Friday, October 31, 2008

After the derby

"In my world everyone is a pony, and they all eat rainbows, and poop butterflies." 

- Katie, from Horton Hears A Who; it's one of the DVDs I watched today, and the quote's something I suspect Wenger's guilty of thinking about his team

I was bored and tired, and didn't feel like trudging off to see another castle or palace or amazing mountain vista. Instead, I spent most of the day eating, watching DVDs and checking what the Arsenal blogs had to say about last night's result.

Turns out we're all upset about the draw.

Wenger's angry because we didn't attack enough in the last 6 minutes. Adebayor's angry because we didn't shut the game down. And a host of Arsenal blogs are angry because we're not experienced enough, we're not hungry enough, we're not defensive enough, and because we're as far away from the Premiership as we were a couple of years ago. 

I've kind of calmed down now. It hurts, of course, but what can you do? On the bright side, we're still 3rd on goal difference. We've still got essentially the same side as we had when we thumped Fenerbache and everyone thought we were awesome. Almunia's still the same much improved 'keeper that he was a couple of games ago. Clichy is still the best left-back in the Premiership, and Song Billong is still an awesome prospect with great, great hair.

We're not doing too badly. We need a defensive midfielder, and someone to knit the defence together. We need someone on the training pitch teaching our players how to defend. And ideally, we need a physical centre-back and a better goalkeeper as well. Otherwise, we're alright. We're not going to win the league this year, but that was apparent at the start of the season. This is another transition year, and we're waiting for Song, Denilson, Djourou and Senderos (if he comes back) to grow up. 

We'll challenge next year. We might even win something. And hopefully, Wenger will wake up to himself in between this season and the next, and buy the quality and the experience we desperately need. After all, not every player he signs is a pony that eats butterflies and poops rainbows. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

4-4 in the North London derby

"Just a joke. Be a draw at best. Like how many honours has Fabregas won with Arsenal? Then again, how many Arsenal players have won anything with the club in general, period?! Lol. Lose tonight, never be lived down and the struggle for 4th begins...."

- Glebs, a poster on the gunnerblog forum; a very funny guy

My link to the Arsenal-Tottenham game's just died on me. It's a shame because we're leading 2-1, Adebayor's missing simple chances, we could be 2 points from the top of the table if we win... and because it's the North London derby. I'm not sure why it's got a hold on me. I'm not a Londoner, so I've no real parochial ties to this fixture. 

Adebayor's just scored. 3-1 and the game's as good as over. 

Anyway, I'm not sure why, but there is a visceral thrill to see Tottenham mired to the foot of the table, four(?) points off 17th. I've been to the stadium and I've sung the songs and watched the Arsenal play live -  and somehow, I've caught that bit of parochialism that dictates Tottenham to be a side that is hated, loathed and despised. Schadenfreude as well, I suppose. 

I've been in Brasov for a couple of days - enough to make an opinion of the place. And I don't like it. When I first read about the place, I imagined a nice, pretty town like Cesky Krumlov. What I found was a medieval town square surrounded by the sprawl of a grimy, booming industrial city. There's still quite a lot of the 14th century town left, and it's interesting to poke around the narrow laneways, but it's half drowned out by the evidence of progress and the smell of cigarette smoke and dog faeces. 

It's a bit sad because there's so much of the old town that needs to be preserved. But as development encroaches on the town, I don't think much of what's left will survive. I suppose it's the fate of all little towns - get swallowed up and become an irrelevant, touristy backwater inside a much bigger city.

As I'm scouring the sites for a live feed (it's 4-2 to the Arse now, if you believe it), I'm wondering whether the North London derby will go the way of Brasov - to be swallowed up by something much larger than it. Maybe the days of the local derby are limited. I'm sure it's important for fans from London, and especially for those who actually know their way around Islington, or can point the direction to Seven Sisters, but for the rest of us, it's increasingly become a case of one team against another. 

When I think of our great rivals of the Premier League, I think can barely think outside of the Top 4. We've history against Man Utd and we've history against Chelsea. These are rivalries of the current age, the ones that decide trophies, the ones that really matter. 

And Tottenham?

Well, they're a bit like the old town of Brasov - a backwater side in the biggest booming league the world has ever seen. It's a pity, because it's apparently a cracker of a game, but them's the breaks in this globalised world. 

I think it's safe to call this one now: 4-2 to the Arse. 

No wait, Jenas just scored. 4-3 to the Arse. 

Wait again - Lennon scored in the 93rd minute. 4-4 draw. Bloody hell - what the fuck is going on over there? Bloody fucking hell. Gelbs was right.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stuff about The Age

"Tell your friends, tell your enemies, never in the history of Australia has an issue been so important - WE HAVE A WIN!!," 

- it's not quite Churchillian, but from today, Australia has full-sized beer cans

The strangest things happen when you're overseas. 

The scariest is that the Aussie dollar turned into Monopoly money during the week. I'd always poked fun at those Depression-era economists who decided the solution was to print more money, but it IS very scary when stuff like this is happening to your own hard-earned. Especially when you're in another country and those currency transactions have a personal effect, instead of just being a sedgeway between news and sports. 

The silliest is the FFA's decision to ban the Eureka Stockade flag at Melbourne Victory games because of its "political" nature. If I'm not mistaken, doesn't that flag represent the little guy standing up against officious, heavy-handed bureaucracy? Somewhere deep inside the FFA, Mr Ironical must be hard at work because, before this moment, those flag-wavers at Victory games were just fans who were too cheap to buy Victory flags. 

The most depressing thing is that Aussie beer activists have forced Fosters' to change the size of their beer cans. Apparently, Fosters' wanted to downsize one of their Cascade beers from a 375ml can to a 330ml can without changing price. Now, due to public outcry, they won't. It's not the news itself that's depressing. It's that, amidst all the turmoil going on in Australia, from salinity and carbon emissions, to recession and poverty and the Dees being bottom of the AFL ladder, beer price is the defining issue for most Melbournians today. 

