Posted by: ralphmexico | July 30, 2012

BERLIN: THE GILDED PALACE OF SIN

Listeners, I am sure of only two things in this life – (1) I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that; and (2) Anyone who uses the phrase “The Bucket List” is a clod.

Fair enough we all have stuff we’d like to do before our number is called by The Great Bingo Master in the Sky, but someone asinine enough to compile a bucket list deserves a death worse than fate.  Getting a rusty nail driven between the eyes – how high up your bucket list was that you inbred troll?
So we beat on, boats against the current, dreaming of things to make the future so bright we’ll have to wear shades.  We live, as we dream, alone; and I’ve always dreamt of going to Tresor in Berlin, the King of Techno Clubs.  If it got any more techno Jeff Mills would be the barman, Richie Hawtin would be on coat check-in duty, The Aphex Twin would be handing out lollipops and breath-freshener in the bathroom, and Pontius Pilate would be the resident dj.  Tresor is the altar and baptism font in the Church of Techno.  Genuflect.
And so it came to pass that I had my first experience of Tresor on the Thursday night at the endgame of the Poland Euro 2012 Cycle Adventure that I’ve been bleating on about for the month of July.  As a first experience on a Thursday night it was bettered only by events of May 22nd, 2008.  So it goes.
Having been waylaid for an age in a strange bar in a strange squat with strange people in a strange part of town, we arrived at the door of Techno Mecca at a late hour.  The bouncer was unimpressed.  It looked like we were getting the cold shoulder.  “KC” employed his infamous powers of persuasion,  and told the bouncer he felt his pain having been a deft exponent of the door work art himself.  The velvet rope was moved aside.  I complimented “KC” on the reverse psychology he’d employed.  “My reverse wha?” he answered.  Whatever – we were in.  Things got darker then, Donnie Darko darker, dark.
Tresor’s main room is a large enough dance-floor with a bar at one end a heap of alcoves veering in all kind of directions.  The music is Techno, Techno, Techno.  Which was nice.
The bar ran a scheme where you’re given a plastic disc token when you buy a bottle of beer.  Should you return the token with the bottle you’ll get 50c off the next beer bought.  Very simple and straightforward.  This was explained to the three of us three times each as we ploughed up to the bar, money in our hot little fists, tokens secure in our pockets, and empty bottles left casually elsewhere in the venue.  Could someone please explain the concept behind the tokens again please?  I was too busy buying a beer to listen properly the last time…
So far, so normal: it was downstairs the real fun was taking place.  To enter the dungeon where the wild roses grow, you go down a long, dark, dry-ice filled tunnel.  You emerge into the basement and the basement submerges into you.  Layers of dense smoke, mountains of dry ice, a darkness like no other, a sheer wall of noise, and escapees from a lunatic asylum doing the St. Vitus Dance.  Mummy, I’m scared.
The music was bonkers.  There was a dj inside a cage.  He didn’t seem to be using decks.  Instead, it sounded like he had a chainsaw revving up against one amp and a lawnmower at full throttle in the other.  Louder than bombs.  This was the sound of a dentist’s drill making whoopee in your inner eardrum while radio static was flossing your teeth.  Intense.
And utterly brilliant.  The night went on and the smoke got heavier, the clientele got weirder, the noise got more insane in the membrane, and if you weren’t wearing a gimp mask you were a lightweight.  It was Heaven in a brain-frazzling Hellish kinda’ way.
The early-morning after-club journey back to the hotel was delayed for a couple of hours by the fiendish placing of a 24 hour bar around the corner from Tresor.  Within was a Colombian barmaid with cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin.  Perfect skin to end a perfect night.
After getting such an adult dose of techno on the first night it was time to dip a toe in tourist waters on Friday.  Alexanderplatz – Check.  Brandenburg Gate – Check.  Reichstag – Check.  Holocaust Memorial – Check.  The Remains of the Wall – Check.  Checkpoint Charlie – Check.  “Checking In And Checking Out”, indeed.
Friday night and the lights were low in Watergate.  Big Techno Godhead Kenny Larkin was behind the wheels of steel.  A more laid-back feel to the club than Tresor.  Norwegians, Swiss, Yanks – every tourist in the place was interviewed.  We haunted the smoking area on the water, sipping cocktails: “First we’ll take a Manhattan, Then we’ll take Berlin” and all that.  Good times.
The weekend still provided an opportunity to attend an exhibition of New Order artwork and photography, to cycle around the city at our ease, and to see the Germans celebrate quietly when winning a Euro 2012 quarter-final.  We also got to see a boat sailing down the Spree advertising a Gay Pride parade through the use of loud disco tunes, extravagant costumes, chains, tattoos, leathers and wanton nudity.  It was all very decadent, very Berlin.
We rounded a corner after the boat show and walked slap bang into a choral recital in front of a bohemian cafe.  It was all very quaint, very Berlin.
Boxing up the bikes and packing up the bags was dealt with haphazardly, and at the airport on Sunday night we had a last few glasses of Berliner watching the start of the Italy-England game.   Euro 2012 was continuing without us.  Ho-hum.  Anyway, it’s “Farewell to Poland”; and (donning my Christopher Isherwood trilby and my Toasted Heretic oven gloves) it’s “Goodbye To Berlin”.
By Amsterdam Central Station I Lay Down And Slept!!
Ralph Mexico
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Posted by: ralphmexico | July 24, 2012

ROAD MOVIE TO BERLIN

Oh well, “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves”, I suppose.  The Ireland-Italy game was desperate.  Ireland never raised a gallop.  It was the worst showing of the three.  And that was, as Bananarama would conclude, “Really Saying Something”.  Ho-Hum.
 
Still, downtown Poznan was ready for one more apres-match party.  The Irish obliged.  We’re good that way; even if I had a bizarre hour in the rain with three homeless locals in the square (the homeless meets the brainless) before hooking up again with “Dangerous”, “KC” and a few more. 
 
The post-mortems on the Irish inadequacies were relentless.  ‘There are many here among us who think that Trap is but a joke; But let us not talk falsely now ‘cos the hour is getting late”; And we’re giving it the large one in “Proletariat” – a bar celebrating all things communist and left-leaning.  Oh, yes.
 
Military hats were donned, the pulpit was mounted, spoken word was shouted down, “Ol’ 55” was sang, Lenin not Lennon was praised, pictures were taken, but thankfully no video was made: these calls for revolution would not be televised.  Ever.
 
Tuesday morning, the journey to Berlin began.  Another day of cycling through flat countryside with enormous expanses of wheat and barley stretching out before us in the hundred acre farms.  The variety offered by the occasional colourful field of oil seed rape or lavender was a welcome distraction.  Religion is obviously big business in Poland as every scrap of a village had a church, and the roadside featured countless grottoes, crosses and statues to impress the Big Cheese upstairs.
 
Most villages also were home to a family of storks who set up nests on specially constructed platforms near the telephone wires.  A fetching variety of birds flew over us every day adding to the warm glow of nature.  All very tranquil.  Which was nice.
 
We stopped once or twice at outdoor military museums where look-out posts and old tanks remained from the 2nd World War.  We were in hotly disputed territory.  Should there ever be another “Battle of Poland” my money would be on whichever side didn’t feature Glenn Whelan and Stephen Ward in their ranks.  So it goes.
 
