Archive for November, 2009

It’s the time of the season

29/11/2009

November is coming to an end and talk has been about the weather and how warm it is and when will it get cold, as it should do.  I am in no rush for the weather to get colder.  I have been enjoying the sunshine and warm days.  I am particularly enjoying getting out and about in Alsace for work.  I travelled around the area quite a lot in the Summer too but it’s different this time.  In the Summer the Rhine plain was visible but the Vosges and Schwartz Wald were hardly visible because of haze.  Now it is possible to see the Rhine plain and at each side see clearly the mountains of the Vosges and the Schwartz Wald.

I was born and brought up n the Thames Valley.  Also a valley of a great river although the plain was not that large, at each side it had hills.  It was pretty central and as far as as it was possible to get from the sea in England.  On the whole though on a much smaller scale.  I have spent time in Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire which is just as flat.  The difference is that both of those were flat, flat, flat, just flat out flat with nothing to frame them at the edges.  I lived in Liverpool for years at the mouth of a river estuary with hills either side of a plain but, being in a city it was built upon.  This was even more the case when living in London where the urban nature leads a person to initially think of the city as flat whereas I was starting to find the joys of the topography of the city when we left, enjoying visiting family in South Streatham and looking out over the city from the hillside, going up north to Parliament Hill and doing the same.  I have visited some places similar.  Driving from Johannesburg to Mafikeng and back again I got the same sense of space and sheer amount of land, and my first experience of the wonderful light-show given by continental lightening, but it wasn’t framed by mountains on either side.  Recently my travels around European capital cities has taken me to the Balkans, to Pristina and Skopje to be more precise where both were flat plains surrounded by mountains but both were more of a bowl and it was possible to see the mountains all around.  I know that if you go down to Switzerland and up to where the Rhine stops being the French German border it is possible to see a bowl too, but it is not possible to see enough to visualise it on the ground.

One part of the awe I feel about travelling through the Alsace countryside as well as the awesome countryside, (Using the word in its dictionary definition rather than its current usage) is the fact that it is me here.  The little boy who grew up in Twyford, an unimportant little village in Berkshire, England, Great Britain, UK, Europe the World etc is here going to work in companies in Strasbourg and the countryside around it, on the Rhine plain in Alsace.  It wasn’t expected that people like me would travel.  It was only a thing wealthy people did.  To live foreign?  That would never happen.  Yet here I am living in a historic city on the French German border travelling round Europe.  Mind you I have talked previously of being part of a diaspora, my family have travelled to find work and a better life.  They left Lancastrian cotton mill towns for Canada and Australia.  My parents left the same town for the South of England and work and a better life.  So I’m only continuing something historically done by my family but it wasn’t something I thought of as part of my story when I was younger.  It is now that I’m doing it, my brother has done it by going to Australia too that I’m aware that it is me, living foreign is something I do.  As for the weather, well in 1994 when I visited my brother in Australia for the first time we didn’t have a frost until the night I left on 15th December, so a warm spell in November is nothing new.  Enjoy it.

Hand of Frog

21/11/2009

I watched the first France vs Ireland game, played in Dublin, whilst in a hotel room in Stuttgart making a gentle progress home from San Marino.  I thought the French clearly deserved to win and should have done so by more than 1-0.  So, I watched the game this week expecting to see France make progress to the finals of the World Cup in South Africa.  I was worried at the time by the complacency that seemed to come through the media and from what was reported of the views of the players.  People I work with were a mixture of complacency and fear that something would go wrong.  Ireland were a different team in Paris, they didn’t let the French play like the French had done in Dublin and then when Robbie Keane got the goal a very different game was taking place.  This time the Irish had the chances to win but didn’t score them, and then there was the handled goal by Thierry Henry. French people I work with have all been pleased that their team have gone through but are embarrassed and ashamed at the way it happened.  I haven’t spoken to any Irish people here so I don’t know if they feel as Eric Cantona says he would have in the same position!  I see Henry has now admitted what happened and said the game should be replayed but I think his reputation remains damaged and it makes no difference as it will not be replayed.  Anyway, perhaps I’ll get a first hand view on Irish feelings now about the matter from the manager of the Irish pub I’m off to, to see the early match, Manchester City vs Liverpool in my new Manchester City shirt.  Big news in Strasbourg at the moment is the celebration of the 65th Anniversary of the liberation of the city in 19944, of which more later.

