Swedish Open 2017

This was my third year in Båstad. With the ATP tournament in Bucharest cancelled, I keep saying that I have to stick around in Sweden a bit longer because they have tennis tournaments here. Three of them every year: two ATP and one WTA and two of them are linked and take place in Båstad. I wrote about my experiences here before but this year was a truly special one. Swedish Open celebrated its 70th edition and that meant double the tennis, double the party and double the work. Triple the work even, since we all wanted to make the celebrations unforgettable.

For me it is simple: tennis comes first! The sea and sunsets come right after, the parties I can somehow do without but above all are working in a team and being a part of the Player’s Family again: the squad that takes care of the players. The ones that are in the background, that make sure things run smoothly before or after the matches and during rain delays, and it is important to know that Båstad can bring a lot of rain delays. This means that before putting your nice shoes on and getting ready to party in Pepe’s Bodega, we all have to make sure things are put in order in the Players Lounge and in the Players Office, that the coffee is hot and the freshly baked cakes and cookies have enough vanilla custard on the side, that the mineral water is cold and there are enough snacks and fruits around, that the players get their lunch and welcome gifts from our great sponsors (my favourite one is Teddykompaniet, of course) and not only. You great everybody with a smile on your face, you say “hello” and “have a nice day” and eventually your face drops when Manolo Santana, Björn Borg or Stefan Edberg enter the lounge. Yes they entered the lounge because in the end the ATP tournament this year was about celebrating them, and not only them, but several other tennis legends that took part in the tournament in Båstad along the years. Among them was also Ilie Nastase the first ever ATP World number 1, a guest this year, or Mats Wilander who is one of the nicest and most polite persons I’ve ever seen. It was hard to restrain myself from talking about his show “Game, Set and Mats” with him but you are not there to chat with the players and guests, you are there to work! I must remind myself that every time one of my favourites walks in. And as much as I love watching the players on court, with all the thrills of the spectacular points, I find it quite easy to work with them. I respect them a lot and surprisingly tennis players are people too, and very nice people above all!

So after blowing helium in a few hundred balloons, dressing up nicely and ensuring that the Lounge is decent and relaxing for the athletes, it was party time. Smile, make everybody feel good, celebrate Swedish tennis and enjoy seeing Bob Sinclar playing in Pepe’s Bodega. And after you inhaled some helium from the balloons and said funny words in funny voices, remember that in the morning you have to be back at work to open the lounge for a new day of tennis, for new activities for the players, good times and hard work. And the second day, an the third day, and so on and so forth until the sad day of the finals when you say goodbye to the ATP staff and the ATP players, the ones that were still there, and you say hello to the WTA staff and the ladies who are ready to rock the courts. And everything starts all over again. Smile, make sure things are in order, prepare the welcome gifts, blow helium balloons, dress nicely, dance and come back to work the second morning just to wake up on the final’s day and be confused about one thing: it’s over, am I sad about it or do I feel like I want to go home? The truth is somewhere in the middle.

If you think working at a tennis tournament is glamorous, you are right, in a way it is. But before you actually get to enjoy the selective company of some of the best athletes in the world, you put up with a lot of hard work, with learning to work as a team, with the idea that one single detail might ruin everything. You anticipate, analyse, solve, if it needs solving, and you do this with a smile on your face. You make sure the guests have everything and after all this, you don’t really feel like going to the fancy party anymore, you just sneak into your pyjamas and chill at home with your team mates. Power naps help you through the toughest days and coffee helps a lot.

