Friday, March 30, 2007

The shrieking. Oh, the shrieking.

So you're five. You're hardly a night owl to begin with.

You get a spur-of-the-moment invitation to spend the afternoon at a friend's house and by the time you're dropped back off, it's already pretty much bed time.

You join the family at the dinner table and sit and play with your food while alternating between laughter and petulance. You whack your elbow on the (concrete) tabletop, which helps ease you toward a decision regarding these two alluring states of mind.

You are jollied into pajamas and bed. Papi offers a story, but you want Mommy. Fortunately, she agrees to read to you. Inexplicably, two of the books in the pile by your bed were mentioned on a certain Italian blog just this morning, not that you know or care. You, in fact, choose one of them. Your dogs, though, are red.

The story read, you settle down to drift off to sleep (over an hour late) while Mommy reads to Robin on the other bed. For some reason we'll probably never fully understand, you decide that something over the edge of the bed needs adjusting, and that's when it happens.

You find yourself nose-to-nose with a spiky, three-inch caterpillar, right there in the bed.

The shrieking. Oh, the shrieking.

Fortunately, Papi has the wits to put you and your sister into the grownups' bed and suggest that, after defenestrating the interloper, Mommy might want to go look for a caterpillar story with a happy ending. Thanks to your indefatigable former-librarian grandmother, we just happen to have one.

You are engaged by the story and obligingly fall fast asleep the moment it is over.

Your sister, on the other hand, is a basket case.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Guest blogger

Hi everybody, I'm Julia. You know? Today my loose tooth fell out. When I was brushing my teeth at school, my tooth just popped out. And I thought it was an apple, even though it was my loose tooth. It was in the sink, and now it's under my pillow. And also, today I washed the dishes and it was with lots of soap.

Gauntlet: Thrown

Welcome, folks, to round two (or three? maybe it's three) of dueling researchers' week here at Coasting Richly.

Despite her lack of confrontational language (ain't it just like a pacifist...) Julie oh-so-casually provided a link to what I, yesterday, could not: a cartoon of the chicken and egg joke.

Now, it's not a New Yorker cartoon, so the game is not yet won, but I will acknowledge that it's 50% closer to it* than my offerings of yesterday.

So, in the interest of taking things farther than necessary, I will point out that the blogger at Julie's link does, in fact, name and link to her source; it's just that she does so in Portuguese.

Following that link, we find the same cartoon on the trilingual blog of a Portuguese man living in Finland. While he does not credit the source of the cartoon, he does include a link, and it is the material at that link that I offer to you as today's contribution to the topic.

A geneticist, a philosopher and a chicken farmer got together to establish, once and for all, which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Believe it or not, that's not the first line of another chicken and egg joke. It's the summary of a news article. There was an actual study involving a specialist in evolutionary genetics, an "expert in the philosophy of science," and a poultry farmer.

The study was sponsored by Disney and covered by CNN.

Welcome to the future, ladies and gentlemen; it may not always be pretty, but it is rarely dull.

* Where, again, it = a New Yorker cartoon representing the joke in the form we've all enjoyed here on Coasting Richly.

Monday, March 26, 2007

More on chicken vs. egg

Julie says she once saw the chicken and egg joke as a New Yorker cartoon which, obviously, we all must see immediately.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find it, if we define "it" as a New Yorker cartoon representing the joke in the form we've all enjoyed here on Coasting Richly.

The New Yorker does, however, seem to be conversant with the core concept, I'll give them that.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Apparently, it's not just me

Some jokes can't be translated. Even though Alex speaks English and I provided all the necessary preliminary information, he just sat there looking at me when I told him this one:

Two men walked into a bar. The third one ducked.

Then there's the chicken and egg joke from a couple weeks ago:

A chicken and an egg are lying in bed. The chicken is smoking a cigarette, looking very satisfied. The egg, in a pissed off tone, says, "Well, I guess we answered that question."

This one is partially dependent on language. It turns out that "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" is a phrase that, technically, does exist in Spanish. It even carries the necessary double entendre. But the phrase itself is not an ongoing part of the popular consciousness the way it is in English. So, again, the joke fails.

But the muffin joke is not language dependent.

So there are these two muffins baking in an oven. One of them yells, “Wow, it’s hot in here!”

And the other muffin replies: “Holy cow! A talking muffin!”

No double entendre, no puns. It's all about the absurdity.

Alex's response: "So then where was the second muffin, if it wasn't in the oven with the first?" Uh, yeah. Sorry folks, it's just not funny.

Lest you think that Alex simply doesn't laugh at jokes, or that jokes are culture-dependent, he not only thought the snail joke was funny; he'd actually heard (a variation of) it before, in Spanish:

This guy is relaxing in his living room, watching TV when he hears a loud insistent knock on the door. He gets up and opens the door, but nobody is there. He looks up and down the street...nothing. Finally, as he's getting ready to shut the door, he happens to glance down, and sees a snail sitting by the door frame. Frustrated at having had to leave his comfy Barcalounger for nothing, he picks up the snail and hurls it across the street.

