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(506) 223-1327         Published Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 252               E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Pallbearers, including white-haired Fernando Berrocal Soto, the security minister, take the body of Pedro Fallas, killed late Tuesday, to the Fuerza Pública chapel at the security ministry.
Story is
policeman's coffin carried in
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray

omar chaves and father minor
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Omar Chaves Mora in white shirt and the Rev. Minor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar hear the bad news in the verdict of their murder tial. Chaves got 47 years for murder and fraud, and Calvo got 15 for fraud.

See story HERE!

Experts to dig at former island prison of San Lucas in January
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of archaeologists, historians and other experts will be conducting research at the former island prison of San Lucas in the Gulf of Nicoya in early January. Part of the job will be to conduct a dig at the prison's cemetery where many burials are expected to be found.

The Isla San Lucas was one of the nation's major prisons from 1873 to when it was closed in 1991. It is well known by visitors to the Puntarenas area and also internationally through the book  La Isla de los Hombres Solos, written by one-time inmate José León Sánchez.
The work is being done by the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica in conjunction with the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía.

The prison will be restored as a tourist attraction, and the findings of the archaeologists will be part of the displays, said the museum.

In addition to the flora and fauna of the island, experts will seek out and study bats living there, said the museum.

Excavations at the cemetery will seek to provide more information about the inmates and living conditions at the prison.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 252

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Our readers' opinions
Writer doesn't know beer,
and doesn't drink any

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your beer writer doesn't know hops from barley! (From the online Webster’s Dictionary: saccharine:

1 a : of, relating to, or resembling that of sugar <saccharine taste> b : yielding or containing sugar <a saccharine fluid> 2 : overly or sickeningly sweet <saccharine flavor>

I understand why the front page article is attributed to “The A. M. Costa Rica staff!”  Obviously, the pretentious word slave who wrote the article on the new Bavaria brand was afraid to identify him/herself.

This is the first and only time that I have ever heard anyone refer to a Costa Rican beer as possessing a “light, semi-sweet taste.”  That would most likely be because any beer drinker who has ever sampled a Florida Ice Co. product will tell you that the beer in Costa Rica is most definitely not sweet!  Imperial is very bitter, Pilsen even more so, and Rock Ice doesn’t even deserve to be called a beer.

The Holy Bavaria Trinity of Oro, Plata, y Oscura are all three very good beers.  The Florida Ice version of Heineken is terrible, as anyone who has ever tasted the real Heineken can tell you.  At least your misguided writer admits that sales are good, and that would tend to make the reader suspect that he/she doesn’t have a clue.  Even if Florida Ice does enjoy a monopoly, wouldn’t you agree that a truly bad product could not achieve such sales numbers?

I would suggest that the next time you ask someone to comment on beer, you might be well served to find a writer who has actually consumed a beer or two.
John G. Dungan
Farmers Branch, Texas

EDITOR'S NOTE: The beer article was written by Jay Brodell, editor.

Beer judge calls 1460
lighter refreshing change

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to the A.M. Costa Rica Staff beer critics.

Now wait a minute.  Don't be so harsh on the new Bavaria 1460 75th anniversary beer.  At least they are trying something new.  Don't know how well it has been fairing with the Ticos.  I haven't seen too many of my Tico friends trying it.  But I have been drinking it up.

For being kilometers away from Germany, What do you expect from their claim of a German style Dortmunder, brewed domestically. Besides I believe the new beer is a 50-50 percent mix of Pilsen and Bavaria Dark.  The brewery then went to some guidelines and sought a style to put it under.

Taken from the American Homebrewers Association  and the BJCP, (Beer Judge Certification Program) guidelines, a Dortmunder Import is:

<The writer has included an extensive summary of Dortmunder beer, which is abbreviated here>

Flavor: Neither malt nor hops dominate, but both are in good balance with a touch of sweetness, providing a smooth yet crisply refreshing beer. Balance continues through the finish and the hop bitterness lingers in aftertaste (although some examples may finish slightly sweet).

You can see it does kinda fall into the style guidelines.  I doubt if the 75th anniversary limited edition beer would win any gold medals.  Also given that it is not an export and not carrying the 6 percent alcohol content as does the Pilsner 6 percent.