But, at the end of all this you have seen a few very good matches, you’ve seen what it is like when tennis meets music and Marcus Daniell plays his guitar, you have chilled at the beach a bit, splashed around in the pool, saw some very beautiful sunsets and spent some time (about 24 hours every day for almost 3 weeks) with some really amazing people. And you saw David Ferrer win another tournament after some great matches against Dustin Brown, Henri Laaksonen, Fernando Verdasco (that had a bit of a nazi incident inserted by an uninvited guest) and Alexandr Dolgopolov (wow, I’ve actually seen all these matches, and not only), you saw Caroline Wozniacki play and Katerina Siniakova bursting into tears because she just couldn’t hold back her emotions after the she won the tournament. This just to mention a few tennis highlights. Some other tennis highlights are related to watching tennis from the side of the arena from where you see both the court and the sea. It’s hard not to get lost into the blue horizon and stop paying attention to the game, but it’s also a beautiful sight to rest your eyes upon at the changeover.

I wonder if I missed anything? Looking at the length of the post I’d say I didn’t but I am sure I left out so many things. Like not mentioning Ola Salo’s concert or my amazement when I realised who Ola Salo was. Due to my ignorance in my mind the particular person was just the singer from The Ark… well, not anymore, now he has a name!

I’ll miss the tennis, I’ll miss the sunsets and the beautiful sea and I’ll miss the people. I am very happy to have been a part of this event for another year, and if all goes well maybe we meet again next Summer. Until then, Stockholm Open is just around the corner. Game, set, match, championship: David Ferrer, Knowle/Petzschner and Katerina Siniakova, Lemoine/Rus.

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The Voice of a Generation

I was 15 when I started listening to them. They were among the few rock bands that you could see on TV during the day. Their music spoke to my emotions, it helped me calm down my anger and understand my fears. I was a happy kid who didn’t understand much of the world and who got scared easily but I had my music to explain things, to pass time, to practice my English and not only. They were loud, my poor parents and neighbours had to bare with me raising the TV volume to a really high level. They went hand in hand with HIM for a while and Guano Apes or K’s Choice. They are a band I am still listening to now, years later, but while HIM, Guano Apes or K’s Choice didn’t appeal to a large number of people, Linkin Park seemed to be the band of a generation, the voice of a generation. After I’ve moved to Bucharest I’ve met quite a few people my age or close to it, that listened to them. We went to their concert when they played in Bucharest in 2012. I have waited eagerly for that concert and I remember wanting to listen to “Crawiling”. They didn’t play it.

“Crawling” was the first song from them that hypnotised me. The beginning of the song was so catchy and Chester’s voice screaming the chorus just to go down into such clear and calm vocals during the verses and to break down into screams again was something new and appealing. And the video was interesting to watch, the girl playing in it was beautiful and expressive and wore black eyeliner, which I did a lot those days.

“Papercut” was probably the song that got me to like them for good and forever and back then I found the video to that song quite scary, yet fascinating. This song made me go back and pay attention to “One Step Closer” as well, one of their earlier tracks, and in the end I bought their album, “Hybrid Theory” and started to listen to it on repeat. It truly became an icon for my teenage years and besides the songs that I already knew from TV, I really liked to listen to “Pushing Me Away”. It was the last song on the album and it always left me so calm, it seemed such a perfect ending for all the emotions that were expressed in those songs. Of course I filtered the songs and gave them meaning according to my feelings and even though their music is not the calmest, it always gave me such peace. It also sounded good to me, don’t get me wrong, the guys rock!

“In the End” was a song they played so much on TV that one could get sick of it. I didn’t. It’s such a good track with so good and relatable lyrics, and years later I still listen to it and they still have meaning and they still speak things out loud. Plus the piano part sounds so good! I remember leaving the TV on and going around the house and when I heard the piano part start I would return and watch the video.

Then came their next album and with it came “Numb” which is probably one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. And “Faint” and “From the Inside”. And one after the other their songs were played on the radio, on TV, in the pubs where we were hanging, they were played live in front of our eyes when we saw them performing, they ended up in my playlists. And it the end the music matters!

The news of Chester Bennington’s death a few weeks ago seemed unreal. Linkin Park have been there since I was 15, they were a band I wanted to see live again because they were worth it. I listened to their music carefully and with passion, I sang along, I transformed their meanings so I could relate to them better, to understand them better and to like them more. I hope he finds peace, may God rest his soul! He will be dearly missed, a talented artist and the voice of a generation.

