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Jo Stuart
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These stories were published Friday, Dec. 14, 2001

Pastry chef José Duncan has done it again. He spent three days constructing a gingerbread house. The result is on display at the News Cafe in downtown San José.

This yearís effort is bigger and more complex. Plus, it is better reinforced.  Last year the gingerbread house suffered structural problems. Now there are wooden reinforcements built in.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
It's eclipse time here
and a whole lot more

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not only the moon and the sun are lining up for a big show this weekend. This could be the most active weekend in Costa Rica this year.

The weather forcast for the late afternoon eclipse favors the far Pacific coast. Other areas might see clouds or rain, the weatherman said.

If you miss the eclipse, there is the Little Theater Group production of Nutcracker Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The show has been generating good reports, and it has a cast that includes lots of youngsters from Lincoln School and Country Day School. Reservations are available at 289-3910. The show will be in the Bello Horizonte theater.

Downtown the Christmas show "Jesus is born" has an 8 p.m. show in the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar on Avenida 2 with more than 100 performers on stage. There is yet another show Saturday and a 5 p.m. production Sunday.

In the town of Sarchí, some 45 minutes northwest of San José a three-day festival begins with typical cooking, a parade scheduled for Friday and activities that run into the evening. The festivities continue through Sunday. The town is known for its furniture and handicrafts.

On Saturday there is the Festival of Lights, a parade through town that begins near the sports stadium in La Sabana Park at sundown and winds its way through the city up Paseo Colon to Avenida 2 to disband in the area of the Plaza of Democracy.

If parades are not your taste, "Con Permiso Soy El Tango," will be presented Saturday with dinner starting at 7:30 p.m. The location is the restaurant Sabor y Sueños in Barrio Escalante in northeast San José. Reservations may be made at 258-2762. 

On Sunday there is a public drawing about 6 p.m. in the Plaza de la Cultura in the heart of the downtown of the numbers for the big Christmas lottery. 

And if you are still not excited, the King Brothers Circus has come to town and set up in La Sabana.

The weather forecast for the eclipse is based on predictions made Thursday night. Sky conditions are critical because the sun will be declining at 3:13 p.m. when the first signs of an eclipse is seen. The big show is between 4:30 and 4:33 when the moon fully covers the sun except for a small ring of fire around the perimeter.

The best viewing probably will be on the Pacific coast in the area of Samara, Nosara and points north. Although viewers at high points in the Central Valley and elsewhere in the country north of San José should have a shot at seeing the eclipse.

According to the National Meteorology Institute, the Central Valley will see moderate winds with clouds and drizzle in the eastern part of the valley with clouds and drizzle in the western part mainly in the afternoon.

In the Pacific north, the weather will be windy with clouds and drizzle in the mountains with the rest of the region from almost clear to partly cloudy. That area includes Puntarenas. On the Nicoya Peninsula, party cloudy to clear skies are predicted.

The weather forecast gets more cloudy the further south you go. In the central and south Pacific, Quepos and Golfito areas, clouds are expected with the possibility of isolated downpours in the middle of the day. Light to moderate rain is anticipated in the afternoon. But little of the eclipse is visible here.

In the northern zone where people will be expecting to see the eclipse around San Carlos, Arenal and points further east, the expectation is for intermittent showers of various intensities. This goes for the Caribbean slope, too, including Limón.

Some additional details on the weekend events and some directions to the Nutcracker can be found HERE.

Help for tourists

A.M. Costa Rica will publish occasional ads here for those hotels and lodgings that have space for the holidays and early January. 

The idea is that some top places get unexpected cancellations, but more late-coming tourists donít even check because they figure top places have been booked for months.

We got some responses, and we will run more during the next week. If you are the operator of a hotel, B&B or other form of lodging with that problem, send your info to: 


Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

How to Give Laughter and Joy for Christmas

Since Living in Costa Rica, I have become a morning person. Many people who move here do. It is partly because the sun rises and sets between 5:30 and 6 every morning and every evening and partly because mornings in the city are so beautiful. That is why I found myself last week watching one of my favorite movies on TV. 

