Saturday, June 12, 2021

Taking The Knee

Can we be clear on this — if Russian fans boo taking the knee, chances are it's not a principled anti-Marxist stance. 


The gesture does not inherently belong to BLM, inevitably tied to all their dodgy, 'foreign' politics. It belongs, in the main, to Colin Kaepernick. 

So yes, it's an American cultural export on some levels, and like hamburgers in the 70s, it is probably an ultimately unavoidable one. But it was conceived as 'respectful', like a flag at half mast, and so itself is surely deserving of some basic respect. 

Kaepernick was adding a footnote to his own nation's patriotism, rather like a caveat relating to equality and the founding ideals. 

Try arguing that this is not at all relevant to England without sounding like a twat.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Emerging...

Things have been flatlining here in Guatemala, but there are signs of slow covid recovery, Delta variant notwithstanding, in the more temperate zones to our north. 

I'm feeing exceptionally fortunate right now that none of my close friends or family in the UK, Guatemala or elsewhere have fallen prey to this pandemic. Touch wood. 

Witnessing my eldest niece Nicola emerging from hibernation this week in London was definitely a mood boost. 


How much more of this do we all have to endure? 

I'm going to be watching England vs Scotland on Friday June 18 in a pub called The Churchill Arms. Whether or not I have my 'vaccine passport' by then remains somewhat moot. 


Long Story Short (2021)

 



Romantic comedies are habitually targeted at a demographic to which I no longer really belong. So, those of us who either feel excluded, to a degree, or perhaps disapprove of the genre per se might not appreciate the lure of this title. 

It's what you might call a high concept romcom, which potentially broadens the basic appeal. I've never come across anyone hostile to Groundhog Day, have you?

The premise here is possibly less brilliant, yet it has some other more latent forms of canniness about it. 

It has been written and directed by Queenslander Josh Lawson, seen recently in Mortal Kombat (in the pile) and funded by Screen Australia, suggesting more cautious, sensitive investment than one might typically encounter in Hollywood. 

This could have been set up as a gratuitous big screen advertisement for the NSW lifestyle, but instead the cast and locations have been carefully and rather cleverly constrained. 

At no stage does the narrative flag in any way. The script and the impetus of the story is consistently good throughout, and it is funny, enough. 

And however pithy the underlying message might be, it is undoubtedly relevant to just about everyone. 



New Order

It looks like Mexico is going full guinea pig when it comes to the roll-out of covid vaccines. 

These the latest stats on its programme — from yesterday — which show enough doses in situ for roughly a fifth of the relevant part of the population. 



The variability that ultimately emerges may not just be a matter of efficacy — especially against the Delta variant, now accounting for 91% of new cases in the UK — but also of international admittance

We can see some early signs of this as the UEFA European Football Championship opens tomorrow with fans at Wembley being able to skip the testing requirement if they can show proof of having had both jabs at least 14 days prior to the match. (It will be interesting to note the age profile of the crowd for England's opener against Croatia.) 

The geographically-dispersed format of the competition was laid down before the pandemic. The result is that a number of teams (Hungary in particular, with full stadiums, though fortunately not the Frogs) are going to have a measure of home advantage in the group stages. 

Group B for example, features both Denmark and Russia with matches in Copenhagen and St Petersburg. 

Danes will be welcome at the latter…but, Guatemalans, Argentinians etc. please note: Sputnik V has not yet been approved by the EU — if it ever will be — which means that Russian fans are not going to be welcomed in the Danish capital. 

This is a fairly inauspicious sign that the protocols being given a run out this month will not feature an entirely level playing field as we press ahead into the new era of vaccine passports. 


Monday, June 07, 2021

The Mosquito Coast Season One Finale

 ...though much less of an actual finale than more of the same.

At the end of the last episode we witnessed the Foxes fleeing CDMX because the entire police force in the Mexican capital is in league with the cartels.

Their stated destination was Guatemala, which in this episode we learn is apparently up-river of Pichilingue, a township that anyone who has ever bothered to look at a map would know lies at the arse end of Baja California. 

Not exactly a direct route south and undoubtedly one that leads directly into narco territory. 

This show has disrespected Mexico in umpteen ways, but the scenario here also seriously disrespects the audience, most of whom, one would assume, could have accessed Google Maps. 

