Archive for March, 2019

Letter from a Vagabond 28 March 2019 — A request for advice…

March 29, 2019


Hamid bin Haydara

I am asking everyone I know, from my blog, from Facebook, LinkedIn, everywhere to give me advice.

When I was in Lebanon for the Lokahi Foundation Global Summit, I met a young woman, who I will not name here, because I have no idea that if I do, it will endanger her in anyway.  She lives in the Mideast, works for social justice and appealed to me to help her help a friend of hers, Hamid bin Haydara, a fellow Baha’i.

The Baha’i are not held in high regard anywhere in the Middle East that I know of – they are not Muslim, not Christian.  Here is how Merriam – Webster defines Baha’i:  “an adherent of a religious movement originating in Iran in the 19thcentury and emphasizing the spiritual unity of humankind.”

Doesn’t sound very threatening but Iran, where it originated, is particularly determined to crush it out.  In general, rigid Muslims hate them simply because they are not Muslim, with a fierceness larger than that reserved for Christians.

This young lady has reached out to me to ask me to help save her friend, who was scheduled to die this past January 29th. As far as we know, he still is alive.

And this is bigger than what I generally do with social media.  I told her to get his story told as widely as she could, and she is reaching out to me to help her do that.

In the race from place to place, I think I have pushed it aside a bit as it felt too big for me.

Hereand hereand here are three articles explaining the situation. You can google him; there is lots out there.

So, if you have any words of advice on how to save this man’s life, which seems very worthy of saving, please be in touch.

Thank you.



Letter from a Vagabond 24 March 2019 In the heart of the Zapotec…

March 25, 2019


              Not long ago, I rose from a short nap, tired after four hours in the sun at Monte Alban, the vast, mostly unexcavated ruins of the Zapotec Indians; one of the great cities of Mesoamerica.  Around 500 BCE, the Zapotec, if I am remembering what my guide imparted, leveled off the top of the mountain and began building a temple complex and home to the ruling elite and flourished until about 900 CE, when it was apparently abandoned with the Zapotec moving their administrative center to Mitla, about 60 kilometers away at some point in the future.

Speculation is that Monte Alban grew as a fortress against some external threat.


            They had a written language, among the first in Mesoamerica, and Zapotec is still spoken today in a variety of places, including parts of southern California.

They had a multitude of gods, most of them bloodthirsty from what I have been able to gather.  The first writing happened on the danzantes stones, which have many sacrificed men carved into them.  Like the Maya, they played a game with a rubber ball sent through a metal circle and archeologists are still working out whether the winner or the loser lost their head to appease the rain god.


The Zapotec created an empire, traded with the Olmec, Teotihuacan and Mayacivilizations and the Teotihuacan and the Zapotecs were particularly close.  There were defined spaces in each of their capitals for the other.

They seemed to have a thing for male genital mutilation. They mutilated the conquered and the priests mutilated themselves for the gods.

In 1930, the greatest treasure in Mesoamerica was discovered by a Mexican archeologist, Alfonso Caso as he began to uncover Monte Alban.


 They were astronomers, keeping track of when the rain would come, and kept detailed carved records of medical issues, with slabs showing operations, difficult births and painful deaths.

No one knows why they faded away around 900 CE though it corresponds with the decline around then of other Mesoamerican civilizations.

When I stood in the ruins of Tyre, I didn’t feel as foreign as I did today.  Tyre is part of our collective western history; Monte Alban is not.

When I was dropped off, I went immediately to Casa Oaxaca for something to eat as I had had nothing all day, having the most luscious duck tacos in a black mole sauce! OMG!


Now, despite the nap, I am still weary and will probably have a quiet evening around the hotel and its environs.  Here in Oaxaca, I sleep early, rise early.

While here, I have worked on a long piece of writing I have been avoiding, written a poem and been nurtured by the valley that gave rise to the Zapotecs.

