Monday, February 25, 2013


Apparently, Sec. Kerry made up a new 'Stan: Kyrzakhstan.  Looks like the Dellas should have taken him on our 'Stan tour.  I already claim Chief Rabbiship of Kyrzakhstan.  TY JB.

Wifi populism

Call me a wifi populist, but I think in public spaces which are built with public funds, wifi should be free and accessible.  La Guardia Airport, I am speaking to you.  You don’t have to shake every last red cent out of us when we pass through your domain.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gonna Rise

Rollin' down the highway
Like a rocket
-Citizen Cope


Over Bach's cello suite 1 in the subway hall, I chatted with a beautiful Polish girl with big brown eyes and a dapple fur hat. Dani Disco learned the hard way that Euros don't hug. I explained afterwards that with Euros, you always lead with a kiss. Bachenelia

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hollandia Pix

All sorts of new pics up from Amsterdamnation, Den Haag (The Hague), Utrecht and Amsterdam a bit more.

From Amsterdam Album 2

From Amsterdam Album 2

From Den Haag (The Hague)

From For Escher

From For Escher

From Utrecht

From Utrecht

From Amsterdam Album 3

From Amsterdam Album 3

The Lower East Side

I visited the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side.  I toured through a building that exhibited the history of the immigrant song.  From 1863 until 1935, 7,000 people took sojourn in the tenement building.  The walls had been adorned by 40 layers of paint. 20 layers of wallpaper and 1 layer of newspaper.

“What do these items tell us about them?” the guide asked. 
Jars of kasha; bottles of olive oil; a flyer for First Class Chinese Laundry Service.

A tenement house is defined as 3 or more unrelated families living in the same building.  Rebranded as an apartment.  And the buildings were teeming with families. 

From 1880 until 1924, 2.5 million Jews from Eastern Europe came to the U.S.  In 1898, the area was the most dense block on earth.

And the guide spoke of the Settlement Houses, a whimsical notion of the Progressive era that you could teach these new immigrants to be good Americans by teaching them English, and teaching them to cook American food, among other socialization endeavors.  Eleanor Roosevelt taught dance at the University Settlement House- that would have been something to see.

We visited the apartment of Harris and Jenny Levin and their four kids.  The three-room apartment also doubled as the tailor’s shop. 

Looking at the 1904 census form, I asked the guide what Harris and Jenny Levin’s real names were, because Harris was definitely not his given name.  She didn’t know.

But looking at the 1896 census form, I made my own hypothesis.  The tailor shop of Harry Levin.  So Harris was Harry, and Harry was likely Herschel.
We visited another apartment of a later era.  The Reshefskys.  And we heard of the Reshefky girls who worked in a garment factory. 

In 1909, there was the Uprising of the 20,000.  I came to find that many of the labor strikes and the labor movement was organized by women.  This particular strike was based on the audacity to ask for a 56 hour work week, for the ability to not have to pay to work (ie renting your chair at the factory); for the right to organize.
The strike was only marginally successful   Only 1 of 7 factories agreed to the right to unionize, and none agreed to the French demands for lax working hours.
But the following year was the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and things changed.  That event led to new regulations, and the acceptance of the 56 hour work week, as well as better fire safety codes.

Today, the Lower East Side remains a haven for new immigrants.  Immigrants from Latin America and Southeast Asia are today what the Jews, Germans and Italians once were.  47 percent of the area are immigrants.

In the bookshop, I found a book on Evelyn Nesbit.  Crime of the Century.  By her 16th birthday in 1900, she was already the most photographed woman of her era.  And she was a beaut.  I had never actually seen her before.  I would kill Harry (K. Thaw) for her.

And there is Chinatown.  And in Chinatown, I get Chinese massages.  I was debating between a foot massage and a body massage, but since I am a regular at one particular parlor, they let me get both.  30 minutes foot massage, 40 minutes body massage (extra bonus for loyalty).  The masseuse was named Helen, and she had given me both a foot and body massage over the last two weeks.  Our game is English/Chinese lessons.  She massages my extremities, and we trade words in Chinese and English.  The staff laughs at my Chinese, but smiles at it.  My favorite word is wy she ma, why?  I use that word a lot.

After the kneading of my body, I ducked into Chinatown for a plate of rice noodles with peanut sauce and slivers of scallions.  For dessert, I grabbed a taro bun, and stopped in for some bubble tea (the girls at the counter laughed at my ordering the drink in Mandarin) and a water chestnut jelly square.  I sat in the top of the cafe, the only weilo gringo to be found.  A cute Chinese grandma bantered with me in Chinese as I left, laughing that I could drop a lil Mandarin.

The Grey Canvas

I left my camera and regretted it.  But I think I can paint a better picture.

The grey day was the melancholy canvas.  The black [cobblestone] brick path led east-west.  The puddles reflected the lamps in the watery mirrors.  The light poles reflected stretched to points of infinity and eternity into the watery sky. 

The tree branches like black spindles pressed into the grey sky.  It reminded me of Paris.  Not a Paris I have seen, but a scene of someone else.  Monet, perhaps; impressionist no doubt.  I stood there briefly, pausing to take in a glimpse of impressionist beauty made real.

They remain slaves who do not know what is beautiful in this world.
-The White Tiger

The guitarist’s strum filled the subway tunnel as I waited for the train. 

Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, all you got to do is call…

Stand by me had us all singing. 

When the sky that we look upon should crumble and fall…

I made change for a tip. 

