Posted by: jeanne | November 7, 2018

it’s istanbul, not byzantium

istanbul, not constantinople. only the largest city i’ve seen since delhi, and we couldn’t exactly see delhi because of the smoke that blanketed the entire gangetic plain. one area i could see pretty clearly sticks in my mind – while still pretty close to the airport, we passed an area of huge estates – palatial buildings, swimming pools, long driveways. and in one small corner of the large square of estates, there was crammed a million tiny shops and houses, in all different positions squinched together to house all the many more poor and middle class. i only got an impression of it, because tho it was sunny, visibility to the ground was very faint, like peering into a stagnant pond. a photo wouldn’t have shown it. in contrast, istanbul appeared suddenly as we were flying over endless green/gray scrubby mountains scarred by the white trails of development, ranging from goat paths to villages to roads to major 25 million person cities. like the tundra, you make a mark on this landscape, and it’ll still be there in a hundred years. suddenly the dark landscape – barren mountains crinkling down to the water, the two darknesses marked by a white line of shore. turned to white and extended over all the hills rising from the water. like a giant quarry, or white mildew.

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thursday in istanbul. the flight was six hours long, but they managed to make up the time and we arrived when we were supposed to, just before noon. there was a very confusing wait in line for passport control. there were 18 stations, and we had to wait behind the yellow line for the next available officer – this much seems to be universal. but people naturally got into the first line first, and this bottled up the squeeze space at the back, and nobody could get thru to even the lines out. so there was a huge bunch-up. we did finally manage to elbow our way past, and went all the way to the end counter, right as the officers at our end went on break. so we got to admire their lovely faces for ten minutes as they sat at their counters and ignored us. whatever.

we were finally thru with that, and our baggage was stacked to the side of the carousel. most of the other passengers got there before us, so it was easy to find our bags, but impossible to get a trolley (they were all locked up at one end of the baggage claim hall). so we put the handles together and steered our 5 bags to the customs point, and past.

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ancient defensive walls

we found our prearranged transport dude with his sign, and schlepped our bags to the curb, where a huge minibus took us in to old istanbul, past ruins and hovels and hotels and ultramodern architecture and many playgrounds lining the shore.

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traffic only got problematic once we entered the twisty little back streets behind the blue mosque, but our hotel was very easily reached, so we were there.

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we picked an old place, hotel historia – a small one, one with more atmosphere and less luxury – but a view. the staff are always bend-over-backwards gracious, and we accepted their offer of tea to be brought up to our room, and went on up. the entrance to the hotel is on the 4th floor, because the back of it goes down the hill rather steeply, and we were on the 5th floor, at the back, overlooking the sea of marmara. and what a view it was. we threw open the door and window to the balcony, and relished a sea breeze and clean air. such a contrast to delhi, where we never felt a breath of wind, and the air was full of dust and smoke. we felt very grateful to be there. our vacation.

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i had anticipated needing to take a nap, because while jim slept most of the flight, i was up writing and reading and sneaking peaks out of the window. only when we started our descent did they ask us to open the window blinds (regulations – if the plane crashes the rescuers want to be able to see in. or something). but we were hungry, and anxious to explore, and wanted to eat fish. we’d seen a fish and meat restaurant on the street above ours on the hill, and looked up the very mixed reviews, so we asked the opinion of the hotel manager, and he said they usually directed people to a very different fish restaurant down the street. so we took his advice, and found ourselves on narrow stairs right next to a building site just down the street. balikci sabahatttin, it’s called. family run, hidden gemlike, and empty.

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the restaurant took up both sides of the alley, with tables on the cobbles as well as in two houses. and since it was around 3pm, we had the place to ourselves. we ordered red fish. and before we could even order off the menu, a guy came around with a giant tray of appetizers, so we picked rice pilaf with mussels, and sauteed spinach.

we’re kind of tired of explaining that we’re old, and can only eat a little. so we ordered only the one fish, split in half, and they brought it without a fuss. i got the half with the spine, and we ate it all up. and then they brought us dessert – turkish ice cream (very different) with honeyed figs. everything was delicious, and the meal cost $18. so, great.

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then we wandered around some, walking the little streets on the hill in back of the blue mosque. the houses are all very old, and made of wood. our hotel is in a building that is over 200 years old. the street it’s in is mostly hotels, and the parallel street up the hill is mostly restaurants. and i mean every single house had a terrace out front with tables, and a waiter in the streets waving to customers and saying how wonderful their food is, how cheap. but we’d just eaten, so we didn’t even check the prices, because that only invites further hawking. we just held hands and strolled on down the street, nodding and smiling. the houses that weren’t restaurants were shops, with a bewildering array of very shiny, very sparkly trinkets, i mean tourist items, that is to say quality handicrafts and traditional gifts. (hint – avoid any place that offers pashmina at 10 lira a scarf, because you are totally showing how easily you can be taken advantage of.)

we weren’t very interested in trinkets, no matter how much shine was on them. our bags were mostly full, and we only were looking for a few blankets to take back, and a couple of painted tiles. and that’s good, because they see you coming in istanbul just the same way they see you coming in india, but they are more charming (aggressive) here, and speak better english – and they lead with where you from. one minute. come into my shop one minute. i give it to you for less than nothing (but wife and kids, oldest boy’s college/teeth poorhouse blah). they also hunt for weaknesses – if they can figure out what you want, they will sing its praises, and look very hurt when you say no thank you. in fact, they curse you behind your back as you walk away, so the show of extreme friendliness is completely fake. sorry about that, because they go to great pains to convince you they are your relatives. if my relatives acted like that i’d have had my pocket picked already and would be being set up for something worse. i was tired of it when i was here with the boys last, year, but jim was inclined to talk to them a first, so i had to step in over and over and direct them away from us.

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jim being ‘interviewed’ on camera. they got him to butcher some phrase in turkish. probly on utube by now

jim elicited the same reaction here as in india. people were fascinated with him. i’m going to do a blog post that is nothing but pictures of people taking selfies with him. they stare in the street. there aren’t many old people in istanbul, either, i suppose. we didn’t see any. and interestingly, here and in india, tho there are people from every nation on earth visiting, of all ages, the americans were all retired. plenty of families, lots of children, amazing numbers of young people from somewhere else. tons of russians. but retirees only when it came to people from the states. and perhaps canada as well.

we traipsed around until the sun went down, tho we found it a bit windy with a cool edge to it, and then wanted to wander back to our hotel and go to sleep. our room is small but neat, the bed is comfortable. there’s a BATHTUB!!!!! and a balcony half the size of the room with a spectacular view and nobody overlooking the room, so i didn’t have to think about clothing. the breeze was cool – we were surprised how chilly it was when we got to istanbul. in delhi it was always in the upper 80s during the day, and dropped down to the low 70s at night. but here it went down to 60 during the night and went only up to the low 70s in the daytime. so i was on the hunt for a sweater. and so we didn’t go back to the room for a bath just yet.

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practically empty. we were like an ambulatory atm

we got up to the grand bazaar, and i took him inside to marvel at the ceilings and all the painted decorations, which he objected to until i dragged him out of the traffic flow and gave him something to hold on to while he bent over backwards. the whole market is a bunch of streets on a hill, covered over a long, long time ago, with domes and columns and painted ceilings and courtyards and nooks and crannies. only if you actually just go straight can you get thru the bazaar without getting lost.

tho it was evening, they were not yet ready to close, and we had to run the gauntlet of sellers. are you interested in leather? would you like some scarves? i wanted something warm, and was only offered cloned name-brand sweatshirts. eventually i was accosted by a leather seller who wanted to drag me into his shop. i breezed in, told him i didn’t like anything, and asked for a sweater seller. he didn’t know what i was talking about. then i spotted an embroidered coat on a mannequin across from his shop, and asked it was part off his shop. of course it is, he assured me, and then went over to the actual shop owner and wanted to know if he had my size. but no. and now that he knew what i wanted, he dragged me over to another shop, where a very short man showed me the perfect knee-length coat – embroidered inside and out, a most exquisite patterned tapestry.

i asked how much, and he gave me a price in dollars! oh hell no. he wanted $250. so i walked out as the leather guy was offering to bargain him down to $150. i kept walking. he made a sulky face, and then i caught him making a hand gesture out of the corner of my eye. so no damned way was i going to buy anything from them. not if they’re giving me prices in dollars.

so we left the grand bazaar and walked back toward our hotel. it was getting dark, and the wind was whipping, and we were almost cold. definitely chilly. on the way we passed a coffee shop, and decided to stop in for a latte. the two guys working the bar were friendly, and we started talking. one of them has family in san francisco, so we talked about berkeley versus atlanta. he wants to move to america, but isn’t qualified enough, and totally not willing to live with his brother, so he only hopes to go there and get a job in a starbucks, even tho he doesn’t like their coffee (charbucks). anyway, it was really good coffee, and we really enjoyed stopping there, and promised to visit again on saturday.

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the back of the blue mosque

when we left, we weren’t as cold as before, but passed a shop where jackets were on display, and stopped in. after trying on everything they had, wanting something a little longer in the hip, i settled on a nice embroidered jacket, and he let me have it for 200 turkish lira (about $60). so, warm now, we sauntered across the street and found a row of hats in the window. if i’m a nut for scarves, jim is crazy about hats. we already got a wool hat from nepal (ish) – thrown in for free after i broke the bank at the crafts museum (and emporium) in delhi. this one was an embroidered cap, in silk, and the same colors as his new nepalese patchwork shirt. the staff demured about the size, jim insisted, and i didn’t let him know the price until we were down the block (omg $100), and after that the wool hat from nepal got packed up and he wore his new outfit happily for the rest of our stay.

we walked the rest of the way back to the hotel in comfort, past silently queueing traffic, hung up our clothes, opened the door and window, and got ready for bed. jim read for awhile; i took a bath. the water smelled a bit rank; brackish and sewagelike, but so did the water in delhi. i was surprised, but wasn’t sure if the water smelled like shit or sea. regardless, we continued to rinse our toothbrushes out with bottled water.

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the view all night. with soaring seagulls and moving ship traffic

i was up in the middle of the night, but it was too cold to sit out on the balcony with my computer, and so i wrapped up in a bath towel and froze for awhile, until jim got up to go to the bathroom. then i went to bed and actually slept. and slept well.

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friday. we got up with the call to prayer, 2 hours before dawn according to the schedule, but actually close to 6:30, when it started to get light (did we miss something at 4am?). i’m not religious in the least, but i love the call to prayer. it’s someone waking up the world, not with an alarm, but with a song. a delightfully embroidered song. some guy in every mosque in the city was going off with slightly different timing, in different pitches, and i’m not even sure it was the same song, but there they were, singing like little birds for the dawn chorus. i had my alarm set for 6:30, but shut it off because the call to prayer awoke me, and for ten minutes, we sat in bed and listened to it, watching the lights of the asian side of istanbul, watching the ships coming and going thru the bosphorus, watching the clouds go by outside.