Overall I still found it a lighter refreshing change from the higher priced barrels of Bavaria Negra I have forced myself to consumed here.  It is the only beer made in Costa Rica that I can pass through my pallet.  Imperial, Pilsen, and Rock might as well be the urinated equivalent beers popular in the U.S.A., Bud, Miller and Coors.   Oh how I do miss the hoppy character of a good ole Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or an amber Stone Brewery Arrogant Bastard.
Steve Petretti
recognized beer judge
San Buena Ventura, Costa Rica

He would just tax income
and leave property alone

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
The recent news coverage of astronomical increases in property taxes is, indeed, disturbing. Rich or poor, property owners have become accustomed to the taxes they have been paying, and dramatic increases are bound to cause hardships on everyone. At the same time, it is clear beyond any point of discussion that the government needs increased revenues to support education, health care, public safety, and maintenance of the infrastructure.
The real problem lies in the underlying premise that the taxation of real estate, at any rate, for any purpose, is a logical approach to raising revenues. In Costa Rica, as in the United States and elsewhere, taxing property made sense in a bygone era when most property produced income. In an agrarian economy, property fairly reflected income, but today the situation is very different. Residential property produces no income stream. Agricultural land, productive or idle, may or may not produce income. And certainly not all commercial property produces a profit.
The logical approach for Costa Rica as well as other countries is to base its tax structure on income alone. All income should be taxed at rates that are both affordable to the taxpayer and sufficiently remunerative to the government to permit it to provide necessary services. Yes, expat incomes should be taxed in Costa Rica where we live and where we benefit from government services. (Bear in mind, you Americans, that taxes paid to foreign governments are offset by tax breaks contained in the IRS Code.) And yes, income taxes should be progressive to fairly reflect the taxpayer's ability to pay.
The solution to Costa Rica's need for increased revenue lies not in making the current illogical and outdated situation worse but rather by taking a new approach which is representative of 21st century realities.
David C. Murray
Grecia, Alajuela
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 252

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The casket of slain Pedro Fallas is in place at the chapel of the Fuerza Pública. Fellow officers, some obviously emotional, stand in tribute.
policeman's funeral two
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray

Slain officer receives tribute at wake in ministry's chapel
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The viewing for police officer Pedro Alberto Fallas Zamora, shot Tuesday night, started Wednesday afternoon in the sun-lit Fuerza Pública chapel. His grieving wife, 5-months pregnant, young daughter and parents were among those in attendance along with Fuerza Pública officers and the government minister who oversees the police force, Fernando Berrocal Soto.

Fallas, 29, died late Tuesday night after a motor chase which began in the tourist area of Avenida 1 and ended in north San José, in front of the Límón bus station. His partner, officer Eladio Obando Bermúdez, also suffered at least one bullet wound and was hospitalized.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública gave this description:

The two officers received a report of a robbery near the Hotel del Rey. Upon arrival, Fallas and Obando spotted a white Yamaha motorcycle with two men on board, matching the description they had received.

Fallas and Obando, also on motorcycles, pursued the suspects on the Yamaha.  After the officers repeatedly ordered them to stop, the men on the Yamaha increased speed. The chase tore through the streets of San José, stopping as the two suspects hid themselves within a crowd waiting for buses at the station. The officers, not wanting to shoot at a crowd of bystanders, were left helpless and could not return fire, said officials.

From a crowd of about 20 persons, bullets flew. Fallas was shot once in the head and once in the left armpit. Obando was shot in the abdomen. Although both officers were wearing bulletproof vests, they were shot in unprotected areas, said José Fabio Pizarro, director general of the Fuerza Pública. Obando was shot through a zipper in his vest, said Pizarro. Obando is now in stable condition at Hospital Calderón Guardia, according to Fuerza Pública officials.

Police continue to seek the two murderers. A report early Wednesday that suspects had been collared appears to have been incorrect.

Fallas, who served for eight years with the Fuerza Pública, was the third police officer killed in the line of duty this year. His death came the day after police arrested a suspect accused in the shooting of 28-year-old Dixón Hernández Ralerin.  Hernández, also with the Fuerza Pública, was shot in October while walking in Barrio Cuba with his girlfriend. He died in the hospital six days later.

Judicial Investigation Organization agents arrested the suspect in the Hernández shooting, José Alberto Bellido, 28, Monday morning. Hernández was the father of three. He was part of a special Fuerza Pública unit specializing in the combat of dangerous gangs.
widow of policeman
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
The wife of slain policeman Pedro Fallas is consoled by two friends.

"The white, blue and red of our flag is defended daily by these heroes who carry the colors of our national symbol in their uniform, and who without fear, face crime, risking their lives," said Berrocal at the viewing of Fallas.

The funeral will be today at 8:30 a.m.

The viewing was to last through the night at the Fuerza Pública chapel at the security ministry complex in south San José. The casket carrying the slain officer arrived about 3 p.m., and Berrocal was one of the men who carried the box into the chapel and set it in front of the altar.

