The Man from Oops

After two and a half years, I figured out a way to get my mail without paying an arm and a leg. Around once a month, I have my mail shipped UPS. When the delivery guy shows up on my street, which is private, the guard at the gate calls and announces the arrival of el muchacho de UPS, which here is pronounced “oops”. Besides being droll, it also marks a milestone for me: I’m finally understanding more of what I hear. It took me six months to understand the natives when I lived in France; it’s taken me almost three years to do so here.

(Before continuing, I should explain the photo at top: It’s a storefront for a food market, and the ad next to the name says “Good thing there’s Alka Seltzer.”)

One reason that I chose to come to Costa Rica was to learn Spanish, in part because I had read that learning a foreign language as a senior might delay certain types of dementia and other delightful types of diminishing abilities. I’d been doing OK while understanding 60% of what was said to me; now, I’m at 85%. Unless, of course, I’m trying to converse with my Nicaraguan housekeeper or many of the women who speak very fast and often refuse to repeat mas despacio (more slowly). Not quite sure what that’s about; I guess they’re trying to get me to work harder.

I now read a Spanish book for every book in English. I did fine with Paul Coehlo, whose sentences are simple, if metaphysical. I’m plowing through Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits, which is chock full of figurative speech and flowery vocabulary. I normally appreciate magical realism, at which the Latin-Americans are masters, but having to look up so many of the words does slow me down, especially when the translation app doesn’t easily recognize certain idioms. I am, however, enjoying the book; if I could do something about my shitty short-term memory, which forces me to look up the same word multiple few times, I’d be loving it.

I survived the trauma I suffered under my last Internet provider, whose service was becoming less and less stable. I’m now with Cabletica, which is local and does not share cables with other companies. My Internet now works great, and the power backups I bought in the US keep me online even when there are power outages. We are, at the moment, in the middle of a three-day stormfront affecting, primarily, Panama and Costa Rica. I’ve come to love the rain, especially when I am at home, which is most of the time. Oh, and my new service includes CBS out of Miami, so I can watch the evening news as I did before moving here.

Speaking of news, every Sunday, I watch Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN. He’s smart and informed, and he usually has interesting guests. Last Sunday, he did a piece on white supremacy, and his guest was Kathleen Belew, who has written a book about it and who explained it to me in a way that no one else had. She said that these young men with their manifestos are not “lone wolves;” they are part of a social movement. The purpose of their acts is not to terrorize but to encourage others to copy their attacks. Their manifestos also are for the like-minded. They do not want to change the US government—they want to overthrow it and replace it with a white homeland on what is now US territory. Of course it’s creepy, but I found Ms. Belew’s take and way of discussing this phenomenon informative. The entire interview is on the GPS website.

I had my teeth cleaned at CIMA, a very new and modern hospital and medical facility. The office equipment was state-of-the-art: I experienced my first “panoramic x-ray machine,” which is taken with the patient standing up while a robotic-looking gizmo spins around one’s head. I saw the results immediately, and the resolution is great. If something looks odd, the dentist then does a traditional x-ray. My being impressed by the technology was tempered by the fact that the hygienist either didn’t know how to use the suction device or thought it was for sissies. She inserted it into the right side of my mouth and then never touched it. She was completely unmoved by my repeated gagging and desperate attempts to move the water with my tongue toward the suction. Maybe she didn’t like being directed by a gringo.

Oh, and I’ve been sort of adopted by a tico family near me. I was stuck in horrific traffic with an Uber driver who is also a police officer with a wife and young son. We talked about why ticos don’t invite strangers (or even friends) to their home; and then he invited me to meet his family. The clan’s father, who is my age, is a campesino who has lived in the same neighborhood his entire life and who has never traveled—even within his own country. I’ve seen more of Costar Rica than he has. But he is probably the most contented and peaceful person I’ve even met. I’ve decided he’s my new Zen master.

Finally, tomorrow (Thursday) is Mother’s Day, which is a national holiday and everyone is off work. More evidence of a matriarchal culture.  I shall celebrate quietly.

That’s it for now. Hope all goes well in your worlds.

Pura Vida!