Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Adventures in the Blue City: Travels with Kane:

After a lovely sojourn in Amsterdam over a long weekend, I headed back to Morocco on a monday evening. The Dutch border guard was curious of my intentions in Morocco, so I explained I was going there to study French at a fraction of the price of France or Belgium. He gave me a smile that indicated he respected the logic.

The flight out was interesting. I sat with an African fellow from Ghana, who had been at the North Sea Jazz festival. He was a jazz musician, we sat chatting about culture and music and sipping Moroccan red wine in paper cups. He gave me one of his CDs, which looks quite professional. I don't have a CD player so I haven't had the pleasure of listening yet. He was heading home to Accra, (“I left my heart in Accra”), and just transiting in Casa.

The arrival to the Casablanca Airport was without issue. I arrived around 8:30pm, grabbed my gear and headed to the train back to Rabat. I was told to take the train to Casa Voyageur, not the usual Casa Port station, and switch train there.

We pulled in about 15 minutes before the 10:30pm train to Oujda via Rabat. The train arrived on time, but the cars were dark. We climbed on the train, and sat in the heat. We sat and sat and sat. After about 30 minutes, ONCF (the train company) said that the train was not functioning correctly. This set off a maelstrom of indignation from the passengers. Groups of men berated the ineffectual conductors, who could offer no information of when the train would leave. They announced that the train was broken, but couldn't provide alternate transport; the mob went nuts. They booed the conductors and looked for a manager, who was nowhere to be found. I got off the train and began considering staying the night in Casa. The confusion fumbled on past the hour mark, and grabbed my things to begin finding a cheap hotel nearby. But just as I walked into the lobby, the train lights turned on and it started moving. I chugged my way back onto the now-moving train.

I finally arrived back to Rabat just after midnight. I caught a cab to my host family's apartment. We had been trying to work out my return of the keys, because some of the family was around in Morocco during the summer. Yassine, my host brother, had mentioned that his mother was in the family village and his older brother Younes was in Spain. I had told him I would stay at the apartment for two days, then head out. I didn't wait for a confirmation, and since I had the keys, just rolled with it.

My return to Rabat was kind. I saw lots of friends and acquaintances from the medina and around the city, who were happy to see me. Rabat had not changed much since I had left: little things like new concrete over Sharia Mohammed V, the main thoroughfare through the medina which had become a construction war zone before I left; inflation set in, and the price of orange juice had gone from 4 to 5 dirham (50 cents). Little things.

Abu Hurrayrah got back to work feeding his stray cats in the park, and I looked into future plans for French class and other details of life. I grabbed favorites like the fried sardine sandwich with fried peppers and fried eggplant stuffed in khubz (round crusty bread), and tajine. My first day back was overcast, but the sun re-appeared the next day and I was back in my element.

My friend Kane, who was running the Next Level Morocco program, was in-country and we had plans to connect and head to the blue city of Chefchaouen.  I had been once before, 15 years ago with my friend Patrick and we had loved it.  But frankly, I had my concerns about heading there because I had been reading articles about how the Riff Mountain area was facing some instability but I spoke with a few tourist agencies and a few Moroccan friends and felt comfortable that the situation was fine in Chefchaouen.

Kane “NovaKane” Smego is a Poet and MC from Durham (“Bull City”), North Carolina, and has been involved since the program's inaugural season. Kane had been the MC on the Next Level Zimbabwe program, and had done phenomenal work there. Since then, he had gone on to serve as a site manager in his own right, on the NextLevel Thailand program on the second season and Next Level Brazil in the third. Kane and I had been having a long-running apprenticeship and friendship since the first season.

Since I left the program, he is taking on a bigger role. As it were, he is now the most senior site manager on the Next Level program. He is running two residencies this year, in Morocco and Viet Nam.

He was finishing up with his pre-tour in Meknes and Casablanca, and we made plans to link up the next morning at the train station in Rabat, then make our way over to the Gare Routiere de Rabat (bus station).

As I was packing up that afternoon, I heard the door click. Sure enough, it was my host mother Zohra, back from the village and a lil confused why this adopted son/squatter was in her home. Oh Morocco, you are always so magical when it comes to timing.

