Notes from World Cup 2006 and Germany

Originally posted on Soccerblog.com, twelve years ago, but reposted here because it’s kind of amazing that i found them again.  i was young and naive about a lot of things, soccer being only one of them, and i hated capitalization even more.

09 june
frankfurt is a very modern-looking city, with a striking skyline quite atypical for europe. after getting here and checking in, i went immediately to the river area, where the first game between germany and costa rica was kicking off. they had giant video screens moored in the middle of the river, and people lined the shores and nearby bridges, taking it all in. there was much singing and shouting, but it was actually very mellow, and the police seemed primarily concerned with making sure people had a good time.
since germany won, there was much rejoicing about town. at one end of the zeil, a shopping area for pedestrians, people were forming a gauntlet of black, yellow, and red and demanding cars honk before allowing them to pass.
they have open-air grills in the street, a giant grate hanging over coals, covered with sausages. it smells amazing. beer is everywhere, also sold on the street. there are people wandering around with both beer and sausage, dressed in all the colors of the world. even paraguay was represented. oddly enough, the toughest jersey to find is the us jersey.
10 june
the english team is staying at my hotel. they’re being rather cautious about letting people in, as you might imagine. it took me an hour to get back into my hotel room after going for a run, because they blocked off the entrance so that becks and crew could get onto the bus without much hassle. there was a large crowd watching.
the train ride to the waldstadion was actually as fun as the match. on a lark, i got in the first-class compartment with the loudest, singingest bunch of drunk englishmen i could find. they had fun and cheered on mexico, too on behalf of a few mexican interlopers.
pretty much every one of their songs says the word ‘england’ er, ‘enger-land’ as many times as possible. they are also adept at changing the lyrics of the songs to suit the situation, such as ‘nice trousers’ to salute a german still on the platform who had a truly reprehensible pair of pants. this batch had no love for the germans, though, for the most part, and were frequently not very tactful about it, perhaps owing to history on-field and off. it was sweaty,
cramped, loud, and smelly (someone farted) and spectacularly fun. i wish i’d had my camera, which reminds me: whatever i’d read about not being allowed to bring cameras was clearly false. d’oh.
the match was actually relatively calm. the singing continued for most of it, but the fans were fairly calm up in the nosebleed seats. they even did ‘the wave’ which shocked me. everything was extremely well organized, and the stadium was so clean that i felt bad for leaving peanut shells on the floor. the match was entertaining, but had its rough edges. england profited from a gift goal early, and was making paraguay look fairly second-rate to start with, but as the game went on, they had trouble finishing plays, and seemed to always make one pass too many. in the second half, paraguay came out strong and played a better half, and the refereeing was decidedly one-sided against the english, making them have to hang on for that 1-nil win.
the english fans were, it seemed, pleased to have won, but hardly blown away by the performance.
i wore my charlton athletic jersey today. i have an england jersey somewhere, but i couldn’t find it before i left. at any rate, more than a few charlton supporters stopped me to shake hands. even after i explained that i’m an american who adopted them ’cause they were the first premiership match i went to, they were still happy to have met. nice folk indeed.
later that night:
the english fans are still at it. they’ve totally taken over the romer, the old-fashioned-looking, half-timbered house-lined city square. they’re mostly singing, dancing, but also occasionally throwing bottles, or kicking the ball around. lots of shirtless guys jumping around. it looks like the night the red sox won the world series, and all they did was win their first game. i am thoroughly impressed. either way, they’ve been at it there pretty much ever since the game let out; i walked by and gawked no fewer than three times. the polizei have been mostly good sports; they’ve got nasty-looking dogs, and riot gear, but they’re mostly letting the english run amok. even though they’re kicking balls around and windows are occasionally being broken, the police have more than once thrown the ball back to the fans, to great cheering. some of them seem kinda bemused by the rest, but the singing, the singing is unanimous, and it continues.
there’s a good crowd on the river tonight, too, watching argentina and cote d’ivoire, but it’s clearly not where the, uh, action is.
june 11th
it has been a quieter day in frankfurt thus far, although that’s not to really say it’s quiet. there is no game in the city, nor is the aftermath as significant. of course, the english are still here, many of them returning to the same bars that they’d taken over the night before, bursting into song again whenever they spot kindred fans. which is reasonably often. there are more mexican fans about today, too, but they’re more cordial than boisterous so far.
