Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nurse the Hate: Lisbon

It was probably the discovery of the word “saudade”, meaning roughly “doomed melancholy and limitless longing” in Portuguese that first put Lisbon on the map for me.  The soul of fado music, a Portuguese gypsy folk blues, is all about saudade.  American blues may have some really sad songs, but there’s a lot more “jelly roll” then “saudade” in blues.  A place that comes up with an idea like that is worth a look.  On little more than a whim, the trip was booked to Lisbon Portugal.

Lisbon has a slow beautiful decay sagging down on it, much like an Old World New Orleans.  While the city has been the launch point of near unbeatable glories, things have been on a bit of a downslope since the 1700s.  Some cities beat their chests about winning a World Series or Super Bowl.  Lisbon is the home of the first people that sailed around Africa, established the spice trade routes, and maintained Portugal as a naval and world power for hundreds of years.  For example, here in Cleveland we have LeBron, a guy really good at putting a ball in a hoop.  Lisbon had Magellan, the first dude to sail into the total unknown and circumnavigate the globe.  Push comes to shove; I’m taking Magellan and his crew over LeBron/Maverick Carter and posse.  Sorry.  Sailing into the horizon where scholars are certain dragons await to devour you is a bit heavier than trying to drop a three over Tim Duncan and land a soda contract.

There is a certain dignity to Lisbon, like that of a fading hotel.  The bones are strong.  In 1755 an earthquake and ensuing tidal wave destroyed most of the old Lisbon.  What remained and what was rebuilt soon after reflects the style of 1750-1825.  To those unsure of what that means, think if Elvis and Liberace handled all interior decorating for major buildings.  It always seems like someone from the cast of Amadeus or Tom Jones is about to walk into a room in the older state buildings.  On top of that, years of Moor conquest give a Casablanca vibe to certain spaces.  It’s a cultural mish mosh that is always interesting.  It would be a good place to be in a white linen suit smoking hand rolled cigarettes and speaking in hushed tones about “the troubles”.

The people of Portugal are really friendly.  This is relatively surprising as they have the worst economy in Western Europe and seem to be overrun by Spanish and British tourists focused on paying as little as possible for meals while enjoying the San Diego like climate.  I’d be a little cranky if I were them.  On top of that, plenty of Northern African immigrants don’t appear to do anything but hang out in public squares and try to sell guys like me hash.  “Hey… Hash!  Mairihuana!” as they lean in with cupped hands held to their hips displaying eraser sized bricks of hash.  “Hey… It’s legal here.  No worries.”  Um, then why are you whispering this to me out of the side of your mouth while looking for cops?  Each one of these dealers looks like a young Muammar Gaddafi.  The guys that look like Idi Amin sit in robes on benches and stare at you with heavy eyelids and no expression. 

Let me make this clear.  I really like the Portuguese.  They were all very nice to me despite the fact that I have no idea what most of them were saying.  Portuguese is not an easy language to pick up.  It sounds like if someone was speaking Spanish to you with a speech impediment.  The result of that was I would often have a grab bag of special surprises arrive at my restaurant table.  I’ll eat most anything, but please be warned that they stick the super salty bacalao fish in almost everything.  It’s like if Slim Jim got involved in seafood.  At one point I had so much salt in my system I wasn’t worried about having a stroke so much as wilting under the water retention.  As I am on the topic, the restaurants of Lisbon appear to serve exclusively the following dishes; bacalao, steak, chicken, shrimp, and really fucking small clams.  These are only prepared with a butter garlic sauce.  These all come with fries.  Then again, I don’t understand Portuguese, so maybe there were some killer dishes I wasn’t privy to… 

For breakfast, plan on eating really rich pastries.  How these people remain slim, I have no idea.  Nobody jogs, but they all eat these custard rich pastries at every opportunity.  These are all washed down by super thick black coffees that have more in common with crystal meth than Starbucks.  If I were drinking these kinds of coffees on a regular basis in the 1500s, I would have been jacked up enough to say “Hey!  Let’s go!  Let’s just sail into the horizon!  Fuck it!  We’ll fuck up any dragon we find!  Let’s do this thing!  Let’s do it!”  I had one of them after the overnight flight (a mere 6 hours from Newark), and I was up for two days.  Bikers should sell these in the desert. 

