Saturday, November 29, 2008

On Dubrovnik

"You've got all these people buying you drinks and laughing with you, and you start to wonder.. "why are these people being so nice to me?""

- Dylan, on the walk home from Dubrovnik

I left the club at about 4:00am, and started walking back to the hostel. From the Old Town to Lapad, it's about 35 minutes by foot, and it's an eerie walk. On the road near the Pile Gate, there's this stretch that passes by the sea. You can hear the waves pounding on the cliff below, and the hotels twinkling in the distance. The road's lit up but completely deserted.

Around that spot, I started thinking about Britt Lapthrone.

She's the Aussie backpacker who died in Dubrovnik a few months ago. I've been thinking about how her story for a while, actually. There's something really disturbing about it. It's something to do with the mystery surrounding the decomposed body, the ham-fisted investigation and all those urban legends about travellers meeting bad ends.

I met Dylan about ten minutes out of the Old Town. He's a guy I'm sharing the dorm with. He'd left the club a while earlier, and had got himself completely lost. He was about to curl up in the corner of a garden somewhere when I bumped into him. We headed back to the hostel together.

So much of what makes travelling worthwhile depends on openness and trust. You meet strangers in the street and you start talking. You've got to believe that they're nice, friendly people and they're not a threat. Most of the time, they are.

The people at the club were really, really cool. Bought us drinks, taught us Croatian drinking songs, made sure we had a good time. Most of the time, you switch off and relax. But sometimes, like Dylan said, you start to wonder - why are they being so nice?

Friday, November 28, 2008

On Mostar

"We will fight until we die because we have no choice. We have nowhere else to go."

- I'm paraphrasing, but it's something one of the soldiers during the Mostar seige.

I'll be in Dubrovnik for five days. The ferry for Bari only leaves once a week in winter, and I lingered in Belgrade and Sarajevo a bit too long, I suppose. Oh well, Dubrovnik is warm and beautiful, and I probably wouldn't mind staying here for the rest of my life. After the cold of the Balkans, it's nice to see the clear blue sky reflected in the clear blue sea.

But this one's on Mostar.

I stayed there last night. I was curious about the town after I'd watched a documentary in Sarajevo about the siege in Moster. It was the craziest thing - in Sarajevo, Croats and Muslims were allies and fighting for their lives against the Serbs, and yet 100 kms to the south, the Croats were shelling the hell out of the Muslims in Mostar. It makes me wonder what the guys up in Sarajevo thought about it.

Mostar's much like Sarajevo, only the rebuilding isn't as far advanced. They've fixed up the Stari Most and the Old Town, but there are still abandoned buildings in the streets around the Old Town. It's a bit confronting to see the mortar holes and the bricked-up windows. And itćs uncomfortable to walk around taking photos of places where people died only fifteen years ago.

The Stari Most is sparkly and white. It's quite a dramatic sight, really - a perfect, slender stone arch across a picturesque mountain river. It's the kind of view that postcards are made from. And as a symbol of reunification and reconciliation, it's just about perfect. But it's a bit disappointing to actually walk across it. It's a bit short, with these bumpy stone slats in the ground to stop you from slipping. Not quite like the tourist shots.

But it's cold, windy and miserable on a winter's day. I'm glad I came to the coast instead. The bus drove along the coast as we wound our way south to Dubrovnik. And the scenary was breathtaking. What was it that my sister-in-law said about Croatia? Oh yes, it's like the Mediterrenean as it once was...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Snowfall in Sarajevo

"It's amazing the transformation when it snows. When you think about how gloomy the city looked when it was raining, and how it looks now..."

- Andrew, musing about the snow, from across the Turkish Quarter

The guys are watching Hostel in the common room. There must be some kind of inside joke amongst hostel owners in Eastern Europe - in every place I've stayed, there's a DVD of that film. Now, I've had nothing but good experiences in the hostels from Eastern Europe, but still... I'm not going to watch that movie while I'm over here. 


It just fucks around with your brain. When you're travelling alone, just about  everyone you meet is a stranger, and everywhere you go is a strange place. Often, you're dumped on the outskirts of a strange town, and you're practically blind, deaf and dumb. By some strange reason, it always works out - there's a helpful local who happens to speak English, or there's a bus waiting at the right spot, or you just stumble the hostel by plain dumb luck. 

But when you watch a film like Hostel, you realise that the world's not a big cradle of warmth and serendipity, that there ARE jackals out there waiting in the shadows, and that when they've got you in their sights, there's probably not a lot you can do to walk away. It really, really fucks with your brain. I cannot emphasise that enough. 

But I don't want to talk about that. I took a walk through Sarajevo tonight and saw snow falling for the first time in my life. It's amazing. It looks light and flurry when it's falling down, but it turns into ice on the streets. It's a powdery white when it's pure and fresh, and it turns into a muddy, icy slush when it's been trampled upon. It covers everything in a soft white haze, and it makes the city look magical. 

You don't get much snow in Australia. You normally have to drive a couple of hours to the snowfields, and nowadays, much of that snow's artificial. Snow in Australia is purely recreational. It's so different when it's falling in the street where you live. It's one of the most beautiful things I've seen so far. 

Here's a photo of one of the orthodox churches:

Oh, and the Arsenal beat Dynamo Kyiv 1-0 tonight to qualify for the knock-out rounds of the Champions League. I caught the last ten minutes and watched Cesc make a 50 yard pass for Bendtner to score. Awesome goal, but I gather it was a poor performance overall. 

Oh well, whatever - we still love you Arsenal.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sarajevo and the captaincy

"It is a great honour for me to captain one of the biggest clubs in the world. It is a proud moment. I know it's a big responsibility but together with my team-mates, I know we have the spirit and commitment to get back to winning ways and fulfil our potential."