One year later, the same guy is sitting in the same lounger, watching TV, when again he hears a loud insistent knock on the door. He gets up, opens the door and discovers the same snail on the door frame. The snail glares at him and says, "What the hell was that all about?"

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Internet - if nothing else, it'll enrich your vocabulary

Learning the word callipygian, for example, has forever elevated the tone (although admittedly not the content) of my internal discourse at the gym.

And knowing that what I do to the spiders that get trapped in the bathtub is called defenestration, well that's just icing on the cake.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The nicest thing

Last night was the inauguration of a quilt show at the Costa Rican / North American Cultural Center, which we all attended after the outing (see previous post).

At the inauguration, I ran into someone from the US Embassy, who knew me from a situation that came up last year, when I had the opportunity to provide some help to someone in a difficult situation.

I was a little surprised to see her, but truly amazed that she recognized me from the back, at night, driving a car she'd never seen before.

Once inside, I saw another person from the Embassy, who also greeted me warmly and stopped to talk. He is one of the more interesting people I know, has a firsthand understanding of both the good and the bad that people are capable of, and is someone whose opinion I value.

I mentioned that S. had recognized me after just a fleeting glimpse, and he said he had seen me from the back a few minutes ago, but that I had been in conversation and he hadn't wanted to interrupt. I said, again, that it seemed surprising that either of them would recognize me so quickly in such a completely different context, and with 22 inches less hair than the last time we saw one another.

"No," he said, "It's not surprising. I'd recognize you anywhere. You have an aura."

That remark, coming from that individual, was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

Yesterday's Outing

A group of quilters from Iowa is visiting our guild at the moment, and yesterday we all went on an outing, including a visit to a farm that grows ferns for export - these are the ones they put behind the carnations and roses in your $20 flower arrangement from FTD:

The ferns are grown under these black net structures. The rest of the property is given over to a nature reserve, which we visited as well.

Then we went down to the city of Cartago to visit the Basilica (see here for another post and more photos of these places.)

Floor tiles:

Then we went to Orosi, which is a scenic valley not far from Cartago. When Dad and I went there last year, we didn't know about the scenic overlook maintained kind of like a public park by the National Institute of Tourism. The entrance is right on the main road, but easy to miss. I think it's safe to say we'll make an effort not to miss it on any future trips in this direction.

And one last picture, taken from the bus on the way back to San José. Costa Rican cemeteries are one of those things I've never gotten used to here. They are almost always above ground, presumably due to geographic and meteorological concerns, but it's the white tile that gets me. Going on 20 years later, I still can't see these without thinking they belong in a bathroom.

Monday, March 19, 2007

In which I demonstrate my inability to be creative in more than one medium at a time

Very busy. All day. Make pretty things. Trip tomorrow. Back Wednesday. Night night.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Being Green

Julia came to me while she was getting ready for bed and declared that she had a 10-point list of grievances. When she began to enumerate them, I figured she'd never make it all the way to 10, especially when she lost her place between 5 and 6, asked me which number she had just done and, when I said I didn't know, decided it must have been 6. But not only did she list all 10, when she got to the end she thought for a minute and amended, "No, actually there are 12 reasons why I don't feel good tonight," then listed two additional issues.

She has always been the more carefree and upbeat of the two, but this past year she has also had these brief but concentrated bouts of 5 year old angst, where she is deeply troubled by her youth and inexperience. They don't last terribly long, but they are so profound.

Once she had aired her grievances, I sent her to finish getting ready for bed. As soon as she had completed her tasks she returned, eyes brimming, to report, "I can't remember the good times in my life." I reminded her of a few and she seems to be feeling better now.

I figured it was a good night to put on her favorite episode of the Muppets, where Kermit sings "It's Not Easy Being Green."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Robin for President

Robin recently learned how to make a cootie catcher. I explained to her that, when I was her age, they usually had colors on the outside, numbers on the inside, and a message under the flap.

Colors: Purple, Yellow, Pink, Blue

Numbers: 5, 7, 37, 42

I don't remember the rationale for 5 - probably Julia's age.
7 "Because it's Lisa's favorite number."
37 "Because that's how old you are, Mommy."
42 "Because it's the meaning and purpose of life."

Messages: Peace, Love, Unity, Diversity

Clearly, my work here is done.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Let me clarify that

Psst! Readers! When I reference a debate over the funniness of a joke, that's your cue to indicate whether or not you find it funny and, if at all possible, offer a joke of your own.

This "0 Comments" business may be partially my fault, since I linked to but did not copy out the two jokes in question, and I can see in my stats that not many people clicked through. Let me rectify that.

