Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gastrodiplomacy Takes New York!

A great piece in Real Cheap Eats on gastrodiplomacy in New York, with this hunger-blatherer quoted.  Have a read: Gastrodiplomacy Takes Root in New York City: Connecting to Culture Through Cuisine

Belgrade Beauty

As I sit in my palatial room bedecked with gold trim in the Rezime Crown, and the sound of the street symphony's scherzos filters through my large open windows with orange lace veils, all I can think of is how much I love Belgrade.   This is truly a grand city--one that I have fallen completely in love with.

I would put Belgrade on my top ten list of cities worldwide.  Probably around number 6 or 7.  That is how highly I think of the place.  But it is truly a wonderful city, with warm, wonderful people, terrific food and some real culture.

And the girls are some of the hottest in the world. Like really, I think Belgrade may win for the shear number of ridiculously hot girls around.  Tough to nudge Istanbul, Paris or Rio, but it is uncanny.

I with I had more bandwidth to be writing about all that has been going on.  It strikes me as sad that when I am doing the most meaningful, wonderful work, I have the least time to write about it.  So it goes.

But in short, I am good.  I am grand.  And I really love Belgrade.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hair of the Monkey

After a long, late night of clubbing on a barge in the rain on the River Sava, I woke up with an opice, what the Czechs refer to as a "monkey."  Dunno what the Serbs call it but it was something fierce.

I needed something to stick to the ribs, so I headed to Kavarna ?, a traditional Serbian restaurant for some local fare.  I picked up some cheap shades-- a lil sombro to save the day.

Me: what do you have to cure what ails me?

Waiter:  We have rakije, and I would recommend some dunjevka (quince brandy) for you.

Hair of the monkey indeed.

Belgrade is one of my favorite cities in the world, and that is not a compliment I take or make lightly.

I had a filet mignon cooked medium rare.  A Serbian salad of onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.  Some warm homemade bread.

I gave the final hunk of steak wrapped in bread soaked in mignon juices to a Gypsy kid.  His eyes widened as he ran off with the steak sandwich.

I chatted with some French girls next to me who were living in Budapest.  They had hitchhiked to Belgrade.  We chatted about what I did.

You live the life.

I hear that from time to time.  I always respond simply that I live my life.  That I figure I have one life to live, so I might as well live it.  Not that I really believe we only have one life, but that is a different story.

On the way, I sat in the sun next to the old Ottoman fountain.  I chatted with the Serbian girl Ana who worked at the hotel.  She was on her way to start her shift.

You are so lucky.

Luck is not something you wait for; you have to grab luck by its throat.  She grabbed mine, and I laughed.  Generally you rub a Buddha's head, not grab his throat.

Enough of this banter, I'm off to go nap in the gardens of an old Ottoman fortress that overlooks the two rivers that hung Belgrade.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Buffalo Diplomacy? The Imperial Summer Capital of Belgrade?

"All the food I ate in America was bland and boring...except for the spicy chicken wings. I LOVED the Buffalo wings."

Perhaps we should be doing a lil Buffalo gastrodiplomacy to Serbia?  Snezana would be pleased.

The poor Serbian lass also felt much more unsafe in DC than Belgrade.  I laughed, and explained that when I told people I was going to the Balkans, they worried about me.  She laughed as I explained the American image of Serbia as some grimy paramilitary chetnik with a beard and a kalashnikov.

In reality, I also feel much safer in Serbia than America....

And other random gastrodiplomacy thoughts.

Two words: knafeh gelato.

Belgrade, you rock.

As Anshul smartly suggested: Belgrade should be my new summer capital.

On Harlem

"To live in Harlem is to dwell in the very bowels of the city; it is to pass a labyrinthine existence among streets that explode monotonously skyward with the spires and crosses of churches and clutter underfoot with garbage and decay. Harlem is a ruin — many of its ordinary aspects (its crimes, its casual violence, its crumbling buildings with littered areaways, ill-smelling halls, and vermin-invaded rooms) are indistinguishable from the distorted images that appear in dreams and, like muggers haunting a lonely hall, quiver in the waking mind with hidden and threatening significance."
-Ralph Ellison

The Clinton Curtis Band in Espirito Santo

The U.S. Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro, which hosted The Clinton Curtis Band in Brazil, made a wonderful visit of their tour in Espirito Santo!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Next Level Serbia!

