Monday, February 19, 2007

In the afterglow

I'm sitting at my own desk but I'm still in limbo after a 25 hour trip with 2 stopovers--Malaysia, Taipei, somewhere in the middle of the night-day-night. We started at midnight and it's tomorrow morning for my body. So much I never had time to write about so maybe I can begin in the aftermath even if my brain is fuzzy.
Sometimes when I travel a long time I'll miss the oddest things like songs. Once I remember being gone 6 weeks to Bulgaria and missing Fred Astaire... The only song I really missed this time was Dylan's "Thunder on the Mountain" and I just now put it on..."Forget about myself and see what others need." "I feel like I sucked the soma out of a thousand cows." Visions now in my head of loping cows showing up in the oddest places, especially the only time I saw them move fast--the night they came stampedeing at us on a dark empty street. Brought back images of Pamplona when Steven ran with the bulls and I was the only woman I saw hanging in any doorway...One of the crazier scenes that humans can think up for fun.
Music was always an element in the background in India. Sometimes the Muslim call to prayer or general background wail would go all night. Sometimes the Indian pop mix would sound like ska or reggae. I guess those Arab and Portuguese traders got everywhere to leave their print on the African/Caribbean drummers and vise versa. I kept myself amused when I'd see what songs would turned up in my head without even thinking or noticing right away. The oddest soundtracks for events happening. Dumb songs from the past that would just appear and perfectly and hysterically suit the moment. So little Western music actually heard that it was a treat when I heard Guns 'n' Roses' version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" at a cyber cafe. The most beautiful repetitive song. Axel's final warbled note is so haunting.
So good to feel a good mattress today. If you like HARD surfaces you'll love India. Mattresses were never thicker than 4 inches and often thinner. Made no difference in the better hotels. I asked for extra pillows and wedged them in. It was worse on the trains. Very sore hip bones...
Our stay in Mumbai was a good transition to home. Much more westernized with the first females not dressed in saris. Slacks, jeans among the youth. We showed up at Sanjay Bhangar's apartment only knowing that he was a 9/11 activist. We were on the 10th floor of a building right on the shore of the Arabian Sea. He is webmaster/programmer/videographer who took us out sitar shopping. We each bought one and brought them home today.
Went with his parents to hear Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammud Yunus who came up with the idea of micro-loans to the very poor. He simply felt that poverty was UNNATURAL. That you can help to remove it, not by throwing money at it but simply by PAYING ATTENTION TO IT. He created Grameen Bank which is thriving on lending them $30-100 loans. Other bankers are still telling him it can't be done. He turned ALL the assumptions upside down. Now people can buy a cow, an auto rickshaw, etc. And they always pay back the loan. The trick was giving the loans to WOMEN. 85% ! That way the money got to the children first, not sidelined to alcohol or anything stupid. Very hard job convincing the women to take the money at first. Very little confidence. But they've done beautifully. Very inspiring. Sat with a woman professor who teaches attitudes toward marriage as depicted in British plays. Timely subject for India.
My last night Sanjay and I went to a Blues concert of Walter Trout and the Free Radicals, with guest stars Bernard Ellison, son of legendary Luther Ellison. He was like a young Jimmy Hendrix on the guitar, as was Walter himself--who had a great voice. Then Guitar Shorty came on and blew everyone away, playing his guitar with every surface of his body. Did two leaping summersaults with guitar in hand, then lay on his side and walked/swiveled around in a circle. He must be 65+. I'd seen him at Cosey's Blues Bar in Sherman Oaks. I think he played with Hendrix and many others in the past. It was fun hanging with Sanjay's friends and a great way to spend my last night. Sun night they were in line with us but different flights. Just enough time to give them my 9/11 bullet point card and a little rap. Walter was already in the know.

Leanna went out with Sanjay's wonderful parents and got to share their shared experiences of open marriage, pretty cutting edge for India... Sunday went to an arts festival and they had booths selling ethnic stuff that looked as if it could have been on the Third Street Promenade. Finally an instance where the local hip people were recognizing the trendiness of their own artisanage. Watched traditional Indian dancers with the harmonium players and drummers sitting in the corner of the stage. As elsewhere, watching Sanjay and hsi friends, even in Mumbai the cops are more harsh on "public displays of affection" than they are on pot smoking...

Today the traffic in LA seemed so mild and organized after the artful dodging on the roads of India. Truly like fish swimming in the way they just blend together when they come to intersections, sometimes going in the opposing lane til someone lets you through and thinking nothing of it. Truly a continuous intuitive miss-you-by-an-inch, read-my-mind-where-I'm gonna-go flow. Cut in front of anyone or cross through on-coming traffic right in their face and they expect it.