The muffin joke goes like this:

So there are these two muffins baking in an oven. One of them yells, “Wow, it’s hot in here!”

And the other muffin replies: “Holy cow! A talking muffin!”
Based on the many comments I've read (on other blogs) over the past two days, I am squarely in the minority in finding this joke unfunny. So you either get to agree with me--always polite on someone else's blog--or find yourself in the majority and have your sense of humor affirmed--also pleasant.

See? It's win/win.

The comment threads on both the original Great Muffin Debate post, and the one I referenced yesterday at Shakespeare's Sister each contain what, to my mind, are much funnier jokes. (Remember the caveat and exercise caution if you click over to Shakes' thread.)

My favorite so far:
A chicken and an egg are lying in bed. The chicken is smoking a cigarette, looking very satisfied. The egg, in a pissed off tone, says, "Well, I guess we answered that question."
I might not tell that joke to just anyone, which is why I chose yesterday to link to it rather than copy it over here, but when I first read it it made me laugh out loud. A couple of the other ones did too, but when I say "out loud" in this case, I mean I scared the parrot sitting next to me so badly she flew across the room and landed on the window, which doesn't have a sill so she was left dangling by her beak and had to be rescued.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Humor is a funny thing

My take on the muffin joke: meh.

I'm sure this joke existed before the first scene in Shrek was written, but having seen that first (and repeatedly), it feels derivative and, more to the point, it isn't really my kind of joke. I'm more of a dry irony / double entendre / witty repartee kind of girl.

There are lots of jokes in the comments of the post linked above, and if you're sensitive to strong language or easily offended, it's probably best not to go there. However, if you're not, you'll find a couple of really good ones. Click here to skip right to my favorite.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More than you may have thought you cared to know about Costa Rican bus terminals

Costa Rica has a postal system, and it works reasonably well, I guess. I generally advise people not to mail me things,* since I can get most anything I'm really pining for locally, and there's usually a "next trip" coming up if I really want something brought down from the States.

* Hi Meredith! Speaking of sending things, I appreciate the sentiment, but I worry about things making it all the way here...and even if they come through the system unscathed, sometimes the dogs get hold of the mail before I do! I'll get myself a really good chocolate bar next time I'm at the fancy grocery store, though, just because you actually offered!

My own contact with the post office has been limited to sending the occasional fax when our machine is acting up, and walking down to the gate to meet the motorcycle-riding mailman when my parents send the girls a card or magazine.

But there's another way of sending things within Costa Rica that actually works really well. You can take your item to any of the long-distance bus stations (different companies serve different routes), pay a dollar or two, and they'll send your envelope, package or...actually, I think pretty much the other end of the line, where the recipient can claim it.

It's how we sent the final surveys out to one of our clients last week, and today I sent Alex's official surveyor's ledger, a stack of contracts and a pad of receipts to him that way. He's been out at the east coast town of Puerto Viejo since the weekend before last, assisting a colleague with an apparently never-ending succession of small survey jobs. One day a local guy saw him working near the road and came over to ask if Alex was available to survey a lot for him. So Alex needs his own ledger and contracts to do that job after he finishes the other stuff.

ANYway, I'm actually here to talk about bus stations. Both last week and this morning, I looked up the bus route I needed by Googling (in this case) "Puerto Viejo San José bus" to find guidebook-style information on the location of the terminal I needed. Then I looked the spot up on both Google Earth and my CR map to figure out how best to get there, and how it related to the other places I needed to go while in town.

I had actually been to last week's bus station once before. I don't remember when or why, but I recognized it. Although you may not have a ready-made mental picture for the phrase "decent-but-still-third-world-public-bus-station," whatever you just came up with when you read that is probably not too far off.

A bit dismal, pretty grotty in the corners, but intact and functioning. No chickens in crates when I was there, but I won't say it couldn't happen. People standing in lines. People selling stuff to the people standing in lines. Hand-written signs taped up to modify/clarify the original signage over the various offices & windows.

A lady selling peanuts and bread pointed me to the appropriate window, where I got in line behind a massive messenger bag. The messenger himself was standing in the adjacent line and stepping over to move his bag forward whenever my line moved. He seemed to appreciate it when I nudged it forward for him. He finished in the other line just as it was his bag's turn in mine.

When I got up to the drop-off-your-package window, I put my envelope on the ledge and waited while the guy entered the name and city of the recipient into his computer, then took my 800 colones ($1.35) and printed out a receipt. That bit was all very civilized and high-end. Of course, then he grabbed a fat magic marker, scribbled the code from the computer printout onto my envelope and tossed it in the general direction of a stack of packages and envelopes destined for the next bus out.

Today's bus station was on a whole nother level.

