Monday, March 31, 2014

Vendiendo el alma de El Panorama

En mi opinión, es obvio que quien permita la instalación de ésta antena en su propia vivienda le vale un rábano lo siguiente...

  • Los valores, respeto y sentimientos ajenos

  • El medio ambiente

  • El bienestar de su propia familia, sus amigos, conocidos y la comunidad en general

  • La salud de los niños en los colegios y hogares en sus alrededores

  • El esfuerzo constante del vecindario para mejorar y mantener el valor de sus propiedades

  • Más de tres décadas de empeño comunitario con el desarollo considerado de la colonia 

  • Convertirse en eterna persona non grata en su comunidad

  • La vigilancia del Consejo Nacional Para la Protección de La Antigua Guatemala en preservar el aspecto bello de ésta ciudad y el polígono protegido dentro de cual han ubicado ésta monstruosidad de acero

  • Quienes le hicieron una lavada de cerebro también quizás tratarán de lavarse las manos sin consciencia alguna

  • Y así, la posibilidad de hundirse solito a sí mismo con las consecuencias de tal contrato. 

El Panorama sin sus paisajes especiales sería como Bosques sin árboles or Jardines sin flores. 

Si existe el Infierno, habrá un lugar especial dentro del mismo  y más profundo aún del nivel reservado para los materialistas, los altaneros y los testarudos   en dónde seguramente terminan los desalmados. 

Irónicamente, pareciera que te lleva al cielo...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

El Renegado

Gonzalo Guerrero, as the better-informed Mexican schoolchild will tell you, was the father of the first mestizo

What they might not add is that Ixmo, the first-born daughter of this Spaniard himself born around 1470 in Palos de la Frontera (Huelva) ended up being sacrificed at Chichen Iztá in order that the Mayan deities might go a bit easier on the locusts * 

Reports of Guerrero's early career show little signs of the coming apostasy. He participated as an arcabucero in the conquest of Granada in 1492 and then left for Naples. With his fortune still unmade, he subsequently decided to cross the Atlantic, ending up at the Darien colony in what is now Panama. 

On August 15th 1511 he boarded a ship bound for Santo Domingo. One reason the Maya had singularly failed to branch out further into the Caribbean is that the seas between the Yucatán and Jamaica are more than occasionally treacherous with strong north-south currents. And so it was that a sudden storm in this very space put an end to Guerrero's voyage and he ended up on a raft with twenty other survivors, eighteen men and two women, including the captain Valdivia, regidor to Núñez de Balboa

Only eight were still alive when the raft washed up on the Riviera Maya. Unfortunately the welcoming party consisted of the notoriously non-pacific Cocom tribe who immediately halved that number by sacrificing four of them - Valdivia included - and then deposited the remainder in a cage and proceeded to fatten them up with a view to repeating the ceremony in the near future. 

Somehow the quartet escaped and made their way to Xaman-Há aka Playa del Carmen, then run by Taxmar, cacique of the Tutul Xiúes. 

The chief gave them to a sacerdote and general so-and-so called TeohomTwo were duly worked to death, leaving just Guerrero and a Catholic priest called Gerónimo de Aguilar

Taxmar felt sorry for the pair and had them removed from Teohom's residence. Guerrero repaid the chief's compassion by making himself handy as a military advisor - Taxmar duly defeated the Coco Bongo Cocomes using an ancient Macedonian-style phalanx and then gifted his new prize asset to to Na Chan Can, headman of the Cheles** in Ichpaatún (north of the bay of Chetumal). 

Guerrero was assigned to the tribe's leading warrior Balam and achieved a near equality of status after saving his mentor from a caimán and then leading the Cheles to many victories of the flowery sort. Needless to say, he was starting to go native with only his untended beard still a bit of a give-away on his now thoroughly tattooed and pierced person. He married Na Chan Can's daughter Zazil-Há and started Mexico's first mestizo family. 

Meanwhile, Gerónimo de Aguilar was less prone to aculturation; being a celibate man of the cloth he chose not take a Mayan wife.

In 1519 Cortés landed on Cuzamil (Cozumel) and heard rumours about two Mayan-speaking compatriots over on the mainland. According to a member of his expedition, Bernal Díaz de Castillo - future mayor of La Antigua Guatemala and ancestor of the brewers of Cerveza Gallo - the conquistador imagined that the pair would both jump at the chance of rescue after eight years of living rough and would no doubt also immediately sign up as translators. 

Gerónimo de Aguilar did, but his former shipmate decided not to give up his life as a Mayan warlord, helping his adopted people repulse various Spanish expeditions to the peninsula. The well-organised resistance met by Francisco de Montejo at Champotón in May 1527 is also suggestive of tactical nous that Guerrero instilled in the townships of the Yucatán. 