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at 7:30 they started serving breakfast on the second floor, so we took the circular stairs down until we reached a hideously well lit room where they’d assembled a bunch of things for breakfast. turkish breakfast seems, from what i can figure, to be yogurt, raw vegetables (cucumber and tomato) and olives, with cheese, cold cuts, and some fruit. then there were watery scrambled eggs (never touch them because i used to be a restaurant cook myself), boiled eggs, some sort of sausage, french fries, or cereal. toast. i had yogurt and veggies, jim had eggs and toast. there was some juice, but it tasted like tang, so i passed, and we both had several cups of coffee. it was cold outside, so we didn’t go on the terrace, but it was nice out there, and as the sun came up, it was much more pleasant light than the fluorescents in the dining room.

we saw a family near the doors open one of the doors up every now and then and throw something on the ground outside. and then we saw why – there was a family of cats living on the deck and in the surrounding vines, and tho they were obviously well fed by generations of hotel guests, they acted like they were starving.

after breakfast, we scampered out to see something. we picked the aya sofia first, a mosque that started out in byzantium as a christian church, made it thru constantinople as a mosque, and was now a museum. so it cost money to get into. and there was a line at the ticket booth. we were there at 9, when it opened, and there was still a line. and we had to run a gauntlet of helpful, friendly men who insisted we needed a guide to see the place properly. we ignored them, of course. after buying our tickets and getting our cameras xrayed, we went into the grounds and into the building. it was incredibly old, and there were arches filled and patched and made into new arches, and in general attesting to the many many architectural adjustments that had been made over the centuries.

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i was there last year with the kids, but jim of course had never been there, so it was exciting to lead him around and let him discover the size and scale of the place. it was already full of people at 9am, but they hardly dented the space. the same scaffolding was still there, but it didn’t diminish from the vastness of the area. i can’t begin to describe the space except as football fields in size. a football field high, several football fields around, huge enormous. massive. vast.

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we stayed for an hour and a half, wandering around the two floors, and up and down stone ramps, around and in galleries. there’s been a lot of restoration over the years, and we discovered that they had ‘replaced’ some of the marble wall panels (many of which had actually been looted wholesale back in 1204 and taken to venice to make san marco basillica) with painted panels, the paint replicating matched marble slabs.

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we had to look closely to make sure, but they were paint, not stone. we also noticed that much of the interior was actually made of ancient brick, covered by painted plaster. but, no matter, it was overwhelming, and such an engineering marvel. the restoration went so far as to reproduce a section of wall in trompe l’oeil – faked to look like continuing niches and columns. we were very impressed. we had thought trompe l’oeil was renaissance, rather than medieval. (and were wrong on both accounts. it goes all the way back)

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from a window i couldn’t actually see out of

when we left the building, it was still windy and cool, but it was now 11:30am. we walked across to the basilica cistern, as our next port of call, but the line went around the block, so the hell with that. we had another idea. first we stopped at a really interesting cafe i’d almost stopped into with the boys, and had some coffee and halva (wonderful). then we stopped across the street and asked the friendly loitering men, who wanted to sell us carpets and turkish art, where we could find ebru paper – turkish marbling. they had no idea what we were talking about, but i had found the address when i had wifi in the cafe, and we marched around the corner to find it. up three flights of stairs and into a travel agency. but they were also the ones who gave the artists space to operate, so fine.

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our cafe

we poured thru some very nice marbling, and selected 7 or 8 sheets to take home with us. the guy wanted cash, and asked for euros, but we came up with some nice crisp turkish lira, and he found it acceptable. we had worried about our chances for getting cash advances to work, and so we got a lot of our rupees changed to euros back in delhi. but the cash machines worked here, so we got 1000 lira out ($180) and spent it.

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we walked down the hill from there, passing the lower gates of the topkapi palace and wandering down to the bottom of the hill thru the regular city of istanbul, where people had jobs and went to school and lived in apartments.

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we passed an art supply store, and went right in. i was looking for handmade paper, because jim wanted some more, and he browsed the pastel sticks. we both found something, and walked out with a roll of paper, just as they were shuttering the store for lunch. never pass by an art supply store.

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oooh, look at those art nouveau details

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there must be a college nearby, the food was really cheap and the line went around the corner

so we walked some more, right down to the foot of the bridge over to the other side. we didn’t go across the bridge, as tourists and tour buses do, stopping in the middle to let tourists gaggle and photograph both hillsides. we stayed in the giant plaza and rubbernecked.

but we stopped at the new mosque (new as of 1660, built by queen mothers, along with the spice bazaar). we’d heard the call to prayer a few minutes before, and now came across the men in one small corner of a huge plaza, in the shadow of this enormous mosque (under repair). they were in the middle of prayer, or rather listening to the preacher rattle on as they have to do in every religion i know of.

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the men who couldn’t fit inside the mosque kneeled to pray in an outdoor area

all the women sat on the walls of a lovely courtyard and examined their recent purchases or watched the kids playing.

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galata tower in the distance, across invisible galata bridge, clotted with tourists getting the money shot

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we were looking for the spice market, and found it, and wandered thru it tasting turkish delight, which wasn’t very impressive, and was way too much sugar. so we never did get any, except the gift box for gabi that she didn’t crave, so we brought it back.

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from there it was all uphill, thru the non-bazaar bazaar, the one outside the bazaar, where the locals shopped for stuff that was definitely unlike the tourist stuff inside the bazaar – clothes, fabrics, bedding, kitchenware, appliances, stuff.

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looking back down the hill

all much cheaper, and much less refined, and basically flea market quality. but hey.

we took the opportunity to get a bunch of evil eyes and some little things to take home, and then jim’s back began to hurt, so we walked up and thru the bazaar,

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truly nasty once it gets going

and made it back to the hotel as fast as possible. and then we had a nap.

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the call to prayer at 4pm woke us up, and we went back out to get dinner.

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we’d asked at the front desk, because they gave us such good advice about the fish restaurant, and they directed us to a place up on the main street, right next to starbucks, where he said we should mention the hotel and get a 10% discount. but when we found the place, and saw the prices (starting at 48 lira a dish), we decided we’d be better off going to the place where the boys and i had eaten. i’d looked it up on my phone, and we wandered the back streets of the garment district to get there.

but first another cup of coffee. really expensive – 12 lira each, but wonderful lattes, rich and chewy, in heavy cups that held the heat. this time selchuk’s dad was in the corner, and the boy was having a so-so day we hoped would improve. dad was looking at pictures on his phone of a car he wanted to buy. we got to talking, but of course, and he was fixing to pay 7,000 euros for it used. we all agreed that old cars are better than new ones, and parted great friends.

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jim’s new hat. this is when we got our first clue about why people were so interested in him

this is where i realized why i had called the place dirty in my first report of istanbul. the garment district generates a lot of waste, mainly cardboard. and by the end of the day, there was cardboard and empty spools of packing tape everywhere. we passed a wholesale shoe store, and saw shoes jim liked, and walked on in. the guy was very nice and solicitous, and we found shoes that fit and he was comfortable, and he charged us $18, so we paid in cash and put his old shoes in a bag.

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i did notice one thing about buying things from people. none of them had any idea what the word ‘receipt’ means. and none of them knew how to operate a credit card machine to generate one. and when i had them write down my purchase on a piece of paper by hand, they only put the total, with never an identification or store name or date or anything else. and of course i didn’t document everything immediately as i should have, so i’ve got a whole lot of absolutely useless scraps of paper i don’t know are in turkish lira or indian rupee.

the restaurant – sar restaurant – is one where the workers of the garment district eat, and so it was cafeteria style turkish food – absolutely delicious, and a good meal for two was $20. i had lamb soup, and roasted lamb, and stuffed vine leaves, and jim had kofte, and we ate as much as we could.

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embroidered. no prices showing. i want a pair

it was dark at that point, with lots of traffic stopped in the street. there was no honking, tho, and no driving up on the sidewalk to get around cars. they all just sat there and waited. so unlike delhi. we were going faster than the cars. but then, there were limited arteries to get down the hill to the highway, and we were walking along the largest one. so we got off that street as soon as possible, and found our way back to our hotel.

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i was still having trouble getting my photos off the cameras, and this time the phone was giving me trouble. but it was actually the wifi. jim took his bath and went to sleep while i struggled to get a dozen photos transferred to the computer at a time. i had 350. but eventually i figured it out, and opened the hall door, and angled the phone directly in line with the router, and got them all off. i still couldn’t get the photos off the big camera, but at least i could process the photos of our last days in delhi.


the view around the side of our building to the backs of all the other hotels on the street

saturday, the call to prayer woke us up again. we got to breakfast earlier and got out to the line for topkapi palace by 8:30.

and after a leisurely stroll thru the first garden, we had a ten minute wait for the ticket booth to open at 9, and then were unpleasantly surprised to find we had to have a ticket to the palace in order to get inside, even if all we wanted to do was see the harem.

i’d learned that much of the palace itself was closed for renovation, and that the harem was the most worth seeing, but we bought two tickets, so we avoided the crowds by going around the outside, and against the traffic flow.

topkapi palace and the harem was the home of sultans and their wives for centuries, and was truly magnificent. no expense spared. a designer’s dream.


real mother of pearl – sustainable, and real tortoiseshell – antique and rare af


just one of the small pavilions


the sultan, and the sultan’s mom, have only small differences in their bedrooms; i forget which this was

so many ornamental domes, so many painted tiles, so many mother of pearl and tortoise shell doors, so many empty rooms. so many photos.


even the drains on the patio were classy

and after two hours, we were done. so we went back to the hotel and i uploaded photos and published the last blog post while jim read his book.


really? wtf parked in front of the tourist police office. is that a water or a sound canon on top?

and then we went out again. it was only 2pm, so we wandered up to the bazaar, looking for blankets and tiles, our last remaining items we wanted to bring back home. i hadn’t had any luck finding the vendor i’d bought blankets from last year – the street was now filled with one gun dealer after another – never have we seen so many guns of all kinds, old fashioned and modern, automatic and shotgun, with bipods and scopes. all apparently available to all and sundry. but no blanket vendor.

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an entire street devoted to gun shops

so we went around the outside, or tried to, but every alley we took led back to the gates of the bazaar with their armed soldiers and metal detectors. so we marched right thru, front to back, passing someone inside selling the blankets, but wanting 120 apiece for them, when i’d paid 80 last year. we started looking around for someone who would sell me a blanket outside the bazaar. we found a place selling lace curtains, and found a sample hanging over the door that was perfect. but the guys inside tried to sell us modern turkish designs, one after another, and we kept saying there was only one we were interested. in the end, he confessed that those samples over the door were ancient, and what was wrong with the ones he had for sale. so we walked out. vendors selling blankets were selling either wool or polyester, and none of them had the same diamond weave cotton blankets i actually wanted. so the whole thing was fruitless, and we found ourselves back in gun street again, so we headed thru the bazaar again.

this time we stopped at the place we’d gone into before, and i told the guy what i wanted to pay, and he agreed, so i bought four blankets, just not the color allison wanted (white). and then we stopped at the shop next door to that and bought the tiles for angela, and one for jim, and one for me, and then we were done with our shopping. yay. struggling with a large plastic bag full of blankets, we waddled down to the coffee shop halfway back to the hotel.

our friend the barista wasn’t there because it was his day off, but we met a couple of english tourists who were staying in the hotel above the coffee shop. they pointed out a glass structure across the street and said it was a cistern, newly discovered, and holding an art exhibition inside among the columns and water. and it was free. so we went to see it.

this cistern, like the famous one, was discovered quite by accident, in this case when they demolished an old town hall on the spot. so they fixed it up and opened it to the public. it was a whole lot smaller than the basilica cistern, but every bit as impressive, being deep underground, and 40 feet tall (or so), and holding water around huge columns. only this one had intaglio prints of horses on the wall, so we had a double treat.

half an hour later, we went back to the surface, bought the book of the artist’s work, and talked to his rep, who was selling prints. the artist is jim’s age, and has single handedly revived printing in turkey, and is the head of several college art departments, and jim is pretty sure he learned from someone who learned from the guy who taught jim, and who himself invented the process this turkish artist was using so well. so we had a lot to say to the guy, who took a picture of jim, and got his website and name to send to the artist.

and then we walked down the hill to our hotel, only we took a wrong turning and got lost, going thru some very narrow streets and down areas tourists never go unless they’re lost, like us.

