Tuesday, June 30, 2020

You Should Have Left (2020)

This tale began life as a sort of Krouty sub-Stephen King clone, set in a remote part of Germany. 

The first thing the film-makers did wrong was to relocate it to Wales - shorthand I guess for the sort of back of beyond destination where Old Nick might have a holiday cottage - and then shoot it in New Jersey. 

There's a portentous shopkeeper in a bizarre village store who has the right kind of accent, but really, this is POOR. 

Kevin Bacon stars and also lists himself as 'producer', indicative of the movie's status as a sort of vanity project for the actor, who works to spoil it by never really working out if he is to be hero or villain. 

On the plus side, there's the house, the sort of gaff you'd never come across in the real Wales, and not just because it's a kind of evil TARDIS with enhanced interior dimensions along with visually-interesting aesthetics in both the rooms and the stretchy connecting corridors. 

And there's the appearance of young Avery Essex, laying down one of those performances, like Elle Fanning in 2004's The Door In The Floor, foretelling a worthwhile career beyond childhood. 

Yet overall it's a masterclass in the squandered build-up. 

One review I came across had the waggish remark that, if we had been permitted to see it in cinemas, the title is basically what most audience-members would no doubt have been thinking at the conclusion. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Bootleg tourists

Having performed better than almost any other nation in the hemisphere in containing the spread of covid-19 —  indeed they logged 50 consecutive days as virus free — Belize now plans to re-open its Phillip S.W. Goldman airport on August 15, and thereafter its tourism sector to a renewed flow of (controlled) visitors. 

The protocols that have been established in advance are interesting; the problems immediately obvious.

"... short flight away from most major US cities."

This is theoretically true, but Belize has not traditionally been connected to 'most' major US cities. Instead, like Guatemala, it has been receiving flights from major (current) covid hotspots like Houston and Miami, the last places from which anyone wants to be taking in travellers just now. 

Indeed, if the local migratory narrative in the last few years has been all about deterring Central Americans from heading north, the polarity of intense undesirability has been resoundingly reversed in 2020. In our pandemic-interrupted world Americans are the new Sub-Saharan Africans, a situation that seems likely to last well beyond the conclusion of this abject year.

A vaccine could help, but as Dr Fauci says, if a third of Amuricans refuse to take it and it is anyway only 75% effective, herd immunity may not stick, and so his compatriots will remain international pariahs for longer. 

Belize and Guatemala have few 'air bridge' alternatives, having become dependent on short-haul entrants from the US sun-belt. Both nations ought to be doing the legwork now to actively promote themselves to potential tourists from beyond the hemisphere. 

One of the handicaps they suffer is international airports with runways that are technically unsuitable for larger jets. 

Back in the 90s I used to fly ‘direct’ into Guatemala from Amsterdam on the KLM flight out of Schiphol — a supersized, 1/2-cargo jumbo. 

The urban myth about the end of the service goes that eventually one Dutch pilot took a look at the runway at Aurora and chose to abort his final approach before proceeding on to El Salvador. After that the airline didn't dare force their employees to try to plonk a 747 down on that roller-coaster. These days the only people to arrive here in wide-bodied airliners are government officials from the likes of the US and Taiwan. 

So, even given the fact that many airlines have under-utilised fleets, it might be hard to establish in the short term more direct routes which cut out the sickies in the US. (One reason one can expect Cuba to lead the way in the regional tourism recovery, as they have been geared up for this for yonks.)

A European passenger complying responsibly with the Belizean guidelines on testing could have a valid certificate of non-infection before their journey commences and yet still have to run the gauntlet of a few hours in say Houston or Miami's terminals, where there is almost no proper demarcation between domestic and international travellers, plus plenty of mask-less MAGA twats to dodge. And the risk these passengers would run would become OUR risk. 

Guatemala announced its own phased re-opening plan a fortnight ago and from that moment has moved steadily further away from being able to actually commence it. 

There is talk of the main airport reopening in August, but in practice INGUAT is looking at September as a more realistic timeframe, and then at a pattern of local followed by regional in-comers, long before more northerly foreigners are welcomed con los brazos abiertos. 

Mexicans are likely to be a source of worry for a while too, especially if they plan on arriving terrestrially. 

