Thursday, October 18, 2012

Maximum hassle

That building your own home in Guatemala can be an aggravating experience is something I can attest to. But in the long term the decision to go out and buy an off-the-shelf model is one that will often be regretted more intensely and for longer! 

I took these pics yesterday outside the now almost-completed set of condominios which has plonked itself down between the northern limits of Jardines de Antigua and the Sindal, and as such is a perfect spot for taking in all the different pungent aromas emitted 24-7 by the Nestlé plant's monstrous Maggi cauldrons. 

When one goes to the trouble of undertaking a construction project, one starts to learn how to prioritise practicalities over aesthetics. So, invisible pongs aside, there are three things that immediately set off alarm bells for me in this set up: 

1) Barrotes, the iron bars that are a constant trope of Antigua's colonial architecture are supposed to provide a measure of security, not a handy ladder for reaching the first floor balcony from street level. (Though these could also be used as a fire escape...)

2) Borrow a five-year-old (with permission of course) and see if your doorbell is within their reach. If it is, move it higher up the wall. These timbres have been positioned for maximum hassle. 

3) Take a walk around the area around this development and you will see how many of the properties that have not taken specific precautions against it are afflicted by damp rising up their outer walls – without even having made the bizarre decision to run a flower bed along the whole of the facade. 

The exteriors of these homes will inevitably need repainting every year or so, but don't expect to be allowed to change from the pastel colour picked by the developer, or even to be able to implement a more water-resistant coating at the base, let alone remove the strip of grass and soil. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Guatemala in 1934: addendum

Present-day residents of Antigua may well have been struck by several sections of the film in the previous post. 

For example, if you have ever wondered why the old fountain on the wide avenue in front of El Calvario is apparently set below street level, the answer is that it didn't use to be, but so severe was the inundation about thirty years ago that the city authorities had little choice but to restore the highway at a considerably elevated level, incorporating a set of steps down to the base of the fountain. 

V remembers well the configuration we can see in the pic below from her childhood, because one day her sister neglected to pick her up from Santa Familia and she decided to walk back to the finca. Her father refused to believe that she had covered all that ground by herself at such a young age and immediately took her out in his car, retracing the journey so that she could point out each significant landmark along the way! 

Another solo expedition occurred not long afterwards when her mother asked her to go into San Juan del Obispo to get some meat. On finding that the butchers in that town had packed up for the day, she embarked on an ambitious journey into Antigua itself. In those days, as in 1934, the mercado municipal in Antigua was located within the ruined church of the Compañía de Jesús (Beside the restored buildings of the Cooperación Española in contemporary Antigua.) 

Huge chunks of fallen masonry lay all around the densely-packed market and V recalls that the experience of shopping there alone that day was fairly daunting. Still, she got the meat and ended up fesssing up to her mother about her trek into town.  

Guatemala in 1934

The following clip is a condensed version of a series of films shot in 1934 by members of a field expedition to Guatemala from the Chicago Museum of Natural History. 

Two of the leaders were museum Curator Karl P. Schmidt, herpetologist and his tocayo, F.J.W. Schmidt, mammologist, job titles which had me worried for a moment or two, but in fact point to specialisms in amphibian and mammalian life respectively. 

In the silent, four-reel version, the full contingent gathers on deck before steaming out of an American port, and viewers can clearly see that one of them is brandishing what looks like a pair of skis. Unless these were ultra-thin depression-era surfboards, they are not the sort of items one would immediately think of packing for a trip to Guatemala, but then perhaps one of the adventurous academics thought it might be a lark to water ski up the Rio Dulce. I know I would...

The elegaic mood has been masterfully emphasised by the music of Estonia's greatest living composer, Arvo Pärt. Swap out this score for Wagner and you have a documentary which deploys sections of the Chicago museum footage to more ill-informed and ultimately xenophobic effect: Menace of Guatemala (1934).

Exorcista Indocumentado

Is a movie that I might even pay to see, but in the meantime we have this altogether less-intriguingly titled feature, apparently based on real depositions unearthed from the archives of the Arzobispado de Guatemala, a location that one has to presume must play host to some of the darkest, dirtiest secrets in the land. 

It certainly seems to tick all the Catholic-spooking cliché boxes. (Spot the chava with the incongruous, genre-bending J-Horror hairstyle in this trailer.)