Saharan Dust, Heil Hitlers and UC Rusal: Sunday, July 13, 2014

The World Cup final was exhausting and I must admit I could not have taken much more stress. It was a hot afternoon, we had the fans turned up full and ate mangoes and drank coconut water at half time. This did not help Argentina to a victory, sadly. But all the Jamaicans who suddenly started supporting Germany after their demolition job on Brazil last week were happy, and it was a good reason for a Sunday afternoon party, for some.

Russian Neo-Nazis chant "sieg heil" in Moscow during a demonstration to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Russia is experiencing a surge of extremism, sometimes resulting in violent attacks on foreigners. Yes, CVM Television, nazism is alive and well. How insensitive and ignorant of you.

Russian Neo-Nazis chant “sieg heil” in Moscow during a demonstration to celebrate Hitler’’s birthday. Russia is experiencing a surge of extremism, sometimes resulting in violent attacks on foreigners. (Yes, CVM Television, nazism is alive and well. How insensitive and ignorant of you).

A dampener: Our local television station, which had exclusive rights to the World Cup, managed to destroy all the good feelings when one sports reporter decided it would be very amusing to give a Nazi salute and a couple of “Heil Hitlers” following Germany’s win. If this was in the U.S. or many other countries, the journalist would have been fired. But this man will likely be let off the hook (or in Jamaican parlance “get a bly”). Does this sports expert know about the historic moment when the African American Jesse Owens won races at the Berlin Olympics, and Hitler’s reaction? Does he know that Hitler exterminated not only Jews (if you care not for their sensibilities) but also blacks, Roma people, disabled, homosexuals? And does he know that neo-Nazism is flourishing in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, and that Nazi salutes are illegal in many countries? But this is Jamaica! Mediocrity rules… A half-hearted apology will do, it seems.

How will the German Embassy in Kingston respond? Because surely, respond they must.

Now, I’m looking forward to the start of the English Premier League season. Go Arsenal! Roll on, August 16!

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell. (Photo: Gleaner)

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is wielding a big stick at UC Rusal. (Photo: Gleaner)

UC Rusal is in Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell’s bad books. The Minister told Parliament last week he gave the Russian bauxite company an ultimatum in a letter dated July 1, which states:“It is my intention to revoke the special mining leases in respect of the Alpart and Kirkvine refineries in the event that bona fide mining operations do not commence within six months.”

An aerial view of the UC Rusal Windalco Kirkvine bauxite plant in Manchester, which has been closed for five years now. (Photo: Gleaner)

An aerial view of the UC Rusal Windalco Kirkvine bauxite plant in Manchester, which has been closed for five years now. (Photo: Gleaner)

But UC Rusal is reportedly restructuring its huge debt and last week announced the launch of a huge mining project in Dian-Dian, Guinea  – involving the construction and putting into operation by 2016 of a bauxite mine with an annual capacity of 3 million tonnes with the potential for a further increase of up to 6 million tonnes. UC Rusal says Dian-Dian is “the world’s largest bauxite deposit with reserves of 564 million tonnes.”  UC Rusal has just invested many millions in one of its smelters. Minister Paulwell, for all our blustering, aren’t we small fry? The Jamaica Labour Party wants greater transparency. Do we know the terms of the Government’s agreement with UC Rusal? And is the Government hoping a Chinese firm will step into the breach, as suggested in a Gleaner editorial this week?

Lips are sealed: Meanwhile, no further comment from anyone on the resignation/retirement of Police Commissioner Owen Ellington. Only continued speculation and remarks by unnamed “sources” in one or two of our media houses. Will we ever know the truth?

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Gearing up: Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has told her party’s women’s organization to start preparing for local government elections, due in the first quarter of next year. I suppose we will have to wait until then for the Portmore mayoral election, ma’am? Already three months overdue – by law.

A view from space of an African dust storm crossing the Atlantic and heading for the Caribbean.

A view from space of an African dust storm crossing the Atlantic and heading for the Caribbean.

We are under a thick haze, apparently a blanket of Saharan dust. It actually blows on the strong trade winds all the way from Africa and settles on us in the Caribbean, exacerbating our drought conditions. If you want to know anything about the weather, just tweet @JamaicaWeather and you will receive a detailed but not too technical answers to your queries. Genius! By the way, he calls this “climate variability” - not “climate change.” Now, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is concerned about poor air quality in parts of Kingston. Could NEPA release some of their findings? We hear about “monitoring” but that means little to those who have to breathe the stuff in. 

And the heat goes on…

The Jamaica Observer’s Crime Reporter, Karyl Walker, is an experienced reporter with a gay obsession. So he is at it again in today’s edition of the newspaper, with the headline “Police hunt gay murder suspect.” I suppose we should be grateful the headline was not “homo murder suspect,” . The article sparked the usual flood of mostly ignorant comments online. Mr. Walker, were you not taught in journalism school that this kind of reporting is unethical and unprofessional? Or may I suggest a refresher course? Anyway, I look forward to the headline “Police hunt heterosexual murder suspect,” one day soon.

I believe good sense will prevail and Jamaicans for Justice will emerge stronger.

I believe good sense will prevail and Jamaicans for Justice will emerge stronger.

Jamaicans for Justice has problems: I just hope (and believe) they will be resolved soon. Thanks to the Sunday Gleaner for its balanced reporting on the internal governance issues of the important human rights lobby group.

This is my idea of a parlor.

This is my idea of a parlor.

A rotting parlor: Mayor of Kingston & St. Andrew Angela Brown-Burke says her parlor (that is, her office I suppose) was rotting, so she had to get it fixed at a cost of J$1.7 million. It doesn’t seem a lot of money to me, quite frankly. We wouldn’t want the Mayor to fall through the floor. But some councilors think we can’t afford it. By the way, in Jamaica mayors have “parlors.” It reminds me of Victorian households, cluttered with the best furniture and china.

The JDF training camp in Newcastle. An amazing place but don't let it fall down. Please!

The JDF training camp in Newcastle. An amazing place but don’t let it fall down. Please!

Talking of rotting, I hear the historic Jamaica Defence Force training camp up in the beautiful Blue Mountains, Newcastle, is in a very bad condition. Can’t some of the soldiers at least do a few repairs?

Major bouquets to:

Joni Jackson's birthday invitation…to donate blood.

Joni Jackson’s birthday invitation…to donate blood.

Joni Jackson, who celebrated her thirtieth birthday by inviting friends to donate blood at the National Chest Hospital. She even wrote about it – and the importance of giving blood – on a blog. She is hoping this will start a trend. I hope so, too. (Please give blood whenever you can. It is safe and painless and you will likely save a life!)

In the past two or three days, the following Jamaicans have lost their lives through violence. My condolences to all their relatives and friends who mourn…

Rasheed Samuda, 18, New Kingston

Hewit Jarrett, 44, Gayle, St. Mary

Vivian Fletcher, 54, Adelphi, St. James

Unidentified man, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine, killed in an alleged shootout with the police

On the roads: A visitor from the UK was killed attempting to cross the main road last night in Rose Hall, Montego Bay, at the pedestrian crossing. There are conflicting stories as to whether this was a “hit and run.” This road, where several large hotels are located, is a race track, and not very well lit. This is certainly not the first time a tourist has been killed trying to cross the road in our tourist resorts. Negril’s Norman Manley Boulevard is quite notorious. The motorists simply do not slow down for anyone!

A British woman was killed by a speeding car on the Rose Hall main road in Montego Bay last night. Was this a hit and run? Details are scarce. (Photo: Janet Silvera/Gleaner)

A British woman was killed by a speeding car on the Rose Hall main road in Montego Bay last night. Was this a hit and run? Details are scarce. (Photo: Janet Silvera/Gleaner)

Street Lights, Water and Summer Breaks: Friday, July 11, 2014

The last few days have been…well, interesting. High drama on the football front, with the spectacular collapse of the Brazilian team at the hands of Germany and the subsequent struggle resulting in a penalty win for Argentina. At the beginning of the tournament I bought three flags: one for Brazil (husband is a Brazil lover, like many Jamaicans); one for Germany – whom I expected to win; and one for Argentina – my sentimental favorite. Now the last two are in the finals!

Opposition Spokesman on National Security Derrick Smith.

Opposition Spokesman on National Security Derrick Smith.

