Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Beyond the Limits of Technology

It's odd.

I've lived in some pretty remote places around the globe, but I always had relatively decent internet -- in terms of speed and reliability.

Here in the mountains of western North Carolina, you're lucky to get something slightly faster than dial-up.  It's as if my neighborhood has been forgotten. In fact, the local phone company technician said "you're beyond the limits of technology."

It's true. The phone company says I'm one mile too far from their DSL service.  Better yet, I'm just 400 yards from where the other internet provider, the cable company, terminates its service. If I climb the hill and look south, I can see the pole where the cable service stops.

The most reliable service here, beyond the limits of technology, is satellite-delivered internet. It's so-so -- faster than dial-up, but not by much -- Skype won't work and there is a limit on how much bandwidth you can use per month.

The only other option is wireless. Now that the leaves have fallen off the trees, I get a better signal from the cell tower just over the mountain. I get two bars on my Ipad -- not bad -- Skype works, occasionally and I can sometimes watch live streaming.

It really depends on the weather -- if it's cloudy, sometimes the wireless doesn't work and when it's raining or snowing -- the satellite internet always goes out.

So, right now, conditions are pretty good -- I'm able to post to my blog and tweet -- every now and then.

For now, my fingers are crossed that one day soon, I will no longer be beyond the limits of technology in America.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Long Time Gone and SOPA

It has been a while since I have been here.

I've been spending time painting. You can check out my work at

I've also been following closely a piece of legislation called SOPA or Stop Online Piracy Act.  You've probably seen the commercials if you watch TV.  It's goal is to stop the online pirating of movies, music and other copyrighted material.

However, the legislation is a bad piece of paperwork -- it over-reaches and could have a disastrous affect on internet freedom.

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe notes how a number of ways SOPA violates the First Amendment.

“SOPA provides that a complaining party can file a notice alleging that it is harmed by the activities occurring on the site ‘or portion thereof .’ Conceivably, an entire website containing tens of thousands of pages could be targeted if only a single page were accused of infringement. Such an approach would create severe practical problems for sites with substantial user-generated content, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and for blogs that allow users to post videos, photos, and other materials.”

A vote on SOPA is scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, December 15, in the House.  If you feel strongly about how SOPA could impact the internet as we know it -- it may be time to contact your member of Congress.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

North Carolina: Internet With Conditions

I have to be mindful of my internet usage.

I have few options, one of which is satellite-delivered internet. It's ok if you are checking your email and doing a bit of surfing, using twitter or writing a blog. Skype doesn't work at all.  Downloading movies and music are also a no-no -- simply because of the limits on download usage.
In the woods with my laptop.

In addition to the satellite internet, I use a not-very-stable data flash-key that delivers internet via a mobile phone provider.  I plug into the USB port on my laptop and sometimes it works, but most times it doesn't.  However, if I climb to the top of the mountain behind the house (great exercise) -- the flash-key works really well -- although the speed is so-so.  Still, I grabbed my laptop, stuck it in my backpack and hiked up through the woods to give it a try.  I was curious to see if I would be able to download a movie.

I sat down on the high ground -- with five bars on my flash-key and gave it a whirl. 

The result:  a 90 minute movie would have taken about ten hours to download. 

If only there were electrical outlets deep in the forest!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Moldova: Shepherd With His Flock

I was walking along a grassy area outside the village of Giurgiulesti in southern-most Moldova and a shepherd came walking up with his flock of sheep. The song is traditional Moldovan music.

Moldova: Greeting

 Upon arrival in the village of Giurgiulesti, I was greeted by a group of students with salt and bread. It's a traditional greeting -- a way to welcome a guest after a long journey.

These young men are dressed in traditional Moldovan clothing -- with a beautiful piece of cloth that is under the bread -- it has been hand stitched.

 The boots are absolutely cool!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Moldova: Around Chisinau, the Capital

Moldova: The Central Market

Homemade Sunflower Oil


More Grains

Large Grapes

Moldova: More Homemade Wine!

My stay in Moldova has been an absolute thrill and delight.
The wine in this plastic jug might just be the best I had all week!
I spent most of my time sampling homemade wine from my wonderful hosts in the village of Giurgiulesti. Almost every family I met makes their own wine and takes great pride in doing so -- they also love to share it.

On my last evening in the village, I was invited to my colleague Monika's house.
I savored every sip.

The wine this particular night might just be the best I tasted all week -- although, I can't be sure. It was absolutely superb though. It was a rich dark red color -- after about 30 days in the wine barrel.

Each family has its own wine cellar -- with a wooden barrel with a tap. Need wine? Just walk downstairs with a plastic jug and fill 'er up. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Moldova: Cold

The cold has descended on the village of Giurgiulesti in southern Moldova; however, the heat has just barely come on at the house where I am staying. The radiators are lukewarm, but at least they knock off the chill.  For some reason, my hosts decided the best solution last evening was to give me two plastic bottles filled with hot water rather than to turn on the gas furnace. If the furnace is anything like the one I had in Tajikistan, it's complicated and a bit of the dangerous side.

