Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rickroll 'em

Fighting terror in the digital age: Anonymous is now rickrolling ISIS!

Telling your own story

"Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter."
-African proverb

On Light

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
-Edith Wharton

Friday, November 20, 2015


‪Gastrodiplomacy‬ thought for the weekend, courtesy of Pakalu Papito:

"Why have abs when you can have kebabs."

Monday, November 16, 2015

moment de silence

The morning was grey and foreboding, like a day better served being avoided or an alley best not ventured into.

We arrived to school, and we were told that at noon there would be a moment of silence for the whole school in the courtyard for the victims of the terror attack in Paris.

All morning, we discussed the attacks in French class through drawings and caricatures.  A headmaster came in to check the attendance and verify that any missing students could be accounted for.

The morning passed in a cold grey dullness.

At noon, the whole school gathered in the courtyard.  A headmaster explained that we would have a moment of silence to honor those killed in Paris.  A soft siren began to wail across the city.  I closed my eyes, and thought of Prague as a student standing for another moment of silence many years ago.

I murmured the Mourner's Kadish under my breath. Yitgadal, v'yitkadesh....

Amid the siren, the noon churchbell punctuated the silence.  It rang loud and clear, again and again.

I thought back to another time, standing in silence in Japan as we honored those who died in Hiroshima--a differnt bell punctuating the somber silence.

The siren and the church bells ended almost in harmony,

My eyes remain closed.  I listened for another moment to the sounds of children laughing in a nearby school.  A reminder that life continues.

As I opened my eyes, the grey skies were beginning to pass and blue azure was beginning to peek through.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

No being ends in nothing

 After a long week, juggling French class and upcoming programs in Bangladesh and El Salvador that had me working across 4 continents, the weekend finally arrived. I had considered going to Orleans to see Joan of Arc's old stomping grounds, but decided to hang closer to home for what amounts to my last weekend in Tours.

Friday evening was quiet, and I hung out at a local pub called Mr. Cool's, where I played darts and pinball with my friend Francesco. As I was about to leave the bar, news of the attacks in Paris were starting to filter in. I returned to find a lot of messages on Facebook and email, asking me to check in and indicate I was safe. I did so, and went to bed around midnight.

Saturday morning, I headed over to rent a bicycle for the weekend. As is the case in Tours at the bike rental place, I can rent a bike for 2 days, but the store is closed on Sunday and Monday so I get to return it on Tuesday morning, so I actually get it for 3.5 days. A good deal, me thinks.

I got the bike, and headed out on the Loireen Velo trail that crosses the the Loire valley and river until the trail reaches the Atlantic and Mediterranean. I had been planning on going to Amboise—about 27 km away from Tours. I had considered taking a bus or train there and biking back, or biking there, and taking a bus/train back, but I got a wild hair and just decided to do the whole route, a lil more than 50 km. I realized that while 50 km sounds like a lot, it was really just 30 miles, which is only a little more than I had been doing in Boulder.

I headed out on the quiet trail, burning my way to Mountlouis where I had visited last time. Since I knew the terrain and knew where I was going, it did not take me long to get to Mountlouis, some 15 km (10 miles) away. I crossed Mountlouis, and passed on through vineyard fields dormant for the winter. The open countryside under the wide blue skies were beautiful. I had the fields to myself, save for some grazing horses. I admired the rich Loire terrain as I passed through, and tried to imagine it in spring bloom.

I passed through small hamlets and along lakes and the turgid Rive Loire until I spied Amboise from afar with its gothic tiered royal chateau that once housed Charles VIII and Francis I. After biking for 27 km (~17 miles), I was famished. I parked my bike under the royal chateau and wandered under the old clock tower down medieval lanes.

I wandered back into the main square, and stopped for lunch at a recommended spot called Chez Bruno. I sat outside, under the limestone fortress and had an immaculate lunch. The formula midi was a salad nicoise and a steak au poivre et frittes for 13 euros—not bad at all. The place was known for its local wines, and I washed down the nicoise with a semi-sweet, semi-dry white aptly named memoire de Loire, and the steak with a nice glass of red. I had biked my way there, I figured I had earned an extra glass of wine.