We see the Foxes encountering, and to some extent overcoming, yet another situation, supposedly super tense, and yet the real tension (and frustration) as ever comes from the refusal of the adults to open up to their children — and thus the audience — regarding the underlying predicament. If the show were to be cancelled now, we'd have learned zilch. 

Indeed, seven hours of this and essentially all we have seen is an above-averagely annoying white American family traversing a bizarre geography of otherness, that as disaffected liberals they are surely obliged to engage with, on some level at least. 

Yet the Foxes clearly hate Mexico, at least this version, which could just as well be a futuristic amusement park called Mexicanstereotype-land packed with rather basic androids.

We have seen multiple bigger assholes inform Fox that he is an asshole, but this time it was the turn of his own wife and kids, even as he led them to one of the most perfect tropical beaches imaginable.

There was one amusing part, when Fox said he'd been mugged and blamed a rampaging mob of...Canadians.



Brought to you by Apple, Inc.



Countdown to the 11th

We are now but a few days from a tournament that will surely be talked about as much in terms of good thinking as good kicking. 

So, herewith a handy guide for anyone suffering from anticipated perplexities.




1) Fans performing monkey chants whenever a black player has the ball...
= RACIST

2) A Uruguayan referring to his (also Uruguayan) mate on social media as 'negro'...
= NOT RACIST
Fortunately not a likely scenario during the 'Euros'.

3) Booing England players taking the knee before kick off...
= RACIST
Ok, you might think you are objecting to 'Marxism', but please check with the non-white, anti-marxist beside you before going there.
In general, this is one of those cases — actually not as widespread as contemporary culture appears to assume — where the benefit of the doubt has to go to the person at the end of the gesture.

4) Disagreeing with England players taking the knee before kick off...
= RACIST / NON-RACIST
In other words it is is in your head, so Schrödinger's Prejudice. There is no such thing as a thought crime, at least until someone haphazardly opens the box...



Sunday, June 06, 2021

Je ne gette rien...

And in other news, noted biologist can only comprehend the term metamorphosis literally...



Oh professor, perhaps this text is symbolically inadequate in much the same way that your 'flying spaghetti monster' is a metaphysical misfire. 

Or maybe not. (Never shy of showing off his blind spots.)

On the subject of bad science fiction...



The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

Not a bad movie per se — this third outing for the Warrens definitely looks good — but one that takes itself way too seriously. To the extent that I was almost hoping for a blooper reel over the end credits. 

But instead we got all that based on the shockingly (obviously not) true story stuff, which compounded the devout goofiness which had just wrapped up.  




This movie from Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) kicks off with a fun set-piece exorcism sequence, which puts one in the mood, yet unless one is seriously Catholic and/or actually believes in demons, then what follows barely produces a single scary moment. 

And the demon itself struggles for agency. 


Saturday, June 05, 2021

Cerebrum (2021)

Rather silly body-swap premise dressed up as serious science fiction. 

There's a sort of Mexican stand-off at the end by the trio of male protagonists, all in the wrong body. The technology that made this possible is flimsy to say the least, put together in a barn in Texas. 




It's possibly as potentially confusing as a Christopher Nolan plot, without anything that might be classed as cereb-ral. 

It doesn't help that the characters all act like the dumbest person in the lone star state, so that the greatest mystery is really how none of them have worked out what is actually going on. 


The Great American Naming Decision

An article from the New York Times in 1970 announcing the opening of The Great American Disaster in London. 

We didn't get our first McDonalds in the capital until 1974 and that was way in out in Woolwich for some reason. 

So we had a very brief hamburger spring in the early 70s when the 'real thing' arrived on our shores and all we had to do was add a topping of 'cooly aggressive waiters'. 

My 'uncle' Alan duly opened a competing chain called The Great British Success. I don't think it was. (But he had Wimpy House to fall back on...at least until they started erecting those evil arches.)

I remember going with my mother to the branch of the restaurant with the altogether less foolhardy name on Beauchamp Place. My milkshake debut, I seem to recall.


The very first one mentioned in this article was on Fulham Road, a corner that was later occupied by
The Chelsea Kitchen after it was forced to move from King's Road. It too, sadly no more




Friday, June 04, 2021

Intimations of Morality

 


This week in the LRB Thomas Nagel offers a fascinating, if complex primer here on the nature of our moral intuitions. 

I suppose my own leanings are basically deontological, in spite of the fact that I have never really accepted that the universe could have been created in order to lay down a fixed set of rules. 

