After a rough week, the best choice is to celebrate at lunch

The week that was is over. I managed to make things as difficult as I could in the process of renewing my passport at the American Embassy. I am sure the people who work there are even more relieved than I am that it is done.

The one big lesson I learned is that the U.S. Embassy does not work like the Caja. It is not necessary to arrive an hour early for an appointment because there will be at least 10 other people with the same appointment, and you are hoping your folder is near the top. As far as I could tell, I was the only 9:30 appointment, and I was called, if not exactly on time, very close to it. I have been in Costa Rica a very long time and seem to have adapted to their system of getting things done . . . or not.

However, the great news was that my friend Ann found my cédula in her car. How it got there is a mystery to me, but it must have been the last time we went out for lunch. To celebrate we went to lunch again this week.

Since Il Ritorno left its city home in the Casa Italia Avenue for the suburbs, to my mind the best Italian restaurant in the city is L’Olivo. And it happens to be just around the corner, from where I live. It is on the street that runs on the east side of the electrical institute and is next to the casino of the Palma Real hotel. It is the consummate Italian restaurant, cozy and with murals of the idealized Italian countryside, with a bar at one end and a visible wine cellar. The waiters are attentive and helpful, and the food is excellent.

For years my jaws have become weary in my search for tender calamari fritti. Now I can say that that my search is over. L’Olivio has them. Ann and I shared that generous appetizer, which was more than enough for two. All of their dishes are excellent, but the bread they serve before you order should be labeled as dangerously addictive. Ann and I enjoyed a very long lunch to celebrate serendipity. I am sure L’Olivo closes lunch hour at three p.m. but graciously waited until we finally walked out at 3:35.

While I enjoy restaurants here, my friends are enjoying the food in France, Eastern Europe and Istanbul. Three sets of friends have enjoyed the cuisines of these different parts, but they also came home was some impressions that I, of course, related to “how it is at home.” One couple was struck by the smells in the buses, trains and even planes in Eastern Europe. They were overwhelmed by what was apparently simply

unwashed bodies in close spaces. Living in Costa Rica, they just weren’t used to it. They don’t often take buses here, but I do, and from day one I was struck by the fact that Ticos must be the cleanest people in the world and in close spaces simply do not smell. Occasionally on a bus I would get a whiff of someone’s perfume, but no longer, and sometimes, if someone nearby was obviously drunk, I could smell him, but that is rare, too, just as a nearby heavy smoker is rare. Body odor? Never.

Another friend mentioned that in Istanbul she was unexpectedly impressed with the public bathrooms! It seems the Turks have installed the latest in bathroom furnishings and fixtures, with automatic faucets and towel dispensers. They are obviously proud of them because she said they all were spotless and in perfect working order. When she arrived at Dulles Airport in Washington she was surprised to discover she had to try five different sinks to find a faucet that worked. Ah, infrastructure.

I cannot declare all public bathrooms in Costa Rica a success. Some I have visited have been abysmal. There is a law that every establishment serving the public must have a bathroom for their use, but the law does not say they must have paper or be clean. However, over the years the bathrooms in stores and restaurants have improved, and if you want to find the best bathrooms, it is a good idea to go into a hotel or a casino. The law says you can. I didn’t have the opportunity to try the bathrooms either in the Embassy or the L’Olivo. This week I am quitting while I am ahead.

Sometimes, Forrest, life is a ride on a pogo stick.

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