Fijate vos… of Birthdays, Bribes, and Bombas

Fijate vos_ver3Salutations, my Dearest Readers!
Our fair city – the City of Perpetual Speedbumps – has managed to survive yet another year. On March 10th, La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemala celebrates her 470th birthday. The old girl is still standing, although somewhat scarred by time and Mother Nature, and in spite of the apathy and neglect of some of her citizens and the nefarious and underhanded dealings of her elected stewards (both past and present).

I had been thinking that the original citizens might be appalled by the current state of affairs – not only the goings-on at City Hall, but also the state of our crumbling infrastructure – but then I remembered how honest, fair, egalitarian, and advanced the conquista and colonia were. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Speaking of City Hall, investigations into shady doings have expanded, with members of the City Council and the Council for the Protection of La Antigua now under scrutiny by the Public Ministry for their alleged roles (and possible receipt of payoffs) in the approval of new private residential developments which were never properly vetted. But why bother to protect our colonial heritage and go through the legal steps required for any new development, when there’s a buck to be made? (Especially, if it’s tax-free and under the table!)

In response to all the apparently dirty dealings, there have been various citizen-action meetings around town in the past month or so. Some have been well thought out and excellently run, focusing on the legal and constitutional aspects of the situation and its possible resolution, while others seem to have had more in common with what I imagine the meetings were like leading up to the storming of the Bastille. Ahhh… the dreams of glory of aging student revolutionaries.

But on a happier note, La Antigua’s moment to shine has come around again! Lent and Semana Santa are back, and along with them, the scents of corozo and copal incense, the brilliant purple of the cucuruchos, and the yummy delights of molletes, chinchivir and tamales de viaje. Tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of tourists from all over Guatemala and the world are descending on our little town to witness the cultural spectacles of velaciones, processions, and alfombras. Make sure you check out Qué Pasa’s calendar (starting on page 32) and Fernando Meneses’s excellent article (on page 22) for what to do and see. [Note to editors: Now that I’ve plugged other things here in the magazine, do I get a bonus? Pretty please?]  Also, if you’re new in town, those explosions are not The Revolution coming to take you away and put you up against the wall; they’re merely cuetes and bombas de iglesia (firecrackers and mortar fireworks) – part of Guatemalans’ cultural fascination with things that explode. And remember, when the crowds and the noise get to be too much for you, you can always hide out in one of La Antigua’s superb restaurants or shady watering holes (and Lenten sacrifice be damned, eat and drink yourself into a stupor).

And a special notice to my readers that if, during Semana Santa, you see a good-looking tourist couple – a man who looks suspiciously like the former “Sexiest Man Alive” (who had a minor role in Thelma and Louise) and a stunningly beautiful woman with very full lips with him – they are not, I repeat NOT, that famous Hollywood couple who’ve adopted about a dozen kids. [ahem… wink wink… nudge nudge]
A reminder: If you have a juicy tidbit that I should know about, please pass it on! (I only have a limited number of current spies and informants…) My contact information is over there on the left of this column. I need you to help me shine some light on the everyday idiocies and underhanded dealings that afflict our marvelous little city.

Well, that’s it for this month, poppets. Make sure to tune in next month – same Bat-time, same Bat-channel – for more. If you’re very lucky, I might tell you about the teacher from a local Spanish school who passed out drunk in the street and had an alfombra made on top of him, and who barely escaped with his life when he woke up during the procession and scared the cucuruchos who almost dropped the anda on him.

Charlie ChismeIf you have a question, a comment, or a suggestion for a topic for Charlie, you can write to


Just to set the record straight (and to keep anyone else from being sued): All opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies and opinions of Qué Pasa, the rest of its staff, its advertisers, or anybody else in The Americas.






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