Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ford vs Ferrari (2019)

As Chris Rock quipped at the Academy Awards last Sunday, this sounds like a no contest.



In the UK, where you can't easily include a brand name in the title of a film unless you own it (i.e. The Lego Movie) it has been doing the rounds as Le Mans '66. 

It's less the David and Goliath contest suggested by the original title than a drama driven by a cluster of familiar stereotypes; corporate Americans, up-themselves Italians, down-to-earth yet plucky provincial Brits and Matt Damon playing a version of himself that wears a stetson, intersown with some fabulously-edited, genuinely thrilling scenes of classic 60s sports cars going head-to-head, which somehow manages to celebrate both US triumphalism and heroic British failure. 

And the Italians in their Ferrari cockpits scowl like Japanese pilots about to offload torpedoes over Pearl Harbour. 



I was reminded of my visit to the Corvette museum in Kentucky a couple of years ago, though we are informed at the end that Ford GT40 is the only American-constructed car to win the 24-hour race.


The Lighthouse (2019)



Robert Eggers's follow up to The Witch would be a classic two-hander, except that there are a few other rather obtrusive cast members, most notably the cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, an intermittent mermaid, plus a team of specially-imported, British seagull thesps, one of whom possibly deserves an Academy Award for playing dead. 

I have to say that, as with his previous feature, I was left a little unconvinced, though the performances are undoubtedly very strong and the late Victorian sea-dog dialogue is consistently diverting. 

The trouble is that the more this film strives to be dark and delirious, the more it comes across as just a bit silly. 

In a recent BBC interview Dafoe described the set up as what happens when two grown men are forced to go and live alone in a building shaped like a phallus off the coast of Nova Scotia for a month. It features a descent into madness that both men appear to have commenced prior to this ill-fated posting on the rock. 

Eggers preserves a sense of ambiguity about the situation. Part or indeed all of it could be hallucinatory. There are moments when the characters appear to comprehend that they are living through a metaphor. 

Anyway, one big take-out from the movie (or from the above-mentioned interview at least) has been that Willem Dafoe is one of those rare super-talented, yet understated Hollywood actors that would make a fine guest at a dinner party populated with people he didn't already know, in precisely the same way that Joaquin Phoenix wouldn't. 







Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Tithe Barn

Herons Farm has a smart new website. 




In the medieval period growers had to pay a tithe (a 10% tax) to the church. Barns such as this were established to store payments sent in grain. Many surviving examples are attached to monastic runs. 




Amateurmerica

The other day day we closed our accounts at Banco Promerica

We hadn’t intended to, in fact we just wanted to reactivate one of them, but the process for doing so was made to sound so utterly painful  including, bizarrely, the official requirement to leave the bank and go for a walk outside for approximately an hour and half — that in the end closing out completely was (marginally) less hassle. Either way it was going to be worse than an afternoon at the SAT. 

Back in the late 90s, as Banco Uno, this was unquestionably the best bank in Antigua. Yet nowadays it has become everything you don’t want from a retail banking service, yet there still seem to be a few customers who, like us, have held on bravely/foolishly through the name and standard changes, first to Citi and then to Promerica. 

Whilst waiting in the barely-furnished limbo zone we exchanged nods of recognition with a former Vamos candidate for alcalde who cheerily greeted the cashiers as if they were his children's nannies, and later (much later it seemed) overheard someone identifying himself as the financial envoy of Antigua’s wealthiest family. 

These people will surely recall how the staff at Banco Uno used to greet their valued customers when they walked in instead of being made to palm a shred of paper with a queue number on it.

In London I bank with Coutts & Co, the Queen’s bank. My account there is possibly the one thing I have that is an out and out status symbol. When I signed up as a teenager I was immediately allocated a ‘private banker’ in a morning suit. These days I still have such a contact at the bank, but he’s less of a fusty old gent and does even more useful stuff for me like answer emails and is backed up by a team that can handle any issue I throw at them 24-7 via telephone. 

Such attention doesn't come cheap, but they have always been broadly tolerant of my foibles, and as for my mother, she was probably just about the worst customer any bank could hope for, yet they were always solicitous and diplomatic (almost to a point) with her. 

So, let’s just say that when it comes to banking I’ve been royally spoiled. Yet even measured against the lofty standards set by the aforementioned establishment, Banco Uno did tend to impress. When we were building our first house here in the late 90s they too gave us a personal banker, who would zoom out to us to deliver a chequebook at a moment’s notice. 

My business partner visited us here in 2000 and met Gustavo, our asesor at Banco Uno (over drinks at Dog and Fox), and was soon showing an interest in opening an account there himself, even though he had no intention of moving to Guatemala. This was because they had this rather nifty way of flushing clients' savings into offshore Panama accounts at what was then a truly impressive rate of interest. 





Promerica now occupies the site of what was Lloyd’s Bank when I first came to Guatemala. This was the only obvious foreign presence in the sector at the time. 

At some stage in the mid-noughties there was a bit of a rush on Central American banks with Citi picking up Banco Uno and almost immediately applying more American levels of service. 

But at least they still seemed to have a basic idea of what they were doing. The current batch of Promerica personnel are staggeringly devoid of initiative. They reminded us of the chronically under-trained waiters one occasionally comes across in Antigua: the ones that don’t seem to know which side of a plate is up. 