What’s going on

08/11/2009

So, frustration at another draw for Manchester City who came back well after going 2-0 down at home to Burnley yesterday.  JTO and I then had a good time joining friends at a joint birthday celebration by the side of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, despite the heavens opening whilst we were trying to find the venue.  Whilst we were there I understand congratulations are due to the new British World Champion David Haye who won the veritable David vs Goliath fight last night.  Also good news last night for US President, Barry O, whose plan for Health Care Reform in the US won the vote in House of Representatives.

The coming week is quite hectic with a trip tomorrow to see Grand Corps Malade, latest hit here with Calogero:

followed by a visit to the Strasbourg Zenith on Tuesday night to see Superbus,(wiki) here they are with Addictions:

Then early on Wednesday morning we head off to San Marino(CIA World Factbook) to claim another European capital, leaving four left to be visited by the end of 2010.  The visit is happening because of a public holiday in France for the anniversary of the end of the First World War on 11th November.  We will also be spending some time in Germany before returning in a weeks time.  I hope to post both before leaving and whilst away, the Hotel in San Marino has Wifi as well as a swimming pool!  All week I’ve written about the Autumn in Alsace, here’s a photo showing golden trees, as promised earlier:

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The most famous man from Alsace in the English speaking World

07/11/2009

I missed one of the few home games of le Racing since I’ve been back in Strasbourg but I’m pleased that they won 2-0 against Istres, a team who beat le Racing 6-1 at the beginning of the season, so progress and a move 05112009062away from the bottom three and relegation positions.  I hope to see Manchester City versus Burnley this afternoon, either on our satellite service or, as seems more likely, at a local Irish Bar.  Anyway, starting this post with the current football situation allows me to write about perhaps the best known Alsacian in the English speaking World, 05112009066Arsene Wenger.  The pictures are of ‘La Croix D’Or’ (Literally the Cross of Gold but a better English equivalent being the Golden Cross) in Duttlenheim a village a few miles South-West of Strasbourg on the road to Molsheim.  Arsene Wenger has talked about his time growing up in the village, most recently to the League Managers Association:

“There is no better psychological education than growing up in a pub… I learned about tactics and selection from the people talking about football in the pub – who plays on the left wing and who should be in the team.”

There is a wonderful extract, published five years ago in the Guardian, from the biography of Arsene Wenger by Jasper Rees, “Wenger: The making of a legend” talking about growing up in the village and playing football in Alsace to be found here:

On Fridays they serve rosbif

The young Arsene Wenger, a native of Alsace, was discovered by Max Hild one spring in the late 1960s. “He was 18,” says Hild, “and playing for his village. I was coach for the neighbouring team. Our espoirs were playing against Duttlenheim. It was a Wednesday evening. I can’t remember the score but we won.” The neighbouring team was AS Mutzig, a club with a reputation under Hild’s stewardship for playing the best amateur football in Alsace. The espoirs were the kids, the ones who still have hope.

It was so long ago that England were world champions. Arsenal, with a team containing Pat Rice, Bob Wilson and George Graham, would not win the double for another couple of seasons. Rice would later be Arsene Wenger’s assistant, Wilson his goalkeeping coach. Graham would be his predecessor, and his antithesis. “That was the first time I noticed him,” says Hild. “He was a midfielder. He played very well. He made such an impression that I got in touch with him and the next year he came to play for Mutzig in the third division.”

Hild is a small trim boyish man of 70 who meets me at the station in Strasbourg. It is a freezing Saturday morning in February and the city, the designated capital and centre of Europe, is quiet.

We get in Max Hild’s car and head for Duttlenheim. We turn off the motorway and are soon ambling along a main drag flanked by a mixture of solid modern houses and charming older structures. A settlement has been here since Roman times, and the name Duttlenheim has been around since at least 992. It feels as if some of its buildings have too. There are yards with neatly-piled firewood and museum-piece agricultural instruments. In one courtyard is an old wooden farm building, and a couple of tractors. Next door to it is a house – neat, modern and impeccably bourgeois – with a steep sloping roof and a large conifer on the front lawn. The plate on the letterbox says “A Wenger”. “A” in this instance stands for Alphonse.