82kms from Poznan we landed in Zbaszyn.  There was no room at the only inn in town so we pitched our tents in a lakeside campsite, had a slap-up meal on the hotel terrace, and wandered uptown to watch England v. Ukraine.
 
With our happy knack for bad timing we walked into the bar just as Rooney was putting the ball in the Ukraine net.  We left nobody in any doubt we were not happy with this turn of events.  It was a local bar for local people and we were studiously ignored anyway.  Still, I’d have gladly spent more time there as the local “Bosman” brew was 3 zlotys (75 cent) a pint.  But the tents were calling…
 
At 6 o’clock the following morning our tents were shaking as an insane electrical storm flashed over Zbaszyn.  I actually believe that was what the skull-cracking lightening sounded like: “Zbaszyn Zbaszyn Zbaszyn”.  I’m at a loss for the sound effect for the rolling thunder ‘cos trying to mend the leak in my tent became a priority at 6.03am.
 
The lightening was striking, the thunder was rolling, the rain was cascading, the tent was leaking, the sleeping bag was saturated.  The time was 6.06am.  There was a good couple of hours left in the storm yet.  Wish you were here, eh listeners?
 
With those darkest few hours before the dawn consigned to the past (although I was left with a numbing headcold as a memento) we scoffed a huge breakfast back at the hotel and somehow got cycling again before 11am.  Sibelice at the Polish/German border was our aim.
 
Our aim was true – we reached Sibelice at 9pm in semi-darkness and total wetness.  It had rained most of the day.  Polish rain is every bit as wet as Irish rain.  Who knew?
 
We checked into the finest hotel in town, which wasn’t that fine at all, and had our last dinner on Polish soil in an Argentinian steakhouse.  Our multi-culturism really is a joy to behold.
 
There was 80kms between us and Berlin.  An easy four hour cycle except that the route would involve four hours cycling on a motorway, and four hours cycling in a downpour.  Hmmm.
 
We cycled over the bridge cum border, and up to the Sibelice Banhof.  The 3kms on this, our 10th day of cycling, meant we had covered 920kms altogether.  The 3kms for one day kinda’ scuppered our daily average, and torpedoed our dreams of hitting the 1,000kms mark.  But hey, no point dwelling on that – we’ve got a train to catch.
 
Eleven euro each forked out to the fraulein at the station.  We, plus bikes, were soon on track, on the tracks, to Berlin.  After all this cycling, singing, and general horse-play for twelve days, exactly what was needed was three nights in manic, debauched, illicit, throbbing Berlin to wind down.  Stop me, Oh Oh Oh Stop me, Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: What could possibly go wrong? 
 
 
Ewakualyjngo Means Evacuation!!
Ralph Mexico
 
ps.  Mid-July was a real case of “Out with the old indie, In with the new Chic”. 
 
Lou Barlow, you may remember him from such bands as Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion, played a gig at The Paradiso in Amsterdam.  Strangely, I was in the crowd.  The show was a showcase for whiney-white-boy-solo-acoustic-dullness.  Grim.
 
Chic, you may remember them for such hits as “Le Freak”, “Good Times” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”, played a gig at The Big Top in Galway.  Not so strangely, I was in the crowd.  The show was a showcase for THE FUNK.  Nile Rodgers was a Black Panther when he was sixteen; he’s still a groovy cat.  Yowsa, Yowsa, Yowsa. 
 
pps.  “What could possibly go wrong in Berlin?” is the question at the end of the main blog.  Well, this could happen: https://ralphmexico.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/tomorrow-gomorrah-well-sodom-tonight
Posted by: ralphmexico | July 18, 2012

A RETURN TO POZNAN; A REQUIEM FOR A TEAM?

And then there were three…
 
With some of the party having packed up their bikes, brothers-in-law, 77 year-old fathers etc, and gadded outta’ Gdansk, there were three of us left to cycle back to Poznan for the Italy game, Ireland’s final match at Euro 2012, The Last Post, A Requiem For A Dream.
 
Leaving Gdansk wasn’t easy.  A long breakfast in the Square trying to gather the wherewithal to set the wheels in motion drifted into the late morning.  Eventually the bikes were boarded, the maps were consulted, tracks were started to be made.
 
We each had clearly defined roles in the “Getting to Poznan” process.  “Dangerous” had GPS on his phone; “KC” had the ordnance survey map on the handlebars of his bike; I er, had the tactical nous to let the “Getting to Poznan” planning to the two wise men.  On the outskirts of Gdansk we arrived at a major intersection.  Maps and GPS were utilised.  A definitive route was decided upon.  We cycled forward with the infallible confidence of the insightful.  We cycled… 
…straight into the underground car-park of a Tesco shopping centre.  Good work, chaps.  I stayed schtum; inside I was dancing.
 
Alas, I was bringing up the rear a few minutes later when we were free-wheeling down a hill in a quiet part of town.  A strange-looking local was sprinting at full pelt on the pavement beside us.  The two lads passed him, and as I sped by he chose that moment to bolt across the road.  No time to brake.  No time to swerve.  No time to shout.  Time only to clatter straight into the wayward galoot.  “Hit The Road, Jack” indeed.
 
I went down.  He went down.  The bike went down.  One of my panniers flew across the road.  Dazed and confused, I looked back up the road from my vulnerable, prone position.  Mercifully there was no car arriving down the hill.  My bike was ten feet behind me and the pole-axed Pole was ten feet in front of me.  Instantly, he sprang to his feet; shouted a few choice Polish phrases in my direction and raced across the road, disappearing up a lane-way.  I gingerly got to my feet, retrieved the miraculously undamaged bike and pannier, dusted myself down, and got back on the saddle again.  That crazy Pole, eh?  Some people will go to any length to get a mention in this blog.
 
Later that same day, “Dangerous” lived up to his nickname by leaving the back wheel of his bike dangling out on the main road at a bend while a consultation about what town to head for next was taking place.  A sixteen-wheel, forty ton truck came barrelling around the bend and Larry Lorry-driver produced a twenty-yard burnt-rubber skid mark shepherding his behemoth away from the unexpected obstacle.  Again, curses in Polish filled the air, and we had used up another of our cycling lives.  So it goes.
 
“KC” having to cycle into a ditch the following day when a lady-driver behind him noisily slammed on the brakes, having mis-judged an over-taking manoeuvre, was small beer compared with Close Shaves #1 and #2.  Still, it was a pleasant change to hear Kerry curses turn the air blue instead of Polish obscenities.
 
That first day we cycled 70kms from Gdansk to stay in a wooden chalet at a lake in a place called Wdzydze.  The next day was Wdzydze to Sepolno, 110kms to be the only people staying in a lovely hotel with the loveliest, dark-eyed receptionist ever.  Sunday 17th, was 100kms from Sepolno to Wagrowiec, and a return to the four star hotel we’d stayed in the night we feasted on duck and “Chopin” vodka on the journey to Gdansk.
 
On Monday, the day of the game, we completed the 55km spin into Poznan and pitched our tent in the field on the fringe of the city where a few lads we knew had parked their campervan.  We availed of the showering facilities – a freezing, freezing, freezing outside hose.  We were ready to take on the Italians.
 
Sunshine bathed the golden glow in Poznan.  The Square was an Irish carnival with the occasional pocket of Italian resistance.  We sang “I know you don’t believe us, But you’re going home with us” to them.  They shrugged in that cool Italian way of theirs.
 
