Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bleachers' Brew #86 Yo, Adriatic!

(This appears in my column today, December 17, 2007 in the sports pages of the Business Mirror.)

As a fan of military adventure movies, one of my all-time favorites is Behind Enemy Lines starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman. Hackman, who is splendid playing uncompromising authority figures (see Uncommon Valor, Crimson Tide, and Hoosiers), his intense performance in Behind Enemy Lines was right up his alley. But for Wilson, it was a pleasant change and one of his best films. Sorry but I’m not really a fan of his attempts at comedy except for his part in the remake of Starsky & Hutch. A brief synopsis about the film: a US Navy pilot (Wilson) has to evade Serbs forces when his plane is shot down during a recon mission in war-torn Bosnia. With time running out, Hackman who plays the captain of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Carl Vinson, risks everything by launching a renegade rescue mission against strict NATO directives to bring the pilot back home.

Shameless plug: Read Bill Carter’s Fools Rush In and Joe Kubert’s Letters From Sarajevo. These books about the war in Bosnia should change your life. If it moved U2’s Bono, it should move you as well. The former in particular helped change the perception and western involvement in the Bosnian war.

Although fictional, one of the striking images of Behind Enemy Lines was that huge statue of an angel that stood on a mountain edge. It reminded me of the Christ the Redeemer in Brasil or the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island except that this one had half its face blown away by an artillery shell.

And now that image has been joined in real life by the statue of Rocky Balboa.

Yes, Sylvester Stallone’s fictional pugilist isn’t just standing over the Philadelphia Public Library but also in the farming village of Zitiste (which lies 36 miles from Belgrade) in Serbia.

Local residents either love or hate the statue of Balboa that stands in the village square. There are those who claim that the celluloid boxer is more of a universal hero than any of Serbia’s former leaders. Slobodan Milosevic, the modern-day fascist thug who perpetuated genocide on a massive scale in Kosovo, has his every likeness eradicated because of national shame. Balboa on the other hand, local artists claim, represents hope. He fought against seemingly impossible odds and won. It’s a message of hope to Serbs everywhere.

Not since perhaps the peak of Roman civilization have statues been erected en masse and like it was the latest fad. In Mostar, Bosnia, the statue of Bruce Lee inspires both fear (the Croats and Bosnians think that the legendary martial artist strikes an aggressive pose). In the village of Medja, a statue of native son Johnny Weissmuller (who was born here before his family immigrated to the United States) is ready to be put up. And in Cacak, a larger than life bust (figuratively) of starlet Samantha Fox is in the works. Turns out that the British singer’s concert in this forgotten part of the world did more than titillate Serb audiences.

Of course, not everyone is amused. Critics of the statue phenomenon (a modern day rival to the heads of Easter Island) bemoan that Stallone/Balboa, Lee, Weissmuller, and Fox have nothing to do with their country and culture.

“We should celebrate our own not some fancy foreign entertainer,” malevolently spat one former public official.

“Whom do they want,” mocked in reply the artist community that has been putting p the statues. “The communists? The military? They’ve done nothing but bring ruin to the region.”

Since the end of the various civil wars that plagued the former state of Yugoslavia after its dissolution, the various communities have been picking up the pieces of their shattered lives trying to find their place in Eastern Europe that has thrived on capitalism. In Zitiste, the war unfortunately didn’t end their troubles. The village gained the unsavory reputation as a disaster-prone area when floods and landslides repeatedly hit it. The fed up locals contemplated how to change that image and revive the village, which is one of the poorest in northern Serbia. One resident thought of the idea after watching the sixth (and final?) installment of Rocky where the retired champ is forced back into the ring one final time with the very unpopular current champion. The three-meter high stature of Stallone/Balboa statue has helped and it has brought in its share of tourists and an influx of badly needed cash for local businesses.

"For years, only negative reports on farm diseases, monstrous murders, floods and landslides, have been coming from our village," explained Zoren Babic, a local official who backed the initiative. "This is the chance to give a better, more positive image to Zitiste. And hopefully the rest of Serbia.

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