Monday, March 31, 2014

Levantine PD's Spring/Summer fun

Levantine Public Diplomacy has a busy Spring/Summer coming up in the wide world of cultural diplomacy. Projects on tap:
-May 4-14, 2014: Levantine Public Diplomacy is sending the American Music Abroad ensemble The Boston Boys to Colombia with the U.S. Embassy in Colombia to perform at the 55th anniversary celebrations of the Colombian-American Binational Centers in three cities.
-May 5-18, 2014: Levantine Public Diplomacy will be taking Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar legends Keola Beamer & Jeff Peterson, with Hula Master Moanalani Beamer, to Venezuela with the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela to conduct performances, music masterclasses and collaboration sessions with local musicians.
-May 18-June 7, 2014: Levantine Public Diplomacy will be running the new State Dept/University of North Carolina hip hop diplomacy program Next Level in India, with programs of MCing, DJing, Beatmaking and Breakdancing, as well as performances and collaboration, in Patna and Calcutta.
June 24-July 6, 2014: Levantine Public Diplomacy with take American Music Abroad ensembles Della Mae and The Clinton Curtis Band to Brazil with the U.S. Embassy in Brazil for cultural diplomacy programming during the World Cup.
That's a lot of frequent flyer miles a'comin. Follow along on the Levantine PD Facebook page to stay up on all the cultural diplomacy fun!

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.
-St. Francis

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Delta's 1980s In-Flight Vid

So Delta Airlines has the absolute best In-Flight video ever made. It is an 80's wonderland, and all the big hair therein. And it is hysterical. Cameos from Teddy Ruckspin, Alf and the Rubik's cube among others. It sure captured my attention. Bravo Delta, well played in tape cassette wind up.


Friday, March 28, 2014


I was walking back to use the bathroom on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. I had been smiling my way to double drinks and I had to use the bathroom. I walked back to the back, and a lil Afro-ed child said to me “da da.”

He said it again. Dada.

Haha, I ain't your Daddy. Although I see the resemblance between us. I see how you could get me and your daddy confused. I am just a light skinned.

His dad just laughed as I picked up Kige and asked the steward if he saw the resemblance. I explained to his older sister that I wasn't her daddy either.

Martin, their daddy, was from Kenya. He lived in Phoenix. That was hotter than Hell. Although possibly Iraq is hotter.

Someday I might adopt a child. I can see that more likely than having my old. If parenting is narcissism, then adoption even more so sometimes. Can I make a slate not my own in my image?

But that is a different discussion.

I greeted Martin in Swahili. Jambo Bwana? Assante sana. Hakuna Matata. I told elder sister to watch out for Kige, lest he find more strangers to be his daddy.

Dutch Treat

And we took off over giant windmills. Like scores of three-armed giants waving goodbye.

Follow the windmill.

I did last night, and had a Dutch treat of an evening. I danced and laughed until it hurt to great 90s music with two Dutch girls I met at the bar. I invited them over to my corner in the back of the bar, and they joined me.

Push it real good.
-Salt & Pepa

Such beautiful girls. And so funny. One named owned a butterfly reserve in Laos. Her name was Eden and it could not have been more apt. Se was gorgeous in that sharp angular Dutch way. With striking strong blue eyes and angles of an art deco dream.

Her friend Rihana was a tall blond beauty. Lord, they sure do make shiksas pretty. Just so you are aware of such things-- although I am sure you are.

They were so sweet and funny. I invited them over and they joined me in my corner in the back of the bar. Dutch Dulcineas joined me for an evening of dancing over Dutch karaoke. As weird as that sounds, it was.

Dui. Dutch for goodbye.

I wander through the canals of the sunlit city with a Cheshire grin on my grill. And she winks back at me.

Follow the windmills. Holland is a land of windmills. Amsterdam is a giant windmill. Something that keeps this quijote coming back.   

The Dutch Bar Maid

Dreaming of the most beautiful Dutch bar maid.

Cheer up sleepy Jean. Oh, what does it mean to a daydream believer and a homecoming queen.

Blond locks tied up in a golden bun. Golden straw strands hanging loosely down.

Turquoise blue eyes wrapped in black kohl.

A loose-riding grey shirt showing suppleness.

A Dutch milk maid from a Vermeer dream.

And a lil James Brown. How do you say “make it louder” in Dutch?

Dit is een mannenwereld (This is a man's world)

And a lil Elvis. Forever the King.

