Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Euro 2012 - Half way there...


Yesterday’s games wrapped up the first stage.  Good games for the most part.  Aside from the Dutch and the Irish, none of the teams have really disappointed.  But wait until next Euro; with 8 more teams added to the fray, quality will surely be diluted.  But let’s look at that positively:  …. Nah … can’t do it.  I don’t see any benefit to it, aside from making more money for UEFA, even though it means giving a chance to teams like… ahem…  Romania… For in the end, that’s why it’s called a Final Tournament; if you’re not good enough to qualify, you shouldn’t be there.  Simple as that.  But that’s another story for another day…

Let’s see what happened to date (each group title below is carried from my preview a couple of weeks ago: http://disdatdudder.blogspot.com/2012/06/euro-2012-preview.html).

Group A: The Eastern-Europeans

I got this one totally wrong!  Picked Russia first and Poland second… which was very much possible prior to the last set of games.  But Russia showed up too cocky after humiliating the Czechs [4-1] and even though they only needed one point, managed to lose to the Greeks!  As for the Poles, they would have done great in this tournament if matches were only 45 minutes long.  It seems they never had enough gas in the tank for the second half…

In the end, this group was quite “below par” overall.  Neither team can make any claims to progressing past the German and the Portuguese.  And although I don’t much care for the way the Greeks play, I applaud their “grit”.  Sometimes it takes a little bit of that in this game…

Group B: The tough one.

The Dutch were the story here... It seems like every tournament has a “favorite-to-implode” story.  France and Italy can attest to that in recent years.  It was Holland’s turn this time.  Clearly plenty of issues within the squad, both tactical and I’m sure ego-driven as well.  Otherwise how would you explain the World Cup finalists from 2 years ago leaving the competition with 0 [zero that is] points?!?   Earlier I wrote: “They have plenty of talent, especially in the top third of the pitch, but can they figure out a way to play together?”  The answer is obviously “NO”.

Germany was emphatic, and although the scores may not show it, they’ve been quite dominant so far.  Portugal on the other hand, pleasantly surprising (despite the fact that Cr. Ronaldo did not show up for the first 2 games).  Solid defense, hard working midfield, good team attitude overall.  I like ‘em.

Denmark started well (applying the first blow to the Dutch) but never quite recovered from losing that one point 2 minutes from time in the encounter with the Lusitans.  How often have we seen that happen… teams losing their concentration before the final whistle is blown.  Still, they are always fun to watch, always positive, and I’m sure they would have made it out of any other group...  Better luck next time!

Group C:  Spain + the surprise!

Surprise my ass! [pardonnez mon français].  Maybe I was in a “luck ‘o the Irish” mood when I predicted that Ireland will come in second… maybe I read too much into a relatively easy qualifying campaign… maybe I thought Italy did not have what it takes… maybe a major tournament was too much for them.  In the end, I’m left eating my words…

hmmmmm...???
Spain came top, without really running on all cylinders or impressing as they did in the past.  Part of it is the pressure of defending both the world and European titles.  The other is the “park-the-bus” approach that everyone takes against them.  Plus tired players after a long season at the highest level.  And then there’s the tactics around team setup.  With a striker… without a striker… with a “false” striker… Personally, although El Niño [Fernando Torres] hasn’t been in great form this year, he’s still a threat in the box.  And he was critical when they won the tournament 4 years ago, if I recall.  The challenge for del Bosque is to keep all the egos in check and find the right mix for the starting 11.  Not an easy task given that everyone on the bench can be a starter on any other team!

Between Italy and Croatia, I was pleasantly surprised by both.  Frankly, I was expecting less.  With a bit more courage the Croats could have edged past Italy (who I still think are not very strong, but they always “show up” when it matters).

Group D:  Predictable…

Just like the other co-hosts, Ukraine started well, but the victory over Sweden (due to some Sheva brilliance) is all they have to show for it.  They have all the rights to be frustrated by the tying goal that was never allowed [don’t get me started on goal-line technology].  It could have turned the match against England, but in the end the predictable outcome was met: England and France through.

looks like it did cross...
I had the order wrong, though (picked France first).  But in a group where Sweden loses to Ukraine, then beats France (the same France that beat Ukraine earlier) then anything can happen… Just like the Danes, their Nordic neighbors could have done better with a bit more concentration in defense (especially against England).

And a few words for England, of course:  lucky to top the group (and avoid Spain) but haven’t seen much quality.  Some may have to do with Rooney missing the first two games, but the defense is shaky at times, the midfield is hard-working yet unimaginative (no surprise there!) and some of their attacking options are not showing much beyond some set pieces here and there…

*            *            *            *            *

Aaaaanyway.  We’re half way there, like I said.  Now the real tournament begins. 