Loads of Irish had made the trip out specially for this game.  Hmmm.  You wouldn’t pay to see Van Gogh paint “Sunflowers”, but he’d sell out the Maracana if he was chopping off an ear in the centre-circle.  We Irish do love our blood-sports.
 
The usual array of songs was supplemented by a few choice numbers with Roy Keane as their subject.  “A Song For Roy” read the tri-colour beside us.  Everyone was having a party and Roy The Puritan wasn’t welcome.  Smiles all ’round – not a Keane scene.  Ho-hum.
 
Some Poles had infiltrated our ranks in search of fun times.  In their honour “Polska Bialo Czerwoni” was roared vociferously.  It means “Poland, Red and White” or something similar, I think.  The fact the song carried the same tune as “Stand Up For The Boys In Green” helped everyone. 
 
As per tradition, the tram trip out to the ground was good-natured mayhem.  Every song was sung.  Twice.  Then sung again.  Twice more.  Which was twice as nice.   
 
By chance, I met a cousin of mine going through the turn-stiles.  “I thought you were only supposed to be over for the Spanish game” I said.  He smiled and replied “Ah sure….” while gesturing towards the swaying, singing hordes.  I understood.  Angela Merkel might not be so easily convinced, however.
 
Who cares about Mama Merkel?  Right now we were ready to salvage some pride against the Italians.  Trap has the Indian sign over Italy.  Himself and Tardelli will be too smart to let Pirlo dictate matters.  We’re going to exit the tournament on a high note.  We’ll get at least a draw.  We might even sneak a win.  The ground is 75% Irish fans.  The place is rocking.  The rain is pouring.  Here we go.  At the risk of repeating myself: What can possibly go wrong?
 
 
He Was The Bass Player In A Band Called Joy Division!!
Ralph Mexico
Posted by: ralphmexico | July 12, 2012

BRING ME THE BOOTS OF ANDRES INIESTA

“Why is life worth living?” asks Woody Allen towards the end of his mightiest film “Manhattan”.  Lying on his couch he then delivers a list of “Things that make it worthwhile”: Groucho Marx, Swedish movies, paintings by Cezanne – the usual guff you’d expect from the Woodman.  Putting myself in Woody’s small shoes for a moment I’ll be a pretentious twat and rattle off a few things that make life worth living…
 
Actually, I won’t bother.  I’ll restrain myself to naming one thing and one thing only – the greatest reason in the world why life is worthwhile: Andres Iniesta playing football.  Church.
 
The Spain-Ireland game in Gdansk was a spanking for The Boys In Green, but it was a pleasure to watch this wonderful Spanish team at the height of their powers.  They are the greatest football team ever and I’ll squeeze the blue rinse out of Johnny Giles’ hair to hammer home the point if needs be.
 
Faced with such consummate, quicksilver magic the Irish team resembled Yanomami Indians who went straight from The Stone Age to seeing bulldozers destroy their forest.  Spain came from another lumber-yard of human timber altogether.  From the first movement you knew how the rest of the symphony would unfold.  It was torture.  Yet still exquisite.
 
And Iniesta?  Rob Smyth in The Guardian referred to him as “Simply the most beautiful player in football history”.  I’m sure the feelings of dashing Iain Dowie and cherubic Luke Chadwick were hurt, but “The most beautiful player in football history” kinda’ sums Iniesta up.  He was astonishingly good against Ireland.  Everything he did oozed genius.  His pint-sized partner in nicky-nacky, tiki-taki Xavi is on more than nodding terms with beauty as well.  We may never see their like again.
 
I stood and applauded when Iniesta was called ashore, his work done for the night.  It would have been a dereliction of sporting duty not to acknowledge his supreme artistry.  The bizarre introduction by Trap of the ultra-limited Paul Green as Iniesta was bashfully taking his bow was too surreal.  From the sublime to the ridiculous…
 
And then there was the singing of “The Fields Of Athenry” for the last ten minutes of the game and long after the final whistle by the Irish fans.  “Solidarity” again in Gdansk, nothing more.  Some of the lads were trying to attach huge sociological significance to the singing of this famine song by the fans of a team getting hammered and on a holiday from a country sinking down the pan in so many ways.  I dunno’, I reckon it wasn’t a cry from the nation’s heart – merely a sing-song.  So it goes.
 
On the way back into the main square in Gdansk we passed the most famous declaration since the 1916 Proclamation: “Angela Merkel Thinks We’re At Work”.  The flag-bearers were being treated like celebrities with loads of people getting their photos taken with them and their famous flag.  Presently they were joined by two more large tri-colours.  One asked “Who Won The Minor Match?”  Topically, the other christened the group containing Ireland, Italy and Spain “The Group Of Debt”.  The Irish, eh?  What jokers.
 
By midnight the downstairs bar we’d landed in was rocking as if we’d whipped the Spanish.  The sing-song was wilfully esoteric.  “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”, a very rude number about Pique’s girlfriend Shakira, and a schoolboyish chant of “Ye’ve got Xavi Iniesta, We’ve got Long Cox”.  Indeed.
 
We did the Poznan.  Silly, but wonderfully liberating in an “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” sort of way.  Then a chair was passed from one end of the bar to the other as everyone sang “Pass the chair”.  The flustered barman came out to reclaim the chair.  Immediately, the fire extinguisher was taken from the wall and passed along.  A keg, a picture, and the coffee-making machine, all made a journey around the bar with accompanying singing.  The barman gave up.  What larks.
 
“The group is upside-down” and “I know you don’t believe us, But we’re going to get a point” were the bittersweet numbers we sang while making our way back to the floor of the rest of the crew’s apartment.  Gutted in Gdansk?  For sure, the team had got murdered, however if you’re going to lose it may as well be to a very special outfit.  Watching that Spanish side play (and being a pretentious twat) brought to mind the title of another film, similar to “Manhattan” in it’s Knowledge of Beauty: (in Italian) “La Vita e Bella”, (in English) “Life Is Beautiful”.
 
 
Naughty Naughty, Jimmy Cauty!!
Ralph Mexico
Posted by: ralphmexico | July 6, 2012

GDANSK AWAY THE HEARTACHE

“Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering in order that they may have existence” – Leon Bloy
 
Existence, I know where you park your car.  The optimism in the lead-up to the Ireland-Croatia game was shattered 120 seconds in when Shay Given showed the reflexes of a wet concrete block by allowing a soft header from Mandzukic squirm past him at his near post.  What a sickener.
 
For the next fifteen minutes Ireland huffed and puffed without ever threatening to blow the Croatian house down.  Then we were awarded a free-kick on the left.  The big men went up from the back.  Sean St. Ledger muscled through to nod the ball in at the far post.  There was a few seconds of confusion as some pillock in the crowd had whistled while the ball was in flight so we thought maybe a free out was being awarded.  A nation held its breath. 
 
At last, we saw the ref pointing to the centre circle; the linesman kept his flag by his side; the stadium tannoy started playing that really moronic song to signify a score; and the Irish players were celebrating like good things behind the Croatians’ goals.  In the stands, We.  Went.  Mental.  M-E-N-T-A-L.
 
