Sunday, February 05, 2023

Don't Look Deeper (2020)

I know plenty of grown ups who’d be reluctant to sit through this and I myself reached the end feeling rather chuffed that I’d skipped the full 14-episode series that this represents a condensation of.

In spite of the spectral presence of all those narrative excisions, the limited amount of science in this SF proposition plus a modicum of wokeishness, I really rather enjoyed it.

Director Catherine Hardwicke, known for Thirteen and Twilight, always handles adolescent angst with acuteness and style, and left me pondering why the replicants of the Blade Runner franchise have never been so subtly ambiguous, ethnically and sexually as Aisha here.

 
 

 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Dark (Netflix)

And so we made it through to end of Dark, and shortly afterwards I learned that 1899 had been cancelled by the Netflix algorithm-keepers after just one season, ostensibly because only 32% of viewers had turned out to be completers.



I cannot say I am entirely disappointed about that, as I think we've both had our fill of the creators's metaphysical schtick for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, the longer Dark went on the more it started to echo some of the obvious weaknesses of its successor show. It was perhaps at its best in the first season when time was taken to show characters' emotional evolution, engaged in activities not entirely related to the build-up of plot convolutions. 

It then reminded us of previous European explorations of the uncanny, such as Les Revenants. It had the seemingly obligatory spooky child, lots of characters chasing their tails and others, apparently a bit more clued up, who'd occasionally interrupt proceedings to deliver expositionary set-piece speeches which, when you thought about it, didn't really explain that much at all.

If much of the dramatic tension in the first season had derived from characters withholding information from each other, there was an open declaration of a new season's resolution to share the truth more liberally as the second set of episodes kicked off. 

I'm not sure that the story was either scientifically or philosophically as sophisticated as it wished to appear. The balance between intellectual complexity and representational simplicity was often off and I did let out a sigh when Schrödinger's cat popped up for a late cameo. 

At least the eventual landing was a lot more satisfactory than that experienced by the passengers of other puzzle box shows I could mention, such as Lost

Yet loose ends there were, and there was more than a whiff of rotting red herring in the background throughout the last few installments Baran Bo Odar and Jantje Friese resisted the temptation to devote the very final episode to resolution and instead introduced an entirely novel plane of complexity. There was even a small gag about the loose ends which would not be tied up right at the end (regarding one character's damaged eye). 

I think they had an outline of where they were going from the start (always a good thing) yet the route taken was a bit more 'on the fly'.  

If one borrows from Einstein in the rather condensed fashion they seem to approve of, the whole of spacetime might be viewed as a series of discreet, disconnected units. There are thus any number of pathways through this 'labyrinth' yet, crucially, from the perspective of a human storyteller, some are bound to me more satisfying than others. 

And this in the end is one of the issues I have with their style: the order and flow of the scenes seems somehow sub-optimal, and increasingly so as one proceeds.

Add to that the presence of parallel realities in which narrative arcs are scrambled and certain characters alive and dead at the same time, it's not surprising that a significant chunk of the audience might tend to become rather less sticky.



Spoiler alert...

Perhaps the biggest issue that I had with the finale was the rationale for the choice made by Jonas and Martha. They seemed to be doing it ultimately to secure a happier middle age for a character called Regina, a relatively minor personage overall I found I cared less about than her mother. And it was never clear that happy Regina in the originating universe would not have simply got on with her ordinary fate even if the split worlds were also permitted to persist. Indeed, all the more likeable characters had been tied up in 'the knot' and so were in a sense erased by Adam and Eve's sacrifice.

 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Wrong Prison



Sadly J.K. Rowling is unlikely to be moved off the naughty step she has been placed on for consistently flagging up where this kind of madness has been leading us.





Let's face it, the majority of people that have been pushing or at least protecting this agenda have little interest in the wellbeing of a vulnerable minority.

They are instead either parroting fashionable nonsense to shore up their own position or, more disturbingly, attempting to establish a world where ideas can flourish detached from fact — and the trans community are simply their most recent and perhaps useful accessories.

At Cambridge in the 1980s these people had, after a difficult thirty years or so, largely been purged from the History faculty, but retained relatively strong outposts elsewhere, most notably in the Anthropology department. It would seem that now almost the whole of academia is infected, even when apparently asymptomatically.

All they really crave is a situation where no set of facts can ever disturb the ascendancy of their ideology. One where people who attempt to contradict their creed with verified information are persecuted.
 
 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

M3gan (2022)

Meghan, Meagan or Megan is a long-standing Welsh diminutive form of Margaret.  

The first time I came across it was as the name of a character in a Clint Eastwood western in the 1980s, but it thereafter became one of the most popular names for North American girls and for reasons I will not go into here, there has always seemed to me to be something inherently phony about this suddenly bloated prevalence of the name. There is a crucial scene in this movie, involving a toy bow and arrow, that I think vindicates me in this petty prejudice.