but we figured it out, and got back as the sun went down. dropping the blankets for later, we went right back out to the fish restaurant, because we were hungry. but it was saturday night, and half of the hippest locals were there for dinner. the head waiter told us to come back in 30 minutes, so we returned to the hotel and i set the clock for 30 and finished posting the blog. then we went back. the second head guy told us to come back in 15 minutes, but got yelled at by the first head waiter. so they stuck us at the bar, where two middle aged turkish women made a big fuss over jim. again, while an american couple stayed invisible. the sound the ladies made upon seeing him was a mix between cooing over a baby and being in the presence of a movie star. i should have offered them a selfie with him.

in ten minutes they came for us, leaving the two turkish women and the american couple still waiting for seats, and gave us a table right in front of the door. hey brought around the tray of starters again, and we picked the rice pilaf with mussels, and a plate of marinated baby sardines (which jim didn’t like because marination=vinegar), and we ordered a salad and a bonito, then we sat and waited.

the restaurant was very crowded, and everyone in there was having excited, animated conversations with everybody else. half of them seemed to know one another. we could hardly hear each other, so whole minutes went by when neither of us said anything. we were the only calm, quiet people in there, except maybe for the waiters. the food was really excellent, and we ate it all up, and then we sat and sat and sat and sat. the turks are very like other europeans, and love to sit for hours at the dinner table. they eat, and drink, and drink some more. but we were tired, and it was getting late, and we had no intention of staying until midnight. it had gotten chilly, but since mostly everyone was smoking cigarettes, it was getting stale inside, so they kept cranking back the accordion roof, and that just made it colder. so finally jim went down to the bathroom to wash the fish off his fingers, and i accosted the most busy waiter and said we were done. he looked surprised, but cleared off our table, and then we sat and sat and sat. still no bill. finally i stood up, and a waiter came to ask if he could call a taxi. but we hadn’t paid, so i told him that, and we waited and waited and waited. finally i went to the bathroom and left jim with our last 100 and some, and when i came back he was waiting for the change, and so we left most of the rest as a tip, and went back to the hotel.

sunday. up with the call to prayer, we thought we’d spend our last few hours seeing the basilica cistern and the blue mosque. a helpful, friendly man chased us to the gates of the mosque, asking where are we from, and how are we. i said we’re tired, and he immediately suggested to jim that he get me a massage, after which he could get more babies in me. which was incredibly insulting, and we turned around at the gates (we were half an hour before opening) and left. when we got to the cistern, it was an hour before its opening, and they only took cash. so we returned to he blue mosque and had to wait ten minutes for the cops (the armed attendants) to unblock the gate. thru the gates we entered a courtyard and circled counterclockwise to a marked line (we’d seen this line much longer on the afternoon we’d peeked in, spiraling inward from the line to the other gate). when i’d been here with the boys, we went in a completely different entrance, but the mosque is under renovation and things were different.

we were first to the area where you take off shoes and socks, so jim got a seat and took his time discalcing.

then it was a superbly textured red and blue carpet that covered the entire football(2) field of mosque floor, and…scaffolding and a false ceiling only 25 feet off the floor obliterating the view of 7/8 of the entire domed ceiling. i felt oppressed by the lack of atmosphere, the i-beam-in-the-face impalement of the interrupted view. there were so few sight lines, it was so dim, even the trompe l’oeil scaffolding cover blocking the major part of the dome – even the printed plastic tarp over the scaffolding was a 42dpi cartoonish rendering of what i knew it hid.

jim was in heaven, however. the magnificence of the blue mosque wasn’t dimmed in the least for him. just like the scaffolding that’s still in place in the aya sofia didn’t dim it for me.

he wandered around peering into the little distance he could see, photographing all the beautiful decorative work and composing complex photos of architectural perfection with more glee than he’d shown photographing the taj mahal. which by the way was in many ways a quick copy of either of the mosques in easy walking distance of our hotel in istanbul.

so we went to find a cash machine to get a mere 40 lira, and our card was declined. we tried a total of 5 cash machines, and got the same from each, so we returned to the cistern, which now had a dozen people in line, and i left jim there and tried one more machine, just up the block. which declined the card. when i checked the wallet, i discovered we still had 20 lira left, and that was enough for a single ticket, so i suggested jim go down, and i’d wait at the cafe where we’d had coffee and baklava.


the breakfast deck at our hotel

but he wasn’t having any of it, so we went back to the hotel, took our novels down to the breakfast room, and had more coffee sitting on the patio with the cats. then we went back upstairs and jim sat on the balcony and read, while i went down to the front of the building with the computer and started reporting on our days in istanbul. and then it was time to catch a lift to the airport.


great modern architecture, stylish and with humor

we grabbed our bags (i had packed and repacked the night before), and paid our bill, and half an hour later we were at the airport. we had to go thru xrays and metal detectors on the way into the airport, and then security and passport check on the way to the ticket counter, and then a quickly moving line to passport control, and after that we had to xray our bags again. then we were in the passenger section, and hit the food court. it was going to be hours and hours before they fed us on the plane, so i got some spinach, and rice for jim, and then we got coffees and baklava, and then it was time to go to the gate. we only had the one carryon and our two backpacks at that point, and had the packs strapped to the rolly bag, making it hard to control. but, no matter, neither of us needed a load on our shoulders. at the gate, we had another security check, then a pat down and rub for chemical residue and physical check of our bags, and then one more when we actually loaded onto the plane. was that 6 or 7?


a flashy safety video starring emmit and wyldstyle

but we were on, and waiting to leave. the plane slowly filled up (those last security checks), and we were eyeing the window seats, because again, while i wasn’t looking, they switched us to aisle seats. note to myself, check flight status before leaving for the airport. several americans had decided to sit together in their not-assigned seats while the plane was still empty, so that their babies could be together, and they were making a big ruckus when others showed up to ask them to move out of their seats. but eventually we took off, and two hours later they fed us (again, all the blinds are closed, even tho it’s broad daylight outside), and now we’re over newfoundland and only have another 5 or 6 hours in the air before we’re home. they’ll feed us another very good whole meal on the other end of the fllight, too, because it’ll only be 7:30pm when we land and michael picks us up.


our view of the ground. live video from the cockpit. pretty cool actually, but not like a window seat grrrrrr

we’ll be very happy to be home. this has been a really eye-opening trip for us, one we would have never thought we’d make, and a very interesting journey. the excitement of india, the conrasts, the poverty, the beauty – all of this is going to take some time to process. india was work; turkey was vacation, and we really enjoyed ourselves. we took thousands of photos, bought lots of cheap textiles and clothes, and burned ourselves right out, so it’s going to take a further post to reflect on everything we saw and did. that’ll be the post where i show all the selfies people took with jim and reveal the secret of his popularity. but for now, i’m going to try to get a little sleep. we’ve watched several movies (downsizing, the remake of total recall, tower heist), eaten, and now our butts hurt. here’s some disaster movie involving a large shark on the screen of the seat in front of me, and it’s just one surprise after another, but we don’t care. how many gags involving sharks can you make?


home at last, and immediately applying for film extra jobs

Posted by: jeanne | November 3, 2018

escape from new delhi

escape from new delhi, another unfortunate pun, i’m afraid. i just can’t help myself.

so here we are at delhi airport, on thursday morning half an hour before our flight to istanbul. the last two days of our stay in delhi were epic indeed, with drama, intensity, moments of sheer terror, and a whirlwind of shopping experiences. let me explain.

when i last wrote, both of us were sick. well, we’re still sick, but they’re only colds, and we hope the change of atmosphere will put us right at last. delhi is incredibly polluted this time of year, and we were under a ‘very poor’ alert, with visibility fading after only a hundred feet – less.

on tuesday jim was in bed much of the day, recuperating from his episode, which we’re well able to deal with at this point. i packed up all our stuff, and repacked several times (good thing gabi has an industrial set of scales in the house), worked several orders that had come in during the night, and took several naps, because i still wasn’t right after my migraine.


jim went shopping for saris among gabi’s stock – he won’t wear them; they’ll end up as art

in the evening, we ventured out to get several things we needed still. i kind of forget what at this point. more wood blocks, some clothes for the kids (did i already go over this?). we ate up all the rest of the spaghetti i’d made before we went travelling, and went to bed early.


our friendly neighborhood money changer, as we turn a bunch of rupees into euro, for istanbul

skeeter the dog has a hard time in this season, because it’s getting close to diwali, the festival of lights, and people were shooting off firecrackers every few minutes. like many dogs, he hates the sound, and got up on the bed with us – a dog as big as we are, snuggling against our legs for protection and reassurance. we took turns patting his head and smoothing his back. poor baby.


skeeter, needing comfort


kaliya, needing nothing

we had lots to do on wednesday, our last day in delhi. we had put off going to old delhi as long as possible, and now there was no time left. so we gathered up all the packages going to the post office, and went to the street of tuktuks. the first guy said 150, and i said 80 and stormed off across the street while he shouted for me to come back. we took another auto rickshaw, and they’d heard the exchange, and were more than happy to overcharge us only 30 rupees. didi wasn’t at the post office, because she was sick, and there was some guy taking her place, so i was dubious, but he stashed the packages in the same place, and took the roll of tape and put it in a lockbox, so i assumed he was up to speed.


digging up the street – again – by hand

when we got back to the auto rickshaw stand and asked for jama masjid, some guy came up and spun us a line to get us away from the driver we were going to use. i’m still confused about whether there’s a bell-captain type of position at that stand, or whether they compete to see who can fleece the tourists with more finesse. he said, oh yes, you’re going to old delhi, and you want a bicycle rickshaw to tour with, and he will make stops for you, and wait while you shop, and show you all the sights. i agreed that’s what we wanted, and he said, i will take you to tourist bureau for 20 rupees only, and they will arrange everything.

i was dubious, but we got in. i became suspicious when he stopped only a couple of blocks away, going the wrong way up a street for those blocks, and ushered us out at a tourist bureau. in an air conditioned building. with desks and suited people. we were shown to the largest office, where a guy behind an empty desk listened to my proposed itinerary, then whipped out a calculator and punched in 50. it will cost $50, he said, brightly, used to dealing with tourists right off the bus. how much is that in rupees, i wanted to know. he figured it out. 3600, he said. i got up, furious, said we’re paying 400, and stalked out. jim followed. i told the driver he could now take us to jama masjid, and asked how much. how much you want to pay madam, he asked, and he turned the keys over to someone else when i insisted on 150 (still an overpayment).


psst, hey mister, want some lamb? just fell off a truck in front of my car

so we went off to the largest mosque in delhi, right next to the red fort, and both places tourists want to go. but we were a bit burned out of the desire to see forts and palaces, even tho it had a step well, and scouted around the front of the mosque for cycle rickshaws. only we were on the wrong side of the road. the side where there were shop stalls selling lamb and live chickens, along with all the other things you can find on the sides of the streets in delhi (everything). we started walking, knowing we’d be spotted right away as tourists, and sure enough, a little guy in a turban and lungi waved at us. i told him where i wanted to go and asked him how much, and he didn’t understand a word of english, so agreed to everything.


a man rolling up paan

then a guy came up with good english, and convinced us that we wanted to go with him. an argument ensued when we got out of one rickshaw and into another, and i had to give the guy 10 rupees for his trouble. but we were now with someone who could understand what we wanted to do. only too well, of course. i asked how much, because you never get into a rickshaw without establishing the price, and he said, oh madam, if you don’t like my service, you pay me nothing; if you like my service, then you pay what you wish. i said, oh no you don’t. give me a price. that other man agreed to 400. i repeated that number several times. it didn’t seem to phase him, but he still insisted that the price was up to me. so finally we got in.