The Vagabond in Oaxaca 22 March 2019

March 23, 2019


            Twilight is beginning to fall in Oaxaca; the thunderstorms promised yesterday never realizing materializing today though lightning struck surrounding area, and, for a moment, a fierce wind blew.

Oaxaca is a gentle town; it doesn’t seem to demand of you the way the capitals of Europe do, urging you to join their hustle and bustle.  Not so Oaxaca; here there is no hustle and I have found no real bustle.  The closest I have found to hustle are the sellers of Chicklets, who look up at you with mournful eyes, hoping you will buy a pack from them.  How is it that Chicklets are the gum of choice by street vendors?   It was thus in Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, Istanbul and now Oaxaca.

It is colorful, full of buildings splashed with pastels.  Near the Zocalo, vendors line the square with their wares and I almost wish I had a trunk to bring home a thousand things I found charming – none I need though I have not seen such good weaving anywhere.  There were some patio chairs with woven plastic for their seats I lusted after.

Late afternoon yesterday, I ate a light meal at a restaurant there, attended by a couple of solicitous young men who smiled with me at my fractured Spanish, doing their best to help me, while I remained grateful for technology as my translator app proved invaluable, particularly at check-in at my hotel, where the young man spoke so quickly I couldn’t decipher he was asking me for identification.

It has taken me a day to adjust to the altitude and I found myself happily napping yesterday, more than I could have imagined.  After breakfast!  After lunch!

And then a good long sleep last night and when I woke this morning, I felt acclimated.

Oaxaca is in the mountains, which gives it a temperate climate year-round but 5,000 plus feet takes me a day to get used to, for which I am grateful I gave myself permission to do so.

Because there were to be nothing but thunderstorms today, I booked conference calls chock a block only to have the rain not appear so when I finished, I wandered to the Museum connected with the Templo de Santa Domingo, a former monastery, filled with treasures from before and after the Spanish Conquest, overlooking the attached Botanical Garden, which apparently has the world’s largest collection of cactus specimens.  For 300 Pesos, [$15] I hired a guide and Emy was worth it for pointing things out efficiently.


Santa Lucia and a skull decorated with turquoise

             Returning to my hotel, a modest, sparkling clean place with a nice little restaurant attached – my morning omelet, giant glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and basket of bread, with tip, was $6.00, I sat down and did some work on a long piece I have been avoiding.

The sun has set, and the church bells are chiming, and I am off in search of a light dinner before some good reading before sleep.

Letter From a Vagabond 20 March 2019 Too much is too much…

March 20, 2019


It is the evening of March 20thand after twelve hours of traveling, I am in my little hotel in Oaxaca, Mexico, feeling just a shade Hemingway, top of my mind as Nick Stuart and I discussed him at dinner last night.  I am in a colorful town, a white-haired Yank, not knowing quite what is in front of me. And I am writing, my fingers tapping away at my laptop keyboard, hoping you’ll find these words worthy of reading.

Yesterday, I confessed both to my friend David and to Nick, that I had to pull back from consuming so much news and I’m not even watching television and listen little to the radio.  It has been too much.  I have not wanted to write nor read literature, drawn like a moth to the flame of current events. Everything has seemed interesting, fascinating, enthralling, frightening, mystifying and incredible.

The Ethiopian Airlines crash created anxiety; a friend was in Addis Ababa and was soon to leave and Nairobi would have been a natural destination.  He is fine and left Addis the day after, to a different destination and Ethiopian Airlines immediately grounded their Boeing 737 Max 8’s so there was no chance he’d be flying one.  I was relieved when I heard via Facebook he was safe.

Boeing’s public relations response has been eviscerated by the likes of Alan Murray of Forbes Magazine and I think rightly so while the reputation of the firm and the FAA has been damaged by the handling.  EA sent the black boxes from the crash to Paris for examination, a rebuke to the FAA.

Before the US grounded its 737 Max 8 fleet, I checked to make sure I was not flying on one to Mexico.  I have never had anxiety about getting on a specific piece of equipment.  Flying certain airlines in my travels around the world, yes.

