Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Perspectives on Westeros

Prof. Dan Drezner has a few stellar pieces on Westeros and beyond:

-IR theory and Westeros

-Fair and Balanced in Westeros. The night is dark and full of FoxNews.
H/T Tywin Rockower

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Camus' Moroccan illusion

I was walking along the beach as the sun was slowly beginning its descent.  I was chatting with a tout I knew. Almost in passing, he told me that his mother had died today. I offered my sympathies as I scrutinized his face. Waves lapped softly against the jagged rocky shores.  Somewhere far, far away, Camus cast down a glance at this Moroccan illusion, and gave a subtle smirk.

The Quixotic Bookseller

I have been having problems with my ipad, specifically that it is not charging well.  It could be plugged in overnight, and yet have added nary a charge by the morning.  I have played with different cords and different charger plugs, but it is acting up.  As such, that means that my access to my vast Kindle library has been sporadic.  A Kindle is an incredible, amazing tool for access to vast libraries of pages...but paper never needs power.

Not having access to my reading material had left me a little bored.  For me, boredom is always an existential issue.

Yesterday, I noticed a street book merchant just outside the gates of the kasbah.  He had bootlegged copies and photocopied editions for sale along the wrought-iron rails and on the concrete edge.  I perused his offerings but had not found quite what I was looking for.

Today, I saw him setup again, and gave his collections another look.  As I had hypothesized, he had others on display today.

I have a funny way of choosing paperback books, and it revolves around a quixotic combination size--if it is big enough to fit in my small satchel or back pocket, and heft.

I first found an old copy of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.

A wonderful book, which I read nearly a decade ago on an adventure to Jamaica.

The other, a book by Paulo Coehlo called The Fifth Mountain about the Prophet Elijah, my namesake and patron saint of all Wandering Jews.

Stop thinking about life and choose to live it.

As a rule, I don't generally bargain much with booksellers.  I might try to knock a few dirham or rupees off the price but I don't negotiate hard because I always want to support the purveyors of pages.

He told me that the Hemingway book was 20 dirham (2 bucks) and the Coehlo was 15 dirham (a buck fifty), or maybe it was the other way.  I pushed lightly for both books for an even 30 dirham.

Then, I saaw his t-shirt.  He was wearing a Don Quixote t-shirt, of Picasso design.  As a rule, I don't bargain over anything Quixote.  Quixotic gets its own price, out of respect.

I pointed to his shirt, and told him he could have the 35 dirhams he asked for.

I explained with a quixotic grin that on principle I don't negotiate with Quixotes.

He laughed and we talked of the famous knight-errant's tale, which he had read last year.

I happily took both books and stuffed them in my satchel.  My library troubles should be over for a spell.  I left him with a handshake and a smile as I wandered off into the afternoon sun.

Friday, August 25, 2017

On to Asilah

 After a month in Chefchaouen, I finally decamped. I knew if I didn't leave after a month, I would never leave. After a month, I came to really know the blue pearl that is Chefchaouen. If I lived there longer, I would have ended up the mayor of the city, or at the very least the official keeper of cats. I will definitely add the city to my virtual Sultanate.

After a month, I had built a small community in this small mountain city. I knew a little bit about how the place ticked.

I said my goodbyes and my inshallahs that I would return. I will really miss the place, it really welcomed me as a “Chaoueni.”

That Monday, I left behind Chefchaouen and the rugged mountains that surrounded it. I wandered out its blue maze until I was spit out Bab al-Ain. I hopped a petite blue taxi to the Gare Routiere and caught a sweltering, sweaty oven on wheels to Tangier. The bus must have been ten degrees hotter inside than outside, and it was hot out.

I took the baking coffin on past Tetouan to Tangier. In Tangier, I fiddled with the bus station before hopping a Grand Taxi to Asilah. I piled in the back with three Spanish girls. It was not bad, they were small twentysomethings so there was some room in the full back. And there was an open window that blasted cool winds through the back. After an hour and some change, we were in Asilah.

In Asilah, I wandered through the old medina but could not find any cheap hotels. Or any hotels, really. Turns out that in the old medina, the way to stay was rent an apartment—something I would later learn.

