15
Jun

Trecker’s Brazilian Travels Day 4: Worth the fight

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

BRASILIA, BRAZIL

Brazilian security forces sent out the alert at 8:14 local time: avoid the TV tower and stay off the roads.

Security forces worked to “sanitize” the area around the Garrincha, closing off roads, trying to divert cars and pedestrians. They separated the people into two streams: the folks in yellow, and everyone else. The ones in yellow were going to see their national team play; everyone else was going to sit in the road and block the way in.

Some 57,000 security forces have been deployed across the country. I know, because I got a press release that was supposed to be reassuring. It sounded desperate instead.

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14
Jun

Trecker’s Brazilian Travels, Day 3: Tire Fires and Protests

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

BRASILIA, BRAZIL

It’s not every day that you walk over to a stadium to be confronted by plumes of black smoke, shooting hundreds of feet into the air. But that was the scene this morning outside the Garrincha, here in Brazil’s capital.

Protests have been roiling Brazil this week, and there’s a good reason for it: the World Cup has cost the public here an incredible amount of money – and Brazil’s cost of living keeps on rising. A hamburger from a chain restaurant costs double what it does in the United States. You don’t want to know how much a bottle of beer is. Even a small fluctuation in prices has a big ripple effect in a country that has only recently lifted 40 million people out of abject poverty.

There is something in the air here, and it’s not just smoke: people are fed up. When the corruption and waste surrounding the World Cup first came to light, it was greeted with a shrug, a sign of business as usual. But when it became apparent that almost all the money was going into stadiums – and very little was going into building things people could actually use on a daily basis – things changed. Many Brazilians – despite their love for the sport – are finding it hard to get on board with an event they see as solely for the rich.

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12
Jun

Trecker’s Brazilian Travels, Day 1: Appropriate starting point

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

BRASILIA, BRAZIL

Dawn. The city lies below the 757, an outpost on a craggy steppe. It looks like a toy, or maybe a prop until the plane descends further. The arcs of the city form two giant wings – or perhaps Orion, clutching a bow and firing an arrow toward Brazil’s coast.

Brasilia was to be Brazil’s great leap: a city that erupted whole cloth,  perfectly planned. It was to be a utopia of sorts, but it is not. It is, however, an architectural marvel, a modernist edifice that fifty years after its construction has the power to shock and amaze. It is also one of the places I had always wanted to visit.

I’m here because the Confederations Cup, something of a modernist construct itself, will kickoff here this Saturday. There is a lot of pressure on the hosts both on and off the field. Brazil’s staging of the 2014 World Cup has been somewhat star-crossed; budgets have been blown, strikes have been waged, protestors have marched and there is a weary sense that the government funds have been looted by this tournament.

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16
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Eleven: Where’s the love?

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Photo: FOX Soccer

By: Jamie Trecker

BRUSSELS, BEGIUM

The conductor called the train: “Lille, Calais…and Chelsea FC.” The platform gave off a small roar of approval. Chelsea fans were headed home with another piece of silverware in their tuck. They seemed underwhelmed.

They should not have been. The Europa League final marked a number of firsts for the denizens of the Bridge: they became the first English team to have won all three major European titles (including the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup); the first European team to hold both European titles on offer simultaneously, and surely the first team to win back to back titles with, ahem, “interim” managers.

But as warmly as Roberto Di Matteo was regarded by the fans, his replacement, Rafa Benitez, is despised. Last night the ArenA and the arena of social media alike were filled with the moaning that has characterized Chelsea’s season.

Commentators made passing reference to the plastic flags that littered the away ends and a comment Benitez had once made about despising them. Unforgivable! The team started slowly – perhaps a reflection of the fact that they have now played more games in a season than any other English side since the Arsenal of 1970-71. So what! Chelsea’s now secured European play and won a major title under Rafa and erased a dangerous mid-season swoon. He was greeted by bedsheets and cardboard with the same message: “WE WANT MOURINHO.”

