Friday, November 14, 2008

The 6th Player

Euroleague Basketball: Partizan Belgrade versus AJ Milano
Pionir Arena. Belgrade, Serbia. November 5, 2008.

On the way to the game, I really had no idea what was in store. Just a basketball game, right? I did think it was strange that the Italian team was called “Armani Jeans”, but that was the least of the curiosities waiting in the night ahead. The first deviant sign I noticed was the special force of riot police, planted menacingly outside in front of Belgrade’s Pionir arena. Upon entering the stadium we were patted down. A woman searched my bag and told me I must part with my lip balm. I wasn’t too happy about this and very surprised actually. On the ground next to the search team were piles of small objects – lighters, matches, pens. Why does she want my lipstick, I wondered aloud. “Because sometimes people throw things at the players,” my friend filled me in. Somehow however, perhaps in the same manner that I snuck away with my lip balm after all, people managed to light their cigarettes with something. The large arena was packed and hazy, with swathes of itinerant smoke, which made it all look more surreal, almost 1-dimensional, like a projected screen backdrop of a movie set.

As the players were warming up, the chanting and singing in the stands began. I was already quite impressed by the dedication of these fans, and their knowledge of so many songs. But my friends kept telling me that this was only the beginning, “Just wait!” they urged, eager to see my reaction. When the first play began, a high shriek shuddered the stands, in what sounded like thousands of whistles squealing at once. It was the defense taunt, that horrific screech reeling across a deep “Boooooo”, and at times so loud we had to hold our ears. Then began the songs, one after another, always in perfect unison- and you hardly heard the same one twice.

Compared to an NBI final that I went to in Dallas a couple years ago, there was definitely more glitz in that game. The arena is much bigger, sound system is amazing, etc. And the size of Shaquille O’Neil’s feet is entertaining in and of itself. When the lights went down, all the fans shook their lit up pom-poms –each seat was equipped with one, along with a plastic clapper- creating a dramatic effect. During every time out, a brief but elaborate show was staged down on the court -- jugglers, acrobats, circus freaks, fire shows, comedy acts, souvenir give-aways, cheerleaders and various dance troupes -- true to the culture of big American entertainment. But Dallas's fans and their cheers, although quite energetic, were nothing compared to those in Pionir Arena. In the NBA game there were a few basic cheers like “DE-FENSE” “Let’s go Mavericks Let’s go” and “We Will, We Will Rock You.”

Here is just one example of the endless songs and chants (this one I couldn't get out of my head for days, especially as I was editing the clip below), keep in mind it works much better in Serbian :)

Da volim crno-bele
Ponosno kazem svima,
Volim to slavno ime,
I divim se samo njima

Yes, I love black & white
I proudly say to all
I love that glorious name
And it is the only one I admire

Na svetu nista lepse
Ne moze da postoji,
Nego sto je nasa ljubav
Prema Crno-beloj boji

There is nothing more beautiful
That exists in this world
Than our love
For black & white

Ljubav prema klubu,
Ne moze da prestane,
Dok zivim klicacu njemu:
"Volim te Partizane!"

The love towards the club
Cannot be stoped
'till I'm alive I'll cheer:
"I love you Partizan"

Ja volim Partizana,
I svakog novog dana,
Kucace srce moje,
Za Crno-bele boje

I love Partizan
And every new day
My heart will beat only
For black & white

And, here is one very popular chant:

Gde god ti da igraš tu su tvoji Grobari
Samo tebi verni samo tebi odani
OOOO Partizane, volimo te
Srcem svim!

Where ever you play, your Grobari ("gravediggers") are with you
Only to you loyal, only to you faithful
OOOO Partizan, we do love you
With all our hearts!

The lingering cigarette smoke rose up to the ceiling like holy incense, ascending to the sports gods, in prayer. At times the crowd would wave their extended arms up and down and side to side, acting, at once, as ritual pawns and as a human fan. The cheering only got more enthusiastic as Paritzan fell behind by 23 points. At half time any normal, or naïve, observer would say they have definitely lost it. But the crowd only rallied on, beating their drums, ripping off their shirts in a sweaty, masculine, euphoric rage.

I learned that these are some of Europe’s most famous fans, and that many teams love to come and play here because of the unique atmosphere, even though they usually tend to lose, thanks to the ‘6th player’- the fans. There are various Partizan fan groupings – for example there is the “South Guard” which gathers at the south end of the arena, (where they are located during the derbies, with arch-rival Red Star Belgrade fans at the north end); and there is “Alcatraz”, which are the core fans, the leaders of which initiate all the songs and chants throughout the games. The fans are generally known as “Grobari” or gravediggers, a name that was initially bestowed upon them by their rivals, and later reappropriated by the vibrant enthusiasts. The typical fan is dressed in black and white, team colors, with a scarf tied around their neck and perhaps a cross necklace, as they are often connected to nationalism and thus Serbian Orthodox Christianity. The men hug each other while singing and jumping, sometimes throughout the entire match, usually smiling, sometimes on the verge of crying – but not for long.

