The Olympicked Chalice

Who wants to win the Olympics?

That moment when your host city beams to the world its assertions of civilisation, finds its cultural identity out of a globalised melting pot, celebrates its diversity, reminds us of its historical achievements, and wheels out its mystery celebs. All in a lovely package of inclusiveness, modern thinking, and children. Lots of children – alone, in groups, singing, dancing, being disabled; smiling for months till their cute little faces wrinkle preternaturally for the rest of their lives.

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www.dailyrepublic.com

But squint again and behind those dazzling teeth and choreographed lightshows is a helluva lot of worry. Will that vast stage behold an architectural and community legacy? Or be a money sucking, windblown embarrassment for decades to come? Will the computers work the show faultlessly, or mechanical breakdown create an epic, global case of schadenfreude? Will we spend too much, drawing negative criticism by the tax indentured populace, or too little, drawing the dubbing of an ‘austerity Olympics’? Or worse – spending loads but having nothing to wow with despite.

Will terrorism raise its underlying head, or freak accidents mar the history? Will corruption claim millions, or worse, be publicly found out to have claimed millions? Will the Olympic spirit die beneath the spotlights?

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^Helen Sharman and the Olympic flame, World Universiade 1991. Helen is from Slough.

In short the Olympics is like sitting a difficult exam or a lesson in complex public speaking, but with the world watching (and all of history), where every fault is indelible, will cost millions, and draw waves of unabashed laughter and criticism, with people paid to heckle. A merciless stage. Even beforehand the vast roving interest of the world, not unlike the Great Eye of Sauron, will beam down at your preparations, go through your friends list (and ex-friends) launching investigations, reading your old diary and spending a good few hours chortling at your fat photos, or sharing the bit where you admitted to stealing a Boyzone mag off Chantelle Norris.

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It is in short a poisoned chalice, your chance to shine, and fall, all over youtube. And it’ll cost you in crippling loans, cancelled holidays, stress, and psychiatrists for the foreseeable future no matter the outcome.

The turning point can be attributed to Athens 2004. Beforehand the huge burning eye of the world’s press was more or less politely unbecoming, or too bored to really pay attention until the big day, with a flurry of activity  before everyone sodded off again. But their own chance to shine came with the increasing spotlight on the delayed construction of the Olympic venues as the big day came ever closer. Olympic Committees arrived to study the progress, or lack of, and came away tutting with some stern words on taking it all away, and never investing in olive oil again.

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www.rediff.com

Like a countdown, the papers could get more and more clicks with every update, wallowing in the Greek mess of infrastructure woes, bureaucratic red tape, lazy work ethic and employment rights (the much frowned upon opportunity to strike). Ignoring the fact Greeks work the longest hours in the West, were one of the poorest members of the EU, and have a damned right to have rights (what with the birth of democracy and all that), it was all too sordid and sardonic not to shake ones head or roll our cultural eyes. Even after they completed on time, launched a highly artistic, emotive and epic opening ceremony that’s the template for every one after, and went more or less without global incident or stage blooper (except the bit where the marathon runner from Brazil got rugby tackled by a mad Irish priest, and lost his lead). Still the effortlessly gorgeous conversion of the national stadium by Santiago Calatrava has been the most beautiful yet devised and a testament for decades to come- a lesson in geometry, natural lines and low cost.

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athens-olympic-stadium

www.greece.com

Yet we cannot bring ourselves to ignore the perceived ruination of a nation. The Olympic legacy, costing 10,000 Euros of upkeep a week for some buildings to lie vacant, sun-stunned and overgrown. The Handball Arena is now littered with UNHCR tents as use for a refugee camp, while the iconic diving pools lie empty. Or rather we prefer to look at that and ignore the other legacies (such as a highway network, a sparkling new metro and airport etc). Also to look at Greece’s current debt crisis, and put the blame on the elaborate staging, rather than the cook-the-books routine that we all partook in pre-Crisis. To this day news still report on the weed grown facilities looking much like the Classical ruins a metro ride away, despite that countdown long having finished. They will also report unfailingly on libertine passengers not paying on that new metro route.

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www.dailymail.co.uk

Then came Beijing 2008, China’s much heralded coming out party with all the fanfare and billions to invest on her make up. And if you thought Greece went through a PR disaster before her debut, China went through a real test of fire, complete with flamethrowers and paparazzi fast on her Jimmy Choo heels. The year according to Chinese astrology would not be a good one from the outset, despite 8 being the number of choice for luck. The Olympic mascots – the Fuwa, or good luck dolls symbolising the ancient Chinese elements of Water, Earth, Fire, Wood and Air- rather became sinister, cursed symbols of disaster that year. The Five Horsemen:

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Jingjing the Earth panda, native to Sichuan province, was quickly associated with the devastating earthquake that Spring that wiped out 90,000 lives there. Nini the Air swallow, who looks like a kite, was portent of doom to a highly embarrassing train crash, that killed 40 on the country’s much lauded new HSR (High Speed Rail) network – in Weifang, the ‘kite city’. Yingying the Tibetan Wood antelope saw in the biggest wave of protest and race riots in Tibet since occupation, while Watery Beibei the South Chinese sturgeon, saw in flooding in South China that killed 150 and displaced a whopping 1.5 million. All that remained was Huanhuan the Olympic Fire torch cutey and the protests that dogged him throughout the world, so much so they effectively banned foreign flame routes from thereon. China was literally introducing herself to each member state with a round of publicity to her (in)human rights record; and the Fuwa would forever be known as ‘wuwa’ or witch-dolls after.

