Aside

IMG_20121218_201007I’m just sat at the airport and off to Muscat for the weekend. Its a visa run but the company are paying the flight so I really don’t mind! I’ve free accommodation too. Muscat is one of those peninsula ports central to the development of mercantile trade over he last few millennium and for years I’ve wanted to go. So now it my chance.

I’ve taken the advice of Roxi who lived out there for a few months and am now set with my little bag to explore the souks, citadels and bay area. The weather looks perfect.

I’ll get back with some more updates about Qatar very soon and also a write-up on Sri Lanka and various other escapades. We’ve played football, been to the races and got our social lives sorted. What can I say, I am enjoying it.

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Beach Football World Cup Qualifiers

2013-01-22 09-25-37-063I went to the WC beach football qualifiers here last week. Beach football is usually garbage but being sat with 200 Afghans as they trashed Qatar 7-3 with their goalkeeper making a string of fantastic saves and then scoring on the counterattack was brilliant. The Afghans who do the poorest jobs were great fun. They were smiling, had drums and danced and cheered. Plus if you know anything about Afghanistan, you’ll know how diverse they are ethnically and that really showed in the crowd.

The previous game brought out the local Thais and Japanese as their nations dueled to a 4-1 Japanese win. The Japanese are good at this, twice winners in the past but this time their hopes seems to rest on the 6-4 African guy who played at the back! The Qataris themselves were embarrassing in their lack of support for their team.

IMG_20130126_215410_0I went back with friends here for the finals. The UAE controversially beat Australia (who scored an equaliser a  second after the final whistle). The UAE spent a significant amount of their time rolling around on the sand too. The final brought together Japan and Iran and its fairly raucous fans. Iran used their size advantage to bully the Japanese but simply couldn’t get past the best player in the tournament, a lanky, black ‘Japanese’ guy called Ozu. Japan led throughout until the last few minutes when Iran scored 3 quick goals to equal it up. It went to penalties and Iran kept their nerve. The best team beat the best player who tired after leading the whole team and never being subbed.

The top 3 team went through to the World Cup beach football tournament in……Taihiti. I am in the wrong business. Great nights of football and cultural experiences.

The Shah of Shahs/Minor Rant

The Shah of Shahs by Kapucinski

kapuscinskiBrilliant Polish journalist/storyteller Kapucinski wrote up his notes from the Iran revolution and gives a lesser- known insider track to the build up of frustration and fear under the Western-installed and backed Shah.

It’s incredible to think that for reasons of political, security and economic convenience, the leaders of coups can be deemed a natural leader a generation later. The Shah’s father was a military colonel who overthrew the government with the support of the British named himself Shah. After his downfall, again at the instigation of the British, the democratic government was overthrown by the CIA help and the Colonel’s son was installed as the new Shah, as some kind of rightful heir!

And after his overthrow from by the people, his family still get to swan around as the most shameful of aristocracies using the money the Shah stole from the country. I saw the grandson on CNN talking about democracy in Iran despite his very position, wealth and education was bought on the broken bones of the original democratic activists during his father’s regime. Absolutely fucking shameful.

On the same point, I’ve always wondered why Prince Philip is still mentioned as the Prince of Greece. Note to aristocracy and Hello magazine; if your country throws you out as a gluttonous abuser of the people with no productive role, you are no longer a prince of that country

Mama No Lie

PANO_20120518_090156After seeing the glorious sunshine and coastline of Croatia/Montenegro, I felt I had no choice but to jump off the bus at Dubrovnik. Jan and Michaela didn’t want to stay that night for different reasons but continued to move on to Mostar. I’d been there before yet my last trip to Dubrovnik was too short-lived to justify it.

As I stepped off the bus I was greeted by a group of middle-aged women haggling for our money via their rented accommodation. A squat, old lady stood out. She quoted a price. I, at the time, had no idea of the exchange rate. Jan informed me it was barely 10 pounds so I took it. Other hagglers among the throng snatched out it was far from the old town but I took a punt on my old woman.

She explained on the bus to the flat she was Italian with two sons but only had poco english. Her husband  was called Bruno. I liked that. She knew everyone on the bus. She was no great vocabularist but was certainly able to confirm the same information over and over again. I have never said ok so much in my life.

I would say she was generous in her 10minute estimate to the old city. 15-20 would be more accurate. The apartment however had a sea view. She showed me round, the bathroom, kitchen and two rooms. Mama No Lie, see. I liked this place. The view confirmed Dubrovnik’s magnificent position.

I got up early to avoid the hordes of tourists, shuffling due to age and standing with confused attention as the guide talks. All walled cities are labyrinthine and Dubrovnik is one of the great surviving examples, with its smooth stone leading down lanes which are never straight. Like Kotor, it is a living city rather than a museum. Though again like Kotor, it would benefit from having some signs on the walls to highlight its history.

IMG_20120518_094722After Dubrovnik, (Mama blew me a kiss as I left) I headed north to Split and home. Its difficult to understate the beauty of the coastline. Jan met me there along with Jeremy. We wandered around the seafront, took pictures and drank a few beers. Croats are less open than their neighbours. There seems a more internalised nature to them. Split is the gateway to the island tours, advertised either as majestic or an opportunity to get shitfaced on a boat. I didn’t have time or the inclination to take part.