One can undoubtedly find something a bit Kar3n in this android and her creator. I was anticipating a more open ending, but in the end we are only left to ponder who might be held legally responsible for this trail of bodies, human and canine. 

You might think it is an AI-era update on Chucky and Child's Play, but in truth this is less a sermon on our increasingly inappropriate bonding with devices that appear designed to talk to us but are in fact fairly malignant listeners, than yet another piece of classic squeaky-bum entertainment for pedophobes. 

It is said that it is the arbitrary nature of children that makes them so horrifying for some adults. That unpredictability is perfectly encapsulated here in two of M3gan's key kill scenes, the first featuring another inauspicious child and the second a CEO who encounters her in the corridor of his own corporate lair. 

In spite of a slightly frustrating slow build, I do think this will likely become one of the more memorable flicks of the its kind this decade. 

 

Monday, January 23, 2023

At the summit...

The problem with the Mexica (Aztecs) is not that they revealed themselves as primitive savages via the medium of human sacrifice atop their Templo Mayor, it is rather in the manner that they had seemingly industrialised mass murder there. 
 


Very close to the ruins of this sacred site, on what is now the Zócalo, Hernando Alonso would become the first person to be burned alive by his apparent compatriots in the New World...as a heretic (closet Jew), on October 17, 1528.

Thanks to the Inquisition, his was a fate that would be suffered by many conversos in the Americas, yet the dispersed Jewish community would not experience the full production line until the twentieth century, and this is a distinction we need to bear in mind when we loosely deploy the term ‘genocide’, even here in Guatemala, or indeed in Ukraine.

Hernando Alonso had helped bolt together the brigantines which participated in the final assault on Tenochtitlán. And he had thereafter been above-averagely rewarded with a substantial cattle ranch north of the city and a new wife named Isabel De Aguilar, said to be “very beautiful”.

But when Cortés was taken out of the picture by nebulous accusations which forced him to return to Spain, factions remaining in the colony turned on some of his former favourites, and Alonso was accused by a Dominican monk of having attended a strange anti-baptism of his son in Santo Domingo before the mainland invasion — a ceremony said to have involved the washing away of the young lad’s earlier baptism with Holy Water using a quantity of red wine.

A key participant in this rite of reverse passage was Alonso's first wife Beatriz, taken by a fever during the conquest. Her illustrious brother Diego Ordaz was the first European to check out the view atop the Volcán de Popocatépetl.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Heghan and Marry

Back in the early 90s V went alone to a party in the (London) Docklands which consisted, as Harry & Meghan notes in that toe-curlingly condescending manner of the Commonwealth, mainly of “black and brown people”. Later she reported back to me with interest how many of the people she might have considered ‘black’ at this event, didn't appear to identify as such.

A couple of years later we were holidaying on Saint Lucia with its “black and brown” majority, and again she noted how skin colour did not seem to her to be such a predominant obsession there either.

However, on that same trip she found her own identity placed under siege by complete strangers for the first time since leaving Guatemala, on a sailboat packed with Americans. 

She had so grown used to being treated as an individual in London, essentially as an indeterminately mildly-exotic foreigner, that this sudden (highly) aggressive imposition of tribal qualities (Hispanic stereotypes galore, etc.) was really rather unnerving for her. 

And she would later go on to be shocked how US Immigration officials, almost all of them Hispanic in descent themselves, behaved with her whenever she passed through Houston — they clearly fixated on the identity, the one they wanted to see, and not the person.*

She would compare this disconcerting experience with the first time she crossed into Italy — high up on an Alpine pass — where the official seemed genuinely thrilled to stamp an unusual passport, and to flirt a little. 

Prior to that, the only awkwardness she had come across traversing borders in Europe was the “what does your father do for a living?” question posed at Calais, a form of interrogation which reminded me of a visit to the grandparents of my then girlfriend on Long Island in 1985. 

Ask any Guatemalan — from almost any social background — to choose between the Consulate of the US and that of other developed nations in the capital in terms of a place where they are likely to be treated primarily as individuals, and you would not be particularly surprised by the result.

In the six-part documentary the Duchess of Sussex claims she did not identify as black until she moved to the UK, one of the most disingenuous statements
of many that the couple made during these interviews.

It struck us that if you are going to tell the story of race relations in the UK
Stephen Lawrence, offshore slave economies and so on you might also mention how racial mixing is currently more commonplace in Harry’s country than his wife's, and how many people of mixed-heritage just quietly get on with being British.

Yet thanks in part to a cultural obsession with this matter that is broadcast from across the Atlantic, even Rebecca Hall now feels the need to talk about “passing”, as if she were a converso living in New Spain back in the early days, dodging the Inquisitors lurking behind every cactus.

The notion that Meghan, regardless of any other aspects of her persona and history, should have been treated by Britain as a biological gift, is one I am pretty uncomfortable with. 

