Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cause I`m Lima, on a jetplane

"Closing time - time for you to go back to the places you will be from...
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home...
Closing time - every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end..."
-Semisonic, "Closing Time"

Ok, I can`t take full credit for the title of this blog, it came from an advert for an airline. But yes, another journey has come and gone. It`s "Yankee, go home" time. Another 6 months or so has passed, another unforgettable chapter of my life has come to a close. I feel like I am in a better place than when I was returning around this time last year. I had more angst coming back from Egypt than I do now. While I would have liked to travel all the way back to the US, it is more important that I return for my friend Ben Mezer`s wedding. Given that I made it to Lima from Buenos Aires in two weeks, I`m sure given a little more time (and kesef) I could have gone all the way. But it is far more important that I return for Ben`s wedding, because I have known him at the highest and lowest of times (literally and figuratively).

Besides, I am a little tired. I have basically been on the road since the year began. Down to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, and back up to Uruguay, then over to Chile. Up the long slender finger that is Chile, and over to Peru. Climbing up to the heights of Machu Picchu and back down to the City of Kings. Not a bad start to the year. My 6 month adventure is ending, how have you spent the last six months? Sitting in an office or cubicle? Did you buy some new shoes or a new tv? I think I spent my time in a more valuable manner. As Gandhi said, "my life is my message." I hope my travels have inspired some of you to get out and see more of the world. Based on some of the emails and posts I have received, I believe I have done precisely that.

A few gracias are in order. First to RS&L (In Abba, we trust) for their generous loan packages; if only the IMF were this gentle. Thanks to the roomies who made my time in BA so much fun. Thanks to Tita for her warmth, hospitality and perspective. Thanks to Daniel for intelligent English conversation. Thanks to Valeria and Jorge for the warm welcome to Chile. Thanks to all the single-serving friends who I met on buses, trains and hostels- I truly appreciated the exchange of ideas. Thanks to the makers of Valium for saving me on those long bus rides, and to the Argentina for making it OTC. Of course, thanks to all my readers who tuned in to follow my adventures. I hope y`all enjoyed it as much as I did. As I wrap up another adventure, as I am apt to do, I will end this with some passages in the form of words from the musical Ragtime, and one of my favorite Borges stories. And with that I wish you all shalom

"Strangers sharing
The beginnings
Of a journey

I salute you!
God be with you!
I will miss you...


In the Darkness
Of the dawn-
Journey on!"
-Ragtime

Everything and Nothing
There was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words (which were multitudinous, and of fantastical and agitated turn), there was no more than a slight chill, a dream someone had failed to dream. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the surprise and bewilderment of a friend to whom he had begun to describe the hollownewss showed him his error, and also let him know, forever after, that an individual should not differ from its species. He thought that in books he would find some remedy for his condition, and thus he learned the "little Latin and less Greek" a contemporary would speak of; later he considered that what he sought might well be found in an elemental rite of humanity, and let himself be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long June afternoon.

At the age of twenty-something he went to London. Instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his "nobodiness"; in London he found the profession to which he was predestined, that of the actor, who on a stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person. His histrionic tasks brought him a singular satisfaction, perhaps the first he had ever known; but once -the last verse had been acclaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from the stage, the hated flavour of unreality returned to him. He ceased to be Ferrex or Tamerlane and became no one again. Thus hounded, he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables. And so, while his flesh fulfilled its destiny as flesh in the taverns and brothels of London, the soul that inhabited him was Caesar, who disregards the augur's admonition, and Juliet. who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with the witches who are also Fates. No one has ever been so many men as this man who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality. At times he would leave a confession hidden away in some corner of his work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his person he plays the part of many and Iago claims with curious words 'I am not what I am'. The fundamental identity of existing, dreaming and acting inspired famous passages of his.

For twenty years he persisted in that controlled hallucination, but one morning he was suddenly gripped by the tedium and the terror of being so many kings who die by the sword and so many suffering lovers who converge, diverge and melodiously expire. That very day he arranged to sell his theatre. Within.. a week he had returned to his native village, where he recovered the trees and rivers of his childhood and did not relate them to the others his muse had celebrated, illustrious with mythological allusions and Latin terms. He had to be 'someone: he was a retired impresario who had made his fortune and concerned himself with loans, lawsuits and petty usury. It was in this character that he dictated the arid will and testament known to us, from which he deliberately excluded all traces of pathos or literature. His friends from London would visit his retreat and for them he would take up again his role as poet.

History adds that before or after dying he found himself in the presence of God and said to Him: 'I, who have been so many men in vain, wish to be one, to be myself.' The voice of the Lord answered from out of a whirlwind: "I, too, am not I; I dreamed the world as you, Shakespeare, dreamed your own work, and among the forms of my dream are you, who like me are many, yet no one."
-Jorge Luis Borges

New Pics up

New pics up from Machu Picchu.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My mantra is...it`s chicken

If Lima is the City of Kings, then regicide might be in order. Ah, I jest, I have had a lovely time in Lima. I spent the morning wandering around the city. I walked through the Plaza de Armas and watched a changing of the guards. Then I walked down the main pedestrian thoroughfare, where I encountered...you guessed it...a strike. Strikes are so passè. Anyways, I went down to the central market and wandered through the chicken carcasses and veggie stands and had a cheap 2 course lunch at a lunch counter, which included soup and arroz chifau (chinese rice). Chinese food is big here.

After lunch, I walked back through Chinatown and to the Cathedral of Lima. While there I visited the grave of Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador par excellance. I wandered through the crypt of a few archbishops, and returned to my hostel for a long nap. After I woke up, I played for a while with a giant turtle in the hostel, who was trying to eat my toes.

For dinner, I finally managed to hunt down cuy. Yes, I caught a rodent. I had half a cuy for 15 soles. It was a freakin rat on my plate, along with potatoes. It had feet/claws and a head. I managed to cover the feet with lettuce, and the head I turned in another direction. I kept repeating to myself: I am eating chicken. And of course, it did actually taste like chicken. It was pretty good, save the presentation. I had the waiter bring me a shot of pisco to help make sure it stayed down. I`m glad I tried it, cause now I will never have to again. If they would only prepare it in a more benign manner, it could be enjoyable. The prospect of a rat on the plate is far worse than it`s actual taste. Anyway, I can now leave Peru with my head held high, as I have conquered the cuy.

Good night, sleep tight..

But the damn bedbugs were biting! Ugh, I spent the whole night itching. It was so bad, I had to take a shower in the middle of the night. Given my proclivity for staying at cheap hostels, I have a pretty good record for avoiding bedbugs. This is only the second time I have encountered them, the first being in Istanbul. Anywho, I am up early and touring around Lima. I had breakfast on the corner with the folks off to work early in the morning. Breakfast was a concoction of multi-colored liquids and boiling herbs called "almoliente." I luv the stuff and drink it whenever I can. I also had a sweet potato and queso sandwich. Breakfast should never cost more than 33cents.

I have posted pics from Cusco in the morning, the Paro (strike), ruins around Cusco and the Road to Machu Picchu. The pics from Machu Picchu will be up later.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The City of Kings

I have arrived to the final stop, in what has been another incredible voyage across large space and little time. It wasn`t easy to get here, and I will explain. Author`s note: my photocopied Lonely Planet mentions that there are two routes from Cusco to Lima. The shorter route (18 hours or so) is subject to weather related delays, while the longer route (28-30 hours) is a safer bet. I took the shorter route, which ended up not being so.

