Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Shared Solitude


Flashback to Tulum, September 2009, when I undoubtedly had my best time ever on this stretch of coast, as the so-called Mexican flu panic had nearly emptied the country of visitors (unlike the present, more authentic pandemic) and I could claim, almost without exaggeration, that I had the place to myself. 

Though not quite. Every morning on my post-daybreak dawdle down the sands, I'd stop to sit right here on a log outside a place then called Ocho and was soon joined by this friendly ginger tom. Having hopped up beside me, he'd cuddle up and follow my contented gaze across to the horizon. 

Ocho became the S&S Hip Hotel soon afterwards, a change that was apparently unwelcome to some. Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells wrote on Tripadvisor: "Notice that in addition to lower rates it is "clothing optional"? One more reason I won't be going back."

The lower rates problem soon sorted itself out of course. I had a decent ceviche at the restaurant — Hip Cuisine — in 2014 and the place did still feel by and large routinely chic and understated, yet has seemingly now become just another overcrowded beach hub, blaring out thumpingly loud deep house music into the troposphere in a vain effort to drown out the similarly ghastly rackets emitted by its neighbours. 

I suppose Om Tulum threw in the towel once the very notion of being able to ­čžś‍♂️ on this beach became preposterous.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Danyka aka Groundswell/Mar de Fondo (2020)

You can tell exactly what Michael Rowe is trying to achieve here, and the fact that he stumbles leaves one almost as fundamentally frustrated at the conclusion as his protagonist. 

The location and the situation are both promising, though the director is immediately working too hard to extract some symbolic juice from the former. 

A prize-winning novelist called Armando from CDMX undertakes a day trip to Altata in Sinaloa alongside his wife in order to visit an old university friend of hers plus her husband — a man called Neto, whom Armando barely recalls from a gathering four years previously. 

Soon Neto and Armando have peeled away from their wives and are chatting like old buddies on the beach below the former's groundswell-threatened condo (set within a development beside the Pacific not entirely unlike Juan Gaviota here in Guatemala). 

Neto's teenage daughter has a local 'morenita' friend from the village called Danyka that her father regards as potential trouble. Armando gets to meet her and while father and daughter frolic in the waves, allows himself to be gently manipulated by the 15-year-old into joining her on a tour of an abandoned, half-built hotel. She's a kite surfing champion, an avid reader of fine literature and, she claims, a budding novelist herself. 

So, that's the set up. If what follows is to touch us in any meaningful way, the part between it and the moment Armando's wife hands him back his copy of Hesse's Siddharta needs to be implemented with greater care overall. 

It doesn't help that the the casting is just a little bit out. Both Dami├ín Bichir and Sasha Gonz├ílez are playing characters perhaps significantly younger than they themselves are and the poster rather cynically makes them appear more youthful than either does in the movie itself. 

The scene in this publicity shot never actually occurs in the movie.

Rowe is both writer and director and so unfortunately has given himself two opportunities to get each exchange between these new friends slightly wrong. 

He's turned poor Armando into a crashing boor, whose contributions to the dialogue are at times borderline scene-killing. Danyka works better as a character, yet also comes across as a bit too mumbly and hesitant. 

It strikes me that Rowe needed to emulate Richard Linklater more here i.e. the words exchanged between Armando and Danyka should have echoed the smart repartee of Jesse and C├ęline in Before Sunrise, revealing to both the characters — and to us, the voyeuristic viewers — that a surprising chemistry had quickly been established, a thrilling yet disconcerting connection transcending both age and lifestyle. 

The reckoning within the movie comes along with the aforementioned scene when Armando gets his book back —  the moment that he realises that it really was all just a fleeting moment and that the way he chose to play it signifies that he will probably be plagued forever by a sense of regret (which he can surely only regret). 

His internal narrative bifurcates right here and will never be the same. 

Ultimately it is this sense of existential dissatisfaction after the passing of a moment of dangerous possibility that provides the payload of this coming of (middle) age tale. For it is the relative absence of such moments that defines the latter part of most lives. 

That for Danyka herself it would have been little more than a moment is made clear by the way she seems to pointedly neglect Armando and his novel the instant she spots young Rafa approaching along the beach. 

Armando on the other hand, appears unable to accept the proffered opportunity for a throwaway incident that he can quickly move on from, and soon finds that he's thrown it away completely in his failure to lay down the basis for something longer term. 