A police honor guard presenting rifles stood outside. The policeman's mother wept as she held a turquoise hand towel.

The wife, obviously pregnant walked among officials to receive their condolences. Her daughter wailed loudly.
The policeman lived in San Sebastián in south San José.

Concerned citizens form group dedicated to environment
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Green-minded people living in Costa Rica will be able to get inspiration and training for their environmental intentions from a new association formed by a band of concerned friends.

Legally constituted only three weeks ago, Associación Gaiana Tierra Viva has been in germination throughout 2007, and has a committed board of Ticos and expats who believe that Costa Rica can play a major role in promoting sustainable lifestyles.

The group has been described as a "pressure group without the aggression of Greenpeace," and enjoys the support of Pedro León, the director of Costa Rica's Peace with Nature initiative, who is an honorary co-president alongside British Ambassador Tom Kennedy.

At the beginning of 2007, a group of friends who live in Costa Rica, including Michael Cannon CBE, the owner of Poas Volcano Lodge, and Deirdre Hyde, a British conservation artist, came together to discuss what they could do to make a difference to climate change.

“We went through a phase of thinking we could try to save the world single-handedly, but in the end we had to get real,” said Vicky Longland, a British citizen who has previously lived in Ecuador and Colombia and is now the group's translator.

“We decided that we can use our influence as a group to educate businesses and citizens in the need to become more environmentally aware. We can also influence climate-change policies on both a national and regional level, provide practical ideas and advice, and create a network of like-minded individuals and organisations.”

A green directory of environmentally-compatible services in Costa Rica is being compiled for distribution at the Expoverde, an event that usually focuses on eco-tourism, but will this year gain a more serious dimension with the participation of the association.

Expert speakers will be invited to take part in the three-day expo at Ramada Herradura Hotel in May to explain Gaia Theory, a complicated scientific hypothesis that has gained in popularity since the 1980s, and is used to contemplate
different ways of tackling climate change.

Developed in the 60s by a scientist named James Lovelock, the theory states that living organisms and their surroundings, such as the ocean, air and earth, have evolved together to work as a single system that maintains the earth's temperature and other conditions in a fine balance that allows life to survive on the planet.

Green architecture, straw bale construction, permaculture and other practical ideas will also be discussed at the expo.

The association has already held several events, including a seminar, conference and short course in May. It imitated the format of courses at the Schumacher College in Devon, England, and was given by one of its teachers, Stephan Harding.

Schumacher College is a unique institution dedicated to education about environmental and social sustainability, and Harding recently put parts of the college's teachings into a book called "Animate Earth," which explains how to see the earth as a living system and how this view can be used to help fight global warming.

Currently only available in English, the association plans to translate the book into Spanish to help disseminate information about Gaia Theory throughout Latin America.

Radio slots will also be used to get the word out to a wider audience, and a Web site is being designed which will eventually allow people to download the green guide.

The association's seven key players now include Enrique Ramírez, president of the Centro Cientifico Tropical, at its head, and architect Rolf Ruge as vice-president, respected names that the association hopes will help them to influence Costa Rican mindsets into taking individual responsibility for the environment.

“Costa Rica has a good reputation for environmental policies,” Ms. Longland continued. “Even though if we're honest the Peace with Nature goal of carbon neutrality by 2021 possibly won't happen, the government is getting it right by encouraging commitment to climate change issues.

“Costa Rica is an important base, as it is placed between Central and South America, and we hope to expand outwards from here,” she said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 252

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trial security
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramirez Vindas
To say that security was tight at the reading of the verdict would be a gigantic understatement
Just two persons face prison in murder of Parmenio Medina
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A trial court attributed the murder of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez to two persons Wednesday: a businessman who was the intellectual author of the crime and a known criminal who carried out the assassination.

Six other persons who had been charged were absolved of responsibility in the high-profile crime.

The decision left a lot of loose ends, and even the two convictions likely will be carried to an appeal court.

The most visible murder suspect, the Catholic priest Minor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar, was not convicted. But the trial court hit him with a 15-year sentence for fraud. The priest already has served four years in preventative detention, and stated sentences usually are twice as long as actual time served, so Calvo could be out in a few years.

The trial court decision said that other unidentified persons who participated in the Medina murder still are at large. At least three people were in the car that pulled alongside the radio commentator's sport utility vehicle near his Heredia home. That is how he was gunned down July 7, 2001.