later in the day, the mexican fans are doing the driving around and honking thing following their win. there’s a more significant delegation of fans from iran here now, and they don’t seem to know their side lost, because they’re dancing wildly still, having fully taken over and densely packed a side street off of the zeil. their music is pretty good, too. the polizei don’t even have anybody watching them, and after all, why not–they probably don’t even drink, and they’re clearly having a blast anyway. the english, on the other hand, are still there in force, even if nothing compared to last night. they’re still encamped in the romer, a painted limousine parked in the middle of the square, and have fully taken over a bar’s outside tables on one side of the square. they’re playing the same game that some folks were playing in the hauptwache the night before, which is to say, take a ball, and kick it in the air as hard as you can. cheer when someone volleys it, boo when it’s missed. windows narrowly miss being broken. a ball got lost in the fountain in the center, which is fenced off; initially, the police seemed disinclined to let them retrieve it, but eventually relented (or, as likely, were too late to stop it), and a man got in there to get it, adding a nice cannonball dive before exiting the fountain. while most of the police had been pretty easygoing before, eventually this ball was confiscated. another was produced within moments, naturally.
12 june
it’s good to hear american voices on the train to koln (then to dusseldorf, and gelsenkirchen); hopefully we make a good showing for us soccer fans. according to my dad, their flight from jfk had the new york fire department’s soccer team on it, who were hitting some of the us games, and playing a few friendly matches with local clubs. gelsenkirchen is kind of tough to get to. rather than one large city, it’s in a cluster of other medium-sized ones, thus there are a lot of regional trains that one might ride on to get between them. these tend not to be very fast.
it was good, though, to see so many americans on board, and from all over the states, too, particularly considering this was still a pretty faraway place to be staying from the venue. a friendly but slightly crazy-looking german predicted a 2-0 victory for the us team. it was still a fairly long trip, and very hot (a thermometer in gelsenkirchen after the game, quite late in the evening, still read 29 celsius).
once the train reached gelsenkirchen, that’s where the fun began. as in, multiple entire trains full of people all attempted to pile on the platform to board a single tram car. they refer to it as a u-bahn because it is underground for 3 stops out of 10 or so. it was a long, chaotic wait. which i avoided, and was an early adopter of the bus alternative. which was packed, exceptionally sweaty, and slow, but steady. progress was so slow, in fact, that many disembarked to walk, realizing too late that it was a 7-km trip to the stadium. if you have tickets to a game in gelsenkirchen, allow some extra time to get there. it took about an hour and a half for me to get from the hauptbahnhof to the stadium.
after getting there, it was a chase to find the ticket pick-up. as in, if you get conditional tickets, go to the ‘stadium ticket center’, and do not settle for the ‘ticket service center’. the latter will not help you. in the case of gelsenkirchen, this is like a quarter-mile hike outside the stadium. by this time, myself, a czech, and four scotsmen have made the rounds of the wrong places, and are running like mad to the right place. eventually i get my ticket. section d, row 1, seat 1. hmm… sounds interesting.
i get in, 5 minutes late. i knew that the ticket was as good as it sounded when the usher arched his eyebrows at me. i must have been a sight, dripping sweat, unshaven, and entirely out of breath. it’s entirely possible i wound up on worldwide tv looking like that, since i was literally right behind the us bench…
…and in the middle of the biggest czech section, a field of red. they had pretty good chants going, honestly, not that i could understand any of it, but they were clearly organized so that there was something they could all stomp their feet to in every verse. they were shaking the place. or at least this half of it. a couple of nice americans i chatted with on the train back to dusseldorf sat on the opposite corner of the place, and said that they couldn’t even hear them from there. judging by shirt color and cheering activity (lack thereof, that is), it looked like the place was over half us supporters. impressive, considering that the czechs were a drive or a train trip away, mostly, and not a long plane flight, then a train trip. of course, the fact that you couldn’t hear the american fans wasn’t entirely their fault.
because the us team played mostly badly. for 25-30 minutes after the first czech goal, it was encouraging, ’cause they were really taking it to them, hustling to the ball, winning balls aggressively, and threatening repeatedly. you felt like it was a matter of time before they punched one in, particularly after the shot that struck the post. but it turned out that the czechs would put another one in first, and that pretty much ended the game. after that, the us team couldn’t connect cleanly on more than a couple passes in a row, for the most part. there were a couple of chances, even good ones, but you got the sense that those were flukes. by the last ten minutes, their frustration was plainly evident. it was just ugly at that point. the czechs plainly felt aggrieved by the officiating, but while it wasn’t perfect (there were a few situations where they were seemed to be allowing the players to make the calls for them, wrong calls), it was reasonably balanced. they really didn’t like seeing their players carted off the field hurt, and it was probably better that i didn’t understand some of what they were saying. the field seemed to be an issue, as a number of players were seen losing their footing, or tripping over lines on the field, or something.
the american fans were pretty frustrated by the game, and pretty quiet, too, on the way back. not that they were terribly loud on the way there, either, really, but it’s also not really their way. many chose to walk back most or part of the way, as did i, but i was told later that the wait for the tram wasn’t as endless as it seemed (see previous statements). there were pockets of people doing the math, figuring out whether or not to root for ghana to win, or to merely tie the italians, and what had to happen to advance. the figuring wasn’t terribly reassuring, to say the least.

In Favor of More Traffic Tickets

As always, it’s very likely that any ideas i come up with here are new only to me and/or have serious flaws.