In effect the novelist was psyched by the fantasy rather than the fulfilment of it and was thus found angling for a way to apply it to his humdrum existence in a more lasting form. 

I've since reflected that this tale might have worked better if the characters had been closer in age, say a late-teenaged girl and a youngish novelist of around 28. The awkward Lolita tropes are actually a distraction here and have clearly prevented Rowe from making this connection seem appropriately plausible.   

On the subject of credibility: if you pen lines like this and wish your viewers to believe your characters have arrived at a permanently deserted stretch of beach, please do something about all the footprints...

Most of us get to stage in life where we are carrying a handful of these what might have been misgivings. And in the majority of cases they are of course far less explicitly April-October than here. 

I myself have one that now comes readily to mind. I was 17, in Portugal and had just made the acquaintance of a really stunning girl from Birmingham of the same age. Yet I soon discovered that it was with her sister, 23 and a Cambridge Graduate (as I then one day aspired so deeply to be), with whom the spark of a slightly more hazardous and exhilarating connection was starting to flicker. 

Moments for making a choice presented themselves and I either clumsily ignored them or made what later seemed to be the wrong one. 

Subsequently in London, I then tried to reverse that choice, yet it turned out that the oceanside location had been absolutely fundamental to the dazzling possibility, which had since dimmed for both. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Undine (2020)

Ondines were ancient beings of European mythology, mostly female inhabitants of water features at the margin of human settlement, born without an immortal soul and inclined to hook up with one of our sort in order to acquire one. Woe betide this chosen mate if they were to subsequently stray. 

In a manner somewhat akin to Bustamante's La Llorona, Christian Petzold superimposes this mythology onto a more contemporary fantastical drama. 

Some are perhaps going to find this a little flimsy, as it lacks the gravitas immediately lent by the underlying theme of genocide, but we really enjoyed this movie. For it felt like being approached by someone who unexpectedly starts a dialogue in a dialect familiar from youth, an idiom to which one has become unaccustomed. 

Before Cannes was hijacked by all the provocateurs, this is what many European flicks of yesteryear felt like: whimsical, perhaps even gently mystical, a blend of light and dark where neither quite predominates. 

Kieslowski it isn't, but it felt compelling from beginning to end, especially as it was hard to tell which ways its waters were flowing. 

Audrey Hepburn in her Tony-winning 1954 stage performance of Jean Giradoux's Ondine

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Vaccine Union Cards

I've been wondering whether it is yet time to be worried about so-called vaccine passports or whether this is an anxiety which can be safely parked for the time being. 

As Russell here suggests, we do all know how governments and corporations tend to think and behave, but what he doesn't then add is that we are also broadly aware of their historical levels of competence when it comes to the planning and implementation of this sort of thing. 

It strikes me that there are at present too many unknowns and in a sense too many vaccines for us to be able to safely plot how this could work on a multilateral scale. Certain states have made expensive bets on specific solutions: the UK on Astra Zeneca (mainly) and Guatemala on S-Putin-ik V. How well these will stand the test of new waves and strains is currently rather moot. 

Outside of the Middle East the countries that have taken to vaccination with the greatest enthusiasm are those that had been finding themselves in the deepest hole during this pandemic. 

As a result there are countries like South Korea and even Australia that are behind with their vaccination programmes because the urgency has not been there. Are they going to have to force their populations into an inoculation programme largely geared towards travel and entertainment? 

And will the UK be able to resist accepting visitors from these countries indefinitely, or at least denying them access to pubs and concerts once they get there? 

In practice any kind of restriction is also going to restrict the economic viability of sectors the government seems extremely keen to re-boot right now. Airlines in Britain are already griping about PCR testing. 

The very idea of a vaccine passport is also a kind of libertarian category error — the notion that the jab is an individual burden. Instead, it strikes me that vaccines primarily function at the collective level. So, if enough people in say Manchester are vaccinated this year, covid may recede sufficiently from that region that it really doesn't matter if an unvaccinated person enters a pub. Manchester becomes Madagascar. 

A final thought: one has to imagine that there are several million people in the UK that have already been infected with covid. If the vaccine passport system is to be applied generally to 'normal life' then most of these people will need to be vaccinated and this simply isn't the best use of resources right now. 

In my recent visit to Mexico I made a number of perhaps relevant observations. 

— Technological solutions to complex problems seem to tease the native incompetence out of governments and institutions. 

