Tuesday, December 31, 2019

'Fíjese que ya no hay pan...'

Just how many tamales is this guy planning on guzzling tonight?

I know chapines like to stock up on bread when the local panadería threatens to close for one whole day, but one has to doubt whether there are any pirujos left in this village now...


We are reaching the combustive conclusion to that somewhat bizarre period between Christmas and the New year  the Norwegians have a rather lovely word for it, Romjul  where I am never quite sure upon waking if it is actually a weekend or if I need to check whether something interesting might be happening in the Premier League. 

If there's one thing I have learned over three decades in this country it is that there is an important difference between laws that exist and laws that are enforced. I'm hoping that this proposed prohibition has some teeth to it, as these globos chinos have become a real menace over the last five years or so. 

On the 24th I spotted one of these forking things sliding sideways across the valley in the now familiar manner. 

We are simply too high up here for them to ascend as intended and once launched in the centre of the city they have a tendency to seek out the trees and rooftops of El Panorama with some degree of inevitability. Three have come down in or immediately around our home on New Year's Eves, one making a fiery landfall on our roof.  

This year we're hoping to be able to get out and enjoy the arrival of the first decade of the millennium we actually all know to describe without this additional anxiety. 

After last year's conflagration near the arch, one has to imagine that the owners of popular bars and restaurants will be on hand to gently dissuade anyone looking to launch a globo tonight. 

The Trial of Christine Keeler (BBC, 2019)

The Beeb's flagship drama for the festive season comes with a good deal of personal, if slightly salacious interest.

Although my mother was not herself a member of the Astors' Cliveden set, she was really only one step removed, as Joy, one of her closest friends, was a fully paid-up participant and when the film Scandal was released in 1989, the last time Keeler and co were a hot topic, both women were contacted by the kind of journalist that Hugh Grant habitually disapproves of, indeed the sort that features herein as a series of stock caricatures. 

Meanwhile, my father was perhaps even closer to events as depicted, for he used to play chess with Dr Stephen Ward at his flat. Ward was then 50 and my father 35, so although it is fun to see James Norton inhabiting the innately creepy 'society osteopath', he is possibly a bit young for the role. 

This inter-marriage period in my father's life has always been a little murky and now that he is no longer with us, likely to remain so. Some people, including members of my family, adhere to the possibly apocryphal narrative that he 'dated' Christine Keeler for a while before she moved on to representatives of the British and Soviet adminstrations. 

I once tried to deftly interrogate him about this and was treated to one of his discouragingly vague denials. He did however admit to having seen Ward and Keeler together 'from the window of his office'. The trouble is that in 1960-62 I'm not sure which office he could have been referring to, and wasn't quick-off-the-mark enough then to question this little detail. 

And to make matters worse, I have surely transplanted a false memory onto this conversation, as each time I recall it, the view that springs to mind looks down onto Charing Cross Road at the Cambridge Circus end, and I have no idea why.

This was a period in which he boasted of a 'bachelor' pad in Cheyne Walk and enjoyed bromances with a coterie of sybaritic individuals who occupied mews flats. 

One of these, Belgravia antique-dealer Kenneth Sweet, would end up as best man at my parents' weddingg and was possessed of a tiger rug in the entrance of his Kinnerton Mews digs that I have never quite shifted from memory. 

He it was who intercepted a massive slab of gorgeous blue and grey granite destined for the palace of some Saudi sheikling, added appropriate legs and flogged it to my father as a dining room table. 

This is now my proudest possession, yet regretably it remains back in Blighty and I am waiting for the global economy to do another nosedive, which might allow me to import it via Santo Tomás de Castillo. 

One way or another it will end up in Guatemala, precisely because my mother never wanted it to. 

Whilst I do tend to regard the 60s as a bit over-sold, the three or so years either side of the inception of the decade do really fascinate me. Where the giant ugliness that is Centre Point now stands, there was a labyrinth of dirty old Victorian buildings (plus gaping holes left by Nazi bombs) which housed the jazz culture described in the novels of Colin MacInnes. Absolute Beginners, City of Spades etc. 

(A fun pic of my uncle David from that very era...)

