Meanwhile, the Daily Mash reported this morning how "the prime minister told a group of manky, hate-filled sows in some stinking residential home that David Cameron would take away their free TV licence so they wouldn't be able to complain about 'darkies' when they're watching the news."
Thursday, April 29, 2010
"Gordon Brown has a great face for radio"
Meanwhile, the Daily Mash reported this morning how "the prime minister told a group of manky, hate-filled sows in some stinking residential home that David Cameron would take away their free TV licence so they wouldn't be able to complain about 'darkies' when they're watching the news."
Don't bring a 'bomper' to a gun fight
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
If you are that way inclined you might have paused and taken note of the one significant structure on the Calle del Arco which seems to defy Antigua's strict rules regarding the preservation of colonial style.*
V remembers when her father made use of the Gasolinera Cofiño. You'd drive in and pull up for fuel and an oil check at the rear of the building, roughly where the Maximones hang out these days.
On Sunday the building went up in flames not once, but twice. The fire started at some point in the late afternoon in the storage area on the floor above the Libreria el Pensativo, owned by Ana-Maria Cofiño, seed of a familia perhaps more famed for its fast cars than its learning.
The flames quickly traversed the wood and lamina roof to the upper level of Frida's (a pool bar) thanks in part to the kindling readily rendered by the spectacular Kaqchikel kites that hang in the Nim Po't textile centre.
The bomberos municipales arrived on scene put the fire out before nightfall and departed. Then at 9pm it started all over again.
It's been a while since we've had a full-on incendio in Antigua's tourist-traipsing core; two years in fact. Last time the victim was our friend Mik, who owns the business right next door to Frida's. As with Sunday's blaze, the blame was officially asigned to a 'corto-circuito' but Mik remains certain that he was the victim of an arson attack.
It remains to be seen whether Señora Cofiño's tenants are able to seek redress for losses incurred as a consequence of this localised calamity. Although the fire started within her own shop, news reports today suggest that the real problem may be the number of businesses sharing the same electrical installation.
Her bookshop suffered extensive damage. Many volumes were whisked to safety in a truck, but even a limited dousing with water will have a good many of them un-saleable. Antigua's bibliophiles will find the image below disheartening.
Remembering his own conflagration, Mik told us today that the worst part of the aftermath is the lingering smell of humo. Much of Nim Po't's collection of barriletes and other indigenous textiles survived the two fires, but the majority will have been impregnated with a foul tufo.
Things won't be much better in Frida's, even on the less fire-ravaged ground floor. Before the smoking ban, Mik confided, the smell of burned timbers might have been easier to mask.
* When he visited Antigua a few years ago my partner Xtofer spotted the old Cofiño petrol station and observed that Antigua was fortunate indeed, that when other cities around the world were filling their empty spaces with some of the most hideous architecture ever produced, there was insufficient local economic activity here in the 50s to merit that kind of systematic uglification. The Cofiño building and the old cinema in the parque are two exceptions that the Consejo must now tolerate.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Under eastern eyes
López sports a worldly, good-humoured outlook on life, and the Prostestantism he peddles is a long way indeed from the dourness of Calvinism. ("Nobody ever went to Hell for drinking a glass of wine," was a memorable soundbite from this morning's sermon.) In some ways it's akin to a self-help system, with López positioning himself someway between star motivator and stand-up comedian.
For the past couple of weeks he's been banging on about "DI-SCI-PLINA".
Now I have a hunch that Pastor López is actually rather close to sharing the view of many of us atheist-agnostics, that it is important to behave well even if NOBODY (not even up there) is watching, but today he drew the most applause from his audience when, whilst berrating those who might act like complete haraganes the moment their bosses go on holiday, he reminded them that 'Dios' is always watching. For me this rather undermined everything he'd previously said about the mice not taking proper advantage of the cat's absence.
This has always been one of the great ironies of organised religion for me: that it disproportionately appeals to those individuals who are incapable of conceiving of an ethical code not underpinned by a supernatural surveillance system.