— Smaller entities fill the gap and establish their own protocols, with varying degrees of effectiveness and control. 

One of the worrying aspects of all this, for me at least, is a partially unnecessary digitalisation of everyday life. My Tigo phone was disconnected from celular data in Quitana Roo. I was on holiday and didn't really care, at first, but soon discovered that there is a growing presumption up there that everyone possesses a fully-charged, always on, always connected device and those that don't are behaving in a manner some way between awkward and suspicious. 

Meanwhile I was becoming seriously fed up with QR codes, which I had imagined were heading in the same direction as 3D TVs. I am still relatively optimistic that vaccine passports remain on that pathway. 

In the case of the UK at least, a nation that appears incapable of insisting that everyone wears a mask, seemingly now wishes to insist that everyone gets a jab and then an app. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

Every Breath You Take (2021)

I have no idea what relation the title here bears to the plot, which is a strange Frankenstein's monster made up of familiar Hollywood B-movie thriller parts. 

We have all seen this movie before in one of its previous lives. 

For many critics this familiarity is an obvious defect, and yet one can only wonder it it is actually attempting to entertain us in a slightly contrarian fashion, by riffing on its far more memorable antecedents. 

The predictability here is taken to the absolute max. There's a 'twist' that is loudly fog-horned in the first act, a book placed on order, a pair of skates...

Is this deliberate? At the same time the screenwriter and/or director seem to be attempting to vaguely blur the outline the by leading us along a path that at times seems anything but straight. 

And it plods. And so too does Casey Affleck in the lead role as Phillip the unorthodox shrink, as if in sympathy with the at times close to somnolent narrative around him. 

Sam Clafin appears to up for his role as the charming British psycho, but is ultimately a bit wasted. One starts to lose patience with his character, as written. That all the women in Phillip's life immediately swoon over him, essentially because of his accent (which is ultimately a bit of a plot hole) and the fact that he has a novel in the pipeline, feels vaguely demeaning, if not a actually misogynistic. 

It is amusing that the characters talk of heading up to British Colombia when it is blatantly obvious that they are already there. 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

How it started / How it's going...

18 years ago we stayed at Deseo in Playa, an archetypally boutiquey hotel of the era. 

The rooms and the almost horrendously hip cocktail bar necessarily needed to be accessed via this staircase, said at the time to reproduce the experience of ascending a Mayan temple.

Yet it was the experience of de-scending a Mayan temple — especially after several margaritas — that one always hoped to avoid on the way out.
Deseo went the way of almost all of such places and the building was gutted, yet the starircase, albeit in a somewhat narrower, less temply format, remains.

Ancient Mesoamerican temples were famously not famous for their health and safety compliance and the steps did not apparently feature hand-rails, but the addition of one here is probably a good thing.

I guess it was called a 'lounge' because that was basically all you could do...

V is never going to forget that banana...

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Godzilla Vs. Kong

Relentlessly moronic though not, I'd admit in the end, uniformly bad, by around the halfway point in this movie I was starting to feel it was me not the lizard taking all those right hooks from Kong. 

Maybe I betray my age just a bit when I observe that the scenes which were potentially the most visually awesome were all partially spoiled by the brain-liquefying loudness of the audio track, and by the fact that I found myself mentally essaying a body count, something that the movie-makers seemed determined not to dwell on at all. (And then in the quieter scenes I kept thinking "Rebecca Hall, whyyyyyy?")

I'm usually more of a fan of movies that make use of Hong Kong as a location...

(Heartwarming....unless you happen to live in above-mentioned city.)

Saturday, April 03, 2021

The Father (2020)

Anthony is entering the twilight zone, though not the one where the subject's reality is being reordered cryptically from without, but the more devastating one where the disarrangement comes from within. 

For anyone, like myself, who has witnessed an older relative or friend embark on this journey, The Father is going to make for rather tough viewing, in the end at least. (The recurrently missing watch rang a lot of bells.) 

Florian Zeller cinematises his award-winning French play and, as adaptations from the stage go, this one works pretty well — though I suspect that the literalisation of Anthony's confused perceptions of time and space must have seemed less like trickery in a theatre, or at least more akin to the more native mood of outright artifice that one typically finds there. 

Nevertheless, without eventually cheapening his subject matter, Zeller carefully plays with the tropes of mid-twentieth century paranoia just enough to make the first half of this film feel almost like a mystery-thriller. 