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Photo: FOX Soccer

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15
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Ten: Going van Gogh

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer
By: Jamie Trecker
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
The calendar says May, the weather says October. Amsterdam, or at least Mother Nature, isn’t exactly welcoming Chelsea and Benfica with open arms. With the rain, and the wind, and the rocking of the houseboat up and down, up and down, I decided to do what people do in Amsterdam in bad weather: go to van Gogh.
The Museumplein is one of the most-visited areas in the entire city. It’s also one of the most controversial. Once a bus terminal with connection to the airport, today it looks like a barren college quad. There’s nothing wrong with that, until you learn that it cost millions upon millions of euros to make this open field. And it’s not even done yet.
The Museumplain is emblematic of Amsterdam’s struggle with public works in general. Amsterdam can be breathtakingly beautiful, particularly along the Golden Bend – but what they have done to some of their public spaces is tragic. A case in point is their contemporary art museum, the Stedelijk, the scene of a series of fiascos during a painfully long redevelopment. The result, an unflattering tack-on derided as “the Bathtub,” has been an architectural laughingstock since it opened.
But there are treasures amid the carnage. The Van Gogh museum, itself recently re-opened after a face-lift, is currently showing an engaging exhibition about how the master worked. It’s a great survey of his process, his contemporary influences and the dizzying end results before his suicide in 1890.
Van Gogh was not a born artist: he barely knew draughtsmanship and struggled to keep up with his colleagues. But he was a hard and ruthless worker, with a mean editorial eye. Van Gogh was also broke – his brother Theo floated him all those years while struggling vainly to sell his works at the gallery he owned – so he frequently re-used canvases. One of the most cunning things about the current exhibition is how the curators have framed his canvases so you can see both sides. On one frame, may sit a study for the “Potato Eaters;” on the other, one of his later, dazzling self-portraits.

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14
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Nine: Bobbing and Weaving

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By: Jamie Trecker

AMSTERDAM – In what is becoming a habit on my travels, I’ve ended up in a strange place. I’m parked in a houseboat along one of the main canals in this city.

‘Why, Trecker?’ you ask? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Other “good” ideas of mine have included: traveling from Berlin to Warsaw on a Soviet-era sleeper train; going to El Salvador at the tail end of the guerra sucia; and visiting Scotland in July. It has been argued, frequently and loudly by my partner, that my travel plans suffer from too much whimsy.  

However, I am happy to report that despite bobbing about on the Ringvaart van der Harlemmermeerpolder, that this is hardly the worst decision I’ve ever made. I’ve got a windmill to the left of me, a pumping station to the right and water out my front door. It’s quite peaceful. There are rabbits and ducks about. People row past and wave. One could get used to this.

Houseboats are fixtures along Amsterdam’s canals. The potted history is that, after World War II, there was a sharp housing shortage in the city combined with a surfeit of suddenly decommissioned naval barges. The Dutch are nothing but ingenious and today an estimated 2,500 families live along the inner waters of the city. Then, it was cheap and practical. Today, it is not: there are no more moorings left for sale and the cost of a houseboat has gone through the roof. What was once bohemian has gone upscale, meaning that today you can find “boat-els” and private lessors throughout the city.

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

The canals form a web across the city, creating nearly a hundred small islands with nearly 2,000 bridges. They make Amsterdam a maddening city to navigate even with a well-thumbed guidebook, a cellphone and a sextant. (Every landlord I’ve met here opens their spiel with “when lost, please do not call me and tell me you are ‘on a bridge.’”) But if you’re going to get lost, you might as well do it the way the Dutch do, on a bike. I got a blue one, with a basket and a bell. The bell is important: the bike has no brakes.

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1
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day One: Driven by Mad Heat

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

LONDON, ENGLAND

The problem with London is getting there. In my case, that means a 12-hour trip, all told, and it’s invariably filled with screaming children. It could be worse – my grandparents did this on boats, after all – but sleep deprivation leads one to see things that cannot possibly be there. Like sunshine. In May. In England.

This promises to be the first May bank holiday in recent memory that isn’t wretched. Spring in England is a bit like summer in Scotland: cold, damp and unforgiving. Spring in England teases you with green things coming up in the garden and then dashes the hopes of a nice day out on your bike with a gale. I packed a parka and rain gear only to find that people are out in shorts in the capital today. It’s 55ºF today. It’s going to be 70º here on Saturday. This is a full-scale heat wave for England.

This means we’re actually going to see soccer in the sunshine, and four pretty meaningful games to boot. Spurs host Southampton in a should-win while QPR play Arsenal in a game that the Gunners must-win. The latter’s a London derby, however, so make no bets. Newcastle have a tricky fixture at Boleyn Ground against West Ham while Sunday, we get to see if Chelsea can keep up with the newly-crowned Premier League champions Manchester United at Old Trafford.

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