I'm almost certain that V was the only Guatemalan present on the lawn outside the Palace of Westminster on November 20, 1990 in the hours after Margaret Thatcher's resignation. 

We then witnessed a scene almost out of the Hollywood playbook, with row upon row of reporters with microphones speaking to camera in almost every language imaginable and we rubbed shoulders with our former 'Father of the House' Ken Clarke, in that moment cast very much as the villain of the piece. 

V claimed to have a personal interest in as much as her erstwhile friend and colleague, Margarita Ascencio, now of Finca Colombia fame, was then widely referred to by the apodo 'Margaret Tatcha' here in the colonial city. 

The point of this recollection is that right then, a year after Scandal's release, Harold Macmillan and his contemporaries — I do remember them speechifying during the Thatcher years — had by then vanished into the mists. 

And now, when I think about the Iron Lady and her boys, they too have disappeared into written history. If I live long enough, I may yet get to see this happen a third time. 

Keeler died a few months after my father, though she was almost a generation younger. She has now been given a sensitive re-treatment for the #metoo zeitgeist

One wonders how we Brits will remember her in 30 years' time, if at all. Perhaps we will be scouring more recent timeframes for our myths of decline.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Space Invaders

President Piñera’s wife, Cecilia Morel, recently described the unrest in the streets of Chile as being rather like an alien invasion. 

In Chilean actor, dramatist and screenwriter Nona Fernández’s fictional debut from 2015, the extraterrestrial intruders are being put to a variety symbolic uses. They represent both the sacrifice and the relentlessness of resistance to Pinochet in the 80s, plus the regimentation of primary school life in a Santiago suburb. 

The novella itself is structured as a series of advancing, yet shifting temporal fragments, in sections referred to as lives, at least until the final one, 'Game Over'. 

The action within these vignettes is taken from the author's own childhood recollections of a vanished classmate, whose father turned out to be one of several National Police officers charged with the brutal murder of activists: El Caso Degollados. It's a very personal story of lost innocence; lost political innocence, where the central question is how old one has to be to ‘get into’ politics. 

Perhaps the overarching theme is the arbitrary exchange between private and collective memory. “The book was written out of wisps of air, constructed of snippets of dreams and memories, mine and others, like a collage, trying to account for the workings of fragmented, diffuse memory,” notes its author. 

The Atari game is a cultural artifact that presents me with a collection of really quite specific, connected flashbacks to the year 1980. In March that year I remember watching in awe behind an American girl of similar age as she exterminated wave after wave of the pixelated critters on the arcade version in our Orlando hotel. 

I acquired my console soon after and was quickly mastering the technique whereby skilled players might move across the bottom of the screen at just the right relative speed, so that missiles could be slid between the gaps, taking out both the higher value invaders at the top of the stack, along with the whirring saucers that occasionally passed above. 

No ’vintage’ emulation of the game for PC or Mac has ever given me the same sense of potential for scoring via this rather precise little dance.

I searched high and low around the Chilean capital for a paper version of this book, but in the end had to settle for an electronic one. 

This reading session was supported by La Mosquita Muerta (mezcal, triple sec, menta and fresas). 

Our Man West of Havana

In 1957, as Castro's rebels fought both government troops and communists in the east of the island, Norman Lewis was dispatched to Cuba by Ian Fleming in order to sound out Ernest Hemingway on the developing situation there.

The creator of 007 was thoroughly despised by his own publisher Jonathan Cape, who refused to even meet him. Yet 
Fleming was one of those tortured genre writers who craved to be taken more seriously and hankered after the company of poets and authors of genuine literary repute. 

Hemingway was also published by Jonathan Cape in London and Fleming had tried unsuccessfully to engage him in correspondence. At this time Foreign Manager of the Sunday Times, he was also probably still connected with the British intelligence services, so the uprising in Cuba presented a further opportunity for bothering the American writer, not just in the name of journalism, but also as a way of indulging his fantasy that Hemingway was, as Lewis put it, 'an extremely subtle and successful undercover agent'.

The Times's emissary duly turned up in a notably violent Havana 
— 'most beautiful city of the Americas' — and checked into the Seville Biltmore, which was also Graham Greene's favourite hotel in the city. (Though the Inglaterra has a bigger part to play in Our Man...)

