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These stories were pubished Friday, Oct. 29, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 215
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Ambassador quits to face political fundraising questions 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The most powerful woman in the Abel Pacheco administration gave up her ambassador’s post Thursday about the same time that a legislative committee voted unanimously to ask the president to direct her to answer questioning.

The committee is the special one set up to investigate how the political parties raised money in the last presidential campaign. The work of this committee and the scandals of the last presidential election have been overshadowed by corruption allegations against three ex-presidents.

The woman is Rina Contreras, a former legislative president and former minister to the Presidencia. She was named the country’s ambassador to the Organization of American

States and was to take over the job next week.

Ms. Contreras said she was stepping down for personal family reasons. Her mother was widowed recently.

At the legislature, the seven-member panel accepted a measure presented by Gloria Valerín of the rival Partido Liberación Nacional. The committee members said there still were loose ends that Ms. Contreras had to explain. The last time that Mrs. Contreras appeared before the committee she declined to be sworn in, said Ms. Valerín. 

Ms. Contreras served on the Pacheco election committee as well. Recent disclosures show that the campaign received major donations from foreign sources, something prohibited by law, and in amounts far beyond what the law allows.


 
There are new places to visit in San José
It is no secret that I love my city, San José. I came out of the closet some time ago to say so, and every now and then someone else will quietly confide to me that they, too, love the city. But I know a lot of people who live in various suburbs and surrounding towns who wouldn’t be caught dead here — maybe that is their fear — that they would be found dead here. Even though I have been pickpocketed three times and had my entire purse stolen, I enjoy walking and shopping in the city.

In fact, San José is becoming more gentrified and user friendly every month. What is now a gem in the city is the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, the huge mustard colored hotel next to the National Theater. New managers, Eric Gutiérrez and his wife, Miriam Cortes have done a remarkable job in the course of one year, of returning the hotel to its elegant and serene ambiance of the 30s. The casino is gone from the huge lobby and instead, screened off from the entrance, is a lovely new restaurant that extends into (or out to) the front verandah, that now has charming awnings and Boston ferns (for some reason Boston ferns speak to me of former more genteel times). The casino area is out of sight down below. The restaurant has a new chef, a German, who was chosen to cook for President Bill Clinton when he was here.

After attending a morning meeting there, I was able to walk around the city while the sun was still out and before the rains came. First a visit to Mora Books in the Omni Building where I always walk out with some little gem, then on down First Avenue. Walking past what was once a restaurant serving fresh fruit dishes and was always empty, I was surprised to see that almost every table was full. They have expanded their menu to "tipico" meals and have a pastry counter. I nearly gave in and bought a delicious looking filled meringue. But I wanted to check out a new place that had recently opened. 

On Ninth Street, just down from the Horseshoe Casino is the Plazavenida, a huge interior space with three floors. Most of the area is taken up with tables and kiosk style restaurants. There are also a number of small boutique stores selling everything from perfume and jewelry to chocolates and cell 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

phones. I watched with fascination at the Torta Loca stand as one of the young attendants prepared a Cuban, a complicated sandwich on a bun that looked like a double hot dog bun spread with black bean paste and warming on the grill. On it she put avocado, tomato, onion, shredded pork, ham and cheese. 

I saw some people eating huge sundaes and discovered a Pop’s Ice Cream Stand at the entrance on Central Avenue, just opposite Chelles.

On the second floor I talked with a pleasant tourist from Nantucket Island. He was eating a plate prepared by Casa 2, a restaurant with the banner, "Comida como en su casa" (Dinner like at home). I wondered at that as a good come-on, but that is the fare of most sodas and much enjoyed here. He said he had rice, beans, a fried banana, salad and a delicious piece of fish for 1,600 colons($3.50). He was quite satisfied. Hardly what he ate at home in Nantucket, though, I am sure. 