I should probably stop reading The Age while I'm away. 

I'm in the Carpathian Mountains, in the heart of Transylvania. It's interesting. I never thought I'd find a genuine Saxon town plonked in the middle of Romania, but there you go. It's pretty in its own weird way. Probably just have a wander around town today, and try and get on a tour to a few Dracula castles tomorrow. 

Here's St Nick's church, which looks quite nice if you like the look of spires and gilded ornaments and stuff:

Monday, October 27, 2008

2-0 to the Arsenal

"Don't worry about it. Sit, sit."

- the really nice lady who let me watch the Arsenal in her cafe, despite being penniless, destitute, and too lazy to walk over to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash.

Whenever I see this Arsenal side play after a long interval (I haven't seen them play for about three weeks), I'm always struck by how different they are to the Henry-Pires-Vieira side. It's slower, and more patient, and much more elaborate. We try to pass through a solid ten-man wall, instead of cutting through them with pace and incisive passing. I guess we just don't have the personnel for that (Walcott, Clichy and Adebayor aside, we're not exactly speedy) but maybe it's just because we don't have Bergkamp pulling the strings. Bergkamp's Arsenal was about one-touch moves, whereas Cecs' Arsenal is all tikki takka.

The one problem with it is that Arsenal are now playing a game of inches. Every pass has to be perfect, or things go astray. And sometimes, it makes for frustrating viewing. It certainly was tonight. Yes, we dominated possession, but something in the way we played told me that it was one of those days. van Persie missed a header by inches. Walcott skinned two players, got one-on-one with the goalkeeper, and was denied with a bloody good save. In the second half, when van Perise cracked a free kick against the post, that horrible feeling came back. You know the one. It's that sinking sensation deep in your stomach when you realise that a game is destined to be a draw.

It's appropriate that we broke the deadlock with an own goal. And it's interesting that things only really started happening when Adebayor was introduced. He's become really imporant to the Arsenal, you know. Maybe West Ham couldn't handle another tall gangly type running around their penaly box, but we did look more threatening with him there. Maybe we should play 4-3-3 from now on?

I thought Bendtner played a really good game. It's a bit odd seeing him drift off to the right like that and become a virtual right winger, but he holds up the ball well, and he uses little flick passes to good advantage. And that pass to Adeabyor from the half-way line was simply brilliant. It's strange because I figured he was going to be an out-and-out striker, but I suppose Arsenal knows.

But that's about it. Two posts in one day make Connolly's agent something something...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Peace of Mind

And if all you've got to do today is find peace of mind
Come here, you can take a piece of mine.
You could be taking it easy on yourself
You should be making it easy on yourself

- Catatonia, Road Rage

Tottenham have sacked Juande Ramos, and replaced him with Harry Redknapp. They also sacked first team coaches Gus Poyet and Marcelo Alvarez, and director of football Damien Comolli. They don't do things by half-measures, do they? And this is Daniel Levy's explanation for all his machinations. 

Redknapp is a very good manager, but one who's better known for saving relegation-bound sides than for creating championship-winning sides. I suppose it's recognition that Tottenham should shelve those "Top 4" plans, at least for a year, and concentrate on staying in the Premiership. And I can just imagine Redknapp rubbing his hands with glee at the amount of horse flesh he gets to trade in January. 

Sorry, got a bit side-tracked there. 

I've been in Budapest for a couple of days now. It looks surprisingly old for a city that only boomed in the late 19th century. It takes a while to appreciate it, especially after you've been in well-scrubbed places like Vienna and Prague, but it's interesting. There's a "lived-in" kind of feeling to it, from the faded neon signs and the graffiti on the buildings, to the way the grime and soot covers everything from elaborate fin de siecle facades to Stalinist Lego block buildings.

There are a lot of things to do in Budapest. There are caves under the hills of Buda, limestone caves that are the most extensive in Europe. The Turks extended the ones under the palace to turned them into a labyrinth of cellars and dungeons. There's a room in the castle with a fountain than gushes wine. There's this thermal bath near Heroes Square. There're bars and cafes and bakeries that are cheap, and a pub crawl that offers unlimited shots for around $12AUS. 

But I'm exhausted. It's quite worrying how tired I'm been since Berlin. I think I'm going to have to take a leaf out of Cerys Matthews's book and step down, sit back and try and find my peace of mind. We're playing West Ham in a few hours. In a little while, I'm going to step out and find a pub to watch it. And a train ticket to Brasov for tomorrow. 

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Mixed Bag

"I want to write something good on Sunday or Monday. Something that nobody else would write."

- Myles Palmer, Arsenal News Review

Myles Palmer is now blogging about what he's going to blog about in three or four days' time. 

It's a novel idea, and one I wish I'd thought of myself. Which, I guess, shows the difference between a top, top Arsenal blogger and one that's struggling at Conference level. Here I am, struggling to think of something Arsenal-related to write about, and there's Myles, bold as brass, boasting about how it's so easy that he'll whip out something profound and unique in under an hour. 

Well, it's half an hour later, and I'm still no where closer to an Arsenal topic. There are a number of tantalising tidbits, but nothing to devote a post to. And I'm too tired to spin things. So it's going to be a mixed bag today. 

There's this piece where Wenger said that Senderos' move to AC Milan showed that there's a lack of top-class centre-backs in the world. It's a bit of a slap in the face to poor Senderos, and I would've thought that any blame for big Phil's arrested development should be laid at Wenger's feet. 

And this piece from the Arsenal website. Apparently, Wenger wants to win the Premier League - this year - and won't rule out making a signing in January if needed. It's always nice to know. I think a defensive midfielder and a centre-back would be nice. Apparently, Blaise Matuidi thinks he fits the bill. 

