miercuri, 12 iunie 2019

How to talk about Dracula to non-Romanians

Neagu Djuvara, Radu Oltean - From Vlad the Impaler to Dracula the Vampire, Humanitas, 2003 (Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth)

I have a huge respect for Neagu Djuvara. His book, Civilizations and Historical Patterns (Civilizatii si tipare istorice) has greatly influenced the way I think about history. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to chat with the great man a few times.

In have huge respect for Radu Oltean as well who, in his field - historical illustration, is hailed as one of the best in the world, and for good reason. I am lucky once more to witness Radu's work as it's being made, on his Facebook page. 

And, credit goes where credit is due, Alistair Ian Blyth is the most active translator of Romanian into English at the moment, and his services to Romanian culture should not be underestimated.

For these reasons alone, this is a book I highly recommend to all ages, even though it's marketed as a children's book. And perhaps herein lies the problem. Because yes, there is a problem, despite the meeting of the three aforementioned great minds. As previous readers noticed already, as a literary achievement the book doesn't quite hit the mark. On the one hand, the tone of the writing tends to be very condescending, as if kids need a watering down of the information to understand it. And yes, it is written in Djuvara's old age, but it looks like the historian fell into a relatively common trap: underestimating your audience. I feel the historical rigor and objectivity could have been preserved without any loss of understanding from the audience, however young.

The second issue is the over-apologetic tone in regards to Vlad's bloody deeds. This is, again, a miscalculation: owning the fact that Vlad was a very bloody leader even for the standards of his time would not, in my opinion, damage his reputation as much as trying to present a sanitized version of history does. And I'm surprised Radu signed off on the book (though I presume words belong entirely to Mr Djuvara), as he is famously a fierce enemy of sanitizing history.

However, once we get over these two shortcomings, what we have on our hands is a wonderfully documented gallop through the saga of the Draculesti dynasty and its place in the politics of the time, with a long digression about Iancu and the House of Hunyadi, important as it gave two of the most famous historical figures for both Romanian and Hungarian history. There is plenty to learn even for the reader that has passed through the Romanian education system and is relatively familiar with the reign and times of Vlad the Impaler, there is loads to learn for the reader unfamiliar with the historical figure, but that has maybe heard of the Dracula myth.

And,as it's also been mentioned before in the online reviews, the book is worth its price for the illustrations alone. While I'm trying to not be too reverent to Radu, largely because we often clash in online conversations, his work is indeed magnificent. Largely respecting the canonical imagery and often inspired by period depictions, his touch blows life into the characters making them relatable in a way in which text is unable to. 

I am glad I read this and I can only imagine what one of my historical fiction writing friends might do should they feel inspired by it. Romania has had its share of historical fiction writers, though the work I came in contact with was largely dogmatic, with a clear nationalist agenda. A reckoning between my country and its own history is yet to take place, an honest acceptance and conciliation with our past is yet to be made. And fictionalizing history so that it becomes accessible to the general public, retelling the Dracula myth as it happened, is part of that reckoning.

marți, 28 mai 2019

Eu n-am votat

'Sa nu uitati sa votati cat mai repede dimineata, cand se deschid sectiile'

Sigur ca da, votez imediat cum se deschid oficial urnele, apoi imi mananc sandwichul si poate am si-un pic de timp sa ma odihnesc putin pana incep sa vina oamenii, ca stiu ca ma duc nedormit, am terminat munca la 2 dimineata sambata!

Asa suna socoteala de acasa. Iar in targ, mai exact in buricul targului, la ICR, am ajuns pe la 6.15, cu o intarziere pentru ca sunt incapabil sa ma trezesc fara Cookie Jam dupa 1h-1.30h de somn. 'Buna dimineata!' le zic celor vreo 20 de oameni care asteptau deja la coada. 'Stiti cu formularele astea pe propria raspundere...' Da, stiam, dar dintr-o data m-am simtit super-responzabilizat de faptul ca reprezentam pozitia oficiala. Si, vreo 40 de minute mai tarziu, cand incercam sa recapitulez mental cam ce trebuie sa fac... 'Haideti ca e 7, deschidem sectia'. 7 si 2 minute chiar, dupa ceasul meu. La dracu'!, m-am aruncat in spatele biroului construit din 3 mese lungi puse in linia care procesa alegatorii. Am iesit de acolo la 23:26, la scurt timp dupa ce am procesat ultimul om care a apucat sa voteze in sectie. El ajunsese acolo pe la 2.30pm. Eu as fi vrut sa ajung la toaleta de pe la 11am, si am avut vreo doua incercari esuate sa beau apa in jur de 3pm. Cele doua sticle pe care mi le-a pus pe masa colega le-am regasit dupa miezul noptii cazute sub masa. Mi-a pus pe masa si vreo 3 mini-oua de ciocolata care au stat acolo vreo ora (cred ca o ora, timpul a fost extrem de estompat duminica), dupa care mi-am dat seama ca ma incurca si le-am bagat in buzunar. 