we wanted to see some lace, and some handmade paper, go to the spice market to get a view of delhi from the top of the building, and get some cheap cotton saris. and then we wanted to go to karim’s restaurant because it’s highly rated in all the guidebooks. and he was fine with this, so we took off. bicycle rickshaws are more basic than auto rickshaws – no springs, for instance, and rock hard seats. you’re in a cage, tho, which isolates you somewhat from passing vehicles and pedestrians. but the moment we turned down into the narrow streets of old delhi, the traffic noises died away, so we gave thanks for the small things.

we went down a lane only a few feet wider than our rickshaw, filled with shops displaying lots of brightly colored things. we were in kinari bazaar, where they sell ‘lace’, but really it was trim. all kinds of trim, from beads to pompoms to crocheted gold and silver zari thread. but no lace that we could see as we trundled down the street. it was extraordinarily crowded, so our driver/guide said, because of the runup to diwali, which is thankfully after we get home. everybody was out buying presents and decorations, and all the stores were featuring bright yellow and orange doodads.

we did pass an off-branch of a perfumery i’d only recently read about in a review of old delhi, an old maker of attars (non-solvent based essences). it took me a moment to work out the name, but it matched my memory, just not the right street. so the driver turned around, and i left jim in the rickshaw and stepped inside. it was a wide and shallow room lined with cabinets full of glass bottles, half a dozen men sitting around, and one woman (who handled the credit card transactions). i wanted to smell my usual (rose, patchouli, sandalwood), and several other blends i’d heard of, and sat there while a guy unstoppered sampler bottles and dabbed the skin of my arm with a small amount from each bottle while i rubbed it in and smelled it. of course, the full aroma doesn’t develop until it’s been on for a few minutes, but we didn’t have that, and i had to make up my mind at the first sniff. i said no to the patchouli, because it was suspiciously thin, and almost said no to the rose, because it was a pale yellow (and true attar of rose is a dusky color (but i’m no expert)), and one fragrance smelled like sweat. but otherwise, i got 4 little bottles of nice oils, and then a pack of 8 soaps (mostly for allison), and the whole cost me about $15. so not too bad.

then it was back in the back of the bike, and more jolting thru the streets. i wanted to go down the sari street (nai sarak) but the driver had his own idea of the route, and explained this to me as if i were achild. so we went to chandni chowk, the heart of old delhi. we’d once seen a movie called ‘from chandni chowk to china’, staring one of the bollywood greats, but i don’t remember much of the beginning of the movie, just its improbable middle and end. so it was no preparation. it started out as a wide street (meaning houses and lanes were razed by whatever king decided he wanted it), with a canal in the middle so people could enjoy the reflection of the moon in it at night (which is what the name refers to). but now it was a wide street chock full of cars, rickshaws, and people. we hadn’t actually seen any cows in old delhi, and didn’t really wonder if all the meat eating muslims in the area hadn’t scarfed them up (you go to jail for killing a cow in india). we were heading to the spice market at the end of the street, and soon our guy pulled his rickshaw over and we got out. you couldn’t take a rickshaw into the spice market, he said, and we were afraid he was going to point us in the direction and let us make our way itself. jim would have stayed with the rickshaw if that were the case, but he got out and took jim’s elbow (impressed that he’s 80), and led him across the road and down the sidewalk (again, not really a sidewalk, but rather a platform raised up from the street that had vendors on both sides, making a very narrow passage for people to walk thru.

we were going along the dried fruit and nut market to get to the spice market. dried fruit and nuts everywhere in all the shops, and throngs of people clamoring to buy them, with sellers of copper-stamp pictures, silver-tint presentation boxes, sets of assorted nuts and fruits piled high on carts and tables on the street side. it all looked very tempting, and if we hadn’t had a guide leading as fast as jim would go, i might have stopped for a kilo or two of pistachios, walnuts, dried mango and ginger and apricots etc etc.

the two of them turned down a little lane with an arch above it (the very first time jim walked ahead of me this entire trip, because usually he lags behind from 6-10 steps and keeps his following distance no matter if i slow down. i have to stop and wait for him, often with impatience on my face, because if he’s going to match my speed, at least he could walk close to me). the smell of chili accosted us, and i wondered if he were suffering, because he can’t take spicy food at all. but he was fine. i was really enjoying the smells of so much chili, so many actual spices – cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, anise, and all sorts of spices i can’t even name. all in big burlap bags lining the alleyway and filling the floor of each shop we passed.

our guide knew we wanted to go to the top, and knew right where the stairs were, and led us up floor after floor to get there, leading jim by the hand (because men hold hands here and think nothing of it) or elbow, and finally we were at the top. the view into the central courtyard of the building was amazing, with activity everywhere, sacks of spices everywhere. it was a very old building, centuries old, and the same things had gone on there day after day for the entire time. you could write a novel set there, and not run out of things to say about it. but the real treat was going to the outside of the building and looking out at old delhi.

of course there was so much smog that it was impossible to see the horizon, and i’d thought that would make a trip to the top useless. but i was wrong. we couldn’t see all of delhi, true, and what we could see was obscured by a dense layer of smoke, but it was still fascinating.


who doesn’t love papadum?

just below us on a lower rooftop, people were drying papadum on bamboo screens in the sun (and nasty air). as i watched, a guy came out, lifted a huge screen onto his shoulders, and ducked inside a thatched lean-to with it, to take all the round papadums off and package them for sale, i suppose. there was a smallish mosque (very famous, very old) just next to the spice market, and its gardens were laid out for us to see, all very quiet with a fountain.

but the big treat for me was a slightly higher rooftop adjacent to it. as we went up to that, a guided party of white people came up the stairs and went to the same spot we’d just been, so that’s why our driver had no hesitation in finding the stairs. at the end of the upper level, over a parapet, we could see the bustling chandni chowk crowds swarming like ants on a donut. trucks unloading, big bundles being carried on men’s heads, honking and blaring horns.

so much activity – pandemonium. and as an added treat, there was a man in his underwear, washing his clothes the way they do by hand here – rubbing soap into them, splashing water onto them, then gathering up the clothing into a bundle and pounding it into the surface of the roof, over and over again, like tamping flour into a container. half naked men doing the laundry, you can bet i got a photo.

then jim had had enough, so we went down again. this time our guide was not so solicitous, and i had to wait to let jim catch up several times. but we made it back to the rickshaw, and were off again. but instead of going down nai sarak, he pointed out a second floor shop on a corner of chandni chowk, and said that was the best place. i should have insisted, but let him stop and get out and escort me upstairs, where i found myself in a showroom flanked by half a dozen men. i told them i wanted cotton only, and they made me sit down instead of going over to the stacked saris and looking for the colors i wanted. so i could only say blue and red, and a young guy went over to the stacks for me and began pulling saris and throwing them at my feet. or rather the head guy’s feet, who swiped the bundle up and presented them to me. very nice, very beautiful, a bit too fancy. but some really cool ones. i kept pushing them aside, now and then putting one by my feet. and interestingly, they saved the really attractive ones until i’d made my decision of one or two saris, and then tossed one irresistible one after another my way.

then they showed me linen. unless they were lying and it was some sort of plastic, it was the finest linen i’ve ever seen, and in a lovely dark blue. and only 800 per meter. so i got 3 yards, and after that they were throwing saris at me right and left. i stopped them by saying, now let me see your cheapest cotton saris, and that got me some costing 1500 each. and i’d been looking at saris for 7000 apiece, about $100. in the end, i got 6 saris and some yardage, and when they ran the credit card it came to over $200 (at least i hope i didn’t spend $2000, i’ll find out when i examine my credit card bill once the charge hits). i was happy to have so many lovely lengths of fabric, but pretty tired of the guide and his choice of what i wanted to see. as we went down the stairs, i remarked that i hoped he was getting a good commission for bringing me to their shop, and he turned all innocent and no, madam, i do it to bring you the most lovely blahblahblah

jim had been sitting in the rickshaw this whole time, talking to the proprietor of the store, so he was okay. and then we turned down nai sarak, and there was store after store, filled to the brim with saris, and prices in the windows showing less than half of what i’d been paying upstairs. i was pretty pissed off by this, as much at myself for not seeing thru his game and refusing to be diverted. but i’m pretty easy that way (even tho delhi has made me much harder than i was before).

we only needed to get some paper, and at this point the guy started bugging me for how much i was going to pay him. i started by reminding him of his tacit 400 agreement, and he got all frowny. i know, he said, you pay me 2000, 1 for you and 1 for him. i said no, i don’t think so, and he dropped it. we drove to the paper area, and by paper he thought i meant printed paper – the cheap calendars and posters they sold by the side of the street. or maybe textbooks and used novels. or maybe wedding cards, all painted and perforated and bejeweled. handmade paper, i said. he looked blank. we kept scanning the shops as we passed. finally we stopped him at a shop that sold wedding paper, and i got out and asked for handmade paper. the guy waved me across the street, and we saw a window full of exactly what we wanted.

our guy wanted to be paid at this point, and wanted to drop us right there and merely direct us to karim’s restaurant, but i was having none of it, having been pushed far enough. so jim and i got ourselves across the street while he sulked in the driver’s seat, and went into the shop, with had a party of indian women shopping for wrapping paper. the paper was very thick, like cardstock, and all very nice and nicely done. a lot of the paper we can get at home, and a lot of very fancy, jeweled paper we’d never seen before. if it had been me, i would have come home with a roll of 30 sheets of various highly decorated paper, especially after i was told they were 30 rupees each. but jim only wanted a warm white, and only bought 5 sheets of it, even after looking at every kind they had (rolling shelves that moved away to reveal more shelves behind them). but we were soon done. we’re done, yes? he asked me as we returned to the rickshaw. you pay me now? i have to go. hah.

and then off to karim’s. the idea that we could have found it on our own was laughable. first our guy parked in his usual spot against the wall of the mosque and pointed vaguely down a side street. no way. so he led us, quite rapidly, and without any care for jim’s slowness, down the street and paused to let us catch up before turning again into an alley and down the few yards to a courtyard of restaurants, all of which said karim’s. at this point he wanted his money. so i took him aside and reminded him that he had said i could pay him nothing if i wasn’t happy with his service, and reminded him also that he had taken me to the most expensive sari shop in delhi. on the other hand, he was very helpful and solicitous of jim’s lack of confidence in the street, and i appreciated that. so i gave him 1000, which is 2.5 times as much as gabi had told me they’ll settle for, and he gave me a very sour look as he took the money. i would have done it entirely differently if i’d had more experience there, but innocents abroad…

so there we were, standing in the middle of an courtyarded alley, looking blank. we were heading for the restaurant with tablecloths, and trying to avoid the stand-up restaurant areas. but a waiter approached and said, two? and we said yes and followed him into a karim’s with an upstairs and a downstairs, led us upstairs, and sat us at the water station, where they stage carafes of water before putting them on the tables. under the air conditioner. the place was packed, with a passel of americans at one table and the rest indians. the waiters all had skullcaps on, so they were muslim. and karim’s was an old (1913) mughal-style restaurant from the british days. mughal means mild food, as opposed to the firey food of hindu delhi, so we were hoping to find safed maas on the menu.

the menu was in english, and we could hear indians discussing the menu with their waiter, in hindi, throwing in the engligh names of the dishes as they spoke. we asked ours what jim could have with NO spices, and he suggested mutton burra. we agreed – a half plate only. i chose half a plate of mutton korma, ordered rice pilau, and some buttered naan bread. with bottled still water. and all this took some time. the place was packed. all of the little sub restaurants were packed. it was 3pm. we were exhausted, and hungry. and when the meal came, the burra was a dry dish, just meat rolled in spices and roasted over an open flame, like shishkabobs. jim took one bite and reached for the water, and i got to finish that. my korma wasn’t very spicy, so i gave him a few pieces, and he cut them up and ate them with a lot of rice, while i ate most of both dishes and mopped up the korma sauce with my naan.

