Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Weighing in on Gaza

I picked an auspicious day to return to the Israeli Consulate. With all the Gaza mess going on, there had been a protest outside the previous day and a protest and counterprotest in the works for the day. It was nice to see all my old friends at the Consulate, see the files in the exact way that I had left them and get to give a little insight into the press officer position to my successor three-times removed. Had I not been leaving town, I almost got drafted into the hasbarah effort by both the Consulate and the Jewish Federation.

The reality is that this whole operation was a long time in coming. Hamas was fooling itself to think that Israel would sit back forever and get hit by rockets. Now that Israel gave Hamas a proper pounding, the prudent thing would be to cut the operation while it is on a high point. This would be the antithesis of the 2006 Lebanon war, when Israel started on top but got bogged down as the conflict waged. The longer the conflict goes on, the longer Hamas holds on, the likelier they can spin this as a victory simply by surviving ala Hezbollah. The longer this goes, the more likely Israel may snatch public diplomacy defeat from the jaws of military victory. Nothing too insightful in what I am saying, simply put that the need is to declare victory and get out.

In other news, the rest of my pictures from Mexico are up: http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18

Monday, December 29, 2008

There and back again

"This is in large part due to the fact that, fear being a leifmotif of all good propaganda, aboout 75% of Americans are convinced that any trip south of Texas will involve some combination of bribery, kidnapping, armed revolt, the most toxic GI disease this side of Congo, knives pulled in macho bar duels, and probable colonoscopy at the border."
Chuck Thompson, "Smile When you`re Lying"

After a quit last night, we arose early to make our way north of the border. With the Monterrey metro (Metrorrey) closed, we hopped a cab to the bus station. We accidentally got a luxury bus out, and sat on plush leather as we rode to Nuevo Laredo. The ride between Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo is one of my favorites. The road is littered with Joshua trees, branches aimed to the sky in silent prayer. The scores of them lead all the way up to the Sierra Madres, and make a stunning scene. Even more so under the pearl gray sky of a new day.

Our border crossing was surprisingly easy. Searched benignly by both Mexican and American border guards, but no rubber gloves involved. Once we crossed the border, that's when our trouble really began. We arrived at a little before 10am for a 10:45 bus, but sat in a line. Since we are in the US and not Mexico, there was only one line heading north, Greyhound. They were apparently sold out for the day. It took me 45 minutes of standing in line to find this out, cause there was no sign, simply a nonmoving line. Since we had to get north for Harry's flight, I immediately began searching out alternative options.

There were a number of other Mexican bus lines scattered around the city, and I went searching from location to location to find a ride north. They had either already left or didn't have any buses. It looked like our best option was going to be a night bus to Houston. Finally, I managed to find a ride to San Antonio on a Turimex bus, the same line we had used a bunch in Mexico. The bus was leaving ahorita, so I got them to hold it and made Harry take a quick, expensive cab to the bus place to catch the bus they were holding for him and I.

The ride north was fine. I read and stared at the Texas landscape. Something so comforting about Texas, her soft clouds in her expansive skies, her rich terrain, her simple grace.

We arrived to San Antonio and were told that a bus to stopping at the location may have places to Houston, and should be there any minute. An hour later, we took our last steed into fair Houston. We arrived around 8pm, some 14hrs after we left this morning. First thing we did was grab Whataburger, whose sign was shining like a beacon in the night right next to the bus stop. We were picked up by my friends Maya and Guga, who offered us hospitality for the night. So it ends, so it goes.

"¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!" (Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!)
-Porfirio Diaz

Dear Mexico, so surprisingly close for an adventure, so fascinating, and always so close to my heart.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What the World Costs- Mexico

gratis: Museo Incografico de Don Quixote (with student card);Harry being hit on by a 50-year old gay Mexican
2 pesos ($.15): D.F. metro pass
4.5 pesos ($.35): Monterrey metro pass; bus to Guadalupe from Zacatecas
5 pesos($.38): chunk of dulce de batata
7 pesos ($.54): small glass of horchata; 1 hour internet at cyber cafe
9 pesos ($.69): one gordita; a bottle of Sol cerveza
10 pesos($.77): glass bottle of coke; entrance to Casa de Diego Rivera
12 pesos ($.92): four tacos on the street
15 pesos($1.15): student entrance to Museo Rafael Coronel
20 pesos($1.54): entrance to Museo Frida Kahlo (Casa Azul)
22 pesos($1.69): 1.2L Cevesa Indio
23 pesos($1.77): bowl of birria (goat soup)
25 pesos($1.92): ticket for cable car ride in Zacatecas
30 pesos($2.31): student entrance at MARCO in Monterrey, which by not wearing I was hounded by security
31 pesos($2.38): rickety hour bus ride to Teotihucan
35 pesos($2.69): four huge pastries and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice
40 pesos($3.07): cancion at Plaza Garibaldi; lucha libre ticket
45 pesos($3.46): student entrance to Museo de Mummias in Guanajuato
48 pesos($3.69): entrance to Museo Nacional de Antroplogio
50 pesos($3.85): entrance to lookout at the Torre Latinoamerica
53 pesos($4.08): Partagas cuban cigar
90 pesos($6.92): hostel bed in Zacatecas
100 pesos($7.70): hostel bed at hippy haven in Guanajuato
140 pesos($10.77): hostel bed in Mexico City; cubierto (ice bucket) of seven cervesas in Zona Rosa- D.F. luxury area
180 pesos($13.85): Fine Bolivar and Sancho Panza cigars, enjoyed on the roof in Guanajuato (finest I`ve ever had)
197 pesos($15.15): 8 hr bus from Zaca to Mexico City
269 pesos($20.69): 11 hr bus from Nuevo Laredo to Zacatecas
273 pesos($21): worst, most overprice meal in Mexico (Damn Yuppies!)
302 pesos($23.23): 11 hour bus from Guanajuato to Monterrey
310 pesos($23.08): breakfast for two at posh Sanborns
455 pesos ($35): 6 hr greyhound bus from Houston to the border
610 pesos ($46.92): lavish last supper at El Rey de Cabrito, the king of baby goats in Monterrey

El Fin

Dean and I are wrapping up our trip south of the border today. Or perhaps a more fitting opening would be: so Don Pablo Quijote and Sancho Harranza trudged north to the border on their metal steeds, hoping to fight the windmills that line La Mancha on the Rio Grande.

It has been a wonderful trip. Sometimes it was a little trying, as it isn´t always easy to travel with a snarky, obnoxious little brother who knows everything and nothing at the same time; sometimes it was fascinating to be traveling with a bright, engaging and curious man-child who is precociously wise beyond his years. Always it was a fantastic time in an enigmatic land just a few hours south, and always a world away. I think we both learned a lot.

For Harry, it was his first time backpacking, and I´m sure it won´t be his last. He loved it, and gained an appreciation for the joys and surprises that setting out on unknown paths can bring- perhaps he even gained a little understanding of why his brother is the way he is. For me, I had the opportunity of traveling with someone else, something I rarely do for an extended period. It was truly special to travel with someone so special to me, and we had moments that I will never forget. I enjoyed seeing Mexico through his brilliant-yet-neophyte eyes. It was a great bonding experience, and next time we will try to include our sister, who was invited but had prior plans.

Now we make our way north. Soon to be posted is everyone´s famous: La Cuenta, the bill or "What the World Costs"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Monterrey, MARCO & El Rey Del Cabrito

A long overnight bus and we arrived tired to Monterrey. Nothing like a younger brother when you are overtired. We took the metro to the Micro Plaza and found a hostel in the Barrio Antigua, a new place since I had last been there. We kinda checked in, but not really. We showered, had an okay Mexican breakfast of chilaquiles and Huevos a la mexicana. Neither were as good as the recipes look. The hostel had no space, but said it would work with us to find us a place and we could leave our stuff. At that point, we headed back on the metro and out on the town.

We first went to the Cuauhtémoc Brewery. We were early for a tour, and I was underdressed in the rarity of shorts and flipflops and was told I couldn´t do the tour. No worries, since i did it in the past. We passed our time waiting at the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame. O` hallowed grounds. O`Cooperstown south of the border.

From there, we got the extended lecture and Harry went on the tour while I sat in the garden and read "Zen." After a few free beers, we returned to visit the phenomenal MARCO. It is a stunning museum of contemporary art that was closed last time I spent time in Monterrey. The museum was fantastic, there is such a way that contemporary art can play with you. There were reflections in pools, of lights and men and windows. There was an outdoor area which was a super hot pink and verdent green, and there was a face in the mountain, which could really only bee seen when we were lying on our backs on the marble. The lips of the mountain were chapped, but there was a hidden chapstick. There were also hidden figures, and pink slits reflecting the sky along with buttons of a shirt in lights. Pink and pretty. Shafts of pink. Very impressionante

Harry took a nap, but when I woke him, he was grumpy and later huffed off saying the museum was stupid.

I kept wandering, through forests of wood people, and through a room that was like primordial man coming out of the depths. The next room was pan, bread, covering all walls. The nex was small little figures, hundred of thousands of little ones like the meerkats from "The Life of Pi." I was having puckish fun, enjoying the different perspectives.