And finally, I'm about halfway through Persuasion, by Jane Austen. It's one of those "classics repackaged as chick-lit" books, and it's bound in pink and lavender. I felt a bit self-conscious reading it on the train to Budapest, but I can't really complain - my blog's decorated in the same girlish colours, after all. 

It's an interesting read, but more with regards to the subtext than anything that actually happens in the book. It's Jane Austen's last work, written in the autumn of her life, and you can almost see her pausing mid-sentence to think about all those things she'd change in her life, if only she had her time over. It lacks the sparkle of Pride and Prejudice, but it more than makes up for it in emotional honesty. I mean, Captain Wentworth just screams Tom Lefroy, doesn't he? 

I really should get out of the hostel and take a look around Budapest. Maybe have a goulash across the road. But I should use the bathroom first - that kebab's doing strange things inside me. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On Bread and Cake

"Wenger’s vision of football is so idealistic that he will not allow the concept of negativity or denial to enter his thoughts. This is about doing it the right way. So the purists love the team, whilst admitting that it is doomed to failure."

- Kevin Whitcher, from the Online Gooner

So yesterday, I decided to do Vienna properly. Caught a tram around the ring road instead of walking it. Went to the Hofburg Palace and saw the Spanish Riding School. Bought an actual meal instead of munching on raisin bread. Went to the opera and saw La Traviata, and met this gorgeous Korean arts student there. Had an espresso and a Sacher torte at the Sacher Cafe across the way. 

But today, I've a bit of buyer's remorse. No girl, no money and nowhere to go until Friday. I've overspent my budget and I've a day and a half left in Vienna. I have €30 left in my wallet, and the bulk of that's going towards my bus ticket fund. And maybe to see Faust on the Thursday night. As a result, I'm reduced to raisin bread and water for the rest of my time in Vienna. 

I'm literally on the bread line. 

I think it was worth it, though. The Sacher torte is a landmark achievement in the field of chocolate cakery, and there's something surreal about sitting in a plush, classy coffee house wearing a smelly beanie and torn cargo pants. And Vienna can be exceptionally beautiful when you're not dazed by lack of food and exhausted by constant walking.

The only thing I really regret is not taking the time to watch the Arsenal. Thumping 5-2 wins don't happen every week, and it's always nice to be present when they happen. It's especially important because, as the Online Gooner opines, it's probably the only kind of joy we're going to get while we're so frickin' poor at the back. We have to enjoy the beauty of our game on the nights when everything clicks, because we'll crash and burn far too many times to mount successful title challenges. 

I guess it's a matter of cake or bread. Bread fills you up and keeps you walking, but cake...well, nothing's sweeter than a Sacher torte with an espresso. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Before Sunrise

"Yeah, right, well, great. So listen, so here's the deal. This is what we should do. You should get off the train with me here in Vienna, and come check out the capital." 

- Jesse (Ethan Hawke), in Before Sunrise

There's a bunch of Germans in the lounge and they're waiting for something. They wheeled in their bags in a moment ago and are now standing around a tour guide, waiting a bit expectantly. I thought for a minute that it was a Busabout group, but I kind of doubt it - not enough Australians for that. 

God, I'm tired. Spent the afternoon walking around the Museum Quarter munching on a raisin loaf and worrying about Cyrillic. If I want to go to Transylvania and meet the vampires, I'll have to learn the alphabet. Inconveniently, I'm about to come across a populace that won't speak English. 

I put up the quote because I remember watching that film when I was a kid. The premise goes that an American guy bumps into a French girl on a train to Vienna. He's got a flight out of the city in the morning, but they agree to spend the day walking around the city. It sounds pretty mundane, but when I first watched it, I couldn't think of a finer think to do. And the city looked wondrous at night. 

At that time, Europe seemed so far away, and those cities were more sounds to be savoured than places to visit. There was something magical about names like Prague and Vienna and Budapest - probably because I never thought I'd ever get there. But now that I'm here, I'm very jaded. One you've seen one awesomely majestic, once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, you've kind of seen them all. And I've had my fill for a while. Anyway, after a while, all you really want is to sleep in a bed for more than four nights in a row, and a lounge room that doesn't pump out industrial music and ply drinks to hyped-up backpackers. 

The Germans have gone, and I probably should go as well. It's actually a really nice day outside. I should enjoy the sunshine while it's still around. Maybe have a walk around the ring road. It's a nice little tree-lined avenue with trams running through it - much like Royal Parade in Parkville. 

In Arsenal news, we're severely depleted going into the Fenerbache match. And van Persie firmly believes that losing winnable games against weaker sides is damaging for our campaign. He's a sharp one, that van Persie.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lost In Renovation

"In 1992, UNESCO bestowed World Heritage upon Cesky Krumlov, thus recognising the effort, skill and love with which our ancestors built this town. It is up to us to maintain and preserve their 800 years worth of work."

- what I remember from a plaque in the Old Town Square (not accurate)

I've just spent my last $150 on a Caesar salad and a Gambrinus. Actually, that's not true. I did have $1 left, but I gave it to the barkeeper as tips. You've got to share the wealth around, after all. 

I've had another look around Cesky Krumlov, in the harsh light of day. It's an exceptionally pretty town, but it's been given the Maybelene treatment - the facades are way too colourful,the streets a bit too quaint, and the paving stones are a tad too well maintained. It's kind of what you'd expect Disney would build, if they had a mind to build a fake medieval town in the middle of Anaheim. 

It's really quite interesting because the town's about 75% of the way through its makeover. The main streets are finished, and most of the town square. But if you duck through a couple of side streets, you can still catch a glimpse of what it must've been like before UNESCO. The grey concrete facades are cracked, the windows are broken and the houses actually look like they've been there for hundreds of years.

