Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

It's my favorite holiday! And I have the flu! Yay!! But y'all enjoy!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

India Ink

I'm having difficulty writing about my travel experience. It probably doesn't help that people ask me quite often some version of, "Did it change your life?" Because, you know, seeing that kind of poverty inevitably causes a complete restructuring of one's world-view and overhaul of the sensibilities and psyche.

Or not. Or maybe.

India was, for me, an insistent and intense crushing wave of a whole lot of humanity. It was sweat, perfume, stench, chaos, color, disfigurement, pathos, bathos, traffic, gastro-intestinal devastation, percussion, must, garbage, beauty, waste, beauty, sewer, beauty, strife, beauty, beauty, beauty... India was your nose pressed into every curious, ruleless, ruthless, inspired, loving and cruel moment a human being is capable of all at once, all the time. It was very tiring, but I Romanticize a bit, I suppose.

Specific things?

They use mothballs as air freshener and in all the linens. I think they put them in the air vents in one of our hotels - all our clothing reeked of paradichlorobenzene when we returned to the US, even the items that never made it out of the suitcase. In another hotel, they placed two mothballs in the sink trap, so the water would activate the aroma, I guess. It was horrible to breathe. I guess they don't know it's carcinogenic.

The India Times (I didn't expect everything over there to be in English; it was shocking, really) front page related a survey: apparently 52% of Indian women think it's okay for a man to beat his wife. Lord.

Indian hospitality is everything I imagined it would be, and more. "The guest is God," or so the saying goes. We did surmise that is was (therefore?), impossible to run a wedding without offending someone. Our hosts spent better than $150,000, an outrageous sum in any currency, in my estimation. But then, I couldn't see spending over five grand, unless yo daddy's a Rockefeller.

That much non-stop curry and spice makes my intestines feel like a mean little man's been stomping around my duodenum in wooden sabot while he pounds the walls with his angry little fists. I can't face it again for ages.

I have never seen so many beautiful faces in one place in my life. They are just that good-looking.

The amount of garbage laying about everywhere is shameful, and any idea of cleaning it up seems hopeless. I imagine before the advent of plastics, the problem was far less, and that was probably the most significant "white guilt" feeling I had on the trip. Anyhow, the lack of interest in containing it seems a cultural problem of their own making, not one the West brought over, but I do wish the animals and street urchins weren't ingesting it so much of the time.

This brings me to the toilets on the Air India, which were positively filthy within an hour and a half after leaving JFK. I asked my friend Sameer about it. He said, "Affluent Indians are used to having servants for everything, so they don't see why they should have to maintain or clean up after themselves in a facility like that. It's awful." It was just nasty, and all the sinks were clogged as well. I don't get it.

I have never been stared at so much in my life. The children in the rural villages would either giggle or gape in stunned silence. Outside Agra at one of the various Moghul forts we visited, I was repeatedly asked to pose for pictures with Indian families and young men. Many Indian women handed me their infants and toddlers to hold in frame. Sometimes the babes took one look at me and cried. I managed to slow down the insistent mothers long enough to soothe the children before I took them in my arms - you know, hold out a hand, let them tough me first so they knew I wasn't made of fire or something dreadful. It was a pleasure to hold strangers' children, an honor really, though I couldn't really figure out what they wanted it for.

Everything I saw was 15th c or younger, which disappointed me some. This is partly due to the rampaging muslims who came in and tore down the religious whatnot of the various groups who had been coexisting for eons. The Moghuls were rather confused by the general uninterest in fighting back on the part of the Hindus, which apparently cooled their passions sufficiently that they built amazing monuments like the red forts and Taj Mahal. Still, I will have to go back sometime to see the really old stuff.

I didn't know dragonflies came in those colors, and I hadn't seen so many fireflies since I was eight and in Kansas. That evening was pure magic.

More later.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Missing Bombay

That I made it over there at all seems something of a miracle. In the first place, India has long been the foremost travel destination for me. If ever there were a culture for which I have, at the very least, an undeniable aesthetic affinity, it is that one, so the wish has been there for quite a long time. Then last Spring, my very dear old friend from college, Stephen, asked me to go with him to a wedding. He would pay the airfare. So there it was, a free trip and a dream realized. We would meet in Minneapolis, fly to New York for a day and night stop-over, then a twelve-hour layover in London (where I've never been, but plenty of time to get into town and walk about), then on to Mumbai, Goa, Delhi, and Agra.

I confess to some reluctance in me, fear even, about going, once the opportunity actually arrived. I was uncertain principally about how well Stephen and I would get along (because he is the only person in the world I really fight with, and we fight a fair bit - quite like siblings we are), but there was some obscure and inscrutable element blocking my excitement for the trip. It's fairly unusual for me not to know what I'm feeling, but there it was, a grey area.

Maybe it was the unconscious foreknowledge that there would be a very serious impediment - one that jeopardized the entire trip - namely, Ambassador Travel, the passport expediting service that executed neither speed nor reasonable accommodation. I paid for a 48 hour rush turnaround for my India visa, and instead ended up in suspense right past the day I was to fly. On the morning my visa was scheduled to arrive, a Friday, I phoned the service to inquire about the tracking number for the FedEx envelope I believed was about to land on my doorstep. They didn't seem to know what I was talking about really. I had completed my paperwork and signed the credit card slip in their fancy high rise Westwood office on Monday, all by 10:30 a.m. The Indian consulate in San Francisco was closed Tuesday for Gandhi's birthday, but I should have it Friday. Saturday would be the absolute latest. Not exactly 48 hours, mind you, but alright, so long as I had it in my hands Saturday, because I would fly to NY on Monday at noon.

I will not bother you with all the turmoil, wrangling and ridiculousness that ensued, but after badgering (which is not something I do), them all day (because they didn't know shit, they were avoiding me, failing to return calls when they promised, and generally just plain lying), I learned that they did not in fact have my visa issued but would do everything they could to get it on Monday and then would fly it to me anywhere in the U S of A. I asked for odds that this could happen at all, because obviously it was not worth flying across the country only to be disappointed.

I must say I contained my disappointment and stress remarkably well. Perhaps part of me was a little concerned about being apart from Tex for two solid weeks, especially as we had undergone quite our share, thank you very much, of strain over the preceding months. And there was the unexplainable reluctance in me about the trip. Could it have been fear that my dream would be a disappointment? "Paradise Lost?" as my Indian friend Vwani put it to me upon my return. I do know that once I got the thumbs down from Ambassador on Friday, I took a deep breath and told myself that if the entire mission failed, I really would be okay with it. And I think that was the truth. Maybe I was a little relieved.

Doing the crossword puzzle that evening, a onetime daily habit which had probably not been indulged in at least six months, a clue read, I kid you not, "Missing Bombay."

"Tex, It's a sign."

"It's not a sign," he said.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Return of the Prodigal i-Dotter

I'm so tired I can't tell if that title will make any sense, but I'm too sleepy to care. I have been away, far away, in India. I will be writing about those travels soon, once I've finished Marco Polo's superior tales of those environs, as well as E.M. Forster's classic* novel of lust, class, race and betrayal, so I can cut and paste together something of reasonable literary merit.

A teaser: The most surprising thing about India? The mothballs. I'll explain later.

I've missed you all!

(Actually, this is a lie. I've read all but one of his novels to completion, save, The Longest Journey, which I'd never heard of before today. I love his work. Also, he was a complete tosser.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Empty Closet

It's no "Lazy Sunday," but I appreciate the LL Cool J tones here.