Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hair of the Monkey

After a long, late night of clubbing on a barge in the rain on the River Sava, I woke up with an opice, what the Czechs refer to as a "monkey."  Dunno what the Serbs call it but it was something fierce.

I needed something to stick to the ribs, so I headed to Kavarna ?, a traditional Serbian restaurant for some local fare.  I picked up some cheap shades-- a lil sombro to save the day.

Me: what do you have to cure what ails me?

Waiter:  We have rakije, and I would recommend some dunjevka (quince brandy) for you.

Hair of the monkey indeed.

Belgrade is one of my favorite cities in the world, and that is not a compliment I take or make lightly.

I had a filet mignon cooked medium rare.  A Serbian salad of onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.  Some warm homemade bread.

I gave the final hunk of steak wrapped in bread soaked in mignon juices to a Gypsy kid.  His eyes widened as he ran off with the steak sandwich.

I chatted with some French girls next to me who were living in Budapest.  They had hitchhiked to Belgrade.  We chatted about what I did.

You live the life.

I hear that from time to time.  I always respond simply that I live my life.  That I figure I have one life to live, so I might as well live it.  Not that I really believe we only have one life, but that is a different story.

On the way, I sat in the sun next to the old Ottoman fountain.  I chatted with the Serbian girl Ana who worked at the hotel.  She was on her way to start her shift.

You are so lucky.

Luck is not something you wait for; you have to grab luck by its throat.  She grabbed mine, and I laughed.  Generally you rub a Buddha's head, not grab his throat.

Enough of this banter, I'm off to go nap in the gardens of an old Ottoman fortress that overlooks the two rivers that hung Belgrade.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Buffalo Diplomacy? The Imperial Summer Capital of Belgrade?

"All the food I ate in America was bland and boring...except for the spicy chicken wings. I LOVED the Buffalo wings."
-Snezana

Perhaps we should be doing a lil Buffalo gastrodiplomacy to Serbia?  Snezana would be pleased.

The poor Serbian lass also felt much more unsafe in DC than Belgrade.  I laughed, and explained that when I told people I was going to the Balkans, they worried about me.  She laughed as I explained the American image of Serbia as some grimy paramilitary chetnik with a beard and a kalashnikov.

In reality, I also feel much safer in Serbia than America....

And other random gastrodiplomacy thoughts.

Two words: knafeh gelato.

Belgrade, you rock.

As Anshul smartly suggested: Belgrade should be my new summer capital.

On Harlem

"To live in Harlem is to dwell in the very bowels of the city; it is to pass a labyrinthine existence among streets that explode monotonously skyward with the spires and crosses of churches and clutter underfoot with garbage and decay. Harlem is a ruin — many of its ordinary aspects (its crimes, its casual violence, its crumbling buildings with littered areaways, ill-smelling halls, and vermin-invaded rooms) are indistinguishable from the distorted images that appear in dreams and, like muggers haunting a lonely hall, quiver in the waking mind with hidden and threatening significance."
-Ralph Ellison

The Clinton Curtis Band in Espirito Santo

The U.S. Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro, which hosted The Clinton Curtis Band in Brazil, made a wonderful visit of their tour in Espirito Santo!

 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Next Level Serbia!

Already off on the next adventure.  How do I get off this crazy ride?

Here is a great intro video to the Next Level Serbia program from DJ B Money and VJ Sunshot


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On Perfection

"Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it."
 -Salvador Dali

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Americans try exotic Asian foods



Haha! I have had all these, save for the live octopus.  The only one that made me retch was balut.  Love Nato and durian!

Greener pastures

I've had enough of the headache of Israel/Palestine and Ukraine. I'm leaving for a far more tranquil part of this earth: the Balkans.

Monday, July 21, 2014

When I'm 64

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?




It's my father's 64th birthday, and I'm wishing him all the birthday best.  And yes, I am still feeding him--taking him out for Brazilian food tonight for his bday dinner at The Grill from Ipanema.

My father shares a birthday with someone I hold in just slightly less esteem than my old man: Ernie Hemingway.

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated. 
-Ernest Hemingway, "The Old Man and the Sea"

Aloha Venezuela II

Way behind on this blog, it dates back to May.  Better late than never...

The day after the concert in Caracas, we headed out of town past the creepy billboards of the eyes of Chavez and on to the airport. We had a ton of stuff to check. I got a little worried because we were 40 kilos (88 pounds) overweight and I had not received anything in the grant to cover domestic travel overages. But because fuel is so cheap in Venezuela, it only cost an extra 256 Bolivares for the extra 40 kilos ($4). Incredible.

Our flight was only 35 minutes but we were delayed an hour and so we passed time at the airport playing Uno.

Once we took off, the flight was quick. We arrived to Isla Margarita, and drove to the Hotel Isabela La Catolica- a boutique hotel with rooms named for the kings and queens of Spain. I asked if I was getting the Torquemeda room.

Once checked in, we had a lovely 8 course meal of small plate delights that connected with the island's tastes. I am starting to think the biggest threat of cultural diplomacy is on my waist line.

The next morning we had a special breakfast at La Repisa Restaurant in La Asuncion with the Mayor of La Asuncion Richard Fermin. Mayor Fermin is the second youngest mayor in Venezuela, he is only 29 years old. We had a tour with the chef of the restaurant and gastronomy school. The breakfast was a lovely affair of different tastes of Isla Margarita like cazon- shredded baby shark.

The only strange thing was the cafe con leche tasted awful. It tasted salty. I sent it back and just drank the normal coffee without milk. Later we found out that because of the situation in Venezuela, there is a shortage on milk at times, and the restaurant had instead given us baby formula in our coffee. I was reminded of Lula- the former president of Brazil, chiding Chavez over the fact he couldn't get milk for his coffee as a symbol that Venezuela was having issues.