What an outpouring of joy and ecstasy, what an orgy of happiness and jubilation, what an explosion of pleasure and bliss, what a rapturous thrill of euphoria and glee.  What A Feeling. 
 
After two minutes of manic hugging, roaring, and general insanity we returned to watching the action on the pitch.  Not for long though ‘cos soon we were all doing “The Poznan” in Poznan.  Corny as bedamned, but who cares – life doesn’t get much better.
 
Sadly the Irish back four did a “Poznan” of their own before half-time allowing Jelavic a criminally easy goal.  And the less said about the horror show of a second half the better.  So it goes.
 
On the walk back in from the stadium we met an Ardee man and his two grown-up daughters who broke us up with a beyond parody “Parable of the Potatoes” about the food he’d eaten in Berlin and Poland in an accent you could grate carrots with.  To add insult to mimicry, KC spent most of the following days talking in a Louth accent.  Grim, very grim.  This was forgotten however back in the square, where the Irish still sang.  “We’re going to top the group, I know you don’t believe us, But we’re going to top the group”.  Mindless optimism reigned.
 
There was no raging against the dying of the light, the sun was up and the party was still in full swing.  In a large bar on the corner, nigh on three hundred people were still chanting “Que Sera Sera, Whatever will be will be, We’re gonna’ beat Spain and Italy, Que Sera Sera” in the early morning.  It went on and on like the riff in “Sister Ray”.  Onandonandonandon.  There was a stage in the bar.  People were singing on the stage.  The stage collapsed.  People fell through the stage.  The singing continued.  It was that kind of night/morning.
 
Early Monday afternoon the sixth cyclist joined us and we gingerly peddled out of Poznan, heading in the general direction of Gdansk.  After a few wrong turns and much faffing we got some rhythm going and reached Wagrowiez, 65kms up the road and our home for the night, during the first half of the England-France game.
 
England were winning.  We parked our bikes and sat down in an outdoor bar in the town square.  The sun was shining.  We ordered six beers and two huge bags of crisps.  France scored.  Life was very good indeed.
 
We lucked out in getting a rather fine four star hotel rather cheaply and had a wonderful dinner of beetroot soup, roast duck and Polish vegetables, washed down with some tasty Polish vodka.  Little wonder we cycled like champions the next day.  Na Zdrowie.
 
At breakfast the following morning we met Conor and Tim, a pair of Dubs who were also cycling to Gdansk.  They agreed to join our merry band.  And then there were eight…
 
We cycled at a nice leisurely pace through the flat, green Polish countryside, sticking to the quiet roads wherever possible.  The weather was perfect.  We had a marvellous two hour lunch by the river in Bydgoszcz – a river that sadly was soon to become famous for being where the body of Irish fan James Nolan was found.
 
At one stage in the day we passed a road sign pointing to the left and saying “Malice 1.5 km”.  A Town Called Malice, eh?  Makes a change from Wagrowiez, Bydgoszcz and, where we stayed that Tuesday night, Grudziadz – all of which sound like the bottom line of an optician’s eye-test chart.
 
On Wednesday we cycled 160kms from Grudziadz to Gdansk.  Again, the sun was shining for the whole, long day.  We stopped at a crossroads which had a shop and a football pitch for some snacks and a kickaround.  Having a game of ball was a bonus, having the hottest girl in Poland serve us in the shop was a Super Extra Bonus Party.  We didn’t leave that crossroads before first getting a team photo with our Polish Princess as a mascot.  There’s photographic evidence somewhere on the worldwide web.  Of course. 
 
In the late afternoon, after more hours of steady cycling, we arrived at a high bridge over the Vistula River.  And so began the chapter in my non-awaited memoir which will be entitled “At-Swim-Eight-Boys”.  It may well be the only episode that features any other nudity except my own.
 
Clothes were not optional, all eight of us were naked as the day we were born as we swam in the dark depths of Poland’s famous waterway.  Again, there’s photographic evidence somewhere on the worldwide web.  Of course, not too many of you will be seeking to find the evidence.  Ho-Hum.
 
The main square in Gdansk was a sea of green the night before the Spain game, but we had a quiet night in our digs a few miles out from the city centre.  Half our crew were staying in a central apartment, next door to the Spanish team hotel.  Which was nice.  I wonder did Ramos, Torres, Casillas etc. sleep as well as the lads who’d cycled 160kms?
 
Match-day.  This was the big one.  The World and European Champions.  And Ireland needed at least a draw.  The Irish singing in Gdansk was defiant and good-humoured.  It was also non-stop.
 
We went in search of a little culture as an intermission from the beer.  We went to the Town Hall Museum hoping to see some stuff about Solidarity, Lech Walesa and the shipyards.  The receptionist confirmed that the first shot of World War Two was fired in Gdansk, but the exhibition inside the museum failed to set the heart racing even if the view over the city from the top of the bell-tower was quite majestic.
 
There was no dallying about before the game.  Last drinks were had near the train station watching Italy and Croatia draw.  Then it was all aboard the big express out to the stadium.
 
Into our ridiculously central seats an hour before kick-off.  Oh look, there’s Claudine Keane twenty feet away with a crying child in her arms.   Hopefully by the end of the game it’ll be Robbie Keane’s missus rather than his misses we’ll be talking about.
 
The Irish team is going through its’ warm-up directly below us.  Cox is in for Doyle.  No other change.  Torres starts for Spain.  Hmmm.
 
The Irish have their game faces on.  They mean business.  The Croatia nightmare is in the past.  We never play badly two games in a row.  Trap’s pride will be hurting.  He’ll have a plan for some “ri-ra agus ruaile buaile” to deal with the “tiki-taki”.  Whelandrews will do a number on Xaviniesta in central midfield.  Spain were good, not great, against Italy.  They’re a tired team.  We’re a hungry team with a point to prove. 
 
The sides are back on the pitch, lining up for the anthems.  Robbie waves to Claudine.  His son is still crying like a baby (he’s three years old).  The anthems.  We sing.  The Spanish don’t.  Well, it is an instrumental.  Handshakes.  Team photos.  Final words in a huddle.  This is on.  There is no way in the wide earthly world Ireland won’t get at least a draw.  Bring it on.  What could possibly go wrong?
 
 
Bill Was Right To Burn A Million Quid!!
Ralph Mexico

I missed the European Championship.  I was in Poland. 

After shipping a merited yellow card for the flagrant robbery of a quote from the inestimable Con Houlihan as an opening line, let’s get down to brass tacks and attempt to make sense of “The Invasion of Poland” – where the team stank, the fans drank, and “The Fields of Athenry” became the most famous song in the world.  Sort of. 

June 9th, and the logistical minefield of getting seven people, five bikes, and copious luggage onto an early Saturday morning Dublin to Warsaw flight was dealt with smoothly enough.  I played my part by playing no part in the planning.  I’m good that way. 

I was seated beside a pair of Americans on the flight.  I got chapter and verse on what dedicated soccerball fans they were.  Three times I was informed “we bet 1-1 on yesterday’s game” (the opening match of the tournament, Poland v. Greece, which indeed ended 1-1). 

With a George Bush-like smile, one of them asked me to explain about the Polish ‘keeper being sent off in the game as they never saw that happen before and didn’t think “a goalie could be ejected off the field”. 

