Saturday, June 26, 2010

End of Germany/Denmark

Alright, so to tie up any loose ends from my last post: we had a giant celebratory party with a ton of Germans after the US won. Germany won too, so the streets were slightly crazy afterward. Since about 4 PM (Germany played at 8:30) the entire area around the public viewing was crawling with riot police, but everyone we saw was very orderly.



The next day, we hopped on an early-morning train to Copenhagen. This train was unique in that it drove onto a ferry boat in order to make the crossing into Denmark, and we got to disembark and get a great view of the North Sea. On the top deck, we ran into a group of three kids from Yale who are doing the exact same trip that we are--same concept, same countries. We hung out for a while and broke down the U.S. performance, and during the course of the conversation found out that we were actually staying in the same hostel in Copenhagen. We'll probably meet up later today to watch the US' Round of 16 match--with 7 people, we have a better chance of not being a minority in whatever bar we go to.

The city of Copenhagen is very Danish. I know that's a complete truism, but that's the only way I can describe it. Everyone rides around on bicycles, I feel like 75% of the population is blonde, and the architecture looks exactly like I would imagine a Danish city. There's an amusement park 200 yards from our hostel and a pastry shop every 20 yards. So far, we've walked around the city to get our bearings, visited the royal palace, residences, and the national arms museum. The arms museum was kind of weird because only the section on artillery was open, and it really showed that the basic concept of using big guns to shoot things hasn't changed for 800+ years. We also spent a decent amount of time in Christiania, which is a section of Copenhagen that seceded from Denmark in the seventies and has existed autonomously ever since. It was really surreal because the whole place seemed stuck in the late 60s--the art, the people, the lifestyle, the political messages. It was also very strange in that the place started off as an anti-establishment collective (and a glorified drug enclave) and has since ended up as a major tourist attraction, with vendors hawking cheap t-shirts in the most capitalist way possible. I'm sure this parallels the death of the hippie movement somehow, but I don't know enough about that history to write about it now.

Overall, Denmark has been great, though. The average level of beauty in this city--architecture, people, fashion, food, and anything else you can imagine--is staggering. It's also by far the most expensive city we've visited, because Denmark is not on the Euro and its kroner has stayed relatively stable during the financial crisis, while the dollar has lost a lot of value. The only reason we haven't gone broke in the rest of Europe is because the Euro actually collapsed more than the dollar (thanks, Greece!). But a small cup of coffee at the cheapest place we could find is still the equivalent of $4, which is somewhat absurd. As a result, we've been eating more at places like 7-11 and the European equivalent of Chipotle instead of nicer restaurants.

Today we might splurge on day passes to the amusement park before the U.S. game, but I don't know if my stomach can handle it. I'm already a little physically ill from the butterflies I'm getting about the match tonight. Watching this game is going to be a trying experience for me. I'm really counting on Dempsey, Donovan, Altidore, & Co. to come through on offense, I think if we can turn this into an offensive rather than a defensive battle we should prevail. Anyway, I'll be on pins and needles and depending on how things go, I'll be happily exhausted or depressed and tired for our flight to Madrid tomorrow morning (why we decided to book an 8:30 AM flight, I don't remember, but I certainly regret it now). Anyway, I'll have more in Madrid. It's hard to believe we're already close to the final city, but I guess time really does fly when you're having fun. Until next time, good night and good luck to the USA.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Germany is awesome

So I have basically an entire week's worth of events to recap here and forty minutes to do so, which is why this post might seem a little manic. But the overall point, which may or may not come across in the following paragraphs, is that Germany is an awesome place that is America's cultural twin and that I'm proud to call my ancestral homeland (or at least half of it).