That individual rights should be considered inviolable, no matter what context the collective has come up with, seems almost essential to me. 

My appreciation of history has perhaps led me to be more inherently wary of judging actions by outcomes. Individually and collectively, we are often poor at determining the greater good, even in the short-term. 

Here in Guatemala I have all too frequently come across a particular moral intuition which also strikes me as highly dubious, especially when voiced by lawyers — essentially the old 'it's OK to steal from a thief' canard. 

In a country such as this, not much good at all can come from that sort of 'reflective equilibrium'. 

So, in Nagel's opening anecdote, Stuart Hampshire might have felt morally free to provide the bogus guarantee to the captive collaborator, as the latter was somehow un-deserving of the Brit's better instincts.


Partita

 


Back in 1990, when I was working in the sheet music department at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, in walks Murray and I had the pleasure of flogging him a shitload of Chopin. At the time he was more noted for his Mozart interpretations...
Someone dear to me passed away listening to Bach. 

This particular album would be a top pick for a certain unfortunate predicament: desert island, rapid global warming...

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Oxygène (2021)

A kind of high tech version of that movie featuring Ryan Reynolds in a coffin: Buried (2010). 

There's not much more I can say without spoiling it and I don't want to because this movie is GREAT.



What I can say is that high concept science fiction films used to come along a lot more frequently. If this one is high concept, it is also simple concept, and in a sense also familiar concept, because the premise has featured in at least three movies we've watched this year alone (there's even a grisly pandemic) and yet it still feels startlingly fresh and throwbacky to the golden era of the genre.

The plot has a few inexplicable holes, but then so does the universe.




While we're here...





Arriviste, moi?


Napoleon's favourite armchair. 

Reminds me of a minor spat between two of Thatcher's key ministers, Alan Clark and Michael Heseltine. Clark would observe...

"The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy his own furniture."



Some re-orientalism

Behind much of the recent verbal conflict around Israel-Palestine witnessed outside the region is the notion that the Israelis are colonisers and that the Palestinians are oppressed indigenes. 

This fits the wider apprehension held by almost everyone except crazed white supremacists that Jews (and thus Israel) are occidental whereas the Arabs are oriental, and people who prefer packaged ideas to 'raw' history are often rather adamant that colonialism is something that the West traditionally inflicts on the East. 


Yet the Arabs arrived in the area very much as miltant invaders. Previously pinned to the peninsula that bears their name, relatively becalmed between Christian Byzantium and Zoroastrian Persia, they gathered and broke out spectacularly a few years after the death of Mohammed. 


In the east they were eventually halted by a Tang Dysnasty army and in the west when 'Sword of Islam' Uqba ibn Nafi al Fihri somewhat symbolically (or perhaps over-enthusiastically) rode his horse into the Atlantic beyond Tangier.


They had besieged Christian Jerusalem in 636 and the following year the Patriarch Sophronius handed over the keys of the holy city to Caliph Umar.  The Caliph had a choice to make. He could walk into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and pray to Jesus, a prophet of Islam, yet should he do so his followers would immediately turn the place into a mosque. 


So instead he decided to build a brand new holy site — the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque — right on top of the ruins of the Jewish temple. 



Caliph Umar


From that single decision made by a victorious conqueror, much trouble has indeed followed. What if he had instead chosen to humiliate Christianity rather than Judaism? In this instance the latter was perhaps the softer target. 


What happened after that was a great civilisation, but also a great empire


Christians did rather briefly re-take Jerusalem four centuries later and no doubt would have flipped the Holy Sepulchre back to their own brand of nonsense, yet one suspects that the contours of the conflict today would still be rather different.



Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Surviving the abuse...


Accusing, isolating, demeaning, mind games, belittling, coercing, gaslighting, controlling, chronic deceit...


 

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Mosquito Coast S01E06

I thought that perhaps if I just kept watching this show it would become less annoying, but instead it seems to be doubling down on some of its foibles. 

This week there were more damning critiques of America, again from individuals who are that much bigger a-holes than the fugitive Foxes. (That Frenchman...)



Generally this was not a very rounded portrait of one of the hemisphere's great cities. Though around seven years ago I stayed at the Hotel Isabel for one night on my way back from Buenos Aires and I can confirm that it is fairly dickhead friendly. 