After lunch, I headed over to Chateau du Clos Luce, the chateau where Leonardo daVinci spent his final years. That was when things got interesting.

Originally known as Chateau de Cloux, the manor was built in 1471 (on the foundations of a 12th century manor) by Estienne Le Loup, who was bailiff of King Louis XI. In 1490, it was bought by King Charles VIII, and served for centuries as a royal summer residence for the kings of France.

It was King Francis' sister Marguerite de Navarre who convinced the regent to extend an invitation to Leonardo. King Francis admired daVinci's genius, and sent him an invitation to take up residence at the royal chateau. DaVinci accepted the royal offer, and in the autumn 1516, he set out from Rome on the back of a mule across the Alps, along with his faithful disciple Melzi and devoted servant deVillanis. Leonardo brought a few other things with on his saddle bags on his mule venture across the Alps: the Mona Lisa, the Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the unfinished St. John the Baptist, which he would complete in Amboise.

When daVinci arrived to Clos Luce, King Francis told him, “here you will be free to think, to dream and to work.” Leonardo daVinci was named “First Painter, Architect and Engineer,” and received a formidable allowance of 700 gold ecus per year; the king also financed daVinci's projects and work. The regent asked in return simply to have the pleasure of hearing daVinci speak, and watch him work.

DaVinci spent the last three years of his life at Clos Luce, thinking, tinkering and studying the lush gardens. He devised new inventions, wondrous celebrations and plans for a model chateau at Romorantin, as well as plans to connect the Loire with the Lyon region by a system of canals.

Leonardo daVinci saw that his days were drawing to a close. He wrote, “No being ends in nothing” and soon took his final sacraments. He reportedly wept on his death bed, for having offended the Creator and the people of this world for not working at his art as he should. He then passed in peace, and took his last breaths in the chateau before he joined “the Creator of so many wondrous things.”

I toured through the room that daVinci spent the last three years of his life, and saw his spiraled bed frame and old notebooks and manuscripts. I also visited the bedroom of Marguerite de Navarre, who had been wise enough to first think to bring daVinci to France. I visited through salons and a 15th century chapel for Anne de Bretagne, as well as a great hall where daVinci entertained important guests. I also visited the kitchen fed the vegetarian da Vinci.

More importantly, in the basement there were models and designs of the genius of da Vinci. I got chills as I looked at his brilliant works. The man was centuries ahead of his time. I just shook my head at the models of his inventions for civil and military engineering feats (the man made a tank and machine gun cannons in the 16th century!), mechanics, optics and hydraulics. The sheer brilliance of daVinci's creations were astounding. The thing that most moved me was daVinci's invention of the bicycle. Here some 5 centuries later, I had used daVinci's invention to get myself here.

And I was reminded of my visit to the museum of Archimedes in Olympus in Greece (“Give me....and I will move the Earth”), the last time I found such an incredible outlier.

Nearly in shock at daVinci's brilliance, I wandered out into his gardens, where daVinci studied nature to learn the ways of the world. DaVinci took his inspiration for creation by observing the natural world around him. I saw the gardens, where he studied the ways of the world. And I walked through the park where they reconstructed some of daVinci's inventions like double-tiered bridges to help move the flow of traffic as a means to fight pestilence. There were working models that littered the landscape, it was an impressive display.

I wandered through the last exhibit that showcased daVinci's time in France, and his role in bringing Renaissance advances to the Loire Valley.

The whole visit left me speechless.

The afternoon was getting a little late if I wanted to get back to Tours in the daylight. I realized I would not have time to visit the Chateau Royal d'Amboise, but it has lasted for a few centuries so perhaps I can return to it another time.

I set back out on the road back through the fields and meadows that I had passed on my comings. The return was long and my old knee was starting to ache, but I made it back victoriously to Tours. I rang my bike bell as I pulled into my residence. In the end, I had biked almost 54 km, nearly 34 miles. Not bad at all!