As I mentioned before, I spent my first full day in Germany watching soccer in a giant stadium. Germany does their parties--I mean, public viewings of World Cup matches--right: this one was held in Cologne's brand-new stadium from the 2006 WC that seated something like 50,000+ people. By the time we got there at 1:00 PM for a 1:30 match, the entire place was filled up and we were relegated to an outdoor overflow lot that was basically a giant tailgate party. Dan compared the atmosphere to an SEC football game, which was pretty much a dead-on metaphor that we used for the rest of the day. The main attraction was a 40-foot tall TV screen showing the game and an open set for Sky Sports Germany, where they were filming a show that was pretty much like ESPN College GameDay (meaning that we were the fans screaming crazily in the background). Inside the stadium and on the JumboTron, they had an elaborately produced "pump-up" show for the match, with a DJ who played the "Final Countdown" theme from Rocky on trumpet and then led the crowd in a series of cheers. Germany's World Cup anthem is "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes, so the whole crowd inside and outside of the stadium was singing the opening chords and going absolutely nuts at kickoff. The fact that the area was an open field surrounded by beer vendor tents probably helped; some of the more enterprising vendors had strapped portable kegs to their backs and were walking around to serve people who were too lazy/drunk to make their own way to a tent. In short, the place was very festive and very, very, German.

As for the match itself, Germany looked awful. Although most of the Germans I've talked to since blame the referees, the fact is that Miroslav Klose played like an idiot once he had a yellow card and Lukas Podolski (who looks like the biggest bro of all time and who, in our ongoing SEC football metaphor, I labeled as Germany's Tim Tebow--the big, dumb, headstrong lefty) found new and creative ways to miss every time he was in front of the net. Part of the reason I'm hating on Podolski is that he didn't seem visibly upset by his misses, no matter how bad they were. In fact, at the end of the match he flashed a smile at the camera, which to me is an unforgivable sign of arrogance when your national team is losing to Serbia. I also think that Germany's coach, Joachim Löw, did a terrible job of managing his team. He basically acted like a spoiled child on the sidelines and took out the only players who were effective (esp. Özil, who was the only spark in Germany's attack after Klose was sent off) and replaced them with duds who could barely hold onto the ball. Even though they'll most likely advance, I don't think Germany can go very far based on what I saw last week.


The set of Sky Sports GameDay.

Anyway, 95% of the German fans cleared out of the field after the disappointing match, leaving behind a scene of destruction reminiscent of the first Woodstock--the entire place was covered in a layer of beer cups, cigarette butts, and the occasional passed-out German fan (a couple of guys were "napping" on the ground until halftime of the US game, when they woke up in a daze and stumbled toward the exits, much to our amusement). A crew of janitors in orange jumpsuits were cleaning up for at least half an hour, working around the remaining fans and the nappers and filling a couple of garbage trucks with waste. The only people who stuck around were US fans and Germans who wanted a better shot of getting on Sky Sports GameDay or whatever, so it was an interesting mix. We met up with a group of American students who were studying in Germany for the summer, as well as a German-born mother and her kid who had lived in NYC for ten years. In a weird "small world" twist, her kid currently attends UMO, so we talked about Bangor for a while. Anyway, the scene for watching the US match was pretty funny--in an empty, trashed field, there's a tiny contingent of Americans cheering wildly and at the German TV set, a group of Germans going "who are these guys?" We didn't have much to cheer about in the first half, though--in fact, we were so quiet and depressed that the German TV people began filming their broadcast during the match, sticking a boom camera in front of the big screen.

Luckily, though, the second half was a completely different story. We absolutely dominated and probably deserved to win if not for a terrible decision by the referee. I thought the US showed a lot of heart and perseverance to stick with the match, and Bradley played the match of a lifetime. A few observations: I would still like to see a Dempsey/Altidore striking combination, especially when we need a little extra punch on offense. It's a happy medium between going 3-4-3 (what we did against Slovenia right before scoring the second goal) and relying on Altidore and Findley/other random strikers to produce for us. With my boy Stuart Holden holding it down on the wing, we would also get more dangerous services. I think Bradley will stick with the normal lineup for Algeria, but it might not hurt to get a little riskier when (knock on wood) we play better teams in the elimination rounds.

Back to the Eurotrip narrative: after standing for both of the matches, we were pretty tuckered out, so we took a subway back to the hostel and relaxed for a bit before dinner. I've made a pretty conscious effort to have as much German food and drink as possible here, so we went to a place that served schnitzel for dinner and watched the England-Algeria match. Even though the restaurant looked pretty Latin, the schnitzel was incredible and I'm officially a fan.

