Thursday, December 30, 2010

America (2)

This was the early seventies...

Despedida del año 2,010

The Muni et al. have helpfully provided this handy guide to the goings on here tomorrow afternoon.

Poor Surrender Monkeys

Two of the books in yesterday's top five repeatedly reference the French experience of WWII and the apparent debt owed by France to the Allies and the US in particular.

You will hardly be surprised to learn that one of these is Anthony Beevor's D-Day. But the other Anthony, whose grandparents with the Bourdain surname were what he on several occasions refers to as "surrender monkeys", is worried how the debt he and his colleagues owe to the French for their culinary tradition stacks up against the 'big one' of Omaha beach.

Beevor helpfully provides some context. During the first 24 hours of the Normandy invasion almost twice as many French civilians died as American soldiers. Overall, across the war, more surrender monkeys died as a result of Allied bombing raids than plucky Brits died as a result of German ones. That's 70,000 people.

In the liberation of Paris, a comparative non-battle, in which Leclerc's Free French-led division forced the capitulation of the scattered remnants of Choltitz's garrison, more than 2000 citizens of the French capital et environs perished; an equivalent of American sacrifice on Omaha beach.

The casual waste of life in this conflict is one of the most striking and chastening aspects of Beevor's book. 19,890 French civilians were killed as a result of the battle of Normandy (with a similar number seriously injured). If one includes the months leading up to Overlord, the figure gets closer to 35,000.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review of 2010: Non-fiction

For the second year in a row, I read less non-fiction than has been my wont, and am actually struggling to even come up with a top five for 2010. Part of the problem is that I took on several weighty tomes, one apiece on the English and American civil wars and Jon Lee Anderson's bio of Che Guevara, with which I have yet to make enough progress for them to feature here. The order isn't all that important here, as I enjoyed all these books to a roughly equal extent.

Kitchen Confidential was a fortuitous find at the Aware bookshop attached to Revue magazine. Mezrich's highly readable account of the founding of Facebook (review in the pipeline) was fascinating, not least for its occasional divergences from the version filmed as The Social Network.

I took on Out of Captivity, Surviving 1967 Days in the Colombian Jungle largely because I'd heard it has plenty of unflattering things to say about Ingrid Betancourt, possibly our least favourite Latin American of the 2009-10 season. I was soon however in the grip of a hefty loathing of these oafish gringos metiches and couldn't wait for the FARC to start making their lives a total misery. In the end, all three, even the seemingly unreconstructable Keith Stansell earned more than a grudging respect and a good deal of compassion. There were even moments when I felt for Betancourt. However, their FARC captors, jungle carpentry skills aside, don't come out of this too well. One can certainly learn almost as much about human psychology under duress from this book as one can from spending an entire summer glued to Big Brother ...which isn't an option any more.

Douglas Preston's The Monster of Florence was this year's Mr Whicher, a gripping investigation into an unsolved series of brutal 80s killings in the Tuscan countryside, an insight not just into the twisted mind of a murderer, but also that of a fairly loopy prosecutor from Perugia, who would later be let loose on poor Amanda Knox.

I've had plenty to say already about Beevor's latest; in many ways a solid example of his best and worst work, pockets of incredible detail and narrative incisiveness, followed by pages of drift with ill-selected (and occasionally oddly withheld) information.

1. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
2. The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
3. Out of Captivity, Surviving... by Howes, Gonsalves and Stansell
4. The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
5. D-Day, The Battle for Normandy, by Anthony Beevor

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Juror (1996)

While we're on the subject of trials...

We know it's the mid-nineties, not so much because the phones are huge and laptop screens aren't as big as their lids, but because Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin dutifully thump their Snapple bottles before opening them.

Still, some of the trends have outworn the star quality of the film's leads, notably those embodied by the wardrobe of Mr Baldwin, which clearly points the way to the high-waited strides still regularly shown off by Simon Cowell.

There are three kinds of mafioso here. The pretentious, slightly podgy psycho-lothario as played by the man in the aforementioned trousers, the utterly ludicrous comedy-camp, badda-bi version of Sonny Corleone played by Michael Rispoli and then there's James Gandolfini honing his act as the conflicted 'family' man.

I was going through my '99 diary recently and came across the entry recording my last viewing of The Juror. I'd forgotten a lot about it, except of course the heinous misrepresentation of life in the Guatemalan highlands (filmed in Morelos, Mexico) which occurs in its final section...complete with the kind of root-clad faux-Zapotec temple that you'd expect to come across in an episode of Lost. Fourteen years have passed and thankfully the world has become too small to get away with this sort of nonsense any more.