After breakfast, we toured the city. We visited the lovely old plaza, one of the oldest plazas in the Americas. We stopped in to see the El Sistema program, which we would be working with later. We also visited a beautiful pastel church but it was closed so we sat out in the courtyard and enjoyed the island breeze. I found a Virgin Mary tree.

That afternoon we had an incredible workshop on Hula dance at the Casa de la Cultura de La Asuncion. It was a workshop for Deaf students and hearing dance students. It was extremely poignant to watch the Deaf and hearing students interact and help each other and learn from each other as they learned the story dance of Hula. It was a very special engagement.

The next day we had a tour of the El Sistema program. We had an adorable group of kiddies play a song for us on tiny violins and trumpets. Then we headed over to another El Sistema program in an old university for a masterclass. The masterclass was excellent. All the old windows of the room were wide open, and a sea breeze was blowing in. It was a little warm, and we didn't have any water so I ran over with the driver to a little store to get some agua. It was a three-stop process of standing in line, ordering, going over to the cashier to pay, then returning to get the bottles. I returned to a marvelous jam session with the music students and Keola and company. 

That night we had an intimate performance at the hotel restaurant called Juana La Loca.

The following day we had the morning free. We had lunch at a little beach cafe with our feet in the sand. I had some ceviche that was a little too , but fine. After lunch we returned to the El Sistema building for a small class with the El Sistema students, and a bigger jam session with some of the professors. The head of the school was there, and looked like the Dos Equis guy. He had a grizzled old salt-and-pepper beard, and played the quatro. His deep voice boomed on the collaboration song La Luna de Margarita, which all the teachers in attendance sang along to. It was pretty special.

That night we had a concert in the middle of the square in La Asuncion. Keola and company had a raised stage to perform on in between two old colonial buildings. We were supposed to have the collaboration partners who we jammed with earlier in the day play with us, but politics got in the way. Two of the musicians arrived and said, “oh, we forgot our instruments.” That basically meant that it was too politically difficult for them to perform in public with American musicians brought down by the U.S. Embassy. But a third musician decided to perform anyway, and borrowed a guitar from Keola.

Before their concert, we had a group of local dancers perform for us some of the local dances. It was beautiful, they flared their colorful dresses as the performed local dances. Then Keola, Moana and Jeff performed beautifully under the full moon rising over the cobblestone city square. And we had a bit of the collaboration, and the crowd all sang along to La Luna de Margarita under the white light of the moon. After the concert, the mayor of La Asuncion presented Keola, Moana and Jeff with certificates that made them honorary residents of the city. They presented him with a decorative Hawaiian quilt.
The following day, we drove to the center of the island to have a special lunch at Casa de Esther. Casa de Esther was an eclectic old estancia filled with records on the wall, and typewriters and sewing machines around the open air courtyard. The lovely matron Esther had filled the place with wooden shapes that looked like animals. There were hammocks, which I cocooned myself up in.

The lunch was immaculate. Esther cooked with real love, and it was apparent. We ate monkfish egg pate and cazon (shredded baby shark) tortillas, as we sipped white sangria filled with mint and cucumber. 

 The main course was exquisite. Esther made a few different plates, and divided them up depending on what she thought people should eat. Keola and Jeff received steaks that had been marinated in rum and espresso; I received a pescado blanco in a plum salsa with a side of shredded plantains and saffron rice with raisins.

Dessert was even more amazing, as we arroz con leche (rice pudding) in cinnamon syrup covered with pumpkin icecream and shredded coconut. We also tried crema de marcuja that was wonderful. We sipped coffee laced with fine rum, and tried to take in all the deliciousness.

After the immaculate lunch, Keola, Moana and Jeff presented Esther with Hawaiian cookbooks, Hawaiian salts and Hawaiian coffees.

And they performed the Green Rose Hula for her, which left her so touched that she had tears streaming down her face. She spoke of the music as the language of love just as she cooks with. She was so moved that she declared that lunch was on the house. We tried to protest, but she would hear nothing of it.

That night, we had a concert at El Castillo- a giant stone fort overlooking the city. The view was spectacular as the sun began to set across the horizon and heavy clouds flanked the peaks in the distance. One of the students remarked to me that this was a site of the early fight for independence for Venezuela from Spain. He looked a little perplexed when I remarked that it was less a fight for Venezuelan independence and more a fight for Gran Colombia's independence. I doubt such history is taught.

The concert began with the students of El Sistema who we had jammed with the day prior at the old university performing, then doing a collaboration with Keola and Jeff.

Keola and Jeff gave a wonderful performance on the stone platform above the courtyard where the audience was seated below. On the stone incline leading up to the stage, Moana performed her hula dance. During Jeff's portion of the show, he spoke about the wonderful lunch we had at Casa de Esther, and performed a song he had written that afternoon in honor of then feast. Yes, he wrote a song in the afternoon and performed it that night in Esther's honor. Keola also spoke of the incredible lunch we had, and the whole crowd was left curious of what we had dined on that afternoon. The wonderful concert ended with a toast and presentation by the Isla Margarita board of tourism. After the show, there was a wine reception, and then on to a reception held in Keola and co.'s honor.


All of it struck me as amazing given how much the Embassy was doing for this program, compared to how little I could get other post's to contribute to upcoming programs. It left me shaking my head.

The following day we had a final program with the Deaf students we had been working with. We had a breakfast buffet at a nearby hotel, and the kids were frankly amazed at the amount of food available. They ate and ate, and we sure didn't stop them. After the breakfast, the students performed some local folk dances and “sang” for us. Keola and co. reciprocated with a last hula.
The students presented Keola, Moana and Jeff with gifts, including one that left me touched. The students had drawn a pair of hands, colored in US and Venezuelan flags—the significance profound given that the deaf students communicate with their hands.