Once the initial surprise wore off, and I explained in Arabic what I was doing there and that I was leaving the next morning, we got to catch up and chat about using the apartment moving forward. Like any good mother, she force-fed me a second dinner later that night.

I wore up early, said goodbye and headed to the train station to meet Kane. He caught his early morning express from Casa and we linked up in Rabat with no issue. We caught a taxi over to the bus station, and chatted with the driver in Arabic. Kane had studied Fusha in college, and had done some work in Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab Spring. The driver decided we must be Moroccan and need Moroccan names: Kane became Samir, and I, Mohammed. I couldn't argue with that.

We arrived at 9am to the bus and faced the scrum of touts and travelers. Not quite trusting the facts (no zig-zag, meaning no con), we got the tickets at the bus company window for the 10:30am bus to Chefchaouen. We grabbed some coffee in the bus station cafe, and with dead roach laying belly-up on the floor—decided we would grab some breakfast elsewhere.

The bus was coming up from Casa, and was supposed to arrive at 10:30am, but that was all inshallah time. Around 10:15am, we sat by the bay aisle, which Mr. Zig-Zag,who ended up being more reputable than initial impression, pointed out. 10:30 came and went, with little surprise. Around 10:45am, amid the confusion, we gave some backsheesh to Mr. Zig Zag to alert us when the bus arrived. In a sea of coaches, finally our rocinante appeared. I stashed our stuff in its belly, as Kane found us seats aboard.

The bus was a sweltering affair. No air con to speak of, and no windows. We settled in; Kane's legs nearly too long to fit in the Moroccan seats. We would switch later to give him aisle access to stretch his legs. In the baking midday heat, we headed north—past Kenitra (of increasing interest) and on through the northern passes.

The countryside grew greenish-brown and verdant as we pushed on towards the north-center of Moroccan terra firma. The bus baked as we rumbled on. Fields of olives dotted the hills, and Kane remarked that the countryside reminded him of California; my own ideas of an Andalusian Southern California came back to me.

We sweated and chugged along the northern route. As we got closer, the bus broke down for a long, hot spell. We filed off the bus as they worked to fix the radiator. So close yet so hot and far.

Eventually, after about 6 hours of a ride that could be done in 5 hours or less, we arrived to Chefchaouen's blue splendor. We hopped a taxi into the center, and entered the blue-walled city through the Bab al-Ain gate. We navigated the blue alleys, past the rapacious touts, until we found a good pension, called Andaluz. It was high-season, so rooms cost us 120 dirham ($12) a piece. Kane got the penthouse suite with two big windows that caught the cross-breeze coming in from the alley; I took an interior room with deigns to switch into his room after his departure.

We settled in, and wandered around a bit to find food to fill our famished tummies. We wandered through the main square, Plaza Outa al-Hamam, and down the road a bit until we found a good, cheap sandwich shop. We chatted with the fellows in the shop about the mountains as we ate fried egg sandwiches stuffed to the gills with all sorts of accoutrements like pickles, potatoes and chili—alongside the famous frittes of Chefchaouen.

And it became clear to us that Chefchaouen was Hispanophone not Francophone. The northern belt of Morocco had been part of Spanish Morocco—under Spanish protectorate for decades. The lingua franca of Chef was Spanish not French. Kane speaks Spanish fluently and I speak it well (and better than French), and that changed the linguistic calculations greatly.

We wandered through the old blue city, past the Thursday market teeming with figs and peaches. We made our way through the narrow blue and white alley ways, whose cool air flowed in the shaded passageways. It's hard to give enough words to describe the blue brilliance of the blue pearl that is Chefchaouen. It is a blue dream of hues of periwinkle, royal blue and even the occasional violet. Sea blue and aquamarine twotone. Every faded and brilliant shade of blue imaginable, and accentuated in a sea of white. No words do any justice to the blue beauty of the narrow alleyways—just slipsliding away down corridors of light blue dreams.

We ascended the city, and ended up at the top of the wall above the city—taking in the setting sun over the blue city from its ochre city wall.