In 1536 Gonzalo Guerrero's days as traitorous thorn in the side of the Spanish empire came to an end beside the river Ulúa in Honduras. He had come to the aid of the cacique of Ticamaya, then under attack from an offshoot of Pedro de Alvarado's invasion force led by Lorenzo de Godoy. Wounded at first by an arrow that pierced his navel, el renegado was finished off, rather ironically, by an arquebus. 

* That's her at the back of the group in the statue, tugging rather plaintively on her mother's skirt. 

They might also fail to mention of course that he was almost certainly the first European hippy to visit Playa del Carmen. 

** My cat Osli has a chronic case of cheles

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure

The Hairy Bikers, aka David Myers of Cumbria and Si King of Geordie-land, have already established an audience across the pond via The History Channel. So its hardly surprising that the BBC has decided to kowtow a bit to the North Americans in this new 'Asian Adventure' series - for example, by labeling Burma as Myanmar on the illustrative maps. 

One might suppose that our former-colonial cousins might struggle at times with the northern English accents that the intrepid and hirsute pair bring to the table, but the Beeb have stopped short of providing subtitles...except when Myers suddenly essays a Brummie accent, thereby taking the verbal obfuscation to the next level. 

For balance, an English-speaking member of a Thai hill tribe was also later subjected to the humiliation of encoded captions. 

Tecs Mecs

The more I think about it the more cross I am with AA Gill for describing Mexican food as 'just nappies'. In many ways this is worse than the infamous 'sick with cheese on it' remark made by Richard Hammond on Top Gear. 

It's true that a lot of what goes for Mexican grub internationally, especially in Europe, ultimately derives from the northern deserts and admittedly does tend to resemble stodgy cowboy fuel, over-relying on flour, cheese and pinto beans. 

But what of the food one encounters further south in the area with deeper links to ancient cultures of Mexico - Aztecs, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Toltecs, Olmecs, even the wretched Chichimecs. 

Lets call this Tecs-Mecs as opposed to Tex-Mex. This is a culinary heritage that has shared big ticket ingredients like avocado, tomato, chilli, chocolate and corn with the rest of us. It surely remains the basis of one of the world's great original cuisines. 

Still not convinced? Well try some of the great moles of Oaxaca and Puebla. Or if one is still a tad risk-averse to Mexican streetfood (I'd have to admit that a pozol in Chiapa de Corzo nearly killed me) then have a mosey around this rather enticing menu from the Casa de Oaxaca, Nappies? I think not. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mirrors and beads

It is practically axiomatic that the sixteenth century colonisation of this neck of the woods was a sort of cynical con-trick carried out by dastardly Iberian desperados, who erupted into the naïve Edenic paradise then inhabited by the American natives and 'traded their tiny mirrors and beads for all the wealth available in gold, silver and precious metals and stones.'

How much truth is there in this version of events? Not a great deal I would say. In the specific local case of Mesoamerica the initial cataclysm was more akin to a confrontation between two ruthless imperial powers, in which tactics and microbes ultimately made all the difference. 

We tend to forget that Mesoamerican society at that time was remarkably similar to that of late medieval Europe in terms of its social stratification and inequitable sophistication. 

Seville, then the largest city in Spain was but a quarter of the size of Mexico-Tenochtitlán. The rich of this city had a fairly diverse diet while the poor had to make do with around three pounds of maize a day, ground into tortillas. While there was near-universal education, the high-born had exclusive access to special schools called calmécac. If this is a "lost way of being human", it is nevertheless a familiar one. 

Only members of the nobility - the pipiltín - could drink chocolate or wear cotton. Sumptuary laws further specified that the upper classes alone could use glazed pottery or could sport cloaks that hung below the knee and that the poor had to shed their sandals when in the presence of their social superiors. 

The bulk of the population of old Mexico were labourers characterised as macehual, most of whom had right of access to a specific plot of land which they could pass on to their children. They tended to be organised into calpulli, a cross between a clan and a guild, but in the last century before the arrival of the Spaniards the growing wealth and entrenched power of the elite had started to diminish the influence of these collectives. 

The second largest group, roughly a third of the population - were mayeques, a class equivalent to the European serfs who spent their days working on land that belonged to someone else. Poets described them as 'bumblebees' that buzzed around at the edge of public celebrations waiting for the customary handouts of maize stew*.

It is believed that many of the mayeques were descendents of people that had been living in the valley of Mexico before the comparatively brutish Aztecas of Aztlán showed up. Those not thus subsumed into Mexican society were often forced to devote their best fields for growing produce for the metropolis in a manner that forshadowed the Chinese land grab in contemporary Africa. 

Drunkenness among urban labourers was reportedly on the increase in spite of a strict law that decreed death for two-time offenders. Only grandparents over 70 were exempt. The young and the poor were theoretically prohibited pulque except at certain festivals. Adultery was also a capital offence. 