At first Hemingway was hard to get hold of as the editor of the Havana Post had challenged him to a duel after the Nobel Laureate had whipped off Eva Gardner's pants and waved them around at a party thrown by the British ambassador.

So Lewis set off for the Oriente in order to gather the impressions of ordinary Cubans. On the roof terrace of the Casa Granda hotel in Santiago's Cespedes Square (where, on April 19, 2012 I watched Chelsea beat Barcelona 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions' League semi-final) Lewis observed an extraordinary gun battle between Fidel Castro's 26 July movement and local communists...

'By custom, the first shots were precisely at 10pm, giving the citizens the chance of a quiet stroll in the end of the evening before the bullets began to fly. With a half hour to go, and all the street lights ablaze, the promenaders began to stream out of the square and make for their homes, where they clustered at their doors like gophers ready to bolt for the shelter of their burrows when the shadow of an eagle fell upon them. Then as the cathedral clock struck ten, all the lights went out, and the streets were cleared for battle'. 

It had become clear to Lewis that at this stage Fidel's lot were middle-class rebels with no meaningful grasp of Marxist doctrine and that the 'reds' in Cuba wanted rid of them.  

Meanwhile Hemingway was writing to the Havana Post to decline the duel on behalf of his readers - he owed it to them not to endanger himself in this manner.

Lewis travelled out to La Vigía to meet him.

'At sixty years of age he looked like a man well into his seventies and he was in wretched physical shape...there was an exhaustion and emptiness in his face. This was an encounter which might have been dangerous and undermining to any young man in the full enjoyment of ambition and hope, because it presented a parable on the subject of futility. Hemingway's mournful eyes urged you to accept your lot as it was and be thankful for it...after all his conquests he seemed ready to weep with Alexander, and, looking into his face, it was hard to believe that he would ever smile again.'
Lewis did not find him forthcoming on the uprising.'How do you see all this ending?' 'My answer is that I live here,' was the novelist's slightly cryptic reply.

Back in London Lewis, one of the great British travel journalists of the last century, reported back to Ian Fleming: 'Finally I saw the Great Man, as instructed. He told me nothing, but he taught me a lot.'

(The original, long-form version of this tale appeared as an article entitled Mission to Havana by Norman Lewis.)

Thursday, December 26, 2019


The only thing Her Majesty appeared to lack there was a tamal...

Monday, December 23, 2019

Uncut Gems (2019)

Adam Sandler has made a career out of being annoying in almost every film he's appeared in. 

When, midway through this especially taut thriller, gem-dealer Howard Ratner is duly informed by his wife that he's the most annoying person on earth, most audience members will probably have to admit that on this occasion Sandler has somehow managed to contain this inherent irksomeness behind the fourth wall - which is probably why some critics have hailed this as a 'towering performance'. 

For me it was still just a bit one note and for V, the increasingly frantic drama almost unbearably 'shouty'. 

Yet it's a compelling and enjoyably wild ride and a movie that will surely be discussed passionately by film buffs for a long time, unlike say the one that won Best Picture last year at the Academy Awards. 

I'd say that the stand-out performances were in fact delivered by the two women in Ratner's life: Idina Menzel as the aforementioned put-upon spouse and girlfriend-employee Julia, played by Julia Fox, who must surely be about to break out beyond the confines of Instagram. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Coincidences are fun

When I was still in my teens and using Interrail to explore continental Europe, I made some interesting acquaintances, over and over again.

One of these was an impressive young former Israeli army officer called Moishe Cohen. We first exchanged words in the room we shared in the Amsterdam youth hostel. A few days later we bumped into each other on a tram in Vienna. He had acquired a very beautiful girlfriend. Then, maybe a week later, we ran into each other again in a tunnel in Paris.

I’d have started to worry that he was following me if it weren’t so obvious that the same thought was already giving him sleepless nights.

Ex-military Israelis make for intriguing travel companions as they tend to communicate with each other using an arcane sign language. It’s hard to tell whether, like newly-familiar Americans, all they are really dong is comparing notes about how much they have paid for stuff.

