Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Les Témoins de Jéhovah

I found the best language partners to practice my French: the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Les Témoins de Jéhovah are out in various parks and promenades, and they love to share La Bonne Nouvelle; I am always looking for people with whom I can practice.

It is a match made in heaven.

Now I just need to find some Mormons... 

on perception

"The desire of monks and mystics is not unlike that of artists: to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary by changing not the world but the eyes that look… To form the intention of new awareness is already to transform and be transformed."
-Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Religious Right's Golden Calf

"There is no group in the United States less attached to its own ideals or more eager for its own exploitation than religious conservatives. Forget Augustine and Aquinas, Wilberforce and Shaftesbury. For many years, leaders of the religious right exactly conformed Christian social teaching to the contours of Fox News evening programming. Now, according to Bannon, “economic nationalism” is the “centerpiece of value voters.” I had thought the centerpiece was a vision of human dignity rooted in faith. But never mind. Evidently the Christian approach to social justice is miraculously identical to 1930s Republican protectionism, isolationism and nativism.

Do religious right leaders have any clue how foolish they appear? Rather than confidently and persistently representing a set of distinctive beliefs, they pant and beg to be a part of someone else’s movement. In this case, it is a movement that takes advantage of racial and ethnic divisions and dehumanizes Muslims, migrants and refugees. A movement that has cultivated ties to alt-right leaders and flirted with white identity politics. A movement that will eventually soil and discredit all who are associated with it."
-Michael Gerson, "The religious right carries its Golden Calf into Bannon's battles"

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Round-up

"The embarrassing decision to leave UNESCO was made at the same time the agency elected its new director general, Audrey Azoulay. France’s former culture minister, she is the daughter of Andre Azoulay, adviser to the king of Morocco, a most impressive and noble statesman, a Moroccan Jew who fought all his life for a just peace in the Middle East, a true friend of Israel. He is ten times more concerned about Israel’s fate than Trump and Haley together. We may presume that the new UNESCO director-general has absorbed her father’s values. Now she will head the agency without the United States and Israel, who are isolating themselves to bits."
-Gideon Levy, "America and Israel against the World"

-The Roots made a re-make of Schoolhouse Rocks:

-How to fix gerrymandering via proportional representation.

-Mayim Bialik on being a feminist in Harvey Weinstein's world

-How Big Pharma spiked DEA enforcement in the Opiod Crisis

Friday, October 13, 2017

Adam Smith & Harvey Weinstein

"'More established actresses were fearful of speaking out because they had work; less established ones were scared because they did not.'

In virtually every oppressive workplace regime—and other types of oppressive regimes—you see the same phenomenon. Outsiders, from the comfort and ease of their position, wonder why no one inside the regime speak ups and walks out; insiders know it’s not so easy. Everyone inside the regime—even its victims, especially its victims—has a very good reason to keep silent. Everyone has a very good reason to think that it’s the job of someone else to speak out.

Those at the bottom of the regime, these less established actresses who need the most, look up and wonder why those above them, those more established actresses who need less, don’t speak out against an injustice: The more established have power, why don’t they use it, what are they afraid of?

Those higher up the ladder, those more established actresses, look down on those at the very bottom and wonder why they don’t speak out against that injustice: They’ve got nothing to lose, what are they afraid of?

Neither is wrong; they’re both accurately reflecting and acting upon their objective situations and interests. This is one of the reasons why collective action against injustice and oppression is so difficult. It’s Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand at work (in both senses), without the happy ending: everyone pursues their individual interests as individuals; the result is a social catastrophe."
-Corey Robin, "Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand At Work: The Harvey Weinstein Story"

Westeros Manga

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


"When Henri Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is."
-Pablo Picasso

I spent the afternoon at the vibrant Musee Chagall.  As Chagall knew, color affects emotion.

Giant canvasses of Moses in golden yellow receiving the divine gift.

A fiery red Abraham binding his son in hues of green and yellow on the pyre-- as blue and white angels step in to rest his hand.

Dreams of dark blues and violets as Jacob wrestled with his angel.

Giant canvasses of biblical lore, exploding with color from their frames against the backdrop of stark clean white walls.  It was vibrant and glorious.

And Chagall's poetry moved me as well:

Là où se pressent des maisons courbées
Là où monte le chemin du cimetière
Là où coule un fleuve élargi
Là j'ai rêvé ma vie
La nuit, il vole un ange dans le ciel
Un éclair blanc sur les toits
Il me prédit une longue, longue route
Il lancera mon nom au-dessus des maisons
Mon peuple, c'est pour toi que j'ai chanté
Qui sait si ce chant te plaît
Une voix sort de mes poumons
Toute chagrin et fatigue
C'est d'après toi que je peins
Fleurs, forêts, gens et maisons
Comme un barbare je colore ta face
Nuit et jour je te bénis

The Calm Before the Storm

Eminem rips Trump in a BET cypher. H/T BD.


