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These stories wre published Nov. 26, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 235
Jo Stuart
About us
Saints are coming

San Isidro will be there Sunday as the boyeros bring their ox carts and the saints to town to officially open the Christmas season.



Marchers demanding passage of a bill punishing
violence against women rallied in front of the assembly Thursday.


What do you do when the ground shakes?
In the middle of a dream I was jolted awake and bounced into a sitting position.  It took me about a second to realize that the rock and rolling I was experiencing was an earthquake.  It took another nanosecond for me to jump out of bed and stagger, bouncing against the walls, down the hall of my apartment. 

My bed is about three feet from a wall of windows, and I don’t want to be there if the earthquake is really bad.  This one was pretty strong and seemed to last for 30 seconds (a long time in earthquake world).  Earthquakes are the scariest of natural disasters, in my opinion.  One can protect oneself from the terror and damage of blizzards, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes by hiding out, usually by "going to ground" often in a basement, or, in the case of a flood, to high ground. But the ground itself turns against you, and there is no place to go during an earthquake (unless you can levitate). 

Having lived in California I don’t panic when an earthquake hits, but being awakened by one at 2 a.m. plays havoc on the heart.  I briefly looked in my living room and hall.  Some pictures were askew and one was on the floor, but not broken.  I had heard some glass breaking but just didn’t feel like looking beyond my kitchen where all looked tranquil.  I wanted to be back to bed to wait for the aftershocks. 

Barely in bed I heard my doorbell chime. Dannys, our super, was there insisting that I go downstairs.  "I just want to go back to bed," I said.  No, I had to go downstairs.  I didn’t want him blamed for my possible demise, so I put on a robe and went down to the second floor.  My fellow residents were in the hallway looking at the cracks in the walls and remembering past earthquakes. 

Hilda who lives in the apartment directly below me, insisted I have a cup of tea with her and her husband Roy. Roy is British and obviously Hilda has picked up the custom. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Roy and I drank tea and chatted about politics and life in Costa Rica while Hilda talked on the telephone checking on her various relatives. Hilda is Costa Rican.  The tea did help a bit to calm my still thumping heart. 

Half an hour later I was back in my apartment where I heard the unaccustomed sound of water.  A trip through my pantry and pila revealed a hot water heater with water spouting out of it.  Two pipes had broken.  I also found the source of the broken glass sounds. 

My nice plunger coffee maker and a coffee thermos had fallen and broken.  By now Sergio, the owner/manager of the apartment building, had arrived to check out damage to tenants and building.  He and Dannys turned off the water.

Having no hot water, the following day (with permission) I took a shower upstairs in the now empty penthouse.  This penthouse is impressive, with walls of glass and a huge balcony and views that surpass even mine.  The master bath, adjacent to the dressing room the size of my bedroom is where I showered — in a marble tub with water the force of which I have not felt in my apartment ever. 

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for many things.  They range from having everyone in my family in pretty good health to living in a country that was forward thinking enough so that most of the buildings, like the one I live in, are built to withstand earthquakes, to celebrating Thanksgiving with some of my dearest friends.  And to being able to look forward to more luxurious showers, the like of which I haven’t experienced in a very long time. 

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La Costanera, Quepos, Parrita, Manuel Antonio
A.M. Costa Rica file photo 
Brightly painted ox carts and wheels did not make their appearance here until the early 20th century.

Boyeros and their oxen
hearld Christmas season

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A sure sign of approaching Christmas: ox carts in the streets.

That will happen Sunday with the entry of the saints into San José and the parade of carts, their drivers and the gigantic beasts that pull them.

There is no sure number of the teams and the carts that will be in the parade, which starts at 9 a.m. At least 10 teams are coming from Cañas and some 70 more from Escazú alone, according to organizers. In past years nearly 200 ox cart operators showed up.

This year, the eighth, the event is dedicated to la mujer campesina, the country woman, and the Escuela Metalica, the metal school that was built with sheet steel brought to the site by ox cart.

The parade is supposed to start at 9 a.m. Sunday with the first teams moving east on Paseo Colón from the statue of León Cortés in Parque la Sabana.

Representing the family of a boyero or ox cart driver will be Misael Núñez and his wife Elisa Hernández of Corralillos de Cartago. Also in one of the first carts will be a life-size statute of San José, the stepfather of Jesus Christ and the patron of the capital. Other saints will be depicted, too, including San Isidro, patron of those in agriculture.