The second floor also has an Italian "Cafeteria" that serves coffee and fruit salads, and a Japanese stand with a sushi bar. The latter is on the Central Avenue side where there is a balcony with tables so you can dine and watch the people pass below. Amost a sidewalk cafe. I will leave it to Dr. Lenny Karpman to discuss the food, etc. in all of these places.

I left Plazavenida thinking it would be a great place to stop if you were caught downtown in a rainstorm. But I had to laugh at myself and my enthusiasm knowing that my friends outside the city would just tell me, "All that is is a shopping mall and we’ve had them where we live for years." I recalled the sign I saw, "The First Commercial Center in San Jose!" 

After recovering my fallen crest I will answer, "Yes, but I can walk there."
 

Our  final scary Halloween literary efforts of the season 
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Heredia settlement
losing houses to river

By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives from the British Embassy, the Nicaraguan Embassy, the Red Cross and other international agencies assembled in Guarari de Heredia Thursday. They were there to assess the damage that occurred to several small settlements that have started to topple over into the Rîo Pirro. 

Several police officers and Javier Carvajal Molina, mayor of Heredia, led embassy employees through several shanties that had suffered severe damage. The shanties are within sight of the Pricemart store in Heredia.

The problem arose in the last few days. Heavy rain saturated the ground. Several of the houses have already fallen into the river and others are at risk of falling in the next few days.

Some 11 families were evacuated Wednesday night. They have taken shelter at a nearby community center, but can only remain there for 72 hours. Most of the families do not know where they will go after that. 

A large percentage of the village is Nicaraguan, and the rest are Ticos. The informal settlements sprang up 10 years ago when families began squatting on the land. Today, the settlements are estimated to contain over 1,000 families. 

Bruce Callow, the director of Nicaraguan affairs at the British Embassy was on hand to assess the situation. "Long-term goals need to be established, but right now these people need food and water." He has been working with the Nicaraguan population for several months and is familiar with the struggles that this situation presents. "Most of the Nicaraguans in the village don’t have documentation, and, therefore, they can’t get any help."

Several of the local villagers have lived there since the beginning 10 years ago, but they know that they can’t stay. "It’s impossible to live here now," uttered Suarez Navarro Anavivian. After living in the village for nine years, she knows she has to leave. "The houses above mine will fall onto us soon. I know we will have to leave, but where will we go?"

The villagers have received several promises for action over the past few days, but nothing has materialized yet, Callow, admitted. "Something needs to be done. Right now," he said, but he could not say exactly how to help the people. "They need a piece of firm land that won’t wash away on them during the night." 

Callow and the other representatives will file their reports soon. The different embassies and organizations will then formulate a plan of action. 

Scamster on run
dodges police here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A convicted scamster wanted for sentencing in New York City for a complex series of swindles is at large again, probably still in Costa Rica.

The man is Brett K. Lurie, now 44, who was arrested here in March 2003. 

Last June the man was let out of jail at a court hearing that representatives of the U.S. Embassy here apparently failed to attend.

The man is so important that agents from the New York Attorney General’s Office have visited Costa Rica to look for him.

On April 25, 1996, Lurie was convicted by a jury and later was sentenced on eight counts of conducting a scheme to defraud in the first degree, nine counts of intentional real estate securities fraud, three counts of grand larceny in the second degree, three counts of grand larceny in the third degree and one count of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.

The charges all relate to a swindle that led to the bankruptcy of coop units in New York. Lurie later was disbarred by the New Jersey Bar Association.

Lurie was under the supervision of the Primer Circuito of San José.

A spokesman for the embassy said Thursday that staffers generally do not attend hearings for persons who are targets for extradition to the United States.

The spokesman said that the paperwork for Lurie’s extradition had not been fully approved by the courts at the time a judge let the scamster go.

Lurie was the subject of a New York Post article in New York City this week. The Post said that Lurie recently slipped through a police net in Heredia where he has a $700,000 compound.

The embassy spokesperson said that no mention of the man’s flight had been made locally because U.S. officials did not want to jeopardize local police work.

