Weather: Windy, sunny, blue skies. Chilly evenings.
Possible impediments: roads to highland environs blocked due to mudslides.
Anybody needing to renew a USA passport needs to visit the US Embassy, an imperious bunker-like building on Avenida La Reforma. I would post a picture, but I could not find any online and I am told the US Embassy does not allow them, for security reasons.
I had heard horror stories about the US Embassy and getting passport renewals here, but it was a breeze. We are planning a US sojourn and realized that our passports have expired. My US driver's license too! In order to renew the latter, I just went on to the Florida's DMV Online website and got it done in less than 15 minutes! My new license is on its way to our USA address. The wonders never cease.
Outside the US Embassy, long lines of people sit patiently from very early in the morning, for hours, in order to get a visa. Long, long lines. US citizens, however, we're ushered in, turn in our forms and photographs, pay, and leave. All in less than 20 mins. No long lines for us! We were supposed to return in 10 days for our passports, but 3 days later I received an email from the US Embassy advising me that our passports were ready to be picked up.
In case you need to know, each passport costs US$120 and if you need them the very next day, it is US$60 extra. You need to bring in your forms filled out and you can get download them from the US Embassy website: http://guatemala.usembassy.gov
When one lives in Latin America, little things like this, the efficiency, the punctuality, the ease, they just feel so refreshing!
I came recently across a peculiar post at one of the expat blogs related to Guatemala. I think it is important to note that the post was left at a blog called GuateLiving, which seemed to attract, increasingly so, some quite unsavory characters.
The blogger, a con man named Jeff Cassman, was recently arrested by the FBI in Antigua and dragged back home for financial shenanigans. His blog, which held the same charming view of the locals that one would expect from the most provincial type of British colonist of the Raj, kept on posting automatically, even with him having been extradited to a US prison. No idea if it is still ongoing, but it did run on for a while, like a chicken without a head. Anyhow, with that as a background, here is the gem, a woman's comment on that blog, grammatical errors and all:
"As for self-hatred, I do not have any. I have grown up watching people expect hand-outs due to their race and it has made me sick to watch. I believe all should attempt to acheive based on merit and I have never been hindered by anyone for doing so. I never said 'whites are better'. I said that 'most' American and Europena whites tend to be better. That is a true statement. There are bad whites, but I have encountered more bad hispanics and blacks than any others. It is sad but true. I have seen them destroy their own neighborhoods, and much worse and then hide behind their race. That is just not acceptable. So I say call them like they are. I have black friends who are very good. I ahve hispanic friends and family who are good. And I have others I would only meet in public places no where near where they live."
I swear--I swear!-- it is real. One cannot make that stuff up. Particularly precious is the "I have black friends..." In yet another similar post she defended Jeff Cassman against accusations of racism, punctuating "I know racist!" Yeah lady, you sure do! Every morning in the mirror, looking back at you.
Perhaps after having read that, dear reader, it becomes clear why some of us expats become wary of hanging with many of the expat crowd, at least until we've at least figured out what kind of worldview they carry around. After careful weeding out one eventually ends up with a group of expat friends who are truly enjoyable. Unfortunately, there are quite a few of those other types around, who can "call them like they are" from their righteous perch of racial superiority.
What amuses me most is that the writer clearly has never been to poor white neighborhoods, which show the same kind of pathologies one would find at poor Black, poor Hispanic and I rest assured, also poor German, Russian, Japanese, or any poor neighborhood in general!
People like the writer of that paragraph---that one styles herself a Christian--probably believe that poor white people live like the characters of Little House on the Prairie! You know, neat little cabins, well-swept kitchen, scrubbed-faced kids and what not. They wouldn't have to live in buildings neglected by unethical landlords, like most other poor people do.
It would not cross her pristine mind to wonder why there are less poor whites in the US than poor Latinos or Blacks, except to make herself believe, possibly, that it is because white people are simply more hardworking than everyone else. As long as she is white, she is better than the rest--or as she says, she tends to be better than the rest---and it doesn't matter that she cannot spell properly to save her life!
Aaaanyways, that was the kind of conversation that GuateLiving invited, even though it also offered some good practical information, and that is why some of us in the end simply avoided the blog, the man and its most avid commentators.
