Friday, July 30, 2021

The UK: A Quiet Place?

Writing today in The Morning for The New York Times David Leonhardt notes how cases have fallen in places like the UK and India, observing that the virus is "more mysterious than we often admit". 

While he does allow that "much of the ebb and flow of a pandemic cannot be explained by changes in human behavior" he doesn't let go of the one assumptions perhaps preventing him from appreciating what is happenig right now. 

One or two caveats about the UK. It has vaccinated a far larger proportion of its population than the US and has antibodies present in over 90%. The recent drop in case numbers may in part reflect a surge extending in the younger working population beyond the capabilities of the current test and trace system, which is at least partly voluntary. 

But the key thing is this: from an evolutionary perspective covid-19 has no interest whatsoever in hospitalising and killing us. On the contrary, all of our early responses to its spread have tended to reduce its overall opportunity because we a) isolate b) end up in ICU and/or die and c) vaccinate.

So, it responds with Delta, the 225% more infectious version of itself. Delta meets the double-jabbed Piers Morgan and what happens? He goes to Wembley, gets infected and has monster sneezing fits. Bingo, covid has its lifestyle back. 

All it wants to do is reproduce. It is the closest thing in biology to one of Richard Dawkins's selfish genes. It is most definitely not like one of those aliens from A Quiet Place that wants to chomp off as many noisy human heads as possible. 

In the UK it is close to becoming endemic, which will mark the end of the so-called pandemic, locally at least. 

The problem for countries like Guatemala is that while Delta may allow covid to spread elsewhere in ways that no longer provoke such drastic human countermeasures, a more infectious variant 'ripping' through an under-vaccinated population with under-funded healthcare and all sorts of endemic co-morbidities could have truly shocking consequences. 

And for the next few years we may find ourselves in a world where covid is endemic in some regions and resiliently pandemicky in others, with crossover variants providing headaches for those responsible for the setting the travel protocols. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021


The other night I dreamed I was in a crowded place without a mask. Seems like it is the new showing up at school in my pyjamas. 

This week I've been trying to get hold of a copy of this French comedy which has been showered with praise and awards at home — but the appeal for me comes at least in part from the title, with its suggestions of seasonal topicality...

Brain Fog

Great — a collective drop in intelligence is just what the world needs right now...

Whoever insisted that the zombie apocalypse couldn't be incremental?

I'm acquainted with several recovering covidianos who would appear not to have that much IQ to spare. 

Team GB's latest gold medallist Tom Dean (200m Freestyle) had covid twice last year and not lightly. So, although he perhaps may no longer be the brightest bulb on the Xmas tree, at twenty years of age this is an astonishing achievement and one that bodes well for the future of British swimming. 

Eric Feigel-Ding also tweeted this data dump from the Netherlands today. 

'No differences detected among vaccines': that will come as especially good news for the one n done J&Jers. 

9% still seems quite high, but some new leaks from the NHS suggest that further contextualisation could well be illuminating. 

e.g. Only 44% of those counted as Covid patients in England had tested positive for the virus before they were admitted to hospital, and the other 56% only tested positive either in routine screening on admission, or later in their hospital stay. The old 'hospital-acquired infection' problem. 

It would indeed be interesting to know the age profile of the 'breakthroughs'. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Monkey Boy by Francisco Goldman

This will be remembered, amongst other things, as the year we Brits confronted a significant epistemological fork in the road. Do we plug for 'my truth' or 'recollections may vary'?  And now we know that Harry's forthcoming tell-some book will be a 'literary memoir', we can expect further mystification to adhere to this choice. 

Francisco Goldman has become something of a master of autofictional narrative. His excellent first stab at it, The Long Night of White Chickens, featured a narrator by the name of Roger Graetz who, like the author himself, hails from a combined Guatemalan and Jewish-American background. 

In this, his latest, the avatar goes by the name of Bert Goldberg, closer to the 'original' and perhaps more proximate to the biographical truth. Recollections do appear to have varied, as this time Goldman has apparently been a lot harder on the memory of his father. 

In spite of a very positive review from James Wood in the New Yorker, I had to dig around a bit to find this first edition, eventually locating it at Rizzoli on Broadway. 

I have a marked preference for literary novels with certain qualities. Firstly, a dogged resistance to movie adaptation. Secondly, and surely more importantly, the tendency to impart important truths which might only really be revealed through fiction. 

