I packed too much stuff.

Somehow the very haul-able REI backpack that served me so well in Central America is now VERY HEAVY.

I promised myself, no more physical books. Then brought two light ones, and bought three more in London. One on the Paris Commune, important advance research, another a series of essays on Afghanistan. And a third on capitalism, because the author is a Gruber.

So, the books gotta go. I’ll read and ship them home when I get to the Middle East.

I realize now that all of the tech gear is lightweight, but adds up. The MacBook Air plus AC cord, the tiny but still additive 500GB hard drive, the two chargers, the extra cables. I think I can ship back the HD, as I have 128GB each on the iPhone  and Air, and lots more in the cloud. Maybe one of the chargers can go.

Since I am dressing for three temperate zones, I had to take more long sleeve shirts and some winter accessories. I was planning to leave them behind in Europe, but if I get into wintry Afghanistan, have to keep them a while longer.

Besides that, I’ll shed toiletries I don’t need, and various bits and pieces. I think can shed 20 percent or so. In addition, I have stopped grabbing the Beast with one hand on the go, and am more carefully mounting it on my 59-year old frame.

Courtyard of the old Dutch East India Company HQ. It's now part of the University of Amsterdam.

Courtyard of the old Dutch East India Company HQ. It’s now part of the University of Amsterdam.

For Europe, since we lost our taste for bombing Europeans, the main focus will be on Serbia/ Bosnia/ Kosovo. I hope to get to Berlin this weekend for the 25th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Wall, for a close up look at the End of Communism in Eastern Europe. The German transport union picked this time to go on strike, so I am getting messages that say, once you leave Paris, no guarantees.

I had a notion to do shorter essays on cities like Prague, Dresden, Vienna, Budapest, but I think I may choose to preserve transport costs by going directly to Belgrade.

And, I continue my conversations with the fluid Afghanistan visa officials on whether they do or don’t want me in Kabul. The odds of entry have done from poor to excellent to fair to good.

I have been doing research on a tough question: how exactly do you gauge the difference in safety between, say, New York and Kabul? Besides a lot of anecdotal narrative, I read that the UK troops suffered zero combat deaths this year in Helmand province, a major conflict zone. And here are all the Americans kidnapped in Afghanistan since the invasion more than a decade ago:

1 Killed Cydney Mizell, an aid worker, was kidnapped along on January 26, 2008, in a residential neighborhood of Kandahar, the home of the Taliban. So, someone working for an org that represents western values, in the most dangerous city in the country.

1 Rescued An American (name withheld), working for the Army Corps of Engineers, was abducted by the Taliban. He was rescued on October 22, 2008, by U.S. special forces soldiers conducting a nighttime operation.

1 Escaped. David Stephenson Rohde, reporter for The New York Times, was kidnapped by the Taliban outside Kabul. He managed to escape on June 19, 2009 after seven months in captivity by climbing over the wall of the compound where they were being held in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. Cool! An escape! And clearly a target, for maximum publicity.

1 Unknown. Caitlan Coleman, a tourist, was kidnapped along with her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle by the Taliban in October 2012. Hiking in very dangerous mountain areas.

So, while fully acknowledging the potential dangers, the tally for Americans kidnapped in Afghanistan is 4, over a decade, and each at risk in some way: dangerous area, target organization, etc.

The Dutch waitress in my Amsterdam cafe is playing a rocking American R&B channel on Spotify. Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” has just played a second time. I am the only customer in the cafe but she still has not asked me if I want more coffee, so I point out the double Marvin action (she checks–one is a single, the other from an album), get some more coffee and get my picture taken. Off to Paris, overnight, by bus.

BG Cafe Amsterdam