Thursday, April 29, 2021

New Horizons

I have no definitive memory of the first time I saw the sea. 

I suppose this must have occurred in the nebulous period before I turned two. And it would almost certainly have taken place at an English seaside resort in the south east. 

The one fixed mem-bite I do have from one of these weekend breaks is the night I was allowed to sleep in a proper bed for the first time. (And, judge me not, I still possess the soft toy that was placed on my pillow that evening by way of a companion through this transition.)

I would get to see the 'ocean' — and a good deal of it — on my maiden journey abroad, to the island of Madeira, somewhat isolated in the Atlantic west of Morocco and on the same parallel as Bermuda. 

These recollections centre on a trip taken around its vertical, rock-ribbed coast in a small boat with my father and the boatman, the sensation being not so much that of observing the sea as that of being an expendable part of a heaving mass, billowing around the crags and gushing into the many cave-like inlets. 

And so the first 'classic' memory I retain of the sea as a vast liminal space spread out before me was laid down perhaps a year or so later on the Costa del Sol, and from a raised vantage point. This was the Med, with its gentle swish at the shoreline — at least at that time of year — and thus my impressible, fledgling attention was drawn further out to a new and almost greater mystery…the horizon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Traveller's Tree (1)

There's already a numerical notation in the title as I just know I am going to have SO much to say about this book, which was Patrick Leigh Fermor's first published travelogue.

Arriving by boat on a tropical French territory in 1948, the author comments that his impressions of the Central American mainland, Guatemala included, will have to wait for a subsequent volume — yet sadly it seems that this would turn out to be one of those sequels that never really got off the ground. 

Still, the impressions of our finest travel writer of the last century as he hopped from island to island in the Caribbean during the immediately post-war, post-imperial era, accompanied by his future partner and later wife, the Honourable Joan Elizabeth Rayner, plus Costa, a Greek mate who acted as his Catherwood, make for extraordinary reading today. 

The first thing they did off the boat was head to the market to the fruit: a soursop (anona), a paw paw (papaya) plus an avocado. 

I was immediately reminded how my parents used to refer to avos, which tended to arrive on their table in halved, semi-mature form, dolloped in vinaigrette. 

We each chose an avocado pear: dark green or violet globes the size of cricket balls, enclosed in a hard and warty carapace. The knives made a sharp tearing noise as we opened them. In the centre, loose in their hollows, lay big round stones, completely spherical and smooth and very heavy. I hated throwing them away, they seemed so perfect and neat, and somehow important, but except as embryonic avocado trees, they are useless … The pale green fruit clung to the shell with a consistency half-way between butter and plasticine.

The plasticine reference simply emphasises the connection to 70s sensibilities. 

This rather quaint unfamiliarity might seem something of the distant past, yet when V was studying in England in the early 90s one of her college friends, Aitor, a Basque from Vitoria-Gasteiz, confessed to her that he had never come across an avocado before landing in London. (In fact, he’d never even heard of them...)

Leigh Fermor's description of papaya trees made me chuckle out loud...

The fruit of the paw-paw clustered round the perpendicular trunks as thickly and symmetrically as the breasts of Diana of the Ephesians.

I've travelled with his like, excited, engaged public schoolboys whose worldview was formed and to some extend fixed, during the formal and undoubtedly durable process of 'classical eduction'.

Leigh Fermor was a lifelong Hellenist. The opening sequence of the last instalment (so far...) of Richard Linklater's Before... series was shot at his house, at his table, at Kardamyli in the Southern Peloponnese, just before he returned to the UK to die in June 2011. 

He had married Joan in 1968 and lived with her in Greece until her own death there in 2003, aged 91. They had no children. 

Before Midnight was released in 2013. I saw it in segments, during my lunchbreaks, by way of buying three separate tickets to the Odeon in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Muse of History

Saint Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott understood how tough it can be to draw simplistic poetic conclusions from the past...

In the New World servitude to the muse of history has produced a literature of recrimination and despair, a literature of revenge written by the descendants of slaves or a literature of remorse written by the descendants of masters. Because this literature serves historical truth, it yellows into polemic or evaporates in pathos. The truly tough aesthetic of the New World neither explains nor forgives history. It refuses to recognize it as a creative or culpable force.