After the war, once readmitted as a Mitläufer (Fellow Traveller), Martin Heidegger explored how the function of poets and artists could be characterised as ‘unconcealment’ (unverborgenheit), a rendition of the Greek term for truth: alētheia

Being the sort of German that he was, he imagined this un-hiding of deeper understandings as the result of a penetrating light reaching us after we have made a small clearing in an area of dense forest. 

Goldman undoubtedly gets this, as perhaps his most outstanding work to date has been The Art of Political Murder, a non-fictional account of the 1998 murder in Guatemala of Bishop Gerardí, with usefully added art

And in Monkey Boy it turns out that Bert Goldberg has penned a similar title: Death Comes For The Bishop

Goes down well with Brooklyn Summer Ale…

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Idiot Savants

Yesterday I learned, somewhat belatedly, that devotees of the QAnon delusion, like to refer to themselves as Autists, presumably because they imagine themselves to be savants when in fact they are almost certainly mere idiots. 

Misfit American author Phillip K. Dick was a huge fan of conspiracy hypotheses of an altogether grander variety, yet he too liked to think he had an access all areas pass for what was really going on in the world. 

One of the ideas that he explored in Martian Time-Slip (1964) was the notion that individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia (or autism) are really benefiting from a rare form of perception whereby time lands on them in one big dump — a kind of chronological derangement.* 

On better days this could lead to a near divine form of insight as reality might be appreciated 'in the round', though on others one would more likely be overwhelmed by the onslaught of sensible things. 

Dick would appear to have been influenced by Swiss existentialist shrink Ludwig Binswanger who posited that schizophrenics exist in a state of permanent death where everything has already happened and yet is also still happening at the same time. 

Dick sometimes boasted of schizophrenic episodes which he blamed in the main on the fact that his mother had accidentally starved his baby twin sister to death. On other occasions he preferred to self-diagnose as the only really normal person around. 

Yesterday it was reported that the proportion of schizophreia cases in the US associated with so-called cannabis-use disorder has increased from 2% in the mid-nineties to 8% in the past decade. 

And then today we learned that the QAnon Shaman Jacob Chansley has —  after a stint of solitary in a Virginia jail — been diagnosed with 'a variety of mental illnesses' including transient schizophrenia, which may thus explain his confused (...confounded) sense of causality and could lead to a plea bargain with prosecutors. 

* This idea was to some extent explored recently and not especially insightfully, in the Canadian sci-fi flick Flashback.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Dans ma chambre...

The English have always travelled afar — ostensibly in order to get away from England (something which has seemingly been elevated to the status of a fundamental human right during the pandemic) — but the French are better known for holidaying closer to home. Though perhaps never as close as this. 

Samuel Johnson distinguished between things which are worth seeing and those that are worth going to see. Here in A Journey Around My Room, Xavier De Maistre dispenses with much of the hassle associated with arrival and departure. A frustrated aeronautics enthusiast who longed to undertake a transatlantic journey — airborne — he penned his 1790 bestseller when residing in a Turin apartment block. 

It resulted from the intimation that perhaps a good deal of cost and effort — as well as untold other hazards — might be saved by treating the familiar as the un-familiar, whilst wearing one’s silk jammies. 

In other words, he distinguished the essential mindset of the traveller as a kind of heightened receptivity. 

This is undoubtedly part of the story, yet in my own experience there also needs to be something adversarial about our encounters with the foreign, a degree of push-back from elsewhere which satisfies some of our more masochistic inclinations. Could it be possible to feel homesick…at home? 

And unless one orders in some takeaway food (and foreigners), how will one be obliged to digest strange customs and comestibles? 

Evidently, seasoned travellers do not end up exclusively seeking out novel versions of themselves in new locations. Retreading life’s most important journeys, in a quest for bittersweet nostalgia and its learnings, has always been an essential part of the scene, and I suppose one’s own bedroom is as good a place as any to start. 

This little book, like that other, heftier French classic, In Search Of Lost Time, could be considered pandemic-appropriate reading. It had a sequel, as may yet Covid-19. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

How It Ends (2021)

'Quirky' American indie comedies are often beset by some recurrent problems such as fine, genuinely funny performers struggling with an unfunny script and mediocre comic performers making a hash of some fairly promising lines. Then there's the fact that they are often written, directed, performed and produced by the same people, with the result that much of the material is ultimately more overtly personal than universal. Plenty of all that going on here in this 'feel good' end of the world scenario. 

