Friday, November 29, 2013

Freemasons and other blasphemers

A Sudan MP called for the Minister of Culture to be sacked for allowing this cultural event in Khartoum; an imam in Khartoum even offered in his Friday prayer sermon, that:
 Freemasonry stands behinds such events in order to spoil the minds of youth and turn young men into “effeminates”.

Actually, it was just me.  I'm not a Freemason, and I am proud to have had a role in this blasphemy :)

Gobble, gobble

Around the world on instagram

Origins of Jazz; Origins of Tango

It was 1906.  People were coming and going as usual along Perdido Street in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans.  A five-year-old child peeking out the window watched that boring sameness with open eyes and very open ears, as if he expected something to happen.
  It happened.  Music exploded from the corner and filled the street.  A man was blowing his cornet straight up to the sky and around him a crowd clapped in time and sang and danced.  And Louis Armstrong, the boy in the window, swayed back and forth with such enthusiasm he nearly fell out.
  A few days later, the man with the cornet entered an insane asylum.  
They locked him up in the Negro section.
  That was the only time his name, Buddy Bolden, appeared in the newspapers. He died a quarter of a century later in the same asylum, and the papers did not notice.  But his music, never written down or recorded, played on inside the people who had delighted in it at parties or at funerals.
  According to those in the know, that phantom was the founder of jazz.
-Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors

Since a late nite at a jazz club in Paris, I have held the notion that New Orleans wouldn't have been the one to invent jazz if it hadn't been for the French influence (or Haitian) on the Crescent City.

It was born in the River Plate, in the whorehouses on the outskirts of the city.  Men danced it among themselves to pass the time, while the women attended to other customers in bed.  Its slow, stuttering melodies echoed in the alleyways where knives and sadness reigned.
  The tango wore its birthmark on its forehead, harsh life in the lower depths, and for that reason was not allowed in anywhere else.
  But what was unpresentable managed to pry open the door.  In 1917, led by Carlos Gardel, the tango turned up in downtown Buenos Aires, climbed onstage at the Esmeralda Theater, and introduced itself by name.  Gardel sang "Mi noche triste" and tango's isolation was over.
Bathed in tears, the snobbish middle class gave it a raucous welcome that washed away its original sin.
  That was the first tango Gardel ever recorded.  It still gets played and it sounds better and better.  The call Gardel "the Magician."  It is no exaggeration.

I can remember a big picture of Gardel in the Paris Underground, and I dream of Argentine Tango Diplomacy and Empanada Diplomacy to connect Europa to Argentine's Southern European outpost and colony existence.  But Argentina's tangoed state of affairs means that I don't expect much from it, let alone more cultural diplomacy outreach.

Ninety-Five Years Ago, We Tried to Export American Thanksgiving Day Around The World

Apparently, at the end of The Great War, we tried to encourage other countries to celebrate Thanksgiving too.  Gastrodiplomacy of the highest order.  Domani Spero, you get an extra piece of pie for that one.  

Hamas in comics

Perhaps the best in children's entertainment to come out of the Middle East since Farfour the IDF presents Hamas in comics.


Black Friday


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkeymenistan Day


As followers of this blog may remember, last year I spent Turkey Day in Turkmenistan with Della Mae.  Our cultural diplomacy adventures coincided with culinary diplomacy outreach, as the Thanksgiving meal was prepared by Chef Jim Leahy of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York.  Chef Leahy, who had made the delicious baked good for the State Dept's Diplomatic Culinary Partnership kick-off in Foggy Bottom, was brought out to discuss American food traditions in conjunction with the U.S. Cultural Days and the State Dept's culinary diplomacy initiative.

Since Chef Leahy knew he wouldn't be able to find the instruments, utensils and ingredients needed to prepare the huge feast for the Turkmen dignitaries, Embassy staff and bands involved in the festival, he brought knives, thermometer and frozen turkeys with him on the long journey.  Except...the Turkmen customs officials at the airport didn't know what to make of all these strange utensils and metal instruments that looks like they could be used for uranium enrichment.  The shipment promptly got quarantined in customs at the Ashgabat airport.

Well, after some culinary diplomatic wranglings, eventually Chef Leahy was able to get all his instruments and accouterments for the feast out of quarantine...but not before the turkeys had all unfrozen.  After letting the turkeys unfreeze, the Turkmen officials promptly refroze the birds.  Well, this promptly caused half the guests and bands to get food poisoning from the salmonella that leached onto the re-frozen birds.

Amazingly, I did not get sick.  My cast-iron stomach is apparently stronger than salmonella.

Anyway, I always say that I can spend 364 days abroad, but Thanksgiving is the only day I want to be home.  From turkey feasts at a hostel next to Hagia Sophia in Turkey to eating yak meatballs and fried potato croquettes in Tibet to ex-pat thanksgiving in Buenos Aires to a steak dinner after a 55 hour bus ride from Jakarta to Bukittinggi in Sumatra, I have had some interesting Turkey Days, but I am always thankful for those I can spend at home.

The Story of Thanksgivvukah

Let's celebrate the miracle of Judah Mayflower. Happy Thanksgivvukah to all!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gastrodiplomacy!

The Dance Motion USA program's twitter account tweeted their @gastrodiplomacy feasts around the world on their great cultural diplomacy program.

Happy Turkey Day Academia

Happy Thanksgiving to you, ex- Brandeis prez Yehuda Reinhard.  Be sure to use that golden parachute as a napkin and table cloth.  Happy Thanksgiving to all the academia that is eating its young with the predatory cannibal debt.

This World Oft Can Be

The Dellas have a new video out for the title track of their album "This World Oft Can Be." The song is up for Song of the Year for the Boston Music Awards; vote early, vote often.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

White Chick's Got Talent

Charlie Walker in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi

The hostel was largely full of twenty-something American missionaries. Uganda attracts large numbers of short-term (university holidays) messengers of Christ. It’s a pleasant country to visit on holiday and if the collection plate is able to part-fund a trip then it would be hard to refuse. Uganda is a stable, beautiful and (sometimes-shockingly) conservatively Christian country. Last year’s Anti Homosexuality Bill (also known as the “Kill the Gays Bill”) narrowly avoided instituting the death penalty for homosexual acts but did however prescribe life imprisonment and included a clause in which Ugandans in same-sex relationships overseas should be extradited home for punishment.

The crowd of 50 or so mostly-Texan missionaries were almost universally female, overweight, sporting recently-braided hair and suffering from sunburned seams of scalp between their braids. Loud and apparently unaware of others, they filled the bar and some even performed hilariously laboured aerobics on the lawn to 1990s hits by the Spice Girls and the Venga Boys. I heard one (indeed, her volume was impossible to ignore) yell across the bar to her friend engaged in conversation with a stranger: “Hey Michelle! Are you flirtin’ or convertin’ over there?”

Needless to say, I stayed only one night.

Charlie Walker's adventures through Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.  For those who don't read this blog often, Charlie is a fellow I met in a hostel in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.  He had biked from the UK to China, and was on his way home....by way of Cape Town.  Yes, his travels make mine look like Club Med.