Grade: B

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No plea bargain for Mark

Regular reader 'Begonia' has tipped me off that our old friend 'Mark Francis' aka Jeff Cassman, has entered a plea of guilty with U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger, on the day that his trial for running a Ponzi scheme was due to start.

There were no conditions — in other words there was no plea bargain involved. Sentencing will take place on Monday March 28th.

Santa en Panorama

This being Santa's last visit before the 2011 election, he pulled out all the stops for his good friend Dr Vivar.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

America (1)

When I was about six I was given a set of little red books in the 'Starters' series published by Macdonald, costing just 35 new pence each.

The most memorable of these was America, which was packed with arresting images and statements about that strange and wonderful place across the ocean that I was yet to visit.

Over the next week or so I'll reproduce some of these, with the expectation that readers might be able to see how my impressionable young mind might have been led to acquire certain prejudices vis-a-vis the transatlantic lifestyle.

But let's kick off with this one, which kind of speaks for itself....

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stephens and Catherwood (6): Mico Mountain

The next section of their journey into the Guatemalan interior was a white-knuckle mule trail up a steep and forested incline, where the pair had to dodge mud-holes, projecting tree roots and sudden torrents. "Withal, I felt that our inglorious epitaph might be, 'tossed over the head of a mule, brained by the trunk of a mahogany tree, and buried in the mud of the Mico Mountain,'" Stephens writes, recalling the dark premonitions which accompanied their expedition at this stage.

Nearing the summit of this most ferocious of glorified hills, they then had a most unexpected encounter...

"When, at a sudden turn, we met a solitary traveller. He was a tall, dark-complexioned man, with a broad-brimmed Panama hat, rolled up at the sides; a striped woolen Guatemala jacket, with a fringe at the bottom; plaid pantaloons, leather spatterdashes, spurs, and saddle, and the butts of a pair of horseman's pistols peeped out of the holsters. His face was covered with sweat and mud; his breast and legs were spattered and his right side was a complete incrustation; altogether, his appearance was fearful.

"It seemed strange to meet anyone on such a road; and, to our surprise, he accosted us in English. He has set out with muleteers and Indians, but had lost them in some of the winding of the woods, and he was seeking his way alone. He had crossed the mountain twice before, but had never known it so bad; he had been thrown twice; once his mule rolled over him, and nearly crushed him; and now she was so frightened that he could hardly urge her along. He dismounted and the trembling beast and his own exhausted state confirmed all that he had said.

"He asked us for brandy, wine or water, anything to revive him; but, unfortunately, our stores were ahead, and for him to go back one step was out of the question. Imagine our surprise, when, with his feet buried in the mud, he told he had been two years in Guatemala 'negotiating' for a bank charter. Fresh as I was from the world of banks, I almost thought he intended a fling at me; but he did not look like one in a humour for jesting; and, for the benefit of those who will regard it as an evidence of incipient improvement, I am able to state that he had the charter secured when he rolled over in the mud, and was then on his way to England to sell the stock."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pepys 1660 (7)

So into London by water, and in Fish Street my wife and I bought a bit of salmon for 8d. and went to the Sun Tavern and ate it, where I did promise to give her all that I have in the world but my books, in case I should die at sea.

(Thursday, March 15, 1660)

En caso que me truene...

I warm to this idea of being able to buy fresh fish and then take it along to the local gastro-pub for preparation and consumption.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Food Porn (4)

Regular visitors will know that Monday is usually shark day in our household. It comes to us via one of those itinerant indigenes from Quiche with only the most basic grasp of Spanish.

I tried to make some vaguely British conversation about the chilly state of the morning weather with 'Pedro' today, and he nodded in nervous near-comprehension and muttered something like "si, much friiie".

Today we steamed the fish with lime leaves, yaki nori and herbs and then served it with chopped radishes and spaghetti doused in a mee goreng sauce, which I picked up in a packet in Singapore earlier in the year.

We've been eating a few too many radishes over the past few days in truth. And the sauce was just a bit too oily — yet should be easy enough to reproduce according to our own taste, galangals aside, as it is based on tomato, tamarind and chile.

Looking around for recipes online there really seems to be no definitive way to prepare this spicy noodle dish, common to both Malysia and Indonesia and quite similar to Japanese yakisoba.

At the end of last week we discovered an underexploited local plantation of lemongrass, which is bound to come in useful over the course of next year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stephens and Catherwood (5)

Noting that Yzabal was a sickly place where one ran the gauntlet for life "even to pass through it", Stephens undertook to visit the grave site there of one Mr Shannon, his predecessor as US chargé to Central America. He was accompanied in this "sacred duty" by a compatriot, or at least...

