Monday, November 5, 2012

Why I Love Liberals

This is not a back-handed compliment. After all, I am a Compassionate Environmentally-Friendly Conservative. There can be a lot of heated debate over politics, so I felt it was a good time to relax and give some props. Ya know?

As a Conservative, especially here in DC, and especially in the restaurant business, I'm pretty much used to being thought of as having been seduced by the devil. But, for some reason I still have friends. Maybe they are hoping some day I will see the light... which coincides nicely with the topic of this entry, why I love Liberals:

Above all, Liberals care about people! They see this land as an opportunity for no one to go hungry nor have any basic human needs go unsatisfied. They see a land where everyone is entitled to a first-rate education and everyone has access to proper health care. They despise unfair discrimination, in public and in private, based on gender, sexual orientation, age, skin color, ethnic background, religion, or economic status. They want an effective government that works for everyone, and wish corruption did not exist. They don't want government intruding on personal medical decisions. They want a country that welcomes immigrants with open arms and treats migrant foreign nationals as friends.

Liberals love peace! They wish that gun violence did not exist and criminals could learn from their mistakes to become productive members of society. They abhor war and wish we could live with our fellow nations in harmony. They wish there were no need for bombs or grenades or drones, and that we would never have to take a human life in the name of national interest. They value diplomacy as the best way to solve international differences. They want a world where everyone gets a fair wage for their labors and that greed be tempered by employers' will to honor and elevate their employees.They value love as a general rule for how to live.

Liberals love the environment! They love animals and see them as precious creatures. They yearn for clean air, drinking water, and oceans. They are concerned about food safety and nutrition. They want us to maintain parks, trees, mountains, and rivers so that we do not destroy such precious gifts. They fear the actions of many may cause damage to our planet, and stand up to say so. They want no animal to go extinct due to human influence, and they are quick to confront animal cruelty.

I know I have only scratched the surface about the great things about Liberals, and I praise them for being an active part of the fabric of America. You know, it's funny, after writing this, all of these things are important, if not sacred to Conservatives as well. We just have different ideas about how to get things done... that, and we let a lot of hot air get in the way in the middle of the aisle. May the best man win tomorrow. God Bless America.

*This message has been approved by and paid for by the Campaign of J. Mark Porter for President - 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Gay Marriage Question and Dispensable Mothers

Since most reasonable Americans on the other side of the gay marriage debate are cautiously silent, at the risk of being branded all sorts of undesirable things, I feel the need to chime in. I have done a great deal of thinking on this issue and listened to a lot of people - friends, people in the media, priests - and you get the idea that it is a simple religion versus rights issue. I don't see it that way, and I hope you will have the open mind to follow me on this one.

First of all, there is more than one way to examine this, and all things should be considered. If you look at this from a religious perspective, it is certainly acceptable to have a belief structure of what partnership is and live your life accordingly. Hopefully, you will find someone with matching beliefs, and you can achieve a desirable way to celebrate your relationship. Perhaps you eschew religion altogether, in which case a religious argument for the design of family holds no weight at all, and that is fine too. We, as a country, have many beliefs about appropriate behavior and right and wrong, and our founding principles are such that these different beliefs are protected. While these beliefs inform and help us draw important conclusions, we need to move beyond religion, or the lack thereof, in deciding what is right and just in this case. It is a temptation to take the to-each-his-own approach, but I intend to show that this is an issue that affects more than the people seeking the marriage certificate.

From the rights perspective, we should consider that all Americans should be able to lawfully carry out their personal relationships with whom they please, and it should be none of the government's business whom they love and with whom they choose to spend their lives. Most Americans would agree to this point, and most, regardless of their comfort or morality level about homosexuality, do not care to legislate against sexual acts in the bedroom nor the lifetime partners one keeps. Now government does play a part in recognizing familial relationships, such as spouse, guardian, next of kin, etcetera, all for arguably legitimate reasons, so the premise that it's none of the government's business whom I marry is out the window. There was the proposal of civil unions that had some legs, but was leap-frogged by the all-out campaign by the gay marriage crowd. So, now we have states making up their own minds, but a country divided and no one really bringing anything new to the debate.