The idea of spirit eyes (and ears) taking in our every action is of course part of the most ancient strand within human religiosity: ancestor worship. I've been swotting up on the Shinto tradition prior to my Japan trip, and it has caught my attention how the imagined presence of household spirits informed the evolution of almost all Japanese notions of duty, loyalty and self-sacrifice, and how a cult which was perhaps rooted in fear, over time became the basis of rituals where the emotions of gratitude and affection prevail. (...and yet where the 'higher ones' also participate in the joys and sorrows, and perhaps also the bad vibes, of family, commune and state.)
The coexistence of the Buddhist and Shinto traditions within Japan has allowed for a separation of the faith and the hope elements within eastern spirituality: a state of affairs that I find intriguing and will comment on in due course once I've hit the road.
Even at its most cheesy, Japanese horror can still be quite chilling. The trouble here is that Hideo Nakata has attempted to blend the modern Japanese horror he brought to the wider world's attention in The Ring, with a period ghost story grounded in a more traditional and conservative outlook. He's also had to stretch the narrative more than its underlying folk-moralistic message requires of itself.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Far eastern delights
Yesterday Rudy introduced me to the delights of the coconut chicken curry at La Esquina, which he had previously tagged as part of his 'Cosmpolitan Antigua' series. It has a mild nutty flavour, which made us think of Vietnamese or Malaysian cooking, but without the fieryness.
I have to say I've been a bit sceptical about some of the advertisements in Antigua for authentically far-flung cuisines ever since I tried the green curry at Cafe Flor a while ago. But this is pretty close to being the real deal, and not bad value at little over Q50.
I particularly like the way they serve the water there: in 1 litre carafes with mint and cucumber for flavour. The onion chutney which comes along with the bread is also delicious.
Guatemalan Architectural Innovations - 6
This situation on the Reformador kind of speaks for itself. Suffice to say that the developer erected a perimeter wall (fake brick: how very Guatemala City) and then found the need to disassemble those parts of it where the interior construction has been planned to back up right against it and the builders need space to fundir the support columns running through the blocks. It remains to be seen whether the wall can eventually be refitted, and whether there will be just enough of a tiny gap between it and the house for dampness, creepy crawlies etc to accumulate.
As for the tree, they are maintaining a resolute 'we'll cross that bridge when we come to it' attitude.
We spotted these spongey (yet very dry) little flowers on the ground in a park in San Bartolo yesterday, and both thought the first one we saw was made of plastic or cardboard. Looking up we located a few more high up in the branches of a tree. Any idea which one?
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Guatemalan Architectural Innovations - 5
A couple of state-of-the art Guatemalan building techniques can be witnessed in this image.
Firstly there's the fake Spanish terracing along the edge of the roofline favoured by developers wanting to build cheap and sell premium.
Then there's the rather odd sequencing one often sees in speedy constructions of this sort, with one man applying the repello to an outer wall before much of the rest of the house has been completed and the electricity and plumbing fully installed.
Having said this, the developers here haven't skimped on iron reinforcements; indeed at least twice as much hierro holds up this house compared to the one with the anti-grav tubing illustrated in the previous post.
I'm starting to get a good idea about which of my neighbours I'll have to start digging for, come the next big quake.
Guatemalan Architectural Innovations - 4
Water rolls off the roof tiles* into a gutter and down into this pipe and then up again into the main body of the construction.
On a separate note, V recently remarked to me that she now regrets not hiring Richard Rogers to design our house, as she's lost track of where many of the pipes are. (And it's not that we don't have a proper set of blueprints.)
*Laminas in fact. Actual tejas were apparently deemed a luxury extra by this developer.
This week teachers in a Madrid school voted 17-2 to bar a Muslim pupil called Najwa Mahla from wearing her veil in class. School rules prohibit all forms of headgear, and any compromise on the part of the centro's authorities was made that much less likely when almost all the other students started appearing with headscarves in sympathy with their modest sixteen-year-old schoolmate.
