Peace On Earth~

Peace.

What would it be like if, suddenly, the world was at peace instead of at war? Would we be able to solve our other problems if we quit spending money on the machines of conflict and bloodshed?

Imagine a world where billions upon billions of dollars were spent realizing our potential for a cleaner world, better healthcare, and higher education. Just imagine…

imagine prosperity.

The Thing on My Desk~

I love it when things like this happen to me. Alan and I went into town yesterday to run some errands and to phone our lawyer, out of the earshot of the hired help. Our neighbors– the ones we have land disputes with– pulled a pistol on our land surveyors the other day and we needed to plan the police visit here to address the issue, but never mind that.

When I got home there was this thing on my desk. I wasn’t exactly sure what to call it. It was a bit wilted so at first I thought it was a mushroom and then I thought it was an orchid. Today, after much searching on the Internet, I found this peculiar little plant our hired hand, José Domingo, left for me. He is always doing things like that. He knows I love the extraordinary, the weird, and the mysterious things we have all about us in this jungle– neighbors aside.

At first, once I got over thinking it was a mushroom or an orchid, I thought it was a pitcher plant, those creepy insect-eating plants like the one in Little Shop of Horrors. After much searching, I finally found my plant. Aristolochia.

This plant genus has over 500 species, and is also known as birthwort or pipevine, an allusion to the Meerschaum pipes once common in the Netherlands. They are clematis-like vines that like semi-shade and tend to cascade down the sides of trees at the jungle’s edge. The one José left for me yesterday looks exactly like this one. There were two more still hanging on the the vine.A bit more research reveals that this plant is not, in fact, an insectivore, but uses the same principal to pollinate itself. , Bees and butterflies are attracted to its highly aromatic scent. Once they alight to collect nectar, a sticky substance on the hairs of the trumpet-like flower entraps them. Unlike their insectivore relatives, however, the Aristolochia traps the insect for only a short time. Then the fine hairs that line the throat of the flower dissolve to free the insect, now covered in pollen.

According to the web sites I consulted, Aristolochia, or birthwort, was used as long ago as ancient Egyptian times to assist women in childbirth. Like a natural version of pitocin, it was used to help women expel the placenta after the birth of the baby. Other genuses were used to treat snakebite and worm infestations. It has ceased to be a widely used because it also contains toxic levels of aristolchic acid, which can be fatal to humans.

So, I won’t use it, but it certainly is interesting to know about, and I love it. I love it more than my neighbors, that’s for sure.

Into the Ears of Cleaning Ladies~


Our lawyer’s assistant, Eugenio, came yesterday to meet with a new topographer who came to measure the land and our boundaries… again. I swear to the real estate gods this property will be worn out before we ever get this case settled. Our lawyer is in Florida for the weekend talking to someone about another client and HER problems.

Eugenio arrived at about 9 AM. The topographer finally arrived at 2:30PM. To say we had some time to kill would be an understatement. The whole notion of time and whether you can kill it, waste it, bide it, or anything else was covered in a previous post. Suffice it to say that we had time and used it.

We started with café con leche, as that is what every good Costa Rican wife offers a guest, and proceeded on with small talk. Coincidentally our cleaning lady, Marta, was here that day and I think she put about four years of wear and tear on the front porch, cleaning it, so she could overhear the conversation.

One thing about Costa Ricans, they are not shy about talking in front of anyone, and those whose business it isn’t are not shy about listening. I have come to understand, in the twenty years of living here, that things are accomplished by the word in the street. Never tell anyone directly what you think, tell your neighbor or a friend who you know will tell someone who will tell someone who will tell the person you wanted to say something to. They don’t like confrontation.

I was aware that Marta was loitering about on the front porch, but it was when Eugenio told us about the Tortugas of Ostinal that she became blatantly apparent.

I asked Eugenio what kind of turtles they were as I had seen an article in the paper that showed thousands upon thousands of them on the beaches. It is that time of year.

No lo recuerdo,” he said.

“I know they aren’t the same ones we have on this side of the country,” I said in my best Spanish, which isn’t very good but I get by.

Eugenio started in to answer, “No. Yo no se exactamente, pero yo lo pienso

LORA!” interrupted Marta from outside, but not out of earshot.

That wasn’t the only thing she got to hear during our six-hour conversation. She now knows as much and probably more–Spanish being her native language– about our current legal case, the Supreme Court decisions relating to the land issues here, and politics in general.

The topographer came after lunch, walked to boundaries and agreed to meet with Paola on Sunday and come back Monday, which will probably be Wednesday or Thursday or Friday.

Time for a Post~

I haven’t posted anything for weeks, it seems. It hasn’t been my fault. My government controlled Internet Company has kept me off line for some time now, which got me to thinking about time in general. How we perceive it.