We made our lost way back through the city to our hotel. We settled in and up to the roof-top terrace, where we made fast friends with some students from Rabat. In the sun's fading light, the blue city shimmered.

Under cover of darkness, we returned to the Plaza Outa al-Hamam for dinner. The restaurant touts plied menus with pushiness. We ended up lured into a spot with purple cushions, more by the cushions than the annoying tout who would only get more so as the night wore on. We dined on tajine, and fended off a pushy pusher whose mala onda knew few bounds. This was all forgotten over dessert, in a lil spot with great homemade flan for 3 dirham (30 cents) and the stellar zaazaa, a yogurt dessert with bananas, avocados, dates and crushed peanuts.

We returned to the roof top, where we found black hole chairs under the stairs.

The next morning, we got a proper breakfast with coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice. Kane had massman, a Moroccan version of the crepe which is almost closer to a fried flatbread than crepe; I had an omelet oozing with melted cheese that I ate with thick pieces of warm khubz, black olives and bildia cheese a bit like labneh. A solid breakfast for $3 all included.

After lazing around a bit, we went hiking up between the two horned mountains which gives Chefchaouen its name (“between the horns”). We grabbed some cans of tuna in tomato sauce, khubz and water as we ascended. We past the campsites and cemetery on to the mountain road. We slowly worked our way up mountain road as the blue city disappeared below. As we got higher up, we passed fields of Chefchaouen's cash crop.

I chatted with Kane about his work as a wilderness guide and tour leader on various exchange programs in Peru and Brazil. Kane loved hiking and had lead a number of expeditions with students. He had some really solid, impressive experience running tours in the wilderness, and we discussed future plans to do a reverse apprenticeship so that I might learn some of those intangible skills.

We had hoped to make it all the way to the top, but it was hot and starting to get a bit late. On a good day, we were later told, you can see Spain and the city of Malaga from the mountain top. We didn't quite get there since we were lacking sufficient water and time, but we made it two-thirds of the way up, and under a shady tree we had our lunch. The tuna in tomato sauce may not sound like much, but after climbing up a mountain, it was stellar. We dipped the crusty bread into the oily tomato sauce and fished out the tuna chunks.

We began making our way back down, and met some locals who lived up there. We shared some tea and hospitality, before setting off back down from the mountain heights.

We followed the dusty path back down into the hot blue city before the sun began its descent. After cleaning up a bit, we wandered out for a well-earned dinner. We passed the lit square in its nightly glory; from a white mosque, men clothed with white jelabas stood at the precipice of a white Moorish arched door.

We saw a restaurant with a rooftop terrace, so we circled around until we found the entrance into Casa Aladdin. We climbed level after level until we got to the top. The lights below twinkled like the stars above. We dined on steaks—Kane had lamb, I had sirloin. The meat came perfectly spiced in cumin and other Moroccan flavors. We returned after dinner to the rooftop of the guesthouse and joined our Rabati friends for a night cap. I sipped whiskey that warmed my already sore body.

The next day we took it easy. We had a big breakfast at a local spot in the plaza. I had fried eggs and a big bowl of bisara, a thick lentil soup covered with rich pools of argan oil. Kane had a tajine khalie, which is eggs fried with dried meat chunks. We hung out on the roof as Kane did laundry, listening to hip hop of old and new school varieties. I gained a bit more appreciation for some of the newer rappers. I still don't love Kendrick Lamar or Chance the Rapper, but I can understand their popularity; I liked J Cole, who is closer to my style of hip hop.

Kane also played me some of the catalogue of his friend and fellow NL alum, G Yamazawa. G is dope, 'nuff said.

We ventured off the rooftop to have tea in the blue square near the Andaluz. The cafe in the square is perfect. Unlike the Plaza Outa al-Hamam, this is a plaza frequented only really by locals. It is a small blue square with a blue and white moorish well in the middle. The plaza is filled with cats and kittens, and Abu Hurayrah is back in action. The plaza is about as authentically Chouen as you could possibly find. It is also the newest site of my virtual office, as I sit here writing up the blog in its arched shade.