Spain is not a secular society: annually the Cathlic church takes a chunk of taxpayers' money and there's nothing that other traditions or indeed non-believers can do about it. The problem of women wandering around in silly outfits as a mark of their faith in supernatural nonsense is also not a problem limited to Muslims, as testified to by the quantity of nuns one spots on the streets over there.
Spain has not had quite the full-on experience of mass immigration that both Britain and France have had, and the very nature of Spanish imperialism has meant that many of those seeking a new life in the Iberian peninsula already speak the local lingo and are, culturally at least, quite a long way down the road to Spanishness. Islamic immigration (to a large extent from North Africa) on the other hand, is perhaps an even thornier matter in Spain than elsewhere in Europe.
This Christian nation has a particular history of confrontation with the old enemy, something to which OBL himself has made repeated allusions to in his nutty video spots, and less tolerant Spanish commentators have made much of the remarks of one 'community leader' who has observed that "This is the territory of our enemy, we are here to recover it for Islam."
The country's extended early contact with oriental ways was noted for periods of mutual tolerance and exchange, and there's no question that the Islamic civilisation left a lasting mark on the local culture, not least on the Spanish variety of Catholicism. All this might help explain the particular unease that unassimilated Muslims generate in the nation which invented the Inquisition as one of the strictest enforcers of assimilation the world has ever seen.
The symbolism of the veil is complex, at once religious, cultural, nationalistic. Whilst I am uncomfortable with the very notion of imposing religious symbols (and observance) on the very young, I don't believe that the cause of secular values is much aided by confrontations such as these, where the right of the child to an education becomes compromised, and which tend to be counter-productive anyway on the political level.
In this instance it strikes me that the Catholic children who adopted the veil in solidarity have demonstrated a far more commendable attitude than the majority of adult contributors to the debate.
My own school was a privileged environment with a stringent set of rules regarding uniform. Yet there were boys there from around the world who were permitted small but significant exceptions, such as the Sikhs. Somehow their turbans never seemed to say to me "I'm your enemy within," but it has been my experience that in Britain at least, members of the elite are often (and perhaps surprsingly) more cosmopolitan and tolerant of otherness than certain small-minded factions of the middling sort.
The UK election in brief
Pros: Much of the manifesto makes a lot of sense.
Cons: The whole package is a little manufactured and if he gets in, Eddie Vaizey might end up in the cabinet.
Pros: Who knows? But certainly a bit more natural charisma than the other two.
Cons: Went to Westminster. We might as well make Louis Theroux PM.
Cons: Can we really pass up the opportunity to gloat about how he missed the chance to call an election two years ago?
I can't vote anyway.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The volcano whose name* no news anchor from Shepherd's Bush to Bogotá dares to pronounce, has been causing levels of disruption previously only seen in the wettest dreams of Osama Bin Laden.
The airlines' loss is surely the environment's gain. Hoteliers and car rental firms across Eurasia have also been rubbing their hands in glee. But how long before the wider British public start to rebel because they can't find any bananas at Tesco?
Today the Royal Navy rescued 500 troops and 200 civilians from Santander. Not exactly Dunkirk, but that hasn't stopped the media making the comparison.
Scientists have rushed - some might say precipitously - to blame the persistence of this Icelandic ash cloud on global warming. The trouble, they insist, is a 'blocking event' whereby the westerly jet stream is forced to slow down by a high pressure system. Once this most important of Atlantic wind systems has started to 'meander', north easterlies rush in to fill the gap. It also doesn't help that solar activity is also 'ramping down' after 300 years at the max.
Anyway, as we approach a seventh day of closed airspaces, dissident voices from within the pool of experts would also appear to be ramping up — voices whose informed opinion more closely equates the wishful thinking of airlines losing £25m every 24 hours.
