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These stories were published Friday, Dec. 31, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 260
Jo Stuart
About us
New uniforms for bike cops now controversial
By Saray Ramírez Vindas 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bicycle policemen in the downtown are wearing spiffy new uniforms that look like they came from a Star Trek set. 

That was news to Walter Navarro, who happens to be the director general of the Fuerza Pública. And the top policeman has asked for an investigation to see where the uniforms originated. Of particular concern is that the emblem for the Mutual Alajuela savings and loan institution is on the chest of bicycle policemen along with the shield of the Fuerza Pública.

The dark blue and turquoise uniforms arrived some 15 days ago, said one bike policeman. Previously the officers wore more conventional dark blue uniforms.

A  reporter contacted Navarro in order to arrange a photo of the new uniforms. But the top policeman said Wednesday his officers were not wearing any new garb. After he was informed Thursday that the police really had changed their uniforms, he expressed concern and called the situation an irregularity.

Navarro said he never authorized a change in uniform. There is a procedure in place for such changes. Navarro asked Randall Muñoz of the inspection division of the police force to look into the matter, particularly as it relates to Mutual Alajuela.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Bike patrolmen Alberto Fallas and José Collado show off the new uniforms. The emblem of a local savings institution is on their chests along with the shield of the Fuerza Pública.

Little devils to help Boruca to preserve their tribal identity
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Good vs. Evil again this weekend for the juego de los diablitos in Boruca. Or maybe the highly symbolic event is closer to ying and yang.

The opposites are the diablitos or little devils who engage in mock fighting with a bull from Thursday to Monday. Visitors are invited to share in the ethnic event that a Boruca spokesman says is important in preserving the identity of the southern Costa Rican Indian tribe.

The event is in Boruca, which is on a side road between kilometers 231 and 232 on the Interamerican highway south of Buenos Aires. Organizers say the route is acceptable for passenger cars.

For three days the bull and the devils fight until the latter are vanquished. But that is not the end. The diablitos are resurrected and then vanquish the bull. All of this is done in many locations of the Boruca lands. sometimes the event is called the baile or dance of the devils.

The Boruca and the Rey Curré are facing the prospect of losing a lot of their tribal land to the Boruca hydroelectric dam proposed for the Rio Grande de Térraba. 

Boruca also are known for their distinctive wooden masks that are used in the juego de los diablitos.

The event features real dances tonight, Saturday and Sunday. Carlos Cruz y Los Huracanes are the live group for Saturday.

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas 
A Mercedes sports utility vehicle leans precariously after an accident with a taxi Thursday at the La Y Griega traffic circle south of San José downtown.

Marchamo computers
suffer nationwide outage

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The computer system of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros crashed Thursday about 3 p.m. and left motorists standing in line all over Costa Rica.

Banks and insurance agents hook into the computer system to register the payment by motorists of the annual marchamo. The payment is due by midnight tonight, but the state of the insurance computers still is unknown.

A number of outlets that accept payments, such as the Banco Agricola de Cartago, will be closed today for the New Year’s holiday, and motorists will have fewer places to make their payments.

Motorists who do not pay this vehicle circulation tax on time have to pay a fine.

From our readers

A call to consider disaster
and spiritual implications

Dear friends:

The day after Christmas a 9.0 magnitude quake triggered a tidal wave that washed tens of thousands out to sea. Large portions of the lost were children. 

The tsunami in Asia is being called the worst natural disaster in recent history. This significant event brings up deep questions for all of us. Questions like: "Where is God in this disaster?" "How can I perceive this event from a spiritual point of view?" "What do I have to learn from this?" and "What am I being called to do?" 

Please join us this Sunday at 10 a.m. in Unity to contemplate these questions as the message will be: Is God in the Tsunami? 

Until then I invite you to join me in prayer for all the affected people. 

In the one heart,

Juan Enrique
Unity-Costa Rica
350 meters south of Shang Hai restaurant
Piedades de Santa Ana
Why are not the wives
in jail with husbands?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Let's hear it for equality of women in Costa Rica! 

Over the years Costa Rica has prided itself in the social advancement of equality for women in their country. It now appears that the wives of two of the ex-presidents currently incarcerated for corruption were the recipients of a great deal of the money used to purchase influence. 

Can one ask why the two wives are not also in jail? Or is there a double standard being used when it comes to crime and punishment? 

Is it that women want equal pay and opportunity as long as they aren't the ones in the foxhole getting shot at? 