- Cesc Fabregas, on his appointment as the new Arsenal captain

So Cesc's the captain.

It's the right choice at the wrong time. In August, Cesc said that the captaincy would be a great honour, but in one or two years. He's got enough on his own plate, I think, without having to worry about lifting a struggling team. It's definitely a risk. But there really isn't much other option. Toure's not a vocal leader, Clichy's too inconsistent and Sagna's... I'm not sure why he's not an option, but he's not. Maybe because he's too French. I don't know.

Let's just hope it works out.

I spent the day yesterday looking at all the leftovers from the siege during the Balkans war. The guide was fifteen when it started, nineteen when it ended, and he fought in it for three of the four years. As we drove through the hills around Sarajevo, he pointed out the Serbian positions, the Bosnian positions, and that narrow wedge of disputed territory in between.

The strange thing was how innocuous the landscape seemed. The roads we were driving past where lined with houses, and gave great views of the city below. Except for the occasional ruined house or the leftover bunker, we could've been driving through suburbs of any town in the world. And excluding the four years between 1992 and 1995, I suppose they were just ordinary suburbs.

He mentioned the shrapnel holes that scarred the buildings along the way. I hadn't really noticed them before he pointed them out, but afterwards, I could see them everywhere. I could even see the Sarajevo roses that splattered the streets. It was a brutal siege, with 10,000 people killed, and the horrible thing is that world just let it happen.

The Serbians had taken positions in the hills around Sarajevo, encircling the city. The UN took control of the airport in order to get supplies through to the citizens, but because the Serbians took half of what was delivered, it wasn't enough. To get enough supplies, the citizens of Sarjevo dug a tunnel under the airport, linking with a corridoor of Bosnian control territory behind the hills.

The guide showed us the tunnel under the airport, through which the citizens could get supplies from the outside world. It started off in some guy's basement, wound 800 metres through a hunched-up, water-logged space, and ended up in some other guy's basement. Only about 25 metres still exist, and only from the exit side, but still, it's something to see. Again, it's startling to see how commonplace these things were. When you think of war, you imagine large theatres of combat and maps with coloured trianges - it's a bit confronting when you realise that sometimes things occur in people's basements.

Going to walk around the city a bit more today. It's all quite interesting, in other ways. The Turkish quarter is a tourist trap, but it's a lovely warren of twisting alleys and wooden houses. There's a park with a giant chess board and the old men line up in the morning to play with that. And then there's the Latin Bridge, where some Austrian Archduke got shot and gave the band Franz Ferdinand their name.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pink Arsenal

"But what did they get here? A team lacking any form of togetherness and a centre-forward who decided this was a suitable occasion to wear pink boots. They were the brightest shade of Barbie-doll pink imaginable and unless Nicklas Bendtner was simply being ironic, the ultimate fashion faux pas for any striker who wants to be taken seriously."

- Daniel Taylor, from The Guardian, about the 3-0 win to Man City

I'm a bit angry right now.

I'm sure it was a throw-away line by Daniel Taylor, but that remark about Bendtner's pink boots is really irritating. A player should be free to choose the colour of his accessories without fear of ridicule or smarmy remarks from journalists. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, a centre-forward should be judged, not on the colour of his boots, but on the quality of his link-up play.

There is a common perception that pink is a frivolous colour. It's been associated with Barbie dolls and bleached-blonde bimbos. It's the colour that little girls choose when they're playing dress-up, and it's a colour that denotes femininity, tenderness and playfulness.

But it can also be the colour of brutal ruthlessness and utter bastardry.

It really depends on how you co-ordinate. If you combine pink with darker colours (black, grey, blue), you get this vivid, flaming pink that screams dynamism and rage. The black and pink combination, especially, is incredibly arresting. In feng shui, pink is the colour of fire, and black is the colour of water. The mix of the two provides an agonising, uncomfortable tension that has nothing to do with sugar and spice and everything nice.

I use pink quite a bit on this blog. I've changed the colour scheme a couple of times, but I finally settled on the pink-and-black combination. It's edgy, it's hip and it screams out in a kind of primordial, existentialist fury about the futility of the human condition.

Plus, the pinkness looks just darling, doesn't it?

Fuck it, I don't know how that slipped out.

Anyway, I'm in Sarajevo for a few days. Took the bus from Belgrade yesterday. Sarajevo's a remarkably pretty town - it's up in the mountains and ringed by hills. The bus came into Sarajevo as the sun was setting, and the sky was flooded in pink hue. Flocks of birds circled above. Really pretty. And pink. And not at all feminine.

Damn Daniel Taylor.

P.S. No, I'm not going to do a match review, or comment on the match. 3-0 to Man City. Fucking hell, there's only so much pain a gooner can take. I'd rather focus my attentions on inconsequentials, like a footballer's fashion sense. So stay tuned next week for an analysis of Alex Song's dreadlocks.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

We've sacked Gallas

At Arsenal lately, there's been a lot of talking. Clichy says we've got to concentrate, Almunia says we've got to be harder, Gallas says we've got to stop quarrelling and show him some respect. And Wenger says that everything's going to be fine and that this is the best group of players we've ever had. 

But actions speak louder than words. The players have shown over the past few weeks that they can't concentrate, that they're fragile, and that they concede weak goals. Gallas had shown that he's not up to being captain. And Wenger has been shown that this is far from being the best group of players he's ever had. 

Yesterday, Wenger took the step of stripping Gallas of the captaincy. Gallas had lost the respect of the players, control of the dressing room, and he'd aired out his grievances in public. That's not the way a captain behaves, and Wenger had no choice. It's one small step to make things right, but there's plenty more to do. 

Nothing's really changed. The players are still fighting amongst themselves and there's still a shocking amount of ill-discipline. We still can't defend, and we still have a thin, inexperienced squad that's getting exposed far too often. There's still a chronic lack of leadership and there's no obvious choice for the next captain. 