And so should be all those “black and brown” people in the Commonwealth for whom she would also be regarded as a major and now supposedly spurned turning point, though it does not appear to have occurred to her in the least that citizens of nations with relatively few white people might not be quite so inclined to culturally weaponise their melanin or at least not on such a hair trigger. 

The matter would surely have been handled less patronisingly from all perspectives, if Harry’s bride had been say, Malaysian — which reinforces the impression that the Duchess's nationality has been as much a factor as her biracial heritage. 

I can see how freedom would appeal to the errant 'Spare', yet it is also clear that he has allowed the form of it espoused by his chosen spouse to galvanise a telling muddle in his own little head. Yet he’s obviously not really constituted for this way of life, and is likely to suffer from the longer-term consequences far more than she is, not least because he will spend the rest of his days trying to rub out the blood like Lady Macbeth.

Watching the 80th Golden Globes the other night, I was struck how, in the state of California at least, freedom, identity and ambition have become a single conglomerate. 

There is more than a hint of this amalgam in the manner Harry now talks about his own situation. That is what I was referring to the other day about his internalisation of Meghan’s agenda: he married someone with particular needs when it came to the signalling of status and has now 'gone native' in the classic over-hasty manner over in Montecito.

He talks in all restaurants are McDonald’s terms about the Daily Mail, as if the ‘paps’ in the trees around his Californian crib are all paid-up spooks from across the pond, and refers to the public money he benefited from for so many years as if it were a turd that needed to be scraped off the bottom of his wellies. (Writing in the Guardian this week, Rachel Cooke has noted that “gratitude is not something with which Harry seems to be much acquainted”.) 



And then, in spite of its thorough ghastliness, the Netflix documentary could easily be put to use in the future for didactic purposes at film schools — to demonstrate the difference between show and tell, as well as providing useful examples of subtexts, and how narratives can be constructed via withheld information.



* It says a lot that Hispanic would now be swapped with Latinx, a term most Spanish-speakers have little idea how to pronounce.





All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

Netflix has given us the first German-language adaptation and whilst the package includes visceral, set-piece representations of trench warfare, it somehow also does some significant dis-services to its source. 



The war movie from the loser's perspective comes with a set of its own self-flagellating tropes (Russia's 9th Company, Germany's Stalingrad and any number of American Vietnam flicks) and these have been generously applied here, along with a bit too much hindsight.

I know, everyone kind of dies in the novel as well, but the essence of that story is the absurdity of the experience from the POV of the individual recruit caught up in combat and this person's national allegiance is never the essence of Remarque's story, yet here we have a parallel narrative of questionable historical value which has been attached and which ultimately tells us little of interest about the bigger picture circumstances at the end of WWI. 


 

 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

History on the fly...

Of all the speaking parts in Netflix’s Harry & Meghan the only real class act is David Olusoga.

Indeed, the only one that doesn’t make a fool of himself simply by participating. He struggles though, in part because he has turned up with some big ideas that need more room to breathe. And his contextually-orphaned soundbites have been partnered with those of Afua Hirsch whose disposition is altogether more axe-grindey.

 

 
Olusoga appears to have followed the path of many Brits: an immediate and optimistic comprehension of the symbolic importance of the royal match, then a grudging understanding of the structural reasons for its failure. I wonder if he has gone on, like me (largely after watching this documentary) to the realisation that the Sussexes somehow out-caricature their Spitting Image puppets. 



Last week we spotted Harry stating, not without visible conceit, that he had delivered History, with a capital H, of course. I very much doubt Olusoga considers the documentary or the memoir as anything other than a very contestable first hand source that future historians (very sadly for them) will have to pour over.

I suppose we might compare Spare to the Secret History of Procopius, if that snarky Byzantine courtier had found someone willing to pay him with several chests of gold solidi for his recollections, real and specious, and the author himself had not given a monkey’s about the personal consequences thereof.

The documentary does of course have more than one level to it. There is the take being told by its principal subjects, the tale of that telling being told by the film-maker Liz Garbus and the jarringly non-relevant and partial perspective of the social commentators for hire.

Four episodes in and we have been watching all the collaborators for any signs of figurative morse-code blinking, as in a South American jungle hostage video.

 

The prejudice that dare not speak its name...

The biggest battle in the lives of the upper classes is perhaps not the one between them and the ‘normal’ folk outside their privileged circle, it is more of an internal struggle, between the high brows and the low brows.

There is in fact a third, slightly harder to pin down group: those who are only really interested in horses and other ‘country pursuits’, though this tribe overlaps a bit with the other two.

When our late Queen was on the throne, there was a time of relative stability, because the horses held sway. Charles III however, considers himself a fully signed-up member of the cultural elite, and although his wife used to be into horses a fair bit, she now has a book club.

