Sunday, November 29, 2015


When the going gets tough, the tough get quixotic.

Ok Central America, let's do this!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Leftover empanadas

New Rockower family tradition: leftover empandas.

With Harry's leftover pie dough, he and I made Thanksgiving empanadas.

Empanadas of turkey, mashed potato and cranberry; of turkey and pumpkin pie; of turkey, stuffing and yams.

Forked closed, and an egg wash. Gonna be good.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gastrodiplomacy Thanksgiving

Cloves, cinnamon and cardamom from the Straits of Malacca; fine golden aged Nicaraguan rum. Those are my ‪‎gastrodiplomacy‬ contributions to the pumpkin and mincemeat pies.

No finer job than serving as the pie sous-chef for the pie master Harry Rockower.

Happy Turkey Day to all!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rickroll 'em

Fighting terror in the digital age: Anonymous is now rickrolling ISIS!

Telling your own story

"Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter."
-African proverb

On Light

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
-Edith Wharton

Friday, November 20, 2015


‪Gastrodiplomacy‬ thought for the weekend, courtesy of Pakalu Papito:

"Why have abs when you can have kebabs."

Monday, November 16, 2015

moment de silence

The morning was grey and foreboding, like a day better served being avoided or an alley best not ventured into.

We arrived to school, and we were told that at noon there would be a moment of silence for the whole school in the courtyard for the victims of the terror attack in Paris.

All morning, we discussed the attacks in French class through drawings and caricatures.  A headmaster came in to check the attendance and verify that any missing students could be accounted for.

The morning passed in a cold grey dullness.

At noon, the whole school gathered in the courtyard.  A headmaster explained that we would have a moment of silence to honor those killed in Paris.  A soft siren began to wail across the city.  I closed my eyes, and thought of Prague as a student standing for another moment of silence many years ago.

I murmured the Mourner's Kadish under my breath. Yitgadal, v'yitkadesh....

Amid the siren, the noon churchbell punctuated the silence.  It rang loud and clear, again and again.

I thought back to another time, standing in silence in Japan as we honored those who died in Hiroshima--a differnt bell punctuating the somber silence.

The siren and the church bells ended almost in harmony,

My eyes remain closed.  I listened for another moment to the sounds of children laughing in a nearby school.  A reminder that life continues.

As I opened my eyes, the grey skies were beginning to pass and blue azure was beginning to peek through.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

No being ends in nothing

 After a long week, juggling French class and upcoming programs in Bangladesh and El Salvador that had me working across 4 continents, the weekend finally arrived. I had considered going to Orleans to see Joan of Arc's old stomping grounds, but decided to hang closer to home for what amounts to my last weekend in Tours.

Friday evening was quiet, and I hung out at a local pub called Mr. Cool's, where I played darts and pinball with my friend Francesco. As I was about to leave the bar, news of the attacks in Paris were starting to filter in. I returned to find a lot of messages on Facebook and email, asking me to check in and indicate I was safe. I did so, and went to bed around midnight.

Saturday morning, I headed over to rent a bicycle for the weekend. As is the case in Tours at the bike rental place, I can rent a bike for 2 days, but the store is closed on Sunday and Monday so I get to return it on Tuesday morning, so I actually get it for 3.5 days. A good deal, me thinks.

I got the bike, and headed out on the Loireen Velo trail that crosses the the Loire valley and river until the trail reaches the Atlantic and Mediterranean. I had been planning on going to Amboise—about 27 km away from Tours. I had considered taking a bus or train there and biking back, or biking there, and taking a bus/train back, but I got a wild hair and just decided to do the whole route, a lil more than 50 km. I realized that while 50 km sounds like a lot, it was really just 30 miles, which is only a little more than I had been doing in Boulder.

I headed out on the quiet trail, burning my way to Mountlouis where I had visited last time. Since I knew the terrain and knew where I was going, it did not take me long to get to Mountlouis, some 15 km (10 miles) away. I crossed Mountlouis, and passed on through vineyard fields dormant for the winter. The open countryside under the wide blue skies were beautiful. I had the fields to myself, save for some grazing horses. I admired the rich Loire terrain as I passed through, and tried to imagine it in spring bloom.