As for those two bottles: "for the feet," my host said.
"For the feet!"
Thankfully, I had packed thermal clothing and a good knit cap.  They helped tremendously.

This morning, my host proudly announced that he would turn the heat on today and sure enough, at lunch time, the place was slightly warmer than cold.

Moldova: Shepherd

I was walking along the river Prut at Giurgiulesti village and came across Okasani tending her sheep in the high grass along the river bank.

The village sits at the confluence of the Prut and Danube Rivers.  The rivers provide Moldova with its only access to the sea -- in this case the Black Sea -- Moldova is otherwise land-locked.

The River Prut -- that's Romania on the left side of the river.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Moldova: A village funeral

A funeral procession for an elderly woman in Giurgiulesti
Within hours of arriving in the southern-most village in Moldova, called Giurgiulesti, I saw a funeral procession along the main street, the only paved street in the village.

The funeral was for an elderly lady and it included her family and friends as well as the priest -- walking along the edge of the busy street -- carrying her open casket -- on their way to the village cemetery. At the very back of the procession, a woman carried a metal bucket full of wine -- that she gave to people along the procession route as they made their way to the graveyard.
The open casket is carried by loved ones.

 I visited the cemetery earlier in the day and was told by my colleague that each Monday after Easter -- the entire village gathers at the cemetery to honor their dead relatives -- there are even picnic tables set up among the gravestones -- where the families bring a feast of food to celebrate the life of their loved ones.
Picnic tables are set up at many family tombstones for the after-Easter feast.

Some families also have feasts at the cemetery on the anniversary of their loved ones' death.  Wine is very important in this ceremony as well -- with the family sharing wine together and pouring wine on the grave.

Moldova: Great Homemade Wine and Many Toasts!

Constantine starts with Moldovian Cognac
 Constantine brought out a two liter plastic bottle filled with wine and placed it under the table.  It was brought out after all the glasses on the table had been filled with Moldovan cognac.  “It’s the best Moldovan cognac,” he assured me, “the best.” It was the same brand that I had had the night before at my home-stay in the village of Giurgiulesti – the southern-most point in Moldova – and also the confluence of the Prut and Danube Rivers.  

 If you stand on the hillside along the village you can easily look over into Ukraine to the left and Romania off to the right. Tudor, my home-stay host, said “this is one of only seven places in the world where there is such a triangle. It immediately reminded me of the similar geographical border at Thailand-Burma and Cambodia.
After a couple of toasts with the Moldovan cognac, Constantine, who had thrown a party with his wife, reached for the plastic bottle of wine under the table and began pouring it into glasses – slightly bigger than shot glasses.  The wine had a rich dark red color and I expected it would be quite sweet.
It was not.
It had a rich flavor and Constantine proudly announced it was from his own grapes – and it was from this year’s crop.  
Grapes and Wine!
In between the toasts, we had quite a feast – minced meat, chicken, mashed potatoes, cabbage, potato salad – heavy on the eggs and imitation crab meat (delicious by the way), grapes from his vineyard and all sorts of Ukrainian chocolates.
I lost count after five or six toasts with the red homemade wine – and as I got up from the table and walked to the car – Constantine tapped me on the shoulder and said –  ‘wait, wait, I will be right back.”
He returned shortly with the still half-filled plastic bottle of home-made wine (the second plastic bottle of home-made wine) and said we must finish it.  Just when I thought I could drink no more – he first poured one glass, then half a glass and then another full glass of wine.  Wow. Between myself, Constantine and Tudor, we finished it off, but I’m not sure how we did it.  It had been a long time since I had drunk so much wine, but the thing is – Moldovan wine is so good – it is hard to stop.
The next morning…..
I’m impressed with the home-made wine. There is no hangover!

Monday, October 17, 2011


If you've ever been to Istanbul, you've experienced the Call to Prayer.

It is quite a spiritual experience even for those who don't consider themselves religious.

I've been to Istanbul many times and have experienced the Call to Prayer at all hours of the day and night. It's a great early morning wake up call!

This video is from a visit a few years ago. I recorded it near the Blue Mosque and added images and video -- including some Sufu dancing that I recorded at the old train station in Sultanahmet -- my favorite part of the city.

In my recording, the Call to Prayer starts at the Blue Mosque, but throughout the recording -- you will begin to hear the Call to Prayer start at other mosques around the city. It is quite enchanting to experience it live.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tennessee: Bears in the Woods

Momma Bear along the Laurel Falls path
I saw my second and third bears of the year, yesterday, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- and they were up close!