A Clarence in Amsterdam, if ever in need of an Alabama.

What's a Drexel?

VOC Visa

Do you take credit card?

Credit? This bar dates back to 1630. It's older than your country.

Well, my credit is good with the Dutch East India Company.

The Delhi Shave

Ahead of the big meeting, I headed down to Rajiv Chowk. Connaught Place as it was once known, and sometimes still is. CP.

I needed a shave and a shoe shine. I had not budgeted my time well, and I was cutting it close. But I needed a shave and a shoe shine.

I wandered through a back alley to find a shave but the “shop” was closed. Another was pricey and busier than the time I had. So I figured I would get a shoe shine first and punt on the shave if needed.

I wandered through the white column walls dusted half black with grime and found a man half asleep. He jumped from slumber with alacrity. Language barriers ended haggling and I gave him 20 rupees (30 cents) and he got to work. He blackened my scuffed shoes from Brooklyn.

Next I asked a doorman where I could get a shave, and he pointed me to the market. I found a place under the tree and the young barber got to work. 30 rupees (50 cents). I sat under the tree, sitting on a red pouch while my face was lathered up.

As the barber cut away my whiskers, I watched flies swarm on the mouth of a woman sleeping on the ground. Passed out perhaps.

Behind her a fellow smoked heroin behind a motorcycle. Chasing the dragon off aluminum foil. Aluminium. He came up for beadies from the tar. I looked over but not too closely.

And the barber-under-a-tree did a masterful job. Nary a nick. Fast too. The witch hazel still burned my cheeks as I paid and gave a nice tip for good service.

Shave and a shoeshine for a buck.

My meeting did not yield what I had hoped it would. Not the big fish I wanted. They weren't buying what I was selling, and that became apparent quickly. But they were also interested in information that I had, and maybe wanted some smaller fish so it was not wholly unsuccessful.

I finished my meeting and had a small limca and a gold flake. Also a cup of fresh-juiced carrots and beets for fifty cents.

I wandered over to the the center of Connaught Place to try to read about Hawaii but the ear-cleaners wouldn't stop hassling me.

So I left.

And some fucker squirted shit on my shoe. As I was walking away. I heard the squirt softly but didn't connect the sound and the dots until after the shithead spoke up.

You have something on your shoe.

Get away. Now.

Motherfucker. In my dreams, I flung the shit on my shoe at him.

So for the second time that day I got a shoe shine. I hopped around in my socks onto the jute mat, which gave a smile to the shoe shiner.

I wandered around a lil while longer but the unending din was grating on me. So I headed over early to Mandi House. I sat out in the sun's fading light as I watch the evening glow envelope workers in yellow jackets that accentuated their dark tone as the sipped chai. I sipped chai and gold flake and read about Hawaii.

And I met Venkat and watched South Indian creation myths in dance form with Krishna and Vishnu in Kathik pose.

The bells rung and the sitar played to echo her deft dance.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Sleeping Tigress

Early morning wandering in the Red Light District.
The sounds of the gulls cries
echoing down the empty canals.

Workers sit in the booths of the sex workers,
cleaning the glass that had been tinted red
the night before.

I always love cities in the morning
when they are most meek and vulnerable.
Amsterdam is a sleeping tiger if there ever was one.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


One of my most favorite things in the world: bamisate. Sold at Febo, in a glass automated case.

It is kinda like deep-fried Chinese noodles.

Crispy fried Chinese noodle goodness- a true gastrodiplomacy fav.

I'll fly away

One glad morning when this life is over, I'll fly away.
To a land where joy shall never end, oh I'll fly away.
Oh' I'll fly away, Ol' glory. I'll fly away.
When I die hallelujah bye and bye.
I'll fly away.

puissance douce

Viva La Differencia

The room is not much. Basic. Shower and toilet outside.

I just came from India.

Oh, then it is a palace.

I just smiled.

I do know Indian palaces though.

It's so quiet. So utterly quiet.

There are no horns; no rickshaws (ok, I saw one but not the same)

No cows. No monkeys. No mohwak piggies eating garbage in the Central Park of Patna- the Gandhi Maidan.

Nothing on the ground. Not trash. Not bodies.

I don't think you could find two more contrasting cities than Calcutta and Amsterdam.

I don't think you could find two more contrasting places than India and the Netherlands.

The one thing I fear in both: the traffic.