What's cooking in The Rock's office?

The Rock Test on how to avoid accusations of sexual harassment at the workplace. 

H/t Hairball. 

La belle vie

La belle vie is the French Riviera, slowly meandering down the Promenade des Anglais with a cornet de rhum raisin. 

The Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) is shimmering in the afternoon Côte d'Azur sun.

Manu Chao and Tonino Carotone sing in my ears: "En la Gran Feria de la Mentira, tu eres el rey." Ever the vagabond on the margins of the lap of luxury.

My nerd paradise is conjugating French subjonctif verbs, sitting on a bench with my feet propped up against the rails of the promenade. Homework should always be so nice.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sunday Round-Up

-How computers turned gerrymandering into a science.

-Some history and iconoclasm of Babe Ruth's famous "Called Shot."

-Why AP courses are a scam.  Having taken a couple AP courses (US History, European History), and plenty of college courses, I would agree that they are not remotely equivalent.

-An interesting article on how KFC is targeting Africa, Ghana in specific in this article and it is increasing obesity in the continent. And apparently USAID and the Gates Foundation helped this development.

-My old friend Emily Barson, who served in HHS as external director for outreach for Obamacare during the Obama administration, was on Weekend Edition this morning to discuss the Trump administration's sabotage of outreach efforts and what her organization Get America Covered is doing to get the word out for Obamacare enrollment.

-And finally, the "We Love Lamb" commercial that is either heavenly or sinful depending on your sense of faith

Saturday, October 07, 2017

A Gritty French Levantine San Francisco

I left Aix in the morning to Marseille, hopping a bus for 45 minutes to the Mediterranean seaport.  Marseille is France's second largest city and the one of busiest port on the Mediterranean.  Its history dates back to Greek sailors from Phocea arriving in 600BC to found Masillia.  Lots of interesting history on the wikipedia page I linked above.  Anyway, I arrived to the bus/train station Gare St. Charles and found my way out of the station.  From outside the palatial train station, I was greeted with a stunning view of the city and Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde on high.  I liked the city immediately.

After a slight bit of wandering, I found the Hostel Vertigo, a charming spot not far from the train station or the city center.  I dropped my stuff in the luggage room, since it was too early for check-in.  Then I went off wandering down to the city center. 

I loved the city immediately.  As the title of this blog suggests, the city reminded me of a lot of places including San Fran, Paris and Algiers all wrapped up into one.  I wandered down the wide Hausmannian boulevard to the Vieux Port, whose history dates back to the original Greek settlement.  Down by the port, the brackish air wafted alternately smells of fish, sea and cigar smoke. 

I wandered around the port before heading along the corniche to grab a picnic lunch near the Plage des Catalans overlooking the sea.  I followed the corniche down until I spied the Chateau d'If, Marseille's version of Alcatraz prison--made famous by its guest the Count of Monte Cristo.

I followed the corniche back into town and checked into my room.  After a little rest, I went back out through the city, admiring the Hausmann architecture amid the changing autumn leaves.  I passed cafes filled with fellows drinking afternoon coffee or pastis.  I made my way to the beautiful Palais Longchamp, with its giant fountains and colonnaded walkway.  I sat in the park for a bit, admiring the beauty of the leaves and the sun beginning to set across the city from the fountains on high.

I spent the evening at the hostel, chatting with fellow guests; some of the other guests had been to the market and prepared dinner and they were kind enough to include us.

I got up early the next morning and made my way to the MuCem.  I climbed up the Fort Saint-Jean, but I arrived too early and the museum was not open yet.  I killed some time in a nearby cafe over a croissant.  I returned shortly to the fascinating MuCem (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations).  In the Templar-built Fort Saint-Jean, there was an interesting film on the history of the fort and its environs.  From there, I crossed the foot bridge to the J4, a fascinating building of intricate lattice-like shell of fibre-reinforced concrete.  Inside the museum, there was a fascinating exhibits on seafaring through the centuries.  There was another interesting exhibit on the staples of the Mediterranean diet: olives, grapes and cereals.

From the Museum, I wandered on to the Villa Mediterranee--the white structure in the picture above.  I took in the view before heading on.

I returned to the hostel to start getting ready for Yom Kippur.  I had planned to get a nice dinner before starting my Yom K Fast but mismanaged my time, and was forced to have a kebab as my final meal.  But I arrived on time to the synagogue and ended up being honored with holding a torah around the synagogue during the Kol Nidre service.  It was kinda funny, I had a tiny little torah in my arms.  But thanks to the honor, I got to stand next to the rabbi as he sang the Kol Nidre service--and he had a beautiful rich voice.  It was both an honor and treat.