Toure's the next senior player, but he doesn't seem to have the personality to dominate a team. Cesc has that personality, but he's so close to cracking that putting him in charge of an under-performing team might break him. Clichy's the other candidate, but I'd rather he concentrates on those defensive lapses that have cost us points in recent games.

There's another way, you know. It's radical, but it's oddly appropriate - don't appoint a leader. Let one develop organically. Silvestre has the experience to organise the defence. Cesc has the talent to lead the midfield. That's enough for now. Just let the players play and don't worry about who's leading whom. In time, leaders will emerge from all over the park. 

Right now, the captaincy's a minor issue. 

I'd much rather Wenger focuses on more important stuff. Like buying an experienced defender, a defensive midfielder and a great goalkeeper. Like concentrating on our set pieces and defending. And like winning enough games to get that 4th spot. We're limping into the January transfer window, and when we get to it, we've got to do some serious surgery. 

There's a lot more left to do, Arsene. 

Saturday, November 22, 2008


"There are no international trains to Sarajevo."

- the response I got from the train information guy.

In retrospect, it was a stupid question.

It's been over fifteen years since the war, but these things tend to linger. Serbia was a bad, bad country for a long, long time, and I suppose the Bosnians are still a bit wary about them. If I was them, I'd be worried about a train track that led straight into the heart of my capital city, as well.

But it's been a long time since the unpleasantness of the Milosevic days. The last conflagration occurred nearly ten years ago. Sloba's gone, his henchmen are down for the count, and Belgrade seems like a normal city. You do come across the odd bombed-out building, but they're more a curio than anything else now.

I'm a little disappointed about it, to be honest. It's contemptible, but one of the reasons I was curious about the Balkans area was the war. As a kid, the Balkans War was chaotic and interminable. I didn't pay enough attention to it to understand the causes, but the siege of Sarajevo, the massacre at Srebrenica and the general badness of Slobodan Milosevic filtered through to my mind. Enough of it got through anyway, to make a visit to Belgrade something out of the ordinary.

Belgrade's an ugly city. I took a walk around the old city, past the Republic Square and around the Kalemegdan Garden. It's grey, shabby and anonymous. It's the distillation of most of worst elements of socialist architecture. It's like something out of Bladerunner, only smaller and without the chic of sci-fi noir. But in fairness, they say Belgrade's a party city, and it's got that kind of air to it - in the morning, there's a bit of hangover hanging over the city. And the city does look much more attractive at night.

I'm of two minds whether to stay in Belgrade another day. I'm a bit too lazy to organise for Sarajevo, and the hostel here is cosy and comfortable. Might be nice to just lounge around and watch DVDs for a day. But Dubrovnik's calling, and I'd like to be there before the end of the month. I've a schedule in my mind of where I want to be by Christmas, and I'd like to stick to it.

Anyway, back to my inquiries about Sarajevo.

In the end, I walked around the block to the bus station and asked for a bus to Sarajevo. There are about six or seven daily, for 1800 dinars. So I guess I was being a bit melodramatic. It's easy and relatively cheap to get to Sarajevo after all. It's not like it's a bloody war zone, now, is it?

P.S. I should write something about Gallas being sacked as captain, but I only do one post a day and it's going to take a while to process it. Plus the Man City game and everything - might wait until after the game.

P.P.S. Now that I'm in Sarajevo, I should clarify. Bosnia and Hercegovina is divided into the "Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina" (the Muslims and the Croats), and the "Republika Srpska" (the Serbs). Most of Sarajevo falls into the Federation side, and the main train and bus stations are in the Federation. The bus station to Serbia, however, is in the Republika side. The interesting thing is that the trolleybus terminal which connects the bus station to the rest of the city is a 150m walk away - and this trolleybus terminal just happens to be at the edge of the Federation side. So I guess there are still a few tensions around. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fucking Arsenal

"When, as captain, some players come up to you and talk to you about a player...complaining about him...and then during the match you speak to this player and the player in question insults us, there comes a time where we can no longer comprehend how this can happen." 

- William Gallas, the leader no one's following

What's going on at Arsenal? 

Right now, we're a shit team that squabbles amongst ourselves at half-time. We're not good enough to win anything, and yet, we've got such inflated egos that we think we're champions already. It's depressing. And I can't be bothered writing something soulful about it. My heart isn't in it. I think, like Cesc, that this team is going nowhere, and I can't put my best efforts towards something that is doomed. 

There was a time when we were successful. That was the team of Vieira, Pires, Henry and Bergkamp. The reason for that success wasn't purely talent - it was the unique team spirit that had been forged through years and years of playing and training together. It was in the way the whole Arsenal team bowed before Pires when he won the Player of the Year award. It was in the way Henry took the mickey out of Ljunberg's Calvin Klein modelling contract by parading through the dressing room with a sock stuffed down his shorts. It was so strong that Vieira rejected Real Madrid because he didn't want to break up the family. It led to the Double, the Invincibles, and some of the most beautiful football ever played in England. 

And now, we're shit. We gutted that team and promoted kids too soon. The kids have had too much, too soon. And now, they're spoilt and weak, and greatly deluded about the extent of their abilities. They need someone to give them a huge dressing down. But that's not going to happen. 

Arsenal are a side bereft of leaders. All that experience that was garnered through the 90s has been discarded, and now, there's a leadership vacuum at the heart of Arsenal. It's a problem that cannot be solved merely by parachuting experienced players into the side. It takes time and success to earn that position of leadership. Without it, you're just an old guy barking orders that don't make immediate sense.