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As for PR, Beijing did indeed wow the world with a glorious, elaborately staged opening ceremony that gave a soft touch to totalitarian synchronisation, and became the benchmark for all that followed. But even that soon drew criticism. ‘Live’ footage of the fireworks marking out 29 huge footprints across the city to the stadium was widely reported as being faked, thanks to the noticeable onscreen graphics (in reality the fireworks did go off but couldn’t be filmed from above due to danger to the choppers). The insectoid little girl singing the national anthem was found not only to have been miming, but mouthing along to another not-as-sweetie’s voice after a politburo member deemed the vocals substandard (though the girl in Sydney’s previous ceremony, and the norm for all the others, would have been guilty of the same).

Kent News & Pictures Ltd/(01622) 755133

Video Grab/Kent News & Pictures Ltd

They did go off, capitalist dogs:

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Further controversy followed when it was revealed some members of China’s 56 minority groups showing off national dress were Han Chinese, and not the stated ethnicity (though bear in mind ‘colour-blind casting’ was employed in every ceremony since, from London’s Victorian opening theme to Rio’s historical journey of race). For all China’s trump and glory, it became obvious her  detractors would not be missing a beat from the get go.

The Olympics was indeed an overall success: the capital cleaned up and laced herself with state of the art infrastructure, the weather held off, and a memorable Games as could possibly be was beamed to the largest ever global audience of 5 billion. But it also heralded the officialisation of an anti-Chinese rhetoric in the world’s media that continued after the poppers ended. After that mixed year Beijing’s leading Google association became tied to ‘pollution’, rather than being an ancient capital of the world’s biggest population or richest country. Beijing was smog, China was totalitarianism, and its economic rise one to fear, or belittle; its culture aping, uncivilised and enchained. That looked funny and talked funny. It wasn’t the ‘lifting of the sky’ of a billion people on some far off horizon, more a inviting your bling-bedecked Auntie Shazza to a Tuscan wedding.

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When London’s turn was up, envisaged protests to Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War to its extensive colonial er, legacy saw its Olympic torch route kept strictly within the host nation for the first time. It was initially dubbed the Austerity Olympics to be held during the global financial crisis  -London would be the first city to hold it a third time, but both times before were after the world wars and had effectively defaulted there for minimalised costs. The original plans were billed far lower, despite increasing realisation this would be a last once-in-a-lifetime chance to hold a fully fledged Olympic thingy, rather than yet another bare bones offering involving a big pie to go round and some spirited bunting.

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Luckily, it appears the politicians ‘forgot’ to include tax, inflation, infrastructure or contingency funds in their public bid. Nevertheless local protest to the increasing cost of the Games began to garner as the plans began to balloon. Then someone went out and bought a really big bell. In the end it worked out as the second most expensive after Beijing, climbing from initial budgets of under $4 billion to a $15 billion whopper (not including infrastructure).

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In the run up to the opening, more criticism – and laughs – came, thicker, leaner, faster. The beds to gangly athletes in the Olympic Village were found to be too short. Northern drivers, bussed in by private firms and refusing to use newfangled technologies such as er, satnav, were lost for hours trying to transport athletes from the airport, as their captives launched their ordeal on social media.

The worst fiasco came when the world’s largest private security firm, G4S, completely failed to deliver for such a sensitive, highly scaled event, with the army stepping in at the 11th hour to cover the shortfalls. The firm had seen its personnel requirements doubled to 23,000- and subsequently demanded a payrise from £7.3 million to £60 million, half of which it spent on its gold leafed, water-walking management and only £2.8 million on the extra recruitment, to utter ineffect.

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http://www.theguardian.com

A further show of unbridled commercialisation at the expense of Olympic spirit came when viewers noticed the legions of empty seats at many events, despite all tickets having sold out. They were of course the large amount given over to sponsors and associated members, who never bothered to attend, or spent their time at the bar watching footie or dancing like fat twats in suits.

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A final pluck at the strings came with another instance of breakdown. A clock froze during the fencing at the start of the Games, which lead to Shin A Lam unfairly losing a medal, made worse by the decision to uphold the result despite the cause being mechanical failure. It not only exposed the Olympic flaws, but its embarrassing propriety when they muttered painfully to the South Koreans that one has to pay to have an appeal considered. The view of a lone player sitting on an emptied stage, to half an hour of a visibly slow-clapping crowd (to leave the arena means you accept the decision), leaves an imprint.

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All in all London did manage to pull off an inordinately successful campaign – the Opening Ceremony – the first section especially- was one of the most memorable of all time, the Games went off without further hitch, and the PR armies of gurning volunteers, an array of citywide cultural events and fun facilities meant it was one of the most enjoyable ever. The legacy of mixed use buildings, and a deprived district now becoming a polished hub ensured no international follow-ups. They even turned a marginal profit thanks to £1 billion of the contingency fund not being needed, and the following year London became the world’s most visited city. As a sign of its confidence, even in the closing ceremony, they included a poignant shot of Shin A Lam sitting in silence as her world burned. Like the Opening Ceremony, it showed not just the rosy image of revision, but the blood, sweat and tears also.

