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lundi 30 novembre 2009

For No Special Reason, I was thinking of Mexico..

For some reason, I was thinking of Mexico today..nothing precipitated this nostalgia for a country where I used to travel very often during my student days..Since Yucatan is close to Miami, that is the area that i explored first and then slowly the other parts of the country. of the 33 states, I have visited 16 of them and some very remote areas such as Sierra Madre Oriental and its rivers because of my connection with the Indians.
I have a very close friend, who is a Family Practitioner in a town called Muzquiz (this city used to be caled Santa Rosa de Lima). I was interested in this town since the first ever european child born in this town was to an australian couple who had moved there from Hamilton in Victoria. Years later I had the chance to meet the grandchildren of that family in Melbourne. Dr R is an extremely caring physician and lucky are the patients who come to see her. I have a small project in the prevention of diabetic kidney diseases, and she has many patients who have been told that they would be on dialysis but using detoxifying therapies and ozone therapy, she has had some success in keeping the dialysis at bay.. sometimes up to 3 years.
I know i need to go back to Piedras Negras and Muzquiz and looking at my calendar,i can see that in February, I can fly down to San Antonio, rent a car and drive down to Eagle Pass and cross over to Piedras and i am sure the good doctor will take me to is a trip i have made very often..
also i will get to visit Nacimiento de los Negros along the sabinas river in sierra madre oriental where a group of indians live in a fashion similar to their ancestors..
they even gave me a name, Ke se kui te pa, the one walking with head in the cloud..
Head in the Clouds certainly misses his mexican friends..

dimanche 29 novembre 2009

Magic of Saudade and the Cruelty of Reality

I have always enjoyed that sweet sensation of Saudade, possibly the one of the more beloved words that i like in any language. a feeling of impending loss and the anxiety even before you knew you had it, would be my definition of the portuguese word, but there are many other explanations of it.
Tropics are like hammocks for lovers, wasnt it Anais Nin who said that. Having always lived in Australia, England, USA, Sweden for most part of my life, I long for those parts of my life spent in tropical countries, either as a tourist/visitor or a resident (Cuba is tops!). I remember coming home to Melbourne after trips to Fiji absolutely depressed at the prospect of unending rain squalls and dark evenings with memories of antarctica in them. In Sweden, i revelled in the words of my fellow students from the south american continent, who introduced me to Pablo Neruda and Vente Poemas de Amor..
I was sitting at a lovely park in Paris and thought about the idea of Community.
Currently I am blessed to be associated with two societies that place an incredible amount of importance of having Communal Sense: Cuba and the American Indians.
France, more than any other country i know, provides its citizens with so many services, no other country has such an extent of care of its my field of Health Care, it is the best of all that is available. Yet i felt longing for the community, that open sharing of common happiness and joy of being alive that we have in Cuba or the incredible laughter of the American Indians, when i spend my two weeks a month here in Paris. Government has taken on many responsibilities, such as the Church once used to do, said a psychologist friend of mine and people have become comfortable and reliant on that, and less and less on their neighbours. the moral support which in a society like Cuba is so important does not play the centre stage here.
But an incident on one of my recent visits had me thinking a little differently about the French. I have never subscribed to the popular american view that the French are unfriendly. not as loud as the americans and brash, for sure, but friendly neverthless. The flat i was staying at had a calamity, and I was astounded by the help of the neighbours, very thoughtful, generous, sacrificing and time consuming. I was truly impressed with that. The French do it this way, is something you hear a lot while living in France. and this nationalism has extended to the civic option, of helping your neighbour when the dire need arises.
Yesterday at the supermarche, i saw a man of modest means buying extra grocery items to donate to the poor of France, this is much more of an american way of doing it i thought but the man was quite generous and soon the bags of donation were filling up in front of a small supermarche in a small section of Paris.. i can imagine the donations collected all over France..
So, i have a little better understanding of the French Generosity and civic Action.. I wish i had the intellect of Claude Levi-Strauss to formulate the nationalistic origins of the symbolism of french action.
Merci Beaucoup..