Gallas is right - it's hard to comprehend how this can happen. How the fuck did we end up like this? This was supposed to be the Golden Generation, dammit. Cesc was the new Vieria, Denilson was the new Cesc, and we'd have little baby Cescs all the way down to the under-9s. We were supposed to be WINNING stuff by now, not just showing our potential in fits and starts. 

It's so utterly, utterly depressing.  

Anyway, screw it. I'm in Belgrade for two days, and I'm going to go get something to eat. After two and a bit weeks in Turkey, I'm sick of kebabs. Arsenal can go hang themselves. 

Fucking Arsenal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My three month anniversary

"I'm leaving tonight. I'm going off to Europe for six months. It's starting to shit me off. I'm starting to realise that it's a really, really long time and it's a lot of money. But still - it's something I've got to do. I'm going to go mad, otherwise."

- Me, three months ago. Yes, I'm quoting myself. 

It's raining in Istanbul. 

It's remarkable because, before today, I never would have thought that it rained here. Every day I've experienced in Istanbul had previously been golden and sunny and warm. It's partly why I like it here so much. And I genuinely like it here. Istanbul represents the halfway point in my trip in so many ways. It's nice to sit here on the edge of Europe and contemplate everything I seen, and everything I've yet to see. 

The header might've given it away but, it's my three month anniversary today. My halfway point - geographically, chronologically and probably financially, too. 

The quote above was lifted from my final post in Melbourne. I can still remember writing it - I really was shitting myself thinking with worry, thinking about all the things that could go wrong and hoping about all the things that could go right. It seems like such a long time ago, but it really wasn't. Three months is the time it takes to find an Australian Idol. It's half a football season. And yet, it's also half a world away. And it feels like a lifetime ago. 

I've got a map of Europe in my office (and I hope it's still there). In the weeks before I left, I traced out various routes and itineraries, popping post-it notes over places I wanted to see. I envisaged doing a big circle around Europe, starting in London and going as far east as Istanbul before heading back to London. It's strange much it's gone to plan. Kind of sad, really. I thought I would've been side-tracked more often. 

It's not what I expected - it's a lot easier and a lot more comfortable than I thought it would be. My relative wealth has insulated me from the real hardships that long-term travellers go through, and my natural sense of caution has always kept me within sight of the beaten track. I'm at least five years too late for the prom, so to speak. 

It's been worth it, though. Most of it's mundane and rather boring. You can get bogged down with transport and accommodation and trying to find enough to eat without straining your nominal budget. And you quickly settle in an everyday routine that innures you from everything that happens around you. But then, something rubs you differently, and it hits you that you're in Europe, and you're in this places that you've spent such a long time thinking about. 

And that makes it all worthwhile. 

Still, I can't help thinking about where I'll be in three months' time. When I left Melbourne, I was an absolute quivering mess. I just wanted six months off to clear my head. And now that my head's vacuously empty, I'm started to look ahead. I don't want to, mind you. I've still three months to go, and I'd like to enjoy that time without having the worries of everyday life crowding my vistas. 

In my last Melbourne post, I wrote: 

Best just to go with the flow and trust that it'll turn good eventually. Yes, you can cater for every contingency and plan everything to the last second, but where's the fun in that?

I should take that to heart. It is me, after all. 

P.S. And here's something cool that Jim Schembri wrote in The Age. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Socks And Jocks

"Ive said it before, Only 1 person can take the blame for this circus at Arsenal and that is Mr Burns aka Wenger who was toothless in the transfer market in the summer. This is what you get for being so fcking tight, You only have yourself to blame Wenger."

- Attila, from the Gooner Forum.

I'm back in Istanbul, and I'm staying in the same hostel that I did when I first arrived. I'm even in the same room, and only two beds along from the one I slept in before. It's quite odd. They say you should never go back, and I'm starting to realise it applies to hostels as well. Everyone I knew from two weeks ago has left. The rooftop bar's been closed for winter. And the new people are, well, new. 

It's a shock to realise just how transient your experiences really are.

I suppose I should say something about the Villa game. I've been avoiding it because there isn't anything new to say. It's all pretty obvious. We played crap and deserved to lose. If we play like that again, we're not going to qualify for the Champions League next season. We need reinforcements in January because our current players aren't good enough. And if we don't get those players, Cesc Fabregas will leave at the end of the season.

It's all been said before, and I'm sick of saying it again.

I spent today exploring the streets between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. It's quite an interesting area. It's a maze of shops and malls and little side-alleys. You can buy virtually everything in there - baby turtles, Turkish Delight, cameras, power drills, designer clothes, weapons.... but I ended up just buying a bunch of socks and boxer shorts. It's tempting to buy something touristy, like a hand-woven carpet, but I've a limited budget and I'm running out of the essentials. I'm sick of wearing the same pair of underwear for days on end. 

And there's a lesson in that for Arsenal, maybe. It's exciting to consider the potential of our kids, and it's probably incredibly fun to try and unearth the next Zidane or Pele, but what we really need right now is a solid defensive midfielder and a gusty central defender. We've been shopping for the future for so long that we've run out of underwear. I know it's tempting to continue buying those baby turtles and 1 YTL lottery tickets, but we're hopelessly exposed at the moment, and we live in terror of our next de-pantsing. 

Time to buy some socks and jocks, Arsene. 

Monday, November 17, 2008


Sing, goddess, of Achilles' ruinous anger
Which brought ten thousand pains to the Achaeans,
And cast the souls of many stalwart heroes
To Hades, and their bodies to the dogs
And birds of prey.

 - The Iliad, first lines, Book 1

The first Troy I knew came from the World Book encyclopedia. I was really into Greek myths as a kid, and the Trojan War was the ancient world's equivalent of a red carpet parade at the Oscar's. After reading all the articles, I was curious whether Ajax the Lesser ever had resented being compared to Ajax the Greater. 

