Friday, December 30, 2016

Dar es-salaam

My mornings begin with a walk or a run down past the kasbah, past the white sentinel lighthouse and along the crashing surf.

I return to hear the songs of prayer emanating from the Sufi shrine next door.  Their songs of the beauty and oneness of God envelope me as they rise in unison to the heavens.

I spend my days feeding stray cats (I keep a pocket full of la vache qui rit cheese) and giving silent alms to the blind. 

I wander through the labyrinth maze of the medina, looking for brighter pastel walls, more intricate door knockers and more colorful mosaic tile wells.

For me, Rabat is a city of peace.  For me, Morocco is "dar as-salaam," an abode of peace.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gastrodiplomacy Rosetta

My host brother Yassine departed this morning back to New York. His aunt, whom lived with us fifteen years ago is here now for a few days before she heads back to their village in Beni Melal.

She doesn't speak English or French, but some Fusha (modern standard Arabic), Dereja Maghrebia (Moroccan Arabic) and Berber (not the few words I know of Berber from Algeria). We have been communicating in Fusha and a smattering of Dereja to make sense of our shared space.

Of course, it is fascinating. My Arabic is okay, but comes covered in a layer of rust. Many things I can express or talk around, but often I am lost, left picking for words in a manner that feels like I casting line into the lexicon abyss. But we seem to understand each other for the most part.

Tonight, I was cooking spaghetti and a veggie tomato sauce. She looked on while I sauteed the garlic, onions, peppers and zucchini; stewed the tomatoes; simmered the sauce. When it was done, we sat down for dinner.

She had a tajine plate that I believe a neighbor had prepared for her; I had my plate of spaghetti and vegetable sauce. I made a small plate for her to try the spaghetti. She picked out the tomato chunks and onions, and explained that she didn't really like those veggies. I laughed at the hilarity since that was what the sauce basically consisted of.

She bid me eat some of the tajine, and I took a bite of potato with my bread. That was when it got interesting.

She indicated that I should take the tajine, and that she would eat the small plate of spaghetti I had made her. I protested, trying to explain that the tajine was her dinner, and that I had my plate of spaghetti.

But Moroccan hospitality is profound, and we argued because she wanted me to eat the meat and potatoes as I was the guest. There was honor involved.

But I wanted her to eat the tajine she had since I knew she couldn't have liked the spaghetti that much, and I had my own plate of veggie spaghetti that I had cooked, which I wanted to eat—not the tajine.

We literally had a moroxican stand-off of protestations in Arabic. I told her: eat, and that I wanted her to eat the tajine; I had my own food.

She protested and tried to generously give me the tajine. We reached a point where my Arabic wasn't strong enough for me to explain that I really just wanted to eat my veggie spaghetti and wanted her to eat the tajine.

Then I had a Rosetta idea.

I ran and grabbed my ipad, and switched on googletranslate.

أنا أحب لطهي ولكني لست قادرا دائما لأنني السفر. أنا أحب اللحوم، وأحب أيضا الخضروات. أنا أحب الخضار في المغرب.

Basically it says that I love to cook but I am not always able to because I travel. I like meat, but I also like vegetables. I love the vegetables in Morocco.

I had the googletranslate speak the message in its computorial lilt and she got it. Thanks to googletranslate, she understood that I was happy to eat my plate of veggie spaghetti, and that she should eat her plate of meat, and we would both be happy.


Rabat Days

I spend my days feeding stray cats (I keep a pocket full of cheese) and giving silent alms to the blind. I wander through the labyrinth maze of the medina, looking for brighter pastel walls, more intricate door knockers and colorful mosaic tile wells.

I saw a group of Chinese tourists wheeling their suitcases through the narrow medina, lost trying to find their way via smartphone.  Sorry, in the labyrinth maze of the medina, google maps is worthless.

On wealth and poverty

In my travels and journeys, I have witnessed a lot of wealth and a lot of poverty.  I would say this: none are more poor than those who are mentally poor.  No bank balance, no bottom line will ever leave them feeling secure.

As Gandhi understood, both wealth and poverty are both relative and absolute qualities.

My Patronus; My spirit animal

My patronus is an owl, but my spirit animal is a stray cat.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Le Sceptre d'Ottokar

I am proud to report that I have fully completed translating my first book (Ok, comic book/graphic novel).

Earlier in the year, I received a very kind gift from Stela Doci in the form of the Tintin adventure, "Le Sceptre d'Ottokar" in French as a way to improve my French.

I went through the book, page by page and translated the whole thing from French to English. At first, I had the dictionary out for every word; by the end of the story, I could get through whole pages.

Merci Stela, for the wonderful gift that helped so much with my French studies!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

L'Etranger

An old unpublished memory of the last time I can remember laughing and crying at the same time, from Tours, France:

After school ended for the day—early on mecredi, I decided to head to the Musee de Beaux Artes in Tours. I took my camera, and captured images of my school and city in its autumn graces.

The afternoon was getting late, and I was getting hungry. I walked through the city to Rues Colbert, where there were many restaurants.

I walked into a nice restaurant, but the woman told me it was closing.

The afternoon rain was starting to drizzle down on the city.

The second and third restaurant also said they were closing.

The fourth was the same.

Quelle heure est'il?

Deux-heures et demi.

Closing time for lunch in Tours,
as I found out in the next restaurant as well.

There might have been a sixth too, I forgot amid the pouring rain.

Apparently Tours takes a sieste.

I was getting soaked, so I ducked into a Turkish kebab joint that was the last chance. Success.

It was good too. Kebab, frittes et boison (Coke de cerise) for the prix étudiant de cinq euros et demi.

It was good, and I was full. It was still raining so I made it another block before ducking into a bar to get out of the deluge.

I sipped my bierre out of a great glass goblet as the dark skies passed.

I read 17th century Japanese haiku poetry by Matsuo Bashō.

First winter rain -
I plod on,
Traveler, my name.

The storm passed and as I was about to leave, the woman behind the bar asked me in French:
De quel pays?

États Unis

Mais de quelle origine?

Juif

Moi aussi,” she said as she showed me the star around her neck.

Shalom.

Shalom.

She gave me the warmest kiss on both cheeks.

Shalom.

Shalom.