so then we were finished, and the meal cost us 800. so we went back out to the street to hail an auto rickshaw, and who appeared at our elbow but the guy who drove us mad all afternoon. he helped us get one, and stood by when i negotiated the price down to 150, and shook our hands, calling jim father. whatever. have a nice life.

our auto driver took us immediately down a narrow lane that i had thought too small for motorbike rickshaws. it was filled with sellers of car parts. all kinds of car parts, and each shop specialized in something else. want an engine block? need a new windshield wiper fluid reservoir? got a busted headlight? want to replace that worn upholstery? got a ding in your hood? it was all there. with repetition and competition. and mostly there was one guy per shop, staring at his phone or watching the street or sleeping, or two or three guys sitting and talking, and not a lot of business being done.

the rickshaw was on very rough roads, and we were bounced around an awful lot – more than normal. i kept finding groans forced out of me, and at one point we were thrown against each other and knocked heads hard. the guy never noticed, and there was nothing he could do about it anyway – we were already going at a snail’s pace. and then we entered a street where a small truck (too large for those alleys) was coming toward us, and the brave little driver headed down to meet him. there were carts lining the road, with their drivers sleeping in them, and tho at one point the truck rammed right into this one guy’s cart, he never bothered to get up and move his cart, but just kept dozing on. there was a lot of shouting between our driver and the truck driver, with locals helping by shouting their bit over them. we sat there for ten minutes or so, until the press of public opinion convinced our driver to back up to the end of the lane and let the truck pass. and then we went on, along with a dozen or so other vehicles that had collected in the meantime.

we got a personal tour of old delhi that afternoon. down the most unlikely laneways, and when we hit a larger street, traffic was stopped completely for many long minutes, with drivers getting out of their vehicles, and pedestrians hopping over the front wheels of rickshaws, and passengers sitting and staring at one another. but finally we were moving, only to get stuck again, but closer and closer to the ajmeri gate that marked the end of old delhi and the edge of the train station, after which was paharganj.

so around 5 we got back to the house. the guy dropped us off at banki behar mandir, the hindu temple right in front of gabi’s house, and we were inside and falling on the bed within moments, grateful not to be vibrating and shaking anymore. and of course as soon as we relaxed just a little bit, shaloo came to clean. she’d missed the day before, so there were lots of dishes to do (i wouldn’t let jim do the dishes – it’s bad enough when he has hot water to wash with, and this was a cold water kitchen). i had to finish packing, so i got up and went to it, and jim alternately rested and read his new book (captain corelli’s mandolin, written 20 years before the nick cage movie).

packing was interesting. i’d been packing the rolly bag carryons inside the large suitcases, filling the smaller bags with the breakables, and packing all the fabrics around them. but when i weighed the big bags, two of them were up to 29kg, which is 9kg overweight. so i had to pull both small bags out and repack them so i could use one as an actual carryon, and check the other one. i put all our carved wooden blocks into one bag, with the books and nothing else, and it too was overweight. so i had to distribute everything more carefully. except for the medium sized bag, which was stuffed full of fabrics and only weighed 15kg. but in the end, thanks to industrial scales, i got every bag down below its weight. i have loads of space, but not a lot of weight room left, so i’m going to have to be judicious in istanbul. but other than a few blankets and a bunch of evil eyes, i don’t really need anything else.

then we went to bed. we were still waiting for vijay, our replacement house sitter, who was supposed to arrive around 9, when he got off work. but it was 11 and he still wasn’t there. i’d called, he said three different things (i’ll be over right away, i’ll be over around 12, i’ll be over at 4 to get your taxi), and finally sameer called him from africa and told him to get his ass over there. so i had a short conversation with him about what he needed to do (money for dog food, arranging the cab for 4:30, not 2, and the same charade shaloo had gone thru when it came to accepting our tip as thanks), and then went to bed. i might have gotten 2 hours of sleep.

at 4, we got up, and had to wake vijay, who had to borrow my phone to call the cab, because his was out of minutes. he helped us drag the bags down the alley to the front of the temple, and the car was there as soon as we were. already there were people on the streets, even in the dark of night, and already there were people looking for a cab to the airport. our driver had to do a series of shallow turns to get himself oriented in the street, almost hitting one of those would-be riders, and then we were off. he got lost immediately, trying to find a gas station, and then demanded payment so he could get gas. my instructions were not to pay him until we reached our destination, and that was what i’d thought would be best, given the history. but i confirmed that he was now paid off, and he said thank you, and asked us to get out of the car. but this was because of a sign in the gas station that said no passengers can be inside when gas is being pumped. huh. if there was an explosion, it would take out the entire gas station, so what good does it do to get out of the car? whatever.

after that he got on the expressway, and we got to the airport. then we stood in line at the entrance to the terminal, while soldiers checked passports and tickets, which we didn’t have. i submitted our passports and showed him my daybook with the flight details, but that wasn’t good enough, and beside, we were in the domestic line. so we trundled down to the other end of the terminal and tried again. people have their tickets on their phones now, or printed out on copy paper. but we didn’t, because it’s not necessary any more. so the guy looked really confused, then found his supervisor, who brought out a manifest, and found our names on that. imagine the hassle if i had to show a ticket without being able to get to the ticket counter or a printer.

the rest of it went smoothly. the ticket agent showed us the damage to our ancient bags, just so we would know when they came back the worse for wear after our flight. then going thru the baggage xray line, we had to wait behind an ancient befuddled american who couldn’t function without his wife, from whom he’d been separated when they split the passengers into male and female lines so they could all be individually wanded and patted down. and then i had jim’s passport and boarding pass so i had to get it back to him before they’d let him go, and then they wanted to closely examine jim’s backpack with all the electronics in it. but then we were out of that, and thru duty free, and walking to our gate. so we sat there for half an hour. jim nodded off along with most of the other passengers (it was still predawn), while i got the computer out and started up this post.

and then we were on the plane, waiting. we were already a few minutes late for departure when the captain announced that a woman who was six months pregnant had fallen ill, and didn’t want to travel, and they’d gotten hold of her doctor who said she and her baby were at risk, and so they were going to open up the plane and let her get off. and then he was back saying that regulations stipulate than when a passenger refuses to fly, they have to do a thorough luggage and cabin search in case this was just a ruse to plant a bomb somewhere. so we both slept thru the racket of overhead storage bins being opened and slammed, and an hour later, we were taxiing to the runway. yay. the plane was half empty.


the smog lasted until the mountains of pakistan

an hour into our flight, over the dry mountains of afghanistan,  they brought us a delicious breakfast with a chicken toastie, an egg and cheese pie, spinach and roasted pepper in the main dish, and side dishes of raw vegetables and cheese and olives, a dish of yogurt, bread rolls (with fake butter, sigh), water, and sour cherry juice, followed by coffee too thick and bitter to drink. i ate all of jim’s vegetables. it was the first green food i’d had since i came to delhi. then, i was looking out the window at the incredibly arid and mountainous region, when one after another flight attendant came around to tell me to lower the shades, because even tho it was then 9:30 in delhi, they wanted to pretend it was night so that when we landed at 11:30am in istanbul, the passengers could eat another breakfast? i’m not sure, and it pissed me off to be told again and again, so eventually i slammed the window shut and got out the computer. it’s cloudy out now, anyway.

so that’s where i’m leaving it for now. there are no photos yet, because the photo transfer process from the big camera failed last night (might be the cord), so i’m not sure when i’m going to post this, but i think it had better be right away, because it’s already almost 6,000 words, and there’s still two days in istanbul to describe.

Posted by: jeanne | October 31, 2018

one more very long day on the road

well, more than one day, really.  starting with thursday, when we had a (ahem) 7 hour drive from khajuraho to orchha, on bad roads and good, beginning right after our good breakfast at a so-so hotel.  i slept most of that trip with my legs up on jim’s and my head sandwiched between the seat and the pillow.  jim read, and nodded off the way he does.  the driver did his thing admirably.

and then we arrived in orchha.  it’s called a medieval city in the guidebooks, and i suppose that means there’s not a modern suburban area, or a large industrial area.  it’s out of the way, several kilometers south of jhansi, which is a big city, and the road to it doesn’t go much of anyplace else, so it has been left undisturbed.  we went in thru the old gate, a massive stone structure about 15′ thick and twice as tall, and narrowing the road down to fit one vehicle at a time.  there were no walls, tho, nothing but random piles of stuff to keep someone from going around the walls.  perhaps they fell victim to builders centuries ago.

we had to go thru the usual gauntlet of vendors, but as we were in the car, we didn’t care.  the car went right down to the river, past a large complex of cenotaphs (memorials) and then turned up a back street to our hotel, which was massive.  i’d booked right before we got there, so the reception guy was confused, but gave the porter our key, and showed us to our room.  it was right next to the kitchen, which can be a total insult, but we didn’t care; i’ve worked in kitchens all my life.


your tour bus awaits

we were surprised at how large this hotel was.  we weren’t expecting a corporate hotel, but that’s what this was.  dedicated to large parties, and foreigners.  we were shocked to find the lobby full of white people, sitting around looking bored, probably waiting for their tour bus.  and inside on the verandah, a mess of british with their beers.  the whole idea of this hotel was to cater to the faded colonialists touring their heritage, so we were greeted with garlands of marigolds around our necks and addressed as sahib.

our room was nice, spacious, and quiet.  we told the porter while he was adjusting the a/c that we only wanted fans, but he didn’t listen, so we figured it out ourselves after he left.  then we washed some of the road dirt off us and took a nap.

when we got up, it was heading for sunset, so we took our cameras and walked back up to the market.  but first, we stopped at their conference hall (a musty basement room) where they were having an art show.  some nice work, some amateur, but all done in the spirit of raising the people up, which i guess means giving some advantage to beginning artists, which is always a good thing.  they followed us around the exhibit, making both of us edgy, explaining things whenever we stopped to admire something, and then they were bitterly disappointed when we didn’t buy anything.  i explained that we were artists ourselves, and nobody buys our work, but i’m sure it means a lot more to them when they don’t sell.  the exhibit was well advertised in the hotel, but we were the only ones to sign the guest book, so all the hundreds of guests never bothered to check it out.  how unusual, i thought.  nobody interested in art?


getting water at the pump

we walked up the road.  i wanted to get a picture of one of the other gates ashok had pointed out on the way in.  we took the back road, which was wide and pleasantly empty.  the locals here aren’t used to too many tourists, because they stared rather more at us than usual.  but we ignored them.  turning down thru a market, we crossed the very old, very famous hindu temple, went out the other side, and then walked down the street of vendors, being accosted at every turn.  they must not realize that their aggressiveness is a turnoff, because even tho there were some very tempting things on display, i wasn’t about to go in any of the shops, where they would have insisted on emptying their shelves to show me every little thing.  and i was just too tired for that.

we made it down to the river, and i walked right over and got my feet wet.  it’s a very nice river, the betwa, and reputed to be clean enough to swim in, because it comes straight from the glaciers without passing any big cities.  it certainly looked inviting.  crossing it was a bridge.  but a bridge unlike others we’d seen.  single lane, for sure, with no guard rails, and traffic backed up on the other side waiting for the pedestrians and animal carts to get past.

