Andi Hulm - I Have A Dream

Saturday, February 8, 2020 | Algiers, Algeria

Click here to watch the promo clip for "Andi Hulm" / "I Have A Dream"
At last, the big day has finally arrived!

Tonight is the official premier of "Andi Hulm" ("عندي حلم" or "I Have A Dream"), Algeria's first entrepreneurship reality television show. I serve as the show's host, and thus have the surreal privilege of appearing in many of the show's promotional materials, sometimes sprinkled in fairy dust (see above). Who ever said all those years spent struggling through Arabic class wouldn't lead anywhere?

Across 10 episodes, the show tracks the progress of 60 young Algerian aspiring entrepreneurs as they complete a series of increasingly difficult, high-energy challenges. Along the way, jury members whittle down the group until just a few standout finalists—then one final grand prize winner—remain. As the stakes rise you will see numerous surprises, moments of ecstatic joy and profound disappointment, and much more.

With any luck, the show will earn a wide following here in Algeria and spark greater discussion about the prospects young Algerians face as they work to realize their dreams in life. That's the hope, at least, of the show's creators at the

Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam, and the Deer and the Antelope Play

Friday, February 7, 2020 | Granby, Colorado, USA

With every passing year I spend away from the US, I feel the psychological distance grow, stretching to match the physical distance a bit more. Sometimes it's nice to return home and soak up a little Americana.

So for our longest vacation of 2019, Nina and I decided to spend ten days in August in Colorado catching up with my uncle Chris, aunt Kari, and cousin Mitch.

Back when I lived in DC in my 20s, my uncle, an avid outdoorsman, had invited me several times to spend July 4th weekend with their friends and family at a campground on the shore of Turquoise Lake, deep in the Rocky Mountains. I have fond memories of campfire stories with my cousins, and of hikes up to pristine high-mountain lakes in search of cutthroat trout. (See "Turqoise to Timberline: Chasing Trout in the Rockies")

More recently, Chris and Kari bought a small property near the town of Granby, just over two hours' drive from their home in suburban Denver. Ever since, my uncle had been pressing me to come back for another visit. As he well knew, I could only open my phone so many times to find an unsolicited snapshot of snow-capped mountains or sparkling streams before I caved.

Much To Love in MTL

Tuesday, February 4, 2020 | Montreal, Canada

Dépanneur: Even for French speakers, visiting Montreal can expand one's vocabulary and horizons alike.
Spend enough time in the francophone world and you hear lots of hype about Montreal.

Nina had never visited Canada, and both my previous visits had come amid blistering December weather, so while en route from Algiers to a week in the mountains of Colorado last summer, we slipped in a 36-hour layover in Canada's second city.

Visiting in August sure beats the winter. Back in 2013 I had spent a few days in Montreal shuttling an Algerian study mission between meetings—and did my best not to leave the network of tunnels underlying the city's downtown. On this trip, by contrast, we wore shorts and t-shirts and spent all day crisscrossing the city, strolling from trendy brunch spots in the Vieux Port to street markets in Chinatown to an outdoor art expo in the Gay Village. We scarfed a massive platter of poutine (the local delicacy, if you can call it that) from La Banquise, on the Plateau, and tried maple-syrup-flavored coffee, ice cream, and more.

Montreal was covered with exquisite street art and filled with gourmet boutiques. But more than anything else there were restaurants—seemingly more per square mile than anywhere I've ever been. "Does anyone eat at home in this city?" Nina wondered aloud as we walked past yet another block of nothing but fusion cafés,

Glimpses of London on the Eve of Brexit

Thursday, January 30, 2020 | London, UK

For many visitors, London's authentically local sites pale in comparison to the multicultural imports.
After a torturous 3.5-year saga, the fateful day has finally arrived: Brexit is here. Tomorrow will be the United Kingdom's last day in the European Union; after 47 years of integration, it's back to "splendid isolation"—with all the tradeoffs, missed opportunities, and problems (bafflingly invisible to some) that it will entail.

By this point, most Europeans I know have long since settled on "good riddance." The Brits, by contrast, remain a bitterly divided bunch.

Nina and I have taken two trips to London in the past year or so, visiting this past New Year's and around Christmas a year earlier (my first time back since a trip during college in 2005). Both visits were brief and we spent most of our time catching up with American expat friends rather than pestering the locals about politics. However, my British friends around the world (a very non-representative, cosmopolitan sample) have spent the past few years feeling universally horrified at—yet powerless to stop—their country's willing self-destruction.

Britain won't be weighing anchor and shoving off further into the Atlantic tomorrow, of course. It will still depend on Europe for most of its trade. (And what's so bad

Snow Devils Lurk and Daredevils Soar in an Alpine Wonderland

Sunday, January 26, 2020 | Filzmoos, Austria

Filzmoos's traditional winter Perchten festival dates back centuries.
These days, feats of glory rarely go unrecorded. But on this chilly night high in the Austrian Alps, while Markus arced gracefully through the sky, our cell phones failed us.