My wife has become convinced that certain Uber drivers are actively tracking her movements around town. As a counter-measure she only activates cellular data on her iPhone when she absolutely needs it. To be honest I’m not entirely sure that she has been beset by coincidences. She has already banished Siri to the sin bin, and for good reason.

Meanwhile, I keep running into my brother-in-law in precisely the same place in the street outside La Merced. I’m on foot and he’s passing in his car...

Tuesday, December 17, 2019


Good to see that in spite of his resounding majority, Boris has taken pains to ensure that the cliff edge has been fully reinstated and that 2020's season finale of Brexit will be the sort of squeaky bum entertainment that viewers of BBC Parliament have come to expect...
On a separate note, Sturgeon must be chuckling at the way she managed to engineer an unnecessary election using Corbyn and Swinson as her stooges. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Cometh the hour...

Corbyn will be remembered as the candidate who made remainers want to get Brexit done. 

Cometh the hour, cometh the wrong man.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Fuckup Nights

At first glance I thought this sign at the Selina hostel was advertising a guided tour of some of Chepe’s less salubrious nocturnal hotspots. 

There are definitely cities in the world that might more naturally lend themselves to that sort of excursion (Tokyo for one), yet perhaps the unguided nature of the journey is an essential part of the experience. 

Anyway, ‘Fuckup’ here is a slightly more po-faced outing for those who haven’t so much come to Costa Rica for the leafy, off-the-grid professional intermission as for a personal and networking growth opportunity. 

Or maybe just to finally open up about the time they accidentally CC’d the entire company on THAT email. 

Appropriate to a slightly bizarre institution in Barrio Amon, which appears to cater largely for people who look like they work for Google.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Here we go again...

Increasingly convinced that La Antigua Guatemala could benefit from a name change to La Déjà Vu Guatemala...

No + Gases

At some point last month in Chile I made the conscious decision that being repeatedly tear-gassed was going to be the price I’d have to pay for witnessing the Estallido Social. Being one of the few without a mask, it was not at all a pleasant experience, and the stuff was still seeping out of my pores a week or so after my last significant exposure. 

And yet I’m still only talking about a handful of time-limited incidents, not months of the stuff in the air around my home such as these unfortunate residents of blocks around the ex-Plaza Italia and Parque Forestal have had to endure. 

In Valparaíso’s Plaza Victoria I came across gangs of well-meaning, young, middle-class volunteers recruited by the Muni to scrub the fountains and paving stones clean of graffiti (at that moment doing harm to little more than their civic pride), while around a kilometer away - close to the congress and the bus terminal - there was so much teargas residue still on the ground and in the atmosphere, that Saturday shoppers were wet-eyed and wheezing all around me. There appeared to be more pedestrians with surgical masks than one typically comes across in Kyoto, yet there were still plenty of pensioners and little children without them. 

This was where the clean-up was most needed and where, along with a humungous sneeze, I felt the righteous anger welling up inside me. Unless the threat of lethal violence is incontestable, either the canisters fired by carabineros, or indeed in hand-held form as pepper spray, this is a chemical weapon banned by convention from military use and, as such, a coward’s weapon.

Monday, December 09, 2019

The Brick Wall

Public speaking has always presented me with a range of inherent terrors, even though I have ended up quite experienced with the situation, at school, at Cambridge and then professionally (...the dreaded PowerPoint deck.)

l've come to understand that there are two specific circumstances which can result in me coming a bit unstuck. 

Perhaps my worst (combined) experience of this was at a big European-level internal conference which took place in Evian on Lake Geneva. I had flown out as a last minute replacement for a colleague with a basic brief on how to deliver his presentation to this eminent gathering and pretty much went straight from the airport at Geneva onto the stage. 

This moment failed both my key personal tests for a successful public address.

1) I had certain insecurities with regard to specific members of the audience and, perhaps more importantly, 2) there were parts of the presentation that I either didn't fully understand or wasn't myself entirely convinced by.

Things were going passably well until one slide around midway through the deck which I found particularly confounding. I was convinced that the spectacle I then presented was of someone going into anaphylactic shock. 

I eventually managed to get going again by clicking through to a slide I felt I could talk about. Later that evening over a shared dinner of raclette, I discovered that many members of the audience appeared not to have noticed my meltdown (Though those about whom I retained insecurities probably had.)