The second Troy I knew was from this book they got us to read in Year 7, "The Luck of Troy". It was an account of the Trojan War from the point of view of Helen's kid by Menelaus. It's a sanitised version of the events, with Helen being bewitched by Paris, Achilles being a gentleman, and Menelaus being a concerned husband and father who just wants his family together again. 

The third Troy I knew was from school textbooks. It's where I learnt about Schliemann and his penchant for dynamite and ancient buried treasure. It was also my first exposure to the scale of the plunder that 19th century Europeans carted back to their cities.  

The fourth Troy I knew was from the Iliad. It had got to the stage where I was so curious about this stuff that I wanted to read from the source. I wasn't really prepared for the galleons of blood, guts and gore that our heroes waded through, nor the 400 pages of prose verse I had to wade through. It was moving, though, especially went I got to the lines, "and then they buried Hector, tamer of horses".

The fifth Troy I knew was from the film. It starred Brad Pitt as Achilles, Eric Bana as Hector and Darryl Hannah as Helen. It was panned by the critics, but it wasn't too bad. Of course, Oliver Stone's decision to take away the supernatural aspects from the film was like stripping a Disney film of smultz, but I liked the realpolitick elements. And Rose Byrne is a bit of alright. 

The sixth Troy I know, I visited today. It's the real Troy, a city perched on a hill overlooking a plain, with the Dardanelles on the horizon. The walls are high and strong and if you squint, you can almost see the armies of Agamemnon arrayed on the fields below the city. There's nothing much else left of the city - it's been called a "ruin of a ruin" - but it's a big kick to walking around it. 

There are nine Troys all up, built one on top of each other. The sixth one is considered the Troy of the Iliad, and the ruins date mainly from the ninth, Roman Troy. Schliemann blasted through a lot of strata to get to Priam's treasure, and it's been exposed to looters and sticky-fingered tourists ever since. So it's not like Ephesus or Pergamum, with their restored buildings and ruined grandeur. But it is something to imagine that sixth Troy, with all the armies of Greece crashing against the walls and not prevailing. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008


"I'm not ordering you to fight; I'm ordering you to die. Your deaths will buy time for another commander and another army to arrive."

- Mustapha Kemal, to the 57th Regiment as they died at Cunuck Bair

You know, I'd planned this post another way in my mind. I was going for the anti-war angle, with a mention of Australia's involvement in Iraq and a rather sarcastic observations about how, both times, we were led into stupid conflicts by short, war-mongering old men with an eye for the populist vote. 

But the Gallipoli peninsula is actually quite a beautiful place. It's hilly and covered with a scrub forest, with a curving shoreline that's studded with pebble beaches. The Aegean Sea's a vivid blue, and when you find a spot where the sun's shining and you can hear the waves washing against the shore, you're flooded with this sense of peace. 

It's incredibly difficult to picture this as a place where 100,000 people lost their lives. 

When you walk through the various memorial sites that are scattered along the shore, though, the setting seems oddly appropriate. Because most soldiers were buried in mass graves, or simply disintegrated where they fell, they've resorted to placing memorial plaques for the fallen at the places where they landed. And the memory of those deaths is somehow more poignant when you're surrounded so much beauty. 

The strangest thing is that Gallipoli means as much for the Turks as it does for us antipodeans. You wouldn't think it, mostly because we Australians tend to be naively self-absorbed about things like this. In Australia, we've kind of warped it to make ourselves both noble warriors and victims of Imperial dictates. The Ottomans, who lost 55,000 soldiers, are barely mentioned. 

When you're learning about Gallipoli in school, you tend to forget that we're the aggressors in the campaign. And when you're driving through the pennisula, all the memorials are to the ANZACs. It's only up on the hill, at Cunuck Bair, that you get an idea that it wasn't all just about us. There's a memorial up there to the Turkish 57th Regiment, who charged repeatedly at the ANZAC trenches to buy time for reinforcements to arrive. They all died, of course, even the water boy. And there's just one memorial of theirs, versus the scores of ours dotted across the landscape. 

It makes you think. 

Anyway, Gallipoli's seen as the genesis of modern Turkey. From Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal went on to become the hero that founded the Republic of Turkey. Influential man, Kemal. History's supposed to be made through the glacial shift of public opinion rather than through the force of one man's ideas, but Kemal's an exception. I doubt any other Turkish leader could've set Turkey on the road to modernisation as well as he did. It's with good reason that they call him Ataturk (father of the Turks). 

I'll end with a quote of his, about the kids who died at Gallipoli. I first heard this in primary school, and it's never failed to move me since:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives.. you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.. You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now living in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

P.S. There's a cowboy on Turkish TV at the moment, and he's lassooing people to the tune of "Wild Wild West". I'm sure there's a perfectly plausible explanation, but it's all Turkish to me. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Am Backpacker

And now I'm all alone again, 
Nowhere to turn, no one to go to,
Without a home, without a friend, 
Without a face to say hello to.

- On my own, Les Miserables (at least Epinone feels my pain...)

I'm the only person staying at TJ's. 

TJ's is a five storey apartment building that has been converted into a hostel. It's in Eceabet, on the Gallipoli pennisula, and about twenty metres away from the ferry to Canakale. The hostel has thirty rooms over three levels, and in the summer, it can accommodate 140 people. There's this cafe/lounge on the 5th floor which has panoramic views of the Dardenelles, and it really must be something to sit on the balcony in summer and watch the container ships sail pass.  

It's winter now, though, and the place is just spooky when you're there by yourself.

It's an eerie feeling walking through the building. The foyer's homely with some nice Turkish touches, but the 2nd floor feels like it's a mental institution. It's half-lit with chained-up doors and twisting corridors. In the summer, when there are people around, I imagine it's a great place to stay, but when you're fumbling with the keys in the middle of the night, and the wind's murmuring just over your shoulder, it's plain scary. 