The storm’s still, chill aftermath soon cleared the strange wake up call from my mind. That day was one of the occasional ones where I long to not be a foreigner. I don’t long to be at home as such, but just to be less conspicuous. The continual shouts (even if they be greetings) at me because I am different; the total lack of privacy or a moment’s peace unless I play music through my headphones and close my eyes and forget about the crowd of ten or more stood closely packed around me; the manic intensity with which young boys scream ceaselessly for my attention and continue to do so until acknowledged, after which they continue cheering and shouting triumphantly as though they’ve achieved something great; the young men who kick into action on their single-speed Chinese bicycles when I pass them at my steady pace, and strain every muscle to overtake me – objective achieved, white man bettered, they pull in front of me and stop pedalling, thus treating me to a heady assault of body odour and the necessity to swerve suddenly and dangerously to avoid shunting them; the people who find me hidden in the trees at midday and beg unscrupulously for the simple lunch I’m eating that will not nearly replace all the calories I’ve burned that morning. All these things are, of course, to be expected and are part of my daily life. Kindness or intent has nothing to do with it. There’s never any malice, well, rarely. However, this barrage of tactless attention, on occasion, makes me long for an unpeopled desert or the happy facelessness of riding in a European country where I’m simply dismissed as another member of The Great Unwashed and of little interest to anyone....

That adrenalin-flooded descent was one of those moments completely antithetical to the aforementioned downbeat exhaustion with being foreign. I’d had a hard day, I’d made friends, I’d had plenty of beer and now I had that magical feeling of going somewhere unplanned that I don’t know with people I hardly know. The excitement of uncertainty and then the exhilarating surrender to life. Like giving up swimming against a current and letting a river sweep you away to uncertainty and the unknown. On so many levels, this is why I travel.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A hot tip

Abolish tipping.  'Tis bad for all involved, except for restaurants that get away with forcing patrons into co-employment.

If you shop on Thanksgiving, You are part of the problem

A good soapbox stand against Thanksgiving consumerism.

Negotiating mirage

"Part of Israel's policy was to ask for the maximum with the hope and aspiration that at least half would be accepted. I'm sure that the prime minister and others didn't expect all of their demands to be fulfilled, because it's not real"
-Yoel Guzansky, former head of the Iran division in the Prime Minister's Office, commenting on the Iran deal.

But the more sober heads of the Israeli Military establishment are welcoming the deal, compared to the Likudnik hawks hacks who are apoplectic at this new "Munich."  

Harvard, for the win

Harvard students give tours at Yale.

Our last best, chance

Some good analysis on the Iran deal, and all that went into it.

On Allies and Interests

“Do our Middle East ‘allies’ really have our best interests at heart when they clamor for us to go to war for them?”
-Zbigniew Brzezinski

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tar and Feathers

This is the asshole who helped cause the shutdown. A 31-year-old privileged prick named Michael Needham, who deserves to be tarred-and-feathered. 

Prince of Persia

Between getting Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons, and getting the Iranians to agree to an initial nuclear deal, I dare say Obama might finally have earned his Nobel Prize.

And meanwhile, Kerry is proving to be the able statesman. Worth imaging what the world would have been like Kerry had been president from 2004 on, rather than a calamitous second Bush term. F' Ohio.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Land of Rainbows

It's funny, the first day I arrived to Hawai'i I was greeted by a big rainbow.  And a second so close, I even ventured out to track down its end.  Maybe a pot of gold at the end to fund my ventures.  It proved Heisenberg, as the closer I got it kept moving further away, but it really was that close that I could consider such chases.

I thought this was a quotidian thing.

But I haven't seen one since.  Which makes me know how much more special those rainbows I first encountered actually were.

Israeli Military Intel disagrees with Bibi

Israeli Military Intel disagrees with Bibi on Iran and its intentions and changes.  And who am I to disagree with Israeli Military Intelligence?

One Woman's Dangerous War Against the Most Hated Man on the Internet

Wow.  A real internet spy thriller. Worth a read.

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFKGB

The flag is flying at half mast outside the post office, and I am curious if that is to mark the 50th assassination of JFK.

I am also curious at the moment of the Soviet Union's reaction to his death.  What did they make of it?  What was the discussion in Moscow?  Did they already know it was going to happen?  "I'm just a patsy," remember.  Hmm...I would be so curious to see the historical records of conversations from that day from the Soviet Union.  I'm so curious of what would even be available.

I got a bit of an answer: this is former KGB super-spy Oleg Kalugin on the Soviets' likelihood of being behind it:
ABCNEWS: At the time of the assassination, the Soviet Union and the United States were enemies. Would the Soviets have had a reason to kill the president of the United States? 
Kalugin: No, that is just absolutely absurd. First of all, to kill the president of the United States is tantamount to a declaration of war. And back then we did not practice the assassination of foreign leaders — I mean of Western nations. We would probably have loved to have killed Tito of Yugoslavia, but he was a maverick in the Communist movement who betrayed our ranks, and for that reason was targeted for assassination. Stalin wanted to get rid of him and he ordered the KGB to find ways to have him killed. Well, it failed. 
And other peals from Kalugin on KGB views of Oswald. спасибо Джон Браун