Palm fruit festival
will start tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those orange and green little fruits bobbing in the hot water bath at the local supermarket are called pejibaye, and they will be the centerpiece of a festival this weekend and next in a Cartago community.

This is the 10th year for the festival in the town of Tucurrique. In addition to all types of products made from the pejibaye, the oil rich fruit of the palmito, organizers promise bull fights, traditional arts and crafts for sale, cultural presentations and a chance to see some outstanding countryside.

The community is located some 15 kms. (about nine miles) from the Cachí dam. The area is near the Río Reventazón and the appropriately named Río Pejibaye. Both are known for kayaking or rafting.

The festival opens tonight at 5 p.m. with a cultural presentation at 5:30 p.m.

More events are scheduled Saturday and Sunday and also Nov. 6 and 7.  A mountain bike race is Nov. 7.

The pejibaye is high in calories due to its oil base. It also is a good source vitamin A and C and calcium.

The interior is orange and unexpectedly dry. Sometimes the fruit is eaten out of hand, but more often it is made into a flour or a paste.

One feature of the festival, according to organizers, will be a restaurant with all types of products made from the fruit.

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Editorial on Bush prompts a flurry of letters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An editorial Thursday in favor of George Bush drew nearly 50 e-mail letters from readers. About 75 percent were opposed to the views expressed in the editorial and Bush as a candidate.

The venom of some of the letters suggests that even if re-elected Bush will not be able to lead a unified country.

This newspaper provided space for three weeks to publish the political views of readers. Every letter submitted was published. The editorial had been promised weeks ago. This is the final pre-election comment. 

Some letter-writers were hot:

Your endorsement of Mr. Bush, front page, is unbelievable. The man is a criminal and should be behind bars. HE is top among the reasons I chose to leave the U.S. for Costa Rica.

Others resorted to name-calling:

It is almost as if your editor has no real  knowledge of the issues beyond the booze mentality expressed in your front page editorial. 

I don’t think I have ever read a more simple and stupid editorial in my life, have you ever had any own ideas or are you breastfeed with "Fair and balanced" Fox News.

How insipid and weak-minded.

I will never read your news again nor will I provide any support to your advertisers.

The reasons given in your editorial were the usual shallow, 'faith based' rather than fact based ones. 

Your explanation as to why you endorsed George W. Bush was, for lack of a better term, moronic.

Others were  more supportive of the opinions expressed:

For once I found a Latin American newspaper with convictions. I am tired  of reading Latin American newspapers that always show conservatives in a bad light, and dismissing all the errors and flaws of the Clinton administration.

I am an American and I agree 2000% with you.

I'm proud of you for taking a stand amidst mindless opposition.

The great gap in the U.S. public was demonstrated by the letters. Said one reader of Democrats:

Their blind hatred of Bush won’t let them see any other view of the war on terror.

Others reflected the problem voters have in making up their minds. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate has not emerged as a strong option, but said one reader:

I’m not a big Kerry fan, but I’d vote for Mike Tyson before I’d vote for another 4 years of G. W. Bush.

Another suggested the world would be safer if serial killer Charles Manson were free and George Bush were behind bars.

Many letter-writers were thoughtful and dealt with Latin-U.S. history:

Who but the U.S. has terrorized Latin America for the past 100 years, and which presidential candidate would be more likely to invade another country without even consulting others—Bush.

One reader wanted us to sign up:

I am sure you will only to eager to sign for the military to serve over there.

From the letters it became obvious that U.S. voters are getting their news from partisan sources, even if they do not realize that:

Suggestion: Listen to "Democracy Now" radio for up to date non-biased news or move to the U.S. for more information.

Another writer said he would not read us because we had violated some undefined rule of neutrality by showing support for Bush. With that reasoning he would have to forsake The New York Times, too, because that paper endorsed Kerry.

Generally Democrats agreed with this reader’s statement:

While there may be just enough stunned US voters to put Bush back in office, there can be little doubt in the rest of the world who the real terrorist is.