For Nina and me, it was the last night of a five-day stay with Markus, his girlfriend Vroni, and his parents at their chalet in the little alpine town of Filzmoos. Eager to make the most of our final day, we had skied since just after dawn—not as early as it might sound, this being winter in central Europe, but early enough to give us over six uninterrupted hours of blazing trails through the deep powder that had fallen steadily during our entire stay.

That evening we had only returned to the cabin well after darkness fell, after closing the day with our usual ritual: We would take one last gondola ride up to the mountain's frigid, windswept peak then, amid the murky dusk and driving flakes, we would glide half by sight, half by feel over the moguls to the lights of the nearest ski hut. Having skipped lunch to maximize our skiing time, there we would dig enthusiastically into some of the doughy, buttery local delights we had

2019: The Year in Review

Tuesday, December 31, 2019 | Algiers, Algeria

2019 Best Nine: My most popular shots from the year on Instagram (@ibnibnbattuta)
Viewed from above, we exit the 2010s while spinning out of control, the old established order now a shambles. Viewed from below, we close the decade with reclaimed agency, every "me" an island speaking "my truth".

In the struggle between institutions and individuals, institutions lost this round badly. New technologies overwhelmed human societies' traditional guardrails in the 2010s, giving individuals the means to run amok, the freedom to write their own rules, but few scaffolds on which to build common projects. From Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, Brexit to Hong Kong, the results have leaned heavily toward destruction. (Of course, whether one sees such destruction as positive or negative depends on which institution is in the crosshairs.)

Nina and I began 2019 by watching, bemused, as news of our wedding unexpectedly went viral in the Algerian media. But these days, there are no more untouched backwaters, not even Algeria, so wider trends arrived at last. In February, Algerians rose up in a popular movement, or hirak, calling for sweeping leadership change. Breaking points long predicted had finally arrived.

I followed events intently, but have tried to keep a respectful distance. We spent our year learning, striving, and exploring as always, including here in Algeria and through trips to Austria, Germany, Morocco, Tunisia, the UK, and the US. Unlike in years past, I traveled relatively little within Algeria, but took time to film an Algerian reality TV show (forthcoming in 2020).

Before we embark on a new year and new decade, here are a few highlights from 2019:

Just for Fun: A Weekend in Bou Saada

Saturday, December 28, 2019 | Bou Saada, Algeria

At the Kerdada, the trip organizer got to park his antique Mercedes front and center.
As if they weren't already the best hosts in town, back in May our friends Daniel and Dzeneta, a dynamic duo of Dutch diplomats, organized a weekend to remember with an eclectic international guestlist of 50+ hailing from nearly 20 countries, including Algerians, foreign residents, and many who traveled from abroad to attend. (Daniel prepared a 14-page programme and briefing document to anticipate first-time visitors' questions.)

The weekend's destination was Bou Saada, one of several towns in Algeria's arid midlands often called the "gateway to the desert."

After a lengthy (and exhilarating, thanks to the leadfooted gendarme escorts that guided our caravan southward) four-hour drive, we decamped at the Hotel Kerdada—the same address where Nina and I stayed with her parents during our first visit to Bou Saada back in 2015. (See "Bou Saada: A Begrudging Appreciation".) Formerly the Hôtel Transatlantique in colonial times, the Kerdada remains the nicest spot in the otherwise disheveled town, and we spent a good portion of the weekend sunning by the pool.

The surrounding countryside offers more to see than Bou Saada itself. Nina and I skipped group visits to the local museum dedicated to orientalist painter Etienne Dinet, instead joining a desert outing and also taking our rental car for a lengthy swing through the rocky scrublands outside town.

San Francisco: Analog Observations from the Center of our Digital World

Friday, December 27, 2019 | San Francisco, CA, USA

California Street, San Francisco: Gilded city in the Golden State
Rare is the activity that the world's wealthiest humans still conduct in the physical world.

For many, it's now optional to cook, drive, bank, date, shop, read, and more the old way; these are mere trifling pastimes done for nostalgia's sake. True, all of us still eat, sleep, bathe, and exercise in the physical realm, but technology is chomping voraciously at the edges of even these essential functions, after having already swallowed so many others whole in the last several years. More than a few of us now live as much in the digital world as we do in the physical one.

But the last year or two saw important bubbles burst, yet more layers of our collective innocence lost. The creepiness of social media combined with its increasingly undeniable destructive influence on public debate across the world finally crested into a pushback of sorts that put Facebook, Twitter, and others on their heels. Awareness grew of just how exploitative "gig economy" giants like Uber and TaskRabbit are, and just how corrosive an effect Amazon's far-reaching tentacles are having on local and national markets. This critical eye, once finally focused upon Big Tech, revealed unsavory truths elsewhere too, from Google to Apple to Tesla and beyond.

As America and the world soured on Big Tech, so too did we sour on the industry's shining city on a hill, San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley. It has become easier and easier to find critical reports on the city's booming inequality and horrid excesses.

In April, I was invited to an international education conference in San Francisco, giving me the chance both to finally visit California and to see the center of our digital world with my own eyes.