The unanointed king of the cosmic gaslighting misgiving in that era was of course Phillip K. Dick. His stories are packed with protagonists who are either the only one who does or indeed does not know what is really going on. 

Dick was to describe how a seemingly trivial domestic incident set him on this narrative path. He had reached out to pull a cord for the bathroom light and found it wasn't there. It had never been there, only the switch on the wall. 

Shortly afterwards he crafted a short story in which a man goes into work every day only to find that the contents of his office are being subtly reorganised in his absence by a mysterious government agency. 

In another tale his hero is one of many people unknowingly living within a simulation of 50s America set up by a future civilisation, and this man slowly begins to twig. 

Dick, himself beset with psychiatrists throughout his life, seemingly revelled in portraying the shrink here as just another dupe, vainly trying to pathologise the grand conspiracy encompassing his own existence. 

In The Father, Anthony's declining faculties remain acutely aware that something just isn't right. It's not just time that is out of joint, but space as well. The identities and dispositions of the individuals closest to him fluctuate alarmingly, as do the content, location and layout of his flat. And is it really his flat? 

My wife is the sort of person who can immediately detect if a fork has changed position from one scene to the next, and so on some levels this movie was always going to intrinsically appeal to her, but Zeller must have been aware that not everyone is gifted with such acute perceptions, and so makes one or two rather big adjustments in Anthony's environment and entourage quite early on, as if to make his conceit broadly obvious to the mainstream. 

For me the only downside of this decision was that the subsequently subtler recompositions of the old man's reality fall a little short of maintaining the mood of gathering tension. And yet this is ultimately not that important for it is Hopkins's extraordinary performance which takes over as the driving force, leading us towards a conclusion that is as mournful as it is ineluctable. 

He is supported by the kind of cast that nearly always signals that the movie one is about to watch is going to be truly exceptional. 

Chaos Walking (2021)

I have grown rather tired of YA dystopias. 

I rather preferred the ones I grew up with, like Logan's Run. The flick and then the TV series had a basic, just about believable premise. I then found the source material, the novels by William F. Nolan, which turned out to be a little more adult than I had bargained for. 

Chaos Walking has reportedly been sitting around in pieces in the editing suite and now that it has finally been assembled the parts don't seem to fit together all that well. 

There's a couple of basic premises at the start — a distant space colony where there are no women and the men can hear each other's thoughts (the noise) — which turn out to have less importance to the developing plot than one might have anticipated at the outset. 

I suppose the thing that really turned me off was a gratuitous scene of dog murder at around the two thirds mark. It's the only piece of nastiness in this story that isn't somehow watered down for the under 20s. 

Can we take the mood of incompleteness (insufficiency really) to mean there are sequels in the pipeline? And if so, did Daisy Ridley really have to rope her post-Star Wars career to another franchise?

Friday, April 02, 2021

Testing Times


The Covid testing queue before immigration at Aurora International, Guatemala City. 

The prevalence of brand new suitcases and the slightly optimistic outfits are very indicative of where we are in this whole process. 

Presumably only people coming in from the US are arriving untested in this way. As mentioned in a previous post, the Mexicans (or at least certain airports up there) have rather bizarrely elected to only insist on the presentation of a negative prueba on departure, rather than arrival. 

My nasal cavities were developing a bit of a victim complex after my most recent trip. 

Meanwhile, cavorting, maskless, septics were very much a thing in Playa last month. 

Back home this sort of behaviour possibly carries relatively limited personal consequences for their kind, beyond the occasional dead relative. 

But a positive test during the course of Spring Break would mean getting stuck, unable to return home and confined to barracks in Mexico with a bottle of tequila and some Twinkies for at least a fortnight. 

One wonders if they've even considered the risk. 

Thursday, April 01, 2021

All London

"All London....knows". 

I used to smirk at these assertions made my mother. 

There I was, growing up in a city of ten million, which she had offhandedly yet deftly condensed to a tiny subset of those who mattered.

She was a self-styled socialite and, on balance, a terrible snob. 

Perhaps thankfully, I have inherited only a watered down version of her attitudes to the hoi polloi. 

Until I turned forty I was, foreign excursions and three years in Cambridge aside, a creature of the Big Smoke. 