That night, I began to feel a little sick, and contrary to popular belief, it had nothing to do with a day of consuming only beer and schnitzel. It actually was just allergies acting up--we've been sticking to a pretty regular regimen of working out in the mornings. Cologne had a giant park that was jogging distance from our hostel, so we would run there in the mornings and do sit-ups, push-ups, or pull-ups. However, the whole park was filled with pollen, so me breathing heavily there probably aggravated my allergies. So fast-forward to after the Germany game, and I'm coughing up a storm and trying to find something to fix my sore throat (again, yelling for four hours straight certainly didn't help, but it wasn't the cause of illness either). It's impossible to find a pharmacy at night in a foreign city, so I ask a cashier at the corner store for help. He barely speaks English, but he yells something in German and we find someone who does. Then, he finds someone with a smartphone that can locate night pharmacies, and together we figure out where the nearest one is (turns out, it was just a block away). They point me in the right direction, and I eventually get some lozenges and medicine (funny aside: when I described my symptoms, the lady at the register asked me if I was on any allergy medication to begin with. I said no, so she replied, "Good, you are a true German man," which I thought was hilarious). The point, I guess, is that Germans are very helpful people.

The next day in Cologne, we went to the city's cathedral, which was the tallest structure in Europe until the Eiffel tower was built. More impressive is that the cathedral was built entirely out of stone over the course of 800 years because the city kept going bankrupt and forcing the builders to stop. Everything about the cathedral is gorgeous, and I consider it a miracle that it wasn't bombed out in World War II (more on this later) given that it's located next to the city's major train station and rail bridge, both of which were destroyed by Allied bombers. We spent a good chunk of the morning at the cathedral and took the time to climb up to the top (550+ steps up and down) for a nice view of the city.



After a quick lunch, we went to the city's museum of modern art, which was an interesting experience. Half of the museum was incredible stuff by people like Picasso, Dali, etc., and the other half was everyday stuff that required huge stretches of the imagination to be considered "art." The crown jewel of quasi-art was a "piece" on the observation deck of the museum entitled "Bushes in Concrete Pots" (I shit you not) which would have been an amazing work if it didn't look like something any municipal janitor could have done. Still, we had a good time because it's too easy to make fun of this stuff.

That night, we headed out to dinner in the student district in an attempt to check out some pubs and watch the undercard matches (I think that night was Ghana-Australia and Cameroon-Denmark). We found this giant street that was pretty much exclusively pedestrian, and while we were checking it out we were accosted by a German bachelorette party. Apparently, it's tradition in Germany to fund bachelorette parties by selling random stuff, so these girls were charging 2€ to cut away chunks of the bride-to-be's shirt. It was all in good fun and we wound up talking to them for a while, which is what they really wanted in the first place. More interesting to me is the gimmicks that European women come up with the meet guys--in addition to the bachelorette party thing, which happened a couple of other times that night, we were also approached in London by a group of girls on a "Save the Blondes" campaign. Although that campaign would have been more accurately entitled "Feed the Cougars," I still think the amount of creativity and thought that went into it is commendable.

The next day, we got on the train to Hamburg and spent the better part of 5 hours playing travel Scrabble (yes, we're nerds). On the first day in Hamburg, we went on a walking tour of the city led by a British expatriate who looked a lot like Tinkerbell. She was very knowledgeable, though, and in three hours we saw a ton of the city and learned a lot of history. My favorite part was my church--St. Nicholas' cathedral--which is now an anti-war memorial. The whole church, save for the spire, was firebombed in WWII, and the shell of the church was left standing as a reminder of the horrors of war. This is another theme in Germany--especially at historical sites, the legacy of WWII is really evident. The Germans seem to wave war history in your face at times, which makes sense given the whole never-forget/never-again ideas. More significant to me though was how far we've come--a British tour guide can speak at a German war memorial about the loss of German life as a result of firebombing.