Going through endless checkpoints and scanners in the airports, even when we were just in transit, reminded me of how the 9/11 fabrication has made everyone such sheep; what a sham we are living in and how they are training us to be afraid and herded around. They took Leanna's contact lens solution and her toothpaste but left my bottles. So spotty. They sure were rough on our sitar cases...!
Can't go very deep now. G'nite and thanks for so many great responses. I've been talkin to myself but glad many enjoyed my sharing this. Community is wonderful.

I've been up since 5 am and still dreaming I'm in India--usually dreaming I'm sleeping in some cramped quarters. Yesterday the same dream only shocked to feel my underwear gone from under my clothes. Then I awoke and realized where I was and that I wasn't sleeping in my clothes as so often happened.
So what residue remains besides this annoying little pearl of a hemrrhoid after sitting for 30 hours total on the way home?? IT'S NOT FUNNY! The only other time I got to have this lovely experience was driving a hard seated camper a long way out of Canada and getting caught at the Peace Bridge for hours...

People ask me if India changed anything (else) in me. Many said I should write a book. That's encouraging since Leanna and I happen to have been wanting to write a book for a few years, now about all of our generational experience of America and India. I keep trying to put into words what I experienced in India as far as any spiritual breakthroughs that one might seek or even EXPECT as according to some friends. Like step on the soil and it's instant illumination. Since I have followed some kind of spiritual path my whole life, I had plenty of memories of those hyper high breakthrough moments that I wish would just become continuous, and consolidated by such a pilgrimage...
Since the last time Leanna submitted a book for publication, they told her to write her personal story, I will try to write generally and personally about this subject, this visit, this one person's interaction.

Many such 'spiritual' experiences started around age five when I was really out in some kind of zone with Jesus and Mary and many of the martyr saints-- I loved to draw them from a little picture book with their veils and wounds. My mother hammered together a little toy-like altar for my room... Mostly playing in forts made of branches that we'd build in the woods (in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania), nature made me feel that I was resigned to becoming a nun. Okay, I also wanted to be a dancer... endless tapping and acrobatics--I'd cartwheel through rooms as a form of ambulation, but I still knew I had to become a missionary. Turned away at age 13 as too young.
But the ecstatic moments were great esp if I could be alone in a church, as in our exquisite high school chapel with lifesize angel statues... I'd sit there often at lunchtime or sneak in at night. Or out at the Franciscan mother house at Stella Niagara, a gorgeous convent school right below the cliffs on the edge of the raging green Niagara River. They had an ornate gothic two-directional altar, the one for the nuns facing away so you could only HEAR their angelic choir echoing back to our side through the lacey marble screen. Truly otherworldly.

After courses in Eastern Religion, I discovered Gurdjieff. I also landed in a grad school seminar with the poets' poet, Charles Olson, a true larger than life Gurdjieffian ubermann. Enormously inspiring but just in time to watch him die. Started going down to New York weekly to be in a beginner Gurdjieff group led by non other than Lord Pentland, the head of the Work in the United States, and the most brilliant, awake man I've ever met, truly seeded from another planet or antoher dimension. From the Scottish Sinclair family of the 'Da Vinci Code'.
I was hooked and from this new path I chose Rene Daumal, student of Hinduism and Gurdjieff as my doctoral thesis topic. Got to interview all his cronies from the thirties and forties before they died off. Spent 11 years trying to tie in all the Sanskrit Poetics studies, his surrealism escapades, his translations of ancient texts, and show how this and G. influenced his work, all while discovering acupuncture via Tai Chi--sword, knife, long stick etc., studying in Hong Kong, starting first clinic at UCLA.

Last night I was cooking with Adam, heating up Sheephead fish that Steven caught Sunday ocean fishing, still punctuating everything with more hugging in the novelty of just being together. He asked what pop songs did we have that feature sitars since I just brought him one. I said "Hurdy Gurdy Man" that I'd just heard on the plane in Robin Williams' "Man of the Year". This was one of Adam's favorite songs at age 8-9 when we were both (re-) discovering Donovan together. He just saw him for the third time last week and adores him. We play a lot of duets together and quickly racked up our list of his perfect songs: Catch the Wind, Season of the Witch, Sunshine Superman, Colors, Mellow Yellow. Then he pointed out how upbeat his songs always were so that you don't even realize the hopelessness he's sharing, even when he said something as sad as

For me to love you now
would be the sweetest thing
t'would make me sing

Ah but I may as well
Try and catch the wind...

Adam said, now if that were Johnny Cash singin that, he'd put in some sarcasm & frustration in AHHH I MAY AS WELL try and catch the wind. But Donovan is always so upbeat, there's no complaint or lament or 'screw this' attitude. As he spoke, the movie "The Secret was going on in the background and I thought how all this was regurgitating all the thoughts in my mind as I try to distill the newest layers of life lessons from the land of India.