Although Belize appears clean, Guatemala needs to remain especially vigilant in Izabál because the maritime border has a certain informality to it. 

It has recently come to my attention that at least one of the tour firms that sprung up to cater to guiding large groups of cruise ship passengers around our city has still been operating, albeit at lower capacity. Bootleg tourists! 

Where might they have come from? I cannot imagine that these individuals are foreigners that have become trapped here by the pandemic and now imagine that traipsing around Antigua in an amorphous herd is the best way to kill the time. So, that muelle at Puerto Barrios, which can be traversed without immediately flashing a passport, would tend to be the prime suspect. 

Make no mistake, La Antigua's position as both the leader in new SARS-COV-2 infections in Sacatepéquez and as the primary hub for tourist activity in Guatemala portends a particularly painful period ahead. Tourism is second only to remittances in national income terms and usually out-performs anything the country is able to export. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Underneath the arches...

Just seen a vid on YT shot during an op involving open heart surgery in the moments that the big quake struck Oaxaca this week. Have decided not to share, as it is a little graphic.

It served to remind me that I occasionally find myself making mental lists of the places I don't want to be during major seismic events. (Also not completely shareable.)

Some of these I have unfortunately already experienced, such as 'Inside a capsule located within an onsen located pretty high up in a Tokyo skyscraper'. 

Then there's 'Underneath a big, swaying McDonalds golden arches sign on CA14'. Instead of my whole life flashing before me, every time it was every time I'd ordered a quarter pounder with cheese. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Imhotep returns...

This Saharan dust is REALLY messing with me. 

Like the plain trees in spring in London or New York.

Like what happens if I put too much Marie Sharp's in my caldo

Even our chihuahua is wheezing constantly. 

I get that my covid-resistant mask is just the thing I already have to hand for coping with the situation, but in spite of today's numbers from the Ministry of Health, I had not previously anticipated having to wear it in bed. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A bunch of aerosols from the Muni...

Who is responsible for these blokes from the Muni and what exactly are they spraying? 

They keep coming around to douse our front gate, the food and water we leave out for the street dogs etc. If this is bleach, this is NOT cool. 

If this is about the coronavirus rather than say the larger kind of bugs, the procedure is basically moronic. 

Has no one at the Ayuntamiento read up on how long these submicroscopic supervillains survive on surfaces, outdoors?

The curfew started at 6pm last night. This means that there will be no pedestrian traffic and almost no vehicular traffic around here until 5am Monday morning.  

No curfew-dodging coronavrius would have made it through last night, let alone persist another 24 hours before the next unsuspecting villager walks past our supposedly pestilent front door. 

And they arrived together in a pickup, like a dozen men crammed together on the cargo bed. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Open for collection

And in a slightly worrying development, cabinet-makers around here have re-jigged their offer to cater for the more local, 'to go' market...

Haircut 100

After an absence of one hundred days, the Premier League is back.

David Luiz might not have had the chance to visit the barber during lockdown, but now, after a similar hair-atus, our village is being treated to a #1 buzzcut. 

Only yesterday I was noting the markedly Chernobyl-esque aspect of abandon being sported by the children's playground outside the church. 

A Place of Fear

At least we’ve made it to Thursday without the world ending, though a stroll around Antigua right now perhaps reveals that the process is under way in more piecemeal fashion. (Did the ancient Maya have a conceptual equivalent of the slow motion train wreck?)

Here we can see some upbeat urban messaging from a jewellery shop named after their ‘Place of Fear’, that dimly-lit inframundo traditionally known to be accessible via a mysterious cave entrance close to Cobán. Not quite sure what to make of the dark pit of the — non-violently — dead announcing a mass resurgence. 

If not exactly a place of fear, Antigua increasingly presents as a place of uncomfortable uncertainty. 

On some levels it could be said that I have no skin in the game and have generally chosen to keep my distance from the foreign immigrants that do. 

Yet I have several close friends, acquaintances, family even, from the pool of more local business-owners and service providers, many of whom have hit a brick wall in 2020, and I genuinely feel for them, particularly as I cannot see the situation righting itself terribly soon. 

A stroll around town earlier in the week revealed a whole load of new gaps on the 'high street', which coupled with more or less effective presidential measures for halving traffic, left me with profoundly melancholic forebodings. 