Further down on the same block, just by the crossroads, is a restaurant. A bistro, they call it here. La Croix d’Or, it says above the door. Arsene Wenger’s father Alphonse ran an automobile spare-parts business in Strasbourg, but he and his wife Louise also owned and ran La Croix d’Or. It must once have been a residential house and at some point transmogrified into a watering-hole. On a blackboard outside the dishes of the day are listed. On Fridays they serve rosbif.

It was in this building that the future manager of Arsenal grew up, along with his older sister and brother. Within its four walls Wenger imbibed one of the central tenets of his footballing philosophy: that it is an offence to be drunk in charge of a football, or even to let alcohol touch your lips as a player. Perhaps imbibed is the wrong word.

“When he was little he was in La Croix d’Or all the time,” says Hild, who at the end of a long career as an amateur in the lower divisions had his first drink of beer at 36. “He saw a lot of people drinking, and the after-effects.”

In 1996, when Wenger was revealed as the new manager of Arsenal, he inherited a captain in the early stages of recovery from addiction to alcohol. Never in a rush to volunteer much about himself, it took Wenger two years to open up to Tony Adams and pool his memories of the alcohol abuse which, for better or worse, helped to plump the family coffers. “It’s further down the road that he actually had compassion for it,” recalls Adams. “Later on, down the line he shared things with me. He talked about being brought up in a Strasbourg pub and observing the way alcohol changed people, the effect the drink had on people.”

At Saturday lunchtime it is empty. The place looks pretty much as the Wengers left it more than 20 years ago. So says the current owner from under his thick grey moustache. Later in the afternoon it will fill with the smell of cigarettes and choucroute and beer and the chatter of Duttlenheimers whose families have known and intermarried with one another in this small community for centuries. You can’t imagine an environment more alien to the clean, antiseptic worlds which Wenger would later try to create at each of the clubs where he was made coach: smoke-free, alcohol-free, fat-free. And yet it was the siège of FC Duttlenheim – the HQ, the head office – where the talk was all of football, where the game leaked into the marrow of the young Wenger and stayed there.

On the bar is a copy of Alsace Foot, a weekly newspaper that gives some idea of the local passion for the game. There are 80,000 registered players in Alsace, out of a population of only 1.5 million.

“Alsace has always been football country,” says Hild. “It’s been the number-one sport since I was a boy.” The front page of Alsace Foot is usually devoted to Racing Club de Strasbourg, the big city outfit, but further in the font size gets smaller and the games more local. The results of the Ligue d’Alsace, in which FC Duttlenheim plays, are noted in the back half. Village football was truly a humble launchpad for the journey that followed – to running the prince’s team in Monaco, Toyota’s team in Japan, and on to the most traditional old club in the country that gave football to the world. No wonder, as the russet-cheeked barman says, while drying a glass, “Arsene really is a hero of Duttlenheim.”

Hild’s car turns right at the solitary traffic-light and treads gently through the village. We pass the ugly 19th-century bulk of St Louis (Catholic, of course), pass the mairie, and more barns and bungalows until we turn right down a track that leads to a small football pitch. It is hemmed in by the road on this side and the backs of houses on the other. Wedged in between the houses and the touchline is an open-sided stand of the kind you might erect to give horses shelter in a windy field. There is no seating, no rudimentary terrace. You could cram perhaps a hundred spectators in there, but you’d have to put the tall ones at the back.

It was on this ground that Wenger learned how to play football. There wasn’t a lot else to do in Duttlenheim in the 50s and 60s. But after school, at weekends, in the holidays, there was football, or watching football. The FA Cup final was the first foreign football he clapped eyes on, on the one television set in the village – in the school – in the late 50s. He would have seen Tottenham win one half of their double in 1961.

The children would count the cars which occasionally passed through the village. “One of you took the Citroens, the other took the Renaults,” remembers Claude Wenger, who may or may not be a relative. (“Perhaps our grandparents were cousins,” he says vaguely.) Everyone knew one another. “Back then no one went away on holiday. We were together the whole time.”

