Monday, January 20, 2020

Outré Odo

Here on the charge at Hastings is Odo of Bayeux, the man who commissioned the tapestry. 

Brother to William and a bishop. Even in 1066 this was fairly outré behaviour for  a member of the secular clergy. 

Yet being a respected man of the cloth, Odo apparently paid heed to the technicality that he was not permitted to draw blood and thus eschewed the pointier sort of weapon in favour of those designed to deliver blunt trauma. 

In effect, a baseball bat. It has always amused me that in public at least the Guatemalan legal system is geared up to resolve disputes through a process of reconciliation, yet almost every lawyer I have ever had here has privately opined that the best way to handle matters is in the manner of Odo above. 

Post-conquest Odo ended up owning Kent, which is where he recruited seamstresses to produce this monumental piece of medieval propaganda. 

After a spell in the nick, he later set off on the first crusade, died en-route and was laid to rest within the cathedral of Palermo. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

New funding model

The Queen's Sandringham estate in Norfolk has been receiving around £650,000 in EU CAP subsidies. 

Yet presumably, as the revenues from the crown estates revert to the Treasury, before being paid out to those members of the Royal Family who are still up for the job, this was quite a sneaky way of getting Johnny Foreigner to part pay for our pomp and circumstance. 

Regardless of the position they might take on Harry and Meghan as individuals, there will surely be analysts of the free-marketeer bent who will be keeping a close eye on how things pan out for them in 'North America'. There's a funding model being established for all members of the subsidiary or 'spare' branches of the Windsor tree. 

'Walmart with a crown on it'. It's a Brexit-ready solution. 

Meghan is not a UK citizen and is now unlikely to ever become one. Does Harry have a green card? 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Garden of Forking Paths

This morning I re-read The Garden of Forking Paths, perhaps the archetypal Borgesian metaphysical enigma, written in 1941. 

It should perhaps be read as a companion piece to any more contemporary piece of popular scientific explanation, say The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli, in the interests of constructive bafflement over deceptive clarity. 

It’s one of those stories stacked with juiced-up sentences, not all of which will ignite the synapses on any given reading. 

My take-out today was as follows. The garden is, physically at least, an English garden, located in the fictional town or village of Ashgrove. When the train arrives at the station, nobody announces its name. 

Twice narrator Dr Tsun makes the point that the path he follows is on an incline, downwards. 

At the heart of the garden there’s a structure, which houses an even greater labyrinth, an infinite novel. And a man called Albert. Dr Tsun’s encounter with him is at once apposite and arbitrary. 

The nature of this novel is a riddle about Time, a word that it is careful never to mention during the course of this ‘guessing game’. 

Not all possible futures can be reached from a given location on the path. 

Borges had a solid, very modern grasp of the relationship of consciousness to the ‘flow’ of time. "Century follows century, and things happen only in the present. There are countless men in the air, on land and at sea, and all that really happens, happens to me."

This part of the story suggests an additional riddle for me, that may not even be ‘in’ the text. 

Consciousness is our subjective experience of the path, of the absence that is time, but is it always the same track that we are descending?  At times in my life I’ve had a strong sense of being on a specific and connotative path and at other times very much off it, lost in the labyrinth. 

Gregory Norminton once quipped that 'If God is truth, Satan was the first storyteller.' Put less theologically, the conscious mind is the universe's storyteller, stringing together those moments where we sense that the present is happening to us into a beaten path of apparent continuity. Yet is this just an analogue version of an objective path or indeed paths?

Both the English version of the title and the Spanish (El Jardín de Senderos que se Bifurcan) give us a plurality of paths through the maze. My intuition is that might encompass not just the bifurcations, but different originating paths. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The best of times, the worst of times...

Of all the incidents of murky political violence in the Guatemala I have known, this one (just) pips the bashing of Bishop Gerardi to top spot, as the murkiest of all. 

On May 10, 2009 attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano was shot in the back, and then four more times in the head and neck whilst out cycling in the capital. The next day a pre-recorded video emerged in which Rosenberg blamed the President and his wife for his imminent assassination. The government was rocked. Eventually a UN investigation concluded that the lawyer had himself offed precisely to effect a rocking of Álvaro Colom’s government. 

The trouble is, the UN investigators (CICIG), now outcasts, were somewhat mysteriously present at the crime scene before the posthumous video went public. This enigma is now the subject of a non-fictional political thriller by Guatemalan diplomat Fernando González Davison.

Cooking is Mood

We knew the chef here as a toddler. 