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In reality the legacy  was a mixed one. For all the much lauded intentions, much of which won London the Games in the first place, they have not been the complete success as widely reported. The route to the Olympic Park remains from day one, as through the city’s largest shopping mall, a festival of money parting and commercialisation; as apt today as it has ever been. The stadium itself was intended to be downscaled and kept for athletics, but the unjustified cost to keep it running led to a complete renege on that idea. And at further cost – adversely dismantling the permanent features while keeping the temporary ones, to the tune of $1 billion, to change it into a football arena as first proposed. FFS.

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The legacy of turning a nation to sports – the ‘Singapore Promise’ to “Inspire a generation” was neither fulfilled. The heartrendingly humble video they played at the bidding, of children from all over Britain and the world seeing the Games and one day becoming Olympians, thus underlying the importance of investment in public sport, does not seem to have transpired. Public facilities across the country have closed, school budgets have been axed and sports participation is dramatically down (people playing sport once a week, shrinking by over 200,000 every six months), despite £325 million invested in getting their dimpled arses off the sofa each year by the state quango.

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At the end of the day London was a success and an English apple of the eye, but behind closed doors not as amazing as trumpeted. The city does have a legacy, just not so much the one it promised about you know, not staring at the fridge, and changing society n crap. More about lining the pockets of investors and landlords, and fulfilling that raison d’etre of sticking two fingers up at the French.

Neither do the Winter Olympics escape, especially if it’s a non-Western country. Although Western countries do get noticeable concessions. Vancouver 2010 garnered its fair share of critique even before it started  following the tragic death of 21 year old Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia a few days into practice. Following  driver error he hit a steel support pole that should have been protected, on a luge track that was 12% faster than its intended limit. Also marring preparations was opposition from certain First Nations members, advocates to the colonial record of one of the major sponsors – the Hudson Bay Company, the repeated vandalism of the Olympic flame, and the plight of the low-income families displaced by the building projects, none of which were beautiful thanks to budget. These were little reported outside national papers, though the British press did castigate the games as overly nationalistic, in a purported attempt at embellishing London’s follow up.

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Vancouver’s opening ceremony heavily featured mechanical failure in a rather sketchy opening show – overall beautiful, alluding to the virginal nature of the First Nations plus a mesmeric song by KD Lang, but also involving an er, stand up comedy sketch, Donald Sutherland as the be-all and end-all of Canadian fame, and a malfunctioning arm of the Olympic flame that denied the opportunity for LeMay Doan to light it. But never mind that, and don’t worry too much about the Georgian unpronounceable either – they gave his family $10,000 to renovate their house in a ‘goodwill gesture’, and Canada’s a nice, civilised Western country anyway, like Britain or Australia. Sydney was great, that was the bestest games ever before all this controversy began (just don’t mention the bribes during the bidding process).

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However, Sochi 2014 in Russia truly marked the shining benchmark of public(ised) criticism, the El Dorado for reporters from rival trade blocs the world over. The world’s most exorbitantly spent-on Olympics, costing $51 billion (tick), in a non-Western (tick) populace that can ill afford it (tick), under a charmless dictator-in-all-but-name (tick), with problems with democracy (tick), a lack of gay rights (tick), garnering accordant social media campaign (tick), in a place more famed for its palm trees and the warmest location yet devised (tick). And an unimaginable amount of graft with billions siphoned off to fellow cronies and friends of Putin (tick). Oh and unfinished buildings in the run-up (tick). And of course, a questionable legacy, with which the story can still be milked for decades to come (tick).

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Oh Russia, you glorious summit for cultural disdain, you embellished standard of socio-economic disaster, you God’s gift to dash-cam Youtube, you. Oh mystical horizon of fur-lined intrigue and chemical factories, how we have missed you. When one of your Olympic rings failed to bloom in the Opening ceremony our collective hearts swilled with drunken love, and bloomed with laughter. Oh the mirth, uniting peoples the world over, in Olympic based spirit. Add to that the cherry on top of the current doping scandal banning much of the team, and replacing medals all the way back to 2014 – and you’ve got the best ever tally won by a single country, now being taken down by a rung or three. Thank you so much. We feel so much better for ourselves.

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Now Rio, you seductress of the south. With your teeming, drug fueled favelas, high profile kidnappings and police shootings. Where to turn the world’s eye – the blinding inequality? Racial politics? High homicide rate and petty crime? The nationwide protests at rising costs and price hikes? The indentured former terrorist / torture victim/ President being impeached? The deepening recession, crumbling the dreams of much of the Developing World? The bacterial gardens of the Guanabara Bay? The unfinished construction? And full circle to Olympic Committee threats to take the Games elsewhere (and never to hold it in a Developing country again)? So much to choose from, so little airtime.