Portugal should not have a problem with the Czechs.  Although I don’t like Pepe [as a player or a person] I think him and Bruno Alves made the best central-defense pair so far [with Hummels and Badstuber a close second].  I also doubt that the Czechs can contain Cr. Ronaldo (who will score at least one).

Ditto for Germany against the Greek.  True, I never thought they’d get out of the group, but they had weak opposition up to this point.  They’re at the big boys table now!

Spain vs. France, though, should be a mouth-watering encounter.  Both are positive in their style of play, both have quality within their ranks, and both have something to prove:  Spain that winning the last 2 tournaments was not a fluke, and France that their “performance” [last in their group] in South Africa two years ago was.

Truthfully, I’m a bit scared.  First because Spain has struggled with team tactics and find it increasingly harder to break down defenses.  They really need to open up on the wings more.  It’s easier for teams that defend deep to block Spain’s attacks.  Then there’s the Ribéry threat.  I don’t think Arbeloa is good enough at right back.  So that’s the key, in my opinion.  It will be a matter of who makes fewer mistakes in the defense and who scores first.  But I see this one going to extra time, at least… I’m rooting for Spain, of course, but they need to step it up a notch in order to win.  Apparently they never beat France in an official competition… would this be a first?

Then there’s another “classic”: England vs. Italy.  Two more teams with “things to prove”.  Italy that they’ve put recent embarrassments away [also last in their WC group two years ago] and are a serious contender, and England that they are stronger than everyone gives them credit for.

In reality, Italy lacks depth and has a fairly weak midfield.  Yes, Pirlo is the “maestro” but he’s a little slow (although that hasn’t stopped him from scoring against Croatia and having a great assist in the game against Spain).  Both forwards [Cassano and Balotelli] are immensely talented but also fickle (especially Mario).  Continued Italian success rests on their shoulders, to some extent.  I also just read that Chiellini is out for the next game.  That’s a big blow for a defense that’s pretty frail [by Italian standards] as it is… 

England can consider themselves the luckiest team up to this point.  Scraped through with a point from the first match where France were clearly superior (yet lacked some sharpness up front), benefited from Swedish defense lapses to get all 3 points out of that encounter, and were really lucky to get a victory against Ukraine.

So this last quarterfinal encounter is more of a game where each side will be afraid lose, rather than go for the win.  If a win will come in regulation time, it will be some opportunistic set piece or defensive mistake.  I “see” this going to extra time also, but not nearly as entertaining as Spain-France.  In the end, England might come out on top by “a hair”.

From there, Portugal-Spain, for an all Iberian Peninsula encounter, and England-Germany.  This will mean the end of the road for the Brits (despite their desire to pay back for the defeat from the last World Cup).  The final: a replay of the last Euro final.  I’m sure the Germans want their revenge!

Ibra - with "my" goal of the tournament so far (against France)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTLRVn2Tnfc

...somebody clipped the Dutch's wings... (or did they fly too close to the sun?)...

Friday, June 8, 2012

Euro 2012 - the preview


Euro 2012.  Another big football [some call it soccer] tournament.  Another opportunity for players to showcase their skills on the highest stage.  For agents to hope for bargaining power.  For owners to whip out the checkbook and splash excessive “moola” on the latest talent.  For journalists and pundits to fill the papers and the cyberspace with their banter.  For bloggers to pretend anyone cares about what they have to say … ;-)…  And for us to waste countless hours in front of the tube (ok, the flat-panel-thing, rather) and online afterwards, sifting through all that jazz…

Oh, I left out the main reason: “bin’ness”, of course.  Money from sponsors, TV rights, advertising, merchandise, tickets, tourism… all that… which ensures that UEFA makes a pretty penny and the hosts recoup their investments.

And then there’s the whole European unity-fraternity thing that Platini keeps talking about.  Translation: “I need all these Eastern European votes in order to get reelected”.  Case in point: Bucharest hosted the UEFA Europa League final this spring.  Rhetorically, who do you think M. Sandu [Romanian federation president] will vote for in the next election?  ‘Zactly my point!    

