Friday, September 30, 2016

The Brussels Diaries

I sped out on the high-speed rail from Amsterdam to Brussels.  The trip was fast and smooth, and I grumbled at the inability to get good high-speed rail in America.  I arrived to the Belgian capital in the mid-afternoon, and made my way to my AirBNB sublet.  It is a cute apartment on the top floor of an old building in the Ixelles neighborhood.  It is a small two-story space with small bedroom and shower on the lower floor, and kitchen and small living room upstairs.  It is light and airy, with a lot of light peering through the skylights.  I like it.

Brussels always fascinates me.  The city straddles the linguistic and cultural divide between Northern Europe and Latin Europe.   It is a fitting capital for Europa.  Somewhere between Paris and Amsterdam, although the city itself is not about to be mistaken for either.  Lacking in the charm of Paris or Amsterdam, the Comic City instead has moxie.  Comic City is littered with giant murals of different comics.

Brussels' diversity feels more check-to-jowl than Paris or Amsterdam.

I was once told that Belgians are divided culturally and linguistically, but united only in their love for frittes, chocolate, waffles and beer.  Anyplace cemented together by such delights is a place I think I am bound to like.

Sheets in the wind

The pitfalls of trying to be a polyglot, take two: I spent the better part of a night and morning looking for sheets.  The problem was that I kept asking stores for sheets ("feuilles") as in pieces of paper or leaves, not "drap" as in bedsheets.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Brussels

Bienvenue à Bruxelles! Welgekomen bij Brussel! I arrived today to Brussels, the Capital of Europe to study French for the next month.
I have a lil flat in Ixelles, for a whole 33 days. This breaks the shortly held record of stay for me for the last 2 years, which previously was Medellin (32 days). It the longest I have had my own solitary flat since my sabbatical days in Paris in the Summer of '14.
I am excited to be a Kiekefritter (chicken-eater), which is the nickname of the Brussellians.

Flag of Brussels

PS: There is speculoos tiramisu here. Belgium and I are going to be good friends. 

Who is Thalys Gault?

I am always reminded how shoddy American rail infrastructure is when I am on a train in Europe (or Taiwan or Japan or China). Super smooth and quiet.  Great wifi, as I type this.

Amtrak sucks.  And so do the Republicans because I distinctly remember President Obama proposing more high-speed rail, and the GOP opposed because they opposed everything he proposed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Hague

After a long day of travel and an early night to bed, I awoke with the sun lightly coming through the curtains as it slowly rose over the city at 7:45am.  

I needed to head to The Hague for a meeting, and had decided to make a day trip out of it.  This would be my second time to the city.  I packed myself up for the day, and headed out to the train station.

On the way, I found a nice cafe for breakfast.  I had brood mit kaas a fresh baked roll covered with melted cheese, with a salad covered in balsamic.

I made my way to the train station and got my train ticked to The Hague.  I hopped the train, and logged onto perfect wifi to read about Hillary thrashing Trump at the debate the night prior.

We pulled out past old windmills as we passed through Haarlem.

We passed through perfectly designed Amsterdam cityscape.  Between the wifi and the infrastructure we passed, I had the thought of the the need for more government—for more public works in America.  I have a rant I will post later on the need for more government.

After a lifetime of crimes against humanity, I arrived at The Hague.  I arrived to The Hague in thirty minutes, and wandered out of the train station to a neaby park filled with swans, geese and deer.  I wandered on through the city to The Haague HistoryMus,aeum. It had a nice exhibition on the city through the ages, including during the German Occupation and the Holocaust of The Hague's Jewish community. 

 Upstairs there was a whole floor's exhibition on the history of The Hague's Jewish community.  It was an interesting exhibit on the Portuguese Jews who first came to The Hague and prospered in the city, as well as the Ashkenazi community that followed.

It was a poignant exhibit that moved me.  I marveled at my good luck at the museum find.  I wandered around the Bienhoff moat, and made my way in the morning sun over to another museum.  On my way, I passed Mauritshuis, the Royal Dutch Portrait Gallery.  The museum had been under renovation when I last visited the city.  I decided to check it out instead.

I laughed as I entered the ornate museum that this was a very different portrait gallery than the one my Mom is a docent for.  I wandered through portraits of old Dutch noblemen and ladies.

I got to the second floor and wandered in to find Mesje met de parel, the enchanting Girl with the Pearl Earring  by Vermeer.   Chinese tourists flocked around her to snap selfies.  I stood up close to look at her but was blocked by a Chinese man standing there being photographed for a long number of clicks.  He said excuse me as he vacated the space, and I replied mei wen ti (no problem); he smiled wide.