"...a man who called himself my countryman, a mulatto from Baltimore, and his name was Philip. He had been eight years in the country, and said that he had once thought of returning home as a servant by way of New Orleans, but he has left home in such a hurry that he forgot to bring with him his 'Christian Papers;' from which I inferred that he was what he would be called in Maryland a runaway slave. He was a man of considerable standing, being fireman on board the steamboat at $23 a month; besides which, he did odd jobs at carpentering, and was, in fact, the principal architect in Yzabal, having then on his hands a contract for $3500 for building the new house of Messrs. Ampudia and Purroy. In other things, I am sorry to say, Philip was not quite so respectable; and I can only hope that it was not his American education that led him into some irregularities, in which he seemed to think there was no harm. He asked me to go to his house and see his wife, but on the way I learned from him that he was not married; and he said, what I hope is a slander upon the good people of Yzabal, that he only did as the rest did."

Stephens duly tried to persuade the said Philip to take full advantage of the padre's presence, to set a fine example to the erring non-Americans within the community, but met with only "obstinance" on the part of the handy man, who..

"...said he did not like to be trammelled, and that he might go elsewhere and see another girl whom he liked better."

Guatemalan Architectural Innovations No7b : Siguen los chapuces

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Devil (2010)

This supernatural thriller about five people trapped in a Philadelphia elevator, one of whom is the devil incarnate, is perfectly serviceable, unlike its key prop.

The writing credit for M. Night Shyalaman guarantees a degree of unintended comedy, which is this instance at least, did not detract from the overall enjoyability of the film.

Grade: B (+-)

Pepys 1660 (6)

In the morning went to my father's, whom I took in his cutting house, and there I told him my resolution to go to sea with my Lord, and consulted with him how to dispose of my wife.

(Friday, March 10, 1660)

Some of the idiomatic differences between contemporary English and Pepys's English just spring off the page!

Thursday, December 09, 2010


They just keep coming today...

This one was all the rage back in the late 80s and we heard it performed live at the Manhattan, now, for better or worse, the front end of La Bodegona.

Four Lions (2010)

Chris Morris's debut feature is fine tuned to be both shocking and hilarious. Sometimes your sense of outrage — this is after all a light-hearted entertainment about committed British-born suicide bombers — is stifled by the urge to guffaw, and at other times there's a delay to the laughter because you have to shut your wide-gaping gob first.

V couldn't quite believe how "brave" this film was; an American equivalent (and certainly one with the same degree of basic sympathy for its hapless Islamist protagonists) is almost unthinkable. In other words, don't hang around for the Hollywood remake.

Five men from Yorkshire — oddly enough given the title — come together to bring Jihad to the Kafir. Three of them represent various blends of resentment, stupidity and naivety. Leadership of the group swings between the other two, nihilistic cockney convert Barry aka Bazza al Britani and security guard and family man Omar, who seems equally disaffected with the quiescent yet prejudiced piety of his (soon to be rendered) brother, as with the corrupt, Paki-bashing world he appears to have more than a toe-hold in.

There are several scenes (and gobbets of dialogue) which are achingly funny. The cruelties of the screenplay are directed at politicians and police just as much as they are at Doncaster's mujahideen, who, in all their different motivations, remain freakily sympathetic. The sniper sequence, occurring as the remnants of the terror cell attempt to bring carnage and mayhem to the London Marathon, is a classic piece of British comedy-satire.

If it has a weakness, it is in the character of Omar, played by Riz Ahmed, aka Riz MC (Check out his Blade Runner-inspired music video below.), which shifts between competence and clutziness, and whose family life takes the comedy into a surreal zone, which detracts from both the bite and the empathy which Morris otherwise achieves with this faux/farce-documentary-style approach to extremist conspiracy.

Grade: A-

Somos Antologia...

It's obviously bad music day here on the Innerdiablog. This excruciating cover version was the opening gambit of Antigua regulars Antologia on Tuesday night, shortly after the bomberos had departed.

Milking La Tetita

Just when we thought Justin Bieber was the most annoying thing to emerge from the 'yutubeh', along came this...

Wendy followed up her breakthrough Huayno smash with Cerveza, both clips viewed by over 3m people, though judging by the comments beneath them, not universally well received.

Undeterred, the Peruvian teen has taken her rechinazos folclóricos around the globe, appearing live with Calle 13 and Jiggy Drama. The invite to WOMAD might take a while yet.

Personally I think the arpista in the backing group ought to consider a solo career, though he might need a stage name as he currently answers to that of Hugo Chávez.