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Okay, the ceremony went without a hitch – though there was that little girl, now summarily executed, talking the whole time behind the first Oympic Laureate making his speech. It was evocative, emotive, fun and held its message for a Green Games, plus it’s amazing, eco-friendly Olympic cauldron shining like a gorgeous, mirrored beacon. And the marathon man who got rugby tackled by that Irish priest in Athens 2004, and who lost his winning medal as a result, got to light the flame. Heart warming. Classy like.

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But then one of the Olympic pools just turned fart-smelling GREEN, inexplicably so, so wa-hey! We’re back on.

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What can we expect from Tokyo 2020? The Japanese are a nice bunch, they’re the sweetest, most polite of peoples, eminently civilised and welcoming, economically great, with a winning allure (food, arts, media) and defining popular culture. Low inequality, high social justice, low crime, high environmentalism. Bullet trains, geishas, anime, Michelin stars, forest cover, zen, bamboo, shrines, cherry blossom, sushi, cat cafes, bunny islands. What could possibly go wrong?

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Well the whales, the war, the yakuza, the comfort women, the weirdness. The suicide rate, the groping, the live food, the history textbooks, the depopulation, the porn, the radiation, the homogeneity, the ageing, the Senkaku Islands. Actually this is gonna be fantastic!

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It’s a telling sign their inital logo already got sued by Belgian designer Olivier Debie, forcing a later redrawing:

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As we all know the Olympics has traditionally been the time when we all lay down arms and the world stops fighting for the duration of the Games (except in er, WWI, and er, II, and er, every postwar war after that). But anyhoo it’s the thought that counts. The Games are apolitical, yeah. No, I mean no. It’s not a forum to bring up injustice, failure, a few billion dollars, prejudice or scorn. Nosiree.

It’s just our media are increasingly finding the Olympics as a useful tool to promote our  own rhetoric, and the superiority of whatever is the regional demagogue du jour. Start off with a good kilo of global audience, add 100g of competition, 100g of emotion, a generous sprinkling of national pride (hell just throw the damn box in), and feed it through a tight nozzle of media interpretation. In hindsight Hitler’s attempt at making the 1936 Olympics a [failed] promotion of his political ideals was a masterstroke so to speak. We’re just here for the mutherfucking cake.

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So just think, one day… one day… America just might get it again. Another misty, headline grabbing land  ripe with opportunity, hegemony and questionable choices. And what a seasoned gift to the world that would be, inspiring generations of tabloid stories, internet forums and culture bloggers, long in the running. We, as a global community, can once again dare to dream.

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Got to the end? Do comment.

What would you think would happen if your country were picked to host the Olympics? What would your city do well or not so well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World’s Tastiest City

Tokyo’s 90,000 restaurants (compared to NYC’s 24,000 or Paris’ 40,000) and 160,000 total eating establishments garners no less than 216 Michelin starred places to dine in (down from 226 in 2015 and 267 the year before that), but still head and shoulders above second place Paris, with merely 105. It was also named as the World’s Best Food city by Saveur Magazine  last year, harking on  not just about the quality of local food but also its French and Italian offerings (plus the whiskey, omg the whiskey), and the vast array of global cuisine in general from Belarusian to Senegalese.

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However on closer inspection Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto and Nara are geographically one city, though Michelin divides them into three distinct guides, so really that entity beats the lot. On Michelin stars per person (taking away those small villages like Baiersbronn, Germany, Bray, UK, Yountsville, California and er Knokke-Heist, Belgium) Paris beats Tokyo, not just on per capita, but equal on the almost impossible 3 star rated restaurants (they each have ten) – though the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe metropolis beats both with 14 triple starred restaurants.

These cities may not have the range over Tokyo but pack well above their weight in stars awarded, as do Barcelona (29 stars for 4.6 million), or Hong Kong-Macau ( 92 stars for 7.3 million), both in turn bettered by little old Brussels (30 stars for 1.2 million). But eminent above them all, by quite a margin would be Kyoto with 100 Michelin starred places for 1.5 million inhabitants– the world’s undeclared epicenter of exceptional places to eat. Meanwhile London toots the horn of most different types of cuisine awarded in one place, serving up British, Basque, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese, pan-Mediterranean, Peruvian, Spanish, and Nordic cuisine with the appropriate(d) stars.

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Anyhoo this is the way it looks for the top selected cities, by number of starred restaurants as of 2016. Lift those trumpets:

  1. Osaka metropolis: (includes Kobe-Kyoto-Nara this is one contiguous city that merged together decades ago, not to be confused with a megalopolis, metro or CSA) 258 restaurants 353 stars
  2. Tokyo: 217 restaurants 294 stars
  3. Paris: 105 restaurants   135 stars
  4. Kyoto: 100 restaurants 139 stars
  5. Osaka: 89 restaurants 117 stars
  6. New York City: 75 restaurants 97 stars
  7. Hong Kong-Macau: 65 restaurants 92 stars
  8. London area: 70 restaurants 87 stars (London boundaries 65 restaurants 80 stars)
  9. Kobe-Hanshin : 53 restaurants 76 stars
  10. San Francisco: (Bay area) 31 restaurants 41 stars
  11. Brussels: 25 restaurants 30 stars
  12. Barcelona area: 25 restaurants 29 stars

