Monday, January 23, 2017

Kazakhstan first

In light of alternative facts, I am not really from 'Murica anymore.  No, no I am from Kazakhstan. Born and raised.

I will now be claiming Kazakhstan as my homeland.

Kazakhstan first.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Battle Hymn of the Trump Republic

My country's dead to me,
sweet land of bigotry,
of Trump I sing.

Land where liberties die

land of zealous white pride,
from every mountainside
let hatred ring....

"This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him."

-Robert Kagan, "This is how fascism comes to America"

"There are none more hopelessly enslaved than this who falsely believe they are free."

-Goethe


Let the Record Show

"Let the record show that I did not consent to this.

Let it show that I did not vote for this man, that he did not represent me, that I did not believe he was deserving of being here, that I grieved his ascension.

Let History record my objection to him, to the ways he humiliated women and vilified Muslims and threatened protestors and disregarded people of color.

Let it record my repulsion at his tremendous cruelty, his lack of compassion, his contempt for dissension, his absence of simple decency.

Let witnesses mark down my disgust at the way he boasted of infidelity, at how he ridiculed a disabled reporter, at the way he attacked female opponents for their appearance, at the way he marginalized immigrants.

Let it be remembered that I did not look the other way when women accused him of assault, when the reality of his Russian alliances came to light, when he refused to share his tax records—though large portions of the American media and its people chose to.

Let it be remembered that I did not buy into the fear that he perpetuated of those with brown skin or hijabs or foreign birthplaces.

Let the record show that I looked on with disbelief as he spent countless early morning and middle-of-the-night hours following the election on social media, broadcasting a steady stream of petulant, insecure, incoherent messages instead of preparing to do a job he was ill-equipped for and seemingly not all that interested in.

Let the record show that I watched him assemble a Cabinet of billionaires and bigots, of people woefully unqualified to steward our children, our safety, our healthcare, our financial stability—and that I was horrified by it all.

Let it be remembered that my faith would not allow me to fall in line behind this man while so many professed religious people did; that I saw nothing resembling Jesus in him, and that to declare him Christian would have been to toss aside everything I grew up believing faith in Christ manifested in a life.

Let History record my grieving at the racism and bigotry and homophobia that characterized his campaign, marked his supporters, and is evident in his assembling Administration.

Let it be known that I was one of the more than 65 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton; who understood that though flawed, she was an intelligent, experienced, passionate public servant with the temperament, commitment, and qualifications to lead and lead well.

Let the record show that I greatly lamented the day of his inauguration, and that I promised to join together with other good people to loudly resist and oppose every unscrupulous, dangerous, unjust and dishonest act this new Administration engages in.

History has been littered with horrible people who did terrible things with power, because too many good people remained silent. And since my fear is that we are surely entering one of those periods in our story, I wanted to make sure that I was recorded for posterity:

I do not believe this man is normal.
I do not believe he is emotionally stable.
I do not believe he cares about the full, beautiful diversity of America.
I do not believe he respects women.
I do not believe he is pro-life other than his own.
I do not believe the sick and the poor and the hurting matter to him in the slightest.
I do not believe he is a man of faith or integrity or nobility.
I do not believe his concern is for anything outside his reflection in the mirror.
I believe he is a danger to our children.
I believe he is a threat to our safety.
I believe he is careless with our people.
I believe he is reckless with his power.
I believe America will be less secure, less diverse, less compassionate, and less decent under his leadership.

And if I prove to be wrong, it will be one of the most joyful errors of my life. I will own these words and if necessary, willingly and gladly admit my misjudgment because it will mean that America is a better and stronger nation, and the world a more peaceful place.
But right now I don’t see that happening.

Right now I am worried for my country, concerned for our planet, scared for the future of my children, and greatly saddened that 62 million Americans seem okay with all of this.

Let the record show that I was not okay with it.

Not at all."


-John Pavlovitz, "Let the Record Show"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

moroccan last supper

Tajine of lamb with caramelized onions, raisins and almonds. If I am going to leave Morocco, I am going to do it right.