 

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Placebo @ Bucharest

I am a huge fan of music and a live event with a band that I like is enough to reshuffle my whole schedule, if needed, just to make it to the concert. So this is pretty much what happened during my short visit at home in Romania a few days ago.

The location of the concert: The Roman Arenas in Carol Park (Arenele Romane, Parcul Carol). This is my favourite park in Bucharest, it hosts the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a mausoleum for the fallen built during Communist times, the George Grigore Cantacuzino fountain build in 1870, The National Technical Museum „Prof. ing. Dimitrie Leonida”, the Romanian Academy’s Astronomic Institute, a fountain with the zodiac signs on it, several statues (“The Giants” and a statue of Dr. C. Istrati, professor, academic, minister and mayor of Bucharest), and an arena for live events that I mentioned above.

The event: Placebo, an alternative rock band from the UK. It was the third time I saw them live, but that doesn’t matter, I would go see them live again. A bit of a depressive band, they’ve been around for 20 years and they thought about celebrating that with the fans, so they organised an anniversary tour that stopped in Bucharest during the same time as me. They were a strange presence on TV years ago, especially when in one of their videos, Pure Morning, the singer, Brian Molko, an androgynous figure, jumped off a building, to everyone’s despair, and then ended up walking perpendicularly on its walls, to everyone’s surprise. Another of their videos is the futuristic Special K, a good song that takes its title from a drug but that doesn’t deal just with drugs but with love as well.

The event started with the video of Every You, Every Me, probably one of their most popular songs, if not the most popular. The concert had, according to the band, two parts: the depressive one and the energetic one. During the depressive one they went from one ballad to the other, with my personal highlight of Special Needs. The energetic part set the audience on fire. Besides the fact that Placebo is quite loved in Romania and the fans respond really well to rock concerts, the music sounded so good that everything seemed to fall into place to everyone’s delight. You could see that in the way people danced, clapped, sang along and asked for more by cheering minutes in a row and lighting up their phones, but also in the band’s reaction, their kind words and large smiles. There was a lot of passion on both sides involved in the event. I can’t think of a best moment for the concert, the melancholy of the first part made the audience listen and enjoy the beautiful music, the energy of the second made everybody jump on For What It’s Worth, sing along on Special K or The Bitter End, watch the beautiful video of Song to Say Goodbye while the band was performing it live, and the cover of Running Up that Hill (A Deal With God) was simply brilliant. To my delight, they even brought a bit of politics into their show: an image of a package of cigarettes with Trump’s face on it and the message “seriously harms you and others around you”. They didn’t play This Picture nor Bright Lights but they delighted everybody with 25 songs in over two hours of live music. It was quite a show!

 

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I grew up here!

In between listening to rock bands on vinyl records, learning English from Cartoon Network and watching music on MTV, I used to spend a lot of time in the countryside. Yes, I went to school and other stuff too, worry not, but…

My Summer/Winter/Easter holidays and most weekends were spent in a village by the river. There was no other place to be than there. If I start speaking about how things were I think I can go on for hours. If I start talking about my countryside adventures I might not stop too soon.

When I put it all together I realise that for a long time I looked at it as if it were Heaven on Earth because I was happy there, and the last day of holiday was my worst nightmare. Things changed with time but the memories are still there. So are my childhood friends who still make fun of me for always walking barefoot.

There was a time when climbing a tree was a piece of cake, when my main activities were fishing, picking mushrooms, playing football and building fires. When the best sweet thing you could eat was the homemade jam, the best companions were the other kids visiting their grandparents and riding a horse-dragged carriage was the highlight of the day. There were also times when you didn’t want to get out of bed until the fire was burning nicely, when Christmas meant rummy and backgammon with the tree lights in the background, when Easter came with our own bunnies and fluffy yellow chicks and Autumn weekends brought grape juice, fresh apples and the smell of smoke.