It's newer, for one thing; I remember when there used to be a large restaurant on the site. Also, it serves a larger geographical area, so the whole operation is bigger. There are four or five long-haul buses sitting there loading, waiting or unloading at any given time. There are several sit-down lunch counters facing the vast expanse of bus lot (no cars allowed), and when I started looking for the ticket office, I discovered that there was a whole arcade of shops and offices inside the building as well. It was actually surprisingly attractive, in a "train station chic" kind of way. Each destination had its own little ticket window, with schedules posted and a clerk with a computer behind each. There were benches and plants and decorative indoor lamp posts.

Of course, the window I needed wasn't anywhere to be seen, but I waited behind the one person buying a ticket for the place I needed to send the package, then asked the clerk and was directed out of the building and around the back. It didn't look like a public access place, but I took a few steps closer and did, in fact, find not only the package office but also, perplexingly, yet another lunch counter hidden out in the back there.

The office was piled with packages and boxes, and staffed by two guys with a computer. They took one look at me and tried out a word or two of English. That actually doesn't happen all that often in my everyday life. I know I don't look Costa Rican, but I sometimes forget that because most people just address me in Spanish. But the bus station for the beach is probably frequented by a lot more tourists than the grocery store in my neighborhood, so I guess it's just a matter of context.

Anyway, they took my package and my 1000 colones ($1.95), and printed out one receipt for me and another to fasten to my envelope. While I was waiting, I happened to notice the office hours, which were posted above the window. They went like this:


I assume that what this really means is that they close the office whenever a bus arrives or is getting ready to depart, so they can load and unload the packages. In any case, it made me glad that I had stopped for coffee after my previous errand, because it probably saved me from arriving at one of their many half-hour closings.

All in all, I was impressed with today's bus station. It was large, clean, attractive and organized; the buses had plenty of room to maneuver, the ticket sales were orderly, and the facilities boasted everything the road-weary traveler might require. There were, of course, several sit-down lunch counters and places to buy snacks for the trip; that's par for the course. But there was also a tourist information booth, which was a nice touch. There was even a pharmacy, which can only be a good thing when you've got people getting ready to set out on 4-hour bus trips.

I did have to wonder, though, at the OB/GYN that decided on the bus station as a suitable location to set up shop.

Monday, March 12, 2007

No applause, just send chocolate

Something possessed me to double check today, and it turns out that tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of my very first post, which consisted of this photo:

It's still one of my favorites. If I recall correctly, it was the last one I took (of about a dozen), back in the dark ages when you couldn't see your pictures until you downloaded them, and the camera only held about 15 at a time.

I remember that I was getting frustrated, the girls were sick of sitting still, and the hats had to be adjusted continually. But somehow I managed to come up with something silly to say and got that one last shot.

My intent was to use it for a Dear Friends holiday E-mail, which of course I never did. Then I discovered this new "Blog" thing that people were doing. I decided to give it a try, and the picture got the attention it deserved after all.

So. Happy anniversary to me! Dark chocolate please, no nuts.

(You may have noticed that my archives don't, in fact, start two years ago tomorrow, but actually show a couple of posts from 2000. I had this idea, see, that I could go back through old E-mails in my "Sent" folder [I never delete anything] and retroactively turn them into posts from when Robin was a baby. I only ended up doing two of them, but that's what that is. Maybe someday I'll add some more.)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sculpture in the park

We lived in the little town of Barva when Robin was born. Barva prides itself on its park, which is still ringed with thick-walled houses built of the traditional clay and straw bricks, and topped with red roof tiles. Actually, few if any of them are still houses anymore. The local clinic, police station and municipal buildings occupy several of them, and the rest are given over to bakeries, ice cream shops, pet supply stores, etc. But the structures have been kept up and/or restored.

Barva also enthusiastically maintains traditional Costa Rican holiday celebrations, such as small-scale fireworks displays, yearly fairs and the running of the "clowns," which are local young men and children wearing oversized, grotesque paper maché masks and the ugliest polyester dresses they can lay hands on, and chasing everyone else down the street, trying to hit them with what used to be inflated animal bladders tied onto a string. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure they now use socks with a ball stuffed down into the toe. Those bladders were pretty nasty.

Anyway, while we were living there, Barva also renovated its town square, which used to be nothing more than an open field in front of the church. They paved parts of it, put in numerous benches and two small basketball courts, and planted grass and trees in the unpaved areas.

In recent years, they have held a yearly Sculpture in the Park event, where selected sculptors set up their projects right there in the park, and people can come and watch them work. The girls' school took the students over en masse to see and talk to the artists a couple of weeks ago.

Today, the girls and I went out to lunch with Alex's parents (Alex himself has been out of town for over a week now), and after lunch José said we should go over to Barva to have some coffee and see the sculptures, so we did.

The works are installed semi-permanently; I imagine that they will be moved to new locations before next year's event, but for now they are an ongoing part of the park.

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