According to the definition, time is a human perception defined as the length of an interval separating two points on a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.

What does that mean anyway? And what is the nature of time? Can we really have it on our hands, as though we should give them a good washing afterwards? Can we waste it, fritter it away, or make good use of it for that matter?

And how can we possibly be ahead of time, or behind the time or have the time, as though it belonged to us, somehow.

In one’s own time is a misnomer and so is half the time, and giving someone the time of day. How vain we are to thing we can do that! Time after time cannot for a second be true, and time cannot be money, it cannot slip away, and what do we mean when we say: only time will tell.

As near as I can tell, time simply is and the only thing that can be said for sure is that when your time is up, you are, in fact, out of time.

Until then, it is a plane in which we are suspended that we have chosen to define categorize and divide into segments: minutes, seconds and milliseconds. It is we who perceive it as long or short or valuable. Time simply is.

Book Reviews~

I’ve been writing book reviews as of late. Well, one book review, and the only book review I’ve ever written. I’m happy to say that my review of Mark Doty’s book, Heaven’s Coast, currently appears on the Internet Book Review’s (IRB) Web site in their November issue under their “Second Glance” section.

Writing a review is an interesting proposition. It not only requires a deconstruction of the book but it also requires a sharing of the reviewer’s self in reaction to the book. I have been reading a fair number of them and find I am partial to the ones that share the reviewer’s personality and perspective more than a straight description of the book itself.

It was tough going, writing this review, as IRB wanted something personal and intimate that drew me to the book. It was a good exercise for me, and the editors Carter Jefferson and Ruth Douillette were very patient, insisting that it was there and needed to come out. I learned a lot about the process, as well as a bit more about myself and some boundaries I thought were firm but, in fact, are more malleable than I expected.

Please use the link above or the one in the sidebar to the right and read all the reviews for this November. And please read mine as well.

Computer Poltergeists~

I have been grappling with the computer poltergeists.

Alan and I were in San José (where they have high speed internet) and I punched the software update option on my aging (by computer standards) but still trusty Mac laptop.

Why, yes, I thought, I do want that new security update. Later that day I could no longer locate my preferences. I punched the command. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Almost immediately I began to have paranoid thoughts of Cryptonomican-like hackers staying at the hotel stealing passwords to my bank accounts and all the rest of my life. I shut off the computer, but I’m not sure in this age of technology if that would be good enough.

I recently heard a horror story on NPR about a family that had their “family plan” cell phones hacked. The perpetrators could power the phones up when the family turned them off, they could view the family through the camera mode of the phones, and sent threatening text messages warning them to quit turning the phones off. The cell phone provider (Sprint, by the way) refused to believe them. They finally hired a technology exorcist who found a command that had probably been inserted into the phones by a ringtone download. The thought was that one of the kids was invited by one of her new chums at MySpace to download a ringtone. Bingo.

To further justify my paranoia let me tell you that Costa Rica is fast becoming the spam capital of the world. There are now huge call centers here with all manner of services being provided. Recently it was online gambling, but they have fled for Gibraltar–thank god– because of threatened US litigation. Now it seems to be pornography and counterfeit software.

Aren’t they one and the same?

Anyway, back to my computer problems. Once the preferences failed it went downhill from there. Suffice it to say that I have now learned how to use something called Pacifist to download all my preferences again from the original Tiger disc (without destroying all the years of updates that have come out since I originally loaded it).

I have reloaded all my email back onto Mail after God knows what ate it. Thank the Cyber gods for Gmail archives! I can tell you that sorting through some 3500 messages and downloading them at dial-up modem speed is time consuming.

So I have had a spirited couple of weeks. All of it growth producing.

The Meme Challenge~

Well, it served me right. There I was poking around in other people’s blogs yesterday. I visited my writer friend Ruth Douilette’s blog and discovered I’d been asked to publicly respond to a writing challenge:

Write a meme about my strengths as a writer. Hmmm…… what’s meme, I thought? I looked in my trusty Oxford American online dictionary:

meme |mēm| |mim| |miːm|
Noun Biology
an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.

That didn’t explain very much to me, so I went to the lazy woman’s dictionary, Wikipedia, who said:

Richard Dawkins coined the term meme, which first came into popular use with the publication of his book The Selfish Gene in 1976. Dawkins based the word on a shortening of the Greek “mimeme” (something imitated), making it sound similar to “gene”.

I still didn’t understand what this was all about, but then I found this online site, The Daily Meme:

In the context of web logs / ‘blogs / blogging and other kinds of personal web sites it’s some kind of list of questions that you saw somewhere else and you decided to answer the questions. Then someone else sees them and does them and so on and so on. (what color you are most like, what cartoon character are you, what 80s movie are you).