Inhabitants per restaurant / star looks markedly different. As counted by the contiguous city (not metro), it looks like this. These are the single best places to land your chopper for foraging, provided your PA team did their homework:

  1. Kyoto  (1.5 million) 15,000 per restaurant 10,791 per star
  2. Brussels (1.2 million) 48,000 per restaurant 40,000 per star
  3. Kobe –Hanshin (3.1million) 58,490 per restaurant, 40,790 per star
  4. Osaka metropolis (14.2 million) 55,039 per restaurant 40,227 per star
  5. Osaka  (8.8 million) 98,876 per restaurant, 75,213 per star
  6. Paris (10.55 million): 100,476 per restaurant  78,148 per star
  7. Hong Kong- Macau (7.3 million): 112,308 per restaurant, 79,347 per star
  8. Tokyo (29 million) 133,640 per restaurant, 98,639 per star
  9. London (10.4 million): 148,571 per restaurant 119,540 per star
  10. Barcelona (4.64 million) 185,600, 160,000 per star
  11. New York (17.5 million) 233,333 per restaurant 180,412 per star
  12. San Francisco -Bay Area (7.65 million) 246,774 per restaurant 186,585 per star

It’s notable how the Michelin people rate restaurants extensively in Europe, covering small towns, villages and hovels across France, UK and Spain but sees a notable drop once upstate a few miles from NYC or Tokyo for example (or was this coverage merely due to well-known celeb chefs opening in small retreats?). Likewise the large gap of unrated Chinese mainland between HK and Macau, which would prove rich findings I’m sure due to the beating heart – now bypassed- of Cantonese cuisine in Guangzhou. The Osaka metropolis however gets European level coverage due to its slew of city centres and different gastronomic regions within the city (Kobe beef a good example). Nevertheless it did get its annual share of doubts for some restaurants that went unrated (did someone drop a fork and not pick it up?).

dimsum.jpgwww.recipeshubs.com

Michelin gets further complaints that they are biased toward French cuisine, and over-awed literally by Japanese, with some coughing abruptly and mentioning how the guide is opening up a new market there that coincides with its generous ratings. –Still, opposing camps complain they don’t rate Japanese cuisine high enough, with its complexities of flavor and form, plus subtleties of acquired taste, and the fact a few thousand stellar restaurants go unrated each year.

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en.wikipedia.org

Even then there are so many countries of gastronomic greatness not even rated by Michelin (Tokyo only got rated in 2007), with cities such as Bangkok, Beijing, Beirut, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Casablanca, Chengdu, Chennai, Chongqing, George Town, Guangzhou, Delhi, Dubai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Lima, Melbourne, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, Rio, Santiago, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore,  Sydney, Taipei, Tbilisi, Tehran, and Tel Aviv world famous yet still trembling in the wings for the ‘ultimate’ accolade to visit. Shanghai, with 120,000 places to eat is drumming her fingers, and Bangkok, busily tidying away its global capital of street food is especially impatient as vendors disappear.

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Michelin, let me remind you, is a tyre manufacturer that publishes road guides (and thus got delving into the foodie scene by awarding stars to rest stops back in 1926), so does not have road guides as yet that would cover for example, the whole of China, or the backroads of Morocco, which in turn would warrant the accompanying restaurant booklet.

michhttp://www.michelin.fr/

The final nail in the hickory coffin is frankly, well not everyone dines out in Michelin starred establishments. It’s not like the 15,000 per capita Kyotoites are funneling into its chichi places to dine each day, let alone year. Edible flowers and gold leaf is not necessarily reflective of the average Parisian dinner, as cool minimalism and outrageous art is not the table at which Hong Kongers usually eat. What’s worse is the galling fact one can have amazing restaurants but terrible cuisine at large – just visit Moscow, or dare I say it, Berlin whose wonderful places to eat – and the extensive waiting lists that reflect that – are like diamonds sold in naff catalogues for Argos. After 50 years of communist austerity.

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But of course Michelin has its Bibs Gourmands, nods of approval to places that cost below $40 a head. Though even then, the vibrant street food of Shanghai, market stalls of Fez, food vans of LA, or hole-in-the-walls of Hong Kong –although lightly covered- would still sorely miss out, some of the best tasting options on the planet, but heavily penalized on their non-existent, obsolete ‘ambience’ and ‘service’ ratings.

If a fork falls and a Michelin critic is not there to hear it, does it make a sound?

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Okay enough of this kitkat break. Next up:

The World’s Biggest City

The world’s most diverse city

And what about those who choose to stay rather than just visit? Not just tourists or business travelers, but those who uproot themselves to new shores and new lives? Is not the plurality and mix a wonderful measure of a city? Old and new, native and non Native, an array of food, languages, art, faiths, dress, and cultures to choose from, to fall in love with, to intermarry or not. The cross cultural pollination, the exchange of ideas and fumbling body fluids, is not why people move to cities in the first place?

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theessenceofnewyork.wordpress.com

The title of world’s most cosmopolitan place can go by sheer numbers, or by percentage – in multiple categories. New Yorkers claim the most languages in the world (over 800), and most people period with foreign and/or non-White ancestry at 10 million in the metro, of which 5.65 million are foreign born. Then LA city region pipes up with its 4 million-strong Latino majority, and whopping NYC with a 75-78% foreign and/or non-White ancestry, plus a 4.4 million (24%) strong foreign born contingent. Then the two cities have a pissing contest over the fact it’s rightly or wrongly skewed by the sizeable Mexican contingent.