'Asteptam de 3 ore!' 'Dumneavoastra cat ati asteptat?' 'Cred ca vreo 4 ore, 4 ore si jumatate'. Intrebam din cand in cand. La un moment dat, relativ devreme, mi s-a parut ca reusisem sa reducem putin timpul, cred ca am auzit 2 ore si jumatate la un moment dat. Dar dupa pranz a crescut constant, 6 ore era noul normal, si a urcat spre 9 ore seara. Ultimii oameni care au votat ajunsesera pe la 2-2.30.

Dar foarte putina lume nervoasa. Oboseala, dezamagire, abia dupa-amiaza tarziu a inceput iritarea, cand a devenit evident ca unii nu vor vota. Aud de la colegi din alte sectii ca au fost numiti 'pesedisti'. Nu mi s-a intamplat, poate si pentru ca am avut norocul ca din cand in cand sa fiu recunoscut de cate cineva, ba de pe la vreun miting, ba vreun protest, o impartire de fluturasi, o poza pe facebook... 'Dumnezeule, nu-mi vine sa cred ca a functionat' imi ziceam in minte, cu un super-sentiment de implinire ca munca din ultimele... nu stiu? 2 luni? 5 luni? Nicu Stefanuta isi face campanie din martie trecut... In fine, ca munca noastra n-a fost degeaba.

'Popor de nevotati!' imi mai ziceam in gand, de cate ori puneam pixul pe mijlociul drept, care si-acum ma doare. Dar ideea ca trebuie sa ne miscam cat mai repede, ca trebuie sa voteze cat mai multa lume si ca trebuie sa gandim metode prin care sa scurtam timp de unde se poate, pentru ca vom avea timp de sarbatorit de maine facea mai mult de o durere in degetul mijlociu. Draghicescu Marinca Constantin Alexandru, serios? Unde e Ion Rus din Dej? Unde e Dan Pop din Ip? De ce n-aveti toti nume scurte?

8.30, jumatate de ora pana la inchiderea urnelor. 'Haideti sa deschidem usile, sa bagam cat mai multi oameni inauntru!'. Poate 2-300 la 9pm in sectia de votare si in holul ICR-ului, inghesuiala mai mare ca la concert Metallica. De data asta cu nervi, toti. Politie. Scandari suparate de afara, de la cei care n-au apucat sa intre. Momente tensionate si oameni care ameninta sa sparga, sa rupa, sa faca orice doar sa voteze. 'Daca sunteti aici, o sa votati!' tipa sefa de sectie, cu toti cei 160 de cm ai ei urcati pe masa si chiar si asa de o inaltime comparabila cu unii dintre scandalagii. Dar cand inteleg ce se intampla atmosfera se mai detensioneaza. Glumim, radem. 'Nu, nu poti sa votezi pe masa, trebuie sa te duci in cabina de vot!', si-i iau omului din mana buletinele de vot pe care tocmai i le dadusem. Restul inteleg si se conformeaza. 23:26, ultimul om din sectie voteaza. 12 oameni ramasi, care n-au apucat sa-si treaca buletinele prin SIMPV, suparati ca pe ei nu-i intereseaza, erau in sectie la 9, vor sa voteze. 'La dracu', pana la urma n-am apucat sa votez' ma gandesc in toaleta, fericit ca am apucat totusi sa fac pipi. Cand ma intorc, dupa 23:30, cei 12 ceva mai calmi. S-a facut un proces verbal, li s-a explicat cum si unde pot face sesizari si contestatii, ne despartim prieteni. Un politist britanic, si el multumit ca oamenii pleaca, usor usor si ca n-au fost nici un fel de violente.