And then I had her to myself.  I stared at her from every imaginable angle, and then vacated to sit back and stare longer.

I sat propped on the plush chair, staring at the girl with the pearl earring.  We exchanged long glances as Yo Yo Ma played Bach's cello suite in my ears through my own pearl earring.  

I sat quiet like to admire her, as Chinese tourists snapped more selfies with her.  I don't think she minded, she is a bit bashful though.

She looked back over her green silk robe, and her delicate lips pouted frozen like the great pearl globe on her earlobe.

And I found myself staring at a twenty year old Rembrandt, dressed in a gorget.  The young painter stared out across the centuries while Amelie whimsically played through my pearl earrings.

It was a wonderful museum.  I left the place hungry and found my way to a nice cafe with an outdoor patio and swing chairs inside.  Lunch led to the tosti confusion, or the pitfalls at trying to be a polyglot: my duolingo Dutch studies prepared me to order lunch, but left me woefully unprepared for the stream of Dutch in return.

It all worked out in the end: I received a tuna tosti on toasted whole grain brown bread, slathered with trufflemayo and filled with capers and red onions, with some tart homemade lemonade to wash it down.

I figured out the bus to take me out to Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.  I got there early and staked out my meeting amid the beautiful park.  With time to kill, I wandered through the lush park of the same name as institute.  The fall weather was crisp in the forest.   Pools of green algae covered the river below in a green cap.  I watched fat happy Dutch cows mosey about.

My meeting at Clingendael was fascinating.  I had a fantastic time sharing about my work, and learning about European public diplomacy networks that I will dive into further.

After the meeting, I wandered a bit longer in the beautiful Clingendael gardens.  I caught the bus back, and then the train back to Amsterdam.  I grabbed a seat below in a nice car.  About half way through I realized I was in the first class, so I wandered on a little more to get to my proper class.

I returned for quiet night, reading comics and the incomparable The Godfather as I sipped pints of Heineken.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Tywin

Via Abba:

"Charles Dance, of Game of Thrones fame, upon accepting the 2016 William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, finished his acceptance speech with a commentary on American politics. 'I would like to wish you all a Trump-free future.'"

I would take Tywin Lannister as President over Trump. In a Casterly Rock minute.

My dad continued: Does Trump shit gold? He certainly doesn't pay his debts.

No, he is certainly not a Lannister.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Adios America

Goodbye America,
I leaving for Brussels, and I am not coming back until after this crazy election is done. I did this on purpose and for my own sanity. I made a clear choice to keep myself out of America as much as I could in 2016, and as such was lucky enough to only spend 7 weeks in country--because I knew this election would be a shit show.
I am voting of course-- absentee ballot.
Please America, please don't fall victim to the biggest con man in American history. And we have had a long list of robber barons and con men in our illustrious history. But none have ever threatened our fair Republic like Donald J. Trump. If Trump wins, this trip abroad becomes exile.
James Michener wrote: "Political exile has been the last refuge of many noble minds."
Those are nice sentiments, but I would prefer to live in Colorado-- rustling chickens.
America, PLEASE don't fuck this up and force me into exile.
sincerely,
Paul Rockower

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Save the Day

Possibly the best get-out-the-vote spot I have ever seen. Laughing and crying. haha. Too good.

PLEASE register to vote.

Skittles

"If I gave you a bowl of skittles and three of them were poison would you still eat them?"
"Are the other skittles human lives?"
"What?"
"Like. Is there a good chance. A really good chance. I would be saving someone from a war zone and probably their life if I ate a skittle?"
"Well sure. But the point-"
"I would eat the skittles."
"Ok-well the point is-"
"I would GORGE myself on skittles. I would eat every single fucking skittle I could find. I would STUFF myself with skittles. And when I found the poison skittle and died I would make sure to leave behind a legacy of children and of friends who also ate skittle after skittle until there were no skittles to be eaten. And each person who found the poison skittle we would weep for. We would weep for their loss, for their sacrifice, and for the fact that they did not let themselves succumb to fear but made the world a better place by eating skittles.
Because your REAL question...the one you hid behind a shitty little inaccurate, insensitive, dehumanizing racist little candy metaphor is, IS MY LIFE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF MEN, WOMEN, AND TERRIFIED CHILDREN...
... and what kind of monster would think the answer to that question... is yes?"
-Eli Brosnick

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Denver-upon-La Mancha

It doesn't take the giant vivid double rainbow in front of me to tell me that Denver is special.  Although it helps.  That, and the scores of windmills I saw flying in.  I look for signs.