The very best of luck to her with her new YouTube channel. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Monday, January 13, 2020


I seem to be the only member of our household prepared to eat a white, Cavendish banana.

All our dogs adore criollos, but give them a bit of blanco and they'll spit it out almost at once. 

Since the 50s these relatively insipid bananas have become the most internationally-traded variety, thanks largely to their having been used to plug the gap left by the Gros Michel type, then attacked and depleted by Panama Disease. 

They are named after William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, who received a batch from Mauritius around 1834 and thereafter cultivated them at his Chatsworth House property. 

The most familiar form, in both supermarkets and sex education classes, is the Gran Nain or Chiquita banana, Chiquita being the modern name of the United Fruit Company of some notoriety in these parts.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019)

Tom Hanks received his first Oscar nomination in 19 years today for his role in this movie. Having had no previous exposure to Ted Rogers, watching it was a bit like sitting through The Theory of Everything never having heard of Stephen Hawking.

And not being innately inclined from childhood to regard this man as unimpeachably beatific, as well as finding both puppeteers and predicadores inherently rather creepy, I did find my internal Jimmy Saville klaxon was sounding a few times during its running time. 

Anyway, for the uninitiated it perhaps helps that Hanks is not actually playing the lead here, rather Welsh actor Matthew Rhys as a fictionalised version of journalist Tom Junod, who wrote this profile piece of Rogers for Esquire

The action is set over two decades ago in 1998, yet we found ourselves being reminded of this only once a piece of technology had entered a scene. There has to be something culturally significant about this. 

Back then, if you made a movie about the 70s, the period would be an ubiquitous presence. Ditto a movie about the 50s, made in the 70s. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A bite out of the pizza

We had a rather poor meal the other day quite close to home. I don't like to give bad reviews online, naming names, so I won't do it here, only to say that two of the worst experiences of dining out we've had in the last couple of years have occurred in El Panorama, and there really aren't that many places to choose from.

I can't remember if I wrote up the previous one. I'll usually only use the written word where the negativity of an experience has some rather personal aspect to it that goes beyond the more general quality of the food and service. (If I did express some vitriol on social social, it will have been to mention the fact that some reprobate in the kitchen apparently took a substantial bite out of the 1/2 pizza that we'd asked to have packed up para llevar.)

Back at my (still) primary residence in the UK, there's an historic tithe barn — above  which is regularly used for events, weddings in particular, and it has astounded me how attendees at these gatherings have occasionally taken to Tripadvisor afterwards in order to diss the caterers. 

Note, these people were not the paying customers, they were honoured guests at someone else's special day. The Internet has become a place where basic manners have been exorcised and these evil ectoplasms are seeping back into the non-digital world. 

By far the greatest restaurant-based infámia that has ever happened to me took place over a decade ago in the centre of Antigua, and I did then feel the need to not so much pile-in as bile-out right here on this blog. 

We'd invited out an old friend, a restauranteur who happens also to be a close relative of the incoming alcalde. The meal was fine, the service was what it had always been at an establishment we'd regularly frequented since it opened in '96, though by then it had changed ownership, and not to especially good effect. 

Then came the bill. The bottom item was an unspecified and substantial surcharge. The waitress had made no mention of this when she passed me the piece of paper. 

I called her over. She explained that she had recognised my wife as a member of a large party that had gathered there the previous year and when payment was collected at the end, management had found themselves quite a bit short and had decided that it was now up to me to make up the difference...without mentioning this at any stage before presenting the bill, and even then not really mentioning it.

I duly explained that I had not been present at this earlier event and that my wife had attended only briefly and had left sufficient funds to cover the cost of her own meal, even though she had in effect been invited to join the long table by an old friend, already seated. 

The group had included some panza verde stalwarts and was fluid. It's quite possible that when the bill eventually came, someone dodged their own contribution by pointing the figure at those that had departed sooner. Worse things happen in this country. 

Yet no matter the original circumstances, this attempt to balance the books using guilt by association in a manner which defies all the rules of good sense and hospitality beggared belief. 

And when I called over the manager his rudeness further embarrassed me in front of my guest and guaranteed that we would never return. (The restaurant, for a long time the most popular in all of Antigua, went out of business shortly afterwards.) 

This week, rather than taking to the interwebs, we called over the manageress and, constructively I hope, explained how fried plantains are supposed to be prepared in a frying pan and not go anywhere near a microwave oven, and are thus supposed to retain a modicum of moisture. 

