Sunday, September 30, 2007

It may be the last day of September but ..

.. it was 27C today which was hot enough for us to head to the beach and actually go swimming. and it wasn't bracing cold either but genuinely pleasant to swim in.

They've had the first flurries of snow in the Pyrenees but its not getting much cooler for a few days yet. The Catalans, great mushroom pickers, are getting worried that it is too warm and too dry for a decent crop. one good reason to pray rain ...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

If you live in this world, you're feelin the change of the guard

Much passing of batons at Barca.
As we celebrated the Camp Nou’s 50th birthday yesterday and admired Norman Foster’s stunning redevelopment plan (albeit more than a little redolent of the Allianz Arena, created by Herzog & de Meuron, one of the competition also rans), more fundamental changes are happening on the field.

Ronaldinho has now been substituted three games in succession and was ‘rested, injured,’ for the game against Seville on Saturday night. The inverted commas refer to the fact that while the Barca management claim he has an injured foot, other evidence points elsewhere. He has been partying hard with games looming, cutting training and went absent for three days after the Lyon game last Wednesday. Foot my arse, as Jim Royle might say.

Ronnie was benched on each occasion because, as El Periodico put it ‘his head was still talking but his feet weren’t listening.’ From being the ignition of every Barca move he has become the constipated channel through which each attack is slowed down to a juddering halt of short passes, many of them misplaced. He’s not happy and Rijkaard seems to have taken the giant leap of not putting him on the team sheet simply because he is who he is. His Christmas will be in Milan, I suspect.

Into the breach has stepped Leo Messi, who, along with Manchester United’s Ronaldo, can be the only true claimant to football’s George Best mantle. Against Lyon and particularly against Seville, he has become the fulcrum of the team – the ‘straw that stirs the drink’ as baseball great Reggie Jackson described himself within the New York Yankees. He powers the team forward, playing off, at different times, his midfield base of Deco, Toure, Xavi and Iniesta.
The Catalan crowd has already started to see this and can’t get enough of it. In two games he has scored three times and engineered an own goal, each greeted by the crowd prostrating itself en masse in praise.

The king is dead, long live the king. The old one will be buried in full military honours, rather than humiliated and shoved out of the back door, so great has been his contribution. Messi, touchingly, held up 10 fingers for Ronnie’s shirt number when he scored on Saturday and dedicated both goals to his great friend.

Welcome to the Messi era, one that will hopefully grace Norman Foster’s magnificent makeover for many years to come.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lancashire, tra la la la ...

I know that most readers of this blog 1) don't give a shit or 2) don't understand or 3) both but it is worth recording the fact that my beloved Lancashire may win the County Cricket Championship this week.

Like all the games in this quaint tournament, it will be played over four days in front of crowds that rarely creep into three figures. But they haven't won this tournament since 1930-something and there will be Mancunians of a certain age all over the world who will be thrilled if they do.

I shall keep you posted ...

A good lesson

High drama in Ben's football game on Sunday. 10 minutes into the second half, the ref blows up, flounces like a drama queen several times and storms off the pitch, ball in hand.

It turns out he had been taking sustained abuse from the home team coach (not Ben's team) who claimed that one of Ben's team mates should have been sent off for following through on the goalie.

The ref clearly had enough and off he went. After 10 minutes of marvellously comic confusion, he was persuaded back but only if the coach was banished to the stands. The game carried on and the kids got a good lesson that you shouldn't abuse the ref.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Take me out to the ball game …

Ok it wasn’t Fenway Park but on Friday night we had hot dogs, beer, warm evening sunshine and baseball.

It was the opening game of the European Baseball championships being held here and Ben and I popped up to the rather beautiful field on Montjuic to watch the opening game between Spain and Great Britain.

‘I think you’ll find the British to be a mixture of Australians, South Africans and American college boys,’ said an American woman on the way in, while I suspect the Spanish team had a few Latinos in the squad. Some of those on the field had made it to the minor leagues in the US.

There are 10 teams here with the Dutch the hot favourites, so far walloping 33 runs past the Czech Republic and Austria without reply, both games being curtailed by the sport’s splendid mercy rule.

It was great to be there. There was a rinky-dink opening ceremony with flags, VIPs, a song and the national anthems.

The game was pretty good, played well enough to remind you that, along with cricket, baseball is one of life’s higher callings. Britain won, 12-8, since you ask.

Yet another great Barcelona cocktail bar

There are two remarkable features about Milano. The first is that it is on Ronda De la Universitat, one of this city’s unloveliest thoroughfares which links Plaza Catalunya and Placa Universitat. Five lanes of traffic, inter-city bus stops and crap expat pubs. You get the picture.

The second is that it has been open for three months and looks like it has been there for 30 years. Set in an airy basement, it’s all polished wood, racks of the best spirits, barmen in white jackets, red plush couches and unobtrusive jazz. And they do a damn fine gin fizz as well as well as, in homage to its name, a host of Campari-based cocktails.

Talking of which, I am grateful to the new St John restaurant cookbook for the recipe for a Bicicletta – a mixture of white wine, Campari and ice. The recipe cheerfully suggests experimenting with the proportions. In the interests of science I will do so and will report back.

A car crash happening

When is a nation not a nation? When it’s Catalonia.

With exquisite timing, just a few days before Catalan national day, Spain’s football governing body has decided it will ban a friendly ‘international’ between Catalonia and the USA next month. The excuse is that it comes just a few days before a Spanish international friendly, which seems a little lame.

The row threatens to run and run and will no doubt get a good airing at the national day demos and festivities on Tuesday when the separatist hotheads will claim this as another piece of Madrid imperialism. The Catalan political elite will look on in uncomfortable silence. It’s the policy of the Generalitat to encourage Catalan national teams in all sports but they also have compromises with Madrid to keep.

But should Catalonia have its own national football team? It’s every bit as much a country as Scotland and Wales (in terms of language, devolved politics and cultural identity) who have their own teams.

The big difference of course is that there is no Great Britain team for Ryan Giggs to represent in the way that Carles Puyol and Xavi turn out for Spain (albeit with the Spanish flags on their socks neatly tucked out of view).

Logically then the Catalan players should elect to choose to play for Catalonia or Spain – as too should the Basque players (the two ‘nations’ played each other earlier this year which turned the Camp Nou into a rip-roaring cauldron of independent nationalism. And why stop there, when Spain is wholly composed of autonomous regions?

Taking this to its logical end, we’ll have 17 Spanish regions entering the major tournaments, none with a realistic chance of qualifying.

A young boy’s dream …

To go on the pitch before a game at the Camp Nou and be photographed with the Barca players.

More pictures here