Saturday, June 21, 2008

Raggedy Boy

Last week we attended the opening night of an exhibition of attractive paintings (guache on Mexican bark paper) by Panajachel-based artist AnnieLópez.

Her mother related to me the Mayan folktale behind the work entitled Raggedy Boy and demonstrated how the myth progressed from the painting of that name through several hanging to the left of it.

There was a superb Flamenco guitarist performing in the corner of the main gallery and the owner's daughter performed a spontaneous fire dance on the roof. Nothing to quite match Tex-Argentinian artist Russell's skinny dip in the restaurant pool last month, but he turned up again, apparently pre-loaded and looking for another good time. Hagabulto also put in an appearance.

The exhibition continues at the Meson Panza Verde until the second week of next month.
More pics here.


It's nothing if not lively here at the moment. On top of an earthquake a week we are being visited by storms almost every evening that might as well be seismic, featuring billowing peals of thunder that rattle every pane of glass in the house

Guatemala City continues to get the worst of it. Many roads quickly become un-passable and on Wednesday night several red city buses came to a halt when the water inside reached passengers' knees.

There there was an early morning hail-storm on Thursday. It was reported that old women scuttled around stuffing handfulls of hailstones into their mouths - apparently a folk prescription for the treatment of tapeworm.

In the picture is one of the tamales made last week by Doña Paula. They may not have olives, capers or chiles like the ones V's brother Felipe likes to buy, but they are very delicious nonetheless. The outer leaf is from a plant known locally as picahue, the inner one - boiled until it darkens - is from the banana tree. On Thursday morning we spotted her coming back from the market with a bag full of leaves, testimony to the length of the preparation process. It's traditional here to eat tamales on Saturday night.

Guatemalan Architectural Innovations - 3

The shape of the block wall to the left of this house (being built behind our own) provides a pretty strong indicator of the forthcoming presence of a fountain and probably also some sort of garden. Shame then that nobody indoors will be able to see it, as there are no windows on that side.


I'm watching the match in Personajes today. I suspect all those people in orange t-shirts in the Cafe 2000 next door are feeling a bit sick right now. There are some very noisy Russians in here though.

Sometimes I think it would be worth learning Spanish just in order to follow the local soccer commentary.

There would appear to be far more nouns in Latin American football discourse than our own. Wherever we might say that someone is doing something the commentator over here is more likely to observe that a something is being done, be it a barrida or a bonbón or one of countless other specialist terms that I have gradually assimilated through several major international tournaments.

Channel 11 has a pair of pundits that I find a bit trying though: a Chapin and an Argie. They remind me a bit of the classic BBC F1 partnership of Murray Walker and James Hunt, the one seemingly high on banned substances and the other detached and phlegmatic to the point of not even noting that a "goooooooooooooool" has been scored until he has finished whatever it is he has been prattling on about. When these two are holding the mikes you need to keep your eyes glued to the TV as there's nothing in the tone of voice of either man which would allow you to distinguish between a situation likely to lead to a goal and one which couldn't possibly.

Guatemala's World Cup qualifier with St Lucia last Saturday provided a welcome break from the beautiful game as exemplified (in the main) by the Euro2008 competition.

The St Lucians were a truly hapless bunch. Just a few minutes into the match V joked that they must have overdone the pre-match frijoles. Soon their lethargy progressed to the acute phase, with several keeling over with agonising cramps before the first half was even over. Their defending was straight out of Alan Hansen's worst pesadillas and their strikers, on the rare occasions they made it into Guatemala's half of the pitch, didn't seem to know where the goal was.

The Chapin commentator, typically rather animated during Euro2008 matches, sounded here as if he was about to have a stroke any moment. Rrrrrrrrremate!

The man in the pic above, Guatemala's famed No9, Carlos 'El Pescado' ('the fish') Ruiz - David Beckham's team-mate at LA Galaxy - scored four of the six goals conceded that night by the Caribbean outfit. (During the last set of World Cup qualifiers Ruiz had acquired the unfortunate extra nickname of Nemo, because of the way he appeared to have gone missing!)

When the St Lucian keeper Dany Michael went down with cramp in the second half it was the Guatemalan strikers that rushed to his aid before a rather fat-looking physio from the other side eventually arrived on the scene. Michael's replacement had, according to V, "piernitas de grillo" (spindly legs) but the more immediate target of the commentators' deprecatory wit was the way he had come on bearing his squad number (No3) scribbled on a piece of card which had been fastened it to his jersey with masking tape!

The return leg is tonight in Los Angeles. Not exactly a home tie then for the sorry St Lucians! Another chamarreada?