After some hot sweaty searching, I took on the help of a tout to help me procure an apartment. I usually don't mess with touts, but in this case it was helpful since the only way to find an apartment to rent was to know who was renting. The tout took me to a few spots before I found something at the nexis of cheap, centralized and habitable. The place, owned I believe by a local muezzin, was fine if cell-like but I could move to a better property he owned in two days so I ponied up for a week ($80).

After settling in, I went down to the beach. This was a different site than I was used to. I walked aling the beach, past an ochre-walled fortress; above the fort sprang a whitewashed Moorish vista of whitewashed almond arches and square embankments. To the maghreb, the Atlantic waves washed along the rocky surf. I wandered down the beach past small plastic table beach tea houses under parasols. I walked along the slippery rocks until I found a craggy spot to watch the couche de soleil, the glowing orb descend into the Atlantic horizon. It didn't disappoint, with a stellar array of pink, peach and gold. There are few things better than a sunset into the ocean; all suns should set into the surf.

I wandered around a bit before settling in for dinner. I found a place that had booze (!) so I had a tart gin-and-tonic with salty olives and garlic aubergine before diving into a filet of merluza (whiting fish, Abba) cooked in thyme. It had been a while since I ate fish, and the combination of all the flavors were light, brackish and wonderful.

As for Asilah, it is a lovely whitewashed labyrinth above the surf. The alleys are alternately starkly white or with colorful pastel hues. There are ample arches, and exploding bougainvillea that pops against the white walls. Asilah is an artsy place, and there are all sorts of colorful murals that bedeck the white canvas walls. It is lovely, and I will have to snap some pics to share its delights.

In the meantime, here are some more pics from Chefchaouen.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

On both sides of the Wall

"I think there is blame on both sides..."

"What about Jon Snow and his gang that came charging at, as you say, the 'White Walkers' do they have any semblance of guilt?"

"What about the fact they came charging with swords in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do."

"You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent and had dragons, nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now."

The Night is Dark and Full of Trump....

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Razor's re-post

"It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water."
 -W. Somerset Maugham, "The Razor's Edge"

An old fav re-posted.

On Boston; on Historical Preservation

On Boston, to quote the great Abolitionist Wendell Phillips--whose statue resides in Boston Common:
"Whether in chains or in laurels, Liberty knows nothing but victories"

If you want to remember the Civil War in concrete statues, then remove all the Confederate statues and replace them with Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison and Sojourner Truth. Let's remember the right side of history..

On confronting difficult history, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Put simply, the erection of these Confederate memorials and enforcement of Jim Crow went hand-in-hand. They were intended as a celebration of white supremacy when they were constructed. As recent rallies in Charlottesville and elsewhere illustrate, they are still being used as symbols and rallying points for such hate today.

These Confederate monuments are historically significant and essential to understanding a critical period of our nation’s history. Just as many of them do not reflect, and are in fact abhorrent to, our values as a diverse and inclusive nation. We cannot and should not erase our history. But we also want our public monuments, on public land and supported by public funding, to uphold our public values.

H/T Abba. 

White America and White Supremacy

"White Americans have a tendency to whitewash and deliberately downplay the reality and gravity of their past and present sins. Slavery is regarded as a minor error within the great tapestry of brutality, despite its long-lasting, systemic and ever-present effects. White people are simultaneously fascinated by slavery-era history and deeply scared of admitting how much they still benefit from generational wealth and privilege from as far back as 400 years ago. Slavery allowed land-owning, slave-owning whites to accumulate massive amounts of wealth while racking up major savings on labor costs (some economists estimate the value of slave labor to be as much as $14 trillion). This money was passed down for generations, while the descendants of enslaved people are still suffering from the effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws. Going further back, white European settlers were given acres of land under the 1862 Homestead Act, after Native Americans were forcibly removed, and thousands died, following the 1830 Indian Removal Act. In 1790, “free white persons” were given naturalization while immigrants like Asian Americans and other non-white groups were denied citizenship and therefore barred from owning land and accumulating wealth. These barriers to citizenship didn’t change until 1952. White people in the U.S. benefitted from redlining, the G.I. Bill of Rights and, even today, white women benefit the most from affirmative action laws."
-Lara Wit, "White Liberals (Moi...) still don't understand White supremacy

Defending the ACLU

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that you have to spend much of your life defending sons of bitches."
-H.L. Mencken

A good piece by Glenn Greenwald on defending the ACLU in wake of Charlottesville.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Fan, or fixing things Moroccan-style

A few days ago, as I was exiting my room I accidentally stepped on the power cord of the hotel's fan, and broke the two prongs.  Both prongs lay disconnected, and I knew I would either have to fix it or replace it.