PS: I did another 30 km on sunday morning, biking the other way to Savonnieres and back.  That leaves my weekend total to around 80km or 50 miles. 

Tales of a Hunger-Blatherer

Ha! My trip to Ethiopia this summer may have begun an Ethiopian gastrodiplomacy campaign!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Loire en Velo

I may not be Lance Armstrong or even Charlie Walker but I just biked 50 km across the Loire Valley from Tours to Amboise and back, and I am f'ing proud of it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Peace be upon us

There are a lot of students in my French class from the Middle East. Doctors from Saudi, Oman and Libya; even a detective from Kuwait.

I walked in to class today, and one of the students from the Gulf named Mohammad welcomed me with a smile, and said: Shalom.

 I smiled back, and said: Wa aleikum Salaam.

It's always the little things....

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Last weekend, I had an old friend Lauren Cobert ("Party like its 1999") come visit Tours.

After lots of stinky cheese, we made our way to the incredible chateau Chenonceau ("Party like its 1599").

For a bit of quick history, Chenonceau was given by King Henri II to his mistress Diane of Poitiers. When King Henri died from a lance splinter in the eye, his wife the Queen Catherine de' Medici told Diane, "wench--get walking." (I paraphrase from ye olde French).

Queen Regent Catherine ruled France for decades from her river chateau.

 I have known Chenonceau since Harry Rockower made a model of it when he was a wee lad (model still in the basement, where we play Blitz '99)

Can a trip ever be "Authentic"?

Pico Ayer asks some good questions and offers some good answers on such subjects.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

NL Bangla anniverary

A year ago today the NL Team Bangladesh, featuring the Hon. Asheru, DJ A-Minor, Amirah Sackett and Jocelyn Ellis, inaugurated the historic NL Bangladesh program!

NL Team Bangladesh and the NL Dhaka Academy put together an incredible show that rocked the packed Shilpakala National Auditorium.

The Next Level Bangladesh program was so fantastic, the newspaper The Daily Star included it among the cultural events of the year in 2014 in Bangladesh!

I was proud to play a part in this incredible cultural diplomacy event.

Everything wrong with American immigration in Y2K15

"But his application for the H-1B visa was denied, and he had to leave the United States. Back in France, Mr. Négri used his data skills to figure out why. The answer was simple: Many of the visas are given out through a lottery, and a small number of giant global outsourcing companies had flooded the system with applications, significantly increasing their chances of success. While he had one application in last year’s lottery and lost, one of the outsourcing companies applied for at least 14,000. The companies were squeezing out American employers like his boss."

-Large Companies Game H-1B Visa Program, and Jobs Leave the U.S.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Culinary Citizen

I was a guest on The Culinary Citizen to discuss the origins of gastrodiplomacy. Have a listen to the new podcast! Thanks Sam and Kelsey for having me on.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

La Loire à Vélo

I can only describe it as I see it.

I went to rent a bike on Saturday morning.  On the way, I passed through the flower market across the middle of the wide boulevard.  Framed in the autumn brown leaves of the tall trees, the flower market stretch down the long boulevard in a cascasd of colors.

I was transported back to the spice markets of Mysore.

From Mysore

And the flower markets under the freeways of Taipei.

From Taipei Markets

The rows of rainbows were stunning.  Truly Roy G. Biv.

From Tours Weekend

A belt of color across the city.

I continued past the marvelous marble Hôtel de Ville with virtuous and vile statues staring down.

I made my way past the belle train station, stopping first at a briocherie.  The day prior, the line had been out the door.  The smells coming from the briocherie were pain intoxication.

Today the line was more manageable.  Inside there were giant brioche.  Crown brioches stuffed with chocolate.  On the wall, confitures jellied slowly and sweetly.  Abricot.  Figues. Cerise.

I got a small chocolate brioche but dreamed of wearing La Couronne.

I made my way to the bike shop.  It was 15 euros to rent the bike for the day, and I had to have it back by 7pm.  I made a good move to ask about taking the bike longer than a day.

-Oui Monsieur, we have two day rentals for 23 euros.


