Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two Thousand Nine

So begins my favorite time of the year: the end and week leading up to my birthday. For me this is a week of reflection and contemplation. It is my semana santa. I have enjoyed the annual rite of recounting the year that passed (2008, 2007 & 2006). In this entry, I will recount the auspicious year that was. I will try to give a decade rundown later, because the "Aughts" were rather kind to moi, and from the consternation that appears in pundits press, far kinder to me than most.

The year began in a somewhat lowkey fashion at a bar in Cleveland Park, DC. I was at an all-you-can-eat/drink affair with my friend Lewis. If I remember correctly, I managed to finagle my way in for free. The following day I headed to New York for the wedding of my friends Sarah and Brad, and I stuck around New York for my birthday. It was a strange birthday because I was betwixt worlds, lost in thought over the end of my twenties and alternate realities, and besieged by the Gotham winter grey. But it was fine, as I had tajine with my Moroccan brother Yassine and Younes and stayed with my uncle in Harlem, with my friend Steve in Brooklyn and my friend Dani in Manhattan. My most enduring memory of the birthday was in the quote I found from Sir Isaac Newton, which I found on the subway and hit me like an apple on the head.

"I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
-Isaac Newton (2 Train Brooklyn to Manhattan, "Train of Thought")

From NYC
I returned to Cali, which I was still in love with at the time to begin a new semester. That semester I studied the death of print journalism and its online rebirth, transnational diplomacy and global security, cultural diplomacy and media and politics. It was also around this time that our new president was sworn in, and I found myself overcome with emotions at the Wisenthal center the MLK day prior.

February I trekked up north to San Fran to see about a question mark, and received an unexpected answer.

From Up the Golden State
But it was lovely hanging in the Mission and seeing old friends.

From SF View from Mission Hill
The month ended with my Dad visiting me for the day and we had some priceless father-son quality time. Especially poignent, as I had been considering the value of quality from Phadrus and time for Marketplace.

March I picked up a gig working in the stacks at Grand Library and refound the zen of filing. I loved perusing the old stacks, I really enjoyed the work. Meanwhile, for spring break I headed first down to Tijuana to do a story on the Jewish Community of TJ (I&II). There was fear and loathing at the time in Mexico as brown journalism had scared everyone away from Baja and I was the only gringo around.

From TJ Jews and Rosarito
I came back and took the great glass elevator to Santa Barbara.While there, I bumped into old friends Daniel and Anna, and we went sideways to the vineyards.

From Evening traffic in Santa Barbara

April was busy with school work as finals came and papers were written. I also joined the staff at the Center on Public Diplomacy as a contributing researcher for the Public Diplomacy in the News service. I also began making my summer plans around this time. I had been accepted to JASC, the Japan-America Student Conference, and I planned to be traveling through Central America as I am now for the summer. However, I received a grant for a photo project from the Annenberg School for Communication and was kept in the angeles for the summer. A strange twist of events also saw Daysha, a girl I was seeing, move in to my house. Around this time, I also found out that I had been accepted for a fellowship at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy to study Taiwan´s public diplomacy outreach.

The summer proved to be a little difficult, as I was beseiged by May Grey/June Gloom over the city. I worked on my project, taking buses over town to put together the photo show, and aggravating over putting together my magnum opus. The summer was fun but trying at times. Sadly it was over the summer that I lost my love of Los Angeles, when I got a real view of the monstro-city lurking just below the surface.

Over the summer, Daysha and I took a trip up the coast in a borrowed car. We stopped at the Hearst Castle, and drove up the PCH to Monterey.

From Hearst Castle

From Up the Pacific Coast Highway

I then took off to Seattle, where I did orientation for JASC at UW. I also got to see my big sis Kay, who I hadn´t seen for years.

From Seattle Sunsets

From Seattle, I was off with the group to Japan. I had been reading Shogun and was ready to be a public diplomacy samurai. The trip ended up being a fight for patience for poor Pablo, as I am not one for group trips or to be told what to do or how to travel. But with zen-like patience attained from eating jello with chopsticks, I managed.

From Tokyo

I enjoyed the vertical beauty of Tokyo and living a life rost in transration.

From Tokyo From Above
Then we went to the old port of Hakodate, where we danced like squids.

From Hakodate Night
Next we went to the lovely little town of Obuse, a town where the streets are paved with chestnuts.

From Obuse vistas
I played good public diplomat, staying with the mayor of the town. Then we headed to Nagano, the majestic Japanese Alps.

From Matushiro and Nagano
From Nagano, we headed on to our final stop in Kyoto, where I took in the ancient capital´s charm and grace.

From Around Kyoto and the Imperial Palace
The trip was fun and fascinating, but rather difficult at times as it was the antithesis of my normal travel style.

I returned to Los Angeles amid the busiest period of my life. I returned to hustle to put together my photo show, and was fighting the worst jet lag. The school year began and I ran about trying get everything in order. Thankfully, everything ended well. The show came together nicely, and i was aided by wonderful friends who assisted me. My mom, sis, grandpa, uncle and big sis Kay all came out for the opening reception, which I dubbed my "bar mitzvah."

The 21st Century Family of Man received some great reviews (CPD Blog, Daily Trojan). The exhibit also opened up new opportunities such as the show´s exhbition on GlobalPost, a photo shoot next year in India, and the funding for my current trek to the Panama Canal as part of a public health photo exhibit.

The semester never slowed down, as I went from the photo show to midterms to other projects to finals. I ran the entire semester, but I learned a ton of important concepts and ideas, things like: socialization, consensual hegemony, the key factor of context, the place of diplomatists, high context vs. low context, and so much more. The semester also proved to be a great intro to the region I am currently venturing through, as my Pub D Lat Am gave me the context for my current trek. After the semester came to a close, I had a janukkah party then I was off south.

I took bus upon bus for 40 hours down to Guadalajara, then went mural hopping from Guad to D.F. to Cuernavaca. I made my way to the gem that is Oaxaca then to Zapatistaland, and on through to Guatemala and Tikal. A quick jaunt through the Guatemalan highlands and to where I currently reside for the new years. I ran into two Spaniard girls who I previously met on a bus from Tikal to Flores. I have a date with Vicky Christina Barcelona for the new years, que suerte. I anxiously await the full moon over the lovely Antigua and give thanks for the year and decade that passed. I wish everyone, with all my heart, a feliz año!

Ah, but I couldn't end like that. As Cypress Hills said, "I ain't going out like that." Rather, I will end with my favorite quote from the year.

"Life loves those who love life."
-Walt Disney

A one-year time note: "He who keeps more than he needs is a thief" -Gandhi

And a final poem from a new friend and excellent poet Hector Alvarez Castillo, whose poem with Borges I posted as I begun my journey, and who since found me. We will have coffee at El Gato Negro when I get back to Buenos Aires. He was kind enough to send me more of his work, and I post a favorite as fitting last words on a grand year.


Mientras unos nacen

Y otros mueren,

Nuestro destino se prolonga

y la eternidad es la esfera de todos.

While some are born

And others die,

Our destination is prolonged

and eternity is the sphere of all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I woke up as the morning was still dark, something I am oft to do when traveling. The excitment of new days and new possibilities rustles me up early. I left the convent and made my way through the quiet streets of Coban. I stopped for a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, which I enjoyed in the morning mist. I made my way to the bus station and met a Belgian girl named Gretel who was making the same trek. We got our tickets on the morning bus to Guatemala City. The bus was an old greyhound model, large and spacious. I had my own double seat, which seemed out of place given the last few squished rides. The ride was beautiful as low-hanging clouds frosted the green mountains like icing on cup cakes. I grokked in fullness the final pages of Stranger in a Strange Land. Thou art God. I grok therefore I am.

We arrived some five hours later in to Guatemala City. The city has not garnered a good reputation from my fellow vagabonds, but I found it okay for the brief time passing through. Gretel and I wandered through market mazes, overwhelming the tiny alleys with our large sacks. We caught a bus to the buses towards Antigua. A bit of note, it has been quite common to see security guards wielding shotguns throughout Guatemala- standing sentinel outside banks and other establishments. Also a considerable amount of law enforcement about. However, Guat City seems to be armed to the teeth. The bus we caught across town had not one but two armed guards at either entrance. Just an observation.

We took the bus to El Trebol, where we hopped on a chicken bus to Antigua. By the way, a chicken bus is an old school bus that is brightly colored with designs painted on the side. They ply the inter-city routes with regularity. The bus took us down Avenida Roosevelt, through sprawling traffic of the choked, crowded capital city. On the way out, I spied some EU public diplomacy on the back of a city bus. A large add proclaiming an EU-Guatemala project for social welfare improvement. The advert touted the EU development project aimed at social cohesion and designed to improve the livelihood of society's dispossessed. Good pd, especially well done for knowing how to reach your audience via adept placement. Reminded me of a goog pd campaign done by one of the groups in 504, as trying to conduct PD with Israelis by advertising on buses- something that are in widespread use in Israel.

Anywho, the bus ride was uneventful, save some great views of Guatemala City from a distance. We arrived to Antigua, of which I was skeptical given the widespread number of gringos in town. I found my hostel on the second try, a decent place called The Yellow House. I dropped off my stuff and then dropped of some much needed laundry. I then went about wandering through the town. My misgivings were quickly swept away as I was seduced by the city's rustic charm. Cobblestone streets. Wrought-iron bars covering windows of pastel-colored houses. Majestic mountains in the distance with clouds hanging below the peaks like cotton bow ties. I meandered around, enjoying a libertador from Habana. Easy to see the large amount of gringos and easy to forgive the city for it.

PS: Good article about baseball public diplomacy smoothing the way for respect between America and Venezuela through Buddy Baily, an American manager in Chavezland. Thanks Stacy.

Lanquin & Semuc Champay

As I left the internet cafe yesterday, the sun had come out and the rains ceased. Sensing an opportunity, I booked my way back to the hostel to try to get my money back and head over to Lanquin. I managed to get half back of 40 quetzals, a little tax of 2 bucks to store my stuff. I hopped in a combi and was off to Lanquin. As always, the ride was packed. I was next to the window and snapped pictures of the golden sun peaking through the pink evening clouds covering the mountainous highlands.

The ride followed the various curves of the mountains, and over the curved fincas holding coffee plantations. Coffee trabajadores walked slowly along the side of the ride, tired from a long days work. Meanwhile, we passed through muddy pueblos where women walked barefoot in the mud, carrying heavy loads on their braided heads. Men strode past in gumboots and machetes. Kids sat playing in the mud or staring out of wooden doorways. Corrugated shacks and little thatched huts as well as bigger homes on the hills dotted the countryside. The bus turned off the paved road and onto the bumpy dirt path and we descended into the countryside. We drove on a bit further until we reached the little pueblo of Lanquin.

Just as I arrived to Lanquin, it started pouring down again. I bought a tarp for my bag and some eggs to make shakshuka for dinner at the hostel´s expected kitchen. I entered the hostel soaked and carrying three eggs in a baggie in my hand. They laughed at reception as they had no kitchen for guests. As I got to the reception, I spied a girl I had seen the previous day in the street. We chatted for a bit and i realized she was Israeli. I had realized there were many Israelis about the previous day when, as I was chatting with a kid at a tour agency, he said to me, "shalom, ech koreem lecha? Ani Shimon Peres?" Hadar was on the post-army trip and was working at the hostel, this was day one. She switched me from the room they were putting me in to her room. I dropped my stuff and we went to the candlelit bar for a drink and dinner. The place was gringocentral, it was a sea of white that was so bright my eyes hurt. I couldn´t stay here for long. I tried to talk Hadar into going swimming in the river, but no such takes.

I awoke early the next morning to the grand beauty of the area. The morning mist arose in the Guatemalan highlands like a slowburning cigarette as the turbid river ran past and the crickets chirped softly. I could see Hadar´s reluctance to swim, the river current was rather fast. I talked the restaurant kitchen into boiling my eggs with their morning fare and sat out listening to the river as I had some coffee. I chatted with the staff and they taught me Q´eqchi, the local language. Chan cha quil? How are you?

Not wanting to do a tour, I decided to find other means of transport to the turquoise pools at Semuc Champay. I wandered through the still-sleepy town, trying to find a means of transport. I found some kids who worked with transport company, and we sat on the side of chatting about life in America and the world. One kid was wearing a Texas shirt, so I told him about the Lone Star state. Being 14 and 12, they were big into kung-fu movies. Even living in a tiny pueblo, Bruce Lee is still known to be the man.

Another fellow in the same interest as I showed up. A fascinating fellow named Geoffrey from Singapore came, and we quickly became engrossed in conversation. He was doing research at Yale, and was going to be doing a project in North Korea. He had been before, and was going back for a research exchange. I was fascinated. He showed me pics of North Korea, and told me about life there. As always, life is never as bad or good as portrayed.

The flatbed truck arrived and we fought a losing haggle battle, then climbed in the back, in the cage built so people could cram in. We picked up a few more, including a wonderfully nice Mexican family, a father and his sons on vacation. Standing in the metal cage, we rode through the dirt mountain pass, past little houses and huts and various village life. The ride was incredible, the clouds hung heavy over the mountain range. It reminded me a lot of Peru. We went up and down the bumpy path, as I snapped pictures of the white, cloud-capped verdant green mountains.

We arrived to the site and went hiking through the muddy terrain to the clear pools. I snapped some pics of the rushing river riding in caves below the lush pools. Geoffrey and I decided to hike to the lookout point before coming back down to swim. We were joined in our hike by Marco of the family we met in the truck. The hike was muddy and slippery, and rather difficult. We were bounding up and Geoffrey was easily outflanking the two of us. After a while, he casually dropped that he had been in the Singapore Army Special Forces. I felt far less bad for my inability to keep up. We ascended to the top and looked out over the green pools surrounds by mountain. I played lord of the flies and added some mud war paint to my face. We carefully slipped our way back down and went swimming in the crystal clear pools. The cool water was great after the hard hike.

We sat out talking with the family, and Geoffrey went on his own way to the caves. I chatted with the family about the world and my travels, and the wonderful places to be encountered. More than I like to talk, I love being listened to.

We climbed back in the truck and the sun came out. The ride back was even more beautiful. Clouds rolled over the mountain peaks and cut a stunning scene with the hills and valleys below. I got back to town, had some lunch of ground lamb, rice and salad eaten in thick tortillas with spicy sauce drizzled on top at the Comedor Shalom. I washed it down with a Spur Cola, a delicious local brand. I then found a combi back to Coban. The van driver wanted me to sit in the back, but I couldn´t open the window, so I asked if I could sit in a different place. he told me the spots were reserved, but if I wanted to take pictures, I could sit up front or on the roof. Shades of Laos, I quickly snapped up the opportunity for the world´s greatest convertible. I climbed up to the metal luggage rack on the roof and hunkered down for the bumpy ride. My companion on top was named Romaldo, he was working luggage and the door. From the roof we called out, "Coban, coban, coban, coban" to try to pick up more passengers. We then left, to all the curious stares of the villagers as to why a gringo was on the roof.

The ride was bumpy but stunning. We passed women in multicolored dresses and more gumbooted men carrying machetes, as well as the coffee trabajadores coming back from a hard days work. The clouds were framed perfectly in the mountain pass and I grokked the glory of the open road and open air. I taught Romaldo English and he taught me Q´eqchi, and we chatted about life here and there. Eventually, the rains came back, and I sadly had to leave my roof perch and re-enter the van.

I arrived back to Coban, bade farewell to my roof buddy and met two Dutch travelers who were in the van. They had seen me disappear and were wondering if I was on the roof. I took them to the hostel I planned to stay in, but they wanted a private room, so I dropped my stuff and took them to another and we planned to meet for dinner. As I was leaving my hostel, they asked what time I planned to be back. I said probably around 10 or 11. Problem, they close their gates at 9:30! Turns out I was staying at a convent. I was not happy. I negotiated for 10pm, to which they grudgingly agreed.

I met my dutch friends for dinner and we added one more american to the mix. After dinner, we went back to their hostel and sat by a fire and drank wine. I was furious that I had that my coach was turning to a pumpkin so far before the witching hour. I debated just eating the cost of my room and staying at their hostel. However, I would have now paid for a night and a half to simply leave my things on the floor of the other hostel. I grudgingly left at ten and went back to the hostel fuming. The door was easily opened, so I decided maybe I would just leave again. After twenty minutes at the hostel, with my bruised dignity, I decided to leave and head back and figure it out later. Not feeling like a little kid with an early curfew and maintaining my dignity was easily worth 40quetzals ($5). I returned and we sat by the fire chatting. As the real witching hour approached, I told the Dutch girls to await my return if I got locked out. I made my way back to the dark hostel, and knocked a bit on the door to no answer. I ventured over to tap on a window at my room and luckily someone was still up and let me in. Homelessness averted.

Now off to Antigua to spend the new years.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nueva Jerusalen; Verapaz

"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy." (Psalm 137)

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matthem 23:37)

"O Jerusalem, the choice of Allah of all his lands! In it are the chosen of his servants. From it the earth was stretched forth and from it shall it be rolled up like a scroll. The dew which descends upon Jerusalem is a remedy from every sickness because it is from the gardens of Paradise." (The Hadiths)

"Holy city, but full of impieties; idle city, but one which gives the world a masterpiece everyday." (Leo Africanus)

Next to my hostel is a church called Embajada de Nueva Jerusalen. O´ Jerusalem. In the news today cause Israel is expanding settlements. At some point Israel has to realize that there is more value to a divided (which it already is), recognized Jerusalem has more value than the "eternal, undivided" tag line they spout. I don´t know if Israel realizes it but nobody recognizes Jerusalem as our capital. I would rather legitimate recognition over the part we legitmately control than the continued unrecognition that exists. We won´t get it until we accept the fact that the city is already de facto divided, and we just need a de jure understanding.

Meanwhile, I am currently in the region of Verapaz. When Conquistadors came to the area, they tried to pacify it but faced stiff resistance from the local inhabitants. Dominican friars went to the Spanish authorities and asked for 5 years to try to pacifically convert the region without any forcefull interference. When the Spanish authorities returned five years later, they found the area to be tranquil and under missionary control. As such, they renamed the region "Verapaz," (true peace).

This region is known for its coffee plantations, and was subject to a later, less peaceful history. Many German families had immigrated here, and ran successful coffie finicas that exported coffee back to Europe. During WWII, the US didn´t like the proximity of large German communities, so it pushed the Guatemalan government to expel the German-Guatemalans, which did so and siezed their property.

Once I get to Guat City, I will write more about Guatemala´s history including the United Fruit-sponsored coup and the machinations of the PR/PD shyster Eddie Bernays.

Deep in the heart of Mayastan

I woke up early to the overcast sky covering the lake like a grey cotton blanket. I was awakened to the sounds of birds calling, and looking to see a scene out of The Birds. Birds covering every tree and landing, cacawing loudly. It was very Hitchcockian. I asked the hostel fellow if it was always like this, and he said so every morning. I ate a nice breakfast at the hostel of huevos rancheros with tomatoes and onions, along with black beans and Guatemalan Texas Toast.

I was leaving Mayabad. Wanting to get off the gringo trail, I opted not to take the gringo shuttle to Coban, but rather via various buses and combis. I hopped a tuk-tuk (yes, they have those here, I luv it) to the sister city St. Elena to head south. At the bus station, they wanted more than the gringo shuttle, so I went with a combi to Sayxche, where I was told I would be able to get another to Copan.

We crammed in the combi (a van) like sardines. I counted 28 in the van that usually holds half that. Of course, I loved it. Being the only gringo, smushed and smiling with la gente. We drove for two hours past thatched huts, and little wood board houses with corrugated tin roofs.

"Carry on my wayward son, there´ll be peace when you are done."

I have quickly realized I am no longer in Kansas or Mexico. There is a very different feel here. For one, the people resemble jaguars to the Aztec eagleness. Life is a shade darker. The tortillas, which I had previously tried from my Guatemalan mother Rosa, are thicker and heftier. There is also a bit of a rivalry, I am coming to discover, between Mexico and Guatemala. Guatemalans looks at Mexico as the overbearing neighbor of the north, much like Mexico does of the US.

Back to the story at hand. After the overfull combi arrived to Sayxche, we stopped at a little lake in the center of town. I forded the lake on little boat to the other side to hop into another combi. No direct combis to Coban, this one went to Ruxruja. So be it. When I thought that these vans couldn´t get more full, this van held 32 people, including one fellow jammed between the back seat and the back door. I sat in the back next to a fellow named Jorge, who had lived and worked in Texas for 2 years. He had lived in Pasadena, and we chatted about Texas, the US and life in general.

Another 2 hours passed, as we passed sleepy little pueblos and people walking on the side of the highway, carrying baskets on their heads and babies slung to their backs in bright woven fabrics. One more switch to the last combi, another 2 hour juant that was just as full. For a while, I sat on a wooden plank put down in the space where you pass to the back seats. The bus attendent kept trying to put people in spaces where there wasn´t and I just laughed at his efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and smiled with traveler´s glee as I chatted with la gente and did good public diplomacy work on behalf of the US. You wouldn´t believe what pd a gringo without a gringo accent can do.

After another 2 hours, I arrived to Coban. I hopped out of the combi and made my way through town. I stopped to grab a piece of GFC- Guatemalan Fried Chicken, which is incredible. It was so good, I had planned to walk with it but took one bite and had to site down on the side of the road to eat it. It was crispy and spicy and would put the Colonel to shame. Anywho, I found a little place to stay, a place called Hotel Don Pedro, where I am the only guest. I have a dorm room for 40 quetzals ($5) and the hotel all to myself. After dropping my stuff, I wandered around town, stopping at the Mall to change money and grabbing a plantain custard tart.

After some hours uploading pics, I grabbed some dinner at a cafe called Comedor Santa Rita. It was a delicious homestyle cafe, and I chatted with the señoras as I ate down chile relleños (fried stuffed chilis) alongside refried black beans and and a plantain. The señoras were shocked that I ate the chilis and the hot sauce, so I explained that while I might have a gringo face, I have a Guatemalan soul. They laughed at that.

That evening I walked around town, trying to find a bar that my old guidebook recommended. As I was lost, I asked a group of policemen standing outside their station where it was. They were not sure, and kept trying to figure out where I meant. One asked, "are you looking for a bar or a bordello?" To which my white face turned pink, laughed and said, no just a bar. They ended up giving me a police escort down an empty street that might have the location but there was nothing there. A police escort is cool nonetheless, especially to a possible bordello.

I turned in early and woke up early to the sound of rain on the roof. The rains had come, and I was a prisoner of the hostel, a prisoner of Coban until the rain passes.

PS: A new entry on obesity in Mexico on the USC Institute for Global Health blog.

PPS: A little travel update, I was planning on meeting my amigovia Martina from Argentina in Colombia, but a friend of hers needed some support in Brazil and she couldn´t travel to both places. It made more sense to help a friend in need, then come have fun with me, so we will catch up another time. That changes my travel speed a bit. I am slowing the pace, giving up on the Panama Canal by my birthday and going to take in CentAm at a slower clip. I will end my trip in Panama and hold off on Colombia for the next time.

PPS: My last week of travel was slower. Weekly odometer count adds roughly another 800 miles, give or take. I´m at about 2,500 miles for the trip thus far.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Land of the Lost

Sometimes life utterly exceeds expectations.

So last night was a little ridiculous.  I met three cool Swedish girls in my hostel and we and another American all went out for dinner overlooking the lake.  We played an Israeli card game called "Yaniv" and drank cuba libres.  After, we went over the one club on the island and danced like three Swedes and a gringo in a sea of Latin brown.  I won`t get into it too much, but things got a little silly and sloppy and involved late nite skinny dipping in Lago Peten Ixul (water sharing service with my new water sisters).  Way too much fun.  Min stol ar trasig, har du lim? (translation posted below). Absolutely cements my belief that hostels are the purest and greatest medium for public diplomacy and the exchange of ideas, among other things.

Two hours of sleep later, I made the trek over to Tikal.  Tikal is easily one of the greatest things I have ever seen and utterly exceeded any expectation.  I was wandering through the empty path in the empty jungle until I stumbled upon the ruins and a resplendent purple quetzal wandering by. I stopped to take pictures of the Mayan god of the air. I rested for a spell on ruins centuries forgotten, lounging in my own Mayan dream world and became free of the burden of ideas. The place had me grokking out.

I took off my shoes and walked barefoot on the cool tierra, walking through the Gran Plaza and stopping to sit on the juego de pelota field. The winds whispered across the green court, and I could see the stands packed, with the crowds cheering for their warrior-heroes. Scenes out of Apocalypto. The warriors playing for their kings, their gods and their people. I wished for only two things at the moment, a ball and my little brother. After I won, I would have accomplished number 9 on my list of things for thirty and Harry would have been sacrificed to the gods.

I took a short break to drink a coca cola in a glass bottle, then try to attract the quetzals wandering around ala Herbie Hancock by making sounds through blowing in the glass bottle like a conch shell. Offering them cookies worked much better. I ascended the great temple and looked out over the grand plaza, the view was spectacular.

I returned down and the signs directed me towards mundo perdido, the lost world, with arrows pointing either direction. The sign for the lost world also caused some different grokking. Located next to it was a garbage and recycling recepticle. On my drive from the border to Flores, I saw fields of garbage on the road. I have watched in horror as people littered out windows, and I chide them whenever they are close enough. It will be our lost world if we don`t start taking better care of it. All of this is a reminder that nothing lasts, and it goes even quicker when we don`t respect the earth. I am amazed the the children of those who worshipped the earth as the gods now wantonly litter on it. Same in so many places I have been.

On a similar note, the thing that amazed me in Palenque was that the city was abandoned because of population density and scarceness of resources. A mayan malthus.

Anywho, there isn`t a whole lot I can say about Tikal because it is utterly indescribable. New pics are up to see it, it was phenomenal. The most amazing thing is that you couldn`t see the temples when below until you got up near them, they were really hidden in the jungle until you got up to them or on top to see them peeking out of the canopy.

One thing I was grokking over was a lost dream of pre-Colombian Public Diplomacy. I had all sorts of wistful ideas of Mayan cultural diplomacy with the Aztecs by trading quetzals for eagles. Aztec cultural exchange with the Zapotecs in the form of study abroad. Everyone tuning into to Voice of the Inkas. Just lost in a lost world.

From Tikal (Gran Plaza)

From Tikal (Mundo Perdido)

From Tikal (From Pyramid V)

From Tikal (gran plaza in the evening)

What the World Costs- Mexico (II)

For the previous WWTC-Mexico, see last year`s trip.
Free: Student Entrance to Chapultapec Castle, ditto for Museo Rufino Tamayo
2 pesos($.15): DF Metro
5 pesos ($.38): Macrobus ride in Guadalajara; Metro ride in Guadalajara
6 pesos($.45): taco de cabeza de res in Guadalajara
8 pesos ($.60): tamale in D.F., cup of atole or leche con arroz
9.5 ($.79) pesos: bumpy bus to from Guad city center to central bus station
15 pesos($1.15): 1 hour internet connection at a place faster than my connection at home
20 pesos($1.54): a saucer of the greatest hot chocolate ever plus pan de yema at Comedor Maria Teresa in Oaxaca
25 pesos: huevos rancheros in D.F.
30 pesos($2.31): entrance Museo Robert Brady
35 pesos($2.69): student entrance at Hospicio Cabañas
40 pesos($3.07): enamoladas de polla smothered in mole coloradito at Comedor Maria Teresa in Oaxaca; roundtrip ticket to Monte Alban
51 pesos ($3.92): entrance to Monte Alban
70 pesos ($5.60): one night in Mi Casa in San Cristobal
75 pesos ($6): bus ticket D.F. to Cuernavaca (1 hr)
80 pesos ($6.40): new cap for my camera
84 pesos ($6.72): cloroquin malaria meds (damn prescriptions are cheap in Mex!)
100 pesos ($8): new shades
120 pesos($9.60): one night at La Casa de Don Pablo in Oaxaca
145 pesos($12.60): student price one night in Hostel Guadalajara Centro; Hostel Mexico City
146 pesos($12.67): bus ticket San Cristobal to Palenque (5 hrs)
299 pesos($23.92): a spiffy new pair of Nitros
360 pesos ($28.80): impuesto boludo (stupity tax) for forgetting my camera charger
410 pesos ($32.80): bus ticket Guadalajara to D.F. (9hrs)
428 pesos ($34.24): bus ticket Oaxaca to San Cristobal (11 hrs)
577 pesos ($46.16); bus ticket Cuernavaca to Oaxaca (7 hrs)
600 pesos ($48): bus ticket Mexicali to Guaymas (18 hours)
785 pesos($62.80): bus ticket Guaymas to Guadalajara (22hrs)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Palenque; Frontera Corrozal; Flores

I froze during the night in San Cristobal, two blankets weren´t enough.  I woke up at the crack to head five hours north to Palenque, the hidden Mayan ruins in the Chiapas jungle.  I hopped a bus and we meandered up through Chiapas highlands and mountain paths, and past little Zapatistas villages.  As we were dring through the middle of nowhere, it was amazing to see the ubquitious "coca cola" signs in every sleepy little pueblito´s corner store (not the Zapatistas villages).  There were also plenty of signs proclaiming development projects being carried out in the region, as if in competition and to prove the government was paying attention.  Meanwhile, maiz lay drying in the sun on the side of the road and on basketball courts in the villages. 

I arrived in Palenque and took a combi to the site deep in the jungle.  At that point, it was midday and completely sweltering.  I went from freezing to sweating and sweltering in a matter of a few hours, welcome to Central America.  Still sick, I was sneezing and snotting through the incredible ruins.  The ruins were striking for their jungle backdrop.  I climbed up and in the various Mayan citadels of the once-great Palenque.  There were temples and towers.  Some of the temples still exhibited some of the original hieroglyphic drawings, including the God of the Underworld smoking tobacco.  I climbed in the giant watchtower palace, and in the temple of the sun and moon.  It was pretty impressive, with its perfect symmetry and cement-like tightness of the rocks forming these great edifices.

I later visited the museum, which held the incredible tomb of the great ruler Hanab Pakal.  Staring into the Mayan sculptures across the millennia, I realized that my thirtieth birthday is not even a grain of sand on the beach of eternity.  One thing I found rather striking is that the Mayans believed when their deceased would return from the underworld, they would return with fruit trees.  The ancient kings would come back bearing avocados, guavas and zapotes.

After my romp through the Mayan ruins, I headed back to the city of Palenque.  I tried to inquire in a few banks if I had to pay the exit tax at their locations like my guide book mentioned, since I had already paid the entry tax.  Of course, they had no idea and were rather unhelpful.  They directed me to the Migration authorities, but it was 3:20pm, and all the banks were closing at 4pm, and would be closed for the holiday.  Realizing it was impossible to go to the migration office and back to the bank and really not wanting to spend another minute in Palenque, I decided to run my luck and see if I could bs my way across.  I asked a fellow at a travel agent office, and he assured me that if I had already paid coming in, I wouldn´t have to pay leaving.

With confidence for my mission, I then tried to catch a combi to the border.  There were none, but I could catch one to Rio Chancala, then another to the Frontera Corrozal.  I hopped in the sharred bus, and we were off, hurtling through the two-lane road.  People chatted in tzeltal (sorry, Abba) and the wind rushed through the open windows. I was at peace, and felt like I had arrived.  I switch combis with not too much effort and continued on to the border.  Nothing really became nothing, as we continued down an empty road to an empty border.  I saw a sign for San Diego, and Luap tried to grok if he was at the wrong border. 

As day became night, we drove on lightless roads to our final destination.  I arrived to the frontier town, which wasn´t much.  I hopped out of the combi and into a cab with another fellow heading to Guatemala.  Instead of being at any crossing, we merely drove down to a lake, and climbed into a loncha (a little wooden pontoon boat).  Under wide black expanse of night and vivid starscape, we putted for five minutes, and....bienvenidos a Guatemala.  To be sure, I would have visited the border office, but there wasn´t any on the river. 

On the other side, I procured cheap lodging for the night and bought a can of Gallo, Guatemalan beer, that let me know I had switched locales.  I stayed in a cheap little room with a bed and a fan, and sat out in a hammock in the "salon" watching Guatemalen Idol and listening to the piggies oink.  After a few tamales, I called it an early evening.  Unfortunately, no chinese food.  I looked, but there was none.  I even tried to grok if it was acceptable to eat a discorporated chinese student in Palenque, but the Ancient Ones said otherwise. 

I woke up at the crack of dawn to the roosters calling outside my window.  I walked down to the river to watch the morning sunrise and offer my morning prayers.  While I sat watching the orange orb reflect on the river, a family of chicks and the mother chicken pecked nearby. 

As I walked back, a fellow named Mauriciano mentioned he was driving to Flores in a taxi and would take me for an exorbitant price.  I negotiated a bit, but balked.  Everyone said that on xmas, there were no other options.  Not feeling like being ripped off too bad, and since it was early, I decided to try my luck and walk to the nearest town to see, rather than go on what I was being told. 

On this christmas morning, I set off on the road to Bethel, the next large town.  I walked through the dirt road cut through the fields and hills, wondering if I had made the right decision, but enjoying the hike.  I had walked about an hour when the same taxi came rolling up the road.  Sufficiently convinced that I was both stubborn and crazy, Mauriciano offered me a better deal and I hopped in. 

We stopped in Bethel so I could visit Guatemalan immigration.  The immigration official couldn´t grok why I didn´t have a Mexican stamp, so I explained.  He shook his head, and asked for an entry fee (something that didn´t exist) of $5.  I gladly payed up a little more in 100 pesos, got my stamp and was on my way.

Mauriciano´s 15 year old son drove the van along the bumpy dirt road for hours, past hills, livestock and simple perfect life.  We chatted and joked, and picked up various passengers and let them off.  Eventually I reached Flores, a little island in the north of Guatemala.  Thoroughly on the gringo trail, I will be getting out real soon.  I wandered around the little island, stopping for lunch overlooking the lake and chatting my way into an early happy hour mojitio special.  The rest of the afternoon was spent in a hammock on the roof as I tried to recover from my vanity shock previously mentioned.  Off to Tikal tomorrow morning, and missing Mexico already.  You get used to a semi-unfamiliar place and know its ways, and have a hard time changing to the unfamiliar-unfamiliar place.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio

I had planned to title this email "Don Larsen meets Don Drysdale" in sheer academic hubris.  But alas, my bubble was burst. 

In 1941, Joe DiMaggio hit for 56 consecutive games.  The Yankee Clipper was unstoppable for that spell, batting over .400 for the stint.  

My perfect "A" streak, dating back to my senior year of college is officially over.  I got 2 A`s in my Pud D Africa and Latin America classes, but an A minus in my Theories of Diplomacy class.  That wasn`t the class I expected to fell me.  MINUS!  Bah.

On the 57th game, he smashed a number of line drives that were stabbed at the last moment, but DiMaggio was ultimately held hitless but.  After the setback in the 57th game, Joe DiMaggio went on to hit for another 19 consecutive games.

I guess there is always a PhD to rekindle the streak.  But so close, argh!  I have safely arrived to Flores, Guatemala and had an interesting time getting here.  I will post that later, for now I will wallow in the friendly confines of a hammock on the roof while I nurse a Gallo.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

E$LN, Subcommandante Pablo

A little about the Zapatista rebellion. It was really the first post-modern rebellion to spring up. I wrote a little on the post-modern side of the Zapatistas a while back during Starr´s class (I kinda feel like I am on a PubD Lat Am field trip). On January 1, 1994, the Zapatistas issued their declaration of war against the Mexican government and against NAFTA, which they believed would further the neo-liberal economic model. The rebellion didn´t spark a revolution like they hoped, but their public diplomacy efforts (tactical media, as they call it) spread far and wide and captured global attention. At the time, Mexico was still struggling to implement a democratic government as the PRI dinosaur was still in charge. The Zapatista calls for democracy in Mexico struck a chord with those already fighting to implement democratic reform. Also, Clifford Bob cites the Zapatista rebellion in his theory on the marketing of rebellion, and that the Zapatistas knew what issues would resonate with global audiences, so they carried out pd efforts to connect their message of rebellion with the greater anti-globalization movement to create better common cause. For its part, the Mexican government had a hard time carrying out the full counter-insurgency measures it wanted because of all the interest and attention the Zapatistas had garnered. In short, the Zapatisas played their soft power cards well. Basta for me on the history, if you want to read more on the rebellion, click here.

I wanted to really like San Cristobal de Las Casas, but I found it a little too touristy, filled with left-wing Euro hippie backpackers.  The commercial side of things was a little intense, so forgive me if I don´t buy into the revolutionary rhetoric.  I don´t think the Zapatista rebellion was meant to bring the Red Star Revolution Cafe and Bar and yogo studios to Chiapas.  Subcommandante Marcos shirts are ubiquitous, as some secondary Ché icon.  But at least it brings development to the region that was lacking it, so far be it from this gringo to speak poorly of the city´s gains.  I´m simply getting out early tomorrow morning.  A French girl named Aurelie is trying to convince me to hitchhike to Palenque.  She has done so from Guadalajara here.  I think she has bigger cajones than moi, I might just stick to the standard bus service.

But San Cristobal did have some redeeming qualities.  Walking through it this morning in the cold, early hours was tranquil, and I enjoyed listening to people chat in Tzitzil while I bought a cup of cinnamon coffe and a tamale in the squire.  Or walking through the sprawling market, which i wandered through to forage for lunch and dinner.  Squat women in different color shawls and scarves wandered around with babies clung to their backs.   I loved the women´s braids, woven with colorful orange or blue fabric or ties together; it reminded me of Gregory David Roberts line in Shantaram, "this was a braid with which you could climb into heaven."  Meanwhile, I bought fresh tortillas, an avo and tomato, a small fried fish and some cheese for about 25 pesos ($2), for a picnic and which will also last me for dinner.  I wandered through rows of multicolored legumes, salted fish stacked far above my head and oranges stacked like Mayan pyramids.  I later made my wayto the Mercado de Dulces, where bees buzzed around coconut macaroons and plates of watermelons and pineapples.

Meanwhile, back to my own self-absorbed world.  This trip has been giving me ample time to reflect on the last thirty years, and consider how I ended up the way I am.   As said in Stranger in a Strangeland, "He had more than his share of that streak of anarchy which was the birthright of every American."   As I have come to learn over the years, I get my independent streak from my mother too.  I was thinking about how my parents let me travel independently from a young age, whether taking the train up to Philly to see my grandparents, or at 12 taking the metro downtown to learn for my bar mitzvah lessons.  The irony that my wanderings towards synagogue would later translate in me wandering towards Jewish communities all over the world.


Oh, the joy of night buses.  I left last night from Oaxaca to San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas.  The ride was a bit of a nightmare.  No sooner did we leave, we were driving on a super curvy road that I thought would make me sick.  Curve after curve, and I didn`t realize it but we were climbing quickly.  My ears became clogged like I was flying, only it really hurt.  It felt like I had an ear infection.  I was a little worried, i really was having problems hearing.  It was almost like I couldn`t hear myself talk, and we all know I luv the sound of my own voice.  All night we were on bumpy, curvy terrain and I felt like my eardrums were going to explode.  Not fun. 

But I survived and arrived, and can hear again.  The ride into San Cristobal was breathtaking.  There was a layer of morning fog covering the city like it was on a bog.  The fog just hung like lowlying clouds.  I arrived toa cold morning in  San Cristobal, grabbed some arroz con leche to drink and went about looking for a hostel.  I passed colonial buildings and gringo-centered restaurants offering Lebanese, Argentine and Italian food.  I was expecting a bastion of Lefthood, and found Mexican yuppiedom with tons of French and Spanish tourists and backpackers here.  Who says the left can`t capitalize too.  I had a place written down to check out called Los Camelos.  I had been told that hostels here were cheap.  As I was trudging up , I saw another, which was only 60 pesos ($5) but full.  I walked on to Los Camelos, and was greeted by the gringo owner.  He said it was 80 pesos, and when I asked if he could offer a dorm for 60, he got indignant and showed me the door.  Cameltoe.  I walked to another hostel, Las Palomas, run by a lovely couple.  It was 120 ($10) , more than I wanted to spend.  They were nice enough to point me to one called Mi Casa, for only 70 pesos.  I trudged over and found my home.  A cute little place with Che on the walls and Che the dog roaming the place.

I will write more later on the Zapatista revolt.  For now, check out my post on the USC  Institute for Global Health blog.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bah; new pics up

I`m sick and my head is in the clouds.  I`ll save any serious blogging for later.  I had a blessedly slow day of doing laundry and visiting the incredible Templo de Santo Domingo, which gleams with gold.  Spent the afternoon sitting at the Comedor Maria Teresa, my favorite lunch counter in the market.  Delicious pollo enmoladas for lunch, an enchillada unrolled and slathered in Mole Coloradito- red chocolate sauce amd topped with white cheese.  I sat at the counter grokking Stranger in a Strange Land, while I sipped hand-stirred hot chocolate that was so good it must have come from a chocolate teet.  Now just killing time before a night bus to Chiapas, to San Cristobal de las Casas.  I am not looking forward to this bus, I need a bed and some rest.  So it goes.  I managed to get the very last seat on the three buses that go to Chiapas, and I got it only because I went yesterday to buy it.  Call it "travelers intuition."  I`m sad to leave this gem of a city that is Oaxaca.  So it goes.

From Road to DF & Cuauhtemoc Castle

From Random DF and Cuernavaca

From Oaxaca

From Oaxaca Markets

From Monte Alban (North pyramids)

From Monte Alban II (South Pyramid) and back down

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fine Corinthian Leather

As I mentioned earlier, I am a little sick.  I almost wussed out and spent the day in bed, but luckily I grew a pair and had an amazing day.  I bumped into a fellow named Daniel who had been in my hostel in DF, who is now staying here.  He has become my Italian brother from another mother.  We went through town to catch the bus to Monte Alban, the once-great city of the Zapotecs.

We took the winding route in the bus up to the top of the ancient city site.  The clouds were hanging heavy in the morning sky and casting giant shadows on the valley below- it reminded me a lot of Peru.  A reminder of the huge clouds sitting on top of the mountains as the impetus for the notion of the gods of the heavens.

We entered and wandered through the museum.  I continue to be amazed by the similiarity between the faces on the statues and the same faces I see in the streets.

 Info gleaned from the sign welcoming us to the city stated that it was the largest pre-Hispanic city in the Oaxaca region.  It was the first example of urban planning in the Americas, and was continuously occupied for 13 centuries, (from 500 BC-850AD).  It was abandonded, but no one really knows why.  However, the Zapotecs had built one of the first state systems with a governing priestly class.  After the city was abandonedm the inhabitants in the valley below regarded its ruins as sacred.  I can see why. 
We made our way into the Great Plaza and wandered past the old ceremonial Juego de Pelota with stands for the match o`death.  We climbed up and down the ziggurats and took in the vistas of the valleys below, painted by the shadows on the hills sketched by the clouds above.  Nothing I can write can describe the beauty of these ancient wonders, it was phenomonenal.  We climbed up and down pyramids that looked out over the wide valley below.  We chatted with a campesino named Alberto, about life in his village and the areas surrounding.  He astounded us by speaking Italian, and we got down to business on the wares he had.  I bargained for a beautiful jade mask of el rey de la lluvia (the king of the rains).

I also had all sorts of PD ideas and plans for Mexico based on sponsoring "On the Road" readings and cultural events based on the Moriarty and Paraiso`s time in Mexico as a way to connect Mexico with the college beatniks and backpacking scene.  I have all sorts of Mexico PD plans to be hatched.

We spent the day climbing up and down pyramids, and on our way out were chatting with a Mexican family on vacation.  Since I am with an Italian, everyone thinks I am Italian too.  When the family found out I was an American, they were amazed that I spoke spanish without a gringo accent.  The teenybopper thought I looked like Kevin Jonas, and wanted to take a picture with moi.  Her sister said it was a grand compliment.  Then we headed down and had lunch with a school group.  Roasted meats with roasted spring onions and chilis on a roasted tortilla.  Yum. We ate with the class, and I fell in love with a girl who was straight out of a Gauguin painting.  We left the Mountains of the Gods and made our way back to the Valley of Man.

We wandered through the city, taking in the beautiful cathedral and enjoying the afternoon.  I ate grapefruit covered in chile and salsa to help clear up the infirmity.  I couldn`t get Daniel to try any champolinas, but I munched them with delight.  Must get off the internet as the hostile hostelers are waiting...

Mercado de Asado

After my nap, I went foraging for lunch.  Wow, what I found.  I stumbled upon the Mercado de Asado, an alley way in the market that was a smoke-filled bbq.  Rows of meat and grills sending grey plumes of smoke into the closed air environs.  The smoke was so thick, you couldn`t see 10 feet in front of you.  People just stood there fanning the flames cooking the meat.  Other people walked by selling spring onions and jalepenos that you could add to the asado.  You had to go either to the market outside or buy it from them. I got to pick out two cuts of beef, then they grilled it over coals along with the spring onions.  When it was done, I sat outside with my fresh tortillas and wrapped up the meat with the grilled spring onions, cilantro and fresh avocado.  It was an incredible scene and the meat was immaculate.  I have never in my life seen anything like it.  I still smell like a bbq.

Later, I returned to the lunch counter world and sipped velveteen hot coco and read Stranger.   The rest of the day was tranquil, as it is cold and I fear I am getting sick (SWINE FLU, perish the thought).  I wandered through the market foraging for fresh veggies to make a soup, and turned in early.  Throat is scratchy today, but hopefully I will survive.  I had a feeling the night bus would do this to me.  Already being exhausted plus taking a night bus is recipe to ruin the health.

PS:  Check out this interesting piece on mourning Montazeri. Reminds me of Les Miserable and the protests that ensued with the funeral of General LaMarque.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Extranjero en una tierra extranjo

The world has taken on a darker shade of brown as I have entered the land of the Mixtecs.  I spent a quiet sunday morning in Oaxaca, reading Stranger in a Strange land and trying to grok my new surroundings.  A nice women who helped put the book back together with tape remarked that title fit me, and I could only smile and agree.  The counterman wished me a shalom on parting.  I went strolling through the labyrinth markets, drinking incredibly rich hot chocolate with pan de yema- a challah-esque bread with a brown top and little sesame seeds and sampling the various varieties of champolinas (grasshoppers).  On that last note, there are surpring number of varieties of the little suckers.  There were ones cooked in chile, or garlic. Little baby ones that had a little crunch, and the bigger ones that were actually kinda meaty.  Surprisingly not bad.  If you think this sounds gross, I counter with shrimp and other mariscos.  Just grasshoppers of the sea, and at least the variety I am eating are kosher.

I also spent the morning doing something that occurs about as often as a leap year- shopping for new threads.  I traded my uncomfortable Nikes that had been plaguing my poor feetsies since I bought them for a new pair of Nitros.  Cheers for cheap Mexican shoes that are spiffy and comfortable.  I also got a pair of knockoff adidas pants to replace my ever-increasingly tattered grey old navy pants.

Now I am off for a well-earned nap that the bus ride last night has me needing.  Thankfully, I don`t have to worry about loud neighbors at the hostel, La Casa De Don Pablo is next to a funeral home.


I ate a grasshopper, he was crunchy and surprisingly tasty. Like a large corn nut.

What`s next for Don Pablo?

My dear friend K posted this note:
I can think of a few near misses to put on your list. But in thinking about that it makes me want to caution you on putting too much energy into reflecting on the past 30 rather than the next 30...

What I want to know is what's next for Don Pablo...besides malaria??!


Since you ask, I do have a list of goals for the decade to come:

1) Travel from Venice to China
2) Travel from Timbuktu to Zanzibar and/or Cape to Cairo
3) Get a PhD
4) write a book or three, and a comic book; publish a coffee table photo book
5) have a photo exhibit at some fancy acronymed museum
6) find the Mrs. and the pitterpatter
7) go with my brother and father to the 2014 Brazil World Cup
8) pay off my grad school debt
9) kill Harry
10) send my parents on a lavish vacation

Oaxaca; Whose House? Run`s House!

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled."

I love words that string along a bunch of different vowels to make sounds that you wouldn`t expect. The title of this entry and city of present location being one example, "ciao" being another.

I arrived early this morning, with the night bus arriving into the dark morning at 5:30am. I moved slowly, grabbing some chai and a tamale torta to start the day. I walked from the station through the naked and dead city. I watched the sun begin to rise as its fire lit the world gone dark y los cielos shifted the cielos from purple to blue (yes, I can see that). I wandered through town, until I found the only possible place I could stay in this fair city: La Casa de Don Pablo. When I entered, I heralded my own arrival, then promptly went back to sleep.

After one week down, I have traveled 1,783 miles from Los Angeles to Oaxaca, Mexico.  Not bad for a week on the road.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

And rekindled mine; on Modern art; The Cows Horns and Mural Diplomacy

Today our story resumes with a much happier morning. As I was writing this, an older gentleman named Ricardo saw my USC shirt and commented he was Class of `58. We got to chatting, and he was fascinating. He is 78, and traveling with his wife. He is a professor at Fresno State, and does something with Mayan calendars. I told him of my travails the previous day, and he told me: "Yesterday was a crocodile day, today is a eleven- winds day."

I was sending him an email with my links so that he could see my photo exhibit, and he noticed my Tales blog. He smiled and said that the "Wandering Jew" title brought back a memory he hadn`t thought of in decades. When he was a young boy growing up in East Los Angeles, the orthodox Jews would give him a penny for each candle he lit for them during the sabbath. For them, he would carry the fire. I stopped writing my blog, and we sat down to chat over coffee. He told me of how he loved a Jewish girl in the neighborhood. We chatted for a long time about life and his work on Mayan and Aztec calendars, it was fascinating.

We were also talking about his family history and he told me how his last name was "Duran." It is a common name in New Mexico, especially of an upper-class variety. He was not of that variety, his family was a different branch from Zacatecas. One time when he was in New Mexico, a woman he was chatting with thought he was one of "their Durans," and was quite friendly. Then she found out his family was not from New Mexico, but rather Zacatecas and remarked that his was not the same regal variety of the clan, but rather different Durans that were believed to be of Jewish origin. Shake the family tree, see what pops out.

After my fascinating morning, I ducked around the corner for some delicious huevos rancheros, and then made my way back to the Chapultapec park to the visit the Museo Rufino Tamayo. My typical criticism of modern art was in effect: if I can`t tell what is maintenance, what is under construction, and what is art, I`m not much a fan. Kinda like the musuem shop selling "basura," trash in a bag for 15 pesos. Granted, when modern art misses, it misses badly, but when it hits, it is like no other. But the Museum of Modern Art across the stree had a phenomenal work that was a button shower. Buttons dangling on string that looked like raindrops reflecting light.

I went back, grabbed my stuff, and headed to the bus station to grab a bus out of town to Cuernavaca. Often the favorite retreat of the well-heeled Aztecs and Spaniards, the city was a nice change of pace. I went to the Museo Regional in the Palacio de Cortes, which is home to a phenomenal Diego Rivera mural, "Historia de Morelos, Conquistas y Revolucion".

The mural itself was a piece of public diplomacy, some history of which I learned in Prof. Starr`s class. The US Ambassador Dwight Morrow donated the funds for the grandiose mural of Mexican history, thereby gaining American public diplomacy credit with the Mexican people.

Now I am currently stuck in Cuernavaca, waiting for a night bus Oaxaca that I have no desire to take. Apparently there are no other buses from Cuerna to Oaxaca, so I am stuck taking a night bus.

Things Found, Loved & Hated in DF

Things found:
*A button rainstorm of brilliance at the Museo Arte Moderno.
*A fellow Trojan and kindred soul.
*Chess pieces waging war.
*The blind leading the blind.
*The Family of Man in Mexico.

Things Loved:
*Being called "joven" (young man) rather than "sir".
*The ever darkening peoplescape.

Things Hated:
*PDA on the subway. I am standing right next to you, please stop making out! I have debated dousing water on the star-crossed lovers.
*Harmonipan players. Groups in khakis play a mixture between a harpsicord and accordian, by twisting the crank. The sounds are dreadful, I liken it to a discordant symphony. I feel like they are trying to torture me into paying them; no alms will be extracted for crimes against my eardrums.

Pablo and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day

Title taken from one of my favorite books as a child. It started off okay, just meandering down familiar territory to do some errands like stave off malaria, etc. I hopped the metro down to Chapultepec Park to visit the famous castle bearing the same name.

As I was making my way, I saw some cute attempts at municipal government campaigns to get people to clean up. Sitting in front of the Alter of the Nation, the campaign and monument made me think up some grand socialization campaigns of public diplomacy to fight litter in Mexico. PD campaigns centered around nationalism and patriotism towards anti-littering: "A Los Defensores de La Patria."

I made my way into the grand castle, taking in the incredible sprawling Siquieros mural of Mexican history and the ceiling motif of an unknown artist but whose style I recognized from the Museo Iconografico de Don Quijote. Everything was brilliant as I wandered past of portraits of royalty and sat out overlooking the tan, polluted day. All sorts of ideas on how I will put together the next photo exhibit.

As I was walking on, and out, I stopped to jot down a note, when horror of horror, my notebook was gone. In a panic, I hurried back through the exhibits, back to the last place I remembered writing. No luck, like Luap, I retraced my steps over and over again. I felt like the Man in The Road at the prospect that I had lost my child (yes, I am mellowdramatic). I asked the security, and they got on the walkie-talkies to ask if anyone had found it. After looking and looking, the security guard said, look it probably got stolen out of your bag. The thought hadn`t dawned on me, I just assumed it was my own stupidity leaving it somewhere. But then I remembered that as I was walking between the last place I wrote and the place, I stopped in the bathroom and had to walk through a tight hall of school kids. I realized, sadly, he was probably correct. Not wanting that to be the answer, I re-traced my steps on last time, but realized that to be true. A crime against humanity. I had my words stolen, ideas lost, thoughts taken and memories gone.

Sad. Of all the things to take, that one has little value to anyone but me. Hay cosas en la vida que tiene valor mas que el precio. Some will be remembered, some rewritten, some of it has already been written in this blog, but there are thoughts and ideas that are gone for good. Thankfully I have a backup journal, gracias Yael. To be sure, I was lost in Pabloworld, and wasn´t with my wits. However, I was in a museum, so my guard was down as I considered it tierra sancta.

I walked on to the Rufino Tamayo museum but was too distraut to appreciate it, so I bagged it for tomorrow and headed back to the city center to find some shoes and grab a new notebook. I walked down past shop after shop with no luck, so I headed towards the market. As I was asking where to find shoe stores, people kept mentioning a mercado de zapatos. Swimming upstream against a sea of brown (la ola morena), I weaved through crowded markets until I reached my el dorado de zapatos. Lamentably, my search for treads didn´t pan out. My big fat gringo foot was too large for Mexico, and they didn`t have anything in my size. Mexico can`t fill my shoes.

Speaking of the sea, I will borrow this next thought from the esteemed scholar David Roediger, and comment on Wages of Brownness. Since the border on south, the world has kept on taking a darker hue as if I was wearing those auto-tinting glasses with brown lens. Mexicali and Guaymas were light brown, Guadalajara got darker, and DF is full on brown. I luv it. It makes me feel like a white ghost, passing by like Ellison`s invisible man.

Back to the story at hand, with the evening approaching, I made my trek across town to Polanco to find a synagogue for shabbat and janukka. Anyone familiar with this blog knows of the travails encountered the previous year trying to go to shul. This year, I was going to a different shul, with a new passport sans scary stamps. I even looked the synagogue up online so I could email them that I was coming, but they had no website. This was not insanity of trying the same thing over but expecting a different outcome, I changed the variables, but the constant still mattered far more. But as Marx said, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

In the annals of annuals, there are certain occurences that happen like clockwork. Such examples include salmon swimming upstream to reach their ancestral homes to mate, and the swallows returning to Capistrano. Added to that list is one itinerant Jew, Paul S. Rockower, being denied in Mexico City.

I arrived around but the synagogue looked to be closed and under construction, I asked a security guard at another building and he said to walk around the block to another entrance. I did and met some security guards, who I explained my desire to go to shul. We walked back to the other side, and they asked me a series of questions and gave me the updated questionaire that Harry and I received last year. Such questions include: Where did your mother go to high school? What is your father`s connection with Judaism? They updated it with such questions as: Have you ever spoken badly of the Jewish people? A gentleman walked out and said services were finished, as they had started at 5:45pm. As it was only 7:15pm, I debated going to the infamous Conservative synagogue Beit El, where Harry and I had gone the previous year.

As I was walking away, a different security represenative came up. He explained that if I tried to go to Beit El, they would surely deny me. I said I knew, and explained what had happened the previous year. I asked if he could call over and ask, because I didn´t have the heart to walk over and be denied again. I explained their fears the year before, but how I had a new, clean passport and had communicated with the Rabbi. Didn`t matter he said, I would be twice denied. Pobre la communidad Judio de DF, tan lejos del cielos, tan cerca a miedo.

I left, without the same shock or angst as the previous year as it was almost expected. I headed over the Plaza Garibaldi to take in some mariachi music. I paid the guitaristas to play algo triste and I sat on the curb between a drunk and a homeless guy, drinking micheladas and wallowing in my meloncholy discontent. A smile was semi-restored as I stood out on the corner with a bunch of mariachis as we dined on barbacoa tacos, but on the whole a rotten day.

La Oración de la Mañana

I translated the Morning prayer into Spanish, has a bit of a different feel:
"O` Dios y Padre, fuente de toda vida y bendición. Elevamos nuestros corazones en acción de gracias, por su misericordia para con nosotros. Su bondad, que no tiene fin, nos ha dado la tranquilidad refrescante de sueño, y permitió nos despierta a la alegría y la belleza de un nuevo día-alegran con la bendición de la salud. Subvención se rogamos, que este día pasará sin malos pensamientos en nuestros corazones, y ninguna acción incorrecta a manchar nuestras manos. Ayúdenos a los niños sea buena y obediente, que merecen el amor de nuestros padres, maestros y consejeros. Ayuda que nos unamos todos juntos en amor el uno al otro, y nos enseñan a hacer todo lo que se quiere que hagamos."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Listless lists; Branding Paul Rockower; DF Rock City

"Down every road there is always one more city. I`m on the run and the highway is my home"
-Leo Clotke

I left Guadalajara yesterday, probably a little sooner than I wanted but my trip is about Southern Mexico and Central America more than Northern Mexico. I will return to Guadalajara to take in the mariachis and write about the Jewish community on another occassion. I took a bumpy, bumpy bus out of town. I hopped on a 7 hour bus to D.F, a nap of a ride. The ride was pleasant, it gave me time to reflect and percolate a storm of ideas. I recounted the decade that had passed, as well as the three in total. I made lists upon lists. Lists of near-misses and homeruns. Perfect lists. Listless lists. Lists of those dearest to me. Lists of those most influential to me. One of the more banal lists that I am willing to share:
Ten things I fear more than Swine Flu or Mexican Drug Wars:
1) Malaria
2) Dehydration
3) The bloody flux
4) Traffic
5) Gringos
6) Puerco
7) La Migra
8) Resacas
9) Dick Cheney
10) Cheap Mexican jug wine

I also continued my thoughts on branding and nation branding. APDS had a fascinating lecture earlier in the year from a brand expert named Sasha Strauss of Innovation Protocol, set up by our Alumni and Professional Chair Comrade Leah. Strauss spoke on branding, brand development and the need to brand yourself. He spoke of how great brands have "the power to change perception, influence preference and command loyalty."

That got me thinking of nation branding me. If ever there was a nation on to himself. A floating island among men. If a currency, the nation would issue vagabonds. The lingua franca would be gibberish, although esperanto would also be taught in the schools.

That also got me thinking about this rebranding Mexico notion. This time to do some cultural branding ala "Mural Mexico" around Mexico and its murals. I can see the poster already:
with "Mural Mexico" in black letters emblazoned. The campaign would involve art lectures and workshops on murals at schools, art schools and other venues. Add in some mural contests. Maybe get some Graffitti artists to do huge murals at museums or other places ala Calligraffit.

I also had an epiphany over my travels. My goal was to reach Panama by my birthday as a way of adding 6 countries to my count that stands at 44. As I was listening to my i-pod, ever the oracle, I heard the World Song by Yakko Warner:

Hearing it, I decided that I would abandon the UN`s definitions of state recognition and go by the Animaniacs version. Ooom Shmoom, since the UN doesn`t recognize moi, I won`t recognize it. By the Animaniacs principle of state recognition, I bump my count up to 47, by including Western Sahara, Scotland and Palestine. I will add in Tibet myself, putting me at 48. Therefore, I only need to visit 2 countries by my birthday and I have accomplished the quest I embarked on. When in doubt, change the goal posts.

We continued driving past nameless cities that were little more than yellow lights on a black velvet night, until we arrived in the bustling metropolis that is DF. I dropped my stuff at a familiar hostel and went on la marcha. I had some corner birria tacos, along with consome to warm your soul, and listened to the bustling traffic pass. As always, I made no qualms at giving alms, and bought food for those who asked. I was wandering around until I found an awesome rock bar called Gante. I was lured in with The Doors, and I stuck around for awesome Mexican rock. Meanwhile, the band headbanged to Metallica, which of course had me thinking about Metallica Diplomacy. American rock music is such a cultural export. The whole bar buzzed with energy and excitement as it was headbanging and singing "Off to neverneverland"; Metallica is universality. If I had my druthers, I would send Metallica on a PD goodwill headbanging tour. All part of my hip-hop, rock and wrestling pd campaign.

Kenya on The Road

This was from my friend Kenya, who put the idea in my head to read The Road. I hope she doesn`t mind that I have taken the liberty to post part of her email. Since she doesn`t read this blog, it doesn`t matter anyway ;)

I am so glad you loved The Road and see the glory of the text as a love story. Cormac McCarthy defined himself as a renegade author without need for familial ties for most of his life and as an older man he found a woman to marry and they had a son. According to his story, he was so overwhelmed by loving them both he set out to write a testament to that love--hence, The Road.

Just thinking about it make me want to post how much I love my Dad.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Pics up

Pics of the road to Mexicali & Guaymas, and of Guadalajara (I & II) including a section of Hospicia Cabañas.

A few samples:
From The road to Mexicali & Guaymas

From Guadalajara Day I

From Guadalajara Day II

From Hospicia Cabañas

What men live by

"Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again."
-Cormack McCarthy, The Road

Tolstoy wrote about what men live by: the kindness of man and the love of God. I always encounter such kindness in my wanderings. Gifts of candied agave from Arlette, a girl who works at the hostel. The dulce agave`s sweet red juices trickled down my forearm as I chewed its meaty, stringy bounty. Or in the form of a late night piece of cake with walnut frosting, or an early cup of coffee from Susan- a fellow hosteler. The kindness of man (or woman for that matter) and the beneficence of the almighty, that is what all men live by.

Today I leave Guadalajara, with its towering yellow spires and the mighty giant camarones that guard it. It was a lovely sojourn, but I must push further south. Journey on.

Wide World of Jihad

Tom Friedman has a good piece today on the wide world of jihad. Specifically he notes the hypocrisy at a lack of condemnation of suicide bombings against Muslims:
Not only was there no meaningful condemnation emerging from the Muslim world — which was primarily focused on resisting Switzerland’s ban on new mosque minarets — there was barely a peep coming out of Washington. President Obama expressed no public outrage. It is time he did.

“What Muslims were talking about last week were the minarets of Switzerland, not the killings of people in Iraq or Pakistan,” noted Mamoun Fandy, a Middle East expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. “People look for red herrings when they don’t want to look inward, when they don’t want to summon the moral courage to produce the counter-fatwa that would say: stabilizing Iraq is an Islamic duty and bringing peace to Afghanistan is part of the survival of the Islamic umma,” or community.

So please tell me, how are we supposed to help build something decent and self-sustaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan when jihadists murder other Muslims by the dozens and no one really calls them out?

Also a good piece from MoDo on unintended consequences. Always nice to get a two-fer.