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…

I was dreaming when I wrote this

I was dreaming when I wrote this

“ARE U READY?” A calm female voice pierces the darkness. The palpable sense of anticipation among the 20,000 people crammed into Madison Square Garden is ignited as the New Power Generation lays down a hard blues-funk groove. Moments later, a dark figure rises slowly into view, a Telecaster slung across his dimunitive frame completing his silhouette. He takes his position in the center of the glyph-shaped stage, motionless in four-inch platform heels, his gold rhinestone-covered playsuit dazzling amid a multitude of camera flashes. Finally the artist most people never stopped calling Prince introduces himself: “From the heart of Minnesota/Here come…

<em>Ciao Vecio</em>: Italy mourns the end of an era

Ciao Vecio: Italy mourns the end of an era

In Italy they call him “il Vecio”, the old man. But in 1982 Italy coach Enzo Bearzot was a tanned, lithe 54-year-old in the prime of middle-age, a newly-crowned world champion who had led his team to the most unlikeliest of achievements. The nickname (from his native friulano) never had much to do with age but rather a unique Italian personality. Cool, educated and deeply spiritual, Bearzot was an icon of the Italian game who in some ways seemed to belong to another time. An avid fan of music and literature, before the World Cup celebrations had even subdued he’d…

All mapped out

All mapped out

A couple of years ago I purchased an original 1974 New York City Transit Authority Subway map, the kind that comes folded to fit into your pocket but when unfurled makes for a beautiful framed addition to one’s home. I won’t tell you what I paid for it, but let’s just say the same amount of money if converted into swipes of my MetroCard could have bought me several trips to Brooklyn and back on the N train. It may seem ridiculous to drop a significant sum of cash on something that was once handed out for free at every…

My pink pages

My pink pages

“I don’t understand people who don’t read La Gazzetta dello Sport. Men, at least: I don’t understand them. I just don’t get it.” — Sandro Veronesi, writer It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Italy. It took me a little longer to fall in love with football. You’d probably find it hard to believe if you met me today, but in 1988 I was quite indifferent about The Beautiful Game. That was the year I first visited il bel paese (I’d been to Sardinia five years earlier but that doesn’t count, as any Sardinian will tell you)….

Island life

Island life

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” — Thomas Wolfe Last week, three years after moving to New York, and two and a half years after marrying my lovely American wife, I received my Green Card in the mail. According to the letter which came attached, I am now a Permanent Resident of the United States of America, although to me my new immigrant status still seems excessive. After all, I’ve only ever been to twelve of the fifty states, and generally never leave the island of Manhattan…

I’ll take Manhattan

I’ll take Manhattan

The other day I came across a tatty copy of New York magazine dated June 15, 1987. The cover story was entitled “The Buildings New Yorkers Love to Hate”, a list of the city’s most unpopular architectural landmarks which included the World Trade Center and the former PAN-AM Building. Most remarkable however, were the local listings towards the back of the magazine. The Restaurants section included just three eateries for the whole of Brooklyn. If you’ve been to Brooklyn lately this may seem hard to imagine, though if you were around in the late-eighties probably not quite so much. Indeed,…

Morality misinterpreted

Morality misinterpreted

The World Cup wouldn’t be the World Cup without its highly controversial episodes, and in the last week this tournament’s been full of them. Thanks to the blogtacular age we live in, such events can propel fans around the globe to vociferously express their unsolicited points of view. What’s most remarkable this year however, is that the incident that’s got everybody talking the most wasn’t all that controversial. But it was certainly dramatic. With the quarter-final between Ghana and Uruguay poised at 1-1 in extra-time, an entertaining and closely fought match was just seconds away from a penalty shoot-out when…

Not quite the end of the world

Not quite the end of the world

Remember the name: Kamil Kopúnek. For Italian fans the Slovakian can now take his place alongside Pak Doo-Ik and Ahn Jung-Hwan on the Azzurri’s podium of World Cup infamy. It may seem an unlikely trio, but all three players have in their time put paid to the Italy’s World Cup hopes, and in doing so represent the lowest points in the four-time winners’ otherwise impressive tournament record. But while defeats to North Korea in 1966 and South Korea in 2002 sent shockwaves reverberating around the football world, Italy’s lacklustre performance and ultimate capitulation in 2010 had a certain inevitability. After…