So in my pragmatic opinion, it’s about money, politics and ultimately football.  Yep.  In that order!  For money and politics go hand-in-hand; always the leech-and-fungus combination that kills the sport…

Why else you’d “award” the honor to host such a prestigious event to a couple of countries where [typical to any eastern bloc entity] corruption, organized crime, prostitution, and racism run rampart.  If you don’t believe me, check out the recent BBC documentary “Stadiums of Hate”1 (hard to find on youtube, and not available on their site, but I’ve attached a couple links at the very end…)

While we’re on this kind of “dirt”, who doesn’t love a good story??  You’re aware of Ukrainian girls’ reputation when it comes to beauty, right?  Apparently, prostitution is also gaining notoriety in that corner of the world… Imagine that!  Recently there’ve been rumors of legalizing it… So a local feminist group (Femen) is protesting the tournament (against the potential “prostitution-related activity”) by…… get this…….. going naked: http://www.euronews.com/2011/12/02/femen-v-euro2012/ and even dressing up as a penis (http://en.gazeta.ru/photo/ukrainian_topless_feminists_dress_as_penises_to_protest_against_euro2012.shtml)


And while we’re on the feminist angle [before I dig myself that grave, those who know me realize I’m not anti-feminist; on the contrary, love ‘em!…  and I hope you take most of my “out-there” messages on the topic with a grain or two of salt… but I digress…]  so, then, while on this feminist angle, did you check out the logos and all the marketing pizazz for the tournament?  So many colors and pastels, you’d think this was a womens’ tournament.  I guess they’re trying to compensate for some of the Eastern Bloc “realities” I mentioned above…

Enough of all that nonsense.  Little of it will matter once the kick-off whistle is blown…

So let’s talk football.

Personally, I don’t have “skin in the game”, as they say.  Yeah, I like Spain, because I hope the winner (literally and figuratively) is beautiful football, but I’m in it purely for the entertainment factor.  Now, like anyone who’s been around the game for… ever, I think I’m qualified to give it a go and try to “play out” the tournament, if you will… Two years ago for the world cup (http://disdatdudder.blogspot.com/2010/06/world-cup-preamble-part-i.html) I think I did pretty good… all the way to picking the champions ;-)… so let’s try that again:

Group A: The Eastern-Europeans

Czech Republic.  They came out 2nd from their group [Spain 1st] but beat Montenegro on both play-off legs to qualify.  They had a third place finish in Portugal 2004, [I recall Nedved leaving the pitch in tears against Greece… had he played that whole game, we may have had a different European Champion that summer] but they’ve disappointed 4 years later when they lost to Turkey [3-2 after 0-2, with the last 2 Turkish goals scored by Nihat in the last 3 minutes.  Remember that?].  Today, they have little talent.  Sure, Petr Čech is still on a high after winning the Champions League, and Rosický, Hübschman and Plašil can form a solid midfield, but I don’t see much in terms of experience in front of Čech.  Milan Baroš is their one “name” up front, yet he’s never returned to his Liverpool form (although I hear he’s doing well for Galatasaray [latest report talks about a slight injury, also]).  Leading up to the tourney they’re not too hot (loss to Hungary, tie with Irelnd), so I really see them struggling to get out of this group…

Greece.  Won the tournament 8 years ago.  Finished dead-last 4 years ago.  Pretty sad display 2 years ago in South Africa also… Ultra-defensive.  They barely average a goal per game.  Yet, they topped their qualifying group ahead of Croatia.  Personally, nothing against the Greek, just don’t like how they play football.  Simple as that.  They “park the bus” [in front of goal], and hope to get lucky on a counter or a set-piece.  That style pays off now and then… It worked for them 8 years ago.  For Inter in the Barca champions League final couple of years ago, and more recently, for Chelsea, against both Barca and Bayern.  I just hope it won’t happen here… Prediction: not getting out of this group.  Maybe steal a point in the process…

Poland.  They’re claiming the best side they had in a while… No Lato or Boniek in their ranks, but a young team that will be carried by the home crowd.  Szczęsny  impressed with Arsenal this season.  So did the Dortmund trio [Lewandowski, Błaszczykowski and Piszczek] that helped win the bundesliga… They might edge the Czechs out of the group, but won’t go beyond that.

Russia.  They should top the group.  They’re hungry, with a lot to prove.  No World Cup appearance since 2002, and on the European stage they made it to the semifinals last time around (lost to Spain, the eventual winners).  They haven’t lost a game in more than a year, and just recently destroyed Italy [3-0] in a recent friendly.  Dick Advocaat knows how to get the best out of his players, and there are plenty in the squad that have played together for a while.  Let’s just hope they don’t flop [like they did in the playoff for South Africa against Slovenia].  They’ll lose to Germany or Holland after the group stage.

Group B: The tough one.

Denmark.  The tournament 4 years ago is the only Euro they missed in recent history.  Yet, this time around, although they topped a group that included Portugal and Norway, they seem “light” overall.  The Laudrup days are gone.  The likes of Bendtner, Poulsen and Agger are simply not good enough to make it out of the group. 

