Monday, January 28, 2008

Defense Ministry Invitation

Rating up there with my morning at the White House Nobel Prize reception, and the Chinese Film Festival at the U.N. Office at Geneva where the unlimited fruit tarts define Anna’s conception of Heaven, tonight we attended a closed ceremony organized by the Indian Ministry of Defense. Sure, that’s normal right? I suppose if your friend’s uncle’s friend sets you up as is typical of both Indian generosity and bureaucracy.

Our driver, tentatively nearing the Presidential palace walls, drove toward a cadre of armed, khaki men. With the flicker of a generic white envelope, a smile, and claim as “Mr. Scott,” no not the Brazilian footballer, but the invitee, we entered the gates.

The end of the Rajpath is not unordinary, and is nor inaccessible on normal days, but this week it resembles an armed fortress due to the National Day holiday. Surrounded by taller-than-average men in khaki poised aside beeping security terminals (ostensibly metal detectors without enforcement), the ceremony for the Ministry was held on the Rajpath opposite the India Gate. The scene reminded me of Latin American airports. Between the “your machine’s broken” argument and the “empty your pockets” demand, the former is a much easier battle to win, a consequence that likely makes your life easier to lose.

“The Beating Retreat” as it is called, includes a live marching performance of the massed bands of the three services at Vijay Chowk. In immaculate order, and adorned with at least one hundred bagpipers, we witnessed a wonderful Indian ceremony obviously directed at the adorned men who had arrived in 1990s stretch Mercedes. We didn’t mind.

At the end of the night, after the men retreated into the night, the camels that had lined silhouetted against the sunsetting sky gently moved down the porticos to a point where their unique form belended into the graying stone of night, all building edges instantly illuminated in a Tivoli moment. It was Disneyland magic slash Copenhagen on the Sub-Continent. Just as the harmony of trumpets and campanile bells was echoing into silence, the lights ignigted an erruption of cheers from the crowd, and we departed.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Delhi Nights

In an area called Defense Colony in South Delhi, I held a table at Barista where a cartwheeling four-year-old out my window gyrated in competition for attention with James Joyce sitting before me. While her smile lit up when I’d turn my head, I knew the futility of her act, and was saddened by the cold fact that it was driven by penury, and demanded by her mother. I turned my gaze back to the reflective words of Joyce on the page that had been before me for minutes, my thoughts tumbling through all but the storyline. I joke that my still reading the book “Dubliners” a week into Delhi is a testament to the Dublin pub life.

After a short wait my friend from Stanford arrives, and we catch up over tales of and the World Bank. I appreciate good company, old stories, and the broad smile she brings into an otherwise solitary weekend. She’s responsible for the Bank’s Malarial medication outreach on the sub-continent and reflects on the difficulty of compliance. A few hours pass and we walk to a nearby friend’s apartment in Defense Colony. I like to call Defense Colony the Coronado of Delhi because similarly, as you probably would not wish to provoke a bar fight with a Navy SEAL, there is a history of martial population. This is an interesting contrast to the Lotus Temple, a Baha'i house of worship and peace, that I visited earlier in the afternoon.

On an outdoor balcony, and over a few Kingfishers we discuss Punjab and Joyce. I reflect on Delhi with Dubliners. Making our way to another nearby home where two friends are throwing a party, the surprise of serendipity strikes again as a friend from work, and another Indian girl whom I’ve met at the gym saunter into the small living room gathering 10k miles from California. The crew is comprised of UNDP workers, members of the World Bank and French and Dutch embassies. Fulbrighters and venture capitalists, microfinance, and those fighting age by adopting a remote life wherein adventure can preserve youth.

I feel at home with this group, and I’m invited to join a local football team called “CNG Car” with Dublin backs, an Italian keeper, and the promise of letting me play up top.

Monday, January 21, 2008


My week in the Dublin office offers me a chance to hit the ground running, albeit in the rain. Having set up 30 meetings, my workday requires the endurance of an Ironman, the intensity of a sprinter, and the agility of a decathlete, but at night I learn the Irish saying “Sober as a Judge,” and its late night spoonerism “Jober as a Sudge.” Over a dozen pints of Guinness, it’s Irish courage that comes about, not Dutch, and friendships blossom.

A Thursday night Brazilian party teaches me the ways of FoHo, as I miserably explain my dance failing in Rio de Janeiro to two Brazilian ladies from Goyaz, and recount to a Valencian, my poignant tale with the Girl from Ipanema, one that concluded with a long kiss goodnight, splashing puddles, chasing a taxi cab in the rain, and the consolation of two Brazilian bouncers who longingly annunciated the word “Belleza.” He philosophically rationalized that deeper understanding could have revealed incompatibility. I told him of my faith in the world, as on my return to California a guitarist aside me in a cafĂ© began playing the “Girl from Ipanema” as my thoughts spilled onto a journal page. I approached the man with a coffee and told him, “I know her.”