I returned the next day to the Yom Kippur service and stayed until the Musaf service before returning to the hostel to rest for my fast.  I had made my plans poorly, and was traveling that day to Nice.  So I was fasting in transit, which was no fun.  But after some rest, I made my way to the train station, where some ladies were playing festive tunes on the piano in the trainstation and with a tambourine.  Yes, almost all French train stations have pianos that are free to play.  Anyway, I caught my train from Marseille along the coast of the French Riviera past Cannes and Antibes until I reached my home (for October) in Nice.

Thus ending my Toulouse-LaTrek across southern France.  Toulouse to Montpellier to Avignon to Aix to Marseille to the final stop in Nice.  It was a lovely little two week adventure.  I love southern France, it is a beautiful and charming part of France.  It was even more beautiful in the Autumn foliage.  The weather was much better than Paris or Central France, and I liked the more tranquil vide coming off the Mediterranean. I would happily live in a place like Toulouse or Montpellier or Marseille if I could figure out a good reason to put down some roots there.

Friday, October 06, 2017

No More Shootings that Follow the Rules

"On Monday morning, Matt Bevin, governor of Kentucky, said that “you can’t regulate evil” and encouraged people not to be opportunists, seizing on tragedy for more gun laws. That is nonsense.

We can regulate the weapons that terrorists and criminals use to commit acts of evil. This is a country where we regulate almost everything for the sake of the greater good. We regulate the speed limit to protect motorists and pedestrians. We regulate access to pharmaceuticals to protect people from addiction and the consequences thereof. We regulate food preparation, alcohol and tobacco, how crops and animals are raised, medical practices, pet adoption. At the airport, we perform elaborate acts of security theater including removing our shoes because just once a terrorist tried to hide a bomb in his shoe.

Regulation does not guarantee safety. But with regulation, we are far better off than if we did not govern ourselves with a modicum of common sense and responsibility. We need to better regulate guns and who has access to them. We need to decide, once and for all, that the Second Amendment matters but it does not mean that ordinary people should potentially have access to automatic weapons or devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to fire more rapidly. We need to take the stand that the police and the military are the only people who need that kind of firepower."
-Roxanne Gay, "No More Shootings That Follow the Rules"

Monday, October 02, 2017

And the Heartbreakers

"Oh, my, my, Oh, hell yes Honey, put on that party dress Buy me a drink, sing me a song Take me as I come cause I can't stay long"

Fare thee well, Tom Petty.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Mapping Europa

I know, I know

I know, I know
If you could go back you
would walk with Jesus
You would march with King
Maybe assassinate Hitler
At least hide Jews in your basement
It would all be clear to you
But people then, just like you
were baffled, had bills
to pay and children they didn’t
understand and they too
were so desperate for normalcy
they made anything normal
Even turning everything inside out
Even killing, and killing, and it’s easy
for turning the other cheek
to be looking the other way, for walking
to be talking, and they hid
in their houses
and watched it on television, when they had television,
and wrung their hands
or didn’t, and your hands
are just like theirs. Lined, permeable,
small, and you
would follow Caesar, and quote McCarthy, and Hoover, and you would want
to make Germany great again
Because you are afraid, and your
parents are sick, and your
job pays shit and where’s your
dignity? Just a little dignity and those kids sitting down in the highway,
and chaining themselves to
buildings, what’s their f*cking problem? And that kid
That’s King. And this is Selma. And Berlin. And Jerusalem. And now
is when they need you to be brave.
is when we need you to go back
and forget everything you know
and give up the things you’re chained to
and make it look so easy in your
grandkids’ history books (they should still have them, kinehora)
is when it will all be clear to them.
—Danny Bryck

Sunday Round-up

-Apparently hummingbirds are little gods of war, and the mantis shrimp of the skies....

-The magic of "untranslatable" words like frisson or treppenwitz

-Don't get lost in the Trump Fog Machine....

-Apparently, the best source of creating equality is devastation and destruction. So maybe we should follow the ends of climate change deniers as a means to creating more equality in society? Wouldn't that be a kicker--we flood the world due to climate change and in the end make it more equal.

-Interestingly, Libertarians and the alt/right have a lot in common.

-Why Corporate America is much worse than it used to be.

-How we would cover the situation in Puerto Rico if it were in another place.  And a primer on PR in the first place.

-When Della met Gnawi: a magical OneBeat collab featuring Della Mae's Courtney Hartman and Mehdi Qamoum from Morocco

Friday, September 29, 2017

Kippur America

Today begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As such, we Jews fast for our sins from the year prior.

