Sunday, September 29, 2019

Mobs and Toffs

It could be said that the whole purpose of a Parliament or Congress in a representative democracy is to act as a filtration system to eliminate as best as possible the instincts of the mob. The US Constitution is almost explicit about this and it is surely the principal reason why we no longer hang people in the UK. 

Yet now, we have an executive branch, nested inside our Parliament, which is openly stirring up those mob instincts whilst asserting that ‘the people’ have some sort of moral ascendency over their elected representatives. 

This can’t be healthy. 


Friday, September 27, 2019

'What's happened to democracy in this country?'

Given the age profile of many Leave-voters, these riots could be quite amusing. You can do a lot of damage with a compressed air tank. 

In truth this sort of thing seems to bubble beneath the surface even more in countries like Spain, where one often comes across packs of angry-looking, slightly stunted, Franco-era wrinklies out on the verges of provincial main roads. 

Knowing and Embarrassed

An update from The Spectator today...
Theresa May’s former PR chief Robbie Gibb has revealed that during government Brexit negotiations with Labour last year, senior shadow cabinet members ‘repeatedly tried to thwart attempts to find common ground and move forward’. At one meeting Brexit secretary Keir Starmer ‘opened his remarks by dismissing proposals, outlined in a discussion document, as “totally inadequate”’ but then Theresa May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell said ‘these are Labour’s own proposals. They have been literally cut and pasted from a document you submitted to us’. Gibb says Labour’s reaction was a ‘knowing and embarrassed laugh’.
A laugh at least some of them must have practiced...behind Corbyn’s back.

Meet the Forkers

Orphan (2009) is — on the surface  yet another one of those movies where the lamentable table manners of its protagonists is unashamedly showcased. 

But hold on. The director was Jaume Collet-Serra a bona fide European, and he's gone about this dinner scene with a bit of a knowing wink. 

One of the ways that adoptee Esther's sinister abnormality is signalled is that she uses a knife and fork in the standard received, non-American way to partition her meat. 

And this does not go unnoticed...

It made me wonder whether the fact that anyone who drinks a single bottle of wine starts acting as if they have a brain tumour is another Iberian in-joke at the expense of his Hollywood hosts. 

Overall this is an entertaining bit of genre film-making, bolstered by a superior cast. It has to be said however, that it telegraphs almost every significant plot development well in advance. Almost every one. I really expected granny to get it. 

I suppose Collet-Serra is to be commended for not having provided this family with a pet which could end up dead roughly midway through. 

Prior to this he'd remade House of Wax (2005) with Paris Hilton amongst the early victims and later went on to direct The Shallows (2016) which belongs to that minority of decent movies with hungry sharks in them. He's also contributed to the Liam Neeson punching people phenomenon. 

Next up will be Jungle Cruise (2020) with Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Superior casting again. 

If the last film I reviewed played on a hurdy-gurdy phobia, Orphan might be said to be highly suggestive of Russophobia, or more specifically a fear of the occasionally alarming sensuality of slavonic women of the go-getter sort. 

I'd strongly recommend Andrew Miller's novel Snowdrops as one of the better treatments of that theme. 

Walkers with Seats

Referring to Parliament as ‘dead’ is not just inappropriate language, it is a deliberate and dangerous misconstruction. 

This Parliament is not some sort of undead creature left over from the antediluvian past before the ‘largest democratic exercise in British history’. 

It was constituted little over a couple of years ago and is a direct (and well deserved) consequence of the government calling a general election in a wholly opportunistic manner. 

It is thus appropriate they they should still have to live with the consequences and not try to appeal beyond this sovereign body to ‘the people’ (the mob) — by which they seem to mean 52% of the eligible types who turned out to make an uninformed decision three years ago, many of whom may never have voted Conservative in their lives, and even now may not choose to do so. 

Many of whom may also be the real zombies in this protracted apocalyptic narrative. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Nada Apetece

Antigua has plenty of previous when it comes to under-appetising food advertising. This one definitely goes into the archives. 

