Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Apple

In an ode to R. Crumb, I am posting an old story I wrote.  It was published in the Jewish Herald-Voice in Houston, Texas.

She walks slowly through the garden, as her gentle feet dance over the cool, dew-dropped grass. Her powdery-white skin, unbeknownst to her, radiates as she steps closer to the tree. It towers above her, sturdy and solemn, while its low-lying fruit shines brightly in the mid-day sun. Perfectly round and golden, the apples beckon her forward.  

The snake slithers next to her, and follows her as it glides over the grass. She gets closer to the tree and slows down her pace. She comes to a complete stop, as she stands in front of the tree. The tree shines forth in full splendor, as it emits a soft light.  

She reaches forth, slowly and unsure. She pauses. She looks down at the snake, as it is slithering towards her. It slowly wraps itself around her ankle, up her calf. It quickly glides past her thigh and around her hips. It shoots up her back and perches on her neck. Slowly its mouth gets ever closer to her ear. The snake softly hisses in her ear, “s-s-s-surely one bite cannot hurt.” Her arm rises with trepidation. Her elbow curves, as her slender arm reaches toward the branch with the lowest-hanging fruit. The apple, almost within her grasp, begins to radiate in a reddish-golden hue. The snake has coiled itself around her outstretched arm, as her hand closes around the glowing orb.  

As her fingertips touch the apple, a blinding white light engulfs her palm. It runs down her arm as she pulls the fruit from its branch. The warmth of the glowing orb covers her whole body, as she brings the fruit closer to her mouth. The snake, which is coiled on her steadily closer arm looks into her eyes. “Jus-s-s-t one bite,” it hisses.  

She takes a bite and closes her eyes.  

The instant her teeth close on the orb, she is overcome with an onslaught of images. It is an overflow of black. Images of war, famine and pestilence. Armies marching in unison. Villages burning. Hatred rising. The shadows of Inquisition. The horror of Genocide. The stain of Holocaust. Twin towers collapsing. Mushroom clouds expanding. Images of faces to be known. Hitler saluting. Stalin in his full regalia. Pol Pot’s killing fields. The Cossacks sweeping across Europe’s plains. The Intahamye sharpening their machetes to march on Kigale. The janjaweed ravaging across Darfur. Faces etched with prejudice. Eyes showing fear. Hearts filled with rage.  

Eve trembles amid the weight of the imagery and the plague of ideas. She is overwhelmed, but is unable to move. She shakes, writhing in pain.  

The archangel Gabriel looks down from above and sees her. He sighs, as a single teardrop rolls down his marble face. He plucks two feathers from his outstretched white wings, and drops them. A gentle wind slowly floats the feathers down to the garden.  

The first feather lands on the snake, which goes limp and falls to the grass below.  

The second feather lands on her head.  

Now an overflow of white flashes before her eyes. Images of charity, mercy and goodness. Faces of righteousness. Images of faces to be known. Dr. Martin Luther King roaring in perfect cadence. Mother Theresa handing soup to the masses. Gandhi sitting cross-legged in a solitary cell. Faces etched with kindness. Eyes showing integrity. Hearts filled with compassion. Absolute justice and mercy.  

White becomes red, as she is bombarded with images of life. Blood pulsating through veins. Birth pangs. Life pushing down from the womb. Age overtaking life. Death overtaking age. The overflow of red becomes the golden light of knowledge.  

Eve falls.  

She awakens to her own nakedness, as she is sprawled on the grass. Eve opens her eyes. She squints, as her eyes are sensitive to the light around her. She can barely keep her eyes open. Sounds are pounding all around her, and she is overpowered by the new reality around her. Eve gets up, her hand clenches tight around the apple. She takes a step, then another. Her pace quickens. She is searching.  

Eve finds him. She looks directly into his eyes. “Adam, my love, “ she softly whispers in his ear, “jus-s-s-t one bite. S-s-s-surely one bite cannot hurt….”

Saturday, January 30, 2010


The plague of ideas weighed has weighed heavy on poor Don Pablo's shoulders ever since he crossed the rubicon of thirty.  I hopped a bus downtown to stop briefly at the library to drop off a book and take in the beautiful murals.  I was staring intently, when I noticed a woman staring at me.  I smiled, and she said that I was the only other person she saw staring at the murals so intently.  I regaled her with tales of murals in Mexico.

"What do you do, when all eyes are looking at you for the answers to impossible questions that ain't true."
-K-os, "Equalizer"

I hopped the bus crosstown, trying my hand at the ridiculously hard trivia questions on transit tv.  Have at it:
-What part of the body is the talus located? (no answering it, Abba)
-Anatrium is what type of amenity?
-Who "discovered" Panama in 1503?
-A mahout is someone who rides what to work?
Answers posted in the comment section.  The irony was that I was the one talking to myself on the bus.  I was getting maybe one of three questions and I am smarter than the average bear.  I came crosstown to UCLA territory, stopping first at Attari for some sublime osh, Persian lentil soup with fried onions.  Yum, Allah's gift to lentils.  I also luv how they have water with cucumber slices in it.

As I was walking back up the street, I saw a bumpersticker that said "Honk if you understand punctuated equilibrium."  Not being able to honk, I snapped a picture and sent it to my Dad and brother.  My Dad sent me back an answer: a theory of evolution holding that evolutionary change in the fossil record came in fits and starts, rather than a steady process of change.  My brother sent me the wikipedia definition.  Irony is God's sense of humor as this was a bit apropos as I was on my way to see R Crumb's Genesis at the Armand Hammer Museum.  I was impressed my Dad knew it, only to call and find out he had googled it as well.

A free student entry into the Hammer museum even for the hated crosstown rivals, and I was floored.  The exhibit was incredible.


When people found out R. Crumb, the subversive comic, was doing the Book of Genesis, they thought he would do a mocking edition.  Instead, he faithfully reproduced the Book of Genesis in exquisite detail as a graphic novel on a five year project.  I spent 2.5 hours, walking in silence, staring at Genesis before me in glorious detail.  All of it in vivid, lucid detail from creation through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  Done in all the glory, violence and sex in the bible.  The place was packed and everyone was taking it in silently as they moved from one pane to another.  My words fail me when I try to describe how incredible it was.  I was left stunned by the experience, to make a bad pun, it was biblical.  I stopped for a while, looking over my Bar Mitzvah portion, given my Bar Mitzvah party tomorrow.  But the verse that got me the most was lekh lekha:

"Go forth from your land and your birthplace and your father's house to the land I will show you! And I will make you a great nation and I will bells you.  I will make your name great and you shall be a blessing."
Genesis 12:1

It was all phenomenal, I found myself repeating verse as I went slowly through the gallery.  It was truly moving and masterful.  Lost in the museum was also a fantastic display of Rembrandt's prints of biblical stories.  It was a nice addition to the show.  Any of my readers in Los Angeles, do not miss the R. Crumb exhibit.  It is only up until Feb. 7th and it is something that must be seen.

Mountainclass; Roy's

I had an interesting class on friday.  I am sitting in on PubD510 taught by Mountainrunner Matt Armstrong.  'Tis nice to audit a class, I should consider picking up a few more.  Nothing better than sitting in and enjoying the class sans the papers due.

The class is on the convergence of old and new media into "now" media.  We had some interesting "readings" including to great videos.  The first on "Did you know 4.0"

The second a fascinating talk by Clay Shirky at TED:

The class was an interesting discussion on networks, diffusion of information and the changing face of media.  We stopped midpoint for an interesting conference call with "a senior British diplomat" on the British strategy moving forward in Yemen and Afghanistan.  

The rest of the day passed lazily by, till an evening out with the APDS peeps.  It is restaurant week in LA, so restaurants are offering special menus.  A gaggle of us went out to Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine- probably the most pub d of the possible choices.  Dinner was lavish, served on three courses.  Delicious duck eggrolls that were crisp and succulent, with a spicy-sweet sauce.  I had Jimmy Walker's Dynamite-crusted salmon, which it was.  Finished with a molten lava chocolate decadence.  All washed down with hawaiian martinis of vanilla vodka and malibu rum yum.  Soon to appear, my new blog "Tales of a Consummate Consumo."

After, we headed on to the Golden Gopher, a bar that I am not a huge fan of.  There are a trio of bars downtown, all owned by the same people- all exactly the same save for the jukebox.  This one is their "dive/hipster" bar, but they won't let you wear flipflops in and they made me take off my hat.  Annoying and even more so when the bouncer told me again to take it off when we were in the outside area, leaving my naked noggin exposed to the elements.  Lame.  But fun all around.  This Saturday I'm off to Montagueland, to Westwood to see Crumb's Genesis and to do some research at UCLA.  Truth be told, they have a better Middle East library than Capuletstan.  

Friday, January 29, 2010

What the World Costs- Panama

Poor Panama, I almost forgot you. Like El Salvador, Panama is on the dollar. Unlike El Salvador, Panama maintains its own coins, the "balboa."

The balboa is the same size and shape as quarters, nickels and dimes, but with a conquistador rather than American prez. They are worth the same in coinage as American centavos.

20 balboas: cup of coffee on the street with sweet milk
25 balboas: bus ride in town
30 balboas: cup of pineapple juice and pineapple chunks
35 balboas: cup of coconut milk and meat
40 balboas: 30 minutes of internet
70 balboas: empanada de polla at panama canal
80 balboas: 1 liter of beer at local shop
$1: stamp at the border
$1.60: eggs, bread, rice and beans and coffee
$2: corvina sandwich and fries
$2.25: fancy cappuccino at artsy cafe in Casco Viejo
$3: student entry to Panama Canal; mojito sunsetter
$4: shave and a haircut...2 bits
$5: regular entry to Panama Canal; tourist card to visit Panama
$6: fine Panamanian cigar
$8: cab to Miraflores lock from Casco Viejo
$12.60: 5 hr bus from David to Panama City
$12.80: 1 night in Luna's Castle hostel dorm
$16: 1 night in an apartment in Casco Viejo
$17: Mero a la brasa en salsa romesco (grilled grouper) at swanky S'cena for a Hemingway lunch
$18: Panama hat as gift from Lina Fina
$24: Hostel room for two with A/C
$25: cab to the airport

Things Found

"Human Rights = Equality; Equality = Freedom"
-Posters at the Skirball Center, noticed at the World We Want screening.

International Security Threat Levels

International Security Threat Levels, from Ellen. Thanks Ellen!

England: The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

Scotland: The Scots raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards" They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line in the British army for the last 300 years. That is, since the voluntary uniting of the Scottish Parliament with that of the English, in 1707. The Roman Emperor, Hadrian, built a wall across southern Scotland in 122 CE, to keep the Picts out, and that "Let's get the Bastards" attitude kept the English out from then on.

France: The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide". The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender...” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France’s white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy: The Italians has increased the alert level from "Shout loudly and excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

Germany: The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose".

Belgium: The Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

Spain: The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

New Zealand: Those Kiwis have also raised its security levels - from "baaa" to "BAAAA!” Due to continuing defense cutbacks (the air force being a squadron of spotty teenagers flying paper airplanes and the navy some toy boats in the Prime Minister's bath), New Zealand only has one more level of escalation, which is "Shit, I hope Australia will come and rescue us".

Australia: Aussies, meanwhile, have raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, mate". Three more escalation levels remain, "Crikey!', "I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend" and "The barbie is cancelled". So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

U.S.A.: The Americans meanwhile are carrying out pre-emptive strikes on all of their allies, just in case.

Globalization uber alles


Thanks Mel!

Frost on Diplomats

"A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age."
-Robert Frost

Courtesy of Sheriff Mark Preston. Thanks Sheriff!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

USC Institute for Global Health blogs

I have a few blogs up on the USC Institute for Global Health's blog.  Since I was moving fast, I am simply working backwards:
Salud Publica en Panama

From Panama Canal

The Flor de Caña Protest

Fine Arts LA

A good review I just stumbled onto from FineArts LA.  When it rains...

Something remembered

I flew into the darkened Nashville noon.

From End o' Panama and return home

From End o' Panama and return home

I had some time to kill until the next flight so I loaded up on Tennessee bbq and made my way to the music.  A little Irish coffee to cut through the jetlag haze.  Always a grand welcome back to the US with a little country music.  Shoulda been a cowboy in the words of Toby Keith.

I shoulda been a cowboy
I shoulda learned to rope and ride
Wearing my six-shooter, riding my pony, on a cattle drive
Stealing young girl's hearts
Just like Gene and Roy
Singing those campfire songs
Oh, I should've been a cowboy


I have a chapter in the book "The Meeting of Civilizations" on Pakistani-Israeli Relations. The chapter deals with the behind-the-scenes history of Israeli-Pakistani ties, as well as the possibilities of using non-state public diplomacy to begin fostering better ties between the respective civil societies.  Thanks Prof. Ma'oz for including my work in the Harvard project.  Hahvad!  JAJAJAJA.  I will personally autograph any copies!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hot off the presses!

The newest edition of Public Diplomacy Magazine is now live!  It is on Cultural Diplomacy and has some great articles.  We have a pieces by: Kenjiro Monji, the Sake Samurai and Director-General of Public Diplomacy for Japan's MoFA on Anime Diplomacy; Leena Nandan, Joint Secretary at India's Ministry of Tourism on the Incredible !ndia campaign; Dr. Richard Arndt, the godfather of Cultural Diplomacy; Evgeny Morozov from Foreign Policy's Net Effect blog, plus much, much more.  The website has been redesigned, including pics from moi.   It is a quality mag, if I do say so myself.

LA Dead Times; Harper's numbers; we wuz robbed

I hung close to home this grey, rainy morning, hanging out at home and CPD to chat about Cristy Mathewson and Diresville, Iowa with Prof. Seib. Poor Katharine made the mistake of quoting Sans Augustine and Pablo on Facebook without a kosher seal.

I went on to a lecture yesterday on "What's with the LA Times(?)."  I sometimes wonder the same, but remain a loyal subscriber.  The thing that galls me most is there Mexico coverage.  Not their Mexico coverage per se, but what they file it all under: Mexico Under Siege.  It is the worst hyperbole.  It is irresponsible at best, and is the worst form of fear mongering brown journalism.   I planned to tell them this, but the conversation never came close.  Instead I learned that  newspapers are necrophiliacs.  It seems all they care about is death, for all they talked about was their homicide grid.  They have been collecting death data and they are proud to share.  Meanwhile, after the lecture I cornered an editor to toss my caja de jabon at his head.  He didn't disagree with my Mexico Under Bollocks criticism and said that the same sentiment had been echoed in his newsroom.

I helped prepare envelopes for the new Public Diplomacy Magazine (peep the new website, kudos Tala, Sarko and Katharine), and went back down to CPD to chat with the Diplo in Res Bob Banks for some take-away from the lecture and the importance of stats.  Some favs from this month's Harper's Index:
-Price last fall for which a North Carolina Middle School allowed students to buy extra credit points on any test: $20
-Percentage of the CA state budget in 1979 that went to higher education and prisons, respectively: 15, 3
-Percentage today: 12, 10
-Chance that a female U.S. street prostitute during any given week will be arrested by a police officer: 1 in 67
-Chance that she will have sex with a police officer: 1 in 33
Always interesting numbers.

I dragged Marcos with me to a classical Spanish guitar competition.  He didn't realize that guitar was not electric guitar, but somewhat enjoyed it anyway.  The first two performances were a little underwhelming, the first really lackluster and the second less so.  The third performance was phenomenal, much more life and energy than the first two.  Marcos and I both easily agreed for the third, it seemed no contest.  But when the results were announced, it was a travishamockery, little Connie Shu had won.  I went up to the people's champ and told her what a quality performance she gave, and how I considered going Kanye for her.

Today, I had a wonderful lunch with my friend Andrew Wulf, who had helped me with my museum side of my photo exhibit.  He is a kindred spirit and had some good advice regarding a PhD for Dr. Pablo.  Otherwise, just meandering through the days with various meetings and engagements.  Off to watch the State of the Union.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Everything-but-a-Motorcycle Diaries

"I don't read your blog.  I don't need to read about your whoring and what you ate."

Well, for the rest of you who tune in to read of what passes my palate, I had the greatest Lebanese food ever on sunday.  It was Allah's gift to the chickpea, a place called Sunin, and it was incredible.  BFF Yael took me out for a birthday brunch.  The humus was possibly the best ever.  It was smooth and creamy with a perfect balance of tangy, lemony and salty.  The food itself was incredible too.  Shish tawook (garlic chicken kabobs) that melted in your mouth, served with salad and rice and a side of thick garlic mayo.  Yum.  Finished with great arabic coffee and baklava with hints of rosewater.  Possibly the best Lebanese food I have ever had.

I am home and still blissfully content.  I am finally getting to take advantage of Lalaland, USC and the California life.  I went out last night with BFF Yael to see a cute documentary called "The World We Want" put on by Civitas and shown at Skirball.  The movie was about Project Citizen, an international program to get school children involved in civic life.  The program is a great public diplomacy endeavor, teaching kids to be involved locally and globally.  Some 65 countries participated in the various projects, and came together in DC to present their respective projects.  It was cute watching the Jordanian kids play chess with the Indian kids.  The "winning" group was a project from Ross Bothio, Senegal, who helped raise awareness to bring potable water to their pueblo.  The film was a bit of kumbaya pd, but enjoyable and uplifting.  Cute kids, great projects and grand public diplomacy.

The last pics of the grand voyage are up.  I spent the morning uploading them while eating delicious homemade pineapple jam, crafted by my roomie Tai Ha.   The funny thing about the ship passing through the Panama Canal was that it reminded me of the opening to Star Wars, with the giant ship passing.  I hummed Vadar's theme.  

From Panama Canal

From End o' Panama and return home

Monday, January 25, 2010


"We shall not cease from exploration!
And the end of all our exploring,
will be to arrive where we started...
And know the place
for the first time."
-TS Elliott
Found at Luna's Castle.  So true, so true.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Pics up

Well, Senior Pablo Rocahora has sadly been transformed back into Paul Rockower.  But tis grand to be home.  New pics:

From Granada II

From Ride through Costa Rica

From Casco Viejo Panama City

From Nueva Panama

From Union Club (PC)

From Don Pablo Quijote and Lina Dulcinea

ugly mug redux

In light of Yael's last posted comment on the ugly mug post, see below.  Kenya said, "You look like a mix between Che and Hemingway."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The ugly mug of PD

And profile page:

Most Traveled People; Paying by time

There is a website that I am on called Most Traveled People. The site ranks the destinations of the world and lists those who have done the most conquering. By their count, I am the #641 most traveled person in the world and my rank is Senior Ambassador. They also break it down by age group and gender. I had been ranked as high as the 9th most traveled American in the twenties bracket, although grad school slowed me down just a bit and I dropped to number 18.

Now, I have moved into a whole new thirties bracket and have dropped considerably in the rankings. I am ranked number 107 for the thirties bracket worldwide and number 37 among Americans age 30-39. Guess I have a lot more traveling to do this decade.

All of this allowed me to update Pablo's Index. I am also counting out my years in Time Notes, to which I now own 3 ten year bills:

On the Ten Year T-Note:
10 year bill: "Money is institutionalized mistrust." -Michael Hussey
10 year bill: "Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes, but I am the fire." -Jorge Luis Borges

Or alterntatively 6 five-year notes:

5 year bill: "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn´t happen at once" Einstein

5 year bill: "Money is dead labor that vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks." -Karl Marx

Or even 30 one-year notes:
1 year bill: "He who keeps more than he needs is a thief" -Gandhi

1 year bill: "All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing has time." - Baltasar Gracian

Or I could have a Zimbabwe-esque stack of currency counted out in minutes and hours.

El Viento Viene, El Viento Se Va

"I listen to the wind
to the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up well I think,
only God really knows
I've sat upon the setting sun
But never, never never never
I never wanted water once
No, never, never, never

I listen to my words but
they fall far below
I let my music take me where
my heart wants to go
I swam upon the devil's lake
But never, never never never
I'll never make the same mistake
No, never, never, never"
Cat Stevens, "The Wind"

I left Panama City at the witching hour, bidding Lina goodbye and climbing into a yellow taxi to the airport. We headed out down the empty highway, hurtling into the silent night. To my left, the glittering glitz of the grand city lights; to my right, the dark and endless sea. I arrived to the airport and had no issues getting in and through security. I chatted with security about how to translate security terms into English, words like anxious ("ansioso"). I passed through and spent my time chatting with the girls in Duty Free to stave off boredom. I did laps around the waiting area to stay awake for my 3am flight until I boarded, sat and slept.

I arrived back to Ft. Lauderdale, and Uncle Sam mistakenly allowed me back into his hallowed shores. The first thing I noticed on arrival was the English assault on my ears. I find the most difficult readjustment is to have to understand everyone's conversations. When all the conversations are in different languages, I can tune out better but when everything is in English it is as if I am forced to listen. I also needed to put on shades as I was overwhelmed by the whiteness of the scene. A world gone brown for so long suddenly was blindingly white and large and jovially friendly. Ah, but people were so friendly and kind.

I stood in the security line chatting with a lovely old Jewish lady off to Chicago to collect on debts. This lovely pastel bubbe was going to go break some fingas. Meanwhile, we chatted with Ms. Florida Rachel Todd on her way to Vegas to compete in the Ms. America contest. She was a beautiful, earnest and poised young woman, exactly as you would imagine a Ms. America to be. Good luck Rachel, but sorry you are not my type, I'll stick to Ms. Nicaragua;)

After through security, I called home to say hola to my parents, who I hadn't spoken with since my birthday. I sat at the airport bar, chatting with the friendlies and drinking bloody marys to clear the culture shock and exhaustion. Ft. Lauderdale to Nashville, with a whole row to myself to sleep.

In Nashville, I grabbed some good Tennessee barbecue and chatted in Arabic with Egyptian-Americans working at the airport. Another wonderful reminder of why it is good to be home, the exquisite diversity of America. Nashville to LA on a bumpy ride. I sat next to an amiable fellow named Donny Anderson, a Canadian moved south for a music career and on his way to LA to produce his record. I snagged us a free drink on the back of my bullsh-tting. Sheryl Crow was on the flight, but up in the front. I was going to talk my way into a birthday song from the tall crooner, but she was off the flight before I could work my magic.

I returned to a rainy Los Angeles, and touched down under a beautiful rainbow that spread across the sky. Nice to be home.

My trip ends with a single enduring thought and dream of La Panamericana, the unity of the south.  It is the fiery dreams of Bolivar and San Martin, and so many others.  Perhaps my work will be that of Bismark or Garibaldi, only in the soft power side: to work to unite the south through public diplomacy.

"I was looking for the key but the door was always open."
The White Tiger (Tack, Lina)

Friday, January 22, 2010

There's no place like home

At a great conversation on the State of PD 2010 with Cari Guittard of Business for Diplomatic Action and Matt Armstrong of Mountainrunner. Both are adjunct professors this semester. A fascinating conversation about the structures and processes of pd and the shortcomings and frustrations of the pd realm. I will summarize more of the discussion later, but just a quick note to say it sure is nice to be home.

"The rules of education are bitter but the fruits are sweet."
-Lina's Notebook

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Minus the minus; US-China Today Fam o' Man- China

Home, safe and sound after a long, long day. Will write on it later. A little good news on two fronts. First, bank error in my favor. It turns out that I really did get an "A" in my Theories of Diplomacy class, thus restoring my perfect marks. I had emailed the prof to ask what was wrong with my paper that I received the offending minus. He checked on it and found that it was an inadvertent minus, and put in a request to have it stricken from the record. Scoring error in my favor, 4.0 streak restored.

Meanwhile, the USC US-China Institute's online magazine, US-China Today has an online photo exhibition of my photos of China. My friend and classmate Peter is the editor, and he asked me to submit some photos for a joint photo exhibit. Check out the 21st Century Family of Man- China

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Man, A Plan, A Canal

The last two days were spent blissfully slowly, living up in ways never spent on the long road and wandering through the lovely Casco Veijo. Panama is my kind of city, a mosaic of colars and a dichotomy of old and new. I absolutely love it and are making designs on my move south. Lina and I wandered through old neighborhoods, past beautiful crumbling facades and down through the cathedral and to the bombed out Union Club, where Noriega`s guards hung out. The crumbled structure now is a skate park with a view of the sea and new city. We wandered through the monument to French ambition`s on the canal, with one monsiuer Lesseps, of other canal fame.

We wandered through the hot sun, and ducked in for a late hemmingway lunch of sumptious grilled grouper and salmon with creamy, chilled gazpacho and cornfrittered pao de quijo. A bottle of Italian pinot to wash down lunch while kids played in the sea and we gazed on the Dubai of Central America. Grand.

After we headed to the causeway, which overlooks the whole city. I sported a new Panama hat courtesy of Saab to go with my grizzled beard and a cigar and we sat out watching the sun set over the bahia and over mojitos and seco (the national drink) with cola.

Today we woke up later than usual and made some homemade guacemole for breakfast before heading on to the final point of my journey: the Panama Canal. We bargained for a taxi and made our way to the grand canal. We watched the levels raise and lower as giant tankers crossed the Isthmus. It was impressive to watch. The locks filled and raised the ships on their shortened way. A feat of engineering genius as ships cleared the canal by a mere 24 inches. The port was easily worth the journey.

Back for another late hemmingway lunch in a high-ceilinged old place called Antigua (cocina con historia). Ceviche and watermelon and feta salad, chilled with mojitos and sauvignon blanc. We sat out on the terrace, staring at trees overtaking shells of houses with roots running down chatting the old walls. We chatted with the waiter Alberto, who told us of his work on carnival cruises and his life in the states. He had lived in Texas, and said he didn`t like it because, since he was brown, authorities always were asking for his papers.

A final lazy afternoon punctuated by a late birthday shorn and a shave. Perfect ending to a perfect trip, with the weight of curls and a beard gone like the time that had passed. While I maybe could have made Panama by my birthday, I would have sacrificed the truth in the journey for the port. It all went as it had to be.

My trip ends with me supremely content and sublimely happy. It was the perfect amount of time and I feel a sense of accomplishment for the journey. Truth lay in the journey as well as the port, which I think could be a future home- something I don`t say of too many places. It is like Brazil (a little toned down) with its mosaic, but in a language I can understand. A perfect mix of carribean, latin and other assorted people thrown in together.

Meanwhile, in my dreams and memories, heavy as stones that built the mighty Mayan temples, I am putting it all in perspectives. I feel weighed down by our bittersweet existence, but joy at the unwavering feliz and alegria I saw in the faces of so many. With the gift of a semester`s context and perspective, it made a lot more sense, even if I am still trying to figure it all out. I still see the fiery murals in my daydreams, and hear the mariachi music that fills the Plaza Garibaldi. I am excited to return to my life back in LA, to finish grad school strong and to see all my friends and classmates. Also one little sister who is journey her own 3k miles across the country to start a new life in Seattle. I am extremely proud of her for having enough sense to knew when to fish and when to cut bait. I am a little tired, which means all that I had planned to write in my last post isn`t coming in full. I will save the perspective post for later and end with a favorite passage from Joseph Conrad`s Lord Jim. As always, Journey on.

"And then, I repeat, I was going home- to the home distant enough for all its hearthstones to be like one hearthstone, by which the humblest of us has the right to sit. We wander in our thousands over the face of the earth, the illustrious and the obscure, earning beyond the seas our fame, our money, or only a crust of bread; but it seems to me that for each of us going home must be like going to render an account.

We return to face our superiors, our kindred, our friends- those whom we obey, and those who we love; but even they who have neither, the most free, lonely, irresponsible and bereft of ties,- even those for whom home holds no dear face, no familiar voice, even they have to meet the spirit that dwells within the land, under its sky, in its air, in its valleys, and on its rises, in its fields in its water and its trees- a mute friend, judge, and inspirer. Say what you like, to get its joy, to breathe its peace, to face its truth, one must return with a clear conscience.

All this may seem shear sentimentalism; and indeed very few of us have the will or capacity to look consciously under the surface of familiar emotions. There are the girls we love, the men we look up to, the tenderness, the friendship, the opportunities, the pleasures! But the fact remain that must touch your reward with clean hands, lest it turn to dead leaves, to thorns, in your grasp. I think it is lonely, without a fireside or an affection they may call their own, those who return not to a dwelling but to the land itself, to meet its disembodied, eternal and unchanging spirit- it is those who understand best its severity, its saving power, the grace of its secular right to our fidelity, to our obedience.

Yes! few of us understand, but we all feel it through, and I say all without exception, because those who do not feel do not count. Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Don Pablo Quijote`s last ride

After a sojourn in the rich coastal capital, Don Pablo Quijote arose early as he was oft to do. In the quiet streets of San Jose, he grabbed some pan campesino and cafe con leche before embarking on his long, last journey to the City of Panama. He took a cab to the Tracopa bus station and got a ticket to ride. To David, Panama, with the promise of a bus to the capital. He chatted with two old Americans, a German-American who laughed and spit vulgarities in a manner befitting an old grizzled soul. His demure friend and he marveled at our knight errant`s long journey.

"In the attics of my life full of cloudy dreams unreal. Full of tastes no tongue can know."
The Grateful Dead, "The Attics of My Life"

The ride proved beautiful, passing through the mountains. Our knight errant snacked on some dulce de maiz, a flanish pie of creamy texture. The ride provided beautiful as the silver steed passed through windering mountainous curves and around bountiful bends of clouds hanging low in the valleys. On the road to David, he wrote of his dreams of "The Barberess of Antigua," a tale that will be soon forthcoming. He chatted with a young boy who had squire potential, a good kid from Panama on his way home. In the hot sun, the blue curtains caught the wind and cast like a sail on the high seas, carrying our hero on to the last stop. Cortinas de belo.

Don Pablo Quijote heard ecstacy on the border. Rusted Root`s alegria of "The World gone by." With little lines and minimal confusion, our hero crossed into his final stop. A man, a plan, a canal, Panama. At last. The long and winding road had been good to him, and he felt reborn, sipping the cool milk of a coconut on the frontier line. The curtain sails cooled the afternoon heat as the knight-errant smiled joyfully at his long journey almost done. He knew he would sleep tonight like someone who is content with the world and with himself.

From David, our hero caught his last silver steed, a MarcoPolo cruiser as fittingly so. He switched to the front seat of the double decker and sat in the cockpit of glass as the sun set pink over the mountains. Cars passed on the road like pairs of tired travelers eyes, said the Gougers. Don Pablo Quijote thumbed worry beads to pass the time, without a worry on his mind. Nothing but joy in his heart. The road less traveled ended in the City of Panama, and our hero was triumphant.

He caught a cab, always the biggest thieves of his journey, to Luna`s castle, but alas the castle was full. He went to another location, only to find Dulcinea Lina was on her way to Panama and arriving at 3am. It was 1 am, and he would wait for his coming princess. A cab back to Luna`s castle and a fine evening chatting with Ramon the security guard on what men live by, the joys of his children and a father`s pride. Dulcinea arrived in her resplended glory, and the pair made their way to their humble abode.

A brief night`s respite and the two returned to the old city and its antique splendor. They found a modest place on the frontier of good and bad neighborhoods and wandered about the capital that sits balanced between the worlds of North and South. To the end of his journey, but with two more days of play.

Tres canciones

It cost 100 cordobàs
for tres canciones.
algo triste,
algo alegre y
algo de España
de Granada.
To squeeze the very juice of life
from the Pomegranite City.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Swedish Serendipity

Life has a funny but sweet way of working out. I had run into Xela in Granada and we made plans to meet between 4:30-5pm at the Cathedral on friday. Unfortunately I seem to have been stood up. I was annoyed, but had sent an email earler saying if we didn`t meet at 5 then at 8pm. Trying to give the benefit of the doubt, I went back at 8 but was properly stood up. While I was indeed stood up, I bumped into two Danes previously mentioned and they were met by their Swedish friend Carolina. Given my previous experiences with the Swedes, I dropped the best Swedish pick-up line I know: Min stool har trasig, har du lim? (My stool is broken, do you have any glue?). Apparently the line works like a dream. I went out with the Scans, and we went out separate ways in the wee hours.

On Saturday, I woke up a bit tired. I visited a museum of the history of Granada. I was wandering around town and saw a woman selling a hammock I liked. As I was buying it, I ran into Carolina again. We went off for lunch at a cool old colonial place called Nuestro Mundo, and sat in rocking chairs on the balcony, eating Indio Viejo (a traditional Nicaraguan chicken stew) and drinking macuas (I was) and flirting. We went over to the Iglesia La Merced to get a view of the city and up in the cuppola, in the bell tower, I was reminded why I love Ikea.

We lazed around the afternoon siesta in the parque central, eating dulce de leche popcicles and playing with cute street kids. There was a little girl named Angelica who I gave some gum, and she proceeded to put the whole pack in her mouth. She then hopped off to climb a lamppost like a monkey.

We went our separate ways and reconvened at 8pm at the cathedral. This time, I was not stood up and we went out for the finest steaks in Central America, at a place called El Zaguan. We were serenaded by classical guitar as we ate ceviche and drank sangria in the garden courtyard. The steaks were like butter, it was grand. I had a steak covered in jalapeños and onions, delish. We finished the evening at Nuestro Mundo, back on the balcony drinking coffee with tequila as the night breeze passed through. My swedish lessons continued and I learned a few more useful phrases. Carolina is going to meet me in Panama for a fun end of my trip.

I woke up at the crack and took the Tica bus to Costa Rica. The trip was straightforward until we got to the Costa Rica border. The line was snaking out the building into the hot sun. We waited and inched and waited some more. It was ridiculous. There were two people stamping passports inside, and the line kept growing longer and longer. I ended up waiting close to 4 hours on the f`ing border. I was furious. The border wench was just sitting there gabbing and taking her sweet time while abuelas and kiddies stood in the scorched sun. A pox on pura vida.

We finally got out after way too long. My 9 hour bus ride became a 13 hour affair. Meanwhile, there were no spots on buses out to Panama, so I am stuck in f`ing Costa Rica for the night. I have no desire to be here, but I am. I am going to try a lateral motion and take an early bus in the morning to David, Panama and then catch another to Panama City. Now I am just trying to get rid of the grump at the Pangea hostel, and taking in the nice rooftop bar view of the city as the lights shimmer below.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kelly Rastetter

The evening was a calm affair. I unfortunately came to realize that my hospodaje was directly center to gringo alley. I found it so strange to see all the gringo tourists sitting out for dinner with the nicaraguans looking on like they were staring into a world they couldn`t enter.

I hung out with two Danes and a Swede, and we had fantastic pollo a la brasa (bbqed chicken) with salad and plantains. We ended up on the roof of a colonial joint and sipped macuas, the delicious national drink that includes equal parts guava, orange and lime juice and rum. Yum.

This morning, I sat out in the parque central, sipping sweet coffee and chatting with those who sat down with me. I chatted with an old couple about life here. We talked about why Nicaraguans were so much more willing to talk about history than others in the area, and the sadness of the pollution. The matron said a line that echoes in my head from a Mana song, "no todos somos iguales." Some fellows came over and found my copy of the Illiad to be interesting. I bought them each a cup of coffee in la amistad.

I left gringodom and re-entered Nicaragua as I wandered over through the maze of markets, past stacks of cebollitas, women carrying upside down roosters and the hum of sewing machines clacking on the street. I smiled big at the re-entry into the real world and that there was nary a gringo about.

Nicaragua first entered my consciousness with the Rastetter siblings. The adopted children of my parents family friends, they hailed from Nicaragua. We carpooled together to synagogue. Kelly was probably one of my first crushes. Dark and exotically beautiful yet so warm and softspoken. In her, Nicaragua represented some wonderfully curious place far away. Her brother David was my favorite babysitter. We would play football on our knees for hours, rubbing them pink and raw on the carpet. A smile I bear as I drift through a stream of memories. (Editor`s note: apparently my dad points out that they are from El Salvador. To paraphrase Mark Twain, never let the facts get in the way of a good memory)

New pics up:
From Leon II and ride to Managau

From Managua

From The Flor de Caña Protest (Managau)

From Granada

Friday, January 15, 2010

La Gran Sultana

"I stagger in the gathering possessed by a patter-in
That be scatterin
Over the globe will my vocals be travellin"
-Common, "Resurrection"

After a rejuvenating nap in the hammock, I woke up resurrected. I grabbed a burrito for dinner from a street cart. One thing I love about the food here is the portions, which are infinitely smaller than up north. As a people, we are really no better than dogs and will eat all that`s put in front of us. `Tis the problem with the grande portions offered up north. I find that I get full on less here simply because I don`t need all that food that is offered up in el norte.

I went out with Minnesota Madeline and we had a fun evening chatting over toñas (cervesa). She is here working on her senior thesis on the role of women in the Nicaraguan revolution, and she had some interesting insights into this place. She had been staying up north and mentioned that a sentiment she found in some of her interviews was a sense that the FSLN had expropriated the revolution against Somoza as their own. Like so many revolutions, those who rose up were not exactly in favor of the Sandinistas, simply against Somoza. Their is a little bitterness at how the Sandinastas claim the revolution as their own. I found a bit of similar sentiment as I was waiting for the bus at the tire market, and trying to make polite conversation, I mentioned to a fellow that I was a traveling through the Land of Sandino. He angrily scoffed and said "This is Nicaragua, not any property of Sandino." His wife shot a calming look and laughed and said I should be getting on the next bus out.

Madeline also mentioned that a lot of the graffiti supporting the FSLN is paid for by the FSLN to try to show more solidarity and support than they havc. That`s why even the City Hall will have slogans written in support of Daniel and the FSLN but nary another bit of scrabble is allowed up.

We hopped a cab back to the hostel, in a cab that sounded like the loudest lawnmower ever. Of course the guy balked at the agreed price and wanted ten cordobas more than he said. I talked our way out of it.

I woke up early and grabbed my stuff. I grabbed some breakfast at MickeyD`s cause I needed some gringo grub and real coffee. Sad that a land of coffee, the only stuff available is weak and instant. I hopped a combi to Granada, affectionately known as La Gran Sultana. I had the front seat basically to myself and enjoyed the ride with some music and arm out the window. I arrived to Granada, remembering fondly of my times in the other city bearing its name. Antigua was likened to a Guatemalan Disneyland by my friend Jesse, and Granada is its Nicaraguan equivalent. The city is lovely and filled with colonial charm. I found a hospodaje and went to get a bus ticket to Panama. The bus ticket was a bust, as all buses were full from San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama. I got the first leg to San Jose and will punt when I get to the Costa Rican capital.

Some kids were playing sandlot baseball in the ruins of a church. I stopped to watch and take pics of the babes ruth. I wandered through the ruins of the church, then made my way back to town, where I bumped into my friend Xela from Bahston. The Gringo Trail is small. I had a nice lunch in the shade of the square, drinking a few toñas and reading the Iliad. After lunch, I went to La Iglesia La Merced to climb the capella for a grand vista of the city. The view was magnificent as I could see a volcano in the distance, covered in a cloud. I also saw that we were near a large lake, so I clanged the bell and headed down and on to the lake with a cone of rum rasin icecream. I sat by the polluted lake that was sadly off limits for swim as it was too toxic. I napped on a bench under a mango tree, listening to Iron and Wine and enjoying the lake breeze. I grabbed a coconut for the walk back. Life is grand in the pomegranite city.

O Capitain, My Captain

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
-Walt Whitman, "O Captain, My Captain"

I just finished the remarkable Lincoln by Gore Vidal. The book was a masterpiece, telling the story of Lincoln during the civil war through those around him like Chase, Seward, John Hay and David Herold (a conspirator), among others. The book is gloriously written, so much so that I couldn`t put it down. I haven`t read anything remotely civil war related since the compelling 1865 by Jay Winik It has me excited for my an upcoming civil rights barnstorming trip that I will do this spring with Kenya as a chaperon for her students.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


"I`ve been on the run. This shadow weighs a ton. It`s starting to make sense to me."
K-OS, "I wish I knew Natalie Portman"

I woke up early and tired. I am getting worn out after nearly 5 weeks on the road. My bff Yael picked up on it in my blogs and commented that I sounded a little homesick. Yeah, and just plain tired. I hopped a morning bus with the commuters down to the Plaza de la Republica. I sat in the shade of the mango trees while the morning breeze whispered through the trees. I snapped pics of the destroyed old cathedral that was felled in the 1972 Nicaragua earthquake. The earthquake reverberated through Nicaraguan political life as it became apparent that the Somoza regime was siphoning off aid donations for the earthquake victims for their own greedy coffers. The cathedral was never rebuilt and stands as a reminder of the destruction and the regime.

I wandered over to the doric Palacio Nacional, which holds an natural history museum. As I stood there chatting with the guards, a fellow noticed my pallid countenance and asked why my lamp was burning low. I explained how far I had come and why my fire was dim, and he laughed and helped rekindle me with some palliative energy as we chatted about his life in the US and the value of my journey south.

The museum wasn`t opening for another half hour, so I wandered over to the centro cultural and looked at old photos of Managua. It struck me that the litany of capitals (D.F., Guate, San Salv, Teguc and Managua) I have visited on the great trek south all have "Calle Roosevelt." It is a tribute to Roosevelt`s Good Neighbor Policy and a stirring reminder to the power of public diplomacy done well.

I walked through the memorial to Ruben Dario and past pictures proclaiming "Somos hijos de Sandino y Dario." I walked over to the Puerto Salvador Allende, which offered a nice sentiment to the Chilean leader. I made my way to the grand Lago de Managua, and sat and watched the waves wash up on the shores as a cool breeze whipped off the lake. Back over to the Palacio Nacional for some semi-interesting exhibits on natural history and phenomenal murals of more recent times.

After the museum, I made my way over to catch a bus to the Huellas de Acahualinca. While I stopped to take a picture of a man carrying a flame, some street kids ran over. I obliged them with lollipops and taught them to count on their hands from 6-10 as they do in China. Before I hopped the bus, I was warned that I would be passing through a very bad neighborhood by some matronly ladies. I took the bus through the slums of Managua, past shantytowns and barbedwire-covered houses. I asked the bus driver to tell me when we got to the museum, and sat back and enjoyed the ride through the hood as I sang along to Mana`s Rayando El Sol. The bus driver pulled up to the last stop, smacked his head and realized he had forgotten to tell me to get off. I was deep in the slums and far from the museum. He told me to quickly get on the bus going the other way and sit directly behind the driver to remind him. Sure enough, this time I got off at the right place and scurried into the safety of the museum. The Huellas de Acahualinca were a set of petrified footprints of an indigenous family make their way some 6,000 years ago. And here I was feeling old at 30. The guide explained to me the history of the tracks, and the various theories about them. They were believed to belong to a family of about a dozen or so. There were also deer tracks. The prevailing theory was that the family was escaping a volcano blast, but criminalogists examined the tracks and decided that it didn`t display and kind of hurry in their gait.

After looking at the ancient tracks, this ancient walked out of the museum and quickly caught a bus out of an area he had no business being in. I missed my stop and ended up again at the end of the line, trading shantytowns for tiretown. The area sold tires stacked high and arms. Not needing either, I made my way out hasta pronto, and back up to the Plaza de la Republica area. The kids saw me again and came running screaming "gringo!". A whole gang of them joined, so I engaged in lollipop diplomacy and bought a dozen suckers for the kiddies. They lined up and and "el Gringo" asked them "Quien es el Presidente de Estados Unidos." When they all screamed "Barak Obama!" I began my lollipop dispensing.

When i got back, I found a tent city. I stopped to take an amazing picture of a Hilton Hotel advertisement being used as a tent barrier. I stopped and chatted with the folks there. They explained that they were protesting because their area had been so heavily polluted that thousands had died from the drinking water. This sparked a public health bulb and I sat there interviewing them for a story for the USC Institute`s website and snapping some compelling pics of their encampment that will go for my future exhibit.

From there, I wandered on to the Nueva Catedral, an interesting structure with a number of what looks like large jars on the roof. It reminded me a bit of Mohammed Ali Jinnah`s tomb in Karachi, i will post both pics later. The large jars were skylights, letting in yellow and grey light, it was interesting and impressive. Afterwards, reeling with exhaustion, I returned for a nap in the hammock.

Leon Corazon

I spent a little more time in Leon before I departed, visiting the site of the Leon UNAN student massacre. There are large murals honoring the dead students who were protesting a massacre that had taken place the day before.  The Guardia Nacional came out in full force and killed a number of students.  The mural is below.

I stopped for lunch in a little comedor next to my hostel for a plate of  lamb stew, rice and beans for a buck and a half.  After lunch, I found the only kind of money changer I like- the one that deals in old coins and bills.  The money changer had only Nicaraguan coins sitting on bags of rat poison.  We chatted about the various bills in his collection and all that I have collected for Harry (Do you have the Saddam Iraq note, yup; how about eine million marks, yup).  We became fast friends as he proudly showed me his collection.  I bought a Sandino bill and a Sandino coin for Harry`s collection, and a Sandino 1980 coin for moi.  He wanted two bucks for all of it, so I gave him three as an appreciation of his collection.

I wandered my way to the incredible Fundacion Ortiz, the finest art collection in Central America.  I perused the collection of old works of old masters, admiring the Rubens and noticing in the golden iconography where Klimt must have found his muse.  I wandered through the galleries lit by natural afternoon light that cast grated shadows in the courtyards.  There were some incredible ceramics with swirling frogs, also a bronze cactus and various interesting pieces of modern art like scenes of the Nicaraguan revolution cast on LPs and Diego Rivera-esque paintings of Sandino.   It`s been a while since I had been in an art museum, it was nice to be reminded how much it moves me.

I wandered down the street, stopping to give alms to an old grandmother who asked.  She asked for monedita, so I gave her 5 cordobas, then thought that no grandmother should have to beg so I turned back around and gave her a dollar.  She was so pleased she had me take off my cap and gave me a blessing.  It is always a blessing to receive a blessing.

I visited the house of the famous Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario.  I must admit, I do not know his work, and will have to look into it, because he was tremendously influential on Latin American poetry and literature, as I can gather.  Here is one I found which I like called Nightfall in the Tropics:
Nightfall in the Tropics
      There is twilight grey and gloomy
      Where the sea its velvet trails;
      Out across the heavens roomy
      Draw the veils.
      Bitter and sonorous rises
      The complaint from out the deeps,
      And the wave the wind surprises
      Viols there amid the gloaming
      Hail the sun that dies,
      And the white spray in its foaming
      "Miserere" sighs.
      Harmony the heavens embraces,
      And the breeze is lifting free
      To the chanting of the races
      Of the sea.
      Clarions of horizons calling
      Strike a symphony most rare,
      As if mountain voices calling
      Vibrate there.
      As though dread, unseen, were waking,
      As though awesome echoes bore
      On the distant breeze's quaking
      The lion's roar.

I then grabbed my stuff and trudged to the bus in the afternoon sun. I sat on the bus reading and eating pralines and other various delights offered by the itinerant peddlers. The school bus took off and I spied the smoking volcano in the distance. The ride was extremely bumpy, on a road that was perhaps one of the worst I have ever traveled. I was shocked to think that this was the main road from a cultural capital to the main capital. I was reminded of a story by two Afrikaners who mentioned crossing the border into Zambia and asking a police officer how fast they could drive on the roads. He laughed and said "120 (kph), 160, what ever you want." They figured they could be flying to Lusaka in no time, but the roads ended up being so bad, they couldn`t drive more than 30 kph. After about two hours, I realized that I had gotten on the wrong bus, and that there were 2 buses to Managua. The first, the directo, is an hour and change down a main road; the one I was on, the ordinario, traverses the old highway, and takes nearly three hours. In for the bumpy long haul, I made the best and laughed with la gente as the sun set golden over the hills and valleys in the distance. I gave up my seat to a pregnant woman, which actually worked in my favor as it was almost more comfortable to stand than sit on the bumpy ride. I promise that when I return I will never, ever look at a school bus the same way.

I arrived too late to take any buses and into a bad part of town. I received some advice on how much a cab should cost and a warning not to dawdle, so I bargained my way out and over to a hostel. I found an amiable place in a decent neighborhood and went out for dinner at Las Conchas Negras. All my Argentine friends will giggle at that name; for those who need an explanation, "concha" is a slang word for a woman`s netherregions. I tried to explain it to the waiter, and he laughed so hard he had to walk away with a quick "buen provecho." I dined on fried corvina (similar to sea bass) covered in garlic, and served with fries, rice and salad. Yum. Dinner set me back about 9 bucks, I am living it up towards the end of my trip. I returned to the hostel and hung out chatting with an amiable french traveler and a sweet dreadlocked-Minestotan girl named Madeline.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I settled in to Leon and wandered around a bit, through the large park in the center of town. My mood mellowed with some delicious cinnamon arroz con leche pudding in a bag, sucked through the corner of the plastic. After some uploading of pics, I treated myself to a fancy dinner to mark my arrival to Nica. An 8oz lamb steak, arroz, frijoles, salad and a beer at a fancy place set me back 8 bucks. I shared half the steak with a street kid who smiled big as he chomped down. I ran into Chen and we wandered around the silent town as trucks drove by fumigating with diesel (!).

My father wakes up early and shifts to the couch to watch tv; I wake up early and shift to the hammock to watch the cats play. I wandered around the waking town, sitting with the morning matrons of coffee in the corner of a church square. I regaled them with sayings about the salubrious sludge (Strong as death, black as night, sweet as life, sayeth Shakespeare) and an incredible thing of gooey goodness called sopa de leche. Sopa de leche had a distinct taste that I couldn`t quite place until I did. It had the taste of kunafa, sans the shreaded wheat. I was transported back to my wanderings through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem and I was giddy.

I met a girl named Sheila at the hostel, a fellow gringa with buena onda who I had chatted with the night before. Funny to hear a bahston accent down south, but click and clack treat. We went out for good, strong coffee and had a wonderful chat about life on the road and a similar feeling of the ease of traveling in the age of Obama. The elephant has left the room and all is good on the road.

Afterwards, I went to the Museo de la Revolucion to scope out the history here. Nicaragua is host to some incredible history. For starters, Leon and Granada have been the Montagues and Capulets of fair Nicaragua, where we lay our scene. Two cities alike in dignity, Leon of the Left and Granada of the Right. During the Civil War, the Liberals of Leon hired one rogue William Walker. Read the link for full history, it is fascinating. The short of it is that Walker, who had previously tried to set up his own republic in Sonora, Mexico, came to Nicaragua, conquered Granada and then promptly conquered the country for himself. He had himself "elected" as el presidente and good ol neighbor to the north recognized his government. He then proceeded to reinstitute slavery, declared Enlish to be lingua franca, used the country`s finances as his piggy bank and invaded Coasta Rica with the intention of taking the whole region as his own. The nations surrounding banded together and drove him out of Granada, to which he set aflame as he left (with a placard, "Here was Granada").

Nicaragua has also had a long and complex relationship with US, including the biz over the Nicaraguan Canal and a long period of occupation by the Marines. The great General Sandino had spent some time in Mexico with Emiliano Zapata and he returned to lead the fight against the Yankee presence. Sandino was assisinated by General Anastasio Somoza under the guise of meeting for peace talks. The Somoza dynasty ("Our son of a bitch") went on to rule the roost for years to come through the US-trained Guardia Nacional.

At the museum, I saw old newspaper clippings and photos of Sandino, Somoza and the poet who killed Somoza, Rigoberto Lopez Perez. I was moved by Lopez Perez` poem he wrote before he capped the dictator:

"Es Nicaragua mi Patria querida
Es Nicaragua mi Gran Nacion
Es por ella que sangre mi herida
Que Sangre la herida de mi corazon"

"Nicaragua is my beloved country
Nicaragua is my Great Nation
Blood is from her that is my wound
Blood that is the wound in my heart."

There were old pictures of the Nicaraguan revolution, with wild-eyed, long-haired kid soldiers fighting in the streets. The museum was guided by an amiable former guerilla, who gave this gringo and two Spaniards (o` irony) the tour. The irony for me is that while I hold reverence for Sandino and Zapata, I find no favor with the organizations, the Sandinistas and Zapatistas, that claim to carry their legacy.

Anyway, after taking in the history, I went up to the corrugated tin roof, which I thought my grandeness would fall through and got a great view of the cathedral square and volcanos in the distance. San Cristobal was belching grey smoke, while another one in the distance reminded me of a pyramid in Giza, Egypt. I wandered to the Casa de los Oberos, where Lopez Perez gunned Samoza down, drinking tamarind juice out of the corner of a plastic bag and smiling in the warm sun. Off to Managua today, the Washington of Nicaragua insofar as it was the middle point and only agreable place to put the capital since neither Leon or Granada could agree to let the other have it.