What The World Costs-Morocco

1 dirham (10cents): one triangle of la vache qui rit style cheese; a large onion
1.25 dirham (12.5 cents): an egg
1.5 dirham (15 cents): fresh-baked Moroccan bread
2 dirham (20c): three shbeki (my fav Moroccan sweets); cone of spiced chickpeas
2.5 dirham (25c): 500 go of nougat (mixed variety)
3 dirham (30c): bowl of harira in Djema al-Fena in Marrakesh
4 dirham (40c): cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice in Marrakesh
4.5 dirham (45c): cup of fresh-squeezed orange/grapefruit juice in Rabat
5 dirham (50c): bottle of sparkling water; chickpea-offal stew sandwich (pas bon)
6 dirham (60c): tram ride and ticket in Casablanca
7 dirham (70c): 10 min taxi in Rabat; 1 hour Internet at cyber cafe; pair of socks
8 dirham (80c): cafe au lait at local café; almond paste cookie at kasbah tea spot; fried fish sandwich
10 dirham ($1): grilled kefta sandwich on the street; large cafe au lait to go; 200gr pepper; 150 gr golden raisins; cup of mint tea in kasbah tea house
12 dirham ($1.20): 15 min taxi ride from Marrakesh train station to center
13 dirham ($1.30): omelette panini, fries and salad in medina
15 dirham ($1.50): pot of mint tea at local cafe; bottle of Stork beer at local bar
16 dirham ($1.60): bottle of Flag Especiale beer at local bar
17 dirham ($1.70): cafe au lait at mo v airport cafe,
18 dirham ($1.80): cafe au lait w/ bottle of water incl at Marina Bay cafe
20 dirham ($2): SIM card; entrance to Mo VI Modern Art Museum (student); amount of dirham stolen from me by the ticket machine at the CasaPort railway, but ended up saving me 17 dirham in the long run.
22 dirham ($2.20): merguez sandwich and plate of fries at local cafe; shawarma and fries
25 dirham ($2.50): 1/4 poulet roti w/ fries and salad
30 dirham ($3): Used French comic book "Tristan"; pair of sweatpants bought on the street
32 dirham ($3.20): 20 min cab ride from Medina to Soussi
37 dirham ($3.70): 1.15hr train from Rabat to Casablanca
40 dirham ($4): sweatshirt bought on the street
45 dirham ($4.50): multi outlet extension chord
50 dirham ($5): train from Casa to Rabat--ticket bought on the train
85 dirham ($8.50): 3.5 hour second class train ticket from Rabat to Fez
90 dirham ($9): tajine poulet w/ citron confit at Le Petite Beur
100 dirham ($10): 1 night stay in Marrakesh at Hotel De La Paix w/o bathroom/shower/breakfast; 3-course lamb tajine w/caramelized onions, raisins and almonds
120 dirham ($12): economic room at hotel Berlin w/o bathroom/shower, w/breakfast
127 dirham ($12.70): 4.5 hour train ride from Rabat to Marrakesh
130 dirham ($13): Fish tagine at the Ruined Gardens in Fez
150 dirham ($15): Thai green curry w/ chicken and rice at Chew Moi Annan (excellent)
180 dirham ($18): a small portable heater
230 dirham ($23): room at hotel Berlin w/bathroom, shower and breakfast
279 dirham ($27.90): pair of shoes at Carly
400 dirham ($40): ornate berber hamza
650 dirham ($65): 2 night stay at the Riad Taryana for my bday, w/ breakfast and hot shower

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ghorba

There is a poignant Moroccan word, "ghorba." It means something along the lines of "melancholy nostalgia for one's home. The English transliteration of the word does nothing for it because like the sentiment, the Arabic ghayin lingers in the throat like the emotion it conveys.

This morning, I left Rabat. I left the closest thing I have to my own home.  I left the closest thing I have to a routine. The morning walks along the corniche; coffee with the fellows of the cafe; the daily mix of orange-grapefruit juice; the stray cats whom I started to recognize; the afternoons studying French in the tea house in the kasbah; the evenings hanging at the corner of the bakery with the shebab; the nights cooking from the bounty of the souk.

I am finding that letting go of routines gets harder as I get older. Leaving Medellin was hard; leaving Brussels was harder; this one takes the cake.  And yet I am buoyed by what I believe will be an imminent return. Inshallah.

For now, it is onto Marrakesh.  Then onto Spain of Mallorca, of Dali's Figueres, of my pilgrimage to La Mancha. And back to Tunisia and Algeria for one last good fight.

Journey on.

Support for Yole! Africa Cultural Center

Two years ago, I had an incredible opportunity to visit Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (SKIFF, now Congo International Film Festival), hosted by the Yole! Africa Cultural Center.

Goma in Eastern Congo was incredibly hard hit by the refugee crisis following the Rwandan genocide and the civil war in Congo that ensued.  Goma suffered further disaster in the wake of the volcanic explosion that rocked the city and region in 2002, and again in 2014.  

To add further instability, Goma was tied up in the middle of the fight between the M23 rebel group's fight against the Congolese state.  

This is the most shorthand explanation of the horrors that have befallen Goma-- you can imagine that the human toll from all these events was immense.

Yet since 2002, the Yole! Africa Cultural Center has been the epicenter of culture in Goma. The Yole! Africa Center has provided classes in film production, music production, beatmaking, dance, art and entrepreneurship.  

Yole! Africa has hosted the internationally-recognized aforementioned film festival that has brought the world of cinema to the people of Goma.  The center has offered vital creative outlets for the people of Goma to thrive.  Yole! Africa has provided the people of Goma with beauty, perspective and hope. 