For the second time this week I was forced to think back to The Last Man On Earth where flashes of smart funniness bobbed up from the pond, then the lake, then the sea, of painful dross.

To be fair, the movie was shot during some actual approximately-apocalyptic conditions last year, so some of the stiffness here originates from the fact that the characters are shown wandering around deserted suburban lanes systematically engaging in weirdly social-distanced exchanges with both knowns and un-knowns as an interstellar object rushes to bring life on Earth to an abrupt end.

We have seen how it ends so many times, so the way the incoming comet situation is handled here, with middle class angelinos preparing for the big night with something akin to calm resignation, is the first of many underlying ideas which is wasted here.

The next one is the notion that (some) people have invisible sidekicks consisting of their younger selves, metaphysical attachments that have become at least partially physical in these most final of circumstances. 

For the first half hour or so we were cheered in the main by the agreeable presence of Cailee Spaeny and by the more niggling presence back of mind of another kind of alternative self: the darker-quirky euro-auteur handling of this same conceit. 

But it didn't last. Zoe Lister-Jones's (writer, director, producer, performer) protagonist Liza sets off that very evening to resolve some of her long-term issues: both her divorced parents, a douche of an ex, the ex she let get away and an ex-BFF. These encounters are largely too mannered, the characters close to caricature, so the more entertaining interchanges initially occur with randoms on the street, though there are diminishing returns there too. The 90 minutes start to feel less like How it Ends than When Will It End?

One of the best things about this film — those succulents...


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Pig (2021)

This is a movie that most definitely does not overcook the pasta. 

It's an exercise in calculated self-control, a masterpiece in the way that a well-prepared meal can be, one for the moment, if not the ages. 

This restraint is epitomised on screen in Pig's most pivotal scene in an underground fight club for hotel and restaurant staff. Up until this moment we have surely been (at least) half expecting Nicholas Cage's character Robin to realise his stored up potential via a spectacular John Wicky discharge — the bad people who took his pig must pay, right? — but instead he merely absorbs

Cage himself is of course crucial to the success of this unlikely format. If the role had been handed to Liam Neeson I guarantee that the audience would have ended up deeply disappointed that the chef fails to break a single nose. (Though he does some minor damage to a Camaro.)

Instead Michael Sarnoski gives us a story that delights in its own unrealised potential, not just as revenge thriller, but also as chucklesome satire, or indeed knowing piss-take. It turns out that allowing characters to skirt the edges of certain places can be even more interesting than full immersion. 

There's a second essential scene, in a Portland restaurant which exemplifies the conspicuous affectation of fine dining stateside*, which simmers just below the boil in a manner close to perfection. 

I recall seeing many years ago a production of Pirandello's play Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore at SPS. The absurdism here is far gentler and the conceit rather more One Character in Search of a...well, backstory. 

I found it particularly satisfying how Robin's circumstances in the Oregon wilderness seem that much more idyllic post-pignapping and jaunt back to Portland, for by then we have learned so much more about the man on the inside. It's practically glamping. 

* I know Jeff Bezos just handed $100m to José Andrés, but the formerly un-mannered Spanish chef might have served up a scrumptious cameo here. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Freedom or Freedumb?

The much touted great day of English liberation has arrived. Parts of the world have, it must be noted, been gazing on rather sceptically. 

An element of the problem is that if you thought Brexit was evil and New Zealand has the best evs government, then this is likely to be another issue where one rushes to upload a ready-made, essentially tribal opinion. 

To make matters worse, the Metropolitan Police were having bottles thrown at them in Parliament Square this morning by eedjits protesting against a lockdown, which to all intents and purposes had ended at midnight. 

However, the English experiment may not be as reckless as it might appear on paper.  Here's one reason...

And another...

There are of course some caveats. Unlike the USA we may not have entire, economically-significant regions dominated by anti-vax dunderheads. 

But certain English demographics remain relatively vulnerable...

The trick will be to consistently keep the relatively vulnerable and the relatively reckless at a safe enough distance. This will of course not work in all places and for all cases and so sadly, some people's lives are in effect going to be sacrificed as a result of this political compromise. 

In England we had a civil war in order to distance ourselves from the European tradition of authoritarian government and for the roughly 400 years since, we have tended to believe in our own bombast about personal responsibility, invisible hands, civil liberties and the like.  So, if anyone is going to make this work as the result of a kind of personal honour system it might well be us Brits. 