EDIT: I got cut off writing the last bit of this post, but basically I just wanted to say that it seems like the world is getting smaller. Even though England will play Germany in the round of 16, the tensions between the two countries seem pretty tame compared to what they once were. Teasing is always good-natured. Also, we spent our final night in Germany watching the US game, which was actually somewhat of an ordeal since every pub was showing the England game instead of USA-Algeria (there are more English expats than Americans in Germany, I guess). Despite my desire to go to an Algerian pub and talk smack in Arabic, we wound up finding a completely abandoned cafe with Sky satellite coverage during the 15th minute, and convincing them to switch it to the US game. We were the only four people in the place, and we were so loud we actually scared the bartender away at one point. Needless to say, the game was an emotional roller-coaster and when Donovan finally tucked the winning goal away we were euphoric. As in, we made a giant pigpile on the floor of the (abandoned) pub and started a four-man "USA" chant. Afterwards, we spilled out onto the streets of Hamburg to the Germany-Ghana pregame, which was basically a giant party and for us, a victorious two-hour celebration. There are many highlights from that night, most of which involve copious amounts of delicious German beer. We smoked some Nicaraguan cigars that Dan had brought and just generally lived it up for two hours. Details will follow, but right now I'm getting kicked off again. I really need more time than I have to describe all of the awesomeness that has ensued, so it'll just have to wait until next time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Amsterdam Wrap-Up, Bruges, and Germany

First, let me apologize in advance for any typos in this post. I'm using a ridiculous German keyboard and none of the key locations make any sense (for example, as far as I can tell there is no way to actually type an @ sign, I had to Google "at sign" and copy and paste it every time I wanted to log in anywhere). Also, I have no clue if the pictures I uploaded will work at all, so if everything shows up as giant lines of HTML then please be patient :)

That said, it's been a pretty awesome past few days. We spent our last night in Amsterdam in the red light district, which sounds cool but is actually like a giant strip club: pretty sad, depressing, and populated by some of the lamest people on the planet. We left after 20 minutes and decided to get an early start on the next day, which turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip (thus far).

In the morning, we left on the train for Amsterdam and headed to Bruges, a small town in Belgium that is not unlike Northeast Harbor in that most of the tourists who go there are older and richer folks. The town used to be the size of London in the 1800s until it lost its seaport and all of its commerce; since then, it dwindled as a metropolis but reinvented itself as a tourist hotspot. I believe it was also used as a cautionary tale about the effects of global warming in one of Thomas Friedman's books, but I could be wrong. Anyway, going into the day we were worried about a lot of things: how would the Eurorail passes work, would Bruges be too expensive for us broke students to handle, would there be anything to do after we got into town at 4 PM, etc.

The good news is that everything about Bruges was awesome. We got in fine with our Eurorail passes and found that our hostel is one of the cheapest ones we have on the trip--just 17 euros per person per night. We set out to explore the city and find a place to watch the Spain-Switzerland match, aka the Miracle on Grass 2010--more on the match in a second. After checking out the city, which looked like a beautiful medieval Italian city transplanted from the Florentine countryside (and was a welcome contrast to Amsterdam's darker, swamplike atmosphere), we stumbled across yet another public square showing the game. At this one, maybe 200 people of all backgrounds were sitting down outside of cafes, and each cafe had rigged up a glare-proof LCD TV under an awning. You could watch from the sun or the shade, but since everyone on the trip chose to go to school in California, we naturally gravitated toward the sun. We've had the most ridiculous luck in finding venues on this trip, and it continued in Bruges--we just ordered a bunch of different Belgian beer (there are over 1200 varieties, so despite my best efforts I couldn't sample all of them in one day) and watched Spain put up one of the more pathetic performances of the Cup thus far.



Although France has found new and creative ways to not advance out of an easy group, it's hard to envision a more disappointing result for a European powerhouse. The French are used to choking (see Zidane's headbutt), but the Spanish came in ranked #1 in the world and dropped their first match to Switzerland. Sure, Spain looked dominant for most of the game, but they were very soft in the attacking third and their crosses didn't seem directed to anyone in particular. More worryingly, their attackers didn't take enough risks in front of the net--all of the dancing and pullbacks didn't produce any goals. Sometimes, as Coach Swartz says, you need dirty finishing--stuff that's not pretty but puts the ball in the back of the net. Spain didn't have that, and they suffered for it. We also kind of need the Spanish to advance because we'll be visiting Spain during the Round of 16 games, and I don't want to spend that time taking siestas and watching Messi tear it up while David Villa & Co. sit on the sidelines.

