Spain

One of President Obama's weirdest causes is his defense of the hijab or the niqab. Not that I want to take the veil away from any Muslim women... anywhere. Still, he is president of the United States and might just want to limit his special pleadings to truly significant ones. Anyway, he didn't. He tried out the trope in Cairo last year and followed it up during the Ramadan fest at the White House. These turned out to be not very successful interventions. As we learn from this morning's newspaper, even Syria has turned its back (or Bashaar Assad, his) on Obama's pleadings.

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Emissary of the Doomed: Bargaining For Lives in the Holocaust by Ronald Florence (Viking, 336 pp., $27.95)  I. March 18, 1944 was an unusually pleasant spring day in Budapest, with crowds filling the outdoor cafés: it was difficult to tell that Hungary was at war. Rumors were spread about the government’s secret negotiations with the Western Allies, and all surmised that an unspoken agreement existed according to which the Hungarians would not fire on American and British aircraft overflying the country and the enemy aircraft would not drop any bombs.

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Emissary of the Doomed: Bargaining For Lives in the Holocaust by Ronald Florence (Viking, 336 pp., $27.95)  I. March 18, 1944 was an unusually pleasant spring day in Budapest, with crowds filling the outdoor cafés: it was difficult to tell that Hungary was at war. Rumors were spread about the government’s secret negotiations with the Western Allies, and all surmised that an unspoken agreement existed according to which the Hungarians would not fire on American and British aircraft overflying the country and the enemy aircraft would not drop any bombs.

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"Catalans should disregard rulings by Spanish judiciary" is the headline to a letter in the Financial Times. It is signed by Gustau Alegret who wrote from Washington, D.C. I do not know him.

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The first time I saw Antoni Gaudi’s phantasmagoric Church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona it was unfinished. That was 1965. On another visit, perhaps two decades later, it was still unfinished. And when I returned there on Monday it was not yet completed, although I heard from the conversational buzz around me the years 2012 and 2013. One dour looking pessimist uttered “2017” as the first possible date that the cathedral would really match its dreamer’s vision.

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Standing on the streets of Barcelona – capital of Spain’s Catalonia region – last Saturday, one would have had no idea that the country was preparing to watch its national team compete in the World Cup the very next day. That afternoon, over a million people flooded the downtown to protest a decision issued Friday by the country’s constitutional court striking down some provisions of the territory’s 2006 autonomy statute. That legislation devolved a number of important powers to the region, but was challenged by the country’s conservative political party, the Partido Popular.

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Best Goal: By miles (which, ironically, seemed like the distance the ball traveled), Giovanni van Bronckhorst against Uruguay. Simply unstoppable. Most important goal (to Americans): Landon Donovan against Algeria, of course. To prove that soccer is now "mainstream," all you have to do is look at the many sports columnists (Bill Simmons, most notably), in their obligatory Lebron articles, using Donovan's goal as an example of what sports can be.

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The best part of this match was that it ended before penalty kicks, where the Dutch could have squeezed out a win and enjoyed the fruits of their goonish performance. Simon Kuper wrote a great column in last week’s Financial Times, where he bemoaned how Holland had turned away from idealism in its football and in its politics. This performance should bury the myth of Dutch Total Football for good.

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Everything said and done around the World Cup in the last month has seemed right and wrong, spot on and deluded—and often simultaneously. First it was the “African Cup.” The dream was ephemeral, save perhaps for Ghana. Then there was talk about a “new Europe”: forget aging Italy, England, and France, here came the vibrant sons of a united Germany. (Though, it must be said, less and less of them are actually German). Almost as soon as it started, however, it became the “Latin American Cup.” European tactical conservatism seemed doomed against the Latin love for the game.

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This should be a game for the ages, if for no other reason than because neither Spain nor the Netherlands has ever won the World Cup. We are going to have a new Champion and the constellation of world soccer is going to change. While the Netherlands narrowly missed it twice in the seventies, losing to the hosts (West Germany 1974, Argentina 1978), Spain has never reached the heights of the WC finals before. If Spain wins, a talented generation will be crowned as the best one in a long while.

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