dimanche 22 novembre 2009

Petty Principles of Frequent Flying

Confessions of a Frequent Flier

One Pass Platinum Star Alliance AND

Air France Flying Blue Gold Skyteam

Obsession with small luxuries of International Travel

Just a couple of days ago I received news that I have made it to the Gold Level at the frequent flier programme Flying Blue of Air France. This gives you privileges of Skyteam Elite Plus, a good thing since Continental Airlines have left the Skyteam and joined the Star Alliance, which fortunately includes Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines, quite handy for my intended trips to the South East Asian destinations in 2010

As a frequent flier ( I have already clocked over 100 000 miles this year on CO), what are the little luxuries I have become addicted to?

A: separate line for checking in. It does not matter if the luggage does not come out first even if it is tagged Priority, but it is nice to see it among the first bags. But the pleasure of not queueing up is immense indeed..

B: A little bit room and a little privacy. CO regularly would leave the seat next to you free if the flight is not full. Of course CO tries to upgrade you to First Class whenever possible and now with its membership in Star Alliance I look forward to similar treatment at United Airlines?

C: Lounge Access

WiFi and a little bit of refreshments, quiet place to rest and check your email or speak to someone or other on the phone. Also if there is a cancellation or change of plans of your itinerary , the staff at the Lounges are far more attentive and helpful.

My favourite Airline Clubs which I use frequently

Air France/Terminal 2/Paris CDG

Delta Sky Club in Miami. Any President’s Club.

Occasional use clubs that I have enjoyed are : QF at LAX and in Australian capital cities; AF in JFK; Sakura in NRT, MH lounges in KL. Since my travels are predictable and around a certain circuit, I am happy if I can use airline lounges at the following cities:


D: An occasional glass of wine offered is welcome. Food is not a priority but space is. Privacy is appreciated, and on a recent flight within USA, the person sitting next to me, asked me, Do you believe in Jesus Christ? I just put on my ipod head phones and that was the end of that.

E: The wish list of Nationality of the person to sit next to you on long haul flights.. the most preferred without doubt The Japanese (silent and polite) and then Asian (except Taiwanese, Korean, Singaporeans and East Indians). Europeans (except Brits) tend to be more polite and less intrusive. Americans are a labour of love in time and patience. I shall not comment on AUS and ISR travelers since they are my people!

Recently I was asked a medical opinion on the fitness of a passenger to Brisbane from Miami. He was 385 lbs (175 kg, 28 stones), was flying Economy Class, Miami to JFK on American and then on to Narita on JAL and then on to BNE..

Before I gave my medical opinion ( I advised him against flying!) I was concerned about the welfare of the two Japanese who would be allotted the seats next to him on that long flight to NRT from JFK.

In USA, they would have to soon come to terms with the increasing girth of the passengers where they lead the world in individual obesity, and I wonder whether there would be ever fares based on your weight over and above 70 kg?

F: FF points. Not all FF programmes are created equal. Most USA based airlines give you miles for the miles flown but not most asian or European airlines, but they base it on the fare paid. AF may give only 25 % of the miles flown for most of the cheaper fares on transatlantic routes, but these exclude Business/First Class/Premium Economy fares.

I use my accumulated miles to get tickets to Asia, the best deal is from CO and its partners on business class travel to Asia.. 120 000 miles for a round trip ticket, or the same to Indian gateways with a stopover in Paris.

For example, my next free ticket is a round trip to Kuala Lumpur from Miami… JFK to SIN and on to KL on Singapore Air and the trip KL to BKK to Paris on Thai Airways and Paris to Miami via EWR on CO.

Flying Blue has promotions where you can get long haul tickets for 50% of the normal points, in business and economy classes. From Paris, business class tickets would be, if you can snatch a promotion, 30 000 one way to Havana and 45 000 one way to KL.

G: I shall end this missive with a wish, to see Jet Airways of India and Malaysian Airlines join either Star Alliance or Skyteam. I can enjoy the privileges on these partner airlines as well.. Let us hope so..