But there were also the storms breaking down trees, the mice playing football under the floors late at night, the fleas the cats would bring in the house back when flea-repellent didn’t exist, the black roaches and spiders crawling in the dark, the ant bites, wasps, snow storms and floods. Yes, the floods. Probably that changed that place the most. It was fun when you were little and the waters were still mild, but the last time it happened it seems the water was poisoned with all the bitter things in the World.

I could go on talking about the fact that there was no indoor plumbing, the water came from the spring, the gas came from a gas tank, and when you couldn’t find one to buy all the food would be cooked on a wood-burning stove. And it tasted amazing! And so did the (unwashed) fruits and berries from the garden: raspberries, strawberries, cherries, blackcurrants, sour cherries, plums, pears, apples, grapes.

It was a pleasure to go there again, especially around the Summer Solstice, Midsummer for many, Sânziene for us, the magic night when the sky opens and one can see into Heaven, when magic fairies dance in the forests and drive young men crazy, when girls dream of their sweethearts and the abundance of the crop can be foretold. It was a shock and a delight to see the old dusty street all lit up, when I remembered it covered in darkness that you had to learn it by heart in order to get home safe at night. It was sad to see the fields all covered in weeds from all the seeds the wild waters brought years ago, but among all the thorns and the thistles the wild flowers were still there in bloom, beautiful and colourful as they have always been and always will be! And the silence of the nights with the songs of the Blackbirds and the crickets, the misty mornings spirited by cuckoos, roosters and the neighbour’s really loud geese. I grew up here!

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Radiohead @ Globen

It was for the first time in my life that I went to a concert with a certain feeling of fear, besides the excitement I usually feel when live music is about to happen. For everybody who knows me it is clear that a live concert is the place to be for me, that or a live tennis match… or by the sea. Anyway, a concert site is no longer a safe place, we all know that and we found that out in the most disturbing and sad way possible. When you see that security measures are really tough when you go in and you have to walk through security doors almost like in the airports, you start to feel a bit better. It would be best if these things weren’t necessary.

Going back to the music, this time it was Radiohead I ended up seeing. Not a band I usually listen to, they’ve been there for quite a while because of family, yes, older siblings and their music and younger sister sticking her nose into that, and because of MTV and especially VH1 which aired their videos quite a lot when I was growing up in front of the TV screen. They were some of the weird guys I could see on TV. It takes a bit of brain power and will to understand their music which I consider not very easy to digest. It can be horribly depressive while it is amazingly beautiful. Of course everybody knows “Creep” or has felt like that every now and then. Then there’s also “Karma Police”. My personal favourite from them is “Jigsaw Falling into Place”.

The concert was amazing. It had a lovely light show, a very edgy and cold energy attached to it, plenty of good sounds, little chatter, lots of clapping and excitement all wrapped around some really beautiful music that the lovely people of Stockholm and its surroundings, to quote Thom Yorke, the singer, enjoyed from the first to the last chord.

Now leaving aside their music it is important to mention that Thom Yorke is an activist and has made his voice heard several times in relation to many topics from environmentalism to anti-war causes and not only. So I was really curious to see if, just like many other artists these days, he is going to say anything during Radiohead’s concert. Lucky me, the concert happened two days after the general elections in the UK, and of course the singer had something to comment about that. The short message of it all is that hope, which begins to come back to the British people, can make a difference in the face of those who think they own Great Britain and who try to scare its citizens. This short political speech came before a song called “The Daily Mail”, which naturally makes me think about the British tabloid with the same name, but listening to it also makes me think about a certain power-play.

The concert seemed too short for everybody in the audience, even if it lasted a bit over two hours and had 24 songs in the setlist. The band chose to end it with “Karma Police” and I must say that the audience singalong to it gave me the goosebumps, it was really pretty. At the end of it all it just felt that I’ve attended a concert of some legends of the World music scene, and maybe I did cause the gig was, after all, sold out.

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