-But we are closed on Sunday and Monday, so you bring it back Tuesday morning

Vraiment? Jusqu'au mardi pour le prix de deux jours?

-Oui Monsieur, c'est bon prix, non?

Oui.  So I have the velo to bike around the Loire Valley until Tuesday.

The clerk handed me a pump and a kit to fix flat tires.  I asked about a helmet.

Il est pas obligatoire

I laughed.  When I was renting a bike in Boulder, they made me click a box if I was refusing a helmet.  I tried but my sister and the clerk vehemently insisted I take the head gear.

That is the difference between France and America--in France, they send you off with something to fix the bike but nothing to protect your cabeza; in America, they make sure the world is baby-proofed.

But I did opt for the helmet in the end.  I make a living with my fair tête, and having just watch the exploding of tossed melons, I could only imagine what would happen to my head if it broke my fall.

Puis, I biked out of the city, past the belle Opera House and the Musée des Beaux-Arts.  Through the medieval streets and out to La Rive Loire.

And into the autumn.  I can only describe what I saw but it was stunning.

Burnt orange.  Fire red.  Autumn amarillo (jaune).  Fall brown.  A soft vert.

At a crossroads, I stopped to write it all down.  I watched the birds fish in the river.

I listened to the silent flowing river and chirps of birds.

Across the river, a city of nameless white stood proud on the banks of river.  A tall white water tower dominated the scene, and next to it looked to be an old medieval tower.

Behind me, stretching green and brown autumn forest stood a double-steepled cathedral raised high across the blue-azure sky. I biked 12 km to the next town over, Mountlouis.  I biked through the quiet town, and down to the river.

It was there by the river that I found my Rosetta stone.  I had been searching for a book of French verbs.  Learning languages is all about learning patterns, and I didn't have enough of the patterns explained in my regular French book.  But my small Frommer's PhraseFinder had all I needed to see verbs in present and past.  Under a canopy of autumn leaves, I animatedly spoke to myself--or imagined others in French as the language finally opened up to me.

I stopped at a nearby restaurant, a nice creperie.  I asked the waiter for two words I did not recognize:

-dinde (turkey)
-gesiers (gizzards)

He explained, and left me a second English menu.  The Rosetta carte.  I sipped a Kir Breton (cidre, creme de casis) as I cross-referenced the menus, learning new words like guimauve (marshmallow).

The crepe came, and it was exquisite.  Since I am a ciboscribner, I will simply describe the deliciousness:

A savory buckwheat crepe filled with wild mushrooms, tomatoes and Émincé de dinde, cooked in smooth cream and garlic. A fresh salad on the side.  A glass of vin blanc from a nearby vineyard.  C'est magnifique.

After lunch, I began my 12km trek back.  I stopped to grab this scene that caught my eye.  If ever there was a juxtaposition of world.

From Tours Weekend

Who is Jean Jaurès?

Is he a liberator or a destroyer?

Well, maybe both.  Jean Jaurès was a famous French Socialist leader at the turn of the 20th century.  He was anti-militaristic at at time when it wasn't popular to be.  He may have been a great leader of France, if he had not been assassinated.

I stumbled upon Jean Jaurès because he is remembered in the center of Tours--the plaza bears his name and his memory.   

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A ticket to cry

A vision of what America's high speed rail system could look like.  But who is John Gault?


And in the middle of Tours, I found a pack of wallabies.

And 5 francs.

I want a wallaby or a kangaroo to keep my baby elephant company.  And a pig too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Coucher du Soleil

While I thought I was late on the sunset, I figured it was never a bad thing to head down to the river to see the day's fading light burn a hole in the sky.

I was right.  

I descended to the river as flocks of birds flew just parallel to the dark glassy lake before pulling up.

The sun had set, but the scene was still stunning:

The scene was framed in by the dark glass river and the grey clouded sky.

Between these dark frames, the sun's fading light burnt golden across the horizon until they reached the dark black night forest.  Night lights began dotting the darkness, and their reflections like stars in a black river.