When you're in a hostel, the problem usually is finding some privacy. People are sleeping in the dorms, cooking in the kitchen, talking in the lounge... it can be hard to find your own headspace. It means that often, five minutes alone can feel like a stolen moment of illicit pleasure. But TJ's different. The silence is oppressive.  

I guess it's a bit like that interlude in the film I Am Legend, when Will Smith's stalking the deer through the deserted streets of New York. There's that same haunted emptiness in this hostel. It's like you can feel the memory of all those people who've stayed here and who've now gone. I suppose it's the disadvantage of coming to Gallipoli a few days after Remembrance Day. 

Whatever the case, I'll be fricking glad to be back in Istanbul in a couple of days. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

An Englishman, an American and an Australian

"It's a bit like the beginning of a bad joke, isn't it?"

- The Englishman (Adam), when I step into the van and introduced myself

It was an inauspicious start. One cramped little mini-van, three guys, a tour guide, a bus driver - and three hours to kill before we got to Bergama. As Adam put it, it seemed like the beginning of one of those jokes - you know, the Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman ones....

But wasn't too bad. It was nice good, in fact. It was nice to wander the ruins of Pergamon with a handful of people. You get the uninterrupted attention of the guide. You get to take photos without having to wonder how to avoid the backs of other people's heads. And you get to stroll around the place with a certain unhurried ease. Really, it's the best of both worlds.

The tragedy of Pergamon is that the altar of Zeus was carted off to Berlin in the mid 1800s. In fact, I saw the altar a month ago when I was in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. It's a beautiful piece of architecture, and the friezes on the front are lovely, but it doesn't belong there. Certain things belong to a certain place, and that altar belongs on a hilltop overlooking the city of Bergama, under the shade of a couple of cyprus trees. It's the place where, in the Iliad, Zeus sat down and watched the Trojan War unfold. It's the place where the kings of Pergamon, who believed themselves the descendants of Zeus, build their altar to honour their ancestor. And that altar looks out of place sitting in a giant hall in a museum in the middle of Berlin. 

It's about context, you know. 

Then again, I came from Cappadocia and I've seen what the Turks can do with their historical heritage. After the Christian monasteries were closed down, and the Greek expelled, some enlightened souls decided to go up to the cave churches and hack the faces off the frescos that decorated the walls. The result is a series of galleries which are striking mainly because of what has been lost, rather than what is there. 

And the Hagia Sophia, of course. You can never forget the damage done to the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia. 

Still, there's something to be said about repatriation. Like the Elgin Marbles, like the bones of the Australian Aborigines, like the hundred and one mummies that are stuffed in the British Musuem, repatriation is the decent thing to do. They belong to their local environment, and not in some over-heated exhibition hall in the middle of a European city. 

Maybe it's a bit selfish of me. I get the biggest thrill when I walk through cities like Ephesus and Pergamon, and I realise that I'm in the amphitheatre where St Paul was nearly lynched, or where St John preached, or even where Zeus sat down with a bucket of ambrosia and watched the greatest battle in mythology unfold. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Touring around Selcuk

I'm in the middle of a tour of Turkey. I'm staying at Selcuk at the moment, and I'm seeing a few ruins over a few days - Ephesus, Hierapolis, Pergamon.  

In some ways, a tour's a good idea. You're bussed around to all the places you want to see, tour guides explain the history of a place while you're there, and you're given decent hotel rooms. After 3 months of sharing dorm rooms with snoring, stinking, noisy backpackers, it's nice to have the privacy of a private room. It's liberating to realise that I could blog in the nude if so inclined. 

But in many other ways, a tour's a bad idea. You definitely feel dumber on tour. Because everything is basically just a footstep away from the tour bus, you lose all sense of location. You live in a cocoon of buffet meals, air-conditioned buses and large floppy hats. I'm staying in the middle of Selcuk, but I haven't been further than a block around the hotel because.... well, there's really no point. Most of everything I require has been provided by the tour, and I can't really summon the motivation to have a gander at the town. 

So now, I've done travelling one way, and I've done it another. And while a tour's much more comfortable, it really doesn't compare with the discomforts and petty irritations of solo travelling. I'll never do it this way again. 

That said, it really is something to walk down the main street of Ephesus towards the Library of Celsus. And the view from the theatre is magnificent. You really get an idea of how grand and imposing a city like Ephesus would've been back in its heyday. And the age of the place is simply staggering. I was sitting in the latrines, and it was awe-inspiring to realise that toga-wearing dudes were sitting in the exact same spot, doing much the same thing, 1500 years ago. 

Or maybe it's just me. I've got a low threshold for awe. 

The youngsters beat Wigan 3-0 last night, with Jack Wilshere and Carlos Vela showing the world why Wenger's not as deluded as we were all thinking a week ago. I didn't watch it, so I can't comment. I wish Wenger would play Vela in the first team, though, because I'd like to see the guy play. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

OMFG, 2-1 to the Arsenal

"So I take it you're here to find yourself?"

- Dora, the Canadian ex-pat who's made Goreme her home. 

Dora's lived in Cappadocia for 13 years. She followed her husband to Goreme, and after they divorced, she liked the town so much that she stayed. She bought a house and ran a pension for a number of years. At the moment, she's wondering whether it's worthwhile giving up on the town and moving back to Canada. She's got a plane booked in December, but she's not quite sure whether to take it. 

She belongs in Goreme. Yesterday, she walked through the valleys around the town and picked stinging nettles. There's a slower, more reflective pace of life that suits her well. Her "home" is Calgary, but she's been away for so long that she's afraid she won't adapt if she moves back. In her mind, she's Turkish, and Goreme is her home. 