William and Kate are pretty middle-brow, but now more than ever aligned with Charles and Camilla against the deleterious effects of the dummies, a group Harry in which has always been a stand-out and occasionally problematic member, as indeed was his mother.

I think Harry might have initially over-sold Meghan as a way to re-establish equilibrium. There were bridges she could build, but not the ones everyone else was focused on. Yet in spite of her self-appointed role as a voice, it’s clear she has little of great interest to say. An alternative kind of culture war will quickly have erupted within the royal residences as the end of the longest reign ever approached.

Idiots might be counted amongst the most innocent victims of unconscious bias. They can’t exactly help it, can they?

But from the point of view of the high brows they are natural troublemakers, and it certainly doesn’t help that some of royalty’s biggest fans ‘outside in the real world’ are fairly permanently lodged in their camp, which makes this the prejudice that dare not speak its name, more taboo than racism in certain contexts. 

 

 

Twingo'd

The first time I set eyes on a Twingo was when I was living in Brussels in 1994.

My then business partner quickly acquired a bit of a thing for them and would point them out to me merrily as we strolled through Ixelles on our way to 16-hour workdays.

They never reached the UK market. I don't know what that says about us. 

Guatemala City

That same partner soon had a thing for Shakira around the turn of the Millennium. V has reminded me how we had dinner one night at his penthouse and he promised to download her first crossover hit for us to view by the time we'd finished eating. Melonfarming modems...

Together we would both work for the Ferrari Formula 1 team, but that lingering sense of puppy love for Renault's utilitarian city creeper, whose name is a portmanteau of Twist, Swing and Tango, never quite faded, though like the PT Cruiser, or indeed the Ford Sierra of 1980, it rather oddly ceased to look startlingly original after around half a decade. Aesthetic discontinuity has a sell-by date.
 
La Shaky was the face of the Twingo launch campaign in South America in 1995.
 
 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Harry & Meghan at the halfway house...

The third installment of Netflix’s Harry & Meghan has left me speechless, the kind of speechlessness that is its own antipode, involving an urgent need to yabber about it.

And about one soundbite in particular, where Harry seems to be laying into Meghan’s paternal family on her behalf (where the insensitive, internecine offence was the relatively harmless one of staging silly photographs) and then comes out with something like this: “It’s amazing what people will do when offered a lot of money” (!!!!!!!!!!!.....!!!!!!!!!!!!)

My jaw hit the floor so fast I had to check the azulejos for a dent, and barely heard Harry taking the fall himself for the breakdown in his wife’s relationship with her father. He appears to have internalised her agenda to the point of having no self-awareness whatsoever.

We had just seen Meghan’s niece Ashleigh in an interview clip reminiscent of a staged POW interview in which she avowed, not without obvious inner conflict, that she completely understood that it was her mother’s fault and not Meg’s that she had not been invited to the wedding.



The Duchess of Notmuchness herself added that a cabal of unnamed counselors had effortlessly convinced her of the need to make this regrettable cull, and that she had duly given her niece the dreaded conference call bullet by letting her now of her sudden exclusion “on speakerphone’, no doubt accompanied by appropriate assenting murmurs from the shadowy figures already alluded to.

And all this interspersed with only vaguely relevant expert chatter about the Commonwealth, more insinuation than serious historical analysis. (If it’s such a big scam, why have countries that were never part of the Empire been queueing up to join?)

That and occasional pop up appearances by Archwell executive director James Holt, a man who surely epitomises everyone’s worst nightmare of a new intake Tory MP.

Now, when someone is a victim of genuine racial prejudice they are, by definition, innocent. There is nothing they could have done to deserve the prejudice.

A little lower down the scale of biases, conscious and unconscious, one comes across hings like snobbery and mild xenophobia, which I am certain played a role in the dysfunctional Palace dynamic, but here the Duchess is on less certain ground, because these are prejudices that it is possible to stoke. (There are, undoubtedly, ways I could carry on here that would result in the receipt of the full package of ‘gringo serote’ responses.)

It’s clear from this programme that Harry and Meghan do not want to stray too far into areas where blame might more easily be shared. Criticisms arising from these arguably less irrational biases would be more awkward for them to address in a documentary such as this, essentially their calling card into the California elite.

So it is the injustice of Britain’s external rather than internal socioeconomic system that are emphasised, in order that this tallies with the current American understanding that identity grievances always trump class grievances.

This is the month we discovered, via both 'H' and Shaky, that the vulgar scrubbing of of one’s dirty linen in public is now a massive industry and a potential source of what the talking heads in this documentary refer to as inter-generational wealth. Harry’s tawdry sell-out snaffled 200x his father-in-law’s tabloid earnings, for the memoir alone. (In the case of Shakira, one could at least argue that she commercially integrated her hang-ups into her long-standing ‘creative process’.)