The Escuela Metalica, which was built in the1880s, stands on what once was a small lake used by the boyeros to water their teams after hauling sugar to the Fábrica Nacional de Licores, now the Centro Nacional de la Cultura on the east side of Parque España. The metal school is on the west side. Ox carts were instrumental in carrying the imported steel to the school construction site. The metal was shipped by boat from France.

The parade route is east to Avenida 2, passing Parque de la Merced and Parque Central. to return to La Sabana. Boyeros and friends will be gathering at the park Saturday and Saturday night for festivities and to prepare for the Sunday trek. The parade route, particularly downtown, will have many groups for music, dance and folklore.

Ox carts occupy a mystical place in the Costa Rican psyche. They were used to haul coffee from the Central Valley to deep water ports at Puntarenas. The brightly painted carts and giant wooden wheels are the informal symbol of the country.

Orchids will be on display

By the A. M. Costa Rica staff

The Fair of Orchids will open Dec. 3 at the Agricultural Experimental Station Fabio Baudrit Moreno. The fair will run daily through Dec. 5, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The station is located in Barrio San José in Alajuela, 2.5 kilometers west of the Catholic church.

Parking is 500 colones, and entrance into the fair is free. 

The University of Costa Rica, the National Institute of Innovation and Land and Cattle Farming Transference, and the Taiwan Embassy in Costa Rica are sponsoring the fair. 

Our reader writes

He says Ottón Solís
should target corruption

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Ms. Campbell said Ottón Solís must change strategy before running again for president of Costa Rica!

Preciscely. He should talk again about corruption since we have seen now how right he was when talking about ethics was not popular.  Regarding her own chances as a candidate, she is a bright and honest woman who eventually could be president, but she needs more experience and maturity.

Regarding Ottón Solís’ brother Alex, it should clearly be understood that he has been a life-long member of Liberación Party, and not only did not support his brother in the previous campaign but allowed his name to be used in the " dirty campaign " orchestrated in that party against Ottón Solís.

To be fair, however, it should be noted that the alegations that Alex Solís was making high interest loans to people to hire coyotes proved to be not true in a rather extensive investigation by the legislative deputies. The only thing proved was that he made the signatures of his mother, his wife and his brother at their request.

Rodrigo Cabezas-Moya, M.D.,FACS 
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Miriam Sánchez Lobo
A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Crowd and speakers were aggressive

Women march seeking passage of anti-violence law
By Clair-Marie Robertson 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

Costa Rican women marked the international day of the prevention of violence against women with a march through San José to the Asamblea Legislativa. The protestors congregated around a stage erected especially for the event at the Asamblea. The main issue of the march was to demand the passage of a law in Costa Rica that seeks to protect women from violence. 

Several legislative deputies were present from the Partido Acción Ciudadana, including Epsy Campbell Barr. Campbell spoke about the importance of the swift passage of a law that will protect women. Georgina Vargas, president of the Institute of the Woman in Costa Rica, said that the country can no longer continue tolerating violence against women. Vargas said that they had been waiting for five years for this law. She demanded that the law be made active before December. Vargas said that the first debate in the Asamblea approved the law, but a second debate will be required to actually pass it. 

The 300-strong crowd held banners and shouted out that they wanted violence against women in Costa Rica to stop. Miriam Sánchez Lobo, a housewife from Moravia, said that she joined the march because she wants to stop women suffering.  David Araya Bravo said he was there to support women’s rights but also the rights of homosexuals in Costa Rica. 

Some 50 Fuerza Pública officers observed the protest. Organizers said that after the protest they were going 

to enter the Asamblea and demand to be heard. The protest was quite hostile. Speakers who mounted the stage and addressed the crowd were aggressive. Many of the spokespersons questioned the ability and intelligence of the members of the Asamblea Legislativa. 

Statistics from the Institute of  Women shows that between January to the present week some 5,118 cases have been filed relating to violence against women, not only physical but psychological. Furthermore, in Costa Rica 18 women have died at the hands of spouses or friends this year. According to Costa Rican law, the murder of a woman carries a 20- to 35-year prison sentence, 

Ivannia Ortega was on duty for the Fuerza Pública. She said that she did not agree that the women should have been protesting in such a way because they would not achieve anything. She was sympathetic to their cause. 

