Monday, July 31, 2017

Schadenfreude alert!

Considered a violation of their laws...   (link)

Those weird and wonderful Guatemalan laws that if you're not careful will see you dragged up some temple steps only to have your heart cut out with an obsidian blade. 

Hang on a sec; we're not exactly talking necking a bottle of Havana Club in public on the streets of Riyadh, stepping on the King's portrait in Bangkok, chewing gum in Singapore or bringing your dog with you into Australia, are we?

If it had been Pepito travelling in the other direction, I think attempting to board a plane with a backpack full of bullets might well have been considered a violation of US Federal law, and that the TSA might also have been disinclined to regard this as an innocent mistake in the first instance...don't you think? 

I was once severely hassled over some instant coffee which they insisted had nitroglycerine amongst its ingredients, only to later admit that it's an ingredient in many common consumer products, such as hand cream. 

But they do so like making you squirm anyway. My (very) Norwegian friend by the name of Solheim was even held up because his surname sounded suspiciously like Suleiman.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tribal Traditions

Often when the subject of the slave trade comes up, along with the need for modern white Europeans to feel palpably guilty about it in some way, someone pipes up with a statement along the lines of ‘Africans enslaved Africans too.’ 

This is one of those true statements that reveals some rather interesting things about the nature of truth itself...and its uses. 

Usually the person giving voice to it is not what you would call an all-round expert on African history and culture. They will instead have tended to pick up this fact in isolation, largely as a means to the end of interrupting a debate in an apparently confounding manner, most commonly also as a means to getting modern white Europeans off the hook a bit. 

It is indeed true that Africans enslaved Africans, just as it is true that Pedro de Alvarado conquered Guatemala with an army of Native Americans. Invaders of all sorts have always encouraged pre-existing antagonistic conditions in the lands into which they intrude. And so it was in Africa, where Europeans stirred independent tribal societies into damaging conflicts in which prisoners were taken, who could later be sold to the Europeans as slaves. 

In modern Cuba three separate African religious traditions have been largely preserved, the most widespread being Santeria which derives from the Yoruba culture of Nigeria. 

These belief systems survived in part because the Spanish slave-owners on the island wanted them to. In fact they established a set of slave-run councils or cabildos to help preserve the tribal identities of their human property, as they anticipated that tensions between such entities would offset against any outburst of protest against the slave-owning order in general. 

Yet many Cubans of African descent became proud of these bodies and the role they played in preserving African language and traditions. Similarly Mayan people in Guatemala today wear colourful textiles often specific to their places of birth of which they are justly proud, tending to to forget that these were also rolled out originally as part of a system of colonial control. 

Tribalism is thus almost always a double-edged sword. 

Members of a particular tribe who are in its grip often imagine that their feelings in this matter are somehow protecting them from a whole set of outside threats, whilst preserving stuff that deserves to be preserved. 

Fans of America First or Brexit are no different in this respect. But do please bear in mind that wherever there is tribalist sentiment, there’s usually also someone out there exploiting it for a wholly different set of ends. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Airport Congestion

There have been mixed reports of the impact of the new security procedures for US-bound flights at Aurora. One punter claimed yesterday that there were long lines at 3:50am. 

The last time I took an early morning flight out of Aurora was November last year (Interjet to CDMX) and the pre-Trump security backlog was already pretty hellish. 

This is an example of how the knock-on effects of US policy can damage the economies of other nations. The United and AA outbound services are concentrated in the 6am-8am window, which actually represents an inconvenience for tourists, especially those located in La Antigua. 

But at the same time there are multiple regional flights favoured by business passengers  to Panana City, San José, CDMX etc.  and it is these people, trying to make it to another city for a morning meeting or to do a proper day's work, who are now being severely inconvenienced by the US-sponsored chaos at the airport shortly after sunrise. 

I have no idea how much control the Guatemalan authorities actually have over runway slots, but the should seriously looking at shunting the Yanquis into a time window where they only disrupt themselves. 