Urmeaza noaptea de numarare, a doua noapte de nesomn, dar de data asta jubilez. Timid la inceput, ca nu vreau sa jignesc oameni care poate au alte optiuni politice dupa ce am trecut prin 16 ore de foc impreuna. Dar spre 2-3 noaptea, cand incepem numaratoarea efectiva mi se alatura si ei si ma simt campion fara sa fi concurat in ceva.

Alianta are 82 de voturi din prima suta, dar sunt dezamagit ca la incheierea numaratorii scadem la 71.25%. PNL 16.25%, PSD 0,57%. 12 voturi, de 4,3 ori mai putin decat independentul George Simion. Dar tot sunt gelos pe Stratford, la ei PSD a avut 0,49%.

Am ajuns acasa luni la 11am, negru in jurul ochilor de parca as fi fost batut si incepusem sa vad ca prin ceata spre marginea campului vizual. Dar e ok, o sa dorm putin, apoi pot sa ma alatur si eu sarbatorii. A fost o zi buna.

Leonard Bacica, delegat Alianta USR-Plus 2020, sectia 294 Strainatate - Londra 1.



luni, 22 aprilie 2019

The Trebizond Chronicles

Gordon Doherty - Strategos: Born in the Borderlands, self-published, 2011

A while ago I read Gordon's book Legionary and I emailed him a rather unfavorable review, asking if he'd rather have it published or not. Writing is a tough career and anyone who takes to the paper should be encouraged, not slighted, so we agreed that I wouldn't publish anything about it online. Looking back, Legionary is actually quite a fun action histfic, so I might give the series another chance in the future. But what stroke me then was how gracious Gordon was in receiving criticism and responding to it; a reputation he has since enhanced and it's upheld by his online comments wherever you look. Therefore, while the quality of Gordon's writing will be under scrutiny below, his character is beyond doubt, and I am grateful for his friendship.

Strategos has been sat in my Kindle for a while and I only got round to it now as I realized my reading is a lot faster when I use an electronic device. I shall now devour the entire trilogy very soon.

After approaching a difficult historical period with Legionary (376 AD, NE border of the Roman Empire), Gordon does one up with Strategos, going headlong into a time and a place that is largely ignored by mainstream Western culture: 1046 AD, Eastern Anatolia. While the Byzantine Empire is still far from its conventional 1453 end, this is an era when the empire's border are continually shrinking and, more importantly, at the Eastern border of the empire two major civilizations meet and mix, often through very violent means.

The sources available for the period are scarce, which gives an author room to maneuver their plot however they feel without fearing accusations on inaccuracy, but also makes creating the atmosphere and the flavor of the era difficult, not to mention the huge burden of perception: it is likely that the general public will take their information of a historical era from fiction rather than from documents or research, which puts a great responsibility on writers exploring historical dark patches and blurs the line between a writer and a historian. I am not sure what the writer's intention is here, but it is now clear that - while creating the right flavor of the era is open to discussion - Gordon excels in creating a tense and engrossing plot, the kind that makes your brain want to keep reading long after the eyes have had enough.

The plot and the tension in the action is by far the best thing in the book IMO. Beyond any nitpicking I might do in regards to the Byzantine outlook on life or the existence and functions of secret societies in late Byzantium or the strategic thinking of Byzantine emperors, I was engrossed in the book pretty much from the off and I kept wanting to find out whatever will come of Apion or Cydones or Bracchus next.

I like how twisted the plot is, how unpredictable the fate of all the characters is and how even the villains have a redeeming back story while the heroes can be led to virtuous actions by questionable goals. There's a lot of depth to all the characters that survive beyond a few pages, and it's well spread throughout, each episode adding another single element to one particular character's story.

I also like how Gordon doesn't shy away from writing sex scenes, and in Strategos there's a few of them, but they're all well integrated in the story and avoid the usual cringe that sex scenes seem to generate when written. There's plenty of blood and gore, sure, and writing battles and fights is the bread and butter of most historical fiction writers, but they tend to tread a lot more cautiously when it comes to the romantic lives of their characters. Not Gordon. His characters have feelings and urges and this gives them an extra dimension to the regular 'good with a sword' routine.

All in all, a gripping and pleasant read, and one that sparks interest in an unfairly overlooked era. I have a few reservations about moments in the plot that I think require too much of a suspension of belief, but then doesn't any work of fiction require some suspension of belief?

marți, 31 iulie 2018

The Spectrum of Normality

Paul Wady - Guerilla Aspies (A Neurotypical Society Infiltration Manual), Free Autistic Press, 2014

Paul Wady is autistic, but what that means exactly is a raging debate in some circles. The regular reader would be unacquainted with a number of terms throughout this book and would most likely think of autism as a 'disease'. The short, simple definition of autism is that it's a 'developmental disability', though the autistic people I met would argue against the use of the term 'disability'. Frankly, I think the autistic people I met would argue against anything, but that's beside the point.