A few things I would check out in Lisbon… The #28 line is a series of rickety old trolleys that would have been ripped out of any normal American city for being ineffective and probably a legal liability.  I dug the old rollercoaster feel and totally impenetrable route system.  It skims through the dodgy Bairro Alto area with old women staring through windows that were placed by Central Casting, hipsters attempting to gentrify, and tourists soaking it all in.  Be prepared for your driver to exit the trolley without warning in the middle of nowhere by saying “finished… finished” leaving you stranded.  As it’s only 2.85 euro, just hop back on going the other way and hope for the best.  

The Castelo de Sao Jorge is a castle built in 1147 perched on a hilltop overlooking the city.  A town sprung up outside the walls on the hill in the 1500s with impossibly small passages and meandering alleys.  While there are more than a few places selling $12 soaps and rooster magnets, there are also some real places of interest.  I would do whatever possible to stop in for a spell at Wine Bar do Castelo.  Portugal has producing wines of real quality, moving away from the rustic barnyard styles of old.  This small wine bar is run by two dudes (and I mean dudes) that are really enthusiastic about wine.  After they noted the interest and experience on the other side of the table, they really poured some exciting stuff.  Look for Quinta do Portal Grande Reserva 2003, Marques de Borba Reserva 2000, and Quinta do Perdigao Dao Touriga-Nacional with its impossible fresh lemon/grapefruit zest scent from a dark black wine.  Really eye opening stuff from a small business doing it the right way.

Portugal is of course known for port wine, the fortified wine that is probably most drunk now by British naval officers and old men named Clancy.  The Solar do Vinho do Porto is a trade association attempt to promote port wine in Capital City.  It is so laughably out of date it transcends “out” to become “real in”.  The lime green carpet, old servers, and terrible lighting make this a place right out of 1976.  With an astounding 200 port choices to drink (but sadly missing Taylor’s, Dow, and many of the top flight Quintas), it gives customers the chance to try vintage, late bottled vintage, tawny, white and any other variety I forgot.  I kept feeling like I should complain about the Jimmy Carter Administration and ask if guests had any idea how that Star Wars movie did those laser effects to get too involved with the list.  It’s like a set from “American Hustle” with a killer wine list.  Right outside is a park with maybe the best view of Lisbon to further solidify the trip to 1976.  Bring your own flares.

Right out of the city in Belem are many museums and the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a monastery and cathedral built from 1500s spice taxes.  While the “sin tax” of beer and wine may have built Cleveland Browns stadium, that is a piece of shit next to this awe inspiring building.  When you realize this was begun only nine years after North America was “discovered”, and most homes from the 1980s are falling apart, it gives pause.  Dramatic to the Nth degree, the church takes it over the top.  While there, I was lucky enough to see a wedding from a local couple take place.  Cinderella would have looked at her wedding and said, “Shit, mine really sucked compared to that…”  The fact there was a VW Beetle done up in streamers as the bridal getaway car only made it better. 

A quick train trip away is the resort town of Sintra.  It’s laughably pretty.  If you were loaded in the 1500s, the move was to build a palace in Sintra and summer out there trying to keep up with the Jonses (or in this case The King of Portugal).  The palace out there is so over the top allegedly even Liberace said “It’s too much!  It’s too much!”.  I would have investigated the multiple other palaces out there but lost my battle with some food poisoning that left me like a filthy animal slinking back to the train with my tail between my legs.  As an aside, if you take an unmarked pill given to you from a hotel desk guy that asks in broken English if “you have problem… going to the bathroom” feel free to take it.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be plugged up or if he had given me something to “help” me go to the bathroom.  I was in such a state I would have taken anything, and thank God this was to help me stop the flow instead of increasing it.  Had it been the other way, I may have actually turned to steam and disappeared.

I never actually got to hear any fado thanks to what I believe was some dodgy shellfish (cooked in butter and garlic of course) and the 36 hours of near death in the hotel.  I did hear a guy play “Born To Be Wild” busking in a plaza though.  Had I been able to go out and listen to some wailing and soulful fado style saudade I think it would have taken this trip over the top.  Or I would have been left a sobbing mess.  No matter.  With the quick flight, relatively cheap prices, and great affordable wines, I’ll be back.     