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www.cnbc.com

Meanwhile Londoners like to point out they have more communities (50 – 85 depending on the size), 500 languages in a single school let alone bothering to count the rest, and that they don’t/ cannot count ancestry in the same way as the States anyhoo, especially as being Black American or Latino American, hell even Native American for the past 300 years does not make you foreign in ancestry, or cosmopolitan in culture, well according to more European terms. If you’ve been there that long you are from there indubitably. Furthermore White Britons tend to identify within a generation as White British despite foreign extraction whether they be Irish, Lithuanian, Egyptian or Azeri, in contrast to the US where for example Irish, German, Israeli (read: Jewish) and Polish Americans will still identify as such after several generations. 55% of Londoners are nevertheless ‘non-British non -White’, 40% foreign born (counting 4.2 million in the metro), 35% non White and the remainder 45% ‘native’ White Londoners – if one were to go by American style rules – share one third Irish ancestry, and an overlapping half have French. So there. London’s practically of 108% foreign ancestry na na na naa.

Confused yet?

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Then the Torontonians weigh in with even more communities albeit on smaller numbers – but with ever higher percentages. Sod London’s ‘hidden’ ancestries, 89% fully do not identify as being of Canadian extraction (though tellingly 23.4% claim British extraction, similar to US style). Despite this, in terms of foreign born it still has 2.8 million foreigners in the metro – leaving the others behind, with 46% foreign born. NYC, London and LA metros suddenly look weedy at their respective 23-24% foreign born marks. Numbers, numbers, more numbers.

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www.blogto.com

Cue the smaller arrivistes with similar stats – Stockholm (23%), Amsterdam (27%), Oslo (31%),  Zurich (31%), Melbourne (35%), Auckland (39%), Sydney (40%),  Singapore (43%), Rotterdam (45%), The Hague (48%), to the upper stratospheres of Brussels (at 62%) – all of whom have ‘hidden’ ancestries from afield to add on top.

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But then two words: the Middle East. Cities like Amman and Beirut are now made up of majority diaspora populations (the biggest hosts for both Palestinians and more recently Syrian refugees, transposed on an already multicultural population made up of successive waves of Twentieth Century migrants, in turn transposed  on cities built on millennia of passing trade and conquest). More controversially there are the Israeli controlled cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – does one consider Israeli Jews from across the 20th Century world – or Palestinians – for that matter, non-native?

Another two words: Gulf States. Cities like Riyadh and Meccah already up there with the likes of London and New York with 35-40% foreign born, but the next level up is… wow, just wow.

Kuwait City  counts about 75% foreign born. Similarly 80% for Abu Dhabi, and higher still – 85% for Dubai, with a quarter of the remainder being of Iranian extraction. The main communities are Indian (51%), Pakistani(16%), Bangladeshi(9%), Filipino (3%), and Somali (1.7%), so a bit skewed to one country, yet still these 2009 figures are even higher nowadays (as the emirate’s population has grown a whopping  42% in only these 7 years, mostly through undocumented immigration).

duba

Meanwhile Doha gets pretty up there- coming in at a screeching 92% foreign born, with hundreds of thousands each from a wider range across Asia and Africa – India 25%, Nepalis 18%, Filipino 9%, Egyptian 8.1%, Bangladeshi 6.8%, Sri Lanka 4.6%, Pakistani 4.1%, with an equally large smattering of Western ‘ex-pats’ (not to be confused with economic migrants or ‘immigrants’ in this data no, of course not, NO).

So we may have found a winner. Doha, Qatar:

doha

www.justhere.qa

Or have we? Just what makes a city cosmopolitan or multicultural?

What if a city is staunchly multicultural but is strictly segregated? The Israeli – Palestinian wall, and checkpoints. The workers dormitories of the Gulf, although improved still open to exploitation and the grate of being forever ‘guest workers’. The segregation index that puts much of the US at levels approaching Apartheid era South Africa – and worsening. The divided ghettos of Brussels, Britain’s northern cities and banlieues of Paris. Do we see this as ‘cosmopolitan’? Do we celebrate its ‘diversity’?

la haine

baterpasstelbi.dynu.com

Take New York City for example. National Geographic published a wonderfully detailed ethnic map of the city in one publication during the 90s, but despite all its demographic thrills revealing to all the levels of self and imposed segregation. It’s not like New Yorkers universally hate each other or don’t hang out (though a century’s worth of racially biased zoning laws and income prohibitions didn’t help), but they have the choice to live in their ethnic enclaves should they wish, where they can speak, eat, shop, dress, build a community and have their kids attend the schooling relevant to their background.

