Sunday, April 5, 2020

Felicitations From Fairhope #06

Felicitations From Fairhope #06
06 April 2020

[Squaring the Circle Sidebar - This series of postings - six in total - was completed before we were all engulfed by the advent of The Virus. Here is the final one…]

Six Postings on Five Continents (cont.)


Accra – Surprisingly good. Caught a major break when I became chummy with the French Ambassador, who invited me to his residence now and then to play with guest musicians, local and imported. I also led a community choir, performed for the President of Ghana, and made it on YouTube playing with Rachel Barton-Pine, a wonderful violinist.

Pretoria – Pretty dismal. Although Anne’s excellent boss did invite me to play at some of her excellent parties, which was very cool. I also put together a second solo CD and had some fun playing amplified accordion with other Embassy musicians in a pickup Blues band. 

Washington, DC – Somewhat frustrating, since double-dipping military musicians had a virtual lock on local accordion gigs. But I played a little jazz in coffee houses with friends and even had a couple of students. Also performed with the Washington Balalaika Orchestra, practicing diligently in order to develop some reasonable proficiency with Russian music.

Buenos Aires – Amazing. I had great support from folks in the Public Affairs Section at the Embassy, which gave me opportunities to perform, and even managed to produce a house concert on my own. I also had the pleasure of attending concerts by accordionists Chango Spasiuk and the incomparable Raúl Barboza. 

But, most importantly, studying with the great bandoneonist, composer, and arranger Rodolfo Mederos caused me to begin to reinvent myself as a musician. And at Torquato Tasso, the best Tango listening room on the planet, I had the privilege of hearing Rodolfo with his trio and orquesta tipica on numerous occasions. It was glorious and it changed my life. (Maestro, nunca puedo agradecerle lo suficiente.)

Yangon – Unexpectedly satisfying. The Shang had a meeting room that residents could book, so I put together a couple of pretty successful house concerts. I also connected with some Burmese musicians through my work with the Orchestra for Myanmar, and even did an accordion workshop at the Gitameit Music Institute in Yangon. And I recorded my third solo album - consisting entirely of Tangos - in a Burmese recording studio.

Rome – A disappointment. I concede that age and a lack of motivation on my part were factors, but there just didn’t seem to be any sort of meaningful musical outlet for me. (Although I did have a nice exchange with Alessandro, one of the guys in Facilities Maintenance, who is a terrific chromatic accordion player.) So, once again, I went to work on a new solo album, my fourth (and probably last), recorded in Verbania at the home of members of our famiglia italiana. It’s called “Loose Endz,” and it’s not bad. Not bad at all.


We have been unbelievably fortunate to have led this life for the past 13.5 years. Thanks to all the wonderful local people we’ve met and worked with for their generous hospitality and gracious patience. We are inestimably indebted to them. We are also most grateful for the good friends we have made within the diplomatic community and hope to see them all again further on up the road.

Finally, a shout-out and big love to Anne, without whom none of this would have been possible. It has been my singular honor to be her wingman on this journey and I am immensely proud of her and her many accomplishments. Taxpayer money wisely spent… well done, A.J.

We love you all madly.

[Trump Virus Sidebar Update - Yeah, I know. The Moron-in-Chief is not directly responsible for the creation of COVID-19, but since (a) his response to the pandemic has been, to be charitable, disastrously incompetent and (b) he revels in having shit named after himself, “The Trump Virus” it is. Sue me.

Anne and I are in Fairhope, trying to get our home renovations completed to the point where we can actually move in before the apocalypse engulfs the state of Alabama. With a bit of luck, we may actually pull it off. Meanwhile, we are healthy, washing our hands (like 80 times a day), and trying to stay in touch with our friends. I plan to keep posting as time permits and motivation persists.

I sincerely appreciate all of you faithful correspondents who have gone to the trouble of actually reading these things and, on many occasions, responding kindly to them. I am honored that you have chosen to keep me out of your Spam folder. Please be advised: You may not be rid of me yet.]



Thursday, April 2, 2020

Felicitations From Fairhope #05

Follow-up From Fairhope #05
02 April 2020

[Lowered Expectations Sidebar - This series of postings - six in total - was completed before we were all engulfed by the advent of The Virus. We now live in a time when having competent elected officials deliver some actual leadership is literally a matter of life or death. I am not entirely sanguine about the possibilities, but your local results may vary…]

Six Postings on Five Continents (cont.)