Ellington’s retirement: Since the weekend speculation and rumor has been increasing, in the absence of any statement from the ruling People’s National Party administration. The Opposition National Security Spokesman Derrick Smith has tabled five questions for his counterpart, Minister Peter Bunting, in Parliament. These are key questions, including whether “international partners” (read: the United States) have imposed an arms embargo on Jamaica and are invoking the Leahy Act in relation to police homicides. The Government has denied knowledge of this, or are not willing to say.

Much of the speculation swirls around a connection between the Police Commissioner’s sudden departure from office and the ongoing investigation of an alleged police “death squad.”  Not sure if I mentioned: A policeman under suspicion of involvement in the alleged death squad was arrested in Ajax, Toronto, Canada by the Toronto Police Fugitive Squad on Friday, June 27. The following Monday Commissioner Ellington announced his resignation. It’s not clear whether Constable Witney Hutchinson will be extradited from Canada in connection with a 2011 murder.

Summer holidays starting early: So far as I know, Parliament is not yet on recess, but at least two ministers are on vacation. One is Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who took a holiday after the CARICOM meeting (do we know what happened at that meeting, apart from a couple of speeches? Any decisions taken, apart from decisions to form task forces, committees and discuss further…?) The PM is due back on Friday. The other vacationer is our Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, who is in Brazil. I wonder what the attraction is there.

Bank of Jamaica.

Bank of Jamaica.

Stepping in: The Bank of Jamaica announced that it would be intervening yesterday for a day. The slide of the Jamaican Dollar had accelerated this week. The J$ made a modest recovery on Thursday and closed the week at J$112.69/US$1. Recent comments by International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde during her visit her about the “over-valuation” of the J$ (she noted that it had some way to go) surely did not help. Its slide has picked up speed since then. But still, Private Sector Organization of Jamaica head Christopher Zacca has just told us to “stop talking down the dollar” and produce, so I’d better shut up.

EPOC meets: Do you want to know what the Economic Program Oversight Committee (EPOC) has been doing? I’ve discovered that details of all its meetings can be found here: http://www.digjamaica.com/imf/epoc

Former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke sworn in by Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1991. Sir Howard died on July 11, 2014. (Photo: Gleaner Archives)

Former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke sworn in by Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1991. Sir Howard died on July 11, 2014. (Photo: Gleaner Archives)

Death of Sir Howard Cooke: This evening we heard that former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke passed away, aged 98. He was a school teacher and a long-serving People’s National Party politician and government minister. He was Governor General from 1991 to 2006. Here a fellow blogger pays tribute:https://elmaestrodixon.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/walk-good-sir-howard-1915-2014/

Victoria Jubilee Hospital. (Photo: Gleaner)

Victoria Jubilee Hospital. (Photo: Gleaner)

Hospital crisis: Nurses walked out of the Victoria Jubilee maternity hospital in Kingston yesterday. Why? There was no water. There’s a severe drought – yes, but aren’t hospitals priority for water supplies? Can you deliver babies without water? Water was subsequently trucked to the hospital. Meanwhile, the University Hospital of the West Indies has postponed many surgeries due to a shortage of operating theaters; a friend’s elderly mother has been there for about two weeks now waiting for an operation on her broken hip. But hey, it’s not just Jamaican hospitals that are struggling; Barbados’ main hospital ran out of supplies recently. The UK’s much-touted National Health Service is now 100 million Pounds Sterling in the red and is “on life support.” We will all have to try and keep ourselves healthy. Preventative medicine!

The drought bites harder: The National Water Commission in Clarendon (the worst hit by the drought) is only trucking water directly to paid-up customers who call them. In St. Elizabeth supplies at the Santa Cruz market are dwindling and prices rising rapidly as farmers are producing less. And so on. Government officials are now mulling over ideas they should have mulled and put into practice years ago.. “Oh, that would be a good idea,” etc.

Faith Webster, Executive Director of the Bureau of Women's Affairs, whose life is on hold. (Photo: Gleaner)

Faith Webster, Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, whose life has been on hold for quite a long time now and who is fighting her suspension on half-pay in court. (Photo: Gleaner)

Witch hunt? Faith Webster, Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a hard-working and long-serving public servant, was indicted by the Public Service Commission three weeks ago and thirteen charges have been laid against her following an internal audit. We don’t know what these charges are, but the Supreme Court has granted Ms. Webster leave to appeal against them and ruled that no further disciplinary action be taken against her until the appeal is heard. What is happening here? Why was Ms. Webster pushed out?

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith gets kudos from me for keeping the focus on vulnerable women and girls in particular. (My photo)

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith gets kudos from me for keeping the focus on vulnerable women and girls in particular. (My photo)

Much needed review:  A parliamentary committee has begun sitting to review the Offences Against the Person Act, The Domestic Violence Act, and the Child Care and Protection Act. There were over 800 reported cases of rape in 2013; but the real number is much higher as many cases are still unreported. I hope that once the deliberations are over there will be some changes to the sentencing for acts of violence against women, children and the elderly – especially sexual violence. The Upper House passed a resolution put forward by Senator Kamina Johnson Smith calling for this review. Kudos to her.

More silly nonsense: State Minister Damion Crawford  decided to make another rather nonsensical speech to party supporters this week. He asserted that former Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness is not “brighter than me.” What actually is the point of such a personal comment? If you have nothing helpful to say, perhaps it would be best to say nothing. But Minister Crawford does have a point; he has been chafing at the “old style politics” of patronage for some time. The problem is, the childishness has tended to overwhelm his more serious discourse.  Breaking news this evening is that the much-heralded first “Rasta yute” Member of Parliament and former head of the PNP Youth Organization has informed his party that he will not seek re-election next time around. So that is that.

Kelly Tomblin, CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company, is straight-talking, always accessible to the media - but, I sense, more than a little frustrated with the current situation, these days. (Photo: Gleaner)

Kelly Tomblin, CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company, is straight-talking, always accessible to the media – but, I sense, more than a little frustrated with the current situation, these days. (Photo: Gleaner)

“My biggest customer doesn’t like to pay its bills”: Kelly Tomblin, CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), complained recently; her body language expressed frustration. The Government owes JPS about J$2 billion for street lights alone. When asked about Ms. Tomblin’s comments, Local Government Minister Noel Arscott observed, in his usual nonchalant style, that she was being “disingenuous,” adding drily: Yes, we would like to pay our bills, but… [we cannot].” About 20 per cent of our street lights are not working.

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott. (Photo: Gleaner)

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott. (Photo: Gleaner)

Oh! And what about the mayoral election in Portmore, Minister Arscott? No word on that? Last time I checked, it was well overdue. The current Acting Mayor  has been serving for nine months since the death of Mayor George Lee. The Municipalities Act states the Deputy Mayor should act for not longer than six months, so this situation is now in breach of the law. Is the Act to be amended, and if so when? Will the next mayoral election take place some time next year, when local elections are due? Is this democracy?

A stationary mystery: CVM reported this week that a police car is parked in the middle of May Pen, near the clock, with its wheels propped up with rocks to stop it moving. Oh yes, it’s been there about a month like that, said local residents. Has there been an explanation? Is it silently monitoring activities in the town? Hmm..

Old Harbour News

Old Harbour News

New media arrivals: Cliff Hughes started his new talk show on Power 106 FM (you can find it streamed online) on Monday. So far it has been enjoyable, refreshing and positive, with some insightful one-on-one talks with newsmakers, as well as the regular call-in people. I recommend the online Old Harbour News, a website that I discovered only recently; it’s actually about a year old. It is also on Twitter (@oldharbournews) and Facebook.  It has local news, but some well-written stories and things you might have missed. Here is one story (a sad one) about an autistic child who perished in a fire recently; his mother blames the lack of water in the rural area of Planters Hall: http://www.oldharbournews.com/index.php/news/item/204-if-we-had-water-my-baby-would-be-alive-today  And the Sunday Statement makes its debut on August 31 – Jamaica’s third Sunday paper.  Want another way to get your news online? There is the new Loop Jamaicawhich taps into social media feeds and provides a flow of Jamaica news, here: http://loopjamaica.com  A very attractive and user-friendly website.

The beautiful parrotfish grazes off coral reefs, keeping them healthy. Don't eat them! They are getting fewer.

