i had no intention of writing this and i had no intention of this coming out in this form, but based on some conversations that i’ve had this just kind of happened. a friend of mine asked me yesterday about why i love all things “quintessentially British” and this is, among other things, what i sent him:
My love of all things “quintessentially British”. Ahhhh the Million dollar question. Please. Pull up a chair. Put the kettle on. To make a long and not particularly interesting story short….my grandparents were South African born Englishmen [English persons?] and my mum was born in Northern Rhodesia while it was still under crown rule. My family prior to that is from London and [my best guess] Manchester. Grandfather supported Arsenal, as did I up until I was about 5 when he and my mother had a bit of an argument and that turned into MANCHESTER UNITED FOR YOU. And that was that. He eventually got over it and taught me the history of the club, about the game, and all of the important things. We watched rugby and cricket and football together…he even let me take him to a match: United v Barcelona in 2003. My dad was in the US navy so he was away often and as my mother raised me, I was raised English: tea, cakes, St George’s Day, Boxing day, Day Month Year, metric over imperial, spelling things correctly and all of that. Let’s just say that when I was in primary school, it made things very interesting when we transferred from Italy to the US. When they were singing the National Anthem, I just…stood there. When they were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance…i just stood there, quietly and respectfully of the other students, but I never joined in. I have never felt connected to this country. For as long as I can remember, I have always referred to Americas as “them” and the English as “we”. I have more friends in England than I have here. When I moved back to the US from France in 2004, I thought that I was going to be moving back to the UK after I graduated. Eight years and another degree later, I’m starting the process all over again. If I haven’t set down roots in eight years [no husband, no kids, no relationship, no real friends to speak of and no real sense of belonging] then it isn’t to be and I need to be where I belong. I originally thought that it was my wanting and needing to not be in America made me psychologically shut off to any sort of settling here, but I have finally realised that I truly don’t belong here. I never bought in to “MURIKAH!! WE’RE NUMBER ONE. USA! USA! USA! [which, as an aside, is really bizarre because my mother LOVES it here, so much so that she gave up her British citizenship. I don’t understand it.]” If I had any sort if inclination to try to force a sense of belonging, that was killed off when I went back to Europe in October. In the five weeks I was gone, I realised how dreadful and rude and cretinous Americans are and how much I don’t miss them. That was when I knew…
what strikes me out of all of this is the fact that i never set down roots in america. i tried. i really did, but it didn’t work. it’s like the universe is telling me that i don’t belong here. that much i already knew. that i find more interesting is the feeling that i had when i was in Manchester in October. i hadn’t been to Manchester since 2003, but when i was there in october, it was as if i had never been away. i was walking down Deansgate Road towards Spinningfields and i felt like i belonged. like i had lived there my entire life. mike garry has a blog called god is a manc and he wrote a poem for Manchester United’s Made of Manchester campaign called The Threads That Weave:
This is manchester. this is MY Manchester. everything that he writes, i get. i understand it. i feel it in my soul. the titular poem…he talks about things and places and i knows them. i feel them. this is the city that i love, football or not. this is where i feel alive. i’ve applied for another position there at a job doing something similar to what i was doing with Island Def Jam. so if anyone prays, please pray for me. and if anyone doesn’t, spare a good thought in my direction. i need this job.
i want to feel whole again. i’m homesick and i just want to go home.
Fins aviat que a mi no em perdreu mai! - Pep Guardiola
I’m going back to the UK for good this year. I have to. I am terrified and I cannot wait and this could not have come at a better time.
I’ll admit to it. One of the things that I love the most about travelling is the shopping. That is probably a stereotypically girly thing to say, but it’s the truth, especially when I’m in Francophone countries. The problem that I face, at times, is being someone who speaks French rather fluently, is finding French media that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to import to the United States [where I am currently studying French Literature at university, but that’s neither here nor there.]. When I was taking my undergraduate courses, I was introduced to M Pokora via our Table Française, our weekly conversation group. It’s rare for me to take to a new artist as quickly and as fanatically as I did to him, but I’m glad that I did. When I was in Paris last month, I went in with a shopping plan…which was very quickly thrown out the window once I got to FNAC and saw a huge sign in the window that proclaimed loudly and with a great deal of pride “SOLDES”. I knew I was in trouble. Armed with my credit card and a “please don’t let me spend a bajillion euro in here” sense of resolve, in I went and upstairs I found myself eyeballs deep in coffrets (boxed sets) on offer…and they had M Pokora. And Christophe Maé and I knew I was done for. Besides, who could honestly pass up MP3 / Mise à Jour 2.0 in the two for a tenner sale? I mean. HONESTLY. In the midst of my coffret collecting, I managed to pick up A La Poursuite du Bonheur, his newest, which was also under a giant SOLDES!!!!!! banner. No complaints from the peanut gallery! The French press had been raving about it so I figured…why not.