Anyway, I'm running out of internet time now so I'll make this next paragraph quick. Basically, we made it to Cologne fine this afternoon and saw the France-Mexico game. Good result--unfortunately, the reason I have time to type this e-mail is because we're stuck in a six-person room with a couple of girls who think it's OK and/or acceptable to go to sleep at 10:30 PM in a youth hostel--not cool, randos. Tomorrow promises to be a marathon since we're invested in all three matches and we're going to a giant stadium to watch them with a bunch of Germans. Stay posted.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Post USA/Amsterdam

All I can say after the U.S. match is that Robert Greene should extend his stay in South Africa indefinitely. The death threats I heard against him were made in good humor, but there was a little truth in them and if England has trouble in its next two group matches then that tone might change. The first threat came from a guy on our flight to Amsterdam, who said that Greene should probably be shot. Another woman--a sweet older lady we met in the Gatwick train station--summed everything up in typically understated British fashion: "Well, he could have done better." The British tabloids were rightfully brutal on him, and their headlines were hilarious ("God Save Our Greene," "Hand of Clod," and "Clown Keeper to be Axed" were some of my favorites. One story led by saying "It's not just BP who's having trouble plugging leaks--add England's calamity of a keeper Robert Greene to the list").

Obviously, the US benefited from Greene's mishap, but even in London people seemed to agree that we played well enough to deserve a tie. Altidore could just as easily have scored a couple of legitimate goals, and the game could have tipped the other way if not for Tim Howard's brilliance. As I mentioned, we watched the game from our hostel's bar, where the crowd was pretty pro-American. Still, we recruited an ex-middle linebacker from Kentucky named Chase to hang with us in case of any trouble. Chase was cool because he's the first person I've met from the South who's both passionate and knowledgable about soccer--Phillippe Bouchard would be a close exception, but he doesn't have Chase's thick Kentucky accent or Wikipedia-like on-call knowledge of the game. During the match, Chase would literally say things like, "Oh, that play was exactly like Henry's goal against Barcelona in the 2006 Champion's League quarterfinal," which is just impressive to me.

Anyway, I thought the US showed some streaks of brilliance, especially toward the end of the first half, when they kept England's key players from seeing the ball for long stretches of time. Now, it's a contest to see who can run up the score on Slovenia and Algeria the most (or who can avoid playing down to the level of their competition, which has historically been the US's Achilles' heel).

Meanwhile, I've been in Amsterdam, and our group is finally reunited as of yesterday, when we met up with Dan Holleb in the Gatwick airport. Amsterdam is one of the greenest cities on the planet--there's as much bike traffic as there is car traffic, and all of the public facilities and transportation is electric and very environmentally conscious. The city is built over a series of canals (think Venice), its streets are all askew and make no sense (think Boston), and the city itself has this very Las Vegas-like image of itself that seems geared toward tourists more than anything. Since the Netherlands were playing today, all of the streets were covered in orange and packed with people in Oranje garb--the fact that it's a Monday and a workday didn't seem to bother too many people. We watched the game in a bar just on the edge of a park, where there was a full-on drums and horn section camped out playing national team songs during the full 90 minutes.



The Dutch were playing Denmark, whom we assumed were their archrivals because there's only room for one small, blond, socialist country at the World Cup. After the Netherlands won the match 2-0 and looked great in doing so--Dutch football has a ton of style, it steals the best aspects of the German and Spanish game and nobody should be surprised if the Oranje sneak their way into the final rounds--everybody spilled out into the park to celebrate. The sun, the band, and the fact that the Dutch are level-headed fans who are able to share the streets with people from Denmark without causing any trouble--all of these things made this afternoon one of the best so far.

Tomorrow, we're headed to the Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum, which Dan guarantees are both well worth the price of admission. Photos, updates, and some more good stories are all coming soon.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pre-match sentiments/exploring London

T-minus one hour to the start of USA-England. Because of safety concerns, I'll be watching the match with Sam and Zack from the bar in our hostel, where there's a large community of American travelers and no rowdy Brits. Should be a great atmosphere, though--I wore my USA throwback jersey all day and kept running into people who also had US swag. A decent number of them are staying at the Generator (our hostel), which is apparently the biggest one in London, so by networking like this we managed to assemble a good-sized crew. As far as the match itself goes, everyone is excited. Tons of people were sporting English jerseys on the Underground, and the tabloids were proclaiming imminent victory for Gerrard, Rooney, & Co. Bookies are confident too; last time I checked the US was a 4-1 long shot to win while England was something like a 2-5 (a draw was close to even). It's also the Queen's birthday today, so there was a long series of super-patriotic ceremonies at Buckingham Palace (a 64-cannon salute, multiple airplane flybys, flags everywhere, etc.) that we kind of stumbled into while walking around the city:





Personally, I'm optimistic about the US' chances, but more than anything I'm eager to find out which American team showed up to the World Cup: the awesome Confederations' Cup squad or the God-awful, struggling-to-beat-Trinidad and Tobago-in-qualifying one.