What is certain is that very little is known about autism at the level of the regular Joe, while my impression, after a few months of intense reading about autism, is that science doesn't really know what to make of it just yet.

While there seems to be a whole community of socially functioning individuals diagnosed as autistic who developed, in the UK at least, a real subculture of marginalized social groups, somewhat like the 'gay culture' of a few decades ago, there are also a lot of autistic individuals who struggle to integrate socially or indeed to function at all. They seem to be the main intended readership of this book, though I think the book is potentially even more valuable for young autistic individuals who are trying to understand, learn and mimic social behavior, as well as for neurotypical (or 'normal', if you will, though is a term I abhor) readers who have an interest in learning about autism. The value of this book comes mostly from the fact that it presents an inside point of view, it's an inside out look with no pretense of having any medical value, but potentially more valuable when it comes to understanding autism.

The book is largely based on personal experience, all the advice given fits into the writer's own journey and may or may not work for anyone else. But of this we get plenty of warning, unlike a lot of places within the book where the reader is actively and in all seriousness advised to break the law in ways that range up to violent homicide, only to reveal the joke later on. I take this as an indication that it is not actually an instruction manual, but rather an information manual: it provides a way of looking at the world that is potentially inaccessible to the reader, but without indicating what to do with this newly gained view.

Surprisingly, valuable as it might be, is not the informative aspect that I found the best about the book, but the emotional one: it starts off as a very funny read, almost a stand-up number in written form, but then Paul starts to gradually recount episodes of his life or episodes that autistic people encounter on a regular basis, and the tone shifts towards extreme sadness by the end of the book. In trying to describe what it is to be autistic, Paul Wady manages to describe what it is to be human: a hot mess of inconsistencies, irregularities, broken promises, peculiar social conventions and things said with no intention of acting upon them. We have long suspected that a conscious being would struggle to understand large swathes of the human behavior when given the opportunity to study it from outside. Well, Paul Wady is that conscious being. And despite some carelessness in editing or structure, this book is a very good mirror in which we can see ourselves. This is the image that's both funny and sad.

joi, 19 iulie 2018

Green Green Horse at Home

Simon Armitage - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Faber and Faber, 2007

Is this like... alien knight or smth?
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a medieval poem, written around 1400 in Middle English, of which Simon Armitage's decade-old rendition into modern English is the latest one. The poem draws on the Arthurian legends, though it is not contemporary to them in any way: the themes, language and atmosphere of the poem are a lot closer to the 14th century than the 6th century in which the Tales of the Round table originated: not only is it filled with Christian symbolism, but the attitudes and behavior of characters is a lot more representative of the late Middle Ages. Of course, Arthur and his knights could not have been Christian, though latter writers have not only made them so, but have slowly overlayed upon them motif after motif of medieval Christian virtue.

Such is the case here, where the unknown medieval author anchors the Camelot crowd firmly into the Christian values, so much so that our hero's shield is built along the coordinates of the star of David and has the face of the Holy Virgin painted on. The antagonist, the Green Knight, is probably the remnant of the Pagan era, hence his casting as the bad guy. While the medieval poet does not delve into the Green Knight's origins, his unusual, unnatural green coloring is reminiscent of the worshiping of nature that druid-wizards like Merlin were practicing. In addition, the Green Knight reveals a direct connection to Merlin towards the end of the poem, while his dwelling place is a 'green church', 'a ghostly cathedral overgrown with grass' (2190). Might it be then that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an attempt from the medieval poet to recover the druidic myths and traditions, to draw the attention of his contemporaries to them? The equation of Christmas with Yuletide is another argument to that, but you will need a better prepared scholar than myself for a definite answer.

The synopsis is relatively simple: during the Christmas feast a weird-looking Green Knight shows up at King Arthur's palace and issues a strange challenge: he will take an axe blow to the neck in exchange for returning it a year later. As the most virtuous of Arthur's knights, Gawain raises to accept the challenge, which means his next year is spent in search of the mysterious Green Knight whose chopped head left only a vague clue as to his whereabouts. As it happens, Gawain does discover the location of the knight's Green Church just in time, though in true epic poem tradition, more tests need to be passed before Gawain manages to reach that which, on the face of it, will mean his earthly end. Of course, the resolution is favorable to our hero, though there is a twist at the end with an important moral signification.