Already off on the next adventure.  How do I get off this crazy ride?

Here is a great intro video to the Next Level Serbia program from DJ B Money and VJ Sunshot

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On Perfection

"Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it."
 -Salvador Dali

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Americans try exotic Asian foods

Haha! I have had all these, save for the live octopus.  The only one that made me retch was balut.  Love Nato and durian!

Greener pastures

I've had enough of the headache of Israel/Palestine and Ukraine. I'm leaving for a far more tranquil part of this earth: the Balkans.

Monday, July 21, 2014

When I'm 64

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?

It's my father's 64th birthday, and I'm wishing him all the birthday best.  And yes, I am still feeding him--taking him out for Brazilian food tonight for his bday dinner at The Grill from Ipanema.

My father shares a birthday with someone I hold in just slightly less esteem than my old man: Ernie Hemingway.

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated. 
-Ernest Hemingway, "The Old Man and the Sea"

Aloha Venezuela II

Way behind on this blog, it dates back to May.  Better late than never...

The day after the concert in Caracas, we headed out of town past the creepy billboards of the eyes of Chavez and on to the airport. We had a ton of stuff to check. I got a little worried because we were 40 kilos (88 pounds) overweight and I had not received anything in the grant to cover domestic travel overages. But because fuel is so cheap in Venezuela, it only cost an extra 256 Bolivares for the extra 40 kilos ($4). Incredible.

Our flight was only 35 minutes but we were delayed an hour and so we passed time at the airport playing Uno.

Once we took off, the flight was quick. We arrived to Isla Margarita, and drove to the Hotel Isabela La Catolica- a boutique hotel with rooms named for the kings and queens of Spain. I asked if I was getting the Torquemeda room.

Once checked in, we had a lovely 8 course meal of small plate delights that connected with the island's tastes. I am starting to think the biggest threat of cultural diplomacy is on my waist line.

The next morning we had a special breakfast at La Repisa Restaurant in La Asuncion with the Mayor of La Asuncion Richard Fermin. Mayor Fermin is the second youngest mayor in Venezuela, he is only 29 years old. We had a tour with the chef of the restaurant and gastronomy school. The breakfast was a lovely affair of different tastes of Isla Margarita like cazon- shredded baby shark.

The only strange thing was the cafe con leche tasted awful. It tasted salty. I sent it back and just drank the normal coffee without milk. Later we found out that because of the situation in Venezuela, there is a shortage on milk at times, and the restaurant had instead given us baby formula in our coffee. I was reminded of Lula- the former president of Brazil, chiding Chavez over the fact he couldn't get milk for his coffee as a symbol that Venezuela was having issues.

After breakfast, we toured the city. We visited the lovely old plaza, one of the oldest plazas in the Americas. We stopped in to see the El Sistema program, which we would be working with later. We also visited a beautiful pastel church but it was closed so we sat out in the courtyard and enjoyed the island breeze. I found a Virgin Mary tree.

That afternoon we had an incredible workshop on Hula dance at the Casa de la Cultura de La Asuncion. It was a workshop for Deaf students and hearing dance students. It was extremely poignant to watch the Deaf and hearing students interact and help each other and learn from each other as they learned the story dance of Hula. It was a very special engagement.

The next day we had a tour of the El Sistema program. We had an adorable group of kiddies play a song for us on tiny violins and trumpets. Then we headed over to another El Sistema program in an old university for a masterclass. The masterclass was excellent. All the old windows of the room were wide open, and a sea breeze was blowing in. It was a little warm, and we didn't have any water so I ran over with the driver to a little store to get some agua. It was a three-stop process of standing in line, ordering, going over to the cashier to pay, then returning to get the bottles. I returned to a marvelous jam session with the music students and Keola and company. 

That night we had an intimate performance at the hotel restaurant called Juana La Loca.

The following day we had the morning free. We had lunch at a little beach cafe with our feet in the sand. I had some ceviche that was a little too , but fine. After lunch we returned to the El Sistema building for a small class with the El Sistema students, and a bigger jam session with some of the professors. The head of the school was there, and looked like the Dos Equis guy. He had a grizzled old salt-and-pepper beard, and played the quatro. His deep voice boomed on the collaboration song La Luna de Margarita, which all the teachers in attendance sang along to. It was pretty special.