The B doesn’t run today, he said.

I would have stood there and listened all day if not for the tip, I smiled.  I counted my change and made my way on, back into the bowels of the subway tunnels.  I had no business being there, but sometimes wrong lines are priceless.  Or worth a dollar for the live jukebox that is the New York subway.


Uncle Paulie has the cutest goddaughter ever. This little Purim princess is Cammie.

It really is a phenomenal picture of adorable innocence.  The pink dress and the pink cheeks, with the little bow on her head.  The curiosity caused by the band aid and the wandering eyes.  Cammie, you are a precious one.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Conference on Windmills

A university is holding a conference on some shit I made up. 'Nuff said.

Irie Gastrodiplomacy cont.

OMJah, I just had the most amazing Jamaican breadpudding. Gooey breadpudding, with hints of cinnamon, cloves and rum. Stuffed with raisins, dates and candied treats. YUM. Jamaica, if you need a gastrodiplo guru to run a campaign, I am your man.

The Mezuzah

There is a mezuzah on the door to my room in my Brooklyn apartment.  Crown Heights, so that is not unusual.  What is unusual is that it is painted over in white.

As if someone neglected to remove it when leaving.  I'm curious of the thoughts of the painter as the layer of white was applied.

It is like a white cocooned protrudence on a narrow white strip.   I tap on its white shell to see if anything will hatch. Maybe a prayer of butterflies will hatch (maybe in my dreams it is so).

I found no other mezuzah in the apartment.  I checked the doors and frames, and there is no other.

It's the little things like this that animate my curiosities, and makes me wonder who once resided in these marked walls, this abode.

It is always nice to be blessed by what others left.



Dear Republicans,
  Get an F'ing clue!  By large swathes, the American people blame you for the budget mess! 49 percent blame you vs. 31 percent blame Obama.  18 f'ing points.  You got routed in the elections in the fall, and pretend that nothing happened.  That you still have a mandate, as if that minor victory didn't come from overzealous gerrymandering. WAKE UP! The mess we are in is YOUR FAULT.  And Obama tries to clean it up, and you try to block him.  [deep breaths]

The Idiot

'Cause I like being free
and that makes me
an idiot, I suppose.
-Stan Rogers, "The Idiot"

The League of Extraordinary Villains

FP has a cool spread by a cartoonist of rendering real life villains into comic characters.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I got one of the AMA groups a proclamation from their Mayor's office recognizing them for their cultural diplomacy work. The comm office asked if I wanted to write up the text for the proclamation. I said that I thought it was better left in their hands.

The City of Murrowsville hereby proclaims that PAUL S. ROCKOWER is a public diplomacy badass...

Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause

Says Jon Huntsman, one of a dying breed of sane elephants.  I'm not gay (or Conservative) but I think I would marry Jon Huntsman.

Colombia not Columbia

"Colombia is where famed artist Fernando Botero hails from; Columbia is a university in New York.

The coffee you drank this morning might be from Colombia; Your outerwear might have been made by Columbia."

Colombia, not Columbia.

I posted it on Che Miles' FB page, since he works in the region.  His answer was:

"I don't like it. It's placing pride over PD strategy and aims much lower than the "The only risk is wanting to stay" campaign. Unless they direct the scope at some of the real image problems the country has, the only positive impact will be the correct spelling of Colombia."


Best Grammatical Innovations

Good News

The doorbell rung. "Can I help you?" I asked. We've come to spread the good news. So I opened the door.

"What good news do you have for me," I asked with a smile. A world to come with peace and justice, without crime or poverty.

"B'ezrat ha'Shem," I replied, G-d willing.

Are you Jewish?

"I am," I said with a smile.

Together then, we all pray for a better world.

"Inshallah," I said with a grin.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ernie's words on writing

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.
-Ernest Hemingway

And other tips.

From JB:  "Never write to begin with if you wish to stay sane."
Me:  I usually write to try to stay sane. I find that sanity and the word are often and inextricably linked.
Ali: Was just reading about him earlier. The shortest story he ever wrote was 6 words - kinda sad: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."

The Dellas battle cancer

My friend Kimber's father is battling cancer, and the Dellas are pitching in to help with his care. I know a little of the backstory, and I don't think Kimber would mind if I shared it.

Her father Tony had been a fiddlist at a restaurant and concert hall in Colorada.  He had a good job and benefits.  Then the wildfires swept through and burned the place down.  The place was never re-opened and he never got his benefits back.  Now he is fighting cancer with no insurance.

Please consider supporting this mitzvah (via paypal to

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Irie Gastrodiplomacy

Jamaican rice and peas, covered with stewed vegetables and curry gravy. Topped with fiery chili sauce that made my lips numb. With a side of fried corn bread festival. Washed down with ginger pineapple juice. Crown Heights can offer some irie gastrodiplomacy.

Although almost a gastrodiplo fail. I came in to the cafe asking for stewed peas. The lady said they were out. I asked what other veggie food she had. She laughed. Stewed peas are cooked in beef and pork. Haha, I laughed back and told her I was a kosher vegetarian. She gave a big laugh to my almost-order.


Apparently Netanyahu said that the North Korean nuclear test shows that "sanctions alone will not stop" Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Truly comparing chocolate and vanilla, Bibi.  Bibi is in a bit of a popsicle over his pistachio proclivities.  Maybe you could just drop a rocky road bomb on Natanz.