We checked in and had a delayed flight. We stopped in the duty-free shop to kill some time. The CAO Neal pointed out an extra-special bottle of Diplomatico rum that was about $85. When he walked away, I schemed with Keola and Jeff, and we purchased the bottle for Neal as a thank-you for all his efforts on the program. But rather than save it, he opened it to share with all of us. We sat around the food court and drinking expensive, exquisite rum out of plastic cups. We played “Roses and Thorns,” a game I conduct on my programs to discuss 3 “roses” (good things) and 3 “thorns” (bad things) that happened during the program. We were all moved when the Cultural Affairs Specialist said, with tears in her eyes, that in her 8 years doing cultural programs for the Embassy this program most directly connect with the heart of the Venezuelan people.

We returned to Caracas and were picked up by the Embassy's van. I watched the sun set over Caracas through the bullet-proof windows of an armored vehicle. We checked into a Marriott near the airport, and spent the evening relaxing at the hotel overlooking the ocean.

The next day I got my charges off on their flights, and departed myself on to Frankfurt and on to Delhi after that.

The Aloha Venezuela program was one of the most profound cultural diplomacy programs I have ever participated in. The U.S. Embassy really went out of their way to create real programs to connect Venezuela and Hawaii, and thought of every possible detail to build a meaningful connections.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Flying the unfriendly skies

Surprise, surprise: American carriers are the most profitable and least comfortable.

I spend a LOT of time on planes, and I have to agree. I hate the Fly America Act, and being stuck on American carriers. I am always hoping for codeshares on other carriers so I don't get stuck on the American company carriers that always nickel-and-dime you while offering minimal comforts.

The Chameleon Club

"Among the demons that taunt a writer before he can open a vein and write in his own blood are the devils that whisper: Are you brave enough to tell the truth?"
-Francine Prose, "Lovers at the Chameleon Club

The Holy Land in a nutshell

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cultural Connections- The Clinton Curtis Band in Northeast Brazil

The US Consulate in Recife did a wonderful documentary on The Clinton Curtis Band's tour in Recife and Garanhuns!  This is the band that Levantine Public Diplomacy sent to northern Brazil.

This is what cultural diplomacy looks like; this is what cultural diplomacy sounds like!




Saturday, July 12, 2014

To Brazil, with love from Pakistan

Connecting Brazil with Pakistan via Della Mae. The online progressive Pakistani magazine Let Us Build Pakistan reported on Della Mae's performance of "Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua" in Brazil and previous American Music Abroad tour through Pakistan and Central Asia.

I'm on the board of the Pakistan Israel Peace Forum, which has connected Let Us Build Pakistan in an ongoing dialogue and article cross-posting with the online progressive magazine in Israel +972 Magazine.

Tilting at World Cups

Well, our favorite public diplomacy knight-errant Don Pablo Quixote has completed his most recent quest of bringing the Dulcinea Dellas and the Clintonistas to tour Brazil during the World Cup.

In Northern Brazil, The Clinton Curtis Band created incredible, meaningful music connections through rock, blues and roots music that truly moved the audiences they encountered in Vitoria, Recife and Brasilia.  And they learned themselves of Brazil's glorious music traditions of congo and frevo, as the let music connect us in true commonality.

Muito obregado to Clinton Curtis, Justin Goldner, Drew McLean, Geoffrey Countryman and Gray Reinhard for all your energy and spirit you put in to make this tour such an utter success.

In Southern Brazil, Della Mae wowed Brazilian audiences with their deft musical abilities as they shared joys of bluegrass, and the Dellas charmed them with their grace and pluck.  The Dellas and their new musical friends perhaps even invented the newest form of music to come out of Brazil: Chorograss.  In Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Campo Grande, Sorocaba, Taubate and Sao Paulo, Della Mae continued to prove themselves as some of the finest cultural diplomatesses that the State Department has ever seen.

Muito obregado to Courtney Hartman, Kimber Ludiker, Jenni Lyn Gardner, Celia Woodsmith and Shelby Means for all your energy and spirit you put in to make this tour such an utter success.

Programs like this cannot be done without the tremendous work of partners.  Muito obregado to the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, and the U.S. Consulates in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Recife.  Muito obregado to CAO Danna Van Brandt, who spearheaded the project, and to CASes Cezar Borsa, Joyce Costa and Maria Estella Correa of Post Sao Paulo.  Muito obregado to CAO Jessica Simon and CAS Carla Waehneldt   of Post Rio; muito obregado to CAO Matt Keener and CAS Stuart Beechler of Post Recife; muito obregado to CAS Karla Carneiro and ACAO Marion Lange.

Muito obregado to all the local partner institutions that hosted the artists, that opened their concert halls and cultural centers to allow us to share American music and culture.

As for this Quixote, the next windmill is Serbia to run the Next Level academy in Belgrade and Novi Sad in late July.  Journey on!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Port of Joy

After the phenomenal concert(s) at Teatro do Paiol, the next morning the Dellas had a workshop masterclass at a music conservatory. I had been there with Keola and company prior, and really liked the space. It is an old historic building but with a more modernist inside. The Dellas spoke about the history of bluegrass, and the history of the band. They spoke about their home states and their connection to music, as well as performing and going into the structure of the music.

After the conservatory class, we headed out to the airport to head to Porto Alegre. We did it in a roundabout fashion, heading north to Sao Paulo so we could head south to Porto Alegre. We did so because the CAS Ceszar was worried that both Curitiba and Porto Alegre have smaller airports, and since it is winter we might get stuck. So we used TAM which didn't have a direct flight but went via Sao Paolo and had many more flights per day if we got stuck.

So we went north to head south, and arrived later in the evening to Porto Alegre. We checked in, and had dinner and drinks in a microbrew pub.