On the subject of By Royal Appointment, my dentist, from my first tooth until his retirement and knighthood about ten years ago, was also the Queen's dentist. I was rather proud of this, in part because he was my dentist first and because aside from being exceptionally good at his profession (I've never had so much as a filling), he was also extraordinarily simpatico. 

I believe that he also dealt with the oral necessities of Charles and Phillip, but recently, when media images of Pizza Express's most famous customer and his almost stereotypically British lower gnashers became commonplace, I thought...surely not him as well? 








Monday, February 10, 2020

Negative Statesmanship

At Cambridge my special subject was 'The Drafting and Ratification of the US Constitution', so it strikes me that our contemporary American pickle, as outlined by this article was there in outline at least right from the start e.g. 

"In the impeachment trial, the 48 Senators who voted to convict represent 18 million more people than the 52 who voted to acquit."

Trump reached the White House back in 2016 in a manner which clearly demonstrated just how all that horse trading between the founding fathers, the big and small states, the slave and free states and so on, has handed down a form of democracy that comes with no small amount of head scratching. 


Paloma Plaga

La Antigua is suffering from a surfeit of pigeons right now; some might even call it a plaga.



Victor Hugo should avail himself of a gavilán and train it to dispose of the undesirables in the parque, the feathered and perhaps also the less feathered. 






Sunday, February 09, 2020

Masking the truth

I've started to see more and more ads for 'top selling' masks in Guatemala on social media...and let's just say that they are not of this sort. 



Just the other day the CDC announced, somewhat speciously I suspect, that hand washing of OCD levels is preferable to mask donning. This coincided with a news alert that 'virus-protective' masks are becoming scarce. (On Amazon supplies started to dry up some time ago.)

The best place to get the right kind of mask in Antigua, at least the type that would offer some real protection against detached DNA in droplet form is NOT a pharmacy. I won't be more specific for now, as there might be a sudden run on supplies, which would surely interfere with their intended quotidian uses here.

(The ones shown in the pic below would be basically useless anyway.) 




There is still not a single reported case of the coronavirus in Latin America, so it will be a while I suspect, before this might become an acceptable, risk-free look in the mercado...




Today reported deaths from the new coronavirus have surpassed the number that the Chinese eventually fessed up to during the SARS outbreak in 2003. (774).

Yet some 20,000 people have died as result of flu infection in the USA during the 2019-20 season, without stirring up a great deal of media interest. 

Isolating China every time their exotic dietary tendencies engender a new bug will probably not be, as anyone conscious of the problems resulting from low levels of antibodies in the general population (such as those with an understanding of this region's post-conquest history), the best approach in the long term. 


Preclusions




Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Bogeymen


Double tap

The other day I came across this sentence in the preface to a book about Spinoza by the late Sir Roger Scruton...

“Chapter 3 must therefore be read twice if it is to be understood.”

Countless tomes I have read over the years, both fiction and non-fiction, might have benefited from a disarmingly honest admonition of comparable nature from their authors. (Sometimes in reference to the ENTIRE work.) 


1917 backlash?

The trench cultural warfare looks to have reached stalemate point when it comes to BAFTAs chosen flick of the year. When I hear that a movie like this is little more than a vehicle for the white male worldview I do kind of sigh.

Some of the other criticisms appear to refer to creative decisions that were made a little more deliberately, such as the everyman nature of the protagonists, the gameplay qualities of its single shot cinematography, its focus on individual redemption rather than the collective impotence and futile slaughter of the Flanders front etc. 

These gripes tend to indicate the disappointment of audience members who went in expecting to see a different movie altogether. I'd point them in the direction of Journey's End, also excellent, though arguably even more 'white'. 

The apparent lack of strict authenticity and the gameplay vibe did worry me just a little during the first half hour or so of 1917. I recalled my wet blanket objections to the WWI first person shooter Battlefield 1 a couple of years ago - that it seemed to dishonour and diminish the sacrifice of a generation. 

The plot here emerged from the stories told by the director's grandfather Alfred, the poet and novelist from Trinidad and Tobago, who was indeed a messenger repeatedly tasked with 'going over' with important bits of paper. Knowing this, I can see that Mendes is using no man's land in the way that Ad Astra and films of that ilk use outer space, as context for an oneiric, metaphysical, individual journey. 

I have to admit I did poke fun a bit at Ad Astra for its apparent lack of realism, but let's just say that (almost) nobody goes into Apocalypse Now expecting a traditional war movie. 

That 1917 has prospered in the US market, where the Great War has much shallower cultural roots, says something about Mendes's unusual take on this conflict. Schofield's perpendicular run across the ill-advised charge of the Devons will undoubtedly become its most iconic scene and one that is emblematic of the film's intrinsic vision. 

As an observation more on the zeitgeist than any single cultural artefact that it varnishes, we live in an era where we perhaps need to keep a closer eye on all art of the 'liberal' sort, because 'realism' is increasingly taken to mean presenting the world as it ought to be rather than as it is. There's always going to be a place in the market for this, but not as a virtual monopoly. 

It can become especially pernicious when it comes to dramas set in the past, for history is always a work in progress and thus susceptible to the mendacity of good intentions.


Monday, February 03, 2020

Horrendous Hiatus


I think I can tell what has happened here. 

'Tiger' Tm Henman used to keep this lot off the streets and out of politics. 

Unfortunately we've hit one of those hazardous hiatuses where we don't have a viable Wimbledon challenger and the next (‘significant’) Royal Wedding is likely to be at least two decades away. Yikes.