So far this highly unusual phenomenon has had the equally abnormal distinguishing feature of being nobody's fault, but that may soon change because the UK's (one can hope) outgoing administration's response to airline demands for 9-11-style compensation has been along the lines of 'ok then, fly at your own risk.'
'Volcano Exile' is a new moniker being bandied about on the airwaves, though we're as yet uncertain whether it refers to stranded passengers or to all those news reporters forced to stand pointlessly outside Europe's airports.
The BBC's Mishal Husain appears to have copped the worst deal in this respect, as her posting doesn't appear to be anywhere near an actual terminal. (In fact it looks a bit like a car park beside the A4 with a rather distant view of BA wide-bodied jets poking out of their hangars.)
She may not be anywhere near a Starbucks, but the experience does however seem to be curing her of that incessantly sleepy-eyed look of hers — back in the days when she co-fronted Breakfast she made me want to go straight back to bed.
Meanwhile, the ever irrational Fox News has been struggling to make this story relevant to their regular viewers.
Less disruptive perhaps, but certainly more deadly, this week our very own Pacaya claimed the lives of two members of one of those astoundingly stupid tourist groups that regularly ascend its slopes in order to brave both landslides and molten rock showers.
*All together now.... Eyjafjallajokull.
(The media seem strangely reluctant to even PRINT the name of the volcano as if the difficulty that journalists have with it has extened to their fingers.)
Monday, April 19, 2010
The Crazies (2009)
We haven't seen the Romero original, but you have to suspect that it has a more substantial sociological subtext than the update.
The trouble here is the lack of an immoral centre. 28 Weeks Later had both the virally-infected form of zombie and the heavy-handed government forces killing indiscriminately in the name of containment, but there these two hazards combined as opposed to cancelling each other out, which is more or less what happens here.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The Descent: Part Two (2009)
It turns out that the reason the Yanks decided to lop off the original concluding scene of The Descent (2005) was not because they are simple folk unable to handle even small doses of bleakness or ambiguity; instead their innate commercial awareness had clearly alerted them to the possibilities of milking the franchise revealed by thus butchering Neil Marshall's movie.
So now, two characters who were almost certainly dead (or at least doomed) at the end of the version I saw, are back for some more dribbly gribbly action in The Descent: Part Two. Some of what made the first film so engaging is retained — the girls get themselves into some terrifyingly claustrophobic situations. But then there's a paunchy Sherrif who mysteriously finds his own well-lit and high ceilinged path through the cave system.
It's not that bad, it's just a whole lot more formulaic, and a lot of the gore effects look a bit too shiny, rubbery and sticky.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The Daily Mail Song
Fed up with all the parodies...
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
A few years ago V was returning to London on a Continental flight which was diverted away from Houston by a severe storm. She did eventually reach her intermediate destination, but too late for the connecting flight, so she and a small group of similarly displaced chapines, found themselves being bused to a Day's Inn close to George Bush International for an unscheduled overnight stop.
For the duration of this extended detour V had found herself beside a lady of advanced years from Flores who was clutching a small box of chicken pieces from Campero. As the hours passed another passenger advised this viejita to cut her losses and just eat the (#&*%$) chicken herself — the airline hadn't exactly been falling over itself to pamper its inconvenienced customers — but she insisted that this whiffy little package was intended as her special gift to her daughter in el norte...with the implication that she'd rather starve than tuck in herself.
Yes, the people of this land sure love their pollo, and for those of us that feel a certain amount of disgust at both the factory-farmed, fast food and the off-the-tree, self-garroted options, Antigua offers a number of alternatives. (I for one can't take a bite of P.C. without thinking of that awful Gutiérrez bloke on Libre Encuentro.)
Not long ago Epicure was at the high end of the roasted chicken market in Antigua, charging Q57 for a dish which usually had to be ordered in advance. Elsewhere, pollos rostizados could be found for Q10-20 less in various parts of town, but for some reason there has since been an almost uniform price hike to the Q60 level, which has left Epicure's offering looking suddenly rather competitive. I do like the stuffed birds that they make available around Christmas, but recently, whenever I've bought the more generic model, it's been presented to me in a somewhat shrivelled state. Of course this may just be a result of poor timing on my part. Because when it comes to buying roast chickens in Antigua, timing is all important.