I walked out into the slowly-drying afternoon, putting on my sunglasses block my wet eyes—the yellow hiding my dampening gaze.

I met a stranger in the night 
Whose lamp had ceased to shine 
I paused 
And let him light his lamp from mine. 

A tempest sprang up later on 
It shook the world about. 
When the storm was gone 
My lamp was out. 

But back to me the stranger came. 
His lamp was glowing fine. 
He held to me his precious flame 
And rekindled mine. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

My Hanukkah miracle

I spent the morning wandering down by the crashing surf along the Moroccan coast and through the medina alleyways of Rabat, feeding the stray cats.

After some morning work. I retired to sip sweet mint tea in the tea house in the sturdy ochre kasbah. Filigree-covered metal doors guarded the Moorish arch doors and windows of the whitewashed riad to my eastern vantage.

I studied French in the tea house wrapped in colorful tile patterns, sitting on a royal blue wooden stool with a royal blue wooden table as my desk. I am distracted by the lilt of Spanish from the tourists playing card games (droves of Spaniards have descended on Morocco for the holiday season), and the young lovers whispering in Arabic behind me. The language studies problems of a polyglot.

In the calm Bouregreg River that slowly runs below, fishermen stood on old blue-and-white wooden boats as traffic in Salé passes unnoticed. In the far ground, waves lap slowly and gently against the sands.

I finished my studies, and as the tourists piled into the tea house, I escaped to the gardens to site under jasmine and read “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card (Of Ender fame):

Impossible. Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to and the ones she doesn't belong to. I am this and this and this, but definitely not that and that. All your definitions are negative. I could make an infinite list of the things you are not. But a person who really believes she doesn't belong to any community at all invariably kills herself, either by killing her body or by giving up her identity and going mad.”

And facing my own exile, this Speaker for the Living gave moisture to the dead.

As I was finishing up the chapter, I heard a sound that sent shivers down my back.

It was Hebrew.

A large tour group of Israelis. In Morocco. Something unheard of fifteen years ago when I studied in Rabat, when the second Intifadah smoldered.

I could hear the Sephardi-accented Hebrew of Morocayim, and I was in shock.

I closed my kindle and began walking to the gates of the walled fort. The group was also leaving, and as I passed them, I said softly: Happy Hanukkah.

At first, the woman closest to me didn't understand. Ech? Hanuka? Huh?

I said it a few more times, then added a bit of phlegm: Chanukkah Sameyach!

Ah! The group immediately understood. And we began chatting in Hebrew.

I was literally in shock, as we chatted. I told them that they were the greatest Hanukkah present could I receive today; they were literally my Hanukkah miracle. They sang Ma'oz Tsur, and it was so unexpected that my heart thumped with emotion.

As we walked out into the parking lot, they gave me a big hug and wished me well. A gentleman said to me about how all the Jews all over the world are connected. I smiled and replied, Kol ha'olam kulo gesher tsar ma’od ...(the whole world is a narrow bridge).

I ducked back into the medina, beaming with joy and tears running down my face. I put my BluBlockers on to hid the streaking tears and I giggled to myself down the narrow lanes. It is such a curious thing to laugh and cry at the same time. It is a moment that comes rushing out, like a confluence of two rivers. Such a curious thing, indeed.

Arabiya

Morning light to you; 
Praise to God. 
This is what I hear in the mornings in Morocco. 
Around the world too many people hear Arabic, 
and they hear their own fear. 
I listen to that lilt and
I hear blessings.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Gastrodiplomacy Posits

Gastrodiplomacy posit (I): there are few things better than cold tajine leftovers for a slow Sunday breakfast.

Gastrodiplomacy posit (II): From rich culture comes rich food. - Badr

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Arms and short-fingers on the nuclear button

"Let it be an arms race." 

This is truly terrifying.

How long until Trump America is considered a rogue state?

How long until Trump America is considered part of the Axis of Evil?  

A prayer....

Trump's Inaugural will have a prayer service....A Prayer for Owen Meany:

“AND LOOK AT WHAT WE CALL ‘RELIGION’; TURN ON ANY TELEVISION ON SUNDAY MORNING! SEE THE CHOIRS OF THE POOR AND UNEDUCATED—AND THESE TERRIBLE PREACHERS, SELLING OLD JESUS-STORIES LIKE JUNK FOOD. SOON THERE’LL BE AN EVANGELIST IN THE WHITE HOUSE; SOON THERE’LL BE A CARDINAL ON THE SUPREME COURT. ONE DAY THERE WILL COME AN EPIDEMIC-I’LL BET ON SOME HUMDINGER OF A SEXUAL DISEASE. AND WHAT WHILL OUR PEERLESS LEADERS, OUR HEADS OF CHURCH AND STATE…WHAT WILL THEY SAY TO US? HOW WILL THEY HELP US? YOU CAN BE SURE THEY WON’T CURE US—BUT HOW WILL THEY COMFORT US? JUST TURN ON THE TV—AND HERE’S WHAT OUR PEERLESS LEADERS, OUR HEADS OF CHURCH AND STATE WIILL SAY: THEY’LL SAY ‘I TOLD YOU SO!’ THEY’LL SAY, ‘THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR FUCKING AROUND—I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO IT UNTIL YOU GOT MARRIED.’ DOESN’T ANYONE SEE WHAT THESE SIMPLETONS ARE UP TO? THESE SELF-RIGHTEOUS FANATICS ARE NOT ‘RELIGIOUS’—THEIR HOMELY WISDOM IS NOT ‘MORALITY.’
‘THAT IS WHERE THIS COUNTRY IS HEADED—IT IS HEADED TOWARD OVERSIMPLIFICATION. YOU WANT TO SEE A PRESIDENT OF THE FUTURE? TURN ON ANY TELEVISION ON ANY SUNDAY MORNING—FIND ONE OF THOSE HOLY ROLLERS: THAT’S HIM, THAT’S THE NEW MISTER PRESIDENT! AND DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE FUTURE OF ALL THOSE KIDS WHO ARE GOING TO FALL IN THE CRACKS OF THIS GREAT SOCIETY OF OUTS? I JUST MET HIM; HE’S A TALL, SKINNY, FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY NAMED ‘DICK.’ HE’S PRETTY SCARY. WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM IS NOT UNLIKE WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE TV EVANGELIST—OUR FUTURE PRESIDENT. WHAT’S WRONG WITH BOTH OF THEM IS THAT THEY’RE SO SURE THEY’RE RIGHT! THAT’S PRETTY SCARY—THE FUTURE, I THINK, IS PRETTY SCARY.”
-John Irving, "A Prayer for Owen Meany"

The Death of the Idea that is America

Visiting America itself gave us the sensation of having stepped into the television, into something bigger and better. For a time when I was a teenager my father worked in the coal industry in West Virginia. He would return with stories about new things we could not imagine, like cable television with 50 stations. Packed in his suitcase were running shoes for us, in styles that had not arrived here yet. That was more than 20 years ago.