If the muse of history is speaking to you, it should not be spouting platitudes, or easily digestible moral certainties. Rather it should sound almost annoyingly sarcastic.

Take a relatively local example. Bartolomé de las Casas, the first resident Bishop of Chiapas and first official ‘Protector of the Indians’. According to one biographer he came from a family of conversos, Jews encouraged under duress to adapt to Catholicism as the Reconquista was completed.

He ended up as a missionary to the Maya here in Guatemala. His defence of the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean region is often characterised as the beginning of the modern notion of human rights. Crucially, he participated in the Valladolid Debate of 1550, the first time a ‘moral’ enquiry had been held in Europe into the treatment of peoples encountered elsewhere — and was rather firmly on the ‘side of the angels’.

So far, so straightforward. But, whispers the muse, along the way poor Bartolomé made the fateful suggestion that it might be a better idea to import Africans to do all the work in the New World. And thus his very good intentions led in part to the institution that currently more than anything else seems to feed the sense of shame eating away at our civilisation.

Black Bear (2020)

I've been digesting this movie for several days now, wondering how, if at all, I can describe it. 

It has a central characteristic the mere description of which is something of a spoiler. There's almost no getting around that, so here goes. 

Two stories are told, linked by location and theme, by character too, though not so closely, and roles have shuffled. 

Reviewers will tend to mention two separate realities, uncertainly related, yet the whole only really makes any sense to me if one acknowledges a third, observable as a sort of interstitial. 

It seems that director Lawrence Michael Levine (and his wife Sophia Takal) like to write and direct movies about situations that occur in the lives of creative people such as themselves. This accounts for possibly the only aspect of Black Bear which I didn't lap up quite so enthusiastically — the focus on concerns that felt less than universal. 

In this sense the first of the pair of stories worked better for me as the situation is simpler, the dark humour of the dialogue more penetrating, and the mood and music frame the action almost as a classic psychological/wilderness thriller in ways that at least partially wash over and dilute the New York navel gazing inherent in the dense, almost play-like script.

Anyway, they kind of had me with Aubrey Plaza. I'm sure I'd watch her in almost anything. And although she undoubtedly delivers a powerful performance in the second section, it's her her naturally deadpan, 'unreadable' persona that really sets the film up in the first. 

There she plays Allison, actor turned Indie director, who is seeking creative replenishment in a log cabin beside an isolated Upstate lake. Said cabin sits beside the equally wooden home of Gabe and his pregnant girlfriend Blair, and Allison's arrangement here appears to involve more direct engagement with her hosts than is perhaps usual in most Airbnb stays. Her presence is, to say the least, destabilising. 

But Blair and Gabe are already primed with issues. Perhaps my favourite scene in the film is the one where the couple take turns to make statements about their lives and interests over dinner with their new guest, which the other immediately contradicts, feeding an atmosphere of palpable awkwardness. 

The second story is more explicitly about a film-makers' creative process, about manipulations, explicit and implicit, and the unstable trio of Allison, Blair and Gabe are back in partially switched positions. 

Plaza says Levine wrote Black Bear 'for' her, and sold the script to her as an exploration of discussions the pair had had earlier about their experience of working with partners in the movie industry. Plaza is in a long-term relationship with Jeff Baena, who directed her in The Little Hours. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


The latest bit of delusional nonsense to have emerged on one of the two extremes of American politics forms the basis of the proposed new 'America First' caucus in Congress — the idea that the USA's political culture is historically (and profoundly) 'Anglo-Saxon' and that this is something that is now under threat. 

One has to wonder however exactly which part of America's political traditions are 'Anglo-Saxon'.

There was often undoubtedly a degree of chaos, uncertainty and backstabbiness at the key moments of transition between leaders, which contemporary Americans might recognise. 

Edmund 'Ironside'

Anglo-Saxons of the old school would of course be a little bemused by much of the US Constitution, especially the 'all men are created equal' part. 