What's at stake here is the institution of marriage - which is quite important - and seemingly only simple arguments are being made to (not) solve a complex situation. The only way we solve this is to define marriage and find a way to agree to it, or else the institution is meaningless. What's interesting is that there has been a fundamental shift in thinking; marriage was once a cultural duty and sacramental gift, and now it seems to be viewed more as a right. The ultimate problem I have with this shift is that marriage used to be about family, community, and culture - a sphere of responsibility that extends beyond the individual - and now the issue is that of what two people want for themselves. What we need is a definition, but if the issue is the freedom to marry as you choose, why then should it not be legal to marry your sister or your five closest friends? Should marriage simply be treated as a private legal agreement that can be modified or nullified once a week? This all sounds ridiculous, but if you are going to change the definition of marriage, you're going to have to tell me what the new definition is, and you're going to have to get society to agree somehow. The bottom line is that marriage is not just what you want it to be, it's what it is culturally accepted to be.

Finally, and most importantly as it advises the decision on my view, is the issue of parenthood. If we are going to talk about individual rights in respect to a private family, how about a child's right to a father and a mother? Extreme cases such as abuse and neglect aside, the government may not deny a child his or her mother or father as a matter of legal status. We can then assume government has no general right to interrupt that natural bond. Why would we as a people choose to legally promote through gay marriage the denial of a child's right to either a mother or a father? Furthermore, by legally promoting a primary familiar unit of husband and husband, we are essentially saying, quite crassly, that MOTHERS ARE DISPENSABLE (and vise-versa with lesbian couples). Certainly a single parent can raise a child; so too, no doubt, can a same-sex couple - that is not the question. If the government is going to promote the general welfare of the people through family relationship legal recognition, it cannot destroy a child's right to at least an opportunity to have a mother and a father. This is why we recognize a legitimate marriage as a union between a man and a woman, not to deny civil rights because gayness makes us squeamish, but to keep intact a part of our culture that says men and women are not simply interchangeable with respect to family, and kids ideally benefit from having both a female mom and a male dad.

Some may criticize this decision as hateful, but it is quite contrarily out of love for children, and indeed, my country, that I say, let us not promote this insulting theory of dispensability. We must think outside of ourselves on this very important issue, as it will surely harm our national soul should we fail.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Wow, really, it's October already? What a journey with 12 flights, 18 trains, 4 boats, and 10 buses, I'm heading home... with two more flights, and hopefully a yellow line train.

This trip back to California reminds me of the B-Side of albums of yestermillenium; much of what you were looking for was on the A-Side of the record, but many times you found some great tunes that didn't get airplay (on the radio) on the backside. I mean, just look at Lionel Ritchie's "Can't Slow Down." You know? Plus, back in those days, music buying was, as Forrest would say, a lot "like a box of choc-lates." While we're still officially on the 2012 Mark Porter Birthday World Tour, California seems like a trip in its own. While I make it back to my Golden State at least once a year, every time is different, and it's great to spend time with many great people. Apologies if I didn't meet up with you, but I wasn't driving, and this is California. Luckily the rail system has improved over the years. In any case, thank you friends, family, and happy birthdays to Ryan, Jeanine, and especially my dad. You all made for a great finale. You can't have a finale without the B-Side.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Top 20 Best Eats - Around the World

People always ask me what was my favorite meal on my trip. Well, here is my Top 20 from abroad - my best of Spain, Greece, Turkey, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and Japan, 2012.

Honorable Mention:
Raw chicken tossed in wasabi - Teshigotoya Fukunotori (Tokyo, Japan)

20. Home Cooking by Ana Lia: pasta, frittata, wine, yum! - Casa Riva (Arese, Italy)

19. Garlic Soup with potatoes, cheese, croutons, and dried herbs - U Bulinu (Prague, Czech Rep)

18. Fried Moray with lemon - Warayakiya (Tokyo, Japan)

17. Padrón Peppers fried with sea salt - Pinotxo, La Boquería (Barcelona, Spain)

16. Canelons de bolets de temporada amb salsa de ceps (mushroom canelones) - D.O (Gracia, Barcelona, Spain)

15. Meatballs with rice and horseradish braised with potatoes - Taverna Tu Psiri (Athens, Greece)

14. Chicken and Sausage Skewer with peppers and mustard - Prague Wine Festival vendor (Prague, Czech Rep)

13. Sushi Selection - Tokyo Station (Tokyo, Japan)

12. Pork Belly Skewer with yuzu and green pepper sauce - unknown izakaya (Tokyo, Japan)

11. Spit-Roasted Chicken with potatoes (my dinner with Kapnos Team) - unknown taverna (Thessaloniki, Greece)

10. Visneli Yaprak Sarmasi (grape leaves stuffed with sour cherries, rice, onion, and pine nuts) - Asitane (Istanbul, Turkey)