At the eastern end of the Tanque de la Union there's a sizeable pila - a public wash basin - where local women have come for generations to clean their trapitos
Imagine that upon completion of this task, they then run up lines between the palms and lamposts in the park in front, so that their garments can dry in the sun. 
From an aesthetic perspective, that is essentially what is going on here and I imagine that the occupants of the house behind the group in this picture are none too pleased about it. 

But the key difference with these yoga classes is that their leader is taking commercial advantage of a public space. A better analogy might be the opening of a paca on this same lawn, with the only real difference being that the chirajos have human beings inside them. 

La Antigua's parks and public spaces are limited in size and quantity and are increasingly being adopted as places of unregulated commercial activity by all sorts. 

How many of the people in this pic will have paid for their Boleto de Ornato? There are genuine upkeep issues behind this, as well as fair use of public space.

In El Panorama there is a similar issue with the ball court which is frequently hogged (at no cost) by local private colegios and semi-professional futsal teams amongst others, whilst all the maintenance overheads are borne in effect by the community.

If Susancio is going to be fair and consistent, she needs to move this lot on just as she has moved on the sellers of típicos and books. 'A gashrotashos' if needs be.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

El Shute has his dos centavos' worth...

If there's one thing Susana deserves some support on it is this displacement of the 'Feria del Libro'. As an avid and diversified reader in both Spanish and English - with noted bibliomaniac tendencies some might allege  - I can honestly say I have almost never felt the urge to graze this particular set of troughs. (Though I did pick up Gloria Álvarez's polemic on populism after listening to her plugging it live at the feria last year.) 

Most of the tomes on offer are utter junk, the sort of stuff you could buy any day of the week at the Mariposa. Claims that this annual event adds to the intellectual life of the city are spurious. 

But the real issue here is that the Muni has to be consistent - one of the main complaints levied by avuncular Dr Parada on Thursday about the pedestrianisation of the Calle del Arco. 

If they wish to de-commercialise the Parque Central, then they have to re-locate the book-sellers along with the pestering típico peddlers, no matter how much faux-intellectual bravado they display.  

Our mayor has to be prepared to piss EVERYONE off uniformly- the stuffy conservative petty-elite, the parasitical gringos, the invasive riff-raff from the provinces...everyone. 

And she has to stop trying to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Massive fines directed at all those who flout her directives will get her nowhere. Far more than an architect or urban planner, right now La Antigua needs an economist in its top job. 

This is because by its very nature Antigua benefitted a long time ago from up front contributions from architects and urban planners, and what it needs in the contemporary environment is an administration that understands the complex and sophisticated web of incentives and disincentives that needs to be spun to get the place functioning properly again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The price is whatever you are prepared to pay...

One thing you notice here is a much more obvious disconnect between price and quality than you see in the developed world. 

This is I think one of the more obvious costs of relative ignorance - ignorant retailers selling to largely ignorant consumers. 

You see this at the Bodegona on the shelves where products like wine and pasta are stocked. The pasta aisle for example features cheap pasta on one side and expensive pasta on the other, with no noticeable difference in quality. It’s all about what people are prepared to pay. The situation with wine in there is even worse. 

Things are yet more extreme at the various delicatessens around town where supposedly fancy cheeses (mostly pre-ruined due to poor storage and sometimes even freezing) are sold by people who have never consumed such a thing in their lives. It’s like a bookshop staffed by illiterates. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

From Referendum to Reformation...

I remain a committed remainer. 

There are all sorts of reasons for this, but at base it is because my thinking is beholden to a legacy of belief in the soi-disant ‘European Project’ which I am loath to let go of, and because of a steadfast commitment to my own adult identity as a Citizen of the EU. 

This places me in a position analogous to the sort of Roman Catholic who can park all the nonsensical medieval theology and modern abuse scandals at the back of his or her mind, reassured ultimately by the universalist proposition and the periodically illusive underlying decency that serve as bond to their faith and associated worldview. 