Yet these sojourns outside the comforts of metropolitan anonymity have taught me that one has to be immensely careful with whom one socialises — for in smaller communities, casual acquaintances tend to become almost unavoidable*. And for introverts such as ourselves, this can be problematic at best. In a worst case scenario, they even start dropping by, unannounced. 

Here in La Antigua experience has also revealed that the individuals one must most studiously avoid are those engaged in the project of being a big fish in a small pond. 

*Back in the noughties we used to show up almost monthly at the vernissages set up by Laurel and Bruce at the Panz├│n Verde. This seemed like a good idea at the time, yet we soon we realised we'd been gradually accumulating loose acquaintances that we'd almost never be able to shake free of — and so once we were set up here permanently this was one date in the diary that sadly had to be crossed out. To some extent the distinction between shyness and arrogance is in the eye of the beholder. 

The Dry (2020)

There was nothing here to make me seriously regret having abandoned Jane Harper's bestselling novel a few years back, pretty much after the first act. 

Director Robert Connolly works the location and situation (dryness) well enough, but beneath the aesthetic coating the plot is TV episode interesting. 

It's possible that the book handles the interactions between Falk's recollections of his youth in Kiewarra and the contemporary investigation a bit more appealingly, as the use of flashbacks here feels somewhat awkward and superficial. 

The township characters are mostly Aussie archetypes, though the guy running the local bar-come-hotel stood out a bit. It’s almost as if there’s a more interesting Tim Winton-style story buried beneath all the clich├ę

Someone on IMDB commented that it reminded them of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Well, it's set in rural Australia, there's a tragic mystery surrounding a young girl, and a rock. But...



Working as a consultant in London around the start of the new millennium, I found myself obliged on a number of occasions to decline the opportunity to work for several potential clients-in-need, based largely on some prior impressions I had formed. Most notably...

1) Colonel Gaddafi (Or at least one of his principal government agencies). 

2) Chiquita Brands (Formerly known as United Fruit / El Pulpo). 

3) Mohammed Bin Mahfouz (Don't ask). 

Maitre Edelman, seen here in S7 of Engrenages, is conspicuously lacking in such scruples. He'd more likely turn a client down for being squeaky clean. 

And yet, in spite of his willingness to have just about any sort of reprobate on his books, he does still seem to adhere to an insider's code of honour. 

This line he won't cross is very French, and would probably make a few of his peers here in Guatemala cackle somewhat salaciously. 

Maitre Edelman has always been one of my favourite characters in these gallic chirmoles, for he simultaneously reminds me of a colleague from the aforementioned immediately post-millennial era — of broadly similar disposition — plus a history teacher at SPS, a man of the cloth no less.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021



Sin aglomeraciones...

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Tulum 2021

On a visit around a decade and a half ago I read — devoured — Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men in Tulum, perhaps not the represetative holiday read in a location that, back then at least, seemed a lot like a vision of paradise, 24-7. 

One could walk up and down the near deserted beach, the only flagrant sound that of the waves breaking noisily around 20m from the shoreline, and imagine oneself in the shoes (sandals probably) of shipwrecked conquistador Gonzalo Guerrero, who splashed ashore near here in 1511. He must have had time to marvel a bit before the Maya came and knabbed him. 

I remember when I first rocked up myself, aged twenty, I'd never experienced seawater as scrumptiously warm as this. A near perfect stretch of white-sanded, palm-lined beach. Pristine. There was something a little uncanny about it. 

People will say it must have been paradise back in '88 when there was not a single hotel worthy of the name anywhere near the ruins, just a spot where one could 'sling up' a hammock. Well no, not really. There needs to be some basic caba├▒a-style accommodation available before the P word can be unabashedly deployed. 

I once spent the night on a deserted desert caye in Belize, slinging up my hammock rather archetypally between a pair of palms just the right distance apart, and soon the mosquitos and sand-flies were vying with each other to chip away at my underside. Rather like The Good Place, it turned out not to be. 

Guerrero emerged from servitude amongst the Maya to become a respected tribal warrior. To describe what it means to go native in modern day Tulum would inevitably involve saying a lot of disparaging things about certain members of the Millennial generation. 

Let's just say that most of the wayfarers one spots around these parts nowadays look like they take a mean Instagram selfie. And ooooh, so pleased with themselves. 

There appears to be an odd Dorian Grayish effect transpiring here. As the hedonists convening in Tulum get ever more beautiful, the location itself is finding it that much harder to shroud its crescive corruption. 

