Friday, August 28, 2009

Illustrious Visitors

Every so often someone with a certain amount of international fame or notoriety shows up in Antigua. This week it was the turn of Paris Hilton, whose presence in town was heralded by the following Tweet: "I'm in such a beautiful city right now, the people are so kind and gracious. So happy to be here."

Next day Paris followed up with "On my way to go visit some of the most poverty stricken villages in Central America. Going to be a very emotional day, God bless them all." and posted this pic from her helicopter-bound poverty tour in Guatemala's highlands.

The heiress had not long been gone when "some people that know" were saying that she had left binned in her hotel room a beautiful painting given to her by the kind people of Comalapa.

Such obsequios are a common feature of the illustrious visit, but rarely do they end up in pride of place on a far-off mantelpiece. When the King and Queen of Spain turned up in 2007 the rules of international diplomacy stipulated that they should say "muchas gracias" for every little trinket pushed their way, but at the end of the trip these would all be collected up, labelled and thereafter dumped in a cellar somewhere back in Madrid.

Locals have discovered to their cost that selling stuff to the famous can be almost as problematic as giving it away. Both the Clinton and the Borbón shopping bonanzas were much anticipated at Antigua's leading resellers of fine jade schmutter...but rows of smartly-attired, salivating salesmen and a dazzling array of tasty boquitas were not in the end to tempt these heads of state to whip out their wallets.

HRHs Juan Carlos and Sofia had been programmed to make an official visit to Jades SA but instead went to La Casa del Jade (and were retroactively-picketed by the staff of the former establishment when they left, I'm told.)

Such abrupt changes of plan are all part of the cunning strategies devised by the minders of famed vacationers, intended to confound potential trouble-makers. President Bill for example, was rumoured to have booked into the five-starred Casa Santo Domingo, but ended up at the boutiquey Posada del Angel instead, a hotel which has also played host to HRH Prince Alexander Prinz von Sachsen of Saxe-Gessaphe and his wife Princess Gisela of Baveria no less.

I can't imagine there was a queue of people lined up with gifts for George W. Bush when he came visiting in March '07. After all, the Maya priests made a big show of ritually purifying their sacred site at Iximché after the arbustito departed.

At a nearby village which the President had passed through earlier, his secret service detail had forced every inhabitant to walk through a scanner the size of my garage, and the local priest had eventually prevailed after a stand-off with a some snipers wishing to take up positions in the bell-tower of his church.

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