The whole evil street urchin information superhighway sub-plot was beyond absurd. And then it turned out that the hitman from the eighties ska revival band could have just used the local cops anyway. 

As far as I can recall the highest value moneda in Mexico is the ten peso coin, which has always reminded me of the old ten franc coin in France. It is worth around 50 US cents these days. Yet in the CDMX we witness here, a single coin will apparently suffice to cover a tip at a coffee shop or indeed call up the feds back home via from a phone booth. Yes, a phone booth. 

Margot has just learned with obvious elation where the quartet are headed to next, though they probably won't make it down here until season two...



No coin-operated phone booths here however…though nor are there any more feds to call it would seem. 



Cruella (2021)

Before we sat down to watch Cruella I'd seen a piece on the BBC News website referring to the mixed reviews the movie has had from leading critics. 



It was indeed an oddly mixed experience. The performances were better than the story, which was in turn better than the dialogue. 

Visually it was often rather fun, but this was nothing like the seventies London I remember. 

My mother was an elite catwalk model, admittedly of an era slightly before this, yet I also doubt there would have been anything here to tickle her fancies. 

And oh was it long. Did we really have to go through three big parties with guests that functioned like computer game NPCs?

Do kids today have the requisite attention span and are they really all that interested in couture? 

Give Wink his own franchise. 



Mare of Easttown Finale

I've been properly hooked on this show, but in the end not entirely un-glad that it has run its course, because it has been a little bit draining. 



There seems to be something of a trend forming in these TV mysteries in which the female victim is gradually forgotten, and to some extent blamed, as the episodes go by, her death eventually comprehended as something of a tragic accident where the perpetrator's greatest moral failure was the attempt to keep quiet about it. 

This was true of Viewpoint and now it seems to be true of Mare of Easttown. 

Did I miss something, or did we never really learn where Dylan was on the night of Erin's death? 

Wayne Potts came and went in a flash. In the end he served the purpose of removing Zabel rather abruptly from the plot and getting Mare her badge back, but we never really learned a great deal about him. 

Prior to any second series Chief Carter is going to have to start attending some of those church services, family reunions etc...






Sunday, May 30, 2021

Fragments

I've been posting to this blog — under the present heading Inner Diablog — since December 2003. 

The views each post tends to get have been fairly consistent. And I have a small coterie of subscribers, under twenty in number. 

The inception date is significant. Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social had not been established. 

This page was never intended as a social platform. The clue is in the name, a portmanteau of Blog and Inner Dialogue. The slightly solipsistic nature of the enterprise was baked in from the outset. 

Back in 2003 I was looking for a digital mechanism for the achievement of certain personal goals.

1) A place where I could digest my significant cultural experiences — largely books and movies, then and now. Some, but not a great deal, of political observation would be included. 

2) A place where I could grapple with the discipline of writing for this particular medium, a kind of private journal with the implied jeopardy of public visibility. 

3) A place to develop a voice. Not necessarily my actual voice in everyday non-virtual social interactions, but one that would take shape as the fairly consistent personality and disposition of this page. 

I've kept a fairly detailed daily diary going back almost thirty years, becoming ever more disciplined about this over the past twenty, combining raw facts with commentary, testimony with analysis. 

But at the start of the noughties the idea of additionally penning a blog as a sort of spin-off exercise occurred to me just at the moment that I was undoubtedly coming under under the influence of Jean Baudrillard's fragmentary writing, exemplified by the Fragments and Cool Memories series published by Verso. 




I am uncertain now how much of that influence has held through almost two decades of constant blather. 

Social media has undoubtedly altered some of the basic parameters. And travel, which I have done to a greater extent since starting the blog than prior to that. These days I digest my inner and outer experiences differently, more visually than I used to, for sure. 

Meanwhile, I am (very) slowly working my way through the un-abridged ten-year diary of Samuel Pepys, who attended both the same school and university as I did, and who wrote — in shorthand and with coded passages in mock French and Spanish — the most famous diary ever hidden in someone's bedroom, which was at once absolutely private and yet from its current physical location in the library of Magdalene College, very much part of England's historical public record — something I believe its author reconciled himself to in the end. 

Claire Tomalin's biography of Sam describes him in the title as the 'unequalled self'. Pepys was certainly gazing inwardly in a way that was disconcertingly frank and modern in 1660s London, yet he too must have been aware of the truth written down in another rather controversial personal journal, that of more recent Chilean author José Donoso...