Anyway, there’s very little in all of this that is really in the public interest. All parties could usefully have just tuned out and shut up. Myself included, I suppose. But I have three more episodes to go. The first two were, as many have observed, a snore-fest, but I am wide awake now.

Outside of the Netlfix output it is the sheer exuberance of the double standards that has energised me. Harry would like his dad to have Jeremy Clarkson carted off to the Tower for crimes of public misogyny against a woman he doesn’t know personally, and yet on the audiobook version of Spare refers to Rebekah Brooks as 'a loathsome toad...a pustule on the arse of humanity'. (Which episode of GOT is he referencing?) 

And there is more than a hint of chauvinism in Harry's characterisations of Kate and Camilla and elsewhere the couple trade in the type of stereotyping that they seem to object to so much, especially of British society and its manners.

I think if Harry had come home from the war and, remaining steadfastly single, devoted himself to a campaign of vicarious revenge against Camilla on behalf of his mother’s ghost, I’d be a little more on-side. In strictly literary terms the narrative would have some bite. All those highfallutin references to Hamlet which his ghost writer puts into poor unread Prince Haz’s mouth would be just about bearable. 




But this way he has gone full appendage, his revenge a dish best served as a side salad to Meghan’s own playhouse pains.

Beyond all the horrifically tedious stuff about bridesmaids’ dresses, it would actually matter if publicly-funded press officers were found to have been selectively muck raking. It’s an allegation Harry has consistently used in interviews to justify his own more overt and personal barbs, but there is enough in the Sussex narrative that crumbles under fairly basic fact-checking to make one disinclined to immediately believe other allegations they seem unable or unwilling to back-up. 

 


 

Monday, January 09, 2023

Interfuctus Sunt

Almost everyone has weird and difficult relatives; and I think (almost) everyone is prepared to admit that when especially troublesome situations arise with parents, family, friends and other third parties, one is usually never entirely blameless in how they subsequently pan out.




There’s an inevitability to this, even when one feels wholly justified in one’s initial stance, for contentious interactions are by their very nature auto-catalytic: action, reaction, action, reaction...
 
I think what bugs most Brits about Harry’s media tour right now is an apparent unwillingness to nuance the statements made with any acknowledgment of the ways his own complex sensitivities might have fed into his estrangement from a family group which now has little choice but to endure this torrent of self pity. (As someone who has never been able to abide chippy people, it kind of blows my mind that the most high-vis chippy person in the world right now is a Prince.)


 
Leaving aside any other layers of prejudice, the Palace were surely correct to anticipate the potential for serious culture clash in Harry's choice of partner. Yet to deny this spare the right to marry his American actress in the manner that they had denied the previous one would undoubtedly have created a far bigger stink.
 
So whose fault is it really that more effort wasn’t made to make it work? Senior British royals are in a sense born into servitude. To marry one is to accept the spousal version of the employment contract. 
 
When Harry gripes about not getting a ride on the plane that took William and others up to Balmoral as the Queen lay dying, it’s as if after all these years as a royal he’s never understood the deal. 
 
And if he doesn’t, who else was ever going to explain it to Meghan without coming across all wrong? 
 
Yet she’s a smart woman — certainly smarter than her husband — so one presumes that she must have intuited on some levels that the basic requirement was a life of duty to another nation. Princess Grace seemingly got it. Queen Rania gets it. Meghan apparently just wanted the bathrooms, no strings attached.

So instead the Sussex duo attempted to set up some sort of branded hybrid between California-style 'reality' celebrity and privileged aristocracy, more about self-actualisation than self-sacrifice. It was just too adjacent to William and Kate not to be harmful to the value system that underpins the monarchy. 
 
The spare usually has a modicum of extra freedom from the lifelong bond, but limits remain. Nobody can blame Harry for walking away. But they can blame him for whoring himself out to the American media for cash, knowing that the majority of his selected targets cannot respond directly (or profitably) to any of his recollections.
 
The recollection he is perhaps most abusing is the near-hagiographic one that persists around his mother. 
 
The Atlantic Ocean is another of his shields, for he deliberately exploits the American media's lack of understanding of how things really work. Like, how many royals are permitted to travel on a single plane. Then he says the plane in question was 'private'. We watched the coverage live that day. It was not a private plane, at least not the sort that the Sussexes typically use to travel to climate events. It was laid on by the British taxpayer. 
 
In the UK media it has long been established that the Queen died before the transition was announced officially and that she has already passed when William, Edward, Andrew etc. arrived at the gates of Balmoral, yet here is Harry moaning how he couldn't cadge a lift on an RAF-managed plane and thus somehow missed his grandmother's final moments. 
 
And when he says things like "I still don't understand what Wills was trying to say," it's genuinely hard to work out if he's playing the fool or he really is the fool. 

