Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Come oooooon. This is taking the piss. How can it even begin to be allowed under current restrictions? 

Eagle-eyed viewers last night may have spotted that in ‘red zones’ like ours, reopening restaurants seem to be permitted one customer per ten square metres. (Must everyone eat alone?) 

It was all a bit blurry and flashed by pretty quickly. But a buffet adds a level of confusion and avoidable risk that has to be properly discouraged by our municipal authorities e.g. people getting up from their tables, utensils being shared and so on. 

Indeed, buffets were one of the first things stamped out in Singapore for that very reason. OK, they are especially keen on stampings out over there, but they have squished the coronavirus quite successfully too. 

Two weeks ago Dr Giammattei established the principle that activity would be recommenced based on a daily tally of cases. Utter madness. 

So yesterday evening back he comes, having reached — or been helped to reach — the obvious conclusion that his traffic lights would have to be driven by a calculation factoring in a fortnightly account of active cases, the number of tests and the positive test rate

In other words the very methodology he should have announced two weeks ago, except back then he was really quite specific about the numerical checkpoints, yet on this occasion he seems to be leaving us to try and figure it out on our own. 

Last time he also left himself with a proper backstop, such that should we experience another major spike, red would actually mean red. 

Red has instead been rejigged to mean pinky orange, such that no matter how many people start to croak, the bleeding Esmeraldas and Orellanas will still be carving each other up on the carreteras.

At this rate we'll end up like Texas en un dos por tres

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The ex-pat pastel...

Broadly speaking, outsiders putting down roots in Antigua do so to become either a somebody or a nobody.

There are various ways to cut the cake, but this particular distinction between the individuals that settle here is significant, and perhaps never more so than during the present pandemic. 

For those who are here as a retreat from ambition tend to be coping a bit better than that other group dedicated to making this city their theatre of dreams.  

Amongst the retreaters, so to speak, you might expect to find the bulk of those who are literally on the run, people who in their previous existences have been a serious disappointment to themselves, or more awkwardly, to others. 

Yet in practice there appear to be just as many of their sort striving away amidst the more goal-orientated gringos.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Oxford vaccine news...

As a member of Cambridge I have some disclosable lack of objectivity, but I found today’s announcement regarding preliminary trials of the Oxford vaccine underwhelming. 

It’s safe e.g. minimum requirement met. And yet can cause a fever, and so inevitably will create some disruption during rollout and a possibly larger number than otherwise might elect to refuse it. 

We still don’t have a proper sense of how protective it is or, maybe more crucially, if it reduces infectiousness. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Relic (2020)

First time Aussie director Natalie Erika James has set about trying to do something unwonted with the horror genre, examining the age-related onset of a consuming loss of mental acuity and balanced personality in terms of a haunting. 

I started to develop reservations as I read the synopsis and never really shook them during viewing. The movie has to juggle three elements: the trappings of the genre, a situation in the county outside Melbourne that is almost excessively metaphorical and the very non-supernatural spectre of incipient dementia within a multi-generational family unit. 

During the first half, as the tension builds and the aforementioned elements are blended, the experience is suitably creepy and captivating, but ultimately the mixture doesn't seem to hold together. 

There’s a lot left unsaid in this scenario such as the absence of male partners, the fact that mother and daughter appear to be only-children, and while some of this has a positive dramatic impact, overall the effect is a bit swiss-cheesey. 

I suppose part of the issue here is that the film is better directed (and performed) than it is written. It ventures into extremely interesting territory only to leave one with a sense of having been led into a dead end. And there are times when it feels like a drama of people running around shouting ‘Mum’ a lot. 

It does however pass the Bechdel test with flying colours.

Oddly enough, this is the second haunted house movie we’ve watched during lockdown where the internal dimensions of the home prove somewhat unreliable. 

I’m starting to think that there’s a subset of developing chill features that should be equipped with a dialogue box that pops up three quarters of the way through warning viewers that they might not find the finale entirely to their satisfaction and providing a little button to discreetly bring proceedings to a premature conclusion.