The next day, Friday, we had a busy day. We went to the Binational Center where Keola had previously performed, and we had a masterclass with music students from the Department of Music at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. It was a blast. The music students loved the bluegrass, and had a grand time jamming with the Dellas, and sharing their own choro music. After the masterclass, the Dellas rehearsed with their collaboration partners for the evening event.



After lunch, the Dellas were introduced to the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil. The ambassador had wanted to see the Dellas perform, and so she made the trip to Porto Alegre for an (early) July 4th reception that the Dellas were performing in. The Dellas got to meet the Ambassador and chat for a bit before heading back to the theater to give a presentation and performance for the Ambassador and 70 English Language Access students. They had a great time performing and speaking with the English students about music and American life.

After the program, we had a big reception for an early 4th of July party. It was a black tie affair with the Ambassador. After the speeches, the Brazilian band performed the Brazilian national anthem in a Samba style, then the Dellas performed the US national anthem in their own amazing style. Then the bands jammed for some collaboration on bluegrass and Brazilian music. Following the short set, the Dellas went out to the gala and were feted by the crowd. I was underdressed for the event so I stayed back in the dressing room and hung out there.

Saturday was a rest day, and Camilla with the US Consulate was able to get us VIP passes to attend the FIFA Fan Fest to watch the Brazil match. The Dellas went shopping for Brazil swag, and got decked out in yellow for the match. Unfortunately, the weather was awful, but we were under an enclosure so we snacked on salgados and had some beers while we watched a REALLY close game. The upstairs enclosure had a max number, and since it was raining everyone wanted up. We were up, but couldn't go down to use the bathroom.





Finally at halftime, a few of us went downstairs to watch from below. It ended up being a lot more fun, as there were more people cheering and yelling. The game went down to the wire, and ended on penalty kicks (which I hate). It was one of the most intense sporting moments I have ever been a part of. Everyone's hearts were thumping as the penalty kicks were taken, and were chanting the names of the players. When Brazil finally won, the place ERUPTED. It was incredible.

After the game, we headed back to the hotel. A few of us went out for dinner at a traditional Gaucho churraco place that I went the year prior with Keola. We feasted on the endless slices of meat, the delicious picanha, entrecote and other wonderful cuts of meat brought on metal spikes and cut on the table.

And there was a show of gaucho music and dance. There was a gaucho doing tricks with a bollo, twirling it around and smacking it on the ground. He called Celia up on stage and started doing bollo tricks around her head, twirling the rock rope around her face and brushing her hair around with the lassos. The Consulate staff and I were holding out collective breath as this was going down. But she escaped unharmed, and it was quite a show and incredible dinner.

video


Meanwhile, Kimber and Courtney went out with the musicians and had an incredible cultural experience in their own right. One of the collab musician's father was performing with the most famous accordion player in Brazil. They had a show at a private club, and Courtney and Kimber got to hang with the musicians and also see a capoirea set. Then they had some homecooked feijoada that came from local ingredients, and they ended up in the Bohemian quarter of Porto Alegre till late in the night.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bem-vindo ao Brazil!

I arose in the darkness at 3:30am on tuesday morning, with an early start to the airport. I chatted on the quiet way with the driver. He was from Ethiopia originally, but had been living in DC longer than I had been on this earth.

I snaked my way through a surprisingly busy airport for 5am. A troop of Boy Scouts made me anxious to get out of 'Murica. I caught the first leg of my flight south to Miami without incident.

I arrived in Miami and headed over to the gate to meet the Dellas. I found them immediately sprawled out on a blanket surrounded by their instruments, sleeping after their red-eye from Seattle. Celia, Shelby and Courtney were gently slumbering and arose when they saw me. Kimber and Jenni Lyn were having morning blooooody marys and margaritas in the airport Mexican restaurant. I joined them for a bloooody and did a lil duty-free gift shopping.

I went over towards the Starbucks to poach some internet, and I did a lil work. I finished up and headed over to the gate....except the Dellas were gone. So was everyone else. I quickly headed to the gate. I looked at the board and it said the flight was leaving at 10:30am. It was 10:15, and I was late. In my tiredness I had confused the departure time with the boarding time. I ran to the counter, and the counter agent said: Mr. Rockower?

YES! That's me. They were just about to take my stuff off the plane, but I finagled my way on. Every journey of a thousand miles begins with an almost-missed first flight....

I quickly got to my seat and found the Dellas. They had waited and got worried, but needed to board. We had thought you were coming with us, but then we weren't sure....They laughed at my tardiness.

Then the power shut off on the plane, and we got delayed an hour and a half. But it was fine. The plane was pretty empty, and a couple of the Dellas had their own rows to sleep in (“First Class”); I had an empty two-seater (“Business Class”). The rest of the flight was uneventful.

We arrived a lil late to Curitiba and were met by the Sao Paulo Consulate's Cultural Affairs Officer Danna, who had helped coordinate the whole program with me, and also the Cultural Affairs Specialist Cezar, whom I had worked with on the Keola Beamer AMA tour. We went back to the hotel to check-in and have a welcome caiprinha before turning in after a long day.

We had a blessedly slow morning and I slept well. We had a nice lunch at a per kilo place. The food was good, but the best part was the dessert-- a local speciality called sago which is tapoica boiled in mulled wine and covered with a lil bit of vanilla cream. Yum.

After lunch, we went over to the wonderful Teatro do Paiol. The Teatro do Paiol (Gunpowder Theater) was an old rounded gunpowder depot that was converted in the 1970s into a theater. Because of the thick walls for the explosive powder, the acoustics are quite good and quite special. Inside, there is an intimate stadium-style seating. Being back at the theater felt like a dream, because it was that theater that began me thinking about the program down here with the Dellas, and how much I loved the theater and wanted them to play there.