The Spanish media in particular has been taking the Miguel, the hosts of Sé Lo Que Hicisteis going so far as to compose their own traditional Iberian ditty in response to Sulca's threat to show up in the old imperial heartland:

I'm quite partial to this dark beer trance remix of Cerveza:

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

El Churrasquito del Diablo (2)

The Devil's final moments in Antigua last night. As the flames licked the frame of his bike and the air filled with the aroma of burning rubber, someone tossed a last paquetillo of explosives onto the bonfire, just before the bomberos moved in.

Let's call the whole thing off...

I might have inadvertently given the impression the other day that Chapines care little for matters of health and safety, so it's only fair that I should set this right by bringing it to your attention that Antigua's traditional (well, since 1999) Festival of the Calle del Arco on New Year's Eve has been called off today by its own organising committee — whose members have reportedly been collectively suffering sleepless nights over the idea that the ever growing number of participants in recent years points to the near inevitability of future fatal accidents.

During the other 364 days of the year the public issue which most seems to engage — literally keep awake — this august body of neighbours, is their own peace and quiet, but we'll just have to accept their word that they really are genuinely worried about the possibility of a Duisberg or Phnom Penh-style crush occurring on their turf, and not just narked off that their quaint little spectacle of frolicking inditos has been steadily overrun by rowdy elements from across the region and beyond.

By the way, what were those evangelical Jeremy Hunts doing at La Concepción tonight for the Burning of the Devil? Doesn't this tradition mark the commencement of the Feast of the Virgin of the Immaculate unequivocally Catholic tradition? Forgive us our trespasses indeed.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

El Churrasquito del Diablo

We couldn't wait to burn our own devil today, so we made use of dry twigs and leaves lying around the patio to get things going at lunchtime, which then produced enough carbón to power a barbecue, onto which went slices of shark, halved onions and aubergines, and whole tomatoes and red peppers.

Modernisation of La Sexta

Tracing the evolution of recent refurbishments carried out in Guatemala City's Sixth Avenue.

Monday, December 06, 2010

La Vaquerita

It's rodeo time in Guatemala, where animal rights take a back-seat to the exploitation of minors.

Oddly enough this kind of authentic local spectacle rarely makes into Revue magazine's Datebook, where December's list of exciting outdoor activities is dominated by exiled gringo carol singers and similarly anodyne seasonal fayre.

Close to midday yesterday we turned up at a terrace bar overlooking the makeshift arena, just in time to witness the junior bull riding competition. Participants lined up and prayed to Santiago before testing themselves against their hot and bothered bovine adversaries.

First out was the five-year-old girl, who managed around two and a half out of eight seconds and was visibly sobbing from the moment the gate opened.

Duly recovered from where she had deposited her face in the dust, the stricken child was passed over the railings and attended to by paramedics who soon gave her the thumbs up. Her mother (smoking and drinking) and father (bien bolo) then got the gun-toting master of ceremonies to announce a collection on behalf of their brave daughter, whereby they acquired a cap-full of coins and billetes with which to continue their excesses.

As soon as she was able to walk again, the little cowgirl was despatched to crawl around under the seating stands, just in case additional lucre was to be discovered there.

Friday, December 03, 2010

When the Last Sword is Drawn (2003)

Can't decide if my glass is half full or half empty with this one. It's an epic, moving, character-driven tale of conflicting Samurai codes and loyalties during the twilight years of the Shogunate. It's also overlong, excruciatingly sentimental — especially across its final third — which means one is perhaps less likely to be well disposed towards it as it ends.

Based on a novel by Jiro Asada, in a sense it's a Japanese Doctor Zhivago, with added comic intent. There's a plethora of vivid characters (many of them, such as the lively courtesan, more hit than miss), yet this variety ultimately detracts from the central opposition between Saitô-san, the would-be prowling wolf, and comparatively bumpkinish and stray dog-like Samurai, Yoshimura-san.

A greater focus on the interplay of these men and their impact on each other's response to the historical events around them would surely have resulted in a more interesting drama.

The movie was shown just over a month ago as part of the Japanese season at the Cooperación Española in Antigua, and forms part of a triumvirate of inward glimpses at old ways on the way out, shot by Japanese directors at roughly the same time Tom Cruise was galavanting around in the somewhat less nuanced period adventure, The Last Samurai. I'm yet to see the last of the three, The Hidden Blade (2004), but 2002's The Twilight Samurai was one of the best Japanese movies of the noughties.

Grade: B+

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Hans Rosling's 'The West and the Rest'

From BBC4's The Joy of Stats (Thanks again to Scott).

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Guatemalan Architectural Innovations No7 'el chapuz'

One doesn't need to be much of an expert to start counting the ways this little project could go horribly wrong both now and in the future.

Not big, not a bang...

...and now possibly also not the beginning.

Sir Roger Penrose fessing up to Stephen Sackur that he might have found evidence that the Big Bang might not have been such a singular singularity.