5
Jul

World Cup Diary: Nation’s hope, apprehension continues for another day

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RIO DE JANEIRO —

The scene at the Delirio Carioca Bar, tucked away on a side road behind the Copacabana Beach, was replicated all over Rio de Janeiro. Friends and neighbors gathered round televisions on street corners or in what they call “pe sumo bars” — it literally means dirty foot bar in a nod to being homely and unpretentious — out in the open air as they summoned all the goodwill they could muster in the name of the Selecao. It wasn’t a cross-section of life. It was all life; From babies to grandparents and everyone in between, decked out in yellow and green and drenched with a heady combination of hope and apprehension.

Buses by the side of the road were parked up, bumper to bumper, stalled for the duration of the game as drivers got out to join in this vital communal moment. There was nobody to take anywhere anyway. Everyone stopped. Friday in Rio was an official World Cup day. A national holiday is declared either when Brazil play a home game, or when there is a World Cup match on at the Maracana. So this was a double reason for the city to give itself in completely to this tournament.

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1
Jul

World Cup Diary: Brazil reinventing, redefining itself one step at a time

SALVADOR, Brazil —

Brazil wasn’t what I had expected. I’ve been here three weeks now, covering the United States men’s national team across this vast and diverse country, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.

The image was strikingly similar to that of the country where I covered the last World Cup, South Africa: A shambolic government that couldn’t get anything done by a deadline, inflicting crippling poverty lived in rambling shantytowns, in a country ruled only by lawlessness. But as it was in South Africa, most construction in Brazil has been completed, or at least looked the part, and I’ve never once felt unsafe.

Sao Paulo, where the United States and its press corps have been based, is a confusing place. There is no containing its sprawl, all of it infested with boxy apartment towers — invariably with terraces adorned with flapping Brazilian flags — pricking the blue sky. The traffic is soul-crushing. On a bad day, you can average less than five miles an hour in your cab or bus. Some days, early in our stay, the subway workers were on strike and it was worse still and you just stood there, thousands of running cars frozen in place.

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28
Jun

World Cup protests are smaller but still emerging in Brazil

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SAO PAULO —

It took a full two weeks at the World Cup for me to see my first demonstration in Brazil. It had been a long day. Following an early-morning flight on the heels of the USA-Portugal game in Manaus, a four-hour plane ride away, a colleague and I had scurried to the Estadio de Sao Paulo to catch the Netherlands-Chile match — insofar as you can scurry in this snarled metropolis at the edge of this tortuous country.

We caught a media bus back after the game, which would drop us off at a hotel close to our own. But as we pulled along a major thoroughfare taking us into our neighborhood — the swanky Barra Funda — the driver stopped the bus cold and opened the doors. In the middle of the road. This bus was going no further.

It took us a minute to realize why. Up the road, people were marching, protestors surrounded by a human wall of police in full riot gear, barely discernible through the black uniforms. It all looked innocuous enough from afar: A few hundred people, banging drums, chanting, and holding aloft a lone red banner. But there’s no predicting how a protest will turn out. They are lightly flammable. The Brazilians’ rage slumbers just below the surface and rouses at unexpected times. In recent days, people have started taking to the streets again. Some protests have turned violent.

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16
Jun

Couple’s dream World Cup honeymoon to Brazil goes horribly wrong

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It’s an extreme case of miscommunication.

Australian newlyweds Orin and Melissa van Lingen planned the honeymoon of their dreams, heading to Brazil in time for the World Cup — or so they thought.

Turns out, due to a serious snafu with their travel agent, the couple landed in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador — not Salvador, Brazil where Friday’s Spain versus Holland World Cup game was being played.

They’re only about 3,000 miles apart.

On Friday, Melissa van Lingen told the Sunday Territorian, Darwin, Australia’s local paper, that they were devastated.

"The game we watched today was the one we had a ticket for, Spain versus Holland, but unfortunately we had to watch it on TV — in a different country," she said. "The hardest part was seeing my husband’s face — it was heartbreaking."

The travel agency responsible for the mix-up says they are working to get the couple’s honeymoon back on track.

(h/t New York Daily News)

Image provided by Facebook

21
Feb

Trecker’s Travels: 411 on the London Underground

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LONDON

Down the street from where I’m staying sits one of the busiest train stations in London. The Camden Town stop is one of the Underground’s oldest and deepest stations, and handles an enormous amount of traffic. On a sunny weekend day, you can barely cross the High Street for the crowds, and it seems like a wave is coming at you, babbling in multiple languages, all heading for the shops and Camden Locks.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the London Underground lately by dint of spending so much time on it. It is hot, crowded and faintly miserable. It is also utterly indispensable: in my case I’m 15 minutes from Arsenal, about 30 minutes from Shoreditch, and never further than 45 minutes from any stadium in the city limits, save perhaps Dagenham and Redbridge.

Camden Town’s stop — not to be confused with the Camden Road overground stop about five minutes north — is so busy that it closes up shop to departing passengers on weekends. When that happens, you have to clamber down a steep 96-step spiral staircase. If you go down an extra set of steps at the end of Platform 2, you will find yourself in an air-raid shelter that was used during World War II. Doctor Who fans have seen the shelter: Tom Baker prowled about it in the 1977 episode “The Sunmakers,” — I’ll give you an extra mark if you name the other sci-fi series in which it made a cameo.