Things were changing long before this election. Trips to Asia are now more likely to startle us with modernity. Bangkok, Singapore, even Mumbai have shocked me on visits over the last few decades, not just the wealth and development but also the music and fashion and public transportation. For all the intractable problems in our region, there is a sense of forward movement.

When we visit America now, it feels like the opposite, like decay. Roads, airports, an economy, perhaps even a society, falling to pieces. We are left in awe by the extreme poverty as well as the extreme wealth.

And maybe it is because of your poetry about yourself that the turning current has been harder for Americans themselves to see. "
-Lisa Pryor, "Dear America, why did you let us down?"

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Moroccan Return cont.

I had posted previously about how with my return to Rabat had seemingly fallen into a wormhole of nostalgia and memory--well it came even more full circle.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had lived with a Moroccan family, the Taoufiks, whom had become my own family.  Since then, they had all moved to America, so I did not think I would get to see them here in Rabat.

But al-Humdulliah/Baruch HaShem, after I had posted about my return, the AMAZING Debbie Taoufik--my brother Yassine's wife let me know that indeed Yassine was in Rabat for a visit.

And now, this nomad who has been without a home for over 3 years is now living in the same home that I lived in fifteen years ago for my Morocco sojourn.

As I like to believe, irony is God's sense of humor.  He hasn't been back in a few years, and I haven't been back in fifteen years and yet here we are again under the same roof, still having the same discussions on the world, on family and on faith.

I feel like Michael Phelps, swimming through a sea of memories.

“Why did you come to me?”
“Because I had to come to you. It wasn’t a matter of choice.”
“Fate?”
“Call it whatever you want. Things get kind of circular, when you’re me. Cause and effect get muddled.”
-The Time Traveler’s Wife

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Smile

I have a secret for you. Do you want to know what the face of God looks like? It is the smile of a complete strangers.

The first encounter was an old lady in a jelaba, pushing a wheel chair around.  She may have been demented, I'm not sure.  But her smile was literally so big that it lit up an overcast morning.  It was like looking directly at joy.

Later that evening; I was wandering through the labyrinth of markets, lost in thought as I took in the vibrant life.  I was thinking about how wonderful it was to simply observe, and just look without care to snap pictures or buy anything.  In the tight commotion, I stepped around a slew of jackets.  On a small cart on the ground was a very small deformed woman who was receiving alms.  I don't think she had legs and had small deformed arms.

I didn't exactly notice her as I stepped around, then it all registered and I stopped and turned around to give her a few dirham.

I smiled big at her; and she burst out in the biggest smile back at me.  She waved at me with her one good arm.  I don't think I will ever forget the smile she gave back at me, it was so full of joyous emotion.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Algiers revisited

I had been in-transit and then my computer was on the fritz so now finally a chance to track back.

I had a nice time in Algiers. At first, I was concerned that there wasn't much to do.  To be sure, it doesn't have the frenetic energy of say Casablanca or Rabat, but I ended up really enjoying my time there.  As I mentioned, the architecture is without compare, and there were a nice amount of things to do to keep me occupied.  And for what its worth, Algiers made great people watching as Algerian girls are really beautiful.  A mix of French style and Arabic swarth makes my heart melt.

On Friday, I took a nice long walk down the boulevard overlooking the ocean, taking in the scene of the Bay of Algiers and all the stunning French architecture.  I sipped sweet mint tea from a park bench as I admired the scene.  I later hopped the surprisingly-nice metro (clean, efficient, quick) and visited the lovely Jarden d'Essai and wandered through the symmetrical French gardens with their reflecting pools, over through the swathes of banyan and other huge trees.  I stopped at the nice restaurant in the middle of the park for a decadent meal of poulet de l'estragon, a chicken in tarragon sauce with fries and a stuffed tomato.  I worked on my French grammar book as I sipped a post-prandial espresso.

I got some wrong advice that the Musee National des Beaux-Artes was closed on Friday so I headed back to my hotel for a mid-afternoon nap.  I spent the afternoon doing some work, before having my dinner at the hotel (included in the price at the Hotel Britanique, a surprisingly great value).  I did a lil walk back out after dinner for some mint tea and a delicious piece of baklawa at the Milk Bar, which I enjoyed while translating Tintin.

On Saturday, I returned over to the Jardin D'Essai area to check out the Musee National des Beaux-Artes, which also turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise.  I kept climbing up floors to get to the gallery, wondering if I would find anything in the museum but sure enough I found a few things.  First, I found cats that lived in the museum!  There were a whole slew of cats wandering around the galleries.

The galleries had a rather unexpectedly good collection.  There were a few Monet, Pissaro and Degas works.  More interestingly, there were a few sections of galleries on Algeria through a French romantic perspective that featured some excellent paintings of Algerian life and culture.  As I said, I did not expect much and so was quite pleasantly surprised.

But back to the cats!  As I was going to leave, there was a cat on the staircase that came over to me.  I sat down, and he climbed into my lap to let me pet him.  He sat on my lap and purred as I stroked his fur.  It was exactly what we both needed.

I left the cats and museum, and caught the funicular up the hill.  The cable car was incredibly packed, I was actually a lil concerned with the numbers.  But the climb was quick and I made my way up to the Martyrs' Monument on the hill top.  In the Martyrs Monument, there was a museum about Algerian history and fight against French colonialism.  It was interesting with lots of paintings, artifacts, maps and dioramas, but was a lil heavy handed and could have used a bit more context.  But I am glad I got to see it, and need to read up more on the colonial fight in Algiers.