Meanwhile, it appears that Bibi just had two scoops of Tzipi.  Great, Tzipi, you couldn't form a unity government with Bibi when you were strong because of ideological differences over the peace process.  That all turns to sprinkles when you are weak.  Peace negotiator for the Bibi government? Fig leaf ice cream, anyone?

And then there is the fudge with Hagel and the Israel lobby.  That has been a snowball effort without compare.  I  peanutbrittle bristle at these so-called Israel supporters standing up for it against Hagel.  Hagel is not anti-Israel in the slightest; he is also not obsequies to the Israel lobby.   The confirmation hearings and the Republican filibuster of a Republic war hero is a 31 flavor farce.

I think I need a milk shake to cool my ire from the present sundae sham.

Chess in Absurdistan

While technically not a 'Stan, Kalmykia sure could be.  A chess haven in Absurdistan.  TY JF.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Flame-broiled social media

Burger King's twitter account got whoppered over the weekend, as someone hacked it!

Amsterdam Photos Album 1

Gastrodiplomacia colombiana

a Colombian goat cheese and queso blanco empanada with chipotle tomato sauce. Washed down with refajo colombiano (Colombian beer and soda). Yum. And I just drank the chipotle tomato sauce as a shot. yum. yum.

Dear University Alumni Office

From the greatest Craigslist posts:

Dear University Alumni Office,

I'm sorry to hear that the university's $750 million endowment has fallen in value to $500 million because of the recession and because your bank died. I'm also sorry to hear that you're dealing with declining enrollment due to the fact that middle-class families are no longer willing or able to bet their homes on a $45,000-a-year higher education for their children. I really am.

So, what I want to know is, why are you wasting money on glossy fundraising brochures full of meaningless synonyms for the word "Excellence"? And, why are you sending them to ME? Yes, I know that I got a master's degree at your fine institution, but that master's degree hasn't done jack shit for me since I got it! I have been unemployed for the past TWO YEARS and I am now a professional resume-submitter, sending out dozens of resumes a month to employers, and the degree I received in your hallowed halls is at the TOP OF IT and it doesn't do a fucking thing.

You know, maybe if you wanted a little bit of money from me (and these days you'd get about $3) maybe you should send me a fancy color brochure admitting your role in the bubble economics that got us all in to this mess.

For example, since 1987, higher education expenses have gone up 450 percent, while personal income in this country has gone up 87 percent, making tuition IMPOSSIBLE to afford without special financing. But, during this time, you were thriving because people could come up with the cash in two ways:

1. Get a home equity loan and use the inflated value of their house to pay for their kid to get drunk and/or raped at your school and then lose the house when the market crashed.
2. Get a federal loan.


Oh yes, federal loans. I've got $40,000 of those, which are in "forebearance" right now because I'm unemployed, meaning that the feds are paying the interest for a while, which is convenient for me, but not for our government which is now owned by China. You know, the idea behind federal loans was that it would allow more students to attend your university, not let you INFLATE your tuition to obscene levels! I mean, what the fuck were you spending the $16,000 per semester on, anyway? I was in a public policy program, so that meant we got to sit in classrooms and listen to Professor God up at the front of the lecture hall glorify Himself and Creation as He saw it and talk about how much smarter he was than anyone else and how much he'd learned at MIT and the RAND Corporation.

Really, that's about all you did for us -- gave us a lecture hall, gave us an arrogant bastard to listen to, and gave us a room full of computers we could use sometimes, and you gave us a degree that employers look at and say "This guy knows how to write reports. Amusing." And I will be paying for this privilege until I am 51 years old.

So I'm sorry that the economy's been rough on you. Maybe, if you wanted to save a little money, you could stop printing and sending brochures to my parents' house (oh yeah, that's where I live because I can't afford rent on ANYTHING). And, maybe I'll donate a little bit of money to you in 2030, when I get the loans for your imaginary education PAID OFF!

Sincerely yours,

Sunday, February 17, 2013

President Garfield

On the progressive President Garfield and his interest in racial equality.  We sadly hardly knew you.

Actually, I feel like I know you a bit from the recent book I read, 1876 by Gore Vidal.  1876 was an excellent book on the greatest election fraud of the American presidency, this side of Bush vs. Gore.  Garfield was a minor character in said tale, which is worth a read.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


As I was walking back from getting a cup of coffee at the local bodega, I smiled at an old black woman I passed. She smiled back, and asked if I would be her Valentine. I gave a big laugh, and told her that I didn't have a Valentine, so she had solved my problem! Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, as the joke goes.  Or by way of Afghanistan...

I either have a VIP ticket to tonight's show....or I have nothing and will be all dressed up and left outside.  Such is life.

On The Dutch

"The Dutch are always right but never relevant"
-An EU bureaucrat

Monday, February 11, 2013


When I arrived back to Amsterdam, I went looking for a place to stay.  The first place I stopped in offered me I bargained for a room with no bathroom for 40euros.  The next place I stopped in offered me the same price for one with a bathroom, so I opted for this.  I asked the night clerk if I could get the place for the remaining three days I was there.  He said yes, and to talk to the clerk the next day but they might have to switch my room.  The next day, the next clerk would not honor what I was offered.  He went as far as to tell me that the last clerk had probably lied about the extension of the rate, given that this was now friday.  I was not happy, and while I dickered trying to find another place, he gave away all the other rooms.