We did preciously little that Saturday. We sat on the roof as the sun set behind us, casting a glance of light on the blue city in the mountain canyon. We ventured down for dinner at a nearby spot run by two women. We bounced between languages with Argentines and the Moroccan restaurant staff, and dined on excellent tajines.

On sunday, we headed to Akshour and its cascades. First, we walked down through town to the bus station. Kane got his CTM ticket, the nicer bus service which would prove to be worth every extra dirham. Then we headed over to the Gran Taxi spot to catch a shared taxi over to Akshour. In a roomy blue wagon, we drove through the verdant tierra and winded around valley curves. We lucked out with only 5 in the van—usually filled to the brim with 6 people and something we paid an extra 5 dirham for but well-worth it.

We arrived to Akshour in the midday sun, and it was a scorcher. We looked on apprehensively at the parking lots full of cars, and worried if this was going to be worth it. We learned that it would be.

We followed the patch until it started going up. It was a strenuous trek but nothing beyond managing. I don't think Kane was especially winded but he is in better mountain shape than me. Anyway we trekked up the path until we reached the top and to the Ponte de Deiu. The Bridge of God. Truly so, as the view off the natural bridge was incredible. We crossed the Bridge of God, and were faced with two divergent paths.

There was no signage, and both looked to be legitimate trails so we went left since we could see that is seemed to descend.

So we went down the trail. It was a fine trail, with some challenges but nothing too bad. It was fine...until it wasn't. As we got further down this “trail,” we realized that it was not right. It wasn't a real trail, but a well-defined “social” trail. As I learned from Kane, a “social” trail is a trail that looks like a trail because many have passed it so it begins to look like a proper trail. But not planned, and not actually a trail....ao we began facing obstacles that were not planned to be passed.

The trail started to get a little hairy, and a lil “gnarly” as Kane would say. We had to grab claw-holds to rock face as we carefully climbed over spots not meant for tread. We were slowly and deliberately making our way down, examining every challenging spot from different angles and vantages—leaving nothing for chance.

And then we got to the spot that was really meshi mizzyen, not good. We had to climb across a rock precipice with a steep drop that went nowhere but down. The rock grips were minimal and the footholds were really lacking. Kane slowly studied the challenge. After a few minutes, he went first. Prudently and deliberately, he crossed the threshold.

Then, it was my turn. I took my time sliding down to the rock ledge, and slowly turning my body. I grasped on tight as I tried to reach my foot out to the next toe hold. It took me a few harrying tries. At one point, I was stuck. With fear, I started muttering a mantra: “I don't like this. I don't like this. I don't like this.” And I didn't. But with patience and care, I crossed the threshold.
On the other side of the obstacle, we continued our descent down the mountain. We were getting close. We could see a group of guys lounging on a rock in the river below. As we got closer, they saw us and realized we needed assistance. In a cacophony of Arabic, French and Spanish, they helped us get down the narrow rock face until we couldn't get any lower.

They were sitting on a rock just off a pool of water just past a small waterfall. There was no way for us to get to them without jumping in the water. So we took off all our valuables (wallet, phone belt, etc) and put them in our bags, and Kane hurled the bags down across the river. Thankfully, both bags cleared the ravine and were caught.

Then it was our turn to jump off the mountain and into the cold mountain river lake some 20-25 feet below. I had taken off my shirt but had my empty jeans and shoes on. I needed to take a leap off the clip and needed some grip to push off to clear the rocks below. From down on the rock, the shebab cheered for me to jump. And I leapt.

I dropped quick off the heights, and into the mountain-cold river lake below. I broke the surface with a a rush of cold relief, and let myself crash on down to the bottom—where I dragged a toe against the bottom. I floated up with a single right arm in the air. They erupted in cheers, and I flashed a V for victory.

Then it was Kane's turn. He leapt out into the void and came crashing down into the cold water. The shebab cheered for his flight as well.

I swam my way over and pulled my soaking body up the rocks. We greeted and thanked our new friends. We told them our story of woe, as we let the adrenaline slowly dissipate.

We stayed on the rock for a while, hanging with the fellas and eating a lunch of tuna in tomato sauce with baguettes. We dried off, and leapt in again—this time from closer vantage.

