Sunday, March 22, 2020

Con los calzones a media asta...

Reset the clock, whispers my inner Bond villain. 

It's hard not to empathise with those little fishies suddenly rediscovering the canal waters of Venice. 

Yet, however much my wife and I would like Antigua to go back to being the nice quiet place where we met 31 years ago (and we really would), not even a calamity like the novel coronavirus is capable of such a rollback. 

There’s no doubt that a more eerie form of quietness will be with us for a while. International travel is set for one of those U-shaped recoveries and many businesses in town won’t make it out of the trough of the curve. 

During his online ‘Keeping Antigua Alive’ presentation last week, Blake Thurgood of Pappy’s BBQ noted that even before the current crisis, he and other SME-owners in the city had calculated that a generalised 50% drop in income could knock out around 80% of local businesses, a scenario that must surely now be in play. The look in his eyes as he spoke told me it was so. 

However, that doesn’t mean that all these businesses will vanish and we’ll be transported back to the land of milk and honey. (Moscas y Miel to be exact.) The more likely outcome is that they are resurrected on the far side of the coronavirus canyon, under new, more solvent ownership. Possibly even bigger a-holes to boot.

The likes of Pappy’s and Sobremesa are run by hard-working hybrid families that have gone out of their way to connect with the local community, and although in truth I am yet to visit either of them, they are precisely the sort that I would like to see pull through. 

But too many others have treated Antigua like a bolo lying on the pavement with banknotes sticking out of his back pocket. 

Front end and back end, Antigua has allowed itself to over-commercialise across the board. An the prostitution of the city starts with the local landlords. We’ve been wondering how many of these will now jump in to pick up the pieces and try to run the consumer-facing operations themselves. 

Saying all this does not however make me a paid-up member of the conservative tendency in this city. Just before Semana Santa was called off there was a rising clamour against the commercial initiatives that Victor Hugo and his crew had prepared for Lent: the sale of TV rights, the printing of t-shirts, the advertising banners on lamp-posts etc. 

All rather moot now, but one would have to be naïve to imagine that an impecunious municipality is just what we need at the heart of a rejuvenated urban space. 

Those die-hard panza verde conservatives have been their own worst enemies. They need to shut up a bit about ‘Patrimonio Cultural de la Humanidad’ and focus on proper planning. 

'Preserving' the casco antiguo whilst allowing it to become an open air mall is possibly the main reason Antigua has recently felt like a town that is slowly having the air sucked out of it. 

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