Since this is Morocco, I decided to go the fix-it route first; since this is Morocco I knew that while this would be a long and complicated process, it would also be infinitely cheaper than buying a new one if I was patient enough to see the errand through.

So I set out this Saturday around 2pm.  But I didn't get far.  In Spanish, the owner of the curio shop next to the hotel told me  that it was siesta time, and every thing would be closed until 4pm.  So  I returned to my hotel.  He also told me that I could simply fix the fan by getting a new charger head, which would be cheap.  I doubted I had the tools and capabilities to fix it, but someone else surely could.

I set out after the siesta time.  I wandered through the blue alleyways and down to path leading to Bab al-Ain.  I stopped at the first shop that looked electronicky.  I explained in Spanish and Arabic what I was looking for, bypassing the fact that I couldn't remember the word for fan ["ventilador" in Spanish, instead try la maquina por al-rouh, the machine (sp) for the wind (arb)].  But unfortunately, he didn't have what I was looking for.

I tried another shop a little further down where I had found an iPad cable replacement but similarly no luck.

So I wandered out of the labyrinth and down into the new city to see if I could find a hardware store.  I was getting nowhere so I asked a soldier in French where I could find an electronics store.  He pointed me in the direction of the second floor of the Grand Marche, where I could find some gadgets and gizmos.

I fumbled along further at another electronicky store, but learned the word for plug in French (prise); conveniently, it is the same word in Moroccan Derija.  So I now knew what I was looking for, but not where to find it.

I stopped in another store, and a young man named Muhammad Reda with braces and a big smile decided to help me.  He knew another hardware store further on, and would take me there.

Under the sweltering sky, we walked.  We spoke in Arabic about things like how much I liked Chefchaouen, where my family lived and if I was a Muslim because I spoke Arabic.  I explained in Arabic that I wasn't a Muslim but that I was a friend of Muslims, and that I greatly respected Islam. He respected this.

Muhammad Reda helped me find the tiny hardware store that was a cavern of plugs and hoses.  We got the tiny prise for the fan for 4 dirham (40 cents).  We walked back to Marche Central where he was working.  He didn't want any money for his help, and I tried to buy him a soda or ice cream but he refused.  We parted company with a warm handshake.

From there, I returned back to the blue alleyways.  I crossed the blue Plaza el Hauta, and two young Moroccan men stopped me and asked in Moroccan Derija for directions.  When I gave them a puzzled look, they said: wait, you aren't Moroccan?  No, I said but continued in Derija, and told them to ask me the question again.  Then I gave them directions in Derija to where they were searching for--because after a month here, I am practically local.  They laughed and smiled wide as I helped them in local Arabic to get to where they were headed.

 I returned to the hotel to survey the surgery.  I got back and quickly was sure that I had neither tools nor skills to accomplish the task, so I set out back to the first shop I visited to see if perhaps the shopkeeper could fix it.

I arrived to the shop, but the shopkeeper had gone to the mosque to pray his afternoon prayers.  I sat down on the cool tile outside the store and waited for him to return.

After a few minutes, he re-appeared from the mosque just next door.  I showed him the electric plug and the fan and asked if he could help.  I offered to pay him.  He said he could do it, but refused payment.

The shopkeeper grabbed some tools from the back of his shop.  We chatted in Arabic and Spanish while he stripped the plug head and the cord on the fan.  He began peeling back veins of the cord, so I joked he was a tabib (doctor).  He just laughed.

In five minutes, he had replaced the power cord plug and the fan was working perfectly again.  Again, I offered to pay him and again he refused.  So in turn, I poured down Moroccan blessings on his head and promised I would pay his zakat forward.

