Friday, March 31, 2023




Mestizaje, the officially-sanctioned method for biologically blending European and American bits in these parts, would arrive as something of an afterthought. 

For the first Spaniards to show up on the peninsula, indeed anywhere in what is now Mexico — albeit via the misadventure of the 1511 Valdivia shipwreck — were fattened up in cages and ritually eaten by a ravenous Mayan cacique.

All but two that is, for a pair of them escaped and found shelter with rival chieftains who seemingly saw them as more than a source of sacred protein.

One of this famous duo of survivors, Gonzalo Guerrero, went properly native and has since earned himself the dubious honour of being the subject of an endlessly “in production” biopic entitled Maya Lord, to be directed by 2012’s Roland Emmerich.

The other, Jerónimo de Aguilar, a man of the cloth, bumped into Cortés on Cozumel 8 years on and became a key part of his mammalian ‘babel fish’.

This two factor authentication system started with La Malinche — forever the sour aftertaste of Mexican miscegenation — who would translate Náhuatl into Mayan for the would-be conquerors, and then the recovered priest duly provided the crucial second stage of the process, rendering Mayan into Castellano.



​Although I communicate textually in English pretty much every day, all day, and do still tend to think that language, in the six years since I was last in the UK, significant opportunities to speak English, at least with other native speakers, have dried up a bit...and when they do occur — such as in Belize last September — the conversation typically commences for me with a worrying sensation of impending jaw malfunction. 

Glaring Ghosts

Back in the day Antigua was full of small bookshops selling rather small books, many of which were about its famous fantasmas

It was then possible to speculate that the city belonged to its disembodied inhabitants, the rest of us just passing through. Nowadays of course, if any ghosts remain, they must have moved out to special gated communities laid down on the fringes, and will tend to limit their time spent haunting the historical centre...avoiding Antigua at the weekends, heaven forbid, so to speak.

It's been one of those weeks when I have been attentive to our own ghosts, in particular to the frankly absurd number of people of our acquaintance here in Guatemala, lost to either acts of senseless violence or silly, avoidable accidents.

One family has become emblematic of this dark phenomenon for us. Three brothers: one died in his car outside a bank in the capital, riddled with bullets. Just a few years before another had perished an insidiously dumb industrial accident. One remains.
Yesterday I had a sudden flashback to an evening at El Manhattan, a night club (panic not, the British rather than the Guatemalan variety, with the g and h in proper position) in Antigua, which now goes by the name of La Bodegona. 
You can still see the little arched niche of the taquilla out front.

The bar was located more or less where you'll find the cured meat refrigerators nowadays. In my reminiscence 'R', a love rival, is seated at a small round table giving me the stink eye as I pick up a drink. I guess it would have been positioned roughly where the Bodegona now stacks up the stuff from Pricesmart, on sale here at considerably scruffier prices.

I can't recall how long 'R' spent haunting me at the Manhattan that night, but in retrospect it seems like ages, especially as a few years later I learned that he'd met his end violently.

He was alone then, but was usually accompanied by his regular wing-man, a lanky lad named 'T', almost always at his side when we'd run into them on the streets of Antigua, usually part of a group of four, all of them 3-4 years our junior.

This whole package of memories that seem hard to distinguish from hallucinations came back to me yesterday because while we were standing at the corner of our local park engaged in conversation with some family members, a motorbike rounded the corner and its rider took a significant pause in order to gawp at us, his face a picture of nascent heavy processing. It was 'T'. 
And of course he wasn’t wearing a helmet. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Tár (2022)


I went into this knowing that numerous people whose opinions I really care about had absolutely loved it. 

And yet I struggled, a little bit.

There are undoubtedly some extraordinary scenes, some gorgeous pieces of dialogue (“I made sure all the hangers in my closet were facing in the same direction”) and then there is Blanchett's performance to admire, but also, somehow even more marvelous, that of cellist Sophie Kauer, who played her own pieces even as she gave depth to a character I could so easily have had more from.

There’s some dark comedy, but somehow not enough.

What's the problemito here exactly? Mark Kermode said "an interesting film that takes itself too seriously" and that knowingness is definitely a starting point, along with the fact that there needed to be more dramatic connection between the events we are shown in series. 

There are abundance of audiovisual cliches, not just belonging to the classical music scene but also the arthouse movie genre. Elisions, because we can. 

That the director was the bloke in Eyes Wide Shut playing the piano whilst blindfolded is possibly a symbolic suggestion that I will leave readers to ponder.  

Some, like conductor Marin Alsop, have objected to the fact that Lydia Tár a woman. I'd tend to agree with Kermode that this is in fact what gives the story its frisson of agreeable contemporary ambiguity, yet I do in the end have a bit of an issue with the fact that she is a lesbian. That part seems ill-chosen. Some of the cancelled classical giants of late (James Levine...) were indeed homosexual, but Domingo and Dutoit are not, and it seems fundamentally obvious why those in positions of power with minority desires, even in the arts, might tend to adopt a more predatory strategy. 



Saturday, March 25, 2023

Justicia Para Vero

This week Diego Ariel Stella, 'gerente' at the Ni Fu Ni Fa steakhouse in Antigua, was convicted of rape and sentenced to 8 years in prison.   

This was ample vindication of the courage, determination and persistence of his victim and not only also a significant victory for all women of this nation who believe that "No means No!", but also a slap-down for the cabal of public officials, professionals and small business owners in the city who live as if constantly exploring what they can get away with. 

Not just rule benders and breakers, but ratas bereft of basic common decency most of the time.

It goes without saying that anyone who participated in the smear campaign against Verónica Molina should be ashamed of themselves for the rest of their days on this earth. 

No matter how much one might desire to support or show basic loyalty to a friend or family member, in cases involving rape or other types of sexual aggression, any kind of victim shaming and/or online abuse is the lowest of the low.

Llegó tarde, pero llegó

Friday, March 24, 2023

Gradually, then suddenly

Two important lessons one can easily learn from the history books, if one is that way inlined.

1) Beware of governments claiming to have reassured the markets.

2) Sistemic flare-ups like wars, revolutions and banking crises often sport an apparently singular trigger event. Yet these are no more the ‘cause’ of the eruption than Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination caused WWI. 

These moments simply make unavoidable something which was already there before, but was being avoided. 

“Gradually, then suddenly,“ as Hemingway put it.