Archive | July, 2009

Talking Havana have a banana

30 Jul

I’m back in Rio, working in a hostel in Copacabana. It rains here, it rains ALL the time. I think England has a bad name.

My laptop is now fixed, but I’m beginning to think that thing was a curse. It felt pretty good the week it was broken, no need to think about work or getting anything done. I spent time with friends, on the beach, in hostels, in bars, I played guitar, and I read books. Plenty of them! And all of them, pretty special in their own way.

After reading The Aleph I now understand why Jorge Luis Borges is regarded as one of the greats. No-one writes about Life and Death like him; immortality, mythology, identity, is all documented here in astonishing brevity. The Zahir is my personal favourite from this book. To anyone who has ever played The Game, herein lies its secret.

Darkness At Noon (Arthur Koestler) is set behind the Iron Curtain. Rubashov has been arrested for political divergences and is slowly being worn down by the Government and the guards into pleading guilty to the crimes of which he did not commit. Ah, the joys of Communist Russia! But this book is ridiculously easy to read. The whole thing is set in Rubashov´s prison cell with his remembrances of the events leading up to his arrest the only divergences. It’s the writing of his mental condition as he constantly searches for the ethics behind the regime and his previous actions, and then trying to make peace with himself, which make this book so great.

I also read a collection of Luc Sante‘s writings (Kill All Your Darlings) for the New York Review and Village Voice among others (his piece on the blues, The Invention of the Blues, is surely one of the greatest pieces ever written on early blues) and Khaled Hosseini‘s Thousand Splendid Suns (a decent story made even more interesting by its backdrop in Afghanistan, and how its politics have evolved over the previous 30 years).

The hostel is 4 blocks from the beach. So far, I haven’t been in the sea once. Manilow never mentioned the rain.

Losing my mind/beard

25 Jul

For the past 6 weeks I had been growing a beard for absolutely no reason. If there was a reason it was laziness. But maybe there was more to it than that. I began to look for the answers. I eventually found some sheer wisdom from the great Graham Taylor himself (at the time he was discussing the increasing beardage of Roy Keane):

“I do think there is a psychological thing about people who grow beards for no reason.”

“People may laugh at this and say it is absolutely silly, but he changed his personality when that beard was grown. My wife will tell you the truth. When I saw the beard I told her there were problems. I do think there is a psychological problem when people grow beards for no reason. I can’t believe they do it.”

Not one to fly against the logic of Taylor´s thought, it was clear I had to do something about it. This was how bad it had got:

original beardage

Psychological trauma can be seen all over that face. I can´t believe I let it get so bad. I decided the best way to take off the beard was to do it in stages, trying to imitate as many football managers as I could in the process. As it was I completely failed, my Bic was not up to the job and Souness´s hair was just to radiant. I had visions of a Rafa Benitez goatee, Sam Allardyce with Hitler moustache, the hi-tec visions of Gavin Peacock perched on my chin. Instead, I ended up with these:

dave navarro
Dave Navarro – Has a famous footballer ever had a beard like this? I´m not too sure, maybe it´s a bit too rock.

the frenchman
As much as I want to fight it, maybe there is a touch of Phil Brown in this moustache. Come to think of it, after Phil Brown grew that moustache, the Hull team did seem to completely capitulate last season. I think Taylor might have been on to something.

chris kamara
Chris Kamara

And there you have it. Next on the list is Socrates. I think this may take some serious work. Or maybe I should try what this guy did – Jon Dyer’s blog


24 Jul

So far on this journey, I have:

  • broken my camera
  • lost my glasses, they are presumed dead
  • lost an assortment of shirts and towels; not a day goes by when I don´t think of them
  • lost a guitar tuner
  • broke a replacement guitar tuner
  • broken a ridiculous amount of headphones, I believe I am now on my fifth set. It´s very lucky that long coach journeys seem to come with free pairs
  • and now to finish things off, my laptop has broken, it is not a happy bunny. I believe it has swine flu. The problem is, how do you rid a laptop of swine flu. It´s not easy, water only worsens the case. I really want to get it fixed here in Salvador, but the laptop shops look like the unfriendliest places in the world. I think I will have to wait til Rio
  • Plus, this is an additional, my mp3 player has been wiped off all songs. Which means my bus journey to Rio will be a lot quieter than expected

Maybe I need to learn to take better care of my possessions. I´m not sure a plastic bag is sufficient protection for carrying around a laptop!