If their political culture had any overriding characteristics, these would be a pronounced decentralisation of authority and a legal system based on compromise and amicable resolution rather than litigation à outrance — neither of which seem particularly current in the States. 

And yet, late stage Anglo-Saxon monarchs did have a tendency to make themselves seem that much grander by selectively pilfering from the iconography of imperial Rome. 

The Newsweek article here suggests that ‘only’ around 10-15% of US citizens  can claim Anglo-Saxon ancestry. This would be a high end figure even for the so-called native peoples of England outside the south and east, and so in terms of the US population, probably an absurd projection.

Monday, April 19, 2021

When Fubtol becomes Botful...

They speak for everyone...


Some considered thoughts on the so-called European 'super league'. 

This has been a potent possibility for some time, but the pandemic and the parlous state of the finances of certain continental super clubs, such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, plus the relative under-performance of others like self-styled giants Juventus, or even the above-averagely tall Arsenal, coupled with the absence of fans in stadiums, does seem to explain why this rupture happens to be occurring right now. 

When the news was announced yesterday, we were made to listen to a series of impassioned speeches from various familiar TV pundits — in the main over-remunerated former Premier League footballers— sitting comfortably behind a paywall and griping about greed.

In England, where history and local connections have always been close to paramount in the narrative swirling around our national game, it's not hard to see why the new league might immediately appear like an existential threat at 'grass roots' level. (79% of fans are said to oppose the ESL.)

Yet out here in Guatemala and in the wider world, it's not hard to imagine how a 'product' which involves regular encounters between elite teams, could be more attractive than current arrangements, which tend to involve fixtures involving clubs with almost no international cachet. 

Still, although Premier League clubs have seen their revenues decline during the pandemic, the vulgar lure of extra cash has greater appeal in Spain and Italy right now. 

So, the breakaway entity has seen the need to invite a total of six English clubs into the non-expendable founders club, presumably using the enticement of relative power rather than that of a crude financial leg up. 

Arsenal and Spurs are no doubt feeling gratified, but how will this play out in terms of the latter stages of the domestic league each year? Will they even be bothered if there is nothing really at stake? 

For me, this is perhaps the biggest problem. Either we have a super league or we have domestic leagues. If certain clubs pull free of their local histories and obligations, in a sense they immediately invalidate both the higher level competition they aspire to belong to AND their traditional ecosystem. 

And is it fair at all that six English clubs will be able to play every weekend on the basis of a buyers advantage acquired in a disconnected competition?

And as one wag has already asked, if all six are expelled from the Premier League, what will Everton have to do to ensure that they still come seventh?

French and German clubs, specifically last year's Champions' League finalists PSG and Bayern (two sides that relatively irked me until yesterday), are so far resisting the call up. 

This could be a flaw in the revolt that either grows or diminishes as the battle lines take shape. It has been reported that two of the revolting English clubs, Manchester City and Chelsea, were initially more reluctant than the other four to jump on board *

Are promotion and relegation — i.e. jeopardy — really so important? As a teen I used to enjoy watching NFL, franchise-based, where pretty much the same teams line up every year and local connections are all too easily sundered. 

Franchise-based leagues tend to be quite geographically dispersed, in spite of the looseness of those local underpinnings. And some teams really are fixed. I cannot imagine the New York Jets moving to Vermont, for example. 

If the super league attains its starting quotient of 20, 3 of these will be from London. And two of these are more than likely to end up as the bottom feeders of this limited elite. 

Who really imagines that UEFA or even FIFA are the defenders of the little guy anyway?

* Update: And...both City and Chelsea are set to jump ship. The ESL duly collapses. Good riddance. Maybe it will be a one club revolt, with Barca apparently very much still up for it.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Eclipse Junkie

Nashville, 2017

The first eclipse that really got my attention was of the lunar variety, on August 16, 1989.

Accompanied by friends John, Josephine and Frances, I was visiting a dig at Colha — an ancient Mayan site in the north of Belize, just a shortish taxi-ride from Orange Walk — guests of two contrasting and occasionally antagonistic teams of young archaeologists from separate universities in Texas. 