A cub and her mom were hanging out in a tree when I spotted them along the Laurel Falls trail. Shortly afterward, momma bear decided it was high time to climb down -- baby bear quickly followed her.

Come on down!
A handful of tourists took off up the trail, but most stuck around to see what would happen. Basically, the bears ignored the tourists and shutterbugs and hung around under the tree for a while.
Not too close.....
I walked on up to the falls -- nice, but not spectacular -- too crowded.

Earlier in the day, I was caught in a traffic jam on the parkway. It must have been four or five miles long -- apparently another bear and its cub were along the roadway and everything came to a stop. It felt like being back in DC on the Beltway -- this delay was 90 minutes, but the view was worth it -- amazing fall colors.

 At the higher elevations in North Carolina and Tennessee, this is/was probably the peak weekend.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival

It was a cold day in Mars Hill, North Carolina on Saturday, but the outdoor music went on -- right on schedule. After all, it was the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival. Lunsford was a musician and collector of folk songs. He was probably the biggest promoter of Southern Appalachian music. 

I think he would have been proud of Saturday's program.

Musician and storyteller Joe Penland of Marshall led a group of ballad singers as they sat around in rocking chairs swapping stories and songs. There was musicians playing that traditional "mountain" instrument -- the hammered dulcimer and -- plenty of guitars and banjos. 

I happened to wander up as George and Brooke Buckner took the stage and captured this tune.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Return to High Rock

It was an absolutely perfect day for a hike today!
Hike Destination: The High Rock
The gray skies turned to an azure blue and the 40 degree temperature climbed to a comfortable 60. The trail, itself, an old logging road -- was challenging in that it was heavily grown over with blackberry and raspberry briars and small, prickly locust trees -- at one point -- it required crawling on hands and knees under the briars. The hike was approximately four miles, round-trip.

Once on top of the mountain, a four-wheeler trail led through the woods and up to the magnificent rock -- the High Rock.  It slowly comes into view as you start to crest the forested hill just to the south of the rock. The northeastern side of the rock was covered with lichen while the southwestern side was clean -- except for holes bored into the stone.  One was a perfect circle, the other looked more haphazard.

I had heard that Native Americans had cut a turkey foot into the stone, so Jack, my hiking partner, and I searched as much of the large stone as possible.  It reaches 30 to 40 feet into the air -- and appears to have been some sort of spiritual or special site.  Suddenly, about 12 feet up on the southern side of the rock, I spotted a cross. Does it represent the four directions -- North, South, East and West?  It is difficult to say -- and we have no way of dating this petroglyph.

According to the Cherokee, who lived in this part of North Carolina,  each of the four main directions corresponds to a color, and each color is a symbol. For instance, East, triumph, red; North, defeat, blue; West, death, black; and South, peace, white.
Notice the cross carved in the stone. The work of Native Americans?

Another view of the cross carved on High Rock.

About five feet to the right of the cross was what appears to be the turkey foot. It is extremely difficult to make out and was almost impossible to photograph, but the cuts in the stone appear to be a turkey foot.  The Cherokee apparently considered the turkey as very sacred.

Two holes on the southwestern side of the rock.

View of High Rock from the southwest
I had visited the high rock several times, but this was the first time I spotted the petroglyphs.  Are they ancient or from our more recent past?  I'd like to think they are the former.  There is no doubt that the place is special.  It's a challenging hike, but well worth the effort -- if only for the view!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cherokee Nation Dancers

I wanted to share another beautiful dance with you that I recorded at the Southeast Tribes Festival in Cherokee, North Carolina this past weekend.

Cherokee Festival

I used to avoid the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina.  Too commercial, not much real culture on display.
The Southeast Tribal Festival in Cherokee, NC

However, I drove to the reservation on Saturday for the multi-nation Tribal Festival and was pleasantly surprised. I had a blast. If you avoid the ticky-tacky souvenir shops, it was like stepping into a different country for a few hours: the colorful traditional clothing, the dancing and hypnotic chanting, the storytelling and the first Indian tacos I'd had in 15 years. Fry bread is greasy, but oh so delicious. It's something you eat maybe twice a year.

Here's a short video of one dance. The chanting is very hypnotic and peaceful.

The most unusual part of the festival was the stick ball game. It's like a cross between lacrosse, soccer and American football. It's played with small lacross-like sticks and a tiny ball that appeared to be the size of a walnut. It requires keen eyesight.

Here are a few pictures from Saturday's festival in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Blowgun Competition

Youngsters carry on the traditional dancing.

Choctaw Nation Dancers

Colorful clothing

Storytelling with a flute as a prop.

Stick Ball is a contact sport!

It's played barefoot.
The ball is just in front of the player with the blue shorts, above his wooden racket.

A Dangerous Path?