Bats fluttered with indifference.  

Behind me, the lights on the Pont Wilson came on on the stone arches.  The three stone arches lit like the three magi.  

The scene ended with a finger of golden light stretching across the horizon as the grey clouds sheltered it out.

I framed my fingers like a painting's frames, trying to hold onto the memory and picture as tightly as I could.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Lips too chilled

Some beautiful 17th century haikus from Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō:

                                          Boozy on blossoms -
                                          dark rice,
                                          white sake.

           Come, let's go
           till we're buried.

                                      silence – monk
                                      sips his morning tea.

Lips too chilled
for prattle –
autumn wind.

Monday, October 26, 2015


I have talked my way into free drinks; I have connived my way into free drinks; I have flirted my way into free drinks; but I have never studied my way into a free drink.

The addendum to my story came at the bar Le Temps du Rois, a lovely old medieval bar in the middle of the town square.  I was studying over a drink to catch up with the advanced class I would be joining tomorrow.

I needed another drink, so I ordered a Grimbergen Ambree and asked the bartender and a woman at the bar a word from my lesson that I didn't recognize: "Soulignez--Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Soulignez apparently means: to cross out.  The question and the answer got me a free beer.

Soulignez l'addition.

People appreciate effort, the French even more so.

Merci, et Vive La France!

PS: apparently, soulignez is underline not cross out.  Oh well, maybe I should stay in the basic class 

Billy Madison Redux

It was the Grateful Dead who sang:

"Well, the first days are the hardest days,
don't you worry any more."

Eh bien, les premiers jours sont jours les plus durs,
ne vous inquiétez pas plus.

It sounds so poetic in French.

Perhaps my Billy Madison entry the day prior was indeed apt.

My day was a bout of confusion lost in a French Twilight Zone episode.  Où est Monseigneur Rod Serling?

I know enough French to ask that much.

I woke up early enough.  Merci to the daylight savings change that happens a week earlier in France than the U.S. so I woke up to light rather than darkness at 7:30am.

I had some pain, beurre et confiture de cerise for breakfast and made my way over to school.

I was a bit lost trying to figure out where to go but eventually I found my way into the office to get my schedule.  I didn't understand enough French to realize that there was an orientation at 9am prior to my exam.

Granted, the program was printed in only French.  I was sitting outside the exam room, when I finally realized there was another entrance, and the orientation was inside.  Apparently,  I didn't miss much because it was just a rehash of the orientation booklet.  I circled things in my Orientation book I wanted to do, like a wine and cheese tasting and French Cinema night.

I waited to take my exam, staring out the window at the weathered Tower of Charlemagne and beautiful marble, domed Saint Martin Basilica.  The leaves below in the courtyard were a burnt yellow.  The cloudy mist in the sky was burning away into blue haze.

I took my French test, and thought I spoke pretty well.  As well as I can in French.  But I definitely chatted a bit.

After the exam, all the students wandered out to the tour area for the Tours tour.  With no one out, the students congregated and chatted.  I met a German girl named Judith, two Omani doctors named Ahmed and Walid and a Taiwanese girl named Tang.  I alternated from Arabic to Mandarin for a tad for fun.

Our tour guide was not be found, but another nice teacher gave us a tour around the city.  I chatted with the various students from various places.  A few Libyans, a couple Saudis, an English lass and a few Italianas.  The city was beautiful in Autumn splendor.  We crossed through old medieval squares, amid houses made of weathered wood and limestone.  We crossed trams and tracks, and the tree-lined boulevard.

After lunch, I returned to start class.  I was put in the beginner class.  That was fine, I had mentioned I wanted to get a solid basis for my French skills.

Alas, that wasn't quite what fit.

The rest of the class was very basic.  Very basic.  As in, the rest of the group was coming from the Middle East, and the teacher was teaching the very start of French.  As in "Je m'appelle Paul."

At first, I laughed.  And made it through the first break, scratching my head.  While I wanted a basic start, this was perhaps not it.

As in the alphabet.  And how to write the alphabet.

And how to pick out different letters, and write them in cursive.