Phil Mattingly 
A.M. Costa Rica
Consultantes Río Colorado S.A.

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Saray Ramírez Vindas...associate editor

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A disaster far away still reminds us that life is fragile
When I used the word tsunami rather lightly to describe the crowds of Christmas shoppers in downtown San Jose, I never thought the word would be used over and over in the news covering a truly tragic natural disaster. 

By now we all know that if you are at the beach and you notice that the water in the ocean seems to be going out to sea, you should not stand there and wonder — you run as fast as you can for high ground. Many people on the beaches didn’t have a clue as to what was happening or underestimated the destructive power of Mother Nature. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be one of those whose life was spared but who has lost everyone in his or her family. I don’t even want to try. 

The piles of bodies shows once again: death is not proud, and so often neither is it gentle. And then as a final cut, it is not clean or final. The suffering and horror continues with those left living. Sometimes ordinary words are not enough — there should be a special vocabulary for catastrophes like this. Given the blows that nature has given our planet this past year it seems superfluous to create political disasters like wars to add to the suffering. 

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and even tsunamis have occurred in Central America, but their damage in Costa Rica is subdued when compared to what has happened to its neighbors to the north. Although Costa Rica ranks second in seismic activity in Central America (Guatemala is number one), the earthquakes that have occurred here — and some of them have been major — have not been as catastrophic as those that have hit El Salvador in 1986, Guatemala in 1976, or Nicaragua in 1972. Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, was so devastated by the earthquake and then found to be sitting on so many faults, the center was never rebuilt. There have been serious earthquakes in Costa Rica and each time some people have died or been injured. Often many have been left homeless, but I think both the mountainous terrain and the forethought in the construction of buildings have lessened the damage.

Costa Rica is home to seven volcanoes. An experience I still recall vividly was sitting on the lower part of the Arenal volcano on a very clear night (this was on a 
tour) and watching huge red boulders bounce down the

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

side of the mountain like huge sparks. I could hear the growling coming out of the crater, which sounded to me like a train — or maybe an angry goddess. 

Cartago was pretty much destroyed by the eruption of  Irazú in 1910. In 1963 the Irazú erupted again. According to my friend Lillian, it started during the visit of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. She said she could feel the tremor of it at the Embassy where he was speaking. It was not an eruption of lava, but rather an ashy volcanic sand that continued to rain not just on Cartago, but San Jose, too, until 1965. According to Lillian, sweeping the ashes was a daily chore. One could visit the volcano during this time but had to be careful to stand on the eastern slope.

Although the number of deaths have been few when Costa Rica has been hit by nature’s blows, when that number includes a loved one, it automatically makes it a terrible disaster. There’s one death that Lillian told me about. The husband of a mutual friend went up to view it — against her wishes — and in a freak accident a volcanic rock flew out of the crater and hit him on the head, killing him.

Earthquakes don’t seem to have any positive aspects to them — unless the earth feels more comfortable after adjusting itself — but the ash that falls from volcanic eruptions does make the land more fertile. Tsunamis don’t seem to have a positive outcome, either. 

I cannot imagine the enormity of what has happened on the beaches of Asia. I am only once again grateful to be where I am, but I will worry until I hear from my friend Ellen who had plans to spend the holidays and the New Year in India "and the beaches there." I worry, too, about my daughter and son-in-law who are sailing in the Pacific. 

The No. 1 Italian restaurant in the Central Valley
How is it possible to extol the virtues of a single Italian restaurant when we are blessed with so many? My first truly memorable Italian meal in Costa Rica was at La Pecora Nera, just south of Puerto Viejo in the town of Playa Cocles. Four of us were dazzled by eight dishes, half appetizers, half entrees, that were all very well prepared, comparable to the best fare in San Francisco, our previous home. Father and son chefs put on quite a show in the open kitchen. 

Other exemplary Italian dining experiences have been at the following restaurants: the always crowded and reliable Sol Y Pepe; Tutti Li with its Palermo pizza, homemade pasta and cannoli; Antonio’s near Melia Cariari and its veal piccata; Al Molino’s tasty food, great service and patience when 12 of us descended one lunchtime up the hill in Escazú; Santa Ana’s Bokaos with the chef who left the diners in Piedades for better times and serves excellent food to fewer patrons;  Restaurante Grand Canal in Piedades with its new fine chef from Genoa — another winner; ever popular Tre Fratelli — not bad for a chain; Il Pepperoni in Belen — decent food and the best chocolate ice cream in the land; Il Retorno with a fine chef back at the helm, and Alajuela’s brick clad Ristorante Cugini. Yes, I missed a few.