Maybe No Country For Old Men would be a far more appropriate read in 2021.

Anyway, I certainly might have mistimed my arrival on the Mayan Riviera this year to coincide with Spring Break plus Easter. It has happened before and I have regretted it.

The seasonal aglomeraciones manifesting themselves around this time are extraordinary, and one still has to factor in the notable absence of certain European nationals yet to be let out of their cages. 

There is an amount of French being spoken, and not the good sort, if you know what I mean. More Weh than Wee. Canucks possibly. Or maybe not...

There are also a rather worrying number of Brazilians na mistura. I guess the Mexicans, with their lax entry requirements, are the only ones that will have them just now. 

It's not exactly a no questions asked immigration process, as I was asked quite a lot of questions, just not really the right ones, and ended up asking one of my own: Do you actually want to see my negative test from yesterday?

Some British academic clad in a hair shirt opined the other day that only his compatriots with valid (i.e non fun) reasons for going abroad should be permitted to do so...for most of the rest of 2021. These superior reasons — work, education — might actually have enhanced pestilence potential, but I guess it is a numbers game in the end. 

The numbers on the playa in Tulum are being driven by the expansion of the town of that name which sits astride the 307 highway, several kilometres away. 

The other afternoon I witnessed a traditional Mayan lesbian wedding on the beach conducted by a sacerdote who looked about as traditionally Mayan as Boris Johnson, plus a woman prancing around in a white cotton tunic whilst waving copious quantities of copal incense into the air — which still struggled to compete, aroma-wise, with all the wacky backy. 

Most of the places to dine of a night appear now to be run either by fresas posing as hippies (yet that much more like trustafarians) or soi-disant named chefs, the sort of place where — if one asks for wine by the glass — one is served one's sauvignon plonk in a humungous copa into which the waiter ceremoniously deposits a volume of liquid he might have exceeded had he spat into it.

As a minor aside, within Greek restaurants on this coast there appears to be a standard requirement for female members of the team to cosplay as she who launched a shitload of ships, while Hey Amigo generic seems to be OK for all the blokes. At least until the floor show starts.

It's all a bit Naff — or Naffe — in a Buddha Bar kind of way. To be fair, Ilios Greek Estatorio is one of the more modish eateries I've had the chance to loiter in since Medell├şn, 2018. And unlike the Buddha Bar Paris, it doesn't come across as the sort of joint in which John Wick might suddenly show up and start shooting people. (That said, I have spotted a couple of novelties in Tulum: Mariachis and Russians. Russians FFS — what the actual feck is Cuba for?)

The waiters at Ilios start to go full on Zorba/Jewish wedding as the evening develops. Good on them. It's plate-smashingly fun like the Greek restaurants of my parents' generation. Who needs John Wick when the management invites patrons to trash the place?

Something else one never used to see in Tulum: mobile covid testing units, parked every few hundred yards along the road running behind the sand and looking very much like taco trucks. 

In Mexico I guess you have to say covid as if you are Hannibal Lecter, because that is how the government's man on the spot, Hugo L├│pez-Gatell, says it. Covidddthhhhth...

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Two Truths

Most of us have probably found ourselves in a situation where there appear to be two entirely incompatible versions of reality in play. 'Recollections may differ' as Buckingham Palace recently put it. 

In 2018 I was in a Guatemalan courtroom when a judge pronounced, in all seriousness — 'There are two truths here' (hay dos verdades aqui) — and at first this seemed a bit of a face-slapping moment, given that the other party's truth had just been revealed to be a fairly grotesque pair of lies, one via documentation, the other an open admission of having told a fib. (That I had thrown shards of glass into her pool. Not really a white lie that one.) 

And yet...my academic background has always inclined me to a certain way of handling this situation. For the apparent schism between two dead set ways of seeing the same basic situation is never as absolute as it may at first appear, and there is nearly always a hidden interaction between them, the one having fed off the other, sometimes rather less than consciously. 

And there's rarely an inherent exclusivity in these polarities. Often enough, part of the solution is to come up with a third. At least then you can show that the choice is not entirely binary.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Eye/Pie In the Sky

It has probably not escaped everyone's attention that we live in an era when individuals growing up within western cultures are generally unafraid to assert their own truths, which need not be all that factual. It's called lived experience. Feel like a victim? Well, you are, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. 