And there it was, I had paid 4 dirham (40 cents) to get the fan fixed.  That was all.  A new one would have cost me 150-200 dirham ($15-20) but this was done for pocket change and compassion--the real currency of what we live by.

As I wandered through the blue alleys back to my hotel, I passed the blue square of cats.  My two favorites, a grey kitty and a blond cat, came running up to me.  They were hungry, and they followed me down the alley to my hotel.  I tried to tell them to wait in Arabic but cats never listen in any language.

So I put down my fan in the hotel and ducked into a store to grab them some la vache qui rit cheese triangles.  As they hungrily snacked, more feline friends started popping their heads around, so I decided to repay the kindness I had received with a whole wheel of cheese squares.  I bought a wheel of the cream cheese and fed the cats of the blue square until they grew bored and needed their own siesta.

In Morocco,things are always a bit more complicated-- but I can often rely on compassion to get things done here, and find myself constantly amazed by people's generosity in the process.

Support The American Prospect

Mazal tov to Robert Kuttner and The American Prospect for dethroning Steve Bannon. I am proud to support The American Prospect, I hope you will too.

Kosher Doxing

Rabbi Rockower agrees: doxing, when done properly, has my kosher/halal seal of approval:

"Some are calling these efforts “doxing” – publishing someone’s private information for the purpose of punishing them and inciting others against them – and saying they are therefore unethical and illegitimate. According to this view, the demonstrators have a right to express their opinions, no matter how odious.

From my perspective as a professor of applied Jewish ethics, they’ve got it wrong. While every human life is inherently valuable, this view gives too much priority to the rights of the white nationalists and not enough to our obligations to the people being threatened.

Certainly, Jewish ethical teachings wouldn’t support the sloppy internet detective work that led to threats against and harassment of innocent people mistaken for those demonstrating at Charlottesville. Ruining someone’s reputation and livelihood is a serious matter – this is why the teachings on lashon hara, the spreading of gossip, are so extensive. The rabbis of the Talmud avoid singling out one another for crimes as minor as reeking of garlic, and even God refuses to inform on sinners (BT Sanhedrin 11a).

But the Chofetz Chayim (1873) outlines conditions under which we can talk about someone’s theft, fraud or cursing: If I’m an eyewitness, I’m sure of what I saw, I’m not exaggerating, I’m doing it for the right reasons and I’ve tried a gentle rebuke, I can talk to others about what I saw. But if I can handle the matter just as well in some other way, the Chofetz Chayim says I should do that.

Exposing the fact that someone participated in a public rally for violent racism and anti-Semitism doesn’t seem like it fits into the category of lashon hara. If anyone ruined the participants’ reputations, it was they themselves."
-Jennifer Thompson, "Doxing White Supremacists Is Kosher According to Judaism. Here's Why"

Which side are you on?

Two great pieces on which side we fall, with Trump or with the Jewish people.

First, from Dana Milbank calling out the Court Jews (Kushner, Cohn, Mnuchin) asking where your allegiances fall:

What Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner did thisweek — or, rather, what they didn’t do — is a shanda.
They’ll know what that means, but, for the uninitiated, shanda is Yiddish for shame, disgrace. The three men, the most prominent Jews in President Trump’s administration, could have spoken out to say that those who march with neo-Nazis are not “very fine people,” as their boss claims. Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, and Cohn, the chief economic adviser, were actually standing with Trump when he said it. They said nothing.
With a nice shout out to Rabbi Zemel in the piece--Milbank is a Temple Micah member.