We've recently settled on Alina's (opposite Santa Lucía at the southern end of the Calzada) as the best overall bet for impulse pollo purchases. They start the spits turning early on and shut up fairly early, so this is essentially a lunchtime option, but a strongly recommended one, because the chickens are roasted to perfection — complete with hilo de amarre — and handed to customers in an attractive take-away container. (see pic)
After 7:30 pm there's always La Perrada (aka — affectionately — 'La Forrada') on the west side of the Calzada, but it's probably best to wait an hour or so more, because the last time we tried one of these, it had the rather rubbery texture of a pollo cooked con prisa. They also roast the somewhat greasier yellow (corn-fed) birds, which are less to our taste than the white ones, and shortly before serving, brush them with a blood-red sauce which imprints on them a Tandoori-style seasoning, more sensible to the nose than to the tongue.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
I like the transitional months in Guatemala, April and October, with their promise of change foretokened by the effloresence of colour in our garden.
However much I relish the sunshine, by the end of each dry season I'm usually starting to feel parched, as if I might at any moment desboronarme and instantly disperse along with the first gust of wind.
And yet I know that come October, I'll be well harto of all those puddle-induced roadblocks, the myriad of little nibbles around my ankles, and the wooden doors around the house which no longer quite shut without a hefty shove.
(Here's a lovely pic that V took the other evening...)
Friday, April 09, 2010
Welcome to the wet season
We've had smatterings of half-hearted precipitation around the same time every afternoon since Good Friday, but our frolicking in the fresh water pools of Paraiso Azul was interrupted around 4pm yesterday by the first truly torrential downpour of the new season. Well, by that and the almost inevitable bunch of late-coming stoners.
Up until then it had been such a swelteringly hot day, so that when the flash flooding around El Calvario eased, the paving stones still steamed like the early morning forest canopy around Tikal. Men were standing on the dry banks of the Pensativo awaiting the sudden gush of water from the hills which was sure to bring with it shovelable quantities of valuable arena del rio.
Perhaps coincidentally, the rough land behind our house was packed with fireflies in the night. I was beginning to wonder where they'd all got to.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Loic Le Meur and his new iPad
Isla Presidencial, fit the second
I'm posting this because I rather like the fact that the makers tipped me off that the second episode was now available!
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
The Road (2009)
Take away the prose style of the author and somehow the the smothering, holocaustic pall, the allegorical intent and the central emotional burden of McCarthy's story are all displaced from a foreground into which marches a cinematic realism, which is ultimately a poor substitute.
Realism is a particularly unwelcome presence at the end of the film. Elsewhere, its intrusion can easily be illustrated: we're told this is a world shorn of all animal life, and yet a beetle and a dog soon put in an appearance. And I don't remember wondering quite so much in the novel how humanity alone could survive such a comprehensive extinction event. (I also started asking questions about the pyschology of someone who knows no other world but this destroyed one, which the screenplay had but limited answers for.)
Oddly enough the least strictly realist moments occur when Hilcoat's direction strays into horror genre territory, but these scenes feel a bit like pre-set extensions from the visual medium, which impact on the audience mood in a subtly different way to that of their textual equivalents.
There's also a sequence which can only be described as one of the most downbeat, yet somehow highly effective Coca-Cola ads in history.
Mount St Helen's and Louisiana provide the very authentically ravaged backdrops, but there are times when this post-apocalyptic landscape seems little more unpleasant than the broken down parts of the northern climes I hail from on a particularly grey December day.
Anyway, I suppose it's an irony worth reflecting on, that hard economic times tend to produce a sudden slew of works about the end of days, but the movies we really seem to revel in when times are really bad are more lighthearted. This might explain why, in spite of fine performances from all the lead players, and a more than competent showing from the director himself, this movie was ultimately overlooked when the awards season got going at the end of 2009.