When I scraped my jaw up off the floor I answered as straight-faced as I could.  By chance, I ran into the knowledgeable duo again the following morning.  There was no football chat this time; the bozos were all about the strip clubs in Poznan.  Evidently, coughing up the zloty to see some totty was more pressing than dropping some euros to see the Euros.  So it goes. 

(The football ignorance displayed by the yanks was equalled by two Dubs a few days later who button-holed us for ages about everything that was wrong with Ireland in the opening defeat.  After listening to their myriad solutions for Ireland’s manifold problems, one of them told me they’d been watching one of Sweden’s games and they were wondering how long Zlatan Ibrahimovic had played for them: “I mean, he hasn’t got a Swedish name; has he always played for Sweden?”  You couldn’t make it up.) 

The logistical minefield of getting seven people, five bikes, and copious luggage from Warsaw airport across the city for the early afternoon train to Poznan was dealt with smoothly enough.  I played my part by playing no part in the planning.  I’m good that way. 

Riding the rails, we were soon fast friends with a quartet of Limerick loonballs who’d been caning it for a few days in Warsaw.  Commendably making it up as they went along, one of them was attempting by phone to sort accommodation in Poznan through the sister of a workmate of one of their girlfriend’s second cousins (or something every bit as tenuous). 

The sorting out was being done in a corridor away from the mania of the main carriage.  Before finishing the initial contact with his contact he came back into us, phone in hand, and asked his companions “Is there anything else she needs to know before she meets us?” 

A respectful hush descended on the carriage.  One of the Limerick lads said “Actually, there is something”.  Everyone turned to him.  He gave a small shrug and said matter-of-factly “I see dead people”. 

When we’d renewed breathing after that zinger, we continued our revels.  Alas, we were not alone in getting friendly with the Polish booze on the trip, and an hour into the journey there was no more alcohol to be found anywhere on the train.  With Poznan a further two hours up the track, this represented a crisis.  

Drastic, dramatic, decisive action was required.  The drastic, dramatic, decisive action of getting off at the next stop was agreed upon.  Some of our crew stayed on the train, but three of us, plus bikes and luggage, and the four Limerick heads plus luggage, bailed off at a nowheresville named Kutno. 

As we waved off the train with a chant of “Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio” from the desolate platform, our fellow Irish fans still on board looked a little bewildered.  They also looked more than a little thirsty.  We were addressing that issue with alacrity. 

The bikes and luggage were humped under the platform and across to the first bar in the village.  Beer was ordered and Kutno was surveyed.  Kutno: the clue is in the last two letters.  Considering its’ location, there is every chance Kutno was in disputed territory between Poland and Germany over the course of the last century.  I don’t know what side it was on during the World Wars, but I know this much: Kutno lost.  Twice. 

The arrival of seven Irish football supporters, and a whole heap of bags, and bikes in boxes, was the most exciting event in Kutno since…  Who am I kidding?  The arrival of seven Irish football supporters, and a whole heap of bags, and bikes in boxes, was the most exciting event in Kutno ever. 

The bar was small and the day was hot, so we spent our time on the green outside mingling with the defiantly right-wing, semi-psychotic locals.  We tried to play “keepy-uppy” with the soft ball they provided.  It didn’t go great.  We took turns climbing on the shoulders of the man mountain who was the most fascist and crazed of them all.  It didn’t go too bad.  We had a ribald few hours of drinking with the very real threat of gratuitous violence breaking out at any moment.  The Limerick lads felt ahem, right at home. 

As a parting gift, one of the Shannonsiders treated everyone to a rendition of that perennial family favourite from The Rubberbandits “Bags Of Glue”.  The denizens of Kutno are unlikely to forget in a hurry the spectacle of seven refreshed Irishmen bellowing “A bag for me, a bag for you, Let’s get wrrrrrrrrrrecked on bags of glue” at five o’clock on a Saturday evening at the green near the train station.  Ho-hum. 

Post-Kutno, the rest of Saturday went along expected lines.  Again, I played my part by playing no part in the planning.  I’m good that way. 

We got the train to Poznan; got everything transferred to the rip-off Carlsberg Fan Campsite; headed out in Poznan; engaged in high-jinks with Croats, Poles and Irish alike.  Which was nice.  There was an incident with a group of Croats in a bar and a handkerchief of pepper which led to me being christened “Dr. Pepper” for the remainder of the weekend.  These things happen when “The Stain of Kutno” remains fraught on your frazzled mind… 

Sunday, match-day, Wa-Hey.  The main square in Poznan was where the action was at.  Hours were spent singing of “Teams of Gary Breens” and taking “Shoes Off For The Boys in Green”.  The football opera that was Italy-Spain was absorbed with trepidation for our last pair of group games; but confidence about firstly doing the Croats was high. 

The tram trip to the match was a riot.  The Croats on board smiled when we sang about James McClean getting carnal with the queen, then lustily sang along about Luka Modric getting carnal with the queen.  They were given respectful silence for their songs; they reciprocated as we belted out “Amhran Na Bhfiann” with every fibre of our being.  Kick-off was fast approaching.  Confidence was even higher than before. 

The rain pelted down as we ran to the stadium.  Some gormless steward told us our tickets were for the other side of the ground.  We ran around the ground.  Kick-off was imminent.  No entrance for us.  Back to the brains-thrust in a day-glo jacket.  Our entrance was actually up a flight of steps, not around the other side.  We charged up the steps.  Our hearts were beating fast.  Time was running out.  Kick-off was nigh.  We piled through the turn-stiles.  We raced up more flights of steps.  The noise in the ground was incredible.  We spotted the rest of the crew.  We jostled in beside them.  We turned to face the pitch.  The ball was on the centre-spot.  Kick-off was now.  We were here.  Ireland versus Croatia.  European Championship 2012.  The ref blew his whistle.  Peep-peep-peep.  Here we go.  Confidence was never higher.  What could possibly go wrong? 

Lazer Guided Threnodies!!

Ralph Mexico

Posted by: ralphmexico | June 22, 2012

EATING NUTS WITH HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT BACKSTAGE IN CARDIFF

A year ago today I posted a decidedly lukewarm report on a Half Man Half Biscuit gig in London.  This has weighed on my mind for the past 366 days (remember listeners, 2012 is a leap year).  I was a little unkind, a little unwise, and I wholeheartedly apologise.  I need to shed this reputation as a curmudgeon.  From now on when I smell flowers I will not immediately start looking for a coffin.
 
To counter-balance those harsh words so lightly thrown last June 22nd, today we celebrate happier Half Man Half Biscuit times.  The best of times on St. David’s Day (March 1st), 2007 in Cardiff, in fact. 
 
Alone at the gig because I had refused to go to a ballet in the Point (long story, life’s too short – for explanations, or ballet) my first exposure to the Half Man Half Biscuit live experience was gob-smacking.  A tumultuous joy of a show for sure; but the real fun took place after the gig – something Robert Plant probably said a few times in the 70’s.
 
Some friends had flown over to Manchester for a Biscuits’ gig a few weeks previously.  After the show, they had talked briefly with the Biscuits’ manager Geoff about the possibility of the band playing a gig in Ireland.  Head Half Man Half Biscuit, Nigel Blackwell, may be one of England’s finest ever songwriters but he is also a notorious homebird with a fear of flying.  Throughout their three decade long career the band have never played a gig outside of mainland Britain. 
 