Back in the 1950s Phillip K Dick discovered a pair of Greek terms used by clever men with beards, which may help us to understand this better. Koinos Kosmos and Idios Kosmos

The former refers to what used to be known as objective reality but is now recognised to be something more like a social convention. The latter is the particular vision of the world that each of us has in our head. Lived experience. 

The title of this post was also the title of a story Dick had published in 1957. The Eye part at least. It features a technological MacGuffin called a Bevatron that accidentally zaps a six million volt proton beam at eight unfortunate individuals standing on a nearby observation platform.

It existed...

The victims appear to regain consciousness, and return home apparently none the worse for the experience. But then the Koinos Kosmos starts to go on the blink, at least from the point of view of this group. In short, their collective experience of reality is hijacked by the far more personal Idios Kosmos of one of these unfortunates, and then another, and another. 

First they experience the world through the recovering consciousness of a religious nutjob, from answered prayers to biblical plagues, then an old woman whose mind subtracts from reality pretty much everything that annoys her, from car horns, through genitalia and door to door salesmen to atonal music. Next up a young person mired in paranoia. Her personal reality is one in which everything has the potential for danger and deceit. 

Then Dick outlines what happens when a fourth victim starts to customise their collective world — a militant communist. This was the 1950s after all, but for today's purposes one could rejig the story to accommodate an archetypally woke liberal (and the joke that they are actually still asleep within the Bevatron might then work even better.) 

None of the eight are quite sure which member of the group has dumped them into this grotesque environment where all the wealth is controlled by heartless bloodsucking plutocrats and children roam the dumps looking for scraps. 

Amongst them there's a husband who has always suspected that his wife Marsha has been secretly attending those meetings. The author of course resolves the mystery differently, revealing in the end that the authoritarian head of security not the tender-hearted housewife was the secret Soviet sympathiser. Dick always understood where totalitarianism came from. 

He sent a copy to Scruggs, the FBI agent who dropped round regularly with his dog for a chat. Scruggs didn't get the fun philosophical payload of this tale at all; he just wanted to know if Dick believed the Russians might be developing their very own Bevatron capable of transmogrifying reality based on socialist psychological biases. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Vault (2021)

A team of salvagers encounter three eroded coins on a sunken galley that belonged to Sir Francis Drake (kind of a pirate and also not quite we're told, as if to humour both Spanish and British biases) which together somehow indicate the burial place of the privateer's treasure. 

But then along come the Spanish customs authorities (AEAT) and the significant and signifying small change ends up inside an impossible vault within the Banco de Espa├▒a in Madrid. Cue heist shenanigans as the salvagers recruit an engineering boy wonder from Cambridge to solve their problem for them. 

Jaume Balaguer├│'s euro-caper has a very likeable cast and is generally terrific...but then I have to admit they had me at Madrid.

If I were to be given the choice of a flash weekend break in either Madrid or Barcelona, I'd always pick Madrid, and on some levels I suppose that makes me a bit weird. Spain's oddly riverless capital is one of my favourite cities in the world.

Here we get to see it at the culmination of the knock-out phase of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and so we kind of know where this is going in terms of last act crescendo. (And unlike the characters, most of us will probably also know that there was extra time in the final.)

It's a moment in time that many Europeans will have vivid memories of. Sadly, for me there are also heartbreaking associations as my best friend from Cambridge died in an accident during the group stages. 

La Furia Roja's progress to the title that year felt inevitable, and yet in the end it came down to one decisive moment. This makes the backdrop seem a very suitable accompaniment to the developing action here. 

Also featuring prominently is the Plaza de Cibeles outside the bank, a bronze replica of which sits in the middle of a traffic circle in the Roma Norte district of CDMX, directly below the apartment block where I usually stay when visiting the Mexican metropolis. 

We've been watching too many B movies of late. This is a European film that felt like it belongs in the company of the big screen Hollywood A-list. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021


It's been a week in which the pointy heads have been throwing all sorts of spanners into the works. 

There was Julia Gog at my alma mater who has come up with a model suggesting that vaccinating the elderly exclusively in the early phases may actually stimulate the evolution of the novel coronavirus, potentially in ways we are not going to appreciate. ('Escape Variants'). 

