Monday, May 31, 2010

Double Whammy

This was the moment that Cherry discovered a brand new impediment to her full enjoyment of Belén park. Hermano Pedro came from an island and as of yesterday he was back on one.

It's been a tumultuous few days in Guatemala and I have been getting regular reports from V as the country reels from the double impact of Pacaya opening itself three new craters and the highest levels of rainfall over a short period since 1949. At least 73 lives have already been claimed by these coinciding calamities.

On Saturday the power failed mid-afternoon and wasn't restored until late at night. This moment was advertised by a sudden flare of very bright light — "like a new sun," V related — followed closely by a thuddering bang which had Jin seeking immediate sanctuary inside the bedroom.

When she went upstairs to the studio to see what had happened, she was knocked back by a further blast. Soon it was clear that all the electricity cables strung from poles along our street had caught fire and that the junction box at the corner nearest to our house had just exploded.

I guess it helps living so close to the main police station and Ex-Presidente though, because the bomberos were on scene pretty quickly, along with numerous vans from the electricity company, and the problem was addressed remarkably quickly.

Our area had been comparatively unaffected by the volcanic discharge, but poor V ended up with conjunctivitis for the first time in her life, apparently due to all the fine dust in the air.

Meanwhile, across the capital, mini-volcancitos were appearing outside homes and businesses as people worked to clear the dense volcanic sand from the streets and from their rooftops and terraces. (With the rain these began to take on the appearance of little mounds of melted chocolate, V told me. )

A friend duly sent me a load of images from his part of Guate (such as that one below) which, I thought, portended a long and complicated clear up operation.

...but then he told me that he'd quickly sold his own little pile for 70 quetzales.

It seems that the Muni had been interrupting programmes on local TV to instruct people to place all their volcanic sand in bags outside their homes — being super careful not to mix it with other waste — and very soon a lorry would be round to collect it. This tipped people off that the re-astuto de Arzú must have detected a value in the stuff, and indeed it soon emerged that this unexpected manna from heaven was exactly what the authorities needed for reinforcing bridges and repairing highways.

When Pacaya stepped up its activity at the end of last week I'd commented to V that it wouldn't be long before strange new sinkholes started appearing in Guatemala City. Sure enough it was soon being reported how one family had been woken to the sound of the neighbouring (and thankfully empty) house descending rapidly into an 80m chasm.

The storm finally let up a bit yesterday afternoon and V was able to take the dogs out for almost the first time in three days. The cats have all been piled on top of each other (actually on top of Osli) in the box for the same period, showing little tendency to gad around the vecindad.

It's at times like these that the greatest Guatemalan architectural folly of all manifests itself most potently: the failure of even the better endowed builders to raise the ground floor of their homes even 30cm above street level. Indeed, I would say that around half of the properties in Panorama feature a ramp going down from the cobbles into the space behind the main gate, and V has observed many owners of such homes enthusiastically bailing them out with buckets over the course of the weekend just ended.

Sometimes houses are constructed before the roads outside have been properly paved. In this instance the folly is vaguely forgiveable. But did these people really think that it would never be seen to? (Or indeed that the wet season in Guatemala would never explore its own extremes?) Even my favourite newly-constructed casa close to Panorama, which goes by the name of Aventura Loca, is perhaps 10cm short of what I'd deem the sensible base floor level, but you only have to look at all three of the homes on the other side of the road to get a sense of which members of that particular community were most likely to have had new water features inside their properties on Saturday.

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