The Japanese have always been pretty good at personal honour systems, but in spite of the fact that they had known for a very long time that their capital would be playing host this month to a massive influx of Olympic delegations from nearly every nation on earth* — not all of them vaccinated before arrival — they have lagged behind in getting the shots to their own population. They'd jabbed around 20% as of last week, 2/3 the level of Mexico, which for some reason has been rather generously vaccinating Guatemalans as well. 

Let's face it, these vaccine tours to Tapachula are seriously bonkers. One has to wonder which official in Chiapas decided, presumably in part for economic reasons, to invite large groups of Chapines over, politicians included, when a significant part of their own rural population remains un-covered. 

Many of the vaccine-tourists are travelling up the Atlantic Highway in re-purposed school buses without on-board lavatories, and so presumably have to stop in townships like Mazatenango for bathroom and refreshment breaks. Then they rock into Tapachula, secure their (pre-allocated?) Astra Zeneca doses, remain overnight and return the next day in those same buses. 

My question here would be this: Are these punters getting an all clear from an antigen test in Chiapas before their return across the border? This would seem to be the legal requirement, and many will have only had the one dose anyway.  

When I returned to Aurora fully-vaccinated I had a negative test result from the day before and was told by the nurse that greeted me that this was indeed the correct procedure as the vaccine is not considered 'locked down' until 14 days after the conclusive injection. 

Anyway, as I have described them, these short-term migrations are suspect on several levels, not least because they present significant opportunities for the spread of infection across communities in spite of the apparent benefits from augmenting the level of antibody protection. 

* In the main arriving via commercial flights with other non-sporty passengers on board. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Fear Street...(2021)

We have now taken in both 1994 and 1978. The first was entertaining enough, the second just predictably disappointing enough.

This is Netflix's much-heralded 'Film Trilogy Event' so we still have 1666 to look forward to. 

I've glimpsed blather in the media suggesting that these films represent an exciting 'subversion' of the slasher genre, in part because the individuals getting slashed are perhaps not the ones the audience might initially anticipate as the designated expendables.

This is however largely based on arbitrary narrative choices, such that the occult affliction only applies to the nice people living on the scuzzy side of town and not the more affluent dickheads next door. That, and a transparent piece of subterfuge with one character's first name. 

The whole twin-town class warfare sub-plot is under-explored to say the least. 

And there are some extremely familiar and tired old tropes that are trotted out shamelessly here — such as actors approaching thirty playing high-schoolers and the commonplace witch's curse, plus the persistent and somewhat prurient emphasis on violence against young women. (The just about off-screen hacking to death of children is also disturbing.)

Also, if you want to know how 1978 looked and felt, watch Jaws 2 once more. This is a pretty poor simulcrum. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

The early bird gets the worm...

 Here in LAG, the liquid breakfast is the new liquid lunch...

As ever, no shame in pimping out the bar staff. 

I am reliably informed that Tobacos y Vinos is 'temporarily' headlining a happy hour which commences before I usually arise of a morning. 

Though there are usually fewer dirty old men hanging around that particular joint. 

"I felt put in the place that I belonged, between the hours of ten and one." 
Mr Brown in Graham Greene's The Comedians (though he possibly meant pm rather than am.)

Is there another small city in the world with a greater concentration of big breakfasts right now? 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Settlers (2021) — plus a few words on The Night Eats the World (2018)


Settlers is seriously unsettling. One of those movies you go to sleep on and wake up finding large chunks of it still sitting in the area of your upper abdomen, undigested. 

Viewers are dropped into a situation which is apparently simple and comprehensible close up, but mysterious and unexplained the further one pans out. 

There are elements of this that are rather familiar. Earth is "not what it once was" and so humanity has gone looking elsewhere; Mars in this case. 

It is not immediately obvious how this has been achieved or indeed how well it is going. Nevertheless, it soon becomes clear that a proper fight for survival is under way, human and environmental factors at the fore. 

And here, maybe it made a difference for us that the last movie we watched before this featured an extinction-level event of the living dead variety (albeit a slightly unusual one — The Night Eats The World (2018)— set in contemporary Paris), for I believe we have as a culture become inured to how the residual sentients tend to segregate in that now over-worked scenario. 