On our first day in India, in Delhi at Akshardham, the brand new gorgous, colossal first Hindu temple in 800 years, there's a statue of a person trying to chisel himself out of a huge chunk of rock. On the picture of this we were looking at last night is written: "You are the Stone. You are the Chisel. You are the Sculptor." All this leads up to what I really want to say, BUTT....

to be continued-- that pain in my ass needs moving.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Jan 27 I'm going to post this to my travel blog that Leanna's boyfriend Don made for me. Haven't gotten to it in a while since I don't think it's as accessible as an email to a few friends (and to myself). But it's good to get the hang of it. At you can see all her photos downloaded.

Today we drove out to 3 temples and the family home of Rabindrantha Tagore, Nobel Peace prize winner in literature around 1912. Daumal put him down for not being progressive enough for the Indian people, but it looks like he was quite an extraordinary man. Came from quite a dynasty of Tagores, with pictures of ancestors going way back. Very lovely 250 yr old home of rooms surrounded by verandas. He embraced Japan quite heavily. Died Aug. 7th,1941.
Visited the shrine and temple of Ranakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. This was pretty much the first time that I saw Indians sitting in meditation. Even in Varanasi on the Ganges, they were all BUSY washing and praying but not in contemplation. Only the Westerners were sitting totally still, taking in the rays of the sun and the vibrations of the Ganges energy. It was very moving to see the people doing their bathing in prayer thing, but it reminded me of our Western traditional conventional religious rituals that so often seem to be carried out by rote. The person is not 'checking out' from his ordinary persona or mental state. Yes, it's only my perception--I may be wrong. Some seem stoned as hell--but then they probably WERE.

Here at the Vedanta temple, people were sitting on the floor, some together on a thin rug, a few talkers but it was very peaceful for the most part. Really the first time that I encountered this. In all the Hindu Temples, they'd always just want to get up there and get something or offer something, usually with their lips moving and chanting something but not really stopping to collect. I guess, like most religions it's much more about family and community rather than inner exploration. What Jacob Needleman called 'cataphatic'. The other day at another temple the temple caretaker would just take a broom and attack the mounds of marigold offerings that were messing up the sanctuary and pitch them out the side door. No ritual at all there.
Soo back to the Vedanta temple, as they sat, in front of them through a narrow door that opens suddenly we can see the statue of Ramakrishna appear. Now everybody rushes up to kiss the door or the floor. Now it's all about honoring, bowing to this prophet of God... My hopes for something higher--again dashed.
The day before we'd visited a Kali Temple that was almost scary the way the crowd PUSHED forward to GET AT THE SPOT to do whatever--throw flowers, get a red spot on their forehead, put money in, PRAY AND GET WHAT THEY'RE ASKING FOR. The crowd just about lifted me off my feet as the big press carried us all along. Totally harried, rushed, pushed, shoved. There was a sacred tree with lots of little rocks attached by people praying for fertility. We were hooked in with more strings being tied around our wrists, red goo on my forehead ( I sometimes forget its there and splash water on my face and really make a mess and no one tells me...). So I prayed for my children's fertility. Never thought of that as an issue but hey--maybe it works!
Then we visited the stone pen where they sacrifice goats. Leanna had caught this act earlier and I'm glad I got it secondhand. They stick the goat through a big wooden clothespin-like support and then just clobber him with a sword. There was still blood everywhere. Not sure how many they do a day.

So today it was just as crazy only different. We waited in a long line that snaked around the temple, with harsh shouting men herding us into single files, then finally passed up to the first phase window which seemed to be getting flower petals and giving money. All a lot of screaming and yelling on the part of the men handing out flowers. Little did I know that THIS WAS IT. Behind these men in a doorway, far back through another doorway was a gawdy black statue of Kali, the goddess that ate her children, barely visible. No prayers, no worship, no nothing. Just the New York Stock Exchange as I imagine it--screaming, pushing, falling all over the mashed crowd. We hung as long as we could to just register this truly ugly scene before they insisted we MOVE ON.
As we stood back and watched, tons more were converging on this wonderful celebration of divinity... Then we could visit the twelve domed mini temples, each with a Shiva lingam in it. With other worshippers we could ring the brass bell, touch or put your head on the base of the lingam, buy flowers to put on the lingam, and them walk to the next one. At this point we were getting pretty irreverent with our appropriate and inappropriate lingam remarks. I kept wishing I could find a lingam statue like the one described in my history book, "in a huge temple with a pyramid roof of 13 storeys and 14 golden domes, was a Shiva phallus that could float in mid-air without any visible means of support from above or below--it was in fact held in place by a magnetic force-field". (Destoyed by Mahmud of Ghazni along with 50,000 people who had been confident in the protection of their deity's lingam.)
Then they closed the Shiva lingam temples for lunch, but after all, when you've seen one lingam, you've seen them all...