Later in the afternoon, we followed the river just slightly upstream. There were plastic tables and chairs set up in the cool, clear water. Further upstream, a canopy of forest shielded the sun's glow. Tagines boiled on small stone charcoal stovetops. We sipped mint tea, and counted our blessings and luck.

Eventually, after a few more dips in, we made our way back to the entrance. This time we took the river path, as we had learned—we were only really 20 minutes from the entrance. We passed little cafes set up on little islands in the mountain river.

We hopped a cramp mercedes grand taxi back, my still wet jeans probably making me little friendship with the passenger stuck next to me.

We returned and hung out after the day's adventure, before grabbing some immaculate Berber tajines on a nice rooftop restaurant. A chocolate fondant cake was the reward for surviving the adventure.


The next morning, Kane headed out by early CTM bus back to Rabat. This time, his air conditioned ride took only 4.5 hours. 

Meanwhile, I switched into his old room, with two large windows that catch the cross-breeze and have been settling into Chefchaouen in my own regard.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Poet

He is a link between this and the coming world. 
He is a pure spring from which all thirsty souls may drink. 

He is a tree watered by the River of Beauty, 
Bearing fruit which the hungry heart craves;

He is a nightingale, 
Soothing the depressed spirit with his beautiful melodies; 
He is a white cloud appearing over the horizon, 
Ascending and growing until it fills the face of the sky. 
Then it falls on the flows in the field of Life, 
Opening their petals to admit the light. 

He is an angel, 
Sent by the goddess to preach the Deity’s gospel; 
He is a brilliant lamp, 
Unconquered by darkness 
And inextinguishable by the wind.
 It is filled with oil by Ihstar of Love, 
And lighted by Apollon of Music. 

He is a solitary figure,
Robed in simplicity and kindness; 
He sits upon the lap of Nature to draw his inspiration, 
And stays up in the silence of the night, 
Awaiting the descending of the spirit.

He is a sower 
Who sows the seeds of his heart in the prairies of affection, 
And humanity reaps the harvest for her nourishment.

This is the poet—whom the people ignore in this life, 
And who is recognized only when he bids the earthly world farewell 
And returns to his arbour in heaven.

This is the poet—who asks naught of humanity but a smile. 
This is the poet—whose spirit ascends 
and fills the firmament with beautiful sayings; 
Yet the people deny themselves his radiance.

Until when shall the people remain asleep? 
Until when shall they continue to glorify those who attain 
greatness by moments of advantage? 
How long shall they ignore those who enable them to see the 
beauty of their spirit, 
Symbol of peace and love?

Until when shall human beings honour the dead and forget the living, 
Who spend their lives encircled in misery, 
And who consume themselves, 
Like burning candles to illuminate the way
For the ignorant and lead them into the path of light? 

Poet, you are the life of this life, 
And you have triumphed over the ages of despite their severity. 

Poet, you will one day rule the hearts, 
And therefore, your kingdom has no ending. 

Poet, examine your crown of thorns; 
You will find concealed in it a budding wreath of laurel.
-Khalil, Gibran, "The Poet"

Monday, July 24, 2017

winds of change

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”
-Chinese proverb

H/T KM

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Don Q...

In short, his wits being quite gone, he hit upon the strangest notion that ever madman in this world hit upon, and that was that he fancied it was right and requisite, as well for the support of his own honour as for the service of his country, that he should make a knight-errant of himself, roaming the world over in full armour and on horseback in quest of adventures, and putting in practice himself all that he had read of as being the usual practices of knights-errant; righting every kind of wrong, and exposing himself to peril and danger from which, in the issue, he was to reap eternal renown and fame. Already the poor man saw himself crowned by the might of his arm Emperor of Trebizond at least; and so, led away by the intense enjoyment he found in these pleasant fancies, he set himself forthwith to put his scheme into execution.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The coldest winter...