Second, from Michael Chabon ("The Adventure of Kavalier and Clay") and Ayalet Waldman in an open letter to the Jewish World:
So, now you know. First he went after immigrants, the poor, Muslims, trans people and people of color, and you did nothing. You contributed to his campaign, you voted for him. You accepted positions on his staff and his councils. You entered into negotiations, cut deals, made contracts with him and his government.
Now he’s coming after you. The question is: what are you going to do about it? If you don’t feel, or can’t show, any concern, pain or understanding for the persecution and demonization of others, at least show a little self-interest. At least show a little sechel. At the very least, show a little self-respect.
To Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, and our other fellow Jews currently serving under this odious regime: We call upon you to resign; and to the President’s lawyer, Michael D. Cohen: Fire your client.
To Sheldon Adelson and our other fellow Jews still engaged in making the repugnant calculation that a hater of Arabs must be a lover of Jews, or that money trumps hate, or that a million dollars’ worth of access can protect you from one boot heel at the door: Wise up.
To the government of Israel, and our fellow Jews living there: Wise up.
To Jared Kushner: You have one minute to do whatever it takes to keep the history of your people from looking back on you as among its greatest traitors, and greatest fools; that minute is nearly past. To Ivanka Trump: Allow us to teach you an ancient and venerable phrase, long employed by Jewish parents and children to one another at such moments of family crisis: I’ll sit shiva for you. Try it out on your father; see how it goes.Among all the bleak and violent truths that found confirmation or came slouching into view amid the torchlight of Charlottesville is this: Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.
To our fellow Jews, in North America, in Israel, and around the world: What side are you on?

The Talk

Friday, August 18, 2017

Bannon out

So long Bannon, you despicable toad.  The strange thing is that with him gone, we may indeed have the generals running the show (Kelly, Mattis, McMasters).  This might be the softest, feintist coup in history. The strange thing is that such stewardship for the next 3.5 years is not so unwelcome.  I never thought I would say this.

Bibi's shameful silence

"In the drama of Charlottesville, Benjamin Netanyahu had only a small supporting role, on the near-eastern side of the stage. The way he played that role, however, was breathtaking in its audacity: For three days, the prime minister of Israel said nothing about people marching with Nazi flags in an American city, or about a terrorist attack with a car allegedly by an admirer of Hitler. As of this writing, he has not uttered a word about President Trump’s infamous “both sides” news conference.

We Israelis are used to Netanyahu responding immediately to terrorism, perceived anti-Semitism or threats that remind him of the Holocaust. This time, the anti-Semitism was blatant, with demonstrators in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” and carrying Nazi flags. Understanding the connection of those flags to genocide required no more than a third-grade Israeli education. Understanding the nature of the murder was also easy: Israelis are familiar with terrorism by speeding auto.

Yet it took Netanyahu three long days before he managed to tweet, “Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.” Even the brevity that comes with using Twitter was un-Netanyahulike. He usually prefers Facebook, which has room for lucidity that, one must recognize, is beyond the reach of America’s tweeter in chief."
-Gershom Gorenberg,
In the Washington Post, "Why did Netanyahu wait so long to condemn anti-Semitism in Charlottesville"

"During the Shabbat prayer, three Nazis, in uniform and bearing rifles, stood outside the local synagogue. The heads of the community hired guards to protect the Jews arriving to pray from gangs of thugs. Torah scrolls were smuggled outside after it was understood that the protesters intended to burn the place down. It is beyond belief that something like this could happen in the United States, our closest global ally, in 2017. What have we come to?

The first person in the world, outside of the United States, who is expected to react to such an event is the prime minister of Israel – the state of the Jewish people.

But Benjamin Netanyahu was silent. Netanyahu didn't bother reacting to events preceding this madness in the U.S. (and Hungary either), and didn't set the bright red boundaries that Israel is committed to insist upon. Even after U.S. President Donald Trump’s historic comments on Tuesday, where the president of the United States uttered statements that should never be said, Netanyahu stayed silent and shamed the Israeli people as a whole."
-MK Stav Shaffir
In Ha'aretz, "Netanyahu's Charlottesville Response Proves He's Lost Any Semblance of a Moral Compass"

How to defeat Nazism with Groucho Marxism....

A great article on how to make fun of Nazis.  A mix between humor and nonviolence.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

On Saturn

"For the rings, as had been known since the nineteenth century, were not solid: that was a mechanical impossibility. They consisted of countless myriads of fragments—perhaps the remains of a moon that had come too close and had been torn to pieces by the great planet’s tidal pull. Whatever their origin, the human race was fortunate to have seen such a wonder; it could exist for only a brief moment of time in the history of the Solar System.

As long ago as 1945, a British astronomer had pointed out that the rings were ephemeral; gravitational forceswere at work which would soon destroy them. Taking this argument backward in time, it therefore followed that they had been created only recently—a mere two or three million years ago.