As in I really was in a French Billy Madison.

I began to get a little despondent.  I may not be Honoré de Balzac, but I am not a French kindergartner.  And I had not just spent a lot of centimes to learn the French alphabet.

The teacher saw my pain.  We chatted about how much French I spoke.  I checked the book, and felt pretty comfortable with most of the material in the first few chapters.  Not perfect but I would rather a challenge than this.

We took a break, as the class copied down A through Zed and I stood outside on the window sill, staring at the changing yellow leaves, wondering if the French phrase was le suicide.  And I chatted with Khaled, a doctor from Saudi Arabia.

The teacher returned, and sent me downstairs to chat with his boss to get me into a different class.  I descended down the stairs, and battled further confusion.  An exasperated French bureaucrat didn't quite understand what I wanted.

-If you are in that class, go back to that class

  -I was told to switch classes, I am not going back to that class.

A woman even looked at my schedule, and took me to an empty lab as I tried to explain that I was trying to switch classes.

They tried to send me back to the original class, and I tried to explain that I had no business in that class--I don't need to learn the French alphabet.

Finally, I spoke to the boss, and she told me to come back in the morning for a new schedule.  I asked in French what time I should arrive.

I left and went for a run.

Down to the Loire River, amid the white bark trees with yellow-green leaves.  I did three Sinnermans, my usual runner's companion.

Tomorrow is a new day, but today really was day one of jardin d'enfants.  I will work it out, or my name is not Jean-Paul Rocheheurre.   I didn't cough up a slew of francs to get an immersion class that does not reach my lil piggy toe.

Retourner à l'école

Retourner à l'école. Retour à l'école, pour prouver à papa que je ne suis pas un imbécile. Je suis mon déjeuner emballé, mes bottes liées serré, je l'espère, je ne suis pas dans un combat. Ohhhh, retourner à l'école. Retourner à l'école. Retourner à l'école. Eh bien, ici, va rien. 
-Monsieur Billy Madison


I should back this up to how I got here.

Back down the wooded path, down the banks of the river.

Back along the quay littered with autumn trees, their bark stripped white with grey-brown splotches.

And back to the center of the charming French town.  Medieval cobblestones and wooden houses from a former century.

Tours is lovely.

I arrived along the tree-lined boulevard amid an antique market in a canopy of falling autumn leaves.

I had arrived from the Gare d'Austerlitz this morning.

The trip out of Paris was beautiful, as we sped across rustic French countryside.

Fields of white, three-armed giants let me know my direction was correct.

I arrived to Tours, with my only challenge being to figure out how to enter the Hameau St. Michel--my current residence.

I found my way through town and found the large wooden gates.  I rang the bell a few times but got no answer.  I saw a sign that mentioned another entrance on Impasse Rabelais, so I walked around the block and found another entrance.  I rang the bell but still no one came.  Well, I guess I would be camping outside....

In a few minutes, a student walked up and swiped a card to get in.  I followed her in to an empty lobby.  Progress.

But progress was short-lived, as there was no one inside the building and no one coming or going.  Nor could I access the internet.  Well, I guess I could be camping inside....

But in a few minutes, a fellow named Francesco arrived, who worked at the Hameau.  Apparently, the buzzer connects to his phone but it was not working.  He helped get me into my room and settled in.  The rest of the afternoon, I already detailed.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Life is for the living

Staring from the banks of a glassy, slow-moving Loire River to the splendid sunset across the horizon.

It is so spectacularly beautiful, all I can do is sigh and breathe.


And try to draw it in ink on lined, white paper canvas.

An eight-columned arch bridge divides the scene, separating right bank from left.

Dividing the two halves of the bridge is a small island with fall foliage amidst its autumn change. October orange, green and a hint of yellow.

On the left bank, the sun sets golden across the grey-pink clouded sky.  Golden rays streak through grey like lines of streaking light.  

Below the arches it has gone all golden unto the dark forest horizon.

Reflected gold light shimmers with the stone columns in the cold glass waters.

Cars streak across the long bridge.