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in Amsterdam."
-Not-Mark Twain

KHVI

‘Oft have I heard that grief softens the mind,
And makes it fearful and degenerate;
Think therefore on revenge and cease to weep.’
-Queen Margaret, in "King Henry VI"

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Local has its privileges

I took an overnight flight to Amsterdam via Detroit.  At check-in, I asked for a window--and then again at the gate, but they said it was full but I had an aisle.  At the moment the doors closed and there was still an empty seat between me and the fellow on the other aisle, we both cheered. "Business class," I said.  Then I noticed an empty row, window and aisle just couple of rows up.  "First class," I smiled.  The flight was not close to full--I guess they just wouldn't part with the moneyed classes.

I watched a wonderful French crime drama called "The Eavesdropper," which sounds even more profound in French...."La Mecanique de l'Ombre."

I wrote already of our beautiful arrival.  We arrived early, just before 6 am, but already light in the Dutch skies.  I helped a nice octogenarian couple off the plane with their suitcases to their airport escort.  I cleared customs and hopped the train into the center, beaming at being back in Amsterdam.

I arrived into Centraal just after 7am, and I headed to my usual stomping grounds at Hotel Beurstraat.  It was too early to check-in, so I left my stuff in storage at the hotel.  I made some initial arrangements for four days with a note. As I scratched the lazy black-and-white cat Figaro, I was told to come back at 11am after the previous day's check-out.

I wandered through the naked and empty streets and canals of Amsterdam.  The bleary Amsterdam crowds all gone to bed, and just the crows remaining to pick at the scattered trash.  I drank coffee after coffee as I beat back the jetlag.

Nearly 11am, I returned to the hotel.  There was a younger Turkish fellow at the desk.  I mentioned my reservation and asked for the usual room with shared bathroom.  I had expected $50 and was prepared for $60.  I had stayed prior earlier in the Spring at 40 euros because I knew Figaro.  I knew it was the middle of high season in Amsterdam, so I thought I was prepared.

Then he said, "320 euros."

"What?!?" I protested.  I explained that I had been coming here for a long time, and it was never that high. I had been here in the high season, and it was never double.

He dug in.  80 euros per night, it is always like this in high season.

I protested.  I was just here just a few months ago for 40 euros, it couldn't have doubled. I know this place, I pointed to the cat and said I even knew Figaro.

There was another couple there about to fork over for their room at 80 euros, and I knew I was stuck at the moment.

He said to ask the owner who was not far away.  I protested, explaining that I was practically a regular.  The owner stayed out of the fray and said of the guy at the counter, "I am the owner, but he is the boss."

So I grumped and said I would think about it as I stormed out (with my stuff still in their storage).

I stopped back in to ask a question, but no one was at the desk.  So I glanced over desk at the ledger and saw the actual prices.  I knew he was full of shit, and just wanted to cheat both me and the other guest who was checking in at  the same time.  I was done.

I asked the other discount hotel on the block, one which I had stayed in once prior, what their rate was.  It was 90 euros for a room with a private bathroom.  I would stay there out of spite if I couldn't do any better.  I would rather pay more for a room with a lil more, than double for a room I had already stayed in.

I got some coffee and tried to find options on the internet but the tablet was slow and dying of power.
So I went with the other cheap hotel on the block.  I chatted with the fellow in charge for a bit, and got him to offer me a deal.  Rather than 90 euros for the night, and 105 euros for the weekend (Fri, Sat & Sun), he could give me the economical room for 80 euro tonight and 90 per night for the weekend.  And now I had options.

The room was not much.  It did have a shower, but had an underground bunker feel despite being on the top floor.  But at least I had a room for the night at the same price as the original.  It felt a little claustrophobic, and it did not get past me that I was technically paying more for it than my preferred room--even being overpriced, so I was slightly cutting my nose.  I could make a final decision the next morning before I either had to check out or buy in.

The day and evening passed.

The next morning, I woke up late with a jet lag haze. I made my way back to the original Hotel Beurstraat, where I would check to see if one of the desk fellow I knew was there.

Sure enough, it was a Slovak fellow who I had met before.  We chatted in Czech for a bit as I played with Figaro.  He had a room for me.  Same room.  It was 70 euros per night, but since I was a regular guest, he knocked 10 euros off per night for the weekend.

So 60 euros in the end.  Because I knew some Czech, and Figaro.

Henry V


"He which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us."
-Henry V

News

I love listening to the news on the radio in Dutch.  I have no idea what the announcer was saying, and I am quite happy with not understanding her words.