Viva la differencia. Sempre.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Playa Patna; Return to Delhi

Working backwards

On our second day in Patna, we had the morning free.  I woke up at the crack of dawn, and joined Mark for a walk around the Gandhi Maidan- the large park across from our hotel.  Patna's central green space was filled, even at 6am.  There were people practicing yoga, jogging, walking and playing cricket.  There were also stray dogs, and a family of mohawked pigs munching garbage.  We did a couple of loops amid the morning bustle.  Hard to imagine Central Park being so packed at dawn.

Later, we went with Saadia down to the Ganges.  I purified myself in the semi-polluted Mama Ganga.  We decided to take a boat across the river and wander along the beach on the other side.

After we returned back across the eternal river, we met with some professors and performs at the State of Bihar's cultural facility.  I sat bare-foot and cross-legged as we discussed ways of connecting hip hop and traditional Bihari music and dance.  Ala Yo Yo Ma and Young Buck, I spoke of how we envisioned a breakdancer working to a sitar, or a traditional Bihari dance to a hip hop track.  The musicians smiled favorably and were inclined to work on such innovations.  I think this will be fun.

That night, we joined Saadia for a most wonderful dinner at her father's home with her husband and daughter.  We had an incredible spread of Indian veg delights.

The following day, Mark and I continued the dawn constitutional.  We worked until noon, then he headed out to the airport and back from Patna to Chapel Hill.  I had the day to kill before a scheduled train departure back to Delhi.  There were no spots left for my normal second-class Non-AC train, so I was forced to go up a class to AC.  I was a tad disappointed, but it would be fine.  It was about $40 for AC class, which was about 6 times what I would normally pay for Non AC but I didn't have a choice.

Just one catch, I was on the wait list.  We had paid a ticket agent extra to secure a berth because it was quite busy post-Holi and hard to get a spot.  But I paid an extra 500 rupees because he assured us he could get me a spot.  When I purchased the ticket, I was number 7 on the waitlist, and this was not supposed to be an issue.  In the morning I was up to number 4 on the list, and could reasonably expect a berth when the list of berths was published 2 hours prior.

I spent the afternoon walking around the teeming streets, and sipping chai on the side of the road.  Then about 2 hours before the train ride, it turned out I didn't have a berth.  I was stuck at the number 1 spot on the wait list and couldn't get on the train.

So I quickly scrambled to get a flight to Delhi.  I figured I would have to overnight in Patna and head on the next day but surpringly I was able to find a flight that night for $141 from Patna to Delhi on Air India. It was the same price as a flight the next day.  So I booked it, and let Venkat know I was coming a night early.  He was still down in Chennai, but was able to arrange for a driver to pick me up at the airport and bring me to Venkat's Ashram in Gurgaon. 

And like that, I caught a taxi out of Patna to the airport to return to my former Delhi home.  I slept most of the flight and was a lil dazed as I got to Delhi.  But  I found the driver with my name (Rampal) on a sign, and we sped me to Venkat's Ashram, and back to my Delhi home.


At a music school, we eyed a statue of Shiva in a dance pose.  Saadia explained:

Shiva engaged in the divine Dance of Bliss to destroy the weary universe.  He assumed the Natraj pose, and began his chant.  When his chant is finished, the world will end and destruction will begin.

Without destruction, you cannot have creation.

And I got chills.

I had awoken that morning from my slumber in the darkness, with the words nitraji echoing through my head.  It was related to a different world, a Brazilian public diplomacy adventure where I was suffering from a stye.  The cure for such ailments in silver nitrate.  And I could hear the Cultural Affairs Officer repeating as we went from pharmacy to pharmacy the Portuguese pronunciation nitraji.

I brought this story up with my friend Anschul in Delhi, as we discussed iconoclasm in our respective travels and work.

Then it became clear to me: public diplomacy is natraja. If we can destroy the pre-conceived notions held in the mind of the other, it is then that we can begin to create.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Leaving Calcutta; On to Patna; The Day the Gora Died in the Shop

Mark and I had the morning free yesterday, so we met up with Sayak- a OneBeat fellow, to show us around Calcutta.  Sayak took us to find DJ equipment in the electronic market in Chowringhee Rd but the store he had located was closed.  He made some calls and found out it would be open later.  We would return later.

We hopped a cab with him to the Victoria Memorial, the stunning marble dome and merringue moment to the Empress of India.  We strolled around the grounds, and through the monument, looking at the old intricate Mughal and British weapons, and the British East India-commissioned paintings in Romantic style of India.

