Category Archives: Africa

US soccer missing that love spark

brazil-papiermache

I’ve wondered for some time now why there’s such resistance to a full-bodied embrace of soccer/football in the United States. I think I’m finally able to articulate my hypothesis.

Prostitutes.

A number of current events stories in recent weeks/months has led me to the conclusion that America will never be as enthusiastic about soccer; never deify their league-leading players; never bring communities/societies to standstills as the rest of the world does until it has the full support of its sex workers. And since prostitution is illegal in the U.S. (save Nevada), it makes logical sense that soccer enthusiasts will remain pocketed throughout the country.

My proof:

  • Nigeria’s women of the night/day/mid-afternoon provided extra incentive by offering a full week of free sex if the men’s national team won the African Cup of Nations. They did.
  • Brazil’s associated sex workers are business savvy women. They’re preparing themselves for Confederations Cup 2013 and World Cup 2014 with free language classes. Must diversify.
  • In Greece, a couple of bordellos have emerged as the main sponsors/saviors for some amateur teams. Never fear; pros to the rescue.

In this light, the Mexican contingent that was sent to the 2011 Copa América was only attempting to maintain positive soccer-prostitute international relations.

Disclaimer: This is neither pro- nor anti- advocacy, just well-observed facts.

PHOTO: Credit REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

And they’re off!

It seems like another lifetime ago when World Cup fever held my blog hostage. All I wrote about was Mexico and Mexicans, Chicharito, South Africa, vuvuzelas and “puuuuutos“.

Well, rewind because it’s back.

The road to Brazil 2014 is on today with a friendly game against Bosnia-Herzegovina held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Game starts at 8 p.m. EST, and as always Univision will be there to make what will likely be an interesting matchup that much more dramatic. Breathless commentary has that effect. Their coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. EST (4:30 p.m. out here on the West Coast).

This is a debut for Mexico’s new coach—José Manuel “El Chepo” de la Torre—so we’re expecting a talent-heavy roster (site in Spanish). Nothing like that bunch of third-stringers the U.S. played against Chile last month. Bosnia hasn’t stepped down either. It looks like their coach has called on the country’s biggest talents.

“The fact that I invited our best players is very telling that this match must be taken very seriously. I am very familiar with the game of [the Mexicans], there are no friendly matches where they don’t give their maximum,” Safet Susic said on the Football Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina website.

PHOTO: Chicharito celebrates after scoring during 2-0 victory over France in Polokwane, South Africa/ June 17, 2010

One Month check-in

It’s February = time to check in on New Year’s resolution progress

Revisiting 2010

  • GOAL: Read 30 new books. As of today, I have read 1.5 books, loads of magazine articles and too many stories about protests in the Middle East. But, because not much of this counts toward my goal, the official tallY is 1. 29 to go.
  • GOAL: Run 500 miles. I knew this was going to be hard since I started the year unable to jog and with no clear deadline of when I would be able to. I have not run a single mile since October 2010, but I have walked briskly a respectable 2 miles in the past month. I’m counting that towards my goal. Again, official tally stands at 2. 498 to go.
  • GOAL: Eat more kosher meals. I’ve done fairly well but haven’t been able to string together a few days’ worth of kosher eating habits. AMENDMENT: Kosher Mondays. I’ll post my Monday meals here so you know what I’m up to.

My B4-30s

  • Started accordion lessons on Saturday afternoons. More to come…
  • Arabic studies continue. Watched Al-Jazeera in recent class and could make out a few things. Progress!
  • AHHHH! Even before I write it, while I’m thinking of writing it, I’m peeved. I had booked my trip to Egypt and Jordan almost two months ago and now, because of obvious circumstances, that trip is on hold. I sympathize with all those people protesting and find it exciting that such changes are unfolding across the Middle East. But, I’m also bummed that I might not be able to go. How awesome to be in that midst and witness history?! If I’m forced to change my travel plans, then I likely won’t see those World Wonders before my deadline.

Purging

  • Total failure. Life remains as cluttered as before.

Emirates can do no wrong

For those of you who hadn’t yet noticed, I went to South Africa this summer/winter for FIFA World Cup 2010. WooHoo!