Germany.  The pedigree is there.  Third place at the last 2 World Cups.  Finalists in the last Euros.  Germany will be there again.  Only this time inconsistency casts some doubts over that statement.  Perfect record through the qualifiers, but losses in recent friendlies [France, Switzerland] may have killed their confidence a bit; or maybe brought a dose of reality…  Value is there, although defense is not as strong as it once been… it’s a matter of having the Bayern players refocus after they literally gifted the CL trophy to Chelsea.  I see them losing the semifinal, either to France or Spain (depending on whether they top the group or come in second).

Netherlands.  Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.  Always on the top stage, but the only trophy to show for it – the Euros back in ’88 [Van Basten, Rijkaard, Gullit & Co].  Strange, paradoxical almost, that the country that invented total football doesn’t really play much like a team, these days.  They have plenty of talent, especially in the top third of the pitch, but can they figure out a way to play together?  They’ll likely meet Spain again [if they top this group – which they should – in the final, otherwise in the semis] which should make for a mouth-watering replay of the last WC final!  

Portugal.  They don’t miss these things, although this time they qualified over playoffs against Bosnia and Herzegovina.  But they have not shown much since their final loss on home soil in 2004.  Cr. Ronaldo has been red-hot this season, but he never duplicates his club form playing for the national team.  They have some talent, but again, another case where they don’t really gel as a team.  They’re not going to make it out of this group… the Germans and the Dutch will prove too tough!

Group C:  Spain + the surprise!

Croatia.  Strangely enough, they came in second in their group [Greece first] but killed Turkey in the play-offs [3-0].  Strong, but inconsistent.  And with Olić out of the tournament, Eduardo really has to step up.  I think they’ll fight Ireland for the second spot in the group

Italy.  The Azzurri topped the easiest group of the qualifiers.  That may have given them a false sense of security, for they lost their last 3 friendlies [Uruguay, USA and Russia].  I’m wondering how much the recent Calcio scandals had to do with that… Last Calciopoli scandal [2006] guided them to a WC win… since then, however, they managed to exit the last WC in the groups stage.  Not much better in the Euros either.  The current team is built around a few Juve players, but – just as I noted in the write-up for the 2010 WC – there’s still no depth or value.  And I haven’t seen any real superstars coming through, lately… They might prove me wrong, but I don’t see them out of the group stage.  I see Ireland the surprise here…

Republic of Ireland.  Yep.  I see them placing second.  Trapattoni has put together a strong squad and they haven’t lost a game in over a year [3-2 friendly loss to Uruguay].  I think they’re going to be the surprise story in the group stage, and although I’d love to see them beat France in the first round, for some poetic justice [remember Henri’s blatant hand ball goal that denied them a trip to the WC 2 years ago?] that’s not likely to happen…

Spain.  Perfect record in the qualifiers, holders of both WC and Euro titles, and overall an amazing team to watch.  They will miss David Villa, but if Torres “shows up” and the defense synchs up, another trophy should be a breeze.  Otherwise, they’ll still win it, but the hard way.  I’m looking forward to a proper beating of Holland this time, so there won’t be any doubts… [Did I mention I was impartial?  Sure I did…]  

Group D:  Predictable…

England.  Oh, England.  They did not qualify for the last Euros, but topped an easy group for this one.  I see a bunch of tired players, total lack of creativity in the midfield and no bite up front (especially with Rooney missing the first two group games).  I think they’ll squeeze in second behind France, but only because the other two are even weaker… There are some promising young players, but I don’t see ‘em getting past Spain once the group stage is done.

France.  All or nothing.  Either win it all (WC ’98, Euro 2000) or don’t make it out of the group stage (last two major tournaments).  That’s France.  But after the disaster from the last WC, Blanc cracked the whip and put together a pretty decent team.  Not always consistent, but lots of young players; looks promising.  I’m going back to Sept 10 to find a loss [surprise 0-1 at home to Belarus] … then a string of 20 undefeated matches, with victories over Brazil, England and Germany.  They have some reconciling to do, so I think they’ll “show up”.  They might even make it to the final, if they can get past the Dutch.

Sweden.  Qualified as “best-record” second place team but I really don’t see them getting past the group stage.  Zlatan might work miracles on a good day, but he’ll be isolated, get frustrated, and we all know the results when that happens…

Ukraine.  If the other hosts have a decent chance to get past the group stage, Ukraine doesn’t.  With most players from Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar [14 of 23] unity should not be an issue, but at this stage it won’t be enough… especially with a bunch of players [Shevchenko, Tymoshchuck, Voronin] past their prime.