They had a good sound check, and got to practice with their collaboration partners Sergio (bass-clarinet) and Daniel (oud), and immediately bonded over the fiddle tune collab piece and Choro music. Celia worked on her Portuguese pronunciations, and when she performed the Brazilian piece “Cajuina,” I was stunned. It was incredible to hear her deep soulful voice take on the bouncy Portuguese. And they added an extra collaboration surprise of “Sixteen Tons” which bellowed through the theater. AMAZING. This made all my hard work on this project well worth it.

We returned to the hotel before the show, and I dove back into other projects.

We returned to the theater and hung out in the green room, sipping whiskey and wine as we hung out ahead of the show. I glanced outside and saw a HUGE line that was snaking around the rounded theater. Shortly thereafter, Danna and Cezar pulled me aside and said we had a problem—a good problem, but a problem. There was so much clamor for the free tickets that a huge number of people had come to try to see the show on standby. Far more than the small theater could accommodate. So we explored the possibility of doing a second show after.

The Dellas were tickled, and were down to do a second show. We had offered to shorten the first, and do a brief second show but they were so pleased that they simply did two shows. And both were masterful. The theater's acoustics were perfect for their soulful and playful sound.

Having been almost a year and a half since I had last heard them play, and only listening to the album, I forgot how much more incredible they are live. Jenni Lyn plucked with puck; Courtney strummed her guitar like a master: Kimber chopped at her fiddle like the two-time champ she is; Shelby bounced the bass with her consuming grace; Celia dug deep on her incredible voice and filled the room. The audience went NUTS. They cheered and clapped (The Dellas laughed at how much rhythm the audience had). The audience absolutely loved them and gave them huge standing ovations for the show and collaborations. The Dellas told them that they had invented a new style of music “Chorograss,” mixing the Brazilian music with bluegrass, and the audience cheered. And they sang along to “Cajuina,” the collaboration song. They gave a raucous standing ovation which brought the whole group back out for Sixteen Tons.
And then they did it again for a second packed show. The Dellas told the audience that those who waited nearly 2 hours outside to get a second show was the real reason they do what they do. And they put on perhaps an even more passioned show, if that was possible.

We got out late and had a midnight dinner at a place I ate at a year prior. Being superclassy, the Dellas picked up the tab for their collab friends and also the Consulate folks.

The next morning we checked out kinda early and went over to the beautiful cultural center


In short, Curitiba LOVED the Dellas and their bluegrass. 'Tis a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

It all goes back and back

“It all goes back and back," Tyrion thought, "to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance in our steads.”
-George RR Martin, "A Storm of Swords"

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gastrodiplomacy for the Middle Kingdom

A few months ago, I was approached by the policy journal China Policy Review to write a piece on Gastrodiplomacy for China.  The piece was translated into Mandarin and published in China.   Here is the original English version.

Gastrodiplomacy for the Middle Kingdom

In the realm of cuisine, there are few countries that have as distinguished a history as China. China's cuisine is fabled the world over for its tastes, textures and deliciousness.

Modern Chinese cuisine is as ubiquitous and so far-reaching on this globe that there is likely not a country on this planet that does not have at least one Chinese restaurant.

Yet China's edible nation brand is not nearly as strong as it could be. So much that is labeled “Chinese food” is a hodge-podge of different styles thrown together without the dining audience possessing any deeper understanding of the flavors and regional influences to that cuisine.
In order to boost China's edible nation brand through culinary cultural diplomacy, the Middle Kingdom could offer an incredible gastrodiplomacy campaign that educates hungry global audiences on the nuance and flavors that encompass Chinese cuisine today.

Moreover, given China's stature and prominence on the global culinary stage, it is capable of pioneering new techniques in gastrodiplomacy to help further promote and educate global publics about the nuances of Chinese cuisine on a regional level. Meanwhile, China can use cultural diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy to further explore the far-reaches of Chinese cuisine around the world and how it has been synthesized into disparate cultures.

In this article, the author discusses the increasingly popular form of public diplomacy that is gastrodiplomacy, and some of the best practice strategies and tactics employed in its successful application as a form of cultural diplomacy outreach. Furthermore, the author will examine possible gastrodiplomacy strategies and programs for China to embark upon. The author proposes that a Chinese gastrodiplomacy campaign that focuses on various regional cuisines, highlights the distinct cuisine of China's numerous minorities, engages different key global audiences in gastrodiplomacy and connects with the Chinese Diaspora around the globe, would strengthen the overall edible nation brand awareness of China and contribute to Chinese soft power through better understanding of China's rich culture.

Defining Gastrodiplomacy

Gastrodiplomacy is a burgeoning field of public diplomacy that helps communicate a country's culture through its food. Public diplomacy is the communication of policies, culture and values with foreign publics. Within the canon of public diplomacy, gastrodiplomacy is a form of cultural diplomacy that educates global citizenry on a country's culinary history and culture, and helps showcase different flavors and delicacies as a form of educational awareness building.

At the nexus of food and foreign policy, gastrodiplomacy uses a country’s culinary delights as a means to conduct public diplomacy and to raise nation brand awareness and the status of the edible nation brand. Thus, in creating a more robust nation brand through increased culinary and cultural awareness, gastrodiplomacy helps to increase soft power – the power of attraction.

Just as public diplomacy differs from traditional diplomacy in scope and audience, gastrodiplomacy differs from that of culinary diplomacy. While diplomacy consists of high-level communications from government to government, public diplomacy entails communication between governments, and non-state actors, to foreign audiences. 

Similarly, culinary diplomacy exists as the use of food for diplomatic pursuits, including the proper use of cuisine amidst the overall formal diplomatic procedures. Culinary diplomacy is the use of cuisine as a medium to enhance formal diplomacy in official diplomatic functions such as visits by heads-of-state, ambassadors, and other dignitariesCulinary diplomacy seeks to increase bilateral ties by strengthening relationships through the use of food and dining experiences as a means to engage visiting dignitaries.