And when she asked me that question, it was with a certain kind of weariness, like she's seen my type so many times before. I suppose she's met a lot of people travelling in Cappadocia, and a lot of them are trying to find themselves. I'm not sure what I'm doing here, to be honest. When I first started out in August, the idea of travel seemed to have a sense of purpose. Now, I'm not sure. Just going through the motions of living, I suppose. Just drifting along. 

There are some amazing sights in Cappadocia, though. The lunar landscapes is spectacular, and the way the inhabitants managed to carve those houses, monasteries and cities is amazing. If I hadn't have lost my USB cable in Istanbul, I'd post a few pictures. Simply amazing stuff, and well worth the 11 hour bus ride. 

Not sure if it was worth missing out on Arsenal beating Man Utd 2-1, though. I haven't had internet access since Friday, and it's a bit of shock to read about it after a 14 hour bus ride to Selcuk. How the fuck did that happen?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Aya Sophia and Arsenal

"Me an Arsenal fan? Nah, I hate Arsenal with a passion. I'm a Tottenham supporter. I'm just here because I like good football... I'm a Fenerbahce supporter tonight."

- the English guy in the pub down the road

So I was sitting at the hostel's rooftop bar this evening, puffing on a water pipe, and I started think that Istanbul's a pretty cool place to be. From where I was sitting, there's a stunning view over the rooftops to the Sea of Marama on one side, and there's a view of the Blue Mosque on the other side. The sky was red from the setting sun, the city was aglow with lights, and in the distance, you could hear the muezzin calling the faithful for evening prayer. 

All in all, it was pretty fucking good way to end a day. 

And then I went to the English pub down the road and watched the Arsenal grind their way to a draw against Fenerbahce. And that brought me back down. We looked hideously out of form - our passing was disjointed and inaccurate, our attack was directionless, and we seemed content to just pass it back and forth without even trying to score a goal. van Persie endeavoured to miss an absolute sitter. Denilson was anonymous as a central midfielder. And Bendtner was a couple of steps behind the team for most of the match. 

But I'm not going to write too much about the game. It's a meaningless game - we're going to qualify despite this result - and the real test is against Man Utd on Saturday. But I do hope we play a bit better against the Mancs, or otherwise I'm going to be pretty miserable come Saturday night. 

What I want to write about today is something I've wanted to do since I was thirteen. 

Today, I went inside the Aya Sophia and saw the immensity of that domed space. It's massive. It's hard to explain just how awe-inspiring it is. It's not particularly pretty - the Turks turned it into a poorly-funded musuem in the 1930s - and it's pretty run down. The plaster's peeling and the marble floors are crac. But it's still amazing. I think it's because there's a sense of permanence about the place; it's been around for 1500 years, and you get the feeling that it'll still be here long after Turkey's gone and the EU's dissolved, and global warming and nuclear war has turned us all into apes. 

Plus, the mosiacs in the upper gallery are pretty damned special. The tiles are made of gold and the figures are the most expressive I've ever seen. They've got these incredibly sad, soulful eyes. It's a tragedy that the Ottomans covered them with plaster for 500 years, because it destroyed one of the marvels of the world. 

It would've been something to see the Hagia Sophia in all its golden glory. Here's a bit of what it once looked like:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Not Constantinople

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

- Istanbul (Not Constantinople), by They Might Be Giants, a song that, weirdly enough, had been banned by the Turkish Government.

We limped into Istanbul around 10 o'clock this morning. 

I'd always imagined it to be an awe-inspiring experience, because the train passes through the walls of old Constantinople. In my mind, I'd thought the train would pass through a giant archway underneath huge red-and-white brick fortifications that stretched across the city. What we went through was a couple of crumbling sections of wall with a giant bulldozed hole in the middle. 

Not what I had in mind. 

The American girls in the room are talking about this other girl who's latched onto them for a night's company. They're trying to shake her off before they go out for the night with the French boys. And the things they say about her... I've met some really awesome Americans while over here, but these girls ain't them. 

I have a problem remembering that it's Istanbul, not Constantinople. The city that fascinated me as a kid was the old city, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the city of Constantine and Justinian. When I think of this city, I think of the Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome and those red-and-white bricked city walls. 

It's hard to remember that it was also the Ottoman capital for 500 years, the cultural capital of Turkey for 70 more, and that it's well and truly been Islamasized. My knowledge of the city's history pretty much ended about 1453, and while the bones of old Constantinople still stick out, it's an Islamic city now. It's bizarre to sit in the Sultanahmet garden and see the Aya Sophia on my right, the Blue Mosque on my left, and realise there's a millennia of history separating the two. And it's a bit sad that while the former has been converted into a crumbling, poorly-funded museum, the latter's a beautifully maintained, functioning mosque. 

Still, it's a pretty city. I took a walk along Kennedy Cad today. It was beautiful. On your left, there's the old Sea Wall with the Topkapi Palace looming overhead. On your right, there's the glittering expanse of the Sea of Marama and the Asian half of Istanbul staring back at you. On sunny days like today, you've got fishermen on the rocks, bathers in the sea, and a fleet of yachts and ferries in the distance. 

And I came across an "Arsenal Youth Hostel" in Sultanahmet. The owner's a gooner, and there are pictures of himself and his little boy standing in front of Emirates. There's an Arsenal banner right next to the reception. If I hadn't already paid three nights for the place I'm at now, I might've stayed there.

Here's a picture:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vieira for Portsmouth?

"He is definitely a player I'd like to bring here if he was available. I will be speaking to Inter manager Jose Mourinho and asking about him. With Patrick you know what you are getting, he is a proven winner and a great character."

- Tony Adams, new Portsmouth manager

It's taken me a while to find a story worth my while, but I think I've found it. Tony Adams, the new Portsmouth manager, wants to buy Patrick Vieira. This is on top of him hiring Martin Keown as coach. Looks like Adams is intent on turning Portsmouth into Arsenal Mark II. 