But what the graphic revealed was shocking to the extent people unilaterally opted for this, where every neighbourhood was 85-98% of one ethnic group, so strictly delineated one could cross from say an 89% Hispanic neighbourhood to a 95% White  (read: non-Latino White that is) neighbourhood just by crossing the street. Paris and its rings of notorious banlieues too comes close. Like New York it suffers that ethnicity also correlates with race, with the broad  rule being the darker you are the lower your position in society. More recent maps show how the 2001 Census stated that segregation was at pre-Civil Rights levels, and getting worse:

nc

Things have improved since those dark days but the self segregation is still there.  London has a much better track record, despite its community High Streets the ethnic map reveals no single minority predominates despite the city being over 55% non native. At a glance it looks majority native from the green glow, but notice it’s not a strong glow. Ergo half of each place is a mix of other races.

london race

The largest minority majority is in fact Central Slough ward in the metro, that’s 80% Pakistani. That’s still a far cry from New York where that’s below the norm for much of the city, or for that matter other British cities that have seen segregation and economic lines drawn, resulting in race riots as recent as 2001.

Don’t always believe the hype, London is no racial nirvana as yet (averaging 44 hate crimes a day, rising to 72 post-Brexit, which is a norm for many Western cities), and its wonderful mixing is a result of both native and foreign waves of communities bucking the media-driven or institutionalised racism, rather than any government policy.

In fact local councils were staunchly divisive to begin, following a ‘multicultural’ format rather than enforcing the ‘melting pot’ theory – the postwar waves arriving from the Caribbean and South Asia being housed in separate communities cheek by jowl with the traditional working class, and given complete freedom of religion, language, schooling, dress and culture. All in a hope they’d develop separately, making smelly food and piercings and bat voodoo in enclosed communities while still propping up the job market, NHS and transport. They did not have to swear to a flag or even speak English.

windrush

The result a generation later was the complete opposite to that intended effect: intermarrying at the highest levels in the West, and drawing equal to or surpassing native performance in schools, higher education and jobs, and identifying as ‘feeling British’ -at least 85%- at double the rates in neighbouring France, where French language, dress and customs were enforced. The result was clearly that people are much more likely to identify with a culture if they’re not forced to do so.

london

The UK is one of the few countries where for once the darker your skin the more you earn (South Asian men and Black women forming the highest tiers of society), bucking decades of the opposite trend. There are however still racial tensions, pushed glaringly to the fore by a decade of tabloid xenophobia that culminated in Brexit, and still institutionalised or subconscious prejudice (anglicised name on a CV anyone?). But the main thing that seems to be propelling London’s inordinate success is rather anticlimactically, the housing market, or to be more specific the notorious UK/London property bubbles – no one can totally afford to choose where they live, or who their neighbours are. To conclude, given half the chance I am sure Londoners would willingly segregate like other areas of the country; just they don’t have the luxury of choice,  deciding on whom they deem familiar enough to share a garden wall, a fag and a chat with.

lonhous

Which brings us to another question: do they have to be foreign born or of foreign extraction to emit these ions of exotic cosmopolitanism?

The world’s diversity index measures sub Saharan Africa, SE Asia and India as by far the most culturally diverse places in the world, even putting immigrant nations such as USA, Brazil or Australia into the shade.

FT_Diversity_Map

lingchartsbin.com

Places like Sudan speak 200 languages, Nigeria 520. Indonesia, with its national motto – unity through diversity – has 388 ethnic groups over 13,000 islands (by comparison Europe’s 750 million people and multitude of nations hosts 87 ethnicities). Ethnic maps across these regions look as multi-coloured and complex as psychedelic splatter art, coursing from Africa, through the Middle East, to Central South and SE Asia in intricate whirls, splashes and eddies that would make Pollock blush.

ken

iran

indochina

iindone

India, land of 1.2 billion, speaking for three millennia no less than 122 main languages and 1600 minor ones (not to be confused with dialects that would count into the thousands), with a few thousand tribes and ethnic groups – plus 3000 castes, and 25,000 sub-caste groups, is a black hole on the map. It’s just too complex and impossible to record onto paper. And any one of its main cities would hold a few thousand of these groups.

indi.jpg

siotocedenut.dynu.com

Make a nod to China too. When the call for National Minorities came to register in 1953 no less than 180 tried  – though only 56 had made the cut by 1979. The rest got lumped into one and the same as the ‘Han’ ethnicity, which overnight became the world’s largest, despite their differing DNA, 300 languages, distinct cultures, dress, religions, histories and looks. The main cities may hold a majority of Han (and representatives from each of the 56 officialised groups), but they speak disparate languages and live in distinct communities, from the tanned Sea Gipsies of the South China seas to the semi-nomadic, fort building Hakka, to the Polynesian sourcing Hainanese.

chinn

Finally. Three words: PNG. Papua New Guinea, now we’re talking. 840 distinct languages (half of which are completely unrelated to each other), and thousands of dialects. Each unique thanks to 600 isolated islands and countless mountain- valley systems that have bred 37 major ethnic groups, hundreds of smaller ones and several thousand tribal ones, each isolated from their neighbours in dress, language, religion and culture. It’s mind bogglingly complex for only 7 million people. Gargantuan even.