As much fun as the actual experience on the ground was, the trip had its own tinge of awesome that started and ended with the amazing flights from Emirates. No hyperbole. No exaggeration. No misplaced credit. I repeat, as I have since I’ve returned, flying 14 hours from New York to Dubai, sandwiched in a middle seat toward the back of the plane was one of the best flights of my life. Loads of leg room. My own personal entertainment system with loads of FREE music, movies, tv shows and live programming. A headset I DID NOT have to pay for or return at the end of the flight. My own personal travel case with socks, eye shades/face mask, toothbrush and stickers for my seat to let the flight attendants know if I should be woken for food or duty free. And, seriously, let’s talk about the food! Delicious and a full bar… except for champagne, you had to pay for that.

Yeah, that probably was The Best flight. That is until it was bested by the returning flight from Johannesburg to Dubai.

Forlorn, because the trip was ending and we had to return to a world that didn’t revolve around World Cup 24/7. Yuck! Mildly depressed in OR Tambo. But, then I perked up at the possibility of getting bumped up to business class. Whatup!! MexiCAN #2 and I flew in style. Access to the exclusive lounge before boarding, air “beds,” canapes, calamari, champagne cocktails before takeoff, screens that made you forget you were traveling with someone else. Even better food. And that wasn’t even the creme of Emirates flight crop. There was yet another level that I peeked at. For the few out there who saw Sex and the City 2, it looked a little like that.

Why post about something that happened almost four months ago?

Because my love of Emirates was diluted. I had been wronged by an otherwise perfect experience. I’m not even talking about the dejection of having to sit with the plebes in coach (right next to the bathroom!!) for the second leg of the trip back home.

I’m talking about the experience in the Emirates Lounge. I had decided to mail myself a postcard from South Africa. It would arrive in a few weeks. I’d get a nice reminder of my time there and it would act as a little pick-me-up. I was looking ahead. Who really wants to come back from vacation? Plus, it was an elephant postage stamp. Cute.

I asked the guy at the front desk where I could send it. He said he would take care of it. Amazing. Concierge service. More points for Emirates.

Fastforward. I’m home a week. No postcard. Two weeks. Nothing. A month. Still nada. You get the point.

Lame. Stupid concierge service. They can’t be trouble to put a freaking postcard in the mail.

This was the black eye on Emirates… until yesterday.

Fina-freaking-ly. And I can’t blame Emirates either. It’s stamped 6/25/2010, the day after I flew from Johannesburg.

I resume my unabated enthusiastic support for Emirates. I shall be taking it on a future trip to Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. I will probably take it if I’m ever planning to go to Austraila. A little out of the way, since it makes a stop in Dubai first, but worth it. I think.

PHOTOS: Emirates Airbus flying high. Three stickers for your seat. Exactly what I slept on when I got bumped up to business class. My postcard.

South African Epicuriosity, Part 2

Last month, I launched this miniseries of posts where I tackled some of the great eats I had along the road from Johannesburg to Cape Town, from Nelspruit to Polokwane and back again. My first attempt was an entree that failed miserably to stand up to its inspiration.

Up next, breakfast!

Feta French Toast

LOCATION: The Health Path, 41 Victoria Ave., Hout Bay, Western Cape

DATE: Monday, June 14, 2010 and Tuesday, June 15, 2010

BACKGROUND: Before heading out to Constantia for some wine-tasting, we figured we’d go for a quick breakfast. It was getting late and a coffee shop seemed just the perfect fit. We were walking by this place and decided to go inside. At first it seemed a waste of time. Yes, there were cool organic, green-living things to buy but in terms of sustenance it seemed to just have coffees and teas… ugh, and protein bars or something equally gross. Luckily, hiding in plain sight was a dry erase board with the day’s specials. Among them, French Toast.

WHY SO YUMMY: French Toast is usually divine. How can you go wrong with bread and syrup? This meal used thick slices of raisin loaf, topped it with feta cheese and organic agave syrup! But they went a step further. This was a health shop, remember. Served on the side of my french toast and a little garnish on top — sprouts and sliced tomatoes! It was REALLY good and if you couldn’t tell by now by the dates above, it was worth a second trip. Oh, and the coffe was delish too. If you’re ever in this bay tucked outside Cape Town, check them out. I can’t promise you’ll be greeted with the best French Toast ever, but you may find something equally interesting.