I usually turn on the TV to the news channel and listen to it while I putter around and drink my coffee. But lately the news is so depressing and repetitive I can do without it. Ever since the coverage of the Gary Condit story, I have been working on a logo for CNN. It is a drawing of a man beating a dead horse. Iíve been watching movies lately.

"La Novicia Rebelde" (the Rebellious Novitiate) began at 6:30 and I decided to watch the whole thing for about the fifth time. "The Sound of Music," which is our name for this Academy Award winner, is the favorite of a lot of people. I hear there are some showings in theaters where the audience gets to sing along with the Von Trappe family. 

The movie has everything, including a group of young brats rescued by music from growing up to be spoiled adults (Music has turned many lives that might have been mediocre or worse into great successes. I often think of Quincy Jonesí story, and, of course, there are the Beatles and probably even Mozart, without music, would have grown up to be a precocious twit.) 

And there are two of my favorite plots ó the Cinderella story (feminist version) and what I call the Good Earth plot, two people who donít seem to like each other, through exposure, fall in love. On top of all that, there is Julie Andrews, who not only has a glorious voice, but one of the most charming personalities on the silver screen. I am still mad at Hollywood for not casting her in both "Camelot" and "My Fair Lady." Both movies lacked her voice and her sense of fun.

At any rate, it was a very enjoyable morning.

I have also, in the past couple of weeks, gotten to see my two other favorite movies. "The Gods Must be Crazy" (closely translated into "Los Dioses Deben Estar Locos," and "The In-laws," more freely translated as "No Disparan, Soy Dentista." In the latter, this ("Donít shoot, Iím a dentist.") is what Alan Arkin says to two hit men, and could say to a half dozen other bad guys who are out to kill him, thanks to the future father-in-law of his daughter, Peter Falk. 

I laugh helplessly every time I see this movie, and even when I think about it. Alan Arkin is the perfect terrified foil for the crazy-seeming Falk who claims to be with the CIA. The two go on an outrageous adventure ending up in front of a firing squad of a Central American dictator who acts as a ventriloquist for his talking hand. 

The smog filled, traffic clogged time-clocked community of Johannesburg, South Africa, doesnít look any more inviting than the barren existence of the water-scarce vastness of the Kalahari where the Bushmen live in "The Gods Must Be Crazy." On to their land falls an empty coke bottle, thrown from an airplane. 

At first it is a wonderful tool with many uses, then, the Kalahari find themselves fighting over a possession and getting angry with one another for the first time in their lives, So one of the tribal fathers decides to go to the ends of the earth and give it back to the gods who must have dropped it. His journey runs him into an endearing biologist who becomes a clumsy oaf in front of women (especially the new schoolteacher), and some marauding rebels from another African country. All of the characters in this movie (except the marauding rebels) are lovable, even the fire extinguishing rhinoceros. 

I am not a big moviegoer, so I am sure there are other great movies I have missed, but all of these are very satisfying. I am writing about them because I think if you want to give a gift of joy and laughter, these would make wonderful Christmas gifts that hold up time after time.

See earlier Jo Stuart columns HERE

'Survival Passport' a new player in the tourism advertising field
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a new, monthly tourist guide on the market, and it is winning praise for creativity. The publication is the Capture Costa Rica "Survival Passport."

Actually, the Passport is a cross between a publication and a guide because it is being published monthly. The publication has the look and feel of a real passport. The cover is passport blue. The text is in English. The booklet is pocket-sized. 

Bryan Johnson, vice president of Capture, said that the idea originated early this year, and he and his father, Alan, began working in earnest in May. The third edition of the passport will be out next week, he said, noting that the firm skipped the September issue because of the turmoil in the tourist industry caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and subsequent grounding of many airlines. 

Johnsonís said his goal is to surpass the in-country paid distribution of The Tico Times, the English-language weekly newspaper. He estimated that distribution at about 20,000 copies a month, that is about 5,000 a week. He said Passport already distributes 15,000 copies a month.

The pages contain many facts tourists should know about Costa Rica, including currency exchange rates, emergency numbers and also advertising, which is where Capture makes its money because the Passport is free for awhile.