We gathered in a clearing and duly gawped up at the phenomenon, which felt rather special and local at the time, yet in fact lunar eclipses occur once or twice a year and are visible over all of the darkened part of the planet. I suppose it felt so special because it was so beautiful. 

Suitably moved, we then retired to our hut, which we were sharing with a tarantula. 

Given the distance involved, the Earth's shadow covers the moon with plenty to spare and totality tends to last an hour or more. Our planet's penumbra will next cover the whole surface of the moon on May 26 this year, an effect that will be visible in Guatemala. 

I experienced my first total eclipse of the sun at Prussia Cove near Penzance in 1999. The next one visible in Britain will take place in 2090. 

So, eclipses turn out to be an excuse to travel. And often to places that don't normally feature on one's default, rolling bucket list. This is why I rocked up in Nashville Tennessee in 2017...

Nashville 2017, at c45 degrees

Unlike that Cornish eclipse 18 years previously, the appearance of 'the eye of God' was unmasked by pesky clouds. The moment was awe-inspiring on both occasions nevertheless. 

It comes at the end of a slow build up. That first appearance of a small 'dent' in the sun, followed by the formation of ever thinner crescents and a dimming of the light, leading inexorably to the so-called 360 degree sunset, accompanied by the noises emitted by bemused wildlife. 

The ensuing moment when the moon's shadow covers the whole circumference of the sun still comes as something of a shock. There's a swift and sudden turbulence and then that powerful and immediate sensation that the life force of the cosmos is feeling the irresistible yank of an open plughole in the sky.

This is the instant said to make poets of scientists and vice versa and there's no better way to appreciate what Nietzsche meant when he made his famous observation about gazing into the abyss. 

It is also provides a moment to ponder one of our local neighbourhood of the cosmos's great coincidences: the proportionality of size and distance.

These astronomical incidents of relatively short duration, lunar and solar, can be said to have had long-lasting historical consequences. I would possibly not be where I am now had not Colombus set out west across the pond rather optimistically based on some erroneous calculations made centuries earlier by Ptolemy, using a lunar eclipse. 

Pioneering ancient Greek historian Herodotus recounts one of the supposed feats of pioneering ancient Greek philosopher-scientist Thales of Miletus. 

The Ionians were lined up and ready to do battle with the Lydians and Medes in a conflict which had the definite potential to seriously adjust the course of human civilisation. Then...

The day suddenly turned into night. The Ionians received a prediction of this eclipse from Thales of Miletus, who had determined that this was the year in which an eclipse would occur. The Lydians and the Medes, however, were astonished when they saw the onset of night during the day. They stopped fighting, and both sides became eager to have peace.

There's a prevalent 'urban' myth that the death of Christ on the cross was accompanied by a total eclipse of the sun. 

Total solar eclipses are comparatively rare because they require the intersection of two cycles which provide the conditions: that of the new moon and that of the bi-annual alignment between the sun and the moon.*

The crucifixion, as reported in the Bible, took place at Passover i.e. during the period of a full moon, not a new one. 

It might be worth noting however, that on Friday April 3, 33 AD there was indeed a lunar eclipse. The moon rose 'blood red' that evening according to contemporary reports.

* A third cycle — that of global pandemics — denied me the chance to trek down to Patagonia last year to see the total eclipse in Chile. The next opportunity to witness one somewhere that isn't a frozen wasteland will occur on my birthday in 2024, probably in either northern Mexico or Texas as far as I am concerned. 

Self made man and...

Classic Harry Enfield. 

Struggling to think who this reminds me of...

Friday, April 16, 2021

Playa del Carmen, continuity and change...

2020 was the first year in over a decade that I hadn’t spent some time in Playa del Carmen. 

The reasons I keep coming back in spite of everything are perhaps complex. It’s the only place on earth that I have seen transformed from a tiny settlement into a city of over 300,000 inhabitants, with all the stages in between, rather like something in a simulation game. 

When I first came it was a small port and fishing community, caught between the more rapidly developing mass tourism hubs of Cancún (from Kan Kun — nest of snakes, appropriately enough) and Cozumel. There was a jetty and a Señor Frog’s with an entertaining macaw, plus a few handcraft stalls. The calamity of Hurricane Gilbert was just a few months away. 