9. Sultan's Favorite (baked smoked eggplant and lamb) - Haçi Baba (Istanbul, Turkey)

8. Lamacun (flatbread with meat sauce, with cucumber, tomato, peppers) - unknown restaurant (Istanbul, Turkey)

7. Exohiko (chicken fried with paprika, tomatoes, and pita, with feta) - unknown taverna (Thessaloniki, Greece)

6. Pork Okonomiyaki with omochi 
Kiji (Tokyo-Shinagawa, Japan)

5. Mougatsa Me Crema 
(phyllo with custard and cinnamon) 
Blé (Thessaloniki, Greece)

4. Formatge de cabra a la planxa amb puré de pinya 
(seared goat cheese with pineapple purée)
D.O (Barcelona-Gracia, Spain)

3. Patatas Bravas 
(fried potatoes with tomato sauce, alioli, and pimentón) 
DO. (Barcelona, Spain)

2. Baklava "Mixed Plate" 
Karaköy Güllüoglu (Istanbul-Karaköy, Turkey)

1. Straw-fired Bonito with wasabi, shallots, sea salt, and garlic
Warayakiya (Tokyo-Roppongi, Japan)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Back to the Future

This is the longest day ever! I woke up in Tokyo this morning, and that was 26 hours ago. I haven't eaten dinner yet. However, I did have sushi for lunch and three meals on two planes. Time travel, my friends; I'm always happy when the Libyans come through with the plutonium. Imagine if I told them that at customs in LAX! Great Scott!

Yes, I'm "home" in California and in the US of A, but no, the trip is not complete! However, being abroad is finished for now, and boy, what a whirlwind! Interestingly, my body stopped paying attention to time zones about two weeks ago, as I've decided to just sleep when I see fit. It's not quite yet appropriate to write a journey recap just yet, but as I go seek out my Mexican dinner, I will just say, there's a lot to see out there; a lot to do, a lot to taste, and many friends you haven't yet met. Thanks to everyone who kept it interesting.


No, five days is not sufficient to explore and truly appreciate Tokyo, let alone get an accurate sense of the country of Japan. The same can be said of all of the countries on the Mark Porter 2012 Birthday World Tour, but that doesn't mean I regret my choice in itinerary planning. The point is that each of the seven countries I visited on this trip have been enlightening, unique, and fascinating in their own ways and deserve more attention than I was able to give. I was, however, very fortunate to meet and reconnect with some great people along the way through whom I was provided invaluable insight into each country's human nature.

Japan was the most highly anticipated destination on the list, due in no small part because I have had a personal connection with their people for about as long as I can remember. My family hosted several exchange students over the years, and one year in particular we got to know several in the group quite well, and participated with them in several of their events. I took it upon myself to dabble into foreign language study as a hobby at this point, as I learned as a young teenager that communicating with cute Japanese girls is most impressive when attempting to utilize words that were most familiar to them. I hadn't really thought about this until my friend Tomoya and I were fortunate enough to wind up sitting next to two Japanese (what are the odds?) ladies at the izakaya last night. Typical of izakaya, it was a relaxed, convivial pub-atmosphere with several diners seated as an audience around the working chefs. Our new friends wanted to know what I like about Japanese girls, so without much need for thought, I said, "What's not to like? You smile, you're friendly, you're polite..."

Now, I don't remember the Japanese being so savvy, or say... skeptical, in response to my compliments, but they taught me a hand gesture (not what you're thinking) that basically means they detect b.s. It turned out to be an interesting conversation, and we had a great time at dinner. This leads me to a further conclusion that, while there are good people everywhere, the Japanese culture is surprisingly friendly and cordial. This is not to say I am completely surprised, but the overall level of courtesy and politeness to strangers is amazing. Now if we could just get rid of the guys (not Japanese) who pester relentlessly outside the "gentlemen's clubs" in Roppongi; geez-louise, at least the guys in Prague would leave you alone when they see you're not interested!