Behind the face of the mask there is never a face. There is always another mask. The masks are you, and the mask below the mask is also you . . . All different masks serve a purpose, you use them because they help you to live . . . You have to defend yourself.

Some nitwit troll once opined online that I 'hide behind my words'. He or she demonstrated (only) subconscious understanding of what this little project is all about. 

For some reason a recent post here appeared to go semi-viral. Many thousands of readers. I cannot really figure out why. It was a movie review without any particularly strong or controversial opinions. Nor indeed was it a notably high profile release. A freak occurrence perhaps. 


Saturday, May 29, 2021

Football's Big Day

My (paternal) grandfather supported both Brentford and Chelsea, so I guess today would have been a very big day for him.

The Bees were last in the First Division between 1934 and 1946. As I write it looks like they will be back amongst the elite in 2021-22. 

In the season that I started taking top flight English football seriously (1978-79) Chelsea were relegated to Division Two. 

They came back up in the mid-eighties, but by then had basically missed my adolescence. 

This may be one reason why I have been a bit of fair-weather-fan of Chelsea FC ever since, in spite of the fact that my childhood bedroom window afforded me a view of the King's Road. 




It would be fair to say that back in the 70s they were not the fashionable club they have since become under oligarchic ownership. 

World's End is called world's end for a reason we used to think, and Stamford Bridge was beyond that...in Fulham. 




And there have been times when I have been more favourably disposed to Fulham F.C. and Craven Cottage is a wondrous place to watch football. 



I used to go to Arsenal's old ground Highbury with my friend Antonio, an avid Brazilian gunner-torcedor. His father was too, with a slightly awkward habit of walking out before the final whistle if the game wasn't going his way, yet he had a very vocal soft spot for one particular Chelsea player — Micky Droy — who appeared, on paper at least, to be the very antithesis of the Brazilian football ideal. (Listed on Wikipedia as an 'unsentimental...uncompromising defender'.) 



Droy also played for Brentford earlier in his career. 

Anyway, during the Premier League era I have warmed to Chelsea. I like all of London's top clubs but probably like Chelsea the most these days. 

I cheered them on in their previous Champions' League finals in 2008 and 2012 and I will be cheering them on again this afternoon...



There was perhaps a moment when City had just overcome PSG to reach the all English match-up in Porto when I realised just how nice Pep is and how, after all, it might even be a good thing for him to claim club football's biggest prize with this team. The feeling has faded a bit since. 


My mother's last private home was just a stone-throw from the Bridge...




 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wrath of Man (2021)

I've not seen the French original — Le Convoyeur (Cash Truck) — but I'm immediately willing to imagine that it lacked a few things that Guy Ritchie's English version has: the extra running time, plus premium convolutions, all that ludicrous sub-Tarantino dialogue and chapterisation and, most significantly, Le Stath.




So, after all that, this new film has to be the better one, right?

By the way, writing his review in the Guardian Benjamin Lee suddenly, and somewhat bafflingly, reflects...

One wonders what an actor with more depth might have brought to the role of grieving father, whether the flashes of pain would have cut a little deeper had they been delivered with more than just a scowl. 

Noooooooooo.

I no more wanted to have to deal with H's grief here than I ever wanted to see John Wick snivelling every time he trips over his murdered dog's food bowl.


The Parade by Dave Eggers

Two men — un-named contractors of a developed world corporation — have been tasked with collaborating to lay down a tarmac road in time for a celebratory parade in an un-named war torn country, which appears to be on the brink of peace. 


The story is told in fable form, the road a MacGuffin of sorts and its makers both avatars of regulatory rich world interactions with the poor world, albeit conflicting in their fundamental approach to both the job and its environment. 

I thought at the start that Eggers might have been trying to do something that has occasionally appealed to me as a project — a science fiction novel set in the near future of a developing nation where the impact of wild new tech is felt weakly and obliquely to its native, unabashedly modern implementation. 

But it's not entirely clear where we are in relation to our own world. The Rs-90 machine 'Four' and 'Nine' use to link up the north and south of this country is indeed futuristic, yet the locals they come across seem astounded by a device upon which they can view a photograph immediately after it is taken. Do such places still exist? 

I enjoyed this novel, as I have others by the same author, but it didn't shake me up in any meaningful way and I was left feeling that perhaps it ought to have. And the tension was strangely muted throughout, which made the severe 'punchline' feel just a tad unwarranted. 


