Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sarajevo Still

A grey rainy day in Sarajevo. From the terrace, the pitterpatter of rain descends on the quiet day. The traffic passes beneath with sounds of a calm wave. The stillness of the afternoon punctuated by the muezzein's call to prayer. Indeed, God is great.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

All the little lights

We’re born with millions of little lights shining in the dark
And they show us the way
One lights up
Every time you feel love in your heart
One dies when it moves away


the warmth of your skin next to me; the weight of our bodies pressing against each other; the countertension of space filled.

the strength of my fingers on the nape of your neck; the back of our teeth clacking in deep kiss; nibbling at the soft flesh of your earlobe; the presence, once-longing now filled.
-Eric Hayes

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Next Level Montenegro

The Next Level program has been having an incredible time with NL Team MonteBosnia (AKA The Elements Crew).  This specific program is special for a number of reasons. First, they are the only Next Level team to have 5 members, because we woudn't dream of splitting Deena and Wandee of TruEssencia up. Second, because they are the only NL team running hip hop diplomacy programs in 2 countries.

The Elements Crew arrived to Podgorica last week, and we went out for a welcome dinner at a traditional Montenegrin restaurant called Kuhinja Bake, which means "Grandmother's Kitchen."  Everyone loved the traditional Montenegrin foods.  Marc ("DJ Mista B") Bayangos was the most adventurous, and tried the horse sausage.  Of course, I had it too. He liked it, and thought it had a bit of a bacon-y flavor.

The next morning the team was already busy at work running hip hop workshops at the Bozidor Vukovic Podgoricanin school. The school hosts one of the largest communities of Roma students in Podgorica. All the students loved the hip hop demo by the NL team, and had a grand time learning the elements of hip hop in hands-on workshops!

The NL MonteBosnia Team returned in the afternoon to Bozidor Vukovic Podgoricanin school to run workshops for the hip hop community of Podgorica. The Elements Crew had a fantastic afternoon working on best practices in hip hop with the b-boys and b-girls of Podgorica.

The following morning, the team departed Podgorica along the beautiful mountainous route north to Nikšić.  After settling in to Montenegro's second city, the NL team headed over to the Matrix Dance Center to run a morning workshop on hip hop dance.

The talented students of the Matrix Dance School had a fantastic time working on dance best practices with Deena and Wandee of TruEssencia.

That evening, NL Team MonteBosnia had its first concert at the lovely theater in Nikšić at the Dara Čokorilo Music School.  The intimate theater had wonderful acoustics that bounced off the ridges of the corrugated stage wall behind.

The performance began with a dance demo by the Matrix Dance School.  Following the opening act, the Next Level crew came out to introduce themselves and their crafts.  Prior to the beginning of the show, we had a moment of silence as the performance fell on September 11th.  It was moving to be joined in silence by the whole theater, who helped us mark the somber occasion.

The evening's concert continued on, as The Elements Crew wove explanations and demonstrations of the elements of hip hop into the performance.  The performance took the audience on a journey through the creation of hip hop, and had the crowd rocking along.
The Elements Crew were also able to include some of the artists from the previous day's workshop in Podgorica.

After the show, the NL team got to meet the Embassy's Chargé d'Affaires Bix Aliu (diplomatic speak for an "acting Ambassador").  It was nice to meet Bix in person, as he had previously invited me to the Foreign Service Institute to speak on cultural diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy.  We were facebook friends, but this was our first offline meeting.

 The U.S. Embassy did a wonderful job on the program, and we give a real kudos to the Public Affairs Officer Sunshine Ison and Cultural Affairs Specialist Bernard Cobaj, and it was nice for their boss to come out and support the program.

The following day, we started to make our journey to Bosnia.  While we had planned to simply go north from to Sarajevo, NL Program Director Prof. Mark Katz had other ideas, and the team made a detour to Kotor on Adriatic coast.

So the NL Team MonteBosnia stopped in the Montenegrin gem Kotor, in the placid Bay of Kotor off the Adriatic Coast.  The city's walled fortifications were built by the Venetian Republic in the 14th and 15th centuries.  The city resembles a mini-Dubrovnik of King's Landing fame.

MJ, Deena and Wandee wandered through the maze passageways of the old city.

Meanwhile, Marc, Russell and Mark ascended to the top of stone stairs to the lookout high above.  