The known criminal is Adalberto Reyes Ruiz, also called Luis Alberto Aguirre Jaime, also as El Indio. The three-judge panel emphasized that Reyes was seen in the vicinity of the Parmenio Medina home days before the crime. What seemed to clinch his conviction and sentence for 30 years was that he stopped on the San José-Limón highway 34 after Parmenio Median was shot in nearby Heredia. That was the testimony of a tow truck driver whose vehicle broke down and blocked the highway.

The witness picked the suspect out of a lineup. Reyes was distinctive because of long hair. The driver could not identify any of the other individuals in the car at the time.

The Poder Judicial released a short summary of the decision after the trial, but the full explanation for the disposition of each defendant was given orally.

Omar Chaves Mora, the businessman, was convicted of hiring Reyes, although the man the prosecution said was the financial intermediary was absolved. The prosecution theory is that Chaves wanted to stop the aggressive radio commentator from talking more about the Radio María station where he and Calvo were partners. Both men were convicted of fraud for converting money sent in by faithful listeners to their own use. Radio María has since closed.

Chaves got a 12-year sentence for this, bringing his total sentence to 47 years.

Medina's radio show, La Patada or "the kick," was popular and comments on Radio María and Calvo were frequent. It was Medina who revealed that Calvo had been stopped by a police officer in his car after dark in Parque la Sabana in the company of a young man. Calvo's explanation that provoked mirth throughout the country was that he was giving the young man driving lessons.

But the real issue was the financial accountability of the radio management.

The trial was the longest in Costa Rican history. It went on for two years. The nation's chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall'Anese scheduled a press conference for the hour after the verdict was read. But when the bulk of the accused got off, he declined to speak at length.

He appeared with Guiselle Rivera, the trial prosecutor. Dall'Anese said he would await a copy of the official decision to see if the government would appeal. He said the work of his office was for the people, so he was not satisfied or unsatisfied by the verdict.
el indio at trial
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramirez Vindas
This is Adalberto Reyes Ruiz, El Indio, the man the court said killed Parmenio Medina Pérez.

Calvos brother
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramirez Vindas
Brother of the Rev. Minor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar vows that the case will go to an international human rights court.

He did say that the country lacks a program of protecting witnesses and that this trial saw a lot of threats to key witnesses. Ms. Rivera agreed and said that the trial was not like a soccer game where one speaks of results or
percentages. The Ministerio Público, the prosecuting agency, is not going to be in mourning because of the outcome, she said.

Despite what the pair said, Dall'Anese had taken a personal interest in the case. The chief prosecutor was on the job for less than four weeks when he engineered the arrest of Calvo in Liberia where the priest was about to go on a Christmas vacation. That was in 2003. The case had languished for two years as investigators struggled to obtain evidence.

After the trial the priest's brother, Alejandro Calvo, was very vocal outside the court and said that the family would carry the case to the International Court of Human Rights. He also agreed that there were others who were guilty of killing the radio commentator.

Rodrigo Araya, Calvo's lawyer, said that his client had won the biggest war and that in a few months his triumph would be complete before the appeals court.  The priest has waited four years to clear his name, so he can easily wait six more months, he said.

Venezuela's Chávez flies to Cuba for a lunch with Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has visited Cuba for a lunch meeting with his ailing mentor, Fidel Castro.

Chávez arrived Wednesday on his trip that will include attending an oil summit later in the week. The visit comes two days after Castro released a letter hinting at retirement from the Cuban leadership. In the letter, read on Cuban state television Monday, Castro said he would not obstruct the rise of a new generation of leaders.
It was the first suggestion from the 81-year-old Castro that he might step down permanently from the presidency. He handed power to his younger brother, Raúl Castro, in July 2006 due to intestinal surgery, but said the move was temporary.

Fidel Castro officially remains head of the government.

The Cuban leader has not been seen in public since the surgery but has appeared in photographs and videos and is regularly credited with essays on international themes.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 253

Festive season proves troublesome even for established restaurant

By the Food Sleuths

of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Being a chef in a busy kitchen must be a pretty stressful job, but around Christmas stress is something any successful restaurant should factor in as inevitable.

On a second visit to well-reputed French restaurant Le Chandelier, it soon became obvious that the staff were poorly equipped for the onslaught of Christmas party diners on a Tuesday night, leaving the usually decent food to deteriorate into a procession of almost inedible starters and bland entrees.

Set in an old San Pedro house with brick ceilings and wooden beams that was converted into a restaurant around 15 years ago by Swiss owner Claude Dubuis, Le Chandelier purports to offer French cuisine that has been developed over generations of experience.

The menu is, however, not entirely French, incorporating such Latin American peculiarities as pejibaya soup and ceviche in which the sweet potatoes are replaced by pejibaya pieces.

