FIFA Frenzy+Opera Obsession–Russia 2018

You may think it odd for an opera fanatic to get obsessed with the opposite end of the world–football. But the stars align when Russia hosts the FIFA 2018 World Cup and kicked off the event with a gala laced with opera divas!

Traveling around the world last year to Morocco, Peru and Iran has certainly opened up my perspective of the world. The 2018 FIFA World Cup matches allow me to see the faces of the fans and players that I yearn to see again. I researched the games that these countries play against others, but the most exciting one for me was a direct match between Morocco and Iran. Iran won, but it struggles to stay in the running.

 

Following the first two weeks of matches, the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals will complete five weeks of football frenzy. Not having paid much attention in the past, I am indulging this year in learning about the sport and why the rest of the world outside America goes so fanatical over the WC. I love the international spirit, but do see alot of aggressive, brutal brawls on the field.

No one appreciates a female version of commentary on sports, but if you are like me–it’s a chance to curb curiosity and to digest a new topic. What better way than to experience the best, in all its gore and glory? I am not sure that after American NFL football concussions and brain injuries whether soccer will be the next culprit, but injuries do seem to come with the territory and are suppressed.

Here are a few screen shots I took from instagram and TV during the first match between Iran and Morocco.

 

There’s still time to see three more weeks of five, so don’t be discouraged if you missed the first couple of weeks. You can see some of the matches in the U.S. on Telemundo, Fox 2 or on Fox Sports 1 (FS-1) if you order live-streaming from Sling, Hulu, or other streaming service. Here’s a link to the TV schedule and matches:

https://b.fssta.com/uploads/2018/06/WC18_CALENDAR_V01.pdf

As an interesting contrast, the Russia 2018 Gala concert was telecast in Red Square at the beginning of the event. My two favorites, Anna Netrebko (with hubby Yusef Eyvasof) and Russia’s new ingenue Aida Garafulina, highlighted the Red Square broadcast, along with none other than Placido Domingo and Juan Diego Flores. Denis Matsuev, a concert pianist, hosted the event and Valery Gergiev, the conductor who discovered Anna Netrebko, were also primary performers at the event.

In order to access the full video for the gala, go to

The event was sponsored by the Russian government so you should be able to enjoy it free of charge, thanks to Russia’s devotion to opera and football!

Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras also promoted opera during several past World Cups, so the concept of combining opera and football is not new. Only in the U.S. are we so out of touch with what the world prefers. Maybe it’s because we aren’t in the picture, being as brat-dominant as we often are.

This was Russia featuring its best, and opera was the answer. While opera is not as wildly popular elsewhere, Russian opera has some of the highest number of performances in the world. I did a bit of research and was not surprised to find that Germany has the highest number, with Austria at the top of number of performances per capita population.

The website operabase.com has a great resource for statistics like this. You can find it at:
http://operabase.com/top.cgi?lang=en&splash=t

By the way, this is a great website for finding all the artists, performances, and upcoming festivals throughout the world. I use this website on a regular basis to research my travel plans around opera performances.

Of course I am still saving my support for Germany! I’ll be in Munich during the finals, so secretly hope that they will make it again this time after winning the World Cup in 2014. It will go crazy in Germany while I am there if they win. If not, I’ll be able to settle down and learn some German!

Don’t forget to tune in starting on July 8, when I arrive in Munich for a month there. After that friends from Italy will meet Gee Kin and me for a week in Hungary and Austria. We fly direct from Salzburg to Guangzhou (yes!) for a week after that, then to Korea for a few days before returning back to SFO at the end of August. This itinerary is a slight deviation from the World Trip2018 posted, as we decided to forego a hot week in Italy for a hotter drippy week in Guangzhou to do some family research.

 

Austin, State Capitol of Texas

Originally part of Mexico and known as “Tejas”, Texas had a colorful and complicated history. A fourth-grader on my hour-long tour of the state capitol could answer nearly every question posed by the guide about Texas perfectly.

Texas was part of Spain, France and Mexico. The territories were disputed for some time, then Texas broke free and was its own republic for a short time. In 1845, it became a state. (That’s only six years before California, so the US was busy building statehoods!) There was a temporary lapse of judgment when Texas joined the Confederate States.

The State Capitol was not too different from ours in Sacramento, but it did feel like Austin was a much more accessible city in which to conduct state business. The color of the building comes from the red granite quarried nearby. The Senate and Assembly chambers and architectural elements were more impressive compared with California’s, perhaps due to the state’s size and slightly longer history.