When asked why a woman who commits a violent act against a man is punished less, Ortega said that she thought it was because women who commit violent acts against their spouses have been abused.

She said that the only way she thinks that violence against women can be stopped is through education. "It is too late for those that have already grown up, they already have been brought up to behave in a certain way," said Ortega. 

During debate this week in the assembly some deputies opposed the measure because they thought that the law would discriminate against men.

The many varieties and uses of the squash family
Plant squash and cover a bare hillside with leafy vines, fruit and flowers. The crop requires water and occasional weeding, not horticultural skill. The hard part is having enough friends willing to take the excess. 

If you kill all the bees around the vines, you end the sex life of the plants. They are monoecious, a pretentious term for having both male and female blossoms. The female blossoms are appended to tiny nubbins of fruit. Remove them and there goes the squash. For eating, pick the male blossoms and remove the stamens. I hear it is painless.

Native Americans called green vine fruits that could be eaten raw, askusqatash. The settlers called them squash. By any other name, squash, pumpkin and gourd are all annual vines, warm season species in the genus Cucurbita,the same family but different genus from melons and cucumbers. They have been cultivated in the Americas for more than 7,000 years. 

The Cucerbitas are divided rather arbitrarily into summer and winter squash. The summer variety tends to be perishable, bland and tender with edible skin, may be eaten raw and grows quickly. The winter variety tends to survive for a month uncut in a cool place, be more flavorful and firmer, must be peeled and cooked and requires a longer growing period. Some species transform from summer to winter types when they mature.

Here is a thumbnail glossary of the common Costa Rican types as requested by Luz of San Pedro, who asked for the same type column we did on different kinds of guava.

Acorn Squash
Although considered a winter squash, the acorn squash is of the same family as summer squash. It has the shape of an acorn and is the size of a softball. Its skin and flesh are hard. Most are dark green. When cooked, it has a nutty flavor that goes well with savory or sweet fillings in the cavity of a seeded half.

Preparation: Slice in half the long way. Remove the seeds. Cover the insides with a little butter, salt and pepper. Prick the flesh with a fork. Bake in a 375 oven for about 30 minutes. Remove, fill and return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

Savory filling: mix cooked and well drained spinach with equal amount of toasted bread crumbs, salt to taste, add a pinch of nutmeg and a beaten egg per squash. Mix well and pack cavity. Top with a thin layer of grated parmesan and bake until the top is golden brown. It makes a great vegetarian main course. To make it Italian, add a little cooked ground Italian sausage, garlic and oregano and omit the nutmeg. To make it Greek, use cooked seasoned ground lamb instead of sausage, and substitute crumbled feta cheese and diced Kalmata olives for the topping. 

The sweet filling can be any combination of butter and honey or brown sugar, sliced stone fruits and/or nuts. Don’t let it burn. 

Another name for zucchini

Calabaza is a solid green or vertically striped pumpkin, grown throughout the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Among its many names are aboboro, ahuyama, calabash, Cuban squash, green pumpkin, malaba gourd, and West Indian pumpkin. The fruit can be small as a grapefruit or large as a watermelon. The skin is inedible. 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


Calabaza flesh can be a buttered vegetable, pie filling, dessert base or ingredient in stews. Quibebe, the signature calabaza soup of the Bahia region of Brazil and a very popular soup in Argentina, has more variations than the theme from Paginini. Basically, calabaza chunks are boiled until soft in chicken or beef broth flavored with garlic, onion, chilies, parsley, salt and pepper with the addition of varying amounts of milk or cream, and tomato juice or diced tomatoes, then blended smooth. 

At Patria, the Nuevo Latino restaurant in New York, executive chef Douglas Rodriguez elevates this simple soup to star status by coating calabaza and onion chunks with aromatic herbs and spices and roasting them until they are carmelized. He then simmers them in rich stock, finishes the soup with cream, purees it and garnishes with shredded skirt steak. 

The commonest squash in Costa Rica, it is also called choko, christophene, custard marrow, mirlitan and vegetable pear. It is oval, grooved, pale to dark green and has a single large seed. The skin is smooth, bumpy or hairy. The skin and seed are edible. The pulp is bland.