Once the group stage is over, Russia loses to Germany (or Holland), England to Spain, Poland to Holland (or Germany) and Ireland to France.  As you see, still not sure about who will top group B, although I’m leaning towards the Dutch.  Then it’s Germany-Spain and Holland-France… with the final being that WC replay I mentioned above.  Although France may edge them here… in which case we’ll be in for an all-Latin final.  And a revenge opportunity for that 1984 final… [France won 2-0].

There you have it.  The last 16-team tournament “as I see it”.  Come 2016 [France] we’ll have 24 teams.  That’s pretty much all of Europe… So if you think there are some poor teams showing up this time, add 8 more for the next tournament.  But again, money talks… I’m sure when they did the math it was an easy decision to make.  Quantity vs. quality, in the end…

And since I mentioned quality, I hope I’m not alone in noticing that there are less truly consistent good players in the game today.  Some of it may have to do with the number of games played, which takes a toll on players (and increase the chances of injury); other, with the fact that most of the money in the game is provided by the clubs… Why would a player risk it for the country, when his livelihood is provided by the club?  Sure, there’s national pride and all, but look no further than Germany, with players of Spanish, Turkish, Polish, Tunisian, and Ghanaian descent/heritage.  How much “national pride” could be there?  They’ll care first for their club (their paycheck, actually), then, their country.

Regardless, I think we’ll see some sub-par performances [tired players] but also lots of young guys trying to break through.  I’m hoping for lots of the latter.  I’m also hoping for some cracking good games after the first two rounds of group games.       

Personally, I hope I can catch as many live matches as possible.  Work does get in the way of these things, you know…

Enjoy, and watch for an update after the first round of matches.

Stadiums of Hate documentary links: 

More from the WC2010 predictions (and the validation afterwards):

Sunday, June 3, 2012

a quick trip. down memory lane: new york. in a hurry



first, let’s set it all up (for some credibility).  I’ve been here before… once or twice.  few, actually.

ACT 1. aug 28, 1989: off the “boat” in jfk, tarom flight late.  missed the delta connection.  that explains my first night in the u.s. spent in the airport.  sort of an ellis island episode, if you wish.

ACT 2. fast forward a few years.  college.  first job.  then second.  then kpmg.  then eventually my first real trip to ny: feb 24, 1999. almost 10 years later.  I remember it being cold.  dirty.  lots of traffic.  crowded in the metro on the way down to wall street.  but somehow exciting.  this was new york, after all!  a different country.  different from Atlanta, that is.  I was there only 2 days.  didn’t see much.  I just remember the office used hot-water radiators for heating.  just like back home…  and the top-hat doorman at the marriott east side made an impression.  bit of a throwback to older times…

ACT 3. sep 23, 2001. yep, right after 9/11.  I recall flying over manhattan that sun night.  smoke was still rising from the wtc site.  less than a dozen brave souls on the plane that night.  air travel was not the same for a while.  but I started flying up thereafter.  almost every week.  until about april 2004. the “w” on lex was my home away from home.  I “lived” in ny [mon-thu] for about 2.5 years.  I was with kpmg consulting / bearingpoint.  worked in citi offices on 5th.  and long island city, across the east river.  downtown with chase.  and down by holland tunnel, just east of soho and the village.  that’s when most of the memories and impressions have etched themselves in the frontal cortex.  and hippocampus

ACT 4. dec 2006.  extended weekend.  family trip.  mom turning 60.  there’s always something about NY in december…  the christmas tree at the rock center.  ice skating below.  festive store-front windows.  macy’s.  snow in central park.  the holidays feel more real, somehow…

ACT 5. feb 2008. dropped in for a couple days.  about one year before bearingpoint went under.  the signs were there already.  new office right next to the wtc site.  lots of rebuilding going on.  stayed at the marquis in times square again.  smack-dab in the middle of tourist alley… wonderful views…  more memories…

ACT 6. may 2012. hello again. 

up for a few days once more.  some of the notes below are fresh.  others, pulled from memory.  but even I can’t tell the difference.  so let’s see what comes out…

first, the smell. 

the fragrance industry has imitated everything.  but I don’t think they can bottle “new york”.  it smells like construction.  steam.  and exhaust.  and sewer.  and spoiled food.  garbage (piled up in black plastics bags on the sidewalks to be picked up over night by – presumably – mafia-owned sanitation services).  yeah, too much Sopranos.  I know...   yet, after a quick summer shower most of that washes off.  and you get an [incredibly!] “clean” scent.  especially if you’re near a park.  and every now and then you walk by a spot that knocks you out: a food cart.  a flower stall.  a hole-in-the-wall.  ess-a-bagel is one of those places that I can “guess” with my eyes closed.  phenomenal bagels fresh out of the oven!  the best way to “breakfast”.  you should definitely go.