I probably jinxed myself by mentioning that last night`s bus ride would be my last. It all started off fine, except there were signs foretelling the problems to come. The first foreshadow came in the form of the promotional video for the bus company that touted its on-time record and professional drivers. The second came in the movie that was shown, "The Flight of the Phoenix," a cheesy Hollywood movie about a group whose plane goes down and gets stranded in the Gobi desert. Poor choice of movies.

After a second movie, a semi-cute "Akeelah and the Bee," I started dozing off. Around midnight, I was awoken by the sound of heavy water rushing past and the tires stalling out. As I had previously mentioned, it had been raining heavily here. Well, the bus tried to cross a road that was washed out, and got stuck in the mud and rushing water. After half-an-hour of feeling the bus rock back-and-forth to no avail, I mentioned to the bus attendent that I thought we would need to push it. She agreed, so I made an announcement for all guys to get up and come push. We took off our shoes, rolled up our jeans like Huck Finn and climbed down into the freezing, rushing water.

Our initial pushes did nothing, as we froze our feet and cut them on the rocks. AS we stood there in the cold, assessing the situation, I was immediately drawn back to South Africa, and my experiences getting stuck there on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, the bus didn`t have anything to tow it from, so my Gerap Dam plan didn`t work this time. Since the pushing wasn`t working, we set about trying to dam (the Dam beavers!) the water away from the wheel base. By this point, there was a veritable back-up of other cars who couldn`t cross either. We did this for a while, and slowly but surely we were able to divert the water away from the wheel base.

The really frustrating thing was that there were maybe 7 of us working, while a group of 20 sat watching. I yelled at them to help, but they just laughed and said they didn`t want to get wet. When I mentioned this to my fellow dam builders, they shrugged it off and wearily said "that`s Peru." Perhaps so. If we were in the US, you would have had everyone working, with multiple people trying to come up with plans; in Peru, and for that matter probably most of South America, they sit back and watch the others dig out of the crisis while they stay dry. Anyway, despite my frozen feet and frustration, after a few hours we were able to divert enough water and put enough rocks under the wheels for traction, plus having all the passengers put get to the back of the bus for more weight and traction. We were able to push the bus back onto the road, and we cheered our work. As I got on the bus, amid the cheers, I smiled and asked for "besos por mi trabajo" (kisses for my work), which brought some chuckles. The bus stayed put for a while, and I slept.

Eventually, we got moving again. We crossed the desert, changing the scenery completely- from lush jungle and mountains to arid desert. We arrived to Lima, after 25 hours, some 7 hours later than expected. I toured the choked, traffic-snarled, smog-filled City of Kings in a collectivo minibus to the Plaza de Armas, where I found a museum-like hostel, complete with beautiful paintings and sculptures. I grabbed some dinner, Pollo ala braza (aka Chicken on the Run). Up until this point, I could always make my Dad and brother jealous with the Argentine meat, but now I can make my Mom jealous with the Peruvian chicken. Last days ahead, to be enjoyed to the fullest.

Monday, February 25, 2008

On to the last stop

I got too accustomed to waking up early, and I was up again at 5:30am. I took the train with the Chileans for 2 hours back to Ollayantambo. Although it was more expensive than the buses, I was a little worried about the state of the unpaved roads after all the rain. Besides I wanted a new view. We arrived to Ollayantambo, and found a combi (shared van) back to Cusco. The ride back was beautiful, across lush green fields, puncuated with varieties of colorful crops, and with a backdrop of the cloud-covered Andes. The ambiance was enhanced by the Peruvian wind music that the driver was playing. Now just killing a little time before heading off on a night bus to Lima. My last long haul bus for a long time, gracias a dios.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Machu Picchu

I forget to mention in my last blog that my trek along the train tracks yesterday was straight out of "Stand By Me," sans dead body. I guess that makes me "Gordie."

I woke up at this morning super early to climb Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was named as one of the new Seven wonders of the World. This means that I have now visited all 7 new wonders, plus the only remaining from the Old Seven (The Pyramids). I have also been to another 6 of the finalists. Machu Picchu was practically lost (to the gringo world) until 1911, when an American researcher stumbled upon it. It is literally up on top of the mountains, it is amazing to think how it was created. I will post all my pics soon, because it is practically impossible to render a proper description. Here is some background history of the place.
I woke up the Chilean girls, who were supposed to wake me up. We headed out, but they decided to take the bus ($12), while I wanted to hoof it up. I climbed the path for a good hour-and-a half through wet path and over rocks, practically straight up and all alone. It was raining, and the whole place was covered in fog, there was no visibility. I had a super over-priced breakfast at the top since I hadn´t properly planned, an ALT (avo, lett, tom) for nearly $6US. I had to eat something since I had a long day ahead.

I had spoken with a guy who worked at the site on my way up and he recommended that I climb Wauyana Picchu (Young Mountain), the giant mountain that overlooks the site. I walked through Machu Picchu, which was covered in fog. The fog gave it an even more mysterious atmosphere. I also played with some llamas on my way to the Wauyana Picchu. WP was another climb straight up, for another hour and some change. It was another hard hike, but infinitely worth it. I hiked up with a bunch of other Chileans, there are a ton of Chileans here. It´s kind of funny, for once they are less popular than Americans because of Chile trying to buy MP. It was mostly Chileans or Japanese. Anyway, I reached the top and just my luck, the clouds and rain was starting to dissipate. The clouds still clung over the mountains, but started to burn off and gave the first clear views of Machu Picchu in its full glory.

Meanwhile, I met a lovely Mormon family from Utah, who were out visiting their son on mission in Argentina. They gave me a peanut butter and honey sandwich, I was in heaven. Peanutbutter is such americana, I luv it. We chatted for a while, as we admired the view. They also gave me more candy, such as reeces peanut butter cups and swedish fish, I was beaming like a kid in the candy store. I hiked around the mountain top and took in the incredible views.

After taking it all in, I began hiking down the mountain to visit Machu Picchu proper. I was a cheerleader for all the weary hikers: you´re almost there, it´s amazing; you have a little ways, keep at it; you are a long way, but it is f´ing worth it! I visited all throughout Machu Picchu, and tried to imagine what it was like under the Incas. Such a different world. I have a long vitriolic blog coming at Spain, that I will write when I return to Cuzco. As I mentioned I will post pics, cause it is incredible. Anyway, I sat out on a steppe and admired the view as my clothes dried. Later the rain returned, and I hung out in the cafe drinking rain water with ice. Far cheaper and better than the $3 bottles they were charging. As the rain passed, I chatted it up with some Argentines about how much I missed the place, and how much I enjoyed speaking with them in castellano not spanish. I hiked my way down, I was the only one on the trail again, and I was belting out songs from my i-pod (If Paul sings in the forest and no one is around to hear him...). I hiked along the rushing river, and back to Aguas Calientes.

I decided to take the train back, since it had been raining and the roads I took on the bus were already bad, and could only be worse. Besides my Chilean friends were all taking the train. I hadn´t brought any other clothes with me, hadn´t planned it would be raining and I would be disgustingly sweaty and gross, and couldn´t bear the prospect of wearing the same clothes, so I went out and bought a new wardrobe of a neon yellow Inka Cola shirt, handmade pants and new socks for a whopping $10, less than I spent for breakfast. Now I am off to dinner, as I am starving and could eat probably 10 cuys. Pics up soon!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The strike and the trek to Machu Picchu

Ok, perhaps I was a little too harsh in my last post about Cusco. I came to really like it. The paro (strike) was in full force all day, and all tours of the Sacred Valley were off. I watched the strike for afternoon, there were a ton of people out. All traffic was shut down, and protestors were marching by union or organization. The police presence was out in full force with trunchons and shields, but they were pretty benign. They escorted some marches, or stood guard in front of important buildings. People were understandably upset about the government`s decision and showed their utter disaproval. There was one thing that struck me as a little funny, the amount of gay pride support shown by the demonstrators. Everyone was waving rainbow flags. Ok, I am joking, the flag of Cusco is a rainbow flag that resembles the gay pride flag. The rainbow was considered a sacred to the Incas, and their flag is similar to the other, so much so that they redisigned the banner recently.

I spent my morning in solidarity, but solidarity doesn`t cure hunger, so I ducked out of the rally and into a little hovel of a restaurant. Absolutely my favorite establishment. I was easily the only gringo, perhaps the only one that would appear all month. I chatted it up with the locals, mostly about the US and Obama, and we discussed the strike and their anger at the government. They also taught me some Quechua. I had a two course meal, sopa de algo (soup of something) and a plate of fried fish with salad and rice, plus a glass of chicha (corn beer, no kernals). Lunch cost me less than a dollar.

After lunch, it started raining, which disbursed the protest. I figured that perhaps the gods of capitalism were raining down upon the strikers, and their protest was not well received. I stopped in a little museum with old relics and some mummies, then I hoofed it through the downpour uphill to some old Inca ruins.

I climbed up to an immense fort ruin called Sacsayhuamàn-pronounced like "sexy woman," and name means "Satisfied Falcon." The place was a huge field of incan structures, although it is only 20% of what the original structure was, as the Spainards tore down the walls and used it to build their houses. There were giant stone walls and giant stone portals to the sun, moon and star gods. The fort was site of one of the most intense battles between the Spanish and the Inca leader Manco Inca, who used the fort to lay siege on the Spanish in Cusco. As I was leaving the fort, the rain let up and there was a huge rainbow-nothing short of a good sign for the protestors.

After, I hiked up hill, past some llamas grazing, to Q`enqo, another old Incan ruin. Q`enqo is a large limestone rock with zigzagging channels that were used for ritual sacrifice of either chicha (maiz beer) or possibly blood. As I was heading back, I hitchhiked my way back into town. As I was walking around the plaza, I met a tourist who was trying to get rid of a hawker. We started chatting and she was a Jew from New York who had been looking for shabbat services. I helped her find the Beit Chabad online, and I went to get ready for shabbat. I trekked my way through town to the Beit Chabad, but I arrived and it was closed. I spoke with Gabino, an assistant to the rabbi. He said the rabbi was on vacation in Israel, and the Beit Chabad was closed till march.

As I was leaving, I bumped into Nir, who was also coming for shabbat. It was slightly akward at first, but I explained it really wasn`t anything personal, or at least too much so. We chatted it up a bit, and I asked Nir how it went with his fight for a lower price for the hostel. He said he didn`t say anything, he just gave less to a confused worker kid. This annoyed me even more, because if you have a problem, you tell the place, not sneak out paying less. I even gave him 5 soles, basically as an attempt just to get him to forget about it. I got my 5 soles back from him, and decided I would go pay the place the difference and explain. I grabbed some amazing fried chicken, then walked back to the hostel to explain. I told the nice owner lady what had transpired, gave her the 5 soles and appologized. She was nice about it, and I felt better. Except that she thought Nir was an Argentine, and said that was an Argentine thing to do. I didn`t have the heart to say he was really Israeli, as I couldn`t bear the thought of a worsening reputation for Israel. Sorry Argentina, I let you take the blame, disculpe.

I went to bed early, and woke up early to catch the first bus towards Machu Picchu. The guide says there is no bus, and only the expensive train, but I found out about a far cheaper alternative route that involves a few different buses. I caught a taxi at 6am to the bus station for the first bus, but managed to find a shared van to Santa Maria, the place I needed. The ride was stunnning. We drove past fields and towards majestic mountains enveloped in morning mist. I can understand why the Incas thought the gods were in the mountains and the clouds. I chatted with a nice Peruvian named Liddy next to me as we drove through the mountains and into the clouds. We drove until the paved road ended and on for another few hours on unpaved road. We reached Santa Maria some 5 hours later. I then joined some Chileans who were in my van for the next leg, another van to another pueblo. We waited for the van to fill and ate fresh bananas and avocados. The next van went through more mountains and into the lush green jungle. Eventually we arrived to the train tracks, where we then trekked for another 3 hours along the raging river to the village of Aguas Calientes. We arrived in the dark, slightly wet and starving. I showered and had dinner with two Chilean sisters. I had an alpaca steak for dinner, a little tough but . Enough banter, I need some rest before I wake up at the crack o`dawn to climb Machu Picchu.

PS: I am finding Spanish rather bland compared to the more flavorful Argentine castellano; there is a lot I am finding I miss about that place and I have some real angostia. However, one thing I don`t miss is some of the shady sides to BsAs, and the NY Times had a good article about the problems there with "paco," a drug worse than crack.

Friday, February 22, 2008

New photos up

New photos up from Valparaiso, the Atacama desert, Arequipa (Peru) and Cusco.

Pisco souring on Cu$co

I went wandering around Cusco with Nir, with its ancient Inca walls and magnanimous cathedrals. We were immediately inundated with hawkers in search of tourist dollars. I find it to be utterly ironic that while people are in the streets protesting the sale of their culture and heritage to foreigners, there are no shortage of people selling their culture and heritage to tourists (No, I don`t want to take your picture, buy a doll or wind pipe). It all strikes me as selling souls for soles (peruvian money). What the government is planning to do on a macro level, the people are already doing on a micro level. I was quickly beginning to pisco sour on Cusco, and its rampant tourist kitsch and pervasive hawking.

Meanwhile, all the museums were closed and it started pouring down rain. I remarked to Amir that the gods must be angry, and we quickly needed to find a virgin to sacrifice. I started eyeing for the next little girl trying to sell me a finger puppet, when, thankfully for her sake the rain let up.

We spent the afternoon trying to get an ISIC card for me (50% discount for the boleto turistico- needed for the sights, and also for Machu Picchu), but they wouldn`t give me one since my student ID didn`t have a date. Anyway, we went to the office for the boleto turistico, and had to sneak in like a speakeasy because of the strike. I managed a small victory by BSing my way into getting a boleto turistico for the student price.

We spent the evening looking into tours of the Sacred Valley, and stopped at a hostel that had been recommended to Amir by some Chileans. He didn`t like the hostel we were in, although I had no problem with it. This other place was in the heart of "Gringo Alley" (not ally, Abba) and you couldn`t take two steps with out someone pitching something to you. He liked the place and wanted to switch, I wasn`t as keen. Anyway, after we grabbed some shwarma that was actually pretty good. The hareef (hot sauce) was fantastic, I missed spicy things soooo much. The spiciest thing they have in Argentina and Chile is pepper. I luv the peruvian spices. We later had a ponchè, hot milk with sugar, cinnamon and pisco (brandy), which warmed me up from the rain. I went to bed early.

I woke up this morning at 6am, and went wandering by myself through the city. It grew on me, as I found it to be lovely with no one around. I snapped a lot of great b&w pics of the morning fog over the city, and wandered in silence. I stopped at the cathedral, The cathedral was begun in 1559, in the site of Inca Viracocha`s palace and was built from blocks from an Incan holy site. It is filled with giant paintings and golden and silver altars. A pretty amazing church, and I have seen a lot of churches. There was even a giant picture of Jesus at the last supper with a cuy (guineas pig) as the main meal. I don`t think they had cuy in Israel back then, sorry guys.

I then visited the Iglesia de la Compañia, the Jesuit church across from the cathedral. It`s ornate facade and structure caused a fight with the Bishop of Cusco, who complained that the church rivaled the cathedral in splendor. I walked around the city as people were starting to get moving. Thankfully still no tourists or hawkers.

I returned to the hostel and decided that I wanted to be on my own. Amir was annoyed that he hadn`t been able to shower the night before after being promised 24 hour hot water, and wanted to pay less. I didn`t think it was such a big deal, since there was hot water that morning. Nir was nice, but I am used to traveling on my own, and had grown tired of having to wait for him for various things (his lunch, wind pipe lesson), didn`t feel like going on to Gringo alley and really just wanted some time for myself. I then literally had "the break-up talk". I told him I wanted to be on my own (it`s not you, it`s me, I just need some space, we can still be friends), and was going off to find my own place. It`s the end of my trip, and I want to clear my head of my time here and also some space to think. I like traveling on my own, and don`t like having to wait for other people or deal with their idiosyncrasies, and only barely tolerate it with female traveling companions.

So I left him, much to his surprise, and found another place to stay. I bargained a deal from the owner for a private room with tv and bathroom for the price of a shared double without bath- on account that I didn`t dare say a word to the other guests down the hall who were paying twice as much. Shhh...readers don`t tell the guests.

Meanwhile, the strike continues, and there is no way to visit the Sacred Valley today cause the streets are blocked with protesters. I might be able to do a tour of some other ruins later today. Till then Chè Pablo is taking to the barricades!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

El Paro Grande (The Big Strike)

I hung out in Arequipa yesterday and had drinks with my german tourguide named Heidi from the Inca mummy museum, then caught a late night bus out to Cusco. I was supposed to arrive at 6am, but woke up to a line of buses stopped on the road. Strike! Bienvidos a Peru. The roads were blocked and there was no passing into Cuzco by vehicle. I had a three hour trek ahead of me. I got out of the bus and looked for my bag under the bus. Instead, I found crates upon crates of cuy, guinea pigs. Mmmm...breakfast. I met an Israeli named Nir on the way, and we trekked together. The scene was stunning around us, there were lush green mountains with the morning clouds clinging to them as the sun rose. Back on the ground, we passed lines of boulders in the road and protesters. As we passed the protesters, they started laughing and screaming "gringo paro." I called back "solidaridad," solidarity, which brought more laughs.

We hiked for an hour with the lines of people making their way. We started talking with the strikers and found out that it was a general strike protesting the privatization of Machu Picchu and its sale to Chilean investors. Eventually, we were able to catch a short cab ride, stuffed with 8 people ride to San Jeronimo, a little closer but still far away. In San Jeronimo, there were streets filled with more protestors chanting, "El Pueblo unido, jamas serà vencido," the people united never can be defeated. When we started cheering and leading the chants, the Peruvians were in stiches.

Everyone was in the streets, there were rocks in the roads and burning tires. People were playing futbol in the streets as well. We asked a police officer how far it was to Cusco, and he replied an hour and smooth walk. We walked an hour into another pueblo called San Sebastion, and asked another police officer how far- an hour more came the reply. We stopped in a little market and I had breakfast of strong coffee and rice and chicken, and we headed on. After another hour, we asked again- you guessed it- another hour. We eventually made it into the city of Cusco, but we had another 50 blocks to walk to the city center. To add insult to injury, it started raining on us.

Meanwhile, we were interviewed by Peruvian tv, and I am now a major star on the Peruvian cable news network. I said that the strike was just because you can`t sell off the soul of Peru. I also asked if I could mention one more thing, and said that the last 8 years under President Bush have been a disaster, but with President Obama, things will be different between the US, Peru and all of South America. As the rain started pouring down even more, we managed to find a scab cab and got a ride into town. Unfortunately, everything in town is closed today and tomorrow for an even bigger strike. All the museums and everything I came here to see. Ugh. Paddington is going to make me a marmalade sandwich to cheer me up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Che Pablo in the White City

I spent the morning wandering around Iquique and its old Georgian style downtown. Iquique had a boom from nitrate and guano in the area. Yes, it got rich on bird shit. That was even one of the reasons the War of the Pacific was fought, for bird droppings. Anyway, I caught a bus to Arica through the beautiful desert. Once in Arica, I quickly found a shared taxi to take me across the border with a few other Peruvians. Paddington Bear was at the border to greet me and like that, I was in Darkest Peru.

It´s funny, my Chilean friends asked what the general impression of Chile was in the US. I replied that there really wasn´t, or that most Americans think that all of South America is either like Peru or Bolivia, or drug barons or countries run by uniformed generalisimos with medals and dark glasses. With that said, I have been in South America for nearly 6 months, but upon entering Peru, it really feels like I entered South America. I am surrounded by dark skinned, wide-cheeked Peruvian women with long braids down their back, and babies slung to their hips in colorful sacks. Welcome to the real South America, not the European outposts of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

After I crossed the border, I had a two-course dinner of caldo de rez (soup with lamb) and chicken with salad and yuca for 3 soles, a buck. I caught yet another bus to Arequipa, in total some 13 hours of transit for the day. Arequipa is an old colonial city, and it is called the White City because it is built from a light volcanic rock that shines white in the sun. I spent the morning visiting a huge old nunnery that takes up a city block. A great quote I read before, "listening to confessions from nuns is like being stoned to death by popcorn." Then on to a museum with artifacts and even a real Incan mummy sacrifice. They had a poor virgin girl that was sacrificed to appease the gods after too many volcanic eruptions. This skeletal mummy was encased in ice. Creepy.

I had an unsuccesful search for cuy, guinea pig for lunch. I thought the restaurant had it, but the waiter was merely saying "si" to everything I said, and I was dissapointed to receive chicked. You can scurry, my little piggies, but you can´t hide forever. Tonight I am off on yet another bus, this time to Cuzco. Till then, I am off to have some Peruvian tea.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What the World Costs-Chile

100 pesos ($.20): acensor Polonco (funicular) in Valparaiso
300 pesos ($.60): student entrance into Museo Bellas Artes (for a perpetual student)
380 pesos ($.78): bus or metro ticket in Santiago
400 pesos ($.80): Pap-papaya soda
600 pesos ($1.20): normal entrance into Museo Bellas Artes
650 pesos ($1.30): Empanada de pino (beef, onions and egg)
800 pesos ($1.80): miminmum to recharge your bip transport pass
980 pesos ($1.96): cappuchino at Marcopolo in Plaza de Armas in central Santiago
1000 pesos ($2): student entrance/spanish tour for La Cascona (Pablo Neruda´s house)
1200 ($2.20) pesos: BIP transport card for Santiago
2000 pesos ($4): shared taxi from Arica to the border and beyond to Peru
3000 pesos ($6): entrance to Museo Arte Precolumbino
3500 pesos ($7): gringo entrance and english tour for La Cascona
4500 pesos: ($9): Grand Gatsby buffet in Viña del Mar
5000 pesos: ($10): great sushi and a beer (cl) at Midori (half price mishpucha discount); hostal in Iquique with breakfast
7000 pesos ($14): 5 hour bus ride from Iquique to Arica
8800 pesos ($17.60): grilled fish and veggies and 2for1 beers in Iquique
32,000 pesos ($64): 25 hour bus from Santiago to Iquique

To Paradise and the Atacama

Sunday was spent visiting Valparaiso (Go to Paradise) with Valeria, Jorge and some of his friends. Before I get to that, I think it is important to discuss Chile. When I would ask Argentines what was the biggest problem facing their country, without fail the emphatic answer was "the corruption." From Chileans, I have received far different answers ranging from issues of energy, transportation to childhood delinquency. Chile is in a far different place rung on Maslow`s hierarchy these days than other countries in South America if this is the response. The Chilean economy has boomed in recent years, and the Chilean social model works rather well. It isn`t a stretch to say that Chile is doing the best in all of Latin America. My Chilean friends asked me in response what I saw to be the biggest problems in their country, and my response was that I wasn`t sure and that was a good thing because other countries I visit, I can usually determine it immediately.

Back to Valpo. Valparaiso is an interesting city that is kind of a Chilean Haifa or Cape Town. It is built on a number of hills, and has elevators and funiculars to take you up and down the hills. We spent the morning riding up the elevators and funiculars, crossing the different hills, walking through an open air museum of murals on different buildings,and visited the Muelle Prat (harbor area)and memorial to the War in the Pacific. We passed an interesting park called Plaza de Victoria, which holds statues taken from Peru by Chile during the War of the Pacific when Chile beat Bolivia and Peru and occupied Lima. We also passed Chile`s national congress, which is interestingly not in the capital; the building was built by Pinochet, and absolutely stands out as an eyesore.

The other thing I unfortunately saw a lot of in Valpo were swastikas, as it is the neo-nazi capital of Chile. I took a picture of Jorge smiling and holding a magen david next to some graffiti that said "Jews out of Chile." I don`t want to make the problem seem bigger than it is, it is not a huge phenomenon in Valpo or Chile, but still a bit sad to see. As August Bebel said, "Antisemitism is the socialism of fools."

I also tried some strange drink whose name I forget, but it was really good. It was a tea-like drink with wheat and a dried peach in it. Meanwhile, I was starving, and the Chileans were laughing at me for it. The Chileans laughed at my 12 o`clock gringo lunch time, just as the Argentines laughed at my gringo dinner time. For lunch, we headed over to Viña del Mar, a swanky beach town on the other side of the bay. We had lunch at Gatsby, and all pigged out on the Grand Gatsby buffet. After lunch, we walked on the beach and watched the gentle Pacific waves lap against the yellow sand.

We drove back to Santiago, I left my wonderful hosts Valeria and Jorge and took my trusty metal steed 25 hour to Iquique in the north. I spent the hours staring out into the barren horizons of the arid Atacama desert, as oasises appeared in my dulled eyes. The Atacama desert is one the driest deserts in the world, and was beautiful to see. I passed the Tropic of Capricorn and passed the time listening to NPR podcasts of This American Life and other programs. I was deeply saddened to learn that "Danny" of "Danny and Annie" who shared their story on storycorp passed away (2 years ago, but I didn`t know). I heard this program about Danny and Annie`s love as I was driving back from Houston in a U-haul, and literally had to pull over to the side of the road to listen and make sure I didn`t break down while driving. Their story of love and devotion was incredible, and I was a little more emotional having just been home for my father`s heartattack. I`ll see if I can find the original NPR piece and post it, because it is truly moving.

I arrived last night in Iquique and found a nice little hostel, then ate a great dinner of Chilean fish and washed it down with some cheap beer and went to bed. Today I am off to Arica along the Peruvian border, and if I stop blogging and get going, I could be in Peru before bed.

New pics up from the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, crossing the Andes and Santiago.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sushi, Once de Septiembre & Loser Planet

I spent last night with Valeria and her boyfriend Jorge, and we went out for great sushi. We went to a place called Midori, which is owned by Valeria´s uncle. I hadn´t eaten sushi for nearly 5 months, and it was so good. The fish was very fresh and tasty, a definite recommendation for sushi lovers when you are in South America (and also Sao Paulo). The fish in Argentina was usually not very good, which is surprising given its ample coastline. The sushi was even more delicious since it came with a family discount. After dinner, we went to a hill that is totally a Chilean makeout spot so I could snap some photos of the city at night.

Sorry to get serious for a second, but I would be remiss if I didn´t discuss Chile´s once de septiembre and President Salvador Allende of Chile. Okay, I got lazy and posted a wiki link since I started trying to write the history and realized it would take too long. Basically, as part of the Cold War landscape, the US helped orchestrate a coup to overthrow President Allende- the first democratically elected Socialist leader, and Allende ended up on the CIA´s greatest hits list, along with Che, Lumamba and Mossadegh. General Pinochet came to power in the coup and set up a brutal and repressive military dictatorship that lasted till 1990. Repercussions were felt across South America, and the Argentine military argued that their country was at risk of an Allende-like leader coming to power if they didn´t take control. We ended up backing some of the most repressive facist regimes in the world (ah, but they were our SOBs) to ensure that other "more repressive" communist regimes didn´t come to power.

Today, I tried to go to the Museo de Solidarid Salvador Allende. It was a museum created from art sent to Chile after Allende was elected. The museum went underground after the coup, and reopened after the dictatorship ended. They must have been tipped off that a Yankee was coming, because when I arrived at the museum, I found that it had moved. I walked through the city through Barrio Brasil to the downtown, and over to the Santa Lucia hill- the only hill in the city not counting the Andes mountains. I climbed up the Santa Lucia hill and took some pictures from the ramparts. After I visited the Museo de Bellas Artes, which had some nice works and some nice photos, but nothing memorable enough to describe here.

I took the metro back to Valeria´s apt and planned to leave early to Valparaiso, but Valeria and Jorge mentioned coming to meet me in Valpo tomorrow, so I thought it would be better if I stuck around tonight and we all went tomorrow. I then headed over to the bus station to get my ticket north. I fought the quilombo and I have a 24 or so hour bus up the finger that is the country Chile. I then went on to the new location of the Allende museum, but this time it was closed. Damn Lonely Planet, the museum moved in 2002, and my guide came out in 2004 and had the wrong location. I guess I can´t really complain since I didn´t actually buy the book, but rather photocopied the chapter.

PS: a brief Tales piece of Chile´s Jewish community

NY Times article on Pakistan

This article on Pakistan and its upcoming election was written by my friend Waleed. He helped found the Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum and was a big help for me in my Pak-Israel paper. Great article, Waleed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Santiago de Chile



"the fire for light, a rancorous moon for bread,
the jasmine smearing around its bruised secrets:
then from a terrifying love, soft white hands
poured peace into my eyes and sun into my senses."
Pablo Neruda, love sonnet XXIII

Having traded Borges for Neruda, I am having a lovely time in Santiago, although it is plaguing me with ideas. I toured the city today, and I am finding Santiago to be much of what Buenos Aires isn´t (clean, neat and orderly), and partially but not fully what Buenos Aires is (brimming with culture). A lot of Argentines spoke poorly of Santiago, but I have been pleasantly surprised and am enjoying it. Anywho, I luv the flag cause it reminds me of Texas.

I am staying on my friend Valeria´s couch, and she mentioned to me her Yiddishe Mama´s trepidation of having a foreign stranger staying at her place. After she and her boyfriend vouched for me, and I had the kosher seal, her mother wanted to know if she had enough in the fridge to feed me. Such are Jewish mothers the world-over, first terrified for her daughter´s safety from some vagabond, then wanting to be sure I was well-fed. Reminds me of my favorite story about same-same grandmothers in Israel and Jordan, I will post that story on my Tales blog.

With Valeria as my tourguide, we headed off first by immaculate bus, then onto immaculate metro downtown to Central Santiago. I was greeted in Santiago by a marching band in front of La Moneda-the President´s Palace, Presidente Michelle must have been warned. After the changing of the guards, we walked around past the colonial buildings and had cappuchinos at the Plaza de Armas at a place aptly named Marcopolo. After that we walked through the city´s colonial charm and to the Parque Forrestal- the lungs of the city. We passed the Parisian-styled Museo de Bellas Artes and crossed the Rio Mapocho and headed into the bohemian Barrio Bellavista. We grabbed some empanadas de pino (beef, onions and boiled egg) and ate them at a restaurant owned by Valeria´s aunt. The Chilean empanadas are different than Argentine empanadas. They are twice the size, and a little doughier (a ´panada´, noted Valeria). I washed it down with a Pap, a Chilean papaya soda.

After lunch, we visited La Chascona, Pablo Neruda´s house in Santiago. Of course, I managed to get in for a student discount and went on the spanish tour, which saved me 2,500 pesos ($5). You may laugh, but I saved nearly 60 pesos ($20) in Argentina at the National Parks by posing as an Argentine. All I had to do was say "che, de Capital" and I saved enough for a Bife de Lomo and bottle of Malbec. Ah, but I digress. Neruda´s house was wonderful, it was a world of imagination in every nook and cranny. He had a fascination for boats, so each level of his sloping house had a style to it of that of a ship. I toured through his numerous bars, studies and secret passage ways, as well as his bed room and lighthouse room. There was a picture drawn by his friend Diego Rivera (yes, that Rivera) of a two-faced Mathilde (Neruda´s wife) with a hidden image of Neruda in the portrait. We also visited his study, complete with his Nobel prize. Neruuda was a collecter without comparison. He collected random things, and collected them in droves. Some of his collections were there, but more is in his house in Isla Negra near Valparaiso.

Following the tour, we headed back into town and through little bohemian neighborhoods. Valeria dropped me off at te Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, an amazing museum that chronicles 4,500 years of history before Columbus ever got lost. Such amazing worlds existed here, and I toured through the museum and fought with the Muse. I wandered past Mayan, Incan and other Andean civilizational statues and treasures, and thought of the world that was. I fled from English-speaking tour guides and their pastey white gringo groups (although Spanish is no less a colonialist language down here), and made my way to the Museo Historico Nacional.

The Museo Historico Nacional documents the pre-colonial, colonial and republican history of Chile, with indigenous artifacts, colonial decorative arts and furniture from its period under the Viceroy of Peru and pieces from Chile´s modern history. There were portraits of Bernardo O´Higgins, Chile´s first leader post-independence who took over after San Martin marched his Army of the Andes through and routed Spain with O´Higgins help in a decisive calvary charge. All sorts of memorabilia from Chilean history, including a broken pair of glasses of Salvador Allende (I will discuss that later). I made my way back on the metro to Valeria´s apartment and I am now greeting Shabbat in Santiago. Feliz Shabbat a todo!

¿Where do we go from here?

I just woke up after a 12 hour nap on my friend Valeria´s couch, wow I was exhausted. I am watching the sun rise over Santiago de Chile, and I have a lot to write about regarding the last few days.

Back to the conference, we finished our discussion group forums. In my discussion group, it was noted regarding leadership that some of us were already formal leaders within the Jewish community. Dina from Mexico made a suggestion that Latin America needs to strengthen its network, and proposed some sort of interconnection (conference, highschool, camp, etc) between the smaller Jewish communities in Latin America. It is a good idea, and is already done in Europe. If you have a problem, sometimes it is better to enlarge the circle of those involved to fix it.

The Argentine delegation mentioned that they would like to see a more central authority exist in their community to deal with challenges. Meanwhile, we also discussed the tensions between new communities or groups, and the traditional leadership. The example for this is Yavne is Uruguay. Yavne was a school that has become, for all intents and purposes, the Jewish community´s formal institution. It stepped up when there were gaps in the system, and has grown to become a comprehensive Jewish communal institution, which has also created some tension with the previous Jewish communal institution.

On Monday morning, all the groups presented their findings in reports to the collective audience. I reported from my group, and later received some kudos for the presentation. We also heard from Fellows from Uruguay (Montevideo), Brazil (Sao Paulo) and Argentina (BsAs) on their respective communities. Yavne, the Uruguay commmunity model, is rather interesting, and I might write an article about it. Usually my articles are about budding communities, or dying communities, but rarely have I encountered a community on the brink that managed to revive itself.

After lunch, we met with Jewish community leaders. Originally, I was tagged to be the reporter for one of the Latin Amereican groups, but I balked at that; my Spanish is good but not good enough to follow a discussion, synthesize it and report back. So instead I joined the non-Latin group, and heard from Alfredo of BsAs and June of London. We had a lively and interesting discussion.

Alfredo shared with us his experience dealing with the AMIA bombing, it was a poignant moment. He discussed the Jewish education system in Argentina, and noted its contradiction that it educated Jews to live in Israel, not in Argentina. I asked a question about coalition building and outreach to other communities, and he mentioned how the Chinese community came to the Jewish community for help after a series of attacks on Chinese grocery stores. The Jewish community produced a paper, and it was translated into Chinese and circulated around the Chinese communities in Argentina.

We also heard from June, a lovely Jewish Brit. She mentioned how she had been at odds with part of the Jewish community for her work in Human Rights, but that she felt it was positive, because for her work, she was within the tent when the HR debate included Israel, not outside complaining that the Jewish/Zionist perspective wasn´t included. When it came time to present, I had to pinch-hit and was the reporter again, not that I minded.

We all cleaned up and had a farewell banquet, and I was the MC for the night´s entertainment, along with Dina and Amir from Israel. We put together an on-the-fly presentation of different delegations singing songs from their countries. South Africa led us in a Zulu?/Xhosa? song, and Myer of India sang a great Bombay ballad. As MC, I put the spotlight on a few other delegations that weren´t prepared, and managed to get the Argentines to sing, plus a version of "Besame Mucho" by Agustin of BsAs, and Amir also crooned for us a Hebrew song. We also played an Improv game in which we took volunteers, and suggestions from the audience on their characters, locations and situations. The best skit took place on a Tel Aviv beach, and included Borat, Woody Allen and an Israeli soldier who thought Woody Allen was a terrorist. The entertainment ended with the German delegation teaching us drinking songs. We had a moving and poignant end to the banquet, as we all stood to sing "Hatikvah." From there, we went on to party, thanks to a libation donation by Leah the Brit. The party went into the wee hours.

The last day, I woke up exhausted and slightly babalassed. You know you look bad when people keep asking you if you feel okay. But I went to one last workshop, and I am so glad I did because it was amazing. Led by Prof. Shalom Rosenberg, the workshop dealt with different streams of Jewish thought. Prof. Rosenberg drew up the history and context of Jewish thought and philosophy with his famous diagrams, and then we examined a text by Herman Cohen, a great Jewish thinker of the 20th century. His lecture dealt with the moral difference between Monotheism and polytheism. He noted about how the most important conflict in the Bible is Cain and Able (ie, between brothers), while in the Greek text, it is Oedipus (ie Father and Son). We read a fascinating text by Herman Cohen called "Religion of Reason," of which I will post:

"Thus arises the difference between good and bad in the light of the unique God. In polytheism, therefore, the religious and hence absolute difference between good and bad cannot arise. The gods favor men in accordance with their own discretion, even in accordance with their caprice. Because of this Homer is the Bible of freethinkers. The gods cannot be united in their government, for then they could not be individuals. Monotheism is based on a uniform comprehension of the distinction of good and bad, and thus uniform attitude of God to man, as well as of man to God. The correlation between God and man is defined as that between religion and morality."

Good stuff, if there is a desire for it, i will post more of the text. Anywho, the conference ended- and with it more questions than answers for moi. Where do I go from here? Yankee, go home!

I returned to BsAs, and the following day, I wiped away lagrimas de angostia as I bade my fair city and my life in it goodbye. I hopped on a 22 hour bus to Santiago and crossed the Andes like San Martin. I have begun the final part of my journey, the great trek to Lima. So begins the final chapter-volume the last. To Lima, journey on.

PS: Yesterday/today marks the two year anniversary since my Dad´s heart attack. Abba, it is wonderful to still have you here with us. Stick around for a few more years, we love you too much to lose you.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Obama and Israel

It is amazing to see the amount of interest in the US primaries here at the conference in Uruguay. A lot of people at the conferece, as well as friends in other places, have asked me about Obama´s position on Israel. Roger Cohen of the NY Times wrote an article that saved me the trouble of a post to explain Obama and Israel.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Achieving Jewish Continuity

Shabbat was spent with a soccer match in which I got to play for the Argentine team against the world. We had an interesting but long lecture on Jewish ethical imperatives. We also had a moving talk about conversos in Portugal over dinner, and Shabbat ended with a nice havdallah service.

Today, we had a panel discussion with Professors Barak Fishman, Cohen and Bayme on Jewish continuity in the Diaspora. Prof. Barak Fishman led off and talked about the change from "traditional" Jewish life focused on the family and marriage, compared with the culture of delayed marriage, and in essence delayed adulthood. She mentioned that 28 year old Jews in the Diaspora are out traveling and not getting married, which brought some chuckles as people started looking my direction.

She discussed intermarriage, and how in the 1950s and prior, it was the most ambitious men who were engaging in intermarriage. This was part of getting ahead. Today, it is often Jews of lower educational and socio-economic backgrounds, in part because they don´t feel that they can compete with the higher expectations for Jewish spouses. Within intermarriage, 1/3 raise their kids Jewish, while 1/4 of the kids indetify as Jewish, and only 13% of grandchildren are Jewish. Prof Barak Fishman noted that conversion counts, and that converts are closed to inmarried than intermarried. The 3 models of conversion are: Activist, Accommodating and Ambivalent, and much of this depends on the Jewish spouse´s attitude.

We also discussed whether it was racist to push inmarriage, and how it doesn´t compute with our modern conceptions of plurality and diversity to push a tribalistic outlook on marriage.

Later on in the discussion, the issue of Jewish Princesses came up, and Prof. BF noted that the stereotype of a Jewish princess is an image for women grafted from 19th century anti-Semitism, ie that they are pushy, loud and money-grubbing.

After lunch we reconvened for Prof. Bayme´s discussion, and he spoke of how "survival demands sacrifice." He stated that Jewish education had 3 purposes: a) to teach heritage, yet it seems that teaching heritage has been abandoned for klezmer and holocaust memory, b) Jewish literacy, because that creates a stronger commitment, c) Jewish education as a pre-requisite for future leadership. He noted that there are more opportunities than at any other point in Jewish history to lead a creative Jewish life, but in Marxist terms, the rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer. Basically, those who choose to connect have more options, while those who don´t are less involved and more assimilated.

Off to dinner, before some Jewish mother finds me skipping out and drags me by the ear to eat.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New Jpost article up

Click on the title to see the Jpost article

World Jewry in the 21st century

The International Nahum Goldmann conference continues to be very interesting. We began yesterday with a panel discussion from the professors from the previous day, as well as a third Prof Steven Cohen. The panel topic was the title of this posting.

Prof Steven Bayme led off the discussion by noting the natural Jewish tendency towards doomsday thinking about its own situation, but without lamentation or triumphalism, the picture was not bad. He mentioned how the diaspora wants t show its Jewish authenticity, while Israel wants to display its Israel-centrality. He also outlined a number of strengths/assets that the Jewish community had in its favor today that it hadn´t possessed in previous times. First, that 80% of world Jewry either lived in Israel or the US, either under Jewish sovereignty or under the most accommodating nation to greet us. 95% of Jews live under democracy, which has benefited Jews in terms of safety and security, and 92% of Jews live in countries in the top 20% of global economies. This contrasts with the situation in 1880, where approximately 60,000 Jews lived in England, 100,000 in France and 300,000 in the US, while 17million lived in autocratic societies.

Prof Bayme also discussed the demographic changes, how for 2,000 years the majority of Jews lived in the Diaspora, with only a minority in Israel; this has shifted, and 2/3 of Jewish children under age 14 live in the Jewish state. He also discussed that the question facing world Jewry is how Jewish the Jewish world will be in open societies, and the problems that face us are less external than internal.

The next of the panel was Prof Shalom Rosenberg, who used diagrams to discuss the shifting Jewish identity. Unfortunately, I am unable to recreate them on my blog, and it is hard to explain his diagrams.

The third speaker, Prof. Steven Cohen was terrific. I had read his articles, and was impressed with his work. I will look into posting his articles on my blog. He put on a theatrical lecture that discussed the identity of my parents generation vs. the identity of my own generation, and the shifts that have taken place over the years.

For example, the difference can be seen in the simple question posed to your yiddish bubbe (granny): "Bubbe, have you ever dated a non-Jew?" Vhat, date zee goyim, I´m getting veklempt. In that generation, the answer is close to zero. But in my parents generation, the stat climbs to 25%. Meanwhile, for my generation, the stat climbs to 50%, not to mention cohabitation. Prof Cohen called it the Sunday morning question, if you drop a phone call to a Jew in the diaspora on Sunday morning to ask who they are waking up next to, 60% are cohabiting with non-Jews, 75% might be romantically involved although not cohabiting- it all starts with who you are sleeping with.

Meanwhile, Prof. Cohen discussed my parents generation´s identity, comprising:
Volunteerism: The community will not decide how I´m Jewish, I wil make up my mind.
Autonomy: Jews of this generation are interested in doing it their way, themselves; a Jewish do-it-yourself model.
Personalism: I will do something within Judaism because it is personally meaningful to me; all about delivering personal meaning.
Anti-Judgementalism: If I am doing it myself, how can I tell you what to do?
Journeyism: All are on Jewish journeys in different ways and the community should support us in our journeys.

This contrasts with my generation, which feels towards my parents generation:
Alienated: Jewish communal institutions are aimed at wealthier, inmarried, hetero couples with children, in an age where marriage is taking place much later.
Bland and boring: my generation prizes diversity and has a different aesthetic sensibility, and sees Jewish communal institutions run by upper middle class professionals all cut from the same cloth.
Coercive: Institutions say: do this; we don´t like this and want to create our own norms.
Divisive: That generation divides Jews from non-Jews, and even Jews from Jews.

We broke for lunch and came back for an afternoon of discussion based on the morning´s panels, as well as previous discussions. I asked a question that started a deluge of back-and-forth between the panelists, as well as the audience: "Perhaps it is a ´line in the sand,´ but where do you draw the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and that of anti-Semitism/anti-Zionsim?"

Meanwhile, later on in the discussion, an Israeli commented frustration that the Diaspora only focuses on the problems with the Palestinians, and doesn´t focus on the problems for Israeli society such as poverty and the education system. I responded that Israelis don´t focus on the Diaspora´s societal problems either, and that the social problems facing South African or Argentine Jewry aren´t on the Israeli radar.

The last point of the discussion I will mention was a point made by Prof. Cohen, who termed the Orthodox the "Jewish China." The rise of the Orthodox change the dynamic of the Jewish world by their numbers as China does for the global community.

We broke to get ready for Shabbat, and had a lovely kabbalat shabbat service outside under a gunmetal grey sky. As were were praying, birds in the trees above us were chirping their own prayers, and a turquoise humming bird flew about. Shabbat dinner was excellent, as was the flowing conversation and vodka. The conference has been excellent thus far, and now I am off to enjoy the sunny Shabbat day.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Paradigms for Jewish Continuity

The conference kicked off yesterday and it was fascinating. The conference is focusing on paradigms for Jewish continuity, and the first activity was discussion groups on building Jewish communities. We broke off into smaller groups and discussed our own respective communities; I got to listen to the state of communities in Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Australia, England and Washington, DC, while I shared about Houston. We discussed the leadership of our respective communities, and the difference between leadership and authority. It is interesting to hear the different issues each community faces, such as assimilation, numbers and keeping people involved. We also discussed alternative ways interaction that brings people to explore their Judaism, and the role of these alternative methods in fostering continuity.

We broke for lunch and it started raining. I had planned to go to the pool with Dina from Mexico and Leah from London, and we decided to keep the swim plans and went swimming in the rain. The pool was nice and warm as the drops fell. Reminded me of a Palestinian saying, for a far different context, "When you are wet, you don´t care if it rains." After a while, we switched to the jacuzzi and warm pool, which made for a nice transition. After lunch we had more freetime since the professors hadn´t arrived. I biked into town with two German Jews. We stopped in the nice little Swiss-ish town and sat for a beer with some locals near the city plaza. We also stopped at the grocery store to pick up liquid refreshment for the evening party. We biked back in the rain, and got back just in time for the next session.

The next session I had was also fascinating. It was led by Prof. Sylvia Barak Fishman, a Brandeis professor. I never took her class at Brandeis, and I really wish I had. We had a great session of studying leadership and identity through literature. Unfortunately, I hadn´t done the reading, because I didn´t see the email with her specific texts. The texts were "Ministry of Special Cases" by Nathan Englander, "Natasha" by David Bezmozgis and "Out of Egypt" by Andre Aciman. The themes were responsibility vs. accountability, reality vs. truth and when there isn´t accountability or supervision, their is a temptation to misuse power. It was a great "class," and I am excited to return to school as I miss the academic environment.

After dinner, we had one more workshop on Israel and us. We heard lectures from Prof. Shalom Rosenberg from Hebrew U and Prof. Steven Bayme (I forgot which uni). Prof Rosenberg, who had been an engineer, presented models and diagrams of the revolutions (and failures) of Zionism for the Jewish people and our triangular relationship between Peoplehood (nation), Religion and the State of Israel. Prof Bayme discussed how 1948 changed the "map and meaning of the Jewish people." He also discussed where Zionism had succeeded, and what remained on the unfinished agenda. Also of how we have adopted the holocaust as our public narrative, and how that has been a mistake. Both interesting, and reminded me that I need to get to Israel for the 60th anniversary. And yes Dad, I asked good questions all throughout the day.

The night ended with a little party put on by the Germans and moi. Introducing non-Argentines to Fernet, lotsa fun.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wednesday wind-up

As all the pundints are pontificating, I will post a quick article by Roger Cohen of the NYTimes that I found to be good analysis. Also another about Obama in the Land of the Red.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ice breakers

The conference began in earnest, and it is very interesting. There are people from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, France, Dominican Republic, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and on and on. The exchange of ideas is wonderful. Already I have been trading tip`s for free programs with a girl from Mexico. I was made a reporter for my group, should have seen that coming. This shall be interesting.

Nirvana in the Swiss Colony

Woke up far too early this morning to take the 8am fast ferry to Colonia. I napped a tad in the space between the last seats and the wall on the boat until I heard a newscast mention the primary results, and I quickly jumped up to commandeer the nearest paper. I wrestled a copy of La Nacion away from an unsuspecting Argentine, to find that little had been decided.

An even fight between Obama and Hillary, and McCain in front with Huckabee picking up the South. I had picked Huckabee´s rise early, but hadn´t counted on a McCain return. I had previously written that I expected a Huckabee /McCain ticket, but it seems I reversed the order. I have always respected McCain, even if I don´t agree with him; furthermore I like that all those Right-wing media blowhards hate him (Rush, Malkin, Hannity, etc), as if that signifies even more so that he is an honorable man who I just happen to disagree with politically. But, I am a good Democrat, and a classical Liberal who doubts that he could ever cast a vote for a man so conservative. If Obama loses the primary and McCain really wanted to make me take a second look, then he would tap him as a unity pick for VP, but that is really a long shot. It could work on a lot of levels, as they are both aiming for the independents and work towards less partisanship, but even I acknowledge that it probably isn´t likely.

I have made my preferences known for my party, and don´t have anything new to add, other than I am a "boludo" (idiot) because I didn´t get my act together in time to cast an absentee ballot in MD. To be fair, my primary votes have never mattered until now, and was at the End of the Earth when I needed to be getting it together. Still, a sad miscue on my part, as I would have liked to cast my ballot.

Anyway, I arrived to Colonia Suiza and have thus far been lounging by the pool in paradise, definitely my kind of Fellowship.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Yes we can

The Yes We Can Obama video, powerful stuff.

New Tales story up

The Jerusalem Post is running my latest Tales piece on Patagonia in their new Sunday travel section. If you can´t wait till then, please check it out at my Tales blog.

Meanwhile, I am off tomorrow to for the International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Uruguay. I was selected to be a Fellow, along with young Jewish leadership from 25 or so countries. Should be rather interesting. Thanks to Jocelyn for originally bringing my attention to the Fellowship.

Monday, February 04, 2008

New pics up

New pics from Ushuaia and the Dali of Gaiman. Enjoy...

And an amazing op-ed for Obama by Michael Chabon

nice job Eli

Just enjoying closing up my time here in BA. I got back and promptly shaved off my Patagonian beard as it was far too hot to sport in BA. The weekend was fun, went out for Korean food with Martina and her Korean friend Vivi. As much as I love Argentine grub, it is nice to get some spicy food and kimchee. Later my student Alex came to meet us with some of his friends. When I left my students, I put in a request that he and Hernan receive a cute female teacher. They got a blond Californian surfer....dude. Tough break fellows, I tried.

Saturday was lazy, and punctuated with an great asado. Sunday I watched the Superbowl with my friend Daniel and a fellow named Josh who I met yesterday through the family I was a tourguide for. Josh was from Gaitherburg (he was QB at Quince Orchard: see under Gus Ornstein), and he even knew very old friends of mine, Abby Umansky who I have known since I was a wee tyke and Chloe Seldman, who went to Burke. Nice superbowl, I won a beer on the under bet. Strange to root for a NY team, and for that matter the Giants.

Good NYTimes article on Argentina and its outlook.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Get well Michael Wilbon

This is a link to a column by one of my favorite sportswriters, Michael Wilbon. He just recently had a heart attack, and wrote about it today. Gave me the chills, and reminded me of my own father´s heart attack, which took place two years ago- two weeks from now. Michael, I hope and pray for your speedy recovery.

Back to the Quilombo

Back to the traffic, din and chaos. Back to the balagan. Back to the quilombo that is Buenos Aires. It´s good to be home, or to the closest thing I have to one at the moment.

´Tis nice to be back, and I spent it visiting my kiddies, who were all very happy to see me, and having lunch at the only Kosher McDonald´s outside of Israel. Shabbat shalom to all.