I caught the cable car back down, and the metro back, and wandered around the city a bit before grabbing dinner at the hotel.  The dining hall was a bit busy, so I joined the table of a fellow.  We got to chatting, and he was quite nice and spoke English well.  After dinner, I made my walk over to Milk Bar for tea and an almond cookie sweet, and some more Tintin translation.

Saturday I walked around a little bit, and waited for Nadia, my hijabi taxista to pick me up.  She was supposed to get my at noon to take me to the airport by 1pm for my 3pm flight to Casablanca.  She called at 11:30am to say she would be there at 12:15pm.  No prob.  At 12:30pm, I started getting concerned. Since my French is more stilted on the phone, I had the front desk call Nadia--and she said she would be 10 minutes.  At 12:45, I was having kittens and wondering if I should ditch her.  Really, I was fuming.

But she arrived, dressed like an avenging angel in full white with white hijab, apologizing for the traffic.  I threw my stuff in the car, and she drove like a bat out of hell.  Literally.  Swerving like a Michela Andretti through traffic, offering thumbs up and little honks as she passed cars left and right and burning down the shoulder lane away from the traffic stall.  Yes, she was flying down the shoulder.  But it was an amazing site to see, and calmed my nerves knowing that I was in the hands of a real pro.  Amazingly, she got me there by 1pm within the two hour window and came with me to the counter to make sure I got checked-in to my flight correctly and without issue.  That is service.

B'slama Algeria.  Looking forward to my return in February (inshallah!)

Making it official

Now that the Electoral College has made it official, I will do the same: I will NEVER work with a Trump administration.

I will never work with a Trump administration that stands as the antithesis of my values; I will never work with that administration of racists, oligarchs and kleptocrats.

Therefore, I am announcing that I will be discontinuing my work with American public and cultural diplomacy moving forward.  I will not work with a Trump State Department led by an oil executive and I will never do public and cultural diplomacy on behalf of Trump America.

I am finishing out my season with Next Level, but will not continue moving forward to future seasons.  I am no longer pursuing other State Department grants for Levantine Public Diplomacy.

In short, I am done and I am out.

I don't know what is next, so hold the questions; you all know me well enough to know that I will share it when I do.

Peace.

Monday, December 19, 2016

the return

For years my quest was exploration, but as I have learned of late, there is something equally intoxicating in the return.  As I peer around old corners that I remembered, as I catch the familiar smell of baking bread wafting down the same alleys, I am taken to a netherworld that exists outside of time.  A wormhole of nostalgia and memory.

I write this from the balcony of a tea house on the edge of the perfumed gardens of the casbah d'oudayas.  I sip sweet mint tea and eat almond paste cookies covered in fine powdered sugar as the rains trickle down and the Bouregreg River laps against its shores.

Conrad was too apt.  Memory and nostalgia are willful and capricious, but they are also lurid stimulants.  Taste and smell are so intimately tied to memory.  I ate these same cookies and sipped this tea from the same vantage point 15 years ago; I wandered down these same pastel alleys, past the same brass rosettes and intricate brass knockers; past the same intricately patterned tile wells.

I loved it all then, yet the taste is more sweet and meaningful, the patterns more ornate now because they have been given the lurid varnish of nostalgia to amplify their value.  I loved it once; I value and treasure these same memories even more now in the present.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Morocco--the return

A year that began on in South America, in a hammock on the Colombian-Caribbean coast, will now end in North Africa with a triumphant return to Morocco.
Some time last year, I wondered what adventures I would take in 2016. The thought crossed my mind that since it was 15 years since I studied in Prague and Morocco, perhaps I would try to return to both places. I quickly dismissed the idea as impractical, as I had no idea how it would come about. But dharma shapes direction, and my journey through memory is complete with my return to Morocco.
I return to Rabat after 15 years since I studied there. I arrived to Morocco on the Spring Semester of my Junior Year abroad, on the heels of the 9/11 attacks. It was that period of living and studying in Morocco that most shaped and changed my perception of the world for years to come—forever giving me the enduring belief in the power of cultural exchange.
I lived in the Medina with a lovely Moroccan Muslim family, the Toufiks. I had a slew of host brothers, including Yassine who was my own age. We spent days eating long Moroccan lunches between class-- watching the world from a different perspective on the satellite channels, and late nights talking about the world, about family and about faith. I saw that this wonderful family was no different than my own family. I will never forget the smiles as they tried matzah, and I attempted to explain its significance. We slathered it in butter and jam, and everyone thought it made a fine crackery thing.
I will never forget seeing my host mother, unveiled in my presence at home, for the first time outside of the house in her hijab; with it came the realization that this piece of cloth really meant nothing more than a simple veil covering hair for a bit of modesty's sake.
I loved that semester in Morocco, with all the adventures therein. I would wander through the medina of the Moroccan capital, trying to find new alleys to get myself lost down. Or I would sit in the casbah and sip mint tea and eat sugary cookies while laying on pillow divans as I stared at the Bouregreg River and the city of Salle across the divide.
I traveled all over Morocco that semester and visited cities like Casablanca, Marrakesh, Fez, Tangier, Chefchaouen, Tetouan and Essouira. I ventured into the Sahara, and got vertigo starring at the endless desert stars. I saw what still constitutes the grandest sunrise of my life across the Sahara sands, as the sands turned pink, then gold then orange in the sun's morning rays. And I adventured all the way down to the Western Sahara for an independent study project on that forgotten conflict, in what was a trek that gave me the initial confidence to venture forth into parts unknown.
Now I return for about a month's stay in Morocco as I retrace my steps in a journey through nostalgia and memory.
“Nostalgia plays lurid tricks with the memory”
-Joseph Conrad

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Algiers--The Orientalist Paris

Algiers is one of the most fascinating cities I have encountered. It is like an Orientalist Paris, covered in a layer of dust and decay. Like a French North African Ozymandias, if ever there was one.