It was around this point I ran afoul. I had found an extra green ticket (sticker) on the ground, so I put it in my journal since it matched the outside green; I also put my student sticker (pink like the wall) in my journal. Under both MARCO stickers, I wrote "Polo." However, since I now no longer had my sticker on person, the museum thought I snuck in. First, a security guard asked, and I showed him in my book. Then another asked and I showed him as well. Then I heard another security guard talking about it, so I put it back on. At that point, they were being dicks and following me as if I snuck in. The vibe changed real quick, as all these security cabrons were eying me and following in a non subtle way. Blah, they bothered my enjoyment.

Harry and I left, and Monterrey seemed shady too. We walked through the main area, but were getting non-friendly glances. We had a great capuchino at a slow hippy place. The barrio antigua seemed dead and empty like a ghost town. We hung out until we were sufficiently hungry and hit up what returned us to the environs in the first place: El Rey De Cabrito- the king of baby goat. Its crown lit up the night sky, and we chowed on delicious crucified baby goat. I tricked Harry into eating goat balls! We are exhausted and don´t really feel like going out tonight. We finally did get some millitary fold up bedding for a cheap price from the hostel for our nightly sojourn.

So ends our trip tomorrow, as we try to cross back into the EEUU, assuming Mexico will let us out and the US will have us back. Many kilometers to go before we sleep. A proper sikkum to come later on the trip as a whole.

perfection

4.0, bitches! Got straight A`s! Luv it! And not like when BCC Highschool put me in the Washington Post for being a straight A student for my one AP Euro class. The real deal.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fairing far better

After a day of resting and struggling to keep down Korean soup from Xena, I feel far better. Harry and I had traditional jewish xmas dinner of chinese food and watched movies all night. An okay flick by Tarantino called "Deathproof" and a movie with Sean Connery called "League of Extraordinary Gentleman."

Today I woke up feeling like a million pesos. I got my atm card back, no problem. Then Harry, Xena and I went to the Museo Don Quixote. Just as wonderful the second time, if not better. I saw more of Don Q and Sancho. The Don and sidekick on eggs large and small; on an ostrich egg and on breakfast. Glass quijotes, brass quijotes. Quijotes scrabbled and scrambled. Quijote on a leaf and a prayer. Quijote of chess, of smoke and ash. Also a correction. In my previous blog, I mistakenly noted of Quixote fighting power lines. It was actually Don Q fighting oil towers, entitled "Quixote globalizado." The artist was Silvia Barbesco. A more apt demon to fight, a more apropos windmill to chase. Symbolic of the windmills of our day and age.

There were two passages from the patron of the museum that were very moving:
-"Sometimes the sand of the beath Turns into the plain of La Mancha and I see Don Quixote and Sancho Panza As if they were real characters. I touch them, I hear them, they are with us. Cervantes made them immortal. Oh! Real the Quixote, its so peaceful! Read it at the concentration camp. As a minute hand of human hours, As a place to discover ideals that jusyify the craziness of the genius, to get back the control to reason."

"Undoubtedly, Cervantes created his characters to keep them alive through his readers.. The epitath couldn´t be more illustrative than the one that the creator dedicated to Don Quixote: "Nor in his death could Death prevail." This lesson make us travel among windmills to Creptina and Montiel, to the plains of La Mancha and to the high Sierra Madres.

We would live to turn barbed wires into holm oak and holm oaks into spear shafts"
-Eulalio Ferrer Rodriguez (Museum donor)

Subtracted from his concentration camp diary om Barcares, France July 12 & 16, 1939

After the museum, we went to the beautiful Teatro Juarez and enjoyed the Moorish interior of the fine theater. The swirling patterns and bulbs radiated beauty.

After, we sat on the steps as Xena was sidekick to a clown, who stole kisses from her. We parted company as Xena went to the market and Harry and I went to Diego Rivera´s boyhood home. It was good but nothing incredible compared to all we had seen of the artist. After, we had lunch in the market. Caldo de Pollo for moi (chicken soup, the Jews do it better) and carne asada for Harry. We stocked up for dinner, and grabbed to more cigar treats. We enjoyed the luxuries on the roof, washed down with a Bohemia obscura. Life at its best, as I had a Bolivar to Harry´s Montecristo. We reflected on our journey and shared a moment of quality.

I left Harry to read while I met up with Swiss miss that I had met two days prior. We had coffee and crepes and wandered around town, and in the subterranean world of Guanajuato. Subterranean blues for me, as the swiss miss had a swiss mister. A swiss kiss goodbye would be the extent of my luck. Now off to Monterrey and back to Houston to end our fair journey to La Mancha.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

El Peor Resaca

Ay dios mio, I have the worst hangover ever from the worst mexican jug wine ever (California- stay away!). I didn't think I drank that much, but as I was once told "menos o mejor," less or better. I drank the worst of the worst, and oh my, I feel awful. I have slept and rested in the hammock all day. I almost killed a Mexican family that was playing instruments in the street. Drums and a clarinet. I gave them 15 pesos to go away.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chasing Windmills

A much needed and long sleep preceeded the morning light. Harry and I awoke and headed our separate ways, first getting a roll and empanada de atún for breakfast.

I went to the Museo Iconografico del Quijote, and found a stunning collection of the Man of La Mancha. Housed in an old colonial building were paintings, portraits, mosaics, murals sculptures and statues. It was fascinating, usually museums have a concept or theme that works eminate from, but this was a multitude of different visions of the same idea: a man riding off to do battle with his destiny and the windmills and monsters that stand in the way. Some images were abstract, some classical, some romantic. There were pensive Quijotes, there were brave Quijotes. Quijote with his trusty sidekick, or facing his demons alone on his horse. A grafito version was particularly stunning. Cubist man o´la Mancha , and a Picasso version of our dear hero. Also there were there abstract ones of a modern Quijote battling modern turbine windmills, and another battling electric lines. I really loved the Toledo black-and-gold plate imagery of Don Q. Also the ones of the Don heading off into the fiery windmills. So many different styles and forms, it would be impossible to name them all; something out of a Cervantino Dream. Truly beautiful.

My day took a less beautiful turn as a cajero (atm) took my bank card and refused to give it back. I refrained from taking out my lance and slaying my own windmill. I grabbed some wonderful fresh food in the market to make a sandwich from a fresh role, boiled egg, soft cheese, cactus, onions, salsa and avocado sandwich. I sat on the roof with a bohemia and listened to a Mexican-accented Jim Morrison sing all sorts of rock classics in a Mexican accent. Harry and I squirreled away Chinese food for Xmas, and he made delicious schnitzel tonight. We ate like two kings, then wandered through the surprisingly packed streets. After a night of searching, we managed to find stellar cigars in the most unlikely of places: a perfume shop. Tubes of cigars below expensive perfume caught my eye, and we got some of Fidel´s favorites. Two delicious cigars called, aptly so, ¨Sancho Panza.¨ We enjoyed probably the finest cigars I have ever had, as we watched the ministrel groups sing. Feliz Navidad to all, and to all a good night.

PS: A good article on State´s new pub d efforts. Nice to see they are finally getting it, although I am not wowed with the efforts. We shouldn´t be applaiding you for getting on facebook or tweeting, this is something that any 14-year old does these days.

Things Found

-An ¨aleph,¨ Borges´ object of infinity. Borges found one under the stairs, and saw infinity within its midst. I found my aleph on a silver carving ashtray on display at the Dolores Olmeda museum.

-A Mexican Jenna Umansky. No joke, exact match. Harry pointed it out to me, so there are witnesses. Jenna, you may need to talk to your father about his wild days south of the border.

-Lions and leopards inhabiting the streets of Guanajuato.

-Globalization, in the form of the shwarma style grill/spits imported from the Middle East and now being used to make tacos. The world is a far finer place when we can share ideas.

-A whole bunch of new pics up.

-A shock of blue from Diego River in the form of three Russian children, the likes of which I have never seen. Blue that cannot be explained but only appreciated. Electric would be the closest definition, but that is not even close.

-Colonial blue, seen in the sunlit eyes of a hunched over Doña, taking her osteo-withered bones slowly along the street. Her brown skin and braid displays her heritage, her eyes show her pedigree.

-A sea of space, limited in time but a blessing for a brief moment.

-

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The gem of Guanajuato

We escaped from D.F., and not a moment too soon. It was overwhelming at the end, and we couldn´t take any more. We headed out amid the crowds coming in to the Zocalo, and made our way to the Terminal Del Norte. Getting out was a challenge of fighting lines and finding a bus to Guanajauto as there were few. We found one, expensive but the only game in town. We collected the guava and tamarind juices and lunch bags, and got out of the hectic.

Our bus was fine, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maitenance and chatted with some nice Canadians sitting next to us. They mentioned their excitement of Obama and how much they like their healtcare service. We arrived to Guanajuato, and were shocked at how expensive the bus tickets to Monterrey were. Luckily, we found a promotion for cheaper and got our way north taken care of. We then took the bus in town, through the snaking corridors of the city and were in a whole new locale.

We found a hostel and a Japanese guy who joined us to go out. As we walked to the main plaza, our friend Zena (a blond Korean) jumped on me. She was here too, and we went out with her friend who was also from Korea. We stopped at a supercool bar with great pictures on the wall and chatted with an American expat who lived down south and had some great expat stories of dysentary and other maladies found south. There were roving bands of Estudiantinas black-caped ministrel singers and guitaristas that circled through the city and were followed by their followers.