The first time we ventured into the restaurant with a reservation on a Friday night, we were surprised to find the place mostly empty.

We were seated at a huge table in a room decorated with fake flowers, carnations, wooden sideboards and glazed pottery – a heaviness in design that is reflected in the thick sauces that accompany most dishes, but is marginally better than the dire artwork that adorns most of the walls.

Crafted by the owner himself, the alien-style portraits and bright bird murals could put you off your dinner before you even order.

alien photo
A.M. Costa Rica photo 
The owner's artwork adorns the walls of the restaurant

Snails and fried camembert were welcome and well-prepared variations on the standard Costa Rican diet, with the cheese, complemented by a berry coulis, almost reaching European standards and the snails served sans shells in a tasty garlic butter sauce.

Sea bass in ginger and almonds was an interesting Asian-influenced dish with tender fish and a tasty sauce, and the steak with four sauces was juicy and nicely cooked.

Sides can sometimes make a dish if they are designed perfectly to complement it, but Le Chandelier is in no danger of taking the spotlight off its main meals. It serves the same pesto potato-stuffed tomato on a round of either polenta or potato rosti with everything the kitchen produces.

A selection of mini desserts followed. It would be obvious to include a taste of the kitchen's best offerings on a selection dish, but according to this dish the restaurant has nothing special in the sweet department. Each chunk of pudding was a variation on a sweet mousse or ice with no distinguishing features.

If not memorable, the meal was satisfying and provided some specialities that are hard to find in San José.

The same cannot be said for the second visit, which was memorable in all the wrong ways.

As soon as we arrived — reservationless this time due to the restaurant's lack of customers on the first round – the staff told us that things would be moving slowly because so many people had turned up without reservations.

Considering this, the service was rather good, with the amuse bouche — a meat paté accompanied by hot rolls — arriving quicker than before.


Swiss-style veal, chicken stuffed with salmon and goat cheese salad at Le Chandelier

Instead, it was the food that suffered.

Lobster bisque came with ominous specks of oil floating on its surface and proved inedible, tasting like it had been made with poor-quality lobster, with chewy chunks of the creature lurking at the bottom of the bowl.

The butternut squash soup had clearly never been in the vicinity of the vegetable from which it got its name, resembling more closely a cream-based french onion soup with cheese lining the bottom and burnt croutons floating on top.

Salad should be difficult to get wrong, but the goat cheese salad was ruined by the wet, salty version of the main ingredient, and the equally unappetizing salad dressing.

A tender Swiss-style veal, served hot onto the plate at the table, was the high point of the meal, with a rich sauce that was a few steps up from mushroom gravy.

A mustard sauce on a dish of chicken stuffed with salmon was the plate's saving grace, covering the odd combination of fish and poultry with its strong taste.

For a restaurant that charges over $30 for some of its dishes, representing some of the priciest fare in the San Pedro district, the failure to provide more than one appetizing dish during the meal is astonishing.

The staff did their best to keep up with demand, remaining very helpful and friendly, even when one thought we said "baño" instead of "menu" and looked mighty confused when he was asked to bring us one.

The restaurant has been defined as classy, but unless you have a desire to relive the 40s, the outdated and often somewhat bizarre decor is unlikely to please.

However, the Bougie lounge, a new addition at the back of the restaurant provides a more comfortable place to have a couple of drinks on curved sofas complimented by tables with floating flower decorations.

Le Chandelier will meet cravings for a taste of French food on an ordinary day, but stick to your Mum's turkey during the festive season.


The restaurant is set in an old house with brick ceilings

Christmas Entertainment ...

Bull events fill holidays as Christmas traditions

Bull-fighting conjures up images of violence and bloodshed for the average Westerner who has grown up associating it with Spanish torreadors stabbing the animals to an untimely death. Costa Rica's version is a more festive and peaceable affair that Ticos count as one of the essential components of the Christmas season.

Rather than one man standing with his red cape and sword ready to face the beast alone, up to 150 Ticos fill the ring, hoping to get a slap at the bull before running off in the other direction. The bull never gets injured, only exhausted by charging back and forth between groups of men who have more to fear from it than it from them.

See the bull fighting dates here

Time to get into the Christmas Spirit

The run-up to Christmas is a time of panicking about  where you're going to find fresh cranberries, deliberating  about whether you can really buy socks for your aunt  for the fourth year running, and struggling through  Multiplaza in Escazú like a packhorse, dodging the toy train and cursing the dancing Christmas tree.