In all of this there are also disturbing parallels with Donald Trump. Harry is pumping out very rough and probably unfair caricatures of his antagonists, knowing full well that fact checking of the associated misinformation will be limited or ignored and that true fans will lap it up without much anxiety about the underlying transactions and potential power transfers.


The last ‘Harold’ to have any serious impact on royal fortunes…









Thursday, January 05, 2023

Detectorists Christmas Special

 


I've been a little bit disappointed with a lot of the dedicated festive programming from the UK, but this was far more than a mere felicitous revisit to the much-missed, wistfully-evocative comedic set up of the Detectorists...though in the end this story-line might well have been saved for Easter.

I'm not sure the BBC has produced a better show in the last decade. Everything about it is a eyes-only treasure. Sadly, this installment very much had the feel of finality. 

Maybe the AH a-holes could get a spin-off? Much of the gentleness would inevitably be lost, and it would of course be Nobyjones.

Or perhaps, Mudlarkers






Code Breakers

Some pertinently unpolished generalisations follow...

Travel around continental Europe and in provincial restaurants all over you will tend to come across large family groups enjoying their evening meals. 

Of the youngest members of these gatherings you will often observe how they have been trained - are being trained - in the codes that they will carry with them as unwritten rules for the rest of their lives. e.g. when to get up from the table and when not to, how to use a knife and fork, when to speak, how, if at all, to interact with serving staff, and so on. 

You might also gather that these are not loose groupings of individuals but mini-tribes with their own implicit hierarchies. 

That it not generally how things work on this side of the pond, but many Latin Americans that travel to Europe do appear to grasp the often subtle differences and elect to adapt to the local culture. 

I remember one Boxing Day in the mid-nineties when we had been invited to a formal, largely inter-familial dinner at the home of the parents of one of my closest friends, and we were taking along V's 9-year-old niece CL, then in our care in London. 

V took time to carefully brief CL in advance on the behavioural minefield ahead, for from the first few weeks after her own arrival in the UK she had made it her business to tune into all the hidden signals and to learn how to operate within the system, so as not to cause any major embarrassments, particularly with the older generations. 

This willingness to adapt to local mores is not one of the most noted characteristics of many Americans from more northerly latitudes. Just noticing where things are done differently often seems a bit beyond them.

At Cambridge I dated a girl from Irving NY and when she came to stay at our home in Spain and we all went out for dinner, I would soon be suffering inner cringes on witnessing how her manners (in the broadest sense) in a formal outside setting were causing my parents some serious distress. When she once called a waiter over to order something for herself I thought my mother had just spotted a gorgon. 

On the face of it, this was a fairly trivial clash of cultures, yet it is what I suspect lies at the heart of Meghan's travails as a would-be royal. The Windsors are on many levels one of the best examples — and therefore on others, worst case — of how how British families of a certain disposition tend to function. 

Being myself married to a 'foreigner' I can see how this is not a one-sided problem, how Brits can respond a little more hysterically when their rules are apparently violated by outsiders. It's not naked xenophobia per se, but the unwritten nature of many of our codes tends to mean that we struggle to express the discomfit resulting with any sort of lucidity. 

But, Yanks...

A few months ago I was in a bar-restaurant in Belize, at the time I arrived largely unoccupied, barring a solitary diner and a quiet trio of locals. I sat down to read with a beer. Into this tranquility erupted a largish group of Americans. They began by rearranging the chairs and tables to suit themselves, apparently without seeking prior permission to do so. Then the conversation began, audible not just throughout the extent of this establishment, but probably the one next door as well. 

The first thing you notice about these herds is the apparent disorder. New York is in general a far more cultured place than LA, but for many Brits it is still a bit terrifying how, in social situations where competition is usually suppressed on our island, the inhabitants of the Big Apple appear doggedly determined to signal their relative status to all and sundry to the point of absurdity and frankly, tediousness. 

I can see how Harry might not have anticipated some of the problems with introducing an upwardly mobile celeb from California into his own domestic milieu. Figures in the media, perhaps myself included, have dissed him for apparently not explaining even the most basic ground rules, but upon reflection, it would not have been so straightforward, even for someone a bit more clued up than 'Spare', to articulate that which has remained almost wholly in-articulated since our childhoods. 

To an American, particularly the sort that has always acted as if there ought not to be any limits, a lot of this must seem almost ineffable, uncanny even. 

Perhaps the most counter-intuitive code of all amongst the 'establishment' is the one relating to showing off. Signalling one's status, at least explicitly, in a manner a would-be member of the US elite would understand, is an absolute no-no. 

This is why Joe Biden made a fool of himself the night before the Queen's funeral. He applied his own rules to a situation where almost everyone else invited to the Palace had apparently comprehended a need to work within the native etiquette. 

So Meghan was doomed. ‘Rude…abrasive’ thought William. ‘Media narrative’ retorted Harry, and Meghan herself would have been utterly oblivious to the supposed improprieties. 