The news of the mosque shooting in New Zealand left me stunned.  New Zealand?  They banned a British tourist family from returning for being too rowdy. Okay, so the man is Australian, but I don’t think of Aussies as violent chaps — rowdy maybe, but not violent.

Did the shooter really say, as he started broadcasting on Facebook Live, “Let’s get the party started?” Fifty people, two different mosques.  I found myself transfixed by the grieving face of Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who has been rightly getting kudos for the human empathy she demonstrated as she dealt with a grieving, shocked nation.

Some of the victims had moved to New Zealand for safety from Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Not the New Zealand is without prejudice. A severed pig’s head had once been left on the doorstep of the Al Noor Mosque, where most killings occurred.

Staying at the Keene Farm, the views to the Catskills have been tranquil, inspiring. Gratitude still comes to me in the morning.

My friend David spoke of how, despite all this mayhem, we go on living our lives in their mundane wonderfulness.  He is off to ski with his sons in Utah, visits with his mother, goes to his office, eats dinner and does all the micro things we do to keep our lives humming.

David and I brought up the 2011 book, “The Better Angels of our Nature,” by Steven Pinker, which points out statistically, with all this tragedy, we are a kinder, better species than we have been, are generally better off and seem to keep moving that way.  His recent review of trends has not shifted his thinking.

Why then, David asked, do we still feel despair?

Because we are human and can see what can be and what can be is more than what is and wonder why we cannot get further, faster on a road to goodness?

Because we are human, with all those wonderful and awful human traits that we keep honing as we march down the road of history.  And then we have Greta Thunberg of Sweden, all of sixteen, up for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism on climate change.

Rise up all the Gretas of the world. We need you.





Letter from a Vagabond 03 12 2019 Interesting times…

March 12, 2019


              It is early-ish in Baltimore, where I am waiting for a bed to be delivered so I can move into “my” room at Lionel and Pierre’s home here.  Not that I will be here all that much, given my vagabond life.  A week from tomorrow, I fly to Oaxaca in Mexico for a time, a little time in Mexico City to see a business friend, perhaps a stop in Puerta Vallarta and then back to upstate New York, before a week in DC and, shortly after, off to the Vineyard for “the season.”

Speaking to a friend yesterday afternoon, she asked what I would be doing after “the season?”  Haven’t a plan or clue.  That will be, I’m sure, revealed.

While we think the phrase, “May you live in interesting times,” came from the Chinese, there is no equivalent in that language and probably was attributed to them by the son of a 19thcentury British politician, Joseph Chamberlain, when annotating his father’s papers. Wherever it came from, it is widely used, sounding like a blessing while being a curse.  Interesting times are likely to be full of upheaval while uninteresting times are probably good for living but not for writing sweeping sagas.

Robert Kennedy used the phrase in a speech in 1966, which was an interesting time. Times have been interesting for a long time.

They are wildly interesting in Great Britain, as it faces ANOTHER Brexit vote in Parliament.  French customs officials slowed down Eurostar trains and trucks crossing through the Chunnel, both in protest and practicing for a post-Brexit world.

If, as widely expected, Ms. May’s plan is voted down again, there will be a vote for a “no-deal Brexit.”  If that fails, there will be a vote to ask the EU for a Brexit extension.  Interesting, indeed.

The airline I am flying to Mexico is Delta, which does not utilize the Boeing 737 Max 8 and Aero México has grounded theirs.  It would not be interesting for me, to travel on one, right now.

Mr. Trump has unveiled the largest budget in U.S. history, giving more money to the military and taking from social services.  Interesting.  That is all I will say.

Venezuela is dogged by massive power outages as Maduro clings to power and I find the country’s condition sad.  How did a country with so much oil reserves get to this place?  Interesting story there.

What else is interesting?

Algeria’s president will not seek a fifth term after massive protests. While not much of a story here, it has been big news in Algeria and France.

