Monday, July 21, 2008

A esta familia...

Casa Santo Domingo Museum

Whilst wandering around the Casa Santo Domingo last Friday we paid a visit to its Museo de Vigua which houses a permanent collection of superb Pre-Colombian artworks juxtaposed with modern pieces made from glass.

The highlight for me was the set of stunning ceramics from Guatemala's southern coast, all bearing the marks of long-range influence by the mysterious civilisation of Teotithuacan, in distant central Mexico.

I also spotted a couple of large urns that I last saw and photographed back in '89 in the Francisco Marroquin museum in Guatemala City.

More pics here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Los Desaparecidos

Was an exhibition on this month at the Compañía de Jesús building in Antigua - the old Jesuit HQ which was refurbed in the mid-90s with money from the Spanish government.

It consists of a room of images of young people who 'disappeared' during Argentina's dirty war, many of them couples and many of the women pregnant at the time which means that their unborn children have become the lasting desaparecidos.

The exhibition has an associated blog and I have a Flickr set from our visit too.

A Bittersweet Life

Director Ji-woon Kim had previously shot one of my favourite Korean movies A Tale of Two Sisters.

Here he brings his arty sensibilities to the Asian organised crime revenge thriller, with imperfect but nevertheless enjoyable results. Shallow (and even pretentious) on the surface the movie finds depth in hidden places: in its homages to the likes of Leone and Woo and in its stylistic and symbolic panache.

Sun-woo is the favoured 'son' of one of Seoul's gangland bosses. When the capo takes a three day break in Shanghai he asks his no1 enforcer to keep an eye on his young, beautiful (and crucially cello-playing) girlfriend. If she is unfaithful, deal with it, he adds. The mistake of compassion, if not indeed passion itself, is what sets Sun-woo's career on its southward bound trajectory.

After the Wedding

Susanne Bier's Efter Bryluppet is a gripping drama of family secrets. It starts off as the story of Jacob Pederson, an aid worker whose orphanage in Mumbai is in serious need of a fat donation. He returns to Denmark after a twenty-year absence in order to meet Jørgen, a billionaire hotelier who may perhaps provide the necessary injection of cash, but first wants him to come along to his daughter's wedding.

The scope of the story then expands to include the existential interests of Jørgen, his wife and his daughter and loses some of its focus along the way, but the performances from Rolf Lassgård and Mads Mikkelson in particular are captivating to the end.

Rica y Apretadita

A poptastic cover version By the Kumbia All Starz and Melissa Jimenez of a classic tune from Panama's El General:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bring plenty of hetereosexual clothes

Mark Kermode's review of Mamma Mia last weekend had me in stitches. I used to think that the thing I'd miss most if I were to live outside the UK would be the BBC. In the end there were aspects of the BBC that contributed to my flight from Blighty, but I'm nevertheless extremely glad that - through the power of podcasts and YouTube - I can keep up with my weekly 'wittertainment'.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Some random Guatemala facts

Guatemala City (population around 4.5m) has a capacity for 350,000 in circulation. There are however around 850,000 on its roads every weekday morning.

41% of the wine imported into Guatemala comes from Chile. Wine imports have increased by roughly 200% over the past decade. In 2007 they had a value of $6.8m in total. The next biggest importer is Spain with 23%. Oddly the Argies account for just 5% of the market. 7% comes from Gringolandia.

Prices of basic goods have been soaring here this year. The staple with the biggest price increase is the tomato (at 22%) followed by frijoles negros (black beans) at 12%.

Guatemala's armed forces number 15,500, 13,500 of which are soldiers and the remainder divided roughly equally between the Navy and the Air Force.

80% of all software installed in Guatemala is pirated. The biggest concentration of illegal software is to be found in government offices. Regionally this compares with the figure of 87% in Venezuela and 59% in Brazil.

Salir de Guatemala para meterse en...

In spite of a viral email campaign and newsreaders advising their co-nationals to create lots of different emails in order to register their vote, Guatemala's flag came only an 'honourable' sixth in the competition to pick the world's most beautiful flag.