Thanksgiving Day, à la Française

Thanksgiving Day, à la Française
by Elaine Sciolino

Ask long-timers at the American School of Paris how to do Thanksgiving dinner, and you’re likely to be told the tale of the gourmet turkey.
It seems that some time ago, an American family celebrating its first Thanksgiving in Paris ordered a turkey from the neighborhood butcher. The butcher offered to fill it with a special poultry stuffing and roast it.
“Bien sûr!” the wife told the butcher.
When the couple picked it up on Thanksgiving Day, the turkey was perfect, with a golden, crackly skin on the outside and juice oozing from the inside. The special stuffing was indeed special. It was made not with ordinary fowl livers, but with foie gras.
The turkey cost $200.
No matter what the price, Americans can’t ignore Thanksgiving. The French don’t quite get it. One veteran Parisian butcher insists on calling it le Noël Américain — the American Christmas.
I explain that unlike almost all of their official holidays, Thanksgiving marks neither a religious event nor a military victory. It’s the closest thing we have to a holiday without an agenda.
It is also the only American day designated to bring together family and friends for a home-cooked afternoon meal.
The humorist Art Buchwald said it best in a newspaper column in November 1952. Using free-form translations, he told the French all about “Kilometres Deboutish” (Miles Standish), the Fleur de Mai (Mayflower), the Pelerins (Pilgrims) and the Peaux-Rouges (Redskins). He said that Thanksgiving was the only time of year when Americans “eat better than the French do.”
For the French, however, every Sunday is a day to bring together family and friends for a home-cooked afternoon meal. And they would never, ever pile the courses on the plate all at once.
And yet, Thanksgiving could be French. The holiday was inspired by traditional fall harvest festivals in Europe. It is all about the preparation and consumption of ritual foods. (At the first Thanksgiving in 1621, the settlers at Plymouth Colony joined with Native Americans to eat venison, waterfowl, lobster, clams, berries and other fruit, pumpkin, squash, and, of course, wild turkeys.)
The French understand turkey. France is the leading turkey producer in the European Union. The breeds are named after their colors and regional origins: the Bourbonnais Black, for example, or the Red Ardennes.
Long ago, turkey replaced goose as a staple of the traditional French Christmas table, along with champagne, raw oysters, smoked salmon and foie gras. Poultry farmers time the hatching of turkey eggs to bring their free-range birds to maturity towards the end of December. If you want one a month earlier, it’s likely to be embarrassingly small. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with a farm-raised version, perfectly acceptable if you don’t crave the gamey taste and darker flesh of birds that have run wild.
Over the years, even the most Frenchified American expatriates in Paris have embraced the holiday.
Alice B. Toklas had Hélène the cook to roast the Stein-Toklas Thanksgiving turkey, but made the stuffing herself. Since Gertrude Stein could not decide whether she wanted chestnuts, mushrooms or oysters in the stuffing, Alice, a great cook, threw in all three. The stuffing became one of her signature dishes.
Julia Child’s most traumatic Thanksgiving in Paris was her first — but it had nothing to do with food. It was a party hosted by Paul and Hadley Mowrer. (He was a newspaper columnist, she the first Mrs. Ernest Hemingway.) More than half the guests were French, and Julia was so frustrated by her inability to communicate that she signed up for private French lessons at Berlitz immediately afterwards.
Just about every American in Paris seems to have a Thanksgiving story.
There was the American businessman who smuggled a turkey fryer from the United States and procured gallons of American peanut oil from the American military commissary in Brussels. He deep-fried the bird in the courtyard of his apartment complex.
Another couple once invited long-time French friends for a Thanksgiving dinner at the respectable American time of 5 p.m. The guests arrived exhausted from a marathon four-hour French lunch; they were horrified to learn that anyone would schedule dinner at such an ungodly hour.
I have my own turkey tales. Our first year in Paris I ordered a twelve-pound turkey and instead got a twelve-kilo mega-bird that didn’t fit into my dainty French oven. A British friend suggested I hack the bird into pieces. For me, such a mutilation would have symbolized the destruction of our family’s American way of life.
Another year I got no turkey at all, just a copy of a letter of apology from the turkey farmer. It seemed that a violent storm the previous January had destroyed much of his farm and halved his turkey population. “I ask you to forgive me,” he wrote.
The butcher offered me a capon. “It’s tender, fleshy and full of flavor,” he said. “You’ll like it better.”
“I want a turkey,” I replied. “Not a castrated rooster.”
Jean-Marie Boedec, a poultry butcher in the Seventh Arrondissement where a lot of Americans live, has solved the problem of the scrawny French turkey by ordering the biggest ones from Italy. The only challenge is that they are slaughtered in factories and often come with some of their skin missing. He uses skin from the legs of other birds to meticulously sew patches on the missing parts.
For those who are not cooking their own Thanksgiving dinner in Paris, there are always places to eat. Harry’s Bar, for example, which opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1911 (with wines from California) or a communal dinner at The American Church in Paris. The New York-based French Heritage Society is organizing a 200-euro-a-plate fund-raising “dîner de Thanksgiving” at the three-Michelin-star restaurant of the Bristol hotel, with offerings such as pumpkin soup with chestnut made to look like spaghetti and pecan pie flambéed with cognac.
For those who are cooking, there’s the Thanksgiving grocery boutique in the heart of the Marais. Fresh yams, cranberries and pecans; farm-raised turkeys; Libby’s pumpkin; College Inn chicken broth; Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix; Quaker cornmeal, disposable roasting pans; marinade injectors — they are all here. Judith Bluysen, the owner, takes orders of 300 pumpkin and pecan pies, which she bakes herself.
This year, she said, the French seem to be embracing the American holiday. The current issue of the French version of Saveurs features an article entitled “Frenchy Thanksgiving” complete with recipes (the turkey is lacquered with maple syrup).
Ms. Bluysen, who is American, already has been featured on half a dozen French television shows. She did one show with a French woman who claimed to be knowledgeable about all the classic dishes. She put marshmallow fluff in her mashed potatoes, made a pumpkin pie with a Keebler graham cracker crust, served canned cranberry sauce with the dinner and used the fresh cranberries to decorate the table.
“I’ve spent my life trying to help people do a real Thanksgiving, and when things like this happen, I want to retire!” said Ms. Bluysen.
When she opened her shop back in 1990, she settled on the name Thanksgiving after finding an obscure book about American religious sects. The chapter about Amish cooking began, “For us, every meal is a Thanksgiving.” It could have been French.

Truth, even unto its innermost uproar

We alumni Brandesians got pissed about ex-Prez Reinharz' golden parachute and started a petition.  The Boston Globe picked up on it...

My comment on the petition was: "how many adjuncts would that salary pay for?"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Persian Play

I don't even think Macbeth's Three Weird Sisters could come up with a foul-as-fair situation that would pit Israel and the Saudis on the same side of the docket, but the negotiations with Iran have done precisely that. It is incredible that Bibi would be so rabidly virulent to the best chance of getting Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program, but it stands to show his incapacity for leadership when a situation changes and he can only hold sway to the old winds.  The Saudis, dear Bibi, are not your friends.

Nor are the French.  I love France, but Gaul has abandoned its alliance with Israel once prior, when the changing political winds became more expedient; don't be foolish to think France is one you want to run to as counterweight on this case, Monsieur Netenyahu.

And pushing AIPAC to rally Congress to scuttle the negotiations before they come to fruition is an incredibly cynical political move that will cost Israel in the long-run.

Friedman is right about this one:
Never have I seen Israel and America’s core Arab allies working more in concert to stymie a major foreign policy initiative of a sitting U.S. president, and never have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.
Like the Saudis, Bibi doesn't oppose this deal; he opposes any deal that has the potential of being negotiated short of a surrender agreement.  He  is truly showing his stripes as a callous political hack who is incapable of leading in situations of change.  Like Yitzhak Shamir, he just wants to maintain the status quo at all costs.  Bibi or not, the Iran negotiations are too important to fail.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sovietica

Top 25 Soviet buildings.  Impressive, comrades!


My Aloha world

After showering outside behind a bamboo curtain, I walk out dripping wet in cloth towel into a rock garden with a baby Buddha sleeping on an elephant.  This is my world.  My Hawaiian Aloha Maui world.  But not for much longer.

Trojan gastrodiplomacy

"It started with dessert. When Ed Orgeron stepped in as the interim coach at Southern California after Lane Kiffin was fired in late September, one of the first moves he made was restoring sweets to the football team’s training table.

 His reasoning: If you give a lineman a cookie, he’ll want to block for you.

Who knew that the path to winning the hearts and minds of young men ran through their stomachs?"

-from: At U.S.C., the Cookie Doesn’t Crumble; It Bonds

Really, who knew?...

Hawaiian impressionism

These are the days I wish I could paint.

An impressionist Hawaiian landscape.
With white sails strewn across the evenings winds.
A pink haze canvas as backdrop.

The setting sun burning out orange fire
across the pink horizon.
The yellow pearl in its cloud pink shell.
The bottom underbelly of the foreground clouds
singed yellow.

The white-capped purples waves
gently lapping at the sandy shore.

With a lush green horizontal frame.
And swaying palms as the vertical frames.

Titans on Titans

Or perhaps Narnians on Middle-Earthers.  C.S. Lewis reviewing J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. (!!)

Semper Memorabile

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
-Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

Why I'm Opposed to Liz Cheney Marriage.

"Liz Cheney marriage isn’t fair to the offspring, either. Studies have shown that a child raised by a Liz Cheney is at greater risk of developing paranoid xenophobia, acute nepotism, and poor shotgun-aiming skills."

"The Bible clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman, not one Liz Cheney and anyone else. Corinthians 7:12 states, 'And he who shall defy the Lord and have congress with a Liz Cheney shall be banished to a remote, barren, joyless land with a governmental influence disproportionate to its meager population and an unjustly high outlay-to-tax ratio.'"