As for A.M. Costa Rica, this reader had the following suggestion:

I do suggest you to move your newspaper back to U.S. or perhaps to Irak, so you can help Mr. Bush to reconstruct it with your words of wisdom.

Another e-mail sugested that the appropriate reponse to terrorism would be a non-violent approach typified by Ghandi.


 
Many variations for the prolific 'crazy apple'
Bokaos, 150 meters north of Auto Mercado, 
Santa Ana.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. 
Price: moderate $$ to expensive $$$ 
Rating: Three stars, very good

Towards the end of the rainy season, the single short row of eggplant in my garden produces like the "begat" part of Genesis. Coincident with tomatoes ripening and basil bushes reaching chest level, it promises a bit of Sicily in the Central Valley. With a little cheese, garlic and some olive oil, a cook can conjure up enough variations to make him or her crazy.

Crazy? Well, not now, but Western Europeans shunned eggplant until modern times because of the belief that eating it drove people mad. In Latin, mela is the word for apple and insanum means sick, unhealthy, or insane. Melanzane, the Italian word for eggplant, is derived from these two Latin words, hence crazy apple.

Only in Sicily was there no taboo. Eggplant has always been a favorite there, fried in olive oil, roasted, baked, stuffed, stewed, dressed with fresh mint and basil or as caponata — an appetizer, side dish or condiment made of eggplant cubes cooked with celery, onions, garlic, capers, tomatoes, olives, basil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

For simplicity, Sicilians often eat a slice of eggplant seasoned with a little garlic and salt, grilled, and drizzled with a splash of olive oil between two slices of bread as a sandwich. Ground eggplant, mixed with eggs and bread crumbs and seasoned appropriately is the substance of vegetarian "meatballs." 

A fancier antipasto presentation is layered baked eggplant slices with a thin inner cover of ham or mortadella and caciocavallo or pecorino cheese. It is topped with bread crumbs during baking, cut into wedges, and drizzled with a little olive oil. Another interesting preparation makes the eggplant look like a floor mop or tassel. The whole eggplant is peeled and cut in thin slices lengthwise, leaving the stem end intact for a few inches, rotated 90 degrees and sliced again. It is seasoned with salt and garlic and browned in olive oil.

The variations on these themes using the same ingredients in different forms are too numerous to even list. Among the more common are stuffed baked eggplant halves (the pulp is scooped out, minced, mixed with eggs, bread crumbs and seasoning, stuffed back into the intact skin and baked), rolled stuffed baked eggplant slices (thin slices are layered with the same bread crumb stuffing, rolled up and held together with toothpicks during baking) and layered in casseroles (eggplant 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Ready for the olive oil and the grill
Dr. Lenny Karpman

On 
the 
food
we eat

 

slices alternate with cheeses, tomato sauce and are topped with bread crumbs). 

Melanzane presumably was such a favorite because it could soak up a lot of olive oil in its cooking and provide a rich, caloric cheap meat substitute. Olive oil is mono-saturated, that is less harmful than most others, but more is not better. Two tips to consider in your own kitchen. 

First, salt sliced eggplant in a colander and drain under the weight of a pot or heavy dish for about half an hour, rinse and pat it dry before frying in very hot oil. The salting may remove any bitterness from the juice. It is believed to decrease oil absorption as well. The hotter oil will brown quicker and sear the surface, retarding the ingress of some of the oil. 

Second, an even healthier alternative is to replace pan-frying with grilling slices only lightly brushed with olive oil. One can eliminate the oil completely using non-stick pans, vegetable sprays, or oil free grilling. Do so if you must, but the flavors of eggplant and olive oil seem to me to be a match made in heaven.

When I forego the kitchen, my wife Joan and I often go to our favorite mellow haven, Bokaos, a Mediterranean restaurant 150 meters north of Auto Mercado on the Santa Ana-Belen Road. The soft music, tasteful art, calming atmosphere and attentive service compliment the sophistication of chef Heiner Guitierrez. The entire menu is quite well executed with clean flavors and perfect ingredients. Before I get sidetracked with the superior fried calamari or the fabulous porcini mushroom flavor of the soup and sauce for homemade pasta at Bokaos, I must return to the quintessential, simple eggplant appetizer, berenhena Bokaos.