Saturday, April 03, 2010
Good Friday: Part 2, Escuela de Cristo
Good Friday: Part 1, La Merced
Monseñor on parade
Do you want absolution with that?
This was the moment yesterday — at the end of turno 4 — when the Escuela de Cristo anda had to be lowered to the cobbles and a ladder hastily procured, so that one brave man in black could ascend to replace the little gold cross which had toppled from the the roof of the somwhat wobbly pavillion which sheltered the urna. This bore a striking resemblance to Bernini's Baldacchino in the basilica of St Peter's in Rome (see below) and set the tone for the decorative style across this year's procession, which eschewed the peachy marble-effect constructions of recent years.
The cause of this mishap? A gust of wind, Felipe reported to me. He'd been one of the devotos cargadores when the incident occurred.
Friday, April 02, 2010
Alfombra to go
You say tomato...
When research was published last year suggesting that people whose Facebook friends are overweight are more likely to be piling on the pounds themselves, the story was handled very differently in the UK and US media, at least according to Harvard's Nicholas Christakis, physician, sociologist and all-round expert on social networks:
Standard US headline: Beware, your friends are making you fat!
Standard UK headline: Beware, you could be making your friends fat!
Now, what does this tell us about the differences an ocean makes?
Christakis appeared on a recent edition of the R3 Arts and Ideas pod, along with another American academic Philip G. Zimbardo who has just released The Time Paradox, in which he proclaims that societies which are more future-oriented are generally more successful (and more Protestant than Catholic), though apparently what we all need is a bit of balance in our approach to time.
He did not impress me all that greatly as a speaker and the host was right to pull him up for an notable American bias in his definition of success. However, I did like the story of a group of seminarians who were experimented on at Princeton a while back.
The ruse was to invite them to give a talk about the Good Samaritan. Nine out of ten of those who were led to believe they were running late by the experimenter were able to walk right past a groaning man on the street. On the other hand, nine out of ten who believed they had a little time to spare stopped to offer help. So, even with that highly relevant homiletic tale very much top of mind, our sense of urgency can radically distort our ethical nature.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Every day this week — water pressure notwithstanding — has felt like a Sunday.
Right now there are hordes of little old ladies wandering around outside delivering their pre-ordered tamalitos. As with frijoles, if you're brave enough to include this particular Guatemalan delicacy in your breakfast, you really ought to have a clear idea how the rest of the day is supposed to pan out.
The viejitas who sell us our Chapin snacks every Wednesday — which we have singularly failed to consume in snackish quantities — offered us some wonderfully moist tamalitos con chipilín this week for Q5 each. These are an annual highlight.
Meanwhile, Doña Mari's are super-sized and cost Q8 each. She makes them with two varieties of cheese, but I find them a little bland and masudos in comparison. The trick here is to serve them sautéed with a dusting of pepper, pimentón and a few aromatic leaves, as seen in the pic above.
We were tempted to add some yaki nori again, but we've found that it gives of its best as an alternative herb when lightly cooked as part of a salsa. (Tequila and honey seem to go especially well with this.)
I've been out front this afternoon reading from the device V calls my 'Swindle'. A tuctuc has just passed me for the umpteenth time, an apparent victim of directions dished out earlier by R.
I somehow doubt whether R could provide accurate instructions on how to get to his own house from the other side of the street. Everyone from Álvaro Arzú to Domino's Pizza (30 mintos o gratis...hehe) has fallen prey to his unique talent for confounding inquirers.
A Rake's Progress (8)
In the last painting in the series Sarah finally gets to spend some quality time with Tom, except by now he's lost his marbles completely and has been thrown into Bedlam with all the other chiflados. His semi-naked figure looms in the foreground in a pose suggestive of inner turmoil morphing into outer rampage. Meanwhile, in the background high society women are checking out the unblanced talent on display in this famous mental hospital come afternoon-out.