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Nurse the Hate: The Moment of Clarity

As noted earlier, I have really gotten into the World Cup.  I love the fervent nationalism, and watching the life and death fandom from a casual emotional distance.  I have also wagered quite successfully, this despite not knowing anything at all about soccer.  Frankly I would be just as qualified to bet on a bass fishing tournament.  Either based on sheer luck, or my now patented strategy of betting on a country based on my appreciation for their alcohol production quality, it has all worked out very very well.  (Today, it might be a good idea to bet on the Dutch.  I find their beer more pleasing than Argentina’s ocean of malbec or gamey torrontes whites.)

Yesterday I watched Germany deliver a humiliation beyond comprehension to the host Brazilians with a 7-1 trouncing.  That represented as an NFL score would be 82-3.  It really got away from the Brazilians.  As the TV broadcast worked in crying and wailing fans, I found a warm glow of happiness spread across me.  To see the dreams and hopes of these innocent fans destroyed in such a public and unforgettable way really made me glow.  The question formed in the back of my mind when I realized I wasn’t happy about Germany advancing and closing in on a 5-1 payoff, but rather the distress of these otherwise happy and attractive people… What is wrong with me?

I think I may have become twisted by living in this particular section of America.  Here the weather is almost always awful.  Our sports teams lose.  The economy folds in on itself.  The roads are crumbling.  The inner cities are like the Wild West with gunplay ready to break out in a moment’s notice.  In the rare instance when someone succeeds from the area, the population will rise en masse to point out their shortcomings and seethe at their good fortune.  Here it is expected that you will lose, not only in sport but in life.  To expect or hope for anything more is to just invite disappointment and sorrow.  That in itself has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Goals become small.  Dreams become minor.  To try to succeed is dangerous. 

If I really think about it, is this regional mindset the reason I never became something like an astronaut or powerful network television executive?  Well, to be honest the astronaut thing wouldn’t have worked out as I limped through high school geometry and would have had no chance at the advanced math classes those astronaut dudes have taken.  Hell, I had to go to Summer School to get past Geometry II. That was a bit of a joke.  To be honest, they passed you for just showing up with the rest of the Marlboro Light smoking heavy metal bad kids.  I didn’t learn any geometry that July, but I did find out about the Scorpions.  I still don’t know how to find the area of a rhombus and have gotten on in life by avoiding any rhombus I may encounter.  I would have never even had the chance to endure some kind of astronaut training chair where they whirl you around for an hour at 200 mph upside down.  I got undone by the rhombus.  I can’t blame the Rust Belt on the “astronaut failure”.  That’s on me.

The Network Executive idea is pretty far-fetched too.  I can’t sit in meetings and say things like “Great idea Stevereno!” when in fact it’s a stupid idea with no chance of success.  There is a real art to sucking up to those ahead of you in a corporate food chain, and living your life in constant fear that you may displease one of these individuals.  I stupidly answer things honestly when asked questions.  I would have no chance at the slick World of Lies of Network TV.  Plus, I have become so far removed from what ordinary people like to be entertained by while eating Kool Ranch Doritos on the couch.  “American Idol?  Who the fuck wants to watch a karaoke contest on TV?  No way that show works!”  My programming ideas would be way too niche…  “Today it was announced that ABC has green lit a Roky Erickson reality show, as well as a sure to be controversial show called “Blank vs. Blank” where ordinary citizens are plucked from their homes to try and combat a random wild animal in something called The Arena of Truth”.  Network president Greg Miller was clearly excited about the new shows despite his staffers clear reservations about the new direction of the now flailing network.”