There are horror movie third acts that essentially ruin the whole experience. This isn't one of them, but James had left herself with nowhere else to go other than off the ranch. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Mission Creep

In a press conference pitched as positive news, Dr Asturias spoke today of Guatemala’s recent success at flattening the curve. 

On a day that Miami ran out of ICU beds, and the pattern of infections across the US broadened noticeably, not an achievement to be sniffed at perhaps, but travelling alongside this announcement there was a more disquieting bit of information. 

Two weeks ago the models guiding local experts like Asturias suggested that the pandemic would peak here during August. Last week this slipped to September. Now it’s October. 

You can no doubt spot the pattern here. 

Back in March I mentally wrote off the whole of the year, and that at a time when some around here were planning their big post-covid knees-ups for June. But I remain vulnerable to disappointment in 2021. 

In much the same way the 2020/21 Premier League season seems set to commence just a couple of weeks after the final of the restarted Champions’ League, Guatemala is potentially leaving almost no interval between the first and second waves of ‘ésta maldita enfermedad’. 

Monday, July 13, 2020


Traffic lights are perhaps not as simple as they might first appear. My supervisor for political theory at Cambridge tried to explain the output of every great thinker in this field in terms of ‘traffic light theory’. (Another day...) 

This set was actually part of an artwork, a short walk from our London home. 

Originally located in the middle of a small roundabout at the entrance to the Isle of Dogs, they occasionally caused more confusion than Giammattei’s Sunday speeches, at least amongst those drivers who weren’t already in the know. 

The colour-coded system for regulating our journey down the highway towards the new normal announced by the President tonight has the potential for making this set up look relatively uncomplicated. 

This is due in large part to his failure, so far, to commit to a timeframe for defining the alerts. If this is done on a daily basis, utter chaos will duly ensue. 

The only reasonable decision-making process would involve — at the very least — a seven day rolling average of reported new infections. And the prevalence of testing and the rate of positive tests by department or municipality surely also has to be factored in. 

So in effect you’d need a nested system of traffic lights.

Oh, by the way, a big thank you to all the moronic pelaverguistas around here who have continued to throw (or attend) clandestine fiestas or other social events throughout lockdown. Your collective efforts have lost us half of Saturday now too. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020


We are in the midst of a pandemic of promises that politicians make with barely the minimal intention of following through: testing, tracing, covid-compliance and so on. 

If we can learn anything from the Guatemalan experience of attempting to contain the contagion it is that there are only two broadly valid administrative approaches: Not-arsed (Sweden, Trump etc.) or completely-arsed (China). 

Giammattei’s half-arsed approach just isn’t a contender. 

Meanwhile, the aerosols from Antigua’s Ayuntamiento were back last weekend, engaging in an activity that V has likened to the scientific equivalent of trying to dry one’s clothes outside in a thunderstorm. (At least it was not actually ⛈ on this occasion.)

Let’s just suppose some sneaky little SARS viral particles were lying low in the crevices between the cobbles early on curfew Sunday. They would surely be patas arriba by Monday morning whatever anyone does. In a sense that is the whole point of having one day a week when nobody circulates. 

ERGO, this is a complete waste of time and money. 

To paraphrase the Donald: anyone with 1/100th of a brain can tell that if you really think this might help, the time to do it would be just before curfew concludes, not just as it commences. 

They even brought a woman with them to take pics of them being utterly useless.

Sneaking up on us...

Word reached us yesterday of the first death from covid in our immediate area: the sister of the local ‘MP’, a family that have been our neighbours in the village for decades. It’s right at our doorstep now. 

The location of the affected household suggests to me that the main cluster of small shops is compromised. (We’ve long referred to it the zona roja, yet now it surely deserves the name.)

And yet some of the residents living around the little triangular park out front (two restaurant owners and one former restaurant owner) continue to hold clandestine gatherings during this period of lockdown, as if they owe no responsibility to themselves or anyone else around here. 

