Saturday, March 27, 2010

some links

Fonville usually has something interesting

Light Look at Spain is a fun spanish language blog

here's a foto from the san pedro neighborhood in san jose, CR

Monday, March 15, 2010


San Jose, the capital and largest city of Costa Rica, home to a third of the country's population, lacks addresses. As in, most parts of the city lack street names. And where there are street names, no one knows them. Which means there are not street numbers. Instead, directions are given like this:

It's 225 meters south of the Mexican Cultural Center and 75 meters east, in the Los Yoses neighborhood. That's the address of my office.

The official MAILING address for my apartment is:

In Spanish:

del Banco Nacional del San Pedro

500 metros al sur, y 100 metros al oeste

Edificio amarillo con dos plantas, apartamento numero 8

San Pedro Montes de Oca, Barrio Roosevelt

San Jose, Costa Rica

In English:

From the National Bank in San Pedro

500 meters south and 100 meters west

Yellow two-story building, apartment 8

In the San Pedro Montes de Oca part of town, Roosevelt neighborhood

San Jose, Costa Rica

as someone who is interested in finding places, this is frustrating. while searching for an apartment I stopped in a restaurant for lunch. not sure where I was, I asked the server what street we were on. She didn't know the name of the street she worked on. very helpful.

but as annoying as san jose is (and there's more), you're never more than a few hours from monkeys.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

do not take the unlicensed cabs in san jose

That's the advice all the guidebooks, and licensed taxi drivers, and everyone here will give you. Which of course I ignored.

The licensed cabs all are red with a yellow triangle on the door and a "maria," or meter, so you know what your fare is. But I found myself getting into a cab outside Raices Reggae Bar one Friday, thinking what the hell? Yeah, he doesn't have a maria, but I know the fare to my apt from here is 510 colones (about a dollar), so whatever (or, in Mexican, "equis").

Quick trip, pulls up outside my apartment (which has a little security guard in a little booth -- this will soon become important). He says 1500 colones. I express genuine shock and tell him that the trip is always 500 colones (silly me has already pulled out a 1000 colone bill and is expecting change). He insists. I tell him that's not right, but hand him the 1000 and tell him that's all he's getting. He starts cussing at me in spanish. I exit the cab and slam the door, hard.

Bad idea.

Cabbies here are super-sensitive about slamming their doors (as I was later told). The large, though overweight, cabbie jumps out of cab and comes at me in the middle of the street, kicking. Wtf? He kicks? I dodge four or five kicks, the security guard, unarmed, emerges from his booth to observe from a safe distance while telling the guy to calm down. Finally (what do we pay him for?) the guard gets between us and stops the kicking/dodging dance we're doing in the middle of the road. The taxista is pissed. Says I owe him 3000 for the damage to the cab (there is no damage). I'm a little unsettled by all this, so I tell him ok, I don't have any more money on me, but I'll go into my apt to get him money for the door.

The smart move here is to enter my gated apt and not come out. The second smartest move is to get 3000 colones (about $6) pay the guy off and get him to leave. The least smart move is to get a handful of 50 colone coins that together add up to about 300-400 colones and take them out to the taxista and tell him this is what his door is worth.

Thankfully all he did was throw them in my face and drive off screaming puta madre, etc. All I could manage was "igualmente a ti, pendejo!" The security guard was pissed, rightfully so, at me, and reminded me that many drivers, esp. of unlicensed cabs, are armed. Anyway, I'm an idiot, a lucky one, but one who learned his lesson.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Photo Shop: The Taj Mahal

I had one day left over after a work trip in Varanasi, India. I was there to shoot a video for the Global Health Council’s annual conference for my organization. We are an international development NGO and we picked a program in Varanasi because it was compelling and it was a stunning ancient city on the banks of the Ganges. If others were going to do talking heads in offices, we were filming in fields, at temples, and on the Ganges. I have no idea if it will work out, the tapes are all of to London for some producer in a dark room to stuff into a template like the 12-15 other clients they sold on this.
TAKE THE TRAIN: My option was to fly back to Delhi and stay at the plush Hyatt Regency Delhi safely away from anything dangerous or interesting, or getting 204 kilometers south to Agra and see the Taj Mahal. I got a berth on the Bhopal Express out of Nizamuddin Station that I shared with an Indian man who migrated to the US and lived 50 miles from me and a retired colonel in the Indian military who plied us both with whiskey for the three hour train ride. I hopped off in Agra, they were overnighting to Bhopal – an apparently beautiful city with ancient buildings and also the site of the horrible gas incident caused by Union-Carbide that killed thousands (back in 1984). Apparently it’s quite pleasant they tell me. As the drinks continue there are promises of visits to faraway ranches in Dharamasala and dinners hosted in DC. Mobile numbers and emails are traded. They were two of the most interesting people I met on the trip.