No. 1 at the end of 2004 has no garden, no view, no valet service, no flowers, no music and no open kitchen. It is hidden in a minuscule u-shaped mall named Formosa Mall in Guachipelin, on the main road, about 800 meters north of the Escazú intersection, across from a pet shop. Accolades for chef and owner Carlo Di Bartolo. His Café Di Bartolo stands taller than the prodigious competition. 

The design is remarkable. Three shallow store fronts in a cramped parking lot have been altered to make a charming three-room restaurant. The chairs are wrought iron backed with pale green soft cushions. The tablecloths are textured ivory. The china and walls carry through the same colors. In the room with the charred wooden opening to the pizza oven, even the attractive still life paintings carry forward green and wrought iron elements and apple red to match the design on the plates. The flatware is large and sleek. The oversized water and wine goblets appear to be quality crystal. Pasta and entrée plates are transparent blue and silver and dessert plates opaque white. Adjacent to the fine art selection are enough framed proclamations of merit to do justice to the Wizard of Oz. The dark wooden wine bottle display cases add to the decor. 

Carlo is from Syracusa in southeastern Sicily, once second only to Athens in the Greek empire, and still a grand city, an ancient and modern mélange with a proud culinary tradition. Ever accommodating, he welcomes diners with his soft smile, blue-gray eyes and perfect English. For all of the four years in Guachipelin, he continues to win awards and the highest rating of any Italian restaurant in the country: five forks from the government. 

Cuisine begins with ingredients. We were served nothing less than garden perfect vegetables, fine cheeses from gorgonzola to parmigiano reggiano, crimini mushrooms tempered with dried porcinis from Italy, fresh hearts of palm, tender veal from Europe and truffles.  The generous menu begins with cold first courses; eight salads, five excellent carpaccios, shrimp, salmon or mushroom cocktails, antipasti, mixed plates and more, 23 in all and all large enough to split, 11 other hot first courses include gratins of mushroom and asparagus, eggplant parmigiana, bruschettas and focaccios. 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


Nearly half of the 20 pastas are homemade, including the raviolis, gnocchi and lasagnas. Three are creamy risottos. The exceptional risotto with mushrooms and truffles is a shade less than 5,000 colons ($11). The same dish with roast duck was a daily special for 13,000 ($28.50). One guest appraised the risotto without duck as the best he has ever eaten, and he dines all over the world on a regular basis. The tagliatelle with seafood is full of great stuff: tiny scallop-shaped bivalves, tender octopus and large crisp prawns and enough crushed red pepper flakes to add zest. The ravioli dish of triangles stuffed with sage, truffles, cheese, butter and mushroom on prosciutto is probably the most celebrated menu item. 

Specialty meats include steaks, lamb and duck. Add 16 thin crusted pizzas and 10 artistic desserts and an entire page of daily specials, and you have a sumptuous dining experience. The pizzas contain all the usual players plus Italian cold cuts, real sausage, buffalo mozzarella, smoked provolone, smoked salmon and Greek olives. Among the desserts were a pastry filled with pine nuts, pecans and almonds, another filled with almond cream and Amaraetto and a classic apple tart. 

With a few days notice, Chef DiBartolo offered to make my favorites, Sicilian deep fried rice balls - arancini and cannoli, the signature dessert of Sicily.  One special, veal scaloppini, was as good as I have ever eaten and melt-in-the-mouth tender. Pan-seared tuna was  a tad dry, not quite sashimi quality, the only minor flaw of the day. 

Even the homemade ice cream, fresh fruit and yogurt based, dressed in strawberries and blackberries, showed painstaking preparation and attention to detail. Good coffee — even the decaffeinated — and a nice selection of Italian wines by the copious glass. Attractive wooden wine display cases added to the decor.

The servers are bright, neat, attentive, yet unobtrusive. Waits between courses allow for leisurely relaxation without impatience.  The clientele are well dressed and obviously affluent, yet visitors in shorts and t-shirts were treated with respect. 

The prices are high for Costa Rica, but a bargain compared to comparable offerings in any other culture.

Four stars and $$$ (steaks, lamb and occasional specials are more than 10,000 colons, therefore $$$$ for those). 

Hours are noon to 11 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. 

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