Haarlem

Eating toasted pistachios in Willie Wortel, shelling the toasted, glazed nuts as I shed cares.  Just watching the giant Molen de Adriaan windmill spin its giants arms in the midday wind, as trumpets blare in the window and in the speakers above.  The rotating arms are hypnotically turning in the distance.

I am enjoying the slow vibe of Haarlem on a Saturday day trip from Amsterdam.  I was just in a very different Harlem earlier this month. Viva la differencia.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Local is lekker

Local knowledge is getting a 10 euro discount per night--in the middle of the summer high season in Amsterdam, because I knew some Czech and the cat, Figaro.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thoughts on Amsterdam

We arrived to the sun peeking out over the horizon.  Three-armed giants peeked out of clouds, anchored in the blue seas.

The sun cast its golden light across the skies as we entered the Neatherlands.  I beamed almost as bright as the rising sun as the daylight lit the windmill giants. Holland and its windmills always sloughs off all my stresses and strains.

We landed at Schipol Airport, docking past an auspicious sign that said: New Beginnings, Here I come.

As par for the course, I am mending tattered windmills in Amsterdam.  But it is a place of peace for me.

Amsterdam is always an unecumbered smile.

Some words of wisdom that I found on a found fortune cookie rang in my head through my long journey here.  I kept these words close to my heart:

"Everywhere you choose to go, friendly faces will greet you."

Some thoughts on Amsterdam:

-I am shocked that no one wears a helmet. Amazed, really.

-One of the things I love most about Amsterdam is its familiarity at this point.  My grandmother used to refer to impressionist paintings as "old friends."  Here in Amsterdam, I find "old friends" in canals,  colorful gingerbread houses, breakfast treats like warm onion cheese bread, kafe verkert and a cat named Figaro.

-If you don't know the Solillaquists of Sounds, look them up.  Especially their album, "No More Heros."

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Froggy

I am going to sincerely enjoy watching the whole Trump clan frog-marched off to jail. Truly so. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Hijacked American Presidency

"Every now and then we are going to have to do this: Step back from the daily onslaughts of insanity emanating from Donald Trump’s parasitic presidency and remind ourselves of the obscenity of it all, registering its magnitude in its full, devastating truth.

There is something insidious and corrosive about trying to evaluate the severity of every offense, trying to give each an individual grade on the scale of absurdity. Trump himself is the offense. Everything that springs from him, every person who supports him, every staffer who shields him, every legislator who defends him, is an offense. Every partisan who uses him — against all he or she has ever claimed to champion — to advance a political agenda and, in so doing, places party over country, is an offense.

We must remind ourselves that Trump’s very presence in the White House defiles it and the institution of the presidency. Rather than rising to the honor of the office, Trump has lowered the office with his whiny, fragile, vindictive pettiness.

The presidency has been hijacked."
-Charles Blow, "The Hijacked American Presidency"

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Wuv in an elevator

A middle-aged white couple entered the Washington Square Hotel right before me.  I walked to one elevator, but it was a few floors up, so I walked across the lobby to the other elevator.

As I arrived the door opened.  But the gentleman didn't seem to like the looks of yours truly, and kinda-awkwardly beckoned his wife away from the opening elevator.

I got in and watched them standing awkwardly outside the elevator as the doors closed so they could wait for the next one...

So I got in and pressed my third floor.

Then I pressed every floor on the way to the top of the 9th floor, as I whistled Aerosmith's "Love in an elevator" as the car ascended.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Questions


"Even the genius asks questions"
-Tupac Shakur

Scratch

I watched a man today, who invented "the scratch," scratch. Turntablism at its utter Next Level finest.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ground Zero of Gay Pride