In comparison, gastrodiplomacy is a public diplomacy attempts to communicate culinary culture to foreign publics in a fashion that is more diffuse; it takes a wider focus to influence the broader public audience rather than high-level elitesGastrodiplomacy seeks to enhance the edible nation brand through cultural diplomacy that highlights and promotes awareness and understanding of national culinary culture with wide swathes of foreign publics. Moreoveras public diplomacy in the age of globalization transcends state-to-public relations and increasingly includes people-to-people engagement, gastrodiplomacy also transcends the realm of state-to-public communication, and can also be found in forms of citizen diplomacy.
Whereas traditional public diplomacy campaigns based on tactics of advocacy attempt to influence opinion directly, gastrodiplomacy seeks to create a more oblique emotional connection to culture by using food as a medium for engagement. Gastrodiplomacy is also not merely a one-off culinary promotion nor an act of culinary public relations, but rather a sustained, holistic attempt at education through the medium of cuisine to create better cultural understanding.

Essentially, gastrodiplomacy is an understanding that you do not win hearts and minds through
rational information, but rather through oblique emotional connections to influence long-term sentiments. Hence, a connection with audiences is made in the tangible sensory interactions as a means to engage more implicit public diplomacy via soft power and cultural connections that ultimately shape long-term public diplomacy perceptions in a manner different than targeted strategic communications.

Gastrodiplomacy Best Practices

While the use of food as a basis for cultural interaction is a notion as old as time, and the role of food in the practice of diplomacy spans centuries, the modern practice of using cuisine as a form of public diplomacy is a recent affair. There are numerous recent case studies in the practice of gastrodiplomacy offered by Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Peru, Malaysia, Turkey and the United States of America.

Some best practices that have emerged from gastrodiplomacy campaigns include soft loan support to aid the establishment of restaurants overseas, as well as the facilitation of access to authentic ingredients. In the “Global Thai” program, Thailand even offered its own seal of quality to mark restaurants serving authentic Thai cuisine around the world.

Meanwhile, through the “Malaysian Kitchen for the World,” Malaysia set up night markets in cosmopolitan locales in London, New York and Los Angeles. This aspect of the Malaysian campaign helped increase the tangibility of the outreach through the combination of Malaysian cultural diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy.

Also, with a nod to the fast-growing trend of food trucks, the Malaysian campaign also sponsored a Malaysian food truck to help introduce Malaysian cuisine across New York City. In addition, Turkey took advantage of the popularity of the food truck phenomenon by conducting a public/private food truck venture to introduce rich, dark Turkish coffee to audiences in Europe and America.

Other campaigns like Peru and South Korea worked to tap into star power from famous chefs and high-ranking officials-- such as in South Korea's case, its previous First Lady. The U.S. Department of State similarly tapped into a network of star chefs to create the “American Chef Corps.”

And some gastrodiplomacy campaigns have sought to foster people-to-people connections through food like South Korea's peripatetic “Bibimbap Backpackers,” who were sponsored to travel around the globe to cook up dishes of Korean bibimbap for new friends. Also, the U.S. State Department fostered exchange gastrodiplomacy by facilitating visits for young chefs from around the world to visit America to learn about new food cultures and techniques through the International Visitors Leadership Program.

Gastrodiplomacy is a manner of creating greater soft power- the power of influence, by making distinct culture more attractive through better understanding of all the culture entails. For countries like Peru and South Korea, the benefits of gastrodiplomacy have been profound as each respective nation's cuisine has topped the charts of the popular food trend lists. More importantly, gastrodiplomacy-linked soft power can translate into increased tourism revenue. The popularity of Peruvian cuisine is expected to generate up to 1 billion dollars in gastronomic tourism in 2014, turning the soft power of gastrodiplomacy into hard power currency.

With the exception of the United States, most of the aforementioned case studies entailed “Middle Powers” seeking to raise their nation brand status and more brand awareness for their culture and cuisine amid a cluttered landscape on the global stage. Middle Powers often try to raise their edible nation brand by creating a buzz to help push their cuisines as being part of a fashionable new culinary trend.

For “Great Powers” like the United States, and for that matter China, the focus of outreach is a bit different compared to that of Middle Powers. While Middle Powers are trying to highlight their nation brand, and make it stand out in a cluttered global landscape, Great Powers have a brand that is already well-known and well-defined. Therefore, the gastrodiplomacy campaign of the U.S. sought to show more nuance and regional variation in the understanding of “American cuisine.”

Gastrodiplomacy for the Middle Kingdom
China has shown some signs of connecting with the growing gastrodiplomacy trends. Already China has engaged in some of the gastrodiplomacy practices in both South America and North America. Following the boom in Chinese trade to Latin America, the Chinese government has worked with expatriate entrepreneurs and restaurant owners to set up Chinese restaurants across the region. With support of Chinese investment, Chinese restaurants have boomed from Colombia to Chile and everywhere in between in South America.

Similar to the Global Thai program, there have been some instances of the Chinese government sending teams of master chefs from China to Chile to help better train local Chinese chefs in the South American country. Across South America, Chinese food and culture has become more widespread. As noted in an article in the news outlet GlobalPost, Twenty years ago, Chinese cuisine was concentrated in high income neighborhoods, but now it’s more spread out throughout the city, even in middle and low income areas,” said Luis Valenzuela, a Chilean architect and urban planning expert. With the spread of Chinese restaurants, Chinese food has become the entry point into a broader connection to Chinese culture.

As a Great Power with an already strong edible nation brand, China's gastrodiplomacy goals are more akin with that of the United States compared to the Middle Power states. Much of the world has some conception of what “Chinese food” is, even if such notions are tied to foods that are hardly authentically Chinese.