For this vital work, Petna and Yole! Africa has been recognized with the highest praise in international outlets like the New York Times and PBS News Hour.

Due to instability related to the upcoming election, Yole! Africa is being forced to pay its administration and overhead expenses earlier than expected.  As such, Yole! Africa is conducting a crowdfunding campaign to help raise the funds to continue their priceless work.

This is the link to the Yole! Africa campaign on Generosity: https://igg.me/at/KvhUwORZFrI/x/588046

I have contributed, and I hope you will consider doing the same.  Generosity is Indiegogo's crowdfunding platform for education and nonprofit organizations, so as much Yole! raises in funds, it will be able to keep all donations.  

I should also note that the figure Yole! Africa is seeking to raise is not a final number; and at present the more that Petna and Yole! Africa can raise gives them more leverage to negotiate with the landlord of the Yole! Africa Center.  This means that any level of donation helps--from 5 dollars on up.

Please consider donating; please consider sharing this earnest request with friends. 

Please consider sharing the campaign link (https://igg.me/at/KvhUwORZFrI/x/588046) on your social media pages. 

I thank you for your time and consideration of this important cause.

sincerely,
Paul 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday the 13th, Rabat-style

I was chatting with my brother Harry last night for his birthday.  As I mentioned to him, I have my birthday on January 7, but I don't become older until his birthday.  Happy 27th birthday, Harry--even if it takes a zen quality to you.

Anyway, during our conversation he was mentioning landmarks in Rabat.  He said the Archaeological Museam of Morocco, to which I misspoke and said I had visited.  My own archaeology setting in.

So today I went to go visit the museum.  I drifted through the medina and through the Ville Nouvelle up near the palace to find the museum...closed for renovations.  "Closed until March, Inshallah," the guard remarked in Arabic.  Inshallah, I responded, I would be back for its re-opening.

So instead, I decided to hop the tram.  The tram did not exist last time I was here, and I had planned to take a ride on the rails since I arrived.  So I walked over to the tram stop and bought a ticket to ride for 6 dirham (60 cents), including refillable card.

The tram came, and I hopped on a direction.  Any direction, really.  And I was joy-riding.

This particular tram meandered past the Tour Hassan and across the bridge into Salé.

We passed the ochre Bab Lamrissa and ventured across Rabat's elder, plainer sister city.

There was one particular stop of interest to me Hassan II Opera.  I asked the people around me if there was an actual Opera theater.  Moroccan Opera?  In Dereja Arabic? In French? In Berber? I got my answer as we soon passed a shuttered old building with the word Opera written in Arabic and French.

I took the train to the end of the line.  It dead-ended at the last stop and people hopped on to go the opposite way.

I was sitting next to the regulations in French.  It sounded like I had an hour validation for the ticket, and technically I hadn't left the car so perhaps I could tram spot on back into town.

Joy-riding to commence?

Such dreams died a death in ticket-taker fears as I saw a semi-official man pass with a semi-official device.  He walked past me and to the back of the tram.  We took off.

Inconspiciously, I glanced back.  It was definitely the fuzz.  While I thought perhaps I could argue my case, I wasn't sure I had the floos to cover the fine if I was wrong (turns out I didn't).  So I got up and slowly sped my way to the doors to get off at the next stop.

At the next stop, I hopped off and went to the ticket booth.  I explained in French to the ticket vender that I hadn't actually departed the tram, so I inquired if my ticket was still halal.  Indeed it wasn't so I bought another ticket to ride for 5 dirham--far cheaper than the fine.

I took the next tram back a few minutes later, and switched at Bab Lamrissa to the other line.  There was another ticket taker on this train, but this time I should be kosher.  He swam past me as I walked up the tram, so it was never in question.

I got off in front of the medina and made my way through the market.  Along the way, I saw a friend from my morning café.  He worked at a sweet shop, and gave me almond paste cookies for my walk home.

I returned home, and decided to pass some time on the roof with the incontinent turtle, Fakran.

But no sooner did I get to the roof as I closed the door and made a grave mistake: I shut it.  I never close the roof door because my key only works from the interior.  I tried my key to no avail.  I was now locked on the roof.  And there was no one home in the apartment below.

The Moroccan Prisoner of Azkaban.

I started looking around to see if there was a neighbors ledge I could climb down, or perhaps a neighbor in the street I could drop my keys down to.

Thankfully, some neighborhood kids ran out of their home.  Probably about 12 years old, I yelled to the boys.  I screamed in French that the door was closed and I was stuck.  I needed them to come and open the doors.  I pointed to the keys and explained that the yellow was for the bottom door and the plain for the upstairs.  I dropped the keys and they caught it and came running up.

They immediately opened the door!  Freedom!

I departed my Azkaban with the boys and gave them 20 dirham for their role in my jail break.  They beamed at the quick cash they made with my Shashank Redemption.