Maybe my spot in life is just that of some guy with limited abilities that can come up with a song or two, gamble on things he doesn’t know about, and just can’t work hard/smart enough to really accomplish anything.  Perhaps this schadenfreude of mine is just part of the package, and hasn’t been trained into me like I was a seal at Sea World.  All I know is that I really hope a bunch of Argentine fans traveled to Brazil to see their semifinal match today, and with luck the Dutch crush their dreams…   


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Nurse the Hate: The Summer of Thunder Bombs

When I was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, there was a particular summer when everyone had fireworks.  Fireworks, like almost anything else fun, were illegal in PA.  As I recall we got the fireworks from a shady man that lived in a nearby neighborhood.  It's hard to believe that a guy would risk trouble with the law to sell illegal fireworks out of his garage to 13 year olds, but that's how we got them.  Since we were 13, we didn't have enough money to buy the big shit, so our concerns were to amass the largest stockpile of Thunderbomb firecrackers and Moon Traveler bottle rockets possible.  Some swore by the Black Cat firecracker, but our neighborhood was staunchly in favor of the reliable Thunderbomb 16 pack.  For many boys, this was the first lesson in that the best price does not always supply the best value as our streets were often littered by dud Black Cats purchased by rookies.  

Normally it was event to have firecrackers.  Great plans would be made on how to use them.  Great caution used to unwrap each individual firecracker.  To light off complete packs at once was an extravagance saved for the actual 4th of July.  Prudent conservation was the key to getting through a whole summer vacation.  The summer I am thinking of now was an exception, an anomaly really.  Everyone in the neighborhood was stocked that summer, even those cheap ass Cameron kids that never sprung for the tools of summer.  If you were a 10-14 year old boy in my neighborhood that summer, you tossed lit full packs of Thunderbombs at the feet of anyone at any time.  We had become so callous about explosions, we were like a group of WWI vets at the Western Front.  At the drop of a hat, any of us could rig timed fuses on multiple firecrackers.  It was like being part of a bomb unit in Iraq, but with a lot more Schwinn bikes.

I realized it had gone too far when we were sitting in the Cameron's garage waiting for something to happen.  Every few minutes of so a firecracker would go off in the garage with a satisfying echo ringing in our ears.  The eldest Cameron brother Scott came into the garage in tow with Andy, one of the official "bad kids" in school and a definite Wild Card.  Also bored and looking for something to do, they had resorted to seeing what the little kids were up to.  This was when the unexpected happened and livened up the day considerably.

Scott should have known something was wrong when Rick, a longtime critic of Scott and his ineffectiveness in backyard sports, offered Scott one of those snack boxes of raisins.  Do they still make those?  Coming in some sort of multi unit snack pack (probably spelled "Snak-Pak"), these two inch by one inch boxes contained just enough raisins that no kid ever finished them in their brown bag lunch.  To have one of those on hand, much less offer one to someone walking into an empty garage should have set off a warning light for Scott.  It did not however...

"Hey Scott... Want some raisins?" Sure!  Rick nonchalantly tossed the raisins across the garage to Scott.  About three feet prior to reaching him the box exploded, just disappeared, as the trusty Thunderbomb went off with authority.  I would call the look on Scott's face a very unique combination of terror, confusion, and shock.  This was an aggressive move that was completely unprecedented in our neighborhood.  A younger boy had never made a show of disrespect that blatant to an elder.  It set off an instant chain of reactions.  Rick ran off with Scott in pursuit while Andy, his juvenile delinquent Yoda, roared with laughter.  This was predictable.

What was unpredictable was how Andy, after careful rumination, had decided this was an act of aggression that could not pass.  All of us boys in the garage were as responsible as Rick as we had done nothing to prevent the aggression.  It was as if I was Costa Rica, and now was going to be bombed by the United States because Mexico had lobbed a mortar across the Texas border.  And just like Costa Rica, I was powerless to prevent the retribution to come...

That Summer it became necessary to have your head on a swivel.  At any moment a firework could come sizzling towards your head.  Leaving the house without a small cache of bottle rockets and firecrackers was more than reckless; it was foolhardy.  At a certain point the older boys secured whistlers, a clear step up in our arms race.  These offered much greater range and firepower.  Even now I can recall being trapped in my garage with multiple whistlers whining in and exploding around me.  The incredible thing about parenting in those days was the sheer amount of hands off and "don't look, don't tell" that was going on.  No adult seemed to notice that their sons constantly had explosions going on around them, or even asked "Why did five fireworks just go off in the garage while my son was screaming in fear?".      