I passed through small hamlets and along lakes and the turgid Rive Loire until I spied Amboise from afar with its gothic tiered royal chateau that once housed Charles VIII and Francis I. After biking for 27 km (~17 miles), I was famished. I parked my bike under the royal chateau and wandered under the old clock tower down medieval lanes.

I wandered back into the main square, and stopped for lunch at a recommended spot called Chez Bruno. I sat outside, under the limestone fortress and had an immaculate lunch. The formula midi was a salad nicoise and a steak au poivre et frittes for 13 euros—not bad at all. The place was known for its local wines, and I washed down the nicoise with a semi-sweet, semi-dry white aptly named memoire de Loire, and the steak with a nice glass of red. I had biked my way there, I figured I had earned an extra glass of wine.

After lunch, I headed over to Chateau du Clos Luce, the chateau where Leonardo daVinci spent his final years. That was when things got interesting.

Originally known as Chateau de Cloux, the manor was built in 1471 (on the foundations of a 12th century manor) by Estienne Le Loup, who was bailiff of King Louis XI. In 1490, it was bought by King Charles VIII, and served for centuries as a royal summer residence for the kings of France.

It was King Francis' sister Marguerite de Navarre who convinced the regent to extend an invitation to Leonardo. King Francis admired daVinci's genius, and sent him an invitation to take up residence at the royal chateau. DaVinci accepted the royal offer, and in the autumn 1516, he set out from Rome on the back of a mule across the Alps, along with his faithful disciple Melzi and devoted servant deVillanis. Leonardo brought a few other things with on his saddle bags on his mule venture across the Alps: the Mona Lisa, the Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the unfinished St. John the Baptist, which he would complete in Amboise.

When daVinci arrived to Clos Luce, King Francis told him, “here you will be free to think, to dream and to work.” Leonardo daVinci was named “First Painter, Architect and Engineer,” and received a formidable allowance of 700 gold ecus per year; the king also financed daVinci's projects and work. The regent asked in return simply to have the pleasure of hearing daVinci speak, and watch him work.

DaVinci spent the last three years of his life at Clos Luce, thinking, tinkering and studying the lush gardens. He devised new inventions, wondrous celebrations and plans for a model chateau at Romorantin, as well as plans to connect the Loire with the Lyon region by a system of canals.

Leonardo daVinci saw that his days were drawing to a close. He wrote, “No being ends in nothing” and soon took his final sacraments. He reportedly wept on his death bed, for having offended the Creator and the people of this world for not working at his art as he should. He then passed in peace, and took his last breaths in the chateau before he joined “the Creator of so many wondrous things.”

I toured through the room that daVinci spent the last three years of his life, and saw his spiraled bed frame and old notebooks and manuscripts. I also visited the bedroom of Marguerite de Navarre, who had been wise enough to first think to bring daVinci to France. I visited through salons and a 15th century chapel for Anne de Bretagne, as well as a great hall where daVinci entertained important guests. I also visited the kitchen fed the vegetarian da Vinci.

More importantly, in the basement there were models and designs of the genius of da Vinci. I got chills as I looked at his brilliant works. The man was centuries ahead of his time. I just shook my head at the models of his inventions for civil and military engineering feats (the man made a tank and machine gun cannons in the 16th century!), mechanics, optics and hydraulics. The sheer brilliance of daVinci's creations were astounding. The thing that most moved me was daVinci's invention of the bicycle. Here some 5 centuries later, I had used daVinci's invention to get myself here.

And I was reminded of my visit to the museum of Archimedes in Olympus in Greece (“Give me....and I will move the Earth”), the last time I found such an incredible outlier.

Nearly in shock at daVinci's brilliance, I wandered out into his gardens, where daVinci studied nature to learn the ways of the world. DaVinci took his inspiration for creation by observing the natural world around him. I saw the gardens, where he studied the ways of the world. And I walked through the park where they reconstructed some of daVinci's inventions like double-tiered bridges to help move the flow of traffic as a means to fight pestilence. There were working models that littered the landscape, it was an impressive display.