That night we had a concert in the middle of the square in La Asuncion. Keola and company had a raised stage to perform on in between two old colonial buildings. We were supposed to have the collaboration partners who we jammed with earlier in the day play with us, but politics got in the way. Two of the musicians arrived and said, “oh, we forgot our instruments.” That basically meant that it was too politically difficult for them to perform in public with American musicians brought down by the U.S. Embassy. But a third musician decided to perform anyway, and borrowed a guitar from Keola.

Before their concert, we had a group of local dancers perform for us some of the local dances. It was beautiful, they flared their colorful dresses as the performed local dances. Then Keola, Moana and Jeff performed beautifully under the full moon rising over the cobblestone city square. And we had a bit of the collaboration, and the crowd all sang along to La Luna de Margarita under the white light of the moon. After the concert, the mayor of La Asuncion presented Keola, Moana and Jeff with certificates that made them honorary residents of the city. They presented him with a decorative Hawaiian quilt.
The following day, we drove to the center of the island to have a special lunch at Casa de Esther. Casa de Esther was an eclectic old estancia filled with records on the wall, and typewriters and sewing machines around the open air courtyard. The lovely matron Esther had filled the place with wooden shapes that looked like animals. There were hammocks, which I cocooned myself up in.

The lunch was immaculate. Esther cooked with real love, and it was apparent. We ate monkfish egg pate and cazon (shredded baby shark) tortillas, as we sipped white sangria filled with mint and cucumber. 

 The main course was exquisite. Esther made a few different plates, and divided them up depending on what she thought people should eat. Keola and Jeff received steaks that had been marinated in rum and espresso; I received a pescado blanco in a plum salsa with a side of shredded plantains and saffron rice with raisins.

Dessert was even more amazing, as we arroz con leche (rice pudding) in cinnamon syrup covered with pumpkin icecream and shredded coconut. We also tried crema de marcuja that was wonderful. We sipped coffee laced with fine rum, and tried to take in all the deliciousness.

After the immaculate lunch, Keola, Moana and Jeff presented Esther with Hawaiian cookbooks, Hawaiian salts and Hawaiian coffees.

And they performed the Green Rose Hula for her, which left her so touched that she had tears streaming down her face. She spoke of the music as the language of love just as she cooks with. She was so moved that she declared that lunch was on the house. We tried to protest, but she would hear nothing of it.

That night, we had a concert at El Castillo- a giant stone fort overlooking the city. The view was spectacular as the sun began to set across the horizon and heavy clouds flanked the peaks in the distance. One of the students remarked to me that this was a site of the early fight for independence for Venezuela from Spain. He looked a little perplexed when I remarked that it was less a fight for Venezuelan independence and more a fight for Gran Colombia's independence. I doubt such history is taught.

The concert began with the students of El Sistema who we had jammed with the day prior at the old university performing, then doing a collaboration with Keola and Jeff.

Keola and Jeff gave a wonderful performance on the stone platform above the courtyard where the audience was seated below. On the stone incline leading up to the stage, Moana performed her hula dance. During Jeff's portion of the show, he spoke about the wonderful lunch we had at Casa de Esther, and performed a song he had written that afternoon in honor of then feast. Yes, he wrote a song in the afternoon and performed it that night in Esther's honor. Keola also spoke of the incredible lunch we had, and the whole crowd was left curious of what we had dined on that afternoon. The wonderful concert ended with a toast and presentation by the Isla Margarita board of tourism. After the show, there was a wine reception, and then on to a reception held in Keola and co.'s honor.

All of it struck me as amazing given how much the Embassy was doing for this program, compared to how little I could get other post's to contribute to upcoming programs. It left me shaking my head.

The following day we had a final program with the Deaf students we had been working with. We had a breakfast buffet at a nearby hotel, and the kids were frankly amazed at the amount of food available. They ate and ate, and we sure didn't stop them. After the breakfast, the students performed some local folk dances and “sang” for us. Keola and co. reciprocated with a last hula.
The students presented Keola, Moana and Jeff with gifts, including one that left me touched. The students had drawn a pair of hands, colored in US and Venezuelan flags—the significance profound given that the deaf students communicate with their hands.