In the angry northeastern coastal elite city where we live, it sometimes feels like our streets are a good barometer of the public’s goodwill for fellow humans. And right now, it feels pretty weak, on its way to being a distant memory.

Naturally i have a keen eye for this as a cyclist, but we’re not going to talk about that third rail of newspaper comments sections today. Let’s talk about the somewhat simpler interaction between cars, other cars, and pedestrians. Having said that, make no mistake, i’m still posing this as part of the War on Cars.

So needless to say, enforcing every traffic infraction is never going to happen. On highways, it mostly shouldn’t happen–speeding isn’t such a menace there and interactions are more predictable, and solely between cars. It’s on city streets where things get complicated, and where the interaction between impatient people’s most selfish impulses is becoming increasingly noticeable and increasingly dangerous.

Mostly, i’m speaking of a handful of things that have become rampant:

  • Speeding: Blazing down small side streets far above the city speed limit, gunning the engine from red light to red light, moving in confined spaces on contested, crowded streets with aggression that pays off in mere minutes at best. Minutes on your commute are not worth everyone’s safety.
  • Endangering Pedestrians: Not merely roaring through crosswalks (but definitely that), but also hooking right turns through reds and through walk signals with abandon. Pushing indignantly through clogged crosswalks against a heavily used walk signal. Honking when you don’t get your way.
  • Unpredictability: Ubers, Lyfts, cabs, and other poor, inconsiderate drivers who stop wherever they please without a moment’s notice and immediately form an obstruction, only to resume movement at an equally inconvenient time.
  • Running Red Lights: An epidemic problem here in Boston. Yesterday, while running home from work a busy intersection in the Financial District watched the light turn to ‘walk’, scores of pedestrians took a breath and looked, then proceeded, only to have white SUV sneak through seconds after the proverbial buzzer. At a running pace across a narrow street, i was less than a foot from impact, at no fault, but in great danger. And this was something that happened despite ample experience and sufficient paranoia; what happens when a family of tourists from middle America get hurt because someone needed to wait at the next light, not this one?

With modern technology and proper application of it, this feels solvable, though. There’s ample documentation of the ambivalent effectiveness of red light cameras–the extent to which the replace one bad behavior with another, and considering that the point of this is less about enforcement on any one individual than reducing the danger created by mass bad behavior, we don’t need traditional red light camera fines. But why can’t we use that technology?

Speed cameras and radars and traps get found out and enforce only localized, insincere good behavior, if you will. But the technology is sound, too, and relatively inexpensive.

It’s a matter of how we use it.

And since gone are the days where this requires an officer, requires a letter in the mail, requires a check, a stamp, a human to open the returned ticket and process this, there’s no incentive for this to be a large ticket, issued on your unluckiest day. Because we’re all apt to take the chance that today isn’t that day.

So what if these tickets were instead issued every time, with ruthless efficiency and high accuracy by vision systems and computers? Okay, but that gets expensive and onerous, doesn’t it? And what if the computers make mistakes?

So why does it have to be expensive, why can’t it just ping your EZ-Pass $10 for running a red light? Every single time. Why can’t speeding between blocks cost you $5, every single time? In the post iTunes 99c single, post-debit card, microtransaction world, this is trivial. After a handful of them pile up, won’t you stop it? And won’t we be safer? Maybe once you pile up ten of them you get a point on your license, too, because your insurance company ought to know about it, don’t you think?

While we’re at it, let’s spend all this money on mass transit.

You can argue that this is a massive invasion of privacy (and at a time when we suspect our government agencies of misusing information like this), but driving is not a right, it is a privilege, and it sure as hell does not supersede the safety of others.

Our behavior, as a society, is deteriorating, and nowhere moreso than where we have our two-ton steel killing machines operating at high speed in close proximity to each other. And while it’s unlikely that appealing to our better angels is going to have a meaningful improvement on our safety during our ever-increasingly insane commutes, can’t we at least use technology to tell the devil on our shoulders to shut up?

Is that gas?

Over the course of the last eighteen months, just as you might have good days and bad days at work, there have been good days and bad days reading the newspaper.  On some days, i turn off the twitters at night and feel like any day now our fraudulent, bigoted, corrupt, degenerated, suborned excuse for a President is going to be run to ground and paraded through the streets shorn of all his lies.  On other nights i feel like it’s all going to fizzle, like the Red Sox squandering loaded bases with nobody out, and we’re going to have to sit there and watch while the Republicans get everything they ever wanted and be praised for it.

It’s not just that i’m so often of two minds about whether or not he’s going to get caught; sometimes those nights where it seems like he’s going to triumph make me doubt the whole thing.  Not in the sense of believing the things that he says, because they’re self-evidently ridiculous, but at least wondering if there’s a there, there.  What if the dots don’t connect on Russia?  What if Stormy Daniels’ lawyer is all style and no substance?  Or what if instead of the grand slam, Robert Mueller hits a standup double, but the rest of the government’s already resolved itself to strike out without taking the bat off its shoulder, so to speak?