I wandered through the last exhibit that showcased daVinci's time in France, and his role in bringing Renaissance advances to the Loire Valley.

The whole visit left me speechless.

The afternoon was getting a little late if I wanted to get back to Tours in the daylight. I realized I would not have time to visit the Chateau Royal d'Amboise, but it has lasted for a few centuries so perhaps I can return to it another time.

I set back out on the road back through the fields and meadows that I had passed on my comings. The return was long and my old knee was starting to ache, but I made it back victoriously to Tours. I rang my bike bell as I pulled into my residence. In the end, I had biked almost 54 km, nearly 34 miles. Not bad at all!

PS: I did another 30 km on sunday morning, biking the other way to Savonnieres and back.  That leaves my weekend total to around 80km or 50 miles. 

Tales of a Hunger-Blatherer

Ha! My trip to Ethiopia this summer may have begun an Ethiopian gastrodiplomacy campaign!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Loire en Velo

I may not be Lance Armstrong or even Charlie Walker but I just biked 50 km across the Loire Valley from Tours to Amboise and back, and I am f'ing proud of it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Peace be upon us

There are a lot of students in my French class from the Middle East. Doctors from Saudi, Oman and Libya; even a detective from Kuwait.

I walked in to class today, and one of the students from the Gulf named Mohammad welcomed me with a smile, and said: Shalom.

 I smiled back, and said: Wa aleikum Salaam.

It's always the little things....

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Last weekend, I had an old friend Lauren Cobert ("Party like its 1999") come visit Tours.

After lots of stinky cheese, we made our way to the incredible chateau Chenonceau ("Party like its 1599").

For a bit of quick history, Chenonceau was given by King Henri II to his mistress Diane of Poitiers. When King Henri died from a lance splinter in the eye, his wife the Queen Catherine de' Medici told Diane, "wench--get walking." (I paraphrase from ye olde French).

Queen Regent Catherine ruled France for decades from her river chateau.

 I have known Chenonceau since Harry Rockower made a model of it when he was a wee lad (model still in the basement, where we play Blitz '99)

Can a trip ever be "Authentic"?

Pico Ayer asks some good questions and offers some good answers on such subjects.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

NL Bangla anniverary

A year ago today the NL Team Bangladesh, featuring the Hon. Asheru, DJ A-Minor, Amirah Sackett and Jocelyn Ellis, inaugurated the historic NL Bangladesh program!

NL Team Bangladesh and the NL Dhaka Academy put together an incredible show that rocked the packed Shilpakala National Auditorium.

The Next Level Bangladesh program was so fantastic, the newspaper The Daily Star included it among the cultural events of the year in 2014 in Bangladesh!

I was proud to play a part in this incredible cultural diplomacy event.

Everything wrong with American immigration in Y2K15

"But his application for the H-1B visa was denied, and he had to leave the United States. Back in France, Mr. Négri used his data skills to figure out why. The answer was simple: Many of the visas are given out through a lottery, and a small number of giant global outsourcing companies had flooded the system with applications, significantly increasing their chances of success. While he had one application in last year’s lottery and lost, one of the outsourcing companies applied for at least 14,000. The companies were squeezing out American employers like his boss."

-Large Companies Game H-1B Visa Program, and Jobs Leave the U.S.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Culinary Citizen

I was a guest on The Culinary Citizen to discuss the origins of gastrodiplomacy. Have a listen to the new podcast! Thanks Sam and Kelsey for having me on.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

La Loire à Vélo

I can only describe it as I see it.

I went to rent a bike on Saturday morning.  On the way, I passed through the flower market across the middle of the wide boulevard.  Framed in the autumn brown leaves of the tall trees, the flower market stretch down the long boulevard in a cascasd of colors.

I was transported back to the spice markets of Mysore.

From Mysore

And the flower markets under the freeways of Taipei.

From Taipei Markets

The rows of rainbows were stunning.  Truly Roy G. Biv.