Back in the Early Classic era it had been known as Xaman-Ha (waters of the north) and served the same basic purpose as a rest stop before the short trip across to ‘the island of the swallows’. 

I have used more recently it as a rest stop either side of my own transatlantic trips back to London or Paris and have always been a bit flabbergasted at the extent of change apparent after only a a few weeks' absence.

We had started to make more regular visits during the hippie chic era of the late 90s / early noughties, when Playa became the favoured spot on the peninsula for those young French and Italians of Bohemian bent. And it was this period that sealed in me that need to return and repeat. 

I suppose this was in part because it remains really the only place in the whole of Central America where I can hope to assuage my sense of European exile (and perhaps less credibly, Mediterranean exile). 

The Riviera label has become ever more fanciful over the past decade or so as the international brands and mass tourism offerings have metastasized, but some of the original euro-hippies appear to have stayed for good, and it is still possible to find excellent, no-nonsense mediterranean food around greater Playa, particularly Italian trattoria menus with delicious freshly made pasta. 

Yet one of the stand-outs and possibly my favourite place to dine here is Pata Negra, a kind of Spanish home-gourmet equivalent of the above.

I’m not really a dessert person, but a citrusy-cinnamony Crema Catalana is one I can almost never turn down, especially when served in an explicitly authentic ambiance such as this.

Drought (2020)

So, as mentioned in the previous post, this one also had all the potential to be little more than a box ticking exercise within a sub-genre — in this case that of the indie family roadtrip, incident packed thanks to young person on the spectrum. 

It's set in North Carolina, c1993. Surely someone is crunching the numbers already on this phenomenon — the recent surge in movies set in this crucial, immediately pre-gsm timeslot. 

Weather-obsessed teen Carl (played by autistic actor Owen Scheid) is provided with the circumstances that allow him to cajole his caring sister Sam and his more estranged sister Lilian into taking him on a storm chase across a parched southern summer landscape in a borrowed ice-cream van. Also along for the ride is Sam's non-romantic sidekick Lewis (played by Owen's real life brother Drew Scheid).  

With these sort of personal growth-inducing road trips, it is usually the journey not the destination that matters, yet in Drought much of the charm comes from the immediately, above-averagely agreeable presence of the characters, especially Sam, played by Hannah Black, who co-directed with Megan Petersen, playing sister Lilian.

Black has recounted how the local pair's production had certain innate advantages, such as a cast and crew hired from within North Carolina's pool of kind, hardworking and talented individuals and the fact that much of the area has a conveniently stuck-in-the-past patina. But then on day 12 of the 18 day shoot they were hit by a hurricane, which kind of messed with the location. 

Nobody (2021)

John Wick is officially a genre. The team that choreographed Keanu in that trilogy kick start Hutch Mansell's 'relapse' with a very memorable fight scene on a bus, which pretty much sets up the rest of the movie. 

If you enjoyed that scrap enough to want to watch it more than once, you are going to lap up all the rest of the violence here, hardcore gore and all. 

Wick's retirement had been centred on a nice crib, a puppy and a classic car. Hutch had sought a more tabulated, suburban ideal, which is only partially working for him, when along comes that same rather unfortunate encounter with the low order kindred of a Russian mobster and thus the body count starts rolling.

In fact for Hutch the initial trigger is a home invasion and a missing kitty kat bracelet, together precipitating a journey down memory lane — which it must be said, starts rather falteringly, but both Hutch and the film are soon up to speed.


The film is fun and Odenkirk's handling of Hutch's slightly sundered inclinations is spot on. Christopher Lloyd's portrayal of his father adds to the mood. Great to see Connie Nielsen again. Hope she gets more to do in the — inevitable — sequel. 

The next post here will concern another recent movie made up of almost all too familiar elements which, just like this one, exhilaratingly transcends them...

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Marksman (2021)


Somebody had to have sat down with the thought 'how can we tell a story about the southern border which will satisfy both Democrats and Republicans?' I kid you not. 

Both worldviews are present here and somehow manage to avoid doing the whole matter/anti-matter thing for 108 minutes. 