After, we made our way to an awesome reggae bar, and chilled out to Matisyahu and Marley and played foosball as we sipped Bohemia, the best there is. Harry got a bloody nose from a karate chop by Zena and we headed home.

Today, we switched hostels to a superchill place that Zena was at. After settling in, we headed out through the beautiful streets of Guanajuato. The place is a real gem, an old colonial masterpiece that was once the richest city in Mexico from its silver and gold mines. We wandered through the city, and up to a museum of mummies. They had a gothic surprise of preserved mummies. We wandered past the dead, old and preserved. The skin hung taut and the mouths hung open. Teeth still on old boney gums, hair still hanging on the scalp. Some of the old ones still even had public hair, that creeped me out. There were baby mummies, that were so creepy. These dead babies, with lashes and hollowed out eyes. Impressionante. Strange world to find, a gothic macabre feeling when you are surrounded by the dead.

We headed back down through the winding way and grabbed food in the markets. We bought avocados, tomatoes, onions, cactus, soft cheese, bread carrots, and salsa to make for sandwiches on the roof. We sat out drink red Bohemia (nectar of the Aztecs) and eating wonderfully fresh fare. Now off to watch the sun set over the hills and plenispheres of this colonial gem.

PS: We trudged our way up to the top of La Pipila, the outlook point over the city. From above, the city reminded me of a combination of Valparaiso, Jodhpur, Jaipur and Zacatecas all in one. It had blue, red, pink, purple and tangerine punctuating the landscape. We watched the light leave the city, and stayed until the lights of the city turned on one-by-one. It was like watching the stars come out.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Done with D.F.

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah, and we were luckily able to find an Israeli named Guy in the hostel who had brought a menorah, candles, and a dreidel. We lit the candles and spun the dreidel for pesos.

Jarri and I are getting out of dodge, and are ready for it. The sensory overload that is D.F. has become too much, and we are happy to get to quieter pastures. We had some expensive breakfast at Sanborns at the beautiful Casa Azulejo, an azul-tiled palace with beautiful murals. The food was just okay, and rendering our two expensive meals to be not nearly as good as the many street meals we had. 'Twas a fun run in the city, but time to go. Heading north to Guanajuato, vayan con dios.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jazz, Peacocks and Lucha Libre

I got back early from my day solo and waited for Harry. We were supposed to meet around 6pm. By 6:30, he wasn't back and I was turning Jewish marm-ish. I was wondering how I would find one gringo in a city of 25 million. I sat reading and worrying as the minutes ticked by. About 7pm, he arrived, with a bloody nose and torn jeans. He said he got mugged and wanted to leave immediately. Shit. It took 20 secs of Harry's bs to realize he was messing with me, that he had a great day and got messed up playing futbol. Apparently he got nutmegged on his first play, but held his own after.

After we got freshened up, we headed out to find torta on motalinia. Our find was delicious. After, we wandered around looking for a jazz club mentioned by my friend Dina. We found a Mexican rock club and a bar with good dark beer (obscura) but no luck with the jazz. As we were walking back, we spied a place that sounded like it might have some live music. We peeked in, and found it was the jazz club we had been looking for. After bargaining on the cover, we headed in to a swanky jazz bar. The music was fantastic, jazz fusion bordering on funk. We had Bombay Saphires, Fernet and Cola and Caipairhinias as we enjoyed the music. Harry had a Glenfiddich and felt plush. Nothing like living the high life in low places.

After a late start this morning, we grabbed some sopes and headed down to the southern suburbs to the Museo Delores Olmedo. We somehow found ourselves transported to the Garden of Eden. There were peacocks wandering the ground, and we found them even up in the trees. We wandered the sculpture park outside and past the giant cactus. The place was phenomenal, with orange trees and giant purple flowers blooming above the regal peacocks. We saw some incredible works by Diego Rivera, and saw the whole scope of his talent from cubist to the more grandiose mural style. The best were a series of sunsets from Acapulco, and there was one that was truly striking of one single star above the setting orange sun. There were also some great Frida Kahlo pieces, including one amazing one called "the circle." There was also an amazing exhibit of giant wax sculptures of faces, and beautiful Dia de los muertos art. Outside, a play was taking place in the garden that could only be described as "Brokeback Aztec". There was also an amazing dia de los muertos exhibit that was the best I have ever seen. Her house too was incredible, with giant carved ivory tusks and beautiful works of art.

From our highbrow afternoon, we had a decidedly low brow evening. We found our way to a Lucha Libre match. At first it was stupid, but once we had enough beer to suspend our disbelief, it was so cool. We were cheering and screaming for the matches. There was a group of highflying midget wrestlers, a fat gay wrestler who tried to kiss his opponents and some colossus gringo wrestler named Marco. There were even some wrestlers who got hurt and had to be carted off in stretchers. It was a big change from the afternoon, and plush bar the nigh before but also lots of fun and truly something different.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sabbath solo

Harry and I went our separate ways today, for a day solo in the city. We laughed about if we ran into each other, the music would start playing for a duel. I left him and walked to the Alameda, the leafy park area near Bellas Artes. I was still trying to shake the melancholy from the previous night. I grabbed some dunkin donuts coffee (the best!) and wandered through the casa azulejo while I had a cd burned. Then headed through the park, stopping for a quezadilla of chicken before I reached the Museo Mural de Diego Rivera. There was a huge colorful mural from the artist, featuring Mexico´s long history. It was free for me with my student id, so it was even better. The mural room had classical music playing and plush chairs and couches to lie in so you could enjoy the mural. Upstairs there was an exhibit featuring the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico. This helped give me perspective on the previous nights events, which I added to my tales piece. As I was standing outside, listening to the sounds of the street and feeling the warm mexican wind on my face, it all made a little more sense and I was able to find restored sabbath peace.

From there, I grabbed a yummy taco of boiled egg and rice with salsa, and a fried chicken taco with white cheese and red and green salsas that made a mexican flag. I wandered down the busy street, past all the little stands of tacos, magazines and other assorted stuff, and found a little craft market that I wandered through for a bit. It was nice to be lost in silence, listening to the sounds of the city reverberate. I wandered to La Merced, a huge market area filled with all sorts of stuff. It was packed, probably due to the coming Christmas. I snacked on rice pudding and fresh coffee, and took in the commotion. Back to the hostel for a brief saturday nap, and now I am uploading pics.

New pics upn enjoy.

I am so taken by the sheer preponderance of people that fill the streets. I have only seen something like this in China and India. It is so overwhelming to see the human wave filter past. It is simply dizzying to stand still and watch the waves crash by.

Things remembered

The ebb and flow of the waves of humanity as the crush of people bounce softly in step. The benign police state that is Mexico- the presence of the multitude of gendarmes not unwelcome. Swimmingly silently through thoughts, memories and dreams that are my own. The beauty of solitude surrounded by the incredible mass of people that inhabit this megalopolis. The gentle kiss of the muse, who sings silently in my ear amid the din of the city.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mariachis, Frida, Diego and Leon

Harry and I made our way to Plaza Garibaldi to take in the mariachi spectacle. The place is one of my favorite on the planet, it is a whole square filled with mariachis. Groups of black-clad mariachis belt out canciones for some pesos, and their voices, guitars and trumpets fill the night air. We grabbed some micheladas and took in the spectacle. The strings flew and the trumpets blared, and we even got a group to sing us a song for 40 pesos ($3). It was a norteño band in red cowboy suits to play a song for us, and they rocked out on standup bass, drums, guitar and accordion.

After, we walked back towards the center of town, and found our way into a rockabilly bar with a pompadour-hairstyled Mexican dude crooning Elvis and Richie Valens. I cut a rug with a seniorita and Harry and I received shots of tequila from some people at the table we were sitting at.

Today, amid a tequila-induced resaca, we were joined in our tour of the town by a lovely Finn named Anni. We went down to San Angel and walked past a huge monument to Obregon and to Diego Rivera's house and studio. The place was cool, it had a fence of cacti. Diego had his house, painted red and Frida had her own house, painted blue and there was a walkway above that connected the two houses. His studio was an eccentric mix of relics, huge papermache statues and tools. Interestingly, the house was exhibiting very little of his work and had someone else whose name I forgot. We lounged in the sun on the terrace that connected the two houses, and enjoyed the day.

After, we took a wonderful stroll from San Angel to Coyoacan down the cobled street Avenida de Sosa. The sun played shadows on the old houses, wrought iron windows, lavish doors and immaculate houses. The walk was incredibly peaceful and serene, and was a real break from the DF din. We stopped for coffee on our stroll and I saw a great quote from Talleyrand:

Cafe es negro como el diablo, caliente como el infierno, puro como un angel, dulce como amor

Coffee is black like the devil, hot like the inferno, pure like an angel, sweet like love.

We made our way to Leon Trotsky's house, and saw the place where his life was ended with an ice pick. Fascinating to see his pictures and read about his life and exile. Also to see the bullet holes in the wall from the assassination attempts against him. From there, we went to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo's home. The place was a beautiful azure tone, and had her collections of things, thoughts and pictures by Diego Rivera, but surprisingly few of her pieces. So Rivera's studio doesn't have his work, Kahlo's house has Rivera's work but not her stuff. Go figure.

