Archive for January, 2019

The Vagabond in Istanbul 29 January 2019 Humpty Dumpty took a little fall…

January 29, 2019



It is late morning in Istanbul, and I am finishing a late breakfast with a second cup of coffee.

Clumsy as I am, I somehow tripped and fell while walking through Sultanahmet yesterday; nothing serious – my upper left lip is a little swollen even though I iced it for quite some time yesterday.  It brought to a close what had been a lovely day.

It is always best, I think, when traveling internationally, to take confusion in stride.  So yesterday, as I was leaving the hotel, I hailed a “Taksi” and asked to be taken to the Grand Bazaar, thinking no one would not know that.  However, I ended up at the Egyptian Bazaar [who knew?] and when I shook my head no, he searched on his phone and showed me another Bazaar, which looked like the Grand Bazaar, so I nodded yes, and he took me there.

It was the Spice Bazaar and all I could do was laugh! I got out, paid him, thanked him with my translator app and went into the Spice Bazaar, which I had thought of visiting anyway.  For an hour or so, I traversed the 350-year-old market, with the smell of saffron and mint and every other imaginable spice wafting through the air.

Then I walked up the streets of Sultanahmet to the Grand Bazaar, seeing the life of Istanbul unfold before me as these crowded streets were not filled with tourists but with city residents out purchasing everything from spices to cooking pans.

The Grand Bazaar was better lit than I remembered it and I purchased some things for folks at home, doing a bit of fun haggling in the spirit of the place and with my packages began to descend the crowded streets of Sultanahmet when, plop, there goes the weasel!

Mostly it was my pride that was damaged though I did experience about five minutes of physical shock, shaken off by sitting down and letting it pass.  Haven’t a clue what happened.  It was one of the smoothest streets I have traveled, and I was stone cold sober but there it was – the sidewalk and I had an encounter.

Back at the hotel, I got a bag of ice from the bar, swished out my mouth with vodka as an antiseptic – best I could think of since I didn’t have Listerine handy – and went up to my room and held the ice there for some time.

One of the fifty things to do in Istanbul, according to one article, is to have dinner at Hamid, the restaurant at the top of my hotel, which I intended to do last night, and I have put that off until tonight or tomorrow so that I have time to heal.  Its food is supposed to be good and the view even better.

In an hour, I am going out on a booked boat tour of the Bosporus and that will consume the afternoon.

Tomorrow is my last day in Istanbul and I am looking forward to returning to the U.S., seeing old friends and continuing my vagabonding ways in America.



A Vagabond in Beirut Time takes us all…

January 23, 2019



It is evening in Beirut; I am sitting the bar of the Radisson Blu Martinez where I have moved since finishing the Lokahi Global Exchange Program at the Le Royal Beirut yesterday.  On the television screen in the bar are recaps from the Arab Summit which completed on Sunday.

I haven’t a clue as to what is going on; it is all in Arabic, the first language of Lebanon.  The second is French; the third is English and I suspect English will soon be the second as it seems to be supplanting, from my observation, French.

The Lebanese currency is the pound or lira.  However, almost everywhere, prices are in dollars and in Lebanese pounds/lira or, frequently, just in dollars.  Billboards advertising car sales are in Arabic, with dollars as prices and sometimes the whole ad is in English.

Such are the wild contrasts which make up Lebanon.

The country was wracked by a civil war from 1975 to 1991.  Its ravages are still apparent though overshadowed by a pace of building that rivals New York.  Old buildings with good bones are being renovated.  Those without good bones are bereft, waiting, I suspect, to be torn down and replaced my something else.  On these, you can see the pockmarks of war.

On the streets are stylishly dressed women who share the thoroughfares with women who are completely covered in the most conservative Islamic tradition — and everything in between.

There are beggars but not many.  On the Corniche, a physically and mentally disabled man was selling Chicklets and I gave him money; he gave me two packets of Chicklets and waved to me as I got into my taxi to take me back to my hotel. His smile broke my heart.

It seemed to me, on a walk tonight, that the concept of a pedestrian crossing has not yet occurred to city planners.  It should; everyone including me, takes their lives into their hands to cross the street.

In Byblos, arguably the oldest place that has been continuously inhabited by man, I saw all of history meld together, from the days of the Pharaohs to the days of the Crusaders and beyond.

It is the Phoenicians who gave us the first alphabet, god love them.

In Tyre, I sat on a fallen pillar from Roman times and my friend, Nick Stuart, took my photo and I posted it to Facebook.  I realized all I am is a whisper in time, sitting in the ruins of thousands of years, which have seen men like me come and go, come and go, come and go…

Tyre became rich on its purple dye, coveted by kings.  It didn’t want territory; it wanted trade.  Rule me, it said, but let me trade.  Until Alexander the Great; it held out against him and paid the price, never again rising to the heights it had held.

We are all fools, of course.  Time will have its due with us.  All our craven dreams will be lost in the winds of time, like Tyre, like Byblos, like the ancient Egyptians, who held sway longer than any of us.

There are letters from the Princes of Byblos petitioning Amenhotep IV [Akhenaten] for help.  He was too busy creating the first monotheistic religion to help the outposts of his empire.  He left it to his ancestors to work to retrieve what he ignored.

Ultimately, the Persians came, then Alexander, then the Seleucids, and then the Romans; Phoenicia was then absorbed by Islam, became a battleground for the Crusaders, who created kingdoms here for a couple of centuries before they too retreated.