Is the EU capable of adapting to changing circumstances in much the same way that the Vatican transparently isn’t? It’s the trickiest of questions. The Catholic Church has a sense of being above mere circumstances. Sometimes it appears that the EU does as well. 

England at least has had some significant previous with this Brexit business. No doubt the subjects of Henry VIII were repeatedly warned that in their rejection of Rome they had made a monumental error of historical proportions. Then as now what Little Englanders rather obviously wanted was all the benefits without any of the external interference and control. 

And to some extent they got what they wanted, though the breach remained very much a live issue for at least three hundred years afterwards (soft, hard and then arguably softer again in the modern parlance — along of course with the abortive 'Lib Dem' approach undertaken by Henry's daughter Mary), and in one small part of our United Kingdom, a part they may prove particularly pertinent in relation to this new schism, it remains so to this day. 

In my desire to see the result of the referendum reversed I am as willing as the next remoaner to deploy project fear. But the truth is that not even a decision as apparently momentous as the one made last June can significantly undermine the position and trajectory of a modern nation like the UK. 

The EU ought to have given greater consideration to internal reform prior to the Brexit vote and it surely needs to do now as the world’s fifth largest economy - one with whom it maintains a handy €120bn trade surplus - detaches from it. And whatever now happens to the UK in ‘independent’ form, only the delusional can maintain that the 27 will not now witness a ramping up of the agonising pressures already being brought to bear on their four ‘indivisible’ freedoms, especially the freedom of movement. 

Instead of speaking and behaving like the Vatican, the EU might do well to consider in a timely fashion which of its fundamental precepts will best stand up to present and future realities. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Time to act...

Both Brazil and Guatemala have over the past couple of years shown the rest of this hemisphere how to handle heads of state who both demean and mis-demean at the same time. 

Surely, the great nation that is the USA can muster just enough self respect now to know that its time to deal properly with a usurper like the Trump incubus? 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Top Notch Chop Houses

I've had the extremely good fortune to sit down to eat at many extraordinary eateries across Latin America on my travels over the past decade or so.  

Most of these fall into one of two main categories: small typical comedores of the unpretentious sort, and larger dining halls of considerable local repute cooking up notably superior versions of famed regional dishes. 

Those listed here belong to a third: mid-priced restaurants where either the quality or the creativity  in combination with the atmosphere  have made the meals served one of the standout memories of any visit to the (mostly) urban spaces they grace. 

Quintonil, Polanco, Mexico City, Mexico

Casa Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico

Catedral, Oaxaca, Mexico

El Mural de los Poblanos, Puebla, Mexico

Bangcook, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

La Palapa de Tio Fito, Campeche, Mexico

Mezzanine, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Pata Negra, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Waoo, Vedado, La Habana, Cuba

La Cocina de Pepina, Getsemaní, Cartagena, Colombia

Donostia, Bogotá, Colombia

El Cielo, Leticia, Cololmbia

Al Frio y Al Fuego, Iquitos, Perú

Restaurante César (Formerly Mi Causa), Miraflores, Lima, Perú

Cevicheria El Cebillano, Arequipa, Perú

Mestizo, Vitacura, Santiago de Chile

Aqui Está Coco, Providencia, Santiago de Chile

Bar Liguria, Providencia, Santiago de Chile 

Café La Poesía, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Asador La Estancia, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The list is undeniably personal, clearly non-definitive, and arguably a bit idiosyncratic, and it might have been longer, but sadly a handful of establishments that would almost certainly have featured have since closed their doors (e.g. Nina Yaku in Arequipa, La Carmela in Mendoza, Cha Cha Cha in Cahuita) and others, such as our very own Welten here in La Antigua, are sadly not quite what they used to be. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Keepers

So, we made it to to the odd-numbered conclusion of The Keepers. I'd have prefixed this post with 'spoiler alert' except that the warning would have been about as meaningful in front of a recap of an episode of the new Twin Peaks

Certainly, if you have been left wondering who the alleged nun-killer 'Brother Bob' might have been, David Lynch is probably your go-to guy. 