WHAT I DID: Well, if I’m going to attempt organic feta french toast, obviously my first trip is Whole Foods. I found some Sprouted Wheat Cinnamon Raisin bread for the base and agave nectar for the syrup. What I didn’t find was that amazing feta cheese. I improvised with your standard $4.50 goat cheese. A touch of nutmeg here, some egg whites there… and VOILA! My masterpiece:

I must say I was impressed with this. A definite improvement over that disastrous fondue. I still need to work on my plating techniques. Perhaps a nice white plate next time to make the food pop. As any good Iron Chef will tell you, plating is worth 25 percent.

PHOTOS (from top): The original Feta French Toast from The Health Plan (credit: MexiCAN #2); My version is slightly underwhelming but delicious. It could even become a staple of my kitchen repertoire (credit: me).

South African Epicuriosity, Part 1

There has yet to be a place I’ve visited where I’m not stunned by the wonderful food available. At times, I’m greeted with a cornucopia of delicacies at every step of the journey from couture restaurants to rickety street vendors. Other times, the jewels of the palate must be actively sought out. Keeping the tradition alive, my two trips to South Africa were epicurean feasts.

Sure these people love their meats. A HUGE steak of I-don’t-know-what game animal served with a side of boerewors sausage? Or would you prefer a shepard’s-pie-like bobotie and some biltong?

But this is also the land of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten, some pretty amazing seafood, and to wash it all down? Pinotage, what else?

This miniseries of posts will explore my culinary ability to duplicate some of the best dishes I had during this latest trip to South Africa. Some were simple salads. Others were complicated entrees. All were far beyond my skill level. Contributing is MexiCAN #2, whose obsession with taking food photos, provides some of the “before” shots.

Without further ado…

Tomato and Garbanzo Fondue

Location: Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg Vineyards, Constantia, Cape Town

Date: Monday, June 14, 2010

BACKGROUND: This was the perfect comfort meal. This dark and dreary day that had seen calamitous rain the entire morning was also the day we decided it would be a good idea to rent a car, I mean “hire a car” and drive to Constantia for some wine-tasting since our previously planned wine-and-bike tour in Stellenbosch was rained out. After a hectic morning of staying in my left-hand lane and sampling some South African wine, we arrived at Steenberg with every intention of eating from their tapas menu. Alas, we arrived too early and had to settle for the regular lunch. A blessing in disguise…

WHY SO YUMMY: It was a tomato and garbanzo fondue over a bed of perfectly cooked couscous. I mean PERFECTLY COOKED. I’ve never tasted couscous like this. It was a complete epiphany… like my whole life I thought couscous tasted one way and then I ate this and realized just how wrong I had been. The whole thing was drizzled with this yogurt sauce and topped with fresh herbs. DELISH!

WHAT I DID: Well, I kinda completely forgot about the yogurt and the green stuff. And I had no clue what a “fondue” was in any context other than molten cheese or chocolate. My approach was simple: Grab a can of garbanzos, rinse and dump them in a pan with some tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Add some seasoning. And what of my couscous? Well, it was cooked and that was its only similarity to the South African meal.

Of course it looked better on a plate the night I made it, but I only have photos from my lunch the day after. I swear it looked better!

PHOTOS: (top) My Tomato and Garbanzo Fondue at Constantia vineyard (Credit: MexiCAN #2); (from left) My concoction looking rather sad in tupperware (Credit: Me); looking even worse for wear after eating (Credit: Me)

Kickoff is in 7 hours… come on, already!!!

Why is it the coldest day of the year on the most important?! It’s 9 a.m. out here and about 40°F. I don’t know if it’s supposed to warm up or start to rain. Apparently, nobody told the weather that it’s uncool to be tempermental today.

The game doesn’t start for about 7 hours, but the ruckus began in full force yesterday. I was a Ratz bar in Melville, watching the opening concert. Did anyone else see Desmond Tutu all bafana bafana-ed out?