Fish out of water...

What's worse, keeping chickens next to the stove or washing your dirty linen in public? 
This extreme exponent of #firstworldproblems had me giggling into my coffee all morning. One reason that your bog standard Mercedes convertible is known as 'anti-suegras' here in Guatemala.
Amidst the comments was this gem: "Enjoy your cholera". I'm sure cólera was intended, the double-entendre was delicious. 
Anyway, it has to be said that this 'conversation starter' (in truth a massive shitstorm starter) ought to have have been framed as a more anonymous, generic 'fish out of water' situation. 
It really cannot be OK to demean a (future) relative in public in a language she would presumably not understand; in effect a hefty behind the back stab for the parent of one's betrothed. (In my case at least, that would have been an unambiguous sackable offence.)
It's worth adding that much of the 'fresh' water that emerges from springs around this valley has had little fish in it at some stage.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Ad Astra (2019)

I first saw 2001 A Space Odyssey with my father at the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue a decade after it was first released. My 11-year-old mind was intermittently perplexed, but I don't recall thinking ‘How completely silly is this?' every five minutes or so. 

Nor indeed 'What this really needs is a bit of Mad Max with lunar rovers’ or ‘I wish those apes would stop throwing bones around and start devouring astronauts'.

Kubrick's film is one of those ‘philosophical' sci-fi yarns that retains the power to thrill and existentially disturb up to and beyond the 'near future’ it projects into. Here in Ad Astra Brad Pitt clearly thinks he's in another such landmark and his ponderous voiceovers gradually start to deliver an element of unintended comedy, as if from within a rather poor Terence Malick parody. 

Director James Gray must also want it to be that movie, yet he’s also desirous of delivering episodic reminders of others, such as Alien, or Total Recall, so the overall effect is Profound Sci-Fi Lite. 

Yet it definitely looks and sounds like the premium product, as he has taken on Interstellar’s cinematographer Hoyte van Hoyterna and had an ominous score done by Max Richter. (Though there were seemingly no actual scientific experts involved, as they may all have been off somewhere complaining about Brexit or the weather.) 

Meanwhile, the obvious literary reference is to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, yet again in severely diluted form, as the horror, the horror ultimately turns out to be a possible misreading of our cosmic predicament, an error of perspective, of the kind fathers are occasionally wont to have.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Earthquake Bird (2019)

This would have been little more than a run-of-the-mill, slightly disappointing, mystery-thriller, but for two factors - the albeit under-used (and perhaps even a bit misappropriated) backdrop of late 80s Japan and another utterly compelling performance by Alicia Vikander. 

She, along with Riley Keough is a little let down by the screenplay (though not as badly as a pair of Tokyo detectives), yet it is what they both do with the gaps between words that is so impressive. 

As Teiji, Naoki Kobayashi is taciturn, yet still gets some of the movie's better lines.

The novel was 'critically acclaimed' and I find myself now rather drawn to it. Ridley Scott has some form with picking up top notch genre fiction for his production company and then handing the texts over to directors who squander the opportunity to some extent. (Viz Child 44.) 

The titular birdy is a narrative irrelevance in this adaptation. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

No Regard

Historians will judge Blair harshly for Iraq and Cameron for Brexit, yet one of the great ironies of the debate over the last few months has been Blair's trademark lack of self-examination across repeated interventions in favour of Remain. He appears not to acknowledge the pivotal role of his own government in laying the foundations for populist revolt.

There are clear parallels to see in Chile. A series of nominally socialist administrations in the post dictatorship years chose to adapt to the growth-inducing free market ideologies so favoured by Pinochet.

Just as New Labour in the UK had disaggregated and de-localised healthcare and education, Chilean socialists opened the path to ‘monetisation’ of these public goods and in just the same sort of short-sighted manner - no regard for the possibility of macro changes in economic conditions, no regard for the impact of globalisation, no regard for an upsurge in immigration and consequent pressure on resources and most significantly, no regard for the possibility that under these changing conditions they could soon be replaced by a government of the right, more purist in its laissez-faire intentions and willing to push on far more aggressively with the removal of the state from key areas of the public services.