We checked in and had a delayed flight. We stopped in the duty-free shop to kill some time. The CAO Neal pointed out an extra-special bottle of Diplomatico rum that was about $85. When he walked away, I schemed with Keola and Jeff, and we purchased the bottle for Neal as a thank-you for all his efforts on the program. But rather than save it, he opened it to share with all of us. We sat around the food court and drinking expensive, exquisite rum out of plastic cups. We played “Roses and Thorns,” a game I conduct on my programs to discuss 3 “roses” (good things) and 3 “thorns” (bad things) that happened during the program. We were all moved when the Cultural Affairs Specialist said, with tears in her eyes, that in her 8 years doing cultural programs for the Embassy this program most directly connect with the heart of the Venezuelan people.

We returned to Caracas and were picked up by the Embassy's van. I watched the sun set over Caracas through the bullet-proof windows of an armored vehicle. We checked into a Marriott near the airport, and spent the evening relaxing at the hotel overlooking the ocean.

The next day I got my charges off on their flights, and departed myself on to Frankfurt and on to Delhi after that.

The Aloha Venezuela program was one of the most profound cultural diplomacy programs I have ever participated in. The U.S. Embassy really went out of their way to create real programs to connect Venezuela and Hawaii, and thought of every possible detail to build a meaningful connections.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Flying the unfriendly skies

Surprise, surprise: American carriers are the most profitable and least comfortable.

I spend a LOT of time on planes, and I have to agree. I hate the Fly America Act, and being stuck on American carriers. I am always hoping for codeshares on other carriers so I don't get stuck on the American company carriers that always nickel-and-dime you while offering minimal comforts.

The Chameleon Club

"Among the demons that taunt a writer before he can open a vein and write in his own blood are the devils that whisper: Are you brave enough to tell the truth?"
-Francine Prose, "Lovers at the Chameleon Club

The Holy Land in a nutshell

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cultural Connections- The Clinton Curtis Band in Northeast Brazil

The US Consulate in Recife did a wonderful documentary on The Clinton Curtis Band's tour in Recife and Garanhuns!  This is the band that Levantine Public Diplomacy sent to northern Brazil.

This is what cultural diplomacy looks like; this is what cultural diplomacy sounds like!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

To Brazil, with love from Pakistan

Connecting Brazil with Pakistan via Della Mae. The online progressive Pakistani magazine Let Us Build Pakistan reported on Della Mae's performance of "Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua" in Brazil and previous American Music Abroad tour through Pakistan and Central Asia.

I'm on the board of the Pakistan Israel Peace Forum, which has connected Let Us Build Pakistan in an ongoing dialogue and article cross-posting with the online progressive magazine in Israel +972 Magazine.

Tilting at World Cups

Well, our favorite public diplomacy knight-errant Don Pablo Quixote has completed his most recent quest of bringing the Dulcinea Dellas and the Clintonistas to tour Brazil during the World Cup.

In Northern Brazil, The Clinton Curtis Band created incredible, meaningful music connections through rock, blues and roots music that truly moved the audiences they encountered in Vitoria, Recife and Brasilia.  And they learned themselves of Brazil's glorious music traditions of congo and frevo, as the let music connect us in true commonality.

Muito obregado to Clinton Curtis, Justin Goldner, Drew McLean, Geoffrey Countryman and Gray Reinhard for all your energy and spirit you put in to make this tour such an utter success.

In Southern Brazil, Della Mae wowed Brazilian audiences with their deft musical abilities as they shared joys of bluegrass, and the Dellas charmed them with their grace and pluck.  The Dellas and their new musical friends perhaps even invented the newest form of music to come out of Brazil: Chorograss.  In Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Campo Grande, Sorocaba, Taubate and Sao Paulo, Della Mae continued to prove themselves as some of the finest cultural diplomatesses that the State Department has ever seen.

Muito obregado to Courtney Hartman, Kimber Ludiker, Jenni Lyn Gardner, Celia Woodsmith and Shelby Means for all your energy and spirit you put in to make this tour such an utter success.

Programs like this cannot be done without the tremendous work of partners.  Muito obregado to the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, and the U.S. Consulates in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Recife.  Muito obregado to CAO Danna Van Brandt, who spearheaded the project, and to CASes Cezar Borsa, Joyce Costa and Maria Estella Correa of Post Sao Paulo.  Muito obregado to CAO Jessica Simon and CAS Carla Waehneldt   of Post Rio; muito obregado to CAO Matt Keener and CAS Stuart Beechler of Post Recife; muito obregado to CAS Karla Carneiro and ACAO Marion Lange.