From Tours Weekend

A belt of color across the city.

I continued past the marvelous marble Hôtel de Ville with virtuous and vile statues staring down.

I made my way past the belle train station, stopping first at a briocherie.  The day prior, the line had been out the door.  The smells coming from the briocherie were pain intoxication.

Today the line was more manageable.  Inside there were giant brioche.  Crown brioches stuffed with chocolate.  On the wall, confitures jellied slowly and sweetly.  Abricot.  Figues. Cerise.

I got a small chocolate brioche but dreamed of wearing La Couronne.

I made my way to the bike shop.  It was 15 euros to rent the bike for the day, and I had to have it back by 7pm.  I made a good move to ask about taking the bike longer than a day.

-Oui Monsieur, we have two day rentals for 23 euros.


-But we are closed on Sunday and Monday, so you bring it back Tuesday morning

Vraiment? Jusqu'au mardi pour le prix de deux jours?

-Oui Monsieur, c'est bon prix, non?

Oui.  So I have the velo to bike around the Loire Valley until Tuesday.

The clerk handed me a pump and a kit to fix flat tires.  I asked about a helmet.

Il est pas obligatoire

I laughed.  When I was renting a bike in Boulder, they made me click a box if I was refusing a helmet.  I tried but my sister and the clerk vehemently insisted I take the head gear.

That is the difference between France and America--in France, they send you off with something to fix the bike but nothing to protect your cabeza; in America, they make sure the world is baby-proofed.

But I did opt for the helmet in the end.  I make a living with my fair tête, and having just watch the exploding of tossed melons, I could only imagine what would happen to my head if it broke my fall.

Puis, I biked out of the city, past the belle Opera House and the Musée des Beaux-Arts.  Through the medieval streets and out to La Rive Loire.

And into the autumn.  I can only describe what I saw but it was stunning.

Burnt orange.  Fire red.  Autumn amarillo (jaune).  Fall brown.  A soft vert.

At a crossroads, I stopped to write it all down.  I watched the birds fish in the river.

I listened to the silent flowing river and chirps of birds.

Across the river, a city of nameless white stood proud on the banks of river.  A tall white water tower dominated the scene, and next to it looked to be an old medieval tower.

Behind me, stretching green and brown autumn forest stood a double-steepled cathedral raised high across the blue-azure sky. I biked 12 km to the next town over, Mountlouis.  I biked through the quiet town, and down to the river.

It was there by the river that I found my Rosetta stone.  I had been searching for a book of French verbs.  Learning languages is all about learning patterns, and I didn't have enough of the patterns explained in my regular French book.  But my small Frommer's PhraseFinder had all I needed to see verbs in present and past.  Under a canopy of autumn leaves, I animatedly spoke to myself--or imagined others in French as the language finally opened up to me.

I stopped at a nearby restaurant, a nice creperie.  I asked the waiter for two words I did not recognize:

-dinde (turkey)
-gesiers (gizzards)

He explained, and left me a second English menu.  The Rosetta carte.  I sipped a Kir Breton (cidre, creme de casis) as I cross-referenced the menus, learning new words like guimauve (marshmallow).

The crepe came, and it was exquisite.  Since I am a ciboscribner, I will simply describe the deliciousness:

A savory buckwheat crepe filled with wild mushrooms, tomatoes and Émincé de dinde, cooked in smooth cream and garlic. A fresh salad on the side.  A glass of vin blanc from a nearby vineyard.  C'est magnifique.

After lunch, I began my 12km trek back.  I stopped to grab this scene that caught my eye.  If ever there was a juxtaposition of world.

From Tours Weekend

Who is Jean Jaurès?

Is he a liberator or a destroyer?

Well, maybe both.  Jean Jaurès was a famous French Socialist leader at the turn of the 20th century.  He was anti-militaristic at at time when it wasn't popular to be.  He may have been a great leader of France, if he had not been assassinated.

I stumbled upon Jean Jaurès because he is remembered in the center of Tours--the plaza bears his name and his memory.