GET MET AT THE STATION: I’m proper drunk as I jump off the slowly moving train with my two suitcases and my legs buckle and crash out in front of the hundreds of people I see sleeping at the train station. Nobody seems to notice and I’m met as I stand by a guide sent to me by the hotel to get me from the train station there safe and sound (apparently this doesn’t always go well). I look at the people sleeping and they are well dressed. I mean, shirts tucked into slacks and nice polished shoes. They’re just there sleeping, waiting on a train I guess, but not this one apparently. It still is a large station though as Agra gets a lot of traffic and there are lots of places for you to get lost, a common thought for me on this trip.

I get to the hotel in time to sleep for three hours before waking up at 4 a.m. to get to the Taj before sunrise. I had my tripod handy – that I brought all the way from DC through a week in Istanbul and one week in India – just for this morning.

SUNRISE: Ample Google searches assured me that sunrise at the Taj Mahal was infinitely better than sunset because of many factors including light, fog rising off the reflecting pools, the lack of tourists, etc. I tip the hotel guide hefty to ensure my people are organized in time in the morning (driver and guide). Of course no one is there. They show up at 5:20 and tell me to relax that sunrise isn’t until 6:50 and we’ll be fine. We drive – excrutiatingly slowly – to the parking area where you must get tickets. My driver is still half asleep. Inside, two lines, one for Indians one for non-Indians. As you guessed, the line for non-Indians is much longer. That’s why you get a guide. But, you should get a guide that has some sharp elbows because this dude was getting rolled. We got our tickets after it seemed like every other guide and his little brother hooked up the 50 Swiss and Japanese tourists waiting in line. Then, we start walking to the gate.

GET A RICKSHAW: Scores of fat tourists were zipping past us toward the gate of the Taj as the sun was actually beginning to come up and the dark was beginning to light up. Argh!!! We’re missing it. I’m basically jogging while my guide is 30 yards behind me. By the time we get to the gate we’re maybe the 90th people in line. I was furious until I realized that although we were the 90th, there was at least 200 people behind us. It was busy. But if you want to be there early and get the magic shots without any people in front of you and the Taj, don’t walk from the ticket window!

NO TRIPODS: This one makes sense really, it’s ancient marble that they don’t let you walk on with shoes (you must wear socks, go barefoot, or boot little snuggies over your shoes). They don’t want tripods gouging out holes in that marble. Even so, you won’t get it through the inspection at the gate. A quick list of items prohibited in my short time viewing the screening:
- tripods, cigarettes, lighters, matches, snickers bars, chewing gum, muffin
So unless you know someone special or plan on bribing the right guard, leave the tripod at the hotel. But that leads me to:

GO TO THE NATURE PARK: There is a small nature walk about 5 minutes before you get to the Taj gate on the right. It costs 50 rupees per visitor and if you walk up until the very end, you have a view of the Taj, and the mosque together over some trees. You can set up a tripod and watch the buildings light up as the sun rises behind you and lights them up. Or, at least that’s what I was thinking after I saw that view at noon after I battled with tourists for 4 hours at the Taj. My guide thought that would make up for the rough, earlier start we had.

“You are happy now?”

No, Shebi. I am not happy.

SUNRISE II: But it’s not Shebi’s fault. It’s the whole set up and the fact that the idiot guards at the Taj open the gates at a specific time no matter if the lunar cycle has moved on them and they are keeping you in line during the ABSOLUTE BEST TIME TO TAKE PHOTOS – which is maddening to think that hundreds of people like me traveled hundreds of kilometers and dragged their asses out of bed to take a photo of fog lifting from the Taj, unmolested with people gumming up the view and then be able to brag to friends and enemies about how they were there blah blah blah. But no! The guides must only let you in at 6:45 and then let people through in a trickle.