We left Anni and went to go to synagogue. That was when things turned tragic. I haven't the heart to recount it, read in my tales blog. In my fury, I pronounced that I was going to go eat bacon and hook up with shiksas (ok, the second wasn't any change), but decided that my quarrel wasn't with Judaism but rather the scared state of the Mexican Jewish community. To add insult to injury, we tried to get some comfort food, but ended up with the worst, most expensive meal. The night has sadly ended in a rather dejected fashion.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The place where men become gods

Woke up nice and rested and got Harry up. We headed to the market to get some provisions for our day at Teotihuacan, the largest, oldest pyramid structures in pre-gringo world. We grabbed a tamale in a roll for breakfast, they are fantastic. Then we wandered through the markets, grabbing all sorts of goodies. Harry had never been to a market like it, he loved it. We then headed on the metro and switched three lines to the Terminal del Norte bus station to catch a bus to Teotihuacan in the State of Mexico.

We arrived at the huge pyramid structure and walked around the ancient ruins. First we climbed up the citadel, and took pictures of the huge pyramid of the sun and pyramid of the moon in the distance. Then we walked along the "Calzada de los Muertos," Avenue of the Dead, past the platform pyramids that lined the way. We climbed up and down the little steps of the ave o' dead until we got to the huge pyramid of the sun. We tried to run up it, but the combination of smog, altitude and out o' shape got us and we didn't make it more than two levels. We huffed out way up the remaining levels until we arrived to the very top of the pyramid and took in the view across the smog-filled valley below. We stayed up there to eat our lunch of avocado, tomato and oaxaca-white cheese tortilla. We had added yum with bananas, grapes and lime juice added to the mix, as we stared out into what had been. There was a time when Teotihucan rose above the lands, as Rome expanded and Judaea revolted. These ruins were ancient even to the Aztecs, who gave it the name of the blog.

We climbed down and on to the pyramid of the moon, and sat and watched the Mexican school children play before we climbed down and back past the benign hawkers before we caught a bus back and a few metros to Zona Rosa. Zona Rosa is the posh neighborhood, and we sat out drinking beers at an Argentine restaurant as the long day ended. A few incredible tacos and a china-style full metro ride back, and we were back in our area. We walked from Pino Suarez, through the shopper-lined streets and grabbed a half rotisserie chicken ($2) for dinner, along with some leftover tortillas and a giant bag of salsa that we were given by a taco stand that was closing. When I say giant, I mean like we have prob about 3 kilos of salsa in the hostel fridge. Vamos a la marcha, as we head out for some mariachi music.

Day One in DF

After a brief nap to ward off the bus exhaustion, Harry and I went wandering around the city. First we stopped at the jagged Metropolitan Cathedral at the Zocalo, which is the largest church in Latin America- located in the second largest plaza in the world. From there, we went to the Palacio Nacional to check out the fantastic murals by Diego Rivera. The murals are vivid in their portrayal of Mexico's history, with all of the players and cast of characters in Mexico's long-running drama making an appearance in the works.

From there, we wandered along to the Torre Latinoamerica- once the tallest building in Latin America. On the way, we grabbed some blue corn quesadillas filled with cheese, frijoles and chicken. Also a tlacoya, which is similar to a quesadilla, only it is filled with frijoles and covered with white cheese. We ascended the tower, and took in Mexico City in its smoggy glory. The city had a grey haze that made it impossible to see far, but the circular view was still impressive. After staring out over the city, and walking through a photo history gallery, we walked past the immaculate Palacio de Bellas Artes and through the park next to it- stopping for a delicious sope along the way.

We then headed through Chapultapec Park and on to the immense Museo Nacional de Antropologico. The museum has room after room of indigenous arts, crafts and history. We visited rooms with artifacts of the Toltecs, Olmecs and Aztecs, as well as the other various groups living in the region. It was fascinating to see what was. Such intricate and fascinating societies that are simply gone. Gone for plunder, pillage and conquest. Sad. To be sure, the Aztecs were pretty warlike, and that is putting it mildly. It is just sad so see all that was lost which once stood here. It also took me back to Peru and Chile, visiting the museums and ruins of the great Inkan empire. Something about the eyes of the carved statues looking out across the void of history, demanding to be remembered for their greatness.

On back to the metro, where a kid with speakers in his bag was selling a cd with the Doors and Rolling Stones as Harry and I were the only ones rocking out to "Break on Through" and "Paint it Black" on the otherwise silent metro. Back to center of town for the hustle of foot traffic and a strong, sweet coffee and not-very-good flan. We sat around with some Germans and an Brit, chatting about travels and sharing a few beers, before we headed off on the metro to meet my friend Dina.

Dina was on the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship with me, she is a Mexican Jewess who does work promoting the UNDP millennium goals in Mexico. We arrived to her place, and Harry was shocked at how similar it felt to our home- with the assorted judaica on the wall. She even had a few of the judaica plates that we have at home. We had a delicious dinner of home cooked Mexican food. Calabazita (squash) covered in cheese and in tomato sauce, mexican rice, potatoes, quesadillas with sweet chipolte. We also tried a napole, a cactus that has a tangy/sweet taste and a consistency like tough green beans. We had a great time hanging out and chatting, then got a ride home from her Mom through town, down Reforma- the street laid by Emperor Maximilian to make his Mexico a little more French, and past the golden angel column and back to the zocalo, which is bathed in christmas lights.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All roads lead to....

Mexico City! We have arrived to the crown jewel of out trip, El DF. The heart of what was the Aztec empire is upon us. We got in this morning after a decent night bus, and found a hostel near the Zocalo. We started at one, but it was way too crowded and more expensive, and went to another around the corner that was nearly 50 pesos cheaper. We headed out foraging and had tamales in rolls and drank atole- a hot, sweet rice milk drink. We had tried the stuff last night, mixed with guava and fell in love with the concoction. It is sweet, warm and thick. Yum. Now on to the city.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Zaca

Our morning began with a saw. Rational progression from our night of gallivanting with people from our hostel. Harry and I went out for dinner for some tacos, and he had some hot sauce that turned him a bright red. After we were back at the hostel, on the roof having drinks and playing music under the glow of the cathedral lights. A Mexican Jack Sparrow named Ivan played the bass guitar, while a dreadlocked frenchman played a regular guitar. We all joined in with a variety of instruments ranging from spoons to bottles, and made merry all night. There was the aforementioned pirate, a fellow who looked like a Palestinian Jesus (Christ in a kaffiyeh), and an assortment of French girls, a blond Korean, some other Mexicans and an Argentine. After a trip to the bar, we basically took over the streets of Zaca and then back to the hostel where we proceeded to almost burn the place down by setting a lamp on fire- the cloth cover was on the bulb. One of those nights- luv the hostel world.

From there, Harry and I awoke to the hungover prospect that he had locked all our stuff in the locker, including the keys. It ended much better then imagined, as a hacksaw took care of things. From there, we went on to the market for some birria, a regional specialty. Nothing like spicy goat soap to cure a hangover. It was a yummy, with onions and cilantro, and tortillas steaming through the cloth cover of the basket holding them. After brunch, Harry and I debated heading on to Mexico City (DF), but decided to stick around for the day and take a night bus.

We then headed over to Guadalupe to visit a Church of Guadalupe. We had thought that the church would be some giant affair in the middle of the desert, but were dissappointed to find out it was in the middle of a city. The church was slightly interesting, with pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe and a gold filigree cuppala. It wasn´t overwhelming, and we grabbed some horchata (cinnamon rice milk) and rampope (an eggnog like drink with eggs, milk and vanilla, in the color of a creamy yellow) then hopped on a rickety bouncy bus back to Zacatecas.

We wandered our way to an amazing museum that really made our time in Zacatecas worthwhile. It was called the Museo Rafael Coronel. The museum occupies an 16th century Franciscan convent that had deteriorated and been bombarded by Pancho Villa. The building ruins and gardens made a beautiful maze of brick and arches. We met a Columbiana and an Argentina that joined us as we walked through the museum´s 1,500 different masks. The masks were incredible, with horns, fangs, mustaches, beards, pointy noses and braids. They were an impressive array of different style, some with piercing eyes, some with horrific smiles or scowls. It was really impressionante.

After the museum and a surprised kiss goodbye from the girls, we headed back to the hostel, to take some sun and suds on the roof. Some of the frenchies were eating, which made us hungry so we foraged out to find gorditas and split a half-dozen filled tortillas with barbecued meats and potatoes and molé (bitter chocolate sauce) with rice. Yum.

Now just killing time before a night bus to DF. Journey on.

Monday, December 15, 2008

a la Republica de La Rio Grande

´Tis so nice to be back on the road again. Harry and I left Houston early Sunday morning from the Greyhound station. The greyhound station is possibly the most dangerous location we will encounter in our trip. Actually, to be fair, it had cleaned up a lot since I was last there. We headed out west across Texas, past the verdant, vast openness that make me love the Lone Star state. Past the oil derricks and cattle grazing, and in to San Antonio. After a quick stop, we headed south, down to the Rio Grande Valley. The green turned a dessicated brown, and the landscape filled with cacti.

We arrived to Laredo, the once-capital of the Republic of the Rio Grande. Founded on the auspicious day of January 7, 1840, the Republic of the Rio Grande was a breakaway republic encompassing two northern states of Mexico and part of the Rio Grande valley. The Republic of Texas sent arms and support, but Mexico was able to crush the nascent republic.