It's quite interesting to see the contrast. And it's a bit sad that it's all going to be wiped out soon. In ten years, the whole place will be dolled up and pretty and touristy. And while it's nice to stroll around narrow cobble-stoned streets and take in breathtakingly beautiful views of the river, I can't help but feel something's being lost in the renovations. 

Don't get me wrong, it's a ridiculously pretty town. Here's proof:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bohemian tourist

I'm getting wise,
and I'm feeling so Bohemian like you,
It's you that I want so please,
just a casual, casual easy thing.

- The Dandy Warhols, just because I like the song

I'm in Bohemia at the moment, in a little town on a bend of the Vltava River called Cesky Krumlov. It's one of those places you've got to visit because everyone keeps telling you how great it is. And it's not bad. It's a tourist trap, for sure, but the buildings are very attractive and the castle is very grand. There's a nice, unhurried ambience about the place. It's the kind of town where you can spend an afternoon quite pleasantly on the river bank with a beer in one hand and a book in the other.

But you know, I probably could have lived a full life without having been here.

This morning in Prague, I had a talk with this guy who's spent his holidays building a youth shelter for under-privileged kids. Interesting stuff. When you're travelling around, you've got this kind of impenetrable cloak of self-absorption. I mean, you're on holiday in this strange place, and you start to think that everything revolves around you. And you kind of close your eyes to things that don't fit into your holiday space - like poverty, and homelessness, and racism. I remember being hounded by gypsies near the Brandenberg Gate, and thinking at the time that it was a real imposition on my part to be asked for cash at a time like that. 

It's that kind of selfishness that gives tourists a bad name, I suppose. 

And in the spirit of whiny introspection, I stink. If I stand on the wrong side of a stiff breeze, I can catch a whiff of myself, and I stink. I'm not entirely sure what it is. I suspect it's the hair - it's turned lanky and greasy under the beanie - but it's got to be something more than that. I reek of stale sweat and unwashed skin. I'm embarrassed to be within two metres of anyone. I should take a shower, but I'm down to my last pair of jocks and it costs $20AUS for laundry. 

Which means that I'm going to smell like a wet sheepdog until I get to Vienna. It's oddly appropriate - after all, when in Bohemia, stink like the bohemians do. And there's no one to please here.

And the Arsenal beat Everton 3-1. Yep, we love the Arsenal, we do. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Maybe Cesky Krumlov?

Unfortunately we have lost some players over the 10 days – William Gallas (hamstring), Bacary Sagna (knee) and Nicklas Bendtner (ankle).... Fortunately the three of them don’t look to be out for a long, long time but they will be out for the weekend game and I think the game on Tuesday."

- Arsene Wenger, taking it rather well, all things considered

First, the good news. Prague is a very pretty city and there are great views of it from Prague Castle. It's the kind of city that turns every tourist into a slack-jawed yokel. You wouldn't believe the ornamentation on some of these buildings. If some of them were dragged off to Melbourne and plonked down on Swanston St, they'd probably nudge the trams off as the No.1 Tourist Attraction. Here, these buildings are just everyday tobacco stores, delis and liquor stores.... 

I'm debating whether or not to go to Cesky Krumlov during the weekend. On one hand, it's supposed to be a compact, cordialised form of Prague. Folks who plan to stay two days often hang around for four. On the other hand, it's potentially four days out of my Schengen budget, and I really want some time to see Spain and Italy properly. 

So I don't know. 

Another thing I don't know is what we're going to do against Everton. We've got a lot of injuries. Gallas, Sagna and Bendtner are definitely out. Cesc has a broken nose and Djourou and van Persie have injury scares. Worse comes to worse, we're looking at a centre-back pairing of Toure and Song, with Ramsey and Denilson as our centre-midfielders. 

It don't look so good. So maybe I should go to Cesky. It'll be nice to be distracted by lovely medieval buildings while our callow squad is being exposed by another set piece. I don't think I can handle the pain of dropping more points at the Emirates. And the beer here's very good. Apparently, all the "Pilsner" beers in Central Europe come from the same small town in the Czech Republic. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Usmanov in love

"When a man loves a woman he can't conceivably sell that love. I'm in love with Arsenal. I have no intention of selling it [my stake]. That may be possible at some point in time when I know that Arsenal hates me. I will make sure this doesn't happen. I have not lost one single share."

- Alisher Usmanov, who counts his love in number of shares

When I read this article, it made me a bit uncomfortable. On this blog, I often drop cheesy phrases like "I'm in love with Arsenal", but I've never seen anyone else say things like that. Do I sound as creepy as a fat, love-struck oligarch?

Whatever the case, Usmanov loves the Arse like a man loves a woman. And how doth he love her? Let me count the ways:
  1. He buys a 20% stake of that lady from a jilted ex-lover, and they form a consortium to woo her back (with a "gentlemen's agreement" to share her equally).
  2. He stabs the ex-lover in the back and tries to buy the rest of the lady from her legal guardians. 
  3. When the lady's numerous admirers raise objections to his shady past, he silences them with an army of lawyers, and mounts a charm offence so clumsy and awkward that even the neutrals dislike him. 
  4. He tries to woo the lady's mentor by offering him money with which to buy trinkets to adorn her many comely attributes. Her mentor rebuffs these trashy ornaments as he views them as immoral. 
  5. Having alienated the lady's guardians, mentor, ex-lover and numerous admirers, Usmanov hangs around with his 20% stake, twiddling various parts of his anatomy (i.e. his thumbs, you dirty bastards), waiting for the day that the lady comes of age (i.e. when the lock-down agreement ends next year). 
I love the Arsenal as well, but not in the way that Usmanov does. The feelings I have for the Arsenal is like the feeling I get when I'm walking through the Tiergarten, when the sun is shining and the leaves are falling around me. It's a love of something that's beautiful because it's intangible, and fragile, and fleeting. 