If you have more issue with a black man taking a knee during the anthem than a white man waving a Nazi or Confederate flag, then you should probably also be fasting for your sin of racism.

Aix marks the spot

I left the lovely Avignon for the absolutely-charming Aix-en-Provence. I ended up taking the TGV train there, which was amazing. I had to take a brief train from the Avignon station to the Avignon TGV station, which was 10 minutes outside of town.

 At the station, I ran into a fellow from the Avignon hostel named Daniel. Daniel was from jolly ol' but had lived in Oz and all over. He was busking around Europe with a guitar and amp. We chatted about various spots, and I think I convinced him to head south to Morocco. The TGV train came and we flew from Avignon to Aix in just 20 minutes, it was a veritable bullet.  It depresses me so much that we have nothing comparable in the US, and that we are falling so far behind in infrastructure. This is what happens when you squander billions (trillions) on foreign military adventures while never investing in infrastructure at home....but I digress....anyway, we whizzed to the Aix TGV station, and Daniel and I caught a bus into the Aix city centre, which took as long as my trip from Avignon.

Daniel was a bit under-the-weather and staying outside of town, so we parted company and I trudged my way through the main Aix thoroughfare, the lovely tree-lined Cours Mirabeau and into the old quarter of the city. 

There were not any hostels in town so I rented a little studio on AirBNB.  I grabbed the keys where they had been left at a pizza shop and headed to the little flat.  It was in a great location, just off the city hall square.  I settled in and did some bucket laundry--hanging my clothes to dry out the window in the afternoon sun. 

After a light lunch, I wandered about the charming Viel Aix (old Aix) with its narrow passage ways, and back down the Cours Mirabeau with its tree-lined boulevard adorned in autumn foliage and bubbling fountains in the center.  Aix is just charming beyond compare, and I took it in over coffee in the square and Amorino gelato. As the gelato-artisan decorated my pistrachio-chocolate-cafe gelato rose of an ice cream cone, I told her about how I once biked 25km from Tours to Amboise just for Amorino.  She declared I was quite the gourmandise.  

I spent the afternoon taking in the lovely alleyways, little bubbling fountains and charming squares filled with farmers' markets.  Aix is just lovely.

For dinner, I decided to treat myself to some Provencal cuisine at a nice restaurant called Jacquou Le Croquant.  Having been called a gourmand earlier in the day, I went for the gourmand menu, a three-course tour-de-force.  The appetizer was a delicious salad with thin sliced smoked duck, curried chicken, legumes and prunes.  That deliciousness was followed by grilled aigulletes de canard (duck filet) in a prune sauce with all sorts of provincial sides.  The piece-de-resistance was the dessert, which was a chocolate fondant.  The waitress said it is was between a mousse and a cake.  It was between the 6th and 7th layer of heaven.  It was a soft but firm hunk of perfect chocolate with some chantilly cream and vanilla sauce on the side.  In total, the meal plus a glass of wine came to 30 euros (about $36).  Not bad and well worth the price.

The following day, I woke up early and wandered a bit through the quiet streets.  I made my way down to Cours Mirabeau towards the Musee Granet but I arrived a little too early for its autumn hours.  I returned after lunch to the excellent museum with some stellar Cezannes (he was a local to Aix) and other fine works. 

More importantly, there was a second wing of the Musee Granet in an old chapel that was housing the Planque collection.  Named for Jaque Planque, who was a very important art dealer in the 20th century, the exhibit showed his collection and detailed his relationship with the likes of Picasso among others.  His collection was exquisite.  All sorts of wonderful Picassos (they had been friends) and other legends of modern art.  The collection was stellar and the stories about his collecting were quite interesting.  In addition, he was quite a talented painter and I was impressed with some of his works.  It was one of the best, most-interesting exhibits I have seen in a long while.  My grandparents would have truly loved it.

I had a quiet night back at the studio, cooking dinner and watching movies. 

I definitely could have stayed longer in Aix, it was charming beyond compare.  C'est la vie, so it goes for my life on the road.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Marseille is like a gritty French Levantine San Francisco with heavy helpings of North and West Africa thrown into the bouillabaisse. In short, I am charmed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On Taxes

"Obviously, there’s nobody who wouldn’t enjoy the extra spending or saving that a tax cut would bring, but as the researchers at Pew found in April, what Americans would like even better is for government to spend more to educate their children, rebuild infrastructure, and provide health care and an income safety net for the elderly, veterans and the deserving poor. Despite years of politicians railing against “big government,” Pew found that as many Americans today wanted government to be bigger as to be smaller.