After a nice stroll around the monument, we hopped another cab to the giant bridge spanning the Houghly River, the mighty body of water which abutts Calcutta.  We sat under the shade of the giant bridge span that reminded me of Charleston and chatted about collaboration outlines for our upcoming program as boatman steered their little falucca in the turbid water.

We caught a cab back through the teeming streets, back to the market to find some in a market speakeasy some actual DJ equipment that we would use and eventually leave behind for the budding Indian DJs we would groom.

We lunched over the delicious Calcutta Egg Roll- the omelette chapati slathered in chili sauce and red onions, which our consummate host treated us to.  

Mark and I packed up and checked out of the opulent palace.  One of the staffers at the Grand Oberoi gave me a goodbye present in the form of traditional chimes.  I was quite touched.  We took a car to the airport and checked through the security procedure.

Mark went pashmina shopping for his wife, and I was trying to get wifi.  The bar had wifi, so I popped in and figured I would grab a drink while I checked my email.  I looked at the menu and ordered a whiskey on the rocks for 360 rupees (a lil more than $5).  I checked my email and waited a bit for Mark.

I finished my drink and asked for the bill. Instead of it being 360 rupees, it was 950 rupees.  Puzzled, I asked why.  The bartender told me I got a large whiskey.  I responded that I had only asked for a whiskey. On the rocks.

Yes, but you drank the large serving, which is a double.

But I didn't ask for a double.

But you drank it.

Grr...okay, that makes 720, where did the extra 230 come from?  Apparently taxes and service charge.  I knew to give up, because I wasn't going to win.

We flew to Patna on a tiny little carrier.  We arrived, checked in to our hotel and I wandered off on the street for dinner.

There were some roadside carts serving food so I sat down on a small bench above the ground to have a bite.  I think I am probably the only gora who ever ate there, because they laughed and stared.  I ate my egg curry and vegetables with chapati while the eyes of the fellow diners were on me.  As I was sitting on the ground, I felt myself getting bitten by fleas.  I tried to eat faster to get away from the itchy bites, but they kept piling chapatis on my plate and I felt forced to finish.  Finally, I finished the dish and quickly got up and out. My arms looked like braille.

The next day, Mark, Saaida- the Consulate's cultural affairs specialist accompanying us and I went to St. Karen's school- the place where we will be hosting the music residency in Patna.  St. Karen's is a Christian school on the outskirts of Patna- at least it is sponsored by missionaries but the students are all Hindu or Muslim.  This is rather common in India.  There is a Jewish School in Calcutta with nary a Hebrew.

Anyway, we were greeted with flowers and rolis- marks of blessing on our foreheads.  We met with the principal and staff, then toured the fine school and met in the auditorium with some students.  Mark introduced the program.  Beyond teaching the kids about hip hop and breakdance, we are working with these students to design PSAs related to issues that affect youth such as gender violence.

And I introduced myself since I would be returning to work with the kids with the program.  I greeted them with a big namaste and they all laughed.  They made me demonstrate some aspect of hip hop, so I gave a meager attempt at beatboxing.  Later, the kids gave us dance demonstrations of the hip hop dances they knew and also of Bollywood.

After our visit, we headed back to the city center amid teeming streets of full-on traffic including rickshaws, motor bikes, cars and cows.

I stopped outside the hotel for some lunch in a little samosa shop.  I got some kachori chaat- a fried lentil puff- smashed and covered in chickpea stew and topped with chili pepper.  As I was eating it, I managed to inhale some of the chili powder into my lungs and proceeded to choke and die in the small shop.  Hacking and crying, I tried to catch my breath as the whole shop stared at me.  The guy behind the counter was kind enough to get me some water, but I figured that would be a lil extra death so I grabbed a small limca soda to wash the pepper away.  Once I could breathe again, we all had a good laugh at my expense.

Later that afternoon, we visited another dance school and we spoke about the program and doing some workshops for them, and they demonstrated for us.  And then they taught us some Bollywood moves.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Such A Nice Indian Boy

 And apparently I was the inspiration for a character in a play. My friend Madhuri wrote a hysterical play called A Nice Indian Boy. I was lucky enough to be there for its first reading, and loved it.

Well, as I have come to find out from Madhuri via a radio interview she did for KPFK in LA, I was that nice Indian boy in the play, or at least part of the archetype in the character's development.  You can hear Madhuri discuss the play here, and I am referenced about 12 minutes in.