 


outdoor barber shop

around the corner from that were the cenotaphs, but the light was gone, so we left it for the morning and went back to our hotel.  jim took a nap, i took the computer out on the verandah after finding out the wifi only extended as far as that, ordered a gin and tonic (in memory of francis), and worked on sizing the photos of the previous post.  at 7:30 i saw the germans all troop into the dining room, exactly on time for the first cover.  a small group of french dawdled in several minutes later, and at that point the room was full, so i sat there and worked on my photos.


either an honest vendor, or they don’t know their english

they were setting up a long table in the garden, and a group of musicians were sitting themselves on a large plinth in the center.  goodie, classical indian music.  they had on traditional garb, with turbans, and when they started up, i couldn’t help but laugh.  the guy who did all the singing and played a harmonium (a boxed accordion), he was good.  the guy on the drum was an amateur with a hot-shot flair and the idea that he was supposed to lead the beat, so he kept on speeding up even tho the harmonium guy stayed with the same rhythm.  and the guy in the middle, with cymbals on a stick, he had no clue at all.  they’d drafted him in for the night, and he was so enthusiastic, and so heedless, that he shook his thing and wagged his head like he was the star.  the harmonium guy had to take it away from him at one point, and show him the proper rhythm, and he nodded agreement, but went right back to his own preferred timing.  funny as hell, and even funnier was the guests noticed nothing, meaning nobody there knew anything about indian music, except the wait-staff, who weren’t saying anything.

when the germans all left at once, i woke jim up, and we went in to an empty dining room.  jim ordered chicken fried rice, and i ordered safed maas, which is the most sweet and delicious of the indian food i’ve had, so i’ll be making it at home.  neither of us could eat everything, so we took a walk around the grounds (a swimming pool (with dark green water), a kid’s playground, extensive gardens.  then we went back to our room and prepared for a bath!  it was the first hotel with a bath tub, so we were very excited.  a card said that the hot water was only on for a few hours in the morning and evening, so we had to wait until after dinner, but damn, there was no hot water, so we just went to bed.  this is when we discovered that there was no water in the toilet tank, either.

friday.  we were up at 6, the crack of dawn, and down to the river, where people were bathing and washing their clothes.  we noticed huge vultures at the tops of the cenotaphs.  one of them was dragging a tree branch back to its nest.  i don’t think we got any photos of them, tho, they were pretty fast.


gigantic vultures

but the cows were climbing up to their pasturage, and we had spotted the main entrance to the cenotaph grounds, so we walked the very wide old paved street to the end (where it narrowed down to a trash dump), and saw in the distance some very strange mountain peaks that were nearly invisible in the haze.  even switching to the zoom lens didn’t help much.


no, you can’t see the interesting mountains in the background

the gate into the grounds had a motorbike in front of it when we came back, so we stopped and asked the attendant when it opened.  9, he said, which was hours away.  but then he told us one ticket was good for all the monuments in orchha, and if we gave him 50 rupees each we could sneak in.

so we did, and we were the only ones there, and wandered around taking pictures for about half an hour.  the attendant came by with birdseed, and spread it out in a center pavement, and by the time we were ready to leave, several hundred pigeons and parrots were covering the stones, eating.  a nice sight.

then we went back to the hotel and had breakfast.  jim had an omelet, and i had an indian breakfast – puri and bhaji, and they made us caffe lattes from a machine.  we’d told them about the hot water and the toilet when we’d gone out for our walk, and as if by magic, both things worked when we returned, but we didn’t have time, so oh well.  no explanation but that stupid gori look they give.  we checked out, but couldn’t raise ashok on his phone, so left all our stuff behind the reception desk and went to the fort, half an hour’s walk.


lots of room for all the wives and kids

it’s a very large complex, with palaces as well as forts inside the walls.  we could get to the top of the first two we entered, so we did, and the countryside is wonderful.  the stairs and parapets were scary, tho, so i went up to the very top of the second palace, and jim stayed on the next lower story.

on the ground floor we found several rooms with mural paintings from the 16th century, and took as many photos of them as we could get.  then we were hot and tired, so we stopped in at a hotel, right there in the complex, where i had thought we might stay, but chose the corporate hotel instead at the last minute.

too bad.  we had coffee, and when we were refreshed, we saw the last palace, also absolutely wonderful.


i got bounced off of by a baby monkey, playfully or i’d have scars

but then we were ready to go.  it was 11:30am.  as a parting gift, we passed a mess of golden haired monkeys, and one of the youngest ones decided to mess with me, and jumped up and did a spin off my leg as i was taking photos of the group.  i thought it was kind of neat.

our driver finally answered his phone and met us on the far side of the bridge to the fort, and we were off.  a ten hour drive, he assured us, unless there as traffic from agra to delhi, then eleven hours.  he was proud to point out that he’d washed the car while we slept.  nice man.  as if we cared.


farmers burning off their fields is why the air quality in delhi is ‘very poor’

the roads got very bad again.  this is the main road from delhi to mumbai, and all the big trucks go on it.  they’re building bypasses, but the roads go right thru every town and city on the way, where traffic is narrowed to two lanes and filled with rickshaws, bikes, pedestrians, and cows, vendor booths coming right up to the edge.  no wonder the roads are horrible.  it’s the way it used to be in the states before they built the highway system, only narrower.

ashok took several shortcuts; one on a bypass they were still building and no trucks were on yet (because it turned to dippy dirt road where they were still building a bridge), and another interesting shortcut directed by his gps.  gps directions can be horrible, and this was an example.  we detoured thru rice fields, for the most part, down dirt tracks, followed and passed by local motorbikes.  we passed thru a village where the women were making, and painting the clay walls, and saw things few foreigners ever see, especially those in tour buses.  it added a good hour on to our time, tho.


haystacks? housing? we couldn’t tell, because some were stripped away on one side, and some were hollowed out

he stopped for tea at a hotel up on the hill, away from the dust.  not the same hotel, but one with a great view of a very old, very famous palace of 7 stories.  we had tea, because they didn’t have coffee.  but they had clean bathrooms, and that’s saying something.  the owner, apparently, hovered, and when we were ready to leave, tried to sell us some trinkets set up in plastic boxes on a table.  but of course we weren’t interested, and waited near the car until ashok finished his tea and came out to us.

then we drove.  and drove.  the a/c was the only thing that saved us, and that’s such a first world thing to say, because we passed many buses where the windows were all open and people were hanging off the sides and the doors of the bus.  for hours and hours at a time, down those same nasty roads.  and when i mentioned the roads to gabi, who is currently in namibia or someplace like that, she told me the roads in africa are much worse.

at some point near sunset, we mentioned that we should eat something.  he had thought we’d get something at the stop, but we weren’t hungry then.  but by dark, we were starving.  he told us we wouldn’t find any place to eat until we got to agra, which was another few hours away, so when he pulled over for some chai, we made quick pb&j sandwiches and ate them in the back seat.

we finally reached agra, which is very large, but the roads are narrower, so there’s not as much traffic, and people don’t drive as insane as they do in delhi.  he found us a restaurant chain that he said was good for foreigners, called prince of spice, so we went in, and sure enough, there were lots of foreigners.  jim ordered fettucine, and i got fried rice and hot and sour soup, because my stomach was feeling a little delicate.  we couldn’t finish it, of course.  we were very entertained by the multiple tv sets on around the room.  they all showed the same channel, which seemed to be running a review of music videos.  the announcers were cartoon space aliens, or gods with 3 eyes; it was hard to tell.

jim was struck by how bollywood india is.   bollywood dances are all highly choreographed, with campy acting and flashy clothes, just like the rest of india.  even going back to the sculptures of khajuraho, which are exactly the same – flashy, choreographed, campy.  it’s rather amazing to see the culture of india laid out so plainly and constant.  it must have always been just like this, only different levels of technology.  and other thing that’s amazing about this place is that they don’t bury and bulldoze their history, the way they do in the states – especially atlanta, where there’s mostly nothing left of antebellum or reconstruction times, only starting in the last decade of the 1800s do you find anything still standing.  but in india, people are living in the same types of houses, especially in the villages, and driving the same cattle carts and wearing the same clothing as they did a thousand years ago.  all of it cheek by jowl with modern cars and houses, sometimes jarringly so.  there were brand new car dealerships in one half of buildings still being constructed, with nothing on the other side.  there were many new constructions of apartment and office blocks with 20′ or more of rebar sticking out all over the top floors, and everything not being hauled by a crane was being hauled by some man in a homemade hod carrier.


our driver, ashok

after dinner, we had a smooth ride on good roads all the way back to delhi, and it took a total of 12 hours.  ashok dropped us off around the corner from gabi’s house, and we thanked him profusely, and gave him a tip equivalent to half of what he was getting for the four days of driving us around.  we also intend to send him a drawing jim will do of him, so we made him gave us his address, and it embarrassed him, because he didn’t know what to do with a western keyboard.

so to bed with no preliminaries except brushing our teeth and peeing.  we were that tired.  and the next morning, saturday, i had 18 orders to fill, so after sleeping until about 10, it took until 3:30 until i had them all collected, packaged, and stamped, and then it was a rush to the post office.

the guy we selected to be our auto rickshaw driver ran like a bat out of hell for his 100 rupees.  we’d never seen anyone take more chances, and held on with white knuckles the whole way.  but he got us there in record time, and we arrived at the post office to find the gate half down.  nobody was inside except our didi, so we gave her an entire bag full of packages, some with the stamps coming loose.  she told us she needed more tape, because she tapes the stamps on after franking them.  she was having trouble talking, and pointed to her throat.  i could sympathize; both jim and i had sore throats and snot the whole time we were traveling down the country.  then i shouldered the bag with the camera and stuff in it, and gave jim the empty bag, and we went off to get an auto rickshaw back to the house.  the guy we approached said 400, but someone came up and said 80, so we went with him.  he asked where we were from, we said america, and he said best and richest country.  then he said he liked trump, and modi as well, which is kind of unusual for someone without a lot of money here.  most modi supporters are managers in the hotels, not workers in the street.  but he’s improving the roads, they say.

we came home and went to sleep early.  i ate cereal and jim made himself an omelet.  i had the beginnings of a migraine, and it only got worse in the night because i didn’t think to bring an ice pack, so i stayed in bed all day sunday.  36 hours in bed.  splitting, constant headache, nausea, hypersensitivity to light, sounds, and smells.  if i’d been on a softer mattress, my kidneys would have hurt, but they sleep on very hard mattresses here, and it’s really wonderful.  i’m putting a board under our mattress when we get back.

monday.  still not right, but the headache is gone, so i took only 3 naps, and got several orders filled.  i thought it was still sunday, but i was wrong, i lost sunday entirely.  eventually we went out around the neighborhood, partly to show jim the monday market, but mostly because he was out of books to read, and there is a bookseller down in main market.  so we got some pants for the boys, a belt for antonio and one for jim (buffalo leather, good for ten years or more), some more ayurvedic medicine for jim, and something for my stomach issues, and then 4-5 books for jim to read, including an illustrated rumi.

of course, it was now jim’s turn to get sick, so he had his usual episode of light-headedness and low blood pressure that the doctors call syncope.  we put him to bed and he rested all the next day.

we’re not at all sure we have the energy for more touring, and we’ve left old delhi for last, so it’s possible we just won’t make it.  we leave here thursday morning, which is only 2 more days.  so we’ll see.