As it is Friday the 13th, it took me two trips to the internet cafe to write this story because I had given the boys the last 20 dirham I had on me.  I think for the rest of the night, I will hunker down.



Hospitality as the love of the other

 Hospitality is one of man's greatest gift to the rest of humanity.

Hospitality is the love of the guest, but more importantly, the love of the stranger.  It is this love to which Moroccans excel. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Dark Knight bids adieu

I was paying a visit to the U.S. Embassy to Morocco. I had been to the previous incarnation before it became a fortress on the outskirts of town.
As I entered, I was sad to see three portraits for the last time. Obama, Biden and Kerry. It had been Sec. Clinton prior.
Instead, the next time I enter it will be the Joker, Mr. Freeze and the Penguin.
Barack, or "baraka" meaning blessing. In Yiddish, we would call him a "mensch."
"He's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight."
He was more than we deserved.
Have a watch of Obama's final address in full. It was as epic and memorable as the man himself.
He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
- Hamlet



What the World Costs

On the way through the medina, I stopped at my favorite pâtisserie for la balle. The "bullet" is a large spiced cake pop covered in chocolate and nuts.  The spiced cake interior comes chilled.  It is immaculate, and for 3 dirhams (30 cents) it is a steal.

The snack gave me the fortitude to reach my daily orange juice stand.  The quotidian melange of fresh squeezed oranges and grapefruit (pamplemoose, my favorite French word) for 4.5 dirham (75 cents);

The best things in life may indeed be free, but I can come up with some real treasures for under a buck.

Gold glitters.....

And yet on the eve of the election FBI Director James Comey chose to bring up Carlos Danger's errant emails, not Trump's compromised predilections for Russian golden showers. Someone should pee on Comey.

Thanks Pervert-in-Chief Trump for teaching us that not all that not all gold glitters....

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Pay it forward

Dear Friends,
  I sincerely thank you all for the wonderful birthday wishes, it truly means a lot to me to get such well-wishes from the four corners of the globe.

I am going to ask a little something more of all of you for my birthday:

If you truly value my friendship-- if I have helped your community; if I have shared with you my time, or ideas or love: please consider paying it forward to honor my birthday.

Please consider making a modest donation to a charity whose mission you support.  Or please give alms (zakat, tzedakah) to someone less fortunate than you. Or please feed a stray animal. Or please donate your time, as I consider your time to be equally valuable.

I will spend my birthday doing all of the above. I will wander the medina handing out alms and little triangles of cheese to the kitties.  I plan to make a modest donation to Seeds of Peace, a camp I worked out that brings together Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Indian and Pakistani teens together for the summer at a veritable camp o' conflict in the sylvan charm of Maine.

My father and recent FB friend Dr. Stephen Rockower likes to say: "if we want to make things 100 percent better, than we have to make 100 things 1 percent better."

I agree with this practical attempt at Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).  We have a lot to do to make the world a better place for all.  None of us will see this task completed in our lifetime, but as the sages taught: just because we cannot complete the task does not mean we are free to abandon it.

Please consider honoring my birthday by helping someone else, and you will make this the best birthday I have ever had in my 37 years in this world.

I thank you in every language I know.

Cane-Shaking

It's my birthday so that allows me a least one pontificating post.  Cane-shaking to commence....now:

I'm starting to enjoy getting older again.

I did for so many years. Then I hit 29, and that changed for a spell.

Getting older got easier again, but now I am really starting to enjoy its perks.  How age wears down the jagged edges and leaves me feeling like a smoother stone.  Ever a rock, just passing through.

Getting older makes me feel more at peace with myself.  As if the skin has begun to fit better.

I don't feel the need to kick down doors or prove myself anymore, to see another part of the world; the fire in the belly burns a little less bright, but in a good sort of way.  The drive has diminished and been replaced with a comfortability of who I am and where I stand and where I sit.  For me, that is priceless.

I will be spending my birthday getting absolutely endlessly lost in the labyrinth that is Fez; it seems like an apt metaphor for the Moebius Strip that is life.

And of course, the 4 bday qs:


1) Bday Dinner: I had thought to have dinner with Dumbledore so we could discuss Trump's horcruxes, but a late change has me having dinner with the King of Morocco.  We would eat tajine and discuss my billion ideas for Moroccan public and cultural diplomacy (and of course; gastrodiplomacy), and he would offer me a position as the royal public diplomacy vizier.

2) Since this last year has focused a lot on where I was 15 years ago, then I will pick that one.  I was in Dublin. The first thing I did was head to St. James Gate and have a Guiness at the factory.  Later in the day, I visited the Jameson Whisky Distillary, where they let me be the official whisky taste-tester for my bday.  I had dinner that night with an Italian woman named Paula; whom I had sat next to on the bus the day before from the airport into Dublin; and she had left her suitcase on the bus.  It took quite an effort to call Italy and find a way to let her know I had her suitcase.  She rewarded me with a lovely birthday dinner.