Just when I felt templed-out, we visited the Jain temple. Didn't expect much but it knocked my socks off: a little temple that was solid mosaic of glass-like stones in floral patterns and small glass mirror mosaic around sinuous arches and multicolored chandeliers. Totally over the top, totally luscious, decadent to perfection. much more maharaja's palace than a house of worship. Created in 1857, the same year the Indians mutinied against the British and were crushed. No photos allowed or for sale; must find some somewhere. The Jains are the most ascetic and as old as Buddhism (600 BC). How did they come up with this??

The Buddhist temple in Sarnath was not hectic but no one was sitting quietly. People visit, and the temple 'deacons' just sit facing the room, very casual, chatting away. Of course the Buddha statues in the museum were enchanting. It's usually the museum quality ones that really get to me. Stone, not painted gold...
So, over all I feel that traditional religions need rejuvenating especially here. And luckily it is happening in many places, but could it be that it is truly happening more in the West? Here it looks like they're heading for a strong Western materialist phase first. Leanna and I keep our discussions going--What's different? What's the same? Here? in 2007? What I AM inspired to write about are all the 7 so far rulers of India who have meshed their two religions and more together. Yes they have fought a lot but they have sought more than just boring TOLERANCE. They actually melded the best of the religions together. More later.

Jan 26
My diary to myself continues. Never know who I'm writing to really.
Kolkatta (Calcutta) is somewhat different from what we've seen. This is a more modern city in some parts, the elegant old colonial buildings crumbling badly. The British built the city on the remnants of four small towns. It's on the Ganges but they call it the Houllihy River. So much for sacred rivers. Tho' they do bathe in it and today they were carrying various sized (some life-size) statues of Saraswati, goddess of Knowledge to return to her home in the river after her feast days this week. They danced wildly on their truck beds as they arrived at the river, then turned her in a circle about ten times then carried her down the garbage filled river bank to float away...
Yesterday I kept getting little flashes of Paris and this morning I got another whiff of Paris as the cool morning smelled big old foreign cityish. Our hotel is quite elegant with marble floors and walls and a marble mosaic driveway. Great breakfast and the first I've seen of sacred cow meat. Even pork. Usually the only meat one sees on the "Non-Veg" menu is chicken; no meat in Rishikesh. Not that we've missed it with so many good dishes.
Here there is more of an Asian presence.
Today is the Anniversary of the Republic, a national holiday. Everyone was out strolling at the grand Victoria Monument Park in their very best saris, playing pingpong and other paddle ball games on the lawn. Very elegant day in the park. Don't think this group will ever need to take over the world or launch a war.

Bought some Tibetan tankas today. Hadn't seen any for sale up to now. Hopefully I can keep a few and sell some to help finance this trip. Bought silk pillow slips and scarves as well. Such beautiful handwork. Learning about gems was fun and a good break from endless sightseeing. One becomes surfeited on beauty... It was exciting and scary to stick my neck out to buy some real gems... Supposedly I can sell them to a jeweler and he can still double the price again. Now I must find a jeweler! Two sapphires, an emerald, citrines, tourmelines, malachite, turquoise. He's fronted them to me mostly but now I'm really really in hock... My connection was part of the small tight knit group that I hung out with in Jaipur, a young Buddhist from South Africa now opening up a wine bar! Very trustworthy and taught me a lot.

Had dinner with a young Indian woman who deals with troubled marriage cases--just the info we wanted more of for our proposed book. Meet again tomorrow.

So much that doesn't have words. Or whatever words come to mind at the end of the day. Maybe I can go back and put words to the best moments. I came with the intention of getting so many words out of my brain. But this is a country designed for describing.

Place closing down now.Haven't been consistent in my writing or in my addressees.... Don't always have the time to write and didn't always have the time in the past to read other people's travelogs myself so I'm mostly writing to those who report back that they're here vicariously...

Did have a great time in Jaipur hanging out with the woman who'd designed the rugs we videoed (the manufacturing of, in the MOST primitive villages where the huts for people and livestock were about the same... Anu and her friends took me to many of the music concerts that were part of the Jaipur Music and Literature Festival. [I'm intent on getting invited to speak next year. Daumal on Sanskrit and Hindu Phil. & Poetics? They need it. Realy fills a gap.] I gave my book and a 911 dvd to Salmon Rushdie who was attending the same FABULOUS Spanish guitar concert in the delicious Diggi Palace concert hall where everyone was on a giant mattress with pillows or on deep couches... Truly heavenly. Told him I'd just seen him weeks earlier on C-Span Booktv. (Which seems to have disappeared just before I left. Just when I'd become addicted...) Did talk to the coordinator and will follow through hopefully for next year.
Diggi in the morning for a lecture "Inhaling Gandhi" then jewelry shopping. Bought quite a bit. Then Fri. night was an Indian concert at the Ambar fort (which I first toured) in sumptuous Mughal surroundings--lots of carved pillars... Another giant mattress cum pillows deal so I could snooze while waiting for it to start, tho' chilly outdoors. Then a cold auto-rickshaw ride back to town to the Diggi again for this group of friends' close buddies; the band "Rajistan Roots"--really cool mix of trad Indian music with a drum kit, bass and guitar. Then when I was truly cross-eyed with fatigue, I still wanted to see what their extremely infrequent, special occasion nightclub rave-like scene would be like. Well it was an enormous hangar-type factory that the 400 people who showed could not begin to fill. Awful techno music that we still danced to, me mostly for warmth. Finally, I couldn't leave since it was in no-man's land so the little lounge groupings around heat lamps put me to sleep immed. and I slept from 1-3am while they did I don't know what, while the police came to shut it down and get their bakshee (bribe) then let it start up again, even tho' it was an official event for the Festival. I missed that all.
Spent Sat looking at gems with one of Anu's friends. much longer than I'd wqnat but learned a lot. They're fronting me some beauties to do something with... How bout wearing them?