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Mosquito Coast (...from Apple)

I am not quite sure what to make of this updated, extended-format version.

I do have a lot of time for the Theroux clan. 

My recent reading of On The Plain of Snakes by Paul was generally positive, though at times it struck me as odd that this old chap, one of the world's most seasoned travellers, still seemed to be looking at Mexico with the 'North American Gaze' *, though maybe he was only gently pandering to these resilient prejudices in order to carry his audience with him…I subsequently concluded. 




Here though, starting with the funding from Apple, there is a constant whiff of liberal hypocrisy to deal with. 

Other than these fanciful outfits — apparently how stuck-up Mexicans dress for dinner — S01E04 features a supposedly crucial culminating scene when its hero is outed as an 'asshole' by a Mexican. He is given a lecture, at gunpoint, on how he cannot ever really flee America because it is in his head, how he thinks he can simply pay for anything, and so on. 

And there is some truth in that for sure. We have a few of those nuclear family, off-the-grid types down here and even those that are not explicitly fugitives from developed world justice are usually a lot more morally murky than the Foxes so far appear to be here. 

Yet the scene still feels a bit specious, perhaps because the character played by Justin Theroux remains essentially a cipher for the progressive worldview of uncle Paul — author of the original novel — and because this particular Mexican had earlier been carried unconscious across the desert to relative safety by Fox and his basically likeable family. 

So, Chuy has a point, but delivers it in a noticeably unreasonable, chippy fashion. And this lets Fox off the hook. 

As I watch the episodes I struggling to think of a US film or TV series where there are Mexicans who live at a decent material and cultural level who have not acquired their means via either criminal activity or inheritance. Mexicans with boring midde-class lives. 

Perhaps not teachers or accountants, as these undoubtedly have their own sub-stereotypes — political activists/working for the cartel — but advertising execs, restaurant owners, college lecturers, market speculators, production runners etc.

Spoiler alert: the Foxes are not even going to make it to the Mosquito Coast itself, if ever, during season one. 

Yet they are going to reach the area around Nayarit, which interests me greatly as I have never been, but have felt the lure, and things may yet change in terms of the overall representation of the country. 

I have fond memories of Melissa George as Angel in Home and Away and so far, she's the best thing in the series. 



The Mosquito Coast, aka the Miskito Coast, was one of Britain's greatest Yank-baiting exercises during the nineteenth century. It actually had a flag...




...which is basically the UK without Northern Ireland, and so may soon have to be revived. 

* I do know that most of Mexico sits on the North American continent, but you know what I mean.


Monday, May 24, 2021

El Rosario De Mi Madre

Quien haría esto?



Devuelveme el rosario de mi madre
Y quédate con todo lo demás
Lo tuyo te lo envió cualquier tarde
No quiero que me veas nunca más…




Olé Israel !!!

See also...




And, of course, the Prawn...




Perhaps the chippiest, whingeyist of Peruvian boleros filtered through the cante of Andalucía...

Friday, May 21, 2021

Socially-distanced Choir

 


My favourite piece of choral music (especially In Paradisum from 55:40) which has some rather raw emotional connections to my stint at Cambridge, and ever since.

The final note...

The Chapel at Trinity College was initiated in the mid-sixteenth century by the Catholic Mary Tudor and then completed by her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter.
The ante-chapel features Roubiliac’s statue of Isaac Newton, which was carved roughly a hundred years after he graduated from Trinity.

I think St John's Choir may just have nailed that ending even better...




Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Sapos Abroad


It appears that there is actually a place in the Languedoc called Chateau Arrogant. I seem to have missed a trick when it came to naming my house! 

It belongs to the self-styled 'humble wine-maker' called Jean-Claude Mas, who has clearly spotted a way to make age-old English prejudices bring home le bacon for him. 

Whilst the blurb on his website recognises that 'the French seen as arrogants (sic) are less popular abroad', his ambibulous brand mascot is introduced as a rather nice frog; 'a bit dandy'. 

I've not tried any of his wines but am suitably intrigued. There's a comprehensive selection of varietals made from grapes grown in the Limoux region, at 200m altitude and around 100km from the coast just south of Narbonne. 

These modern French wines, made with techniques pioneered in the new world are usually excellent


Monday, May 17, 2021

Vaccine Limbo

We have entered a rather strange limbo period where it is still possible for the unvaccinated to move freely around the world. 