It's been a pretty busy couple of days, so I'm just going to recap most of what we've done (maybe I'll elaborate once I come back to America and have more time to write and edit). After Zack got in, we went out to dinner and caught up over a long meal--everyone ate an entire large pizza. Everyone was pretty wiped out from travel, but we still rallied and made it to some of the local bars and the one in the hostel before we came back to crash. The next day, we did a rapid-fire walking tour of London, starting with London Bridge, the Millenium Bridge, St. Paul's, and winding up in Trafalgar Square, where they had set up a giant screen to broadcast the opening ceremonies. Along the way, we stopped at Westminster Abbey, which was a really incredible place--gorgeous architecture, tons of history, and (unfortunately) a ridiculous prohibition on photography that really frustrated me the whole time. And to answer the question I know you're thinking: no, I didn't find the key to the Holy Grail on Alexander Pope's tomb, although I did see Newton's. The best spot, though, was Poet's Corner, where half of the greatest authors in the Western world are buried next to each other.

As a quick aside, I think I should say why we were able to do all of this: the London Underground, which is by far the nicest public transportation system that I've ever been on. A day pass is just over £5, so we could just hop on a train to wherever we wanted to go. Anyway, the start of the Cup was a giant party in Trafalgar Square, and the South African expat community was out in force to celebrate. The sun popped out about halfway through the match, both teams played well, and overall the day was just perfect.



After that, we went back to the hostel to drop our stuff off before going to an icebar, which is a new experience for me and probably the most trendy thing I'll ever do. Basically, it's a gimmick where the entire bar is made of ice (sponsored by Absolut!) and you pay a fixed fee to come in and drink for 40 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time for something like that. At any rate, it was a good time and afterward we still were able to catch the tail end of the France-Uruguay match, which was actually a pretty weak showing on France's part.

Today, we continued the tour of London at Buckingham Palace and some of the parks, where we saw the ceremonies for the Queen's birthday completely by accident. We also went to the Churchill Museum (guess who wanted that one? Yeah, I'm a nerd, but Winston was a badass), which is housed in his old World War II command bunker, where he basically ran the country during the London air raids. Obviously, the museum was every bit as awesome as the man himself, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.



We stayed a little late (I kind of held everyone back) and missed the beginning of Argentina-Nigeria, but saw 75 minutes of the match from Westminster Arms, one of the more famous "local" bars that because of its notoriety has actually become kind of a tourist destination. Messi looked invincible even though he was denied, and Maradona looked like a drug runner--I swear, he has an uncanny resemblance to Vinny Chase in Medellin. Sam and I also tried to determine if there was any figure in American sports with Maradona's career path--international superstar, drug addict, TV host, and now controversial coach--and decided that the closest thing was a combination of Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas. These are the things we talk about.

I'll have more soon and some of the things I want to write require a little more reflection (like why Euro-pop culture and music draws on 1980s American pop-culture and music, but is still newer than current American trends), which I'll have some time for tomorrow on the flight to Amsterdam. Until then...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In London

Update: Sam and I got into London just fine, and Zack should be here soon. Weather's a little drab, but the hostel is great and the city has a great atmosphere about it. Spent most of the afternoon walking around with Sam while we waited to check in. I saw that one of the daily papers had an op-ed from Joe Cole entitled, "Why England Will Win the World Cup," which seemed a little cocky--kind of like Paul Pierce saying the Celtics would sweep the three games in Boston. Overheard tons of conversations about the World Cup on the plane rides, but the speakers were sitting too far away from me to carry on a conversation. Feeling a little jetlagged but will probably rally to get on a normal sleep schedule and then do some sightseeing tomorrow afternoon before the South Africa match. Updates to follow, sorry for the brief/staccato style but internet is expensive here and I don't want to waste time turning all of these observations into prose like I normally do. Maybe later...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Internationalism

So it didn't really hit me until today that I'm leaving for Europe in 36 hours. I saw an ESPN promo for the USA-England match on Saturday and I realized that I'm going to be in London then:



I love the fact that ESPN decided to sample T-Paine (that's Thomas Paine, the guy whose propaganda helped start a war with the Brits) for their ad. It really stirs up--not very subtly, but whatever--the kind of national pride that Americans don't have enough of when it comes to soccer.