piece of ny advice: try and avoid the metro during hot summer days.  and some of the people who reside there.  you may never forget the stench…

also first – for one can’t separate it from the olfactory: the sound.  it also sounds like construction.  there’s beeping.  and honking.  and yelling.  and sirens.  it barely stops.  even overnight.  ask for a hotel room on the higher floors if you want to rest.  and even then it’s not guaranteed.

then thirdly – or are we still on “first”? – the people.  new yorkers are a different species.  I’m convinced of that.  loud.  obnoxious.  resilient.  purposeful.  rude.  direct.  resourceful.  arrogant.  restless.  but they still find time to “stop” for a walk in the park.  lunch on a bench.  a jog in the neighborhood.  a drink with friends at the favorite watering hole.  life happens here at a different pace.  you have to be like that in order to keep up.

the city itself is effervescent.  alive.  always “on”.  relatively unchanged from up high.  yet perpetually transforming if you zoom in. 

downtown.  the twin towers are gone.  but not forgotten.  new skyscrapers are growing nearby.  1wtc – once completed – will be the tallest in the western hemisphere (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_World_Trade_Center).  I walked down to the memorial.  the pools and waterfalls are the right symbols.  they strike the right notes.  I closed my eyes and tried to “see” the damaged towers.  the smoldering pile of debris.  the ashes… not there anymore.  mission accomplished, I guess.    






‘couple of blocks away, another symbol of recent “destruction”.  wall street.  a few years ago, people working down here were a proud bunch.  not so much today.  damage control will take longer than the physical reconstruction of those towers.  I won’t go into it.  we all know the story.  or do we?

so you see…transformation is both physical and psychological.  yes, the city does have a psyche.  I’ve seen it! 



nyse... and trinity church... where wall street sinners hold hands with the angels...

years ago, soho, tribeca, greenwich village, were the “in” places.  today, they’re out-of-price-range for most commoners.  meatpacking district and even harlem (yes, harlem) are “in”.  sunnyside, cobble hill or park slope [not on general tourist maps] are places where new yorkers move to.  upper east side is still “money”.  park-facing real estate here has price tags in the “limbs and internal organs” range.

overall impression: some changes did occur over the years, yet most are just cosmetic.  the tourist traps (mainly around times square) are still there.  ditto for empire state building.  or the statue [of liberty].  rock center.  and china town.  or the south street seaport.  yes, these are mandatory stops along the visitors’ circuit.  one has to check the boxes. 


 times square and rockefeller plaza (sorry for the pic quality... phone camera)

...but once done, get off the beaten path.  grab a pair of good walking shoes.  a camera.  mta card.  and a good dose of curiosity.  and open mind.  for it will surprise you!

stay off the “avenues”.  most are for tourists.  go east-west instead.  do a lot on foot.  you’ll soon realize that “manhattan” is actually made up of hundreds of little neighborhoods.  a different one around every corner. 

case in point:

start in washington square.  green.  lots of nyu students.  dogs on a leash.  a few picnic baskets.  blankets.  then take the west side exit and walk up a block to waverly place.  down on the left, an iconic restaurant where I once traded an entire week’s per-diem for the most fabulous meal ever.  yes, babbo.  I recall rabbit and pasta.  worth every penny.  despite some of batali’s recent stupid remarks against his wall street clientele.  but I digress.  read through the menu posted outside.  mouth will water.  let it.  now, walk off. (if you wanted to dine here, should have called 3 months ago).  go down to 6th ave.  avenue of the americas.  cross over and go left for a couple of blocks.  this wide street is all about retail.  and fast food chains.  could be main street anywhere.  duck down cornelia street on the right.  a different picture here.  mostly residential.  one or two small restaurants.  pearl is one of my fav.  very small.  typical ny.  grab a seat at the bar.  order the lobster roll.  best you’ll ever had.  better than anywhere in new england.  if it’s crowded and you don’t want to wait (they don’t take reservations) keep walking down to bleeker.  hang right.  this has the feel of an italian neighborhood.  butcher shop and all.  stop in john’s pizzeria for an amazing pie.  go hungry or with a group.   they don’t sell by slice.  now that you’re full, turn around and check out pasticceria rocco.  even if you don’t have a sweet tooth. 

done. 

you see? 