Even though I have lately hankered after the less commercialised Antigua of at least a decade (or two) ago, I'm also aware that a global pandemic would surely be a blunt-edged tool for achieving that ideal. 

Current conditions would seem to favour more locally-orientated enterprises. Nevertheless, this week brought the perplexing and perturbing news that Hugo's Ceviches, established over 25 years ago by my wife's late cousin, would be permanently closing all of its restaurants, retreating back to the original proposition of roadside pick-ups. (V remembers clearly the conversation with Hugo in '93 when he said he was either going to return to the US where he had previously been living, or start up his ceviche business here.) 

The family has been hit by a double tragedy in recent years, first the passing of the patriarch, then the death of his young son, leaving Hugo the younger to keep things going. Now this. I suppose like many dine-in outlets in Antigua the money that paid the rent was coming from alcohol sales, and in this respect the advantage now lies firmly with retailers. Hugo's was the picositas pioneer.

Another friend, whose mother founded one of the city's most celebrated traditional outlets, an engineer, has been offering to deliver pepián for forty quetzales on social media. Further indication perhaps that the looming economic crisis won't simply serve to filter away the chingaste, but may be turning Antigua into an altogether more tenuous and insipid sort of venue for life. 

And that rather tenuous coffee metaphor leads me to this, a way to support some of the locally-owned cafés in town, which are collaborating to offer BLOOM, a single-origin bourbon from Finca La Labor. Available at the Fat Cat and other Guatemalan-owned coffee houses. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Mental Menstruation

It isn’t hate to speak the truth > J.K. Rowling
Good luck with that > Socrates

The distinctions that exist between sex and gender, nature and nurture — and perhaps most relevantly in this instance, between fact and ideology — are reassuringly non-absolute. 

Yet the acknowledgment that a degree of blurriness exists does not invalidate the distinction in itself. 

It is depressing to see stars of the Potter franchise falling over themselves to distance themselves from the author, in effect trumpeting their ideological purity — in much the same way that Pasternak’s peers in the writers’ union did for him in the USSR — especially as J.K. Rowling’s tweet appears to me to have been at least partly intended in jest. 

At Girton there were no single sex washing facilities. This did not apparently cause any problems, but Girton is not the big wide world. 

The College's very existence is testament to the historical issues faced by ‘people who menstruate’, who have tended to struggle in that big wide world, where they are a majority, to enjoy basic rights and protections. 

Women who have never menstruated, a small minority in comparison, are also deserving of respect, rights and protections, but we cannot allow a cultural obsession with this inherently more niche issue to damage the situation of the people who menstruate in any meaningful way. 

This is surely what J.K. Rowling has been trying to say.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Feds Up

My Norwegian business partner used to say that in America if there were no police, everyone would rob banks. 

In fairness he came to this slightly controversial insight as a result of checking out the moral compasses on display at the law firm appointed by the Yanks that were acquiring our company. 

Anyway, Minneapolis may be about to start Phase One testing...

Becky (2020)

There are so few decent new movies available to download right now that when an interesting looking title does appear one starts asking why it might have been deemed unworthy of a cinematic release.

This one is generally well made and on paper there's a good deal of promise. A fairly standard home invasion/Die Hard-lite scenario, except that the "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker" character is 12.  

The things that are wrong with this movie are just bad enough to spoil it however.

1) Kevin James as the systematically-subtracted motherfuckers' ringleader, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Think Paul Blart with a swastika tattoed on the back of his head. Right. 

2) The baddies are Nazis, so the script could have had an overt and quite nasty racist theme to it and sure enough someone decided to cast an African Canadian woman and child as key members of the home being invaded, yet in truth their (white) saviour is almost as mean to them as the SS mall cop. 

Plus the child is possibly the most superfluous character in a movie that I have come across in years. So, a bit of awkwardness is generated, but nothing much else. 

3) There is some fairly unnecessary lethal violence involving dogs...and children, but the latter is not shown, only suggested. 

4) The Brotherhood are after a key that Becky has stashed away in her tree house. And, spoiler alert, we never get to know what it opens, thus the stakes are significantly muddied. This would be like Hans Gruber banging away at a safe unsuccessfully for the entirety of Die Hard and then plunging to his death without us ever learning of its contents.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Al Fresco

I don’t think it especially pessimistic to imagine that it won’t be before 2022 or possibly even 2023 that international travel re-attains pre-pandemic levels. (It's a perspective I share with many airline executives.)