And it's not something that can be bought for £7000 a share. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A little bit of history repeating

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

- George Santayana

Berlin's a fascinating city. There's a sense of tragedy about this place that's embedded into the fabric of this city. Everything that's happen in the 20th century has left its mark on Berlin. The pathos from this place is palpable.

From the Prussian empire, the Germans learned nationalism, and from nationalism came the first World War. From the Weimar Republic came the Nazi Party, and from ashes of the second World War, the Cold War started. Marx and Engels lived here, and communism was born here. Communism divided Berlin and turned the city into a symbol of the world divided. And when the wall came down, Berlin became a symbol of a world reunited.

There's this street in Berlin, Unter den Linden (under the lime trees). It's the sweetest sounding street I've ever heard. Frederick Wilhelm intended it to be the grand boulevard of Berlin. On one end is the Brandenburg Gate, and at the other end was the former Imperial palace. The street itself is flanked by palaces and cathedrals and all the trappings of Imperial Germany.

But the building that's most moving is an unassuming brick building between Humbolt University and the Berliner Dom. In the time of the Kaisers', it was the Imperial Guardhouse. In the time of the Nazis, it was a memorial to the victims of war and communism. In the time of the Communists, it was a memorial to the victims of war and fascism.

But now, it's a memorial to all victims of war and terrorism. It's haunting in its simplicity. Inside, there's a single statue of a mother holding her dead soldier son. There's a hole cut in the roof, and the statue is exposed to the elements. In summer, she's warmed by the sun. In winter, she's covered by snow. And when it rains, she's crying for her lost son, and she represents all the mothers who have ever lost sons before their time.

And all throughout this city, there's this almost desperate sense of impressing onto people that THIS history must not happen again. It's a race against time, because as the prime witnesses to the horror of the Holocaust die off, the lessons are being unlearnt. It's scary, but that's the way of the world.

I went to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp today. The most disturbing thing wasn't the barracks, or the gas chamber, or even the pathology lab where Nazis would inflict their medical experiments on the prisoners. It was the fact that neo-Nazis set fire to the Jewish barracks, the ones that were rebuilt to remember the atrocities inflicted upon those people.

Humanity has a short memory. In the end, all memorials end up forgotten. In the end, the only way we learn is by making the mistakes of our parents. It's profoundly depressing, but Santayana was right.

Still, Berlin been fun, as well. Quite liked my time here, despite the morbidness. I'm leaving for Prague tomorrow, and for the first time in a long, long while, I'm excited more than anxious.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

About my sister-in-law

"They call us JAFAs over here - Just Another Fucking Australian."

- Grace, a JAFA, about a couple of days ago

Around the turn of the century, back in the foggy mists of time, my sister-in-law lived in Heidelberg for a year as an exchange student. On her holidays, she went backpacking around Europe. That was before she married my brother, settled down and became a respectable lawyer, so I imagine her days were spent living the hard-partying, boozy lifestyle I've noted of most Australian backpackers.

Thinking it over, I'm a bit envious. It's one thing to meander aimlessly around Europe for six months, it's another thing to live in a place and really get to know it. And my sister-in-law still keeps in touch with the folks in Heidelburg - in fact they visited them during their honeymoon. Must be nice to know a place as well as that.

At the moment, I'm just a JAFA.

Actually, I'd like to see more of Germany. I've just been in Berlin, and while it's a fascinating city, I get the impression it's not typical of Germany. I'm curious about lederhosen, beer halls and bratwurst. And I'm not going to, because I really don't have the time to go to Bavaria, or the Rhine, or the Alps.Pity.

Still, you gotta walk the path you're on, right? And my path right now is to walk up the road and spend €0.15 on a couple of bread rolls.

In other news, Rudd's increased the first home owner's grant from $7,000 to $21,000. I'd be very happy with that news, but I figure house prices are just going to go up by a uniform §14,000...

Monday, October 13, 2008

What's wrong with Australia?

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

- R.E.M., an annoying song from a very fine band

Had a good day today. Ate a kebab for €2.50, and a pizza for €3. Ate an apple that was crisp, juicy and sweet. Got some time on the internet to check the news. It's amazing how little it takes to make a day great.

Something I've noticed just now - newspapers on the internet read differently to newspapers in print. It's not that the articles have changed, it's that title font and article placement have a great effect on how one judges the relative worth of an article. In print, the editor can give you an idea of important stuff with the layout. On the internet, every article is given equal weight, and as a result, it's a bit confusing.

Take The Age.

I've just read a series of disturbing reports about how the global economy's going into meltdown, how Rudd's taking incredibly drastic measure to shore up financial confidence, how we're sinking gradually into something too horrible to contemplate...

And I'm sure it's not THAT bad, but because there are six or seven reports about that, and only a couple each on the other issues of the day, it gives it more weight than it deserves. I hope so, anyway. I'd got most of my money tied up in banks, in one way or another, and it'll be nice to have something left over when I get back.I don't want to come back to Australia in four months time and find we're back to trading in sea-shells.

Actually, it's the first time I've logged onto The Age for a while, and it's all quite disturbing. People are more xenophobic. Housing prices are falling. There's drought and nightclub violence and fleeing doctors and crumbling infrastructure....

What the fuck is wrong with the country? Am I just hyperventilating, or won't there be anything left by the time I get back?

At least Cameron White made the Test team. That's brilliant. We haven't had a Victorian in the Test side since Warnie. You need at least one - should be in the ACB charter, or something.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Holocaust Memorial In Berlin

Went to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin today.

It's a field of grey stone blocks of irregular height, set up in a grid. As you walk through the field, the ground drops and the blocks darken, and soon, you're walking in amidst a field of black stone pillars that block out everything but the sky. It's claustrophobic and uncomfortable, and it's a relief to get out of there.

There's no explanation of the memorial. The architect said that there's no why to explain an event like the Holocaust, and there's no way to provide an explanation for its memorial. It just is - a permanent reminder of how people can do something so horrible that it defies comprehension. Or maybe it's just that everyone needs to come to a personal understanding of what happened, that it's too important a lesson to just read off a plaque.