3) In Colombia, I woke up with the morning sun on the mountop of Minca at the immaculate hippy kingdom that is Oskar's Place.  Lida and I ventured down from the mountaintop and on to Cartagena.  Lida took m out for a lovely birthday dinner

4) Timbuktu

Friday, January 06, 2017

Rabat Impressionism

I woke up too early and in the darkness for no particularly good reason.

A morning jolt of anger that seethed but with no response.  Sometimes the lack of wifi is a good thing.

I walked out into the cold dark morning, through the empty medina towards the corniche.  I walked over to the kasbah to begin my morning corniche walk but the day was fogged in.  The street lights cut through the fog in what reminded me of the squid trawlers fishing in the Tsugaru Straits off Hokaido.

It was too dark to walk the corniche, as the clouds covered the surf.  So I turned the opposite direction--to find the sun's light slowly beginning to illuminate Rabat in its morning silhouette.

In the morning fog, everything  was darkened except for the lone minaret--its long rectangular body and tapered head of North African variety.

The scene looked eerily like a Moroccan starry night.  The muezzin's tower reminded me of the Tapei 101.

 Enveloped early morning fog, the the blue-and-white fishing boats gently rocking on the Bouregreg River reminded me of the ghats of the Ganges River.  Ah Mama Ganga, you are a long way from here.

But everywhere reminds me of somewhere.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

A Proustian anthropological lens

"Although taste and smell may be fragile, they endure; they remain like souls, remembering, waiting. hoping amid the ruins of the rest."

On a Proustian anthropological approach to its subject matter:  from the Irish Journal of Sociology, "The sensuous secrets of shelter" by Dr. Angela Maye-Banbury discussing her work on the BBC's Thinking Allowed.

Also a segment on Foie gras and the politics of taste.

H/T: BAinDiplomacy

A question for PS: What does it say of Anglo-Saxon & American cuisine/culture if there is no word for "bon appetit"?

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

On Communal Bathing

"Living in a society where actual nudity has been eclipsed by idealised or pornographic images of it, many of us are, independently of our will, disgusted by hairy backs, flabby bellies and ‘strange-looking’ nipples. The relatively liberal attitude towards such issues in countries such as Denmark, where nudity in the bathhouse is the norm, and in some cases mandatory, exemplifies how the practice might help renormalise a basic sense of diversity and break through the rigid laws that regulate the so-called ‘normal body’."
-James McKay, "Why we need to bring back communal bathing"

Monday, January 02, 2017

Grocery Shopping, Moroccan-style

After studying in a cafe, I made my way to the souk in the medina to go grocery shopping.

In three languages (French, Arabic, Spanish) I negotiated for my provisions.

There really is no better way to shop.  Searching out the savoriest olives (try the lemon-garlic ones), the sweetest raisins (the reddish amber ones) and the juiciest dates (the Tunisian ones, with a perfumed hint of rosewater).

"We have something here you call "organic" in America.  We call it "food," as a Bosnian named Lejla once remarked to me.

Lentils for dinner, an Indian-style curry with potatoes, carrots and onions.

The beauty of mysticism, of being present, is always focusing on the impeccable quality of the minute occurrences; grocery shopping should always be such a delight.

Deliciously Distracting

I am studying French in a cafe and pâtisserie in Rabat, and under my table there is literally a vent pumping out the smell of warm, baking bread.  I can even feel the warmth coming out.  It is deliciously districting.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Dar es-salaam

My mornings begin with a walk or a run down past the kasbah, past the white sentinel lighthouse and along the crashing surf.

I return to hear the songs of prayer emanating from the Sufi shrine next door.  Their songs of the beauty and oneness of God envelope me as they rise in unison to the heavens.

I spend my days feeding stray cats (I keep a pocket full of la vache qui rit cheese) and giving silent alms to the blind. 

I wander through the labyrinth maze of the medina, looking for brighter pastel walls, more intricate door knockers and more colorful mosaic tile wells.

For me, Rabat is a city of peace.  For me, Morocco is "dar as-salaam," an abode of peace.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gastrodiplomacy Rosetta

My host brother Yassine departed this morning back to New York. His aunt, whom lived with us fifteen years ago is here now for a few days before she heads back to their village in Beni Melal.

She doesn't speak English or French, but some Fusha (modern standard Arabic), Dereja Maghrebia (Moroccan Arabic) and Berber (not the few words I know of Berber from Algeria). We have been communicating in Fusha and a smattering of Dereja to make sense of our shared space.

Of course, it is fascinating. My Arabic is okay, but comes covered in a layer of rust. Many things I can express or talk around, but often I am lost, left picking for words in a manner that feels like I casting line into the lexicon abyss. But we seem to understand each other for the most part.