Met some amazing people. Of course, Mexican fans were there… on their way to work!! [Sidenote: If anyone’s watching the games on a Latin America channel, I know who you can blame if the connection dies.] Some English fans (just 3) and a bar full of South Africans who didn’t kick us out when we started belting Cielito Lindo.

Time for breakfast and to buy our park-n-ride tickets. You won’t hear back from me until after the game… and if I’m in a bad mood, you may not want to hear what I’m gonna say. But that’s not going to happen, go MEXICO!!!

Made it… along with the rest of México

My journey that began at LAX Monday night, finally came to an end around 4 p.m. local time yesterday in Johannesburg.

Little by little, along the way, I kept seeing more and more green jerseys.

First, there were about a handful of us on the redeye to New York. Then, the numbers swelled and most of the passengers on the Emirates flight were Mexico fans. I was momentarily shocked when I sat next to some guy who was going to be following the US team. “Oh yeah, there are other teams playing in the World Cup. Kinda forgot.”

We had people in green jerseys, black jerseys, hats of all shapes and sizes, t-shirts. We were a pretty mellow crowd. More than 20 hours flying will do that to some.

But, once we landed in Johannesburg, that changed quick.

The vuvuzelas were out. And so were the mariachis.

There were more people rooting for Mexico than any other team, including South Africa. I won’t hold that against them. This was an airport. There’s no need for bafana bafana fans to show up at the airport. They should be proud that the airport security was representing though — getting in a duel with vuvuzelas on one side and mariachis and matracas on the other.

Yeah, I had stuff to do at the airport — exchange some dollars for rands; look for a temporary phone; pick up match tickets — but all the energy made it fun to stick around until 7 p.m.

Tomorrow’s opening match is going to be legendary. Playing at a 94,700 capacity stadium in a city parked more than 6,500 feet above sea level, it is the ultimate home-field advantage. But El Tri knows a thing or two about intimidating home fields. Its monstrous Estadio Azteca seats 105,000 at 7300 feet above sea level. Whenever teams play there, opposing fans are outnumbered and smothered in the stands.

Who knows what the crowd will look like tomorrow? But so far, it looks like what everyone already knew about México fans is true: We will follow our team anywhere. To a tiny village in Germany and definitely to huge venue like World Cup in South Africa.

The parties have officially begun and I’m off to find the bar in Johannesburg that has a replica of El Ángel. It shouldn’t be too hard. I think there are like two Mexican cantinas out here.

PHOTOS: well, there were some and a couple videos too. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to post since I lost my computer cord. Once I figure it out, I’ll update this post.

Day 1: I better not have forgotten my wallet

Alright, this is my last post before I begin my journey to the World Cup. Tonight, after work, I’m heading to LAX to catch the redeye to New York. I had planned to pack everything for almost three weeks of travel in ONE carry-on and a backpack. I have succeeded.

With the help of some creative packing techniques and compression bags, I’ve stuffed weeks worth of WINTER clothes and FANATICISM chotchkies. Only problem is that my sombrero may make my clever packing moot.

Also, my dad bought me an obscenely-loud foot-long matraca that could be considered a weapon. Ergo prohibited on carry-ons.

This unfocused photo was taken at 1 a.m. from my cell phone after I finished packing. (Ugh, sad side note: my cell doesn’t have international calling capabilities. This is when I regret opting for a cheapie phone.) If you look carefully, you’ll see a luchador luggage tag.

Day 3: pretty, pretty cape

It’s getting down to the wire and I’m getting MORE and MORE excited about this trip. The World Cup is a great excuse to visit South Africa, but even if it weren’t, I would still salivate at the thought of going back. It has some of the most breath-taking sights I’ve seen… from the top of Table Mountain to the red earth of the wine country and the infinite horizon at the Cape of Good Hope.

Below are some photos of a trip down the coast from Cape Town to Cape Point:

The Twelve Apostles at Camps Bay

Cutie penguins in Simon’s Town

Cape Point

Great horizon at Cape Point.

Posing at the Cape of Good Hope

More of Good Hope

In case you didn’t believe I was there…