Bogotá, Colombia

mona lisa boteroIt rained our first day here, so MJ and I did mostly indoor stuff like museums, but also found my bank’s ATM, and booked some later excursions.


Here are some images from the collection of works by Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist. You’ve likely seen his chubby sculptures or paintings, which show up in places all around the world.

Adam and Eve Botero




The figures at right are the smaller prototypes for the figures of Adam and Eve in the Time Warner Center lobby in New York.

Browsing through the gallery was a little like looking at a photo album from one of my family reunions. Well, except for the nudity.


Tossing Penguins

Why would you ask grown adults to toss a stuffed penguin back and forth for several minutes? Especially in the hallway at a professional conference? Well, it’s my goofy little way to teach video journalists the craft of shooting sequences of shots, at various angles and focal lengths, and then edit on the action. Here’s a sequence one of the workshop participants put together. He got into the campy nature of the exercise and found an old recording that fit the scene.

Chocolate Chips and Video Clips

hershey lodge signI’m in Hershey, Pennsylvania, co-teaching a workshop in video journalism for multimedia producer/reporters working for newspapers in the northeast.

We’re at the famous Hershey Lodge, where desk clerks give you a chocolate bar at check-in, the gift shop is filled with items like chocolate soap and cans of syrup, and there are bowls of Hershey’s candies and kisses at tables throughout the building. Even the streetlights are shaped like Hershey’s kisses.

I wonder if the incidence of diabetes is higher here in Hershey? And it must be a profitable place to be a dentist.

workshop 01The last time I was here, I was probably 8 years old. I remember touring the chocolate factory and, on the same vacation, cutting my leg on a shard of iron when I climbed on a cannon at the Gettysburg battlefield.

This time, I’m doing more grownup things like getting adults to toss a stuffed elephant and penguin back and forth as a way to teach how to shoot video sequences. Here are some images of workshop participants, and my co-trainer Robb Montgomery, editing quick video stories on deadline.

workshop 04
workshop 03

Americana and American Mania

Alaa with UT Tower“I think there’s something about America that makes people crazy.”

That’s what Alaa said as he scanned the headlines of the New York Times: “Gunman slays 6 at N. Illinois University.” And “Attacks on the Homeless Rise, With Youths Mostly to Blame

“What else would make people do things like that?” he asked.

Every culture has its whack jobs. But it is true that America has a particular brand of murdering mania. In other regions of the world, people kill in the name of tribe or religion. Or, they murder one at a time for the usual reasons: jealousy, rage, or in the course of another crime. Here in well armed, Grand-Theft-Auto-and-Mortal-Kombat-infused America, people ‘go postal’ or take out dozens of classmates in a fiery riot. Teens kill street bums for sport because they think no one will care and they won’t get caught.

The Middle East has its suicide bombers. We have our homicidal rampages that usually end in suicide.

Scanning the headlines, I could see why someone might ask what it is about Western culture that cranks out the nuts.

What non-religious opiate makes a mass murderer?

We were reading the paper over breakfast at a Princeton diner, and Alaa was enjoying his first-ever stack of pancakes. He was recovering from a week in the Big Apple. A young Egyptian Palestinian in the states for the first time, Alaa had gotten a taste of New York’s hectic pace and it wiped him out.

Things will be much more laid back in Texas, I assured him.

But getting there wasn’t easy. Our flight to the Lone Star State was an ordeal. The Houston flight was unable to land because of weather, and the pilot diverted to New Orleans, where we sat on the tarmac for a few hours. Finally cleared to land in Houston around 1:00 a.m., we had long missed our 9:00 pm connection.

Alaa at the fountain at UTThe early morning flight the next day got us to San Antonio in time to meet my sister, enjoy some waffles and head to the Texas Hill Country.

When you have a visitor from abroad, you try to offer them a bit of the flavor of true American culture. Some might take him to Texas barbecue, or the rodeo.

I took Alaa to a Central Texas community theater production of Nunsense.

Now that’s Americana.

Melodie as Sister Robert AnneMy friend Melodie, a stellar performer and singer, was in the cast as Sister Robert Anne, the streetwise nun from Brooklyn. We sat in the theater row with my dad, his friend and my sister, as actors in nun’s habits worked the crowd, thanking them for coming to Hoboken for the “fundraiser,” the storyline conceit of this musical comedy. Alaa was a great sport. He whistled at the performances, and shot lots of photos.

And I can guaran-damn-tee you won’t find this cultural opportunity on your average travel itinerary.

Washington and Texas TowerThe next day, we drove to Austin to check out my graduate alma mater, The University of Texas (And since we began this post on the subject, UT is the first campus where a mass murder took place, when sharpshooter Charles Whitman commandeered the Texas tower and killed 14 people with sniper shots and wounded 31 others. An autopsy discovered Whitman had a brain tumor that likely made him crazy.).

Alaa applied here for an MFA in Film in the same program I attended two decades ago.

We toured the campus and the Radio, TV and Film department and enjoyed a bit of Austin scenery (Mt. Bonnell, Zilker Park and Barton Springs) before heading out.

On the ride back, as we barreled down I-35 from Austin to San Antonio, we took turns playing DJ on my iPod.

I played some of my favorite road trip music: Eno’s Another Green World, a few cuts from Alejandro Escovedo and Lucinda Williams, and, of course, Peter Gabriel.

zilker park austin texasAlaa played Bjørk and Coldplay, a French song and some of his favorites among the Arabic music I collected while living in Egypt.

As he leafed through the tunes, he stumbled on one and did a double take.

“What the hell is this?” he yelped.

He had found an album by the Cure. And the first cut:

Killing an Arab!”

“I have to listen to that” and he hit play.

I had some explaining to do.

First Person in the Nation’s Capital

ICFJ01On Monday evening, the International Center for Journalists introduced its new class of Knight International Journalism Fellows. The six new fellows were feted at an event at George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium.

The evening also featured a screening of four documentaries produced by my workshop trainees and graduate students in Egypt last year.

The new fellows (pictured here with Knight International Journalism Fellowship Director Elisa Tinsley) will train journalists in Romania, South Africa, Liberia, Mexico and Pakistan.

ICFJ02One of the group, Jim Breiner, was in my Knight fellow “class” from 2006, when he spent a year in Bolivia training print journalists there. Now, he’ll head to Mexico to launch a new Digital Journalism center at the University of Guadalajara. I hope to visit and lend a hand at some point down the road. I enjoyed Guadalajara during my brief stay there last year.

Monday’s event allowed me another opportunity to see my students’ films (which we dubbed First Person Films because they focus on individual characters telling their own stories) with an audience, and, in a question and answer session afterward — where I was joined by David Irons from the American University in Cairo — I heard again how much the audience members understand and appreciate these documentaries on a surprisingly deep level.

Knight Fellows