So, another year, another Liam Neeson 'action' flick with slightly more constrained ambition and budgets. There was another one last year. I can barely remember it, except that it wasn't very good. 

Yet still there is something oddly compelling about Neeson coming out once again to do his schtick. The whole thing is utterly absurd, yet it isn't clear whether his presence makes it more so or just bearably so. 

And the movie also features the ever lovely Oaxaqueña Teresa Ruiz; briefly. (Spoiler). 

Frankly I might have preferred the experience overall if Miguel's journey had ended just beyond the border fence and Jim had instead had to transport his mother up to the Windy City. was not to be.

There's another all very predictably done in dog, plus a fairly gratuitously negative outcome for a likeable gas station clerk. The highway patrolman had it coming. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Shared Solitude


Flashback to Tulum, September 2009, when I undoubtedly had my best time ever on this stretch of coast, as the so-called Mexican flu panic had nearly emptied the country of visitors (unlike the present, more authentic pandemic) and I could claim, almost without exaggeration, that I had the place to myself. 

Though not quite. Every morning on my post-daybreak dawdle down the sands, I'd stop to sit right here on a log outside a place then called Ocho and was soon joined by this friendly ginger tom. Having hopped up beside me, he'd cuddle up and follow my contented gaze across to the horizon. 

Ocho became the S&S Hip Hotel soon afterwards, a change that was apparently unwelcome to some. Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells wrote on Tripadvisor: "Notice that in addition to lower rates it is "clothing optional"? One more reason I won't be going back."

'Clothing Optional'

The lower rates problem soon sorted itself out of course. I had a decent ceviche at the restaurant — Hip Cuisine — in 2014 and the place did still feel by and large routinely chic and understated, yet has seemingly now become just another overcrowded beach hub, blaring out thumpingly loud deep house music into the troposphere in a vain effort to drown out the similarly ghastly rackets emitted by its neighbours. 

I suppose Om Tulum threw in the towel once the very notion of being able to 🧘‍♂️ on this beach became preposterous.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Danyka aka Groundswell/Mar de Fondo (2020)

You can tell exactly what Michael Rowe is trying to achieve here, and the fact that he stumbles leaves one almost as fundamentally frustrated at the conclusion as his protagonist. 

The location and the situation are both promising, though the director is immediately working too hard to extract some symbolic juice from the former. 

A prize-winning novelist called Armando from CDMX undertakes a day trip to Altata in Sinaloa alongside his wife in order to visit an old university friend of hers plus her husband — a man called Neto, whom Armando barely recalls from a gathering four years previously. 

Soon Neto and Armando have peeled away from their wives and are chatting like old buddies on the beach below the former's groundswell-threatened condo (set within a development beside the Pacific not entirely unlike Juan Gaviota here in Guatemala). 

Neto's teenage daughter has a local 'morenita' friend from the village called Danyka that her father regards as potential trouble. Armando gets to meet her and while father and daughter frolic in the waves, allows himself to be gently manipulated by the 15-year-old into joining her on a tour of an abandoned, half-built hotel. She's a kite surfing champion, an avid reader of fine literature and, she claims, a budding novelist herself. 

So, that's the set up. If what follows is to touch us in any meaningful way, the part between it and the moment Armando's wife hands him back his copy of Hesse's Siddharta needs to be implemented with greater care overall. 

It doesn't help that the the casting is just a little bit out. Both Damián Bichir and Sasha González are playing characters perhaps significantly younger than they themselves are and the poster rather cynically makes them appear more youthful than either does in the movie itself. 

The scene in this publicity shot never actually occurs in the movie.

Rowe is both writer and director and so unfortunately has given himself two opportunities to get each exchange between these new friends slightly wrong. 

He's turned poor Armando into a crashing boor, whose contributions to the dialogue are at times borderline scene-killing. Danyka works better as a character, yet also comes across as a bit too mumbly and hesitant. 

It strikes me that Rowe needed to emulate Richard Linklater more here i.e. the words exchanged between Armando and Danyka should have echoed the smart repartee of Jesse and Céline in Before Sunrise, revealing to both the characters — and to us, the voyeuristic viewers — that a surprising chemistry had quickly been established, a thrilling yet disconcerting connection transcending both age and lifestyle. 