Aguacate shuco? No thanks. 

Midsommar (2019)

We came to this with a degree of of trepidation as Ari Aster's last film, Hereditary (2018), widely praised as a masterpiece, hadn't really worked for us. Visually stunning and otherwise inventive yes, terrifying...not really. 

It was the old The Exorcist problem for agnostic horror fans such as ourselves: the supernatural alone won't unnerve us sufficiently. 

Fortunately the genre as a whole encapsulates all kinds of other non-metaphysical phobias. Fear of the dark, of monsters under the bed, of birds, of children etc. 

Midsommar's angle is the fear of over-intense, difficult-to-read Scandinavians. I've had it myself since my brief stint in the NGO department of the UN in New York. 

A group of American grad student anthropologists head off to the far north of Sweden (actually Hungary) where one of them introduces them all to his 'family', a sect-like commune consisting of the sort of people you would more commonly come across selling kombucha in one of Antigua's eco-farms.  

They are there to indulge in a nine day celebration of the solstice in the midst of a pagan pastoral idyll called Hårga.

Cleverly, the first really disturbing thing to occur sits right on the edge of what can be rationalised, especially when subsequently soothingly elucidated by someone who looks a bit like Jane Goodall. 

This is a scary movie that deliberately eschews darkness; at least the sort brought on by a lack of solar radiation. 

There's a trippy Eyes Wide Shutiness about these people and their runic rituals, yet the elements of black comedy are far more to the fore.

Florence Pugh now has that early Emily Blunt quality of improving almost any film she's in. 

Five stars. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Iconic Lady

I've parked my car in that very space. Unfortunately, it wasnt that car. 

They seek him here, they seek him there...

I might not be, in the words of Ray Davies, a dedicated follower of fashion, yet I grew up on King's Road in the 70s and my mother modelled for Christian Dior, so I might be said to have, willy-nilly, assimilated the codes and critiques of both street and catwalk. 

It seems that Donald Trump is not the only President sporting offspring keen to show off the newest wrinkle — whilst recklessly signalling a shabby, upstart sensibility. 

Morales Jnr here must have purchased this item a few years ago, abandoned it in a closet and then donned it rather hurriedly for his excursion to our city. 

His left hand artfully disguises the fact that the top button has surely already popped off. 

Ser Barry of Uddersfield

Oh, how I've missed this lot. It's as if angry viewers got a court order forcing HBO to release a few extra episodes of Game of Thrones. 

MP Barry Sheerwell gave Attorney General Geoffrey Cox precisely what he had coming this morning. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


We once had one of our most confounding moments at the end of a long car journey when arriving here. 

Entering the village before dusk, we decided to follow the narrow road, which became narrower and narrower and led ever deeper into an ascending labyrinth in which all opportunities to go back quickly vanished. 

In fact we were only able to turn around and retrace our route once we had reached the summit of this little town. 

Gloria and Greta

Gloria Álvarez has been using Greta's burst of fame this side of the pond to have another bash at the socialists and their environmental record. (Chernobyl bla, bla, bla.) 

Being both a right-leaning libertarian and an environmentalist, the Greta phenomenon must be exposing some of the crevices in her weltanschauung

On one level though she's kind of right. 

Greta, like many other slightly jarring individuals throughout history is bringing an important issue to the top of the agenda in a way that well-meaning, anodyne politicians would never be able to. 

Nevertheless, there's a danger that she will be co-opted and ultimately smothered by the wider wokeness programme, with climate change joining immigration and identity as areas of the discourse that are muddied by partisan sentiments. 

The hard left has made a habit of presenting certain things as indisputable facts when they are not, at least not in the same way that man made climate change essentially is. 

We need to find a way for action on the climate crisis to be placed safely outside the cultural battlefield.


Monday, September 23, 2019

A la mano...

Pulse (2001)

I recently watched a long, unedited clip of footage captured by a CBS news cameraman who was caught beneath the WTC when the North Tower came down in 2001. 

I have such vivid memories of that day that I find it hard to comprehend that it is now a generation away. 