The World Cup Take New York

West Bengal

My boss Mark arrived on mon night, and I took him through a little stroll through the back streets of Calcutta.  He had never been to India, so I can imagine it was a bit eye-opening.

On Tuesday morning, we had our first pre-tour meetings for the US Consulate in Calcutta at the American Center to discuss the upcoming Next Level hip hop program in Patna and Calcutta.  We met with a number of musicians from the city involved in hip hop, and other live music. We were also joined by some OneBeat Fellows at the meeting.  We hashed out some contours of the program and collaboration, and got a sense of the Consulate's strategic goals for the program.

After the morning meeting, we were joined the Cultural Affairs Specialist Saadia and her colleague for some delicious South Indian dosa.  The paper thin lentil crepe was perfect, as was the masala potatoes stuffing with a hint of ginger.  The whole thing was dipped in coconut curry and sambar, and was an incredible treat.

After lunch, we met with a cultural NGO called Bangla Natak, who does work to promote traditional cultural arts.  We were discussing with them about partnering for some workshops.  The head of the foundation asked some very good, very valid questions about the long-term  nature of our work, and what is the effectiveness of one-off activities.

After the last meeting, we headed back to the hotel.  I tried to take a power nap, but it turned into a two hour knockout.  I woke up disoriented in the darkness, and stumbled my way down to the elevator to meet Mark for dinner.

We headed out into the busy market thoroughfare south to walk a bit and catch a cab to a traditional Bengali restaurant.  We walked for a while to get away from the hotel to get a cab, but it proved elusive to hail down a taxi. Amazing given the ubiquity of the yellow Ambassador taxis that swarm the city and are always around when not necessary. But Mark figured out the restaurant was not far, so we decided to walk in the cooling night air.

We walked about a mile to find our way to Kewpie's, a somewhat famous Bengali restaurant although I can't remember why I know the name.  We sat down in the nice restaurant with white walls and various masks and drawings, and ordered some Bengal thalis.

On a plate covered with a banana leaf, I received some rice, a puri (fry bread) and a grilled eggplant slice.  There were little bowls of daal (lentils) and small potatoes swimming in a sauce.  I poured them over the rice, as the main bowls were delivered.  I had been told of the deliciousness of the Bengal fish dishes, so I opted to try.  I received a bekhti fry- a small white fish filet fried in a brown crust, a small bowl of a yellow mustard curry fish that had been deliciously steamed in a banana leaf, and a bowl of lamb curry.  Also a small bowl of jackfruit curry.

I alternately dumped the various dishes on the banana leaf plate and ate the sumptuous mustard curry fish and the crispy fish fry,  The jackfruit was deliciously meaty, that is always a fav.  The lamb was tasty but a bit out of place with the rest of the dishes.  We also received a delicious little bowl of sweet tomato chutney to eat with the fried papad crisp.  All washed down with a fresh lime soda.  It was all pretty yum.

For dessert we received a little bowl of mishti doi, a Bengali sweet favorite of fermented curd and yogurt, with a hint of cardamom.  It has a supple yet subtle sweetness, almost like a slightly more sour custard.  There was also a small square of kalakad, a small sweet cottage cheese square that is a favorite Indian dessert.  And of course a sweet paan to aid in digestion.

And of course this got me thinking about Bengali gastrodiplomacy and paradiplomacy.  The Indian State of West Bengal could do so much to promote its culture and cuisine, which is unique from the rest of "Indian food."  Bengali cuisine is a very under-appreciated form of South Asian cuisine.  I was flipping through a little guide book about cultural tourism in West Bengal, and there was the typical logo of a nation branding effort, and some attempts to showcase the culture.  But an active Indian state like West Bengal could do an amazing amount of paradiplomacy to show off its unique cuisine and culture.

Perhaps an op-ed coming to the Calcutta Telegraph....

Anywho, Mark and I meandered our way back for a constitutional on the return.  We watched barefoot kids play street soccer with bricks as goals.  

Along the way, we noticed a little board with four gentleman playing a game under a light bulb.  As I got close, they invited me to come play.  It was like a game of finger flick pool, only with four players and four corners.  Each person got to line up the big white marker and flick it at his small round checkers.