Accra - When we first arrived, the Embassy was scattered in buildings all over Accra, making it complicated to get things done. But we eventually moved into a new facility on a standard “cookie cutter” compound, one designed/built in the wake of the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Besides improving security, the new arrangement brought people together and resulted in a more cohesive Mission.

Pretoria - The building is somewhat older, but decent enough, although parking was an issue, since all the Americans had cars out of necessity. The cafeteria was not very good, but fortunately Harrie’s Pancakes (featuring sweet and savory selections) was just across the street.

Washington, DC - N/A

Buenos Aires - The Embassy building in BsAs looks like an unprepossessing bunker, and is grievously overcrowded and not at all healthy. Fortunately, the Ambassador’s Residence in nearby Bosch Palace had excellent facilities for socializing and, for added entertainment, the park across the street was a haven for flocks of voluble parakeets.

Yangon - Housed in another standard compound, but one featuring great art, an outstanding local staff, and a terrific cafeteria. And, IMHO, the best Front Office (Ambassador and DCM) of all our assignments. A very good place to work.

Rome - Tri-Mission Rome - encompassing the U.S. Embassy, Vatican Embassy, and United Nations Mission - is littered with ancient statuary and housed in several historic buildings that consume a city block of prime Roman real estate. Boatloads of people are constantly in and out of the place and it was difficult to establish any real communal spirit. But, shout out to the orientation office for helping new arrivals feel welcome.


Accra - (Community Liaison Officer) After months waiting to get my Top Secret security clearance (it didn’t help that my first set of fingerprints got misplaced), I actually began working. And, shortly after I started, the Embassy ceased being a scattered mess and relocated into a brand new facility, walking distance from our house. So, good gig.

Pretoria - (HR Temp Pool) The job was eclectic (I fancied myself as being like a utility infielder) and often interesting, and I even received several commendations, one of them in cash. Not too shabby.

Washington, DC - (N/A) Except for dropping A.J. off at work at “Main State” now and then, I avoided the State Department like the plague.

Buenos Aires - (WAE Rover Secretary) Had to reapply for a TS clearance, which took months… again. Did the eclectic thing… again, and was awarded a couple of commendations… no complaints.

Yangon - (RSO Security Escort) In addition to the usual escorting of workers who lacked sufficient clearance for certain “secret squirrel” areas, I also assisted with day-to-day stuff in the Regional Security Office and helped out at the biometrics window in Consular. No awards this go-round, but RSO was a fun group (“Hawaiian Shirt Fridays,” anyone?). 

Rome - (Facilities Security Escort) Good news: In 2016, DoS instituted a program enabling EFMs (Eligible Family members) to carry their security clearance from one post to the next, and about time, too. Bad news: In 2017, the Trump administration instituted an idiotic federal hiring freeze. When it was finally lifted, I applied for essentially the same job as the one I had previously held.

Imagine my surprise upon discovering that it came complete with a 40% pay cut. I went from banking actual savings to pocketing “walking around money.” But there was nothing to do except get on with it, so I became an underpaid member of a very good embassy facilities maintenance crew.

Bonus Professional Sidebar: Evaluating the Secretaries

Condoleezza Rice - She did support PEPFAR, the one truly worthwhile foreign policy initiative to come out of eight years of Cheney/Bush malfeasance. But Rice also presided over the elimination of Business Class tickets for diplomats flying over 14 hours to post. For which I will always hate her. 

Hillary Clinton - True story: Secretary Clinton visited South Africa and I was assigned to assist her as a kid wrangler at an Embassy family event. She was a real pro and great with the children. I can also report that during the entire time we worked the room, she never once made actual eye contact with me. I found that somewhat… disconcerting.

John Kerry – I’ve held Kerry in high esteem since his VVAW days, and he proved an enthusiastic and perfectly acceptable Secretary of State. And all those heartland Republican dumbshits who dishonored his patriotism - remember “Purple Heart Band-Aids?” - still owe apologies.

Rex Tillerson - Unqualified, unmotivated, and unmissed. Although he did presciently, if rudely, elucidate that President Trump is a “fucking moron,” so, props for that.

Mike Pompeo – Simply. The. Worst. Smug, self-righteous, and belligerent, Pompeo is a dangerous religious fanatic and a godawful Secretary of State. His hackish sycophancy to Trump always takes precedent over the needs of the Foreign Service, resulting in systemic failure to support honest-to-goodness diplomats trying to do their damned jobs. He occasionally talks a good game, but it’s all bullshit: Mike Pompeo does not have your back.

To be continued…