I have started my research at the Historic National Police Archives. For starters, there is a full-day workshop involved, in which we are walked in depth through the very complex computerized archive system, which holds over 11 million of the 88 million documents yet to be digitized. Other workshop attendees were 2 district attorneys who will be working on cold cases, a young doctoral student from University of Texas--a historian from Louisiana (my home state!)--an NGO administrator for a Mayan rights organization who needs to conduct research, an old journalist and a couple others. We spent the whole day there, had lunch together, etc.
It was a painful to witness how hard it was for the older guy to grasp the intricacies of the computerized research used at the place (which is actually quite sophisticated). The workshop presenters were, at varying times, a (naturally red-haired, blue-eyed) Guatemalan historian, a specialist from Switzerland (huge mop of startling white hair atop his long head), and a young IT engineer (looked like a very smart Kermit).
The older guy taking the workshop, the journalist, was getting increasingly agitated and frustrated, and he dealt with it by going off on tirades or arguing irrelevant minutiae. He kept walking outside to smoke and he'd miss out on crucial information, which only made it all worse.
I, on the other hand, was feeling increasingly antsy because I was sitting beside him and as hours passed, the smell of stale tobacco emerging from him was suffocating. I am not a smoker and even though I have no moral position on smoking, I tend to avoid heavy concentrations of smoke or of tobacco smell. Unless it is a blues bar but then, you know, live blues just seem to go with lots of cigarette smoke.
I will be back on Monday for the last part of the workshop and ready to start!
The Day of the Dead just passed. It is celebrated by eating fiambre (see picture), a sort of cold salad made of all kinds of cold cuts, cheese, veggies and legumes. So we walked to a nearby Guatemalan-food restaurant, Arrin Cuan, which purports to serve some of the best fiambre available and indeed, it is among the best I have tried (not that I have tried much).
A busload of US tourists arrived as well! The place has won many foodie awards and the dishes of fiambre ranged from Q.100, Q.150 and Q.200, depending on size. There is red fiambre (based on pickled beets) and white fiambre (not sure based on what, looked like pickled cabbages). It takes several days of intense labor to prepare a proper fiambre. You're supposed to drink it with wine, though my husband claims it definitely goes well with michelada beer (see one of the pictures above).
People here throng the cemeteries on the Day of the Dead, many taking platefuls of fiambre for the deceased and even live marimba music to celebrate. I find it interesting and healthy, how Latin American culture integrates death into daily life, as opposed to trying to whitewash it from life like we do, when we have to say somebody passed away rather than just say he or she died.
The Cathedral catacombs open during these days and they are really very interesting. Clean, well-lighted, lots of interesting information. Newer than the catacombs at Antigua and I would say of great interest to historians. Some darker areas were charmingly decorated with flickering candles to give it that ghostly-romantic look that the crowds were probably expecting, but in general, the crypts are clearly from the modern era and don't show any skeletal remains nor truly spooky dark corners nor anything of the sort. They are now part of the lovely Cathedral museum, which I heartily recommend, by the way.
You can find information and photographs of the catacombs by clicking here.
This guy above, Serapio Cruz, has an interesting story. He fell in battle in the highlands during one of the many skirmishes of the 1870s. Only his head was returned to the capital city, where it was interred in the crypt shown above. In time, his body was returned as well, and buried with the head. Never found out what the deal was with the decapitated head and all. There is a street named after him, Calle Mariscal Cruz. There are other such characters and stories to be found there.
One of the things with the Day of All Saints and the Day of the Dead is how melancholic they are. The church bells toll for the dead non-stop, and it is both sweet and extremely sad. Ir really almost forces one to reflect upon death and how ephemeral life is! You know that John Donne poem, that one that goes Do not ask for whom the bells toll. They toll for thee...
One of the loveliest events of these days is the flying of colorful, gigantic, extremely artistic kites. They bear messages for the dead ... or perhaps it is for the saints, I am not quite sure ... and people throng from many countries just to come see this magnificent sight.
That is all for now. The inn has been very busy all these weeks. Down season coming up, unfortunately, but for now, full house constantly. Several are return guests from other countries and one, James, just brought me a cute set of wine glasses set with shamrocks. Yes, he is Irish! And so it goes...
Bed and Breakfast - Parking
In the Historic Center of Guatemala City