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These stories were published Friday, Nov. 12, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 226
Jo Stuart
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Cops say four grannies were running a coke ring
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The grannies were not pushing cookies or brownies, said the police. The old ladies in San Sebastián, instead, made up a sophisticated gang of drug dealers, officials said.

They arrested the four women Thursday. The women ranged in age from 83 to 52. The four lived together in a home in Cañada II in the southern section of San José.

"The fight against the sale of drugs does not distinguish sex or age," said Rogelio Ramos, the security minister. "All are equal under the law, and this important fight will continue as now with the aid of many citizens who called to complain about the sale of drugs and collaborated with our police."

The women were the oldest detained by the Policía de Control de Drogas, which is part of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública which Ramos heads.

The women were identified by their last names: Fonseca Fonseca, 83, Solano Madrigal, 52, Ledesma Fonseca, 59 and Navarro Araya, 75, said agents. Officials said that two of them, Fonseca and Solano, solidified their friendship when they spent five years in the early 1990s in El Buen Pastor, the women’s prison.

Agents said the four women sold drugs from the home at any hour of the day or night.

Also arrested was a 21-year-old man, identified by the names of Dávila Alvarado, who faces allegations of sale of crack and cocaine in the same house.

Agents said they found equipment for converting cocaine into crack rocks and 120 doses of crack along with 437,600 colons, some $966.

Of the 310 persons arrested this year on various drug charges, 81 are women, said officials. Some 74 persons were foreigners.

Cold spell is not as bad as it could be here
Monday morning I woke up to what seemed like more noise than was customary, even in the city, and even on a new week day after the quiet of the weekend. Out of bed I shivered. It was colder than I remembered having been in a long time. 

I bundled into my warmest hang out clothes and went out into my balcony. A look at the small thermometer told me it was just 60 degrees and it was the wind that was making all that noise — and making it even colder. 

It made me once again think of my prediction that global warming is going to result in a new Ice Age. And the hope that being so close to the equator, we in Costa Rica will not notice it too much. This is my own unscientific theory based upon the creation of ice floes that will cool the oceans in the temperate zones. 

Later, a check of my thermometer (now indoors) showed me a comfortable 70 degrees. This was accomplished without indoor heating. I cannot imagine living in a place where one must either heat one's house or cool it down. Think Iraq or Las Vegas. Or Buffalo, New York. It is not just the nuisance of maintaining the mechanisms necessary to heat and cool. It is the cost! 

And with the rising oil prices, this has become a major problem in other countries not as blessed as is Costa Rica. However, it can be a shock to visitors. My friend Anabel said that the group of students from Germany who are here to study Spanish are shocked, saying this is the same weather as in Germany. They expected a tropical country.

Costa Rica may be tropical, but it is a country with altitude. I live in the Central Valley, about 3,800 feet above sea level, where generally the climate is mild. If you like it hot and humid, you can live near one of the coasts — each of which has its own particular climate and weather, or just closer to sea 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

level near a rain forest. If you want a sense of living in Vermont or Switzerland, try the side of a mountain near a cloud forest. Then, of course, you will want to consider heating or air conditioning. I find opening and closing windows far easier and less expensive and certainly less damaging to the environment.

Costa Rica is the biggest little country in the world for a couple of reasons (again, my own reasoning and not scientifically come by). First of all, if you could flatten it out, it would probably be the size of the United States, or at least Texas. And several other southern States. Then there are the various climates that can satisfy your need for change and a different experience. About the only geography we don't have here, outside of snow-covered plains, of course, is desert. Too much rain for that — especially on the Caribbean Coast. 

I often think about what Steve Martin said not long ago (something I have quoted before): "It is funny how important the weather becomes as you grow older."

It is true. And I am not quite sure why. Maybe because as we get older our metabolism slows down and our bones get thin and we are more vulnerable to outside environment. Maybe it just gives us something to talk about where everyone can have an opinion and it isn't controversial. Maybe just because you can take pride that your arthritis is more accurate than your local weatherman or woman.

What Mark Twain said is also true, "Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. Fortunately, in Costa Rica, we don't have to do much about it. 


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Costa Rica is ranked
44th for education

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica ranked 44th of 127 countries in a United Nations evaluation of its educational system.

The United Nations released the results of the study at its annual educational meeting this week in Rio de Janeiro. 

Several other Latin American countries ranked higher, such as Argentina (23), Cuba (30), and Chile (38). Other countries, such as Mexico, Panama and Venezuela ranked below Costa Rica, however, all of them ranked in the top 50. Brazil, the host country, ranked 72.