See, soccer is the world's sport, and we've always sucked at it or just ignored it entirely. These things probably go hand in hand--I bet if the US were consistently world-class in soccer we would pay attention to the World Cup every four years. Anyway, the point is that the US has never really had to be internationalist when it comes to sports. We're home to the undisputed #1 leagues in the world for baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. Every four years we might stop paying attention to the NBA Finals long enough to watch the Olympics, but nobody really cares about the outcome (I have never met anyone who is deeply invested--like, in a Red Sox-Yankees, camp-out-overnight-to-buy-tickets kind of way--in the US Olympic medal count). And since we always win the Olympics--arguably, the last time we were challenged was in 1980, and even then we won the Miracle on Ice--there's really not that much national pride riding on the outcome.

The Olympics are really the beginning and the end of the US international sporting experience (not counting jokes like the World Baseball Classic, NBA Europe, playing a Giants game in London, or any of the other stunts where none of the best players even show up). As a country, we haven't had to pull together and root for one of our national teams in a situation where we could lose in a very long time, and I wonder if we even know how to do it. For the rest of the world, it's normal to have a giant, genuine outburst of passion and patriotism every four years. As a US sports fan, not so much.

This ESPN ad blitz has me excited though, because it shows that ESPN is banking on Americans supporting US soccer. If there was ever a time for this to happen, it's now. Our team is a bunch of scrappy underdogs, the kind of group that America loves to love. One of our strikers is a skinny Texan from the wrong side of the tracks known for doing diving headers through traffic; the other is a 20-year-old man-child from New Jersey who can out-muscle any of the world's best defenders. In a do-or-die situation, we may be one of the best teams in the Cup (or certainly one of the most feared: see for example Confederations Cup, 2009). If you need a reason to support the US (other than, you know, being American), just watch this video:




The million dollar question, which hit me today, is "Do I love the USMNT enough to wear a US jersey on the streets of London on Saturday?" Put it this way: after this rant, I think I would be doing a disservice to myself and to my country if I didn't.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My New Crush

Move over, Taylor Swift, someone else has captured my heart. Her name is Rima Fakih, aka Miss USA 2010. She's been written about a lot in the past few days, but before I add my two cents we should probably have a picture:



As you might have guessed, Rima is Muslim--she originally came to America from Lebanon. Since Muslims aren't known for winning beauty contests (not that Muslim women aren't beautiful, but the whole "don't tempt men by showing your hair" part of the Qur'an tends to narrow the ranks of potential Arab beauty queens), Foreign Policy went to interview people from her hometown to see how they felt about a Muslim woman posing on national TV in a bikini (and winning). The quotes from these people were hilarious--one guy pretty much summed up the whole issue by saying,

"She made us all proud. Some people can represent us with their veils; others represent us in their swimming suits. What's wrong with that? God created beauty and God loves beauty."

As if that weren't enough, Miss USA has been accused of being both a Hezbollah operative (in unsubstantiated blog reports) and a stripper (she apparently did some pole dancing as a joke in the DJ booth of a radio show), which is probably the most absurd combination of accusations anyone has ever faced. My favorite insinuation, though, actually comes from Wikipedia:

"She was also an actress in an independent short film with sexual undertones titled Throbbing Justice."

Anyway, to summarize, Rima Fakih is a very interesting woman who clearly has some awesome stories to tell. Rima, if you're out there among the masses reading BBD, shoot me an email and I'll definitely consider letting you take me out to dinner sometime.

لازم تتكلمي معي يا ريما، سنذهب الى مطعم جميل وبعد الى حفلة كبيرة. انا مش نسشانجي بشاكل لكن عشانك، ممكن ساغير