5 distinct areas within a 6-8 block radius.  you can do that in many parts of the city with the same effect.


clockwise: washington square, babbo, john's on bleeker, cornelia st. right outside pearl 


from here, it’s up to you:

go south one block and you hit houston.  meander through soho or tribeca.  bouitiques.  art galleries.  swanky cafés.  there was a whole-in-the wall down sullivan (or was it thompson?) where I often went for amazing italian deli sandwiches.  authentic prosciut’.  wondering if it’s still there…     

…or go east and hit little italy (whatever’s left of it) or china town.  aside from one or two [authentic] culinary exceptions both will disappoint you.  or maybe not the first time

you get the idea, though.  each of these neighborhoods  are distinct.  unique experiences.  unique architecture.  unique style.  often clashing.  always original.  quintessential ny.

the only common theme: scaffolding.  omnipresent.  best business in the city.  these things are always in demand.  they really are part of the landscape… I doubt there is a block in the city without one!

ahmmm…squirrel!

southern tip... buildings on top of buildings... not two the same...
go south.  at some point, you run out of land.  southern tip.  battery park.  a cacophony of architecture starting with the early settlers.  the dutch.  new amsterdam they called it.  back in 1626 when peter minuit bought it from the natives.  for about $24 worth of trinkets.  now, that’s investing!  half-a-cent per acre back then returns over one million per acre [in taxes only] today.  forget actual real estate value…


from the tip, ferries take you to ellis island (if you want to dig into history) or the statue.  I hear they closed it in oct last year.  for one year at least.  renovations.  visitors still not allowed to the top of the crown.   maybe they’ll reopen that soon.



brooklyn bridge... the statue (up close and from my office window)

on the lower east side - tourist trap and all - take a quick peek at the legendary brooklyn bridge.  or walk over to the other side.  if you have time.  they say brooklyn is changing (at least the area close to manhattan).  people move here.  it’s only a couple of train stations away from the city.  at a fraction of the price.  perfect sense!

quick tip while you’re down here:  visit the tkts office at the corner of john and front st.  they always have tickets left for some of the good shows.  it’s never crowded.  less known than the one in times square.  but you have to experience a broadway show in ny.  yes, you probably seen a touring performance.  I’ve seen a few at the fox in atlanta.  not the same!  theaters here are smaller.  you get more intimate with the actors.  which is the whole idea of stage play.  so do yourself a favor.  buy a ticket or two.  enrich your cultural baggage…

from here, hail a cab.  grab the train.  don’t care.  just make it to grand central.  grandiose.  a true symbol of industrial america.  a throwback to the era of the vanderbilts (who actually built and owned the thing) and rockefellers.  and it’s so much more than a train station.  6th most visited tourist attraction in the world, apparently (read more here if interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Central_Terminal).  I dragged laura and simi there one night so I can hear the clock strike midnight on my birthday.  somehow it appeals to me.  maybe it’s the whole point-of-departure thing…


once done (make sure you at least check out the whispering arch.  right outside the oyster bar restaurant.  look it up) head out and walk over to 5th.  go south to visit the empire state building.  a tourist must.  or walk north towards the park.  any serious designer or retailer has a store on 5th.  it’s overwhelming.  and then some.

half way through, stop in saint patricks’s (pic on the right) to light a candle.  I did so almost daily years ago.  as my father was battling cancer….  the place really takes you away.  out of manhattan.  and beyond.

now that you’re rested (and faith in humanity restored) cross over to the rock center.  ice rink in winter.  outdoor café in summer.  nbc studios.  more touristy stuff…

back on 5th.  about 6 more blocks to the park.  trump tower (main one) on the way.  fao schwartz a must.  with or without kids.  the plaza across the street.  then the park.  too big to walk.  but give it until 65th transverse, at least.  amazing place.  simple as that!

squirrel!

years ago I wanted to stay at st. regis.  even if for one night.  never did.  although I had the spg points ;-)  this time, as any amateur foodie, I succumbed to a recent foodtv show.  they said the bar there is a must.  so I did.  it’s small.  not as stuffy as I thought.  $20 maritini.  very strong.  great actually.  but $20??  and the clientele… let’s just say I have not seen so much “work”, botox, fillers and silicone…ehm… ever.



I mentioned earlier the w on lex early on.  home away from home.   the “hood” being 46th to about 53rd between 2nd and 5th.  a quick stroll through the area brought back memories.  marriott east side.  first time there in ’99.  houdini lived in at some point… smith & wollenski.  legendary steaks.  or sparks steak house.  where you’d expect another mafia hit any day now.  john gotti still around?  seo.  great sushi.  sushiann.  even better.  manchester pub.  on soccer nights.  solera.  for spanish tapas.  wonderful chorizo.  pescatore.  amazing squid ink pasta nera.  rosa mexicana.  now in atlanta as well.  but my favorite – zarela – was what I was yearning for.  it had been a [nearly] weekly occurrence during that 2+ years mentioned earlier…