All have staff that come and go and some of their recent guests have rather obviously crossed departmental lines to get here as well. Others are over 60 and should not be outside at all. One of these reunions took place last Sunday. 

V’s nephew the epidemiologist said something insightfully non-epidemiological the other day. Introverts are all set to do better in this situation than extroverts.  He himself hails from the smartest, most introverted wing of the family. 

It probably doesn’t help that in my experience extroverts are often not all that bright. (Still if they frolic around outside at least they’ll be getting their recommended dose of vitamin D.)

Meanwhile, another family has to mourn without a proper vigil or funeral. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The King of Staten Island (2019)

Most of the movies we've been watching during lockdown have been either subtitled or the sort that in the past would have been dispatched down the path known as 'straight to DVD', so what a sense of relief (or indeed release) to finally stumble upon one that would have made it onto the big screen had 2020 not been 2020. 

Judd Appatow directs (and co-scripts) another comedy of a life in crisis, this time with a solidly mature sensibility. 

This crisis in question is something of a 'what if?' extrapolated from the real world biography of the film's star Pete Davidson, who lost his fireman father on 9-11. 

Maybe current circumstances inclined me to like this movie more than I otherwise might have, but I REALLY liked it. It is well written, genuinely funny, undoubtedly touching and quite extraordinarily well cast. 

Davidson is at the core of what makes it work, but there are great contributions from Marisa Tomei and Bill Burr, and Bel Powley is simply outstanding. 

The in-depth quality of both direction and performance is perhaps best encapsulated by Ricky Velez, who places his character Oscar so perfectly and comically on the line between sinister local sociopath and sad small-town loser.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Racist Fish ad Beer

Is this all getting a bit silly? 

The Guardian thinks so, especially after it was recently accused of being racist for not having openly supported Abraham Lincoln all those years ago. 

The BBC's Countryfile programme also self-flagellated in public last week when it suggested that the entire British countryside might be inherently racist, or at least a place where only whites would ever feel comfortable. 

Yet thanks in large part to Donald fucking Trump, we are all getting used to hearing racist dog whistles a lot of the time, and it does seem that a significant proportion of them are in all probability, non-imaginary. 

If we take the Donald at his word, perhaps he was unaware of the reference when he posted that 'when the looting starts...' tweet, but when it comes to dog-whistling, it doesn't matter whether it begins as intentional or not. 

Here in La Antigua the impulse behind Cervecería Catorce's stance on reggaeton was almost certainly not knowingly racist, rather a kind of smug tribal/musical elitism, but it certainly has the potential to be taken as something a bit more objectionable. 

Just imagine a 'no hip hop' sign above the entrance to a bar in Kentucky, for example, and remember the furore kicked off by Howard Stern's opinions regarding Tex-Mex music following the unfortunate demise of Selena. 

Musical taste is a minefield and quickly gets co-opted into the culture wars. (And culture wars are America's #1 invisible export these days.)

As a ‘funny’ sign behind the bar this wouldn't bother me all that much, but as the basis of a high-viz consumer brand — a proud identity — something to print on a surgical mask in the midst of a pandemic, it is unmindful, shall we say, particularly from a foreign-owned entity. And as such, it does actually bother me, even though I do like those Impunidads

You might only listen to Charlie Mingus or Robert Wagner and have high-browed, lowish opinion of reggaeton, but it is currently the music of the street in this part of the world and has a strong association with artists of mixed race. And also with youth, which makes this bit of marketing all the more fusty and 'old', as well as crassly snobbish. 

The image above has seemingly been removed from the Interwebs, so maybe someone had a rather belated attack of common sense. These aren't times when it pays to alienate any potential customers. 

Heaven knows I don't (usually) like banda, but I wouldn't open a bar grounded on an extravagant antipathy towards it here in Guatemala, largely as I might end up dead as a result.