The beautiful parrotfish grazes off coral reefs, keeping them healthy. Don’t eat them! They are getting fewer.

Fishy tip: Let’s stop eating parrot fish; they protect what is left of our coral reefs. And let’s eat lion fish; I am told they are succulent (and they are a destructive invasive species).

The lion fish looks very fancy but gobbles up reef fish voraciously. In turn, we humans should eat more of them. When the spines are removed I am told it is very tasty.

The lion fish looks very fancy but gobbles up reef fish voraciously. In turn, we humans should eat more of them. When the spines are removed I am told it is very tasty.

“Three cheers” for:

Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister, the Hon. G. Anthony Hylton (right) and JBDC CEO, Valerie Veira are all smiles as they present JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Lacey-Ann Bartley. The announcement was made recently at the JBDC Small Business Expo (May 22), an official presentation was made to Bartley at the Ministry of Industry, Investment & Commerce. (Photo: Facebook)

Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister, the Hon. G. Anthony Hylton (right) and JBDC CEO, Valerie Veira are all smiles as they present JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Lacey-Ann Bartley. The official presentation was made to Bartley at the Ministry of Industry, Investment & Commerce. (Photo: Facebook)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lacey-Ann Bartley, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation’s (JBDC) Entrepreneur of the Year. A young woman who is going far! I first introduced my readers to Lacey-Ann as one of National Bakery’s “Bold Ones” (if you do a search you will see a couple of articles I wrote on this great project). Lacy-Ann does great things with wood! You can find Bartley’s All in Wood on Facebook, at (876) 348-0934; email: bartleysallinwood@gmail.com and at http://www.bartleysfurniture.com.jm/

The Mandela Essay Competition from JN Foundation. DEADLINE IS MONDAY, JULY 14!

The Mandela Essay Competition from JN Foundation. DEADLINE IS MONDAY, JULY 14!

The JN Foundation, which goes from strength to strength with its many and varied range of activities. Its volunteers are a force to be reckoned with! Want to learn more? Read their quarterly newsletter here: http://issuu.com/jnfoundation/docs/jnf_newsletter_july_2014_final/0  The deadline for the Foundation’s Nelson Mandela Day Essay Competition is Monday, July 14! To submit your entry, go to: https://www.facebook.com/JNFoundation/app_432976163386165

Daniel Sturridge with a young fan at the launch of his charity foundation in Jamaica in June, 2013. (Photo: Gleaner)

Daniel Sturridge with a representative of Digicel, which supported the launch of his charity foundation in Jamaica in June, 2013. (Photo: Gleaner)

Daniel Sturridge, the Liverpool and England national footballer (who scored against Italy in the World Cup) who will host his second annual Daniel Sturridge Foundation Family Fun Day tomorrow (Saturday, July 12) at the Constant Spring Football Field. Sturridge has Jamaican grandparents. Thank you, Daniel!

Public Affairs Intern Sybil Lewis, from the University of California at Berkeley shares tips with students while Rodje Malcolm (left),  Jamaican studying at Morehouse College, listens. (Photo: U.S. Embassy)

Public Affairs Intern Sybil Lewis, from the University of California at Berkeley shares tips with students while Rodje Malcolm (left), Jamaican studying at Morehouse College, listens. (Photo: U.S. Embassy)

The U.S. Embassy in Kingston, for its annual pre-departure seminar for Jamaican students going to study in the United States last week. This session always provides much useful (and practical) information for outgoing students; about sixty of them came to the Embassy last week, and parents too. If you need advice on studying in the United States, please email kingstonIRC@state.gov or call 702-6172.

The refurbished Montego Bay Civic Centre is home to National Gallery West, which also has space for performances and a bistro. The effort has received strong support from the Montego Bay Arts Council, headed by hotelier Josef Forstmayr. (Photo: Facebook)

The refurbished Montego Bay Civic Centre is home to National Gallery West, which also has space for performances and a bistro. The effort has received strong support from the Montego Bay Arts Council, headed by hotelier Josef Forstmayr. (Photo: Facebook)

The National Gallery of Jamaica, which officially opened its National Gallery West in Montego Bay today. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday 10 am-6 pm; admission free until September 30, 2014. Kudos to the Tourism Enhancement Fund of the Ministry of Tourism for making this happen, with the support of the Montego Bay Arts Council. As noted before, I am pleased with the Ministry’s support for Jamaica’s visual, written and performing arts in all its forms.

The sad list of names is shorter, again, and for this we must be thankful. My condolences to all those who mourn. I would also like to know the condition of a 16-year-old girl, who was reportedly thrown from a car in Trafalgar Road, New Kingston on Tuesday night. She was found to have a gunshot wound to her back and was rushed to hospital. I hope she is recovering from this terrible trauma. 

Unidentified man, Asquith Street/Jones Town, Kingston

Kawayne Mitchell, 19, Marlie Mount Primary & Infant School, St. Catherine

Lavena Robinson, 48, Springfield, St. Catherine

Fidel Smith, 48, New Market, Westmoreland

World Cup 2014: More Than Just a Leg Show

My father used to have a great expression. When he couldn’t see the point of an event or performance, and thought it was pretending to be something it was not, he would call it a “leg show.” In other words, just a bunch of people showing off their physical attributes.

In some ways, if you are not a serious football fan (and if you follow social media) you might be forgiven for thinking that World Cup 2014 is, indeed, a mere “leg show.” I, for one, have always been very much focused on footballers’ legs. After all, what would they do without those lovely, finely muscled… Oops. I’ve gone a bit too far there and don’t want to be accused of being sexist. But I laughed out loud when a lightly injured Algerian player lifted his leg while being helped into a stretcher. “THIGHHHH!” cried one of my female Twitter friends, right on cue.

You can stop here, if you like, as this blog post may go downhill a bit from now on. The Twittersphere, in particular, has been a delight throughout the hotly-contested tournament in Brazil, so far. Some of us have developed an obsession with beards, and tattoos. But it all started with Uruguay’s jerseys, which were – and still remain – much too tight. The pale blue jerseys even inspired an Egyptian activist writer whom I much admire and follow on Twitter (sadly, she’s a Manchester United fan but I might forgive her!), to write this article: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118177/world-cup-2014-costa-rica-vs-uruguay-reaction.

Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and team mates sing the national anthem with constricted breath due to tight jerseys. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and team mates sing the national anthem with constricted breath due to tight jerseys. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Indeed, Uruguay did have a lot going for them, at the beginning of the contest. The jerseys, Diego Forlan’s pale blond tresses and Edinson Cavani’s sculptured features were just some of the pluses. This week, however, in the curious way that sports has, everything unraveled, suddenly.

The referee didn't seem too impressed by the bite mark. And Luis Suarez seemed to be blaming Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder for getting in the way.

The referee didn’t seem too impressed by the bite mark. And Luis Suarez seemed to be blaming Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder for getting in the way.

This was largely due to a dental incident. Yes, I am sure you have heard about it. The unfortunate (and incredibly brilliant) Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez lost control of his incisors (and not for the first time) and bit an Italian opponent. His front teeth are, indeed, very large, but no – they don’t operate independently. Bizarrely, after the incident Mr. Suarez sat down, holding onto his teeth (perhaps trying to indicate that the teeth were the injured ones). Problem is, as we know, this wasn’t the first time. Mr. Suarez (who got off relatively lightly in my view, with a nine-match ban) is on his way home now; he was photographed today walking under a sign that said sadly “Exit.”

Giorgio Chiellini eventually saw the funny side, when a maid at his hotel took a bite. Perhaps he just tastes nice. (Photo: Mail UK)

Giorgio Chiellini eventually saw the funny side, when a maid at his hotel took a bite. Perhaps he just tastes nice. (Photo: Mail UK)

Of course, the Twitter response was hilarious. It was noted that you were more likely to be bitten by Suarez than by a shark. Various photoshopped images flew around. I feel sad for him, and I do think he needs counseling. Also, we will miss his quick-witted goals.

