Saturday, January 31, 2015

Steamrolled

Or, how a shady U.S. Ambassador/Viceroy to Kosovo shepherded a mega-highway deal for Bechtel that the country didn't need, only to leave to join Bechtel operations soon after.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Rockower


Ending Greece's nightmare


γεια σας Ελλάδα (Hello Greece)

I arrived to Greece during some interesting times, to say the least.

Paul Krugman has a great column on the moralizing of Europa over the Greek debt crisis, where the crisis really came from and the fallacies behind it.

Krurman has a second great column on the Greek debt crisis, and the Greek myths behind it:
First, about those myths: Many people seem to believe that the loans Athens has received since the crisis broke have been subsidizing Greek spending.
The truth, however, is that the great bulk of the money lent to Greece has been used simply to pay interest and principal on debt. In fact, for the past two years, more than all of the money going to Greece has been recycled in this way: the Greek government is taking in more revenue than it spends on things other than interest, and handing the extra funds over to its creditors.

Or to oversimplify things a bit, you can think of European policy as involving a bailout, not of Greece, but of creditor-country banks, with the Greek government simply acting as the middleman — and with the Greek public, which has seen a catastrophic fall in living standards, required to make further sacrifices so that it, too, can contribute funds to that bailout.
I just got here, so haven't had too much of a chance to gauge the feelings around the agora. Just initial conversations are a bit of pride that Greece feels like it has a say again in its own affairs, and a bit of realization that Greece has a lot more leverage now, especially as elections loom in Spain and other countries wracked by austerity and with parties similar to Syriza rising in the polls.


Guns, sex and arrogance: I hated everything about America — until I moved here

An interesting article on perspectives of America from abroad, and how they change up close.

What Andrew Sullivan's exit says about the future of blogging

An interesting article on the future of blogging:
The first is that, at this moment in the media, scale means social traffic. Links from other bloggers — the original currency of the blogosphere, and the one that drove its collaborative, conversational nature — just don't deliver the numbers that Facebook does. But blogging is a conversation, and conversations don't go viral. People share things their friends will understand, not things that you need to have read six other posts to understand. Blogging encourages interjections into conversations, and it thrives off of familiarity. 
Social media encourages content that can travel all on its own. Alyssa Rosenberg put it well at the Washington Post. "I no longer write with the expectation that you all are going to read every post and pick up on every twist and turn in my thinking. Instead, each piece feels like it has to stand alone, with a thesis, supporting paragraphs and a clear conclusion."  
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I have not been writing as much anymore.  I would probably cite a few reasons in varying levels of importance: a) I have a girlfriend who takes up a lot of the time that used to be spent on the blog.  b) My work leaves me little time to blog--I am so focused on the details of the programs I run that I scarcely have time to come up for air.  The second point does sadden me a bit, because at a time when I have so much fodder to discuss, I have so little time to discuss it.

There is also a factor that I should honestly admit: the social factor of social media.  When I post something on Facebook, be it a picture or an article or my thoughts, there is immediate feedback and a bit of positive reinforcement that simply does not come with posting a tome on my blog.  Granted, it is a shallow bit of "likery" but, to be perfectly honest, it is still more fulfilling (slightly) to get some feedback that social media offers.

But maybe I will make it a goal to get back more into the habit of writing.  I do miss the cathartic nature of getting the plague of my ideas off my shoulders and into the ethereal blog space.  This is something that the blog offers, and that I miss.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Looking for answers on Benghazi?

Then look no further!  Yes, I helped cause the Benghazi attack!  Through CULINARY DIPLOMACY!  Thanks to some neckless congressman from South Carolina and Fox News, somehow gastrodiplomacy is a reason for Benghazi!

This would be the second time I am being implicated for my role in the Benghazi attack!  Always better to be infamous than famous....

An intro to DC Conflict Cuisine

A great piece by Dr. Johanna Mendelson-Forman on conflict cuisine in DC.

In a city where politics and diplomacy are the lifeblood of our being, it may be worth a moment to consider that the arrival of new ethnic restaurants often mirrors of the state of play in any given hot-spot around the globe. Food is borderless and a tangible sign of just how globalized we are.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Don't preach about zionism

The best speech about Israel and Zionism in years.  Golda would be proud.

Utrecht (II)

The next morning it was snowing a soft white.  A modest winter wonderland.  In the snow dusting, Marianna and I went wandering through the snowscape, with the frozen ponds and ducks and other birds walking on the frozen crust.

I got to really play with my camera--focusing in on little waterdrops hanging from the frozen trees.  The melting icedrops dripping from the branches gave the melting pond top a textured indentations like that of concrete.

In the resplendent noon sun, I sipped espresso off the shimmering canal.

Marianna and I made our way back to Moksi for lunch, and it was incredible.    I left it to Michael the chef to surprise us.


Out came plates of spiced curry chicken and lamb, Vibrant roasted peppers and aubergines  over rice, sate noodles and roti filled with chickpea flower.