 I stopped in a place called Hotelrunners.  They had two places for 50 euros.  One had a bathroom, the other did not.  The one with the bathroom was only available for one night but was closer.  I opted for this and made my way to the Y Boulevard Hotel.  The place was charming enough, and included breakfast.  I told the clerk that I hoped to stay another night and I had gambled on an opening.  He told me he would see.

After settling in, I made my way to the Van Gogh Museum.  Actually, the Hermitage Museum of Amsterdam that was hosting the Van Gogh collection while the museum was under renovation.  This was a slight disappointment because the Van Gogh Museum was under renovation the last time I was in Amsterdam.  Anyway, the paintings were beautiful, but there were too many people and, as such, was a little claustrophobic. 

After the museum, I passed back through the old Jewish Quarter, stopping at a giant statue of Spinoza with a cloak of parrots.  I made my way through the canals, and over to a café to sit out in the sun in the Nuiewe Kerk Square outside the Red Light District.  I sat out in the café, drinking hot spiced wine and eating a delicious provence sandwich of melted brie, pesto, avocado and tomato.  After a while, the hail returned and I was forced inside.  It was once I walked in did I realize this was the same bar I was in the night before.  Too funny.  I sat near the bar, reading and drinking dark DeKonnick beer as I waited for the storm to pass. 

I walked across the Centraal station, as the sun cast resplendent on the gilded red brick central station as I chased the dying light.

I spent the night wandering in and out of bars, reading and sipping small Amstels.  I ended up wandering over to Haarlem to a lovely bar called Ramenas. The place had good wifi, and a cute blond waitress.  She was very helpful when I found out that my bank account was frozen over fraud warnings, and even let me borrow her cell phone.  Her name ended up being Paulina, the second in as many days, which I took for a sign so I asked her if she wanted to join me the next night.  She said yes.  Turns out she was German not Dutch, from Hamburg (The Star Line)

I came down the next morning to find out that there was not going to be any way for me to stay.  I headed back to search for alternative accommodation.  I stopped at the Hotelrunners spot, and they were helpful but it was too early to find a place.  Not wanting to waste my last day, I went back to the first place I had visited.  Sure enough, they had a room at a good price, and I kicked myself for not staying there the whole time.

After I dropped my stuff, I spent the day wandering through old Hollandia

After my museum adventures, I found a quaint bar lit by candles where I sipped a few beers and decided that I need a Euro-sabbatical.  More to come on this venture in the future.

I spent the evening killing time, and stopping for dinner for Argentine steak as a last dinner in Amsterdam (there are a lot of Argentine steak restaurants in Amsterdam, not sure why- perhaps ex-pats leaving the 2001 Argentine financial crisis?) and chatting with a Dutchman who admired Jefferson. 

I met Paulina at the end of her shift at the restaurant, and we made our way to a smoky candle-lit bar.  She ended up being a wee university lass of 20, yet quite precocious.  We ended up chatting about Freud and Borges, ego and psychoanalysis, as well as Tolstoy and truth vs. vanity until the wee hours.  I’m definitely not in America, as I can’t imagine an American college girl making me think as she did.

And thus essentially ended my Amsterdam vacation.  I woke up early, packed up and caught the train to the airport to head back to America.  On the flight, I talked my way into a few drinks with nominal excuses.  However, it bothers me to no end that I need to do so on international flights, as these drinks should be free.

Amsterdam, and Europe for that matter, hold such a special place in my heart.  It fascinates me and makes me percolate with ideas.  

There was a time

I write this from the Dutch East India (VOC) Cafe located in the Tower of Tears.  This was the home to the harbormaster, who collected all duties and tariffs on ships coming and going.  It was also the last point where families said goodbye to their relatives before the sailed off into parts unknown.  Seeped in tears and hopes of a speedy return.  The world has gone snow globe, and I am staring out the back into the black canal brightened with white snow.   The sign outside stated:

From this ancient "Tower of Tears, erected in 1462, Henry Hudson set sail April 4, 1609 on the vessel "Half Moon."  On that voyage of discovery that would bring him to the harbor of New York New Amsterdam and the Hudson River
I properly started my morning at the Koninklijk Palace (Royal Palace).  This opulent building was better known as the Stadhuis or City Hall.  Constructed in 1648, in the golden age of Hollandia, when the Netherlands mercantile empire stretched across the vast seas.  In a time when cloves were gold, and cinnamon silver, the Dutch prospered without compare.  This City Hall was a place for the people, and was accessible to all.  I made my way into Citizens Hall, the ornate marble structure to showcase Amsterdam as the center of the world.

The power of Amsterdam as the center of world trade was expressed in the marble architecture and marble statues that filled the rich hall.  There were marble maps on the floor of the Eastern and Western hemisphere, which flanked a map of the northern constellations that helped guide the merchant fleet.  High above on the ceiling was a huge fresco.  

At the near end, the patroness saintess  of Amsterdam sat on high and gazed down over the worlds she ruled, accompanied with figures representing the power of Hercules and the wisdom of the grey-eyed Pallas Athena.

At the far end, a marble Atlas towered high above.  Below Atlas, Justice with a golden sword and golden scales looked out.  Sitting below, amid other figures, was a marbe death in his marble cloak and marble bones.  His bony marble fingers held a marble hour clock.

And into the stunning Magistrate's Hall.  The Dutch liked to show off their prowess in municipality, and their fondness for those who ruled justly.  One thing I found striking was that in the regal Magistrate's Hall, civil marriages were performed every week for those who could not be married in the Church.  Dutch tolerance, early on.