OH MAN. HOLEEE CRAP. I do realise that he had put the album up on his youtube channel, but there’s nothing that can really beat sitting down and giving it a good listen in one go. I’m, admittedly, pretty crap at this whole album review writing lark but HOLEEEEE CRAP. Comparing Mise à Jour to A La Poursuite du Bonheur is like comparing cheese to pineapple. You just can’t do it. ALPDB is beautifully crafted. He’s gotten rid of the autotune and the “Justin Timberlake” tag that seemed to have followed him around the press with MàJ and he’s allowed himself to evolve into a real artist. It’s as if he’s grown up overnight. He’s got this amazing voice that sometimes gets buried under studio trickery and I cannot be happier that he’s ignored a lot of that on this record. It seems, to me at least, that that he had gone from “I’m trying really hard” to “organic and natural recording process.” I think that can be reflected on how he’s approached how he’s touring on this record, as well because there seems to be more Pokora and his band than Pokora and his dancers, which is always a good sign, in my opinion.
I’m fully convinced that if I hadn’t have gone to Paris I would never have picked this up because at 10€ versus $45 USD….it’s a no brainer. Money aside, though, I don’t think that I would have thought to pick this up if I hadn’t have gone at this point in my life and it would have been relegated to the “oh I like this song but it gets pushed back into the back of my mind and it will get deleted off iTunes in three months” pile. I always try to pick up something like this in each of the countries that I visit because it works better as a souvenir, for me, than any little trinket or whatever that I could have picked up elsewhere. From here on out, this record will always and forever be anchored in my mind as the disc that was the soundtrack to my experience in Paris.
Below is one of my favourite songs off the new record, Si Tu Pars. (it sounds just as good live as it does recorded. The kid’s got chops.) Once I got it, I GOT it and it was a punch in the throat. I hope that you guys like it as much as I do
[all links go to youtube videos!]
I was reflecting on my last entry when it made me remember something; kindly indulge me in a bit of story telling. When I arrived in Madrid from Barcelona, it was after a very long train ride, the details of which I will explain in a separate entry, so I was unde rstandably a bit rattled. Through the kindness of strangers I made it to the hostel, checked in, and then went down to reception to see what there was in the area. Once again, the hostelling experience reared its head…common courtesy, at least in the hostels that I have stayed in, is that if you see a fellow traveller at the desk, you say hello to them in either the local language or in English and then carry on with your business. Usually, the conversation will be, “oh hello! Where are you from?”. This, fortunately, is what happened. Our exchange went a little bit like this:
Me: “Hello. Where are you from?”
Guy: “I’m from Dortmund. Where are you from?”
Me: “I live in the US. Dortmund? “
[thinks to myself…admittedly, if I would have had a word bubble over my head, it would have had !!! in it.]
Me: “DORTMUND? Are they playing tomorrow?”
Guy: “They are! You should go!”
That was, so I thought, that., but I should have known better. Fast forward to the next morning…long story short, I failed to get tickets [Real Madrid were hosting Borussia Dortmund at the Bernabéu] but that’s neither here nor there, but I did think that that was the end of my seeing my friend. What I didn’t realise, however, is that I was in the presence of a BVB Ultra [see them march through Manchester city center here and here.] THERE WERE ULTRAS IN MY HOSTEL. A LOT OF ULTRAS. LOTS. This may not mean a whole lot to anyone who is outside of the international footballing community, but those who are familiar with ultras in general know that this could go one of two ways. 1. Very badly or 2. PARTAY UP IN HURR. Fortunately for me, it was the latter.