The Mexica's use of a 360-day calendar - the Xiuhupohualli - meant there was a section of the population born on one of the five apparently useless days in the solar year who were basically considered doomed from birth. (And if you were born on the day of 2-Rabbit you were probably even more screwed.) 

By far the worst aspect of being at the bottom of the social ladder in old Mexico was that in the early sixteenth century this was increasingly likely to mean death on the sacrificial block. During the period of military expansion a hundred years earlier under bellicose deputy-emperor Tlacaelel, it was more usually battle captives who were picked to perish under the obsidian knife (actually flint, because obsidian is brittle and thus better as a metaphor). Then, as imperial rule settled into a more stable pattern, tributes - often children - were sent by the subjugated to be sacrificed. But Huitzilopochtli grew ever greedier for blood, and so the numbers had to be made up by ripping out the hearts of Tenochtitlán's own plebs - all of them sold the dubious 'espejito' of thus departing for Omeyocan, the VIP paradise reserved for those who died the 'flowery death' and not Mictlan, the grey airport lounge of annihilation occupied by more conventional cadavers. 

The Nahuatl word for sacrifice, nextlaoaliztli, means act of payment, and in old Mexico, as in old Castile, a key aspect of being outside the elite was not being fiscally-exempt, yet here there was the additional anxiety that one's own person could form part of the tribute system. 

So, one has to ask, were the dirt poor indigenas of these parts really having it so good before the bearded men from the east arrived? 

 Remind anyone of posadas today?


Monday, March 24, 2014


Notorious Welsh-baiter AA Gill took aim again at one of his perennial targets in this weekend's Sunday Times magazine: Japanese food. In this he has quite a lot of previous - as the excerpts from his Table Talk column below seem to attest - and perhaps one can also detect some early inspiration for those infamous remarks made on Top Gear about Mexican food by his pals Jeremy Clarkson and co...

“How can you call yourself a food critic if you don’t like Japanese?” Well, I just don’t feel it. I admire its dexterity and the commitment and obsession of its production. I can follow it, I know what it’s meant to be like; but food has to come with an emotion, a history, a sense of a people or place. It has to have a story, and this one doesn’t translate. I don’t get it from Japanese dinner, it’s a no-play of posing. I’ve noticed the Westerners who want to eat Japanese are generally those who don’t like or trust food — women who think nothing tastes as good as thin feels, and a plate of sashimi and a bowl of miso is indeed what thin tastes of. (Yesterday) 

Although I admire Japanese food, I can't warm to it. I rarely yearn for it, and can barely raise an eyebrow over particularly fatty belly tuna. It's never going to be my soul food. I know that my experience is not of the same order as that of the Japanese man next to me. Every time I watch a sushi chef in a chic western bar, I think: "Pearls before swine." But Japanese food has become the Lego of urban eating out, and as the maki rolls grow fatter and sloppier and more like seaweed wraps, and the sushi gets additional mayo and bacon, I respect it less and less. (2006)

The staff are Japanese and speak very, very softly in English that might have been crossed with birdsong or wind chimes. Every time I bawled “I can’t hear what you’re saying,” they ran off with their hands over their mouths in horror, possibly imagining that I’d said I was going to eat them all with chopsticks. (2013) 

You know Japanese food: bits of very rare, very expensive indefensible fish, rice, green horseradish, seaweed and uncomfortable chairs. Well, haven’t you ever wondered where they keep the real stuff? (2013)

There is a Japanese version — isn’t there always? It’s the thing with the Japanese. You ask them to explain their culture and they say: “You yoghurt-smelly, clumsy round-eyes with sens-ibility of meat, you wouldn’t understand illegible calligraphy, or one-flower arranging, or a musical instrument that’s a single-string tennis racket, or how anyone could possibly cheat at sumo wrestling.” (2013) 

Japan's is a fish- and rice-based cuisine. A Japanese person may go for months without eating meat. There are plenty of communities that survive on staple fish, but I can't think of one as numerous, advanced or ravenous. The Japanese gastronomy is more at risk from collapsing stocks than any other. Overfishing will have a dramatic effect on the culture, so sticking a Japanese restaurant next to a meat market might look like being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or it might be missionary work. (2006) 

Brazilian food is large, generous and sloppy, with masses of meat, chilli beans and palm oil, and Japanese, well, Japanese is like neurotic fish origami. (2009) 

Japan is the only country I've ever been to that wants tourists not to understand what they are looking at. It thinks people who aren't born Japanese are psychologically, intellectually, spiritually and aesthetically incapable of understanding their culture. (2006) 

Because of the Fukushima meltdown, all ingredients from Japan have to be guaranteed radiation-free. That’s tough with fish because they don’t live where they’re landed, and meaty, predatory fish eat other fish. Then take something like hon dashi, a stock made with dry tuna flakes. Where did they come from? The bureaucratic fag of getting certificates isn’t worth it for some Japanese exporters. So they’re passing the stuff through Korea. Korea is fine, no problem with Korea. Unless you’re Korean, of course, when you’ll be eating mud and hair. (2011)