Anyway, we crossed the Rio Grande and made our way through Nuevo Laredo. I luv to be back in Mexico. It is always a gentle assault on the senses, not a fierce attack like India, but still so full of flavor. The smell of the pan and tortillas the wind, mixed with the smell of diesel and gasoline; the gooey dulce de batata; the greasy tacos slathered in salsa, dripping sauce on your fingers.

We made our way through the crowded streets of Nuevo Laredo to a little bus station and hopped a rickety bus to the bus terminal. Harry was impressed that he could see the wheel through a hole on the bus floor. Harry was shocked that once we got away from the border, NL looked like Rockville with its Applebees, Blockbusters and Dominoes. We were dropped off at the main station and beckoned to buy tickets from the various companies. We got a cheap night bus to Zacatecas, and were told after we bought the tickets that the bus wasn´t actually leaving from the station and we would have to take a cab to another station. It seemed semi-shady, but we were willing to go along with it. We killed time over some dinner of flautas (fried tacos with chicken), rice and beans and some tecates.

Sure enough, the cab was fine and took us a few blocks to the nice, new terminal where we caught our night bus to Zaca. Harry slept well, but I tossed and turned. Guess I am out of practice. We arrived in the morning to our city sojurn. We found a cheap hostel in town that was near the city center and had some coffee on the roof that overlooked the giant cathedral. We wandered around the city and found some awesome huevos rancheros and cinnamon-spiced cafe con leche in the market. We walked around the colonial city´s little alleyways, it reminds me of Sevilla or Grenada without the moorish charm but with the cathedral grace. We climbed our way up to a cable car that connects the mountains and rode our way over the city to the Cerra La Bufa. From there, we could see out over the whole city, as it disappeared into plains and mountains in the horizon. The mountain top had been a fortress home to one General Pancho Villa as he held out against the government. We toured around a little museum and took in the long views, then climbed down the mountain and back through the labyrinth.

We stopped at a semi-interesting museum about some peyote-seeking Indians and their rituals, and a bunch of saints. We gave up being touristy after that and retreated back to the roof cafe to share an indio and bask in the sun. I have been off wandering through the markets, looking for a lock and clock, and finding everything else I have been so missing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Back in the Lone Star

The Angels cried as I left the city, with a slight rain shower to send me off. My flight was beautiful, as we took off over the Santa Monica shore and the mountains surrounding. I forgot that I lived near the beach. We flew over the plenispheres and mountains and over the river beds that looks like veins. I napped and woke up to sprawled lights of Houston. The traffic lights reflected off the glass buildings as we pulled in to my old stomping grounds. I arrived to the missed largess of Houston, big bellies and blonds with big hair and boots. I missed Texas and it was good to be back.

I was picked up at the airport by Sofia, my old co-worker from the Consulate. She already snagged Harry, and we headed off for Texas barbecue. Forgot how good that could be. Smoked beef and honey-glazed turkey,smothered in tangy barbecue sauce. Potato salad and pickles on the side. Yummmm.

"Y'all go to hell, I'm going to Texas."
-Davey Crockett

done and gone

Well, I think I am pretty much done. After days of wallowing in academic grief and self-pity, I got my act together enough to finish my paper in what I hope will be a successful second attempt. For all my previous arrogance and vanity, I really deserved the shot I took. A little humility lesson never hurt anyone, moi included.

So it appears I am essentially done with my first semester at the skate park that happens to double as a university. It seems that it was a modestly successful semester. I made some friends in my program and house. I explored LA and know parts of it more than most locals. Still there is so much more I felt I should have done. There are whole swathes of the city I didn't see. Also so much more of California to explore. I also didn't make any headway on a photo exhibit. Although I attended a fair amount of events, I still feel like I should have done more. Also, I didn't get involved in any clubs. To be sure, I tried to contact a whole bunch, but got no response. It seems the cricket club and Pakistani Students Association don't really believe that I want to join.

Now I am off to my old Texas stomping grounds for a quick stopover in Houston before heading down south of the border with my little brother. I'm taking him under my backpacking wing, and we are trekking down by bus to Mexico City. There and back again. DF, here we come!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Knocked off the academic high horse

I received a swift kick to the academic nuts today. I had finished my Qatar paper early, and submitted it to my professor for some editing points since he had mentioned possible submission for publication. I met with him this afternoon and got it back shredded. Ok, not exactly shredded as he still liked it enough to mention possible future publication with considerably more work put in, and was still willing to consider co-signing it to some prestigious scholarly journals. It was called "a good base," but not yet in an acceptable "academic" form. Kinda serves me right, as I had been thinking up to this point that Brandeis had been more difficult. As always, hubris is man's eternal downfall. Ugh, back to the drawing board.

After my meeting, I was in a cloud of gloom. I returned home, and shared my travails with my roomies. I went for a jog to kill stress, but warned the roommates that if I wasn't back in an hour, it meant I had gone running in traffic. The run did wonders, and I am off "the watch."

I also found out from my roommate Roberto that his mother was denied a tourist visa to visit from Brazil. She was coming to visit her dear son, but the State Dept, in their infinite wisdom, denied her entry. She presented her apt mortgage papers, letters that her son was in school, return ticket and all other evidence to support that she didn't plan on a one-way trip. So we have an economic crisis, and yet we are barring good tourists and their dollars from visiting. Morons!

Continuing my gloom streak, check out this terrifying article about what China does to whistleblowers.

Ending on a positive note, I had a story pitch accepted by Marketplace on Time Banks and the "value of time." As Milo of the Phantom Tollbooth was told, "all time wasted shall be refunded."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The War of the Roses

Two households both alike in dignity, In fair Verona where we lay our scene.
-Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet"

Actually Pasadena was where the scene took place. The USC-UCLA rivalry had been heating up as of late, as my friend Miles and I made our way out to the Rose Bowl. We took the metro there, and planned to take the shuttle bus, but the snaking lines made us change our minds and walk to the stadium. We made our way on the golf course-turned-parking lot that was a sea of blue-and-gold, cardinal-and-gold. We met up with some of Miles' friends who were tailgating for UCLA. Beer and burgers have no allegiance, and we enjoyed the festivities. We played some flip cup matches of USC vs. UCLA (we crushed them) and followed the yellow brick road back to the stadium to arrive before halftime of what would be a rout. As USC was piling on the points, we headed back for some more tailgating.

As the stadium was clearing out, we decided to forgo a ride from his friends to the metro and see if we could find a USC shuttle back to campus. We did indeed, as we came upon the players' buses. We tried to get on the first bus, claiming to be from the Daily Trojan, but the security told us to try a bus farther back. We walked onto the third bus, which was filled with the JV squad. We sat down and acted like we belonged, and received a police-escorted ride back. No, we we didn't end up in the back of a squad car, rather the buses had police escorts that literally stopped traffic on the highway so we could pass unimpeded. As if I deserve anything less than a police-escorted motorcade....

From there, we headed on to a German party held by a global comm student named Laura. There was hot mulled wine and various Euro-delicacies. We stuck around there for a bit, then headed back to Miles' place to watch a movie calledThe Fall. My parents had watched that movie and said that it reminded them of my travels. I understand why, as the film was shot in locations like Jodhpur, Jaipur and Prague, and had imagery of the Taj, Great Wall and Pyramids.

Now, I am just working on my final projects in the library and need to get back to it.

PS: an article in Slate about the moneda shortage in Argentina. Forgot about that, jaja. Also, another good Slate article about the Canadian political crisis.

The gipper

I went out to the Reagan Library with my friend Dr. Kenya to do some research on my "Let Poland" paper. I had to stop by the Center for Public Diplomacy to pick up a book, then I figured I could catch the campus shuttle down to Union Station. Unfortunately, that was an hourly shuttle, so I began my run of the gamut of public transportation. I hopped on the Dash, paying my stupidity tax of a quarter for not checking on the bus schedule, then the metro from blue to red to gold out to Pasadena to meet Dr. Kenya. She scooped me up from the highway overpass, where I had been watching cars speed under like schools of fish.

With the top down in her volvo convertible, we headed out to Simi Valley under a cloudless blue sky. We got a little lost, but finally found our way out to what was the home of the Rodney King trial- interesting how names of places get imprinted with certain connotations. The dusty mountains and hills were surprisingly beautiful as we weaved our way around. A quick stop for lunch at Tommie's, a hamburger joint for chiliburgers, then on to the library.

At the Reagan library, I got to watch the "Let Poland be Poland" program, which they had on beta(!). The program was as cheesy as imagined. Frank Sinatra crooning in Polish was pretty memorable, as was a cantankerous old Orson Welles giving a gritty reading of Donne's "No man is an island." There was a bit of diminishing return on the repeated statements from the world leaders, since all were basically saying the same thing, over and over. The whole thing was a bit kitsch and too long, but still an interesting Cold War footnote.

Meanwhile, the view from the Reagan library was expansive and stunning. The hills and mountains that surrounded were bathed in light as the sun set slowly in the west. In the distance there was a valley with white haze that sat over like a cloud.

After the research, we headed down to Ventura to grab some Mexican food on the beach. I had a huge pescado burrito, covered in green salsa and cheese, and washed it down with couple of pacificos. Yum.