The modern reader is, of course, required to suspend his belief in regards to a series of motifs, actions of motivations throughout: how can a man be green? who issues such an outlandish challenge and, furthermore, who's silly enough to accept it rather than dismissing it as useless or childish? how can a beheaded man speak or ride and, most importantly, how is it that it just so happens that Gawain finds the green church just in the nick of time? Oh, God directed his step? I see, it all makes sense now.

That being said, the poem is largely entertaining, and one must appreciate how, in the tradition of Arthurian legends, the resolution is not as straightforward as in the typical fairy-tale. The good example walks hand in hand with the cautionary tale. Not to mention, the abundance of detail regarding castles' layout, hunting or dining habits are not only very valuable for historians and scholars, but also highly atmospheric. Plus, I love how the medieval poet is not tied by the rigors of modern writing, pacing it as slow as he likes in places that have no bearing whatsoever to the main plot, such as the butchering of the game - shown in great detail - while a few months' worth of adventures are dismissed as they're 'too long to tell here'. Sure, why the hell not, nevermind what the hero did, tell me more about how to chop a deer leg. This sort of detail, regardless how valuable or atmospheric, can become overbearing for the average reader, but luckily this particular poem is of acceptable length and, at least in Simon Armitage's rendition, quite readable.

In regards to the this particular rendition, I think Simon Armitage has done a decent job, though there are places where modern language creeps in on top of medieval structures and it sounds as out of place as a scratched record. The story is entirely preserved, but there are places where the language is butchered. IMHO, a greater care should have been taken to ensure the language preserves the medieval atmosphere and, if something had to be sacrificed, then maybe the poetic structure should be the first victim.

So, is this poem teaching us anything? Well, nothing of huge relevance, but for nostalgics of Arthurian legends like myself, it's a good light reading for a summer afternoon in the park.

Quote:

'Why should I shy away? If fate is kind or cruel man still must try.' (560)

luni, 16 iulie 2018

Finis coronat opus

France - Croatia 4-2


Six goals! A great World Cup crowned by a great final! Certainly the best World Cup final in my time, and if we are to judge by the number of goals, the best since 1958 (yes, England's 4-2 win in 1966 had six goals as well, but after extra time). It is absolutely incredible how open the game was, how well both teams played and how they went for it with all their might, not trying to stall the game or cheat football in any way.

An argument can be made for Croatia being a tad unlucky, what with the first two French goals coming on the back of refereeing decision, but that argument has shaky grounds. First off, Mandzukic's own goal, from a questionable foul on Griezmann. I've watched it many times from 3 angles and honestly can't make up my mind. It looks like he goes down really easy, but it's really hard to tell whether the fall was caused by Brozovic or not. Regardless, that was not the goal. The goal came from the ensuing free kick, which was poorly defended by the Croats, and it's really unfortunate that Mandzukic only pushed it into his own net. He's a great player and has enough experience to put this behind him quickly, but an own goal in a World Cup final will always be a stick to beat him with, so plenty of people will keep reminding him about it.

And, as fortunes would have it, it was going to be the other goalscorer to cause the penalty that put France ahead shortly before the break. Was it a handball against Perisic? Well, he certainly touched the ball with his hand, leaving the rest of the world to debate concepts like 'intent', 'natural position' and - to Heidegger's delight - the 'being towards the ball' or 'the ball being towards the hand'. The reality of it is, whenever there's contact between your hand and the ball in the box you're always risking a penalty, so you're better of keeping your hand to yourself. The example I always go back to is Baggio's penalty against Chile in 1998 (0:55 in the clip). All the other blabber works for sofa punditry but is useless on the pitch: a penalty was awarded and Griezmann put France ahead. Anyone who'd try to make this decision an argument against VAR are victims of a logical flaw: first off, the referee can watch a replay however many times he deems necessary and he's also the only man in charge of his own absolute certainties and reasonable doubts. Secondly, even if this decision was blatantly wrong, the purpose of VAR is not to make refereeing perfect - there is no such thing; it's purpose is to reduce the refereeing errors, and there's no denying throughout this World Cup it's done just that, and an important bit more: it has made the set piece battles in the box a lot cleaner. It came at the cost of a record 29 penalties, but it's an improvement on the game and it's here to stay.