I was on the phone to colleague working from home with the news on in the background when the second plane hit. Shortly afterwards another colleague seated beside me was on the phone to her mother who was fleeing north along Broadway on a bus, describing people jumping from the windows. 

There appears to be a sort of fixed nowness to these moments. 

But a viewing this week of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (2001) has reminded me just how distant 9-11 really is. 

One can watch the footage and reflect on the absence of smartphones and their cameras. But Kurosawa’s movie is set in a time and place where the online world was literally a very different realm altogether. 

Japan was perhaps always a little behind in this respect. On my first visit in 2010 I struggled to get online in hotels requiring cables and adaptors and there was almost no easy access to wifi out on the streets. Some knowledge of Kanji (or above-average ability at guess-work) seemed to be prerequisite for logging on to any ISP, just as it was for taking out cash from an ATM in Kyoto. 

Watching these young Japanese students wrestle with dial-up and obscure chat rooms and bulletin boards has reminded me of the innate mood of social isolation that was an unavoidable part of the ‘anonymous’ digital experience throughout the 90s. This Internet is almost completely different to the one we have now. For one thing, it was optional. And there was no clear distinction between the dark and bright webs; it was all a bit crepuscular. 

The supernatural contents of this ultimately apocalyptic movie are an open-ended metaphor for real-life loneliness and deadening effect of urban routines. The after-life is finite, one character speculates, and now these surplus lost souls are leaking back into our world via our devices. The affected young people first find a floppy disk which leads them to a place online called the Forbidden Room where limbo is awaiting its moment of infiltration. 

"On the Internet nobody knows if you are (really) alive"...

I cannot say I fully understood this film on a rational level, but it has left me suitably disturbed. 

One of the most unnerving questions it transmits as an aside is this. If death could be cured by a pill, how would you choose to lead your eternal life? 

RIP Fredy 'Tito' Sierra...

The ex-vocalist and composer of Grupo Rana, Fredy 'Tito' Sierra has passed away. 

We had a highly memorable evening watching them perform live at El Manhattan (now known as the front bit of the Bodegona) back in '89 when the group had only recently formed.

He wrote both this track and Aventurero

Sunday, September 22, 2019


It's clear that La Antigua's plastic bag ban has gone all que sera sera, like pretty much everything else in this country. Rolling it out to national level by 2021 when it is clearly failing at the local is just the sort of vacuous virtue-signalling nonsense we are now being forced to swallow. (See recent post on antibiotics). The sort of thing that congressmen with cocaine labs in their back yards would come up with. Anyway, how about some recycling options? 

However....this idea recently trialled at a transgender conference is something I could really get behind. Would-be pedestrians in town would be obliged to visit El Castillo or La Mariposa to purchase little round red, yellow or green stickers to be worn conspicuously on the forehead or gorra. 

This would come in especially handy at La Bodegona.

Saturday, September 21, 2019


Writing on The Spectator's blog this week, Brendan O'Neill suggested we should forgive Justin Trudeau for his costume choices nearly two decades ago, whilst noting that "If you live by the sword of wokeness, you might die by it too."

Back in the 90s we both worked alongside an organisation in London that held an annual Christmas fancy dress party. I'm sure that whoever is the guardian of the photo library these days could make any number of fairly distinguished people get down on their knees and grovel.

I remember one Egyptian-themed evening (who would even DARE such a thing today?) in which there were pharaohs a-plenty yet one participant rather more memorably showed up with a tea-towel on his head, shoe polish on his face and sporting a plastic AK-47.

Luby went as Cleopatra; of course. It makes you wonder if there is a specific shade of whiteness one has to have been born with whereby certain creative uses of makeup are likely to be considered the equivalent of a thought crime. (There's definitely a whiteness tipping point beyond which people should be discouraged from dancing to reggaeton.)

Retribution came rather more swiftly for several of the beautifully be-robed viziers that night in Battersea Park who, upon exiting the yellow, pyramid-like tent around 4am, were immediately set upon by the sort of social justice warriors then referred to as yobbos.