Private Passions

Corbyn won't lose this election because he's been ‘smeared’ as an anti-Semite. He'll lose it as a consequence of his contributions to the Brexit debate over three years.

There are roughly 260,000 jews in Britain, proportionally tiny compared to the Muslim population. Corbyn is set to surrender 30-40 seats in the northern half of the island, where his support for the Palestinian cause ought not to be decisive.

Yet this high profile position serves as an analogue of his stated views on Ulster and his apparent willingness to rub shoulders with wrong-uns. And, as a resident of Latin America, I can see that Corbyn’s persistent support for Maduro demonstrates that the ideology in his head will always override his heart, something I can never abide in a political leader.

Furthermore, his support for Palestine is surely indicative of a man and a party with private obsessions, precisely at a time when the country needs leadership grounded in a more unifying narrative.

Defeating Boris should have been comparatively easy, especially as this time the Conservatives must gain a majority in order to govern, and because he and his party are liars.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Primal (2019)

This is essentially a very rudimentary and generic action formula flick at which even Stephen Siegal might turn up his nose, that someone has decided to spice up by adding a bunch of Amazonian animals, in much the same way that one might dump a load of chimichurri on top of a fried egg on toast. 

Along with this menagerie comes Nicolas Cage as a hunter-collector hitching a ride to Puerto Rico on a vessel which also just happens to be transporting an NSA-sponsored assassin who’s had a bit of a Colonel Kurtz moment and needs to be shipped back home (an expedient requiring a fairly absurd explanation) accompanied by a naval medic and a team of US Marshals. 

It’s bizarre to recall that Cage won an Academy Award for playing a drunk. Here he undoubtedly deserves the gong for ‘Worst (ever) rendition of an inebriated middle aged male’. 

That said, he still has the knack of making a one star movie feel like a three star one at certain points of its running time. 

From the poster you'd possibly never guess that roughly 90% of it takes place on a container ship and that the white jag has little more than a cameo role to play. 

Features some unpleasantness to parrots.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Bygone (2019)

Westerns were important to my father. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster and Custer of the West (1967) with Robert Shaw were very much part of his pop culture refractions of history. 

Custer plays an indirect yet increasingly relevant role here in Graham and Parker Phillips's 'neo-western', a movie that isn't content to tell a modern story using the tropes of the genre, rather it wants to be at once a social-realist complaint about the parlous state of the American West, greed, people trafficking, sexual abuse and so on...and an actual western. 

I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. My father however, would have been utterly bemused by it. 

I was, it must be said, slightly thrown by its opening textual gambit, a bold restatement of the old noble savage chestnut and clearly written by someone with a) no understanding of how historical sources work and b) an unawareness that most of Mexico sits within 'North America'. 

Angel Has Fallen (2019)

Prior to every new addition to the Fallen franchise Morgan Freeman's Trumbull has had a promotion. When Olympus had fallen he was Speaker. Then as London came down he was Vice President. Now, as Butler's 'angel' Mike Banning is about to take the fall, Trumbull is the occupant of the Oval Office. 

One has to presume that should these characters get a fourth outing, he'll have to reprise his recurring role as God. Heaven Has Fallen

With these sort of franchises one finds that there is typically a solid preliminary feature duly followed by a sequence of increasingly ropey sequels. The process appears to have ended up a bit back to front here. 

Angel Has Fallen is being touted as the best of the three, and there's a good deal of truth to that, but the outrageous silliness of the format was part of its essence and something has gone missing in the furtherance of a belated seriousness. (A chunk of budget too, I would imagine.)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Joker (2019)

However much I might enjoy taking photos, word and concept are always primary for me, the look of things merely surface. In that at least Luby and I are a bit different. When I need to make sense of the world I tend to write; she, on the other hand, draws. 

Being proudly ‘visual’ she found this movie just a little bit more thrilling than I did, as it is undoubtedly one of the most visually exciting films of 2019. Some of its scenes look almost absurdly good, unnecessarily so perhaps. 

Underneath the slick surface of the cinematography, it felt a bit flimsy at times. I found myself enjoying the production (and performance) so much that I kept having to ask myself if I was being equally captivated by the storytelling.  

I suppose that no matter how earnestly the material is approached, comic book characters are never going to have the heft that comes from proper mythology. 