This means that Antigua, more than any other part of this country, could be faced with a fairly catastrophic and protracted economic contraction no matter what happens with the staggered reopening — and we’re looking at mid-September at the earliest if things pan out absolutely optimally in that respect.

It strikes me that Victor Hugo may have been advised to keep a relatively low profile during this period of official calamity, but to pop up again more consistently later on as the face of ‘Antigua, open for business’.

This isn’t going to work without a plan. And giving San Juan del Obispo a paint job doesn’t count as a plan.

Frankly, this is going to involve taking some fairly ruthless decisions. It’s Titanic time, lifeboats are limited and it’s women and children first or everyone is going to end up in the freezing Atlantic. This is inevitably going to be painful, but the authorities have got to decide who to help and who to leave to their own devices.

Back in March I advised a process of triage whereby socially valuable businesses would receive the best care available. Instead we have seen an emerging level of closures where the more useful small firms are actually suffering more than some of the blatantly naff and parasitical ones.

Parts of London are looking to open up now by allowing restaurants and even pubs to serve people outside. 

This would be eminently possible in Antigua as well. One of the most important beneficial changes in San Cristóbal de las Casas over the past decade has been the pedestrianisation and general tarting up of Real de Guadalupe.

Our own Mayor could essay something similar with the Calle del Arco, but my feeling is that the medium term economic security of the city may depend on creating a peatón-only zone* of 3x3 blocks, or equivalent. 

This will surely place some at an advantage and further disadvantage others, but it is necessary, and the time for action is now. 

Al Fresco dining and drinking faces both cultural and meteorological challenges. I remember when Escudilla was in its prime that even during the so called Verano here people used to try to arrive early to avoid the tables that were totally eposed to the elements. 

No matter how warm the day has been, here starry skies portend a bit of a chill. Even in Cambridge I recall sultry summer evenings unlike anything ever
experienced here. 

Tables on the street seem so natural in southern Europe, but Guatemalans will possibly need time to adjust. My wife and I have a long-standing favourite restaurant in the world, a small seafood café above the Vieux Plage in Biarritz. We always sat outside, and however much she adored the place, she never quite got used to the passage of pedestrians between the tables and the main part of the restaurant. 

There's going to be more to this than just blocking off a few roads to cars. The streets themselves may need to be re-formed for the new normal if it is going to work, and that means an investment level indicative of more than a short term compromise 

* Whilst recalling that in Italy Al Fresco tends to mean in jail. 

Sunday, June 07, 2020

BLM in Britain

Douglas Murray was dismissing the BLM protests in this week’s Spectator as the sort of American import that Britain can do without. 

In essence a sort of mirror image of the deluded nonsense many lefties spout about cultural appropriation: uber-guff only someone with no real interest in how cultures interact could actually peddle. 

If BLM is the cultural equivalent of chlorinated chicken, then so were the Beatles. 

Yet, there’s no denying that the US does tend to broadcast its neuroses around the globe as finished cultural products for the rest of us to consume. We feel it here quite strongly in Guatemala, though differently to the UK. Alternative parts of the culture appear open to this incursion. 

It has sometimes seemed to me that the trashiest aspects of American life are adopted here as aspirational. One explanation that occurs to me is that the middle classes here see these as emblematic of a security of status they fall some way short of possessing. 

Anyway, back to the London protests. 

Having endured all the finger wagging over Dominic Cummings, the UK right is now looking truly flabbergasted about the mass demonstrations in London this weekend, and sure, on paper these ‘apeñuscamientos’ don’t look especially sensible in the light of potential contagion. 

Our bobbies don’t even carry guns or brutalise people, groans Douglas. (Murray is one of those acute thinkers you’d never want to have a debate with that has been framed solely in his terms.) Of course, he’s missing the point, and one would suspect deliberately so. 

In the context of June 2020 one can characterise mass protest in the UK as both more dumb and less dumb than what is happening in the US. 