THE MONEY SHOT: I think the only way you are getting this mythical Google-alleged sunrise shot of the Taj, the fog (didn’t see any), the reflecting pools (were empty), is to do the following:
- Get to the ticket office at 4:30 am (not your lobby, the ticket office about a kilometer from the gate).
- Keep the rickshaw driver who brought you to the ticket gate (or use him to get in the shorter Indian ticket line for your tickets and then he can drive you to the gate).
- Don’t have any of the items mentioned above on you or you will have to take them back to a locker (yup, at the ticket office, one kilometer away) so you can breeze through security.
- Run as fast as you can through the beautiful Great Gate (don’t look, it’s a distraction…focus!!) and run past the first reflecting pool (or pit) and hurdle the first bench and set up for a series of photos before you are greeted by others doing the same. You will maybe have 30-45 seconds so don’t drink a bunch of whiskey on the train the night before.

Or you can take your time, realize that a lot of effort is required for this endeavor and you could leisurely stroll the grounds and soak in the splendor. Ponder the fact that Shah Jahan built this shrine to his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal. It’s so stunning it is surreal. People or not, it is worth seeing to ponder the work and detail of this place. There were plans by Jahan to build an identical Taj across the lawn, but in black marble – the Black Taj! He was overthrown by his son before the construction could begin. My head would explode if such a thing were to exist. The Taj itself is such a magnificent building – if word can even be used. If an identical one in black was parked right by it I couldn’t even fathom how incredible that would look. Damn you Aurangzeb (his son)!!

Enjoy your trip to the Taj. You will still get some cool shots.

*Oh, and organize this through a travel agency. You will get slaughtered if you try to navigate the Delhi rail stations if you’ve never been to India and don’t speak/read Hindi.

*PPS – Watch out for your guide’s hustle. He’ll take you to “authentic” marble shops where you’ll get the hard sell. Did you know the ACTUAL descendents of the craftsmen on the Taj work in THEIR shop??! What a coincidence, and I’m here talking to him. The salesman tells me since I’ve never been to India “the first time you are not a customer, you are my guest.” He then proceeds to sell me a $1200 USD marble slab that weighs about 200 pounds. “We ship by freight, you get in 12 weeks.” I ended up buying a smaller one because some of them were quite nice (and because they are very convincing salesman!). It’s just the first of many famous jewelry stores, restaurants, general stores, etc. that you will be steered toward unless you are firm up front that you aren’t interested.
At least my marble slab came from kinfolk of Taj Mahal laborers.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

words Spanish needs

In Spanish there is no word for "helpful," as in, "thanks, you´ve been very helpful." You can say "útil," but that´s really more like "useful." "Amable" is more like "friendly." "Me da mucho ayuda," is "you give me lots of help," but the adjective just doesn´t exist. I´m looking at you, Royal Academy of Spanish, get on it.

Second, there´s no way to say, "I am looking forward to... meeting you in person, our lunch, the hearing, spring, etc." "Esperar" is an overworked verb than can mean to wait, to hope, or to expect (which is another problem), but it doesn´t really express the idea of looking forward to something.

Third, Spanish needs a verb for "realize," rather than having to use "darse cuenta de," which sort of means to give oneself account of something. Más venir.

addendum: Mar 7

Spanish has no verb for "to borrow." "Prestar" means to lend but there is no verb for the action of borrowing. You can't say "I borrowed $5 from him." You have to say "He lent me $5."

Siguiente, the verb "gastar" is asked to do too much. It means both "to spend" and "to waste." So, the sentence, "Yo gasté cincuenta dolares en escoces," means either "I spent $50 on scotch" or "I wasted $50 on scotch." Quite different meanings, which the listener/reader has to figure out from context. True, you could use "malgastar" for "waste." Any spanish speakers know which is more common?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


in honor of the day (and UT´s nice win over OU last night):

"I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I... See More think there will be little quarrel with my feeling that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study and the passionate possession of all Texans." - John Steinbeck, 1962

¿por qué no hay notas en Cruz recientemente?

Has facebook usurped Cruz Bustamante? Is Marvelle too busy globetrotting to share? How much longer can bda use the fact that his laptop got jacked out of a hostel in Guadalajara for not writing (esp. now that he has a new one)?