A tourist jokes in front of an advertisement with a portrait of Luis Suarez at Copacabana beach (Photo: AFP)

A tourist jokes in front of an advertisement with a portrait of Luis Suarez at Copacabana beach (Photo: AFP)

By the way, did you know that Uruguay hosted the very first FIFA World Cup in 1930? There were only 13 teams. You might think the United States are wet-behind-the-ears newcomers to football (soccer) – but the U.S., Argentina, Uruguay and Yugoslavia reached the semi-finals that year. Uruguay beat Argentina in the finals. For a concise, lyrical, delightful World Cup history, do read Eduardo Galeano’s “El fútbol a sol y sombra” (Soccer in Sun and Shadow) – I wrote a review of it which you can read if you look in the lefthand sidebar of this blog.

Drogba and his beard.

Drogba and his beard.

Back to the beards. When the powerhouse from Côte d’Ivoire, Didier Drogba, arrived on the scene, we were all bowled over by his majestic beard. It looks perfect. In fact, so much so that a Twitter account was immediately forged, @Drogbasbeard. But the Ivorian beard has had some serious competition. 

Italy's Andrea Pirlo sports a splendid beard, which enhances his lovely Italian face.

Italy’s Andrea Pirlo sports a splendid beard, which enhances his lovely Italian face.

In the beard stakes, here are some of my personal favorites so far (and I am still assessing them, so give me a little more time):

Andrea Pirlo of Italy (who owns a vineyard, by the way); Cameroon goalie Charles Itandje – a beard with flair; Raul Meireles of Portugal, who has a 21st-century punk look, with tattoos and a mohawk too; and last but not least, another African goalie, Rais M’Bolhi of Algeria, has a beard to conjure with.

Portuguese player Raul Meireles during a training session in Campinas, Brazil, on June 18. He's been setting the pace on the personal style front. (EPA/JOSE SENA GOULAO)

Portuguese player Raul Meireles during a training session in Campinas, Brazil, on June 18. He’s been setting the pace on the personal style front. (EPA/JOSE SENA GOULAO)

Of course, there is a significant group on Twitter who admire those tattoos that footballers love to adorn their bodies with (have you ever seen David Beckham’s? Wow). Top of the beard plus “ink” stakes has to be American goalkeeper Tim Howard. I have seen him almost every week keeping goal at Everton in the English Premier League, but somehow during the World Cup competition he has acquired greater stature. Yes, stature is the word. Some of us on Twitter were a little overwhelmed by a PETA campaign ad featuring Tim, causing some of us to question whether he was real. This, of course, sent us to dear old Google to do a little more Tim research, coming up with some more impressive photographs to prove that yes, his tattoos (and everything else) were indeed the real thing. Wow. And he has done some fantastic saves, too.

But, the World Cup really is more than my father’s proverbial leg show. I swear. There have been so many touching, funny, sad and odd little incidents. Many records have been broken, and many “firsts”: for example, today Algeria qualified for the final 16 for the first time, causing their fans to go completely insane in Brazil, Marseille and Algiers. Colombia’s goalkeeper, Faryd Mondragon, was the oldest player ever at the World Cup, at age 43. Yaya and Kolo Touré’s younger brother Ibrahim died of cancer, aged 28, on June 19. The Ivorian brothers’ grief was palpable. By contrast, Miguel Herrera, Mexico’s coach, has been keeping us all amused with his energy and enthusiasm for his young team. Sweating profusely, at times nearly bursting out of his shiny suit and gesticulating wildly, the chubby coach grabbed the celebrating players and wrestled them to the ground when they won, rolling around with them in sheer joy. He photo bombs his players regularly, making crazy faces. The famed Cristiano Ronaldo managed to score one goal before Portugal was eliminated, and changed his haircut regularly, his special brand of hair gel gleaming (and melting) in the Brazilian sun. And as anticipated, Brazil’s Neymar and Argentina’s Messi are competing – both charming and delightful players, both scoring goals.

A friend tweeted plaintively the other day, “Why is the World Cup only every four years? Why can’t it be more often?” 

An eccentric Brazilian fan sends up a prayer.

An eccentric Brazilian fan sends up a prayer.

I know what she means. Perhaps because it is in Brazil, World Cup 2014 has a flavor all its own. And then there are the fans – crazy, beautiful, wild, in their insane costumes. They deserve a blog post all to themselves, and they shall get one.

PS I forget to mention. I have fallen in love, with an Argentine player called Ezequiel Lavezzi. A splendid name for a very handsome man. But I am keeping him to myself. Oh, OK then – go and look at my Facebook page, where my friends are all a-flutter. Viva Argentina!

You can check out my World Cup Pinterest board (271 pins and counting) here: 

#1 in the Beard and Tattoos stakes: Mr. Tim Howard, Everton FC and U.S. goalie. This was a photo campaign he did for PETA.

#1 in the Beard and Tattoos stakes: Mr. Tim Howard, Everton FC and U.S. goalie. This was a photo campaign he did for PETA. As they say on Twitter: #nowords

http://www.pinterest.com/petchary/fifa-world-cup-2014/

Goalies seem to like beards - do they look more macho and intimidating, perhaps? Here is Rais.

Goalies seem to like beards – do they look more macho and intimidating, perhaps? Here is Rais.

 

Charles Itandje of Cameroon's chin-hugging beard makes his face look longer, doesn't it. Very nice.

Charles Itandje of Cameroon’s chin-hugging beard makes his face look longer, doesn’t it. Very nice.

Mid-week Mumblings: Wednesday, June 11, 2014

It’s been miserably hot and dry in central Kingston this week so far. 32 degrees but feels hotter, and absolutely no sign of any rain. Sadly, since the fuss about the Meteorological Service of Jamaica’s Twitter account, they have not been tweeting very regularly. Perhaps you manage more than once a day, Met Office? Just saying – it being the hurricane season, and all…

Ummm… Well, as you can see, my household hasn't quite decided which team we are supporting in the World Cup - but let's say these are our Top Three. Our dog outside, meanwhile, is quite unconcerned...

Ummm… Well, as you can see, my household hasn’t quite decided which team we are supporting in the World Cup – but let’s say these are our Top Three. Our dog outside, meanwhile, is quite unconcerned…

Sports fever, but… World Cup fever has suddenly gripped Jamaica, and vendors in Kingston have been doing a brisk trade selling the flags of competing teams. I have spotted several Brazilian flags and a few from Argentina, Germany and the like fluttering from car windows as Jamaicans support their favorites. On the home front though, things have been a little dismal. Our Reggae Boyz football team was soundly walloped by France (8-0) last week. And today, New Zealand emphatically beat the West Indies cricket team by 186 runs in a first-ever win at Kingston’s Sabina Park. The next two test matches will take place in Trinidad (June 16-20) and Barbados (June 26-30). Well, at least Jamaica’s female athletes aren’t letting us down (see below).

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. (Photo: Gleaner)

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. (Photo: Gleaner)

Bending the rules? The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party went on the offensive this week, after its leader’s quite unusual assertiveness in the Lower House last week while questioning the Prime Minister. Andrew Holness claims that the current People’s National Party administration is cleverly creating its own alternative system of governance, bypassing the rules and regulations. Is he right? Mr. Holness stated at a press briefing yesterday: “I have reached the point now where I cannot support the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team.” More to follow?

Contractor General Dirk Harrison (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Contractor General Dirk Harrison (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

“Strengthening the OCG”?  In the December 20, 2011 televised Leadership Debate, Portia Simpson Miller pledged: “In terms of fighting corruption, I will not tolerate any form of corruption in a People’s National Party government and that’s why when I’m returned to power, as Prime Minister, I will ensure the strengthening of these institutions, like the Office of the Contractor General (OCG).”  Something has gone awry, hasn’t it? Why, this administration has already taken the OCG to court!

While it has created an enormous amount of environmental destruction, the bauxite sector is nevertheless a major employer in several rural communities and the closure of plants has resulted in considerable economic hardship in those communities.

While it has created an enormous amount of environmental destruction, the bauxite sector is nevertheless a major employer in several rural communities and the closure of plants has resulted in considerable economic hardship in those communities.