What I find interesting is that remark about character. Vieira was the last great Arsenal captain and in many ways, was never really replaced. Four years down the track, there's still a Vieira-sized hole in the middle of this Arsenal side. It's not just his skill or his physicality that we miss most - it's the leadership qualities, the sheer presence of the man.

When Wenger gutted the Invincibles and started playing the kids, he didn't just dispose of ageing players. He also dispensed with years and years of inherited dressing room spirit, of tradition, of pride in the shirt and the determination to win any way possible. And we never got that back. 

I've been advocating for a centre-back, a defensive midfielder and a goalkeeper. But even if we bought those players in January, we're still going to be missing that spirit. We're still going to be rudderless when we're up shit creek. Gallas isn't the captain we need, and Cesc isn't ready. 

I'm wondering whether an influx of players will help create the kind spirit we need. Adams wants to bring Vieira to Portsmouth for his character and experience. Do we need someone similar at the Arse? I'm not suggesting we make a bid for Vieira, but maybe we need someone who can drive this team forward. 

Anyway, if Tony Adams gets Vieira, it means Lassie Diarra's on his way out of Portsmouth. He's probably going to end up at Tottenham, but I think we should make a bid for him anyway. You never know how things pan out, and he's a pretty handy player. He's not Flamini, but he'll do the job. 

Alternatively, we could go crazy and buy Lorik Cana. What a nutter. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

2-0 to the Stoke

"Great hostel once again. The location is not ideal, but its only a bus ride away to the city. While I was there, I just sat and admired that 6 kittens sitting on my lap. What a great experience!!!"

- icejaxx, a former lodger at the Butterfly Hostel

Bucharest is a distinctively ugly city. It's grimy and industrial, and the whole place seems worn-out with age. But there's also beauty here. You've got monasteries hidden beside communist apartment blocks, tree-lined streets and Victorian buildings which retain their dignity despite being covered with soot. It's impossible to make a city this large completely ugly. 

However, my favourite thing about this city are the kittens from the hostel. There are three at the moment, from a litter of six. They have sharp claws, they pounce on your food in the kitchen, and they're always underfoot, but you can't help but love them. They're just so cute. 

I'm watching the match at the moment. It's only half time, but it's been such an abject performance that I'm calling it now - Stoke City 1, Arsenal 0. 

It's disappointing. After Wednesday's debacle, I thought Wenger would've done something to solve our defensive inadequacies. But we conceded the goal via a Rory Delap long throw. It's irritating, because after two years, you would've thought our susceptibility to deal with aerial attacks would have been addressed. 

We're playing Cesc, Song, Denilson and Diaby in midfield. There's something un-Arsenal about that. The Arsenal I know plays with pace, directness and crisp, one-touch passing. And we can't play that way if we're playing four central midfielders at once. We tend to over-elaborate without Walcott. 

But back to the kittens. They're not really kittens anymore. They're half-grown cats who still try to act like kittens because they know it makes them look cute, and if they look cute, then gullible backpackers like me will give them a bit of their lunch. It's manipulative, but from their point of view, if they can get away with it, why not?

That's an allusion, folks - our "kids" and the Butterfly's "kittens". 

At the moment, the punters on the gunnerblog forum are wallowing in an orgiastic display of self-loathing and mutual disgust. But I can't do that. It's still the Arsenal, after all, and they're still my team. I feel very, very disappointed, but they're like a bunch of half-grown kittens that steal your food and scratch your lap. Despite their faults, you can't help but love them. 

Now it's 2-0 to Stoke. And van Persie's been sent off for ramming into the goalkeeper. Fucking hell. Those kids of ours have VERY sharp claws. If they don't grow up soon, they're going to be cast out with the other strays. 

Don't have the mental fortitude to continue with this post. Here's the kittens, though:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It's not a crime to eat an ice-cream

"No it's not a time for celebration, it's a time for quiet reflection".

- De Simone, after being acquitted for stealing (and eating) an ice-cream in a supermarket

In 2004, Giuseppe De Simone took an ice-cream from a box of four and ate it in a Coles supermarket in Brunswick. When caught by the cashier, he offered to pay for a whole box, on condition that he be able to take three home. The cashier declined and called the police. When police arrived, Guiseppe bit one of them before he was subdued by capsicum spray. 

I'm trying to figure out how to link this story to something relevant to either Arsenal or Bucharest, which is where I'm going to be for a few days. But it's really difficult. I suppose I could make a comparison between Arsenal's bizarre capitulation on Wednesday and Guiseppe's theft, but while the former was sickening and crazy, the latter was just weird. And I suppose I could talk about that cat that jumped on my lap and tried to take my sponge cake, but that's not the same as well. 

It's just really hard to just to grips with this guy's behaviour. 

It's difficult because people are programmed to respond in certain ways -  common little decencies which govern these over-extended communities we call cities. We queue in lines while waiting for the bus. We swerve to avoid bumping into other people on the street. And we always, always pay for our ice-cream before we open it up and eat it. 
No, wait, I forget myself. I remember in Budapest, I was so desperate for a sugar-fix that I did snatch at a strawberry sponge cake and almost unwrapped it there and then. It was all I could do to walk to the cashier and pay for it, before scoffing the thing on the pavement outside the store. 

Does that make me as bad as Guiseppe, then? I was on the edge there, I think. If I'd waited another day or so before I bought that snack, I probably would've unwrapped it in the aisle and ate it on the way to the cashier. So maybe there's a fine line between an acute craving and criminality. All that prevents one from stepping over that line is circumstance and opportunity. 

Guiseppe Do Simone was right - it IS a time for quiet reflection.