I am putting this on the blog in Paris, where I have arrived from Los Indios.. the JFK to CDG portion was a quick 6 hour flight on Air France.. enjoyed the flight, the details of which would be in my travel blog

jeudi 19 novembre 2009

Bienvenidos a Miami y Las Playas

What all can happen in a couple of days in Miami?
It had been a love at first sight when I arrived in Miami as an undergraduate student, a love affair which was to continue throughout my student days in London and the trainee doctor days in Melbourne.
Of course, it was in Miami, that my love for Cuba was born.
And the lifelong addiction to Cortadito.
Arrived from Paris on Day 1, met at the airport by good Jamaican friends and a long weekend of talk, friendship and unexpected pleasures of human interactions began
Dinner 1: Mussaman Curry with Shrimp
Day 2 Breakfast: Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish. Shopping for clothe and chotchkes to take back to Europe
An Yum Cha lunch at a very grumpy Chinese place, where the servers outnumbered the guests but reminded of similar feasts in Melbourne, but of course cant be compared to the Dimsum at Hotel Oriental at KL.
A very pleasant interaction with an innovative business woman from Cayman Islands, a busy mother who runs a company and manages a home with three children with the help of her very complimentary husband. Good Friends.
Day 3 Breakfast: once again Jamaican/bammy/Johnny cake/green bananas/avacado
Lunch: A Lebanese mezze from a nice Pita Grill in Kendall, run by a Spanish speaking Palestinian who had migrated to Venezuela during pre chavez days and now finds himself in Miami, this city of immigrants. Kibbeh/kofta/labne/hummous/babaganoush
Dinner: food from Bangkok, Bangkok. I had not eaten there for a while but I thought it had become very Americanized. Fish/padthai/crab fried rice
I know I am talking about food, but what is remarkable about days in Miami, which I always look forward to, are the human interactions. First of all my dear sister, who is struggling against her illnesses, while maintaining her wide heart and abundant generosity.
Her husband and I decided to go to La Casona in Sunset Drive. A Cuban café, it was late in the evening, for a coradito. A salvadorean, who has been in Miami since 1980, greeted us; a Honduran woman made herself busy making the Cortadito for us. Sit down, encouraged the Salvadorean. This is Miami, we were chatting in Spanish with explosive laughter.. between the four of us, born in different parts of the world (my Jamaican friend is of Palestinian/Cuban ancestry)m the two central americans brought over here by the winds of political changes in their respective countries.. they hated every single political leader mentioned, Zelaya. Chavez. Morales.. but had kind words for Castro, which I took it to be a reaction to their dislike of the Miami Cubans, thus a passive way of getting back at their somewhat harsh employers?
A simple, warm, very latin encounter, the kind I miss in Paris!
Went to Book Exchange, a second hand book store near the Bangkok Bangkok restaurant, while waiting for food, after have a chat with a Peruvian Chinese owner of a convenient store, who sold us lottery tickets. In the bookstore, as it always happens in literate environments, an enthused owner and his helper. I bought Skarmeta’s the Postman, from which the movie Il Postino was constructed, I have a copy somewhere but felt like reading about my favourite poet and Isla Negra. Near the counter as I was paying him, I saw a copy of Portable Island about cubans abroad at home by Ruth Behar. Didn’t have a price on it, so I asked the owner. He looks at me and says, you look like a traveler, I said Yes, Havana and Paris are my homes. A pleasant chat followed, general chit chat and as I was leaving the store, he said, I would like to offer you Ruth Behar’s book as a gift. I felt very good about it. These little things are what makes up the magic of Miami!
Among other things during this weekend, a pleasant spiritual lessons gently taught to us by a Mr Seth, owner of an Indo American Grocery where we had gone to buy Pappadam. Without even waiting for a proper introduction, he began taking about energy and goodness that people transfer to one another, which was the most appropriate topic for my sister. We both listened to him carefully, it is amazing how similar the spiritual sayings are, the older the civilizations are ..
That evening, we were joined at dinner (take away Thai food) with advice to all of us. She is in charge of an office issuing US passports and I was amazed how many people there are who have absolutely no identification papers at all, and they were born in this country..US immigration , she continued, is like that boy who has all the toys, will gladly play with you, but at sometime, will collect all his toys and leave you there.. you have no toys to play with. She recalled the story of an indo-american who had lived in the usa since age 2, who was convicted of having a BB gun in his car during his boisterous adolescent days, now applying for his citizenship papers, had in bold letters in his file, illegal owner of Gun! And the immigration department began proceedings to deport him to India! So her advice to all of us sitting around that hospitable table, all of us born in various countries… Be careful when you play with the Immigration Officers.. Good Advice. A lovely evening of nostalgia for Jamaica, the excitement and hope of being in the USA and the camaraderie of shared history
With heavy heart, I said good-bye to my Jamaican friends. On the plane sitting next to me was an elderly lady, an elegance of her previous life still shone in her face. She was born in Villa Clara and spoke so fondly of her country and the city, which pleased me to no end. I am tired of Cubans who had left the island constantly talking badly about their motherland, as if nothing good ever happens there..not at least after their departure…Who is the traitor, I wonder..
She had to change planes in IAH and as a token of appreciation of the kindness of Miami, I walked with her to the other terminal and up to her gate… and she said, in Spanish, I hope before I die I have the chance to come back to Cuba and know your family..