Tonight, I was cooking spaghetti and a veggie tomato sauce. She looked on while I sauteed the garlic, onions, peppers and zucchini; stewed the tomatoes; simmered the sauce. When it was done, we sat down for dinner.

She had a tajine plate that I believe a neighbor had prepared for her; I had my plate of spaghetti and vegetable sauce. I made a small plate for her to try the spaghetti. She picked out the tomato chunks and onions, and explained that she didn't really like those veggies. I laughed at the hilarity since that was what the sauce basically consisted of.

She bid me eat some of the tajine, and I took a bite of potato with my bread. That was when it got interesting.

She indicated that I should take the tajine, and that she would eat the small plate of spaghetti I had made her. I protested, trying to explain that the tajine was her dinner, and that I had my plate of spaghetti.

But Moroccan hospitality is profound, and we argued because she wanted me to eat the meat and potatoes as I was the guest. There was honor involved.

But I wanted her to eat the tajine she had since I knew she couldn't have liked the spaghetti that much, and I had my own plate of veggie spaghetti that I had cooked, which I wanted to eat—not the tajine.

We literally had a moroxican stand-off of protestations in Arabic. I told her: eat, and that I wanted her to eat the tajine; I had my own food.

She protested and tried to generously give me the tajine. We reached a point where my Arabic wasn't strong enough for me to explain that I really just wanted to eat my veggie spaghetti and wanted her to eat the tajine.

Then I had a Rosetta idea.

I ran and grabbed my ipad, and switched on googletranslate.

أنا أحب لطهي ولكني لست قادرا دائما لأنني السفر. أنا أحب اللحوم، وأحب أيضا الخضروات. أنا أحب الخضار في المغرب.

Basically it says that I love to cook but I am not always able to because I travel. I like meat, but I also like vegetables. I love the vegetables in Morocco.

I had the googletranslate speak the message in its computorial lilt and she got it. Thanks to googletranslate, she understood that I was happy to eat my plate of veggie spaghetti, and that she should eat her plate of meat, and we would both be happy.


Rabat Days

I spend my days feeding stray cats (I keep a pocket full of cheese) and giving silent alms to the blind. I wander through the labyrinth maze of the medina, looking for brighter pastel walls, more intricate door knockers and colorful mosaic tile wells.

I saw a group of Chinese tourists wheeling their suitcases through the narrow medina, lost trying to find their way via smartphone.  Sorry, in the labyrinth maze of the medina, google maps is worthless.

On wealth and poverty

In my travels and journeys, I have witnessed a lot of wealth and a lot of poverty.  I would say this: none are more poor than those who are mentally poor.  No bank balance, no bottom line will ever leave them feeling secure.

As Gandhi understood, both wealth and poverty are both relative and absolute qualities.

My Patronus; My spirit animal

My patronus is an owl, but my spirit animal is a stray cat.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Le Sceptre d'Ottokar

I am proud to report that I have fully completed translating my first book (Ok, comic book/graphic novel).

Earlier in the year, I received a very kind gift from Stela Doci in the form of the Tintin adventure, "Le Sceptre d'Ottokar" in French as a way to improve my French.

I went through the book, page by page and translated the whole thing from French to English. At first, I had the dictionary out for every word; by the end of the story, I could get through whole pages.

Merci Stela, for the wonderful gift that helped so much with my French studies!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

L'Etranger

An old unpublished memory of the last time I can remember laughing and crying at the same time, from Tours, France:

After school ended for the day—early on mecredi, I decided to head to the Musee de Beaux Artes in Tours. I took my camera, and captured images of my school and city in its autumn graces.

The afternoon was getting late, and I was getting hungry. I walked through the city to Rues Colbert, where there were many restaurants.

I walked into a nice restaurant, but the woman told me it was closing.

The afternoon rain was starting to drizzle down on the city.

The second and third restaurant also said they were closing.

The fourth was the same.

Quelle heure est'il?

Deux-heures et demi.

Closing time for lunch in Tours,
as I found out in the next restaurant as well.

There might have been a sixth too, I forgot amid the pouring rain.

Apparently Tours takes a sieste.

I was getting soaked, so I ducked into a Turkish kebab joint that was the last chance. Success.

It was good too. Kebab, frittes et boison (Coke de cerise) for the prix étudiant de cinq euros et demi.

It was good, and I was full. It was still raining so I made it another block before ducking into a bar to get out of the deluge.

I sipped my bierre out of a great glass goblet as the dark skies passed.

I read 17th century Japanese haiku poetry by Matsuo Bashō.

First winter rain -
I plod on,
Traveler, my name.

The storm passed and as I was about to leave, the woman behind the bar asked me in French:
De quel pays?

États Unis

Mais de quelle origine?

Juif

Moi aussi,” she said as she showed me the star around her neck.

Shalom.

Shalom.

She gave me the warmest kiss on both cheeks.

Shalom.

Shalom.