Eventually the weather began to turn and our fireworks supplies went back to "emergency only".  Some of us had some nice burns.  All of us had some close calls.  It might be that I am so far removed from kids now, but I don't hear any screams and explosions in my neighborhood.  I don't see any kids leaping behind bushes with rockets dropping in all around them.  I am sure this is a much safer environment, but I can't help but think it leaves these kids soft.  Don't be surprised if you open up the Police Blotter section of my local paper and read "Local Man Suspected Of Terrorizing Area Children With Fireworks".  I'll tell you now what I will tell the judge.

It's for their own good.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nurse the Hate: Still Hating Manziel?

By this time I think it is quite evident that I am a huge Johnny Manziel fan.  This is not because of his prowess on the football field.  No, I am all in on Johnny Football because he seems to know that right now, in this moment, he can do whatever he wants and no one can stop him.  For example, after he was shown on the web talking into a giant stack of money pretending it was a phone (“I can’t hear you!  I have too much fucking money in my hand!”), he was told by Cleveland Browns PR staffers to maybe bring down the obnoxious behavior.  He then immediately goes out the next weekend and has his picture taken while slugging down booze while floating on an inflatable swan.  I’m not sure, but I don’t think this is what they had in mind.

The very next Monday night (Monday!), Manziel goes to a party at Justin Bieber’s house and has this amazing photo taken and posted.  This is an incredible picture for a number of reasons.  First, I love the fact that Manziel decided to have his picture taken with Bieber and Mayweather, two of the douchiest guys on the planet.  It is reasonable to assume that Johnny Manziel has probably spent as much time at Browns HQ being talked to by concerned members of the front office as he has spent on the actual football field.  Then, despite meeting after meeting discussing his behavior and public perception, he then decides to be photographed next to the very symbol of poor young male decision making and someone washing his career down the toilet.  Seriously, is there someone worse to be associated with than Justin Bieber right now?  He would have been better off in a photo with Vladamir Putin, Chris Brown, and Lindsey Lohan.  How about Kim Jong-un, Gary Busey, and that guy in South Africa with no legs that shot his girlfriend?  It’s almost like he said “Fuck you” to the Browns PR staff right before this picture.

I do not believe that John W. Football is a stupid guy.  I think he knows exactly what he’s doing.  He knows he can ignore everyone at Cleveland Browns HQ and get away with it.  Well, right now he can…  What he doesn’t realize is that the people in Cleveland will put up with a lot of things, but hanging out with a douchebag like Justin Bieber isn’t one of them.  Moneyphone and swan?  No problem.  Asshole kid that makes shitty music and has a sense of entitlement like Bieber?  Booooooo!  If Manziel is hanging out with Motorhead doing drugs with Lemmy, it’s all good.  Hey, what the fuck, it’s Lemmy.  Meanwhile if he even crosses the street with Justin Bieber, even I am thinking, “If he thinks Justin Bieber is cool, doesn’t that make him a little weasel too?”.  Dudes that work in the Cuyahoga County Sewer Dept don’t want their starting QB hanging out with a little punk like Justin Bieber. 

Models/Casinos/Public Drunkeness= Good. 

Justin Bieber/any Kardashian/hot yoga= Bad

I would like to point out that with that one picture his leash with the pubic just got shorter.  The first time he tosses an errant pass in a game, I am looking down at my watch to time how long a comment like “Maybe if you weren’t so busy sucking Justin Bieber’s dick you would have known how to throw a fucking screen pass Manziel ya fucking fuck!” is made by a fan in the Dawg Pound.  These season ticket holder guys will put up with a team that can’t win, horrible drafts, terrible coaching, bad weather, and no hope of a future.  They will not put up with a Justin Bieber association though. 

I still feel very confident that Manziel will flame out in spectacular fashion.  The whole spectacle will hopefully make the San Diego Chargers Ryan Leaf debacle seem charming by comparison.  I love the idea that Manziel feels like he’ll just pop in on Sundays to play, and it will all go just peachy.  Right now Peyton Manning is tossing passes to receivers in the hot sun, Tom Brady is lifting weights, and Drew Brees is studying film, while Johnny Manziel is floating around wasted in a rubber swan.  I can’t figure out if he thinks he will just show up and win because that’s what he’s always done in the past, or he just doesn’t care at all.  Either way, it’s absolutely awesome.  I love the guy for pure entertainment value.  Still, I’m having trouble with this Bieber thing…