Posted by: jeanne | October 27, 2018

city of earthly delights

city of earthly delights: that’s another pun.  i’m not going to belabor it, but there are similarities between bosch paintings and khajuraho.

wednesday was mostly a travel day.  we were up at dawn with the birds and the call to prayer, had breakfast at 8, and were on the road late, primarily because we were taking photos.

the roads between gwalior and khajuraho are problematic.  they’re putting in a divided highway, but in the meantime it’s pothole street, with dust and honking trucks on their way to and from mumbai (which our driver pronounces ‘bombay’).  at the turnoff to orccha we passed a working quarry, and at that point we could hardly see in front of us for all the dust.  we kept the windows closed, and had the air conditioning on all day, but we could smell the dust, our clothes felt gritty, and jim lost the ability to talk above a croak.  my tonsils are swollen and jim has snot, but at least it’s not delhi belly, so we’re grateful.

the little towns we passed thru remind us of the towns in quintana roo, in mexico, on the way to isla holbox, where we have relatives.  (see old blog posts for more.)  they’re small, look temporary even tho they’ve been there for possibly centuries, and are built with spare items originally designed for use as something else.  so, tree branches for poles, cut up tires for roofing shingles, old signs for walls; whatever they can repurpose, they do.  reduce, reuse, recycle could have been invented by rich people studying the economy of the poor.  except cows don’t wander the streets and get stuck in traffic in mexico.  and there aren’t temples in every wide spot in the road.

we notice houses that look half built.  the ground level garage has working roll down doors, but the middle story has no back or front walls, and the roof deck is just a slab of cement.  but we understand that many of these are completed houses, or are waiting for the money to finish them and are being used until that time.  the ones that are finished finished are painted in gaudy colors, with embellishments, and stick out like sore thumbs right in the middle of old shacks and partial ruins.

when we pass fields with grazing cows or freshly plowed, or being hayed, there’s always a tent put up, or some shade rigged.  not modern popup tents, either, but a framework of poles covered by canvas or tarpaulin or plastic, or rags – whatever blocks the sun.  it could well be that these are homes.  a glance inside shows everything neat and clean, as always here.

the big cities we pass – chattarpur being the one we’re going thru at the moment, they have more middle class housing, everybody’s on motorbikes, and there’s traffic and lots of commerce.  but cows are still in the road, and vendors still have tiny little shacks by the wide of the road, and people still try to cross against traffic and pull out right in front of us without any hesitation.  one fashion trend i’m seeing is the covering of faces and heads.  both sexes do it, and it’s not modesty but protection against the dust and pollution.

in between, there’s countryside.  it’s not as dry down the country as it is in delhi. there are many rivers, and lots of lakes.  but the mountains are mainly scrub, and things are covered in dust.  at the moment, we’re in maunipur, where the road crosses a train line, so we’ve been stopped in anticipation of the train for perhaps 20 minutes.  all the train crossings are operated by hand, of course, so a little guy comes out of a booth and lowers the rail, the cars and trucks and rickshaws all stop, people get out to talk and men go have a pee into the ditch, waiting for the train which hasn’t even gotten to the crossing yet.  a truck driver will get impatient and lay on his horn, which reverberates in the crowd.  and everybody stares at us, especially jim.


brand new tractor – the guy was so proud

as i write this it’s actually thursday, and we’ve been to khajuraho and are on our way back along the same horrible roads as yesterday, waiting to turn left after the train crosses.  they’re building an overpass for this left turn, but it’s still a road to nowhere now.  so the traffic jams must be constant right here.  and now there’ an oncoming truck being blocked by a bunch of bikes and motorbikes, trying to get thru a narrow construction passage, and the bikers are being yelled at by bystanders trying to guide the truck thru its narrow passage, and everybody going our way is trying to squeeze into three main (unmarked) lanes and a bunch of squish space filled by bikers.  not seeing any cows at the moment, however.

in an earlier post i marveled at the lack of traffic accidents, but now i have to report we’ve seen a few.  one was a kiss between the right front edges of the cabs of two large transport trucks, and the drivers were talking together, waiting for either the cops or the tow trucks, unhurt.  but another time we saw a huge truck completely turned over in the ditch, people standing around to see if the driver was hurt.  this morning we passed a car and motorcycle that had collided, and the motorcycle driver had been taken to a nearby hovel and laid him on a bed.  there was a crowd around the accident, as well as the injured driver.  but these accidents weren’t in delhi or any of the large cities, but mostly in areas of road construction, where the roads are very bad and it would be very easy to lose control of your vehicle.  we’ve got seatbelts on, of course.


an outdoor barber shop, where you can get the works, including head massage, for 50 rupees

because of the road, it took us from 9:30am to 5pm to get from gwalior to khajuraho, which is most of 8 hours. we did take one stop, at a maharaja restaurant and gift shop.  we suspect our driver got a kickback for bringing us, and as soon as we got out of the car, a tour bus pulled up, full of white people.  but we were actually there to eat, and they were only there for the bathroom and gift shop, so we didn’t have to panic.  just imagine 40 people arriving at once and wanting something to eat.  it happens in olafsfjordur, and the line goes right out the door.  but we had the restaurant to ourselves, and were grateful.


our rest stop, far enough from the road that things were only a little dusty

standing outside the bathroom was a little guy with paper napkins, offering to sell the women toilet paper.  but i declined, because i’ve learned the secret.  i could tell this was a tour bus stop from two things – the bathroom was spotless, and it had throne-type toilets instead of holes in the ground.  but they all have cup measures and hoses and spigots on the wall.  so you simply put water in the cup measure, and when you’re finished peeing, you just pour water down your front, and it washes you off.  a hand-done bidet.  i’m not sure what the men do, but everybody uses water to wash when you poop.  it’s so much more sanitary, and so much less polluting than putting paper down a pipe.

we ordered butter chicken, a mughal dish i have made at home, and knew jim could eat.  we also had jeera rice, which has cumin seeds in it.  again we had to explain that old people don’t eat much.  the life expectancy here is somewhere in the mid-60s, so jim is revered as an uncle, especially by the children.  back in delhi we saw many older men with henna in their hair.  gabi explained that nobody wants to look old.  of course, sikhs look like jim because they cultivate the gray beard, and gurus in photos all look like him too.  but the cult of youth has hit india as well as taken over back home.

while we waited for the food, i joined the throng of tourists in the gift shop, comparing the quality of the trinkets with what we can find in paharganj, and laughing at the prices.  800 for a tshit.  2000 for an embroidered blouse.  i can shop with confidence in delhi now, having seen how inflated the prices are in shops like the one where we had lunch.


the clean, wide roads of a true tourist disneyland

back on the road, which suddenly improved as we neared khajuraho.  our driver assured us that the village is exceptionally clean, primarily because of all the foreign tourists.  this was borne out when we entered.  wide, tree-lined streets, cows, only a few tire-shingled open-sided huts, and big hotels.  radisson being one.  conference centers, an impressive airport, roundabouts with statues in the centers, and no trash.  amazing what tourist pressure will do.


they weren’t supposed to set up there, but on the steps where we sat, so we put our shoes on elsewhere

we went straight to the western group of temples, and our driver told us to call him when we were finished.  we thought we could get a few minutes to orient ourselves, and then come back in the morning.  so we found the ticket window and went up to it.  but the guy said we would be wasting our money if we went in, because it closed in 35 minutes from then, and told us we could go to a free temple if we wanted, pointing us to a side lane.  so we went down that and took our shoes off beneath the steps.  people just leave them lying there, but i don’t want to risk my birkenstocks (thanks, emma), so we tucked them into my bag and climbed the steps.

for some reason, temple steps are very tall and steep.  it’s not like people were taller back then, either, so it must be to impress. lots of indians were going up the steps and into the temple. which was small.  we were the only westerners.  they all went around a lower path along the walls, and then up some steps to a platform in the middle.  people on the platform were preparing for something, because they were hauling up a huge headdress to tie onto the head of a painted figure.  there was incense, and offerings, and people doing all sorts of activities that of course we don’t understand.

then we went out the exit and were against a fence facing one of the temples inside the compound they wouldn’t let us enter, and spend the next 20 minutes taking photos thru the bars.  and then we headed toward the street and called ashok to come and get us.  we had to run a vendor gauntlet, and quickly found that they are much more aggressive even that at agra.  we did buy a book on the sculptures for 220 (way too much, but down from 250), because we’d seen one in the gift shop (in japanese) for 450.  but we turned down offer after offer for maps, decorated purses, and giacometti style statues of gandi.


f’rent

our driver picked us up; we went to the hotel, and got lost following the gps, which indicated a side road that connected, but that really didn’t. we had reached the outer edge of the village, and apparently there was going to be a connection someday, but at the moment it was dusty track and newly built shells of houses.

trying a different route, we found the sign for our hotel, and got out. i’d reserved a room online as we approached the village, but it was for thursday, rather than wednesday. no problem, said the guy at the front desk. we’d picked the largest room type, because the difference was $10, and the interior of the hotel was fancy marble corridors and heavy doors. but when we got into the room we were very disappointed. okay, it had marble floors, and a very large bed. but there was only standard furniture, and it was banged up, and some kid had scribbled on the wall with a green crayon and nobody’d washed it off, and the balcony lights didn’t work. a real comedown from the place we’d stayed the night before. i could have complained, but didn’t.

we rested for a few minutes; i had a shower to wash the dust off. a guy came by with our passports and another guy came by with some chai they’d offered us at reception, and we took it onto the balcony. when we were finished, we went to their restaurant and had a look at the menu. it’s continental and indian, so jim looked at everything from italian food to chinese food, while i got indian. i wanted mutton curry, but our waiter told me they didn’t have mutton. jim wanted fettuchine with mushrooms and a cream sauce, but he said it would take a long time to prepare. so jim got plain old spaghetti with tomato sauce, and i got chicken masala, dal tarka, and as soon as i saw it in the chinese section, hot and sour soup (my favorite). then we waited.

eventually a canadian couple came in for dinner, so i went over and talked to them, asking them how they managed to deal with eating local food and not getting sick. turns out they’d been up in ladakh, where it had snowed enough to close the passes, and they’d been evacuated out. they go trekking every year, they said, for weeks at a time, and just decided to park their cold weather gear in delhi and go sightseeing in 90 degree weather for awhile. they’re staying in paharganj as well, and recommended a restaurant they couldn’t remember the name of (understandable, as the names on the signs are not usually the names on the receipts they give you). so we exchanged similar pleasantries, and then our food came. of course neither jim nor i could finish, and we’ve got to remember to ask for child sized portions from now on, because we wasted a whole lot of his spaghetti, and some of my indian meal.

then back to the room.  i wasn’t ready for bed yet, because altho i’d sized all the photos for the previous blog post while we were driving (something to do, right?) i hadn’t had a strong enough wifi signal to load them, and wanted to get the post finished before sleeping.

we were up at 6, and packed everything up and took it down to the lobby.  but the guy at reception was sleeping on the couch, and didn’t react when i said hello, so we walked past him and out to the car.  we were at the temple complex at 6:30, and were one of the first ones in there, and had the place to ourselves.  the sun wasn’t quite up yet, but the light was adequate, so we started in.

the first temple we came to was i think the largest one, a temple dedicated to shiva, with a very small temple facing it dedicated to nandi, shiva’s pet bull (well, not his pet, but the dude he rode in on).  since we’re both born under the sign of taurus, we were intrigued.  there was a guy already on the platform both temples shared, sweeping.  he followed us around, first jim, then me, acting like a tour guide.  but both jim and i react badly to this hovering behavior.  jim turned his back on whatever the guy pointed out, and took photos of something else, and i told him plainly that i don’t need a tour guide.  finally we left him up on the platform and went to the next one.

the whole complex is walled off from the rest of the world, and the grounds were impeccably maintained, making it seem more like a theme park.  but at least there were no vendors inside, and all the tour guides had already been hired.  there was a sandstone outcrop behind one temple, and large boulders beside another, but otherwise it was very carefully tended, with signs saying not to pick any flowers, and large hoses coming from a well, to keep the grass and plantings well watered.