How long this will last is moot. Much hot air has been leaked into the atmosphere on the subject of vaccine passports and, although implementation undoubtedly poses numerous challenges, I suspect that even the act of travelling in order to get vaccinated may become problematic during the course of 2022. 

It is worth noting that on an individual level at least, the various vaccines do not represent a complete solution. I know of at least one person in Guatemala who died from covid after a single dose of Astra Zeneca and I have a close friend in the US who was seriously ill and hospitalised after his first dose of Pfizer. The way out of the current situation is via herd immunity on a national and then international level. 

In percentage terms, Israel remains the most-vaccinated country in the world, with 63% of residents having at least one shot. It is followed by Mongolia (54.25%) and the UK (53.87%). The US is fifth at 47%. 

Unfortunately it seems that in the short to medium term most Guatemalan citizens are going to have access to Sputnik V alone. I would counsel against this particular vaccine except perhaps as a last resort. Those with the means to seek alternatives, even foreign residents, should indeed seek them.

Right now there is a window of opportunity of sorts in the USA, where nearly half of all adults have been jabbed, but uptake has slowed, especially in Red states.

Three potential destinations for vaccine tourism immediately present themselves for anyone located in Guate: Texas, Florida and New York. 

Texas is currently vaccinating everyone over the age of 12 regardless of citizenship or residency. In practice, other than slightly unpredictable pop-ups (more in Dallas than Houston) this means turning up at a pharmacy, some of which are accepting walk-ins. 

If you need to make a reservation online you have to provide an address, and in some instances a social security number. In other words there remains a degree of trickiness that makes it rather hard to plan a brief, in and out expedition. 

The Texas vaccine availability map and the Vaccine Spotter are essential tools. 

Based on a minimal amount of research, I would say that Galveston would be the place to head to in the Lone Star State. It has a beach, it is relatively pleasant compared to Houston or Dallas, and seems to have sufficient quantities of the one-shot J&J vaccine at its various pharmacies. But the situation undoubtedly changes from day to day. 



Florida is on paper only vaccinating its own residents and anyone in the state who can claim to be there for the purpose of offering a service. But they recently stopped asking for proof of the latter, so in other words they are inviting vaccine tourists to come on down and duly lie about this. I would strongly recommend against this subterfuge. 

The mayor of North Miami went public the other day with an open invitation to the unvaccinated of Latin America to visit his city and get their jabs and was quickly forced to back-track. 

There have been some pop-up vaccination events on the beach targeting visitors from down south, but these appear to be unpredictable and over-subscribed, given the popularity of this location with Latin Americans. 

Meanwhile, New York City's mayor appears to be specifically targeting tourists with a series of pop-up J&J vaccination days at major venues like Grand Central Station and Times Square. 



Participating visitors are even being offered a free seven day Metro card as an incentive, and De Blasio has suggested that the programme will be pursued until at least the end of July in a bid to kick-start those parts of the metropolitan economy that have traditionally depended on out-of-towners. 



It's not clear to me whether the law of the state allows non-citizens to make a reservation at a pharmacy outside of this initiative. 

Somewhat counter-intuitively, air fares to New York City from Aurora during the next couple of months are currently priced less expensively than those to either Miami or Houston. (c$250, at baggage minimum.) 

It will be a while before the effect of certain novel variants on the vaccine roll-outs in the UK and the US becomes fully apparent. 

One shot of Pfizer is said to reduce transmission by 50%. Useful, but possibly not decisive. My own anecdotal experience is that one dose of Pfizer or Moderna could be protective enough for those that have already had covid. I am a bit less confident with regards to Astra Zeneca. Mixing vaccines is probably going to be beneficial in the long run. 

The UK is likely to act as an open air experiment when it comes to the so-called Indian variant. Some parts of England have seen a threefold increase in infections last week in spite of the fact that half the adult population has now received at least one jab, generally of Astra Zeneca. 

By allowing the virus to work exclusively on the younger part of the population could result in mutations resulting in more severe disease for children and adolescents. 

I'm running late for my own NHS-allocated first Astra Zeneca shot. I was seriously considering heading across the pond at some stage this year so as not to miss out, but the further we get into 2021 the less appealing a three month sojourn in England turns out to be. (That or doing the journey twice in the space of 12 weeks.)