But no one had ever given the slightest thought to the curious coincidence that the rings of Saturn had been born at the same time as the human race."
-Arthur C. Clarke, "2001"

Behold, Cassini and 44 hours of Saturn.

On Ice Cream; on Bread

"While the notion of freezing sweetened cream dates back to the 16th century, and the royal courts of India and Europe, the ancient Persians were making iced desserts at least 1,000 years earlier. Faloodeh, a Persian dessert made of frozen rice noodles, rosewater and cherry syrup, is said to date back to 400 BC."
-From PRI's "Travel the world on an ice cream tour in Los Angeles"

"Bread, oddly enough, though we don’t often think about it, occupies a particularly sensitive spot in our collective political, social, and economic lives. Bread is the one essential of nearly every diet around the world and, as many of us in this region have seen, the prices of food—especially bread—can be the trigger of revolution and, sometimes, the downfall of governments."
-From the Amman Review's "King of the Oven"

Trump's telling omissions

"You know Donald Trump. The man who prides himself on straight talk and fast action.
Yet there's something he's not telling us. Because he can't.
I'm not talking about Vladimir Putin and tax returns. This is something else. Something completely out in the open.
Here is a man who immediately and repeatedly condemns hate crimes when committed by Muslims. Especially if the victims are white Christians. Even if the crimes are committed thousands of miles from the United States.
He condemns them whenever they happen. He condemns them even if they don't. "Take a look at what happened in Sweden," he told the conservative CPAC conference this week. "The people over there understand I'm right. Take a look at what's happening in Sweden. Take a look at what's happening in Germany. Take a look at what's happened in France. Take a look at Nice and Paris."
Now take a look at what happens when hate crimes are committed against Jews, or Muslims, or against legal non-white non-citizen visa holders. He's taught us what to expect.
The deafening silence. Unless and until he's forced to say something. Which, from this master of straight talk, is inevitably lawyered-up and mealy-mouthed.
This is what he's not telling you: He can't afford to have hate crimes be declared hate crimes. Not when they're committed by white supremacist Americans.
After all, if they were, they would be violations of civil rights, punishable by federal law. And that is one road Trump cannot afford to go down.
Here's why. Politically, he cannot afford to lose ANY of his base. He can't afford to sic law enforcement on the extremists in any meaningful way. Not so long as his approval rating goes nowhere but down.
If the base is to remain, Trump needs the votes of all of his enthusiastic supporters in the "alt-right," American Nazi sympathizers, Klan offshoots, Aryan militias, doomsday preppers, and a host of other white Christian supremacist groupings and extreme right housebound, head-bound loners."
-Bradley Burston, from a March '17 Ha'aretz column

Friday, August 11, 2017

Hip Hop & Google

"On August 11, 1973, an 18-year-old, Jamaican-American DJ who went by the name of Kool Herc threw a back-to-school jam at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, New York. During his set, he decided to do something different. Instead of playing the songs in full, he played only their instrumental sections, or “breaks” - sections where he noticed the crowd went wild. During these “breaks” his friend Coke La Rock hyped up the crowd with a microphone. And with that, Hip Hop was born."

Not so long ago, in a galaxy far, far away (Harlem), I was literally just chilling with Coke La Rock in a park, listening to him chat with the legend Medusa The Gangsta Goddess and GlobalNLer Ms. Mirta "James" Ljulj about the these heady days.

"You never thought that hip hop would take it this far" -Notorious B.I.G.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Thus Sayeth Quixote

"Happy the age, happy the time, to which the ancients gave the name of golden, not because in that fortunate age the gold so coveted in this our iron one was gained without toil, but because they that lived in it knew not the two words "mine" and "thine"! In that blessed age all things were in common; to win the daily food no labour was required of any save to stretch forth his hand and gather it from the sturdy oaks that stood generously inviting him with their sweet ripe fruit. The clear streams and running brooks yielded their savoury limpid waters in noble abundance. The busy and sagacious bees fixed their republic in the clefts of the rocks and hollows of the trees, offering without usance the plenteous produce of their fragrant toil to every hand. The mighty cork trees, unenforced save of their own courtesy, shed the broad light bark that served at first to roof the houses supported by rude stakes, a protection against the inclemency of heaven alone.