It’s all here; every age of man.  It is a land that survives.  Above all else, it survives.







Letter from a Vagabond 01 12 2019 Unexpectedly…

January 12, 2019


As I sit facing the dancing cursor on my screen, the lights of Beirut are spread out beneath me, climbing up into the hills and around the edge of the harbor where several freighters sit at anchor, placidly waiting, to come or go, unload their cargo…

Thursday night, I left JFK and flew to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Beirut.  Since I left from upstate, I was about twenty hours in transit.  As I slept a fair amount on the JFK – Istanbul segment, I am not as tired as I thought I might be.  In fact, when I came down to breakfast this morning, I surprised my colleagues with how chipper I was.

Last Saturday, Nick Stuart texted me: are you still interested in going to Beirut?  Of course, I texted back.  Within two hours, I was on a conference call with Gwen Dickinson in the UK, head of the Lokahi Foundation, which is putting on a conference in Beirut for religious and social change makers from places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Bosnia, etc.

Friday, one participant on the staff side had fallen out; Nick suggested me as a replacement and on Monday morning I received an email letting me know they were delighted I would be joining them.

Tuesday, I planned travel, Wednesday I packed, Thursday I traveled.  And here I am in Beirut, a city I have wanted to see since I was six and my Uncle Henry enthralled me at a dinner about the wonders of this city.

Truthfully, I haven’t seen much yet, though tomorrow I will be going from our hotel, settled into a hillside facing the Mediterranean, and going into the city proper.  Monday there will be workshops, Tuesday, a trip to Tripoli, meetings with the Maronite Bishop of Tripoli, the Orthodox Bishop of Tripoli and the Grand Mufti of Tripoli.

Wednesday, Nick and I are the stars of the day, he more than I, and Thursday we will go to Sour/Tyre and Saida/Sidon, ancient cities who helped form the world in which we live.

Friday, more workshops and Saturday, a visit to the ancient city of Byblos, from which the Bible derives its name.

Come the 24th, I will leave Beirut and fly to Istanbul for a week and then, home. To America.  To go back to my friends’ guest house.  Vagabonds don’t really have homes.  We have the vagabond life and it has been invigorating me the last eight months, to be a vagabond.

There is a sense of adventurism about this I love.

Here I am, unexpectedly, in a city I have wanted to visit since I was six and will go off from here to visit a city I have not seen for nearly twenty years and will go back to a place where, unexpectedly, I feel much at home. [Thank you, Alicia and Larry, for the gift of your guest house in my wanderings.]

What a marvelous time I am having.  Unexpectedly.



An article by the vagabond… 01 10 2018 Written for the Digital Center

January 10, 2019

Here is a link to an article I wrote for the website of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.  Please go




Letter from a Vagabond 01 03 2019 Thoughts on the age…

January 3, 2019


         As you ascend from the tracks in Penn Station, to the lower level, the air is infused with the siren smell of popcorn and I must pass through this with the steely resolve of Odysseus listening to the Sirens sing.  Mentally, I bind myself to the ship’s mast to sail through the popcorn straits.

It is, perhaps, my favorite taste treat.  At certain times of stress only a bag of freshly popped popcorn will soothe my spirit.  When I can’t get fresh popcorn, I reach for Cheetos, orange like our president.

In New York for a noon lunch with Jeff Cole of the Center for the Digital Future, then drinks with an old friend and dinner with even older friends, followed tomorrow by my quarterly lunch with my friend David, another potential meeting or two and then back to the Keene Farm, where I will work out what my next vagabonding steps will be…

It is the year 2019 and I am staggered by that reality.  If, in 1969, had you suggested I would be around for this year, I would have laughed in your face.  “Live fast, die young, have a good-looking corpse!” was a common battle cryand and there were times when it seemed I might make that a reality.

Yet, here I am.  I have not died; my fast living was short term and I won’t have a good-looking corpse.  Sigh!

This is likely a not uncommon refrain among baby boomers.  How did this happen to us, we, who were to be forever young?

Age comes to all of us who are lucky enough to age.  There are those who have not been so lucky.  I lift my hat to my good friend, Richard Easthouse, still and always missed, felled by AIDS just before the cocktail and to others lost to that disease, as well as car accidents, overdoses and cancer.  Baby boomers were not immune, regardless of our strident sense of immortality.

Living in the U.S., we are often, it seems, pounded by bad news, which is why I suggest you read the article you will find here.  It gives us 99 stories [and a bonus one] of good things happening which we probably missed in the strum und drung of contemporary American culture.

Speaking of which, could not someone helped President Trump refute the scathing Mitt Romney Op-Ed with something other than a tweet saying, “He has a big, stupid mouth!”  That is the question.  Rather it is just one of the questions wrestled with concerning the behavior of our current president.

However, as I pointed out to someone when all this began, Rome survived a string of bad emperors.  [Though they didn’t have a nuclear trigger at hand.]

So, with all that is going on, partial government shutdown, Syria, Iraq, Congressional stalemate and everything else, I will re-read the article of things done well this past year and take hope in things going well and will continue to think about how I can contribute to things going well.

Do read the article!  There are some amazing things going on and we need amazing things to buoy us up and carry on – hope, after all, is one of the great traits and gifts of the human race.

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