When you start walking through it, the blocks are at shin-height. You can step over them, you can see over them - people even sit on them while they watch everyone around them. But as you walk deeper into the maze, you sink deeper into the ground, and the blocks suddenly surround you and cut you off from everything. You're isolated and alone, and the only thing that's of comfort is the light that shines straight ahead of you. And as you walk ahead, the ground rises, the blocks shorten, and you're back above the maze again.

And maybe that's purpose of the blocks. To let us know that evil starts off ordinary and even banal, but as we walk further along the path, we sink deeper and deeper, until we're over our heads and have lost sight of our bearings. And yet, to let us know that there's always a way out. If we can see the light and walk towards it, the ground will rise, and we'll reach an end.


Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm Leaving Amsterdam

"I think you're making a mistake leaving so early. To me, Amsterdam is one of the most interesting cities in Europe."

- Muni, at breakfast this morning

It's my last hour in Amsterdam. 

I've spent the last three nights in a Christian youth hostel in the middle of the red light district. When I read about it on the website, I just had to see it - the mental image of a bunch of Christian youths singing around the rubber raincoat brigade was too quirky to resist. But it's turned out to be a really, really good hostel. Staff are friendly, nice and seem interested. People are quite interesting.

I think Amsterdam means different things to different people. 

I met this Algerian guy in the hostel, a political asylum seeker. He's a former military guy who's ratted out on the army and is seeking refuge. He's been here in Amsterdam for five years, stuck in an endless loop of petitioning and adjudicating. His kids are growing up without him, he's stuck in a country he doesn't belong to, and he's going bald. He speaks of Amsterdam as a jail with open skies. 

I met this Aussie girl who can't wait to go home. She's been on a Contiki tour for a couple of weeks, and was exhausted by the time she came to Amsterdam. She hangs out in the lobby with a bottle of Coke and chips, dreaming of the beaches in Sydney. 

I met this English girl who grew up in Nepal, who works here in Amsterdam because she sees a need for God amongst these people and she believes she's the one to bring it to them. When she goes out to her church meetings, she skirts around the alleyways with their red-lit windows and the canals with their XXX theatres. She has the earnestness and concrete certainty of youth. 

I met this American guy who's spent a week in Amsterdam, and is thinking of staying another month. He like the canals. He likes the culture. He likes the tree-lined streets and the market squares. He's thinking about buying a stolen bike from a druggie so he can ride around the city, but he's keeps getting bitten by his ethics. 

I think that Muni's right. Amsterdam's probably been the most interesting place I've been to. There're 166 nationalities in this city, and probably more sub-cultures than I can count. And most of them are represented here in the red-light district. It is a very, very strange place to live. 

The place where I'm staying, the Shelter City, have a deal whereby you get free food and board if you become a cleaner. And if the Schengen zone visa wasn't perched on my shoulder like a vulture, I'd probably take them up on it. But you know, I've got 2 months left and I want to see Roma and Pompeii, Barca and Granada. There's always this compulsion to move, to leave, to see what's on the other end of the train line. 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Waiting to inhale

"When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale and never tried it again."

- Bill Clinton, who inhaled other things later in life

There are two things Amsterdam is infamous for, and I spent most of this afternoon trying to inhale one of them in my body. We sat on a bench by the canal and swore as the wind kept snuffing out the lighter. The sun was behind the cloud and it was getting cold. It wasn't what I'd envisaged. 

But when it finally got started, it took my breath away. Literally. I coughed about twenty seconds the first time. I coughed about thirty seconds the next. And when I tasted it in my phlegm, and I coughed even harder. I took a sip of Coke and walked over to the canal railing. 

There was a barge floating gently across the canal. Valiantly I tried again, trying to summon every ounce of bohemian chic within me. And this time, I coughed so much I had tears in my eyes and a wheeze that took a minute to get rid off. I think one of the passengers took a photo of me - or maybe I was just coughing so hard I was seeing sparks. 

Meanwhile, my friend's sitting on the bench, pissing herself laughing....

When I first heard that remark of Bill Clinton's, I didn't give it the credulity it deserved. There's probably a bit more too it than just a face-saving lie. If one has not inhaled, then one cannot have exhaled; and if one hasn't exhaled, can one really say one has participated? It's a bit like the sound of one hand clapping. Or the sound of a tree falling in the woods. Or an organised defensive corner by the Arsenal. It sounds real and looks good in theory, but it doesn't pass mustard in reality. Who'd have thunk it? 

I don't know. Going to go to Berlin in a few days. Maybe I'll mull it over on the train. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cesc and van Gogh

"Right now I'm fine with Arsenal, but I cannot deny that to return and play for Barca would be a dream come true for me. I chose to stay at the club last summer and right now I'm totally focused on the reason for that decision which was to try and win trophies. We'll see how things have gone by the end of the season."

- Cesc Fabregas, probably as disillusioned as the rest of us

I went to the van Gogh museum today. 

There are approximately 170 van Gogh paintings at the museum, arranged in chronological order. It's neat how you can walk across the floor and see how Vincent developed as an artist and how his style of painting changed as he grew older and sadder. 

There's this one spot in the gallery where you're looking at Wheatfield With Crows, with its gloriously golden wheatfield below a dark, foreboding sky. Three pathways meander through the field, going nowhere. It was painted shortly before his death, and it really does reflect a troubled mind. It's claustrophobic and disturbing, and there's this sense that there's no way out. 

And yet, if you turn around, in the opposing corner of the gallery, you can see his Paris paintings, where everything is brightness and lightness. You can feel the optimism from those paintings, the sense that the world was just beginning to open up for him and that everything was going to be peachy. 