Like the campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare, the middle-class tax cut is a solution looking for a problem. It’s nothing more than a political totem, an expensive exercise in political pandering."
-Steven Pearlstein, "The Middle Class Doesn't Want a Tax Cut, It Wants Better Government"

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How many roads

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
-Bob Dylan

The Other Rome

After a lovely stay in Montpellier, I hopped a cheap Ouibus ride to Avignon.  The 1.15 hour ride only cost 5 euros, and the bus was comfy and had wifi.  The only drama was from a group of German students whose compatriot was running late to the bus.  His tram was moving painfully slowly and they were pleading with the driver to wait just a few more minutes.  The lucky fellow made it, probably thanks in part to having cute female friends.

The bus ride through the bucolic French countryside was a delight.  Fields of vineyards and rolling hills in the provincial Provence landscape.

We arrived just outside the walls of Avignon, and the bus dropped me off.  I hoofed my way in through the city walls into the quaint city of Avignon.  I found my hostel, a fun place called Pop' Hostel, which was funky, modern and affordable (17 euros a night for a hostel).  I dropped my stuff and I had a nice lunch on a crepe filled with Emmental (swiss) and tomato pesto for a reasonable 2.5 euros. After I went wandering through the narrow lanes of Avignon and through its quiet, closed Sunday alleys.

I woke up early the next morning and grabbed a delicious pain au chocolate and espresso at the bakery next door before heading on to see the main reason I had come to Avignon: the Palais des Papes (The Papal Palace).

 For any of you history buffs out there, Avignon played host to the Popes for some 70 years during the 14th century.  The Avignon Captivity was a period of time where the city was the center of the Roman Catholic world.  From 1309-1377, a total of 7 French popes ruled over the Catholic world from Avignon rather than Rome.  Then even better, after the papacy returned to Rome there was a schism and Avignon continued to crown popes.  For a period there were 2 popes, one in Avignon (an antipope) and one in Rome.  Fascinating stuff, I swear--go read some of the links here and you will see all sorts of drama and intrigue around the Game of Papal Thrones.

Anyway, I went to visit the Palais des Papes, the enormous Gothic fortress and palace that housed the Avignon papacy.  I did an audioguided tour of the giant place to get a better context to all the history that took place in the palace.  It was fascinating.  All sorts of tidbits of history about the construction of the immense palace, its daily working  and the goings-on in the Papal Palace.  I wandered through the arched Grand Chapel where the Popes used to worship, and the immense dining halls and kitchens, as well as the vaults where the riches of Christendom were stored.  There were some beautiful chapels in the palace, and some fascinating murals in the Pope's quarters.

As mentioned, the Palais des Papes was home to 7 French popes until 1377, and a few antipopes after. The city itself was under control of the Kingdom of Naples until Queen Giovanni was short on cash and sold it to the Papacy for 80,000 florins in 1348.  It remained under Papal control, with various legates living in the palace until the French Revolution, when it officially came under control of France.  After the French Revolution, the French turned it into an army barracks.

Now it the place is being restored, and is a UNESCO monument.

I made my way to the top of the Palace and stared out over the city and Rhone River flowing just beyond the city walls and ramparts.

After my tour through the palace, I made my way into the Place Pie to grab lunch.  I found a little bakery with immaculate pizza fresh out of the oven.  France gets underlooked for its pizza, but is actually a great pizza spot--which makes sense given its superb breads and stellar cheeses.

I futzed around a bit in the afternoon, doing a little work over a delicious brownie and cafe from the bakery next door.  I wandered a bit more through the city to the Rue des Teintures, a fascinating alley off a small river flowing through the city where dyers, washers and other used to work.  There were a number of bars and cafes along the small river, and I stopped to read with a demi-pinte under some autumn trees dropping dessicated leaves on me.

I spent the rest of the afternoon roaming around the Rhone, on the turgid river's banks.  I had a quiet night over a glass of red wine and Lord of the Rings as the rains slightly drizzled down.

Off to Aix!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Or a dog...

Kurdistan Chai!

As the Kurds go to the polls for their referendum on independence, my heart and support are with them. This is a piece I wrote some years ago after spending the summer in Kurdistan: Fiddler on the Roof in Kurdistan.

Also another great piece (not by me) on Israel's endorsement of Kurdish independence and why Saladin would have been pleased.

Where the mind is without fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free,
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments,
By narrow domestic walls,
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way,
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit,
Where the mind is led forward by thee,
Into ever-widening thought and action,
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
-Rabindranath Tagore
H/t JB

Sunday, September 24, 2017


After a lovely stay in Toulouse, I hoofed my way out of town to the train station to catch an afternoon train to Montpellier.  The ride was beautiful, across verdant fields and valleys of the Occitanie region. I spied windmills upon windmills, and knew I was in the right direction.