Bauxite woes continue: Now the Managing Director of Bauxite Mining Limited Coy Roache, in remarks at a press briefing today, seemed to blame the OCG for somehow blocking the sale of the Jamaican Government’s seven per cent share in the WINDALCO mining interest to UC Rusal, resulting in an increased debt to Rusal -which now stands at US$21.5 million (the latter was quite a revelation, wasn’t it?) Well, Minister Paulwell has announced the sale of the Government’s share to the parent company for US$11 million, which will go towards the debt. In the same breath the Minister is reportedly “threatening” to revoke UC Rusal’s license if the company does not indicate to him when it will reopen the Alpart and Kirkvine plants. The Minister claims the bauxite sector is looking healthy and that other companies are interested, but is this so? UC Rusal itself, a couple of months back, declared losses of US$3.2 billion. Jamaica is only a small part of its operations. Are they really likely to reopen? Is the Minister in any position to threaten UC Rusal? Meanwhile, the closed plants will soon begin to fall into disrepair. But is this the cue for our knights in shining armor, the Chinese, to roll into town on their steeds? Now  Jamalco (majority owner is Alcoa) is forging ahead and acquiring new lands for mining in Manchester, but says it is not increasing capacity. Its output has improved marginally but is still way below 2009 figures. Hmm.

Businessman Richard Byles, who heads the Economic Programme Oversight Committee.

Businessman Richard Byles, who heads the Economic Programme Oversight Committee.

Energy anxiety: Once again, the chair of the private sector Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) Richard Byles has appeared on television with a strained look on his face as he stares down a long, shiny conference room table. Mr. Byles’ concern is – yes, you’ve guessed it – energy. Noting that “It’s seven years, about, that we have been bungling this in one way or another,” Mr. Byles points out these kind of shenanigans are not exactly going to inspire potential investors with confidence. As if we didn’t know that. Meanwhile, a manufacturer said on radio this morning that if electricity rates were considerably reduced in Jamaica there would be a flood of investment, with new factories opening.  If. Well, Minister Paulwell says this is what he is focused on – reducing rates “for the Jamaican people.” If that’s his priority, why is he making such a hash of it?

Dr Fritz Pinnock (foreground), executive director of the Caribbean Maritime Institute, addresses the touring party  on Little Goat Island. (Photo: Gleaner)

In very casual clothing, Dr Fritz Pinnock (foreground), executive director of the Caribbean Maritime Institute, addresses the touring party on Little Goat Island. (Photo: Gleaner)

Who is Mr. Cameron? A rather muddled report by Gary Spaulding (who is usually so good) about the Goat Islands issue certainly did “raise questions.” Minister Omar Davies’ chief mouthpiece on the issue, Fritz Pinnock, who heads the Caribbean Maritime Institute, took a group of reporters to Little Goat Island, to prove” to them that the area is degraded, the Americans flattened it for a base in World War II, etc. Notably, Dr. Pinnock avoided the much larger, pristine Great Goat Island, which has been proposed as a special conservation area for critically endangered species and has been prepared for this use in recent years by national and international scientists – and with substantial national and international funding. Oh, the good Dr. Pinnock didn’t mention that? Nor did Mr. Spaulding, who did speak to a veteran fisherman of Old Harbour Bay, Errol Cameron. Mr. Cameron claimed he had worked with” the dreaded “environmentalists” for years; and proceeded to denigrate them. (He is a bit of a mystery. Said environmentalists don’t seem to know him!) But Mr. Cameron did admit that there were fish in the area. According to Dr. Pinnock, there are none. A more detailed report in the Jamaica Observer included Dr. Pinnock’s casual comment that Great Goat Island was just “a further amplification of the bush.” The report (including some silly comments from reporters) would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. (Photo: AP)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. (Photo: AP)

IMF head to visit Jamaica: The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde and a delegation will visit Jamaica on June 27-28. The IMF has so far been cautiously positive (if you know what I mean) about Jamaica’s performance to date under its stringent four-year régime. Will this visit simply be a nice pat on the back for Finance Minister Peter Phillips? God knows, we do need some good PR so some encouraging words from Mme. Lagarde would not go amiss, would they.

Special “big ups” to…

Elaine Duncan proudly holds her first place trophy during the GraceKennedy/Heather Little-White Household Worker of the Year awards ceremony held recently. (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Elaine Duncan proudly holds her first place trophy during the GraceKennedy/Heather Little-White Household Worker of the Year awards ceremony held recently. (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

  • The GraceKennedy Household Helper of the Year, 42-year-old Elaine Duncan, who staggered under a huge trophy presented by the company. For those who don’t know, the “helper” is the stalwart supporter of Jamaica’s upper and middle classes, without which they would likely collapse: “unsung heroes” indeed, as GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby observed. The award is named after Heather Little-White, a wonderful woman who passed away recently and was known for her support for domestic helpers.
  • Ms. Kaliese Spencer, a terrific Jamaican hurdler who is in impressive form at the moment. She just won the women’s 400 metres hurdles at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway.
Jamaican hurdler Kaliese Spencer - in fine form.

Jamaican hurdler Kaliese Spencer – in fine form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An unidentified man was found with gunshot wounds in St. John’s Road, St. Catherine.

The police shot and killed an alleged car thief, Wayne Graham, in Eltham View also in St. Catherine.

A resident of Palmetto, James Brown, 26, was reportedly chopped to death by a mob in rural Woodside, St. Mary; he was accused of rape and several robberies in the area.

46-year-old contractor Owen Bunny (“Frenchie”) was shot and killed in Spanish Town by men on a motorcycle. 

A teacher of Business Studies at Excelsior High School, 40-year-old Nigel Riley, was found dead with his throat slashed on a football field near Old Harbour, St. Catherine.

My deepest sympathies to the families of all those who died violently in the past three days, listed above.

On our roads, the madness continues: A motorist reportedly overtook several cars before crashing at high speed on the Portmore leg of Highway 2000 this morning. His car actually broke up into several parts. The driver is in stable condition in hospital, very lucky to be alive. A motorcyclist on a rural road in Hanover died after overtaking a bus and crashing into an oncoming vehicle. His pillion passenger is seriously injured.

The scene of a motorcycle crash near Green Island, Hanover.

The scene of a motorcycle crash today near Green Island, Hanover.

This motor car burst into several parts after crashing earlier this morning on the Portmore Leg of Highway 2000. - (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

This motor car burst into several parts after crashing earlier this morning on the Portmore Leg of Highway 2000. – (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

My Copa runneth over

The Petchary is going to miss the drama.  The Copa America 2011 football tournament is over, in a blaze of pale blue, as Uruguay emphatically beat Paraguay in the final at El Monumental, the majestic stadium in Buenos Aires.

The contest certainly had its high and low points, and was by turns dull, irritating, baffling and downright exhilarating.  For a start, the hosts Argentina, whose hordes of fans filled the earlier games, did not stay the course and were beaten in penalty shootouts in the quarter finals by their fierce rivals and ultimate Copa winners, Uruguay.  How humiliating for them to hear the Uruguayan cheers resounding in Buenos Aires over the weekend!   But hey…there were many sublime moments from Argentina to enjoy, before they sadly bowed out.  And there were far too many penalty shootouts in the entire competition, with their engineered drama and inevitable “sudden death” atmosphere.  One always feels so sorry for the goalkeepers.

Argentine team after a goalless draw against Colombia

A crestfallen Mr Messi and teammates being booed off the pitch after a goalless draw

And then there were the other giants of Latin American football, Brazil, who have won four out of the past five Copas.  They were beaten by the finalists and at that point low-ranked team, little Paraguay, also in the quarter finals.  And woe of woes!  No less than four of Brazil’s penalty takers – star boys Elano and Fred, Thiago Silva and Andre Santos – failed to score.  The kind of event that makes football fans clutch their heads in despair.

And so Paraguay somehow, astonishingly, sailed on to the finals without having actually won a match (unless you count shootouts).  Their defensive displays, however – especially the trusty goalkeeper, Justo Villar, who was named best goalie of the competition – were admirable.  “We got in the final because we had guts and luck,” Villar said bluntly.

Paraguayan goalkeeper Justo Villar

Justo Villar doing his thing

There were other spills and surprises.  The Venezuelan team – complete underdogs, who have never reached the Copa finals – was remarkably skillful, and as unlucky as Paraguay were lucky – balls bouncing off the framework of the goal with regularity.  Their slick play was often a pleasure to watch, but the result was often unrewarding.  They worked hard, and ended up fourth, beaten in the third-place match by a combative Peruvian team.  Their ailing President Hugo Chavez constantly urged them on via Twitter.