In the realm of international relations, there is a concept know as “paradiplomacy,” which entails the diplomatic and public diplomacy interactions of sub-state actors such as regions or cities. For China to engage in a successful gastrodiplomacy campaign, it would be wise to dig down a level and promote the differences in regional cuisine by empowering its various regions and cities to engage in gastrodiplomacy paradiplomacy.

Already in New York City, food from Xi'an has grown increasingly popular thanks to the iconic Xi'an Famous Foods restaurant. China would benefit from gastrodiplomacy campaigns to educate on the more authentic side of Chinese cuisine by highlighting the different regional cuisines and focusing on educating on the nuances of cuisine from across China, and could be a pioneer in paradiplomacy by conducting gastrodiplomacy on a more profound regional and municipal level.

Chinese gastrodiplomacy would be best driven on efforts to help the global foodie class have a deeper understanding of the differences of cuisine from Sichuan from that of Fujian, and all the different regional flavors in between. Through promotion of regional authenticity, China has a capacity to bring the focus of its cuisine back to its more authentic flavors, and through strengthening regional brands make the overall edible nation brand stronger.

Moreover, given the rich culture of China's 55 ethnic minority groups throughout the Middle Kingdom, China could tremendous gastrodiplomacy by promoting the uniqueness of cuisine of the various ethnic minorities spread across the country. Through cultural diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy, China could help communicate and showcase the rich cultural diversity that it possess.

Gastrodiplomacy at the Confucius Institutes
Through the Confucius Institutes, China has a wonderful cultural mechanism to conduct cultural diplomacy, and in some instances these institutions are engaging in gastrodiplomacy to conduct cultural outreach and create deeper understanding of regional culinary nuance. Already Confucius Institutes at universities such as University of California-Davis, Western Michigan University and the University of Nebraska have created classes associated with these cultural centers to offer Chinese cooking classes that educate on regional dishes and flavors. This is a good first step, but gastrodiplomacy is best practiced in a more systematic manner.
The next step would be for China to recognize that the Confucius Institutes could also be an important outlet to engage in gastrodiplomacy, and make these gastrodiplomacy efforts more systematic and sustained.

To China's credit, it has engaged in some gastrodiplomacy via its international broadcasting networks. China Radio International, the international radio broadcasting outlet for China, hosts an engaging radio program called Chopsticks and Beyond that explores different regional tastes in China, as well as cross-cultural interactions between Chinese cuisine and other foreign cuisines in China. It would be worthwhile if the international television broadcasting outlet CCTV followed suit and conducted a dedicated Chinese cooking program on channel. Moreover, China would do well to sponsor shows on authentic Chinese cuisine on the plethora of food-focused television stations, or work to bring celebrity chefs to China to conduct documentaries on learning authentic Chinese cuisine in China.

Gastrodiplomacy to Shaolin
Inner city communities in places such as New York, Washington and Los Angeles remain key taste-makers for the whole of the United States. During the 1980s and 1990s, the popularity of Chinese culture in the inner-city in metropolitan areas across the United States of America became quite widespread through the proliferation of kung fu movies. Meanwhile, with the rise of the hip hop super group Wu-Tang Clan, Chinese culture through martial arts became extremely widespread in inner city America. With the popularity of the Wu-Tang Clan, their home base of Staten Island in New York became known as “Shaolin,” as their music popularized Chinese culture via martial arts and kung fu culture in the African-American experience. 

Meanwhile, nearly every inner city neighborhood across the United States has a local Chinese restaurant that offers cheap, Americanized Chinese food from behind thick glass counters or in warming buffet trays.
Given the role that inner city America plays in shaping the cultural tastes across the United States, a cultural diplomacy investment in broader gastrodiplomacy education for inner city America could make for solid public diplomacy outreach for China. China could conduct culinary education classes in inner city America, as well as make available for donation instruments of classic Chinese cooking techniques. Such events could be hosted at inner city community centers, or in partnership with local Chinese restaurants in such neighborhoods.

The return on public diplomacy investment to conduct both cultural diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy outreach to broaden understanding of China in inner city America could prove substantial. Enhanced cultural diplomacy outreach through Chinese dance, martial arts and culinary education could provide for unexpected long-term public diplomacy benefits for China.

The Middle Kingdom and the Middle East
The best forms of public and cultural diplomacy are drawn from the iconoclastic experience that forces an audience to rethink its preconceived notions of the “other”; one interesting possible area of Chinese gastrodiplomacy that would be to promote the foods of traditional Chinese Muslim regions, particularly that of the Hui communities to the broader Middle East and North Africa.

In my own travels in China, I remember my surprise at finding delicious halal dishes of Hui cuisine in Xi'an. I can distinctly remember the surprise of my Muslim Arab friends in the Middle East when I described China's mosques and halal cuisine, and their shock at the sheer number of Muslims in China-- figures larger than their own countries.

Through centuries of trade, travel and cultural interaction, China has long been a place of tolerance for Muslim communities. Gastrodiplomacy could be a profound tool in helping to conduct an educational dialogue between China and the countries in the Middle East.

In gastrodiplomacy to the Middle East, China could showcase its traditional connections to showcase its own unique forms of halal cuisine borne out of the dining culture of the Hui community in different dishes like delicious lanzhou beef noodles, or the famous Xi'an delight paomo lamb soup with bread chunks.
China could also promote the cuisine of Xinjiang, with its succulent chuanr kebabs that could make the Arab world's mouth water over the skewers of roasted lamb meat.

Already Muslim Malaysia has branded itself as a halal center, opening up waves of tourists from the Gulf and Iran to visit Kuala Lumpur try different flavors of halal foods that Malay cuisine offers.

Such dishes could serve as an entree into deeper cultural diplomacy to connect China with Islamic communities in the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, the gastrodiplomacy connections made through introducing Chinese Muslim cuisine could help better educate the Islamic world to Chinese Muslim culture and identity.