We were sad to leave Montenegro after such a warm welcome and great hospitality we enjoyed.  But, we are super excited for the upcoming program in Bosnia!  Journey on!


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ikea BookBook

Roadtripping through Attica and Peloponnesus

Sadly I'm finding the more wonderful my days are, the harder it is to find the time and space to recount them.

I made my way over to the place of Marianna's friends John and Anna to embark on our roadtrip. I took what I thought was the correct bus but it turned up on a street prior to my expected journey. I got off at the first stop, and was annoyed at my mistake. But as I replayed the map in my head, realized that it probably took me closer to my destination in terms of distance to walk up route. I walked through the silent neighborhood, empty in the August slumber until I found their apartment complex. The area, I later found out, was home to Athens' anarchists and was basically a no-go area for the police.

I caught up with my roadtrip friends and we headed out into the quiet morning. We passed signs out on the road for Markopaulo, and I smiled. We got outside of Athens on the road through Attica, and the hills were lined with windmills. An auspicious sign, indeed. We drove through the verdant Greek countryside, which alternately reminded me of both Israel and California. John and Anna are local music producers for metal and post-rock shows, and immediately we got chatting about the ins-and-outs of the music biz, and how my work on the public diplomacy side differed from theirs in the private commercial sector.

We drove for a while as we snaked up the mountains leading up to Delphi. We arrived to Delphi a few a hours later and checked into our hotel in the picturesque town. We dropped our gear and wandered through the alleys as we took in the wide valley below. After some unsuccessful searching for lunch spots, we ascended to another part of the city and found a wonderful little taverna that overlooked the valley.

Lunch was immaculate. We sat out in the little taverna, drinking cold rose out clay pitchers and feasted on a Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, feta and an added surprise of capers on the vine. The saltiness of the capers really made the salad. The main course came, and we feasted on delicious roasted lamb that we squeezed lemon juice upon. There was a phenomenal stew with caramelized onions swimming in a wine and plum sauce. We had sides of gigante beans and dolmas stuffed in zucchini flowers, which were incredible. We sat for hours, eating and drinking while we took in the view. The restaurant brought us an incredible dessert of kanafe cake and Greek yogurt cheese cake that we munched with Greek coffee and ouzo. We almost begged off the entire day.

We rallied and made our way out of the town a bit to get to the famous grounds of the Oracle of Delphi. We wandered through the ruins as we took in the old crumbled temples that once gave divine wisdom to the priestesses of the Oracle. The sun was setting across the wide valley, and the old columns began to cast shadows on the dusty ground.

We caught the sun set across the valley from the promenade overlooking the ravine below.  We returned for some rest back in the hotel. Later, we ventured back out for a free concert in the town square next to the old church. Greek melodies filled the cobbled stone square, and I swam in the lucid charm of the Greek tunes. We had an added surprise for the night's concert: free icecream and free beer (!) offered by the night's entertainment.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the charming hotel's charming balcony that overlooked the ravine. The morning went slow as we sipped espresso and Greek coffee and snack on soft halva cake. I thought I knew halva from the Middle East, but this was not the dry, flaky variety I knew but rather a soft delicate cake. The morning ended with a glass of ouzu to mark the afternoon.

We finally pried ourselves away from our wonderful stay, and got back out on the road to Nafpaktos. We drove along the Aegean Sea coast, as I stared out into the blue expanse. We stopped for a coffee and a break at the most idyllic shore. We sat under a craggy tree on smooth, worn rocks as the waves lapped against the shore. In my dreams, I never left.

We stopped in a cafe I could only term as paradise, with beautiful yellow stained glass and mahogany-stained furniture that overlooked the sea. Again, I had to be pried away, and we continued on to Nafpaktos.

We arrived to Nafpaktos, and were famished in the afternoon heat. We sat out in a restaurant off the beach, and stared out at the long bridge that connected Attica to Peloppenesseus. Lunch continued the immaculate trend, and we dined on korice-- sheep liver wrapped in intestines and grilled over a spit. We added skewers of chicken souvlaki and delicious kefta (greek burgers) with lemon juice, as well as Greek salad and tzatziki. The ouzo looked like the milky-white caps of the waves rushing to shore.