The disappointment was compounded by the fact that the winner was Mexico! (Especially after Chichén Itzá eclipsed Tikal last year in the 7 Wonders vote.)

The new challenge that the local media has taken up with gusto this week is to get Lago Atitlán (pictured) elected as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

Guatemala's flag recently turned up in a most unusual spot - the North Pole - thanks to intrepid local reporter Vida Amor de Paz, who had her journey filmed as a documentary entitled De los Mayas al Polo Norte. She notes proudly that the Mexican flag isn't to be found there, in fact no other Latin American bandera flutters above that most desolate locale.

You have about eight years left to go and see the world's sixth most beautiful flag as planted by polar bear-hugging Vida, because the pole will have melted away by the end of that period, she gloomily asserts.

Amor de Paz says she wanted to visit one of the world's most inhospitable places. (Surely there's a few of those in Guatemala City?)

Another one of these

I'm sure the makers of Downfall had no idea the place in Internet popular culture this one scene would eventually attain!

Ingrid Betancourt

Is really starting to get on my tits. Someone recently described her as France's 'new Joan of Arc'. If only...


Is the most popular newspaper headline in Guatemala.

Yesterday I found this amusing article about the ways Mexico's hitmen are using the Internet to advertise their services.

"Have worked in Spain..."


The other day I was listening to Dr Richard Pike explaining why the world's actual oil reserves are likely to be about twice the scary figure of 1.2 trillion barrels recently published. Each field works out its worst case scenario and these dismal estimates are then aggregated, a process akin to rolling a die hundreds of times and getting "1" each time, Pike asserted.

Meanwhile the notion that the oil will run out in around 40 years continues to push up the price of crude which is creating serious economic discomfort here in Guatemala.

Yesterday President Colom was in Venezuela signing up to Hugo Chávez's Petrocaribe club, whereby Guatemala will get 20,000 barrels of diesel a day on long-term credit.

Colom says the money saved will permit his government to make the significant social investments he promised at election time. Whatever the politicians say, Guatemala is unlikely to see any significant reduction in poverty for some time to come, because there are really only two effective ways to do this: grow the economy at a steady 6% per annum or start using the state to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor. It has calculated that the incomes in Britain would be essentially as inequitable as those across Latin America if the role of the state is discounted. Borrowing from dodgy blokes in red berets in not the long-term solution to this problem!

The deal is that Guatemala pays 40% of the bill after 90 days and the rest is financed for 25 years (at 1% pa).

Colom noted yesterday that it is Guatemala's "worst shame" to be so dependent on petrol when it is blessed with an abundance of natural sources of alternative energy. Fortunately though, through the terms agreed with Petrocraibe, Guatemala is able to pay its debt using its agricultural wealth!

Critics of the system point out that delivery of the fuel shipments is often patchy, with only Jamaica and Cuba (surprise surprise) experiencing an uninterrupted service.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

This week we watched Kung Fu Panda, an enjoyable animated feature from Dreamworks, which kept me entertained enough throughout its running time that it was only later on that I became aware of the creeping disappointment of the workaday script and lack of character development! They may of course be saving all that for the sequel...

Being a World Heritage Site La Antigua Guatemala naturally lacks anything quite so vulgar as a multiplex cinema! In days gone by it had two single-screen venues, one of which - the Contreras - has recently been re-born as CineLounge, a very comfortable auditorium where patrons can sip cocktails whilst taking in a mix of independent and big studio movies. Current attractions include The Walker and Rambo. (The former I have seen and enjoyed and the latter I have no intention of seeing.)

For the full popcorn and super-size soda experience one has to travel to the capital or to the slightly more accessible provincial towns of Chimaltenango or Excuintla, both of which now boast a Circuito Alba cine-complex. (The IMAX is in Guate.)

As far as I have been able to tell the big Hollywood blockbusters are released here a couple of weeks earlier than back in the UK. There are of course no shortage of pirated DVD editions of current cinema releases available in the market which retail for around Q15 ($2).