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12
Feb

Trecker’s Travels: London’s rare moment of brightness

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LONDON

On Tuesday, the sun was out and underneath my flat window, Hollywood had broken out. A camera crew was at one end of Inverness Street, at the other stood a man I recognized from Doctor Who: James Corden.

For a moment, I thought Los Angeles might have followed me over here but then I realized that all the people crowded around him has been rounded up off the streets. Those were not extras playing schoolgirls, cops and street-sweepers — they were schoolgirls, cops and street-sweepers (London’s public worker rules must very liberal indeed). A good hour and a half went by while they rolled off shot after shot as I watched from above. Some of the cast started waving up to me and I waved back. A girl asked for a bottle of water, I chucked one down.

I won’t spoil the plot, but it is apparently part of a campaign for Cadbury over here, and might have a bit to do with the return of the cult-classic comedy “Gavin and Stacey.” I only know this because their social media team tweeted at me about it.

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7
Feb

Trecker’s Travels: Weather, transit strikes paralyze London

LONDON

Welcome to England. Half the country is underwater, and the other half is stuck indoors. Deluged by gale force winds and soaking rains, and besieged in the capital by a series of transit strikes, London had the feeling  of a ghost town. It’s Ballard’s Drowned World.

The rain has been falling since last July and show no sights of letting up. It is no joke, even though the satirical magazine Private Eye went to street this week with a picture of a scuba diver on its cover and the tagline: “Environmental Minister Visits Somerset.” Brighton’s old west pier has collapsed under the waters and the south-west coast has suffered enormous damage. The rain tracks between London and Corwall at Dawlish, repeatedly referred to in that deliciously English manner as “one of the world’s great railway wonders,” is now kindling. The waves over Penzance dwarf those at Malibu.

Such things normally wouldn’t bother the City very much — but wait! A series of Tube strikes, have paralyzed much of the London’s subway system and forced everyone out of the stuffed hellholes of the Underground into the teeming mire. The strikes are over a so-called “modernization” plan, which in fact would close all the ticket offices and put a number of folks out of work. The administration’s rationale is indeed questionable, but the union’s cause was not helped when pictures of workers taking naps behind the glass at the ticket windows made the rounds on social media. That, and the fact that the roads around London were utterly impassible.

Now, the English do love a good complaint. There’s even ritual whingeing here: one of their cherished traditions is the so-called “question time” in Parliament whereupon men in rep ties bray at one another while their parties trade crude insults. This week, while the South drowned, the moaning was about the number of women on display in the Tory Party. This seems like a perfect one-two: miserable weather, miserable governance.

Yet the prevailing attitude here seems not one of complaint but of exhaustion. There’s not even much energy for the Olympics — a hot topic of conversation in the States, but merely something in the ether here. People seem to just want to get home and put the fire on, and who can blame them?

This has affected the football matches as well, with the lower league in particular feeling the pinch. The pitches are terrible — which isn’t unusual for this time of year — and that many of the games have been flooded out, which is. Reserve matches around the city were postponed, and the conference game up north at Kidderminster was called off. Teams have also been unable to travel to the games, while some places are quite literally underwater; others have been hit by buckled tracks and washed away roadbeds.

On my way out to Liverpool this morning, with 80 mph winds expected to sweep the capital, I passed a lonely greengrocer setting up his stall. His newspapers remained bound in plastic, and a bunnet of soaked local strawberries fetched a pound. The good news, according to him anyway, is that all this rain means better berries. That might be wishful thinking, but I got some. They weren’t half bad.

5
Dec

The brazuca reminds us of Brazil’s one true love

BAHIA, BRAZIL — With all the negativity surrounding the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it’s easy to forget what it was that brought the tournament here in the first place: soccer.

Before the concerns about infrastructure, stadiums, transportation, government distrust and overall cost of the world’s sporting event, there was the simply the game, and the Brazilians’ undying love for it.

On Thursday afternoon in Bahia, adidas gave me the official match ball for next summer’s World Cup. Little did I know that the ball would prove to be the apple in the eye of every Brazilian I met that day.

Every few feet, someone wanted to hold it and take a picture with it. A couple of local volunteers looked like they might cry when they had to part with it. You could see the unbridled joy in just the way people looked at what adidas is calling the “brazuca” – it’s like a holy grail to Brazilians.

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There was the young girl who asked me if it was the “oficial brazuca,” and her jaw nearly dropping to the floor when I told her yes. And when she held it, she jumped around like it was Christmas morning.

There were the two children so small they could barely wrap their arms around it, beaming with delight as they desperately held on tight.

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There was the waitress who, after a few minutes of gesturing and attempts to explain what she wanted, gave me her email so I could send her a copy of the photograph I took of her holding it.

There was the chef who took a break to come all the way out of the kitchen to the dining area just to hold, juggle and take a picture with the ball.

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There was the cheeky little boy that jokingly tried to run off with it – twice.

Despite ever-growing concern and frustration with Brazil’s World Cup, the Brazilians’ excitement and joy from something as simple as the brazuca made it clear that if there is one thing this country can find happiness in, it’s soccer.