August 20, 2008

Still Covering The Crime Beat

Well, since I recently made fun of the stolen cow that got stuck inside a Hyundai Elantra just north of here, I suppose it was only a matter of time until my Motherland of the Estados Unidos tried to up the ante for odd, animal-related crime. I saw this article in a section of the La Nación called “Caja de Cambios,” which means “Gearbox.” It’s a section of the paper with filler material related to new cars and gas prices, and it provides an outlet for people to complain about the shitty potholes everywhere, and to send in pictures of tricked out Hyundais with razor-blade doors and prominently-featured neon accessories.
In any case, I found this article below:

It reads:
-ALABAMA- A goat was arrested, a Mercedes-Benz was lightly damaged and a dog went for a ride. All of this happened when a lady who was driving the Mercedes saw a goat and a dog playing on national highway 72, in northern Alabama.
The goat jumped over the vehicle and didn’t want to get down. Later, an officer captured it and put it in his patrol car, but then the dog jumped inside the car, and for that they also took it away in the police car.”
So, the score is now even. Costa Rica: Your turn. I know you won’t disappoint me.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

August 18, 2008

Speling Be

When I used to go to restaurants with my extended family, I noticed that my grandpa—Bill Holthaus—sometimes gave a pseudonym when he made reservations. I think it was usually “Jones” or “Smith.” When I asked him about it, he said it was because the flunky hostesses usually butchered his last name, and it was just easier to give a common name that they’d likely be able to spell. Keep that little anecdote in mind, because it’ll be important in about three or four paragraphs.
One thing that I’ve noticed since I began teaching: a lot of people suck at spelling. This goes obviously for native speakers of both English and Spanish, but since most of my students are native Spanish speakers, I’ll concentrate on talking about them.
I think that the root of the problem is that Spanish is a highly phonetic language, and there aren’t very many tricky words, orthographically speaking. Sure, a Spanish speaker may write a C or S when they should use a Z, and then there’s the perpetual problem of mixing up V and B because they make the same sound in good ol’ castellano. Still, that’s nothing nearly as complicated as English, with its bastardized mixture of words and spelling systems from all sorts of languages.
Most of the problems here seem to come up when a Spanish speaker has to spell words from another language. For example, I’ve seen various trucks that have been repainted, and instead of just leaving a plain-colored tailgate, people elect to also re-paint the brand name of the truck they’re driving (Brand consciousness here is strangely very high; it’s like a marketing agency’s dream audience, but alas, that’s a topic for another post at another time). In any case, I’ve seen at least three different cars that had their brand names re-painted boldly, proudly, and wrong. I saw a beat-up old “Hiunday” truck just a week ago, and one of my favorites from the past was a mini pickup that read “Izusu.” This, of course, begs two questions: 1) Why not look at another part of the car to figure out how to spell the name correctly? and 2) Why be so concerned about a shitty brand like Hyundai or Isuzu—How about choosing something classier like “Mersedes Bens” or “Lan Rober”?
All of that really doesn’t matter much until it all hits home: “Ryan Sitzman” is definitely not a common Spanish name. Strangely enough, the name “Bryan” is very popular here, but in order to get it pronounced correctly, you need to write it "Brayan." Basically, though, when it’s not tourist season, I may be the only Ryan in the country. As a result, most conversations I have about my name go something like this:

Guy at Gas Station: “Would you like a receipt?”
Me: “Um, sure.”
GGS: “What name should I put?”
Me: “Well, I’m called Ryan.”
GGS: “Oh, Brayan.”
Me: “Almost. It’s like ‘Brian,’ but without B.”
GGS: “So, Bryan.”
Me: “Uh, yeah, but without the B.” (As I say this, I usually notice that the guy is writing “B-R-A…”) “Oh, umm….”
GGS: “Huh?”
Me: “It’s R-Y-A-N.”
GGS: (Getting confused and crossing out letters) “B-R…?”
Me: “Sure.”

So yeah, as it turns out, writing “Ryan Sitzman” in Spanish is an orthographic clusterfuck. As a matter of fact, many names of people I know are so confounding to my students, that I’ve included names of my friends, family members, and teachers in the spelling section of some of my exams. Bobby Majzler. Phylis and Clarence Sitzman. Maj Friedrich. Julien Katchinoff. Troy Storfjell. You’re all minor celebrities in Costa Rica, for the mere reason that spelling your name can nearly bring my students to tears.
Anyhow, the picture above is a receipt that a store clerk insisted on completing when I bought a shirt on the way to San Carlos (aka “Saint Chuck”). Angela was with me, and both of us were spelling my first and last name for the lady at the register, so I know this spelling isn’t due to my bad Spanish. I still have no idea how the girl came up with “Fraiyan Sixsman,” though, when we were spelling it for her in person, one letter at a time.
The end result: if there were restaurants around here that took reservations, I’d be making them under the name Roberto Sanchez.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