Update: Looks like I'll have to order another Gallo. The Tulipanes have equalised.

Update en Chapin: "Los Rusos hicieron jugo de las naranjas con yema de huevo."

Guatemalan Architectural Innovations - 2

Note how the clay pipe gargoyle on this house serves to take the water off the flat roof and down into a trough below where it can be most efficiently converted into rising damp.

Guatemalan Architectural Innovations - 1

Which came first, the house or the wooden post?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Home delivery

This is a pic of V negotiating with our local mobile greengrocer who parks right outside our house every Monday with a wide selection of fruit and veg.

It's fun to buy from vendors like these rather than the sterile supermarkets of the capital. There's an old guy who passes every Monday with shark steaks and another with a more irregular itinerary who knocks on doors to sell his freshly made cheese. Today la señora de las tamales is due around 5pm.

San Pedro el Panorama, our little township on the outskirts of La Antigua, is for me at least a very satisfying place to live, largely because of the way it retains many of the characteristics of a proper Guatemalan community. All the classes are represented and there are several local shops, a basketball court, a church, a cantina...even a Chinese Takeaway.

Most importantly of all there is a woman called Mari at the end of our street who makes tortillas every morning. The pleasure of Guatemalan tortillas - fresh off the comal - is usually rather hard to explain to anyone unfamiliar with Mesoamerican culture.

There are two walled and gated communities alongside Panorama, the Alameda Santa Margarita and Bosques de Antigua. A decade ago I looked into the possibility of acquiring a plot in the latter when it was little more than a not-so-densely-packed wood of pines cris-crossed by narrow cobbled streets. Since then it has started to fill up with the fantasy colonial homes of capitalinos. It's one thing if you come once every several weekends, but I for one couldn't take having to effectively ask permission to come and go on a daily basis from one's own development.

A few hundred metres up the road Panorama segues into Jardines de Antigua a bizarre suburb of unimaginative chalet-style homes that has acquired ideas above its station since ex-Presidente Arzu set up home here and populated the trees of his enormous garden with magnificent scarlet macaws.

It's not quite a gated community, but its residents, many of them foreigners it seems, appear to act as if it were. I have to say that I tend to respond with equal amounts of amusement and annoy-ment to those who insist on re-creating their own little Alpine refuge in the midst of the effervescent disorder of Central America.

On the other side of the main road to Ciudad Vieja we have the labyrinthine San Bartolo, which V has lately resorted to calling San Bar-Cholo. It certainly doesn't feel quite as safe as Panorama whenever we walk the dogs there.

Que alguien me expliiique - Euro2008

Why Aragones doesn't put Cesc Fabregas in his starting line-up?

In all my lifetime I can't remember seeing the Italians getting so badly tonked in a major international tournament as they were last week by the Dutch (3-0). Oh to have been able to wander up Frith Street back in Soho that evening watching them choke on their Peronis and espressos!

Indeed, it's been an enjoyable Euro2008 so far. The teams I had decided to support thanks to the bleak absence of Enger-land - Spain and Holland - have been doing admirably well, and those that I love to hate - the Germans, French and Italians - have all got varying degrees of huevo on their faces. Unfortunately the Italians will still make it to the knock-out phase if they finish off the Frogs next week, and from then on I suppose they are likely to go on to win, a pura chiripazo, just as they did in Germany two years ago.

We had another earthquake around 9:30pm on Thursday night; a 5.6 emanating from Suchitepequez. It was reported as the 31st tremor in Guatemala this year which has been sensible (strong enough to feel), which means that these strong seismic events are occurring on average roughly once every six days at the moment. (Though in truth I have only felt three since I arrived a month ago.)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Household Fauna

We found this oversize ant-like insect, known locally as a chucho, drowned in the dogs' water bowl.

Most of the other buzzy-bitey things around the house are being dealt with using RAID Extra: "So good, you see them die," it says on the can.

Not seen any more of those intensely scary spiders whose two front legs have been re-purposed into lobster-like pincers. (On the subject of which I was somewhat scandalised to hear this afternoon that my mother dined last night on lobsters that had been brought back alive from Barcelona by my aunt's housekeeper - wrapped in tin foil in her suitcase!)

Not much else of note to report here.The weather has perked up and the football is under way. The local news is much the same: there's a big financial scandal in the Congress as one of the senior officials appears to have gone walkies with Q80m (approx $10.5m) and the levels of random violence in the capital are as scary as ever. Yesterday's toll was ten dead.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Que alguien me expliiique - May 2008

The four terrestrial TV channels here are 3, 7, 11, and 13. 3 is on 8, 7 is on 10, 11 is 6 on and 13 is on 2. How exactly did that happen?