Curry-stained yellow fingers were my delicious fate. Truly a confluence of worlds on my plate.  Curries and sumptuous spiced 

After an immaculate lunch, Marianna and I met her friends at a store that had a cafe and restaurant on the roof that gave a panorama view of the city.  I went out one door and took some pictures.  Then I noticed a longer roof top with a better view.  I opened the shut doors and walked out onto the roof, and shut the doors behind me.  I walked on the roof top, past people in their conference rooms as i shot pics of the best view of the city at sunset.


And it also got me a nice chat with Dutch security.  When I came back out through the door, a security woman beckoned me over.  She asked if I had just gone outside.  I said yes, and I pointed at my camera.  I told her that I had not seen a sign.  The security woman told me that I had tripped an alarm, and more security was coming.  I offered my apologies.

We sat and chatted a bit.  I told her of my work, and that I had just come from Senegal, and was on my way to Zimbabwe.  That is very cool, she said.  When the security guard arrived, she politely explained to him the situation, and that I had just walked out for a photo.  He nodded and grunted and left.  She wished me a good life and safe travels.  The Dutch are so understanding of photographic pursuits.  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Utrecht (I)

We spent the morning passing through a grey frost of foggy pea soup.  We ventured lost through the Oudegracht canal, searching for Surinamese.  After hunger and tire set in, we ventured into Graaf Floris to warm our weary bones.

Steeped in old world charm of velvet, mahogany and burlap, we sat by the fiery hearth sipping hot spiced wine to warm the body and soul.

I had a traditional Dutch beef stew prepared with abbey beer and gingerbread.  The beer-braised beef could be cut with a spoon.  I drizzled the stew on frittes and dabbed it with crusty warm bread.


The Alexandrians sensed, of course,
that these were mere words and theatricals.
But the day was warm and poetical,
the sky a pale azure

Keeping the cold day at bay with hot spiced wine as I read the Greek poetry of Cavafy as the old master spins verse of ghost Greek kings facing the fates.

"a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe," was how E.M. Forester described Cavafy.

Along the canal, we sipped rooibos tea  and kafie verkeerd in a warm cafe, admiring the reflections of the arched bridges.

We ventured back through the city to the old cathedral that once was the center of Utrecht.  We wandered through the cloisters of the old marvel.

We wandered through the funky eclectic little canaled city.  Marianna got earrings of eggshells and of moonstones.

Eventually we found the Surinamese I had been searching for.  While she snapped pictures of the evening lights reflecting in the canal, I popped in to a found Moksi.

"Hello Paul," said the owner.  She recognized me immediately; I recognized the smell of sumptuous curries.

Not only was I remembered, but I was up on the wall.  The article I wrote on Edible Nation Branding for the Netherlands was prominently displayed on the wall.  I beamed.

I chatted with the owner about life and other things.  They had opened up a second shop near the cathedral bell tower.  It was next to a Greek shop, and I had seen it earlier but hadn't realized its provenance.

I planned to come back the next day for lunch.

The evening was spent in the dire attempts to stay warm.  Some warmth was indeed found over frittes slathered in curry ketchup.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Buzz buzz

Or in my parental generation's nomenclature, I turned a phrase. It sounds even better in French.  Or Dutch at the moment.

The Idiot, Amsterdam style



But I like being free, 
and that makes me
an idiot, I suppose.
-Stan Rogers

An idiot but smart enough to keep coming back to this ethereal city.

A bulldogged evening over silver haze, hot chocolate, Belgian waffles and earl grey tea.

The bulldogged reflections of the canal gingerbread decor shines bright in the canal water.  I am off to have fun with my new camera.


Terminal man

Sipping pear schnapps and eating chocolate pudding in the Lufthansa transit lounge.

Traveling a ton has its perks in the transit lounges.

I wish all transit lounges could have German perks, and open taps.

I think I may start an online magazine, rating transit lounges around the world.

Good terminal karma is access to the lounge; great terminal karma is having the lounge next to the gate.  Yes, I will have one more for the road.

PS: the overly-itinerant food guide to airport lounges and airline food, take 1: Hamburg Lufthansa lounge has great carrot-ginger soup!

15 Tons

Paid off my first grad school student loan. Now just 5 more usurious student loans to service to the vultures.

Or down from 16 tons to 15.....yes, I owe my soul to the company store.. .‪#‎AmericanDream‬

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

halal

Missing the swine schnitzl forest for the bacon spätzle trees, and other kosher missteps in Germany

Dakar to Stuttgart

There might be some bigger contrasts going from Dakar to Stuttgart, some I have even experienced (like Calcutta to Amsterdam), but the change in scenery is pretty incredible and profound.

The NL Senegal program was a bit of a blur, I will leave it at that.

As befitting my incessant travels, I received a ticket into the first class lounge at the Dakar airport.  I tried to bring my group in but to no avail.  So instead, I smuggled water out stuffed in the pockets of my coat.