dimanche 8 novembre 2009

Why I am not a member of Face Book or other Social Networks

Electronic Communications and social Networking

Internet has been a great blessing for travelers. Since 2002, my world has rotated around Cuba, Miami, Los Indios, Paris 2006, KL 2008, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. The easiest way to communicate has been through e-mail, even though I still practice the old fashioned letter writing.

Telephone communications with Cuba and Myanmar is not easy and along with Vietnam is expensive to boot. (It costs more than one dollar per minute to call Cuba and the connection is not guaranteed)...

So, you might have thought I would have joined some form of Social Network group so that it would be easier to keep in touch. But I do keep in touch, what I do not do, is that I do not advertise myself!

Hardly a day goes by without someone or other inviting me to join this or that social networking group where they promise a whole heap of benefits. As it is I am a bit short on time, trying to communicate with my close friends who live in the above countries. Since Internet is not generally available in Cuba and many of the sites are banned in Myanmar, the best way to communicate is through email to them or old fashioned letters would do, even though they might take longer.

So what about the popular social networking sites? What is the story behind them? Do people have 500 friends as they claim? Truly, how many people do they keep in touch with?

I like to keep in touch with my good friends in Cuba, so at least five of them write to me regularly; from the USA, I can think of three people who write regularly and at least ten others who keep in touch. From Asia, I have at least two who keep in touch regularly and about five who keep in touch. So I can honestly say I write to 10 of my friends on a daily basis through email and about ten others on an irregular basis but I am in touch with them.

There is something called a Dunbar number, named after Dr Dunbar, an anthropologist at Oxford University, who suggested that the size of the human brain allows stable networks of about 148. Rounded to 150, this is what is known as the “Dunbar Number”.

Dr Cameron Marlow, the “in house Sociologist” at the Face Book, found that the average number of “friends” in a Face book network is 120, consistent with Dr Dunbar’s hypothesis, and that women tend to have somewhat more than men.

Crunching the numbers further, what Dr Marlow found was that regardless of the number of “friends” you may have on your list, the number you frequently interact is remarkably stable and SMALL. An average man with “friends” numbering 120 generally responds to the postings of about seven by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable at 10.

In the non social network world, which is email oriented, a man may keep in touch with four friends and women with six.

Even those with 500 “friends” on Face book has only about 17 friends for men and 26 for women. That is what the sociologist found…So the core friendships remain the same, regardless of the mode of the communications used. I am not doing badly, being in daily contact with ten of my friends! Even though I don’t belong to any social network.

So the social networking are not so much about “networking” but much more about “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who are not necessarily inside the Dunbar Circle. Internet has made efficient advertising of ourselves but the circle of intimacy remains the same.

When people ask me why I have not joined any social networks, I chuckle thinking about what Groucho Marx once said: I wouldn’t want to be a member of the club that would accept me as a member!

