The Hand of Pablo

The Hand of Pablo

“Really? You don’t say!” Evidently our sarcastic taxi driver doesn’t need to be told where to take us — my unmistakeable mid-eighties Club América jersey is a glaring enough clue. We climb in to the back of his Nissan on the edge of Parque España; moments later we are heading south down Nuevo Léon, our destination the Estadio Azteca, where América is hosting Puebla in week three of the Liga MX’s Torneo Clausura. Calz de Tlalpan is a wide highway leading to the vast forested borough of the same name. Unfortunately it is also susceptible to Saturday afternoon match-day traffic….

Nights at the Excelsior

Nights at the Excelsior

It has been put to me on more than one occasion (by more than one person) that a career in celebrity photojournalism may have been my true calling in life. I always refuted the notion — frankly, spending my days hidden behind a hedgerow waiting for the latest B-lister to take out the recycling is far from appealing. That said, should I spot an actor or singer I admire on the street I will happily say hello, much to my wife’s embarrassment. But the suggestion that I would be happy to stalk the rich and famous probably came about because…

Mineirazo

Mineirazo

Brazil’s road to the semi-finals in this World Cup had begun to remind me a lot of France in 1998. The team appeared to be riding an increasing wave of public emotion and getting results, sometimes luckily and without ever convincing. Tonight’s emphatic result in Belo Horizonte brought that comparison to an abrupt end and exposed the psychological fragility of this Brazilian side. After conceding the killer blow that was the second German goal the Seleçao stopped playing for the next five minutes. Unfortunately that was all the time their opponents needed to score another three. Like a modern-day “Maracanazo”,…

Got a feeling I’ve been here before…

Got a feeling I’ve been here before…

In 1973, when Donald Fagen snarled disparagingly of “Show Biz Kids” in their “Steely Dan t-shirts”, he couldn’t have expected that forty years later he’d be embarking on epic cross-country tours, singing the same line night after night to thousands of fans dressed in over-priced garb emblazoned with the name of his very same band. The irony is not lost on Fagen nor his Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker. Having given up touring in the mid-seventies, retreating to the studio to focus on the pursuit of jazz-rock perfection, the duo reformed a live band in the early nineties and have…

Where everybody knows your name?

A couple of years ago I wrote about what I had perceived as a growing trend in Hollywood for inserting the name of a movie’s main character into its title. While this tendency has not subsided completely, lately I’ve begun to notice other naming devices used by film and television producers (especially within the comedy genre) that do little to dispel perceptions that the industry’s creative well hath run dry. I no longer consider myself an avid viewer of network television, nor a frequent movie-goer (which I’d like to think says more about the deteriorating quality of both media than…

Mary Help of Christians

Mary Help of Christians

This is the Mary Help of Christians on East 12th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A. It was built on the site of the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, took six years to build and was completed in 1917. Modeled on the Basilica di Maria Ausiliatrice in Turin, the new church immediately became the spiritual home for a multitude of immigrant families in the then largely Italian community, and has grown as a place of social and cultural significance in the East Village for almost a century. In 1953 it was the venue for the wedding of FDR’s daughter, Sara…

Verpiana Memories

Verpiana Memories

When I was a boy my best friend was another boy named Joe. We must have met when we were about four or five, and from that point on spent what seemed like most weekends together. Thanks to this near inseparable friendship, Joe’s parents quickly became close friends with mine. Both were artists — his father a sculptor and his mother a ceramicist — and both were pretty successful in their respective fields. My family and his would often go to the cinema or have dinner together at the weekends, and then one of us would sleep over at the…

Football without borders

Football without borders

As you will not need reminding, next week’s Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will be the first such game to involve two teams from Germany. The emphatic nature of both clubs’ semi-final victories has caused the media to focus on the fact, although it is already the fourth time teams from a single country have disputed the final of Europe’s most prestigious cup competition. Spain, Italy and England had each achieved the same distinction prior to this weekend’s upcoming Battle of the Bundesliga. In 2000 Real Madrid beat Valencia in Paris, in 2003 Milan overcame Juventus…

The Eternity of a Moment

The Eternity of a Moment

From time to time we’re all inclined to ask ourselves, Well, how did I get here? It’s a timeless and universal question that invariably pops into the mind of every adult when they realize that their life is moving more quickly than they can comprehend. Yet as the past begins to stretch away behind me, the easier it becomes to recognize and make sense of the answer. I can pinpoint a moment in my life — a chance meeting with a total stranger over ten years ago — that rapidly sent my life in a certain direction. I can state…

Black and blue

Black and blue

In August 1990, just weeks after Totò Schillaci’s exploits at that summer’s World Cup, a shared place of birth would have seemed the only connection between the newborn Mario Balotelli and Italy’s Golden Boot winner. Born in Palermo to two Ghanaian immigrants, Thomas and Rose Barwuah, young Mario had a difficult first few years, undergoing a series of intestinal operations as a toddler. Even after being placed in foster care with the Balotelli family in the northern town of Brescia, the idea that Mario would one day wear the blue of Italy, let alone become a national icon, would have…