In the specific case of Trudeau, I perhaps have a bigger issue with the clip of him going full Black Pitaya as a Jamaican singer than the dusky turbaned personage that the media has fixated on.

It must be kind of hard to hold an Aladdin-themed bash without unwittingly exploring cultural stereotypes. The characters originated in an authentically middle-eastern narrative, but generations of westerners have been repeatedly exposed to treatments bearing all the hallmarks of what Edward Said characterised as Orientalism.

Here in La Antigua last weekend ladino kids in folkloric get-up paraded with placards demanding an end to ethnic discrimination. How long before the cultural appropriation cops are taking names? 

Wokeness, like evangelical protestantism, is a banana skin waiting to be stepped on. 

Dust Bowl

During several non-consecutive evenings this week, outside has looked like this on night vision. Invisible to the naked eye however.

We’ve both had the dreaded lurgies with copious quantities of coughing and spluttering, but the respiratory problems have persisted a bit longer than usual. 

Could this gunk in the air be responsible? Is it emanating from eructos de volcán or perhaps alternatively from that annual migration of Saharan sand across the pond?

Gazing into the abyss

Watching The Capture has led me to reflect a bit more on CCTV and the nature of the so-called surveillance society. 

Last year we had security cameras installed across our properties in La Antigua. This followed a break in at one of them and an incident where someone accused me of a committing a crime right outside my front door. The case went well enough for me and less well for my accuser, as I was out of the country at the time. 

However, my lawyer pointed out that in a sense I had got lucky and that CCTV would prevent that kind of nonsense in the future. And he was right, because the cameras outside another house definitely thwarted something of a similar nature just three months after they were installed. 

I have always tended to be a little blasé about the risks of living in Guatemala. I grew up in an area of London where one could park one’s vintage Aston Martin beside the pavement outside and expect it to still be there, intact, the following morning. And the locals, while a bit eccentric, tended not to be outright loons. 

It has taken 18 months of security cam footage to wake me up to just how much sick shit goes on in this country and to realise that the live feeds are not really making me feel much safer. 

In Guatemala surveillance of any sort will quickly remind you of that notable observation by Nietzsche: “When you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

There has been stuff so grim that I’d hesitate to report it here in a public medium. That a woman getting down from a car, defecating and then consuming her own excrement for the amusement of the driver is not one of those unspeakables may give you a sense of how bad it sometimes gets. 

There are individuals who seem blissfully unaware of the cameras and others who appear to play up to them. 

The horror, when it occurs, is matched by a sense of helplessness, for over the years I have also learned that it is never safe to get involved in other people’s business in a village such as this. 

The cops are rarely the ideal recourse. Indeed one of the more amusing clips in our collection is an all-night orgy which took place in a PNC patrol car right outside our principal residence. 

There have been some genuinely heartwarming moments as well, yet these are somehow less memorable. 

The cameras have also played a role in souring relations with the local COCOPRE  (residents group) of which we were active participants until the requests to see specific clips from our feeds started getting out of hand. When one newcomer to the gatherings mentioned the possibility of getting his mates at military intelligence involved, that's enough, I concluded. much

Prescription Only

Guatemala's new law designed to stop people purchasing antibiotics without a prescription — coming into effect this week — is problematic on so many levels for me.

The country has no real equivalent to the National Health Service in the UK, so any dictat that prevents people of limited means from accessing these medicines, especially in an emergency, without a prior visit to a doctor is bound to result in unnecessary additional suffering, if not fatalities.

Once my mother passed eighty she tended to suffer from recurring bacterial infections. She had private medical insurance and was hospitalised each time this happened. This was absurd, but she would have been in a real pickle if she didn't have an easy option.

The law here seems to have a blanket effect. Yet like almost all laws here (viz plastic bags) it is bound not to be enforced with anything like fairness or consistency. 

What of really handy treatments for people (women in particular) with occasional urinary tract infections such as one-shot fosfomycin

After the first receta surely they should be allowed to repeat on their own discretion? Or maybe certain medications should be excluded from the provision?