Showcasing the Chinese Diaspora
Given the ubiquity of Chinese culture and cuisine around the world, a fascinating gastrodiplomacy project would be for China to explore the local variations of Chinese cuisine and how it has evolved in places with sizable Diaspora populations. Diasporic Chinese cuisine has even made its way back to China, with the recent opening of Fortune Cookie, an American-style Chinese restaurant in Shanghai.

China could conduct programs to look at the differences of Chinese food around the world, from the Chifas in Peru to the flavors of Chinese-Jamaican cuisine in the Caribbean isle to the subtle yet delicious Chinese-Malay cuisine known as peranakan. Such programs could take the form of photography exhibitions and cooking demonstrations in China and beyond to better examine and taste the impact that Chinese cuisine has had around the world.

The best public diplomacy incorporates two or more tangible elements of culture. As such, an interesting project would be to create a pavilion or food fair in China to share different Chinese Diaspora cuisines from around the world. China could conduct a fascinating photography exhibition for both for Chinese audiences in China and for its Diaspora to better understand how different Chinese communities around the globe have adapted local flavors into Chinese tastes.

Sponsoring a project could help Chinese Diaspora communities connect better with China through the opportunity to share the uniqueness of their own cuisine and culture, as well as introduce those in China to different variations of Chinese cuisine around the globe. Similarly, such an exhibit and program could make for compelling project to be shared through the Confucius Institutes as a means to better educate the entirety of Chinese cuisine around the globe.

Conclusion
Gastrodiplomacy is becoming a beneficial tool for countries seeking to enrich their nation brand by promoting cuisine as a medium to better understand culture. China already has a strong edible nation brand but it is shallow in actual understanding compared to the rich complexity of Chinese cuisine. China could conduct a number of gastrodiplomacy campaigns to strengthen both its nation brand and edible nation brand as a means to enhance its public and cultural diplomacy efforts.

Chinese cuisine is well-known throughout the world., yet despite its ubiquity, China's edible nation brand lacks nuance and understanding. China can conduct gastrodiplomacy as a cultural diplomacy tool to better educate global audiences on China's rich regional specialties and unique minorities as a means to create greater subtlety and understanding for what really entails cuisine from the Middle Kingdom. Furthermore, China can be a real pioneer in the realm of gastrodiplomacy by engaging in paradiplomacy to empower its various regions to highlight their respective cuisines.

Already China has conducted some of the tactics of gastrodiplomacy's best practices, yet its efforts thus far remain ad hoc. What is required is a more sustained, more coordinated effort by China to conduct gastrodiplomacy through its various public diplomacy institutions like the Confucius Institutes and in its partnerships with Diasporic entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, China can use its cuisine to strengthen understanding in communities that already possess affinity for Chinese culture like that of inner city communities in the United States. In addition, Islamic Chinese cuisine could serve to build bridges between China's Muslim community with the broader Middle East and North Africa.

Finally, China can use gastrodiplomacy to connect with and explore its Diasporic communities around the globe as a medium to understand innovations in Chinese cuisine borne out of cultural interactions around the globe.

As China seeks to better communicate its culture around the world, a key aspect remains its cuisine. China has the potential and opportunity to enhance its public diplomacy outreach and cultural diplomacy engagement through gastrodiplomacy, as well as serve as a pioneer in the role of culinary Great Powers conducting gastrodiplomacy.


Paul S. Rockower is the Executive Director of Levantine Public Diplomacy, an independent public diplomacy firm. He is a leading expert in the field of gastrodiplomacy. Rockower has visited China on four different occasions. His favorite meal is spicy Chengdu-style frog hotpot.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Updates, near and far

Dear blog, I miss you!

I wouldn't even know where to begin for an update.  Things have been crazy, and I have been busy.

Where to start?  Dunno.  Calcutta?  Isla Margarita in Venezuela?  Looking forward to a long flight down to Brazil so I can update on all the past adventures. In the meantime:

Next Level Update:

For starters, we launched the new Next Level site: http://www.nextlevel-usa.org/  Big thanks to Peter Tran of Mice and Pen for his great work!

Also, DJ2Tone Jones and I were at the American Security Project to give an interview podcast on hip hop cultural diplomacy to India through the Next Level program.  Big thanks to Matthew Wallin for setting it up.

And a great article in the Indian site Business Economics from NL Team India MC Purple on the power of hip hop to empower communities.

Levantine PD Update:

I head off next week for a program I organized with the US Embassy in Brazil to send American Music Abroad alumni ensembles The Clinton Curtis Band and Della Mae to the Samba Nation for some cultural diplomacy programs in conjunction with the World Cup and July 4th celebrations.  The Dellas and the Clintonistas met in Turkmenstan for U.S. Cultural Days while I was with the Dellas on their AMA tour.

The Clinton Curtis Band is off to Vitória, Recife and Brasilia to share their rock, blues and roots music. The Clinton Curtis Band is going to have a great time collaborating on Brazilian styles of Congo, Frevo and other music traditions.

After a grand tour on the American Music Abroad program through the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras, the Clintonistas should have a grand time rocking Brazil.

Meanwhile, this public diplomacy knight errant will be escorting the Dulcinea Dellas through Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Campo Grande and Sao Paulo.

Both bands will get a lil vacay in Rio after the tour is done.

I hope to have enough time to update about both tours while I am on the road.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Call me Norgay

As a taker of titles, real and imagined, I have to thank Matthew Wallin for my newest (and perhaps most apt): a public diplomacy sherpa!


Yes, that would be me with Everest as a backdrop.

So why is a PD sherpa so apt? Well, I handle the logistics and gear of incredible musicians and lead them to the heights in exchange for a space at the table at some of the most amazing cultural diplomacy scenes in the world.