So, please do not send me any invitation to join any clubs, but I would gladly answer your email and better still send me a postcard to Miami or Paris or Los Indios! it takes a month for a letter to reach Cuba!

samedi 7 novembre 2009

Good News from Miami.. for my Sister Jackie

My dearest Brothers in Portland, Oregon and the Mischpuchah there & our Israeli Mischpochah in Haifa:

Shabbat Shalom. But this Shabbat has a special meaning. We are always looking for the meaning of why we are chosen to suffer. Today I received the Good News about Jackie my sister who is undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for Lung Cancer in Miami (the tumour has reduced in size and the metastases have disappeared).. she suffered so much through the treatment, but all those who know her, will agree, she is a good human being, and the suffering was necessary for this great news not only for her person but also for all of us. I am reading the history of the Spanish Jews during Inquisition and see how they suffered!, the Shoah of recent times is in the memory of all of us, the million jews driven out of arab lands since 1948 included many of our relatives. We suffer because we bring goodness and happiness to many others, so that our suffering is an example to others. This I know from Jackie, she has suffered, more than her contemporaries, physically and emotionally, but look at all the pleasures she has sowed and reaped, her children and grandchildren, and her friends, that includes all of us, eventhough my mischpuchah from Portland is yet to meet her.

This is truly a piece of Good News.. I want to share it with all of you, our mischpochah.

Sudah Yehuda

I, said the man, am a Jew

mercredi 4 novembre 2009

A shabbat Gift from Maghreb.. in France

A nice Shabbat Gift in Levallois

Friday Night 13 Chesvan 5770

This night I had dinner at Café Louis, a Melbourne kind of café, doting couples out on a date, a casual engineered atmosphere.

Pave Saumon was nothing special but the café atmosphere made up for it . Also it was more than reasonable for 13 Euros.

Walking along Rue Voltaire, I stopped in front of ORIENT, a chain fast food Oriental Restaurant ( in France, Oriental denotes Maghreb). Earlier in the day I had a cup of The a la Menthe. I entered and said in my best French, do you have The a la Menthe to take aay? The young man behind the counter said, sorry we have finished our Mint Tea. He looked at his friend, slightly older than him, looks to the corner where the empty tea pot stood… I can brew you a cup of tea if you like..

Normally this is not the kind of response one gets in France.. Sorry, no more tea, said politely, come back tomorrow, we will have some.. A little later, I saw the young man leaving the shop, as he had to go to the corner fruit shop to get lemons.. usually run by fellow maghrebians..

I thought to myself, today is my lucky day to come across such nice maghrebians!

You speak English, asked my host, Yes, English and Spanish. He then looks at his older colleague and say.. he speaks English..

In that universal language, badly constructed pidgin English of this world, for which I am thankful, they wanted to know where I was from, whether I was a tourist in France, whether I work in France?

The thin man was from Morocco, the older one from Algeria.. at the sound of Alger, my ears perked up, my recently acquired taste in Chaabi music… a different kind of romance.

(Also, Argelia was the first country Cuban volunteer doctors went to help, I have a copy of the picture of Che with ben Bella)..that is another story.. by the way Cuban medical assistance continues to this very day..

I like Chaabi music and on my ipod I have a video of El Gusto Orchestra of Alger, playing a lovely piece of music.. They came over from behind the counter and enjoyed the video.. the algerien goes back and brings his ipod and lets me listen to his collection of chaabi music..

That is how I learned about the great El Hachemi Guerouabi. Another young man, joins us, he offers his phone to me and there is Moroccan Chaabi playing in it.. Daoudi was the name of the artist..

That one hour was one of the nicest human interactions I have had in this city of Lights and Love.. a very cubanesque feeling..

Earlier that day I had met a Psychologist, who was lamenting the fact that in Paris, like in many European cities, it is easier to find professional help, rare to find genuine social interactions..

Once I become proficient in the language of Voltaire, I will seek out people of Algerien and Morocain origin living in France—both jews and moslem. I am attracted to their culture.. an amnesia of a forgotten el andalus perhaps?

There is some rigidity in this society , that does not allow free mixing in a social sense, especially towards the people of maghrebian ancestry…

What a lovely Shabbat Gift!