At that point, i start to think about what the Republican dystopia looks like when it entrenches itself.  Even in the wildest horrors, Trump’s most brazen corruption doesn’t outlive him (unless you believe the stories about him lining up Ivanka in six years and getting the Russians to hand it to her).  But his corruption ranges from insulting and tacky to damaging our foreign policy—its the lasting damage that i worry about.  The selling out of the environment at the last moment that crisis can be mitigated, the war declared on the less fortunate and the less white, the blatant effort to destroy a government we spent two hundred years working on.

And i don’t know if it’s the relentlessly, regrettably evenhanded mainstream media giving his lies equal weight to facts, evidence, hell, even his own words back to haunt him.  Or if it’s the lies themselves, undermining the truth with quantity if not quality.  Maybe its just the sheer longevity of it all, the fact that this has lasted eighteen months without this unbalanced machine spinning itself apart, maybe that makes me wonder if it’ll hold together somehow and refuse all our efforts to tip it over.

But there’s a deep breath to be taken, and time to be taken to consider real things that did happen, that can be analyzed on their merits.

If nothing else, the President’s own words prove he’s a bigot, prove he sympathizes with Nazis and the KKK.

If nothing else, the President has hired people who’ve been proven corrupt well in excess of past standards for front-page scandal.

If nothing else, the President is violating the letter and spirit of existing laws regarding profiting from positions in government.

If nothing else, the President has hired people who’ve been proven to be in league with foreign powers whose interests are not our own.

If nothing else, the President has lied to the citizens of this country literally thousands of times.

If nothing else, the President has supervised an inadequate response to a natural disaster and contributed to the needless deaths of thousands of American citizens in Puerto Rico.

If nothing else, the President admitted to, boasted of harassing women.

If nothing else, the President’s representative admitted to paying off other women to quash stories of extramarital affairs.

If nothing else, the President personally instructed our country’s border patrol to separate children from their parents.

If nothing else, there are these things and more that are generally undisputed, and it’s important to count them up and remind ourselves that other Presidents and other politicians have been ended for less.

But then there’s the preponderance of coincidences that simply can’t-just-be with Russia, the rancid smell of his finances that we’ve never even seen, the sketchy deals with China, in the Middle East, the parts of the dossier that keep adding up.

The pee tape.

So i wake up and remind myself that this isn’t normal and was never normal, and that decades of Republican willingness to cheat has culminated in rule by a group of people that do only that, while decent people are somewhat understandably unprepared to manage enemies for whom decency has no meaning.  There can be no quit on this, though; we need to believe in Robert Mueller, believe in the Pee Tape as strongly on the day the news comes as we did the day this asshole took power.  Our job is still to be the conscience, the backbone, the steel in the trap when the people doing the work spring it.  And we can’t let our fatigue turn into doubt.

Believing Your Own Press

One of the many things that makes New Yorkers tiresome to massholes like myself is their consistent, casual assertion that it’s the Greatest City In The World.  As if there’s no argument, as if it’s the most obvious statement one could conceivably make, income disparities and crumbling subways and Yankee fans apparently somehow not contradicting them.

As much as it pains me to say it, though, they’re a lot closer to the mark than the rest of us, considering that we as a nation are more than a little bit given to the exact same thing.  If you do a search for “greatest country in the world”, for instance,  you get a lot of them, and i mean a lot.  It’s bipartisan, too.  De rigeur for the Republicans in the room, but expected of Democrats, too, it’s a verbal equivalent of a mid-2000’s flag pin.  It doesn’t really matter which end of the spectrum you’re on, you’re expected to act as if this is true.

But it’s not, it’s not even close.  And it’s less about whether or not we are or aren’t, were or weren’t, what depresses me is that we don’t even try.  No, let me restate that, it’s depressing that we don’t even think we have to try.  Never mind that we’re heading in the opposite direction, we just are, y’know?

Why should we feel any obligation to look out for the least fortunate among us and help them up out of poverty for as long as they need?  Our healthcare system is the best, because the richest among us have access to the best product of our smartest doctors, scientists, and engineers–but there’s no need to worry about life expectancy or infant mortality for the rest of us, much less the poor.  We invented public education and the rest of the world sends their kids to college here, so we’re good, right?  It’s okay for us to starve/privatize/sabotage the former and wall off the latter with the risk of crippling debt.  We’re fine with our crumbling roads and bridges, clogged public transit, congested airports, and nonexistent trains.  There’s nothing unjust about racist policing, unequal justice, and mass incarceration.  Why even bother with leading the way to clean energy when what we have works so well?

It’s like you haven’t even been listening.

We’re. The. Greatest. Country. In. The. World.

And that’s what we’ll be muttering to ourselves, huddled ignorantly in flooded, crumbling, unhealthy cities, and deserted and desertified suburbs, wondering why the rest of the world just doesn’t understand, and what could have been if we just tried, even a little.