For these are attitudes and behaviours which are essentially laid down very early on and no matter how hard we try to free ourselves of them, they persist. 

But, Yanks.

They hardly even try. 

Has anyone ever spotted an American-born Hollywood actor who, no matter how sophisticated the character is supposed to be, appears to know how to operate cutlery with their non-dominant hand?











 

Mission Accomplished...or Impossible?

And so, back to this old BS.

I think you would need to be intellectually on a level with a lunar landing denier to think the Paris tunnel incident was some sort of over-elaborate black op. (Or indeed to believe that black operatives actually dress in all in black and ride black Ducatis rather like extras in a Korean action flick.)
 

 
My aunt, was the wife of Diana's lawyer. Following his death we became a little closer than we had been since my childhood. The topic of Diana, inevitably came up with some regularity, yet not even once did she ever suggest that the crash had been anything other than an unfortunate accident. 

Or indeed that Buckingham Palace was really the secret HQ of some devil-may-care, adrenaline-junky deep state actors, who were really good at covering their tracks, despite an otherwise reprehensible record when it comes to preventing media leaks.

And yet here a scurrilous piece of journalism in the Daily Mail takes her husband Lord M's name in vain as an accessory to a bonkers conspiracy theory which is only being regurgitated now in order to prep this newspaper's readers for the spare's equally deluded narrative next week.

The trouble with Harry, as Julie Burchill wrote yesterday in the Spectator is this...

Prince Charles has typically been considered the ‘eccentric’ member of the Royal Family for many years; Harry now makes his poor old dad seem as normal as Mike Tindall. Barely able to conceal his excitement as he darkly refers to ‘the leaking and the planting’ which takes place within the Firm, it reminds us of a more innocent age. Back then, a prince who talked to plants was as wacky as it got – rather than a prince who talks to the global media about how much he craves privacy, which is a whole other level of lunacy.


 

 

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

The Menu (2022)

While we continue to stand in line waiting for the 6-course treat that we anticipate José Andrés and Family in Spain will be, we served ourselves The Menu by way of an amuse bouche.


In truth this was also an experience I had longed for since the first emerged and it did not disappoint.

Yet it's not perfect, perhaps appropriately, as this dark and satirical thriller tells the story of a celebrated yet self-loathing chef's attempt to produce the perfect menu (to end all menus) and how, into his island-based restaurant and lair strides Anya Taylor-Joy's 'Margot', an unexpected blemish in the emulsion. 

There was a very recent debate about how best to take down the takers of the world set off by Triangle of Sadness. One  of the co-scripters of this movie, Will Tracey, has some notable previous in this respect with Succession, and some of the writing here is superb, especially for the three English leads, but some of the other guests present as weaker caricatures, and one could conclude overall that the movie is better at mocking the industry and its high end pretensions than its punters. (Östlund's gaggle of super rich on the luxury cruise seemed more grounded in circumstantiated observations of how the haves tend to interact with the service industry.)

There are some great performances from the leads, but the pièce de résistance turns out to be Hong Chau as the Maîtresse D'. I went back and re-watched her "tortillas deliciosas" scene a couple of times after just desserts had been served and the credits had rolled.  


 

Holy...crap

Where to start with the absurdities of this situation? 




Let us not forget that the Arabs originally turned up as an invading, colonising culture in the ‘Holy City’, and that they purposefully chose to build their sacred megacentre right astride the remains of one still cherished by a subset of the locals they had only recently conquered.

Crucially, they had been minded to do this to the most sacred Christian site in Jerusalem (the Holy Sepulchre), but were persuaded to pick on the Jews instead by the displaced Patriarch.

There is nothing unusual about what the Arabs carried out at the Temple Mount. Christians would do the same in multiple locations around Mesoamerica, most famously in Mexico City. 
 
They would also turn the beautiful mosque in Córdoba into a cathedral and Islam would return that favour with Justinian’s Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Standard operating procedure for incoming ‘traditions’. 
 
But why indeed should Jews not be permitted to pray at their most sacred religious site? 

Oddly, in reporting the visit of minister Ben-Gvir, the BBC appears to be hinting here that to desire to do so is somehow inherently dangerously extremist and ‘right wing’. 
 
Just imagine that 12th century crusaders had turned the Dome of the Rock into a church (it’s a wonder they didn’t, but those French-speaking Norwegians from Normandy were some of history’s most locally-adaptive invaders, occasionally cosmopolitan even), had held on to Jerusalem and were now denying anyone else spiritual access to the site. 
 
We’d be banging on about revanchist colonialism in a manner that would perhaps be even less historically appropriate than it could alternatively be in the case of the earlier Arab invasion. 
 
The Arabs frankly get a massive free pass as an oppressed ‘indigenous’ culture in this part of the world, which surely derives from our current myopic obsession with later Western European imperialism (and which tends to ignore the role of the Arabs’ co-religionists, the Ottoman Turks, in their later subjugation). 
 
