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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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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12
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Eight: Jam it up!

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By: Jamie Trecker

LONDON— It was the matchup we all anticipated: Barcelona and Real Madrid in London for the Champions League final. And it did take place – but not at Wembley Stadium.

 This weekend, the 02 Arena here is hosting the Euroleague basketball finals, the latest attempt to bring the game to England’s capital. Major soccer clubs boast basketball teams now – Olympiakos and CSKA Moscow are the other two sides involved in the four-team tournament — and the game’s increasing popularity has meant that England is involved in something of a tug-of-war. The NBA have been holding exhibitions here for several years and talk of a permanent franchise here has grown more serious than speculative.

Basketball has yet to make the inroads in England that it has across Europe. The fact that these games were held at all was treated as a bit of a comic footnote by the sports pack here, and a way to get “Barcelona” and “Real Madrid” into a headline for the web. But 16,000 people didn’t think it was a gag, showing up for the three-game series on a weekend normally given over to the FA Cup.

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11
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Seven: Camden Town

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By: Jamie Trecker

CAMDEN TOWN, LONDON

American English is a funny thing. In most places the phrase “day off” means a nice picnic with the family. For a writer, a “day off” means go out and find something to write about, and be quick about it.

So, I found myself in markets, in Camden Town.

Much to my partner’s jealousy, I rented a flat above a comic book shop in the neighborhood, and showed up thinking it was the Camden Town of my youth. There’s a legendary rock club here, the Electric Ballroom, where I once saw the Dead Kennedys, and the area has long been known for art and music. At least it used to be.

Today, it is an area of London that most folks would call “alternative” while using air quotes. It has become a magnet for tourists and the Hot Topic crowd, all of whom have turned up to see where Slade and Sex Pistols once played. It’s also quite vibrant, and so crowded that they have to shut off the Tube stop for safety reasons on Sundays. Buskers of all stripes still line the streets – you can hear everything from folk to death metal in a two-block journey – and stalls hawking clothing and boots both sides of the avenue.

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4
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Three: May Day

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

SALFORD, MANCHESTER, ENGLAND

The drums began around 11 this morning. I walked out of the flat I am renting and turned right into a group of policemen. They were keeping one eye on a rag-tag group that had gathered in the courtyard of the Salford Cathedral, next to one of Chapel Street’s better-known pubs.

This is May bank holiday weekend in England, and here in Manchester it is the weekend for May Day protests. May 1 saw protests around the globe – crowds rallied in Athens and Madrid to protest austerity measures and Seattle made news as 18 marchers were arrested after eight policemen were injured. Here, May Day was delayed, but not deferred.

May Day goes unremarked upon in the United States. The traditional start of spring in Europe doesn’t have the same visceral connection to workers in the States as it does here, and, to my chagrin, most European news of late in our press has started and stopped with Amanda Knox. But Manchester has a long history of worker activism and the city has never lost their emotional tie to this holiday.

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