Notes from London, Madrid, and Rome

17 February 2018, a bus near Bascombe Down, England

  • It’s striking as you walk down 50 rows to the back of a 747 and realize that the last 15 rows are the only normal ‘coach’ seats.  150 people in about 1/4 of the aircraft.  And 50 rich people get to lie flat in the rest of the plane.
  • It’s been almost exactly ten years since i’d been to England.  In that time, they’ve deprecated about £30 of the £50 of what i had lying around at home and brought back with me.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, either.  Lesson: spend it all.
  • Which of course is very easy in London, with the roughly $7 subway rides and all. On the other hand, last time i was here, a pound was closer to $2 than to $1.50, so thanks Brexit.
  • It’s interesting to visit places you’re very familiar with with people who are new to the whole experience. It affords you lots of time to sort of slack off on the touristing and just kinda soak and look for things you haven’t seen before.
  • On the other hand, a lot happened here in 10 years. For instance, they’ve decided to embrace the whole tall-building thing.  We tasked the teenager to find a thing to do for us, and she suggested we take our breakfast on the 31st floor of the Shard tower.  Hard to tell if it was her intention, but it is exactly the same type of thing that the awful rich people she watches on YouTube would do.  The difference is, we weren’t pretending to be blasé about it, and weren’t filming ourselves.  It was actually pretty great, and cost only a bit more than the elevator ride to the observation deck, but it was another reminder that rich people are the most foreign people of all.
  • Traveling with the in-laws means less walking and less Tube and more tour buses, but the upper decks of those buses are kinda great at dusk as the sun goes down and the light goes up.
  • Back home in Boston, we should feel pretty good about how accessible the T is compared with the Underground, which is pretty much a nightmare for people with canes, crutches, etc.  That’s about the only aspect we should be proud of, of course.  Amazing things are possible if you spend on infrastructure, Governor Baker.
  • I’ve come around on Hob Nobs, they’re a lot of good cookies for £1.
  • This isn’t the greatest airbnb to introduce the in-laws to, with lukewarm showers, funny beds and sheets, and other strangeness, but on the other hand that’s also kind of perfect.
  • The tour guide on this bus to Stonehenge and Bath is very well-read and scholarly, and thus is palpably disappointed in our inability to recognize the things she name-checks, and stay awake on a long, warm, bus ride.  If it were in her authority to give an exam, i’m pretty sure she would.  i’d pass, but only just.
  • Instead of single cans of terrible beer for dirt cheap, now you can buy single cans of pretty decent craft beers in your corner store for a reasonable price.  This too is progress.
  • It never ceases to amaze me that the world seems to love KFC, yet in all likelihood has no concept of the whole ‘Kentucky’ thing.