The other thought I had was the fact that the two empires that prospered most through the 16th century was the Dutch and the Ottomans, both who were the most tolerant to the Jews and offered haven to them from the fires of the Inquisition.

Moving onward into the Chamber of Petty Affairs, this salon held arbitration hearings on petty affairs and if either party used foul language, they were fined 1 guilder to go to the coffers of the paupers fund.

While wandering, I found a bit of Escher perfection in the proclamation room.

There was a chamber for the insurance masters, because daring mercantile pursuits like that which made the Dutch prosper needed solid backing.  Citizens of Amsterdam (and other places) could take out liability against damage, theft or loss.  In the chamber of the insurance masters, policies were written and kept, and cases adjudicated.

Interestingly, there was also an Orphans' Chamber.  There were three to four orphan supervisors, who would be responsible for all of Amsterdam's children who lost one or both parents, unless the family would care for them.  These orphans supervisors were responsible until they reached adulthood, and they also maintained the city's orphanages.

Everything changes with the French conquest of Holland.  Louis Bonaparte, the brother of Emperor Napoleon, was installed as King of Holland in 1808.  He made the place his own palace, and brought with it the style of Empire.  Ornate in a classical and gilded way.  After bit of history worth looking into at the link above, Napoleon went on to force his brother's abdication, annexed Holland and installed himself as
King of Holland.

After the fall of Napoleon, the Dutch royals took the place as their own palace, and kept many of the trappings of the Empire style.

Years and years passed, and the Dutch royalty eventually opened it up to the public and for State occasions like visiting dignitaries and royal marriages.

I left by way of the executioners marble area, where marble fresco of examples of justice were on display: of a magistrate who ordered the removal of both eyes of a rapist, only to find his son in the docket.  As punishment he ordered they each lose one eye; of Solomon's judgement over two mothers; of Lucius Junius Brutus' execution of his own sons.

In a fascinating turn of events, the Dutch were almost too thorough and I had almost too much interest and too many questions, and hunger forced me own.  But this is a rare and good thing.  I walked out to the sage words of Talking Heads: Same as it Ever Was

After my stopover at the Tower of Tears, I decided to brave the elements in my continued search after Jan Company, as the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was known.  As I battled through the blizzard, I was faced with a quandary.  I wanted to both visit an old VOC compound near the waterfront, and also the maritime museum but the museum closed at 5pm. 

I was debating if I should visit the compound first, which was on my way to the museum, or the museum first- since that had a definitive closing time.  I opted to try to find the old VOC compound, wandering in and out of university areas (I thought I remembered seeing a documentary on tv about the compound serving as part of the University of Amsterdam), and stopped in a bar to ask a young bartender, whom I ended up educating on the proximity of the warehouse.  Alas, my search for the compound proved fruitless, but I did find a giant windmill covered in the snow as I crossed the bridge to the maritime museum.

I arrived to the Maritime Museum at 4pm, with just an hour left to visit.  I asked the ticket seller if I could get a discount since there was only an hour left and I wouldn’t have full time.  She said no, but asked if I happened to be a student.  Why, yes I am.  I had been of habit of late to pay full price, but this struck me as a reasonable discount.

So I quickly rushed through the museum dedicated to Amsterdam’s role as the “warehouse of the world.”  The museum spoke of the spoils of the Golden Age of Amsterdam, with the trade of china from the Middle Kingdom; cowery shells from the African coast.  It also showcased the Dutch role in the information revolution of the day, as Dutch cartographers created the finest maps and globes to help the world explore.

I was most curious to learn about the Dutch East and West India Companies.

There was an interesting exhibit on the Dutch West India Company (WIC), which battled in North and South America, the Caribbean and West Africa.  For a span of 25 years, the WIC even controlled Brazil— bringing slaves to the Americas for sugarcane production— until it lost control back to Portugal.  The WIC gained Surinam (“The Wild Coast”) from the British in 1664 in compensation for the loss of New Amsterdam. 

But my fascination remains with the Dutch East India Company (VOC).  The Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602, and was the first multinational company in the world.  At its height, 32,000 workers were employed on ships.  The Jan Companije controlled a monopoly on trade in Asia, and also played a leading role in facilitating trade in Asia; while there was little interest in European goods, the VOC exchanged Persian spices for gold, Indian textiles for Japanese copper.  The journey from Holland to the East lasted 8 months, with one stop over at the refreshment station at the Cape of Storms.

There was a time when the Dutch possessed the most powerful navy in the world, rivaled only by England.  But success begot war, with the likes of Spain and England, with France and Sweden.

Where am I now? Where shall I go? What is my speed? What is the depth? On the high seas, in unknown waters, it is impossible for a sailor to determine his position without aid.  Over the centuries, a never-ending stream of new instruments and methods were invented to help mariners find their way. They used the sun, the moon, the stars, the horizon and the depth of the seas to ensure that vessels reached their destinations safely and quickly.

The other side of the building had a collection of navigational equipment and globes.  I was in a bit of a rush, so I didn’t get to go too deep into this section but it was fascinating nonetheless.  There was a section on all the different tools invented to study latitude, longitude, speed and depth.  There was also a fantastic collection of globes, which was a source of wealth for Holland for centuries, given their detailed cartography.  The old globes were as fascinating as they were beautiful.  I want to collect globes!

Anyway, I speed through the museum, catching just enough to keep me happy.