We continued through Nafpaktos, stopping shortly to take some pictures of the old stone harbor with windmills in the distance on mountains high above. I noticed a statue and got a strange feeling looking at it. In my cursory Greek, I slowly read the letters. My eyes widened. “Cervantes?” I asked the gentleman standing next to me. “Neh (yes),” he replied. I ran back to the car to show my Dulcinea the auspicious find.

We crossed the cabled bridge into Peloponneseus and made our way to Marianna's family's country house in Rio. Ironic that I would be staying in Rio, when it was in Rio that such Greek adventures were made. We sat out in the lovely gardens as the sun set, drinking rum and amplifying music in a clay bowl from an i-phone.

The next day was slow and idyllic. We munched peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and squares of feta and pesto as we took the day as slow as possible. Later in the afternoon, we rallied and went for a swim in the Aegean. After the salty swim, we sat out in a restaurant overlooking the bridge as the sun set golden in the horizon and lit the cables in an effulgent glow. We dined on sea-fare, and I had to make a kosher exception to try some squid swimming in garlic and olive oil, and some fried calamari.

The following day, we drove out to the Ionian Sea. The winds of the beach were profound, and assaulted us with sandy granules. I took a dip in the emerald waters, and marveled that in a week I had been for a dip in both the Aegean and Ionian seas.

We drove back to Patra, a bit famished and having a difficult time finding something open for dinner. We found a cafe overlooking the Aegean, and watched the sun set from up on high. The green city lights slowly came on, and traffic let a yellow blur in the town below.

In my dreams, I didn't leave Rio either. But we did, and after cleaning up we headed out the next afternoon to Olympia—home of the first Olympic games. We wandered through the ancient ruin site, and climbed up on a hill to grab some shade as we watched young Olympians race on the remaining track.

We visited the wonderful museum, with its incredible statue of Hermes. I sat on the ground of the room that housed the wonderfully-well preserved statue and admired the Greek messenger.

We tore ourselves free from the museum, and grabbed a nice last meal in the town. We also found a fascinating museum on Archimedes (Evrika!). The museum chronicled the brilliance of Archimedes and his groundbreaking-inventions. 

Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the earth

There were interactive demonstrations of Archimedes' genius, he was millenia ahead of his time.

Don't disturb my circles...

We made our way back through the mountains as the sun set. Villages with little yellow and white lights punctuated the darkness and looked like patches of stars in the night's sky. We made our way back to Athens, and I was left swimming in thoughts and a new reality.

PS: The Athens Remainder

The rest of Athens feels like a dream. I took it slow, visiting the wonderful National Archaeological Museum with Marianna, whose knowledge of museums made it even more interesting. I also visited the Akropolis Museum with Marianna and her friend Alkistis. Alkistis is an archaeologist, and she made the incredible Akropolis Museum even more so.

I also got to see firsthand what incredible theft it is that the Brits remain with Elgin's Marbles. The marbles of the Parthenon on the Akropolis were pilfered by Lord Elgin in a shady deal he made with the Ottomans, just a couple of decades before Greece's independence. Britain's excuse for holding onto Greece's patrimony was justified for years by the fact that Greece did not have a proper museum to store the pieces. Such excuses don't hold true anymore, as the Akropolis Museum is world class. The exhibit on what remains of the marbles is heartbreaking when you see how much Britain has compared to what remains for Greece. Britain did an amiable job protecting these works of art, but the imperial age is through and these works belong back in their rightful home in Athens. Anything less is a travesty.

On the whole, I had an absolutely incredible and possibly life-changing time in Greece, and it was a period for me that I will never forget. I have a good feeling I will be back to Greece many more times in the future.

Monday, September 08, 2014

On progress

"Progress would be wonderful - if only it would stop."
 - Robert Musil

Monday, September 01, 2014


On the outskirts of the jungles of West Bengal, I awoke to the sounds of the pitterpatter of rain in the trees; it was all a mirage, the sky was clear and blue and it only the residue rains from the night's monsoon still trickling down the large leaves.

I spent the day dreaming of new windmills.

That evening, I became a goat-whisperer, as I shielded a kid from a pack of trouble-making dogs. I can only imagine what the local thought when they saw a white ghost carrying a black goat down the village road.

Across the wide monsoon skies, the sun set gold, peach and salmon pink over the green mid-harvest rice fields.

The night descended over West Bengal like a purple wine benediction, and the communion night was filled with the cricket symphony.