I was encouraged to help in creating history.  I was told to try to meet Geoff after the show and push the idea again of Half Man Half Biscuit doing an Irish gig.  While “wetting the leek’ around Cardiff I threw back enough inhibition-reducer to make me confident I could persuade The Wolfe Tones to play “Jerusalem” in Buckingham Palace.  And to leave the Semtex at home.  This was going to be a doddle. 
 
I marched up to the merchandise stall after the gig and asked to speak with Geoff.  He was busy flogging t-shirts to the masses, so I shouted my story into his shell-like.  Reaching the conclusion that a drunk Irishman gibbering on about how “The Biscuits have got to come to Ireland, man” was doing the square root of zero for t-shirt sales at that moment in time, Geoff had a word with a lithe girl by his side and told her to get me out of his sight. 
 
Drunkenly following a svelte minx across a dance-floor has made me the subject of a number of barring orders in Ireland, but I was a free man in Cardiff.  I ventured in her slipstream. 
 
She led me across to the back-stage door, past a dozen Biscuit devotees dreaming of an audience with Nigel, through the door, up the stairs, and into a room with four middle-aged men inside.  And these four men constituted Half Man Half Biscuit.  Be still my beating heart.
 
My light, my guide, the girl told the group of my part in the “Biscuits for Ireland” campaign.  She then left and I began speaking as if my mouth was full of feathers and english was my sixth language.
 
The band put me at ease immediately.  I sat down and the five of us started casually talking.  The chat about a possible Irish performance was parked early doors.  When I said I was from Cork, Nigel asked how Cork City were doing as his friend, the drummer with the Frank & Walters, was a huge City fan.
 
From there, it was an inevitable next step to start discussing the fortunes of Tranmere Rovers, the Biscuits’ beloved hometown team.  Jason McAteer was playing for Rovers at the time and we swapped “Trigger” anecdotes, such as when McAteer greeted Jimmy White with the cry of “180!!” 
 
Football, films, music were discussed as if we were five lads having a chat in the pub, with the complete absence of alcohol being the only down-side.  I shared a packet of peanuts with the drummer while the rest of the group chomped apples.  Phew, Rock ‘n’ Roll, eh?
 
High on the improbability of it all, I lost track of time but I’d say half an hour had elapsed when I stood up, shook hands with them all, and headed off down the stairs accompanied by the bassist who was going outside for a smoke.  He said he’d do his best to convince Nigel to take the plane; I was past caring, too overcome by happiness to think straight.
 
The first bar I found after leaving the venue was a class of a wine bar place.  Shaking, and smiling at the utter mellifluousness of life, I sat at the counter and had a glass of the house red.  Good health.
 
Still grinning away to myself (there’s also a barring order against me doing this in Ireland), I had a second glass and surveyed my surroundings.  There were only four other customers.  Two men and two women.  Two loving couples.  The men together.  The women together. 
 
So, it was that kind of a wine bar, eh?  I stayed ’til closing time, then I came out…
onto the street and bowled back to the hotel.
 
As of now Half Man Half Biscuit have yet to make the propitious career move of playing a gig outside of Britain.  It’ll never be known if my canvassing worked for or against the unlikely event ever coming to pass.  I reckon however the band immortalised our Brief Encounter on their album from the following year.  “CSI: Ambleside” features a song which mentions that well-known, Flatley-tastic, Irish music sensation “Lord of the Dance”.  The song’s title (and this is the clincher that Nigel had me in mind) is “Took Problem Chimp To Ideal Home Show”. 
 
 
If Only You’d Give Me My Les Parry Poster Back!!
Ralph Mexico
Like an ill-built ship, I’m prone to listing.  And the bliss of lists should never be under-estimated. 
 
However, when I made a list of resolutions on how to make this blog slightly less irritating I put “Stop Making Lists” at the top of my list. But, I couldn’t resist one more list.  This is the last time, forever.  Here, by request from a bar-stool bard, is “The Top Ten Irish Albums, Ever”.  A list with a “Twist”, obviously.
 
(10)  “Understand” – Brian  “You don’t want a boyfriend with chocolate kisses, You don’t want a boyfriend whose honest with you”.
Eight songs.  One for every copy of the album sold.  A delicate, simple suite of sweet, sweet songs about that crazy little thing called love.  Critically swooned over; ignored completely by a brick-thick public.  Such was the Life of Brian.  “Understand”?  Nah, I’m sick as a parrot, Brian.

(9)  “Twist” – The Fat Lady Sings  “You did the right thing, That’s why you’re alone”.
The world of “Twist” is grown-up and so, so sad. “Arclight” is the famous song.  “Dronning Maud Land” is the masterpiece.  Nick Kelly writes and sings as if his life is on the line.  He even sings a chorus of “Time gets hard, I am harder still” with a straight face.

(8)  “I Am The Greatest” – A House  “Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, RIP”.
For reasons far too interesting to divulge, I was gifted the task of interviewing A House for the Cork RTC student magazine back in the early 90’s when the band played in Gorby’s on a wet Friday night.  I missed the interview, electing instead to spend the time pouring drink down the neck of a hottie from Kilkee, putting in the hard yards in Preachers on Washington Street.  By the time the gig was underway Clare-girl and myself were serenely unsober.  We piled up to the front, squashing into the mosh-pit.  A House played “I Want Too Much”.  At the stage where Dave Couse screamed “I wanna wanna wanna wanna wanna wanna wanna have what you have”, he pointed directly at me, and growled.  I shrugged and said “Yeah, she’s pretty nice isn’t she?” to no-one in particular.  Next up was a love song.  “God, you’re beautiful, You really are beautiful” went the refrain.  Couse was looking straight at Clare-girl.  The bastard.  I put my arm around her.  She looked at me like I’d suggested a threesome with a shaved baboon.  And promptly skedaddled to the back of the venue, never to be touched (by me anyways) again.  Sometimes when I listen to “I Am The Greatest” I think of her; but most times I don’t bother.

(7)  “Raytown Revisited” – The Blades  “Those were the days… of hoping”.
Noted Freddie Mercury fan, Alan Partridge, was once asked to name his favourite Queen album.  Momentarily stumped, he quickly regained his legendary composure and proudly blurted out “The Greatest Hits”.  Of course, it is not strictly legitimate to include compilations, but this is The Blades.  Their only “proper” album was “The Last Man In Europe” and that was sadly undercooked.  “Raytown Revisited” is smoking.  This is The Blades with “Hot For You”, “Ghost of a Chance”, “Animation”, “The Bride Wore White”.  With a smidgen of good fortune they could have been bigger than U2.  Just ask Bono the next time you meet him queueing for a fish finger pie in Lennox’s, Barrack Street.

(6)  “Cher O’ Bowlies” – The Undertones  “Teenage dreams, So hard to beat”.
Another singles compilation.  But oh, what singles.  The greatest summer song ever written – “Here Comes The Summer”.  The greatest song about “the troubles” ever written – “It’s Goin’ To Happen”.  The greatest “should have been a monster hit” song ever written – “Julie Ocean”.  The greatest song ever written – “Teenage Kicks”.  What a bowl o’ cherries.  What a cher o’ bowlies.