Then an 18 hr train to Varanasi to rejoin Leanna. Rude family who wanted to talk at 3am. then again at 6 am. I was in great shape...

Leanna got in from the Kumbh Mela. and tho' she liked it, sounds like I'm glad we can live vicariously thru each other's 5-day experience. It was supposed to have a planeary influence since it is 13 million, visible from space. I heard the various competing Saddhu sects often come to blows. But no stampedes this year. Leanna met an inspiring guru and had a very intense time there.
We took an auto rickshaw all around Varanasi, the oldest city in the world. Craaaazy traffic, but saw 4 or more temples. Pretty old, spooky, heavy duty. Lots of Macaque monkeys everywhere, playing around like kittens. The last one was on the Ganges at 5:30 when they have their pujas, and cremations are going on 24 hrs a day. We could see two just down the river, going full blaze. Now they have cheaper electrical ways out since everyone wants to come here to die. Instant salvation. This last temple was damp and our stocking feet were freezing wet on the cold dirty marble floor. Lots of black goddesses. Tons of marigolds are offered and decorate the altars and statues. Back throught the mas of bumper rickshaws. The most creative traffic I have ever scene--British left hand driving but no real lanes. Weaving and weaving in the overlapping sense of the word. Every man and camel and donkey for himself. Tho the roaming brahmin bulls are really the kings of the road. Incessant honking even when it's a total gridlock yet very little aggression.

Today we took a taxi (to avoid breathing so much exhaust) out from Varanasi to Sarna where Buddha gave his first teaching. Great temples, an enormous stupa, and colossal statues, including Ashoka's capital of one of his pillars with his inscriptions. This the famous one with four lions that became the symbol on India's crest. Highly polished and elegant. Ashoka was the great king who became Buddhist after seeing the carnage of one of his battles (Kalinga) around 350 BC. He was the third in the great Mauryian line. Even his grandfather Chandragupta was known as "The Sorrowless One". I like that.

Today is the festival of the Goddess of Knowledge, Saraswati Devi, so there are lights and music all over. also it's a special 'marrying day' so there are lots of these huge loud 3-day weddings happening with white horses drawing a little carriage, men in fancy turbans, and tons of people even here at our hotel.
We took a boat ride along the shores of the Ganges and watched the rituals on the ghats. Quite a scene. Really dreamlike. Two cremation sites going strong. One had 8 pyres blazing away. Then two big productions of guys in bright costumes doing synchronized twirling of objects-- incense, then multiple candled metal trees all afire. A huge crowd watching, great music on drums, harmonium. So bright and colorful in the moonlight. The cresent moon is lying on its back from this position near the equator. Reminds me of Grenada's moon. Hanging like a hammock.
Tomorrow we return at 6 am to see the sunrise over the Ganges... Then at 5 it's an overnite train to Kolkatta. They did away with 'Calcutta" as in " black hole of"... This is Kali's town --the really powerful scary Goddess. Changed the Muslim word Benares to Varanasi...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