Why are mushrooms so expensive in the Bodegona?

How would you translate cubetazo into English? (No, bucket won't do).

Getting ready for the Eurocopa

We're at the end of a soggy seven day stretch here in Antigua, thanks to tropical storm Alma which, having made landfall in northern Belize mysteriously (to me at least) had a sex change before coming out again as Arthur, who then proceeded to traverse the neck of the Yucatan before plunging inland again over Tabasco. (Where, I learned recently, 70% of all of Mexico's annual rainfall occurs.)

It's been so inclement around here that the builders have stopped working on the site opposite and I have even watched a couple of episodes of El Chavo del 8.

One unfortunate victim of what is this season's first really nasty storm was TACA flight 390 which overshot the runway at Tegucigalpa and slid across a main road before breaking in two when it hit a bank of earth. 6 died including two luckless motorists, both pilots and two people in the First Class compartment: the President of a local development bank and the wife of the Brazilian ambassador to Honduras. It has been reported that like typical Central Americans the passengers had applauded the landing when the wheels of the Airbus first touched down on the sodden runway. Guatemala's own Aurora International airport has been closed for periods this week in order to avoid similar avionazos.

I'd been here 12 days before the first significant tremor: a 5.3 epicentred down on the Pacific plain. A couple of weeks back on R5 Dr Karl was explaining how people working on different levels in Shanghai skyscrapers had completely varied experiences of the recent quake in China. This is apparently because the oscillations caused by earthquakes map onto modern tall buildings as a sine curve, such that certain floors are null nodes which hardly shake at all, whilst others vibrate at the maximum.

Whether or not the weather soon improves as predicted I will soon be viewing around four hours of football per day and not really caring all that much. Having said that, the month of June often contains the Canícula ('dog days'), a fortnight of unrelenting sunshine that breaks up the early part of the wet season.

Libre Encuentro

Is Canal 3's weekly televised debate between journos, businessmen and analysts hosted by Dionisio Gutierrez from the Campero clan.

A better name for this programme might be Individually clever, collectively stupid.

Sunday's panel tossed out their thoughts about the current mood of systemic malaise and specifically the pain caused by rising fuel and grain prices.

One particularly counter-productive suggestion for cushioning Guatemala from the global crisis was to encourage Chapines to eat out less on Sundays. Gutierrez nodded sagely, perhaps thinking about his helicopter commute. (He has the same dumb jawline as George Dubya.)

That the country is set up like one of those rickety homes built on the edge of a muddy barranco with structural dependencies and inequalities that make it likely to topple as soon as the global economic weather turns sufficiently unpleasant, didn't really crop up in this particular discussion.

Tears of the Sun

If I didn't know that it had been shot in 2003 I'd have said this film was a product of the pre-9-11 world. Perhaps there is an element of intervention justification in this Bruce Willis vehicle, which otherwise looks like an attempt to update The Wild Geese with added poignancy and relevance. It's deeply silly too, though not in the re-watchable way that characterises its precursor.

Bruce plays an over-age Marine Corps Lieutenant tasked with rescuing do-gooder doc Monica Belluci from a mission surrounded by bloodthirsty irregulars (Not in any way as scary however as the 'Simbas' chasing Richard Burton, Roger Moore et al.)

His squad have a laptop which shows them exactly how far away their pursuers are but when contact is finally made, they appear to have the jungle combat nouse of a shoeless African militia.

The writers haven't even been bothered to come up with an invented African state in turmoil. This ugly mess is supposedly Nigeria: Christian and Democratic (yes!).


This bizarre blend of the sensibilities of Tennessee Williams and Philip K. Dick is a reminder of how different the arts of writing for theatre and screen can be. Playwrights tend to make dramatic use of the natural discontinuities afforded by the passage of discreet acts. Situations and chronologies are knowingly shifted and audiences left to bridge these little chasms with their own imagination.

Cinematic storytelling on the other hand is inherently more gap-less, which is perhaps why the transition in Bug from "I'm not an axe-murderer" to full-on whackodom is less than convincing. Michael Shannon, who played Peter for years on Broadway and elsewhere is excellent, especially during the incrementally tense and intriguing first forty minutes, but Ashley Judd's over-acting gradually becomes almost as painful to watch as the scene where Peter yanks out one of his teeth in search of CIA implanted insect egg sacks.

Would have been more enjoyable I suspect if the dark comedic elements had been more to the forefront.