The right bank below the weathered stone arches is dark with forest.

Above the fold, autumn colors reign supreme,
while white birds dot the water and sand and river glass.

Overhead in a sea of grey-pink, formations of birds pass in v lines.

I take a deep breath.

Perhaps Whitman could have given it more form.

Or Thoreau, more color and depth.

Monet would have abstracted the scene in a light watercolor tint.

Van Gogh would have taken fat yellow paint to the resplendent sky-set.

Perhaps it is scene more fit for a Romantic painter-- left to the brush of Bierstadt or Turner or Cole.

Perhaps best left described by an impressionist.

As the bells punctuate the quiet night across the city of Tours, the Muse closes her handiwork--and she ends my memory with a punctuation of finality, I leave the memory I have: all I can give is what I have given.

Paris Adventures

 I have been in Paris for the last week, which is always lovely. Just when I think perhaps I could settle in America, and be happy in Denver, I visit Paris and that throws such settled plans into a fit.

My mom made the greater journey with me. I get my Francophile nature from her, and when she found out I would be studying French she made designs on joining me in Paris for some days prior.

So what do two Francophiles do in the their Parisian capital? Take it slowly, actually. Since we had both spent a bit of time in Paris, we took things pretty calmly.

We had a beautiful apartment that we found on AirBNB which was literally in the heart of Paris. I don't think we could have found a better location. The place was right of the Tour Saint-Jacque, between Chatelet and Hotel DeVille. It was a block off the Seine and right in the middle of the city near Les Halles and Les Marais. The apartment itself was beautiful and spacious, with lovely decorative molding on the ceilings.

On the day we arrived, we settled in and wandered around Boulevard Saint-Michele and through the Jardin des Plantes and around my Mom's old place of residence when she was a student. We foraged for dinner in Les Halles—finding a nice bistro for some rich French Onion soup and a pizza to share.

Our first proper day in Paris, after some pan aux raisins and coffee, we headed in the Marais for the Picasso Museum. The Picasso Museum had been under renovation when I was last in Paris, so we were excited to see what had been done. Alas, we arrived to find a long line snaking out the front door. We decided that we would be better served getting tickets online for the next day.

Instead, we headed up to the 16th to visit the Musee Marmatton Monet and see my old stomping grounds. I took mother around my old neighborhood in the chic 16th, and we took in the vibrant autumn leaves set against the grey skies. My mom, who is a docent at the National Portrait Gallery in DC, was able to get reciprocity on her entry into the museum. The museum was great, but different than I had previously seen. It had an exquisite collection of Monet's works. I was a bit jetlagged, so was a hurting puppy. I finished in the museum and went outside to powernap on a park bench while she finished.

That evening, we had diner with my mother's old friend Annie, whom she met when she was studying abroad in 1971. The meal was true-to-form rich in French fashion.

The next day, we visited the Picasso Museum. Much better with the tickets purchased ahead. Alas, the museum was a bit of a disappointment. It was more a museum on Picasso rather than of Picasso. It chronicled his life and different styles but was a tad lacking in displaying his major works.

In the afternoon, I took my mom to Boulevard Hausman to Printemps to see my favorite view of Paris from the top of the famous department store. The view across Paris did not disappoint.

That evening, we had a delicious meal in the Quartier Latin over some Moroccan fare. My mom had rich, fluffy couscous with stewed vegetables while I had a delicious tagine of poulet, olives et citron. After dinner, we made our way back to the apartment, with a final saidera at a cafe below the apartment. The place, Cafe Livres was a fun cafe filled with shelves lined with books. I sipped armagnac (apple brandy) while my mom had a pot of excellent jasmine tea—so good, we tracked down the company Comptoir Richard that made such good jasmine offerings.

We were joined by Annie again the next day to visit the Centre Pompidou. The last time I visited the Centre Pompidou, I was 21 years old and had little appreciation for modern art—so was pretty negative to the place (although I loved the building). Nearly 15 years later, my tastes have evolved enough to appreciate the museum further. I didn't love it all, but I enjoyed it far more. Meanwhile, the view from the museum across Paris was excellent.