Amid all the hassle it can be difficult to get yourself into  the Christmas spirit until you finally sit down on  Christmas Eve, down a swift sherry and breathe a sigh  of relief that the only obstacle you have left is the cooking.

Opportunities do, however, abound in San José for a  bit of old-fashioned festivity during Advent, from  getting hooked on an epic cinematic adventure to joining  in some Christmas carol singing with tinsel in your hair.

Film ...

Sharkwater calls for more sharks in the water

shark120507Passion is contagious.  Inspired work from someone who is emotionally invested provokes similar commitments from those lucky enough to
Sharkwater film footage         
witness it.

Rob Stewart's "Sharkwater" documentary inspires this kind of passion.  Stewart is an underwater photographer and biologist which is immediately obvious to the viewer with his stunning imagery and knowledgeable facts about shark life. 

"Sharkwater" is visually astonishing.  It was filmed in high-definition and effectively incorporates historical U.S. government-issued public service announcements that are among the best comic fodder from old-school footage reels. 

Obsessed with sharks since childhood, Stewart realized that the world's shark population is estimated to have declined by 90 percent and commited himself to saving them. 

Click here to read the rest of our review

Other films out this week

Michael Clayton
George Clooney's erratic film career once again gets it right as he plays a burnt-out fixer for a powerful law firm in this thriller. He covers up the indiscretions of the rich and famous, and is expected to pull the senior lawyer back into line when he has a breakdown in the middle of an important case. A dirty tricks campaign waged between the two sides of the court case ensues. The film has received excellent reviews for its acting and ambience.

The painted veil (Al otro lado del mundo)
Not exactly Christmas fare, but beautifully filmed none the less. Edward Norton plays a doctor that takes his unwilling wife (Naomi Watts) to China in the middle of a cholera epidemic, allegedly to offer help to the dying but also to punish her for an affair she had because of her lack of love for the doctor. This love is inspired all too late by the hardship they endure.

Alvin and the Chipmunks (Alvin y las ardillas)
Those irritating little singing rodents finally get the CGI treatment in the wake of Garfield and their other cartoon friends. A record company manager is trying to exploit the chipmunks in this latest of offering to entertain the kids at Christmas. They may indeed be pleased, as the chipmunks are pretty cute, but the same cannot be said for the adults who have to sit through the poorly developed plot and lacklustre acting.

Art Galleries ....

Imagen V show has a few gems but a pack of clinkers, too

videoartshowNew media art is always a bit hit and miss with the potential to come across as a foundationless piece of pretension if it is not done well.

The Bienal Iberoamericana Inquieta Imagen V, a competition for video artists from across Latin America, is a good example of this, containing a few pieces that engage well with the subject and make the most of their medium, but many that leave the viewer cold.

Most of the works are video projections, some as short as a pistol shot and the flight of birds and some as long as a didactic letter that teaches about identity, isolation and fuschia flowers.

Other media range from photography and animation to Internet blogs and ancient video games.

Out of almost 200 entries from 13 different countries, 37 were chosen to fill the spaces of the Museo de Arte y Diseño, and some of them leave a viewer wondering what was so awful about the rejected works.

The vast majority of entrants were Costa Ricans, and works were chosen for show to create a panorama of Spanish-American works that is accessible to both the public who have engaged with technolgical art before and those who are encountering it for the first time.

Five works won cash prizes, including an undeserving triptec of photographs showing poor Nicaraguans searching through a dump to find articles that give some beauty to their lives.

Not an original idea nor interestingly photographed, the series was praised for using the presence of children to humanize a degrading situation.

One projection's entire focus is a sequence of slightly blurred changing Christmas scenes, seemingly chosen only for its fittingness to the season, and several others that were too bland to make any sort of impression on the memory.

Read more - click here

Mistaken identity? No such thing, says new exhibition

historiaoficialCosta Rica is a land of volatile volcanoes, orchids, coffee fincas, Catholicism and Ticos.

Or you could say it's a country of wide seashores, football stadiums, fast food restaurants and beach towns overtaken by Gringos.

Some are clichéd symbols of a tourist nation, while others are part of the country's changing culture, but all are involved in Museo de Arte Costarricense's new exhibition that challenges viewers to reconsider their own perceptions of the nation.

Read more - click here

Oriental engravings brighten up Semana
in Calderón Guardia

Japanese artOriental engravings that have travelled half way across the world from Japan have ended their journey in Museo Calderón Guardia, where an exhibition of 75 works was inaugurated Thursday.

Subjects from autumn trees to high-rise apartments chart the growing influence of the West and development on post-war Japan.