I arrived in the evening to Montpellier to stay with a SERVAS family, Olivier and Agnes.  SERVAS is an organization of which I am a member.  It's mission is as such: Servas is a non-profit membership organization that fosters understanding of cultural diversity through a global, person-to-person network promoting a more just and peaceful world.  In practice, it means that I can access the vast network of SERVAS to do a homestay cultural exchange for two days in most places all around the world.  This would be my second stay with a SERVAS family, after a lovely sojourn in Cologne, Germany.

I was to arrive to the Montpellier station to meet Agnes' brother, who would then take his wife and me to my host's place just outside of town.  We were supposed to meet at the boulangerie Paul at the train station.  I arrived as planned, and waited in front of the Paul.  And waited, looking for someone who might be looking for me.  But no one seemed to fit the bill, and no one I approached was the person I was looking for.  I sent my hosts a note via email, and waited about half an hour before I looked in the distance across the station...and saw another Paul.  Sure enough, Dennis was waiting there for me.  We laughed about it, headed over to grab his wife--a lovely Canadian named Lynne and we all headed over to my host's house.

We had a lovely apero (a drink/appetizer) as we chatted in greetings.  Olivier had actually lived in Morocco as a boy--his father had been an engineer in Port Lyautey (now known as Mohammedia). Given the Moroccan connection, his wife made a delicious tajine of beef and quince.  It was a delicious meal and a great start to the homestay.

I slept well and awoke to the wonderful vista from Olivier and Agnes' house across the valley into Montpellier.  We had a delicious breakfast of rustic bread toasted with butter and confiture, and little bowls of coffee.

After breakfast, we headed down to the Mediterranean to the beach town of Palavas.  Olivier and Agnes were part of a boat-share so we got to take their boat out on the sea.  It was a perfect day to do it, the heat was mild and the sea was calm.  We puttered out on the motor our of the docks and onto the open Mediterranean seas.  We had a delicious lunch of poulet roti with a sharp dijon mustard, followed by some comte cheese and then apples.  All polished off with a nice red wine.

After lunch, the winds started to pick up so we unfurled the sails and headed skimming off along the waves.  The sea was calm and the tranquil breeze made everything perfect.  I even got to steer the ship for a while (Watch the CAP!).

After a lovely day on the high seas, we made our way back to port and put the ship back in its harbor.

We then made our way into the city of Montpellier for a tour of the quaint city.  Montpellier is a mid-sized French city, brimming with lots of life from its universities and medical schools in the city.  We walked through the heart of the city, La Place de La Comedie with its classical architecture.  There were all sorts of people out for an evening stroll amid the performers and buskers.  Olivier and Agnes took me through the narrow lanes of the city, past all sorts of churches and mansions.  We made our way up through the city's Arc de Triomphe and over to the lovely Place Royale du Peyrou--a giant garden area atop the city with a stellar view into the valley below past a giant aqueduct.  Louis XVI had declared that no building could be higher than the place so that there would be a beautiful expansive view across the valley.

We made our way back through the town and past the old Jewish Quarter, and grabbed a beer at a lively bar that was packed in the early evening.  After a pint, we headed back to their home for dinner. "It's nothing gastronomic," they said; I laughed, as gazpacho, rustic artisanal bread and pungent cheese, followed by pears and chocolate struck me as pretty gourmand.  They had some roquefort cheese from the source that almost brought a tear to my eye it was so good.

The short stay with Olivier and Agnes was really special.  They were consummate hosts, and we had a great time talking about the world and present politics.  And it was a boon to my French skills to have to converse the whole time in French.  It was a really wonderful cultural and linguistic class tied up in a lovely homestay.  I am truly grateful for the wonderful experience and opportunity to stay with such lovely folks.

Friday, September 22, 2017


I am all set to leave Toulouse after a few days here.  I really enjoyed the city.  I generally really like second cities (or third cities), the bigger cities that are not the capital (see: Oaxaca; Rosario; Stuttgart, etc) because I find them a bit more emblematic of life in said country.  Toulouse was a real delight with its dusky pink brick splendor and belle city scape.  It had a real life to it--being home to a large student population. 

After my arrival picnic, I wandered around the city.  I visited the unusual Basilique Saint-Sernin, with an octagonal tower.  After the church visit and some coffee in town, I stopped later at a Carrefour to get the trappings of dinner.  There was a kitchen in the room so I decided to make Spaghetti Catalana.  Nice idea, except that the kitchen in the not-so-large room meant that everyone else would smell the garlic, onions and tuna cooking up in the tomato sauce.  I tried to crack the windows, but I can't imagine I was a very popular hostel mate.