As an aside, I would like to say a word on ultras. For those who don’t know what they are, they are a well organised bunch of supporters who are very loud and turn out en masse to support their team. They have one aim and one aim only: make the stadium a hostile and uncomfortable place to be if you’re an away fan. Without giving a full on history lesson or a who’s who of these groups, it is probably easiest to say that for these fans their team, is life and death for them. Teams with ultras are among the best supported in the world. Do a search on youtube for groups such as the UltrAslans [of Galatasaray in the Turkish League] or the Delije [Делије] of Red Star Belgrade [Фудбалски клуб Црвена звезда Београд / Crvena zvezda Beograd] in Serbia. The Delije are an interesting case study because, politics aside, they’ve been around as an organised group since the 1940s. There is a reason why they have a banner in their end of the Marakana that says “Hell Rises at the North Gates.” It looks scary, and trust me…if you’re on the wrong end of it, it can be, but if you’re in the middle of it in with them and singing and chanting with them, it’s a lot of fun.
Anyway. Moving on to my BVB friends…it’s like that scene in Fight Club where the members of Fight Club see each other in the street or in jobs and give each other that knowing nod. Walking through the streets of Madrid en route to the Palacio Real ended up being almost the same scenario. First you saw one or two of them: dark jeans, dark jackets, but there…that bright bit of yellow sticking out from under their coats. When you got to the Palacio Real, there were small clusters of five or six together, same ‘uniform’. Most of them had BVB scarves tied tightly around their necks to shield them from the breeze. Interestingly, at one point, it appeared that there was going to be a scuffle in the street. A group of Real Madrid supporters shouted ¡Hala Madrid! repeatedly at a small group of Germans. Little by little, the RM supporters had the Germans surrounded. The police took note of this, as did the rest of the Ultras. With the “lone wolf” RM supporters thinking that they had the Germans backed into a corner, what they didn’t realise was that they themselves were bring surrounded, quietly and nonchalantly. The Germans on the inside knew, they recognised their own. One by one, the outer ring began to clap, the claps turned to chants and eventually all of the BVB supporters in the square were in on it. Once they had finished their chant, they disbanded and went on their way. Calmly, fantastically organised, and politely.
As I walked through Madrid from Palacio Real to Plaza Mayor the groups of five or six had turned into groups of ten or twelve as groups found and met up with their friends. Once you got into Plaza Mayor, it was as though you had left Spain and arrived in Germany. Not a single Spaniard in view, only black and yellow everywhere. Surely this was all of them…surely there couldn’t be any more of them in this city. That’s the thing about Ultras, though. They don’t come in the hundreds, they come in the thousands. The walk from Plaza Mayor up both Calle Mayor and through the back and side streets to our ultimate final destination was nothing but a sea of black and yellow for as far as you could see. Surely this was all of them this time, right? Well…yes. For now. Five minutes from Puerta del Sol you could hear them, all two thousand of them. They were packed into the main square at Puerta del Sol, and there were so many of them there that they had spilled out into the alleys. In the middle of it all, stood on the grassy part and raised up above everyone was the ring leader and his band, and they had Madrid rocking. Even as I had walked from there to the Cibeles, I could hear them over the traffic. At this point in the day, this was the last I saw and heard of them. The clock was ticking down and getting close to that magic “two hours before kick off” when they would all head to the Bernabéu to assemble and march to the stadium.
This, however, was not the last I would hear from them. The next day, those who did not take the tour of the Bernabéu the day before the match invaded that part of the city. To use the word invade is not to use it lightly as they really did invade: BVB supporters out numbered madrileños on the train three to one. They clapped, they sang, and they chanted. it wasn’t even match day! It was on the train where I met the three lovely young men that are in the picture above.
The one in the middle and the one in the blue sweater in the foreground I had already come across in my sightseeing the day before, amusingly enough. This was taken in the Real Madrid Press Room and they were giving the “You’ve just won the Champions League against Real Madrid. How are you feeling?” mock interview. Of all fo the people that I met while in Madrid, these three were probably my favourites. They were so much fun and so very accommodating. They saw that I was by myself and having met them the day before, they let me join in in their little group to go around the stadium. I speak neither German nor Spanish and they spoke no Spanish but a little bit of English, but surprisingly enough…we got on just fine. Once again, due to the kindness of strangers, I was able to have a wonderfully enriched experience [and in the slim to non-existent chance that any of you guys see this…hi!]
