Milan Derby – AC Milan vs Inter Milan

IMG_20121007_212732Timing is everything but this year has been curiously fortunate. Not only have I met old friends who happen to be in towns not usually associated with me (New York, Philadelphia, Frankfurt, Belgrade, Salzburg as examples) I’ve caught festivals and events on the per chance of being there. i speak of the Barranquilla Carnival in Colombia (the largest in South America after Rio), catching the end of the ice hockey season in Canada, the Knicks vs Nets game in the USA, the end of the snow in the Alps, the Festes de la Mercee in Barcelona, the film festival in San Sebastian (Penelope Cruz et al) and another random trip with Jan. Along the way, I’ve met more old friends than I can state and new classic additions to the roster. Certain ideas have been reinforced, new ideas bred and mistakes averted (or at least seen early rather than late).

On a lighter level I’ve seen sport in many of the countries. Ice hockey in Canada, basketball and baseball in New York and football in Colombia, Serbia, Bosnia, Wales, Italy and soon, Ukraine. I wrote before about Serbia and Bosnia, the derbies there were intense, if slightly lacking in football. But football, like many cultural and collective events are signifers of culture development. Development blazes in many directions and could be said to be directionless and football, like most sport (sorry Mr Cameron, Johnson and Coe) is relatively unimportant but becomes interesting when used as a propaganda. Let’s all cheers success and latch on. Forget the rest. Cheers or be damned.

The crowds at the games reveal some of society. Colombia’s crowd were cheerful, mixed affairs full of boos and cheers, chants and relaxation. Serbia and Bosnia were tribal, male affairs where football sat in the background as male antagonism and group mentality led the chants of anger and negativity. The chants took no account of the game. It revelled in the violence them and us, the false assumption bred by facture, ignorance and discord. The celebratory stories of fear and menace sounded like England in the 70s and 80s. The Ukraine vs Montenegro international in the huge

In Italy, I timed myself to Milan perfectly for the biggest game of the year so far, AC Milan vs Inter in the San Siro. Outside the ground there was a casual police presence and yet outside and inside the crowd was mixed. Friends or couples walked or sat in opposite colours. The lack of hostility indicated a maturity within football and society in general where differences fall into the background, the foreground of commonality of issues, problems and culture are debated and upheld. 85,000 people understood the true value of the game.

IMG_20121007_224738The game itself was a classic of noise, missed chances, whistles and humour. The home in the curva sud and away in the curva nord fans were in opposite ends, unveiling humourous banners to each other and generally having a good time. The majority of the stadium was mixed seating and better for it. The lack of animosity and acromony created a relaxed atmosphere allowing the traditional exaggerated Italian body language to overtly exert itself at every chance.

Inter won one-nil despite being down to 10 men for 40 minutes. Milan had the ball in crossing positions down the left all game but desperately lack a striker. Robinho also continues to prove himself as one of the greatest wastes of talent in the game. Inter weren’t much better and how Milito is considered world class is beyond me. Cartman from South Park moves quicker. All this explains the team’s missed chances but only fortunate timing describes mine.

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Flying To Meet You

Flying often starts as a humdrum experience for me. I am usually tired. The night before need not be wasted. You can sleep on the flight. That’s probably best on short hauls where I always choose a seat on the left next to the window. I usually want to be alone and see the view as we take off and land. On longer flights I sit next to the aisle. For long haul flights are an opportunity for exploration and learning rather than anonomity.

I’ve met many people on flights. A few stand out. The flight from Chicago to New York with the Russian whose only English consisted of translating ‘carasho’ (it is good) after ordering yet another round of vodkas for us. I say us because sat next to me was a Swedish stripper who worked in Vegas and was on her way to see her sister. Why she her hand on my crotch I don’t know but it rested there for 4 hours. Maybe that’s what the Russian was saluting.