Today, I am taking a reprieve from my studies to head to the Rosebowl to watch the Sharks and the Jets duke it out, the Montagues and the Capulets come to fisticuffs, the Hatfields and the McCoys take arms- USC vs. UCLA!

PS: Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about Israelis at the mall. I should have thought to do a piece on that, but I forgive myself for not coming up with it first since I never go to the mall. Thanks Abba.

Also on a far darker note, a disturbing article in the LA Times on the disturbing incident where the guard got trampled at Walmart. Truly sad and pathetic.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

last days

I had possibly my last day at Marketplace today. I'm torn about if I want to continue there. I was frustrated by the fact that too many times I went David Copperfield, ala hat in hand looking for work to do ("Please sir, do you have some work for me?"). I also don't like economics. And getting up too early, which I always cursed. On the other hand, I liked the people I worked with (I think I have a crush on Stacy Vanek-Smith). I also loved the staff meetings, where they talked about the show's rundown as the economic meltdown ensued. I always found it surprising that the trepidation I found in the meetings didn't always get communicated amid the tone of irreverence. Actually, that might not be true, because I didn't get to listen so often since I was in class when the product came out.

I'm not sure if I will go back, I was a little frustrated at the menial nature of the work I did. I guess that goes with being an intern. Without being too narcissistic, I almost felt that they didn't value my time enough. I could have been doing more, and was frustrated that I wasn't being better utilized. However, I was starting to do more interesting stuff. We'll see, no decisions need to be made now.

We have been going through the last week of classes. My last 502 was tuesday, and we had a good discussion about the future of pub d. 504 on wednesday was intense. We were doing an exercise on disinformation, and fell victim to it immediately as we did the project. The assignment was that we would get the assignment day of, and have to do a campaign against the disinfo. What we got was a scenario that we (my group) was the US embassy in Belarus, and that there was a pro-democracy protest was going on outside. The protesters wanted to meet with the Ambassador, but the riot police came in and cracked heads. There was a body outside of one of the protesters, before the riot police carted everyone off. The situation escalated amid disinfo and updates and we had to be on the firing end of an intense press conference. Other groups were different scenarios, but we all got the bullseye aimed at us. A fun and intense way to end it.

Today, I had the aforementioned (possible) last day, plus a presentation on Qatar's PD efforts. I talked about the crux of my paper of Qatar as blessed peacemaker of the Middle East.

Topped off with:

That was an ice cream advert featured in Lebanon after Qatar mediated the accord.
My slide read: 3 scoops of PD.
I need to get off to work....

By the way, while nobody noticed, Canada had a parliamentary crisis.

Winding down

The semester is winding down, and I am busy with my final work. I stopped this morning at the Beit Chabad near school to do tfillin in honor of Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife. I thought it seemed like my own way of honoring them. I find the whole thing so sad and disturbing. Tom Friedman had a great point in his column today:

"After all, if 10 young Indians from a splinter wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party traveled by boat to Pakistan, shot up two hotels in Karachi and the central train station, killed at least 173 people, and then, for good measure, murdered the imam and his wife at a Saudi-financed mosque while they were cradling their 2-year-old son — purely because they were Sunni Muslims — where would we be today? The entire Muslim world would be aflame and in the streets."

There was also an interesting article in the LA Times about the security implications for Chabad after this attack.

One last piece I will post, not related to Mumbai, but to intolerance against Mormons in the wake of the passing of prop 8. Although I did not support Prop 8, and found its passage to be saddening as I hate to see rights curtailed, I have found the behavior afterwards to be unfortunate.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cry, the beloved city

The attacks in Mumbai are heart-wrenching. Since I have been reading Shantaram, I was already feeling very connected with the city. So much of the book takes place in or around the areas just hit. My heart goes out to all those affected by the attacks. While I never met the Rabbi and his wife while I was in Mumbai, I met so many Chabad emissaries like them. There was a poignant piece in the NY Times today. May the G-d of compassion and mercy, found in all faiths, give comfort to those affected by these horrific crimes.

This is a link to the piece I wrote about Mumbai's Jewish community.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Turkey Day

After a long slog to the airport last night, that was accomplished via metro then flyaway shuttle, I arrived to the airport way too early. I cleared customs around 7:30pm for an 11pm flight. Ugh. Figured the traffic would be bad and the security lines to be worse. Neither materialized, so I spent hours in the muzak hell that is the airport waiting area. I napped on my bag, and caught myself drooling on my backpack. Got an extra hour delay for good measures.

But in the end, I did arrive home to the winter chill of Washington. My LA friends always remark that they miss the seasons. F' that. So now I am spending my turkey day with my family. Tis such a pleasure to be home with the fam, causing mischief among my siblings and taking in the turkey. There is one noticeable absence at the thanksgiving merriment. This is the first year that my grandmother isn't around. She is missed.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it has no religious meaning, no patriotic fervor and no commercialized gift giving. In short, it can simply be enjoyed with friends and family, offering simple and secular thanks as well as thanks above.

There were disappointingly few poignant op-eds to post on Thanksgiving this year. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. So instead I will offer a thanksgiving memories from years past. Last year in Buenos Aires, and the previous year in Lhasa. Both of those entries had distinct longings for home("ghorba" in Arabic), so I am simply thankful that this year I am no farther than where I am presently located.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Democracy is...

Our 504 project this week was to come up with a 3 minute public diplomacy video for the Democracy Is contest. This was our submission:

video

We won, but it was a tie. We split the contest with another group, and each won $1,000 to actually produce the video for the contest.

Monsoon Season

I biked down this morning to get a membership at the LA Central library, and to pick up a membership and some books for my final paper (a fruitless search). On my way back, the heavens opened up on me. I peddled my way home through puddles, as I got drenched to the bone and my wet clothes stuck to me. It was a joyous affair as I rode through the rain with my tongue peeking out from under my hood to collect the drops.

"What makes the water holy she says is that it's the closest thing to rain."
Josh Ritter, "Wings"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let Paul be Paul

I had been suffering from frustration over not being able to come up with a topic for my final paper for my Historical PD class ("topic block"). I had debated looking at the British pd campaign during "the Troubles," to writing a pd playbook for the Obama administration based on updating old campaigns to a slew of other topics- all with little success. Topics were either too amorphous, ambiguous or ambitious. As I was walking out of my house to head to the library, the thought popped in my head to do my final paper on Let Poland be Poland. Just as the thought flashed in my head, it started to rain above. It never rains here! I ran to catch the shuttle to school as the light shower came down. And like that, my topic block passed as the rain trickled down and washed away my frustrations.

Let Poland be Poland was the USIA program created to show solidarity with Poland after martial law was declared. The glitzy show, the brainchild of the showbiz hound-turned-USIA director Charles Z. Wick, was hosted by Charlton Heston, Glenda Jackson and Max von Sydlow, and featured messages of support from Reagan, Thatcher and Helmut Schmidt. It also featured music by Abba, Bob Hope showing what radio jamming sounds like, Frank Sinatra crooning a Polish folk tune and Kirk Douglas waxing poetic about the land his family left. It even had Orson Welles doing a rendition of John Donne's "No Man is an Island," and a choir singing the show's namesake to close. I have to get a copy to see if it was really as cheesy as it sounds.

two ships passing in the night

I thought this was an interesting disconnect:
See how the NY Times and Al Jazeera cover the same story, to complete opposite conclusions.

Also an interesting piece on the Citi bailout. I would make a snide comment, but Citi is fronting the bill for grad school and I am a little worried about next semester's tuition being forthcoming. Also, they are my bank. Not that I have to worry about FDIC biz, they can cover my pittance. However, I specifically picked citibank because they didn't charge me fees on overdraft protection. That was, until the present credit crisis and the tightening of credit. They completely changed their policy a few weeks ago with nary a letter, but simply a posting on my bank site to let me know that they would charge me an usurious rate of $10 a day that I am overdrawn. As they say, it's a recession when it affects your neighbor; it's a depression when it affects you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dewey defeats Truman




Paul 's Dewey Decimal Section:

613 Personal health & safety

Paul = 6112 = 611+2 = 613


Class:
600 Technology


Contains:
Health, agriculture, management, public relations, buildings.



What it says about you:
You are creative and inspired to make the world a better place. You can work hard on something when it catches your interest. Your friends have unique interests in common with you.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at Spacefem.com





Paul 's Dewey Decimal Section:

997 Atlantic Ocean islands

Paul 's birthday: 1/7/1980 = 17+1980 = 1997


Class:
900 History & Geography


Contains:
Travel, biographies, ancient history, and histories of continents.



What it says about you:
You're connected to your past and value the things that have happened to you. You've had some conflicted times in your life, but they've brought you to where you are today and you don't ignore it.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at Spacefem.com

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The world's most traveled man

I can't figure out if I have a new idol or enemy. Check out the most traveled man on the planet, who sadly isn't moi.

So I procrastinated and checked out where I ranked on the website World's Most Traveled People. Out of roughly 3,000, I am ranked #464. I am at the "senior ambassador" level. However, for my age group (20-29), I am ranked #20! And among my nationality for my age group, I am ranked #11.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

LA Times L2E

I had a letter to the editor published in today's LA Times related to the idea of a co-Sec o' State.