I really like Denver.  It is really comfortable for me.  I enjoy what it has to offer.  I have had the equivalent of my own place for the last week.  Wrangling chickens and taking care of Iris the dog.  It is nice to have the equivalent of a place, and I would enjoy Denver.

I could see myself here, and that goes a long way to finding a La Mancha.  

Fire on La Mancha

"Not long after setting out on his first adventures, Don Quixote is invited to share a frugal meal with a group of goatherds. A little meat stew, plenty of wine. When they finish, the goatherds spread out hard cheese and a quantity of acorns, which they start cracking open for dessert. Don Quixote just rolls a few in his hand, lost in a reverie. He clears his throat. Fortunate the age and fortunate the times called golden by the ancients, he tells the chewing peasants. It was an age when nature’s bounty lay ready to be gathered. There was no mine and thine, no farms, no making of farm tools, no makers of farm tools. Modest shepherdesses, simply attired, roamed the hills unmolested, stopping only to hear the spontaneous, unaffected poetry of their chaste lovers. No laws were enforced because none were needed.
That age ended. Why? The goatherds do not ask, and Quixote doesn’t burden them with his esoteric knowledge. He just reminds them of what they already know: now maidens and even orphans are not safe from predators. When the Golden Age ended, laws became necessary, but since there were no pure hearts left to enforce them, the strong and vicious were free to terrorize the weak and good. That was why the order of knights was created in the Middle Ages, and why Quixote has resolved to revive it. The goatherds listen in “stupefied and perplexed” silence to this old man in his papier-mâché helmet. Sancho Panza, already used to his master’s harangues, continues drinking."
-Mark Lilla, "Only an Apocalypse can save us now" in Harper's Magazine

"For those who have never experienced defeat, destruction or exile, there is an undeniable charm to loss"


A light year too soon?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday mornin' chicken rustlin'




Other captions included:

-Muppet Herding

-Chicken Gothic

-Still Life with Chicken

Friday, September 09, 2016

Mama Hen Chicken-Sitting

Mama Hen, chicken-sitting at Casa Mezer



I spent 1.5 hours last evening chasing chickens. Eleven, back in the chicken coop. I am a professional chicken-herder. It was not easy. I had to trap the last two with a path of chicken feed.

Round 2 of chicken-herding was easier. Still had to chase those 2 bantams. I have a system now of corralling them. I chase them with the shovel pan and corral them with the gate door while simultaneously scaring the other chickens not to escape.

Monday, September 05, 2016

First they came for the taco trucks....

"Remember on election day folks, if Trump wins, you will have nowhere to go for Tacos or Falafels...
First, they came for the tacos, and I said nothing, because I can't eat spicy.
Then they came for the Falafels, and I said nothing because really, who likes fried ground chickpeas?
Then they came for the fried Won-ton, Chow mein, pork fried rice, Mongolian Beef, Cashew Chicken, and a free side of steamed rice, and fortune cookies.
And I said whoa, wait a minute, the holidays will be here soon, a man's got to eat.... "
-Brad Guest,
h/t Dr. Bones

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Adios, y vaya con Dios

And thus, Don Pablo Quijote's public diplomacy adventures in Latin America have come to a close.  I have spent nearly a year in Central and South America, running cultural diplomacy programs in the regions.  El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia.  With a sojourn in Guatemala.  I have come to know these places well--at least as well as a ethnically ambiguous Spanish-speaking gringo can.

Over the last year or so, I have connected with so many through hip hop (and hula).  I have run programs in some of the most dangerous barrios in Central and South America, and yet it feels so trite to write that.  Because every I worked, I was met with kindness and compassion by so many.  So many people just living their lives, struggling to get through.

And so, the greatest hip hop producer that no one has ever heard of is taking a well-deserved break for a while.  I am putting down the mic for a few months.

I will be in Belgium, studying French.  I will be traveling through Germany, visiting places like Bonn, Frankfurt, Leipzig and Dresden.  And I will make a stopover in my old stomping grounds in Prague.

As always, journey on.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Adios Colombia

Spending my last Colombian morning feeding muffin to deer and bonding with a toucan over our shared love of mango juice. Be vewy, vewy quiet, I am hunting oso perisoso....

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Taking sides

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
-Elie Wiesel, at his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

"Courage is as contagious as fear."
-Suson Sontag

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Carta Moto

Riding around on a motorcycle taxi through the slowly-waking Cartagena.