19 February 2018, Iberia 3715, late enroute from LGW to MAD

  • The selection of craft beer here is amazingly different from when i was here in 2008.  Back then, my brother had a printed list of places with traditional cask ales to go hunt down.  Today, small pubs tended to have 6-12 taps at least with vastly better selection, and many casks as well.  At one beer focused pub near where we were staying, the bartender ironically lamented that he would only drink one or two of what they had, noting he preferred Foster’s at a “proper boozer” at home in South London. For all that, most of what’s on offer is tasty, even if still gentler and less alcoholic than what we typically drink at home. And the atmosphere in a good pub is still pretty hard to beat.
  • A bad one, on the other hand… on Saturday night we got dinner in a pub near Victoria, which was still serving food as the full moon was surely turning people mad.  How else to explain the three bouncers patrolling the interior and the plastic pint glasses.
  • Even though we needed two of them at times, there were some journeys that were better accomplished via cab, given that the lengthy hikes and numerous stairs to change trains were taking their toll.  Over a couple days, i had to get used to the idea that unlike at home, you didn’t have to make things easier for your driver, or assume that they might not know what you were talking about. The Knowledge is very real indeed, and coupled with the general friendly, chatty demeanor and entirely reasonable prices, it makes you wonder if Uber and Lyft wouldn’t be so ascendant back home if the incumbent service didn’t suck so very much.
  • The main impression i got of Stonehenge (which was very cool, and the people who maintain it have done an excellent job of giving people a good experience of visiting it) is that every single person visiting would really wish they had a moment alone with it. Not even just for photos, more that your mental image of the place doesn’t include other people, so why do they persist in being there?
  • In 2000 when i first visited England, the London Eye was brand new, so was the Millennium Dome and the Jubilee Line; it’s hard to think of any of that as being around 20 years old at this point, but there’s all manner of rich stuff and wacky architecture, sprouted since.  Change feels glacial when you live in a place for that period of time, but when you let a decade elapse, it feels like a sudden difference.
  • Why is it that Londoners still can’t achieve any kind of consensus on what side of any passage, sidewalk, or path to walk on.  The Tube often has signage posted for this very reason, but it’s badly needed, like, everywhere.  Without the threat of an actual crash as on roads, everybody seemingly feels free to adopt their own convention, and it’s madness.
  • This plane is roasting, which is the typical punishment for wearing your heaviest clothes so as not to pack them. Iberia’s ‘Express’ service is just terrible, in that it closely replicates the experience of sitting in an obstructed view grandstand seat that punishes your knees on a hot day in July.  Somewhere in Florida, i’ll just make the assumption that the Sox are stinking it up right now.
  • After visiting the Roman baths in Bath, which were 8m below ground level, i find myself wondering more about just how ground level gets buried.  We’ve heard about this in a few places, after all.  In Seattle, for instance, it was a massive civil engineering project in frontier times.  And i’m sure that elsewhere there are old cities with more crap buried deeper underneath.  But i kinda wonder who makes the decision to bury rather than tear down.  Is it just that eight buildings worth of rubble sit under your feet and the road rises at the same pace?  Because it’s hard to picture someone ever burying my house.  Although they’ll have to at some point, i guess, unless they want it to be water.
  • Bath seems like a perfect little theme park for adults.  Charming streets, historical significance, beautiful scenery, shopping and eating, neatly contained in impeccably themed little neighborhoods.
  • The elder child is enjoying life in Spain, but may have had her opinion of beer permanently damaged because her friends all drink Mahou.  i think i’ve said it before, but i’m pretty sure it’s the worst European beer i’ve ever had.
  • News from home: Maybe 24hrs after we dropped her off, my mom already had the cat sitting there purring next to her.  This is decidedly different from the first week she lived with the girl and i, he says, fondly remembering extracting her from under the dishwasher.
  • London remains utterly inexhaustible; i sincerely regret not visiting more often, especially now that flights are cheaper.  The very day before we leave, there are already places we’d want to come back to and eat and see and walk and relax.  Maybe on a weekend where there’s a soccer match to watch, too.  Even riding the tour buses and boats as a mode of transportation was educational and informative, and a fun and different perspective from things i was used to seeing on foot.
  • Not that my better half isn’t looking at her step count and lamenting it, of course.
  • This was among the worst airbnbs we’d ever stayed at. Dirty sheets for the spare beds, trickling, 28.8k speed internet. scant, lukewarm shower water and creaky, thin mattresses. It photographed so well, and the reviews were positive, but oh well. In any event, there were two bathrooms, sleeping for six, no stairs, and in a central neighborhood, and four nights of three rooms in central London would have bankrupted us.

22 February 2018, Alitalia 61 over Spain

  • Well, we were concerned that visiting Madrid a second time in two years would leave us short of things to do for a couple days, but it did not turn out that way.
  • It is important, before commencing a trip, to obtain agreement that it shall be a No Hospital Trip.  Alas, i did not live up to quite the letter of that, and lo and behold, we have not gone to a hospital, but we have obtained a house call, and visited three pharmacies. We learned the Spanish terms for some very unexpected things indeed, and one of our party barely left the apartment for maybe an hour over the course of three days.
  • It was fortunate, then, that this was one of the nicest airbnbs we’ve stayed at, ever.  Big and comfortable, clean, with, unadvertised outdoor space.  Big, comfortable beds, a nice kitchen, and lots of room to spread out.  The upside of the modern, impersonal host, a vacation-rental service that just uses airbnb to fill days, it was a hotel-quality apartment for cheap.  The downside is, we left them lots of good supplies that they won’t even use, probably, because they aren’t even real people.
  • And the location; two blocks from Sol, a crosswalk and a passage from Plaza Mayor, around the corner from three famous places to eat.  It’s not always that we get to stay as centrally in another city as we live in our own.
  • Just like last time, we found Madrid to be terribly easy to walk around, and extremely pleasant, even in the mild winter.  The Buen Retiro park was full of people soaking up the warm sun on a late Tuesday afternoon, and the pond and colonnade there are a ridiculously nice place to sit.  A mediocre saxophonist and genial drunk guy dancing and selling beer (he asked me where i was from, and hearing ‘Estados Unidos’, started belting out, ‘Tromp! Tromp!’ and pointing at me while i protested) were ample entertainment until chased away by the ubiquitous police.
  • They really, really like junkfood in Spain and boy are they good at it.  Donuts, pastries, cakes, cookies, churros in chocolate, they’re available everywhere and dirt cheap.  The store-brand cookies and snack cakes are astonishingly good for as little as €0.70.
  • Not that the real food is any healthier, and even the tapas portions are formidable.  Patatas, croquetas, bread and cheese and meat, the staples, but also fried, breaded steak, roasted candied peppers, tiny dry-aged beef burritos.
  • None of this impresses the teenager, who has eaten sushi four times on this trip, and annihilated numerous of my aforementioned cookies, leaving the customary wrappers behind (or better still, just one cookie).
  • Her attention or lack of same to the wonders around us immediately fills me with sympathy/guilt for my parents’ situation on similar trips.  Were our brains elsewhere, were we wishing for stupid crap from home while being out somewhere amazing?  Were we straining at the leash wishing we could explore these places in our own way?  i know the answer to that is yes.  So it’s eye rolls and frustration (And mocking.  Always mocking.), but also realization that it’s normal.  And that hopefully she’ll be glad for a few of these dorky photos someday.