Why I'm Opposed to Liz Cheney Marriage.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hawaiian Benedictions

I spend my days in work, meditation and yoga on my sunset-deck-turned-hermitage that looks out high over the Pacific.

The friar consists on coconut water with the little white pulp of tender young coconuts

And little Japanese bowls of dried fruits and nuts.

Desiccated grapes cherries and cranberries, along with dry almonds and walnuts.

The cross breeze crosses me, and turns the creme fan slowly above the creme ceiling.

The Spirit of Aloha fills me,

The Hawaiian muse, no less.

In a soft island voice with a bouncing ukulele flea filling my ears.

And all is green palm and blue sea in front of me.

With rugged mountains covered in grey haze and white clouds.

O ka pono ke hana 'ia a iho mai na lani.

"Blessing come to those who persist in doing good."

Mexico's rising middle class

A nice piece in the NYTimes on Mexico's rising middle class.  So interesting how the tone changes.  The last few articles I have seen about Mexico in the ol' Grey Lady have been about rising foreign investment and immigration to Mexico, not breathless coverage of the drug war.  Since the NYTimes sets the tone of coverage, I think we can expect more stories of this nature in the press.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Aloha Mixed Plate

After a peaceful morning, I walked down along the ocean to grab lunch at Aloha Mixed Plate- a local restaurant not too far away.

"Paper plate meets million dollar view," sayeth the New York Times.  So true. Those Howlies know what's up. Hard to find a better paradise than to have lunch. Hawaiian barbecue chicken on the sea breeze, as birds chirp in the canopy of trees.

I sipped a mai tai of dark and light rums mixed with tropical juices as boats moored in the water rocked in the surf.

My lunch came, a plate of Mochiko Chicken- island style fried chicken.

Boneless chicken thighs marinated, dipped in sweet rice flour batter and then deep fried golden.  It came with a  side of rice and macaroni salad. I filled up a pool of sriracha, and munched the juicy fried chicken and soft rice.  The macaroni salad cut the heat of the sriracha on the golden crispy chicken, and its succulent sauce and juices flavored the fluffy rice.  It was absolutely delicious.  I saved some for the fellow I had passed on way who was living by between the sea and the shed near the beach who had smiled at me earlier on my journey.

I sat reading of another emerald isle in Angela's Ashes:

Toby says nobody knows Limerick like the telegram boy. We know every avenue, road, street, terrace, mews, place, close, lane. Jasus, says Toby, there isn’t a door in Limerick we don’t know. We knock on all kinds of doors, iron, oak, plywood. Twenty thousand doors, Frankie. We rap, kick, push. We ring and buzz bells. We shout and whistle, Telegram boy, telegram boy. We drop telegrams in letter boxes, shove them under doors, throw them over the transom. We climb in windows where people are bedridden. We fight off every dog who wants to turn us into dinner. You never know what’s going to happen when you hand people their telegrams. They laugh and sing and dance and cry and scream and fall down in a weakness and you wonder if they’ll wake up at all and give you the tip. It’s not a bit like delivering telegrams in America where Mickey Rooney rides around in a film called The Human Comedy and people are pleasant and falling over themselves to give you a tip, inviting you in, giving you a cup of tea and a bun. 
Toby Mackey says he has facts galore in his notebook and he doesn’t give a fiddler’s fart about anything and that’s the way I’d like to be myself.

I sipped a Pacific Golden Wave lager as I got towards the end of my precious book.  I got to the beginning of the last chapter, and then I paid the check, and wandered back along the ocean.  I found the fellow and gave him the leftover Mochiko Chicken.

"It ain't much, but it's good," I said with an Aloha smile.

He smiled back big, took the white container of mochiko goodness and said "Mahalo.  God bless you."

I smiled and returned to my hermitage to read my last chapter of Angela's Ashes.

Hawai'i , please do gastrodiplomacy to mainland (America)! I swear we know scant about Hawaiian cuisine and culture on the mainland, especially on the East Coast.  I promise, this Big Kahuna will help you do domestic public diplomacy of your unique culture and cuisine to mainland, and it will be good.

Easy like Sunday morn'

Drivin' slow on Sunday morning around the backroads of West Maui in Brudda Blu- an old blue Dodge Caravan.  More pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18







Cuba Libre

Qatar's Georgia O'Keeffe


Well done, Qatar!  Nice new stadium design.  World Cup, indeed.

Century

This fellow, Jack Taylor of Grinnell ("Where the Hell is Grinell and who the Hell cares?") hit his SECOND 100 point game.  Somewhere in heaven, surrounded by 30,000 angels, Wilt Chamberlain is jealous.

Ah, but perhaps not.  Apparently, Taylor is a cog in The System.

I can't fault Taylor or The System. It is a strange innovation of play, but it is still incumbent on him hitting the shots. Reminds me a bit of the A-11 offense- when someone just exploits the system a bit differently to change the rules. But that does put a different spin on the record.

The Generational Ponzi Scheme at work

Alone

As i sit alone in my hermitage-on-the-sunset-deck, overlooking the placid fog-covered ocean and listen to the birds chirp in the palm trees, a few articles have me thinking about my own solitude.

-A life alone

-A death alone

My brother Harry says he knows when i have too much time on my hands by the number of emails he has in his inbox.

He has at least two this morning.

I spend a lot of time alone.

Being in your own head all the time can be both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing when I can take the time to sort through various thoughts; a curse when I am left adrift in anxieties that I know would just go away if I had someone to talk with.

But this morning it is neither.  Just a quiet monday, overlooking the vast blue sea with the rugged frame mountains covered in grey fog.

When I can slow my thoughts and cast off worries of past and future, like Siddhartha under his banyan, my solitude becomes a cloak of blessings that envelope me in gentle peace.

But such peace is always fleeting, and instead I wrestle like Jacob to hold on to such moments.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Mall & Afrika

Umami

Truth, Even Unto Its Innermost Somethings

I would love to get a 6-figure salary paid for doing nothing too, as Brandeis' ex-prez Jehuda Reinharz. Paid by exorbitant tuition of a generation of students taking on 6-figures of debt. Nice work Brandeis. Truth, even unto its innermost something or other.

Crime and Punishment, Sweden-style

Sweden is closing prisons due to a lack of people to incarcerate.  And here is the kicker:
The issue isn't lack of crime in Sweden—in fact, the crime rate has actually increased slightly there—but rather a strong emphasis on rehabilitating criminals, rather than locking them up. The prison population declined 6 percent between 2011 and 2012. In the United States, by comparison, federal facilities are 40 percent over capacity.
It really is too bad that the Swedish are too good for world domination. The planet would be a much better place if they ran it.

Breaking Malcolm

The greatest thing ever.  A Breaking Bad alternate ending ala Newhart in which Bryan Cranston wakes up in Malcolm in the Middle.


A Colossal Wreck

He banged away relentlessly against what he called “the criminal tendencies of the executive class,” writing in 2002: “The finest schools in America produced a criminal elite that stole the store in less than a decade. Was it all the fault of Ayn Rand, of Carter and Kennedy, of the Chicago School, of Hollywood, of God’s demise? You’d think there’s at least a Time cover in it.”

That he would be Alexander Cockburn (Co-burn, he was originally Irish) in his book A Colossal Wreck.   Cockburn was the last of a dying breed, and I need to pick up a copy of his meandering meanderings.  Nice find, JB.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Angela's Ashes

Before I headed out on my recent road trip, I stopped by the library.  They sell used books for 50 cents, and I am always buying.  I got two classics, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje and Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.