Meanwhile, the Algerians have claimed me as one of their own. "You have the face of an Algerian. You look like a Berber," the tea merchant remarked as he poured lemon juice in my tea. I smiled, and replied: thimarth. (Thanks in Amazigh)

Hell's Angel

Gonzo journalism predicted the rise of Trumpism.  Hunter S. Thompson, ever the prophet: 

Trump Grill Could Be The Worst Restaurant in America

"Donald Trump is “a poor person’s idea of a rich person,” Fran Lebowitz recently observed at The Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit. “They see him. They think, ‘If I were rich, I’d have a fabulous tie like that.’” Nowhere, perhaps, does this reflection appear more accurate than at Trump Grill (which is occasionally spelled Grille on various pieces of signage). On one level, the Grill (or Grille), suggests the heights of plutocratic splendor—a steakhouse built into the basement of one’s own skyscraper....

The allure of Trump’s restaurant, like the candidate, is that it seems like a cheap version of rich. The inconsistent menus—literally, my menu was missing dishes that I found on my dining partners’—were chock-full of steakhouse classics doused with unnecessarily high-end ingredients. The dumplings, for instance, come with soy sauce topped with truffle oil, and the crostini is served with both hummus and ricotta, two exotic ingredients that should still never be combined. The menu itself would like to impress diners with how important it is, randomly capitalizing fancy words like “Prosciutto” and “Julienned” (and, strangely, ”House Salad”).
-Trump Grill could be the worst restaurant in America

Monday, December 12, 2016

Taxistas

And I found perhaps the only hip hop-loving, hijab-wearing female taxista in all of Algiers.

We bumped Algerian hip hop as she sped down Ave Didoune-- past façades of faded French glory, as fireworks pop-popped to celebrate the Prophet Muhammed's birthday.

"The whole world is a narrow bridge, and you mustn't be afraid to cross it."

The Simon Rockower Awards video tribute

Check out this short film about my great-grandfather Simon Rockower and the significance of the American Jewish Press Association's Simon Rockower Awards.

Named for my great-grandfather, the Simon Rockower Awards are considered to be "The Pulitzer Prize of Jewish Journalism."



I was honored to spearhead the campaign in my family to continue these awards for future generations.

You can read more about the Simon Rockower Awards here: http://www.ajpa.org/

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Foggy Bottom

I have literally taken shits of more diplomatic value than this guy.

And Ambassador Yosemite Sam as his deputy.

American diplomacy and public diplomacy is truly, wildly and deeply fucked.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Torquemada

I'm still waiting to see who Trump is going to pick for the all-important Cabinet post of Grand Inquisitor.

It is gonna be the biggest Auto de Fe ever, it's gonna be yuuge!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past

A sad, beautiful and poignant article on Syrian cuisine amid loss and exile. Shukran Dr, Curtis.

And what is remembrance without a madeleine?

Tunis, Tunis

 Tunis, Tunis, bathed in white
...And yet, and yet...
Because everywhere reminds me
of somewhere...
the mountains towering over the lake
takes me back to
Managua, Nicaragua.
Because everywhere reminds me 
of somewhere.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Golden Prague

Some scenes of Golden Prague, in the morning before the hordes of tourists come out.

Prague is truly a beauty, even more so than I remembered.

When I first saw Prague in 1999, I thought she was the most beautiful city in the world; almost two decades later, and after many other stints in other locales, I still think so.











Monday, December 05, 2016

Welcome to the new age

So begins the age of exploitation; the age of misinformation; the age of anti-social media. Faux is the new truth. Welcome to the new age.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Deutschland

Germany has always had a special, complicated place for me--on so many levels; it remains a place that I respect and admire--on so many levels.

The three weeks that I spent traveling through Germany, from Cologne in the West on through Dresden in the East gave me an incredible perspective on past, present and future.

In visiting Cologne, Bonn, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Weimar, Leipzig and Dresden, I dabbled through the history and culture of this enigmatic land.

Through Goethe and Weimar Classicism, the Weimar Republic and Bauhaus, the rise of Nazi Germany and its monstrous ends, East and West Germany, and Germany's reunification.

Strangely, being in Germany after the American elections helped steel my resolve for the fight to come. I think I will forever be in debt to Germany in this regard. History has placed Germany as perhaps the last leading liberal light of the 21st century, something that is both rich in irony and yet apt on many levels.

In conclusion, I offer danke schön to the many wonderful Germans I met along the way, who did so much to make me sincerely appreciate your country. Auf wiedersehen!













Sunday, November 27, 2016

Don Fidel

"[Castro] often told interviewers that he identified with Don Quixote, and like Quixote he struggled against threats both real and imagined, preparing for decades, for example, for another invasion that never came."
-Anthony DePalma, "Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary, who defied U.S., dies at 90"

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Dutch

 In an old-fashioned Dutch restaurant with old blue and white tiles. Blue and white windmills on the wall. White canvas sails and blue seas. Mahogany and melted candles. Old fashioned glass lamps. A girl with a pearl earring smiles across from me.

A delicious plate of chicken shnitzel lies devoured in front of me. With not a trace left. Not a trace of the fries either. Just crumbs remain of the thick cut frittes, dipped in thick Dutch mayo. A large cold Heineken to wash it down.

Take your time, she said. I think I will.

A napkin white flag signals victory.


And the best admonishment on the wall: the best substitute for brains is silence.

Birkir

Birkir hand-crafted Icelandic snaps (schnapps) made from Icelandic birch and birch sap. The birch is taken from the unspoiled Icelandic wilderness at the forest of Hallormsstőr in the East Fjords of Iceland.

“Our aim with Birkir is to capture the experience of a spring night in Iceland, the moment when, after the rain has cleared, the dew settles on the leaves of the birch trees on a wooded hillside.”

It tastes of syrup sap; of warmth; of earth.

There is a small twig in the bottle. I notice this as I chilling the Birkir in a two-cup contraption devised over ice to keep it chilled and neat.


Ok, I admit that I chewed the branch that was in the bottle. A toothpick soaking in sap liquor.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Le Penseur

I was early for a meeting so I was killing time wandering. I was lost in thoughts of 1984 and 1938. 

Only to find The Thinker, sitting pensively. I wondered what he would think about this world--how it would look to him. 

How random and how timely.


Into the canal

Golden Autumn leaves
falling on the wind,
Catching the sun's fading light
into the canal.

Hail

"Hail Trump" Let those words and those salutes sink in. 

Heil Herr Trump. 