And then what of people with pets? When Osli was nearing the end his skin cancer resulted in infections which I was treating regularly with amoxycilin. A vet would have had him put him down immediately. Part of the problem was the way the original outbreak was handled with an operation. (Clavi used to suffer from regular urinary tract infections until I discovered the curative powers of apple cider vinegar.)

But cats and dogs are always picking up minor infections and transporting them to and from the vet is sometimes more irksome than the equivalent effort for humans.

Pharmacists can surely be trained to function as gatekeepers, excluding those who'd self-heal a sniffle with penicillin.  

And just how is one to stockpile for the zombie apocalypse...! 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Amidst all the wrecks...

One of our oldest friends here in La Antigua has a successful, long-established business on the Calle del Arco. I’ll leave readers to guess which one based on what I am about to say. 

He once explained to us the principle of all long-thriving negocios here: you have to be selling something pretty unique, something that the local would-be copycats cannot easily duplicate. 

Trends come and go in this town, almost all distinguished by the arrival and subsequent besieging of the first movers. Cyber cafés, spas, coffee shops etc. The general effect is of a xerox machine out of control. A phenomenon that economists tend to refer to the as the overgrazing of the commons. 

Outright clones like Pollo Granjero are a common enough phenomenon, yet few have the longevity. 

The other day we were reflecting on how many of the businesses that were here when we met have kept going all these years. 

Almost all the survivors have been offering something sui generis, have built a brand resistant to mimicry, or have always been the sort of businesses that never really had to turn an actual profit. 

There really aren’t that many on our list. Back then there was no Bodegona, no Frida’s, no Monoloco, no La Macdonalds or Burger King even. 

There were however certain establishments which even then gave the impression of having been around almost eternally, with the clear intention to remain unmoved on the same spot forever  Doña Luisa Xicotencatl, La Fonda de la Calle Real, Doña Maria Gordillo, Cafe Ana, La Mariposa, La Canche. Doña Luisa perhaps embodies the perfect package of brand, location and offering. 

Then there are those like Quesos y Vino, La Cenicienta and El Sereno which have evolved, changed premises, expanded, though one can still almost guarantee dining utterly alone at the latter. Others like La Hamburguesa Gigante that have persisted only as a disembodied name. 

Welten has changed too, but in ways that make me think that I am observing it today as if from a self-propelled deep submergence vehicle drifting through a deep ocean wreck. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Rojo (2018)

Benjamin Naishtat's Rojo is a study in creeping ominousness, which looks at the lesser parochial evils that form the foundations of the greater evil of dictatorship.

Set in a made-up small town in Argentina in 1975, just before the Junta took power, the narrative tracks a cluster of incidents in the life of lawyer Claudio, played by Dario Grandinetti as a self-styled person of provincial substance whose moral compass is starting to spin.

Its most unsettling moment is an altercation in a restaurant right at the start and although it does its job in keeping the viewer rattled throughout, we also had the impression that the movie is never better than its opening sequences and that all its thematically-interwoven jitters never quite deliver as a whole.

There’s a Chilean TV detective that livens things up and I wish I had all the cultural references at my fingertips to know how seriously this character ought to be taken. One suspects there's an in joke going down here.

Monday, September 09, 2019

The Quake/Skjelvet (2018)

Sequel to 2015's The Wave (tsunami in the fijords), The Quake takes the nordic noir approach to the build up to an apocalyptic-level seismic event in Oslo.

The effects  set to a honking Hans Zimmer-like score  are generally excellent, with some of the best downwardly-mobile grand piano action since Laurel and Hardy.

Kristoffer Joner plays geologist Kristian, a Cassandra-esque figure who gets a lot more advanced warning than anyone ever had with a major quake, yet still fails to put it to good use.

Overall V found the film's take on the subject a bit '2012'. 

Being Norwegian, it delivers its silliness with such a straight face, that you are not quite sure if it wants to be taken in full seriousness.