We arrived by train to the Big Apple and hopped in taxis. We headed towards Washington Square, but the taxi driver didn't want to go there.
"Big parade, too crazy." He was referring to the giant Gay Pride Parade and we needed to get to Ground Zero of the festivities.
"It is very dangerous," the taxi driver intoned in what I took to be a Nepali accent.
"Umm...it is not dangerous, it is gay," I laughed in reply.
The area was shut down for traffic and the driver let us off to walk the rest of the way, down past half-naked men dancing on fire escapes.
This sounds like the start of a good joke: So a Colombiana, Algerian, Tunisian and Indonesian walk into a Gay Pride Parade....
But indeed parade met blockade, as we tried to get across the few blocked blocks of Greenwich Village. Our street was literally just a block a way from us, but on the other side of the Gay Pride Parade. Every twist and turn in our path, we were met with blockades of fabulousness.
And in our tortuous path, we passed the Stonewall Inn.
Everyone was having a gay ol' time, but we were miserable in the hot sun with all our luggage as we traversed block to crowded block with the sun beating down. I ended up a luggage-wallah with a broken suitcase balanced on my head.
After the hourglass was long empty, we crossed over enough to get up and arrived to the block we needed. A long trek for a short distance, c'est la vie. Have a fabulous Gay Pride Parade, New York.

Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas

Great article by Bruce Bartlett on how "Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas"

Monday, June 19, 2017

Progressive Islam

“Allahu akbar,” chanted a female voice, uttering the Arabic expression “God is great,” as a woman with two-toned hair issued the Muslim call to prayer. In another major break with tradition, men and women — typically segregated during worship — heeded the call by sitting side by side on the carpeted floor.

Ates, a self-proclaimed Muslim feminist and founder of the new mosque, then stepped onto the cream-colored carpet and delivered a stirring sermon. Two imams — a woman and a man — later took turns leading the Friday prayers in Arabic.

The service ended with the congregation joining two visiting rabbis in singing a Hebrew song of friendship. And just like that, the inaugural Friday prayers at Berlin’s Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque came to a close — offering a different vision of Islam on a continent that is locked in a bitter culture war over how and whether to welcome the faith."

A fascinating story on a feminist progressive mosque in Germany, and apparently there have been similar such places in California, Denmark and Switzerland.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day Thoughts

“We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more.”
 -Albert Camus

This quote from Brain Pickings was one of the first things my father, Dr. Stephen Rockower said to me this Father's Day morning. Happy Father's Day to a man working to such ends.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Xenocide

From Orson Scott Card's "Xenocide":

"Just because your former understanding of the purpose of your life is contradicted doesn’t mean that you have to decide there is no purpose... Just because one cause you believed in turned out to be false doesn’t mean that there aren’t other causes that can still be trusted.”

 “No matter how smart or strong you are, there’s always somebody smarter or stronger, and when you run into somebody who’s stronger and smarter than anybody, you think, This is a god. This is perfection. But I can promise you that there’s somebody else somewhere else who’ll make your god look like a maggot by comparison. And somebody smarter or stronger or better in some way. So let me tell you what I think about gods. I think a real god is not going to be so scared or angry that he tries to keep other people down.... A real god doesn’t care about control. A real god already has control of everything that needs controlling. Real gods would want to teach you how to be just like them.”


why the Israeli-Palestinian peace process fails

“Our American friends offer us money, arms and advice. We take the money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice.”
-Moshe Dayan

 A good piece on why the Israeli-Palestinian peace process fails.

On life

"Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself"

Sunday, May 14, 2017

All the President's women

I think it is worth pointing out that regarding the few women in Trump's cabinet: one is the wife of senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: another is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, Mercenary Par Excellence and one of the key links between the Trump Campaign and the Russians. And lest we forget, Linda McMahon--the head of the WWF.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The War on....

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
-John Erlichman, Nixon Administration Domestic Policy Advisor and Watergate co-conspirator

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is trying to revive the War on Drugs as a tool for oppression.  This is a vehicle of repression; it is a mechanism for suppression.  This has been done before, by Nixon and his corrupt gang.

Meanwhile, the war on truth and sanity continues to unfold with President Trump.  If I were pitching this to Hollywood as a script, it would be rejected as being too far fetched.  This is bad authoritarian comedy.  We have a gold-plated con man in the Oval Office, and just for even more chuckles, he is a Russian Manchurian candidate.  Here is a crazy listicle of why Comey's firing is an absolute shit-show.

Do the Republicans have any integrity left?  Did they ever?