Rained on and reigned over

Rained on and reigned over

One year on from the wedding of William & Kate, another royal event is already upon us, as Britain unites for a vapid exercise in fervent plastic-flag waving. This time the occasion is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, although the worthier cause for celebration, besides the ability of the grotesquely privileged to stay alive, is once again lost on me. As is always the case with royal events, the enthusiasm of the national media and huddled masses is as baffling as it is predictable. Of course, royal appearances have always been accompanied by a sea of blinkered supporters,…

Insatiable criticism

Insatiable criticism

In New York, it’s often said that “everyone’s a critic.” The phrase may have had its origins in the theater world but these days is best applied to the city’s thriving restaurant industry. Every New Yorker seems to have a favorite neighborhood dining spot or an opinion on the hottest new place in town. So imagine the chance to try dozens of restaurants in one evening, all in the same location! Last night my wife and I attended “Best of the West”, the fifth annual edition of a culinary tasting event showcasing the finest restaurants on Manhattan’s Upper West Side….

Peel slowly and see

Peel slowly and see

When I was a child I used to sometimes watch an after-school cartoon series on the BBC called Bananaman. The absurdist premise of this superhero parody concerned Eric, an ordinary schoolboy who, for reasons unknown, would transform into the titular character each time he ate a banana. I mention this because recently I too have undergone an unexpected transformation of the musa acuminata variety. Yes, I’ve started eating bananas. I know what you’re thinking: big deal. Perhaps, but not for someone who had hitherto enjoyed his entire life banana-free. For the last thirty-two years I have steadfastly shunned this popular…

Speechless

Speechless

“I will not talk!” cries silent movie star George Valentin, as we fade in on his gaping mouth. Except his screams of anguish go unheard, both by his torturers and by two very separate cinema audiences: the one enjoying his latest Hollywood adventure and the one viewing The Artist, the new film by French director Michel Hazanavicius. Valentin’s words are only understood via a title card — a delightful joke that cleverly prepares audiences for cinema’s first commercial silent release in almost 85 years. But how would twenty-first century movie fans react to such an audacious premise? The effect of…

Fare game

Fare game

As intrinsically associated with Manhattan as fire escapes and pretzel vendors, New York’s yellow taxicab’s icon is rivaled only by the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. But when Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled The Taxi of Tomorrow back in May, ending months of speculation as to the future of this ubiquitous presence on the city’s streets, he brought an untimely end to decades of sunshine-colored style and swagger. Of course, you’ll still be able to hail a yellow cab, but a few years from now it won’t be a Crown Victoria with aged tires and temperamental brakes. Sure,…

In defence of Serie A

In defence of Serie A

On the night of July 9, 2006 — not two hours after Zinedine Zidane had ended his career in infamy, indirectly propelling Italy to World Cup glory — I spotted the following freshly-painted graffiti through Florence’s exuberant crowds: “LA MAMMA DI ZIDANE E’ UNA PISANA”. That Florentine Azzurri fans could imagine no greater ignominy than to infer that the disgraced Frenchman’s maternal relatives hail from Pisa said everything about Italy’s pervading sense of regionalism, and beyond that, campanilismo, or town-based identity. For this reason I was surprised to hear the comments of Sam Wallace from The Independent newspaper this weekend….

Afterthoughts

Afterthoughts

Before the cloud of dust and ash had even reached Brooklyn they were already calling it our generation’s “J.F.K.” We all remember it — where we were, who we were with, what we were doing. I’m not going to tell you my memories of 9/11 because they aren’t probably much different from those of most other people who weren’t in New York that day. Surely to do so would be to weigh in on an already over-saturated topic, to intellectualize other people’s all-too-real tragedy, and to appropriate their daily pain in an empty gesture of solidarity. I’m not an American,…

Characters welcome (their names less so)

Characters welcome (their names less so)

The poster for Larry Crowne, the new movie starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, doesn’t tell us much, besides the fact that the film stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, and that they are having a pleasant time. The two actors are seen riding what appears to be a flying motor scooter, judging by the sky blue background and complete absence of gravitationally secured objects. He smiles contentedly, his eyes, twinkling behind dark shades, fixed firmly on the road (or flight path). She perches behind him, her printed silk scarf fluttering in the breeze as she releases a trademark thousand-watt…

Some like it hot

Some like it hot

Summer’s here and the time is right… for freezing indoors? I knew summer was officially upon us as soon as I arrived at work last Monday morning. Two colleagues were perched awkwardly halfway up a stepladder. One was holding a drill, the other a raw piece of lumber, while each used his free hand to grip the large air-conditioner which teetered precariously between the window frame and the sidewalk six floors below. Beads of sweat sprung off both men, as if time was against them and their jobs (or very lives) hung in the balance. Before I knew it the…

Friday night lights

Friday night lights

Where were you ten years ago tonight? I was at San Siro. “Luci a San Siro di quella sera che c’è di strano siamo stati tutti là ricordi il gioco dentro la nebbia tu ti nascondi e se ti trovo ti amo là” There’s a very special moment when you enter one of the world’s great football stadia for the first time. You’ve not even begun to look for your seat yet; you’re pacing around the external perimeter looking to match the apparently random series of numbers stenciled onto concrete to those printed on your ticket. Fans hurry past you…

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