I remember discussing Miami with a Cuban on his way to Havana to bury his mother. Again he seemed keen to drink and being on our way to Havana, we drank a fair amount of rum and cokes. Similarly going to Kenya, I was sat with an old Indian Kenyan who insisted on drinking while he told stories of driving his VW Beetle from England to India through Afghanistan and Iran. I remember watching the Zoolander for the first time coming back from Greece with an English woman who’d been in rehab in South Africa. We giggled together, her commenting how this was far better than rehab.

I got butterflies too when I met someone on a flight from Seoul to Bangkok. The last man on the flight, I sat down in the middle aisle one seat away from her but knew I had to talk to her. Unusually pretty, she had real personality and a beautiful smile. When the plane stopped in Taipei, neither of us got off but were forced to by the staff to allow cleaning. We went for a coffee, talked and then were again separated by a passenger, this time a huge Indian guy. In Bangkok, I suggested she could stay where I was. She declined, nervous. We swapped emails and the next day, she emailed to say she wanted to stay where I was.

We stayed together for 5 days until she went south to dive and I made the bizarre decision to head into the countryside to find some temples. At 8am on our final morning, next to the monorail, shhe asked me if you can love someone after only 4 days cos…her voice trailed away. I didn’t say it but I knew the answer.

So Far, Su Real

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Qatar is a country with unprecedented wealth. Construction of shiny, architectural playthings are everywhere and few are finished. Work continues 6 days a week, 24 hours a day. From my 22nd floor suite window, I can see the swimming pool, the entrance to the gym, high-rise cranes and an expanse of rocky desert. Yes I did just write suite and swimming pool. For that’s my place here, in long stay accommodation with thousands of other foreigners from tens of nationalities.

I’ve always wondered why younger ex-pats look in decent shape physically and the answer here is clear; there is sometimes little else to do if you don’t look and are only interested in money. Due to local laws against alcohol, it can only be found in expensive hotels filled with bored engineers, workers from the sub-continent and prostitutes from the far-east, mostly Chinese. There is one liquour store here but to buy alcohol you need a license granted after permission from your employer. That isn’t too difficult to come by but expensive and yet more bureaucracy whcih is time consuming and frustrating. I have got to say though, it hasn’t bothered me.

Frustration or wonderment is always the initial feeling in a new country and especially so in the Middle East. Qatar is a new country. It declared independence in 1971 but even during the colonial period, it only opened a bureaucracy in 1950. By 1960 it had 54 people working for the entire country. The tribal system of decision-making, deference, family networks and climate create an atmosphere so slow-moving, observing the Qataris its amazing anything gets done. The only speed you see is the reckless traffic and the rush to take a break. And that is because its the foreigners who have built the wealth, exploiting the resources and yet even they are infected by the slumbering pace of life.

Qataris themselves are nice people, very welcoming. They welcome you, shake your hand on a daily basis, smile, are pleasant, polite and generous. They can of course afford to be generous financially . The guard on the gate’s starting salary is $4000 a month and they will never get fired. Further to this, they won’t really be asked to do any work and they know this. In fact everyone does. There is a drive here by the Government to skill-up Qataris, almost a quota scheme within state businesses but Qataris are happy with the lower rungs, knowing they will always be financially looked after. Once you realises this, frustration ebbs away, you stop complaining and understand you’ll have a lot of time to pursue what else you want to do.

So the gym is frequented, you read more books, watch more movies. I’ve applied to work at Georgetown University here as an unpaid assistant. I’ll be writing for the magazine here. I’m taking on one of the Nepalese staff as an English teaching project. In return he is helping me out with an article about the Nepalese community here. They make up 7% of the populace. This kind of staggering fact is one of many here and will be the basis of this blog once I get settled in. I’ll tell you all about the camel racing with the remote control jockeys; the feudal nature of the hobbies; the relations within society and the role Qatar does and wants to play in the future.

But that’s for next year, I’m off to Sri Lanka for Christmas and New Year. See you in 2013.

Aside

Ahh I have been away and travelling round etc. Got much to tell you. Middle East right now. Sri Lanka for Christmas with a friend 😀

Will post more soon xImage