With a few remaining questions ("No, you can't bring a baobab sampling back to 'Murica") answered, the team boarded their 1am flight home.  And I killed some time back in the first class lounge as I waited for my own 2am flight out, sipping an armagnac to celebrate the conclusion of a tricky residency.

I slept through the first class flight to Portugal, and meandered through the immigration line into Europe.  I caught the connecting flight from Lisbon to Frankfurt, and killed some time waiting for my train to Stuttgart.

As I was sitting on a bench, waiting for the train.  Two old German ladies sat next to me and we got to chatting.  They were out on their adventure from their village, to see the busy-ness of the city. They sat back on the bench and rested their legs, and one lady swung her legs back and forth in a manner that belied her years.  They were on their big adventure for the day, and I was almost done with mine.

I hopped the speeding train from Frankfurt passed Manheim Station ("By Jack, I swear to Kerouac"), marveling at the quietness and smoothness of the ride.

From the train, I hopped the U-Bahn (the tram) through Stuttgart, marveling at the spires and capelas that had replaced the mosques.

And like that I was in a completely opposite world of quiet precision to replace the boisterous colorful life.  Trading sand and dust for snow and fog.








Sunday, January 11, 2015

Next Level Senegal

Well 2015 is turning out to be much like 2014 in terms of time to write....

So hopefully pics are worth a few thousand words....



And here is a video from the Next Level Senegal's Dakar Academy:

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Trente-Cinq

As anyone who knows me understands: I love birthdays.  


I love the birthday wishes streaming in from Iraq, India, Brazil, Switzerland, Bangladesh, Taiwan and the rest of the four corners of the globe--it feels like a reminder that I was once present in someone else's life.

I am 35, and find myself exactly half way between the 30s decade.  And staring at the azure waves of the ocean lap against the cliffs below me as I sit off the coast of West Africa, I feel pretty damn good.

I feel content this birthday in ways that I didn't at the last hinge point when I was busy reflecting: my 30th birthday.

Five years ago, I was struggling with turning 30.  I was feeling that I was entering my third decade, I hadn't accomplished enough.  So I hopped on a bus in Los Angeles, and headed down to Panama to hit the remainder that would mark 50 countries visited by my 30th birthday.


As I have said since that day: turning 30 was hard; being 30 is easy.  

Now, in the five years that have passed I am up to 70 countries I have visited.  Since that day and up to this point, I have had so many adventures and tilted at so many windmills that I can't even recount them all.

Sitting here, listening to the waves lap against the coast of Mama Afrika, I feel so utterly blessed.  

I feel that I am doing the work I was meant to do--connecting people through music, dance, food and culture.  A bit of tikkun olam through cultural diplomacy.  My valiant quixotic attempts at repairing a jagged world through understanding borne out of public diplomacy--the communication of peoples.

 At 30, traversing Central America through I was a bit lost at how this road would lead; at 35, sitting off the African coast, I feel like i have found a bit of direction, which gives me a bit of peace.

Perhaps I love birthdays so because they are point where you get to focus on past, present and future all at once.  For once, I feel at peace with my past, my present and my future.

I will end this birthday missive with a few words of wisdom.  First from a fellow Capricorn who shares a birthday, and whose words I found on a subway in New York on my 29th birthday as the angst of turning 30 kicked in.

"I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." 

-Isaac Newton (2 Train Brooklyn to Manhattan, "Train of Thought")

And of course, my favorite song by my dear dulcinea Dellas, which I was so honored when they dedicated it to me in a theater in Sorrocaba during our adventures in Brazil during the World Cup.


I am a seeker of fortune 

I am an honest man 
I’m tied to my morals 
By a steady hand
I’ll bow my head
Into the sea
Let the waves
Wash over me

Thank you to all in my life who have shared their love, light and blessing with me in my 35 years on this long and winding road.  

...and of course: the 4 birthday questions:


1) B-day Dinner: Eating puppies and kimchi with Kim Jung-Un in Pyongyang after a crazy night of karoke


2) Best B-day: While not the best ever, a damn good one was spent for 32 in Boston with Harry (Sancho Harranza).  I was surprised with the release of a Della video ("Paper Prince") on a WAMU Bluegrass session I had organized for their AMA tour.  Harry and I ate falafel at Rami's, and sipped Arbor Gold from the top of the Pru.  Then we had Chinese scalp massages, before I had a candlepin birthday party in Sommerville.


3) Last year: Bowling in the midst of a polar vortex


4) Next year: Havana!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2015: Year of Afrika

Oh 2015, you are going to be a year of windmills! Mama Afrika is calling, and I will be heading to Senegal tomorrow eve for an incredible Next Levelhip hop program in Dakar.
2015 is my year of Africa, and I feel beyond blessed. West, South and East on the horizon. Dakar to Zim to Zanzibar. Zanzibar! I am giddy at the promise and potential of the year to come.
Don Pablo Quixote thanks everyone involved for an absolutely incredible 2014. It was truly a blessed year.
Journey on.