The whole thing was indeed plotted in a rather Lynchian fashion, with a superficial sense of linearity laid over a more elliptical narrative, with frustrating non sequiturs at every turn. At one point in episode six V quipped that 'by the time they get back to the maggots I'll probably be covered in them myself!'

This was essentially a tale about people keeping things to themselves for too long or simply not saying as much as they actually know, and director Ryan White appears to have tried to adopt this as the pattern of his own exposition. 

The two main areas of interest, the slaughter of Sister Cathy and the sorry history of systematic abuse by Father Maskell were in the end somewhat flimsily coupled, via a single eye witness account of a guided visit to the cadaver. I was disappointed that no connection between the clergy/law enforcement and uncles Edgar and Bill was ever fleshed out. 

I was also rather disappointed that nobody explicitly voiced the irony implicit in the Archdiocese's response to Maskell's outing as a pederast: send him to a girls' school; that should do the trick! 

When the Forensic investigator Doctor Werner Spitz turned up and started rolling out names like JFK and OJ Simpson, the term 'Rosicrucians' popped into my head spontaneously...and for one ghastly moment it occurred to me that the whole series might be an elaborate spoof. 

The cops were all reassuringly archetypal. This lot in Baltimore couldn't release the autopsy report as this might prejudice any future cold case investigation, yet meanwhile had lost all the rest of the physical evidence. If anyone was supposed to be the eponymous keepers, it certainly wasn't them. 

We were particularly gobsmacked by Sharon May, the prosecutor tasked with taking on cases of sexual abuse in the area, who rather obvious lacks any interest whatsoever in her chosen field. The painful logic of her inertia was quite simple: we need corroboration but don't get too excited if you get it, because then we'll tell you every case has to stand up on its own anyway. 

This series will no doubt have played well with people, such as myself, who regard religion as a crime against humanity. However, nobody should be holding their breath that the Roman Catholic Church will become any less self-serving, secretive and manipulative as a result of exposés such as this. 


Just in case you weren't quite sure what Jimmy was referring to when he spoke to Jorge Ramos about 'normal' behaviour, not just in his own household, but all over this nation, here's an example of it in action on our streets...

- First the Muni van rocks up
- Then, using pickaxes, new holes are opened up where no such holes existed previously
- Big stones thus loosened are bagged up and loaded onto the pickup
- Holes are then filled with what looks like a mix of earth and volcanic rubble
- For good measure gasoline is then syphoned out of the pickup, no doubt so the bill for refueling can then be presented as a legitimate expense
- And repeat...


En caso de que no estuvieras muy seguro de lo que Jimmy se estaba refiriendo cuando habló con Jorge Ramos sobre el comportamiento "normal", no sólo en su propia casa, sino en toda la nación, aquí está un ejemplo de ello en acción en nuestras calles...

- Primero, el picop de la Muni de la Antigua llega con varios trabajadores

- Luego ellos, utilizando piochas, abren nuevos agujeros donde no existían
- Las grandes piedras son así aflojadas y posteriormente embolsadas y cargadas al picop
- Los agujeros los rellenan de lo que parece una mezcla de tierra y escombros volcánicos
- Para finalizar, el colmo es que hasta extraen bocalmente (con una manguera) un galón de gasolina del vehículo, sin duda para poder pasar la factura con el gasto de rellenar el tanque. 

- Y así se repite el proceso...

PR Disasters Galore

Susancio is not only useless, she is also in a sense perpetually unlucky - as well as being very badly supported by her media team, if she even has one. This week the Muni started off with two rather good plans, on paper at least: firstly, close the noisy cafe-brothel opposite Soleil and secondly, move the clutter that is the annual biblio-junk festival out of the Parque Central and over to the forecourt of the Cooperación Española. In both cases however, the implementation process rather predictably resulted in the kind of PR disaster in which our Mayor seems to specialise.