I can't say I was very good.  In fact, I was awful, and didn't get a single one in.  But it didn't matter, because the fellows got a huge kick out of the gora who joined them for a round.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fun and Beautiful Maps of the World Made From Signature Regional Foods

As in South America made from citrus.  And other fun maps.  H/T NLG

Public Diplomacy at Buddha University

Well, this Siddhartha has been invited to come give a lecture at Guatam Buddha University in Delhi on Public Diplomacy!  But of course, Buddha was an original public diplomat, and had a profound bit of soft power.  I am honored.

Happy Holi!

Morning in Calcutta; Afternoon in Avarice

After an afternoon bathed in colors, and a night wandering the colorful markets of Calcutta, I awkoke at 6am. I had to awaken the night watchman to open the locked door. He was not happy with me, and it is probably a good thing I don't speak Bengali.

I wandered over to the alley of chai stands, and sat on a bench sipping the milky gingery tea as I watched and listened. I always love cities in the morning, when they are naked and vulnerable—before they have had a chance to get their habits on. Stray dogs limped past and big black crows picked at the refure. A rat snuck out from the depths to greedily snag a heel of bread on the floor. I listened to the bouncy echo of Bengali off the dingy walls as men chatted up the morning. Delivery boys on bicycles with dozens of chickens ties upside to the handle bars rolled past, the chickens clucking every time they hit a bump. I chatted with an Italian woman about the joys of cities in the morning.

I broke my fast on an egg sandwich of an omelet with red onions, ginger and tomatoes wrapped around the spongy white bread.

I just sat in silence, taking in the Calcutta morning.

A tout named Baba sat next to me, and told me he spoke Japanese. Baba-san.

Honto? Majedae? (Really? Truly?)

He had never been to Japan but had learned a bit of it selling hash to the local Japanese tourists. We chatted for a bit. I told him of my work, and he asked if Baba-san had a job for him next time I return.

Inshallah, I said.

Wait, you are an American. Americans don't like Muslims.

We are not all the same.

No, truly you are not.

I wandered around the streets slowly waking. I stopped for a streetside coffee next to my guest house. I sipped the black coffee as the yellow MG taxis drove past.

On my way out, I picked up a chai and delivered it to the night-watchman who I had awoken. My penance. He took the chai, and grumbled something in Bengali. I will assume it was an absolution of my sin, and leave it at that.

Around mid-morning, I checked out of my guest hovel and into the lap of luxury.  I rolled my suitcase down past the touts and families sleeping on the streets and up the market-filled road, and entered a different world- one I feel strangely uncomfortable in.  I was greeted at the gates of the Grand Oberoi by namaste-ing guards and staff.  Security held my bag while I checked into the palace.

The crystal chandelier hung heavy in the lobby that was larger than the entire guest house I had been staying in.  I was given a glass of some sweet nectar as the deferential service checked in this big sahib.  The upper crust trapezed through the lobby as I sat trying to take it all in, and trying to check my feelings of being a phony.  Funny that I would feel more comfortable in my hovel with a bucket shower than the lap of luxury.  I shielded the eyes of Gandhi on my t-shirt so he wouldn't judge me.

And I was led past the pools and rich Euro-Sahibs and Upper Castes out sunning, and onto my luxurious room.  I was greeted with a tray of pears and flower petals sitting on water.  All I could do is laugh at the difference my world had taken.  

I drew a hot bath filled with honey and saffron soaps and darjeeling tea, and soaked away my guilt.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Dumpling Protest in Crimea

Those who refuse to partake in the sham referendum in Crimea are instead making dumplings.  Приятного аппетита! H/T @Culinarydiplo.


Even if my pen was more obedient; even if my words did glow, I could not begin to describe that which is India.

I wrote that some 7 years ago when I first arrived to Calcutta.  I had been on the road for some 3 months already, through China, Tibet, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.  I thought I knew something about The Road.  Then Calcutta knocked the wind out of me.  I remember those first speechless days, when I was utterly floored and captivated.  Nothing has changed.

As I learned some years prior: India cannot be described, it can only be experienced.

Namaste India, my old friend. I have come to bobbleheads with you again. I have descended upon an orgy of colors.

Happy Holi!

City of Joy

After a long trek, I hath returned to my dearest India. My trip was indeed long but thankfully pretty uneventful.  I hopped the metro to National and caught a flight to Atlanta, where I headed over to Dubai.  The flight to Dubai was long, but it passed over movies and interrupted sleep.  I watched the Exotic Marigold Hotel- a good movie about India, and could barely wait to get back.