Despite what I wrote, I think if I am going to give any job to Hillary, it would be Sec o' Defense. I think she is tough enough to wear the pantsuits in the Pentagon.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who by fire

Figures I would finally find a place I could conceivably settle down in and it goes up in flames. I guess what doesn't get you by fire will get you by tectonic plate shifts...

For a little news roundup, a great piece by Frank Rich. It seems that Republicans just don't get it. They don't seem to realize that their narrow-minded coalition just isn't big enough any more. They can't attract any other segments of society with their myopic world view. And rather than trying to reach out, the conservatives are blaming their loss on not being conservative enough rather than realizing that their views have alienated any possible partners within the American mosaic. Go ahead, draw inward and get more conservative and banish any little bit of inclusivity to the wayside. Makes for a grand coalition for the grand old party. I will just sit back and snicker.

Also a great piece by MoDo on the "Team of Frenemies."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Falling

I'm finding myself falling more and more in love with the Angels. I really like it here. I'm taking better advantage of the activities at school, and I am exploring the interesting nooks and crannies that the city holds.

Thursday night I went to the symphony at USC. It was the USC symphony, and it was free for students. The concert was wonderful. The first song was called "Angels in the Architecture." It was a more irreverent song, with the use of tubes to make whirling songs and rondos to signify darkness and light. There was another piece with a a violin soloist who was ridiculously good.

Friday I biked down to the LA Central Library to work on my paper on Qatar's use of conflict mediation as niche public diplomacy. The library was pretty and a nice change of pace from the student library at USC. For lunch, I biked down to Phillipe's, the place where the french-dip sandwich was born.

The place was packed, with all sorts of clientele. Businessmen on lunch, tourists and the regulars all chowing down at wooden tables. Phillipe's was a rarity in that exceeded expectation. The french-dip sandwich was incredible: delicious roast beef, on crusty french bread made soft from the roast beef gravy, slathered with a sinus-clearing tangy mustard and side of potato salad. It kind of reminded me of Anchor Bar in Buffalo, where the Buffalo Wing was invented, insofar as the place that invented the creation really did it better than any one else.

I biked back to do some more work at the library, then to USC to do some free printouts of material for a seminar I am participating in this week with Benjamin Barber. He wrote Jihad vs. McWorld. We received some materials to review from his new book, Consumed, about how capitalism is infantilizing adults and corrupting children. Really interesting stuff, I will post more about that next week. Anyway, I had shabbat dinner at my friend Tabby's place. She had all the Jews in our program over for shabbat dinner, a yummy Persian affair.

Today, I went for a bike ride. I went down Vermont through the Byzantine-Latin Quarter, stopping to grab a back of fresh fruit including oranges, pineapple watermelon and cucumbers, covered in salt, chile and lime. I went through Koreatown to Los Feliz. From Los Feliz, I stopped in Little Armenia for lunch at Arax Falafel. I had a shwarma that was oozing tehina and was terrific. I munched it down with the tangy pickled turnips and little yellow hot peppers and biked my way back down Normandie. In total, about 12 miles. Now, off to the library for some studying and writing before I head off to a birthday bowling party for my friend Kenya.

Friday, November 14, 2008

EU PD

We had an interesting class today in my contemporary Public Diplomacy course. Prof. Gilboa had us read a few articles about the EU's public diplomacy effort. One interesting piece noted that the EU's favorability in the Middle East was barely higher than that of the US. Meanwhile, in Latin America, Spain was viewed as the most democratic country in the EU. "And God made man in our image." As for other places it was France in Africa, the UK in Asia. Interesting. Not related to this piece, but polls by Khalil Shikaki showed that the democracy Palestinians most wanted to emulate was...Israel. That survey is for a different post.

Another article was the EU's account of its activities for the 50th anniversary of the EU, painstakingly detailed in agonizing dryness. Luv the EU for its dedication to details. While Germany might have been formed in blut und eisen, the EU is being fashioned in bureaucracy and red tape.

So how do you sell the EU? Not in EUrocracy that is the current norm of EU PD. Boring or nonsensical stuff. We watched a nonsensical clip of EU branding, and came up with a much better idea ourselves. Stephanie in my class mentioned the idea of the American pd campaign after 9/11 of different Americans from different backgrounds stating, "I am American." The idea was noted of a similar campaign for the EU's 27 member states. I'm off and running with the idea:

A simple, short spot of different people of different ethnic varieties, standing in front of the various landmarks, holding their flags and stating, "I am Europe." Quick imagery, perhaps with German Turks, Dutch Moroccans, Senegalese Spaniards, French Orthodox Jews, etc holding the flags and stating the simple phrase. Maybe not, maybe a more traditional representation. Ending with a little montage of the EU's motto "United in Diversity" in the different languages of Europe. I think it's catchy.

Anywho, for now, we have this cute spot from EUTube on climate control:

Two for one

I am thoroughly enjoying the guessing game for who will staff the Obama cabinet. Names like John Kerry, Bill Richardson and Richard Holbrooke have all been thrown around to run Foggy Bottom. Richard Cohen had a great piece on why it should be Al Gore for the position. I heard a name of a certain vanquished Democratic nominee being mentioned. I will trump that. For Secretary of State, I propose Billery Clinton. That's right, a co-Sec 'o State. It would be the perfect combination for the position of charm, experience and panache. It is the two-for-one we never fully received. Seriously, think about the possibilities of it. Moreover, it is the shrewdest move Obama could make; talk about keeping your friends close, enemies closer and the Clintons, um well....

Meanwhile, I am scuttling the notion that a Republican should be Secretary of Defense or National Security Advisor. It sends the wrong message that somehow only Republicans are qualified to run the national defense, when in reality they have behaved like elephants in a china shop.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Split decision

We had an interesting 504 Pub D simulation this week. The topic was religion and public diplomacy. We were supposed to come up with a program to pitch to our respective embassies. One group was Nigeria, another was Bosnia, and my group was Sri Lanka. We decided to do a camp, and wanted to run "Camp Liger" since the symbol of Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority is a lion, and the Tamil group are the Tamil Tigers. They apparently chose the symbol as contrast to the Sinhalese lion.

We ended up deciding to pitch a component for Seeds of Peace camp to include Sri Lanka. Camp o' Conflict added its South Asia component in 2001, and the State Department's South Asia bureau helps fund the component. We decided to have the State Department open up a Sri Lankan program at camp, and work with religious affiliated NGOs for programming on the campers return. Our presentation was a little ad hoc, as we hadn't been able to catch up very often, but it ended up coming together nicely (better than expected). I presented on the SOP component, and got to wear my Seeds t-shirt.

The Nigeria group wanted to run a film festival to show tolerance in Nigeria. Apparently, Nigeria has the third largest film industry (Nollywood, who knew?). The Bosnia group had some religious dialogue sessions. The murderboard ended up giving the decision to Nigeria, because they were worried about our ability to offer protection for the kids upon their return (what are we supposed to do, send in the Marines?). However, our professors chose my group's presentation as the best. This led to my declaration that we were "the experts' pick." They liked the fact that our project was far more practical and feasible, and that we were piggybacking on programs that already existed. Next week is human rights, and my group is murder board.

PS: Mazal tov to Brian and Natalya Dean for popping out a 8lb baby boy named Tristan John (TJ). Brian is one of my oldest, best friends, and now I am "Uncle Paulie."
For you Brian, a Pashto saying:
"You are not a man until you give your love, truly and freely, to a child. And you are not a good man until you earn the love, truly and freely, of a child in return."
-Shantaram

Brazilian Obama

With Professor Cull away, my Public Diplomacy class had a guest lecturer from our Diplomat-in-Residence Mark Smith. His lecture was more a fascinating talk of anecdotal stories of doing press and public diplomacy work from the US Embassy in the USSR. He had some terrific stories of KGB intrigues and other assorted tales from the Cold War.

After class, I attended a USC Center on Public Diplomacy lecture with Paulo Sotero, who is director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He had some greats words to say about Obama's election, calling it the best Pub D act ever. He discussed Brazil's public diplomacy efforts, its role in South America and its oft touted potential that is finally being realized. The Obama issue as a game changer came up a few times, and during Q&A, I asked about that related to Brazil. My question was:
"Since you noted Obama's public diplomacy value, and given Brazil's own multi-racial society, when can we expect a Brazilian Obama (also considering that Lula was somewhat Obama-esque)?"

He had an interesting answer, noting that America once had "separate and unequal," whereas Brazil has "unequal and together." He mentioned that Brazil had far more inequality issues than race issues, something I saw from my time there. His conclusion was that Brazil doesn't currently have that person but democracy produces it. He also had an interesting point about the greatest thing for Brazil in the recent past has been the recovery of her self-esteem, and through that, she is able to be more assertive on the global stage.

PS: New Pics up
From San Di & TJ

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Between Redemption, Refuge and Poland

I'm currently admiring my new view of LA. The tree outside my window was cut down and I now have a clear view of the neon lights of downtown.

I had an interesting day yesterday. I had work at Marketplace, then studied in the beautiful Doheny Library. I caught a lecture by Dr. Meir Seidler, a visiting professor at USC/ Hebrew Union College. He was speaking on the anniversary of Kirstallnacht and the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was giving a lecture entitled, "The State of Israel: Between Refuge and Redemption." In his lecture, he discussed the cross currents of Israel being a place of refuge for the Jewish people and that of it being its redemption. He compared writings of Rabbi A.I.Kook and Herzl, and their respective thoughts on a Jewish state's role as place of refuge vs. medium for redemption.