It's one of football's little ironies that the two scorers for Croatia were the protagonists of the first two French goals. They're both brilliant players and have been excellent for their team, potentially not deserving to be involved in the two incidents, but no one can escape the caprices of fate.

Ivan Perisic - in my opinion the player of the tournament. He is the full package and his equalizer in the 28th minute is a confirmation of just how good he has been. Excellent placement, strength, superb shot, a summary of all the skills he displayed throughout the tournament. Renewed interest from Manchester United? I'd love this interest to materialize, though Inter might be rather reluctant to let him go.

As for the second Croatian goal, Hugo Lloris should count his blessings that it came at 4-1, because should that have been a decider, the French goalkeeper would have been on the receiving end of an unflattering stream of jokes and memes for some time. As it is, people forgot about it already, choosing instead to concentrate on exactly how black the French team is. Not only enraging, but mind-boggling how people can get so stuck in someone's skin color or birth place and not see what is in front of them: another human being.

Mbappe was born in France, calls no other country his own and knows no other culture, though he sure knows how to kick a football. He's been an absolute delight to watch this tournament, as was his goal for 4-1. I look forward to seeing a lot more moments of magic from the 19 year old in the years to come, though I do regret most of them will be in the PSG shirt, as I'm not sure who and for how much could get him away from Parc des Princes where he arrived with the immense 180M price tag.

And happily enough, Pogba put his name on the score sheet too, with just as good a shot as Mbappe's, prompting the choir of eternally complaining United fans to ask for him to put in the same kind of performances for United. As if his single-handed demolition of City never was.

4-2, a score maybe too harsh on Croatia, that deserve all praise heaped upon them and more. But France was the best team of the tournament and are deserving winners. It is a rare feat when two teams this good are pitted against each other and play this sort of superb, fluid, open football. And this final was a rare feat indeed, though I'd make a trilogy out of it, with France's games against Argentina and Uruguay next to it, and then we'll have the full perspective of what this wonderful team assembled by Deschamps is capable of.

Which does beg the question: Giroud? There's no reason to end this review on any sort of a negative note, and there's no arguments against the strategy of a manager who's just won the World Cup, but come on, Didi, what's the catch? Did you put him on just to make all the others look good?
But guess who's the center of celebrations?

duminică, 15 iulie 2018

Too zero

Belgium - England 2-0


See you in 4 years?
Third place play-off is a much more appropriate name for such a game rather than the pompous 'small final' or 'little final' as it'd be called in Romanian. Both teams might've had a shot at the final, but the anti-climatic atmosphere surrounding the game bears nothing of the anticipation of one. It's no more than a consolation prize, and a very unwanted one most of the time.

That being said, however, it is disrespectful to approach it with no desire to win. Yes, protect yourself and yes, keep it a clean game, but as I said - funnily enough - before the first Belgium - England encounter of this tournament, if you're not going to want to win you might as well not show up.

Though in all honesty what England has done can hardly be called showing up. They were present on the pitch, not so much in the game. Not that Belgium played all that well, but they looked head and shoulder above the English. They deserved to win the game, but that means nothing. All in all, it had the look of a Premier League game in May, when the table has already been decided. 

There were moments of good football in it, specially from the Belgians, but in a skills showcase kind of way rather than a battle for a result. 

By losing 2-0 one could think that England has actually gotten worse throughout the tournament, as it's a step down from the 1-0 loss in the group stage, that one almost just as irrelevant.

Not much point in being too harsh with either of the teams though: they both punched above their weight, they were not the first two options for semi-finalists and will go home with a sense of achievement that will eventually shine through the disappointment of not being in the final. One might actually wonder about the purpose of this third place play-off, other than the obvious commercial one.

Not FIFA though. For FIFA the commercial purpose of an extra game is reason enough, though it might be a while until we see one that's actually interesting. Belgium goes home with a bronze medal, England returns home with the same disappointment felt after the Italy 1990 World Cup, but with the hope that this generation can repeat the performance that Gazza & co. could only achieve at the zenith of their careers.

And or the rest of us, the real final of this, after all, truly great World Cup, is starting in some half hour. I have no leanings, but I'm tempted by France. They are more deserving winners for a reason that's often overlooked in football allegiances: they played better.

Withdrawal starts tomorrow.