So there it is. Port Moresby. Capital of the World.

pap

Continued: The World’s Greatest Food City

What is the World’s Greatest City?

ny

Dubious question, and one that is contentious to say the least. In the past entire wars were declared over economic competition, trade, hegemony, religion, and culture for that title; today they are argued over endlessly  in annual criteria-based league tables, internet fora and in everything from Trip Advisor to The New Statesman. So why all the fuss? The title breeds geopolitical influence, soft power, tourist bucks and social media tags. Cities are that great coral reef of experience, impervious yet every growing and changing. They stand testament to our lives and livelihoods, our myriad cultures and collective consciousness– with the idea of a single pre-eminent city imbedding itself as a bedrock to contemporary society. A city is, if you like, a crystallisation of culture; the greatest city is the greatest place in humanity.

bjjjwww.johnlake.co.nz

Urban agglomerations are that great marker of history – touchstones of experience where entire eras become marked by their reign, from ancient Rome to Victorian London, Angkor to Edo – with surprising ‘entries’ that stand testament to time (if not in physicality), such as former world’s largest   – the boat city of Ayutthaya, Thailand to the present day hamlet of Gurganj, Turkmenistan, a glorious Silk Route nexus before it succumbed to history’s single bloodiest massacre.

ayuth

gurg

There are many criteria, or handfuls of monikers that can lay claim to the single greatest hit. Richest city? That would be Tokyo, followed by NYC, LA and Seoul by total city economy, to er, Oslo or Zurich per capita.  Most influential city? well that could be anyone’s guess – NYC, London, Seoul get bandied about a lot with the youthful limelight, whilst Beijing, Brussels and Washington DC have the largest bureaucratic sectors. And LA might have something to say about global entertainment.

estoniaeurovision-addict.blogspot.com

Most beautiful city? Once again, the arguments range on everyone’s tastes as collectively supportive for Rome or as individualised to Brasilia. Sydney, Sana’a, Venice, Havana, Fez… the list would be endless. Many would agree the most beautiful megacity would be the complex elegance of Paris, but that would discount the myriad voices calling up the canyonscapes of NYC, the natural wonders of Rio, the futurism of Shanghai or the glorious, pluralist mix that is Istanbul/ London /Beijing. Moreover, how many actually visited, and how many base their opinions from received sources?

paree.jpgblogs.ft.com

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yem

Well the proof is in those voting with their feet some say – the most visited city, a rotation between Hong Kong, London, Paris, Singapore and Bangkok for international visitors, might be good indicators. But even with this seemingly narrowly defined criteria – based on numbers of overnighting foreign visitors – doubt still creeps through. Paris only counts its centre in the league (take that EuroDisney!), while Hong Kong is heavily skewed by the large amount of travelers coming in from over-the-border China, essentially the same country.

-And what about those domestic travelers? Are their views not as valid? Places like Kyoto and Orlando see in over 50 million visitors each year, double the top spot of the international-only league, while Shanghai, the freak, welcomed a whopping 70 million during 2010’s Expo year.

rioowww.telegraph.co.uk

Ratings? Well Kyoto, Charleston, Florence, Siem Reap, and Rome are all up there (Leisure and Travel Awards), as are London, Marrakesh, Istanbul, Paris, and Hanoi (Trip Advisor). Sun kissed, party mad Beirut makes sporadic appearances near the top depending on its security situation, whilst several places are as much loathed as glorified (ahem, Dubai, Macau, Seoul we’re looking at you). It’s pretty obvious there are too many cooks – whether they be trumpeting the Michelin stars of Tokyo or the street food of Tbilisi.

Beirut Residents Continue to Flock to Southern Neighborhoods

Plus there’s Quality of Life. The Nordic, Canadian, Oceanian cities doing swimmingly, but the perennial winners being a rostrum between Vienna, Munich, Auckland and Vancouver according to Mercer (39 scoring factors including political, economic, environmental, personal safety, health, education, transportation and other public services) with nods toward Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Toronto for the larger cities, and a whole 37 places before the first megacity over 10 million (Paris) shows her pretty head.

vienna

travelaway.me

Meanwhile, Monocle magazine puts a megacity right up there, climbing from 5th to 1st was Tokyo (due to its ‘defining paradox of heart-stopping size and concurrent feeling of peace and quiet’), but recently usurped by Copenhagen, with Vienna, Melbourne, Munich and Berlin (a rise of 11 places since ‘after dark’ living was taken into account) worthy of mention. It’s 22 metrics include several that look at housing and the cost of living, from the price of a three-bed pad to the cost of a glass of wine and decent lunch, plus access to the outdoors, with notable upsets when seasonal changes and ambiance were taken into account in 2010 (Copenhagen, maelstrom of wintry existentialism, still managed to buck the trend).

copenexithamster.wordpress.com

But then there are those places with the x factor, the je ne sais quoi regardless of manicured lawns and the price of middle class, middle aged lattes. We must bear in mind cities function in the mind as well as body, that they are a cumulative, inclusive experience. The good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not just how pretty or rich or even popular you are.

Some pics to finish off with:

indJodhpur, www.theatlantic.com

issTel Aviv, www.allphotobangkok.com

lonnn.jpgLondon dalstonsuperstore.com

hanoiHanoi www.gettingstamped.com

ind

05 People Second Place Photo and caption by Yasmin Mund / National Geographic Travel

Jaipur, India

 

Continued next post…. The World’s Most Diverse City