It was strange, I basically lost a day as I left friday night and arrived in Dubai on saturday night.  I had 6 hours to kill in layover, so I bought my way into a first class lounge.  It was about $60 and was worth every penny.  After the long flight from Atlanta to Dubai, the warm shower, hot food and scotch helped soothe out the miles. I killed time and caught my last leg at 2am from Dubai to Calcutta.  

I arrived back to India and was beaming.  I passed through customs and through the airport outside.  The air had the familiar smoky smell that I missed.  I walked out into the teeming India I missed.  I stopped over at a chai shop and had a cup and chatted up with some locals who were curious about the farang in their midst.  I tried to figure out how to grab a bus, but realized i was much better served taking a cab.  I got a yellow MG Ambassador taxi to take me into the city.  We weaved through the morning din, and I hopped off on Park Street to find a hotel for the night.  I wandered down to Sudder Street, which I recognized as the place I stayed before.  I grabbed a cheap room for the night at a guest house.  I splurged a bit and got a bathroom in my room.  It cost me $6 for such luxuries.  

After I plunked my stuff down, I went out to get some fresh-squeezed sweet lime juice.  I then found a barber shop, and shaved my head.  In the land of Gandhi, one should look the part.  

All along Sudder Street, people covered in dyed colors passed by, and kids ran tossing colors and shooting water guns.  

I grabbed some lunch in the form of the delicious Calcutta egg roll.  Nothing like a chinese egg roll, a Calcutta egg roll is an omelette with red onions and chilies fried into a chapati, and then rolled up with some chili sauce.  It is delicious, and something that would make for a good Indian gastrodiplomacy dish to promote.

After lunch, I watched enough of the procession of colors that I decided to join.  I changed into my dingy clothes I brought to get stained, and grabbed my camera.  Then I realized I forgot my camera charger.  It is in my camera bag, which I didn't bring this trip. And the battery is dying.  It should not be too hard to find another battery, but it is a stupidity tax I will have to bear.  

Anyway, I joined the giant color and water fight.  There was dancing to a percussive beat as people tossed dyes at each other.  I was smeared in blue and pink to the point my face was covered.  I gave some kids piggy back rides as we followed the colored procession.  We gathered and danced as kids tried to climb up to reach a bowl stringed across a line, which they had to break like a pinata.

I stuck around until the fun died down.  Tomorrow is the big day for Holi, but the pre-partying is fun too.

I also realized that the dye does not come off easily, and I had to buy a bar of soap to scrub it off my face.  It still has not come off, and all the Indians I pass on the street stare at me, and smile and wish me a Happy Holi.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Call to Prayer in the Dubai airport

I had just arrived to through the transfer facility and walked out into the spacious Dubai airport, with palmyra in rows down the corridor.  Just then, a muezzin gave his call to prayer.  I stopped and listened to the proclamation of God's greatness and oneness bounced and echoed through the wide sparkling corridors, and chuckled that I was not in Kansas anymore.

On the past

"The past is never dead.  It isn't even the past."
-William Faulkner

Friday, March 14, 2014

Slumdog Millionaire

Off to Calcutta. Off to the City of Joy for the biggest color fight that is Holi. So begins my yatra back to India. Jai ho!

Tilting at Public Diplomacy

For the finest in quixotic Public Diplomacy.  Levantine Public Diplomacy.  Come give your favorite public diplomacy knight errant a "like" on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Il Bacio

Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.


Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Prime Ministers

I just watched a very good documentary called The Prime Ministers. It is based on a book by Yehuda Avner, who worked closely with Israeli Prime Minsters Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin (as Ambassador to US). It gives a great front row perspective of the events of the times, including the birth of Israel, 6-Day War and Yom Kippur War.

The documentary has a very warm narration of the events by Avner, who shines some poignant stories on the history of which he was privy.  Coupled with the vintage footage of the day, it is very engaging.  Avner shares some tremendous anecdotes of interactions between Lyndon and Levi (I have always dreamed of writing a book on the Israeli PM and the Texan president in such title on the relation of the two leaders).  Avner also shares some fantastic stories between Golda and Dr. K, and the presence of luminaries like Begin and the eye-patched Dayan.

The movie was excellent.  And the thing that first brought my attention to it was a lackluster review in the Washington Post by its Weekend film critic.  The reviewer, Michael O'Sullivan, called it some-what interesting but monotonous.  And I wondered about Michael O'Sullivan's credentials to review the movie.  I am assuming that Michael O'Sullivan the film critic does not have a tremendous background in the Middle East.  I figured it was a lot of insider baseball, of which if you are not already interested is too thick.  I was right.  The movie was quite excellent, and I imagine it went over the head of dear Mr. O'Sullivan.  I hate to go on an ad hominem attack on the poor critic, but the disconnect between the engaging movie and lackluster review leads me to think that O'Sullivan was out of his element.