26 February 2018 TAP 837, Gate D6, Fiumicino Airport, Italy

  • We’re ticking through the last 60 minutes of our 2:55 connection time in Lisbon.  See above, we remain in Italy, where, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean, it has snowed about 2” during the five hours of sleep we got.  Suffice it to say, they are not accustomed to it.  The deicing is proceeding at a properly Italian pace, but insofar as the pilot is rummaging through the galley for snacks right now, i don’t think the runway is open yet.  Bom dia to us.
  • Oh look, right after i say that, we suddenly push back. Well, it wouldn’t be any fun if we’re decisively fucked.  Now we get to fight for our way home.

A short while later, enroute.

  • We knew we were in trouble when we got through check-in and security so easily, that there was no way we wouldn’t pay a price for that.
  • So, Rome. In 11 years since i last visited, a few things have changed for the better, but fundamentally, not too much is different.  For instance:
    • Even remembering back to my time in Italy in NROTC in 1996, i remember being shocked to spend the equivalent of $3 (in lira, at the time) on a can of Coke.  It’s possible to spend as much as €6 now in restaurants in tourist areas.  The worse news is, back then beer was cheaper than a soft drink, and now it’s at least the same cost. It’s still meh.
    • In 2007, when Suz and i went to Rome, it rained the entire trip, to the point where we were using the hotel hair dry to rehab our shoes for the next day (nb: there is no way for this not to smell bad, and it is never going to achieve dry).  We had ‘fond’ memories of ubiquitous pushy umbrella salesmen.  Fast forward to 2018, when it rained on us all but one morning, and the umbrella salesmen are unchanged.  As soon as they see you without one (this time, i had one, but twice the teenager left hers behind, so i gave mine up), they just descend on you, step into your path, and do their thing.  i think the best part of it is the way they interpose themselves between you and your destination, fan out their wares like the dinosaur in the Jeep in ‘Jurassic Park’, and look at you in disbelief when you decline their offer of ‘umbrelli’ (‘umbrelli!’).  Like, it’s obvious you’re getting wet, why on earth aren’t you buying this from me?
    • The sheer numbers of tourists, even in the off-season are staggering, still.  Shepherding a group through the mobs around the most popular spots is a challenge.  And let’s not forget their behavior, either; pushing and shoving, stopping the world for your elaborately posed photo, just as it was in Barcelona two years ago.  i don’t remember people blowing off the “silence” request in the Sistine Chapel back in 2007, though.  Maybe we’re all getting worse. Or maybe i shouldn’t talk.
  • On the bright side, eating well in Rome means eating well indeed.  Assuming you’re not somewhere with truly jacked up prices, and that you’re hungry, getting into the multi-course dinner mode can be fun. And the local food is heavy on the ricotta, pork, and veal, too.  Pork cheek in your carbonara (apparently this is most correct, and most typical) is a very good thing.
  • Considerably more of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum were open and explorable than was the case eleven years ago.  It really changes your perspective on the Colosseum, for instance, to be down low and see the walls and stands so high above; it correlates it so much better with your experience of modern stadia that way.  And seeing the foundations and remains of the Forum area at ground level and then from above really helps you picture it so many years ago as a city recognizable in ways similar to your own; agglomerations of buildings piled on one another in disorganized, but functional ways, natural gathering places, streets, places grand and mundane.  It’s like one of those cheesy computer-rendered recreations from documentaries, but you’re making it up as you go along. It makes you want to learn more.  Also, to play Civ on the flight home; i’m coming for you, Gandhi.
  • While i had appreciated that there were pockets of other ruins outside the major sites, i don’t know if we really looked for them, before.  The other night as the girl and i had some time on our own and an urge to pad our steps, we sought out promising-looking dots on my map, and found really big, even spectacular old structures and pieces of things.  Just sitting there, or in some cases, improbably incorporated into modern structures.  Like, the first four floors are an arched, round wall of a Roman theater, and the fifth is someone’s apartment.  With lights on. Makes me wish i looked for that on airbnb.
  • In keeping with tradition, one of our days was rearranged by a large protest.  Against fascism, in this case, which manages to qualify as refreshing in this wonderful day and age.
  • In crowds, the pointy bits of everyone’s umbrella are right at my eye height.
  • After spending a decent amount of time looking at Catholic art, it dawned on me that it was all a lot more fun if you pictured the scenes as part of some sort of beer commercial.