How they make rugs in India

Had another magical day videoing the manufacture of handmade rugs in villages outside of Jaipur Rajistan. The company Jaipur is quite modern and is represented at the big show in Hanover Germany currently, but the work is done at one plant where we watched and filmed the sari-clad women trimming the rugs, and men washing the rugs with big wooden paddles two and two, back and forth, and other men working the rugs with all kinds of instruments to get them aligned properly-- so many steps involved.
Then we drove an hour out to a village that looked no more recent than 100 AD. Truly as primitive as any spot on the planet. The loom was in a thatched lean-to in a little cropping of huts with no running water or facilities and buffalo, goats, and dogs everywhere around us.. We mostly ended up photographing the little kids that bunched around us and didn't even beg. (That was different.) They were all so delighted to see their faces on the digital photos and say 'Bye bye' back to us with such glee. Everything was funny and wonderful to them--all ages. The village chief allowed us to photograph him, an old man in a white turban and white folds of clothing. We return tomorrow to video the designing of the rugs.
I'm sticking around Jaipur on my own then joining Leanna at the huge religious festival, the Kumbh Mela that has had 13 million people in Allahabad. Jaipur is a pretty rough city and I feel the need to get out of these large cities that have traffic that puts LA to shame. The main problem with it is THE HORNS.
We've been at a charming hotel that is on a quiet street but one has to walk down a very deserted alley to get to the main drag and this cyber cafe which has a very slow connection tonight. I'm moving to a funkier hotel with other foreigners so as not to be so isolated. There is an ongoing Music and Literature Festival which I will experience briefly before I leave, will miss Solmon Rushdie but I caught him recently on C-Span.
The food just keeps getting better as I keep discovering new tastes, flavors.
Still relishing the strange palace of yesterday. I'd seen the documentary on the Mongols and it featured this Fatapur Sikri extensively. Little did I know at the time that I would be visiting it a few months later. We lucked out with a few good guides there and at Agra Fort. Hadn't had a good guide since one that took us through sites in Israel where he could identify the many strata of deposits--an inch of Syrians, an inch of Babylonians, then Assyrians, etc., etc. Centuries, milleniums piling up in inches. Really gives you a viewpoint on your own era. How these long prosperous dynasties and kindoms can blow themselves out overnight, or...gradually, sometimes with the blustering idiocy of ONE LEADER, like our own Aurangzeb (if you got my last installment). He killed off his finer brother who was intent on distilling the best of both religions--Hindu and Moslem as did his father Shah Jahan and great grandfather Akbar. I have a cassette on their story but haven't listened to it in a few years.
Today we returned to video the finished rugs and compare the rugs: 8 knots per sq inch, 10 x10 knots, 10 x 14 knots and 14 x 14. Learned a lot. I still prefer the Kazak village rugs, while these are more the Persian floral patterns, BUT, they were certainly gorgeous. I really loved the Sumak flat weave carpets. And then the SILK rugs were amazing. I don't know how professional our footage will turn out but they seemed to think we were bringing a lot to the job with our questions. It was fun.
Leanna took off to the Kumb Mela and I finally made up my mind to follow her 2 days later to send 2 days there, only to find there are NO train tickets available. I guess when 12 million are expected, seats are taken. I could go lower class with no heat and no blanket over night. Since I have been cold so often here, that did not excite me.

I went to Jaipur's Albert Hall, looking very different than London's round one. This was palatial and crumbling a bit, under restoration. all white marble columns around lovely courtyards. Lots of Indian miniatures which I have a thing for. Various different young school girls who would introduce themselves to me out of nowhere as I'm engrossed with double glasses on my nose-- cutting quite a figure...( at the Met they provide magnifying glasses and a chair to really examine these teeny paintings). These girls are so sweet and thrilled to practice a little English.
Reading several newspapers I repeatedly never see any mention hardly of the U.S., let alone of W. Amazing. Yes, the Golden Globes and the gowns... But that's about it. Nothing more!!
Usually I can answer "California" when I travel, but here when I say that they add, 'the U.S?"
One guy confused Los Angeles with Las Vegas.
Our confusing language really causes problems. One man complained about 'stomach' problems but pronounced it 'stom match', kinda like 'spinach'. The Estonian woman in charge of rug design spoke of 'canots' for knots. What a crazy language.

Went to the market and bought turquoise and other pendants.
Got on the internet while I ordered food; ate with some Germans and French then came back to this. UP TO THE MINUTE! Now I must return to my new hotel where my bags await me. Probably by auto-rickshaw, the open-air, three-wheeled triangular affairs that fill the streets. Tons of motor cycles and these, thank God. last night we walked back through the dark narrow street that is filled with wet garbage scavenged by buffalos, that reeks of perfumed urine. Then suddenly we saw about four of them kinda stampeding toward us! Got up against the wall then they slowed down. They didn't mean to scare us. Everyone is preetty gentle here; they just want you to get in THEIR rickshaw or shop. Or just give them money period. I read in the paper about the begging mafia, and child slavery capital Mumbai.
Getting cold...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Mongolian Grandfather and Grandson