I turn the corner from 50th on 2nd.  what’s this?  zarela is gone.  boarded up.  an icon of traditional mexican fare no longer there.  painful.  gutted, really.  unbelievable.  the internet later on provided some explanations1.   but really, it left a void for me.  I recall the owner – zarela martinez.  always there.  like a mother inviting you in her house.  serving amazing food.  best margaritas in town.  amazing fajitas.  and that cochinita píbil served in banana leaves.  yum.  indescribable flavors.  mouth watering.  just the thought alone… 

she says she’s looking for investors and may reopen somewhere else.  just wondering why her son [aarón sanchez2] doesn’t jump in.  but who knows what that relationship is really like…

squirrel!

I can’t get over it.  walk aimlessly towards the train station.  any train station.  tying up memories.  reflecting on life.  and what’s fair.  and moving on.  and letting go.  if only it would be that easy…


this [ny] is a lovely place, though.  jaw-dropping the first time.  equally exciting 10+ years later.  always something new around every corner.  even if you passed by that corner a thousand times.  I heart ny.  and that’s not just a t-shirt slogan for me!


memories. snippets:

flatiron.  I recall mesa grill where I tasted bobby flay for the first time.  the jalapeño-poblano soup  still lingers on the palate.  I already talked about babbolupa is a cheaper alternative.  molto mario’s got about a dozen other places in the city.  but can you really trust a chef who tips the scales around 300 lbs?  tao.  once the place to hang out.  not so much today.  tricolorii.  a small place in queens.  I once introduced a bunch of american co-workers to authentic romanian cuisine.  sarmale (stuffed cabbage).  mamaliga (polenta).  papanasi (cheese-filled desserts).  there was a lot of finger-licking that night!  the manhattan chili co.  nothing city-slicker-ish about it.  warmed me up many a cold nights.  broadway.  the producers.  2003.  the letterman show.  in the audience.  only he wasn’t on the stage.  out with shingles.  bill cosby ran the show that night.  I remember a stunning girl.  unknown at the time.  promoting some obscure film.  chasing papi… yep.  sofia vergara.  cosby was actually drooling… century 21.  cool shopping.  new shoes.

lunch at every spot in soho and china town. for about 6 months.  salmon burger a delicious first.  indian buffet.  balthazar.  hi, woody!  first canon camera bought in china town.  co-workers asking if it spells with 2 “n”s… five dollar dvd’s of the movie that’s just premiered last night.  the diner from spider man.  where Kirsten dunst “worked”.  right ouside the morgan stanley building.  gone now.  the [swanky] james hotel in its place.  “street” vendors packing up their knockoffs every time the cops show up.  central park.  rain.  snow.  coldest I’ve ever been.  before minneapolis, of course.  dinner at l’ecole for mom’s 60th.  little italy.  biggest meatball I ever had.  and most delicious.  can’t remember the place… and so on... 

northeast blackout.  2003.  ny shut down.  no power.  no phones.  no metro.  one-dollar sushi before it goes bad.  party in the streets under car headlights.  might as well. 

the w times square.  all one-way glass hotel room.  feels like a fishbowl.  hundred-dollar hookers.  why did I even ask?  and, no.  in case you’re wondering… 

today…

a lot of that’s still there.  some adapted.  some did not survive the cruel city.  cutthroat.  “just business”. 
food trucks are the latest craze.  some have a religious following.  some are excellent.  most are not all that.  but they’re affecting local lunch spots.  and killing the ol’ hot dog cart.  and bbq joints are in.  yes.  in ny.  they love it.  couple of spots in harlem are excellent, I hear.  fete sau (brooklyn) claims to be the best.  

I ventured to the east village.  on 1st.  coyote ugly.  (is it just a name?).  dinner at momofuku.  funny name.  nothing funny about the food.  pork ramen.  iconic.  The poached egg on top… nice touch! and pork buns.  delish.  you get the idea.  definitely worth it.  david chang left boulud and craft to change the [casual-hip] ny culinary scene…

broadway closed to traffic in times square.  tables and chairs for gawkers now.  columbus center.  architecure finally finished.  wtc rebuilding.  nyse floor closed to visitors.  and yes… my beloved zarela closed… 

you zoom in and you see the changes.  zoom out and it’s still there.  almost unchanged.  the smell… the sounds… the people… the city... alive...


good bye.  off to jfk then.  one of the most rundown airports in the country.  yet, part of the whole experience...

until next time, NY!









PS - I "squeezed" a lot of pics in here... click on to see 'em bigger.


1 -  http://www.zarela.com/2011/zarela-closing-some-media-coverage/