Read more - click here

Banco Central exhibit brings out the animal
in art

free standing art 200The Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica is running "La Animalística en el Arte Costarricense" in its temporary 
exhibition space below
the Plaza de la Cultura. The collection presents the varying uses and depictions of animals by Costa Rican artists throughout history.

The exhibition signage placed at the entrance said that the presented works depict animals from two perspectives.

Read more - click here

Dramatic Arts ...

Minotaur theme wins contemporary dance festival

bull headed man The search for happiness within ourselves rather than in superficial external objects was the theme of the winning dance at the 24th Festival de Coreografos this weekend.  A bull-headed dancer took the centre of attention of Antonio Corrales' piece “Solo sueña un minotauro,” presented in front of an international board of judges Sunday.

The judges said that the composition stood out from the other nine contemporary dance acts for its "good choreographic approach, good line, good idea, excellent lighting design,  continuity with symbols and finally poetry.”

Corrales was both the choreographer and the dancer of the piece, which is the first entry he has made into the competition as a choreographer.

Four other acts were also chosen to participate in the opening night of next year's festival: “Imágenes imaginadas para imaginar, serie I,” by Rogelio López, “Mil kilómetros” by Nandayure Harley, “MIA ZOI,” by Iréni Stamou and “4 a.m.” by  Silvia Ortiz and David Hernández.

Symphonic Conductor is a big supporter of music education

A mugging at gunpoint could have robbed Costa Rica's Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional of its new conductor just as he was beginning the job, but the conductor, Chosei Komatsu,
did not turn his back on San José, and now the next generation of musicians is feeling the benefit.

Eating ice cream in the same hotel outside which he was mugged in 2004, the sweet-toothed conductor recounts how the media assumed that he would flee the country immediately.

"I told them I would fulfill my job," he said. "Musical education conductor Chosei Kamatsu can help to abate the rising violence in this country. I want to put violins instead of guns into the hands of the children."

Last month Komatsu saw a big step forward, as the government of his home country, Japan, finally agreed to a $500,000 donation to the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional and the Instituto Nacional de Musica.

The money, which Komatsu asked for when he was appointed in 2003, has gone towards replacing 25-year-old tubas and other important instruments for the orchestra, as well as getting better facilities for the educational institute.

Komatsu said he knows that it is important to get children interested from a young age, as he first became determined to follow a career in conducting as a 4-year-old watching Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan in action on television.

Read all of our interview with Chosei Komatsu here

Food ...

A great meal is not all in the presentation

With a vaulted glass ceiling, palm trees lining the pathway and posh lighting, one would not expect Saga restaurant to be settled behind a dull parking lot in Escazú.

Although this restaurant may look out of place, it doesn't deviate much from the norm in Escazú, an area many would classify as suburban sprawl.

The majority of the cuisine at Saga seems to fit with the setting: classy presentation, yet lacking any profound flavors. Although the restaurant boasts itself as an “international food restaurant” on its Web site, much of the inspired cuisine is lacking the depth which would be found in authentic dishes. There is no direct theme and the menu seems somewhat scattered.


Fondue, chips and mussels at Saga Restaurant, Escazu

Click here to read the full review
Festivals ...

Welsh festival brings stars of the page to Colombia

Welsh graphic of Walker
Alice Walker
There is a town in Wales that is full of books. On every corner of every cobbled street there is a store with second-hand books spilling from its wooden shelves, and often several on the stretch in between.

Each year, this little town in the foothills of the Black Mountains — usually a haven of peace for a quiet cream tea down by the river — becomes a pilgrimage for the literary, intellectuals and
people who just love a good read as it holds Britain's greatest festival of books, the Hay Festival.

Last year the festival, which sees a collection of the world's leading authors, poets, musicians and speakers gather to share their thoughts and works with the reading public, was transported across the ocean to an equally attractive little town with the added bonuses of sun and sea.

Cartagena de Indias, a colonial town in Colombia, will host the second Hay Festival Cartagena de Indias this January, with a bevy of stars of the page from Pullitzer Prize-winners to U.N. ambassadors.

Dubbed the "Woodstock of the Mind" by Bill Clinton, the Hay Festival has enjoyed the presence of great minds such as Nobel Lauretes Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott, biologist and TV presenter David Attenborough and hundreds of authors from Norman Mailer to Louis de Berniers and Germaine Greer.

Read more - click here

Quepos to get it's own international music festival

The usually sedate sportfishing town of Quepos is awaiting a greater inundation of visitors than usual this high season, as a gang of rock bands will descend on it for aclaim will put Quepos on the international music festival map.