Friday, September 06, 2019

The Dead Don't Die (2019)

Iggy Pop's coffee-craving zombie is perhaps the only necessary bit of attention-grabbing casting in Jim Jarmusch's largely un-necessary addition to the genre, overpopulated as it is with underused stars and plot-lines.

Think George Romero remade by David Lynch. This is not that movie. Instead it's a rather lame, struggling-to-be-funny parody of what David Lynch would have done with the dusk of the dead. 

Our own interest flatlined in direct proportion to the number of reanimated corpses on the street.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Extraordinary Levies

These transition periods between Municipal administrations in La Antigua are kind of fun to observe, at a distance.

There is a sudden air of financial urgency. Laws that have not been strictly enforced - especially those involving large-ish fines - are suddenly applied with a visible degree of jobsworthy zealotry. 

No helmet? Pay up! Your burger bar acting like an antro? Start coughing. Behind with your IUSI? Hmmmm. Etc.

A Game of Chicken

The Sun’s front cover today features Corbyn as a big chicken; in all truth, a bit of a cock.

Yet I think Blair has really helped Magic Gramps by pointing out in advance  before all of yesterday's big noise  just how dumb it would have been to take the bait. 

I did enjoy Corbyn's Snow White and the apple analogy. It's a shame none of the tabloids did a mock-up of that. 

Once again I think the pre-campaign polls could be deceptive. The Tories will almost inevitably lose seats in Scotland and the south-east and may find it hard to remove Labour MPs in the north with the Brexit bunch breathing down their necks. 

And right now Boris’s personal popularity premium  even with his hardcore adulators — must be reaching third season Mourinho levels. 

If Labour and the Lid Dems act smartly, I can definitely see the current opposition getting themselves into a position where a coalition might be feasible. This would be a win-win because I cannot see the Lib Dems making the same mistake and not putting some dampeners on their governmental partners this time around.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

All Hail the Rebel Alliance!

The Astoria Hotel, Leningrad 1985. Blurry photo by largely unamused Soviet waiter.

I had something of an Afro in those days.

It seems that Eddy Vaizey, front left, will have lost the Conservative whip today. We all knew he'd come good in the end. (His father was a Labour Peer.)

He finds himself in good company - the 'father of the house', the former chancellor, Churchill's grandson and my father's much-appreciated local MP for Newbury, Richard Benyon.

(Carlsberg, probably - in fact definitely - the best lager in the USSR.)

'Our House is burning'

Jeremy Corbyn's excursion into the Amazon during this morning's crucial Brexit debate was irrelevant, borderline nonsensical, and so typical of his inability to knuckle down on the essence of the current contention.

Westminster may yearn for sovereignty, but that does not include sovereignty over Brazil. Bolsonaro is surely Brazil's problem. (At least until the world finds a way to respond institutionally to globalised capitalism and the worldwide environmental challenges. G7 aint it.) 

It's worth pointing out that the Amazon forest's contribution to global oxygen production is around 6% gross, net levels closer to nil. All that biodiversity consumes the stuff as well. Macron's 20% figure is fake news and an excuse for Gallic grandstanding, if not outright meddling. His motives were possibly quite cynical, but along the way he has set off the more naive protestor instincts of Magic Grandpa.

When coverage of the fires came to my own attention, some time before the matter was taken up by CR7, Macron, the Beeb et al, the crux of the issue was the impact on indigenous reserves.

Brazil has reduced deforestation considerably over the last few years, but Bolsonaro's policies signal a possible up-tick for 2019 and a re-opening of the oldest wound in South America: the conflict between the modernising state and the patchwork of less modern, pre-Hispanic societies it would like to subsume. (Remember The Mission?). This is indeed a complex matter for careful Brazilians.

By the time the media outside the region had hold of this story it had been re-worked to significantly bother their own educated metropolitan elites. "Lungs of the Earth' and all that. The indigenes had vanished into the intellectual underbrush.

A part of Brazil (Peru etc.) that is almost the size of Australia somehow now belongs to all of us, minus the knuckle-draggers of course.