(5)  “Speak Slowly” – The Stars Of Heaven  “Imagine waking unaware, The light of Heaven touched your hair”.
If there is a better album with a picture of a CIE train wheel on the cover, then I haven’t heard it.  Ten years after the release of “Speak Slowly” I went to see the singer Stephen Ryan’s new band The Revenants play a free concert in a pub in Cork city.  There were two people at the gig – me and the person I’d brought along.  Fifteen years after the release of “Speak Slowly” I went to see Deus in The Ambassador in Dublin.  The guy checking the tickets at the door was Stan Erraught, the genius guitarist on this wonderful album.  Ireland’s Gram Parsons: playing to two people in Cork?  Ireland’s Roger McGuinn: a doorman in Dublin?  Mundy still alive?  Wake up Ireland, you’re dead.

(4)  “Ghostown” – The Radiators  “And the ghosts of the Saints and the Scholars will haunt you, In Heaven and in Hell”.
Philip Chevron (main songwriter with The Radiators) would go on to join The Pogues and write the immortal “Thousands Are Sailing”, but “Ghostown” is the be-all and end-all.  Hot buttered pop.  Heavy on the pop hooks.  Heavenly Pop Hit after Heavenly Pop Hit.  Chevron was untouchable at this point in the late 70’s, which may have had something to do with his beloved Nottingham Forest being quite good around that time too.    

(3)  “Viva Dead Ponies” – The Fatima Mansions  “I have switched the fridges off”.
Cathal Coughlan originally wanted to call this meister-werk “Bugs F***ing Bunny”, but some Tinseltown squares didn’t play ball.  Less than two minutes in and Cathal sings “Kill a cop, Why the hell not?”; and it all kicks off.  Complete blasphemy, bile, bite, Brit-baiting, brilliance from then on in.  It’d be at number one only for a slightly stodgy, dated production, but it’s still a beast of an album.  There are moments so charged that I cannot listen to this album on my own with the lights off.  That’s a recommendation, in case there is any doubt. 
 
(2)  “Astral Weeks” – Van Morrison  “If I venture in the slipstream, Between the viaducts of your dreams”.
If I only had 46 minutes and 5 seconds left to live and I had to choose between listening to the whole of “Astral Weeks” for one last time, or to spend that time on a water-bed with a naked Kelly Brook – I’d opt for Van’s album.  Says it all, really.
 
(1)  “The Clock Comes Down The Stairs” – Microdisney  “All the luck in the world won’t save you”. 
Cathal Coughlan is the greatest ever Corkman.  This is his finest achievement.  And I would put good money on him not bothering to even own a copy.  He’s an ornery, cantankerous, socio-pathic curmudgeon of an old sod; and you can hazard a guess as to why I love him.  He can mix unbearable sadness with defiant anger in the space of a song, a couplet, even a word (check “patience” in the opening line of “Are You Happy?”).  Sean O’Hagan is the Melody Maker supreme, playing planet to Coughlan’s sun, wringing startling sounds from his pet guitar.  The album devours anything and everything.  And it’s thrillingly unavailable on i-tunes; so you’ll all just have to take my word for how utterly wonderful “The Clock Comes Down The Stairs” actually is.  And I would never let you down now would I, listeners? 
 
 
Best Single: “100 Boys”!!
Ralph Mexico
 
ps.  Nothing features from the last twenty years.  My Bloody Valentine’s pair of albums from (natch) the late 80’s/early 90’s kinda’ sum up Irish music for the past two decades – “Isn’t Anything” and “Loveless”.
For the time that’s in it, let’s kick-off with a quote from the Polish pope: “Young people of Ireland, I love you.  You are the best football supporters in the world”.  As Euro 2012 clicks into gear, “The Best Football Supporters in the World”(TM) are dressing up like leprechauns, beating bodhrans, acting like amadans, supporting Trap’s Army.  “Ooh-Ah, Sean St. Ledger”, indeed.
 
In May 2011, the Europa League Final was held in Dublin.  “The Best Football Supporters in the World”(TM) stayed away in their droves.  The host city didn’t give a fig, even though a pair of Portuguese teams were in the final. 
 
Dublin city centre before and after the game was conspicuously unaware that the second biggest match in European club football was taking place at Landsdowne Road.  At the game, there were rows of empty seats.  Dublin will be waiting a long time for a big night of European football to be awarded to it again.  Unless, of course, “Honest” John Delaney steps up to a top position within “the UEFA family”.  Don’t bet against it.
 
Last month, this season’s Europa League Final was held in Bucharest.  The city pulled out all the stops.  From the moment you landed at the airport, it was “Welcome to Bucharest, Venue of Europa League Final 2012” overload.  You were assailed with literature bigging up Bucharest, and every effort was made to accommodate fans.  The city basically threw a party for the week of the match.  A splendid time was guaranteed for all.  The city was invaded by over 50,000 travelling fans.  And me. 
 
Basque side Athletic Bilbao were up against Spanish side Atletico Madrid.  Downtown, both sets of supporters were fairly indistinguishable in their red and white striped replica shirts.  Even the crests were eerily alike.  Some fans sported berets and had jugs of wine slung over their shoulders.  Basques, perhaps?  Other fans had the Spanish flag wrapped around their waists.  Madrilenians, maybe?
 
Yet, they all mingled freely.  There was no edge to the pre-match atmosphere.  Lots of singing, lots of drinking in the Old Town.  Romania probably hadn’t seen such partying since 1989.  The rival fanzones were about a mile apart, equidistant from the Old Town.  The afternoon entertainment provided in both, to accompany the territorial sippings, was of the dire Eurovision variety.  Ho-hum.
 
James Donegal and I each had a spare ticket for the game.  My desire to bring a local raven-haired damsel had been gut-wrenchingly foiled (see posting of 6/6/12), but a Basque I met in the toilet of a bar (don’t ask) bought my spare.  James Donegal got rid of his outside the ground for face value to an Atletico-loving popinjay. 
 
Earlier, an Iraqi had tried to persuade James to part with his ticket for less than half price.  He was wearing an Iraqi national football shirt, and was a genuine fan who told us a heart-breaking life story.  It may have been heart-breaking, it certainly wasn’t going to be bank-breaking.  No deal was struck.
 
There was no doubt we both wanted Athletic Bilbao to win.  Not only were they managed by the gloriously bonkers Marcelo Biesla, but the chasing they gave Man Utd over two legs was poetic.  Plus, the Basque country v. Madrid?  No competition.
 
I even wore a Bilbao-bought t-shirt under my jacket to the game.  For reasons of convenience we got the bus from the Atletico Madrid fanzone; hence having the jacket on.  The Atletico fans transpired to be good sorts, however.  They lustily sang throughout the thirty minute trip to the stadium.  Platini got the bird for some reason in a big way, and Sergio Ramos’ surface-to-air scud penalty against Bayern was commemorated in a leery chant.  Good times.
 
The newly built National Stadium in Bucharest is nothing less than brilliant.  It cost over 200 million euro.  Money well spent.  My cheap seat was in the top tier of a stand that slanted “at the angle of the hat-brim of a man who doesn’t want to be recognised”.  I was surrounded by Basques.  We were ready to take the fascist Madrid goon squad down.  Bring it on…
 
Kick-off.  Tippy-tappy, tiki-taka.  Six minutes in, Atletico’s starman Falcao larumphs one into the top corner from the edge of the box.  Curses.  The royalist lap-dogs go loco.  Athletic never settle.  It’s uncomfortable viewing.  Whither the elan on display when ripping Utd a new aperture over 180 minutes?
 