Today and yesterday we visited two large complexes built by Akbar the Great, grandson of Babur, the first Mongolian ruler of India, and then Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal built by his grandson Shah Jahan. Today's was the earlier one, Akbar's Fatapur Sikri built in 1560? out by itself and lasting only 16 years because of lack of water, inspite of the advanced irrigation engineers. It was fabulously beautiful and intact, and well restored where needed. Building after building of the most beautiful carved red sandstone. Dripping with exotic pendulous forms. Akbar had sought to distill the best of Hinduism, Muslim and Christian religions, and brought all the great thinkers together here. I forget the term he used for his new religion, "The Spirit of God" I think. Well I guess it lasted six years... Why do only the stupid, cruel, self-absorbed versions go on and on...? The saint that helped give him a son is buiried in a white marble mausoleum that we visited. Akbar had a Hindi, a Christian, and a Muslim wife (and 800 concubines), with stars of David and Chinese motifs all carved in the walls.
Got to visit our first Muslim temple, on the premises, truly gorgeous, much more to my liking than the Hindu temples so far which are a bit gawdy in their painted statues that look to me almost reminiscent of carney shows. I'm sure theere will be beautiful ones to come.
Sometimes it was hard to view the buildings for all the hawkers in our face. But they did have great jewelry on their fingers, and we did our first shopping, especially since it was Leanna's birthday. I bought her a necklace of teeny garnets looking like one long rasberry... Prices were great.
Yesterday it was the Taj Mahal. Then Agra Fort, also buit by Akbar originally and enhanced by Shah Jahan and then his son Aurangzeb, who ran the dynasty into the ground. The tour where Shah Jhahan was imprisoned by Auragzeb was gorgeous white marble. Driving out of Agra was such a sight of endless poverty. The contrasts are just too much to bear. As we went through the countryside it was like traveling throught the 11th century... so many Bethlehem-like scenes, of thatched huts built onto rock formations, tents, lean-to's, shacks. Ravishing women in diaphonous saris carrying brass water jugs on their head, passed by camels, passed by pigs, goats, an elephant now and then, mules pulling wood racks of hay and big bags of whatever, passed by bicycle richshaws, passed by three-wheeled auto-rickshaws, passed by cars with the loudest horns in the world, high pitched whistles constantly going off- that can drive you CRAZY.
Leanna wanted to get a picture of one of the beautifully stacked displays of buffalo pies, all beautifully laid out in a circular geometric pattern for people to purchase to use for their fires--at home for cooking and heat or be it on the side of the road. Of course the whole settlement gradually appears, and we had an instant crowd of kids, all wanting to see their pictures on the digital camera.
It's amazing to watch the women doing serious manual labor in these long gowns with veils flying around. The colors are gorgeous--they love the shocking pinks, bright yellows, oranges, greens, so when there's a group it's quite a kaleidoscope. They may be overly sheltered and supressed but at least they are allowed to LOOK GREAT... And Rajistan has a bad reputaton for the supression of women. This is where many of the maharagis lived, maintaining their independence even after the British took over. So male dominance is strong here, illiteracy high among women.
We stopped at a lovely white inn for lunch-- sitting outside with a harmonium player and a drummer. Great for her birthday lunch.
Every hotel we've stayed at uses a room key that drops into a socket to turn on the electricity in the room. Very unusual... The toilet paper rolls are less than a half inch thick, with a thicker cardboard cylinder in the middle. Shower curtains are only a meter wide. Lots of scrimping everywhere. We're in a more upscale hotel now in Jaipur, but they want to charge us for the space heater that every other one has provided and has been quite necessary. Days are so warm but nights can be bitter.
Times up at the cyber cafe!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Agra After 11 Hour Train Ride

We left our hotel at 5 am then caught a 6 am train in the dark. Luckily I was able to get horizontal and was given a blanket and two sheets. We had charming company in our section of seats and Leanna especially engaged this friendly Brahman woman and her 12 yr old son. I tried to defrost my feet and finally had to rub them warm. I slept intermittently through talks of Rama, the nature of religion, arranged marriages, etc. The train bathroom was scuzzy but the train experience was wonderful as everyone is so friendly and the children adorable. Tonight we walked to the first brand new mall in Agra. Mostly aimed at teens, and full of teens. Experienced my first mall black-out for a minute or so. They kept the lights dimmer after that. No store drew us in but we ate, the only females in slacks.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Passing through India

Today is Thursday, and we walked endlessly along the country lanes along the Ganges. It is a beautiful river here at its headwaters, lots of white water rapids to raft on but too cold to do so. It's pale turquoise. We took a ferry across, then the long narrow foot bridge back. walked down a stone walled lane then up many stairs to one of the 50? ashrams amd ended up hanging our with the resident guru, 75 year old Swami Premvarni, who ran away at 10 to study yoga. We saw pictures of him doing all these asana contortions. He's taught in Berkeley and other places in the States. Very sweet moments with him.
Finally started using my new hd dv camera. Had been intimidated by the 57 buttons on all 6 sides of it, but only needed two...
Leanna and I keep having wonderful talks, especially at 5 or 6 in the morning when we still awaken from jet lag. We've covered soo many subjects, given her and my fields. She brings such a basic human, cultural view to many interpersonal dynamics.
Like, What IS the deal with incest?? Who would choose that? Why is it less of a deal in France?
Or, what is this YEARNING THING? What do you replace it with when you get what you want?
HOw successfully can you de-imprint?
It's been funny trying to deal with my Indian toilet training... using water instead of paper. Wouldn't you know Leanna is probably the only person I know who uses a douche toilet at home so she's in heaven while I'm flubbered. The hose is hard to manipulate and gets sprayed all over the place. In steamy Malaysia, that was okay and I used it down my back for cooling purposes. Today I tried the douche toilet and the shock of that cold water on my backside reminded me of that glaucoma test that they pop on your eye ball...Very shocking! But it makes sense. Leanna swears by it. Meanwhile I travel with paper in purse...
The food is fabulous. So many great flavors. The countryside on the train was constantly reminding me of Indian art. So many rows of trees, a cross between a poplar and eucalyptus, many without leaves, which I find enchanting, much as I love trees WITH leaves. You can understand why the British fell in love with this place.
Last night I got caught by the cold after being at the internet cafe for two hours and not paying attention to the congelation occurring. They only had a coiled hot plate for heat. It was painfully cold and we had a long way to walk, including across the looong foot bridge.