I remain so curious about the days in which the Dutch ruled the world through its mercantile maritime routes.  And I remain fascinated by the Dutch East India Company, and its role in shaping world history.  There was a time when Amsterdam was the center of the world, but that day is past.  Today, there is a saying from a European bureaucrat, “The Dutch are always right but never relevant.”  As a member of a small tribe that hits above its weight, I am always impressed with the way the Batavians remain relevant in their forward thinking and exploration.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Europa, Europa

Sitting in a candle-lit bar on a cold winter's day as the hail snow globe swirls around outside. I sip dark Dutch beer from a goblet, as Billy Joel's piano man plays. Europa, I will miss you. But I have deigns and designs to make you a sojourn someday.

The Mallard Royale

Down in the canals of the red light district, I witnessed a mallard royale.  A barge had blocked one of the canals, and left a traffic jam of white swans and ducks.  A cacophony of quaking ensued. The fowls did not take kindly to each other.  The white swans had size, and used their long necks and shook their tail feathers at the ducks.  But the black and brown ducks had far superior numbers, and overwhelmed the graceful white swans.  There was one white duck who had a look of confusion on which side of the pond he fell.

The Road

To the east, to the east, the road beneath my feet
To the west, to the west but I haven't got there yet
And to the north, to the north, never to be caught
To the south, to the south, my time is running out

Ever since my childhood I've been scared, I've been afraid
Of being trapped by circumstance of staying in one place
So I always keep a small bag full of clothes carefully stored
Somewhere secret, somewhere safe and somewhere close to the door

Well, I've traveled many countries, washed my feet in many seas
I've drank with grifters in Vienna and with punks in old D.C.
And I've driven across deserts, driven by the irony
That only being shackled to the road could ever I be free

To the east, to the east, the road beneath my feet
To the west, to the west but I haven't got there yet
And to the north, to the north, never to be caught
To the south, to the south, my time is running out

I've felt old before my time but now I keep the age away
By burning up the miles and, yeah, by filling up my days
And the nights, a thousand nights I've played a thousand more to go
Before I take a breath and steel myself for the next one thousand shows
To the east, to the east, the road beneath my feet
To the west, to the west but I haven't got there yet
To the north, to the north, never to be caught
To the south, to the south, my time is running out

Yeah, so saddle up your horses now and keep your powder dry
'Cause the truth is you won't be here long, yeah, soon you're going to die
To the heart, to the heart, there's no time for you to waste
You won't find your precious answers now by staying in one place
Yeah, by giving up the chase

To the east, to the east, the road beneath my feet
To the west, to the west but I haven't got there yet
And to the north, to the north, I never will be caught
To the south, to the south, my time is running out
Yeah, to the south, to the south, my time is running out
Yeah, to the south, to the south, my time is running out

I face the horizon, everywhere I go
I face the horizon, the horizon is my home
I face the horizon, everywhere that I go
I face the horizon, the horizon is my home
-The Road by Frank Turner

Friday, February 08, 2013

Hazy Shade of Winter

Ahhh, seasons change with the scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won't you stop and remember me
At any convenient time
Funny how my memory slips while looking over manuscripts
Of unpublished rhyme
Drinking my vodka and lime
-Simon and Garfunkel

Van Gogh, Paulina and me

(italics are either Van Gogh, or quotes from the Van Gogh Museum)

I met a beautiful blond Dutch girl last night named Paulina.  It was her birthday so I asked her the 4 birthday questions.  She was 26, and troubled by the age.  She said she felt as if she hadn't accomplished enough.

Brush strokes that hold together and intertwine, with feeling like a piece of music played with a brush.

Vincent Van Gogh was 27 when he started painting.  Yellows, blues and oranges.

Van Gogh believed that the colours themselves had expressive power.  For him, colour was the ideal meaning of conveying an atmosphere or an emotion.  When, after years of experimenting, he had gained an intuitive understanding of how to use color most effectively he sometimes chose colours that charged the scene with symbolic meaning.

The blue lilies that I remembered so well from my own walls, once upon a time in Houston.

You'll understand that the combination of red ochre, of green saddened with grey, of black lines that define the outlines, that give rise to the feeling of anxiety from which some of my companions in misfortune often suffer, and which is called "seeing red."

Hail came down and I sat in a chair- the only one facing outwards, staring out the thick glass into a world turned white snow globe.  I watch it swirl and collect over the buds of lilies to bloom.

Colour expresses something in itself.

My fingers are stained with orange that I bought from a Moroccan grocer.  In Arabic, we offered greetings and God's praise.  Bismillah.

It was a small delicious mandarina whose residue still coats my fingers.

To Paulina et al, I would say that it is never too late (Or in the curious case of Benjamin Button, too early)

It was at 26 that I really started to live, to travel (not that lines are any more firm than Van Gogh's own lines).  Since then, I have seen half the world, while the other half semi-patiently rests.

While I cannot paint like Vincent,  I paint my own pictures with a lens to the world.  I find my own white canvases to cover with black ink.

In the harbor below, I see Utopia.  A house boat named Utopia gently rocks.  I have been accused of not being part of the real world.  To that, I laugh.  Don Pablo Quixote has his own windmill world to tilt at.

With a nod to Gore Vidal, words (and worlds) define us.  I create my own world (and my own words, from time to time) that are as utopian as the boat only the gentle evening tide.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


This message is above my gmail account: "Warning: We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer.Protect yourself now" with this link.  UMMM!  Terrifying!  Is it independent neutral Turkmenistan coming after me??