Ah. Here was the answer to my question. What an interesting assignment and an interesting thing to try to do for ourselves as writers. I actually had to go to critiques I’ve received from other writers to begin to see what they see when they read my work.

I find it curious; when I get these critiques I tend to focus on the portions of my work that need work and not the wonderful things they say.

Like Ruth, I find it hard to sing my own praises. Call it modest, or hard working–there, that’s the one. It sounds better to me, anyway. It’s a bit the way we see ourselves in the mirror and the way others see us, isn’t it?

So I sat down and copied off what people have said about my work over the past several months. Here are a few:

You have this ability to take readers into your space.

Compelling

Lyrical and evocative

The language is telling, delicate and reflective

Wow! Who is that writer? I always see myself tripping over language, editing relentlessly to get the clutter out of the way.

But that hasn’t answered the question: what are my strengths as a writer?

When I write memoir I try to put myself back in the situation I am writing about, to enter the brain space of the experience. I think I’m honest when I write. I try to look hard at what I’m writing about; not just the surface details, but what lies beneath things. I have a gift for observation–my mother has always told me this–and I think I capture nature when I write about it. Other writers have told me that.

There! That didn’t hurt, and I feel ever so slightly better about myself after that exercise. Oh, and I research things I don’t know about– likes memes, for instance.

So thank you, Ruth, for the assignment.

Thank you, Mridu Khullar, for originating the task.

Here is my challenge extended: Write a meme about your strengths as a writer

Tim Elhajj

Ross Eldridge- you will have to send emails or, better yet, start a blog. This could be your first entry!

Blog Fatigue~

     I’ve been feeling a bit “bloggy” as of late. There are quite a few reasons for this:
     A) I signed up for a MediaBistro personal essay class– a mistake, but who would have known (except Gary Presley who said, more or less, I told you so). So I’m still busy subbing and critting stuff over there, but I’m losing enthusiasm rapidly.

     For the money, I really thought I’d get more than a “yeah, this is pretty good,” or a “nope, this isn’t working.” I get more, and better, feedback from my friends at IWW (just as Gary said).

     One of my classmates is pretty disgruntled too. But, she says, it’s not the worst class she’s ever taken. Once, as an assignment, she did a review of her class and was asked to leave. She wants to try to finish this one without burning a bridge. I’m not sure I care.

     B) I’ve been kept busy by the lawsuit recently and have been blogging over there about various and sundry happenings in that corner of my life (Noticias de Punta Uva). It looks, for the moment, as though we are on the “right side,” if you translate that as getting the hell out of dodge.

     C) I’m trying to continue to sub chapters of memoir to IWW. I had a major meltdown over that recently, as several people who I have poured my guts out to will recall. I thought I’d stop writing it, as I couldn’t seem to figure out where I was going with it. Many people at IWW have been kind enough to write back with encouraging words.
     
     One person assured me that nobody really knows where a memoir will take you when you are writing it. It is the journey inwards that provides the meat for the eventual insights required to make a good one. If there is no angst, she said, it probably means the memoir is fluff.

     I know that none of these things should keep me from writing, and I HAVE been writing. It’s just that when I look at my blog (right now) it seems to represent an assignment or something and I can’t figure out what to write about. So I thought I’d write about this.

     That’s the problem isn’t it? Fitting life and writing into a manageable schedule.

     And I’m retired for Christ’s sake.

The Kingbird Convention


Tropical Kingbirds in an avacado tree-
photo by Jack Chamberlain


Yesterday, at lunch, we had the most spectacular show. Swooping down out of the sky came a whole flock of birds we have never seen here before. They had absolutely no fear of the Kiskadees, who screamed their lungs out at them and finally left in disgust.

Instead, these new guys took over the front yard foraging and generally having a great social time of it. There were several varieties, and it took us awhile to realize that they were all traveling together. We began looking at them with the binoculars and then referred to our Stiles and Skutch, Birds of Costa Rica.

It appears the Kingbirds have arrived from the north for the winter. There were Eastern Kingbirds, Western Kingbirds as well as our local Tropical Kingbirds.

They are relatively small (about 6-7 inches) but aggressive bird. In fact Tyrannus, their family name, means tyrant or despot. They take no guff from anyone. Our bird book describes them as “aerial hawking insectivores.” I’ll say.

After I realized what they were I told Alan, “No wonder they weren’t intimidated by those pesky Kiskadees. When you grow up in big families you get pretty tough skin.” Like some Catholic kids I have known, they emerge from a nest of multiple siblings with the older ones stomping on the heads of the younger ones for lack of space.