The English Patient started off beautifully and I was enthralled.  I had loved the movie years prior.  But strangely, by the time I finished the book I had decided that the movie was actually better.  I don't think I have ever had a case like this.  I love the show and book of Game of Thrones equally and in different ways.  Actually I love the book more, but the show gives me better imagery for the characters.  But The English Patient was a rare case where I thought the story was told better in the movie than the book.  Unexpected sentiments, given the powerful beginning of the novel.

As for Angela's Ashes, I am almost done and this is my favorite passage to date.  Probably because it hits on public diplomacy, and the role of international broadcasting in telling of the world to listeners.

"Grandma's next-door neighbor, Mrs. Purcell, has the only wireless in her lane. The government gave it to her because she's old and blind. I want a radio. My grandmother is old but she's not blind and what's the use of having a grandmother who won't go blind and get a government radio?

Sunday nights I sit outside on the pavement under Mrs. Purcell's window listening to plays on the BBC and Radio Eireann, the Irish station You can hear plays by O'Casey, Shaw, Ibsen and Shakespeare himself, the best of all, even if he is English .... And you can hear strange plays about Greeks plucking out their eyes because they married their mothers by mistake.

One night I am sitting under Mrs. Purcell's window listening to 'Macbeth.' Her daughter, Kathleen, sticks her head out the door. Come in, Frankie. My mother says you'll catch the consumption sitting on the ground in this weather.

Ah no Kathleen. It's all right.
No. Come in.

They give me tea and a grand cut of bread slathered with blackberry jam. Mrs. Purcell says, Do you like the Shakespeare, Frankie?
I love the Shakespeare, Mrs. Purcell.
Oh, he's music, Frankie, and he has the best stories in the world. I don't know what I'd do with meself of a Sunday night if I didn't have the Shakespeare.

When the play finished she lets me fiddle with the knob on the radio and I roam the dial for distant sounds on the shortwave band, strange whispering and hissing, the whoosh of the ocean coming and going and Morse Code dit dit dit dot. I hear mandolins, guitars, Spanish bagpipes, the drums of Africa ... here is the great boom of Big Ben, this is the BBC Overseas Service and here is the news. Mrs. Purcell says, Leave that on, Frankie, so we'll know the state of the world.

After the news there is the American Armed Forces Network and it's lovely to hear the American voices easy and cool and here is the music, oh man, the music of Duke Ellington himself telling me take the A train to where Billie Holiday sings only to me,

I can't give you anything but love, baby. 
That's the only thing I've plenty of, baby.

Oh, Billie, Billie, I want to be in America with you and all that music, where no one has bad teeth, people leave food on their plates, every family has a lavatory, and everyone lives happily ever after.
And Mrs. Purcell's says, Do you know what, Frankie?

What, Mrs. Purcell?

That Shakespeare is that good he must have been an Irishman."

-Frank McCourt, "Angela's Ashes"

Know your double

“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then”
 -Lewis Carroll, "Alice in Wonderland"

Know your double.

Maui Surf

New pics up from Maui surf.  More pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18






Friday, November 15, 2013

Maui pics

I'll Fry Anything Once

"A Provençal saying holds that a fish lives in water and dies in oil; in the world of tempura, a fish can go from watery cradle to oily grave in 10 seconds."

I'll Fry Anything Once.  A deliciously beautiful piece on tempura from Mathew Amster-Barton, a Seattle food writer who spent the summer with his family eating in Tokyo.


Of Levantine Interest

Thursday, November 14, 2013

PHX & ABQ

Working backward while looking forward from the Beamers' sunset deck at the giant orb setting behind the mountains as its rays pour out through the clouds and across the channel.  Maui, you are a beauty.  

Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, which was the home of the shows for the next two nights.  The last time I had been in a musical instrument museum was in Dushanbe with the Dellas (see left).

After our day off on Monday, we were going to have a private tour of the museum. Unfortunately, Moana received news that her father had passed away, so we skipped the tour as she and Keola needed to deal with things back at home.  The day was spent quietly prior to our sound check at the museum.

The MIM, as it's called, had a wonderful stage and concert hall.  Wonderful acoustics and people to take care of the excellent theater.

The show was excellent.  I noticed as I was in and out of the Green Room that RC's picture was on the wall. Robert Carlos Nakai.  R. Carlos is part of the tour, offering his Native American flutes to to the mix of the show.  RC, as he is known, is a Navajo/Ute and an interesting fellow.  There is another fellow on the tour, named Geoffrey Keezer, who is terrific piano player.

The next day I took a little time to tour around downtown Phoenix while everyone else had breakfast. I drove downtown alongside the light rail train, and wandered in-and-out of the southwest city's downtown before I headed over to the Arizona State Capitol building.  As this is Arizona, as I was walking in, two Border Reconnaissance supporters came bounding in, fully armed cameras following.  I think it was some sort of protest or demonstration.  I am definitely not on  the East Coast, I couldn't believe these armed men could just walk right in to the state capitol.  Anyway, I toured through some exhibits on Arizona's quest for statehood.  The Union didn't want to let Arizona in as a state because it was "too unlawful, too foreign."  Arizona was finally let in as a state in 1912, and just celebrated its centennial last year.  When I passed what I thought to be Gov. Jan Brewer's office, I gave the finger.

I returned and picked up the musicians to visit the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery.  The school is run by a renowned guitar-harpist named William Eaton.  We toured the facilities where the guitar-makers shaped and sanded the stringed instrument, then Keola gave a nice talk to the luthier students about aloha and guitars.  For these guitar aficionados, they sat up and paid close attention to Keola's guitar, which has two holes higher up the bridge rather than a hole near the center-- it gives more space for vibration.  The students also paid close attention to Keola discuss the style of Hawaiian slack key guitar, in which there are 40 or so different tunings based on the slackened strings.  It is always fun watching epistemic communities interact, and guitar lovers are no different.  The students had all sorts of questions on tuning and style, especially because the Hawaiian slack key style is so different.  I loved watching the gears turn.

We had our second show that night, which also went well.  After the show, we went out to dinner with Robert Doyle, the president of Canyon Records.

So stop me if you've heard this one: a Jew, a Hawaiian and a Native American walk into a bar...

Or at least sit down at a restaurant to talk about identity, tradition and modernity.  We had a fascinating conversation among RC, Keola and me discussing how much of the bitterness of our bitter histories we can hold onto; how our identities delicately balance tradition and modernity, and the general driven leafness of our respective peoples.  I will discuss more later about Malama Koh Aloha, or Keep your Aloha/love, the fight between Hawaiians over those who wanted to maintain the traditional system, with those who wanted to modernize.

Anyway, we had an early next day out to Albuquerque.  The band went to check in, and I checked out the performing arts center, which happened to be at a performing arts high school.  After a little down time (and a stop for lunch at Taco Cabana, which is seriously the best semi-Tex/Mex food ever), and on to the last show.  The show went well, and was a bit emotional for the ensemble as it was their last show together after a long tour (the tour began weeks before I joined).  Moana made a comment after it was done that I didn't fully grasp until the next morning (words I woke up to, playing in my ear) that perhaps her father, who was deaf, finally got to hear the performance.  The show ended and we sipped red wine in the dressing room, until the concert promoter freaked out a bit since we were not supposed to be drinking in the high school.  We offered to put the bottles in someone's locker....