The Rooster comes out on top!

22 Jul

After Estudiantes made their comeback from 1-0 down to seal the Copa Libertadores with a 2-1 victory (mostly thanks to Veron, who was awesome on the night), the whole colour of Belo Horizonte changed. All shouts of ‘zeiro’ had been replaced with ‘galo (Atletico´s nickname)‘, blue scarves and flags had been replaced with black and white and I was no longer able to see the southern cross anymore (Cruzeiro means southern cross in Portuguese, and this emblem was everywhere before the game). Plus, the streets were filled with Brazilians wearing bald wigs, goatee beards and Estudiantes shirts, all in the name of Veron; Estudiantes´ hero from the previous night. Blue tombstones lined the streets.

I had been to the Mineiraõ before the Cruzeiro game to get a feel of the atmosphere and was now returning for the Atletico-Saõ Paulo game. The atmosphere was almost identical. If anything, the Atletico fans were more ebullient! It was if they had won the Libertadores.

Atletico´s nickname ´galo´means rooster, and boy do they love that rooster. He came running out before the game, smacked his rooster flag in the middle of the pitch and started to boogie. Understandably, the crowd went nuts! Everything the rooster did was received with fever pitch hollers. He really knows how to get the crowd going.

When the game started, it took Atletico 1 minute to open the scoring. They dominated and should have won by much more than the 2-o it ended up, but the fans wouldn´t have cared what the score was, this was their chance to party. Their neighbours had been cruelly denied a trophy and they were out to enjoy it.

Instead of watching Cruzeiro lose the Libertadores final and 300 Reais from my own pocket, I got to go to a better party with what for me, are the real football fans in Belo Horizonte, and only spend 5 Reais. I think I got the better deal, and the rooster most definitely seals it!

Dead End Dreamer

16 Jul

One week ago I had arrived in Piriapolis on the Southern coast of Uruguay. It had been raining all day, the sun had set and mist had begun to creep in. The only hostel in town was closed and so I walked around asking people for a cheap place to stay. Eventually I found a room above a little restaurant, with an unbelievably friendly waiter, Santo, who recommended highly the milanesa; one huge piece of meat in 2 bread rolls with salad and chips. The room was small with one wall completely dedicated to damp. The puddles that lined the staircase were some indication that this place was not being maintained to the highest standards. But it was cheap. I put down my bags, turned on the oil heater (maybe that will get rid of the damp) and ordered the milanesa downstairs. Santo brought over 2 plates, one featuring a huge piece of meat covered with chips, the other smaller plate with 3 of the tiniest bread rolls I had ever seen. I looked at Santo with confusion, his previous enthusiasm regarding this dish had well and truly disappeared. I picked up the newspaper and went straight to the sports. It was the third time Nacional were going to play Defensor in the space of the week. The first 2 had been draws and they had to keep going until someone wins. Then once one of the teams win they do exactly the same at the other teams ground. If that other team wins, they then do this whole thing again at a neutral ground until there is a champion. I considered going to Montevideo to watch one of the games, but figured that I could be there for weeks just waiting for the Champion to be announced (in the end it took 2 weeks for Nacional to win 2 out of 5 games and seal the title). The other game happening that night was Estudiantes vs Cruzeiro in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final. I had considered going to one of the games but decided that La Plata in Argentina and Belo Horizonte in Brazil were just too far away. I thought about Piriapolis, about the damp room, the shoddy milanesa, the mist that meant it was impossible to see the sea even when your toes were in the water, and then I thought about North Brazil.