The next morning, I found a nice breakfast deal (coffee and pastry for 1.70euro) and then made my way to the Musee des Agustins, a nice art collection housed in an incredible old Augustinian monastery.  Even better, it was free for students (like moi).  The Romanesque art works looked great amid the old stone archways.  There was an incredible stained glass window over an old organ that was shining all sorts of colored lights on the walls and old stone crosses.  The museum had a nice mix of ancient and modern, as it mixed a collection of Romanesque columns with plastic post-modern lamps hung above the columns.  

In the more modern painting area, there were a number of excellent works by 19th century French artists.  And there was a huge painting whose scenery looked very familiar.  It was a painting with a Moorish door and wall that looked like Meknes...

And it was. As I got up to read the tag, it turns out that it was a Delacroix painting of the Sultan of Morocco in Meknes.

I spent the rest of the morning wandering through the gardens of the city, which were lovely.  I got hungry and made my way up to Marche Victor Hugo, where I read had good lunch specials on meals that come straight from the market.  Once I found the floor of restaurants, I got a fabulous three-course lunch for 14 euros.  It came with an appetizer of roasted, cured eggplant followed by a delicious steak covered in little grains of salt.  Dessert followed and didn't disappoint.  France can sometimes offer some fabulous deals on multi-course meals.

I returned to the hostel to nap before heading out to find the Rosh Hashana services, of which I wrote about a bit prior.  The services were lovely and familiar, even though half of it was in French.  It was the same prayers and similar melodies.  And the French call/response prayers was a great French lesson for me.  We had a lovely communal dinner that followed, of all sorts of salad courses.  There were RH blessings over haricots, carrots, leeks and all sorts of other things I hadn't seen at an RH celebration before.  Dinner was a delicious cabillaud.  And of course, there was a cheese course.  I walked back across the Pont St. Pierre with its arches reflecting into spheres in the water; it seemed an apt image for the new year.

I returned the next morning for the services, which were nice.  I returned back to the hostel in the afternoon and made some shakshouka for lunch.  I decided to make it for lunch rather than dinner because I figured less people would be around for the cooking smells in the afternoon.  

After lunch, I wandered again through the town--along the banks of the Garonne River.  The autumn-hued trees lined the banks of the river area, it was charming.  I futzed around the hostel a bit, and after dinner I grabbed a beer to drink on the ghats of the river surrounded by students drinking and singing on the stone embankments.  

This morning I visited Hotel d'Assezat, a hotel particulare (private mansion of which Toulouse has many) that was turned into a private art museum  The Foundation Bemberg holds its collection at the mansion, and had an excellent collection of works from Renaissance to Impressionist and Pointillist works.

After the museum, I made my way to the lovely Jardin des Plantes, which had been closed the other day for fumigation.  I read a bit in the park before scurrying back to the hostel to grab my lunch out of the hostel office before their own lunch break.  Now I am off to grab a train to Montpelier, where I will stay with a Servas family before i head on to Avignon.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Nambia wishes you a sweet year

As the Chief Rabbi of Nambia, I wish everyone a Shana Tova!

Little known Nambian fact, it is the number 2 exporter of Potassium.

Who By Fire, Who By Water — and Who By Lack of Health Care?

Why She Lost

The legendary Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg offers an important analysis of Hillary Clinton's campaign strategic and tactical shortcomings.

Issues like Russian interference and voter suppression are real factors--I am definitely not trying to dismiss them as such issues need to be addressed--but it is also quite important that the Dems take stock in what failed strategically and tactically in Clinton's campaign and ultimately helped cost the election.

Notre Père et Roi (Avinu Malkeinu in French)