It was time to go home. On a trip that took me from Colombia to Canada, the US, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Croatia, I’d seen a lot, made plenty of friends, re-met some of my favourite people, rode horses, cycled the Alps, seen coffee production first hand in Colombia, witnessed an Italian Easter in Canada, attended the Belgrade and Sarajevo derbies, saw the Yankees and the Knicks and ice hockey in Canada It was time. I returned happy, bewildered and tired. It’s been a long road…

Books Read Recently

401478_10152142233450602_1520990766_nThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

One of Ilo’s suggestions, this modern masterpiece is school reading across the Russian world. Essentially a massive surreal circus ride through Moscow, it features talking cats, magicans, Satan, flying lovelorn women, asylum inmates, assassins and a whole host of history’s deviants. A brief summary is Satan and his crew come to Moscow and cause havoc. It can be read many ways; Satan could be Stalin according to many. Its a long read and a good one. Confusing at times but ultimately satisfying.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Like CS Lewis and Tolkien, Lewis Carroll (pen name) must have been on mushrooms when he wrote this. Its bewildering and confusing, inventive and mystifying.

treasureislandcoverTreasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

A fantastic read, a real rollicking adventure. I read it in two days.

Sahara: A History

I spotted this in the library after taking back my Bulgarian history book and thought why not! I love reading the histories of the cultures, countries and regions and this is a gap in my knowledge. What is clear from reading this is it remains a huge gap in historical knowledge and yet it still greatly informed me of the present conflicts and the past myths. Saying Sahara Desert means Desert Desert in Arabic and it used to be as green as Sri Lanka!

23 Things You Didn’t Know About Capitalism by Chang Ha-Joon

Ha Joon Chang rips into modern capitalism again dispelling many of the modern media mantra and a failing economic theory.

Montenegro Wonderland

The first time I used the term wonderland I was on the very early morning train into Slovenia from Austria three years ago. I stood staring out the window, the crispy morning air rushing in as we cut through the valleys and past the small, sleeping town towards Ljubljana. The later sights of Maribo, fields of wheat and Lake Bled merely confirmed Slovenia was a lovely looking place.

DSCF0760The same term could be applied again 3 years later as we took the bus from Sarajevo to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. The sudden snow in Bosnia, after days of plus 30C, dumped snow on the early roads heading out through the national parks of the north (home to the best rafting in Europe) to the open fields of the centre and the blue water of the coast.

After days in Sarajevo, Jan and I decided to leave the town and the country, knowing we’d be returning for the next weekend. In the hostel we met some newcomers, Julio and Michaela who’d just got in. Their plans were to stay in Sarajevo but after some quick chat and beer from the Dan and Jan show, Michaela convinced Julio to come along with us. We had a travel team. The wilted and hungover pulse lifted.

DSCF0846We got to coastal resort of Budva late, around 10pm and then proceeded to get lost finding the hostel. Jan, dressed in total black climbed the gates of someone’s house only to be confronted by a neighbour wielding a stick who quickly gave us directions to the hostel. You can’t hit a face like Jan’s. The Montenegro Freedom hostel was a classic, run by two guys, generous, smiley and chatty, they booked us in and then made the best breakfast of the whole trip, cheese and ham toasties with fresh fruit and tea. Nomnom.

DSCF1003

We spent the days going up and down the coast. Montenegro is tiny, nestled on the Adriatic between the old world sophistication of Dubrovnik and the old world, managed-chaos of Albania. The coast is stunning and littered with ancient forts, steep mountains, hidden bays and old, labyrinth towns. We went round Budva’s old town, to Sveti Stefan and then onto Kotor in one day. Kotor stopped me dead. I knew I had to come back to stay.

DSCF0882Julio lacked the time but the remaining three stayed over in a hostel in Kotor old town, climbed up to the fortress for some amazing views and walked around the bay trying to take pictures without the cruise liner which parked itself in the bay. It was like a tank on your front lawn. The hostel owner also turned out to be a nationalist who seemed to despise the Bosnian Muslims (only the Muslims care about the bridge in Mostar. I spit off it. Its only 5 metres). But that took little away from Kotor, a real gem town, smaller than Dubronvik but with tighter streets and knock-out views from the fortress at the top.

I’ll be back Montenegro and not just to throw that tosser off the roof.

Films seen of late

MV5BMjE4OTgzOTI2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjM5MDg0Nw@@._V1._SY317_CR0,0,214,317_Headhunters

Brilliantly relentless Norwegian thriller concerning a man who will do what it takes to preserve his image. As it all unravels, some of the scenes, twists and turns are excellent.

Loopers

Bruce Willis has been in some decent pics of late. This one about time travel and hitmen is understandable despite its plot with some solid action.

The Russian Ark

Seminal, one-take Russian film from the 90s. A man wakes in a museum and meets many characters from history and yeah its done in one take!

Jack Streaker

Tom Cruise tries to play a likeable anti-establishment hero. ‘He doesn’t care for the law. He only cares for the truth’, blah blah blah. In a dialogue heavy film with an obvious plot, it still works. The violence is brutal. The one liners are decent but the ending, a clear setup for the assumed sequel is odd. Real odd.

The Cabin in the Woods

Knowing teen horror with lots of references, some funny lines from the stoner guy (the oldest student in the world) and a lot of nerdy, comic book monsters coming out to play etc. Pretty good fun.

Premium Rush

Joseph Gordon Levitt again!! He is likeable but come on man, take a break! Bike couriers in New york get mixed up with child smuggling and bent cops with debts to pay. Nicely made. The chass sequencies are pretty rubbish and the characters are one dimensional but decent enough to watch on a flight.

Juan of the Dead

Cuban zombie film which moves beyond the ‘catch your eye’ title to play out some good action, some of the lewdest jokes I have seen on film and great political satire. The joke about the bus is brilliant.

Total Recall (remake)

Has Colin Farrell ever made a successful/money-making film? In this unnecessary remake, him and other failure Kate Beckinsale fight it out for one reason or another in a computer generated world that no one gives a shit about.

Total Recall (original)

Arnie on form. The sets are plastic. The colours are gaudy and the one-liners are pretty naff. A classic film in short. I’ll see you at the party.