One last thing that I would like to mention is that my European adventure turned into a “and where have the BVB Ultras been today?”. They definitely left their mark on Europe, as they do. Drawn in the group of death with Madrid, Ajax, and Manchester City, they took over each city they visited. At times it felt like a mini scavenger hunt…they stencilled and stickered their way through Manchester and Madrid [and Amsterdam, no doubt, though I did not quite make it that far on this trip.]. so…thanks Ultras for adding a little bit more fun to my trip
Analogue Boy in a Digital World has a nice entry about the sticker art of the BVB Ultras in his blog here
A few notes on the hostel that I stayed in in Madrid: Hostel Santa Cruz de Marcenado is centrally located in Madrid and very easy to find behind El Corte Inglés. It’s a twenty minute walk to Palacio Real de Madrid, itself a ten minute walk from almost anything that you would want to see. Breakfast is included in the price of the room. The rooms are clean and neat and I really liked that the storage spaces were large. Bathrooms were large and well maintained and the showers were spacious with VERY HOT water. The staff were quite helpful and there is free wifi throughout the building, not just the common rooms. Perhaps due to my being in a relatively empty room for the duration of my stay, it felt, at times, more like a hotel than a hostel, but that’s still a plus in my eyes.
Madrid – Santa Cruz de Marcenado
Calle Santa Cruz de Marcenado 28
In all of my travels, I have been very fortunate in that I have never had a bad hosteling experience, and I’ve stayed in my faire share. Sure, there have been nights where I have thought to myself, “you really should have put out for a hotel.” But those have, fortunately, been few and very far between. Overall, though, I have been blessed with positive experiences and it sometimes baffles me why, after having had the hostelling experience, that anyone would really want to stay in a hotel [travelling with small children and old age not withstanding]
The one experience that I had yet to have, however, was staying in a mixed dorm. I’ve had the option to stay in them before, but I have always made it a point to stay in segregated rooms. I don’t even have a good reason why I chose to do so, I just have. That all came to an end, though, when I got to Barcelona and checked into the place I was staying [Hostal Center Ramblas, love you guys!]. As anyone who has ever stayed in a hostel can tell you, there is a certain unspoken rhythm that exists: you arrive and check in. Depending on what time you arrived, you either stow your luggage in the luggage room or take it up to your room; after that, off you go and explore the city / get food / familiarise yourself with your surroundings etc etc. Depending on the time of day, you either get a room full of people or nobody, generally the latter because they’re all doing exactly what you’re doing. That’s how it went at Center Ramblas. I arrived, put my suitcase in my room, and off I went. The day I arrived was football day [Manchester United FC v Chelsea in the Capital One Cup. The tie went into extra time and Manchester United lost in AET, but that’s neither here nor there], so I didn’t get back to my room until late. With it being after midnight, the one occupied bed was already occupied. It was the next morning that I found out that I was in a mixed room…nothing is more disorienting than waking up to expect one thing and seeing a man in your balcony. Let it be known that the Canadian was delightful and accommodating.
That day, though, was a perfect example of why I love staying in hostels. After a full day of sightseeing, I arrived back in my room to find more people, notably the Canadian and a lovely man from New Zealand. Five minutes later conversation turned to, “I’m hungry. Are you hungry? Shall we go get something to eat?” That would NEVER happen in a hotel. If you approached someone in the hallway and asked them and their travelling party to go to dinner with you and yours, you’d be laughed out of the building. Or they would run away screaming. Either way, the answer would always be no. The beauty of hostels, though, is putting a group of people of similar age in one place and eventually, you’re going to connect with someone. Perhaps it was the company I kept or perhaps it was the fact that I was being swept away in the moment of falling in love with the city, but it’s with a degree of certainty that I can say that that was the best meal that I had all trip. It didn’t cost much, and it wasn’t even that fancy, but if I would have had the same meal in in the same place, sat by myself, I would not have been as thrilled about it, I don’t think. There’s really something to be said about three complete strangers sharing a glass of sangria in the middle of the Ramblas and chatting like we’re all old friends.