Meanwhile, archaeologists — some of them at least — have turned up a primitive stone tool in India, provisionally dated to 2.6m years ago, which would suggest that our ancestors may have left Africa half a million years earlier than generally thought. Up until now the oldest evidence of the Homolineage we have had is from 2.8 million years ago at Ledi-Geraru in Ethiopia. (Other dirt scrapers have retorted that the stone is so basic it could have ended up that way without hominid intervention.)

And then a new survey of the cosmos has shown that the distribution of matter may not be the same in every direction, a violation of the cosmological principle which posits that, viewed on large enough scales, the distribution of matter ought to be smooth and regular in every direction. The scientists involved looked at 1.3m quasars — supermassive black holes surrounded by bright matter that are found at the centre of some galaxies — and a lack of symmetry was observed, far exceeding that previously seen in other measurements. 

The Winter Lake (2020)

Not sure how to describe this. Think thriller designed to make one feel glum. A glummer?

The plot sits somewhere between uncertain and predictable. And yet, overall, it worked for me. 

I think this is because it is a story that the title describes fairly accurately — a story about a place. For better or for worse I felt I had been transported to damp and gloomy Sligo. And that sense of being there made the on screen action that much more affective than it might otherwise have been. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Dig?

So, this is now happening along the Calzada. 

The (armchair) archaeologist in me can only look on wistfully. 

During the course of some work at home several years ago, in both our garden and front yard, a number of obsidian cutting tools turned up. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Biblioteca Duane Carter

So long to La Antigua's most accessible public library, which sat above the G&T bank alongside the Parque Central. A smallish space of fond memory, especially for my wife. 

Around a decade ago the city started to shed its bookshops — in part, I suppose, as a response to the arrival of digital text — yet along the way a specific kind of very local narrative has been re-cloistered. 

Lost in Translation?

Rosemary Hill on the many light shows of Georgian London, which...

...included transparencies painted on canvas and backlit with oil lamps to mark notable public occasions. The Treaty of Amiens in 1802 saw a display outside the French ambassador’s residence where the figures of France and England stood united between the words ‘Peace’ and ‘Concord’. Unfortunately, some sailors in the crowd whose spelling was weak felt insulted at the implication they had been conquered and started a riot. The transparency was taken down and ‘Concord’ hastily repainted to read ‘Amity’.



Tuesday, March 09, 2021

The Firm

All that talk of 'the Firm', 'the Institution' or 'the Palace' struck me partly as a subterfuge — a way of describing the monarchy as an entity disconnected from British public life and indeed public service. 

Specifically the whinge about withdrawn security was emanating from a couple who had chosen to live abroad, and in spite of having benefited from a $13.8m legacy from Diana, still expected the UK taxpayer to fund their protection in LA. 

The British people were the most glaring omission from the whole discussion, only ever alluded to via their apparent surrogates, 'the tabloids'. 

The Queen has devoted the best part of her life to the Commonwealth. Yet on more than one occasion in this interview Meghan, a non-Commonwealth citizen of mixed ancestry was presented as an obvious 'asset' to the institution for what seemed like largely skin deep reasons, something that was in some ways itself a demonstration of unconscious racial bias. 

Our neighbour Belize is a Commonwealth country, where the Queen is head of state and features prominently (and youthfully) on the bank notes. It is a very diverse nation with Creole, Mennonite, Garifuna, Maya, and Hispanic populations, even the descendents of Confederate soldiers who settled there after the Civil War. As Meghan suggested though, 60-70% or more are 'people of colour' as defined within her own culture. 

Would young Belizean girls see themselves in this affluent American actress turned Duchess with distant and diluted African roots? Would she bring a feel good factor to the Commonwealth connection by dint of her own ancestral diversity, alone? 

To suggest that this must be the case is not only slightly dubious, it is jarringly condescending and it comes packaged with the insinuation that the Royal Family are a bunch of aristocratic in-breds that absolutely needed to be diversified in order to continue to be relevant. 

And for Harry it was not enough to condescend to British citizens, then Commonwealth citizens, he had to publicly and unnecessarily patronise his father and brother as weak men trapped within a system they were unable to break free from.

'No questions off limits'? Except the ones about his in-laws. His father wasn't the only one with whom the Skype calls petered out. 

One has to conclude that the whole thing was largely the construct of a brainstorming session with LA lawyers. There was more than a hint of blackmail — we have a race card we can play anytime, a 'very damaging' one, so make sure our kids get their titles when due, oh and let's not detect any sudden upticks in James Hewitt chatter now that we have left the protective bubble.