Venezuelan players

The Venezuelans, surprise success of the tournament

But when it came down to it, the rugged Uruguayans were worthy champions (for the fifteenth time – one more than Argentina).  Luis Suarez played with an increasingly fiery energy as the competition progressed.  With his crooked teeth and his short crest of hair, he was a dynamo and deserved the Best Player award.  He waxed poetic after their victory, speaking of the “unlimited sacrifice that every member of the team has within.”   And indeed, their teamwork was remarkable.  They were not, like Argentina and Brazil perhaps, just a collection of stars.  They were a formidable attacking force.

Uruguay forward Luis Suarez

The marauding Suarez, a terror with a smile on his face

But one individual has to be mentioned – the dashing Diego Forlan.  The Petchary has always hugely admired the talisman of the Uruguay team (and, if you recall, the top player in last year’s World Cup).  He of the flying yellow curls and laser-sharp long balls scored two beautiful goals in the finals, after a slow start to the tournament.  But then, it’s in his blood.  His father and his grandfather were both footballers, playing for Sao Paulo and Independiente respectively in their time.

Diego Forlan kisses the Copa America

Give us a kiss... the marvelous Mr. Forlan embraces the Copa

And then there were the coaches.  Paraguay’s coach Gerardo Martino was sternly sent into the stands and suspended for two matches after an unpleasant scuffle following a semi-final win over Venezuela.  His assistant Jorge Pautasso – who bore an odd resemblance to the comedian Peter Sellers in a fake nose and wig – carried on with the harassment after Martino’s sending off, and was similarly banished a few minutes later.  They sat calmly together in the stands, unrepentant.

Jorge Pautasso and Gerardo Martino of Paraguay

Messrs Pautasso and Martino of Paraguay, two naughty coaches

As you would expect from Latin American football, there were tears, remonstrations, protests and much discussion.  Latin players do much more talking than the rather dour players of the English Premier League (go Arsenal!)  After every incident – a foul or perceived foul – there is often a discussion of sorts.  The fouled one discusses the affront with the fouler, his team mates, members of the opposing team and, of course, the referee, who finds it very hard to remain aloof.  Arms are waved, shoulders are shrugged, but there is often some humor and pats on the back when all is resolved.

Top scorer Paolo Guerrero of Peru was particularly adept at this.  He is what the British would call “lippy.”  In many European games in such a situation, there is just the short four-letter expletive (read their lips) and a contemptuous spit as the offended one walks away.  I prefer the discussions and debates.

Peru forward Paolo Guerrero

Delightful top scorer Guerrero of Peru... a man not afraid to express his opinion.

Viva Copa America, and all who sailed in her!  If you missed it, you missed a treat.

A Riot of Passions

Well, it’s going to be a long hot summer.  Here in Jamaica, the first tropical storm of the season, with the sweet, down-home name of Arlene, is circling around Mexico.  Jamaicans in social media (and there are 600,000 of us on Facebook alone) cry plaintively, “This heat!!!”  (One exclamation mark is never enough in social media-dom).

And meanwhile, some of our western hemispheric neighbors are into…rioting.  And specifically, sports riots (sporting riots?).  It started with the Vancouverians (no, that can’t be right, hold on a minute…I don’t know what the natives of that fair city are called but will try to find out…Vanconians, perhaps?)  Yes, our “neighbors to the north” became incensed at the defeat of their ice hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks.

OK, stop right there.  What in the blazes is a Canuck?  It sounds like an odd little creature – somewhat chipmunkish, perhaps – that lives up there in the Rockies and eats pine cones.  But no – in fact a Canuck is simply…a Canadian.  Its etymology is unclear – a bit of German here, a bit of Dutch there, who knows.  Anyway, it has now been established that the Canucks are Canadians.  Duh, as they say.  And they play ice hockey like demons.

Now, I don’t understand the rules of ice hockey, but it was clear that the Canucks were getting the proverbial whupping in that last game, at the hands of (gasp) Americans.  Battling Bostonians, no less, who can exhibit just as much testosterone-laden aggression as any Vancouveronian/Canuck.  As usual, the incredibly high tempo game gradually degenerated into regular pushing and shoving sessions on the plastic margins of the ice rink, during which at least one player got a bloody nose.  It all ended in defeat and despair for the hapless Canucks.  And defeated, not by fellow-Canucks (remember, Canuck = Canadian), but by Americans (or whatever their probably highly derogatory word for Americans is).

A scene from the Vancouver riots

Yes, we hate the other tribe.

Yes, among sports fans things get visceral.  Name-calling is but a small part of it.  In any case, the humiliated fans decided the only thing to do was to “get on bad,” to use a charming Trinidadian phrase.  And so they did, bringing shame and disgrace on the city of Vancouver.  “We should not be smug,” reflected one writer in the “Vancouver Observer,” adding rather pompously, “civilization is a precious and fragile thing.”  Indeed.  And sports fans, let’s face it, quite often border on the uncivilized.  One sees plenty of evidence of that scary dark side of human nature, whether it’s racism, ultra-nationalism or just sheer mindless violence (when I was growing up in London, Chelsea fans were to be feared and respected.  They were a mob of mindless hooligans, who specialized in smashing up trains).

But hey, sports is supposed to be fun!  And for some Vancouverites (ah, that sounds better) it was, apparently.  They posed in their Canucks paraphernalia in front of burning cars.  Cheerful peace signs were flashed in front of smashed plate glass windows.  The rioters did not have the grim look of hardcore anarchists.  They were enjoying themselves.

Vancouver riots

A fresh-faced young Canuck gives the camera a nice smile as the smoke and flames soar into the Vancouver night.

I thought I understood the Canadians.  I always think of them as a milder version of Americans, but now I realize they can be pretty edgy too.  Once, while traveling alone on a bumpy plane journey, the turbulence made me feel so sick that a kind Canadian sitting next to me gave me some rather disgusting herbal chewing gum that was supposed to settle my stomach.  That’s the kind of thing I expect Canadians to do.  Not this… In the middle of a serious riot.

Vancouver riots

This amorous couple has apparently become quite famous since the riots. It must have been all that adrenalin I suppose.

I wonder what the hockey players thought – the Canucks and the victorious Bruins (what is a Bruin, by the way?  Further investigation needed).

Now, let’s move much further south, to some other battling denizens of the western hemisphere.  Ah, here we are… Argentina.

The River Plate (Rio de la Plata) is a large and harmless river that happens to flow along the border between Ecuador and Argentina, lapping at the edges of their respective capital cities, Montevideo and Buenos Aires.  It’s actually a huge estuary, brown with sediment; the fresh river water on top, heavy salt water underneath.  And there was a battle there, in World War II, in which a German ship ended up out of sorts in the port of Montevideo.

It’s also, of course, the name of the famed Argentine football club.  For the first time in its 110-year history, Club Atletic River Plate has been relegated to the Nacional B division.  Fans of its huge rivals, the Boca Juniors, must be laughing cruelly (the BJ’s are where the ebullient Diego Maradona was virtually born and raised).  Such are sports fans.

Now let’s get this straight.  The mighty River Plate football club has towered over most of its competitors for over a century.  Its huge stadium, nicknamed “El Monumental,” was built in 1938 and is the largest in Argentina, holding over 76,000 including the standing-only areas.  When megastars are in town, they play there; Michael Jackson, Madonna, AC/DC and earlier this year, the inane Miley Cyrus played sold-out concerts.  Yikes.

AC/DC poster

The still strangely popular AC/DC played at River Plate this year...'Twould have been an equally raucous evening, but marginally safer.

River Plate has won the national league, the Apertura, countless times, and was named Best Argentine Team of the 20th Century in a FIFA-sponsored poll.  In the 1940s, during a particularly splendid patch, the team was called “La Maquina” (The Machine).  But crisis was looming lurid on the horizon, like an approaching thunderstorm.  The club’s president, Jose Maria Aguilar, left the club with debts bursting out all over.  The writing was on the wall.

I am using this dramatic language advisedly, because there is nothing quite like the drama of Argentine football.  The huge swelling masses of fans, walled off against each other, sway against the tall chain link fences topped with razor wire that pen them in.  The Petchary thinks she would not like to be in the middle of that mass of humanity.  Within minutes of a game, the pitch is littered with what look like scraps of toilet tissue and other debris, almost as if a bomb has landed in an office building and papers are scattered everywhere.  And the game itself is no-holds-barred.  Unlike their rather effete footballing neighbors Brazil, they don’t worry too much about fancy footwork or cute hairstyles.  The main thing is to get the ball in the back of the net, so they can go racing about tugging at each other’s shirts, kissing and hugging and so that their fans can do likewise.

