E is for Estañon Sin Fondo

 

Costarican idioms (loosely interpreted)

Old-time pulperia

Gluttony. I don’t believe I am a glutton, but I do tend to hoard food.

For a long time I stockpiled because there simply weren’t any decent pulperias ( grocery stores, mostly called tiendas in other Latin American countries) in our area, so if I saw something we needed, or I wanted, I bought two or three and stashed the rest away for later use. My larder was chock-a-block full and the freezer packed tight.

Back in the late 1980s a whiny old Italian ran our local pulperia in Punta Uva. Leno had an epiphany on the plane when he emigrated to Costa Rica whereby it was revealed that his true calling was as a curandero, a healer. I am sure it was mere coincidence that he had no other way to support himself when he left his home shores.

Sometimes, without notice, Leno closed the store because he was holding sessions. His patients paid for his services with Guinea fowl, chickens, ducks, or geese, and an attack by one of these was fairly common when trying to buy food. If he was available, he slouched behind the counter of his little multi-colored, rundown shack and kept a board across the entrance, barring anyone from passing.

No matter what the weather, he had some complaint. “It’s too hot and sticky” he would say, running his hands through his uncombed white hair. Three days later when the rains came he’d vetch, “It’s too cold and the rain… it’s so depressing.”

He never let me pick the items I wanted, instead he held up vegetables that were ready for the compost and asked how many I wanted. Rotting, rubbery carrots, some black-spotted cabbage, and a small bin of onions that reared half the world’s population of fruit flies was the extent of his inventory.

I’ve heard Hell’s punishment for gluttony is being force-fed rats, toads, and snakes for eternity. It couldn’t be any worse that those vegetables. Mostly, unless desperate, we traveled the 40 kilometers to Limón and the bigger markets, but that took hours because the roads were so bad.

photo by Hubert Steed

Now, of course, there are grocery stores you can walk into and browse the aisles, handle the fruits and vegetables, and pick your own. The roads are paved, so running into town is a viable option, and Puerto Viejo even has a Saturday market where vendors from the Central Valley bring an array of farm-fresh vegetables. Fennel the size of softballs, carrots so full of juice they practically bleed when you cut them, red and yellow onions, zucchini, eggplants, and greens. Ah, the greens! When I first saw the pile of Swiss chard at one stall I nearly bought the entire stock.

It is hard for me, and I must repeat to myself like a mantra, “Only buy one, Sarah, there will be more next week.”

 

 

 

 

  6 comments for “E is for Estañon Sin Fondo

  1. 05/04/2012 at 2:18 pm

    I think I would love to visit Costa Rica. I read of a house there that has no walls. Army ants go marching through it occasionally and the residents just leave because it the ants clean the house of bugs.

    • 05/04/2012 at 3:02 pm

      It’s true, Michael. This is the only place I’ve lived where we are essentially outside 365 days a year. We do have screens on our bedroom windows–I hate mosquitoes–but we never close the shutters unless there is wind-driven rain. The cleaning ants do come occasionaly and one must make room for them. I have a blog post about them called “Cleaning Up the Place.” They are quite amazing. They never have a home but bivouac in the jungle raising their young on the move. Glad you stopped by, and big congratulations on your book.

  2. 05/04/2012 at 12:50 pm

    How cute!

    • 05/04/2012 at 12:53 pm

      Hi. I enjoyed your post, too. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. 05/04/2012 at 12:39 am

    Here from A to Z. I enjoyed this post. Very interesting. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    • 05/04/2012 at 12:52 pm

      Thanks for the visit, and come back anytime. ;-)

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