Because the Wengers ran a restaurant, they couldn’t always keep an eye on their children. It was a village where everyone took care of the young. Wenger later compared it to a kibbutz. But it was a Catholic kibbutz. The young Wenger put his faith at the service of the team. He’d be in church reciting from his prayer book when the team were playing on Sunday. He would pray for them to win.

When he wasn’t praying, he was rounding up boys to play in the game. In such a small village, it wasn’t easy getting 11 together in one age group. Wenger would spend the whole week assembling a team. Otherwise they’d have to play one short, or two. Perhaps it was in the early 60s that he began his love affair with pace and power, as you needed these to combat numerically superior teams. Arsenal often thrive when one of their number has been sent off; and struggle, by contrast, when they are playing against 10.

Not that, at the age of 12, he could muster much in the way of pace or power. Hild says the player he later spotted was “quite quick”. Claude Wenger says he was “quite slow”. Most people seem to agree with Claude Wenger. He was also short enough to have earned a humiliating nickname. When he arrived at Arsenal they called him Clouseau because there was something haphazard and clumsy about him (plus he spoke English with a hilarious French accent). Then they called him Windows because he wore glasses. But as a young teenager they called him petit: titch.

“Even at 12 he was a very calm, very lucid player,” says Jean-Noël Huck, who played for Mutzig. The same age as Wenger, he came up against him throughout their teens. “He was always the technician, the strategist of the team. He was already getting his ideas across, but calmly.” Wenger was going through a growth spurt when he got into the FC Duttlenheim first team at 16. When he shot up, he still didn’t use his head much, or at least not in the air. Training was once a week, on Wednesday evenings. There was no coach as such to instil tactics and skills, but someone who oversaw the session. On the pitch, even as the youngest player in the team, Wenger was in charge. “He was virtually, more or less, le patron,” says Claude Wenger. “Arsene wasn’t the captain and yet he was. It was, ‘You do this, you do that, you do this, you do that.’ He was the leader.”

Perhaps when I am working near Duttlenheim again I might take pictures of the Church, School and pitches mentioned in the piece above and post them here.

The wind, the wind is blowing

06/11/2009

In the last post I wrote about Autumnal changes taking place locally.  As well as the colours of the trees and other changes I wrote about the trees 03112009046being pollarded, well more I showed pictures of the trees being pollarded, in the centre of Strasbourg.  Here’s the same area, just the opposite side of Place Broglie, (pictures) as you can see from the tram stop here.  After the trees are pollarded they are having the Christmas lights put in them.  There is a tight schedule to do this as 03112009047there are markets in the square on Wednesday and Friday, so no work can be done then.  That is probably why they were working to complete the pollarding on Tuesday night and had closed the road through one side of the square when JTO and I were coming home from her speaking engagement earlier this week to 03112009049get the work done.  As well as the regular markets the square is home the the World famous Strasbourg Christmas Market,(pictures) so famous even Debrett’s have it on their list of places to go.  Another deadline to get the Christmas lights up and working.  But it is not only the site of the Christmas Market which is now getting its lights up.  03112009050Above and right are pictures of the shopping mall, Place Des Halles having their Christmas lights put up, I don’t think the bloke at the front was too happy about having his photo taken!  Anyway, enough of Christmas, markets and lights.

I found out today that Leonard Cohen is playing the Zenith in March, what a birthday present for me.  Tickets have been purchased.  Here, specially for you, is ‘the Partisan’, which I expect to be played on the night as it is his only song featuring French and reports of his concert in Colmar say it went down a storm there:

A golden Autmnal Alsace

03/11/2009

I took some pictures more than a fortnight ago to feature in a post which were meant to show the glory of the Autumn in Alsace.  Unfortunately there was only one problem.  The leaves had n0t yet started turning 03112009041yellow or red or any of the other colours they go to any noticeable extent, probably why the post never materialised, that or it was to be written whilst we were without phone and therefore internet access, I forget.  Then last Thursday on one of my work jaunts outside the city I had a wonderful view of golden trees against a white-out of fog but was late for my appointment so did not get to take any pictures 03112009043of it.  Then today walking from one job to my next I happened upon this scene above.  Required yellow leaves on the floor, some trees leafless, it must be an Autumn scene?  Yes, but not of the kind that have been relayed to me by people I’ve been talking to this week; who went walking at the weekend, in the Vosges or nearby.  Instead Council 03112009044workmen, as caught in the act in the second picture, pollarding the trees is the reason for trees being leafless and the leaves on the ground at this point contain a lot more green leaves as well as twigs and branches.  The last picture shows the debris being cleared up in front of the Hotel de Ville on Place Broglie.  There are more pictures of Autumnal scenes in Strasbourg for you tomorrow but for people feeling cheated that the headline woefully undersells the content of this post here is a picture of golden trees in front of the European Parliament on my way to work at 7:20 this morning.

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Saved!

02/11/2009

This weekend more than 9,000 members of France’s third religion descended upon Strasbourg for Protestants en fête (FIGARO and MATIN).  With events all over P1040713the city and a massive service in the venue, usually home to rock concerts, le Zénith, as well as events at my local protestant church , pictured left.  Strasbourg is the correct place for this event as whilst protestantism does not have much of a following in France, at around 4%, in Strasbourg it is around 17%.  Before becoming part of France in P10407121681 Strasbourg was Lutheran and even its famous cathedral saw Lutheran worship before reverting to the Catholic faith once part of France.  The event also partly celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of Calvin, who spent some years in Strasbourg.  On the right is one of the manifestations around Strasbourg and, although I passed it a number of times during the three days of the fete I didn’t see anyone preaching or doing anything else on the spot.  I found it interesting that the fete was held the same weekend as All Saints Day, which is a much bigger deal for the Roman Catholic church.  The title for the post comes from the album from Bob Dylan after he was ‘saved’, found g-d, at the end of the seventies.

Hey big saver

01/11/2009

When my parents returned home from visiting me there was a letter waiting for me at their house from the Times.  I remembered having entered a competition which required a UK address and had given theirs, but that was far too long ago for any news of the competition to be being sent now.  Anyway I asked for the item to be forwarded and I received it this week.  It was my invitation to preserve and grow my wealth.  I was being invited to a morning seminar on ‘Investment Growth and Inheritance Tax Saving’ followed by lunch at either the Cotswold Water Park or the Complete Angler.  The accompanying letter says the seminar “will be of most interest and benefit to you if you have assets, including your property, of £750,000 or more and also have savings and investment capital valued at over £50,000.”  Despite JTO and I now having joined the property owning democracy having bought our flat, when given the ‘choice’ because our landlord (I believe was short of cash) had decided to sell the flat, there is no way I come close to the requirements for the lunch to be of interest or benefit to me.  So, I shall have to forgo the free aubergine moussaka or fish cakes at Cotswold Water Park or  braised beef bourguignon or penne pasta with roasted vegetables at the Complete Angler.  Here’s the inspiration for the title of this post:

I have been reading about the recordings of Scot Walker this weekend and have been listening to a lot of music like that above in a similar vein but more recent is this video and song I just love:

I’d like to thank One Heck of a Guy (the webs one stop shop for everything from Leonard ‘Laughing Lenny’ Cohen’) for a piece which brought to my attention the video of the same group doing a version of Leonard Cohen’s much undervalued ‘Memories’ from the ‘Death of a Ladies Man’ album:

One Heck of a Guy argues the case more persuasively than I could for this track to better be appreciated here.  Especially when people throw off the cliché that Leonard Cohen is music for the suicidal and depressive you come to appreciate the man and his art even more.  In fact I would go so far as to say that it is my view that the generally held view of Leonard Cohen is a massive barrier to understanding and coming to love his work.  But then I would, as someone ruined* since I first heard him in 1982 and first saw him in 1988.  Here’s the Man playing the song in Copenhagen in 1985 which was brought to our attention in response to the post from One Heck of a Guy about the Last Shadow Puppets which lead me to the video above.  A far from dour Mr Cohen is featured therein:

*ruined in much the same way Leonard Cohen tells of finding a book of poetry by Lorca in a bookstore and himself being ruined.


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