So far in India

Greetings. Sorry to send a generic letter but this is my first chance to connect. Sorry to be out of touch with some since it took all I had to get out of town so close after the holidays.

I am living a day ahead of you in India, and living in tomorrowland is wonderful. Tho I came to time-travel BACK. I have had 3 days in Delhi and now a day in Rishikesh, a bit chilled but loving the smokey beauty. Delhi was also smokey, hazy--everyone lighting fires as they squat around them on the center dividers of the roadways... Still the classic scene of teaming, swarming masses of humanity crawling over each other. Pedestrians seem like easy roadkill but somehow everyone survives--mostly. I thought I was prepared for it but it's still more poverty than I've ever seen anywhere.
Hard to get the pulse of Rishikesh--it's Ashram headquarters and it breathes a yoga and calmness as the wide Ganges twists through its steep cliffs, even as they all keep hitting on us for one thing or another. I keep trying to have something for everyone but it's imposssible... Lots of macaque monkies hanging out on the vast footbridge that spans the Ganges. The ashrams are a bit tacky looking, almost Disney or even old Las Vegas, but the natural setting is so gorgeous and the haziness softens the edges and covers up the trash among the river boulders.

I've been lucky not suffering too much 14 hour jetlag. Did take a nap in an old tea house but can't complain. Trying not to get annoyed by all the double talk and incompetence and just focus on the humor of being a stranger in a strange land.
Saw a brand new temple that looks like it might match the Taj Mahal in majesty... the first new Hindu temple built in 800 yrs, Ashkardam, a huge complex with a huge multi-domed temple of pale pink standstone, sitting on a dais of a hundred 10' high carved elephants doing all sorts of funny things. Then inside is a forest of intricately carved white marble pillars and domes, (wherever I'd stand I'd see about 36); built in 5 yrs by 2005, all for a boy saint Swami Narana (1791-1849) who I'd never heard of. We skipped the many videos, and went on their Disneylike ride--REALLY well done, that spanned 4,000 yrs of Indian history. More impressive than I'd realized--atomic theory, geometry way before Pythagoras, as in very field--chess, healing, whatever. Too bad they have little paper cut-outs on this keyboard for the hindi letters that are really annoying mmm...
Since my travel partner is an anthropology teacher/sexologist, she gets us into the oddest conversations with drivers or guides--and this is the first trip where we've needed some guiding, but now no more--they're just not informed enough for what we want. But the arranged marriages, pro and con, and varying appetites of males and females, all according to the males... has been very enlightening. And is all changing as well.
Yesterday got to see what's left of the ancient Mohenjo-Daro/Harappan civilization( 2500-1500). They were so efficient and consistent for 1000 years-- vast grid cities, toilets and plumbing 1000 years before Rome had it. Not much art but they make cute toys and games. Then they dissolved and became the lowest caste slaves to the newly arrived warrior Vedic Aryans who invented chariots and took over the world.

After a great 18 hour flight where we had our choice of 5 seated rows since there was no one in the whole section, we had a day in Kuala Lumpur where the airline put us up in an exotic resort FAR from the airport. Gave us a tour of the town and started to give us the standard tour with a WWII Peace memorial. Too hot and uninteresting for me to climb up to it. Even tho' humans reached there 65000 years ago there was nothing remaining older than 100 yrs, actually only with the British..., so I guess he didn't have a lot to show us.
Luckily he casually pointed out the museum so we wheeled him around to take us there. Great dioramas of the various ethnic groups, and interiors, featuring the marriage customs and fancy beds--it took 3 nights and two houses. Then he then points out the Islamic Art museum. Wheel around again. I LOVE Islamic art, and the Islamic wing at the Met in NY has been closed for security reasons 3 out of the 4 times I've visited since 9/11, so this was a real treat.
Then we saw their enormous twin towers, kind of a cross between Gaudi and Flash Gordon--really great; with the fanciest sparkling new 5 storey mall underneath, but did he really think we wanted to spend the day THERE? I'd visited K Lumpur a long time ago and remembered it as being quite exotic in a British colonial kind of way, but now it's modern with veiled women shopping for I don't know what.

Well, this is enough--it's cold. Hour's up as the donkeys mosey by.
Back Feb 5th.