That being said, though, there is also one other thing that I love about hostelling, and I suspect that it goes hand in hand with what I’ve just said, and that’s the whole sense of community you get. We’re all travellers, wandering around wherever we may be, who just happen to have crossed paths at this point in our lives. Two incidents from Barcelona spring to mind. The first occurred in the common room late my third evening there. Common rooms are great. People are in and out, eating something or writing postcards or checking email, but it seems to be the hub of activity in the planning of the next day’s activities. It’s amazing how many people from every walk of life you get in that one small room. In my case, I was at a table with my maps and my itinerary deciding what to do on the next day. Twenty or so minutes had passed and I was making little notes and such when the lovely person across the table saw what I was writing and said, “I wouldn’t do that tomorrow. There are too many crowds. I would do X instead.” I would have never have known that if they wouldn’t have said anything and I would have wasted a lot of valuable time in a queue. It’s great, to have that level of communal sharing of ideas. Chances are there is someone in the common room at some point who is going to a place you have been to and someone who has been to where you are going next. They are an amazing resource that, for me, has proven more invaluable than any travel guide ever could. I can’t tell you how many times I over this trip that I have sat at a common table and gone “oh. You’re going to London? I’ve just come from there!” or “you’ve just come from Madrid? I’m going there next. What do you think about this itinerary?” or “you’re going to Paris? I’ve just come from there and I’ve got some metro tickets left over if you want them.” In a way, one would suppose, it becomes like a massive swap meet, both of ideas and of material goods. I’ve traded métro tickets for maps, maps for vouchers, etc. Those kinds of experiences, I would have never have had if I were to stay in a hotel. It’s great, at least in my opinion. You are only as alone as you allow yourself to be.
The second experience, I think, would have to be my most fulfilling. As I mentioned previously, I’m a massive football fan; the BBC has a programme called Match of the Day, which airs every Saturday and every Sunday when there are league matches. I went back to the hostel to catch MOTD. Because I was watching on a community computer, everyone could see what I was watching, and as a consequence, I met a lovely man from Brazil called Rafael. Football brings the world together; UN take note! We were deep in conversation when we heard a “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt, but…” and a Greek man joined in the discussion. None of this would have been possible in a hotel. There’s a social code that seems to go out the window in hostels; in a hotel or in public in general, one does not normally engage in conversations with strangers, but in a hostel it is perfectly acceptable [and I would argue that this is something that is encouraged.]. Three hours in, our lovely Greek friend, Peter, suggested we all take a walk. Again, if someone would have suggested this at a hotel, there is a good chance that they would get a slap, but in a hostel, this seems perfectly acceptable to split off into smaller groups and go into the city on foot. Because two complete strangers engaged me in conversation, and in that four-hour conversation, we discussed everything from politics to the economy to art to everything. Peter, we found out, loved architecture, and was keen on Gaudí. While we were walking and talking, he would point out things that neither Rafael nor I would have seen otherwise. It was our own private walking tour of the city of Barcelona. With it being a clear, mild night, we walked all the way down to Casa Batilló and to have such a magnificent building all to our own with someone who knew the ins and outs of it is something that I will never ever forget.
The hostel that I mentioned in this ramble is:
Barcelona Centre Rambles YHA
Short notes on the hostel itself: perfectly located on Las Ramblas, very clean, very well organised and informative front desk staff, front desk staff dealt with one incident that I did have quickly and professionally, they were patient with those who did not speak Spanish / Català and were very knowledgeable about the area. Good value for money and a big plus for me was the free wi-fi for the planning of the next leg of my trip. Overall, I would stay there again. NB: I don’t know if it was because I stayed there over Halloween weekend but due to its proximity to Las Ramblas, it tends to get a bit noisy if you’re in an outside facing room. Light sleepers should request an inside facing room if possible or stay at Friends Hostel two blocks up.
I’m pretty sure that I should rewrite my biography to read, “I post pictures and stuff. Football and pictures and French things. But mostly pictures. And stuff.”
So hi new friends. My name is Brittany and I love travelling, taking pictures (of stuff) and Manchester United.