A Prayer for the Traveller

May all travellers
Find happiness.
Wherever they go.
Without any effort.
May they
Whatever they
Visit after to.
And as they safely
Return to the shore
May they be
Joyfully united
With their
HH the 14th Dalai Lama

Don Pablo Quixote in MC Escher's labyrinth

 Maurits Cornelis.

 Of course M.C. Escher was a Dutchman.

I managed to find the luminous Escher in het Paleis (museum), and got lost somewhere at the intersection between eternity and infinity.

Maurits Cornelis, you are one the most brilliant minds that has ever existed.  He understood the Renaissance vantage line; shaped by the Romantic impressionist image and the Japanese wood block print that bore it.  And the surreal life.  Somewhere between Da Vinci, Dali and Einstein

And he understood Borges' notion of panta rhei- everything flows.  Flowing from infinity to eternity.  An elemental song of ice and fire.  Everything and nothing all at once.

Such incredible infinity.  Such depth.  Journey on.

A casbah fortress looking into the infinite sands.  If you cannot count all the grains of sand, or the stars above, can you reach the vertigo of infinity?

The unending seas of rocky waves on black Japanese woodblock prints.  The second day of creation. As God moves slowly over the face of water.

Landscapes in rustic art deco imagination.  I think scenes that only El, Borges y yo might see.

La Mezquita of Cordoba with its infinite columns.

A vision of Venice through the lattice work, and I felt I like I was seeing the city through someone else's eyes.

The brilliance of Escher's work is that I see it through his lens.  Like pictures and wood block prints through a surreal lens.

I was literally cooing from room to room, as I swam through eternity and infinity.

Ripple in still water.  Oh, if my words did glow.

His visions of reflections through his own eyes is masterful.  The perfect details.  The lines on his hands.  Of the reflections hidden and remembered.

I found myself in a solid staring contest with Mauritz.  I saw him staring deep.  Mauritz, you are an aleph.  And what, pray tell, is an aleph?  It is a vantage point between eternity and infinity.  Spoken of Borges.  Found by few.

I have found a few alephs in my fair day.  In Delhi, through the mirrors of Anish Kapoor.  At the SAM in the Emerald City.  But never have I found such an aleph before.

Staring through mirrors to see Escher's view just a bit better, and letting the reflection make my eyes open just a bit wider to see.  "But my dreams are not empty, as my conscience seems to be."

"Escher was constantly imaging new combinations to take the viewer by surprise.  He wanted to draw attention to something impossible."

What Escher discovered is perpetual motion.  The same thing that Borges discovered prior, deep in his labyrinth of the mind.  Of infinity and eternity.

And what is this aleph that Borges discovered, and Escher sketched?

It is a point of vertigo that makes you reach the intersection of infinity and eternity.  It is a physical feeling of dizziness through a connection with a vertigo point of infinitum.

Escher understood it in the swimming mind.  This vertigo point in Escher's work is called tessellation, but perhaps he would call it "to metamorphose."  I circled a panorama of metamorphose and swam around the mobius strip track he fashioned.

"In my prints I try to show that we live in a beautiful and orderly world, not in formless chaos, [...].  I cannot resist fooling around with our established certainties.  It give me great pleasure, for example, to deliberately mix up the mind and third dimension, flat and spatial, and to make fun of gravity."
-M.C. Escher

That is an aleph.  A twirl through the twilight zone in a panorama of metamorphose.

Perhaps Escher discovered the calligraphic aleph that the Moors found in the name of God.  The point of God found at the intersection of infinity and eternity.

The point where infinity and eternity metamorphose.

A third possibility, along side metamorphosis and cycles, is the combination with perpetual motion as in Mobius Strip II.

Illusionary dominoes falling down on a mobius strip.  Escher in his labyrinth, and my ink-stained fingers trying to keep up.  Truly Don Pablo Quixote down in the depths of MC Escher's labyrinth.

And how does this effect affect my own work?  In my photography, as I search for that same vantage point. Somewhere between infinity and eternity.  Through lined reflections that reach toward infinity.  In my writing as I try to let the ink flow like endless rivers.  The unending search in my travels for those elemental points at which all is one.

Finding the aleph in its hidden grace.  Finding the countenance of God hidden so deep in beauty that you feel dizzy.  Like a whirling dervish.

Somewhere at the intersection of eternity and infinity this journey ends.  Until then, journey on.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The diary

I don't cry too often.  It does happen from time to time.  Like on MLK day at the Wisenthal Center in LA the day before Obama's first inauguration.  But generally I am pretty stoic.

And I just cried a river.  Hot tears running down my face-type cry.

I am in the Amsterdam Museum, studying the DNA of this special city.  As I love to remember- there was a time.  There was a time when the Dutch ruled the waves, and a company subjugated the world.  Over sugar and spice. 5,000 pounds of sugar for a slave's life.

As I was passing through the years, I got to World War II.  There was first a film of the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.  60,000 Jews perished with the Nazi takeover of Holland.  Three-fourths of the Dutch Jewish population.

On the walls were the number: 60,000- with the numbers made out of little pictures of people.  In the middle were headphones.  I put them on my ears and heard the words of Anne Frank.  I closed my eyes, and they immediately started to well.

They are doing it again as I write this. 

I listened to the hopes and fears of a little girl, from the precious diary.  Passages through passages of time.  For a story that you know does not have a good ending.  And I cried like no other.