The chef cuts very thin lengthwise slices of eggplant with mechanical precision. The lightly grilled slices are layered with ripe tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Three layers topped with cheese are run under the broiler just long enough to warm through and melt the topping. The elegant minimalist marriage of flavors could not taste fresher, had the ingredients just come from my garden. 

________________
I am always on the lookout for good eggplant dishes in restaurants. Many of the Nuevo Latino restaurants in New York and Miami have eggplant menu items. Do you know of any good ones here? A gourmand friend from Escazú says that three spots near her house serve eggplant appetizers: El Torreon and Il Pomodoro on the old Camino Real behind Los Laurales mall, and Sal y Pepe behind Pops. She favors the last one. 


 
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Was it a case of divine intervention or not?
By Lucia Wrestler 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Robert was the son of a wealthy family.  Most of his education had been in Europe with the best schools.  He had made his name and fame as a renowned architect.  Unfortunately, as happens with a lot of scions, ennui had set in and he became quite depressed.  He took a trip around the world, which at that time took quite a few months.  His confessor rather happily was assigned to accompany him and see to his welfare, especially his spiritual one.

His confessor was quite an intelligent priest who found joy in life and especially in the service of the Lord.  He knew enough not to push, but to wait and be there when needed.  His job went so well that at the end of the trip Robert went into the monastery wanting to become a priest.

The church was grateful to have their own architect priest and Robert was assigned to different projects, mostly requiring repairing an existing church or building a new one.

The first church built in Costa Rica was always having problems. There was too much seismic activity around, and it was in constant need of repair.  Father Robert happily volunteered to study the problem and undertake the repairs.  The church was happy to assign him there as long as he also assumed certain parochial activities as well.  He agreed and settled to his job.

He would help the parish priest with the volume of Masses that had to be said Sundays and holidays. When needed he would go to the convent to hear confessions.  Very few times was he also needed to celebrate the Mass at the convent.

If one were to ask him if he felt fulfilled and happy, Father Robert would have to say YES! He was very busy and doing what he liked the most.

But — and we all know there is a but — mostly prodded by the devil, one Sunday he celebrated Mass at the convent and when giving the communion a little pink tongue held out to receive the wafer drew his attention.  He quickly recovered and finished the celebration without another glitch.

He concentrated on his work and put those thoughts aside.  The repairs to the church were coming along quite well.  The workers all loved him, and they all took care of each other.

It wasn’t until Holy Week that he was again assigned to celebrate Mass at the convent.  The little pink tongue once more distracted him, but he also saw that the rest of the face was quite angelic.  Then he remembered, she was one of the new sisters that had taken their final vows at the beginning of Advent.  He seemed to remember that her family had wanted her to become a nun, and she was willing to do so.  The sisters at the convent were quite pleased with her as she was a sweet child who readily helped in all she could.  He remembered that she was called Sister Mary Jane.

All next week he concentrated on the construction work going on at the church, in fact, he had almost forgotten about the nun until the parish priest requested that he take over for him Saturday when confessions were heard over at the convent.

He went into the confessional and sat there.  The nuns started filing in and confessing.  All of a sudden a young voice started giving her confession.  He lowered his voice as he didn’t want


 

to be recognized.  And did he get an earful!  The young nun was worried because she had noticed the young priest looking at her and sometimes hesitating when giving her communion.  She had also looked at him, mostly his back as the priest would turn very little towards the pews, but she found his voice, his posture attractive and was wondering why.  With his low voice he reassured her not to worry that sometimes we all have these thoughts and that for penance she should say the full Rosary, reflecting in all that Jesus did for us.

Somehow he got through the afternoon, but was quite distracted all that weekend, so much so that his superior asked if he was all right.  Monday came and once back at the job, he was his usual cheerful self and totally concentrated on his job.

