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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Brain-teasers at the Mall

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Today we decided to take a trip down the hill to the closest major shopping center, the Mall de Las Flores, or Mall of the Flowers. In our excursions around San Rafael on foot, we had gone into several small clothing boutiques but I had failed to find the cute, light-weight blouses and perhaps shorts that I wanted and precious few sombreros. My new baseball hat with San Francisco Fire Department emblazoned on it, a gift from Damian prior to our departure, just doesn’t seem quite right in this community; it makes me feel too much like the foreigner that I am. And tee-shirt fabric is pretty heavy for this warm and humid climate. Lesson learned: bring lighter-weight clothes.

The bus was crowded today, even in San Rafael, so Layne and I were forced to take seats apart for the first leg of the trip. As still more people got onboard, many ended up standing, holding on to seatbacks and rails through the bumpy ride to downtown Heredia. But eventually we reached the last stop where everyone got off to either change buses or walk to their destinations. We opted instead for a cab and for about $1.50, we soon arrived at the entrance to the mall.

Now this is a real mall, American-style! Two floors, four wings, each capped off at the end by a major department store and your basic food court, with KFC, McDonalds, Subway, Quizno, pizza, hamburgers, Chinese buffets and more. Nicer restaurants were situated near the entrance but Layne is pretty attached to those $5 Subway tuna sandwiches. Split in half, it’s a cheap and tasty lunch.

The biggest challenge for us continues to be communication. After the “Buenas,” and maybe a “Como esta’,” I’m sometimes hard-pressed to make my wishes known. Occasionally, in our shopping today I resorted to “solamente miranda,” my effort at “only looking,” although I’m far from confident that is the correct form. Still, most clerks seemed to understand and smiled with sympathy at us poor illiterate Gringos. In our first few stops at clothing boutiques, we were aghast at the high prices. Goodness, we might as well be in the States! Little sleeveless tops, gathered at the shoulder or V-necked were upward of $22, more than I had planned to spend on such a minimal piece of fabric!

At last we came upon a shop announcing a 40%-off sale; ah, more my speed. There was a very cute top in the sale rack, just what I wanted. But I was pretty sure the Medium on the hanger would not fit my… uh, shall we say, more Rubenesque form. But I managed to ask the friendly young sales clerk if “Tiene una grande?” which she brought out from the back. Costa Rican women are on average much smaller than most Americans so even the Large was a bit snug across my ample bosom. But it was attractive and perhaps I’ll lose a few pounds, right? So about $12 later it was mine.

On we went, amazed at the vast array of shops. To our delight, there was even an Apple

authorized dealership. We stopped in and had the good luck to find an English-speaking clerk who assured us they do repairs on Macs, an important feature for us if we decide to live here permanently since we both work on MacBooks. Although priced a little higher than online (and of course, much higher than Layne’s recent reconditioned purchase), the computer prices were still well in line with the average cost of a Mac in the States.

At our lunch break, Layne glanced up and noticed a Hallmark shop. Now you must realize that Layne has been totally occupied for hours on end, completely obsessed, you might say, with the book he is writing. So he rarely gets bored. I, on the other hand, don’t handle idleness very well and although we’ve borrowed a few good books from our hotel here, I have suffered through hours of boredom. But I love to do puzzles! So we headed for Hallmark, confident they would have jigsaw puzzles in stock. But how do you say “jigsaw puzzle” in Spanish? I looked in my Palm Pilot but only came up with “puzzle.” Now that’s helpful! Although the small Hallmark store had nothing to offer, the woman clerk seemed to understand our desire and gave us directions, embellished by hand-signals, to a store she thought might carry them. It’s a big mall, however, and we wandered up and down hallways until at last, we came to a large children’s store. This must be it, we thought.

But again, how to ask for it? The clerks behind the counter seemed completely at a loss as to what we wanted: Puzzle, Jigsaw, pequeno pieces. We laughed, we sighed, we finally left empty-handed and headed for the exit. But like most malls, there was a booth near the entrance selling DVDs or some such. So again we stopped and tried to convey our wishes to the worker there. The guard posted nearby came over to see if he could assist these desperate Gringos.

At this point, Layne got creative, indeed brilliant, since pictures speak louder than my poor Spanish. He asked her for a pen and drew some blob-like shapes on a piece of paper to represent puzzle pieces and showed it to them both. This seemed to do the trick! The guard nodded knowingly for us to follow him as he guided us back to the same children’s mega-store. The clerks there smiled broadly to see us return while the guard explained to them what we were looking for. Only then did I realize that I had been using Spanish-to-English in the Palm, rather than English-to-Spanish! Duh! No wonder it kept offering nothing but “puzzle” as a translation for “puzzle!” After a quick chat with the clerks, the guard pointed us toward the games section of the store and as we roamed down that aisle, there they were! From 300 to 2000 piece puzzles in all sorts of colorful images.

Who would guess that the word for jigsaw puzzle is “rompecabezas” - which means, according to my Palm, brain-teaser! And when you think about it, that’s exactly what they are. It also fits today’s search: a rompecabeza, for sure!

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