August 17, 2008

Back, And The Same As Ever

It's been a while since I wrote something here, so I decided it was time to bother the world again. I actually HAVE been busy, though. Most of the last month's weekends were either spent with Ben Schneider (he of the Ben Schneider Memorial Potlucks fame), or celebrating Mother's Day. Yep, Mother's Day is August 15th in Coast Tasty. It's kind of the same principle as in the U.S., but the result is pretty different (I'll give you a hint: It's all about the women gossiping and drinking wine in the kitchen, while the men fill up on beer in the living room. Basically, it's just like Father's Day here, except that it ostensibly honors the other parent).
I also tried to make some Oatmeal Raisin Cookies to take to my mother-in-law. I usually make Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, but I didn't have any chocolate chips, so I decided to turn to Betty Crocker for a new recipe. Well, that bitch Betty is a liar. For some reason (I'm guessing too much heat or too little flour), they spread out too much and were still goey. I don't know how many times I said "Motherfucking cookies!" the other day. Well, I guess I do: probably about 6 times. One way or the other, if you have a good recipe for this fine delicacy, pass it on my way. I'm at about the same altitude as Colorado, by the way, so that might affect the recipe, too.
Anyhow, I've accumulated a few pictures from the last couple of weeks, and I decided to include them here. Also, I put up about 10 new construction pictures on the Construction Sblog, so click this link to check them out. So, let's get going:

Ben Schneider, the intrepid explorer and former Active Single. Here he is eating a granadilla, with its crunchy seeds covered in a snot-like fruit goo. Ben was actually my first college teacher, technically. The irony of that is that since he's only 2 years older than me and because he still has his hair, no one here believed that when I told them.

One weekend we went to La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano to show Ben some of the local highlights. We saw this tree-like thing at the entrance to a hanging bridge tour. As I so eloquently said it at the time: "Man, it's just like a cluster of fucking life!"

This time we almost outdid ourselves; we made Costa Rica live up to its name when we took Benjamín "El Capitán" Eschneider to both coasts in one week. These couple of pictures are from near Esterillos, in the Central Pacific coast. In the picture above, Angela is mercilessly hunting a poor little crab. She actually was able to catch it, although she just wanted to see how deep its tunnel went.

Here I am with Ben. Now, a word about the Ben Schneider Memorial Potlucks. When I lived with my friend Himal Shrestha in college, we decided to have a potluck. Ben was a teacher for both of us, so we invited him. He said he'd come, but he didn't. So, we dubbed the potluck the First Annual Ben Schneider Memorial Potluck. A few months later, we held the Second Annual Ben Schneider Memorial Potluck, which Ben awkwardly came to (awkwardly, because he was still alive, contrary to the potluck's title). Over the years, many events have been dubbed Ben Schneider Memorial Potlucks, and Ben made it to most of them. That's why I say he's a good man.

A beach in Cahuita, in the Limón province, which forms Costa Rica's Caribben coast. Oh, what? Another perfect beach? Sure, I guess I'll take a picture. Ho hum. (Yawn).

Angela, once again watching the little crabs with the steely death stare of a hunter. No wonder those little things run so fast!

Ben Schneider, doing what Ben Schneider does best: Kicking ass and NOT taking names (Why take names if you've so thoroughly kicked someone's ass that coming back to kick more ass would be superfluous and overkill?)

Ben Schneider, doing the other thing Ben Schneider does best: Stealing your woman. In fact, while you're wasting time reading this crap, he just ran off with your ol' lady.

Angela and Ben taking a snooze on Playa Negra, near Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. Limón has a somewhat bad reputation among Costa Ricans, mainly because there's a perceived high level of crime. But in a country of 4 million people where every robbery seems to make it to the national paper, that perception is easily affected. I, for one, felt completely safe wandering around the streets of Puerto Viejo, despite the annoyances of pot dealers trying to sell their wares to you. But that happens in many places around the world.
Actually, the only "altercation" we noticed was when the three of us were walking back to our hostel called Pagalu (check out the link; it's a good hostel, and the German owners are cool). As we were walking back, in the middle of the street we noticed a skanky-looking lady in a bra yelling at two American-looking guys. My theory was that she was a hooker, and that the guys had made a joke about her or something. Either way, she was trying to shove them and yelling something like, "Don't you fuck with me or I'll fight you! I'll fight you like a man!" We kind of steered clear of her and walked to the side of the street, where a local guy was watching the whole scene. He gave us our favorite quote of the whole trip: "That bitch is fucking crazy...hey, you guys wanna buy some ganja?"
Eyes on the prize, man.

Above you can see some weird painted palm trees on the road back home from Limón. Getting back home was much easier than getting there. Man, getting there sucked. You'd think that in a country that has two or three main roads, that those roads would be easier to find. But you'd be very, very wrong. The day before I left, I asked all of my students how to get to the road to Limón. The disparities between their answers bordered on comical, and one guy even advised me to "follow the cars" after I "got to San José."
One way or the other, though, we got back fine. Angela and I think it was because we both held our breath and made the same wish when we passed through the Zurqui tunnel: We wished that we'd not get lost in San José. And wouldn't you know it, but we got lost for only about 10 seconds, and then I just decided to follow a random Hyundai who was driving faster than all the other cars nearby. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes of winding San José roads and alleys, the street crapped us out onto the main highway to San Ramón! Maybe you just do have to "follow the cars."
Anyhow, I've got a few more automatic updates coming through this next week or two, so please stay tuned in. Thanks for reading!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook