Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spirit of St. Louis

So I am considering moving to St. Louis when I get back from Kurdistan.  It would be something new, which is something I am craving.  The quality of life, I think, would be much better in STL than DC.  Like half the price of rent for more.  Granted, there are some other tangible costs like getting a car, car insurance and various moving costs.

But it would also allow me to explore some uncharted territories in the MidWest (although I am a tad more MidEast), and offer me a new taste.  Something to consider over the next 6 weeks or so.  No decisions needed at present.  But if anyone has a strong affinity to St. Louis, please feel free to chime in and make the case.

Romania as a leading soft power state?

Apparently, Ernst and Young has released a Soft Power survey.index which ranks Romania as #15.  While I like Romania, and found it to be a fascinating place with wonderful hospitality and great food, THERE IS NO WAY it is the slightest bit that influential in global affairs or carries that much soft power.  What a joke!

Sorry Romania, but no way.  You do scant little public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy or nationbranding.  I couldn't name a cause you are involved in, or anything that would be cause for Romanian soft power, save perhaps Dracula.  So I went to find the survey.  Turns out Romania is ranked #15 as an emerging market soft power in the survey.  Dracula is in the details...

Sorry Romania and E&Y but soft power is more ephemeral than quantifiable.  I question the survey itself and any particular relevance it has.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On pepper and the sub-condiment

"I repeat: the pepper, if you please; for if it had not been for peppercorns, then what is ending now in East and West might never have begun. Pepper it was that brought Vasco da Gama's tall ships across the ocean, from Lisbon's Tower of Belm to the Malabar Coast: first to Calicut and later, for its lagoony harbour, to Cochin. English and French sailed in the wake of that first-arrived Portugee, so that in the period called Discovery-of-India-but how could we be discovered when we were not covered before?-we were 'not so much sub-continent as sub-condiment', as my distinguished mother had it. 'From the beginning, what the world wanted from bloody Mother India was daylight-clear,' she'd say. 'They came for the hot stuff, just like any man calling on a tart."
-Salman Rushdie, "The Moor's Last Sigh"

Letters from Thailand

American Voices Education Director Marc Thayer has a nice article on our cultural diplomacy work found in the YES Academy Thailand program in Bangkok in the St. Louis Beacon:


Kap Khun Krup (thank you) from Thailand, where the Association of American Voices recently finished our 4th annual YES (Youth Excellence on Stage) Academy in Bangkok.
I recently reported on our new program in a small town in rural south Thailand with the Yala Youth Orchestra. Ten of the string students and teachers from Yala followed us back to Bangkok for the YES Academy, which was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy.
Anda, the 14-year-old violinist who I wrote about in my previous post, was by far one of the strongest players and served as Co-Concertmaster of the Advanced Orchestra. Again, Anda excelled, leading the performance of Mendelssohn's 10th String Symphony. The older high school and college students did not intimidate her as she led with poise and a strong, calm presence, unusual in a society still often dominated by men. She also impressed everyone earlier in the week with a performance of Schubert's Sonatina for violin and piano. American Voices will certainly keep track of her as she grows and progresses.
This year in Bangkok, we had almost 300 students from all over Thailand, as well as from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Vietnam, Gaza and Kurdistan. The other string teachers were Greg Hurley, a viola instructor from East Carolina University, and Andrew Rammon, a cello instructor from Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. This was Andrew’s first time working with American Voices, and it was a pleasure to have him join us.
It is always a challenge to keep track of the Thai names, often long and hard to pronounce, such as Wannapatson Khampanpoo, Suthipong Tantivanichkij, or Pongsakorn Maneerasayakorn. I frequently receive emails or Facebook messages from students and have no idea who they are, what instrument they play or if they’re male or female. Fortunately, they all choose short nicknames to use on a daily basis, which is often all that I can remember. Most are one syllable such as Sun, Note, Peach, Ploy; my favorite this year being Beer, a stocky male violinist. We also had a Cookie in the violin section, so I told them they should sit together.

Most of the YES Academy took place at Chulalongkorn University in central Bangkok including strings and orchestra, piano, dance, hip hop and the Broadway program. The jazz program was held at Rangsit University in the north outskirts of the city where we’ve had the entire program in the past. But the floods this past fall were very hard on Rangsit, and the school was closed for many weeks. Because of the delay and the damage to buildings, regular students at Rangsit were still in class in mid May, which is normally part of summer break for Thai students.

It's always a pleasure for me to come to Thailand and work with the students in Bangkok because they are always so kind and gentle. The level of playing is very high, and they are eager to learn more, to play different styles of music and welcome us to their country.
The food is terrific and it's a fun place to spend a few weeks if you like warm weather and palm trees. Beautiful beaches and island paradise are just a few hours away and the cost of living is very low. A terrific dinner of Thai food, rice, soups, curries, seafood and noodle combos with beer can cost $3-5 a person. Don’t forget the ice in the beer or it will be too warm too quickly.

And be sure they don’t make the food as spicy as they would for their Thai guests or you may not survive the meal, no matter how much you think you like and can withstand spicy food. Don’t be fooled: ‘Thai hot’ makes jalapenos look like baby food. If I’m eating outside at a sidewalk restaurant and the food is still somewhat hot, I may need a towel to dry my face, head and tears, though the food is too good to stop eating.

We had a record number of students in the string program, more than 75, so we formed two string orchestras and performed music by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Handel and Sammartini. The combined orchestras performed some Thai folk songs arranged by one of the violists from Yala, and was conducted by a violist from Chiang Rai. This served as a beautiful finale to the strings portion of the final Gala concerts.
On May 11 and 12, we presented two final performances at "Chula" University. On May 11, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney, was in attendance. She has been a big supporter of our work in Thailand and we were thrilled to see her in the front row. She realizes what we’ve seen in numerous countries across the Middle East and other regions: 10 American faculty can work with 300 students and connect with thousands more among friends and family members, leaving a good impression of Americans and counteracting some of the negativity that dots the media landscape.

Thankfully, the U.S. Department of State is still budgeting for this kind of cultural diplomacy to demonstrate what we all have in common and how we can all learn to work together. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Unicorns for Romney!

Is Romney really a unicorn? And this also begs the question: is the tea party really a front group for My Little Pony?

Homeless

In some unseen and unexpected circumstances, I am going to be moving out of my house far sooner than expected.  The landlord won out over the master on the lease, and we are all vacating August 1st.  Since I was going to be gone from mid-June through late-July, it now makes more sense for me to vacate far sooner.  So I am putting my stuff back in storage in my parents basement while I am in Iraq, and will look for a new place when I return.  Not quite what I had in mind, but it will work out.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Thirsty!

Cunning Linguistics

A great list of words that don't quite have English equivalents.

H/T to Andy Liu, and his own added example that I can relate to: "Fernweh [German]: literally “farsickness”; an ache for the distance. Closest English word: wanderlust."

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Israel, Turkey and the mountain between

Once rock solid, the Israeli-Turkish relationship has gone off kilter in years past.  Yet it is little things like the recent story of an Israeli climber who helped save a Turkish climber on Mt. Everest that will repair the once robust relationship.  In public diplomacy, deeds matter more than words.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Gastrodiplo Fail!

A while back, fellow MPDer Hend Alhinnawi wrote about gastrodiplomacy and the Vindaloo against Violence campaign that was used for rapprochement between the Indian community in Australia and the larger Aussie community.  But I just stumbled upon an amazing bit of gastrodiplomacy failure from the former PM of Australia Kevin Rudd during the same period in question.  Apparently, Rudd wanted to smooth over troubles between the communities by having a BBQ!  Quite a gesture!  Let's bbq some sacred cows to show we respect you!  Even more amazing considering Rudd's reputation as a top notch diplomat (although even that had been questioned. Rudd received high marks internationally initially for speaking fluent Mandarin, but was later considered undiplomatic even in correct speech.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shameful

Pogroms in Tel Aviv against African migrants. I am disgusted.

Dahlia Scheindlin has some good commentary on this sordid affair.

Smith-Mundt and Propaganda

There are people who know and care far more about the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act than moi, and I will let them debate and discuss.  The thing that I find most fascinating is that the debate about the dreaded "p" word has become filled with propagandized discussions.  Propaganda is essentially the use of small bits of cherry-picked information or half-truths used to try to influence thought--as opposed to public diplomacy, which tries to draw a more robust picture and shade in greyer areas.  Yet the discussion over Smith-Mundt and what it stands for seems tainted by half-understood truths and weighted terms bandied about over what is really at play.

I have my own issues and questions about the "modernization" of Smith-Mundt, but I would hope that the debate could be held frankly and fully, and with a full understanding of all the implications.  

USIA redux, Taiwan-style

Taiwan's public diplomacy institutions are undergoing a bit of a merger.  The Government Information Office, which spearheads the pd efforts is being folded up into a new Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  While akin to the USIA merger, there are some differences.  For one, the history of the GIO has a different context.  For years, the GIO was chief censor, something not said of USIA.  Prof Kwei-Bo Huang has a good article for Brookings on the meaning of the merger and its effects on Taiwan's diplomacy and public diplomacy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Kurdistan

Dear blog readers,
Can someone recommend a good book on Kurdistan? I don't mean some putz's backpacking adventure, but rather a solid look at history and present politics. Spas.

The Great Gatsby

From Baz Luhrman, the director of Romeo + Juliet.  This is gonna be a decadent feast of a movie.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The PD Dr. Moriarty

If I break the Smith-Mundt Act, will the PD police come after me???

[Insert sinister PD laugh]

Uncle Drew

Amazing.  H/T to my favorite unclef-cker Harry.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Iraqower

So it looks indeed likely that i will be going to Iraq  this summer for the American Voices Youth Excellence on Stage (YES) Academy in Kurdistan.  I will spend about a month in Kurdistan, by way of Turkey.  I am looking forward to a return visit to Istanbul.  I will probably not get to the rest of Iraq.  I can get a visa on arrival in Kurdistan, but the rest of Iraq is a bit trickier (and dicier) to visit.   Anyway, I am excited.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

In the Fountain; PD poor form

I went out biking today on a perfect May morning.  I biked up Georgia until I was convinced there was nothing else to see, then back down until I got to the National Sculpture Gallery and sat out basking in the sun and reading Game of Thrones second book, A Clash of Kings.  It is interesting, the book and the tv show have some real differences that almost make it feel like different stories.  For one, in the book some of the characters are younger so their traits come across a little differently.  In the book, characters like Robb Stark or Jon Snow are teenagers, while in the show they are cast as adults.  It give the character a slightly different feel, and makes their attitudes and perspectives a little different than the adult characters that exist in the show.

I sat like Buddha, basking in the sun. Later, I took to the shade and focused on the feel of the cold marble.  I lay the soft underside of my arm on the cold marble, and focused on the cool skin-to-marble touch.

And the water of the fountain shimmered.  I moseyed back to sun and fountain.  The tip of the Washington monument peered over top.  The fountain drowned out all other noise.  My feet touched the cold black granite as the bottom and toes lapped wet and watery.

I biked my way around and stumbles upon a big festival on Pennsylvania Ave for National Asian Heritage Month.  I was starving at this point, so I parked my bike and feasted on filipino banana eggrolls, Indian pani poori- little wafer shells filled with potato, sauces and a sweet, vinegary juice, and Malaysian veggie curry puffs.  Washed it down with some Thai ice tea.  There were also stands of Laos and Korean foods, with barbecuing steaks and chickens that smelled delicious.

A little further beyond, there were tents of crafts and demonstrations.  There were a few Taiwan tents, with various crafts and things.  The Korea tents were quite good.  There was Korean gastrodiplomacy on display as a Korean chef gave demonstrations on how to make kimchee.  She slathered the red paste on folded layers of cabbage.  I was drooling to get a sample.  There were also bits of shelled Korean popcorn.  Korea was out in full force, and had a nice bit of cultural and culinary diplomacy.

However, innocuously sitting on some tables were stickers that said "I [heart] Dokdo//Dokdo in Korea," as well as a cute smiley brochures featuring anime-ish characters and cartoony rocks in a pamphlet with cursory info on Dokdo Islands.  Minor issue here, the Dokdo Islands are subject to a major dispute between Korea and Japan.  The Liancourt Rocks' ownership remains an issue of dispute between the two countries, and Koreans often get riled up over the issue.  Yet I am guessing most people would have no idea about the issue.  I found this to be propaganda, and  to be totally in poor form.  Most people don't know about the issue, so to tastelessly try to highlight Korea's claim in the midst of otherwise innocuous cultural diplomacy is inappropriate.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

I-Scream...for Jamaican Gastrodiplomacy

There was a great article on Jamaican Ice Cream in WaPo, and it had me both reminiscing about my time on the isle and also thinking about Jamaican gastrodiplomacy.  I had some amazing stout ice cream (I-Scream!) and also soursop ice cream when I was there.  The unique Jamaican ice cream could be the perfect ending treat for a more pronounced Jamaican culinary diplomacy campaign.

Jamaica could use its cuisine to highlight its Caribbean and multi-ethnic flavor.  The country's motto is "Out of Many, One People," and that is truly reflective in its food.   Some good jerk chicken, ackee and salt fish and beef patties would be the hallmarks of a delicious gastrodiplo campaign, and a great way to highlight the unique culture of Jamaica.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fighting a Kidney Disease Epidemic in Nica

Great interview from Jason Glaser and La Isla Foundation on WBEZ on fighting chronic renal kidney failure in Nica.

VOA on AV

Voice of America has an excellent story on American Voices YES Academy Thailand, and our work around the globe:
video

Jazz, Hip Hop, Broadway and Beyond
by Daniel Schearf

A U.S.-funded arts program is training students in the Middle East and Asia with American style music, theater and dance. The "Yes Academy" strives to build bridges between the U.S. and countries emerging from conflict. One of their biggest programs is in Iraq. 

Grammy nominated jazz instructor Gene Aitken has conducted some of the top military bands in Asia and the Middle East.
 
From Thailand he travels to countries emerging from conflict and isolation to bring young people from different religions and cultures together.

"There's one common language and that's the arts," said Aitken.  "Throughout China, throughout the Middle East, and everything, everybody understands the arts. Everybody wants to be involved either as a participant or as someone who observes. Because, when we go into Iraq, maybe we have a day's notice on when there's going to be a concert. And, the concert halls are packed."
 
Jazz musician Rang Kawa is from Iraqi Kurdistan and traveled to Thailand to study under Aitken.

"Jazz music, and rock music, pop music, it's one of the new things in my country. But, when American Voices Yes Academy program came to Iraq, it [was even] better," said Kawa.

Aitken's jazz classes are part of American Voices' "YES Academy" or Youth Excellence on Stage.
 
The U.S. funded non-profit offers free professional training in unique American performing arts such as hip hop and Broadway musicals.
 
YES Academy also runs in Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan and Syria, but Aiken says they work the most with Iraq.
 
Iraq has great orchestras, music and theater schools, as well as eager students, but decades of conflict have deprived teachers of proper training says director John Ferguson.

"We're trying to help re-build the cultural infrastructure there, helping train the teachers, helping train the next generation of teachers, and giving the students some motivation to keep going with their interest in music, dance, and theatre," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says they are not allowed to teach dance in conservative Afghanistan.
 
But, otherwise, across the region, Western performing arts are quite popular because of Hollywood films and a lack of classes and professional teachers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Public Diplomacy vs. NationBranding

Guerrilla Diplomat Daryl Copeland has had some great blog entries for CPD on the difference between public diplomacy and nationbranding.  Such tidbits as:

-If public diplomacy is thought of as a nations’ book, then a nation’s brand is something like its cover, designed to appeal viscerally to the consumers of international policy by encouraging potential buyers to open the book (or visit the country, buy the product, or support the international policy objective).

-if branding is about selling dreams, public diplomacy is about sharing them.

Have a read of his ongoing blog series.  Thus far: I, II, III

A Greek Tragedy

Wow, as the EU is coming apart at the seems over the #Grexit, it is almost too ironic that those who gave us the notion of a Greek tragedy would cause one themselves.  The key to any good Greek tragedy is hubris, ever man's eternal downfall.  Looking backward, it is hard not to see the hubris in the ways of both Greece and the EU in this present debacle.

Maryland, My Maryland

The day began with a transit fail.  I waited for the S class bus to take me down 16th st, but for 15 minutes none came. Then literally 6 arrived, clogging the already trafficked streets.  It took me 30 minutes to get from Mt. Pleasant to U st.

I arrived late, but not too late, to a Sister Cities conference on "Citizen Diplomacy in the New Millennium."  During a panel discussion, I was moved by an example of pd exchange offered by Debora Fajer-Smith, who is the president of the Maryland Sister States Program.  She spoke about the connection between Maryland and the Brazilian State of Rio de Janeiro, and specifically about a school there called "The Maryland School" in Nilopolis.  Apparently, there had been some previous support and connect to the school from Maryland, of which had waxed and waned over the year.  During an exchange, the Maryland state officials were greeted by the students of the Maryland School, whose flag is the Maryland state flag and whose symbol is the Black-Eyed Susan.  I don't think they received a samba version of "Maryland, My Maryland," but perhaps that can be arranged for a future exchange.

I had a nice chat after the conference with Mary Jeffers, a Senior Public Diplomacy Fellow at GW's Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communications.  We chatted about Morocco, where she had been a Public Affairs Counselor.  Interestingly, when I introduced myself, she knew my work.  Apparently, she had assigned something I previously wrote to her class some three weeks prior.  I like the GW PD program all the more.

Now I sit in MLK Library, exercising my virtual office and watching the homeless have animated conversations with their ghosts and demons.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Where we sit is where we stand


President Obama, in Rosa Parks' seat.  Amazing.

If you desire peace, prepare for war

I happened to bump into a former high-level peace processer, under whose stewardship the Israeli-Palestinian peace process ran aground.  I have to say, I think I have a better idea why it failed.  This negotiator was somewhere between pompous, aloof and condescending.  With such charm, I can only imagine what negotiations were like.  I don't think this fellow could convince peanut butter and jelly to get along (gastrodiplomacy!).  Brings  me back to the question I constantly find myself asking: why are those charged with diplomacy often so utterly undiplomatic?

PS: Having read Ambassador Michael Oren's woe-is-Israel's-reputation op-ed, I am saddened to see the formerly-engaging historian reduced to a simple shill.  He know full well what happened to Israel's reputation, and his piece is so full of disingenuous half-truths that I don't even care o begin picking holes in it. 

Learning Dothraki

Now that my Urdu classes have finished, I am going to switch to learning Dothraki.  Urdu is a phenomenal language, kinda the linguistic offshoot of Muppet and Pig Latin, but I sure it can't compare to studying Dothraki.  Maybe I can find a Fulbright for academic exchange in Vaes Dothraki. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Music the Right Medium

The Bangkok Post has a nice article on American Voices YES Academy Thailand, which is going on right now.  The performing arts academy is presently hosting 225 Thai youth from Bangkok, Yala, Hat Yai, Chiang Rai, Khon Kaen and beyond with 25 international students (Iraq, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Nepal) with a U.S. faculty of 10 in a program of hip hop, Broadway, jazz and string orchestra.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Stinking Maneuver II

Years ago, there was a famous Israeli political intrigue that occurred when Shimon Peres and Aryeh Deri tried to bring down the premiership of Yitzhak Shamir and the national unity government to install Peres as prime minister.  It failed, and was dubbed "The Stinking Maneuver."

Israeli politics got a new stinking maneuver yesterday when Kadima and its new leader Shaul Mofaz joined Bibi's government to create a national unity coalition.  Shaul Mofaz was literally just elected head of the opposition Kadima party. He had promised he would not join the "bad" government of the "liar" Bibi, and weeks later he is already hoping in bed with Bibi.  Israeli politics is a sad state of affairs these days.

Bibi is a congenital liar.  Yvette the Foreign Minister is a fascist thug, a nightclub bouncer who has no business occupying the chair of Abba Eban.  Ehud Barak, whose party is polling at 0 seats in the next election, has the tinniest ear of any politician alive.  Not to mention all the crazy Likudniks, settlement proponents and ultra-Orthodox.  And then there is Mofaz and (soon-to-fold-back-into-Likud) Kadima added to this motley bunch.  Leadership for Israel has never looked so dire.  

MinnesotaLK

Sayeth Sancho Harranza: I have a dream...that one day I will hustle the sh-t out of you...

and other awesome photos of people you once held in high regard.  Nice find, KK.

On art and soft power

"Surely the arts are neither soft, nor about power: they are about transforming lives, and, even at their most assertive, about creating benign and inspiring influence."
-Graham Sheffield of the British Council, h/t JB

Lao Tzu on Soft Power

"Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong." -Lao Tzu

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Chasing the Oriole

As always, I am charmed by Charm City.I hopped the MARC train up to Baltimore the other day for a lil R&R.   As we sped north, the morning grey dissipated into bright blue skies.  I made my way to Penn Station and from there caught the bus towards the Baltimore Museum of Art.  Before I boarded the bus, I asked the driver if she went that direction.  She merely replied "hello."  I asked again, and got the same response.  Finally, I realized I was getting a reminder in proper etiquette and I bade her greetings.  She smiled and said yes.  I thanked her for reminding me of civilities.

From Charm City
I arrived to the columned palace that was flanked by regal concrete lions, and made my way on in to the stunning expanse of artistic charm that is the Baltimore Museum of Art.  "Art for all" is their motto, and I cannot think of a better slogan.  I spent the better part of 5 hours wandering through the immaculate collection.

I entered through a world of stunning masks and relics from Africa, the Pacific Islands and the pre-Columbian Americas.  I stared at decorative masks, objects and other charms from the four corners, before finding a marvelous collection of European decoratives such as brilliant blue and white china with gilded tips.  Ah, a world of china blue. And exquisite copper skeletons of clocks encased in glass.  There was an engrossing and beautiful collection of pocket watches (I have a penchant for such objects) with their rounded bottoms displayed in the mirror.  Such lovelies as walnut almond pocketwatches with filigree backs.

There were also some gorgeous glass molds from Lalilique, who made art noveau firefly glass from pressed molds.  I especially loved a press molded glass peacock of haughty glance.  I wandered through colonial doors and passed yellow painted walls that hung beauties.  I admired silver samovars that I imagined pouring black tea into the gold-lined china below.

On to the second floor were I found some enormous purple and gold Tiffany Byzantine mosaic columns. Also a great collection of tapestries from Central Asia.  I made my way over to the Cone Collection, which was a collection of impressionist perfection.  Such as Sisley.  Perfections such as Monet's "Charing Cross Bridge, reflections on the Thames"













which reminded me of Taipei, actually.

From Return to Taipei


I stared at a dark Klimt work called "Pine Forest II" which was as dark as the kiss is light.

And a great Seurat (Que Seurat, Seurat).  There was even a very cool virtual tour of the Cone's apartment, where you got to see the works as they once hung in the sisters' home.

I wandered through Antioch mosaics, and stumbled upon a Thinker in full regal glory.  Like a bronze colossus, bathed in the afternoon's refulgent light.  I collect Rodin's Thinker, I have found him in Philly, Paris, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, San Francisco and now Baltimore.  I think this one I got the closest as I stole furtive touches of the bronze icon, and tried to ponder what it was the had his brow furrowed.

After hours in the museums, I made my way out to the sculpture park to take in some evening light, then wandered through Johns Hopkins campus, where orioles picked worms from the campus quad and over to their library to read a bit as stained glass poured in light.

I went to hop a bus back into the city center but upon entering realized I had no change.  As I trudged on to break my bills, I saw two more buses pass then nary another for 45 minutes.  I sat at the stop, having a dialogue of the deaf.  The last dialogue of the deaf I had was in Taipei.  This time, it involved me explaining to a deaf woman also waiting for the bus how to count on one hand to ten as they do in China.  She asked the time, and I showed her with two fingers on my thumb that it was seven pm, and explained the trick in silent explanations.

I finally got back into the city center and stumbled on a concert under George's watchful gaze.  At Mt. Vernon, under Baltimore's Washington Monument, there was a concert going on.  First thursday, and the crowds gathered in the park, drinking open libations.  I grabbed a can and enjoyed the blues.  Blues and brews, no finer combo.

I made my way down Mulberry Street and found the Baltimore Hostel.  In a lovely, old house, I took a dorm bed.  $31 for a night's rest, plus pancake breakfast in the morning (make your own).  I dropped my stuff and found my way to eat.  I had not had a bite all day and was famished.  I stumbled upon a Pakstani place called A Thousand Kababs, and got some wonderful palak paneer (spinach and white cheese) which I ate with homemade roti.  It was phenomenal, perfect spice and flavor.  The restaurant's owners got a huge grin from my smidgen Urdu, and my appreciation of Pakistani culture.

I returned to grab a couple pints in the catacombs of The Brewer's Art, one of my most favorite bars on the planet.  The place is in an old house, and has a crypt to take beers.  I then moved on to the Owl Bar, an old-speakeasy that I had been once before.  I made my way home in the rain.  "It's raining in Baltimore," I crooned ala Counting Crows, as I made my way back.

In short, a wonderful adventure of which I had been missing for quite some time.  For me, Baltimore represents a place of excursion, adventure and refuge from DC.  Just a little bit foreign enough that there is room to explore, but close enough to do it easily.  This was my second great adventure in Charm City, and I will be back to do some more exploring.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Smells of Freedom

He was finally released, after five long months of incarceration over bogus, trumped-up  charges.  He remarked that the thing that he really found overwhelming was the myriad of smells.  Rather than the fetid smell of dead rats in the recesses of the dungeon and the sanitized, sterile jail environs, as he walked into the house he smelled the remnants of my eggy, yellow challah that had been in the toaster in the kitchen which had since been slathered in butter and agave honey nectar.  Of familiar dusty wood floors.  The smell of lavender soap in the bathroom.  The smells were something that overwhelmed him, and yet told him he was free.

...


WJClinton on LBJohnson

An amazing review of Robert Caro's new book on LBJ by one William Jefferson Clinton. Nice find, DC.

Mex-Mex food

The NY Times has an interesting article about tacos, authentic Mexican food and how tacos went mainstream.  Gracias JP.

RocketHub/American Voices

So dear blog readers, American Voices has launched our first crowdsourcing venture through RocketHub.  We are raising money to bring additional Iraqi students to our YES Academy Iraq this summer. The point of crowdsourcing is to make up funding in volume, so please dig shallow and help out with some rupees, pesos and dinars.  Of course, you are welcome to dig deep too. But please help be a patron of the arts in a place that really needs more artistic education.

On horses

‎"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'faster horses'."
-Henry Ford