Experienced American promoters and their rock star friends have taken a gamble on the festival, even though they said they were warned that it was doomed to failure by prominent Costa Rican promoter Marvin Cordoba.

Read more here

First International Blues Festival

Texas blues bands are heading down to Santa Ana for an afternoon of live music. BBQ's and cold beers will accompany artists including Smokin Joe Kubek & Bnois King and Robbie Clarke & the Live Wire Blues Band.

Two stages at Motorpsychos Bar and Grill will host a total of seven bands during the afternoon of Feb. 9. Tickets cost $25 and can be found by contacting

Identidad Art Festival

Fifty artists will have the enviable job of displaying their work on a warm beach in Guanacaste this February, as part of the Identidad Art Festival.

Hosted by Playa Conchal Reserve, the festival aims to revive the cultural values of the area, promoting local art as a tourist attraction.

Painters, sculptors and musicians are all welcome to participate and show off Costa Rican talent to the high season tourists during Feb. 2-4.

 Interested parties should visit the site
Books ...

New book dwells on the social aspects of food

Food is not just a selfish pleasure or a way to stifle hunger, but is central to the evolution of art, according to a new book published by Museos del Banco Central.

Artworks by Costa Rican painters are the main content of the hardback book, “Imagenes para Comer,” which follows the representation of food in art since still life painting became popular in the Renaissance.

Full-color pictures of both traditional and modern works are far more common than recipes, as the author Marjorie Ross only provides seven recipes within the book.

All are traditional Costa Rican dishes showing influences from different sections of the community, such as corn fritters, white beans and chorizo and fruit salad.

The book focuses on the meanings that food has within society, and how these are portrayed by art.

Click here to read more


Front cover of art cook book

The advice is to play aggressively against skilled opponents
The advice in this column may seem counterintuitive at first, but soon you’ll understand why it actually makes sense to bluff more and play more aggressively against skilled opponents.
The old-school rule on this topic has always been to play tough competitors very cautiously, favoring a more conservative, straightforward approach to the game.  I agree with that thinking for the most part.

However, when every player in the game is a real tough cookie, well, that changes everything dramatically. 
Suppose you’re in a cash game with just one solid player and the others are all novices.  It just wouldn’t make sense for you to tangle with the shark, especially if you have a marginal hand.  You’d be better off avoiding him whenever possible.  Instead, look to exploit mistakes that the weaker players will eventually make. 
Let’s tweak that scenario a little bit. 

This time you’re playing tournament poker.  At your table you find Doyle Brunson, Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan and Ted Forrest — some of the best players in the world.  If this weren’t a tournament, your best move would be to pack it in and find a softer game.  Unfortunately, that’s simply not an option in tournament play.
The first thing you should do -— even before playing a single hand — would be to ask a floorman about the table breaking order.  Knowing this information will help you gauge how long you’ll likely be stuck at this tough table.

If your table is one of the earliest to break, tighten up your game.  Don’t get involved with marginal hands.  Conserve your chips. You’ll want as many as possible when you get to an easier table after the break. 
Now, if your table isn’t set to break for a long while, face it, you’ll be forced to play against the big boys.  As much as you might like to sit back and play ABC poker -- slowly accumulating chips by playing strong hands and rarely bluffing -- that approach isn’t going to work well against Doyle and his pals.
Remember, great players won’t pay you off on your strong hands.  They’ll push you around like a mop if you lay down your cards when nothing solid hits on the flop.  It’s a tough

situation.  To succeed, you’ve got to be willing to go down fighting. 

It’s all about recognizing when you’re outclassed and then doing something about it.  In these situations, play borderline hands aggressively, bluff more often in dangerous situations, and take more calculated risk than you normally would. 

Here’s an example.

Playing against a pro, you’re dealt Kh-10h.  You hit a flush draw when the flop comes Qh-7s-2h.

This is precisely the kind of situation when you should take an aggressive approach.  If your opponent leads out with a bet, raise him back.  Unless he has a very strong hand himself, or puts you on a bluff, he might very well fold.  And even if he does call your raise, you still have a chance to win the pot by catching another heart.

When playing against a table full of novices, however, go ahead and play that ABC style of poker.  There’s no need to take big risks. Eventually one of the weak players at the table will make a big mistake and hand his chips to you. 

So, in that same example, if a novice bets the flop, your best course of action would be to simply call.  If you raise, he’d probably call anyway, putting you in a position where you’d need to get lucky to win.  Relying on good luck is not the way to play against a weaker opponent.

Visit for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, "Hold’em Wisdom for All Players."
© 2007 Card Shark Media.  All rights reserved.

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