I found that incredibly poignant. You're only young once, and there's only one time in your life when the world opens up and reveals itself to you in all its glory. If you miss it, you can go looking for it, but it'll be meaningless, a chasing after of the wind. It'll always be just over your shoulder, on the other side of the gallery. 

There is a rather tenuous Arsenal link to this...

It ties in with Cesc because I seriously think he should consider leaving at the end of the season. This is on proviso that we don't win anything, and we don't look like we're taking steps to rectify the situation. Cesc is too good to play for a side that can't (or won't) challenge for major trophies. He's got so much talent, but this time will only come once in his life. He should be making the most of it. 

Cesc should be at a club that wins things. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Impossible situations

Kinnear: Which one is Simon Bird [Mirror journalist]?
Bird: Me.
JK: You’re a ****.
Bird: Thank you.

- the start of the Joe Kinnear show

I've just read most of the Joe Kinnear press conference. It happened sometime when I was in Norway, so I haven't been up with the football news as much as I normally am. Actually, considering I'm on holiday, it's shockingly depressing how much I am in touch with football news. Maybe I should throw the laptop in a train station locker and forget about it for the next five months...

Anyway, Kinnear's in a bad, bad situation. He's unloved by the players, the fans, the press. He's appointed by a man who's unloved by the above and will be sacked in a few months. And he works for a guy who's unloved by the above, is looking to sell the club and who probably can't give a toss about how the manager, the club or the fans are feeling.

Despite what he's said in the past, I'm sure Kinnear's bloody glad it's just an interim position.

I've a certain sympathy with Kinnear. I've shot my mouth off before. In fact, I used to do it at work once every six months or so, usually around August, usually on a Wednesday. It feels really, really good when you're doing it. You feel bulletproof, invincible and - and this is the part that really feels great - righteous. You feel like you're completely right, and they're completely wrong, and it's your mission on earth to tell them exactly how wrong they are.

It's only the next day that you start to realise what an arse you've been. I think we've all been in that situation. And really, there's nothing that needs to be said. He's in an impossible situation and he cracked. He's got my sympathy.

I visited the Anne Frank House today.

They've got excerpts from her diary plastered on the walls of the annex. There's this one that really got to me, about how the chestnut tree in the courtyard was more beautiful than it was the year before. The idea that she would look at the tree through a slip in the curtain, see the sun shine through the leaves and see the wind make them sway, and yet never being able to step out and touch it... it effected me more than all the holocaust stories I've ever read.

Monday, October 6, 2008

1-1 to the Arsenal

"Sunderland, I believe, did adopt a defensive attitude. Does it disappoint me? It’s not for me to judge, we just have to find the solutions to the problems they cause."

- Arsene Wenger, after the Sunderland game

We're not ready for a title challenge. 

If we were, we would be winning games against teams like Sunderland. We need to win games against teams like Sunderland. This was the kind of game that champions encounter all the time, and it's the kind of games a champion wins. 

Sunderland set up a 4-5-1 because they were afraid of Arsenal's creativity. They packed the midfield, put nine men behind the ball, and tried to use the pace of Djibril Cisse to pinch a goal. 

Arsenal set up a 4-5-1 because we were afraid that Denilson couldn't cope with a physical Sunderland team. This led to a rather unfortunate series of events:

  1. Song played instead of Nasri
  2. van Persie dropped deep to get the ball 
  3. Adebayor was isolated and didn't have anyone to feed off
  4. Walcott drifted too far inside to support Adebayor 
  5. Walcott didn't use his pace on the flanks 
  6. We didn't have enough width to stretch Sunderland
  7. We didn't have enough space to make those cute passes
  8. We didn't create enough chances
  9. We didn't win 

Yes, we (maybe) had a goal disallowed. And yes, Sunderland's goal was against the run of play (and very well taken by Leadbitter, by the way). And yes, Fabregas' goal in the 91st minute showed great mental fortitude. 

But that's missing the point. 

The point is that we altered the way we played to accommodate a weakness. Last season, we would've played a 4-4-2 because Flamini was mature enough to boss the midfield without that extra body. van Persie would've been higher up the field. Adebayor would've had more of the ball, and troubled the defenders more. And we would've won.

This is a seriously depressing result. It's depressing because it could've been easily sorted out, if only Wenger had bought an experienced defensive midfielder. It didn't have be an super, super player - just someone tactically disciplined, physically strong and old enough to have seen it all before. He didn't even have to be first choice for the Arsenal - just someone who's available for these tough matches in the north of England. 

We can talk about the potential of our kids all we want - and believe me, I love talking about the potential of our kids - but the truth is plain, unlovely and painfully hard to ignore. It's a truth that stems from the problem that Wenger acknowledges but refuses to address, and it's turning my hair white (literally - I found another one yesterday). 

The truth is that we're not ready for a title challenge. 

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My Boy, Matty Connolly

"So hopefully we can achieve that and I’ll be back at the Emirates sooner than I thought — playing for QPR next year. I learnt so much there and have nothing but praise for the club. I could have stayed and been patient but I’m at the age where I want to push on."

- Matthew Connolly, in a piece in The Sun

It's always a pleasure to hear about Matty Connolly. 

I don't follow Matty's progress as closely as I probably should. My nom de guerre IS Connolly's agent, after all, and you'd expect a certain affection on my part for the lad. But I only chose the name as a spur-of-the-moment thing, in order to defend Matty's move to QPR from a pack of vociferous gooners. However, the name kind of stuck, and now whenever I see his name in the papers, I can't help but feel a paternal pride in his accomplishments. 

It was sad to see him leave the Arsenal, but I understood. He had lot of people in front of him, with Djourou and Senderos earmarked for the centre-half positions in the long term. And he was at the age when he really needed playing time to build up his experience and confidence. So a move to QPR was both courageous and necessary. 

Still, it would've been nice if he'd stayed and tested his strength. He was the under-age Arsenal captain, an England U21, and a promising prospect to boot. He was English, which meant a lot more in the days before the emergence of Theo and Jacks. It would've been nice to see him prove himself in the first team, but it wasn't to be. 