The next day I packed my bags, it was time to watch some football. I still had 6 days which meant I got to go see my friend Fernando in Treinta y Tres (my arrival was timed with that of the bakeries which meant I left with a bag full of dulce de leche-filled delights, always a bonus) and also stop in Curitiba for a couple of days (this place is know as the green capital of Brazil, so I wanted to see what the fuss was about). I had sent out a few messages regarding the Libertadores final and had found 2 people willing to buy me a ticket and give it to me when I got there. I chose the most enthusiastic of the 2 and felt quietly confident it would work out. It was not to be though. All of the tickets had been sold in 3 hours, people had queued for 24 hours just to get one and had still failed. On getting to Belo Horizonte (BH) I asked almost every person I met if they had a spare ticket. They didn´t. The touts were charging around 300 Reais for a 80 Real ticket and I really didn´t want to pay it. Through my whole process of trying to buy a ticket though I had realised one thing, that the real football fans were the supporters of Atletico Mineiro (Cruzeiro´s arch rivals). They were the ones who knew the most about football, they had the team with all the heritage but didn´t have the money to produce good teams as regularly as Cruzeiro, who seem to have one corrupt businessman as their President. So in the end I watched it in a pub surrounded by Atletico Mineiro fans and we cheered for Estudiantes, who eventually won. This was a bit of a shame as the party atmosphere that had been pulsing through BH all day had now dissipated completely, but I was also glad that they didn´t have to make my way through the stadium and back into the city with a load of angry Cruzeiro fans.

The game was last night. Tonight, Atletico play Sao Paulo. The price is 5 Reais, in the same 70,000 seater stadium and I get to watch it with real football fans. I think it was worth making the 2,000km trip just for this.

What a load of old cobblers!

12 Jul

I left Argentina last week, but I want it to be known that this had nothing to do with the fact that Argentina now has the highest death toll of any country from Swine Flu (Gripe Porcina or Gripe A, to give it it’s Spanish name). I can’t believe how much panic the Government have been causing there. After closing the Universities and Schools, they issued a special Police division with green jerseys for dealing with the infection, made all Police wear dust masks, almost banned supporters from the last day of the football season (they decided 3 days before that they would be allowed and so started selling tickets) and advised everyone not to spend long periods of time in crowded environments. So it was, that after buying my tickets for the footy a fly managed to land at the top of my throat just as I was catching the bus. After trying to dislodge it as I bought my ticket I started uncontrollably coughing. Trying to stop the coughing was a mammoth task, and allied with all the eyes that were fixed and slowly retreating away from me, I was getting quite a sweat on. After getting it under control, I felt very alone. I was the only person on that bus without some kind of garment covering their mouth. At least I had plenty of room to move around.

For more info on the flu in Argy

The thing that gets me about this whole thing is that every year hundreds of thousands of people die from the flu. They die from bog-standard, ordinary flu. And that’s just the one’s we know about. It also contributes to deaths from a variety of other illnesses, but never gets mentioned as the cause, because well it’s just the flu isn’t it. Heart disease, coronary illnesses, that’s what people die from. Now that swine flu is the most talked about illness on the planet, it’s really no surprise that it gets one positive diagnosis after another. Any other year, there would have been a footnote about 5 pages in from the back of The Sun, stating that Micah Richards will be missing Man City’s pre-season training because of the flu, now it’s front page.

Velez are Campeones

6 Jul

I’ve gotta say, I’ve never been to a footy game quite like that one. From the moment I arrived, 1 hour before kick-off to when I left, about an hour after the match ended, the Velez fans never stopped. They never stopped singing, jumping, waving, throwing rolls of tape, setting off fireworks and smoke bombs. They never stopped when their team missed a penalty, when there was only 10 minutes left and they looked no closer to getting the goal the needed and they didn’t stop during the hailstorm that punctuated the first half. It was a long game too, 2 hours and 40 minutes from first to last whistle. It’s fair to say there was a few incidents.

The first half was most notable for the rainstorm that coincided with the first few kicks of the game, before suddenly turning into some of the most severe hail I have ever witnessed. These were blocks of ice hurling from the sky. Little children and women were in tears! Most people ran for cover, including all the players, who legged it off the pitch!