But no, the Trump campaign doesn't speak out against this in force, only whines at Hamilton and Broadway. Something wicked this way comes....

Monday, November 21, 2016

Searching for a golem

-So what are you doing here in Prague?
-Actually, I am looking for the golem....
-What is a golem?
-It's a giant mound of clay, shaped into the form of a man and covered with special blessings that will bring it to life to serve as a guardian to those in danger. I need to find a golem to guard the Jewish community in Trump America, as well as to guard the Black, Latino, Muslim and LGBT communities--to help protect us from pogroms by the raging hordes of Trump supporters...
-I hope you find it.
-Me too.




Sunday, November 20, 2016

So it goes

One of the things that bothers me the most from this election is how quickly the Bibi government in Israel will sell-out American Jewry for a Trump administration that is both pro-Israel and anti-Semitic.

Welcome to Trump America

Written of over a century prior by Jack London in "The Iron Heel"

`This, then, is our answer. We have no words to waste on you. When you reach out your vaunted strong hands for our palaces and purpled ease, we will show you what strength is. In roar of shell and shrapnel and in whine of machine-guns will our answer be couched. We will grind you revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces. The world is ours, we are its lords, and ours it shall remain. As for the host of labor, it has been in the dirt since history began, and I read history aright. And in the dirt it shall remain so long as I and mine and those that come after us have the power. There is the word. It is the king of words--Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your tongue till it tingles with it. Power.'

The value of 1,000

A picture may indeed be worth a thousand words--but give me a thousand well-crafted, descriptive and evocative words, woven together to paint a picture and you have a far more beautiful scene.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Příští stanice: nostalgie

I set out early on a rainy morning--typical Czech weather, from Wencslas Square through the Old City.  I passed the Altneuschul in Josefov and looped my way past the Rudolfinum.  I crossed Charles Bridge with the ochre statues looking down in the rain, and the white swans swimming in the Vltava below.

I hiked up past Mala Strana, all the way up to our old stomping grounds in Pohořelec.  I passed Maly Buddha as well as the statues of Keppler and Brahe on my way back to Kolej Komenskeho.

The Czech security guard at the Kolej was as charming as I remembered, when I tried to explain that I just wanted to see the place again.  But I got a nice view of the lobby, which looked like it still had the same furniture.

I headed back to catch the 22 tram at the stop, and passed Pražský hrad and the Belvedere Summer Palace on my right, all the way back down.

Now I may go hit up Bohemia Bagel for lunch....

Friday, November 18, 2016

Golden Prague


The journey through the surreal has a postscript of nostalgia as I arrive to back to golden Prague for the first time in 15 years.

I first visited Prague in 1999, as a ginger 19 year-old in the midst of his first backpacking adventure across Europe, fresh off a year living in Israel. Of all the European capitals I visited that first summer of backpacking, I fell most in love with Prague, and couldn't wait to return.

Return, I did at my first opportunity. I spent the fall semester of my junior year abroad, studying in Prague. It was autumn 2001, and that September 11, a tempest sprung up and shook the world about. September 11 was a hinge of history, and probably a hinge for me. I know those days and months that followed the attacks on September 11 affected me, my thoughts and my career for years to come, but in ways I only understand now with the gift of hindsight.

I fear that the recent election will similarly be a historical hinge. In many ways, the uncertainty and trepidation feels very similar; in many ways, it feels worse. But that is not what this post was meant to focus on.

In "Immortality," Milan Kundera wrote: “Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless.”

In returning, I can see that Prague has changed in many ways, and so have I. Yet when I look at the city, I still see the same spired beauty that inspired me so many years ago; when I look in the mirror, I still see that same kid--the portrait of Pavlichko as a young man. The face is a bit more lined, and there are a few more pounds and a bit less hair, but I still see that glint of excitement in my brown eyes at a world wide open to me.

Leaving Leipzing and Dresden days

Backing up just a few days to Leipzig, I woke up on my last day in Leipzig.  I had breakfast with a nice Czech student named Martin whom I had met the day prior at the hostel.  He was studying the history of sports in Germany and the Czech Republic, especially related to anti-Semitism of sporting clubs, and was busy deep in the archives.  It happened to be a holiday in the German state of Saxony, and his archives were closed so he was stuck there another day.

After breakfast, I headed on to Zeitgeschictliches Forum Leipzig, a Museum on East and West Germany.  While it was not closed on the holiday, it was opening an hour later so I killed time by wandering over to the magnificent Neues Rathaus, the huge town hall on Martin Luther ring road.  It is a huge, towering building of arches and lions.

After some coffee and a snack to kill time, the museum was finally open.  I wandered through the interesting exhibit on the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and its history.  The exhibit had leaflets and artifacts from the GDR and its history.  It explained the history of East Germany from Soviet occupation through the 1953 uprising (including a tank, and videos of the unrest), as well as the history of repression in East Germany.  It also had interesting things like the East German products and exhibits on culture in East Germany.  It dovetailed a bit with the concurrent history of West Germany.  It was all quite fascinating, and a reminder of why I embarked on this journey.

More importantly, the museum had a temporary exhibit on the floor above on national myths in Germany post-1945.  It was a fascinating and introspective exhibit on the myths within the East and West German narratives after the war, tackling the West German economic miracle, East Germany's "fight against fascism" and narratives related to immigration, culture and sports.  It was frankly fascinating and refreshing.  I told the museum staff as much, as I explained that I could only dream of my country being so self-reflective.  

Kinda like:




After the museum, I made my way back to the hostel and geared up to go.  Just as I was leaving to catch my flixbus, the skies were darkening.  As I arrived to the bus stop area, it began to rain as I waited for my bus that the attendant informed me would be 25 minutes late.  I sat for a while on a bench with an umbrella as I waited, then eventually ducked under an alcove to get out of the rain. Eventually the bus came, and we sped out of the city and down the autobahn.

On the 1.5 hour trip to Dresden, we were flanked with rows and rows of windmills, and I smiled a quixotic grin.

We arrived to Dresden amid more rain.  I hopped the tram to the neustadt and found my way to the hostel.  I checked in and dried off.