From the article, he's made the right choice and done well for himself. He's got a starting position at QPR, and with a good run, they might even make the Premiership. He's got a few nice things to say about the Arse, which is always a sign of a nice boy. Good on him. I sincerely hope QPR get up, and next year, Matty will have his day in the sun at Emirates. 

Play well, Matty. 

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nasri's a playa

“We’d still be together if she hadn’t met Nasri in Cuba. I’m absolutely furious with him and would consider punching his lights out if we met."

Phil Mc Caw, cuckolded by an ugly, ugly Frenchman

I'm killing time until my train to Trondheim. I figured that if I waited for the sleeper, I'd save a bit on the accommodation, I'll have a bit more time to wander around Oslo, and I'd be able to hang around a bit in the hotel and maybe get some rest. 

Yep, I'm livin' large these holidays. 

Another one who likes to live it up is Samir Nasri. This story comes from The Sun, so I'm not sure how true it is, but apparently, Nasri cheated on his girlfriend with an English girl named Aymee Davison.  Aymee, alas, was also attached at the time. Phil Mc Caw, the wronged, party, is a lumbering Yorkshire rugby player who is contemplating having a frank and earnest discussion with our Sammy. 

If I was Nasri, I'd be quite glad for every inch of rolling hill and gentle pasture that separates me from being turned into Yorkshire pudding.  If I was Wenger, I'd be glad as well. We need Nasri in the side. He adds a bit of creativity and inventiveness, and takes the burden off Cesc, somewhat. We've a thin squad, and we don't need Nasri injured for another two month. 

Actually, I'm quite disappointed with our Sammy. I really quite liked him, up to this point. But it's the sign of a cad to go after another guy's girl. Especially if you've a hot little number at home as well, by the name Tatiana Golovin. Honestly, what's Sammy thinking? Tatiana's much, much prettier that Aymee.

Can't imagine our Theo pulling a stunt like that - he's such a nice boy. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Scream

 In times when every one of us wonders what the bankers and politicians are doing with our money, there has to be an escape in life. A night at soccer's opera can only provide that outlet if the intention is to entertain us, and not merely to win, win, win.

- Rob Hughes, waxing lyrical about the Arsenal

I feel like shit. 

I've stuffy nose, a head full of straw and a rapidly diminishing wad of cash. I've got a train out of Oslo tomorrow night, and I'm not sure what I'll do once I'm in Trondheim. I wanted to go to Tromso, but the train's full, the buses don't run that far, and I can't be bothered. It's a pity, because seeing big shiny lights in the sky was the principle reason for visiting Norway. 

Seeing shiny things light up the night sky is something most people find entertaining. 60,000 Londoners experienced something akin to the Northern Lights the other night. And today, a host of reporters have been tripping over their fingers trying to emulate Arsenal's on-field eloquence. A host of gooners are probably doing the same in various blogs around the world. 

I'm not going to. Like Wenger, I'm physically sick. But unlike Wenger, it'll take a bit more than a 4-0 drubbing to soothe my feverish brow. 

It exasperates me that this win will only serve to paper-over the flaws in our side. Yeah, we played well. Yeah, we scored a lot. But we were shaky in defence, and we've resolved nothing. In six games time, we'll drop a winnable game, and we'll be back where we started from. 

It shits me off. 

It shits me off like the felafel I had last night. It shits me off like this cold that's keeping me in the hotel lobby. It shits me off because we're so close to ruling the Premiership, but we keep avoiding the problems that stop us from becoming great. I saw The Scream today in the National Gallery, and I'm starting to suspect Edvard Munch was an Arsenal supporter. 

Don't get me wrong - I love the Arsenal, and I love Arsene Wenger. I love them because they play a form of football that will never thrive in this world, and yet they continue to play it with utter conviction. They are naked to the world. Their flaws are as much exposed as their talent. They are so close to being an unbeatable side, and yet, they won't compromise their vision. 

I get it, and understand it, and most of the time, I can accept it. It's just... you never like seeing someone you care about suffer. And I care about me quite a bit. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Porto tonight

I believe we have not to make too much of it. We lost the game, but we have enough strengths within the club and within the team to deal with that."

- Arsene Wenger, with regards to the Hull game

We're playing Porto tonight. 

A couple of days ago, Wenger was on the warpath. He'd finally had had enough of abject performances against teams we really should be beating. And firmly in his sights was the defensive partnership between Gallas and Toure, and our susceptibility from set-pieces. 

Today, Wenge's mellowed. It was bound to happen. Wenger's a bit too close to the project to see what the major flaws are. Yep, he's right in that our strengths can cover our weaknesses. But the simpler solution, surely, is to plonk an experienced head-kicker in the heart of defence; someone who can be relied upon NOT to lose concentration against weaker opponents. But it's not going to happen. 

Tonight, expect a committed performance from the Arsenal. Expect dominance, even. We'll do well against Porto, and we'll win comfortably. The press will laud us again, and the players will vow never to backslide again.

And this'll go on for another five, six games, until we play another small side who we really should beat. And we'll slip up, and blow our chance to win the league. And we'll be just as angsty and disappointed... and the cycle will go on. 

It's cold and rainy in Oslo. And it's playing with my state of mind. I'm beginning to wonder whether it was such a good idea to come up this far north. It's pretty and all (hills, fjords and trees are a nice combination), but I'm getting real tired of this. 


It's a bit later. 4-0 to the Arsenal, and I'm not surprised. It's so strange to see them back on TV, however. I remember the feeling of being in that stand and singing those songs, and I miss it. Watching it on Tv, you've got a funny feeling that you're being jibbed of something important. It's a feeling that is compounded when you're drinking a 62kr ($12AUS) pint of Guinness while doing so. 

Norway is very expensive.