Breakfast in America

Breakfast in America

In case you hadn’t noticed, the World Cup got underway last weekend in South Africa. For one month every four years, the planet’s greatest sporting event has, historically, had a tendency to consume my every waking second. This year is no different, although since Italy lifted the trophy in 2006 I’ve obtained United States residency, meaning I am experiencing the tournament from this side of the Atlantic for the very first time. This situation has led to some interesting observations, some more expected than others, as I grapple with the clichéd notion of being an avid soccer nut in a…

Empire State of Mind

Empire State of Mind

New York said goodbye to an icon this weekend. On May 14 the Empire Diner closed its doors for the last time — or rather, the first time, since this Chelsea landmark had until last Saturday night been serving locals and tourists, artists and cops, partygoers and insomniacs 24 hours a day since it opened in its current incarnation thirty-four years ago. In 1976, the diner lay closed and abandoned when it was purchased by three young New Yorkers — Jack Doenias, Carl Laanes, and Richard Ruskay — who transformed the Tenth Avenue eatery into the self-proclaimed “Hippest Diner on…

A career of two halves

A career of two halves

Spring is approaching, and true to tradition in World Cup years, serious injuries are beginning to afflict England players faster than you can say “metatarsal.” Unsurprisingly, Michael Owen is among the first to be sidelined. The Manchester United striker has embarked on a slow and sad transformation from master goalscorer to chronic invalid, and today it was announced that he will miss the remainder of the season with a torn hamstring. Owen picked up the injury during United’s Carling Cup Final victory over Aston Villa at Wembley last Sunday. A scan has revealed that what was initially thought to be…

Eire of their ways

Eire of their ways

By the time France’s William Gallas had nodded the ball into the net in extra-time in the second leg of the World Cup play-off against the Republic of Ireland, effectively securing his country’s passage to South Africa next summer, the debate surrounding the goal had already begun raging. Just moments earlier, the French captain Thierry Henry had used his arm twice in the build-up: first, to prevent Florent Malouda’s deep free-kick from exiting; then, to bring the ball under control, before tapping it with his foot into the path of Gallas for the defender to score with his head from…

Spin City

Spin City

A few months ago, on the same day I turned thirty, I signed the lease to my first real New York apartment. To celebrate both occasions my wife surprised me with an unexpected gift: a record player, complete with amp and tuner. Nothing fancy (it had been donated to her by her boss) but perfect for a young couple looking to get its groove on in a one-bedroom third-floor walk-up. I owned only two LPs at the time, which I’d acquired in the vague hope that sooner or later I’d have my own turntable on which to play them. The…

The way he made <i>us</i> feel

The way he made us feel

THE WHOLE WORLD’S GONE OFF THE WALL. So proclaimed the promotional posters hailing the release of Michael Jackson’s solo album Off The Wall in 1979. Exactly thirty years later, the phrase seemed equally apt on a warm June evening, as news of Jackson’s hospitalization, shortly followed by the confirmation of his death at the age of fifty, began filtering through the early twilight. Sidewalks quickly swelled with people leaving work as passing car radios alternately blasted news updates and Jackson’s greatest hits. Cellphones lost reception. Internet browsers became sluggish. Twitter crashed completely. It was one of those rare moments in…

Still making sense

Still making sense

When David Byrne took to the stage to greet the crowd in Brooklyn last night, he was accompanied by an unusual accessory. Not a guitar, nor even a tape recorder containing a drum machine backing track of “Psycho Killer”. Instead, the former Talking Head wheeled out a white bicycle, which had apparently been designed to match his outfit (and hair). While many of the 27,000 who’d crammed into Prospect Park had taken the subway to attend the free concert, Byrne, now 57, explained how he’d simply ridden his bike across the river. It was a typically quirky introduction to the…

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