Muito obregado to all the local partner institutions that hosted the artists, that opened their concert halls and cultural centers to allow us to share American music and culture.

As for this Quixote, the next windmill is Serbia to run the Next Level academy in Belgrade and Novi Sad in late July.  Journey on!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Port of Joy

After the phenomenal concert(s) at Teatro do Paiol, the next morning the Dellas had a workshop masterclass at a music conservatory. I had been there with Keola and company prior, and really liked the space. It is an old historic building but with a more modernist inside. The Dellas spoke about the history of bluegrass, and the history of the band. They spoke about their home states and their connection to music, as well as performing and going into the structure of the music.

After the conservatory class, we headed out to the airport to head to Porto Alegre. We did it in a roundabout fashion, heading north to Sao Paulo so we could head south to Porto Alegre. We did so because the CAS Ceszar was worried that both Curitiba and Porto Alegre have smaller airports, and since it is winter we might get stuck. So we used TAM which didn't have a direct flight but went via Sao Paolo and had many more flights per day if we got stuck.

So we went north to head south, and arrived later in the evening to Porto Alegre. We checked in, and had dinner and drinks in a microbrew pub.

The next day, Friday, we had a busy day. We went to the Binational Center where Keola had previously performed, and we had a masterclass with music students from the Department of Music at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. It was a blast. The music students loved the bluegrass, and had a grand time jamming with the Dellas, and sharing their own choro music. After the masterclass, the Dellas rehearsed with their collaboration partners for the evening event.

After lunch, the Dellas were introduced to the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil. The ambassador had wanted to see the Dellas perform, and so she made the trip to Porto Alegre for an (early) July 4th reception that the Dellas were performing in. The Dellas got to meet the Ambassador and chat for a bit before heading back to the theater to give a presentation and performance for the Ambassador and 70 English Language Access students. They had a great time performing and speaking with the English students about music and American life.

After the program, we had a big reception for an early 4th of July party. It was a black tie affair with the Ambassador. After the speeches, the Brazilian band performed the Brazilian national anthem in a Samba style, then the Dellas performed the US national anthem in their own amazing style. Then the bands jammed for some collaboration on bluegrass and Brazilian music. Following the short set, the Dellas went out to the gala and were feted by the crowd. I was underdressed for the event so I stayed back in the dressing room and hung out there.

Saturday was a rest day, and Camilla with the US Consulate was able to get us VIP passes to attend the FIFA Fan Fest to watch the Brazil match. The Dellas went shopping for Brazil swag, and got decked out in yellow for the match. Unfortunately, the weather was awful, but we were under an enclosure so we snacked on salgados and had some beers while we watched a REALLY close game. The upstairs enclosure had a max number, and since it was raining everyone wanted up. We were up, but couldn't go down to use the bathroom.

Finally at halftime, a few of us went downstairs to watch from below. It ended up being a lot more fun, as there were more people cheering and yelling. The game went down to the wire, and ended on penalty kicks (which I hate). It was one of the most intense sporting moments I have ever been a part of. Everyone's hearts were thumping as the penalty kicks were taken, and were chanting the names of the players. When Brazil finally won, the place ERUPTED. It was incredible.

After the game, we headed back to the hotel. A few of us went out for dinner at a traditional Gaucho churraco place that I went the year prior with Keola. We feasted on the endless slices of meat, the delicious picanha, entrecote and other wonderful cuts of meat brought on metal spikes and cut on the table.

And there was a show of gaucho music and dance. There was a gaucho doing tricks with a bollo, twirling it around and smacking it on the ground. He called Celia up on stage and started doing bollo tricks around her head, twirling the rock rope around her face and brushing her hair around with the lassos. The Consulate staff and I were holding out collective breath as this was going down. But she escaped unharmed, and it was quite a show and incredible dinner.

Meanwhile, Kimber and Courtney went out with the musicians and had an incredible cultural experience in their own right. One of the collab musician's father was performing with the most famous accordion player in Brazil. They had a show at a private club, and Courtney and Kimber got to hang with the musicians and also see a capoirea set. Then they had some homecooked feijoada that came from local ingredients, and they ended up in the Bohemian quarter of Porto Alegre till late in the night.