    IMG_4292
    “I’m back! And I brought the Bud Light!”
  • Given that some of our party (not the teenager, whose opinions don’t count) didn’t have the appetite for walking that we do (and that the subway wasn’t much better), we got to take a lot of taxis.  Taxis in Rome are an adventure.  In the best case, they merely drive like maniacs, weaving through busy streets and circles, and accelerating at pedestrians in so many cobbled back streets until they absolutely have to stop.  Beyond that, they might push a high flat rate on you, not turn the meter on, or run up the meter by taking the scenic route.  i mean, i’ve had worse experiences in taxis, obviously, but it was enough to make us wary.
  • After seeing so many little smarts driving around Rome, i dearly missed my old little car (and wondered how they survived such crappy road surfaces, considering the damage mine took here).
  • It’s common to find ‘types’ of street vendors/crap salesmen/whatever in assorted places you go. A puzzling one was the large number of chatty bead salesman who introduce themselves by asking you if you’re from Africa. Mind, they’re very black, and the tourists are overwhelmingly Asian and pasty white, so it’s a bit baffling.  Other than that they’re the usual “hey nice to meet you here’s a gift, that’ll be €7” gag.
  • Do all Europeans have as little regard for their tap water at home as they do in restaurants?

27 February 2018, Home.  In closing:

  • We did indeed make it home.  At full speed, i ran across the airport in Lisbon to make sure they knew we were coming, but it turns out they were on the lookout for people from delayed flights like ours.  At work this morning, people had seen reports on the news of Europeans surprised by atypical snow, so apparently it was some kind of a big deal.
  • Number of postcards sent: 17
  • Trips on subways: 8
  • Trips in taxis: 11
  • Trips on a boat: 1
  • Pubs: 3
  • Tapas dishes: 18
  • Gelato: 2
  • Number of times the teenager contrived to eat sushi in countries that weren’t Japan: 4
  • This may be my beloved messenger bag’s last big trip, considering my better half’s very serious demands that i replace it.  Admittedly, Rome was too stern a test of its waning waterproofness, and there are massive rips in the outer fabric.  And it’s filthy.  But it’s been to five continents, dozens of countries, and a majority of the fifty states, been soaked by three oceans, gone to two World Cups, and logged thousands of miles by bike and on foot.
  • Photos.

The Five Types of Cars i will Meet When i am Squished By Their Owners

A periodically updated list of the most threatening vehicles on the streets of Boston.

  1.  (Previous: – ) The Toyota Prius.  It should be noted that all these vehicles assume a 25% higher probability of maiming me when there is a visible mounted smartphone, Uber, or Lyft emblem, but Priuses remain a common choice for the rideshare menace*.  The silent killer.
  2. (Previous: – ) Shuttle buses.  Since Governor Chuckles doesn’t want to spend on real public transportation, these are proliferating like mad, and have an affinity for squeezing me out or scraping me off.  Feels like they have an active dislike for cyclists.
  3. (Previous: – ) The BMW 3xx.  A common sight roaring down the it’s-a-real-street-now expanse of Seaport Blvd., ready to peel off into either a parking garage or blinky-park in front of Starbucks, one of the two.  As often a beat-up, crappy one with modifications to the exhaust as a shiny new one making up for the low model number with expensive detailing.  Double points for pulling in and out of a valet spot without looking.
  4. (Previous: -) The Jeep Grand Cherokee.  Sits high on its bouncy shocks, so that when it changes lanes and roars its engine near you, it almost animates itself with its driver’s testosterone.  Often, i use the term ‘body language’ with how a car moves and how it makes me plan for what i think it’s going to do next.  Whatever these guys do, they disproportionately do it mad.
  5. (Previous: -) Porsche SUVs.  A big up and comer lately.  Like the Jeep, but with a tighter suspension and increased propensity to weave and jockey.  The bad news is, people who can afford this car can afford to run me over.

Let’s Not Listen

We’re all sick of it, the parade of articles about how the forgotten Real Americans of Trumplandia feel about their dear leader a year in.  It’s a well-worn joke that newspapers and broadcasters won’t stop until they talk to each of them.  So yes, let’s be done with them soon.  At least they’re real people who are somewhat honest about their wants, needs, and beliefs.  Ignorant, bigoted people, but you know, they pass for real.

However, i want more.  Next time some Republican or one of their flying monkeys has some message to get out, i want them to be treated with the respect their behavior merits.  Let’s not listen.  The thing is, we know what they’re going to say.  They’re going to lie.  Obamacare is a job killer, Democrats want to flood the country with ‘illegal aliens’, Hillary Clinton personally killed our troops in Benghazi!!!!

They are exceptionally disciplined at picking a message and hammering it and i am sick of our media and by extension us just lining up to receive it.  i no longer feel like i need to hear both sides, the other side is no longer beholden to facts and no longer tries to even sell their ideas on whatever merit remains.  It’s like Jon Stewart’s lamentation in his famous, epic televised murder of Tucker Carlson, of why reporters line up to go to ‘spin alley’ after a debate.  Why do you bring Republicans on TV when you know what they’re going to say ahead of time, and you know it’s not true.  All you’re doing is amplifying that untruth, and we know too well that weaponized, amplified lies become their own sort of fact.

So can we not?  Can we just stop listening to Republicans altogether?