As we reflect this month on the 9/11 attacks, it's worth thinking about where we are headed as a nation since 9/11. Fear has been a driving force in our policies aimed at rooting out terrorists and terror plots.

Slowly, but steadily, it is leading to less and less freedom for all of us.

Since 9/11 literally dozens and dozens of new government-financed programs have sprouted up -- with nearly a million employees. We have no idea how much money is being spent (billions no doubt), how much duplication is involved and most importantly, how effective these new programs are in terms of keeping us safe.

We appear to be spending our way into bankruptcy.  It reminds me of what was said after the fall of the Soviet Union -- something along the lines of:  'we spent them into bankruptcy'. Is this al-Qaeda's end-game?

Dana Priest and William Arkin have written a book, Top Secret America, that is a well-researched piece of investigative journalism. A must-read for those of us concerned about our country becoming something we no longer recognize -- all in the name of national security.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Where Were You?

The September 11th tragedy is one of those events that was so catastrophic one will always remember where they were when it first happened.

I was at home in suburban Washington, DC and had just opened the Washington Post homepage and saw a photo of a plane striking one of the twin towers. My first thought -- someone had hacked into the website and inserted the photo. A few seconds later, I got a call from my mom. Information was still sketchy. Was it an accident?  I hung up and then got a call from my managing editor at AP. "Get here as quickly as you can," he said. 

I was ready for work, so I jumped in my car and drove to my Metro station. I recall flipping on the radio to National Public Radio, but there was nothing.

A few minutes later, I am on the Metro for the 20 minute ride into DC.  The train was eerily quiet. One rider, a middle-aged man, was listening to the radio on headsets and periodically, he would relay what he heard to the rest of us on the train. No one spoke except the man listening to the radio. There was something about a suspicious car parked in front of the U.S. State Department -- a plane was flying toward DC. It was frightening.

Then, the train pulled into Rhode Island station. The station is above ground and off in the distance -- I could see a huge black cloud of smoke. I remember it being so black and so big. I'd never seen anything like it.

It was 9:37am. I did not know it at the time, but American Airlines Flight 77 had just struck the Pentagon.

What I did know is that something terrible was happening and I needed to get to work. This may sound strange, but my biggest fear was that my Metro train would terminate service before my station stop and I would have to literally run dozens of blocks to the Associated Press office. 

We approached Union Station  -- stopped -- and then continued on and finally arrived at my stop, Farragut North.  I ran the two blocks to my office and burst into the newsroom. 

TV monitors were showing the planes striking the Twin Towers, one of our reporters had witnessed the plane flying into the Pentagon from the balcony of his condo. He was being interviewed on the phone -- describing in detail what he had seen. It was surreal. Is this happening? When am I going to wake up? In the background, the news channels kept playing the same video over and over. I am trying to make sense of it all, knowing that within a few minutes I would have to go on the radio and calmly tell listeners what was happening. 

For the next 12 hours or so, I somehow managed to do my job. It was probably the most difficult day of my life -- in terms of trying to remain coherent and calm while inside -- I am refusing to accept what I am seeing before me -- It really felt like I was part of a movie and at some point, the director would shout: "cut."

By the time I finished anchoring -- some 11 or 12 hours of coverage -- I was mentally exhausted.  My head was filled with all the sounds and images from our reporters and the TV.  Walking onto K Street that night, the air was refreshing -- it was so quiet.

Half a block down the street from my office, I was shaken by what I saw: troops were parked in military vehicles at the intersection of K and 18th Street. I seem to recall seeing an anti-aircraft gun.  It was shocking.  One just didn't see such things in America.

It was almost as if what I was seeing confirmed everything that I had been describing on the radio for the past 12 hours.  Sitting inside a studio -- in a cocoon-like environment -- I had been isolated, in one respect from what was happening, but walking onto the street and seeing the troops -- somehow -- made it all real.

What do you recall from that day? 

Feel free to share.

Click here to listen to real time audio from September 11.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival aka LAAFF

Bang the Drum Slowly
Three blocks of fun with plenty of fashion statements made for a day of laughs and inspiration at a little festival in Asheville called LAAFA or Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival. There were dueling knights on bicycles, fire dancers, gypsy music, silver-plated mimes and a cacophony of costumes.
Fire Dance
If this was a bit too much, just head three blocks east to the City-County Plaza for Shindig on the Green -- a mountain music program that featured square dancing, cloggers and lots of banjo pickers.
High School Bluegrass Band from Marshall, NC

Asheville's diversity was certainly on display this weekend.  Here are photos from both events.
Come Here, My Dear!

Knights on Bikes

Juggler in Cowboy Boots on Ball with Knives

Now in High Heels

Sun Painting
Balloon Man
Gypsy Band
Bottle Cap Truck
Storyteller/Singer/Songwriter Joe Penland

Do you Mime?
Trial by Fire