign language speakers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In addition, law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the CIA have been
notoriously weak on foreign languages, particularly those in use in the Middle East.

"Deficits in foreign language learning and teaching negatively affect our national security, diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence communities and cultural understanding," said the State Department.

The initiative would provide $24 million to create incentives to teach and study critically needed languages from kindergarten to grade 12 by re-focusing an existing grant program.

The plan also will build continuous programs of study of critically needed languages from kindergarten to university through a new $27 million program, which will start in 27 schools in the next year.

The plan also would seek to bring native speakers to the United States and establish a number of fellowship and grant programs. A first group of 300 is included in the 2007 proposal.

The proposal also would establish a new $1 million nationwide distance-education e-learning clearinghouse through the Department of Education to deliver foreign language education resources to teachers and students across the country.


Chávez talks himself into trouble with Perú and prominent Jewish group
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez is being criticized for talking too much. Perú has recalled its ambassador from Venezuela, while accusing Chávez of interfering in its internal affairs with comments he made.

And a prominent Jewish rights group is demanding an apology from Chávez for making what it calls anti-Semitic comments, even though the president did not directly mention Jews.

Peru's Foreign Ministry said ambassador Carlos Urrutia has been recalled after Chávez praised Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala at a ceremony Tuesday in Caracas.

The ministry said President Chavez made references to Peru's political process that are not in line with the principles of the inter-American system that call for non-interference in a country's internal affairs.
Recent opinion polls indicate Humala, a former army officer, is tied for first place with conservative former Congresswoman Lourdes Flores in Peru's presidential race which ends with elections in April. His surge is attributed to his nationalistic views and appeal to the poor.

It was the Simon Wiesenthal Center which said it has sent a letter to Chávez condemning remarks he made Dec. 24.

The Jewish rights group says during a celebration of the Christian holiday Christmas, Chávez referred to "the descendants of the same people who crucified Christ" saying they "have taken over all the wealth of the world."

Chávez did not specifically mention people of the Jewish faith. But the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the remarks, saying those two arguments have long been used to justify the persecution of Jews.


Shootout inside prison in Honduras leaves 13 persons dead, 30 wounded
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TEGUCIGALPA. Honduras — Officials say at least 13 people have been killed and 30 others wounded following a shootout between inmates at a prison on the outskirts of this capital.

Authorities say Thursday's confrontation at the national penitentiary involved two rival groups of prisoners who fired shots at each other in what was described as a territorial dispute. The incident took
 place in a cellblock known as Casablanca, which houses inmates considered dangerous.

Officials say the situation has now been brought under control and security at the facility reinforced.

The incident took place nearly two years after a fire at a San Pedro Sula prison housing gang members left 104 inmates dead. Authorities blamed the fire on an electrical short circuit, but survivors alleged it was no accident.





 
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