We flew out early the next day to Hawaii by way of LA.  While I was at LAX, I made arrangements to get rid of the flight voucher that was burning a hole in my pocket, and got a ticket to Mexico City.  Since the government shutdown killed my winter project, I needed a cheap place to regroup and write proposals.  It would be far cheaper for me in Mexico City than anywhere in the U.S., especially if I wasn't paying for the flight (not too much at least, as the voucher covered the majority).  So I called American Airlines, made the reservation to D.F., and then went to the counter to drop off the voucher.  Mexico City, here I come.  I already have a cheap place to stay, and some friends there.  One friend Cesar from USC, who I introduced to his wife Kenya.  He works at USAID in Mexico City.  The other friend is Minseon.  For those who have been following this blog for a while, you may remember Minseon from my first adventures in India.  I met the 19-year old Korean at the airport, and we traveled together through India on different locations, including the Taj Mahal for Valentine's Day.  That was many moons ago, but I do think I had an effect on the dear girl.  She went on to study abroad in Kazakhstan (I helped convince her that was much more interesting than Sweden) and now she lives and works in Mexico City.  I haven't seen her in 6 years.  More on D.F. to come.  As Juan Marron likes to quote, "Como Mexico, no hay dos."

Anywho, the tour ended and it was nice to be on the road again.  Now I am soaking in Aloha in Maui.

Phoenix pics

Phoenix pics up, and others from the Malama Ko Aloha tour at http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18

First two are from the lovely Hermosa Inn resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the bottom two are Chohuli's glass works in the Desert Botanical Gardens.






Travel Warnings, near and far

Check out these travel warnings listed for various American cities by other foreign ministries:

Washington: Northeast and Southeast should be avoided, and Union Station is dangerous at night. “Le quartier Anacostia n’est pas recommandable de jour comme de nuit.” Translation: Don’t go to Anacostia, day or night.

New York: Be wary in Times Square and at the Statue of Liberty, and don’t go to Harlem, the Bronx or Central Park at night.

Baltimore: “Considered a dangerous city except downtown.”

Los Angeles: France warns tourists to take care in Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Long Beach, and to avoid Watts, Inglewood and Florence.

The Rainbow State

"This is nothing more than the expansion of aloha in Hawaii"
-Hawaii State Sen. Kalani English

Kudos to Hawaii for legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.  It was Hawaii that started the gay marriage debate in 1990 when two women applied for a marriage license.  That case went up to the Hawaiian Supreme Court in 1993,  It was the Hawaiian Supreme Court ruling that helped fuel Congress' push for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 that banned same-sex marriage.  With DOMA struck down, a special session was called by Hawaii's Gov. Neil Abercrombie.  The Hawaiian House and Senate passed bills allowing same-sex marriage, and the governor signed the bill yesterday.  Hawaii is the 15th state in the Union to recognize same-sex unions.  And because tolerance is good business:
An estimate from a University of Hawaii researcher says the law will boost tourism by $217 million over the next three years, as Hawaii becomes an outlet for couples in other states, bringing ceremonies, receptions and honeymoons to the islands.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

25 worst food name fails

Swederland

Nation branding at its utter finest: Sweden and Switzerland launch a joint campaign to help Chinese tourists tell them apart. Simon Anholt would be soooo proud.  Now on to Taiwan and Thailand to do a campaign for confused Occidentals.

Halloween of Thrones

While I was working in Albuquerque, and I met a woman who hung out with George R.R. Martin at a Halloween party. When not in Westeros, he lives in New Mexico. He was dressed as Robert Baratheon. He told her that no one would expect him as such.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Other Paris, Beyond the Boulevards

The Other Paris, Beyond the Boulevards
 By MIRA KAMDAR

I live just outside Paris, beyond the Périphérique, the eternally clogged ring road that separates the City of Light from its suburban areas of darkness. My neighborhood is in Pantin, where the infamous northeastern suburbs — the banlieues — begin. When I told one Parisian where I lived during casual chatter at a dinner party in the chic Marais quarter, he actually stepped away from me and blurted: “Quelle horreur!” But it isn’t a horrible place. And it’s where, for better or worse, a new France is being forged.
On the noisy sidewalks of the boulevard near my apartment, there are no Hemingway-besotted expats in search of their own “Midnight in Paris.” My local farmers’ market does not sell kale, the latest trendy American import, and the bakery on the corner features round flat loaves of sesame-studded bread for a largely North African clientele.
My neighbors come from around the world; legal or illegal immigrants from Africa, South Asia, China and Vietnam. Most of the white faces I see are Poles, Ukrainians, Russians and Serbs. While I can’t buy a good baguette, expertly cut meat from “known parentage” or high-quality aged French cheeses right outside my door, I can get preserved lemons, bulk-priced spices, basmati rice and the most amazing lemongrass-infused Thai sausages I have ever tasted.
I travel mostly by metro, shuttling back and forth between my home and Paname, as Paris is known here in the suburbs — an old nickname taken from the Panama hats worn by 19th-century fashionistas. I ride the No. 5, which runs north-south and stops at the Gare du Nord, at once the transit point for the Eurostar to London and the gateway to the graffiti-scrawled suburban trains that ferry black and brown residents of the far-flung suburbs in and out of Paris. When I ride home in the evening, many of the whites get off at République, the heart of Paris’s newly hip eastern quarters. I find myself then in a car where many languages are spoken, rarely French, and where one never hears the twangy tones of excited American tourists.
I’ve learned a lot during my long commutes on the metro. One thing is not to underestimate the cosmopolitanism of my fellow travelers. I found myself sitting once next to a young French-African woman. I was stunned when her phone rang and she answered in serviceable Hindi. When she finished, I couldn’t help asking her how it was that she spoke the language. Oh, she explained, she belonged to an evangelical church and had learned Hindi, in Paris, to spread the good word among Indian immigrants. I knew evangelical Protestantism was flourishing in immigrant communities in France, but this cross-cultural example floored me.
When I emerge from the storied metro stations of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Louvre or Saint-Paul, I am always blown away by the beauty of old Paris, with its limestone buildings, its grand boulevards and its elegant cafes where a garçon with a starched white tea towel over his arm will call you Madame. I try not to see the Starbucks and the McDonald’s that have invaded this capital of fine dining, and I often buy a loaf of good bread and some very expensive cheese to carry home.
Some day soon, I may not have to travel into Paris to buy these things. My neighborhood is changing. The canal that snakes up from the Seine in eastern Paris has long been gentrified up to the Parc de la Villette, a modern swath of green on Paris’s northern border. Work is in full swing to rehabilitate the seedy banks of the canal beyond. The old mills in Pantin have been transformed into offices for the banking giant BNP. Further north, Chanel has installed its headquarters. Hermès has bought up whole blocks for its ateliers. New apartment buildings are going up with spaces reserved for affordable housing but also for canalside cafes. Just down the road from the Tang Frères Chinese supermarket, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac has opened a new space in an old warehouse where members of the international art scene view works by Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys.
From every side of my apartment, I see cranes. Construction is booming. The new tramway that will one day circle all around Paris stops downstairs. In a nod to gender balance, many of the new tram stops are named after women. My stop is Delphine Seyrig. The next stop is Ella Fitzgerald.
Pantin is proud of its working-class heritage. It is home to a green school, which produces more energy than it consumes. It hosts a collective that delivers local produce by barge several times a week along the canal. It sponsors a jazz festival and a film festival. It is building a new market square, repaving streets and cleaning up its parks. The neighborhood is not immune to signs of the widening gap between the ideals of the secular French social-welfare state and an increasingly diverse population. Small Muslim girls wearing head scarves trail behind their fully covered mothers. Young black men with nothing better to do smoke in front of the public housing entrance. An illegal immigrant from Pakistan sells fruit from a crate on the sidewalk. But there are also boisterous girls in skinny jeans, tousled hair tangling in the wind, a girl from Algeria arm-in-arm with one from Senegal.
I don’t feel despair or fear here, but something more alive than the static elegance of eternal Paris. The future of this great city is on its periphery. 
-Mira Kamdar

Sharing Aloha

With Aloha.

