phrasebook diplomacy

4th st, santa rosa

While sketching this building, across from the Cancer Survivor Plaza in Santa Rosa, I listened to a Portuguese audio phrase book on my mp3 player, to learn some of the language. I think I learnt some, but kept thinking “Rui Costa”. I’ll get there, maybe. I grew up reading Berlitz phrase books, and it’s interesting to see how they have evolved, or not. The audio versions are especially fun, as they often switch between a British and an American accent with comic ease. The British accent is always very RP, as you’d expect, and you can almost see them quietly queuing and smiling politely while bristling on the inside. The one with the American accent, however, always seems to get the ‘complaining about the service’ phrases, the tone being that he really would like to enjoy this exotic foreign food but the waiters keep ignoring him, and there’s nowhere on this damn train to put my heavy luggage. I keep imagining the couple from that episode of Fawlty Towers.

It’s funny; in a way, after years of California I have become that guy from Fawlty Towers. My last visit to London, we had lunch at a pub by the Thames, near Tate Modern. It was ten past twelve, and my young niece wanted pancakes; the ones on the menu sounded scrumptious. Not possible, the young woman taking the order told me, as pancakes are a breakfast item and that ‘stops’ at twelve. There was nothing else that she wanted, and all the lunch items were very expensive. It was not busy there at all. Can we not have the pancakes anyway? “No.” No? Can you ask the chef? “Well, ok I’ll ask,” was the aggrieved response; obviously asking the chef anything was like trying to get audience with the Great Oz. She went and asked the chef. The chef said he could do it, but only for one person. One person! Well that’s a relief, good job it was only ten minutes after breakfast time, or that pancake mix and that pan would have magically vanished into thin air.

I must point out actually, credit goes to my Californian wife for helping resolve that one. My British customer attitude was actually prepared to back down at one point (what we British do best is go back to our table to moan, but do nothing about it). In the end, California prevailed and my niece got her pancakes, and they were very nice too. Next time though, I’ll ask for a Waldorf Salad and a Screwdriver.

this is gonna be messi

champions league final 2011

That was a very good final. No honestly, it was – sure, the second half saw the far and away best team in the world close their grip on – oh my – the very mighty Manchester United like a crocodile and a kitten. But these were two great teams capable of greatness, but with one being really really good at keeping the ball. Almost like a chess player who doesn’t allow the opponent to start any sort of move by closing off every alleyway and keeping all knights on the rim (or at least those knights not all over the tabloid papers). When Rooney hit that magnificent equalizer, I thought it was game on, and the second half would be a titanic battle. The moral of the Titanic however is that the iceberg always wins, no matter how great the ship. Barcelona are the best team in the world and one of the best in history, and deservedly so – they haven’t been cobbled together last minute with a massive chequebook like a Man City or Chelsea, and you really get a sense that any of the players can do something unbelievable. That midfield team of Xavi and Iniesta will go down in the history books, we will tell our children about them, and then to top them off with the ever-brilliant Messi? In a season when Cristiano Ronaldo scored over fifty goals in a season, something not ever done before in Spain, Messi then did the same. Manchester United are the deserving champions of England and Ferguson rightly in place as perhaps the greatest British manager of all time, and it was nice to see him give a smile and congratulations to what is obviously a legendary team in Barcelona. I’ve never ever seen Manchester United have only 30% possession in any game.  I remember the great final of 92 (I loved Barcelona back then but Sampdoria were my favourite Italian team too) when Koeman scored at the old Wembley, for their first ever European Cup (and a year after Man United beat them in the Cup Winners Cup final), the ‘Dream Team’, in that great orange away kit. In that team was Pep Guardiola, manager of the current Dream Team. With this final being at the new Wembley stadium, with fate involved there was only going to be one winner. I’m glad I watched it.

Now I’m in footy withdrawal – what will I do all summer? Watch the MLS??