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Tiempos Recios (1)

Roughly midway through and I'm still feeling like one of the blind men touching up the elephant. What exactly do we have here?

I'd have to liken it to one of those grand old stadium bands coming out on stage not really knowing if they are going to concentrate on their new material or just bang out all the familiar crowd-pleasers. And then end up doing something akin to a mad, mashed-up medley of both kinds of sets.

In his pomp Vargas Llosa was a master at building an engrossing tale on the back of alternating narratives, often stylistically at variance. Yet here such differentiation occasionally manifests itself within the same chapter.

On more than one occasion I've been left to ponder whether the octogenarian Nobel Laureate reached his writing desk some mornings not quite remembering what sort of book he'd been working on. Fiction, non-fiction, political thriller, soapy family drama and so on. 

Important historical personages are introduced to the drama in ways that are thoroughly un-dramatic, more or less as static placeholders for their internal exposition. 

And although the novel is ostensibly set primarily in Guatemala during the 1950s, Vargas Llosa barely devotes a sentence to giving the reader a palpable sense of time and place.

So, although I'd still hold back from calling it a dog's dinner, and it is far from turgid, I'm not yet seeing the big picture. (TBC)

Wednesday, January 08, 2020


My wife was a Guatemalan national champion in fencing (foil). 

Some time after our first encounter we discovered that this was something we have in common: the fencing part, not the being particularly good at it part. 

She’s still feeling quite chuffed having heard someone she’s known for a very long time expressing the view over the festive period that she was a true pioneer of women’s sport in Guatemala. 

This is certainly true yet she hadn’t quite thought about it in this way before and perhaps imagined that he and everyone else might have forgotten. Her own experience of being a pionera en esgrima was actually one of pointed difficulty. 

Here at ExCel during London 2012 the most extraordinary thing we noticed about the fencing competition, aside from the razzmattazz presentation, was the unhooked, wifi nature of the swordplay. Back when we were assuming the en-garde position, each serious bout that followed tended to feel a bit like horizontal bungee jumping.

I had fenced at school level: mainly foil but I had dabbled in sabre too. I enjoyed the sport and took advantage of its relative prestige at St Paul’s, which boasted some of the best coaches and what was then at least, said to be the largest salle in Europe. 

Yet I never pierced the bubble of mediocrity. At the time I put this down to an innate lack of athleticism, hand-eye coordination and so on, but having later reached a pretty decent level at sports like tennis the truth, rather depressingly, probably had more to do with character and motivation. 

Not winning didn’t bother me all that much. And I never quite separated myself from the crowd of swordsmen who were only there in order not to be running around a rugby pitch in the freezing Thameside fogs of November. 

Yet in adult life I have discovered that I can generally be good at anything I am truly determined to be good at. 

Such determination needs to be consistent. As an investor for example, dips in attention or enthusiasm can be like micro-sleeps on the motorway: very expensive.

After university I went on to become a pioneer of sorts in the field of digital communication and investigation. My wife had before then moved on to another pioneering career, this time working for La Antigua’s very first firm offering computing-services. (She finds it rather amusing that probably the most well-known remaining operator in this field here today is run by the son of the city’s most recalcitrant former Luddite.) 

It was an era when Antigua seemed full of motivated foreign and local entrepreneurs who had a vision for developing the economy that has become more than a bit diluted. 

Nowadays the closest many young chapines get to participating in the information economy is when they throw open the doors of their own coffee shop. 

And the city now seems to act mainly as a lure to the kind of ex-pat investor who opens a restaurant because they don’t know how to do anything else, at least not anything that would allow them to keep their heads above the water. 

The whole NGO scam was far less well developed back in the day as well. 

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The UK Ism Pantheon

In a week in which UK legal system officially ushered veganism into the ism pantheon, where all our sacred dogmatic positions - aka 'legitimate philosophical positions', a term which has come to describe its very opposite - are protected and nurtured...

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Jonathan Swift's Resolutions (1699)

Not to marry a young Woman.
Not to keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
Not to scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, &c.
Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.
Not to be covetous.
Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
Not to be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes and weaknesses.
Not to be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling servants, or others.
Not to be too free of advise, nor trouble any but those that desire it.
To desire some good Friends to inform me wch of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, and wherein; and reform accordingly.
Not to talk much, nor of my self.
Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, &c.
Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman, et eos qui hereditatem captant, odisse ac vitare.
Not to be positive or opiniative.
Not to sett up for observing all these Rules; for fear I should observe none.