And given that I suspect some sort of cathartic rush to the streets was always going to be an inevitable part of this crisis, one needs to ponder what could have occurred if this particular flashpoint in Minneapolis has been avoided. (If the matter to hand had been perceived as mass destitution, more property would have been smashed up for sure.)

In contemporary Britain the issue of racial injustice is one that now appeals to a broad majority of better instincts. You might dismiss a lot of this as ‘virtue signalling’ but that is ultimately how we can strive to make the world a better place. Human beings are not innately decent, and never can be. We get to be civilised by pulling up our bootstraps. 

Huge crowds in London are perhaps dumber than those in America, because the issues are superficially less acute, yet, as I say, the problem of human indecency is universal and can only be assuaged by exploiting MOMENTS like this. 

They are also less dumb than the US equivalents, which have affected all fifty states, because they are concentrated in a city where the number of new SARS-Cov-2 infections has tailed off quite dramatically. The same is really only true of the far northeast of the US, the rest either stuck on the Altiplano or ascending energetically. 

The evidence points quite clearly to well-ventilated outdoor activities being less dangerous than crowded interiors of one sort or another. Even in a room with an open window droplets are quickly forced down to ground level. There may be a second wave, but this is probably not how it will fuel itself. 

When I joined the crowds of protestors at the Zona Cero in Santiago last winter, I was very nearly the only individual not wearing a sophisticated plastic mask and goggles for protection against tear gas. Even in the UK some of the demonstrators are sporting this sort of PPE, in spite of the fact that even Priti Patel is unlikely to order the use of chemical weapons.  And this in a country that has been almost stupidly ambivalent about mask-wearing during the pandemic.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

El Internista

I know that a lot of people will be thinking that what we witnessed last night was a sort of ritualised passing of the buck, with the President initiating perhaps the trickiest phase of his pandemic response by swearing in his official fall guy. 

But think of it rather as a seasoned medical practitioner like Dr G might conceive of it. He’s been our GP now for several months, using reassuringly earthy language to give a lift to members of his surgery and keep the flows through his waiting room manageable. 

But now he really does need to refer us to an internista capable of handling specialist care in a no nonsense fashion. To his right was el enclenque Monroy, the proctologist from your worst nightmares. No thank you. 

Yet, to his left was the slightly dandy, society specialist Asturias. My mother had an endless stream of similar medics at her beck and call. From Giammattei’s point of view, it’s a no brainer...

What Dr G DIDN'T say tonight

1) We've had a spike in fatalities which can in part be blamed on Mother's Day. This weekend brings Father's Day. Just don't...

2) For should you not, there's a chance that the daily tally of new cases will drop in a consistent (and believable) way, such that the country can start to reopen.

This process involves three stages that will last a minimum of 14 days apiece and the soonest it can all realistically start is July, so we're looking at mid-August at the earliest for some sort of restoration of normality — but that's only if we all managed to stay awake during that little animation and don't fuck up.

From now on it’s up to the nice man in the bow tie to decide where we are on the purple hump. We don't get to initiate Phase 0 until he gives the thumbs up. 

Today Mexico also reported its Mother's Day-boosted daily fatality stat, even outdoing the whole of the USA for the previous 24 hours, and exceeding 1000 for the first time since the pandemic began. 

And they're already re-opening...

Monday, June 01, 2020

Guess the number

Our nightly competitive guessing game was pretty simple at the start.

— guess how many new cases since yesterday.

Then there was a minor new twist.

— guess if it's going to be Dr G or el mudo ese.

And now there's a new level.

— guess what time he's going to pop up.

As of yesterday however, they are seriously messing with us. 

Sundays used to see a predictable dip, as elsewhere, owing to reporting lags, but then it seemed that the government here was doing something a bit different, holding back some of the numbers to the end of the week to coincide with Dr G’s weekly sermon. 


The narrative emerging from the powerful all around is becoming ever more consistent and strident and has three basic prongs...

- The worst is over
- Lockdown was probably overkill
- We certainly cannot afford continued suppression and mitigation is on final notice. 

I find myself in a position of agnosticism as to the underlying truths behind these assertions. 

Yet believing them to be self-evident is a form of belief like any other and the consequences of being only a little bit wrong — particularly if that belief is blinding one to the need to prepare to be wrong, just in case  — could be deleterious indeed.