It was not hard to spot English-speaking commentators during Qatar2022 referring to the Moroccans as ‘Arabs’ — sometimes even the Iranians — yet these same individuals would almost never dream of branding the Mayan or mestizo people around here as Spaniards. (It is occasionally irksome as a southern Briton to be called an inglés, but normandés would be so much worse!) 
 
In their day, of course, the Mexica/Aztecs had also functioned as a brutal, geographically-mobile warrior horde with what might rather generously be described as a questionable human rights record.
 
Anyway, that somewhat lucky survivor in Jerusalem — the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — has been more or less shared for centuries...albeit with occasional ugly brawls breaking out between its resident tribes of caretaker monks. 
 
As a historian one likes to focus on fact over fantasy, yet it might be worth noting that the Temple Titus had demolished is the hooey hotspot least associated with conveniently-fabricated fairy tales about the birth, death and general comings and goings of supposedly divine prophets.
 
 

Swizzled

One of my mother’s most prized possessions was one of these, an antique gold swizzle stick, a gift from her long term beau, that was the primary tool in her personal méthode de-champenoise…in order to remove the bubbles from her bubbly. 




I was was always like…just drink some fecking chardonnay. 
 
I can’t tell you how annoying it was to watch her doing this. More or less up there with how V felt when she used to have to observe her ordering half a grapefruit at an English country restaurant and then eating it with a knife and fork.
 
 

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Wildcat (2022)

I'd been following the Hoja Nueva story on Instagram for several years and this is not quite the documentary I had anticipated, or rather it is, but it comes with added layers of human ambiguity.

There is undoubtedly a treat for anyone with an interest in the conservation of tropical forests and their wildlife, but I was repeatedly reminded of my own first extended periods in such an environment, aged just 20, and the complex, often jarring thoughts and emotions this period ingrained within me, for life. 

So as well as the story of two fledgling ocelots undergoing ‘re-wilding’, learning to survive in their own natural environment, we have two young people from colder climes, also struggling on many levels to find an equilibrium in a forest that will only ever be a borrowed sanctuary for them.

 


One of them, Samantha, a very focused and determined young post-grad from Seattle, the other, Harry, a former British squadie damaged by his experiences in the Afghan war. Harry’s quest for redemption rather swamps the wildlife narrative. 

At the the start of the film the pair would appear to be a couple as well as partners in the project, by the end there has been a severing of the relationship which the directors at least partially paper over, but they allow Samantha the sole opportunity to pass comment and this serves up the most jarring moment in the movie, because she compares her volunteer to her abusive, alcoholic father and at this point everything we have seen has suggested that Harry was the more vulnerable member of the partnership and that her relationship with him at least partially exploitative. *

There may well have been more going on, unseen by the cameras, but this makes the presence of the editor, and that of the anonymous camera-person in many key scenes suddenly all the more palpable.

And at this point one starts to ask the questions one had parked. How is Hoja Nueva set up, academically...financially? Why is there so little actual science embedded in this story? Has Harry's redemptive arc been preserved at the expense of all other reportage here?

Specifically we learn almost nothing about the ocelot (leopardus pardalis) and its habitats that we are unable to see. For sure, on sight alone Keanu makes a stunning impression. Yet this is a species with an especially troubling relationship with humans. I remember being appalled when informed inside the Cockscombe Basin Jaguar Reserve how many ocelots were at one time killed each year for their fur: 200,000. (I forget how many had to die for each coat, but this was in fact the even more shocking statistic.)

Wildcat is a pairing of simultaneously heart-rending and heartwarming human and animal stories that don't always tether entirely satisfactorily. There's definitely a section (Harry's family visit) which works very well as inspiration for younger, would-be conservationists, but as I have noted, it has been set within more enigmatic and occasionally darker material.

Keanu’s story as a wild member of Amazonia continued after the cameras were put aside. Samantha found him badly injured from a hunting incident and had to find a way to patch him up alone at night in the forest with only the help of a distant Vet on the blower.

 


* Another remark she slipped in — about how she ended up working with wildcats instead of wolves — also rang an alarm bell, or two. 

Zwicker lamented the 'politics' of her home state, yet as we seen over the past few years, Peru is by no means a nation without politics, so the apparent implications of this observation immediately brought to mind that subset of gringos in Guatemala who have apparently fetched up here in order to live by their own rules...who like to posture as living resourcefully "off the grid", when they aren't really.

It's a phenomenon almost as old as Latin America, the Jesuits being a stand-out early example of outsiders in search of a place where they might take advantage of what they perceive as a comfortable distance from the mores and regulations of local secular society and its institutions. And as we saw with the missions in Paraguay, this can sometimes lead to a spiral of negative outcomes for all concerned, not least the ‘innocents’ for which the other tussling parties have a duty of care.