The most amazing thing, however, is that no matter if they were winning or losing, the fans never lost faith. In what looked like a cross between drunken-hooligans and religious-cult, it almost felt as though a miracle took place. When, in the 3rd quarter, Partizan started sneaking back into the battle, and then all of a sudden into the lead, after such a great disadvantage. When I said this, I was told, No. The miracle was that Armani Jeans Milano had such a lead to begin with. Most teams who come to Pionir arena don’t usually get so lucky, first time players are always shocked and awed. By the second half, the 6th player definitely got under the skin of the opponents, and into the hearts of their beloved players. Partizan won 81-76.

And here are some clips from the game! For basketball fans only ;)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lettuce Vote!

Arugula, also knowns as Rocket or Rucola, is a leafy vegetable which was widely used in Mediterranean regions since ancient times, when it was also considered an aphrodisiac. It has a "rich, peppery taste" and contains many essential vitamins and minerals, a great source for anti-oxidant, cancer fighting and detoxification.

I discovered the wonder of arugula a few years ago in Europe, where it is quite common. Today, you can find it in many American supermarkets as well (not only "Whole Foods"), usually hiding amongst the sprightly "wild leaf" mix, but more and more coming into its own. It is more expensive than lettuce, but there is much more nutrition inside those leaves than iceberg or even romaine lettuce.

The Arugula Jugular

About a year ago Barack Obama made some comments about arugula to some farmers in Iowa, which started this whole wave of ridicule about his disconnection with 'real' people, who have no idea what arugula is, something only fancy urban people eat. He was talking about the difficulties facing farmers, and how high consumer prices were not being reflected in the farmers' earnings, when he asked, "Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and seen what they charge for arugula?" Then everyone freaked out, because there is no Whole Foods (a health oriented supermarket) in Iowa, and Obama was 'out of touch' with the 'average American'. But that was not the point. Obama was suggesting a diversification in crops - as opposed to the reliance on a mono-crop of corn or cotton, which actually makes a lot of sense. Planting niche products, such as Arugula or Wasabi for example, has proven to be very successful, at least in some cases I have heard about. But of course this didn't stop the rampage and insinuations of elitism and moralizing on Obama's part, vis-a-vis arugula.

"Arugula Gap"

"The only thing worse than arugula is socialist arugula"

"Obama's 'wine-track' affinity"

Whole Foods?

Why Arugula?

Salad Spinning - "John McCain drinks Cappuccinos!"

Fighting the Arugula Fator

Obama's 'Bubba Gap'

It seems that if a politician doesn't shoot for the lowest common denominator of the American citizens' supposed understanding of things, they are lambasted as arrogant and 'European'. If you don't eat meat and potatoes you are not a 'real' American - or a 'Bubba' as some put it.

Arugula has become a symbol of the elitism and otherness that desperate Republicans are gripping on to, in order to paint the picture they want the 'masses' to see in Obama, and the fact that it has a funny European name makes this even easier for them to manipulate. I am glad to see that for the most part, Obama is not dumbing down to these standards. (As one commentator interestingly stated, it's usually the elite that have been labeling Obama as an elitist.) He even came back to the subject a few months later, during another speech, talking again about the diversification of crops away from heavily subsidized staple crops, in an attempt to clarify the media's trivial pandering: "People in Iowa know what arugula is. They may not eat it but they know what it is." Obama calmly and courageously faces his critics.

Lets stop underestimating American audiences, as passive 'masses'. I believe people tend to act in the way you treat them - if you treat someone like a baby they behave as one. Obama's thoughtfulness towards the American public/s feels like a breath of fresh air in US politics. Of course he still has to play the dirty game to some extent, for which some people call him a sellout, but these things can only move slowly, and he is playing to win. And I think it's a fine start...

Anyway, Obama got one hairy Texan vote from me!

This recipe is dedicated to the future American president. My favorite dressing for arugula, give it a try. It's very easy and much healthier than iceberg lettuce with ranch - which by the way is not healthy at all, just because it's called 'salad'.

1/2 fresh squeezed lemon
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
couple pinches of sea salt
fresh black pepper

Pour all the ingredients over a big bowl of washed arugula. This works best in some tupperware - put the lid on it, and shake it up. The tangy lemon and mustard tones down the bitterness of the arugula.

Green food is not snobby, it's just healthy! Add a little spice to your life, and don't forget to vote!!!!!!!!! And if you have any arugula recipes or experiences, please do share them with us - you can comment below.

Obama thinks, and reads

Obama enjoys hotsauce

Healthy young Obama plays baseball

Do you eat Arugula? Now you do :)

He eats Hotdogs, mmm

And beer???

Bitter Beer Face

Bitter arugula face

Reading, again!?

Just call me Barack ;)


The Lion King