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...

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