As I have come to learn, the essence of Aloha is that calabash that holds the light of your soul. That ephemeral light can become darkened by stones of jealousy, greed and anger. But if we share our Aloha, which is the spirit of compassion, truth and love, we can help make that divine light burn brighter. I think the Jewish notion is that of Tikkun O'lam, repairing the divine sparks that light the world.

There was a big rainbow that stretched across the Straits of Maui. A bright burning mound of rainbow that is now long gone. But such signs always auger well for this knight-errant.

 Mahalo Keola and Moanalani for sharing Aloha with me.


Maui night

Perfect half watermelon white moon
   Casting a line of white night
   down Maui's black straits.

Black night
     filled with headlights
cutting zebra strips
    as white head lights
get cut along
    the metal grates.

The cannibal black night
ate the white moon whole
and I am enveloped
    in the breeze of
    a black Maui night.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Of interest

-On Media Matters, the Liberal Attack Machine that eviscerated 60 Minutes on the Benghazi report.  Kudos to Hilary Tone, a friend and MPD alum who is an Asst. Editor for MMA.

-On why Muslims should appreciate secularism

-Under the Banner of Equality: a Senate bill fighting discrimination against Gays gets Mormon support.  Praise Moroni!

-Vive Catalonia! I will help you do pd, cultural diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy if you promise to put Dalí on your money and have a Gaudi-esque Parliament.

-The Gatekeepers: not all of Israel's top security brass are as apoplectic about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear deal as Bibi.  Some wiser heads even support it.

-A sad reminder of how nuts gun supporters can be when faced with the slightest dissent, even from fellow supporters.  Would it be trite to say: "just shoot me, please"?

When Hawaii met Sushi

When Hawaii met Sushi: spam musubi. Kosher gods forgive me, but gastrodiplomacy gods demanded sacrifice. Had to try it once...

End of the road

So ends my week as a PD Roadie for the Grammy-nominated Malama Ke Aloha project.  Now off to recoup from my work in Maui.  Such is life.

Joyeux Anniversaire Camus!

"Isolation may well be the price that any true moralist must pay."
 Happy centennial Albert Camus! A wonderful piece on L'Étranger himself.  Merci, Abba.

Vote Early, Vote Often

The Dellas are up for the Boston Music Awards for Song of the Year for their song "This World Oft Can Be"!  You can vote for their song here.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Work

John Brown like to quote his fatherly's sagely advice: "Never 'work.' Surely, never 'work.' But, if you must, start at the top."

I, on the other hand, work a week then take a two-week vacay in Maui....

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

University of Gastronomic Sciences

Apparently you can get a Master's in Food Communication at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy.  I know this because I was just reading over a student's Master's Thesis on gastrodiplomacy and culinary diplomacy.  Allesandra, you get an A from Prof. Rockower of USLM.  Meanwhile, I think I deserve an honorary doctorate from said university....

El Mariachi

Rollin' through the desert Southwestern landscape, carrying two guitars like something out of El Mariachi.  This PD Roadie happens to be carrying the guitars of a Grammy nominee, too funny.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Tales of a PD Roadie

Fitting that I would end up a Roadie given that I spend so much of my life on the road...

After a wonderful concert at Soka University, we packed up early the next morning to make the drive to Phoenix.  We drove over to the airport, and unloaded the luggage on the curb with Moana as we switched vehicles.  We then repacked and headed off on the road.  It was a much better idea.

We drive off through city sprawl and mountains of southern California, and on through the Palm Desert.  As we hit the Palm Desert, we came upon fields and fields of windmills, and Don Pablo Quijote knew that the right choice had been made.  Lines of the three-armed giants in rows flanked the road and towered high above on mountain tops.  I contained my desire to go tilting.

The rugged landscape of the desert was beautiful, and haze hung over the valleys we passed.  We caught the Ten and drove on through the desiccated scrub.  Perhaps owing to my Hebraic roots, I love the desert and the empty peace it offers.  We drove on through as the California desert gave way to the Arizona desert.  The desert hue became more red, and the landscape became littered with cacti.  The spiky figures towered high across the dry plains.  The road sped by with a speed limit at 75 mph.  I passed the sign for Maricopa County, gave it a cactus finger.

The long and winding road took approximately 6 hours, as drove past Phoenix to just outside the city to the Hermosa Inn in Scottsdale.  We arrived to a gorgeous luxury boutique resort of Southwestern style, where we would sojourn for the next four days.  I must have done something right in a former life because I don't deserve such luxury.  The place was filled with beautiful gardens and statues.  I had my own deluxe southwest style room.  I was greeted in my room with a plate filled with stinky cheeses, flatbreads, fresh honey and raspberries.

We relaxed a bit, then the hotel had a wine reception for Keola and Moana outside the main lodge.  There was a Hawaiian music performer and Hawaiian dancing.  After the demonstration, we headed in to the lovely library for a four-course meal and an intimate salon-style discussion with Keola and Moana.  After the courses and wines were done, Keola and Moana gave a nice chat about the spirit of Aloha and performed a song called "The Green Rose Hula," which the audience loved.

Yesterday we had a free day, and we headed on to the Desert Botanical Gardens to meet Keola's half-brother and his family.  We entered past some radiant, beautiful Chohuli glass cacti that had recently been installed, then had a nice lunch in the cafe and wandered around the cacti gardens and southwest botany-filled landscape complete with rabbits, butterflies and quails.  We came back to the inn, and had a lovely dinner next to a mesquite-burning wood fire place, before a small storm washed the desert down.   

Differing forms of BS

-The BS of engagement rings

-The BS of the Saudis being pissed

Saturday, November 02, 2013

West-by-Midwest

I was just subject to a fortuitous fuck-up on my part.  But as always, it is better to be lucky than good.  And as the saying goes, luck loves the fearless.  A lil recap of the week that's been...

I started my trek west-by-midwest with a stop in St. Louis.  I was flying out for my friend and former American Voices co-worker Jeremy's wedding to his bride-to-be Jessica.  They met at a Cardinals playoff game two years prior, and had a baseball-themed wedding that happened to correspond with the Cardinals in the World Series.  I had planned to stay in St. Louis with a friend Leslie, but she had to go out of town at the last minute.  Not wanting to trouble Jeremy, and not wanting to stay in an expensive hotel, I booked a place at the Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel in Soulard. 

I arrived in Soulard but the hostel's office hours were later in the day so I headed out to grab some lunch at a ghetto chinese spot nearby to have St. Louis Chinese special, a St. Paul Sandwich.  A St. Paul Sandwich is an amazing East meets Mid-West combination of a fried egg foo young patty, served in between two pieces of white bread with pickles, lettuce and mayo.  Yum.