In Settlers we get to know four would-be survivors. They all seem decent enough, though there are serious enough grounds for conflict. There's a well-mannered yet ruthless antagonist one should hesitate to qualify as the villain. 

Base, biological instincts appear to be broadly constrained across the group, yet every one of them is ultimately seen to be capable of homicide, three in order to hold on to the palpable opportunity to persist, and one other in order to break out into the more mysterious existence beyond. 

In your bog-standard zombie apocalypse, survivors have near enough total freedom to be whatever they choose to be. The zombies too are free, yet dead. In his intro to The Walking Dead in its original comic format, Robert Kirkman notes that "In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living" — the walkers being a very prevalent and mobile form of memento mori. 

The situation is thus inherently replete with reminders that we should constantly ponder what being alive is all about, for during both pre and post apocalypse the wrong choice, the one leading to a form of ghoulishness, is undoubtedly available. 

However, an existence thus threatened moment by moment may also lead one away from explicit life-affirmation. In the trenches of WWI, the poet Wilfred Owen suggested that the way to survive the shelling was to become dead whilst yet still alive.  

The characters here have less than total freedom, it seems. A life of quiet desperation might actually be optimal. As someone who has lived in both a fully modern, consumerist society and one that is a bit less so, I found this calibration of what one can reasonably hope for both poignant and thought-provoking. 

Our Martian settlers have to decide if self, family or species should be the impetus for their struggle, but even the notion of shared species could be specious, as certain humans might even be taken for usurping extra-terrestrial invaders in this context. 

The choices each ultimately make are comprehensible and yet the consequences are disturbing, particularly in the light of what writer-director Wyatt Rockefeller leaves unexplained, or at least only shows rather than tells. (For instance, the reason why the parents we first come across have had but one child.)

Highly recommended. 

A few words on The Night Eats The World. It's not a contribution to the genre that one should feel obliged to seek out but has, rather like its marooned protagonist Sam, some interesting idiosyncrasies. 

Having crashed out on a sofa in his ex-g/fs flat during a party, Sam awakes to find that the city around him has basically eaten itself overnight. He seems to broadly understand the scenario, though his more or less solitary situation prevents us from learning about it in detail. 

Not so gay Paris: No England fans involved...

For most of the movie Sam is seen to be exploiting both the survival and self-developmental opportunities closest to hand. I was reminded a bit of the first episode of The Last Man On Earth, but as Sam is probably Norwegian, his overall approach is generally a bit more serious. 

It's only really in the last act that he appears to wonder whether it might be worth striving for more than mere personal preservation. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

One, two...


During the first of my two brief periods of residence in eighties Manhattan — 1985 — I was living here in the Lenox Hill area. Beneath the block on the corner of 2nd and E66th there existed, rather handily, this underground cinema. 

'85 was something of a vintage year for movies. I recall seeing the likes of Witness and Into the Night down there. 

Sadly, Beekman OneTwo appears to have closed. I had imagined that this might be a temporary consequence of the pandemic, but have since read that the box office sold its last tickets in 2019 and that, appropriately enough, The Farewell was to be the final feature presentation. 


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Black Widow (2021)

Highly entertaining, especially as it keeps the stuff that only stimulates the adolescents to a bare minimum. 

That said, it possibly helps if you have never seen a Bond movie. Like: megalomaniac with dodgy foreign accent builds ludicrously overblown lair then captures his would-be nemesis, so that he can explain his whole deal inside his inner mantuary, only... 

And one could argue that Scarlet is slightly outshone here by two very fine British actresses. And Red Guardian surely deserves his own 80s throwback sub-franchise...



Properly Wemba-leah, the forest clearing named after a Middle-Saxon chap called Wemba, an orignal boy from Brent who has since disappeared into the mists of time, but presumably by contributing in some way to the removal of a few trees, made space for the hallowed turf.

The village name first appears in a charter of 841. Æthelwulf was then King of Wessex and it would be thirty years before Alfred the Great would take on the task of forming England as a proper political entity.
Wembaleah was in the province of Middleseaxan, which had been part of the East Saxon kingdom — Essex — on the other side of the Romans' Watling Street (Edgware Road), which from 825 was held by a 'Dux' subservient to Wessex.

Today Brent is the most diverse county in the UK by country of birth.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Civilwarland in Bad Decline

This was close to the top of the list of books I intended to acquire in New York this year, in part because it had ceased to be available in electronic format some years ago, and since Rapidito Express shut up their operation in La Antigua I have stopped buying paperbacks via Amazon. 