With the placid Caribe on one side of me--with its gentle waves lapping against the shore as the fishermen cast their nets, and the old, walled Centro Antiguo with canons peering out on the other. Such trips are always journeys through memories.

 Like on the back of a boda-boda passing through the choked streets of Kampala or weaving in-and-out of the waves of Delhi traffic.

"Life loves those who love life." -Walt Disney

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Some shit I made up on NPR

"Everybody eats, which is what makes food a perfect choice to resolve conflicts and foster connections among nations. The concept is called "gastrodiplomacy," and South Korea is one of its strongest champions."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Welcome to Next Level Colombia

A wonderful video introduction to Next Level Colombia by Petna Ndaliko Katondolo!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sloth off the morning

Just your typical Cartagena morning, hugging a sloth and feeding a toucan while waiting for Next Level Team Colombia to arrive....

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Rat's Mouth and the Jews

I made my way out in the warm sun for lunch at Naturalia Cafe.  I was excited to visit the vegetarian cafe not far from my apartment.  Colombians have wonderful vegetables, yet they simply don't really eat them.  It is much more meat and potatoes and arepas.  So I was excited to find this place.

I headed over with my ipad and Spanish grammar book to study off a bit of the afternoon.

The almuerzo del dia included soup, a plate and dessert, as well as juice for a modest 11k (less than $4).

I crushed pieces of rosemary toast into the carrot-almond (zanahoria-almendras) soup.  Pulverized the toast, really.  It tasted like something my grandfather would make, if he were a hippy vegetarian.

I sipped fresh pineapple-banana juice and surfed the web.

The plate came out, and it was beautiful.  Some kind of spiced chickpeas.  Roasted squash and zucchini in quinoa.  A delicious salad.  And there was a piece of some kind of flan for dessert.

 As I was eating, a large bee buzzed near a girl sitting nearby outside.  It kept buzzing close to her, and she got scared.  She ran into the restaurant, and eventually came back as she sat a bit closer to me.

She was a Colombian girl who had grown up in Florida.  She was a zoologist who was afraid of bees.

We got to talking as I ate.

She told me she was from Boca Raton.  Then she started complaining about the Jews.

The Jews are arrogant.  All they care about is power.

My eyes widened as she said this.  And she kept talking.  She kept talking about how awful the Jews were.

They are hostile and rude.  

I tried to not answer so I could go back to my meal in peace.  But she wouldn't shut up.

They only care about money.

I kept my mouth shut and stared at her, trying to keep my composure.  At some point, she looked at me long enough to realize that my face might be a bit Semitic.

Are you a Jew?

I am.

She tried to backtrack immediately.   I wasn't going to let her off that easy.

But I mean, I have no problem with you.  I am not racist.

I let her finish stammering, then I said to her: yes, what you said was just racist.

 You literally just said racist things to my face about the Jews, until you realized I was Jewish.

But, but...I meant Boca Raton, not all the Jews....

I slowly ate my flan and let her try to walk it back in awkwardness.

As I finished my flan, I said to her.  Can I give you some advice?

"You need a better filter.  You don't need to share with every stranger every thing that you think."

She tried to apologize more and I let her stammer on a bit further.  She kept trying to explain she wasn't racist.  I gave her a sideways glance and an incredulous smile.

I paid my check, leaving the cafe far sooner than I had planned.  As I left, I wished her buen provecho and said I hoped she had learned something.

Come mierda, I said under my breath as I turned and walked out.

And yet our story has an epilogue.  As I walked back in the afternoon sun, trying to fathom what I had just encountered, I crossed the busy Calle 44 into the shade of the banyan tree on Carrera 70.

As I walked down, I saw a Jew in a white Sephardic yarmulke sitting under the banyan tree.  He was sitting on the bench alone under the banyan tree, his tzitzit slowly fluttering in the wind.  He had payas coming down past his ears.

I looked him right in the eye.  I put my hand on my heart, and said to him:

Shabbat shalom.  Shabbat shalom.

Parabens Brazil!

I remember all the scare stories about the Brazil World Cup, which all disappeared as soon as the event started. I was in Brazil during the World Cup, and it was FINE.

Now, there have been loads of the pre-Olympic horror stories in the media about how unprepared, how dangerous, how Zika, how whatever the Olympics were going to be. Only to see it all dry up as the games get under way.

 Same bullshit for the World Cup in South Africa.

Shame on the international media for always pushing these contrived, faux horror stories of how X event is going to be a disaster, and then not a peep when everything goes off fine.

Congrats to Brazil for now launching two major international sporting events in 2 years. Parabéns!!