In the afternoon, we wandered through the Marais to find the store for Comptoir Richard so my mom could get her jasmine tea, and we saw a part of the Marais I had not previously found.

Dinner was a return to Les Halles for some more bistro fair of French onion soup and some roasted chicken. Of course, we had to have at least one crepe—butter, sugar and lemon juice.

My mom departed the next morning back to the U.S., and I left the apartment and headed to Les Gobelins to stay in a cheap hotel I found online. The trek south to Les Gobelins was not too far, and the neighborhood was probably more my speed.

I checked in, and headed over to meet a friend Keri near the Musee d'Orsay for a conference she was attending. I caught the tail-end of the lecture on art in public spaces, then joined the group for lunch at a creperie. We had a lovely lunch discussing art and the world.
After lunch I headed back towards the Musee d'Orsay to meet my friend David for coffee. I had met David in Jamaica. We caught up over coffee and discussed the search for meaning in work and life.

We walked back across the Louvre to the metro and I headed back to my hotel. After I re-settled in, I headed back out to meet a friend Isaac, whom I had met in Addis Ababa. Originally from New York, Isaac had spent decades traveling around. He was living in Addis with his girlfriend, and had met a mutual friend Philippe—a German who had been on the road for the last two year whom I met in Bahir Dar and in Gonder. Isaac and his girlfriend were now living in Paris for the last two months. We caught up for drinks, and chatted about the world we knew.

Saturday was my Trojan day. I first met my friend Leslie, who is president of the USC Alumni club in Paris. We had coffee (and foie gras) in the saturday afternoon sun. I left her and crossed Montmartre to meet my friend Tu-Oanh, a Tahitian and fellow Trojan alum who works at the World Bank in Paris. We had coffee at Cafe Lomi—a Brooklynesque spot on the other side of Montmarte.

That evening, I decided to treat myself to a nice meal to end my Paris period. I went to a nearby restaurant that specialized in Steak Tartare. I sipped a green Ricard as I read Hemingway, waiting for the raw meat to arrive. Arrive it did, with a raw egg yolk on top. It was delicious. When you are eating raw meat, it needs to be very fresh—this was, and was perfect in texture and flavor. I dreamed of French gastrodiplomacy to Ethiopia over kitfo-tartare exchanges and also convincing sushi-loving Japan on the joys of tartare as I sipped a nice cabernet.

I already wrote of my hip hop tout le monde experience to end the evening. This morning I woke up early and grabbed a delicious flaky butter croissant at the local boulangerie and some coffee before I checked out of the hotel and headed to Gare d'Austerlitz to catch my train to Tours for my French immersion. Along the route to Tours, giant three-armed white windmills dotted the route, which I can only take as a sign that this chevalier is heading in the right direction. Time to learn French!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hip Hop tout le monde

I had just finished dinner, and I stopped in the cafe on the corner for a saidera (last drink).  I walked in to the place, and heard the tail-end of an MC Lyte song.  I curiously sat down, and  I ordered a glass of wine.

As my glass of vin rouge came, Leaders of the New School's Syntax Era started playing through the joint.

We are L--what
We are the O--what
We are the N--what
We are the S--what...

Now I was really starting to wonder.

As I sipped my glass of Ventoux, Busta made his outro and Pete Rock & CL Smooth made their famous intro as the horn blew.

I reminisce, 
I reminisce...

The place was closing up so I beckoned the waitress over since I was so curious over the musical question.

In broken French I asked:

Whose music is this?

It's mine!

Really? You had some classics! Lyte, L.O.N.S., Pete Rock & CL Smooth!

She smiled and gave me a pound.

"Hip Hop, j'adore," she said.

In my broken French, I tried to explain my work on Next Level and how we use hip hop to connect the world.

She gave me one more pound as she shut the place down.

Hip Hop, tout le monde, she said as I walked out in the Parisian autumn night.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Paris Selfie

Paris Selfie avec ma mère. A fellow Francophile, she came to Paris to drop me off at French school.