The robots are rising.  A Swedish company has developed a robot to conduct job interviews.  “Her” name is Tengai and she is programmed to avoid biases. You can see her in action here.

The internet is thirty years old today.  You can find out what its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee thinks thirty years on by clicking here.Hint: he’s worried.

Space X, Elon Musk’s rocket ship company, just had a big success with the successful round trip of the Dragon capsule to and from the space station, while his motor company has been described as out of control.  Never a boring moment with Elon. Oh, he owns The Boring Company.

India’s PM, Modi, is up for re-election.  Raucous times expected.  There has already been one bombing.

Netanyahu is mired in scandal allegations and has aligned himself with a right-wing party as he faces election.  Also promises to be nothing short of interesting.

No matter where you look, there are “interesting” things happening.

What’s interesting in your life?

Letter From a Vagabond 4 March 2019 Patch, patch, patch…

March 5, 2019


It is a quiet evening, “Cocktail Jazz” is playing and the view to the Catskills is lost to the night.  Yesterday, I returned from the Vineyard after a week of minding Edgartown Books, and a very, very, very quiet time it was, too.  School was out and everyone who could manage to get off island was off island.  There were a few stalwarts who chose to be on the island last week because they knew no one else would be there.

Dusting, I took a silly picture of myself with a duster one morning “fending off zombies, starving for literature” to send to Joyce, who is the mistress of the manor.  It’s so silly I won’t send it on to anyone else though it was a commentary on how quiet it was in Edgartown Books.  On two days, I didn’t sell one book.

One day, I was the store’s best customer.

The few who did come in, were grateful we were open.  Very little else was; it seemed the whole island shut down for vacation week.

Today, I went with my friend and host, Larry Divney, to Wunderbar, one of the local restaurant haunts, sat at the bar, had lunch and visited with a cadre of friends, doing the same, just after a conversation with my brother, freshly returned from his medical excursion to Honduras, as he was going to volunteer to help at a clinic for Hispanics in the Twin Cities.

Right now, I am reading, “The Dance of the Seagull,” by Andrea Camilleri, a mystery set in Sicily.  It is part of a series that was the rage last summer in Edgartown with, it seemed, everyone reading and being a favorite dinner party topic.

Unless something intervenes, I am on my way to Oaxaca in Mexico ion the 20th, for a week or two or three.  Then I’ll be pet sitting for friends in DC and then, I don’t know, though probably back to the Vineyard in May, for the season.

It’s been an interesting time for me this last couple of weeks.  From feelings of great comfort, I fall into some moments of great discomfort and I have yet to really track down the reason.

My friend, James Green, said he loves to follow me frolicking around the world and I responded by saying I love to frolic around the world.

It might be that my disquiet is coming from realizing I may have to have cataract surgery on my left eye sooner than later. Need to see my ophthalmologist. Tomorrow it’s an ENT doctor; my hearing has seemed dicey for the last six months, so I am going to have that checked out.

When I was kid, I remember watching Jimmy Stewart on the Johnny Carson show and when he was asked by Johnny how he was, Stewart replied with something along this line:  after seventy, it’s just, patch, patch, patch.  While I’m not seventy yet, I can feel the correctness of those words.

The political scene stresses me.  The Democrats are in disarray and, I fear, will not find a winning strategy and are giving Republicans a rallying cry.  They’re socialists! One morning, some weeks ago, I woke up and thought, well, we finally have a president who is worse than Warren G. Harding.  Well, we survived Harding and we’ll probably survive Trump. Please god, help us survive him.  The tax cuts are not being paid for and the debt is going up.  When did Republicans embrace debt this way?  Not ever before in my lifetime.

And, and, and…

And those are things I can’t actually influence all that much today, so I am listening to cocktail jazz, having my nightly martini, and working to figure out why I am having mood swings.  Thankfully, being this old, I know life holds mood swings.  It’s the curse of being human.

And, god knows, I am human.