The reckoning within the movie comes along with the aforementioned scene when Armando gets his book back —  the moment that he realises that it really was all just a fleeting moment and that the way he chose to play it signifies that he will probably be plagued forever by a sense of regret (which he can surely only regret). 

His internal narrative bifurcates right here and will never be the same. 

Ultimately it is this sense of existential dissatisfaction after the passing of a moment of dangerous possibility that provides the payload of this coming of (middle) age tale. For it is the relative absence of such moments that defines the latter part of most lives. 

That for Danyka herself it would have been little more than a moment is made clear by the way she seems to pointedly neglect Armando and his novel the instant she spots young Rafa approaching along the beach. 

Armando on the other hand, appears unable to accept the proffered opportunity for a throwaway incident that he can quickly move on from, and soon finds that he's thrown it away completely in his failure to lay down the basis for something longer term. 

In effect the novelist was psyched by the fantasy rather than the fulfilment of it and was thus found angling for a way to apply it to his humdrum existence in a more lasting form. 

I've since reflected that this tale might have worked better if the characters had been closer in age, say a late-teenaged girl and a youngish novelist of around 28. The awkward Lolita tropes are actually a distraction here and have clearly prevented Rowe from making this connection seem appropriately plausible.   

On the subject of credibility: if you pen lines like this and wish your viewers to believe your characters have arrived at a permanently deserted stretch of beach, please do something about all the footprints...

Most of us get to stage in life where we are carrying a handful of these what might have been misgivings. And in the majority of cases they are of course far less explicitly April-October than here. 

I myself have one that now comes readily to mind. I was 17, in Portugal and had just made the acquaintance of a really stunning girl from Birmingham of the same age. Yet I soon discovered that it was with her sister, 23 and a Cambridge Graduate (as I then one day aspired so deeply to be), with whom the spark of a slightly more hazardous and exhilarating connection was starting to flicker. 

Moments for making a choice presented themselves and I either clumsily ignored them or made what later seemed to be the wrong one. 

Subsequently in London, I then tried to reverse that choice, yet it turned out that the oceanside location had been absolutely fundamental to the dazzling possibility, which had since dimmed for both. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Undine (2020)

Ondines were ancient beings of European mythology, mostly female inhabitants of water features at the margin of human settlement, born without an immortal soul and inclined to hook up with one of our sort in order to acquire one. Woe betide this chosen mate if they were to subsequently stray. 

In a manner somewhat akin to Bustamante's La Llorona, Christian Petzold superimposes this mythology onto a more contemporary fantastical drama. 

Some are perhaps going to find this a little flimsy, as it lacks the gravitas immediately lent by the underlying theme of genocide, but we really enjoyed this movie. For it felt like being approached by someone who unexpectedly starts a dialogue in a dialect familiar from youth, an idiom to which one has become unaccustomed. 

Before Cannes was hijacked by all the provocateurs, this is what many European flicks of yesteryear felt like: whimsical, perhaps even gently mystical, a blend of light and dark where neither quite predominates. 

Kieslowski it isn't, but it felt compelling from beginning to end, especially as it was hard to tell which ways its waters were flowing. 

Audrey Hepburn in her Tony-winning 1954 stage performance of Jean Giradoux's Ondine

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Vaccine Union Cards

I've been wondering whether it is yet time to be worried about so-called vaccine passports or whether this is an anxiety which can be safely parked for the time being. 

As Russell here suggests, we do all know how governments and corporations tend to think and behave, but what he doesn't then add is that we are also broadly aware of their historical levels of competence when it comes to the planning and implementation of this sort of thing. 

It strikes me that there are at present too many unknowns and in a sense too many vaccines for us to be able to safely plot how this could work on a multilateral scale. Certain states have made expensive bets on specific solutions: the UK on Astra Zeneca (mainly) and Guatemala on S-Putin-ik V. How well these will stand the test of new waves and strains is currently rather moot. 