River Plate fans

The seething mass of River Plate fans.

Now, the Petchary has more sympathy with the mortified, devastated River Plate fans than with the young, exhibitionist Vancouveronians.  After all, their team was relegated for the first time ever.  And the “Gallinas” – chickens, as fans of rival clubs call them – took the streets.  Hell hath no fury like a chicken scorned.

Mariano Pavone of River Plate after missing a penalty kick

The tragedy of it all. This River Plate player just missed a penalty, plunging the fans into paroxysms of fear and horror.

Dennis Brown had a song called “Love and Hate.”  It’s something like that, no half-hearted emotions here.  In the case of the River Plate riots, mostly grief and hate, starting with pitch invasions when things took a turn for the worse, and death threats against the referee, who had a pretty nervy half-time break.  The threats were allegedly made by one of River Plate’s gangs (yes, gangs) called Los Borrachos del Tablon (the Drunks in the Stands).  Then thousands of fans who hadn’t got tickets charged the stadium, throwing lumps of rubble at the police who responded with tear gas.  89 people were injured but miraculously, no dead chickens.

River Plate fans

Seeing red... River Plate fans in their natural habitat, and in happier times.

Now the Copa America, the final of which is to be played in El Monumental, is on the horizon.  But peace will be restored by then.  That phoney football love and harmony will flow across South America as Argentina host the Copa.  After all, it is club football that inspires the deepest love/hate/passion/fury/delirium – not national teams.
Just a footnote:  the Petchary is no way condoning violence and criminality in this blog post.  It’s just that she understands the agony and the ecstasy of club football (there she goes again with that melodramatic language).  It is sad to see grown men cry and tear at their chests in wild grief.  
No doubt about it, River Plate and its fans will just have to suck salt from a wooden spoon (or the Argentine equivalent) throughout the upcoming season, and make sure they win the second division.   And there will be no El Classico – the hyped-up annual game between them and super monster rivals Boca Juniors, either. 
What further dramas will unfold, one asks?  Well, the summer is young, but getting hotter.  Where will the fun and games break out next?  When and where is the next G-20 or IMF meeting?  That’s always good for a bit of action.  Somehow I prefer sports fans, though.  
They’ve got more “oomph.”  And sports is more interesting than politics.
A scene from the last G-20 riots

These kinds of riots are a little too...earnest.

Related articles

The four “A”s of Arsenal…And have a cup of speedy coffee

At some point I know I am going to have to write about the massacre of Tivoli Gardens, one year ago.  It is like a huge balloon full of water, so heavy it is about to burst.  But for now, let me turn to the Petchary’s one big distraction (and great passion) – that is, football.  And to be specific, the Arsenal Football Club, North London‘s finest.

Apart from the name of the club (which, if shortened, is rather a rude word in “English English“) there are some lovely players beginning with “A.”  I hope they will be with us for another season, which again this year remained “trophyless” (an awkward non-word, but you know what I mean).  No bloody silverware, again, and the Carling Cup slipping from our grasp – and won by a team which has now been relegated!

But there now, I have started picking at that wound again, and it is going to reopen.  We Arsenal fans can’t help but feel bitter though, especially as we held doggedly on to second place through three quarters of the season – even snapping at ManU’s heels once or twice – only to slip determinedly down in the last three or four weeks, allowing both Chelsea and Manchester City to step over us, to end up fourth.  How did that happen, Mr. Wenger?  I’m tired of seeing you pursing your lips and thrashing angrily at the air as we miss yet another opportunity to score that elusive GOAL.  I felt like thrashing angrily at you, on many occasions.

Well, we Arsenal fans have been accused of being whiners, and that’s exactly what I am doing, so I had better shut up.  Let’s go then, A is for…

Andrei Arshavin.  A small dynamo of an attacking midfielder, and hugely popular with the fans.  He had a really bad patch half way through the season, but was looking very lively towards the end and played with determination and flair even in games we only drew (or lost, ugh).  He has been a Gunner since 2009 and I really hope he sticks around.  He has speed and great footwork at his best, darting and dribbling right up to the goal.

Andrei Arshavin

He has a childish way of sticking out his tongue when he scores a goal.

Young Andrei was born in St. Petersburg in pretty poor circumstances.  Injured in a car accident as a child, his early years were tough.  He was a naughty boy at school too, and got himself expelled.  And hey, his thirtieth birthday is this weekend!  He doesn’t look that “old.”  But he started playing football really young, and in 2007 had a wonderful season scoring and assisting for his home town team, Zenit St. Petersburg.  After Mr. Wenger had finally got hold of him, the diminutive Russian scored his first Arsenal goal against Blackburn Rovers in March 2009.  In a terrific game against Liverpool last season, he scored all four goals for Arsenal in a game that ended 4-4.  I remember it well, definitely a great highlight.  Loud and raucous shouts in the Petchary household.

And do you remember that heavenly shot from thirty yards out against ManU last summer?  There’s much more to come from Andrei, I feel sure.  And he’s a great little team player.  There are serious rumors that he may be lured away by fellow-Russian, the Chelski owner.  Or back to St. Petersburg.  I hope not!

Andrei Arshavin, Arsenal midfielder

The impish Mr. Arshavin. I can just imagine him as a naughty schoolboy.

Trivia question:  What does Andrei Arshavin have a degree in?

Next:  A is for Aaron Ramsey.  A pale young Welshman who didn’t start playing until March this year; he suffered a broken leg, inflicted by Ryan Shawcross in a game against the ever-physical Stoke City.  Poor Ramsey; it was quite a blow to him so early in his career.  But he has come back gamely and is showing promise.  He is a really versatile midfielder and can do all kinds of stuff when given the chance.  And he is only twenty years old.  He started his career with Cardiff City as their youngest ever player, sixteen years old.  He became a Gunner in June 2008 and Mr. Wenger describes him as “a fantastic engine.”  Well, not sure what his locomotive qualities are but I think I get it…

Aaron Ramsey

Such a serious young man.

And he also scored against the much-loved (much-hated by me) Manchester United – his first goal this season!  Well done.  And let’s crown him Football King (or Prince, too young to be a King) of Wales.  He was named Captain of the Welsh team earlier this year, although they played England and lost.  He is now the permanent Wales captain, and their youngest ever.  And he’s bilingual, a true Welsh speaker.  Gwych, Aaron!  (That means “great” in Welsh, but don’t ask me how to pronounce it).

Trivia question:  What sport did Aaron play really well as a “young youth”?  Hint: not football/soccer, of course.  We know he was good at that.

OK, here’s another.  Alexandre Song.  Or to give him his full name, Alexandre Dmitri Song Billong, one of Mr. Wenger’s collection of Francophone players and a particular favorite of the Petchary’s.  Very much a defensive midfielder, he is usually pretty solid – although he does have his “off” games, when he seems to hang his head, as he often does when things don’t go his way.  He had a few fairly dreadful games this season, when my son and I have called out exasperatedly from the sofa, “Oh, Song!”  And we weren’t asking for anyone to start warbling, either.

Alexandre Song playing for Cameroon

Alex playing for his home country. And that was BEFORE... (see next photo)

Song is really strong.  Yes, I know that rhymes.  He pushes furiously up and down midfield, head down, patiently scooping up the ball.  He gets yellow cards a lot, like most defensive players, and then a dogged, resigned look crosses his face.  He walks away, shoulders slumped, but soon cheers up again.

Song is 24 and he is from the Cameroon.  He played for his country in the last World Cup.  He was born in Douala, and had a pretty deprived childhood.  There wasn’t much opportunity for a good footballer in Cameroon, and “Petit Song” (his nickname) moved to France and started playing for SC Bastia at the age of sixteen.  Two years later he got married; he has two children.  Then Arsenal bought him for a mere one million pounds.

Alexandre Song, Arsenal defensive midfielder

See photo on the left!! The hair!!! The beard!!!! On the right, Alex pre-dreads and pre-yellow stuff.

But this season, something terrible happened to dear Alex.  He dyed his hair yellow (not blond, yellow), then grew a beard and of course, that is yellow too.  He had a very strange rush of blood to the head.  He claims his wife likes it, and he was bored with his spiky locks, all the black footballers have them.  Now his hair looks like a washing up pad that has scrubbed too many pots.