My heart was beating hard in my chest as I heard her words.  And I cried.  Tears of Auschwitz, with the piles of hair and piles of shoes- it was the shoes that got me the most that time.

Tears of the Cambodian Killing Fields, as butterflies fluttered around shallow graves.

Everyone needs a good cry sometimes- just to get the lead out.

I think I might finally be dry and can continue on the museum.

"Caught up in the middle,
I cry just a little
when I think of letting go."
-Flo Rida 

Monday, February 04, 2013

Prayer for a Banyan

Building banyans in my own mind.  I find enlightenment on the docks of the canals of Amsterdam.  In an open air little glass case. 

The sun came out. Sun bathing. Ain’t life grand

Amsterdam, with Beirut marching through my head.  Just another night in Nantes.  Just another day in Amsterdam.

A Roosevelt

Gracias a Sancho Harranza for this one. We are off on separate adventures, but he is always a great sidekick. Translation at the bottom.

A Roosevelt
Es con voz de la Biblia, o verso de Walt Whitman,
que habría que llegar hasta ti, Cazador!
Primitivo y moderno, sencillo y complicado,
con un algo de Washington y cuatro de Nemrod.
Eres los Estados Unidos,
eres el futuro invasor
de la América ingenua que tiene sangre indígena,
que aún reza a Jesucristo y aún habla en español.

Eres soberbio y fuerte ejemplar de tu raza;
eres culto, eres hábil; te opones a Tolstoy.
Y domando caballos, o asesinando tigres,
eres un Alejandro-Nabucodonosor.
(Eres un profesor de energía,
como dicen los locos de hoy.)
Crees que la vida es incendio,
que el progreso es erupción;
en donde pones la bala
el porvenir pones.

Los Estados Unidos son potentes y grandes.
Cuando ellos se estremecen hay un hondo temblor
que pasa por las vértebras enormes de los Andes.
Si clamáis, se oye como el rugir del león.
Ya Hugo a Grant le dijo: «Las estrellas son vuestras».
(Apenas brilla, alzándose, el argentino sol
y la estrella chilena se levanta...) Sois ricos.
Juntáis al culto de Hércules el culto de Mammón;
y alumbrando el camino de la fácil conquista,
la Libertad levanta su antorcha en Nueva York.

Mas la América nuestra, que tenía poetas
desde los viejos tiempos de Netzahualcoyotl,
que ha guardado las huellas de los pies del gran Baco,
que el alfabeto pánico en un tiempo aprendió;
que consultó los astros, que conoció la Atlántida,
cuyo nombre nos llega resonando en Platón,
que desde los remotos momentos de su vida
vive de luz, de fuego, de perfume, de amor,
la América del gran Moctezuma, del Inca,
la América fragante de Cristóbal Colón,
la América católica, la América española,
la América en que dijo el noble Guatemoc:
«Yo no estoy en un lecho de rosas»; esa América
que tiembla de huracanes y que vive de Amor,
hombres de ojos sajones y alma bárbara, vive.
Y sueña. Y ama, y vibra; y es la hija del Sol.
Tened cuidado. ¡Vive la América española!
Hay mil cachorros sueltos del León Español.
Se necesitaría, Roosevelt, ser Dios mismo,
el Riflero terrible y el fuerte Cazador,
para poder tenernos en vuestras férreas garras.

Y, pues contáis con todo, falta una cosa: ¡Dios!

To Roosevelt

The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak
in Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
You are primitive and modern, simple and complex;
you are one part George Washington and one part Nimrod.
You are the United States,
future invader of our naive America
with its Indian blood, an America
that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.

You are strong, proud model of your race;
you are cultured and able; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar,
breaking horses and murdering tigers.
(You are a Professor of Energy,
as current lunatics say).

You think that life is a fire,
that progress is an irruption,
that the future is wherever
your bullet strikes.

The United States is grand and powerful.
Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder
runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.
If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.
And Hugo said to Grant: 'The stars are yours.'
(The dawning sun of the Argentine barely shines;
the star of Chile is rising..) A wealthy country,
joining the cult of Mammon to the cult of Hercules;
while Liberty, lighting the path
to easy conquest, raises her torch in New York.

But our own America, which has had poets
since the ancient times of Nezahualcóyolt;
which preserved the footprint of great Bacchus,
and learned the Panic alphabet once,
and consulted the stars; which also knew Atlantic
(whose name comes ringing down to us in Plato)
and has lived, since the earliest moments of its life,
in light, in fire, in fragrance, and in love--
the America of Moctezuma and Atahualpa,
the aromatic America of Columbus,
Catholic America, Spanish America,
the America where noble Cuauthémoc said:
'I am not in a bed of roses'--our America,
trembling with hurricanes, trembling with Love:
O men with Saxon eyes and barbarous souls,
our America lives. And dreams. And loves.
And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.
Long live Spanish America!
A thousand cubs of the Spanish lion are roaming free.
Roosevelt, you must become, by God's own will,
the deadly Rifleman and the dreadful Hunter
before you can clutch us in your iron claws.

And though you have everything, you are lacking one thing:

Saturday, February 02, 2013


Inception Amsterdam: I found a memory and a dream at an old canal with an old bridge.

With the cranes of Dorethea, and ample windmills for which to tilt, our hero had found a good home.

The winter sun burnt bright  our hero's visage.  His countenance in the afternoon glow cast shadow black on the white painted wall.  Don Pablo Quijote had arrived to the land of the windmills, and he is happy.