Later in the evening, I wandered back out into the city as the rains had passed.  Dresden was surprisingly beautiful.  I wandered past a giant gold statue of Saxon king Augustus II, aka August der Starke (August the Strong), who earned that nickname in various fashions including snapping horseshoes in court and also fathering scores and scores of bastards amid his 11 concubines. Augustus II was the Saxon Sun King, who built up Dresden in baroque splendor.

I crossed the bridge over the River Elbe to reach the Altstadt (Old City) of giant baroque splendor amid statutes doting church domes and spires.  I wandered a bit through the city before making my way to Radeberger Spezialausschank, a restaurant and brewery of said beer.  I spent the evening sipping steins of Radeberger Zwickel, fresh-tapped cloudy beer and eating a Saxon special called Sächsischer Sauerbraten, a plate of sour-marinated roast beef in a raisin sauce with red cabbage and mashed potato balls.

Yesterday morning, I spent the day wandering more around the lovely Dresden.  I was surprised at how nice the city is, given that I had read of its destruction.  Thankfully, a lot of the old city was spared the fire-bombing and still existed.  I wandered around in the grey, snapping pics before heading back up to the new city to grab cheap kebab for lunch.  I read the afternoon away before noticing that the sun was finally popping out.  Eager to get some sun, I wandered back out into the city and up and down the River Elbe and into the old city.

I wrote a bit already about this morning.  This afternoon, I head on to Prague for my 15 year reunion with zluty Praha.

Ruth Gruber

The world recently lost Ruth Gruber, a courageous pioneer and journalist. Her book of her trials on the ship The Exodus were re-told in books and movies to follow.

She was an incredible, amazing woman and I am honored that she was part of my family--she was a cousin.

The Hostel Rosetta

For the last two days, I have been staying in a hostel in Dresden called Mondelplast. I am in a big 10 person dorm room, but there has been just one other person here, a German fellow who spoke no English. I tried all of the smatterings of other languages I know to connect, but he didn't speak any of them and I don't speak German so we were lost in a babel abyss. But we communicated very basically over gestures and cups of peppermint tea amid broken sentences and half-formed questions.

This morning, I woke up at 5:15am. I have not slept well since Trump's victory, and today was no different. I wake up before dawn, wrestling with existential questions of fight or flight as I toss and turn in my bed.

His alarm went off and he began to get up in the darkness for his day of work. I tried to explain that he could turn on the light on his side of the room since I was already awake, but that ended with the whole room illuminated.

I got up as he made his way to the kitchen to make his breakfast. He offered me kaffie, which is a universal thing. We tried to talk, but it failed as usual. He asked if I was from England, and when I replied America, he simply said: Trump. I put my head in my hands and took his knife and mimicked plunging it into my heart.

And then, I had an idea. I ran into my room and grabbed my ipad and set up the translation app on the mini-computer. Suddenly our Rosetta Stone was found. As it became apparent that our language barrier had just fallen by the wayside, we hugged and smiled as we could suddenly communicate.

Googletranslate explained to me that Rene was a special excavator, working here in Dresden on a drilling project. He was only 1 of 100 of these special excavators throughout all of Europe. We chatted for a bit before he had to head to work. Our conversation was not especially deep or profound, but it was meaningful and poignant.  It reminded me of a semi-similar experience in Ghent, some years prior.

I bade him auf wiedersehen and he wished me well on my journey as he set off in the dawn; we both left with big, untranslatable smiles.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What The World Costs-Germany

Free: Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Museum on Post-War Germany) in Bonn; Zeitgeschictliches Forum Leipzig (Museum on GDR and FRG)
12 centimes ($.13): small bread roll at Penny grocery store in Leipzig
25 centimes ($.27): bread roll at Rewe grocery store in Nuremberg
39 centimes ($.42): 500g spaghetti
50 centimes ($.54): quarkballin; dominostein pastry
55 centimes ($.59): pretzel-bread roll at Rewe Go in Koln
60 centimes ($.64): grain roll at Rewe in Nuremberg
75 centimes ($.80): .5L Kleines Schwarzes can of beer from Leipzig grocery store; coffee to go in Dresden
89 centimes ($.96): box of tomato sauce
98 centimes ($1.05): .5L Kriesch Porter bottle of beer from grocery store in Leipzig
99 centimes ($1.06): 250g of pepper cheese
1 euro ($1.07): coffee at the Nuremberg train station; a towel at the Nuremberg hostel; cost for towels at some German hostels
1.07 euros ($1.15): .5L landsbier at the grocery store in Nuremberg
1.20 euros ($1.29): small espresso at Nuremberg hostel
1.29 euros ($1.38): can of lentils at the grocery store
1.50 euros ($1.61): box of peppermint tea
1.80 euros ($1.93): big espresso at Nuremberg hostel
1.90 euros ($2.04): short journey (4 stop) Cologne tram ticket
1.99 euros ($2.14): boiled egg and cheese sandwich in pretzel roll in Weimar
2 euros ($2.15): sheets at Labyrinth Hostel in Weimar; bus ride in Weimar; .5L bottle of Radeger beer in Dresden
2.10 euros ($2.25): .5L beer at the Nuremberg hostel
2.30 euros ($2,47): tram ride in Dresden
2.40 euros ($2.58): tram ride in Stuttgart
2.50 euros $2.68): Veggie pita sandwich in Nuremberg; cost for sheets at German hostels
2.80 euros ($3.01): Cologne regular tram ticket; Frankfurt tram ticket
2.99 euros ($3.21): small fried fish sandwich on a baguette at Nordsee
3 euros ($3.22): admission to Cologne panorama building viewing deck; student admission to Nuremberg Process Museum; student admission to Nuremberg Museum; student admission to Bauhaus museum in Weimar; doner kebab in Dresden
3.10 euros ($3.33): Cappuccino at Coffee Baum--Leipzig's oldest coffee house
3.60 euros ($3.86): 33ml pils beer in downtown Stuttgart; glass of Kessler champagne in Eissenberg
4 euros ($4.29): 2 hours locker fee in Cologne train station; stupidity tax for not understanding how the locker worked; ride from Stuttgart airport terminal to the Deans, including an SBhan, bus and Ubahn.
4.50 euros ($4.83): gondola ride over the Rhine in Cologne; .5L Radebger Pils at brewery restaurant
5 euros ($5.37): student entrance into German-Roman Museum in Cologne; bus daypas in Weimar
5.50 euros ($5.90): best kebabs in Stuttgart
6 euros ($6.44): 2hr Weimar to Leipzig Flixbus
7 euro ($7.51): 1.5 hr Leipzig to Dresden Flixbus
7.70 euros ($8.26): 30 min local train from Cologne to Bonn; day pass for Nuremberg transit system
8 euros ($8.59): student admission to German National Museum in Nuremberg for permanent collection and exhibit on King Charles IV
8.50 euros ($9.12): student entrance to Goethe Museum and House
9 euros ($9.66): bottle of champagne bought to celebrate Hillary's victory :(
11 euros ($11.81): 20 min intercity train from Bonn to Cologne/stupidity tax for getting on the wrong train; 3 hour Eurolines bus from Cologne to Frankfurt; 1 night stay at hostel in Leipzig w/o breakfast or sheets.
14 euros ($15.03): one night stay at Labyrinth Hostel in Weimar (w/o breakfast or sheets)
15 euros ($16.10): one night stay at Mondpalast in Dresden (w/o breakfast or sheet)
16.90 euros ($18.90): Plate of Sächsischer Sauerbraten at Redeberger
19 euros ($20.39):  Flixbus from Frankfurt to Stuttgart (3.5hrs); train from Stuttgart to Nuremberg (2hr); train from Nuremberg to Weimar (3.5hrs)
19.90 euros ($21.36): Train from Dresden to Prague (2.5hrs)
24 euros ($25.76): dorm room at 5 Reasons hostel w/o breakfast for Thursday night.
26 euros ($27.90): dorm room at 5 Reasons hostel w/o breakfast for weekend nights.