On Friday I met had a night out of Buckfast, a potent Irish drink, with a dozen friends from India. Spilling into the night with all the Dubliners about whom Joyce wrote a book by that very namesake, my friend Giovanni and I made it home by 5am. Recounting memories from our time as roommates in Barcelona, comparing stories and perspectives Italian and American, and finding solidarity in our joint appreciation of Doesoevsky, I remember that true friendship can endure. After three years, we did not skip a beat.

We see Monets in the Dublin City Gallery, the Book of Kells at Trinity College, the National Gallery, and then meander the streets about which Joyce writes. St Stephens Green and Nassau Street, Merrion and O’Connell, Grafton and Mulligan’s…

Saturday concluded with a Dutch party that I attended with twenty friends from six continents. Conversations sparked in French, Italian, and Spanish, and topics varied from Biarritz surfing with a South African to discussion of Japanese alphabets with a Brazilian girl who has studied Arabic and Mandarin, pursuing the same focus in her life as I’d like to in mine, namely international diplomacy and economic development.

Aboard my flight from London, the sun began to rise over the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. Jagged snow-capped peaks revealed a country beyond CNN. Deep rifts held dangerous mystery, but somehow it looked innocent, untouched, and beautiful. In a part of the world most troubled, as we flew with Kabul and Islamabad out of my leftside, 747-window, I envisioned an alternative. Looking at my moving flight map, turbulence introduced a palpable fear dictated by the ubiquitous regional perceptions, but as I turned my eyes to the cold glass of my window, I was saddened by an unfortunate corruption of a beautiful land.

Belgian Beer and Harvard Law

Attending an amazing two-day session with a Harvard Law School war crimes delegation, to which I was invited by one of my best 2L friends, Albert Chang, I was fortunate to listen to and discuss cases with lead prosecutors and defense attorneys at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in Den Hague. We met with the lead prosecutor for the Serbian propaganda chief on trial in the ICTY. Though I visited the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania in September, I was not able to enter. As I scanned my passport and entered the metal detector, it was fitting that my security agent was a Tanzanian with whom I could conduct similing Swahili banter, and mention the fact that I had a beer with his national team’s goalkeeper, Ivo Mapunda.

I was struck by our meeting with the lead ICC defense attorney for Charles Taylor. How could one stand with the conviction to defend a man who has allegedly sold arms to fuel war in Liberia and Sierra Leone, endorsed or at least not opposed the use of child soldiers and diamond mine exploitation? In his black and gold-rimmed glasses and gold watch, the bedazzled persona of Charles Taylor makes a difficult case even tougher. It’s difficult to consider how the cost of extradition, in that it’s likely a reasonable assumption of guilt, influences the perception of justice for the convicted. ICC has historically acquitted far fewer than 10 percent of cases, so then is the role of defense attorney merely a formality? I pensively drew lines in the condensation on my Belgain beer glass as an articulate man explained his belief in justice and reconcilliation as separate processes.

From The Hague we journeyed to Amsterdam where I walked the canals with Simon, my buddy from Munich. I visited my favorite gallery, and constructed my own version of the FT’s “Perfect Weekend” column, a feat that included two pre-India McDonald's burgers eaten in about 1 minute.

Head and Heart

After visiting 17 countries across four continents in 2007, my new years resolution focused on far more personal and athletic goals than adventurous ones. Adventure is but one piece in a composite that for me approximates happiness. It is one piece that along with beauty, love, wisdom, and respect, creates an environment in which happiness can flourish. Man is assuredly defined by his choices, and not by his abilities. A desire for ability can infiltrate choice, and though my choices have remained adventurous, priorities that define choice are beginning to evolve away from my monolithic perspective.

I began my year with an intimate and powerful human spark, but my preordained choices revoked me from an immediate potential that my heart demands. Despite a love for adventure, the illuminating smile of a new friend indicted my priorities, and made me, in days, question the choices that have, for years, defined me.

At the time when my heart calls for California, my head has selfishly dictated alternate circumstance. The future thrusts its way through the present, an omnipotent but transient moment when the possibilities of the future become the memories of the past. I am resigned to the Stoic, in the classical sense, reality that I can only live the choice that I have created, which today, is another life in India.

As I departed California I was fortunate to have the companionship of great friends. The company we embrace makes the experiences we cull from life also the ones we cherish. Flanked by some of my best friends – Californian, German, Italian, Dutch – I spent 10 days en route to India, between Eindhoven, The Hague, Amsterdam, and Dublin.