The meetings theme was quality of education. Many countries in Central and South America rank highly in availability of public education. The meeting, however, concluded that the available public schools were not of high quality. 

Officials from different donor countries stressed the need for more resources. This goal is difficult to accomplish, however, as many Latin countries continue to fight heavy governmental debt and economic stagnation, U.N. officials observe.

New archaeological dig
reveals mystery culture

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

Painted ceramics recently found in an archaeological dig on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca have revealed new details about a prehistoric people that pre-dated the Incas.

Helsinki, Finland, University officials say the very realistic portraits on the ceramic artifacts found by archaeologists on Bolivia's Pariti Island tell a lot about the costumes and jewelry of the Tiwanaku people. About 300 kilograms of those artifacts, apparently used in rituals and up to 1,100 years old, have been found on the island site. 

Until now, the Tiwanakus have been a mystery to modern historians because they left no writings and their culture died out 800 years ago. It is known that they first settled in the Bolivian Andean mountains near the lake around 2,400 years ago.

Uruguay will resume
diplomatic ties to Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — President-elect Tabaré Vázquez has announced his administration will re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Vázquez announced his plans here in the Uruguayan capital, at a meeting of the leaders of his Broad Front coalition. The socialist leader said Uruguay will resume diplomatic ties with Havana on March 1, when he takes office.

Outgoing Uruguayan President Jorge Battle severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in April, 2002.

Vázquez, an oncologist and former mayor of Montevideo, was elected president two weeks ago on the Broad Front ticket, with just slightly more than 50 percent of the vote. His election ended 170 years of conservative party dominance. 

Big poker tourney
has $500,000 purse

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Hotel Aurola will host the Poker Tournament International Costa Rica Classic starting December 1. The classic is a Texas Hold’em tournament that has a $500,000 purse. 

Prices for a tournament package start at $2,599, which includes airfare, Texas Hold’em buy-in, refreshments and accommodations at the Hotel Aurola. The $500,000 purse also includes seats at upcoming poker events.

Satellite tournaments are being held this month at Hotel Aurola. Winners of these events will receive seats at the classic. Schedules and buy-ins for the daily tournaments will vary. 

Tournaments like the classic drew small crowds only a few years ago. The recent booms in online and televised poker, however, have turned tournaments like the classic into large, multinational affairs.

Expat groups schedules
Christmas dinner-dance

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica plans a Christmas dinner and dance Dec. 4 at the Hotel Cariari west of town.

The event begins with a social hour at 6 p.m. The 10,500-colon per person price includes a full dinner and dancing.

The event is co-sponsored by the Canadian Club.

More information is available from Bob Miller, association president, or the association staff at 233-8068 or

Effective leadership talk set

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

César Solarte, a consultant and expert in conflict management, will be the principal speaker at a seminar Nov. 23 at 6 p.m. on the topic of the role of effective leadership in the 21st century.

The event will be at the Mark Twain Library of the Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano in Los Yoses. A fee of 2,500 colons ($5.50) is being charged. More information is available at 287-7577.

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Local Scots and friends plan St. Andrews celebration
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and every year, on or around Nov. 30, Scots around the world celebrate with a lively party and different customs to honour his name. 

Not known for missing a party, joining in the celebrations are the Scots in Costa Rica. Organizers have decided to hold a ball to commemorate St. Andrew’s Day. Scots, family, friends and enthusiasts of a tipple known as the water of life are eagerly awaiting the event. The St. Andrew’s Ball will be held Dec. 3 on the grounds of Swiss Travel located 4 kms past the Forum on the San José-Ciudad Colón highway. Festivities will commence at 7:30 p.m.

Ian Young is one of the organizers of the event. Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, he came to Costa Rica in 1974 through work. He then met and married his Costa Rican wife. After travelling around the world, they both decided to retire in Costa Rica. 

"I have many Costa Rican, Canadian, American and British friends that are coming to the ball, all nationalities are welcome," said Young. He added that the event was very much community focused and not profit oriented. 

Young hopes that the night will be as sucessful as the Burns Supper which was held in January. "Burns Supper was a great success and hopefully it will be repeated for the St. Andrews Ball," he said of the Jan. 25 celebration of the birthday of Robbie Burns, the Scottish literary genius. He mentioned the support and participation of the British Embassy and Vice Consul. "Sheila Pacheco’s husband made the haggis for us last time, it was fantastic," he said.