Raw cubes add crunch to a salad. Lightly boiled and buttered, it is an excellent side dish. It can be stuffed and baked or added to soup and stew. 

Neolithic Mexican cave dwellers grew bottle gourds along with other squash. They ate the younger fruit and used the hard shell of the older fruit to carry and store water and food, and as homes for crickets in China, penis covers in New Guinea, musical instruments in Africa, Maori confit pots, spoons, pipes, birdhouses, clothing and masks. 

The name pumpkin is derived from an old French word, pompion, meaning ripened or cooked by the sun. In Costa Rica, pumpkin comes in cans.

Winter Melon
These very large melon-like gourds, wear pale green stripes. Chunks of its white flesh appear in stir-fried dishes and soups, translucent and sweet. The Chinese banquet version of the soup, served in its shell, is spectacular. 

The word zucchini comes from the Italian zucchino, meaning a small squash. 

Enough said.

Erratum: I called La Brasserie Parisienne, La Brasserie Francaise in my last column. Apologies to the restaurant and Susan F. who loves their lobster bisque.

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Access to food being defined as basic human right
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

In what the Food and Agriculture Organization calls a landmark commitment to human rights, the governing body of the U.N. agency has adopted Right to Food Guidelines.  The aim is to further the goal of the 1996 World Food Summit to cut in half the number of chronically malnourished people by 2015. 

The World Food Summit issued what is called the Rome Declaration on World Food Security. The statement said that everyone has the right to have access to safe and nutritious food, the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.

Since 1996, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO, admits that efforts to halve the 800 million chronically malnourished people have fallen short.

It is why at a follow-up summit five years later, delegates formally called for Right to Food Guidelines.

One of those who helped develop them is Margret Vidar, a legal officer with the FAO in Rome.

"These are, we hope, a practical tool to help countries to implement the right to food at the national level," she said in an interview.  They represent the basic agreement that we have in the world today about what the right of food is and what countries should be doing to make sure that the right is enjoyed."

The FAO says the guidelines provide practical guidance to help countries implement their obligations relating to food security. It says they take into account important human rights principles, including equality and non-discrimination, accountability and the rule of law, 

as well as the principle that all human rights are universal, indivisible, inter-related and interdependent.

"One of the things we promote through the guidelines is to make it a legal entitlement in law at the national level," Ms. Vidar said.  "The right to food is already recognized at the international level through the Universal declaration of Human Rights and through various treaties.  What we are promoting is that countries take it a step further: incorporate the right to food into their constitution and then enact necessary legislation measures to make sure that it’s fully respected and protected."

Despite being described as a landmark commitment to human rights, Ms. Vidar says endorsement followed 20 months of difficult, but constructive negotiations.

"One of the difficulties is that we do not have a full consensus in the world about the nature of economic, social and cultural rights.  There are those countries that believe these are more aspirational than real human rights — or that they cannot be enforced . . . . 

"The other reason why this was difficult was while the guidelines focus on the national level, the international environment has a great impact on what countries can actually do, especially developing countries.  You only have to think about issues like World Trade Organization and the agricultural subsidies to understand what I mean," she said.

Among the guidelines is a call for countries to identify the most vulnerable in their societies, such as young children, pregnant women or the elderly.  The FAO says they should be used to empower the poor and hungry to claim their rights. 

Venezuelan lawmakers pass restrictive media law
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Legislators loyal to President Hugo Chavez have passed a measure they say is designed to limit sex and violence in the broadcast media. Opponents say it is intended to limit press freedom.

The lawmakers passed the measure late Wednesday on a party-line vote. Supporters say it is designed to protect children from scenes of sex and excessive violence on television and radio. But opponents say the law is merely an attempt by President Chavez to control the media and news content and to muzzle critics.

Under the measure, violators would face heavy fines and even have their licenses revoked. Officials say the bill has been sent to President Chavez for his signature.

Chavez will get the bill when he returns home from Russia. He is there now and has met with Russian business leaders to discuss joint oil and gas ventures.

Chavez praised the close ties between Russia and Venezuela during the meeting, and urged top executives to invest in future energy projects. He scheduled to hold talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, today. Russia is the world's second largest oil exporter, while Venezuela is fifth among oil-exporting countries.

Jo Stuart
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