So it goes.

I recommend the movie to anyone interested in Israel and the Middle East as an engaging ringside seat to the events that have been seared onto the historical landscape.  The documentary offered a very tangible way to connect to the history, and I quite liked it.  If you are interested in the Sand Box, you probably will too.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Gastrodiplomacy TED Talk

My gastrodiplomacy colleague Leah Selim of GlobalKitchen New York gave a talk at TEDxGowanus in Brooklyn.  She spoke about their work preserving immigrant cooking traditions and about gastrodiplomacy. I am an unsaid footnote on the gastrodiplomacy section, which suits me just fine.  I am happy to be the Wizard behind the curtain of a TED talk. 

A wee prediction about Ukraine

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones breaks out his crystal ball:

Following up on the previous post, if you do want to fret about Ukraine, I have just the thing for you. I'm going to tell you how this will all unfold:
  1. Vladimir Putin will do something belligerent. (Already done.)
  2. Republicans will demand that we show strength in the face of Putin's provocation. Whatever it is that we're doing, we should do more.
  3. President Obama will denounce whatever it is that Putin does. But regardless of how unequivocal his condemnation is, Bill Kristol will insist that he's failing to support the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.
  4. Journalists will write a variety of thumbsuckers pointing out that our options are extremely limited, what with Ukraine being 5,000 miles away and all.
  5. John McCain will appear on a bunch of Sunday chat shows to bemoan the fact that Obama is weak and no one fears America anymore.
  6. Having written all the "options are limited" thumbsuckers, journalists and columnists will follow McCain's lead and start declaring that the crisis in Ukraine is the greatest foreign policy test of Obama's presidency. It will thus supplant Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, and North Korea for this honor.
  7. In spite of all the trees felled and words spoken about this, nobody will have any good ideas about what kind of action might actually make a difference. There will be scattered calls to impose a few sanctions here and there, introduce a ban on Russian vodka imports, convene NATO, demand a UN Security Council vote, etc. None of this will have any material effect.
  8. Obama will continue to denounce Putin. Perhaps he will convene NATO. For their part, Republicans will continue to insist that he's showing weakness and needs to get serious.
  9. This will all continue for a while.
  10. In the end, it will all settle down into a stalemate, with Russia having thrown its weight around in its near abroad—just like it always has—and the West not having the leverage to do much about it.
  11. Ukraine will....
Actually, there's no telling about #11. Maybe Ukraine will choose (or have foisted on them) a pro-Russian leader that Putin is happy with. Maybe east and west will split apart. Maybe a nominally pro-Western leader will emerge. Who knows? What we do know is that (a) the United States will play only a modest role in all this, and (b) conservative hawks will continue to think that if only we'd done just a little bit more, Putin would have blinked and Ukraine would be free.
You may now go about your regular weekend business.

PS: No, Putin is not a cunning geo-political chess player

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Food and Foreign Policy: A Diplomatic Cuisine

The Six States of California

"I love Germany, so much I'm glad there are two of them."
-Francois Mauriac

A modest proposal to break California up into 6 states.  As the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs for the State of Jefferson, I agree.  Thanks Abba.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

When may I shoot a student?

A modest question: When may I shoot a student?

To the chief counsel of the Idaho State Legislature:
In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student? 
I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field. I have had encounters with disgruntled students over the years, some of whom seemed quite upset, but I always assumed that when they reached into their backpacks they were going for a pencil. Since I carry a pen to lecture, I did not feel outgunned; and because there are no working sharpeners in the lecture hall, the most they could get off is a single point. But now that we’ll all be packing heat, I would like legal instruction in the rules of classroom engagement.

The Meat Racket & In Meat We Trust

A very interesting review of two books on the meat industry, "The Meat Racket" and "In Meat We Trust":
Food production is not just about food — it’s about almost everything else, too, from politics to culture to economics. Both books elucidate two guiding contradictions of the American experience. The first is that we are suspicious of big businesses, even as we worship the individuals who build them. Second, we loathe industrial food production, even as we continue to move en masse to cities and suburbs, thereby deepening our dependence on cheap, ubiquitous edibles.
 Thanks JB.