I walked out into the slowly-drying afternoon, putting on my sunglasses block my wet eyes—the yellow hiding my dampening gaze.

I met a stranger in the night 
Whose lamp had ceased to shine 
I paused 
And let him light his lamp from mine. 

A tempest sprang up later on 
It shook the world about. 
When the storm was gone 
My lamp was out. 

But back to me the stranger came. 
His lamp was glowing fine. 
He held to me his precious flame 
And rekindled mine. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

My Hanukkah miracle

I spent the morning wandering down by the crashing surf along the Moroccan coast and through the medina alleyways of Rabat, feeding the stray cats.

After some morning work. I retired to sip sweet mint tea in the tea house in the sturdy ochre kasbah. Filigree-covered metal doors guarded the Moorish arch doors and windows of the whitewashed riad to my eastern vantage.

I studied French in the tea house wrapped in colorful tile patterns, sitting on a royal blue wooden stool with a royal blue wooden table as my desk. I am distracted by the lilt of Spanish from the tourists playing card games (droves of Spaniards have descended on Morocco for the holiday season), and the young lovers whispering in Arabic behind me. The language studies problems of a polyglot.

In the calm Bouregreg River that slowly runs below, fishermen stood on old blue-and-white wooden boats as traffic in Salé passes unnoticed. In the far ground, waves lap slowly and gently against the sands.

I finished my studies, and as the tourists piled into the tea house, I escaped to the gardens to site under jasmine and read “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card (Of Ender fame):

Impossible. Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to and the ones she doesn't belong to. I am this and this and this, but definitely not that and that. All your definitions are negative. I could make an infinite list of the things you are not. But a person who really believes she doesn't belong to any community at all invariably kills herself, either by killing her body or by giving up her identity and going mad.”

And facing my own exile, this Speaker for the Living gave moisture to the dead.

As I was finishing up the chapter, I heard a sound that sent shivers down my back.

It was Hebrew.

A large tour group of Israelis. In Morocco. Something unheard of fifteen years ago when I studied in Rabat, when the second Intifadah smoldered.

I could hear the Sephardi-accented Hebrew of Morocayim, and I was in shock.

I closed my kindle and began walking to the gates of the walled fort. The group was also leaving, and as I passed them, I said softly: Happy Hanukkah.

At first, the woman closest to me didn't understand. Ech? Hanuka? Huh?

I said it a few more times, then added a bit of phlegm: Chanukkah Sameyach!

Ah! The group immediately understood. And we began chatting in Hebrew.

I was literally in shock, as we chatted. I told them that they were the greatest Hanukkah present could I receive today; they were literally my Hanukkah miracle. They sang Ma'oz Tsur, and it was so unexpected that my heart thumped with emotion.

As we walked out into the parking lot, they gave me a big hug and wished me well. A gentleman said to me about how all the Jews all over the world are connected. I smiled and replied, Kol ha'olam kulo gesher tsar ma’od ...(the whole world is a narrow bridge).

I ducked back into the medina, beaming with joy and tears running down my face. I put my BluBlockers on to hid the streaking tears and I giggled to myself down the narrow lanes. It is such a curious thing to laugh and cry at the same time. It is a moment that comes rushing out, like a confluence of two rivers. Such a curious thing, indeed.

Arabiya

Morning light to you; 
Praise to God. 
This is what I hear in the mornings in Morocco. 
Around the world too many people hear Arabic, 
and they hear their own fear. 
I listen to that lilt and
I hear blessings.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Gastrodiplomacy Posits

Gastrodiplomacy posit (I): there are few things better than cold tajine leftovers for a slow Sunday breakfast.

Gastrodiplomacy posit (II): From rich culture comes rich food. - Badr

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Arms and short-fingers on the nuclear button

"Let it be an arms race." 

This is truly terrifying.

How long until Trump America is considered a rogue state?

How long until Trump America is considered part of the Axis of Evil?  

A prayer....

Trump's Inaugural will have a prayer service....A Prayer for Owen Meany:

“AND LOOK AT WHAT WE CALL ‘RELIGION’; TURN ON ANY TELEVISION ON SUNDAY MORNING! SEE THE CHOIRS OF THE POOR AND UNEDUCATED—AND THESE TERRIBLE PREACHERS, SELLING OLD JESUS-STORIES LIKE JUNK FOOD. SOON THERE’LL BE AN EVANGELIST IN THE WHITE HOUSE; SOON THERE’LL BE A CARDINAL ON THE SUPREME COURT. ONE DAY THERE WILL COME AN EPIDEMIC-I’LL BET ON SOME HUMDINGER OF A SEXUAL DISEASE. AND WHAT WHILL OUR PEERLESS LEADERS, OUR HEADS OF CHURCH AND STATE…WHAT WILL THEY SAY TO US? HOW WILL THEY HELP US? YOU CAN BE SURE THEY WON’T CURE US—BUT HOW WILL THEY COMFORT US? JUST TURN ON THE TV—AND HERE’S WHAT OUR PEERLESS LEADERS, OUR HEADS OF CHURCH AND STATE WIILL SAY: THEY’LL SAY ‘I TOLD YOU SO!’ THEY’LL SAY, ‘THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR FUCKING AROUND—I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO IT UNTIL YOU GOT MARRIED.’ DOESN’T ANYONE SEE WHAT THESE SIMPLETONS ARE UP TO? THESE SELF-RIGHTEOUS FANATICS ARE NOT ‘RELIGIOUS’—THEIR HOMELY WISDOM IS NOT ‘MORALITY.’
‘THAT IS WHERE THIS COUNTRY IS HEADED—IT IS HEADED TOWARD OVERSIMPLIFICATION. YOU WANT TO SEE A PRESIDENT OF THE FUTURE? TURN ON ANY TELEVISION ON ANY SUNDAY MORNING—FIND ONE OF THOSE HOLY ROLLERS: THAT’S HIM, THAT’S THE NEW MISTER PRESIDENT! AND DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE FUTURE OF ALL THOSE KIDS WHO ARE GOING TO FALL IN THE CRACKS OF THIS GREAT SOCIETY OF OUTS? I JUST MET HIM; HE’S A TALL, SKINNY, FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY NAMED ‘DICK.’ HE’S PRETTY SCARY. WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM IS NOT UNLIKE WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE TV EVANGELIST—OUR FUTURE PRESIDENT. WHAT’S WRONG WITH BOTH OF THEM IS THAT THEY’RE SO SURE THEY’RE RIGHT! THAT’S PRETTY SCARY—THE FUTURE, I THINK, IS PRETTY SCARY.”
-John Irving, "A Prayer for Owen Meany"

The Death of the Idea that is America

Visiting America itself gave us the sensation of having stepped into the television, into something bigger and better. For a time when I was a teenager my father worked in the coal industry in West Virginia. He would return with stories about new things we could not imagine, like cable television with 50 stations. Packed in his suitcase were running shoes for us, in styles that had not arrived here yet. That was more than 20 years ago.

Things were changing long before this election. Trips to Asia are now more likely to startle us with modernity. Bangkok, Singapore, even Mumbai have shocked me on visits over the last few decades, not just the wealth and development but also the music and fashion and public transportation. For all the intractable problems in our region, there is a sense of forward movement.

When we visit America now, it feels like the opposite, like decay. Roads, airports, an economy, perhaps even a society, falling to pieces. We are left in awe by the extreme poverty as well as the extreme wealth.

And maybe it is because of your poetry about yourself that the turning current has been harder for Americans themselves to see. "
-Lisa Pryor, "Dear America, why did you let us down?"

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Moroccan Return cont.

I had posted previously about how with my return to Rabat had seemingly fallen into a wormhole of nostalgia and memory--well it came even more full circle.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had lived with a Moroccan family, the Taoufiks, whom had become my own family.  Since then, they had all moved to America, so I did not think I would get to see them here in Rabat.

But al-Humdulliah/Baruch HaShem, after I had posted about my return, the AMAZING Debbie Taoufik--my brother Yassine's wife let me know that indeed Yassine was in Rabat for a visit.

And now, this nomad who has been without a home for over 3 years is now living in the same home that I lived in fifteen years ago for my Morocco sojourn.

As I like to believe, irony is God's sense of humor.  He hasn't been back in a few years, and I haven't been back in fifteen years and yet here we are again under the same roof, still having the same discussions on the world, on family and on faith.

I feel like Michael Phelps, swimming through a sea of memories.

“Why did you come to me?”
“Because I had to come to you. It wasn’t a matter of choice.”
“Fate?”
“Call it whatever you want. Things get kind of circular, when you’re me. Cause and effect get muddled.”
-The Time Traveler’s Wife

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Smile

I have a secret for you. Do you want to know what the face of God looks like? It is the smile of a complete strangers.

The first encounter was an old lady in a jelaba, pushing a wheel chair around.  She may have been demented, I'm not sure.  But her smile was literally so big that it lit up an overcast morning.  It was like looking directly at joy.

Later that evening; I was wandering through the labyrinth of markets, lost in thought as I took in the vibrant life.  I was thinking about how wonderful it was to simply observe, and just look without care to snap pictures or buy anything.  In the tight commotion, I stepped around a slew of jackets.  On a small cart on the ground was a very small deformed woman who was receiving alms.  I don't think she had legs and had small deformed arms.

I didn't exactly notice her as I stepped around, then it all registered and I stopped and turned around to give her a few dirham.

I smiled big at her; and she burst out in the biggest smile back at me.  She waved at me with her one good arm.  I don't think I will ever forget the smile she gave back at me, it was so full of joyous emotion.