Obviously there are many more details on the colorful history of Texas beyond the student’s recollection and the perspective offered by the official guide. You can read more about the history of the state of Texas here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas

The LBJ Library was just a short ride on the bus from the center of town, where the University of Texas is located.

I discovered that LBJ’s goals, while lofty and lengthy, were noble and reassuring (see video below). His achievements for education, civil rights, health care, the environment, and space exploration were also promoted.

I was impressed with how important civil rights meant to the library. It not only devoted a large amount of space to immigrants and their contribution to the country, but also showed a “Know Your Rights” T-shirt from Colin Kaepernick as an expression of civil rights championed by LBJ.

Despite his big disaster in Vietnam, LBJ was just one man, who had alot of dreams to be fulfilled or crushed. In the end, he knew he couldn’t win anymore and decided not to seek reelection. He felt that he had cajoled and asked favors from every Senator and Representative in Congress, and he could no longer squeeze another favor from anyone.

All of LBJ’s papers, photographs of all the presidents and their wives who preceded him and Lady Bird, copies of his oval office and the First Lady’s, and displays documenting his life were housed in a monumental Seventies-style modernist, travertine-clad building.

I didn’t expect to like this president’s history, but the presentation was very informative regardless of one’s opinions about his policies. In addition to the more well-known JFK Library in Boston, MA, there are many other presidential libraries throughout the country including one underway for Obama. Interestingly, Texas has the most: one in Dallas, one in College Station, and the LBJ Library here. You can find the others here:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_library

To wrap up our 48 hours in Austin, we couldn’t resist one more permanent “pop-up” that specializes in Tex-Mex BBQ, along with dessert at a “real” restaurant:

And a loving look at the trendy So-Co neighborhood where we stayed. New houses amidst existing and converted cottages are still (compared to San Francisco) affordable, friendly, and intimate, with easy walking access to shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars:

Reminder: Watch for my posts from Munich Germany during the month of July–coming up!

48 Hours Deep in the Heart of Texas

I never imagined coming to Austin, Texas, but so far it has been refreshingly inspirational. Whiffs of religious fervor permeate the air. A Peace, Love, & God concrete block chapel lies around the corner from us. There are plenty of cutesy cool/hot bars, ice cream takeouts, and even a made-to-order Texas boot outlet down the street.

Pastry chef & daughter Melissa invited me to join her here for a couple of days. I learned alot about Texas in 48 hours. Texas fought and won over Mexico, after Spain had a shot at owning it. It was once its own Republic, became part of the U.S., and even was a Confederate state.

Texas is so vast that no one within ever contemplates traveling across it. We thought our flight was just a hop across borders like going to Idaho or Colorado, only to discover that we landed literally halfway across the country!

Food was on our minds as soon as we touched the tarmac. Thankfully we had eaten a scantilly clad salad for lunch, only to blast our bellies with an array of Tex-Mex BBQ at dinner.

Valentina’s roadway smokers are considered among the best in the country for smoked meat and we found out why. I seldom indulge words on food, but this one deserves mention. See the huge beef brisket “sandwich” (where does the bread go when you hold it up to eat it?!?). The meat was the moistest, most succulent reward that carnivores could ever want to hunt and kill animals for.

The taco version got rid of the skimpy bun-to-meat ratio but nevertheless left the slow-cooked juices and barbeque sauce dripping down bare arms to elbows (no sleeves needed in this part of the country–it’s too hot!) After seeking and finding a second paradise in the ribs, we didn’t even finish the spicy sausages that would make currywurst in Germany look pathetic. We decided to wrap and take them home (self-service foil on tap) for breakfast. Wow. My prayers were answered.

The permanent pop-up “restaurant” has all the facilities one needs for deluxe dining (see captions).

A walk up Congress Avenue after dinner earned us a few digestive stars and a sighting of bats–millions of em. Everyone waits for dusk to strike (first video below), when the bats take off from their dorms under the bridge (second video below) and get their version of exercise in the evening sky (third video). Whoa. A bit too creepy for my wimpy soul, especially since we are staying in a signature accommodation called the “Bathouse”.

Last but not least, here are a few musings of music and food along the strip. You can finish off the sticky arms from the BBQ with instant melt ice cream before jumping into the shower for a tasty rinse.