Like many I suppose, I came to Saunders somewhat tardily, after he had won the Man Booker Prize for his extraordinary first novel Lincoln in the Bardo, though it was in the shorter form that he had established himself as in contemporary American letters. 

This was his first collection from 1996. In his gushing introduction Joshua Ferris describes the titular story as his first "unequivocally great" piece of short fiction. 

It appeared in Ohio-based The Kenyon Review in 1992.

I don't think I have ever encountered s a more 'perfect' short story. Across thirty odd pages of text one does not seem to encounter a single word which isn't pulling its weight. Towards the end I was beginning to anticipate the punchline to a bittersweet gag — possibly more sweeterbit upon reflection — usually in the middle of every paragraph. 

I am not sure if satire is supposed to be compassionate. But is this story forbearing, really? Maybe I was laughing too much to properly clock the darkness, but I did come to notice the author, whose voice could often be heard as a super-textual whisper above that of his narrator, and perhaps this at least suggests a shortcoming in something otherwise so impeccable. 

Ferris concludes that "while Saunders does satirize, or, in other words, render the real absurd, he also carefully and lovingly renders the absurd real, which is a much harder trick to pull off". 

So my own uncertainty, whether this is humanity with a wicked aftertaste, or perhaps vice versa, may ultimately be redundant. Rendering the nasty...nice. 

Shishitos and Patatas Bravas, Salinas — Chelsea, NYC

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

There is some previous...


Our most famous defeat at the hands of Viking marauders — Maldon, 991 — was the result of tactical naivety. 

We had them where we wanted them, trapped in their own area, unable to advance, but then our leader offered them safe passage across the midfield and into our half. (Hang on, that sounds a bit like the last semi-final we played in a major tournament...)
Let the Danish Cnuts play like Guthrums today please.

Actually many of them were Norwegians

Byrhtnoth, famed English hero and loser

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

The Tomorrow War (2021)

I hesitate to describe this movie as dumb, for the way it manages to be so utterly absurd and yet so undeniably entertaining at the same time smacks of a certain finesse. 

Watching A Quiet Place, Part II recently I found myself needing an explanation for how creatures so artlessly destructive could have developed the technology for interstellar travel. We didn't get one. Here, we sort of did, but by that stage I'd entirely ceased worrying about the intelligibility of the premise. 

Preparations to be together for an unknown period of time (2020)


From the moment I first heard about this film, listening to a podcast on a beach last March, it sounded like it was, in a sense, made for me. 

For a start they had me at Budapest. I had the privilege of hanging around several major Central European cities — for professional reasons — in the half decade after the Iron Curtain was lifted — Warsaw, Prague in particular — but my train journeys to Hungary's double capital all occurred before 1989, but in spite of that distance in time, it remains one of my top ten cities in the world, possibly even top five. 

So we have a location that is oddly transcendental and a beautiful, enigmatic female protagonist (played by Natasa Stork from White God) — a brain surgeon, reverting to her native land to meet a colleague and compatriot with whom she believes she shared a signifiant connection at a conference in New Jersey, who nevertheless skips their agreed assignation on the Liberty Bridge and then apparently fails to recognise her when she rushes up to him outside his hospital. 

It feels a bit like a Kieslowski tribute, and that should be a good thing overall, except that in the end Lili Horvát's s film perhaps lacks the courage of its own convictions. The mystery sort of slips away at the end, in what is less a big reveal, than a slightly irritatingly small one. 

The great Polish director would have left his audience scratching their heads for profounder reasons. Still, if the destination is not quite where I expected to end up, the journey itself is stimulating. 

Saturday, July 03, 2021


I have, rather tediously, had this song in my head all week...

Whatever one might think of this 'postmodern hooligan anthem', the video is something of a classic, not least because it was conceived rather explicitly as a life-affirming response to the dour, misanthropic paseo of Bittersweet Symphony, shot on the same street and released the previous, footie-free summer of 1997. 

Chicken Vindaloo, Patiala Indian Grill, NYC.

The long history of this dish, before it became a familiar test of English masculinity — typically taken under the additional duress of acute intoxication — is rather fascinating. 

The Portuguese arrived in India in the sixteenth century with a package of novelties for the natives, principally Catholicism and chillies. 