The latest dose of creativity is the center spread of the new Passport that promises a free T-shirt to any tourist who shops at three of the firmís advertisers. The tourist calls the company, and a Blue Marlin T-shirt will be delivered by courier to the appropriate hotel, Johnson said, adding:  "They canít get anything more convenient than that."

Johnson, formerly of Middletown, N.Y., has been here about nine months, but his father has been here 10 years. The Passport is new, but the firm used to produce maps and other advertising merchandise. He said that the Passport is being distributed by American Airlines and that an employee is working at Juan Santamaría Airport to make sure incoming tourists get the booklet. 

The Web site of the company is www.capturecostarica.com.

A.M. Costa Rica photos
Bryan Johnson in action

Two views of Survival Passport

Golfers forego 19th hole to help Angel Tree project and kids
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Participants in a golf tournament decided not to buy food, drinks and other luxuries with their leftover money last Tuesday. Instead, they chipped in to support the Salvation Army Angel Tree project.

Tuesday was the last 2001 tournament for members of The Central Valley Golf Association. 
And in past years the money left in the tournament fund was used for free golf, food and drinks for all members. This year the membership unanimously voted to pay their own expenses and use the fund 

The association chose to use this photo to express holiday wishes and also to thank a woman named Rebecca, who wrapped all the presents

to help Costa Rica's needy children receive Christmas presents. Then they added some more money. 

All proceeds went to support the Angel Tree Foundation in association with the Salvation Army. It was a last minute idea and therefore lacked publicity. 

This year 48 children in the Angel Tree Foundation will get gifts. Next year the goal is hundreds, a spokesman said.

The Central Valley Golf Association is issuing an invitation now for all golfers to participate in next year's event. The group also hopes enthusiasts of other sports, bowling, darts, etc. will hold their own events to aid the needy kids, said John Kendall of the group. 

Another member of the association and organizer of the tournaments, who went to purchase the gifts, said: "It was great buying all the presents and thinking of the kids faces when they open them. It put the meaning back in Christmas which I haven't felt for so long." 

A good tournament was held, but the association plans to make this an annual event with a much bigger participation, the group said. For the record the team of Don Williams, Bob Yardley, James Ostholthoff and John Cable, won the tournament. 

Visiting New York firemen
got great Panama welcome

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON ó Three firefighters from New York City received an extraordinary heroes' welcome in Panama from fellow firefighters, government officials and ordinary citizens on their recent goodwill visit to that country.

During their three days in Panama Nov. 26-28, the trio, Benjamin Cotten, Lt. Miguel Ramos, and Capt. Erick Weekes, participated as guests of honor in a series of commemorations and programs that not only marked Panama's Independence Day and National Firefighters' Day, but also recognized the bravery of New York City firefighters in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

A total of 343 members of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) lost their lives in the collapse of the 110-story twin towers of the World Trade Center. The ultimate sacrifice by so many firefighters attempting to save civilians trapped in the two buildings has become an inspirational tale of courage throughout the United States and the world.

Another Cuban spy
gets a life sentence

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Miami federal court has sentenced a second convicted Cuban spy to life in prison for espionage work targeting two U.S. military bases in south Florida. 

Ramon Labanino was sentenced Thursday, one day after the convicted leader of his spy ring, Gerardo Hernandez, received the same sentence. Both are expected to appeal. 

The two men were among five Cubans found guilty in June of operating as foreign agents and conspiring to penetrate the U.S. bases. 

They were part of a south Florida-based spy ring known as the "Wasp Network," which passed secrets to Cuba's Communist government for much of the 1990s. 

Hernandez also was found guilty of conspiracy to murder in the deaths of four Cuban exiles killed when Cuban fighter jets shot down their unarmed planes over the Florida Straits in 1996. The incident led to passage of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act tightening U.S. sanctions against Cuba. 

Defense lawyers maintained their clients' main goal was to monitor what they termed exile extremists who they alleged had violated Cuban airspace in the past and backed terrorist campaigns on the island. 