Time went by, April ended and May started.  Once more he had to hear confessions at the convent and the little nun still had her doubts about her thoughts.  He also helped celebrate Mass there and was the one to give her communion.  That Sunday night his head was in turmoil and he could not sleep.

Monday he was back at the job, concentrating on it until that night when his superior assigned him leading the Rosary at the convent on Wednesday.

Tuesday was a soul searching day.  He had to admit that Sister Jane perturbed him as much as he knew he perturbed her.  But what could he do?   Wednesday morning dawned with a lovely sunrise and Father Robert had reached a decision.  That evening he would talk with Sister Jane and if she still felt as she confessed (how could he do it without letting her know that he heard her confession?), he would convince her that as soon as the repair of the church was over they would give up their habits and move to a different country and start anew as husband and wife.

He got to the work site, and one of the workers was a bit off as he’s spent all the previous night caring for one of his five children who was sick with the whooping cough.  Father Robert was going over to suggest that he go home early so he could rest when the earth started moving.  Father Robert started running and flung the worker out of harm’s way as one of the columns started to topple.

The worker gazed in amazement as the column flattened Father Robert into the ground.  It was May 4, 1910. 

Copyrighted 2004 LuciaWrestler and 
Consultantes Río Colorado S.A.


 
Her old husband had a little secret
By Hot Lizard Boy 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

When I married my husband, I was under the impression that I wouldn’t need to wait long before the lecherous old devil died of a heart attack or at least slipped into a coma, giving me free access to his enormous stockpiles of cash. He was already a Methuselah when we tied the knot at our home in the suburbs of San José, but I swear the old son of a gun has gotten significantly younger in our five years together. 

"You breathe new life in him," our Tica housekeeper told me at my 27th birthday party last week. What does she know about new life and all that? I’ve got some unhappy guys in Cartago looking for me, and I need my money, or I won’t be breathing anything into anyone. And the stress is really starting to get to me. I don’t even dye my hair anymore because I can’t cover the gray, and I am definitely going to fire my plastic surgeon because these wrinkles are not going anywhere.

"I been talking to an obeah lady who says she knows all about resolving love problems, my girlfriend told me a few days ago. Yeah, girlfriend. As in, she’s pretty sick of waiting, too. She’s been with me through four other husbands. They all accommodated us by dying within the first six months, though, God rest their souls.

Now, I don’t know a thing about obeah or witchcraft, but Jacinta’s a Caribbean queen herself, so I can bet her understanding of magic is pretty much on the money. 

"Don’t you worry," she said. "All you need to bring is enough money and one of the old guy’s hairs or something. Something that’s been close to him."

The obeah lady’s wood shack was nothing to envy. Old automobile tires held the corrugated tin roof in place, and chickens and goats wandered untethered around the perimeter ¨D a miserable place for a supposedly powerful bruja."

But the witch lady was pretty much what I expected: Old, wrinkly, sort of creepy, and ready to give me whatever I wanted if I could show her the money. When I told her I wanted to kill my husband, she nodded. 

"Lemme see your hands first," she said in heavily accented English. She released them violently 

mere seconds after taking them in her own brown, rough hands. "I can’t do nothin’ for you," she said, and she pushed me toward the door. "Now, get out my house." 

"Hey, wait," I tried, but no amount of persuading on my part could get her to reconsider. Maybe she sensed my confusion, though, because she offered a parting comment.

"You the one who’s cursed," she hissed. "The devil’s breathin’ the life outta you every night."

Jacinta and I laughed about it later. Maybe what I said about murder was against the witch’s principles or something. So, now I’ve got to wait this thing out. Still, just this morning my husband invited me to go out dancing tonight. Dancing? I swear, you’d never know he was — well, you’d think he was only 60. But dancing? I told him to go on alone. I’m just not up for it. In fact, I look like I’ve aged about 10 years overnight. 

Copyrighted 2004 Hot Lizard Boy and 
Consultantes Río Colorado S.A.


 
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