Yet Joaquin Phoenix’s performance goes way beyond the sequence of riveting poses he is asked to strike, and there are two or three really excellent scenes which I could easily watch again and again. 

I don’t know if this was at all intentional, but Joker's self-choreographed entrance on Live With Murray Franklin (De Niro) reminded me of Michael Jackson, and not in a good way...

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Havana 500

When it was Open Day at St Paul's all the High Master ever needed to do to make the place look a bit tidier was put out a few extra pot plants in the quad. 

Felipe and Leticia seem to require a dogrom. 
Charles and Camilla made it there first of course. 
Havana did once belong to Britain, but we swapped it for Florida, a tradition the locals have kept up.
When I was in Cuba myself a while ago, I noticed that a lot of the street strays around La Habana Vieja seemed to have that elongated look suggesting that they might have a bit of daschshund in them.
Istanbul is now justly celebrated for its cat population, yet the felines have flourished there largely as a result of Turkey's other unmentionable genocide: the exiling in 1911 of some 80,000 of the capital's dogs to the island of Sivriada, where many either starved or drowned trying to escape. 

¡Arriba, Arriba! ¡Ándale, Ándale!

A lesson perhaps on the perils of ignoring a 2016 referendum result. 

What's the betting that this is not now turned into a hospital?

Corbyn has a Mexican wife. There's always somewhere for him to go. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Too Clever By Half

In theory at least, AI systems should get better and better at statistical guesswork.

Yet the AI behind Evernote has suddenly become less good at deciding where to automatically file any given article that I might feed it.

Yesterday I noted how it now wants to dump pretty much anything in the Sunday Times into ‘Technology’ even if the piece is about Homer and the Trojan War.

This left me wondering if it is reading the finished text or the underlying HTML and meta-tags.

Then this morning I observed how a review of a book about extraterrestrial languages in The Spectator would have been shoved into ‘Film & TV’.

I can see how that might have happened. Perhaps this is an AI that has learned to make cunning inferences. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

After the Wedding (2019)

Billy Crudup's IMDB bio commences by noting his rigorous career choices. So what went wrong here? And what about Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams? What could possibly have made them imagine this would be worthy of their talents, other than the reputation of the original? (The director, it has to be said is Moore's hubby and she co-produced.) 

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw called it 'insufferable' and as a one word review this is as good as any. 

The story is structured around human constants: birth, marriage and death. So it really ought to feel universal and yet somehow what it screams  and I so hesitate to use this term  is white privilege. 

The Danish/Swedish original — which I haven't seen — was Academy Award nominated in 2007. The essential confrontation between two parents, one a lifelong idealist and escape artist and the other someone who has tried to have it all, including a successful career as both parent and entrepreneur, somehow strikes me as something that would make more sense within the dimensions and context of Scandinavian culture. 

The remake gender-flips these characters, as if this would ensure that the underlying conflicts are now even more interesting, yet this is completely undermined by translating the action to a very particular New York milieu. 

Luby gave up after about twenty minutes. I was pulled through to the conclusion perhaps solely because the dilemma at the heart of it has some telling personal relevance for me. 

But it's awful nonetheless. Julianne Moore's 'I don't want to die' scene serves as a reminder that we have entered the season of the not-quite-Oscar contenders. 

Friday, November 08, 2019

Flag Trap

This pic taken inside La Real Casa de la Moneda reminds me of one of my formative experiences in late 80s Antigua: on entering Banco Industrial on 5a Avenida (now flanked on one side by Monoloco), I somehow managed to knock over the national flag and was quick to observe how all the employees stood up at once and looked at me as if I had just walked in wearing a suicide vest.

I was in there again today and relieved to note that there are no longer any flag-poles to unwittingly stumble over. 

We ran into two Guatemalan friends in town today. The first was busy persuading some game-looking foreigners to put down roots here whilst the second greeted us with premonitory words along the lines of "Get the fuck out of this terrible place...what are you still doing here?', a warning made that much more piquant by the knowledge that said chum is a direct descendent of one of this country's colourful twentieth century presidentes, whose distinguished career included a) coming to power via a coup d'état b) introducing the Quetzal as the national currency and c) dying in suspicious circumstances.