As I'm sure you know, Europeans are nuts about soccer, or these crazy cats call it- "football." Ukraine and Poland are sharing the hosting of the 2012 Euro Cup, with the championship game to be held in Kiev. Ukrainians are beyond excited. There's no escaping it either, no matter where you go billboards, graphics, and T-shirts remind you of what's coming. Nowhere is this more apparent than Kiev's center, where a huge stop watch counts down the 350 days left before kick-off, second by second.
|Euro-Cup Countdown billboard in Kiev|
It was assumed that Odessa, Ukraine's second largest city, would undoubtedly be awarded at minimum a group stage competition, possibly even a semi-final match, and when the head of the European Soccer Commission announced he was personally going to Odessa, its citizens began an early celebration. Today they regret he didn't arrive by train ...
The Odessa Airport
My friends Dmytro and Viktoriia, from Odessa, describe a rather bouncy landing on a recent return home, one that will remain lodged into their minds forever.
"So we're in a small plane, about to hit down in Odessa, and I do mean 'hit.' As we approach what constitutes a landing strip, all twenty people on board start praying and kissing the crucifixes they've worn specifically for this occasion, and we touch the ground and bounce sideways, then we hit a hole, which pops us the other way, the baggage compartments open up, stuff's flying everywhere, we're like a top rattling from side to side, trying to decide which way to ultimately fall. The wheels hit one side, the plane jumps back to the other, which is good, because with every bounce we're slowing down, the bad news is my head's involuntarily rammed into the seat in front of me. Then we hear a giant screeching sound, and I look outside my window, and see our wing dragging on the ground as a brake. Now I'm certain death is imminent, so I close my eyes and hold on tight, before we finally come to a stop. There's a moment of silence as we wait for the gas in the engines to explode. The captain rushes out of the cockpit, opens the door, looks outside, turns to back to us with a surprised look and states, "Hey, our wing is still attached, how about that."
"That's the Odessa Airport," Dmytro replies, "a giant, uneven, pot-hole field. It's like landing on a farm."
I stand up, turning into the pilot: "Watch out! A cow!!!" I exclaim, earning heavy chuckles from the rest of my audience, but not Dmytro and Viktoriia who are still living out the nightmare in their heads.
"That's not funny," retorts a smirk-less Viktoriia, "it's too close to the truth."
So the head of the European Football Commission experienced a similar "landing," and the city of Odessa was reportedly crossed off the list of suitable cities before he even exited the plane.
Even twenty years later, most of Eastern Europe still does not have the infrastructure to rival the West.
Gypsies, also known as "Romas" as the majority of them are based in Romania, are dark skinned and of Indian heritage, and considered a plague throughout Europe. My friend Zuzana from Prague, describes a Czech bus stop as a family of Gypsies approaches. "Everybody instinctively puts two hands over their purse."
She'll readily admit Czechs are a little racist, but when it comes to Gypsies, she, an educated and intelligent lawyer, doesn't hold back, even when trying to be politically correct: "For the ten percent of Gypsies who are actually decent people, I'm sorry, the other 90% ruin it for them."
And believe me, she's not alone. No matter where I went, I never heard a single nice word coming from a European about Romas.
Interestingly, the two countries where the rhetoric is most dialed down? The Axis countries of Germany and Austria.
Why? The human tendency of when erring so badly in one direction, the backlash shifts you to the other extreme (drunken womanizing gambler to Born Again Christian.)
Let's say, just for arguments sake, the Germans made a few mistakes over the last century, what with starting two world wars (winning none), declaring themselves the superior race, and killing half the population of Europe to prove it, which even the most stubborn and prideful German of today will admit were "minor errors."
Actually, that's me being totally unfair, the Hitler Youth of yesterday has given way to shamed and overly politically correct politicians of today, where if you say anything remotely bad about another race, people will point fingers and call you a Nazi, no matter whether or not the content of your speech has any basis in reality.
I meet Ingo, an Austrian investment banker who's used his two weeks vacation to motorbike from Vienna all the way to the Black Sea and Kazantip. He's a very likable, funny guy, and a good story teller.
He related the following two stories about Gypsies in his native Austria.
Lift No More
To deal with it's Gypsy infestation, one Austrian town decided it was better to build them an apartment building, which quickly became known as a breeding ground for rats.
Romas are notoriously filthy, and when the lift stopped working, rather than wait for it to be fixed, they decided the elevator shaft would make an excellent garbage chute, Take the trash out to the dumpster? Why? The lift is so much closer. A week later, when the city finally sent a mechanic to fix the elevator, the workers found the shaft completely stuffed with garbage, from top to bottom.
And if you've ever been to India, this story is totally consistent with what you'll see there. I swear to God, atop many many Indian houses ten feet high, is twelve feet of trash. It must be genetic.
Romanian Gypsies have their own mafia. Part of their racketeering business consists of sending out Gypsy beggars to Western Europe, with the majority of revenue making it's way to the top. Ingo's friend, Marcus, being of Romanian descent, had a favorite grocery store in his in Austrian town that he swore sold the freshest and tastiest produce. He would refuse to shop anywhere else.
Then the Gypsy beggars started arriving. Everyday he would walk into his favorite store and get mercilessly hassled for money. Everyday he would ignore them. After two weeks of this, he finally grew tired of it, and hoping to shop in future peace, exploded at the beggars, answering them in Romanian to be certain they would understand, "NO! Stop bugging me! You will never get anything from me! You fucking gypsies, stop fucking asking me for money every time I come in, do you fucking understand?!!"
You could hear a pin drop in the store. For a moment no one moved. Then came the response ... Sadly, it did not end well for Marcus.
The Gypsies were excited. They gathered round Marcus, and just about hoisted him on their shoulders in victory. "Hey! You are one of of us! You are Romanian! We like you very much! Come have a beer with us!"
Marcus's response, "Fuck. I've got to find a different store."