Dresden: the end

My German journey through the surreal and absurd has reached its end in Dresden. This is where it ends, this is where it always ends: in the burnt-out hull of smoldering city, razed to the ground. For what hate and extremism starts--this is where it always ends.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Leipzig

I arrived to Leipzig, and found my hostel nearby the train station, a place called Central Globetrotter. The place was conveniently located, and the accommodations were fine and affordable.  After I settled in, I asked the fellow at the front desk for a recommendation of a cheap, nearby place.  He mentioned the train station and explained that it had a lot of options.  I ventured over to the beautiful, century-old train station and found some Indian food that looked good.  It was just fair--a bit bland because it was spiced for German tastes.  I made up for it with a marzipan puff pastry for dessert.

I wandered a bit around the beautiful city, but it was cold so I turned in.  I suffered from the downside of hostel life, with two loud snorers in the dorm, including a woman below me who literally vibrated my bed with her sonorous snoring.

I awoke the next morning to the cold and ventured out to explore the city a bit.  As previously mentioned, Leipzig was the heart of the 1989 revolution.  I wandered through the beautiful city center, following landmarks discussing various places of protest.  I wandered through the markt and baroque and gilded facades and past Nikolaikirche-the church of revolutionary space.

It was cold, and beginning to rain so I made my way over to the Musee Grassi, which houses three museums.  I visited the stellar Museum for Applied Art, which traced the history of decorative arts from antiquities through the middle ages and on to renaissance and romantic, on through Arte Noveau, Art Deco, Bauhaus and modernism, as well as Chinese, Japanese and West Asian decorative arts and crafts.  It was beautiful and fascinating, and the perfect way to spend a cold, rainy day.

After the museum, I made my way back to the hostel to have some lunch of lentils and rice.  After lunch and a little rest, I made my way back out to the famous Zum Arabischen Coffee Baum, Leipzig's first coffee house, which dates back to 1711.  The coffee house doubles as a museum about the history of coffee and coffee culture.  The place has three different styles of rooms to sip coffee, in style of French, Viennese and Arabic coffee houses.  I sipped a cappuccino where Bach, Goethe and Liszt, among others all frequented.  Interestingly, when East and West Germany were discussing re-unification, Kohl and his East German counterpart met there to discuss the prospects of a unified Germany.

With some caffeine back in my system, I made my way out in the cold to Runde Ecke ("the round corner"), which was the former Leipzig headquarters of the Stasi.  The Stasi was the East German secret police, who ruthlessly suppressed dissent in the GDR.  It was said of the Stasi: "it was German love of efficiency, mixed with a Russian love of espionage."  To see more on the Stasi, I would recommend the movie, "The Lives of Others," an excellent and gripping film about a Stasi officer.

The museum chronicled the history of the Stasi, and their role in the GDR.  It looked at the history of the security service in the Soviet Union under Dzerzhinsky, and how the Stasi saw themselves as the Chekists of East Germany.  The museum discussed the Stasi's methods of control, of recruitment of youth and collaborators and examined their methods of espionage and spycraft. It had displays on disguise, on wire-tapping and mail-opening and how the Stasi would gather "odor samples" of those they were spying on.  The tactic that I found most chilling was Zersetzung, literally a biological/chemistry term for "decomposition."  The technique was the Stasi's method of undermining suspect by creating life crises or job-related problems to stop them from participating in anti-government activities.  They had these measures codified into 7 forms, and 5 means, from systematic discreditation to professional and social failures.  Sadly, a bit like the COINTELPRO in 'Murica during the '60s.

The museum also chronicled the history of the revolution in Leipzig, and how peaceful protesters put candles on the steps and occupied the building before the Stasi could destroy the records, as well as the rise of the peaceful 1989 revolution.

After the museum, I was walking back in the rain.  I was on the sidewalk, minding my own business when a biker almost ran me over.  I just barely missed getting hit.  Then another woman came over to me and started saying something forcefully in German.  I thought she was admonishing me for being in the lane of the biker--even though there were no lane lines.  Given that it is not uncommon for Germans to admonish strangers when you are not following the laws to a "t," I thought she was chiding me. Her voice kept getting higher, and I kept protesting but we were having language difficulties.  So I tried French.  Then Spanish.  She spoke Spanish well, and it turns out that she was complaining about the biker not me, and how the biker should have been more careful.  We laughed, and I explained that I thought she was mad at me.  She said it was quite the opposite.

In the rain, I made my way back to the hostel and settled in to make dinner--spaghetti of which I had bought little veggies at the nearby market.