Although there will not be haggis served at the ball, a Scottish piper and fiddler will be present. A wee dram of whisky should get revelers up on their feet and dancing the night away. Celtic music will be played by the Costa Rican folk band Peregrino Gris and Bruce Callow a Canadian guitarist. If anyone needs to polish up on their highland fling, dancing practice will take place at the British School Nov. 27. David and Karen Garrett will be on hand to help with those difficult moves. 

The dress code for the evening is semi-formal, Young will be wearing his tartan kilt and sporran. But for those laddies who dare not face the Baltic elements a suit and tie will suffice. For the lassies a cocktail dress will be appropriate.  The entrance fee for the evening is $33. This will cover a welcome cocktail, bocas, full buffet-dinner with bottles of wine on the table. 

A long wait for a lot of food that does not offend
An editor, who shall remain nameless, suggested that a trip to the new restaurant at the Hotel Del Rey might be interesting. Years before we came to Costa Rica, my fishermen friends from California regaled me with stories about trolling the waters off Jacó for sailfish, the mouth of Río Colorado near Tortugero for tarpon and the bar of the Del Rey for scantily clad working females. The editor assured me that the restaurant would not be offensive to my wife or friends.

For starters, the restaurant is not in the hotel, it is in an adjacent building, formerly the Gurdián mansion, in the center of downtown San José. The restaurant name is Del Mar, not Del Rey. To call the restaurant, however, you have to call the hotel at 257-7800 and have them ring you through on extension 126 or 232.

The edifice is circular ochre stucco with oversized stained glass windows across from the park. A jewel, it exudes the charm and class of a sophisticated private club behind its wrought iron fence. Inside the doors, your eyes are drawn to the handsome alternately tinted hardwood floors and genteel décor. Although the four of us recognized and joined three already seated friends, we expected there to be little trouble handling seven orders since only a handful of diners occupied tables in other rooms, and it appeared that nearly all of them were already eating. 

The server appeared promptly, presented us with attractive leather-bound menus, recited the special of the day, veal parmesan, and filled water glasses. The original three had received beverages. The four of us were never queried about drinks. Our orders were simple. Each of us ordered a single item, six entrees and one trip to the salad bar. The menu was remarkably ambitious: the aforementioned veal dish, chicken Kiev, steaks, seafood, a variety of pastas, spinach ravioli, sandwiches including pastrami and corned beef and more. We Pavlovian canines began to salivate in anticipation that the food would match the grandeur of the setting and menu.

We emptied the bread-baskets over the subsequent hour and ten minutes, waiting for our orders, even though the breadsticks were dry. Long after the saliva had dried, the waiter served six enormous plates of food, hot out of the kitchen. To the chef’s credit, they were all completed nearly simultaneously. 

None of the seven was outstanding. Spaghetti drew the least criticism despite the absence of anchovies in the putanesca sauce (tomato sauce traditionally flavored with capers, olives and anchovies). The spinach ravioli was deemed a little watery and bland. The special was a very large cutlet of young beef rather than tender veal, thickly breaded and buried under a heavy blanket of pizza quality mozzarella goop. But the portion could have fed two. 

Corned beef and pastrami sandwiches drew praise for the quality of the meat but minuses for the lackluster rolls. I tasted them all and agreed with my friends’ assessments. My chicken Kiev consisted of two large chicken cutlets that were flat pieces of breast meat. Breaded and fried. 

When prepared classically, a spherical piece of chicken with a central pocket is stuffed with frozen herb butter and securely sealed with skewers or toothpicks during frying. The first cut into the delicately coated crispy ball should be dramatic 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


and even a little dangerous as hot melted butter squirts out of the center. It is challenging to prepare properly. When I cut into mine, no splatter and only a trace of herbed butter that formed a thin line in the central slice of the white meat. Not bad, not dry, but not Kiev. 

I accompanied the diner who chose the salad bar. She filled her plate with fresh appearing choices, the most imaginative of which was a plantain salad. OK, but pedestrian.

What was wrong? The answer was a matter of perspective and contrast. The very slow service reflected slow preparation in the kitchen even during a slack period, not a tardy wait staff. In such a lovely setting, is the wait really a problem? Perhaps not. Was any of the food bad tasting or poorly plated? No. The problem may have been that expectations were discordant with the chef’s philosophy. Perhaps his or her aim was to leave no diner hungry and to fill everyone with simple fare that would not surprise or offend any palate. Goals achieved. 