From Rav Kook to serve as food for thought, from his 1933 Rosh HaShanah sermon:
We find that there are three categories of shofars that may be blown on Rosh Hashanah. The first category, the optimal shofar, is the horn of a ram. If such a horn is not available, then the horn of another kosher animal may be used. If no kosher shofar is available, then one may blow on any horn, even from a ritually unclean animal...

These three shofars of Rosh Hashanah correspons to the three shofars summoning the Jewish people to return to their land. The preferred shofar is the 'shofar of redemption,' the divine calls that awakens the people through holy motivations- out of faith in G-d and sanctity of the people of Israel...

There exists a second shofar though, a lower level of awakening. This shofar calls out to the Jews to come to the Land of Israel...in order to live as a free people in our homeland....

There is, however, a third type of shofar. The least preferred shofar come from the horn of an unclean animal. This shofar is a wake-up call that comes from anti-Semites of all nations, Haman, Petljura and Hitler are blowing it. This shofar blow warns the Jews to escape while they still can and flee to their own land. Enemeies force them to return to their land. They sound out the trumpets of war, bombarding them with deafening threats of persecution and torment, giving them no respite...Whoever failed to listen to the calls of the first two shofars, will be forced to listen to the call of the last shofar."

In the Q&A, I mentioned the idea that in its own way, Kristallnacht, which began on November 9, 1938 (9/11 by Euro standards), started a period of "bondage" in Europe that didn't end until November 9, 1989- the night the Berlin Wall fell.

After the lecture, I went with a friend to the Bovard Auditorium on campus and caught the Polish Independence ceremony. The program was celebrating 90 years of Poland's independence, I thought it was rather apropos to attend. Ironic in its own way, because I had never thought of Poland also as a state reborn, but it too disappeared and only to re-emerge later. I find Polish history fascinating, ever since I read James Michener's Poland. I came just in-time for a concert of music by Wojciech Kilar. He did the theme of "The Pianist" among a few other beautiful musical scores. Also, my friend Krysta did an amazing soprano solo performance. After the event, we dined on yummy Polish fair, but I was (deeply) disappointed there was no Belvedere wodka.

PS: Great piece by Harold Meyerson on a big thanks to Fix Noise

Monday, November 10, 2008

From Oliphant and others

I was awoken this morning from a call from my friend Anne, who called to go hiking. She picked me up in her convertible and fed me bagels which she had purchased for an event she thought was today but was a week off. We went hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, on a beautiful and clear day. The clouds painted shadows on the mountains in the distance as I got to clear my lungs with some fresh air. After hiking for a few hours, we grabbed pinkberry. I had never tried it, first time is always special. Pinkberry is a frozen yogurt craze out here- I guess I am officially an Angeleno. I had tart frozen yogurt with mangoes, kiwis and pineapple. Yum.

For our Public Diplomacy...



A poignant article about Blacks and the White House. And another moving piece by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

And, as has come to be expected, a great piece by Frank Rich.

"For all the attention paid by the news media and McCain-Palin to rancorous remembrances of things past, I sometimes wondered whether most Americans thought the Weather Underground was a reunion band and the Hanoi Hilton a chain hotel. Socialism, the evil empire and even Ronald Reagan may be half-forgotten blurs too."

Nicely said.

And since we can now move past the election and focus on other things, a nice piece on Mumbai.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

LA observed

Interestingly, it felt more that the loss of my bicycle was more debilitating to my transit than the loss of my car. I had been searching out for a "new" (used) one, but couldn't find anything cheap enough. The cheapest used bike I could find was $55, and that seemed too much for a second-hand cycle. I finally found one this week on Craig's List for $20. I took the metro all the way down to Redondo, and picked up my new bike. All it needed was to have the tires filled.

With my trusty-rusty tryke, I went around LA this morning. I bicycled downtown, through the historic old town center with its Art Deco grandeur and past the jewelry markets. I stopped for lunch at the Grand Central Market, a wonderful collection of different ethnic foods and fresh produce. There were shops of chilies and beans, of fruits and meats. The floor was covered in sawdust, and the air was filled with delicious smells of different varieties of Mexican fare, Thai cuisine and Persian kabobs. Out of the myriad options, I settled on ceviche de pescado (1/2 pint-$3.50), which I munched down on tostadas with salsa and limes. I sipped horchata (cinnamon rice milk) and snapped pictures of the market.

From there, I headed over to Little Tokyo to have desert of nanju, black-bean sweets. I wandered in-and out of tea shops, unable to find my favorite sweet shop. I had to get myself fully lost before I could find what I had originally found when aimlessly wandering.

I headed back from Little Tokyo, riding past Skid Row and the Midnight Mission. The neighborhood changed quickly, and I was surrounded by what looked like something out of Day of the Dead. The air was filled with the smell of urine and depression as people staggered aimlessly like zombies, while the Salvation Army fed the lines and Korean missionaries tormented the hungry with carols.

Just a block down, the ambiance shifted as I entered the flower market. The street was filled with the fragrance of flowers; maybe all Skid Row needs is a strong cross wind. On my way back through the Fashion District where yellow parasols covered the bargain shoppers who searched the racks for clothes, and back home. I like LA for a few simple things: its weather, and its variations.

Shaking off

The thing that is so fascinating in the post-election revelry is this feeling of weight lifted off our collective shoulders. It was if we shook off so much. It feels as if the weight that sat on America's promise has been lifted. The weight of our fears and history was for once lifted off in the weightless hope of change. At some point, reality may drag us back down; for now, I am enjoying soaring among the clouds of what could be.

A terrific piece by Judith Warner of the NY Times. Be sure to see the picture she references, it gives chills. Also, read the comment section. This has been my favorite in the post-election discussion, the outpouring of emotion in this cathartic shaking off of all that bogged us down.

On another note, I had a thought about the election and South Africa. By South African standards, our dear President-elect is not black but rather "coloured." Coloured is the designation for anyone who is neither wholly black nor wholly white. I met coloureds who were white as snow, and dark as pitch. It is sadly unlikely that a coloured person could currently be elected in South Africa, as they are often subject of discrimination. Among other places in the world, Obama would have a difficult time being elected in the "beloved country."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Pride after the fall

I'm still beaming. I have seen a lot of people talking about pride. How proud they feel to be American. It has been too long since we were able to express those words with such full force. A pride in the changes we can make. A pride at the outpouring of happiness around the world. As if we can hold ourselves up a little straighter and feel that we have hope for the future. For what feels like the first time in a long time, I feel that pride.

Last night, I was at a concert for Salman Ahmed, the lead singer of Junoon. Junoon is a Pakistani rock band, sufi rock. I have seen them a few times, at Brandeis and in Houston. Salman Ahmed was talking about the Obama victory, what it meant for the world and the walls around us coming down. He sang a song that I really liked called "Bulleya":

Bulleya ki janan mein kaun
Na mein momin vich maseetan
Na mein vich kufr dee reet aan
Na mein paakaan vich paleet aan
Na mein Moosa na Firaon
Bulleya ki janan mein kaun

Bulleya, who am I?
I am a non-believer in a mosque
And I have no pagan ways
I am not pure. I am not vile
I’m no Moses and I’m no Pharoah
Bulleya, who am I?

Closing Thoughts

Some closing thoughts on what seems like a period of forever. Success has many fathers but failure is always an orphan. Time to heap it on lil orphan Johnnie. Failures such as McCain's choice of Palin, and the shift that caused in the election away from a fight for the center to a base charge. Meanwhile, the Sarah pick breaks the Hippocratic rule of vice-presidential nominees: do no harm. She will rank up with Eagleton as a drag on the ticket that helped sink the ship.

But blame itself comes down to Mr. McCain for not being himself. I respected Sen. McCain a lot more before all this. He is a good and decent man, who kept company with scummy Republicans and let them run his campaign. He had a real opportunity to run a non-traditional Republican campaign, one that was honorable and about the real issues. He instead chose to run a very traditional Republican campaign of fear, and fling faulty allegations at a good man. Painting or allowing your supporters to paint Obama as a socialist Muslim terrorist was truly sad, and I had hoped for and expected more from Mr.McCain.

But more importantly, this is about Obama and it is about us. Kudos to Obama for running a flawless campaign: our very own Jackie Robinson just hit a home run. Kudos to the American people, for choosing content of character over color of skin. I have never in my life been prouder to be an American. I have felt myself well-up a few times in the last 24 hours. With an eye on history, and seeing it in the beaming faces of African-Americans casting their votes. At seeing Jesse Jackson crying. At reading the outpouring of support from every corner of the globe. Our friends and neighbors all over the world who wish well of us and want us to return to the fold. This is something I have long known, but it is vindicating nonetheless.

A few other kudos are in order. To Chairman Howard Dean for his role in implementing a 50 state strategy. He had enough foresight to know that if the Dems wanted to be a national party, we had to compete nationally and not on the swing state liberal fringes. Kudos to Hillary Clinton for making our baby boy a much better candidate. She helped build this organizational juggernaut by her fierce competition.

I will end this with a recap at a site called "This f'ing election" and also a final post of the very best political ad of a very long political season.