Key finance expert said
to be resigning his post

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES ó Hours after Argentines staged a general strike over government austerity measures, there are reports that the nation's finance secretary, Daniel Marx, is resigning.

Demonstrators clashed with riot police in several cities Thursday while others chanted anti-government slogans outside the Buenos Aires home of Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo. Police were forced to fire tear gas to break up some of the protests.

The work stoppage comes one day after thousands of people rallied in the capital to demand that the government of President Fernando de la Rua repeal new banking restrictions. The measures limit bank withdrawals and cash transfers to $1,000 per month.

Also Thursday, President de la Rua met with his predecessor, Carlos Menem, to seek joint policies to save Argentina from economic collapse. 

Argentina is in its fourth year of recession and rumors of a peso devaluation have circulated as the nation struggles to avoid a default on its $132 billion debt.

Meanwhile, local media reports say Finance Secretary Marx has tendered his resignation, effective Friday. No reason was given, but differences reportedly had emerged in recent weeks between Marx and his boss, Cavallo. Marx was a key player in efforts to revive Argentina's economy. 

Ortega ready to face
sex abuse allegations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has renounced his congressional immunity in order to deal with accusations of sexual abuse made by his stepdaughter. Ortega told a Managua criminal court Wednesday he was innocent and rejected the charges. 

Congressional immunity has allowed Ortega to avoid criminal charges for several years. But he has repeatedly denied the allegations and says the time has come to set the record straight. 

Zoilamerica Narvaez, a 34-year-old daughter of Ortega's wife, Rosario Murillo, has accused the former president of raping hear repeatedly over several years, beginning when she was 11 years old. Daniel Ortega served as Nicaragua's president from 1979 to 1990 as the head of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. 

Caribbean nations agree to cooperate more closely on trade
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Caribbean basin nations including Costa Rica, Cuba and Venezuela have agreed to cooperate more closely and to form a bloc to press for preferential treatment in world trade negotiations. During the meeting, Venezuela called for establishing an alternative hemispheric trade bloc to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is being promoted by the United States. 

Leaders and representatives of the 25-member Association of Caribbean States Wednesday signed a declaration denouncing terrorism, and pledged to increase efforts against drug trafficking and money-laundering. At the conclusion of two days on the Venezuelan island of Margarita, they also signed cooperation agreements dealing with energy, tourism, and sustainable economic development. 

The participants also underscored the need for preferential treatment for the region in world trade negotiations. For his part, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged members to create an alternative to the U.S. supported Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA. Chavez, a frequent critic of the FTAA proposal, warned the delegates that such an agreement could lead to their ruin. 

At a news conference Wednesday, the populist Venezuelan leader said even if the FTAA becomes a reality, he would submit the accord to a referendum. "Since we believe that the FTAA is not feasible as it stands, what we propose is working towards an alternative," he says. Chavez has called his proposal the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas after South American liberator, Simon Bolivar. 

But Cuban President Fidel Castro, who was one of the leaders attending the conference, acknowledged the difficulties facing the region in seeking alternatives to globalization. But Castro said conference participants had at least taken a first step. "It's still too early to say how this will take shape, but we've done some things that can begin the process so that we can help each other survive," he says. 

Cuba is not included in the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas because of its Communist government. However, the other nations of the hemisphere have committed themselves to establishing the FTAA in 2005.

Prospects for establishing the FTAA received a boost last week when the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation giving President Bush expanded authority, often referred to as Fast Track, to negotiate free trade accords. Many Latin American nations had expressed reluctance to enter into serious negotiations with the United States without Fast Track, which has still not been approved by the U.S. Senate. 

Eclipse special today!

Join us on this spectacular event as we sail from Playas del Coco down the coastline. Relax on the spacious 65-foot "Don Bosco" as you sip wine and enjoy the soft music in the background. All appetizers and drinks are included along with special glasses to watch the eclipse with. 

Space is limited so reserve now. Departure time is 1 p.m. from Vida Loca Bar in Playas del Coco, returning at 7 p.m. Cost per person: $75

For reservations call: 395-6090 or 391-8797
or e-mail us at discovercostarica@yahoo.ca

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