Notre Père et Roi, nous reconnaissons avoir fauté contre Toi
Notre Père et Roi, nous n’avons pas d’autre Roi que Toi.
Notre Père et Roi, agis favorablement envers nous pour la gloire de Ton renom.
Notre Père et Roi, accorde-nous une bonne et heureuse année.
Notre Père et Roi, annule tous les mauvais décrets contre nous.
Notre Père et Roi, réduis à néant les conspirations de ceux qui nous haïssent.
Notre Père et Roi, retourne contre nos ennemis le mauvais conseil qui les inspire.
Notre Père et Roi, écarte tout malheur et calamité qui nous menacent.
Notre Père et Roi, protège ceux qui ont fait alliance avec Toi, des dangers de la maladie, de la guerre et de la famine, de la captivité, de la destruction, du crime et de la persécution.
Notre Père et Roi, pardonne et efface toutes nos fautes.
Notre Père et Roi, que soit annulé à Tes yeux le poids de nos crimes et péchés.
Notre Père et Roi, aide-nous à accomplir un sincère repentir vers Toi.
Notre Père et Roi, envoie la guérison complète aux malades de Ton peuple.
Notre Père et Roi, souviens-Toi de nous avec faveur.
Notre Père et Roi, inscris-nous dans le livre de la vie heureuse.
Notre Père et Roi, inscris-nous dans le livre de la délivrance et de la Rédemption.
Notre Père et Roi, inscris-nous dans le livre de la prospérité.
Notre Père et Roi, inscris-nous dans le livre des mérites.
Notre Père et Roi, inscris-nous dans le livre du pardon.
Notre Père et Roi, fais en sorte que la Rédemption se réalise bientôt.
Notre Père et Roi, relève la dignité d’Israël Ton peuple.
Notre Père et Roi, écoute notre supplication avec compassion.
Notre Père et Roi, accepte avec miséricorde nos prières.
Notre Père et Roi, ne nous renvoie pas sans nous avoir exaucés.
Notre Père et Roi, souviens-Toi que nous ne sommes que poussière.
Notre Père et Roi, prends pitié de nous et de nos enfants.
Notre Père et Roi, agis au nom de nos martyrs morts en sanctifiant Ton Nom.
Notre Père et Roi, agis au nom de nos suppliciés.
Notre Père et Roi, agis au nom de ceux qui sont morts au bûcher, ou noyés pour ne pas parjurer.
Notre Père et Roi, si nous ne sommes pas dignes, agis au moins pour Ton renom.
Notre Père et Roi, fais-nous grâce et exauce-nous, car nous n’avons pas assez de mérite.
Accorde-nous Ta clémence et Ta générosité pour le Salut !

Bonne Année à tous!

Shana Tova from Toulouse, where the congregation's Rosh Hashanah meal after the French-Hebrew service had the best kosher wine ever; there was a stinky cheese course to the meal; after singing "Henai Ma Tov," everyone literally started singing "Aux Champs-Elysées."

Bonne Année à tous!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

La Ville Rose

I left Morocco in the darkness.  My flight on Ryanair was scheduled for 6:35am, so I had to be there at 4:35am.  But I received an email yesterday that because of security issues, I had to arrive an extra hour earlier.  So I got to the airport at 3:35am.  It was a waste.  The counter didn't open until 4am, and I was the first one in line and the first one through security.  I was sitting alone in the departure terminal by 4:15am, glaring at the slowly ticking clock.

The flight was uneventful.  Ryanair is not known for its comforts, and that was the case.  The seat wouldn't recline and I had so little space I kept bumping my knees against the seat in front of me, and I am not so tall.  But it passed without issue and we arrived on time to Toulouse.

I passed through passport control and customs without issue and caught the shuttle into the city.  The world had changed greatly from my previous Moroccan existence.

I wandered through the suddenly wide, empty and unlittered streets until I found my hostel.  I dropped my bags and went wandering through the pink city of Toulouse.  The city has a dusky pink color from its terracotta bricks.  I marveled at the autumn I had arrived upon; Morocco was just starting to cool down, but France is already into Autumn with a cool breeze and changing colors of the leaves.  I smiled  at how charming it was under the beautiful blue skies with big fat clouds.

I will always love Morocco, but the prospect of immersing myself in a French environment is what I need at the moment.  In Morocco, there was always too many Arabic distractions to focus on my French skills.  As I sat in a leafy park with my eyes closed--listening to the French banter, I knew this was the right choice to come here.

Anyway, I wandered around the city through a tangle of pink alleyways until I came upon a market.  CHEESE!  I followed my nose until I found a little fromagerie in the market.  I got a nice block of a hard cow's milk cheese for 2.5 euros and a little wheel of hard stinky chevre for a euro.  I picked up a crusty baguette to go with my stinky cheese.  There was a wine shop with giant vats of local wine.  I picked up half a litre for 75 centimes.  And I was set.

I wandered out of the market to Pont St. Michel but realized the bridge and river were not the right place for a picnic so I wandered back toward the Jardin Royaume for a picnic by a pond.  I ate the stinky cheese and crusty bread, washed down by the surprisingly good wine (Best dollar wine ever, with hints of sour cherry) as I tossed hunks of bread to the ducks.

Because what is a sabbatique without La Belle France?  And what is a sabbatique without a good midday picnic of stinky cheese, crusty bread and good cheap wine?

Monday, September 18, 2017


With a tinge of sadness, I bade Morocco goodbye this morning. I had planned to do a French course here this Fall but couldn't find an intensive course....sooo off to France!

B'slama Morocco; Bonjour Toulouse.

So begins my Toulouse-LaTrek across southern France to Nice, where I will be studying French (and cat-sitting. Oui, I am an international catsitter) for the month of October.