Apart from acquiring some great new players, I am hoping that Mr. Wenger might be able to use the time between seasons to persuade Alex to wash out that yellow stuff.

Trivia question:  How many brothers and sisters does Song have?  (Take a really wild guess).

And now to Abou Diaby.  Tall, lanky, and just celebrated his 25th birthday.  Diaby reminds me of a former Arsenal player I used to love, Patrick Veira; but he claims to be much less aggressive than Patrick, who used to have furious temper tantrums quite regularly (the dreaded “red mist”).  Still, the same long-legged but surprisingly delicate touch on the ball.  Monsieur Diaby (yes, another Francophone) has had a kind of on-and-off season, I would say.  Moments of great clarity, and other days when he seemed bent on passing off the ball to the opposing team.  Sigh.  He has had some fitness problems but… well, when he scores the occasional goal, it is a beautiful thing to behold.  So all is forgiven.

Robin van Persie consoles Abou Diaby after he scored an own goal

Arsenal's fabulous striker Robin van Persie consoles Diaby for a really disastrous own goal against - yes Man U again.

His first name is actually Vassiriki.  Eh?  And he is a Frenchman of Ivorian descent, and a central midfielder.  He trained at the famous Clairefontaine Academy and played for a few French teams before he was honored with the Gunnership in 2006.  He was a member of the tremendously pig-headed and pathetic French team that melted down in last year’s World Cup. Another sigh.   The French national team seem to court drama (remember the Zidane head-butt?)

Abou Diaby

Abou getting into a spot of bother with the Chelsea team (who as usual, are ganging up on him and no doubt the ref, and whining in chorus)

Trivia question:  What religion is Abou Diaby?   (Easy)

There is another “A” in Arsenal, finally.  And that is the esteemed manager, Arsene Wenger.  He has been described as “professorial,” whatever that means.  And I am so thankful he doesn’t chew gum, like Sir Alex.  So undignified.  But I will write more about AW another time, when I have composed my thoughts.  At the moment, I don’t feel kindly disposed towards him.  My feelings may soften.

Now, the Petchary also loves Argentina.  They are so rough and tough and full-blooded, not so much of that pretty stuff the pretty Brazilians do.  So I read with interest an article in the newspaper, in which Diego Maradona and some other players were reminiscing about the good old days.  I was struck by the headline, “Maradona teammates deny consciously taking drugs.”  In the article, Diego’s former teammates are a little vague in their recollection, but Maradona himself puts it in his own inimitable way:  “What happened is that to play against Australia [in 1994] we were given a speedy coffee. They put something in the coffee and that’s why we ran more.”  They were apparently given a choice – speedy water or speedy coffee.

I know what he means by a speedy coffee.  I take one every morning to get my brain working in the office.  And sometimes I do wish it had performance-enhancing ingredients.

Gunners forever!!  Viva Argentina!!

Related articles

Of Octopuses and Pouches

Firstly, the Petchary learned with deep regret of the passing of Paul. Paul who, you may ask? Well, your memories are short. Paul, who was reportedly hatched (yes, hatched) in January 2008, passed away peacefully overnight, after an eventful life.

Paul the Common Octopus was a high achiever.  British born and residing in a tank in Germany, he successfully predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany’s matches in the football (soccer) World Cup, by scrolling himself slowly into a plastic box containing a mussel, his favorite dish – all the while gazing at the camera with that strange, heavy-lidded, almost human eye of his.

Paul meditates on a football…

Paul’s short life was not without its pressures. There were threats. When he predicted that Germany would beat Argentina (an outcome that filled the Petchary with sorrow and shock) an Argentine chef immediately posted a recipe for octopus on Facebook. But that’s the price of fame… Enemies are never far from your door.

RIP Paul.   But did you know that the Common Octopus is considered one of the most intelligent of invertebrates?  Then why don’t they live longer? Answers on a postcard, please.

Another footnote:  On Dizzy’s cheeks.  A faithful reader of this blog pointed out to me that the famous round cheeks that puffed out when he blew his trumpet are symptomatic of a condition now named “Gillespie pouches,” and I quote:  “In which the cheeks of the mouth expand greatly with pressure, such as with the famous bebop trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie.  Dizzy played his horn incorrectly for some 50 years, letting his cheeks expand when he played, instead of keeping them taut as is considered correct.  This was mostly due to his general lack of early musical education.  Although Mr. Gillespie was able to create a surprisingly good sound using this form, over time it left his cheeks saggy and loose.  A doctor who wanted to use his image in a book named the condition after him.  With Gillespie pouches, the cheeks inflate to look almost like balloons.  Besides brass players, Gillespie pouches may be found among some balloon artists, who regularly apply great pressure to their cheeks while inflating balloons.”  From  http://everything2.com/title/Gillespie+Pouches

Now the Petchary is shamelessly posting a photo also provided by the above-mentioned dear reader… Delightful, and I love the sleek black fedora on top!

Dizzy Gillespie blows bubble gum

Dizzy and bubble gum – three balloons

Related Articles

Jaguar

The Petchary just learned that Belize has created a sanctuary for jaguars.  It has a wonderful but slightly cumbersome name: the Labouring Creek Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary.  It is not a vast acreage, but the important part is the word “corridor.”  Rather than have the gleaming, magnificent animals languish in small and ever-diminishing pockets of rain forest, the Belize government has, with thoughtful foresight, opened up a passageway, along which they can come and go.  They can pass through the forest, one expects, from one end of the country to the other, and from country to country, from Central America all the way south – perhaps as far as Argentina.

Jaguar in Pantanal, Brazil

The Jaguar of the Americas

The jaguar is a true creature of the Americas.  She still lives in eighteen countries in the region.  She once lived in the United States, and is rumored to perhaps live in Arizona and other parts of the south-west. But this population will, sadly, be cut off, isolated on a North American island, because the north-south border and the barriers and the checkpoints and the high wire fences and the trucks and the customs men and the human smugglers and the desperate illegals are blocking off their corridor. There will be no dank, richly scented, green passageway south for them.

She is not so much nocturnal as crepuscular – that is, she loves to hunt through the rain forest at dawn and dusk, as the calls of the forest change and recalibrate, night creatures rustle and day creatures roost and curl up in their leaf-strewn, muddy holes and lairs.  She walks quietly along hidden forest paths, and she loves the deep forest pools, the stagnant brown splashes and waterfalls.

Jaguar eye

The opal-eyed gaze of the jaguar

The jaguar was the spiritual companion of the Mayas – a people who somehow always seemed to exist in the shadowy regions  between life and death – and she helped communicate between those two spheres.  As noted above, a crepuscular, twilight being, jaguars inhabited the underworld as much as the real, bright, daylight world.  And the underworld was a watery world in Maya cosmology – just as the jaguar loves water.

The Aztecs also revered them as noble and warrior-like; and named their elite group of fighters the Jaguar Knights.

Mayan King on his Jaguar Throne

You've got to feel powerful sitting on a throne like this

The picture above is actually a carved relief of a Maya king sitting – or rather, curiously perched – on his Jaguar Throne, his posture strangely bird-like.  There is one such throne in Chichen Itza, Mexico.  And below is an Aztec Jaguar Knight, fitted from top to toe in a jaguar suit.

Jaguar Knight

One suspects that a jaguar was killed for this fine outfit

Yes, I know, this is the modern-day stuff of video games and fantasy novels.  But the jaguar is a creature living on the edge of endangerment, trying to find his corridors, pacing through the jungle mostly alone unless she has cubs, walking through Mexico and Belize and onwards south.  A corridor that runs alongside highways and housing developments and dams and cities and electric pylons and landfills.  Sometimes their paths circle lands where cattle farmers try to protect their animals with guns.

Which is worse – killing such a beautiful animal so that one can parade – and fight – in its skin, or simply shooting it as it emerges at the edge of a deep green cattle pasture?

Both are, of course, clear examples of the relationship between humans and animal predators.  Because, after all, we humans want to be the Kings, the Warriors, the Gods.  We want to be the only predators around.  And perhaps, one day, we will be.

Meanwhile, long live the Belizean Corridor, and those who walk in it.

Jaguar reserve in Belize

Where the jaguar likes to walk in Belize