Outside of the Middle East the countries that have taken to vaccination with the greatest enthusiasm are those that had been finding themselves in the deepest hole during this pandemic. 

As a result there are countries like South Korea and even Australia that are behind with their vaccination programmes because the urgency has not been there. Are they going to have to force their populations into an inoculation programme largely geared towards travel and entertainment? 

And will the UK be able to resist accepting visitors from these countries indefinitely, or at least denying them access to pubs and concerts once they get there? 

In practice any kind of restriction is also going to restrict the economic viability of sectors the government seems extremely keen to re-boot right now. Airlines in Britain are already griping about PCR testing. 

The very idea of a vaccine passport is also a kind of libertarian category error — the notion that the jab is an individual burden. Instead, it strikes me that vaccines primarily function at the collective level. So, if enough people in say Manchester are vaccinated this year, covid may recede sufficiently from that region that it really doesn't matter if an unvaccinated person enters a pub. Manchester becomes Madagascar. 

A final thought: one has to imagine that there are several million people in the UK that have already been infected with covid. If the vaccine passport system is to be applied generally to 'normal life' then most of these people will need to be vaccinated and this simply isn't the best use of resources right now. 

In my recent visit to Mexico I made a number of perhaps relevant observations. 

— Technological solutions to complex problems seem to tease the native incompetence out of governments and institutions. 

— Smaller entities fill the gap and establish their own protocols, with varying degrees of effectiveness and control. 

One of the worrying aspects of all this, for me at least, is a partially unnecessary digitalisation of everyday life. My Tigo phone was disconnected from celular data in Quitana Roo. I was on holiday and didn't really care, at first, but soon discovered that there is a growing presumption up there that everyone possesses a fully-charged, always on, always connected device and those that don't are behaving in a manner some way between awkward and suspicious. 

Meanwhile I was becoming seriously fed up with QR codes, which I had imagined were heading in the same direction as 3D TVs. I am still relatively optimistic that vaccine passports remain on that pathway. 

In the case of the UK at least, a nation that appears incapable of insisting that everyone wears a mask, seemingly now wishes to insist that everyone gets a jab and then an app. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

Every Breath You Take (2021)

I have no idea what relation the title here bears to the plot, which is a strange Frankenstein's monster made up of familiar Hollywood B-movie thriller parts. 

We have all seen this movie before in one of its previous lives. 

For many critics this familiarity is an obvious defect, and yet one can only wonder it it is actually attempting to entertain us in a slightly contrarian fashion, by riffing on its far more memorable antecedents. 

The predictability here is taken to the absolute max. There's a 'twist' that is loudly fog-horned in the first act, a book placed on order, a pair of skates...

Is this deliberate? At the same time the screenwriter and/or director seem to be attempting to vaguely blur the outline the by leading us along a path that at times seems anything but straight. 

And it plods. And so too does Casey Affleck in the lead role as Phillip the unorthodox shrink, as if in sympathy with the at times close to somnolent narrative around him. 

Sam Clafin appears to up for his role as the charming British psycho, but is ultimately a bit wasted. One starts to lose patience with his character, as written. That all the women in Phillip's life immediately swoon over him, essentially because of his accent (which is ultimately a bit of a plot hole) and the fact that he has a novel in the pipeline, feels vaguely demeaning, if not a actually misogynistic. 

It is amusing that the characters talk of heading up to British Colombia when it is blatantly obvious that they are already there. 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

How it started / How it's going...

18 years ago we stayed at Deseo in Playa, an archetypally boutiquey hotel of the era. 

The rooms and the almost horrendously hip cocktail bar necessarily needed to be accessed via this staircase, said at the time to reproduce the experience of ascending a Mayan temple.

Yet it was the experience of de-scending a Mayan temple — especially after several margaritas — that one always hoped to avoid on the way out.
Deseo went the way of almost all of such places and the building was gutted, yet the starircase, albeit in a somewhat narrower, less temply format, remains.

Ancient Mesoamerican temples were famously not famous for their health and safety compliance and the steps did not apparently feature hand-rails, but the addition of one here is probably a good thing.

I guess it was called a 'lounge' because that was basically all you could do...

V is never going to forget that banana...