They found that the majority of the locals were, somewhat inconveniently, vegetarians with a particular, faith-based resistance to beef or pork, but quickly determined that this was a problem that copious quantities of both Catholicism and chillies might ultimately solve. 

The Goan Inquisition was a thing, a rather unpleasant thing. By 1650 two thirds of the people under Portuguese rule were, nominally at least, practicing Christians. Many doggedly retained their traditional beliefs at home, but the spicy meat-eating habit had taken a proper hold. 

The British discovered Vindaloo when they invaded Goa in 1797. It had originated as vinho e alhos on mid-Atlantic Madeira, which now has rather strong footballing associations thanks to one Cristiano Ronaldo. 

An example of Arab-influenced, adobo-style cooking (adobado here), this dish was essentially pork cooked with garlic and vinegar, the latter absent in India, and so the process of naturalisation began with a replacement, bittersweet paste made from tamarind and black pepper. And some might say excessive quantities of chillies. 

The British had made no similar effort to change the Indian diet, but Goan cooks, lacking any obvious inhibitions about meat and alcohol, were a significant imperial resource, so they took them with them when they departed the state in 1812. 

And thus this fiery 'delicacy' — a blend of ingredients and techniques from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas — made its way across the sub-continent and then out into the curry houses of the world. 

Friday, July 02, 2021

Vaccines Work


Or at least that is what this UK dataset seems to indicate. 

With the once-postponed Freedom Day in England approaching in just over a fortnight, the virus is moving more freely and a little less lethally within the younger demographic and overall, antibodies have reached 86% of the population, a figure that seems to be increasing by a percentage point every day or so. 


By attempting to control the covid threat by applying the same border controls that have broadly worked with other illegal biological immigrants, evil kitties and Chinese nibbles, Australia has apparently messed up, big time. 

There remain some 34,000 Aussies in exile and, as of today, they have half the number of flights to try and clamber onto. 

My own situation is not so different. Although fully-vaccinated, I cannot yet return to the UK without having to do time at one of those mind-numbingly bland quarantine hotels near the airport, at my own expense. This is because Boris and Biden have failed to open up a travel corridor and because Guatemala is a long way from being on anybody's green list.

Case numbers have increased here this week at a near exponential level. 909 new infections on Wednesday, 2855 on Thursday...

Antigua Guatemala, lately a kind of miraculous amber island in the midst of a sea of red, can anticipate more restricted times ahead. Two absolutely vital marquee events, the illumination of the stadium and the Miss Antigua pageant have already had to be cancelled. 

There's a cliff edge in sight. Any sort of cross border travel may soon be problematic again, though the Mexicans have been pelaverguistas up to now and yesterday they even vaccinated Neto Bran. 

This past fortnight we have witnessed some slightly chaotic attempts to vaccinate around 600 a day at Cesar Brañas. Some days have been more oversubscribed than others, possibly due to the 'on the buses' phenomenon familiar from election time. Residency does not appear to be a strict requirement. 

Right now any vaccine is better than no vaccine, but I have some serious reservations about Sputnik V in the Central American context, not least because the Russians appear to some extent to have pocketed the dosh and done a runner. 

Firstly, Sputnik V is not widely approved in the developed world, which implies that its use for vaccine passport purposes in 2022 and thereafter will be somewhat hamstrung. (It is also being reported that the EU's scheme will not accept UK Astra Zeneca vaccinations based on doses produced in India.)

Secondly, my understanding is that the subsequent dose is not identical to the first, so one has to trust to some extent in the logistical competence of the authorities here to ensure that anybody who has had part 1 now, duly gets the remainder of the concoction they will need in three months' time. And those three months could anyway be critical. 

We have already seen reports of people from the capital showing up in Antigua seeking what would be a second first shot. 

Opportunism of this sort is not uniquely Guatemalan. In the UK many of the young ones are seeking a second Astra Zeneca jab ahead of schedule, largely in order to be able to have a summer holiday in 2021. Guardians of fairness like the Guardian itself may object in principle, but there is something to be said for any incentive that encourages the more youthful age-groups to get themselves covered. 

Given that the authorities in Chiapas seem happy to stick a syringe full of Astra Zeneca into willing Chapin arms*, this does seem like the better option for more adventurous locals. 

Especially as 6000 doses have been administered here in Antigua now and until fresh supplies arrive, no more will be. 

* Update: Neto's self-promotion appears to have killed this cross-border opportunity stone dead.