They were all similar in size; the only thing differentiating them was the color of their shirts and jackets. The eastern variety was wearing a buff colored shirt an outer jacket of deep steel-grey. Eastern Kingbird is a misnomer as it also nests as far west of the Mississippi as Oregon and British Columbia. The Western and Tropical Kingbird are so difficult to tell apart from a distance as to be near impossible for an amateur bird watcher like me. Both had tawny to pale yellow shirts on and their jackets were grayish-brown. According to our book one has a slightly hooked beak, the other straight.

They were simply joyful to have arrived in the tropics. Swooping and doing aerobatics, they romped about for a couple of hours feasting on bugs and flying insects. When they got tired, they literally sat down beside each other on the fence railing and seemed to have a chat, then resumed their festivities.

I think, from what I’ve read, that they will depart soon–if not already– for Columbia, where they winter. At least we didn’t see any today. But, there must be a big party planned in Columbia soon.

And perhaps we will see them when they head north in the spring.

Wanted: Virus. Short-term Use Only~

We have decided to list our classic 1976 GMC motor home for sale. Now that we live in Costa Rica full time there is really no need to keep it. It’s hard to let go of, as they are rare and ours is in immaculate condition. But time marches on. At 9 MPG it’s a fossil fuel hog, and we pay for its monthly storage making it less valuable to us every year. So I listed it with three Web sites that specialize in GMC’s.

I have been getting emails enquiring about it on a regular basis. I said in the ad that the motor home was in storage in Woodland WA and we lived in Costa Rica but for “serious buyers” I could work something out.

I have had a couple of bites. One couple looked at it, helped by the generous time of the storage unit owners. That couple felt the price was too high and would continue to look. Another couple is supposed to be looking at it today.

A few days ago I got an email from one Peter Cole asking for more detail about the coach, which I sent to him. I got this answer yesterday:

Thank you for your response,after discussing
with my client who really commended your GMC Royale Motorhome
instructed to move on with the deal at the price of
($20,000),he said he will be going on a vacation soon
and will rest virtually all the transaction on my
shoulder and assign a shipper like wise that i will
work with and stressed that he will be issuing out a
cashier check of ($28,000) which was a refund payment
of a cancelled order earlier made by him but
will be filed in your name,you are only required to
deduct the cost of your GMC Royale Motorhome($20,000) and
send the differece ($8,000) when payment gets to you to a
shipping agent whoose information will be given to
you as at when due, he will be needing the fund to
offset shipping charges, taxes and other c osme tic
repairs/touches,the agent will be responsible for
signing and transfering of title paper and also pickup.
So i require of you to send me your
NAME,ADDRESSAND
PHONE NUMBER for payment to be delivered to you via
fedex courier services All other information needed
in completion of this transaction will be given to
you in due time.
thanks



Something about the font made me suspicious, not to mention the multiple issues for the certified check and the syntax of the whole email. Anyway, I came to full attention. I sent an email back asking for his phone number so I might call. No answer as of yet.

I have done some research on the Internet and finally found the scam. According to one site here is how it works:

*The scam appears to send you “real” money—usually a cashier’s check or certified check drawn on a U.S. bank (sometimes even a postal money order)—before asking you to wire or express part or all of that money to the scammer or some third party. The scam relies on our belief that real cashier’s and certified checks and postal money orders are more trustworthy than personal checks. However, the counterfeit checks or money orders that the scammers send are very good and tough to identify as fake.

*The scam is initiated in response to a legitimate activity that you are pursuing—for instance, on a website or in a classified ad, you are selling an item such as car, bike, boat or jewelry, offering a service such as renting an apartment, seeking employment or signing up for a chat room, dating service or other recreational activity. In the original versions of the Nigerian scam, the “offer” arrives unsolicited—in a letter, an email, a fax—and some of the new versions, particularly the “you’ve-won-a-sweepstakes” ploy, still arrive unsolicited.

*Once the scammer is in touch with you, they often chat via email or phone, talking about the item or service you have for sale. They appear friendly, sincere, and aboveboard. Also, they don’t want you to send any money in advance, only after you have their “money” deposited in your account. They work hard to win your trust—but appearing trustworthy is the con artist’s primary tool in getting you to act.

***

I have kept a couple of Nigerian scam emails in my files because of the language they use. The ones I’m familiar with offer $1.5 million in a bank account of a person–as well as his entire extended family–who has tragically died in a plane crash. They even offer links to the news story. I have kept them because no writer could ever imitate the way they are written. I find them humorous. I never expected one to crop up from a motor home listing.

I’m now glad I’ve read some of these Nigerian investment emails because the writing in the email I got about the motor home was very similar in nature. My daddy always told me, you never get something for nothing.

So beware fellow shoppers or sellers, the world is a nasty place for the uninitiated and naive.

There is another one from one Kamantha Els in my inbox this morning. I note that they all have yahoo accounts. If I were a PC user and actually had things like viruses, I would send them one in a zip file telling them my bank account information was enclosed.

Evil lurks within us all.