Huracan also had a goal disallowed in the first half, which was quite clearly onside. This is one of the first injustices in this game. The first half had been quite nervy, so nervy Velez had missed a penalty, and also not helped by the hailstorm, but it really picked up in the second half, as Velez started to play some better football, although all the best chances kept falling to Huracán, including another disallowed goal. This one was a bit closer to call, but still looked onside to me. Velez also later had their share of injustice as a Huracán defender scythed down one of the Velez strikers in the box, only for the ref to do absolutely nothing about it. It was 10 minutes before the end of the game when things finally exploded into life. The ball was played into the Huracán keeper, the Velez striker stretched in to get the ball, missed it, knocked out the keeper, and Morales, the nippy Velez frontman stormed in to stroke the ball into the net, with the keeper still in daydreams lying on the floor. The place exploded! Morales managed to get himself sent off for celebrating too hard and the Huracán players argued for what seemed like forever.

The game was stopped again 5 minutes later, when Huracán started to complain about the Velez subs and staff coming to close too the pitch (they were basically standing on it!) which added another 10 minutes onto the game. But it was to be of no use to Huracán as their only chance was saved and Velez were eventually crowned champions. I feel a bit sorry for Huracán for this one as they seemed to get the worse of the luck, but their coach did later say that they had been extremely lucky some times this year so there was always going to be one day it didn’t go quite so well, and Velez had played pretty well too over the campaign, so I didn’t feel bad for too long. I was just glad to be with the winning fans!

And for one final note, one of the Velez players got completely wasted later and got hit by a car while out celebrating. The car drove off, leaving him on the road, where he remained for 2 and a half hours before someone found him and called an ambulance. I hope he’s alright.

The last day of football approaches

4 Jul

Tomorrow is the last day of the league season in Argentina, and it’s ending with a bang. It’s Velez v Huracán. Not only are they local rivals, they’re also first and second in the league (Huracán top with 38 points, Velez just behind on 37). Hence, Huracán just need a point to seal the title, whereas Velez will be hoping home advantage can cheer them along to the win.

There’s so many other factors that make this such a crunch game though, not all of them nice mind you. First of all, Huracán are known as the Arsenal of Argentina, they have a tradition, ever since Cesar Luis Menotti (later to couch Argentina to World Cup glory) arrived as boss in the seventies, of playing beautiful passing football, yet they have only ever won one league title, making them the neutral’s favourite to win this one.

However, it’s not all sunshine at Huracán. During their last game (which they won 3-0, taking them to the top of the league), there was a gunfight between their own supporters (a dispute over which section of the fans are the strongest) which left two of them dead and another four in hospital. See

Plus, I’m a little unsure how many people will actually be at the game. Swine flu is taking over Buenos Aires at the moment. Most public buildings (including universities and colleges) are closed for July, there are people walking around with visors everywhere, swathes of folks in green overalls looking very serious about things, barren buses and a general panic attack whenever someone coughes. So it will be interesting to see if it does get a full house. I would imagine so, but the media is very earnest that people should not go to crowded places at the moment, so I really wouldn’t like to hazard a guess.

Only thing for sure is I have my ticket. In the Velez end. I wanted a Huracán ticket, but after all that gunfighting in the last game I thought this might be the safer option. I really can’t wait!

Don Eloy

3 Jul

This is Don Eloy. He knows how to turn pigs into Salami, Chorizo, Bondiola and a little something he calls Head Cheese, which sounds just about like the worst type of cheese imaginable. This is Don Eloy:

When I grow up, I want to be him.

The Little Balconies

2 Jul

I’m back in Buenos Aires, and as is the custom, I have headed over to Nacho’s for my usual spot on the terrace. The last time I visited Nacho he had made a special dinner of boiled cow’s stomach (mondongo). This time he had gone for something a little different. There was some polenta in the fridge he had cooked 4 days ago, decided it was too salty, added loads of water to it, and then left. It had a strange consistency. He fried it in a pan until the bottom was black, then served it up. It was better than the mondongo. The next day he apologised. I can’t complain though, apart from his culinary skills the guy’s an absolute legend, who has always been more than happy for me to come and use his house as his own whenever in town.

Yesterday we tried to make dulce de leche. It didn’t work out quite right, ended up more like caramel, hence the naming as caramelo de leche. But it’s got a label, made by Los Balconcitos (the little balconies), it’s both worthless and priceless, and is 100% energy. Not bad! Here’s the end product:

That guy really can’t help but close his eyes when the camera flashes.