In any case, Tokyo is one of my new favorite places. Oh yeah, I think I'm supposed to return next week... Might not make it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ciao Italia

Ah, Milano...
To me you have always been a gateway - a transition point to other points in Italy. Sometimes it's been to Venice, sometimes Rome, Florence, or Barolo, or back home to the United States. It's like DFW... except that it 's not. Perhaps Milan is deserving of being thought of as more than a convenience. It is something of a magical place, where you can sip a Super Tuscan on a sidewalk cafe and watch models and impeccably dressed businessmen saunter to and fro. There you will find fashions fit for a queen, nothing of which I can speak intelligently, of course. For me, though, I generally go see the Duomo, have a meal and a gelato, and then jump on a train.

However, there are real people who live in this part of the world. Some of them don't wear excessively high heels or fancy Italian suits. Some of them have families and think less about photo shoots or gem- laced dresses and more about getting their children to do their homework. There are kind and decent people in northern Italy - the kind of people to treat a weary foreign traveler like family. I have been fortunate, now twice, to have been a guest here. It's not the Europe that we think about from afar, but it all makes perfect sense. Italy has been a special place for me for some time now, and I'm constantly impressed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Oktoberfest Prelude

Germany was such an unremarkable part of my trip twelve years ago that I almost viewed stopping through Munich this time as merely a necessary transfer point and little more... Almost. That would have been a mistake.

After the initial getting lost hullabaloo, trying to find my hotel from my vague directions, and dodging random beer bottles, used cigarettes, and wayward teens on a Saturday night frolicking around the dark surrounds of the train station, I found a new destination that should be a part of everyone's list of places to see and be - Munich. First, this should be no indication of my competence in the German language, however it was surprising, and a thrill, that I was finally in a city again where I could at least order my dinner without the use of hand gestures, picture cards, and/or PowerPoint presentations. Oftentimes, even on an international journey, a food lover will take solace in what they know - even if it adds no country-specific cultural value - and this time it was the döner kebap. Next, to get my bearings in the dark of night, I decided to stay close to the hotel, but find significant forms of life (apart from wayward teens). Eventually, I found the Anna Hotel bar, that was a stylish place, and three lovely local German ladies who spoke English (the loveliest of whom spoke unimpeded sober English) and were kind enough to make my acquaintance. Once again I strive to keep up foreign relations for you people; you're welcome. It was a rather nice time, as I do so enjoy meeting new and interesting people on my journeys.

The next morning, I seemed to find the largest church in town for a noon Sunday mass by way of some very quiet and mostly empty streets. The people who were out were already enjoying some steins of beer with/for breakfast. I had a cappuccino. Afterwards - and what I would most like to communicate to you - I found Munich to be a very clean, modern, relaxing, and beautiful place to be. It is a big city, but it is safe and inviting. There are biergartens everywhere, which seem to be imbedded in the culture, that can be simply patio dining for a restaurant or tables in the park where you can bring your own picnic or go grab some house ribs and potato salad. Oh yeah, and enjoy fresh and simple really big beers. The places I sampled were quite festive and family affairs that weren't about intoxication, but about conviviality. Biergartens are celebrations of life, and perhaps much like the impending Oktoberfest that I missed by a week, seemed to me a last opportunity to enjoy perfect outdoor relaxation before the coming cooler months. However, my guess is that this part of culture endures, in some form at least, indoors when necessary. The best part of my day, though, was walking along the river through the trees and into the very large English Garden, complete with streams, hills, frolicking (yes, don't forget the frolicking), and of course, what else but another biergarten! Lovely.

You should go here. It may have been even better on bicycle, but perfect for walking. And if you surf (that's what I said)... there's even a part of the river for that as well. I would definitely return.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Czeching Out

Oh, where to begin? Prague is quite a lovely city. Too bad my first impression was being scammed out of my money, but after the initial two days and nights of picketing in a pirate costume, I moved on as I remembered the sage advice of Yoda, that "anger leads hate; hate leads to suffering." That's not my bag, baby. Different movie, I know, but this is my blog, and I can do what I want. Sufficed to say, I've been more discriminating in my dining choices and have had better luck as of late. However, as some people claim to be true, there is more to life than food, so I've done a lot of wandering, especially by the river. This city is old and wondrous, with magnificent architecture and many photo opportunities - no compromising shots of members of the British Royal Family, but I guess that's why I'm still small-time.