Then all was peace, all friendship, all concord; as yet the dull share of the crooked plough had not dared to rend and pierce the tender bowels of our first mother that without compulsion yielded from every portion of her broad fertile bosom all that could satisfy, sustain, and delight the children that then possessed her. Then was it that the innocent and fair young shepherdess roamed from vale to vale and hill to hill, with flowing locks, and no more garments than were needful modestly to cover what modesty seeks and ever sought to hide. Nor were their ornaments like those in use to-day, set off by Tyrian purple, and silk tortured in endless fashions, but the wreathed leaves of the green dock and ivy, wherewith they went as bravely and becomingly decked as our Court dames with all the rare and far-fetched artifices that idle curiosity has taught them. Then the love-thoughts of the heart clothed themselves simply and naturally as the heart conceived them, nor sought to commend themselves by forced and rambling verbiage.

Fraud, deceit, or malice had then not yet mingled with truth and sincerity. Justice held her ground, undisturbed and unassailed by the efforts of favour and of interest, that now so much impair, pervert, and beset her. Arbitrary law had not yet established itself in the mind of the judge, for then there was no cause to judge and no one to be judged. Maidens and modesty, as I have said, wandered at will alone and unattended, without fear of insult from lawlessness or libertine assault, and if they were undone it was of their own will and pleasure.

But now in this hateful age of ours not one is safe, not though some new labyrinth like that of Crete conceal and surround her; even there the pestilence of gallantry will make its way to them through chinks or on the air by the zeal of its accursed importunity, and, despite of all seclusion, lead them to ruin. In defence of these, as time advanced and wickedness increased, the order of knights-errant was instituted, to defend maidens, to protect widows and to succour the orphans and the needy.

To this order I belong, brother goatherds, to whom I return thanks for the hospitality and kindly welcome ye offer me and my squire; for though by natural law all living are bound to show favour to knights-errant, yet, seeing that without knowing this obligation ye have welcomed and feasted me, it is right that with all the good-will in my power I should thank you for yours."


Last night, I had one of the best tajines of my life. It was in Chefchaouen at a place called Moriscos. It was called Tahaliya, it was a goat meat tajine. It was cooked in honey, with raisins and prunes with ground nuts on top. It was delicious, with fall-off-the-bone goat meat swimming in honey sauce.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Days gone by

I came downstairs to escape the heat, and saw Ahmed the hotel proprietor sitting at a mosaic table. He was eating sardines, and invited me to join.  Never one to pass up an offer, I sat down.

The sardines were covered in olive oil, salt and spices.   I picked my fingers into the meaty white flesh of the little fish, as Ahmed explained to me how they had been cooked in the wood-burning bakery oven across the way.  The smokiness left hints on the oily, salty skin of the sardines, and in its tender meat.

Ahmed spoke to me of his travels, across North Africa and in Europe.  We chatted of la belle France. Of Lyon, where I need to visit.  He spoke of days gone by-- when one could hitchhike across a world without visas.

We sipped mint tea, and almond cookies as he shared with me about his favorite seasons in the mountain city--the autumn, in all her colorful glory.

Life is best enjoyed when we take the time to live it a bit slower, and savor its essence.

The Blue City

Scenes from Chefchaouen ("two horns"), the blue city in the Rif Mountains of Morocco. Chefchaouen's distinctive blue hues stem from the Jews who found refuge here after their expulsion from Spain.  More photos here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

On Beauty

And a poet said, "Speak to us of Beauty."

Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?

And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?

The aggrieved and the injured say, "Beauty is kind and gentle.

Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us."

And the passionate say, "Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.

Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us."

The tired and the weary say, "beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit.

Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow."

But the restless say, "We have heard her shouting among the mountains,

And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions."

At night the watchmen of the city say, "Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east."

And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, "we have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset."

In winter say the snow-bound, "She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills."

And in the summer heat the reapers say, "We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair."

All these things have you said of beauty.

Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,

And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.

It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,

But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.

It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,

But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.

It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,

But rather a garden forever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.

People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.

But you are life and you are the veil.

Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.

But you are eternity and you are the mirror. 

-Khalil Gibran, "The Prophet"