I spent the afternoon walking from Soulard down to downtown St. Louis.  I stopped in the old St. Louis Courthouse, which today serves as a memorial museum to Dred Scott and his famous case that helped push the country to civil war.  For those who don't remember the Dred Scott Case from U.S. History class, Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom, and the freedom of his family on the basis that he had been brought to a free state.  The Taney Supreme Court ruled otherwise, and went beyond all previous congressional compromises to indicate that an African-American, free or slave, had no standing in U.S. courts.  While Dred Scott would eventually attain his freedom, the judicial overreach would spur the cleaving states further apart and on to greater schism.  The museum and poignant film did an excellent job of bringing this pivotal case to light, and explaining the context of the case and decision in the times it took place.

We had a lovely rehearsal dinner at a place called Planter's Inn, which had not quite opened yet.  Then a long night of celebratory cheer at the hotel bar that ended in the wee hours of the morn.  I never made it back to the hostel, but rather slept on Jeremy's couch.  He had a few other out-of-town guests who were staying at his place, and had I simply mentioned the situation I could have just crashed there.  So it goes.

The next day I stopped back at the hostel to shower and change, and doffed my suit and walked downtown ahead of the wedding festivities.  Jeremy and Jessica had rented a party bus to take guests from the hotel to the Missouri Botanical Garden for their wedding; I was left in charge of rounding up guests for the bus shuttling trips.  Thankfully, I did not lose any guests and we made our way over to the lovely Missouri Botanical Gardens for a lovely wedding.  The weather held up perfectly for a sunny Autumn afternoon service.  The evening party was a lot of fun, including the big surprise guest Fredbird- the Cardinals mascot.  Apparently Jeremy had booked the bird months prior, but as the World Series date fell on the wedding, the Cardinals tried to balk.  Jeremy pointed out that he had a signed contract, and Fredbird would be shaking his tailfeathers at the party, or there would be issues.  Well, the mascot was there.  The party was a lot of fun, and we watched the Cards beat the Red Sox on the crazy obstruction call.

The next day I flew out to Los Angeles.  As I was getting to the gate, I heard another flight mention that they needed someone to be bumped so I offered my services at my gate.  The woman at the counter said she might take me up on the offer.  I waited, then boarded the flight.  As I was sitting down, the flight attendant asked for a volunteer to be bumped.  I quickly hit the call button and volunteered.  I grabbed my stuff and bounded off the flight to collect a $500 flight voucher and a later flight.  There was even some talk at the counter that I could get bumped a second time; I was hoping to double down on the vouchers.  In the end, they didn't need me to get bumped a second time, so I took a night flight to Lalaland.  My flight to Lalaland reminded me that the city never disappoints with its share of self-centered loons.

I spent the next few days wandering in-and-out of my old USC world.  I haunted Annenberg, stopping in to see old friends and familiar faces.  Such a nice place to return to.

On Friday, Keola and Moana flew in to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, and I picked them up at the airport.  It had been a little tricky, as I had not realized that getting to John Wayne was an expensive affair from Hermosa Beach.  But I had managed to make friends with an Afghan cab driver who gave me a good deal on the ride to airport at a price cheaper than a shuttle.

So I grabbed Keola and Moana, and we headed over to check into our hotel.   While they settled in, I ran over to In-and-Out to grab some lunch for us.  They had never had In-and-Out before, so I grabbed them some double-doubles, wrapped in lettuce for their paleo predilections.  This veggie had a grilled cheese, animal-style.

We then headed north to USC to meet with the MPD students for a lil "talk-story" about our cultural diplomacy adventures in Brazil.  The MPD students have a trip to Brazil this year, so there was a bit of interest in our perceptions.  We had a nice, informal chat with the PD students on conducting cultural diplomacy on the ground, and what it all really means.  It was nice to give the students a perspective beyond the classroom about what the PD game is like on the ground, and how their education helps shape their future in the field.

After a nice discussion, Keola, Moana and I went out to grab some Brazilian food for old-time sake, then headed back down to the OC.

By the way, just to explain what I am doing out here: I am managing a tour for Keola, Moana and R.Carlos Nakai- a Native American flutist.

Yesterday, we made our way over to Soka University, a university founded on Buddhist principles in Alisa Viejo (kinda like a Buddhist Brandeis).  It is a new university, only about a dozen years old.  As I later found out, there are only 450 students, all of whom (just about) live on campus.  The student body has some 30 different nationalities.  The university offers a generous amount of financial aid to its students, and offers free tuition for accepted students whose parents have a household income of less than $60k.

The university campus is stunning.  It sits overlooking a canyon, and is filled with reflecting pools.  The performing arts center is also stunning- a new facility with all the newest accouterments.  After conducting the sound check, the ensemble had an educational music work shop with about 100 home-schooled students and parents about Hawaiian and Native American music.  It was a fun program, and the parents and kids loved the music and learning the hula.

After the program, we went out to find lunch at a mall called the Irvine Spectrum.  We found a kebabery, which had some good fair.  After lunch, we wandered around the open-air mall.  It was designed like something out of Morocco or Moorish Spain, with tiled walls, giant hanging Moorish lamps and rounded archways.  Even a faux al-Hambra pool with lions.  I quickly grew disturbed by this faux Andalucia, and the fact that this period of history and culture was being ripped off for cheap and tawdry materialist pursuits.

After strolling through the Moor's last shopping mall, we headed back to Soka for Keola and co to meet with some of the students.  The ensemble had a very moving discussion with the students about being true to your heritage and culture.  The discussion also helped me put my angst about the faux Andalucian shopping mall in perspective.  I realized that I was so disturbed at the mall because places (Morocco, Moorish Spain) that had such an impact on me, and a period that I hold in such esteem, was being turned into a gauche avenue for materialist shopping endeavors.  The discussion about using your history and culture to make meaningful contributions to humanity helped me move past the angst that the mall had caused in me.

After the discussion, we made our way out of the campus filled in the fading light.  We walked down by the edge of the canyon, where hummingbirds chirped in purple fields of Mexican sage.  I rubbed rosemary in my hands, as I listened to the subtle chirp of the tiny birds as the sun set in the distance.

We returned to meet some friends of Keola's for dinner.  We drove with them down to Laguna Beach, where I had not been since my friend Shane's wedding.  We had a delicious dinner at a fancy restaurant called Watermarc.  While we were chatting, I discovered that Keola's friend Joyce was an architect in Hermosa  Beach.  I mentioned that I had been staying there, and we realized that she had designed my cousins' home, where I had just been staying the days prior.  Such a small world, and there is nothing that happens by chance.

Now back to my note at the top, about a fortuitous fuck-up.  I hadn't read the schedule close enough, and found out that we were supposed to fly tomorrow to Phoenix, not from John Wayne Airport but from LAX. But I had made arrangements to drop the minivan off back at John Wayne.  It looked like I was going to get hit with a $100 stupidity tax to drop the van off at LAX (as well as a prior $50 I spent getting to John Wayne, when I could have simply picked up the van at LAX and driven myself).

But because of the shootings yesterday, and the fact that LAX was all messed up still, we realized we were probably better served by simply driving to Phoenix some 6 hours away. While I couldn't extend the reservation on the car we had to drop it off in Phoenix, I was able to get another minivan at John Wayne to rent, drive to Phoenix and drop off there.  It would have been a much more difficult endeavor if I had made the correct reservations and had the car drop off at LAX.  So we will file this in the "it's better to be lucky than good" files.  Journey on!

And PS: Happy Birthday Mom!