Speaking of things other than food, does wine count? I actually had no intention of furthering my wine studies after Greece, but I happened upon a wine bar here in town. I figured, "okay, one glass of tasteless grape juice, and I can say I tried it." Well the owner saw me taking notes and discerned that I was a professional (I get that a lot), so he kept pouring me tastes of some of his favorites. A lone Argentine, who may or may not be gay (definitely suspect), and I start conversation... you know: fashion, favorite actors, pink things, etc... Wait a minute... Well, next thing I know, these eight sixty-something English women traipse in looking for a good time. The Latin music was on, the lighting was right, so we started a dance party. Usually, I'm nervous competing in this arena with a hispanic guy as my competition, but these were married British senior chicks; I'm golden. Well, we had fun, but we cleared the place out of younger locals; I guess they just weren't into it. It's like the old Bohemian saying goes, "when life hands you cheap obscure wine, dance salsa", or something like that. Sam would approve.

I gotta go. Train to Munich tomorrow. Happy Friday.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I was not in Athens very long - just a day. I ate delightful moussaka by candlelight at Daphne's (a restaurant, not someone I met), scrumptious meatballs by daylight at Taverna Tou Psiri, and studied wines at a great place called Brettos. This is a wine bar dedicated to Greek wines from many different regions. Thank God; if you ask for a glass of wine in Thessaloniki, they ask you, "red or white?" Oh, yeah, I climbed up to the Acropolis and spent the afternoon on the top of that hill overlooking all of Athens. It was quite warm, but it was also quite breezy. Again, all photos published here so far are from my phone.

*Note to Self: Always agree on a price for a cab ride in advance where the bus drops you from the airport - easy prey! 12€ to go about a mile? You're welcome, Greece.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

All Roads Lead to Roam

Istanbul may just be the center of world civilization. It is where Europe meets Asia and where east meets west. IT'S HUGE, by the way, and it is ancient, vibrant, and enchanting. Istanbul is a sprawling metropolis that is home to nearly 14 million people. While the cityscape is dotted with huge mosques that belt out periodic songs on their loudspeakers with regularity, (I refrained from dancing) this is a liberal democracy inclusive of other religions and varying degrees of piety. Like I eluded to earlier - nothing is what it seems.

Istanbul is an ancient giant, rich with history. I remarked to a friend while visiting one of the city's many museums that a certain clock was older than my country. I quickly realized what a ridiculous statement that was, since just about everything in Istanbul is older than my county. That's an exaggeration, but many of the city's most prized artifacts go back not centuries, but millennia. I'm still rather in shock to have viewed David's sword (yes, that David), Moses' staff, and Mohammed's footprint. (We may have had Mohammed Ali's handprint at one of the Planet Hollywoods, but not quite as intriguing.) INCONCEIVABLE! They had mummies too, etc.

Culinarily, there is much cross-over, or shared tradition, between Turkey and Greece. How insightful of me to do a Greek/Turkish/Greek sandwich (sounds like an after-hours party at... nevermind) trip, when their cuisines are so related! And if you're just tuning in, my journeys are always, in addition to photographic, an exploration of food and beverage. This goes back to when I said we are more alike than different; evidently we all like pizza, meatballs, and fire- roasted meat on a stick... except you vegetarians - see "Greek Salad", but that's another entry for another day.

I hesitate to draw a conclusion about Turkey from a few days in Istanbul, but what I will say is what I've already said, which is it's amazing what you will find if you dare to explore... that, and any Turk who visits should never pay for a thing! Thank you, friends. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bad Eats in Prague

Speak of the devil - it's one thing to have poor customer service, but it's quite another to prey on tourists' disorientation and cheat them out of their money. I'm no Rachel Ray and have minimal clout to force some sort of positive outcome for my experience, but if the blogosphere has any say as to which level of hades the man at this establishment should be sent, then here goes:

At the north end of Old Town Square in Prague, there are a number of food vendors that appear to have some lower priced take-away items. I opted for the spit roasted ham "staroprazska", and potato salad. The menu lists the portions as 1 kilo with price in Czech Koruna. I thought I was in for a simple economical dinner. They gave me enough food to satiate a small family and charged me 640 CZK. I hadn't yet acclimated to the exchange rate, so without thinking, I paid... about $33! I inquired about the price moments after my calculation, and was basically told "too bad, sucker" with a smile - "just like when you buy nice steak at restaurant, by weight!"

Yeah, just like that.

I spent the next hour telling prospective victims in line that he is a horrible person and a cheat. So please never visit this deceptive tourist trap. I will be very careful with my calculations from here on out.