Falcao netted a heinously easy second just after the half hour mark.  Diego Simeone, the uber-cool Atletico manager, was going crazy in a cool, urbane manner.  Nearby, Biesla looked as if someone had spat in his cornflakes.  And kidnapped his canary.
 
Bilbao cranked it up a trifle after half-time but a comeback was never really on the cards.  I’d previously classed Falcao as a lazy, fancy dan but he was no laggard with his pick and spade, digging in with the rest of the team as they fended off the Basque attack.  Near the end, Atletico added a third and the fat lady was in full voice.  So it goes.
 
Trudging out afterwards amidst a Boulevard of Broken Basques was a sobering experience.  The Atletico Madrid fans waving their Spanish national flags while singing “Viva Espana” was extra, cruel baiting.  The crestfallen Athletic Bilbao fans resembled a certain set of vanquished, yellow-shirted supporters streaming out of the Luigi Ferraris Stadium, Genoa on a balmy Sunday evening in 1990 after David O’Leary had allowed a nation to breathe again.  And allowed “The Best Football Supporters in the World”(TM) to bring the party to Rome.  Where, of course, they had an audience with a famous ex-goalie mentioned in the opening line… 
 
 
The Plot Sickens!!
Ralph Mexico
Posted by: ralphmexico | June 6, 2012

(OLD EASTERN) BLOC PARTY

 

Insofar as there is a plan (translation: there is no plan), visiting Romania was never part of the plan. 
 
The opportunity arose when those roguish scamps in UEFA opted to stage the 2012 Europa League Final in Bucharest, and in their boundless wisdom whip my name out of their venerable hat allowing me to buy a pair of tickets for the decider.  Quicker than you could sing the opening verse of “Blues For Ceausescu”, return flights from Dublin were booked and the film posters were printed up – RALPH MEXICO in “ROMAN(ia) HOLIDAY”; DIRECTED by MICHEL PLATINI; PRODUCED by A PATIENT LOCAL CREDIT UNION MANAGER.
 
The football side of things will be dealt with at a later date, as John Henry said to Kenny Dalglish.  First of all let’s critique what Romania conjured up for the virgin visitor, one who was worried it’d be a country where “you would be able to tear the banknotes but not the toilet paper”.
 
The Parliament Palace, a crazed dictator’s dream of elegance, is Bucharest’s big tourist attraction.  “Big” in every sense, this 1,100 room monstrosity is the second largest (after the Pentagon) administration building in the world.  Ceausescu’s drones started it in 1984.  Over 100,000 workers have toiled since then.  Ceausescu is finished.  The building isn’t.  You can still do a tour though.  I did a tour.  And fell in love with the tour guide.  As you do.
 
The Romanian Angel showed us the enormous chandelier in one room; the door leading into where the present Romanian parliament discuss the issues of the day; the view from the roof; the balcony from where Michael Jackson waved to the Bucharest burghers.  Which was nice.
 
In a private moment she told me that a recent survey showed that a third of Romanians would prefer a return to communism as they were better off before the capitalist running dogs ran the show.  Which was interesting.
 
She also told me she was unmarried, a massive Nick Cave fan, and a devotee of an annual film festival by the Danube where she saw “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” and magically fell in love with Ireland.  I was partial to her abracadabra.  Which was unexpected.
 
I knew there were obstacles like the distance, the culture, the hunger in my eyes, to overcome before dancing in the Ballroom of Romance, but did I mention she was cute and a Nick Cave fan?  Fine dives have been made from flimsier springboards.  I had a spare ticket for the football match, so I asked her if she wanted to go.  Initially she said “yes”, but by tour end she’d changed her mind and coquettishly demurred.  Another one bites the dust.  Which was a sickener.  Ho-hum.
 
The Revolutionary Square features a decent slab of a monument commemorating “Eternal Glory To The Romanian Revolution And It’s Heroes From December 1989”.  Also in the Square is the rather fine National Art Museum containing fantastic paintings by Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir, El Greco; sculptures by Rodin; and Gheorge Hagi’s left foot.
 
“All art is quite useless at quenching the thirst” according to Oscar Wilde, hence a lazy, meandering tour of the bars in the pedestrianised Old Town with James Donegal who was also over for the all Spanish final.  After some extensive research it was agreed that Ursus was the finest local brew, with Ciuc adjudged not too shabby either.  And here’s a quiz question to end this paragraph – Which is the odd one out: (a) The Charlatans (b)  Oscar Wilde (c) Trinity College (d) The Bould Thady Quill?
 
And here’s a quiz answer to start this paragraph – (d) The Bould Thady Quill, the other three are Irish bars in Bucharest.  The Bould Thady Quill used to be a bar in Banteer.  Quite obvious, really.  The Charlatans?  There’s another Irish bar in the city named Gang Lads.  Gang Lads?  We remained happy in the Romanian establishments.  Happy?  Well, as happy as one can be after being shot down by a divine Romanian tour guide…
 
Bucharest is really a city of variety, “A savage hotchpotch” as described by noted socialist Ferdinand Lasalle.  Lasalle also said that “Labour is the source of all wealth and culture” which is patent piffle, but his summation of Bucharest was on the money.  Surely, no other city in Europe can boast so many small churches side-by-side with advertisements for massage parlours.  The Romanians sure take the “You gotta’ sin to be saved” maxim to the extreme.
 
Walking out of a metro station one morning I spotted a stall selling books and cds.  A Nadia Comaneci biography was beside “Rated R” by Rihanna.  There’s an interesting point to be made about the juxtaposition of the old and new Romania as highlighted by these items being for sale side by side.  I am not the scribe to describe that juxtaposition.  I’m just happy to have shoe-horned the word juxtaposition three times into a paragraph. 
 
My Bucharest hotel was a real chip off the old Eastern Bloc.  The lift was eighty years old.  The carpet was older still.  The waitress dishing out the spartan breakfast was oldest of all.  The spiv at the front desk gave little time to my complaint of the chill in my room.  “I’ll have pneumonia in the morning” I said to him.  “No, you’ll have cold porridge like everyone else” he replied.
 
“When in Romania, do as the Romanians do”: it was time to get on Dracula’s trail and take a two hour train trip through the Transylvanian Alps to the gothic city of Brasov.  A marvellous old square (allegedly the setting for the last witch burning in Europe); the Black Church (allegedly the largest church between Vienna and Istanbul); a funicular to give a view over the city (allegedly unmissable, hmmm I was unconvinced); the Hollywood-style sign spelling BRASOV on the hillside over-looking the city (allegedly a city that bears wander into with impunity on a regular basis from the surrounding countryside, hmmm can’t confirm or deny this rumour) – Hats off to Brasov, a damn fine city.
 
It would have been swell to linger longer in Brasov, alas Bucharest and a plane home was calling.  Anyway, there was an ad that sent a shiver up my spine more than the sighting of any measly bear could ever do.  The poster advertised an upcoming concert in Brasov by that Romanian “Master of the pan-pipes, Gheorghe Zamfir”.  It was vitally important I put as many miles as possible between myself and that atrocity.  Goodbye, for now, Romania.   I hope to see you (and a certain tour guide) again soon.
 
 
Romania In Light!!
Ralph Mexico 

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