Take Japanese food...the most neurotic, lonely and unhappy stuff - it's like eating obsessive-compulsive disorder. (2003) 

One of the best things about writing about food is that it cures you of any gastro-xenophobia, except, of course, for Mexican food, which is just nappies, and Korean food, which tastes the way their presidents look. (2012) 

This being the southwest, I had to eat Mexican food. As usual, my pitiful pleading was brushed aside with the argument that I had never had good Mexican. As usual, I countered that the only good Mexican is a regurgitated Mexican. (2005)

Virtually the only exception to the "never eat Spanish" rule is restaurants outside Spain - unless they're in Mexico, in which case they're twice as bad. (2006)

If you’ve ever eaten in Sacramento, Guatemala or St Barts, you’ll know it’s not to be recommended. Neither is eating any­thing in the rainforest or the demi-edens of central Asia or Anatolia. You wouldn’t invite friends for a gastro weekend to Madagascar, or the Great Karoo in South Africa. In fact, I would offer Uzbekistan and Madagascar as two of the worst places to eat in the world (2012) 

Here's a book recommendation for anyone who tends to agree with him. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dragons' Den, Chapin-style

Hello Dragons, 

I'm here today to ask for a randomly large amount of money in exchange for a 0% equity stake in my new business idea, a whole load of aggravation. I say 'my' new business idea, but in fact it is really my neighbour's, and he seems to be doing irritatingly well out of it. As there's nothing stopping me blatantly copying him, I fancy having a big car just like his as soon as I - I mean you - can afford it. I anticipate that turnover should be sufficient in the first year for me to concentrate on paying for private luxuries over say, overheads or suppliers' bills, or indeed, God forbid, reinvesting in the business, but costs should be kept fairly low - at least in the short term - because I plan on employing various good-for-nothing members of my family in key roles. Any questions?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A ceviche recipe which isn't kosher

I can always rely on finding something in Revue to give me the Grumpy Cat face. This month it was Amalia's recipe for ceviche de pescado

Firstly, is there really a need to describe any chile in Guatemala as 'Thai'? Back in the days before the Maya swapped chili-peppers for smallpox, the food over there in South East Asia must have been bland, bland, bland. 

But before I could get really worked up about that, along comes 'Kosher Salt'. 

From the perspective of correct Jewish diet, all salt is Kosher* This little misnomer however originates in the use of very thick grained salt to remove blood from the meat of animals that have had their throats cut ritually and left to bleed out in agony. 

Being suited for this kind of desiccation makes it potentially less than ideal for a dish like ceviche - which usually features a limited quantity of liquid - as it will almost certainly fail to dissolve. 

So why has it been included here? Well, these days many menus and recipes are plagued with utterly superfluous adjectives, deployed to accentuate the exotic in what might otherwise come across as generic. Just place the word Madagascan in front of Vanilla Ice Cream and you'll see what I mean. 

So-called Kosher salt also has fewer additives (such as iodine) than ordinary table salt and so its use here might be analagous to 'organic' other words conveying the smug 'I don't shop at the Bodegona' premium of the harder to find and the supposedly ethical-healthy alternative. 

Both rationales may be in play here, especially as a few swigs of olive oil are also deemed necessary for this particular ceviche variant: an example of the pointless Mediterraneanisation of everything that Jamie Oliver has made a career out of. As a general rule, the world's great standard dishes are rarely improved by being cheffed up in such unimaginative ways. Olive oil in ceviche? Just don't.

* Unlike say, all forms of ceviche...

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


For someone of my generation there is something reassuring about this sudden resurgence of near-forgotten east-west showdowns. How cheering indeed to see John McCain urging us to recognise the contemporary relevance of hoary old stereotypes, whilst of course lacking the self-awareness to realise that he might have been talking about himself. And what a relief to see the nation which once blithely and with utter impunity invaded neighbours like Panama and Grenada turning the strategic hypocrisy levels back up to full. 

Having twice visited the good ol' CCCP in the mid-eighties I find it hard not to feel almost warmly nostalgic about that unreconstructed empire. This new Russia, a nation of dangerously misplaced illusions ('First we learned that everything the communists told us about communism was untrue and then we learned that everything the capitalists had to say about capitalism was untrue...') has been rather harder let off the hook. But now we have McCain out there to remind us that Putin* is nothing less than a former KGB colonel and that Mitt Romney was right after all, and suddenly this century's seemingly intractable geopolitical discombobulation is resolved back into the simple polarities of yesteryear...

*What is it about Yanks and their terminal vowel sounds? Ramón is delivered as Ramoan, but Putin gets a Mayan glottal stop and becomes Poot'n.