The visual splendor and multicultural menu suggested a more refined and perhaps artistic culinary philosophy, indeed a mismatch. The prices were relatively high for the food, but not for the setting. We averaged about ¢ 5,000 (about $11) per person. No one had room for dessert. 

Worthy of two stars. A good choice for a diner who for a moderately priced meal $$ (¢4,000-7,000 or $9 to $15.50), enjoys an attractive clubby setting close to all the central city activities (gambling, shopping, museums) and prefers large portions of everyday food.

Word of Mouth: Interesting responses to my request for non-tamale Christmas food gift idea are as follows: 

1.) Jars of Jo Stuart’s marvelous homemade chocolate fudge sauce. ¢ 1,500. Call 225-3101 to order. Careful, it’s addicting. 

2.) Repackaging Dallas Johnston’s locally grown macadamia nuts, which are a bargain in bulk, in colorful cellophane packets with Christmas ribbon ties. Call 763-1460 to order. 

3.) Homemade jars of tomato apple chutney from the kitchen of Maria Elena Fournier. She follows an old family recipe from Scotland. It is not fiery like the pricey imports. ¢ 2200 for a large jar. Order at 297-0970 

4.) Boxes of your own distinctive Christmas cookies

Thank you all. Happy Holidays. 

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Biotech used to save art and archives in tropics
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The use of biotechnologies originally intended to remedy crop infestations and other agricultural issues is being pioneered in the protection of priceless art and historical archives in tropical countries from decay caused by insects, heat, humidity and other natural causes.

A specialized U.N. University program in Venezuela, UNU-BIOLAC, is leading the way in the application of techniques to extend the life of some of the world’s most important cultural heritage examples.

Art preservation strategies have largely been devised in northern countries with temperate weather.  But the climate of the tropics and sub-tropics presents different, more complex challenges, including a huge variety of insects, bacteria and fungi that attack important sculptures, paintings, artifacts, photos, documents, records and books.

Experts say climate and insect-induced problems in Venezuela alone has already destroyed an estimated one-third of the country’s artistic heritage.

UNU-BIOLAC, focussed on biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean, is breaking ground in the region by using DNA and other biotechnologies to identify specific papers, woods and other materials used for various art and other purposes in past centuries in order to devise more effective preservation strategies.

UNU-BIOLAC used DNA sequence technology, for example, to identify insects and bacteria eroding three wood types, including one from a temperate climate, used by colonial-era artists in Venezuela to create a likeness of the Madonna.  It is now researching the promise of bacterial toxins normally used to create insect-resistant crops as a biological way to destroy and repel the pests, avoiding the traditional application of invasive technologies that often damage an artwork’s colour and structure.

Determining the species of plants and trees used to produce paper and artists’ materials long ago is information vital to effective protection and preservation of their works. 

The research has already attracted strong interest from curators worldwide; UNU-BIOLAC co-hosted 

the first regional symposium on the topic earlier this month at Simon Bolivar University and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Caracas.

A new booklet, sponsored by Mercantil Bank Foundation, has been produced in Spanish with an expanded new English edition in progress.
"It is not uncommon for unprotected wooden colonial art in this region to collapse, the sculpture slowly eroded by nature through insects, bacteria and fungus," says scientist Jose Luis Ramirez, director of UNU-BIOLAC. 

"There are millions of bacteria and fungi causing a disaster throughout the developing world.  Biotechnology allows us to identify exactly the material used by an artist, the specific pest that has invaded or threatens it, and to customize the preservation treatment required."

Among the historical records under threat are the letters, decorations and archives of El Liberator, Gen. Simon Bolivar, called the "George Washington of South America."  His victories led to independence for Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

Stored in Bolivar’s native city of Caracas, "these records are really compromised," said Ramirez.  "Something has to be done soon to save them, by identifying the natural toxin required to kill the insects decaying the papers and artifacts."

Tahia Rivero, curator of the art collection held by the Banco Mercantil Foundation, says many important paintings now are known only through art books.  For example, just 13 works remain from the 20-year career of historic 18th century Venezuelan artist Jose Lorenzo Zurita.  The rest have been destroyed through decay.

She estimates climate and insect-induced problems in Venezuela alone has destroyed one third of the country’s artistic heritage (with a similar amount lost to other causes).  Particularly vulnerable are ancient religious wooden sculptures which, if not properly preserved, can eventually crumble "like a saltine cracker," says Ms. Rivero.

The symposium attracted more than 100 registered curators and students and may lead to the creation of a post-graduate university program to help foster the application of biotechnology preservation techniques in museums and archives.

Jo Stuart
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