a shiva lingam with 4 heads

the temples in the western complex were built around 900-1050 a.d., mostly out of sandstone, which weathers slowly.  but the carvings were still full of details after a thousand years and more, and must have been really lifelike when they were new.  according to jim’s research, the temples were built after some war with neighboring kingdoms, when the spoils would go into a huge erection.  this of course would deplete the coffers, and they’d have to have another war.  eventually the temple-building dynasty was beaten, and the jungle took over, hiding it from total annihilation by mughals, who don’t much like graven images.  then they were ‘discovered’ by the english, who love prurience.

right now jim is reading a scholarly study of the statues, and can say more about it, but basically they were the pinnacle of pre-mughal art, the product of a single, short-lived dynasty, and only survived to the present day because of their remoteness.

they think there were originally 85 temples, but only about 25 remain in the western group of temples, which is all we thought we’d have time for.  altho the place is famous for its erotic statues, they make up only 10% of the total. mostly the subjects are war and daily life.  only the statues inside the temples, in niches, are any size at all, maybe 3 feet tall.  the ones on the outside are about 18″, and some are about 5″.  we’d seen photos, and thought they’d be much larger, but all the same, the detail was incredible.  and the impression was overwhelming.  like richly patterned wallpaper.

each temple was set atop a platform, and we noticed a strange thing about the platform faces.  they had carvings placed seemingly at random, as fill, sometimes upside down or sideways.  perhaps they were rejects, or maybe they were left over.  we don’t know.

it was easy to tell what seemed to be original, and what was apparently modern renovation.  the original wasn’t sloppy, just haphazard, in the indian manner.


they seem to have built with bricks, but this looks like modern slap-dash

first we had to climb up to the platform, and we’d go around the temple, looking at all the carvings.  then there was a further stairway up to the temple entrance, and usually a sign saying to put off your shoes.  this was something jim didn’t want to do, because it meant untying his shoes and taking off his socks, but i just put my sandals in my bag and went barefoot, so i took on the job of taking photos of the interiors, and jim got the outsides.

we quickly noticed that most of the imagery was similar from temple to temple.  you could see a progression, too, from temple to temple, reflecting its age as well as the sculptors employed to carve the statues.  take the image of a horse or dragon rising on its back legs in front of a crouching figure.  in most cases the figure was a woman, but in earlier (or later) temples, it’s a soldier with a spear, or a shield.  again, it’s all just supposition, because we didn’t have a guide.

and we quickly realized we didn’t need one.  most of the guides were going on about the erotic sculptures, pointing them out, and advising their customers exactly where to stand, and talking about whichever god the temple was dedicated to.  and none of them would have been able to answer our questions, because as artists we always ask the difficult questions (what was the artist thinking when they did whatever).


mom and kid


the usual

i was impressed that the women all seemed to have an active social calendar, but there were no statues of children.  small adults, just the way they used to do it in medieval europe, but only one mother breastfeeding her kid, tucked away in a niche in the mostly dark.


boo


and bats

i was more fascinated by the fractal nature of the place, and how much the bottoms of the temples resembled the local trees.

as ever here in india, the vast majority of the tourists are indian.  there are only a few westerners, and they get the brunt of the aggressive vendor tactics.

the sun got higher and higher, more and more people arrived, and we got burned out from looking at too much detail, so after 2 1/2 hours, we called our driver to come and get us.


don’t ask


cool inscriptions everywhere, and those feet in the foreground used to have some dude attached


so that’s what happened to all the trash

but we weren’t done yet.  our driver suggested a very old, very famous jain temple, so we let him drive us down there, only about a mile away.  it was crowded, and they were having a service, and we were plainly in the way.  jim forgot to take his shoes off, so they yelled at him and i had to go back and help him with it.

but we were already tired, so we went back to the hotel and paid our bill, and they overcharged us, but my computer was packed up and unavailable.  i should have complained, but i left a bad review instead.

but breakfast was fine, with a nice view into the surrounding countryside, and we were happy enough to get in the car and travel the nasty roads up to orchha, our next call.

more in a bit; i need a nap now.

Posted by: jeanne | October 24, 2018

out of delhi

out of delhi: that’s a pun. it’s our hosts gabi and sameer who went to kenya and visited karen blixen’s place.  we’re only going down the country a bit.  nevertheless, we are far from delhi and its madding crowds, and it’s a really interesting change.

but let me resume my narrative with monday’s ordeals, because they’re really indicative of what it’s like here.  we’d taken the day off on sunday, and stayed in paherganj, only getting jim a pair of shoes, and me a bunch of scarves at the cashmiri’s shop, where they tried to educate me about grades of wool and the pollution of acrylic. we took several naps apiece, and i even got to read a few pages of the book i brought.

by sunday, there were several new orders on gabi’s website, so i spent the evening finding the stuff, measuring it out, packing it up, addressing it, weighing it, and stamping it, in preparation for taking it all to the post office.  each of these steps has things that can go wrong, so of course i couldn’t find things, measured wrong, had to re-address several items because of legibility issues, had to count the postage twice, and all that.  when we got up on monday, i washed my new indigo dress that has turned my skin blue, but there was no water in the tank feeding the washing machine.  but i had already added soap when i discovered this, so had to fill 2-gallon buckets repeatedly and add them to the washing machine, wetting the outside of it in the process – so i got a mild shock whenever i touched it for the duration of the wash and two rinses.  oh well.  but the sheets and my new dress got washed and hung out to dry, and around noon we were ready to go to the p.o., so we packed everything into gabi’s post bag, and headed out.

first we hit the atms.  our real issue was cash, because we couldn’t be sure every place we wanted to stay on our trip would actually take credit cards, even tho they all advertised the fact.  i’d spent some time on the phone with my bank the night before, and had successfully changed my pin, but every atm i tried said i had entered an invalid pin, and threatened to cut my card off it i tried to enter it more than three times.  so we needed to solve the money issue most urgently.

i had reviewed the list of rickshaw prices, and found out that from paharganj to cp should be 50 rupees, and i’d been paying 150, and had been asked up to 400.  so this time, the guy asked what i would offer, and i snapped 100, and he took it, so we hopped in, finally satisfied that overpayment by only twice would suit everybody.  of course, he went to the wrong end of the inner circle and asked us to walk the 2 blocks to our destination, which i should have totally refused, since i hadn’t yet paid him.  but honestly, we don’t mind the walk, and don’t want to argue.  so we walked.

traffic was a little lighter on monday, because many places were closed; i guess it’s their sunday (tho the banks were closed on sunday and not monday, i give up).  but cp was just as crowded, and there was some sort of line at the post office, which had its doors half closed as if they were getting ready to shut the doors and go home.  but we got to auntie’s counter and handed everything over, and then left.

we’d decided to go see one thing only, and rather than trying to catch another rickshaw, we walked about a mile to a step well gabi had told us about.  we walked past people having their lunch breaks, queuing up for vendor food or ice cream, sitting in the shade.  many of them were dressed like office workers.  then we were into ‘suburban’ streets, actually the bungalow district, walking past high walls with barbed wire, gates, armed guards at the gates, etc.  then we turned down a side street and then down an alley (more like our alleys at home than the ones in paharganj), and started seeing ancient walls.  the difference between modern and ancient walls is the size of the stones.  ancient walls have huge blocks of stone not even a team of men could carry, whereas modern walls use cinderblock sized rocks.

i’d been wondering how we were going to catch a rickshaw home without going back to cp, but needn’t have.  you can identify tourist spots by the number of waiting rickshaws outside, and the water and ice cream stand always parked opposite the entrance.  we were expecting a ticket booth, but there was none, so we walked on in.  the place was quite crowded, mostly with young indians.  the well was the scene of several movies, one with bollywood star aamir khan (very attractive) playing an alien, so everybody was there to walk in his footsteps.  we sat down, instead.

step wells are old methods of catching rainwater, and were used extensively until the age of modern plumbing.  this one has been restored, but most of them are falling into ruin, and some are quite dangerous.  they are hollowed out quarrylike structures, with concentric levels going down to the actual well at the bottom.  since water levels fluctuate thru the year (can you say monsoon?) there are steps all the way down, with niches in the walls around the well so that people can hang out and perhaps even live there (who knows), close to water.


total gunge

we sat at the top and had our sandwiches and looked at all the people.  jim didn’t want to go down to the bottom, so he sat on the steps while i went down, leaving my shoes with him, as i’m so much more stable barefoot.  it was rather steep, the risers being uncomfortably tall, and i was a little concerned about my knees, which can threaten with overexertion.  when i got to the bottom, i could see a short corridor leading to something round and tanklike, so i ventured across the floor, finding it covered with batshit.  i looked up to see bats, so that’s how i knew.  but i continued on, and came to the actual well, which was open to the sky, and filled with nasty brackish green water and plastic bottles.  oh well.

once i got back to ground level, we walked out and were accosted by a coordinator of rickshaws, who said 150 and poured us into an auto rickshaw, who took us back home.  he let us off near the lassi wallah, so we sat and had a lassi, and wandered to he shoe guy to get jim some expensive ($25) shoes, and then crossed the street to the ayurvedic doctor and had him look at jim’s feet (nasty, troll-like), and give us pills, creams, and neem soap to use on him (350).  and then we went to our money changer, because the banks at cp also refused our pin.  we sat there for awhile, while the guy tried over and over to connect.  one card was declined, he told us, and the other card kept redialing without success.  so we said we’d come back later.  we were tired, of course.  we can’t take a lot of exertion lately, and need more naps than we used to.  so we both went to sleep, and so i missed the chance to pump water at 5pm, and had to leave the tank half full or less.

vishnu came for his packages to take to the courier around 6, and i left jim reading and went back out to get money.  first, tho, i went to he 24/7 and got sliced bread, sandwich meat (called chicken ham, even tho there was no ham in it), some cookies and some small juice packs, for the road.  then i went back to the money changer, whose system still wouldn’t connect.  and then he got the bright idea of taking his machine down to his nephew, who ran an internet cafe and incense stall.  the nephew plugged it in, ran the card, and it worked.  but then, the lights went out for a moment, people using their cellphones as flashlights all around us, and when they came on again we had to run it all over again.  (let me just check my bank and see if it didn’t go thru twice…actually nothing is showing up since the 18th, so i’ll just have to trust the system hahahahahahah(choke).


the market comes alive at night, especially on mondays

after the money thing was successful (a huge bundle of 500 rupee notes), i still had to go back to get jim’s passport, because his card was the one we used, but after that i made my way to vipin and the pharmacy, where i told him we were travelling, and what if we should get food poisoning on our trip?  i already had immodium, but he gave us packets of electrolytes and something to prevent vomiting, and charged me only 350 for them.  cipro is about $1 here, for reference.

so, tasks finished, i went back to gabi’s house, and we dragged all our empty bags downstairs, then carted all the stuff we’d bought downstairs, and packed up almost everything into them, leaving only the things we were going to bring on our trip (almost all the medicines, a change of clothes, our two books (but not the nightly reading story, which is ken follet’s newest about the first queen elizabeth).  our travel backpacks were too damned heavy, and i had to fill up my new indian bag with the rest of the stuff, and carry a plastic bag full of our food for the trip (pb&j, and butter, along with a kitchen knife).

vijay showed up to housesit after he got off work around 9, and skeeter jumped for joy.  he really loves vijay, who has stayed with him before.  he’s almost depressed around us, and really misses gabi, but he brightened up the moment vijay walked into the house.  he was very animated, and talked our ears off, even tho there were times i didn’t understand a word.  vijay was responsible for getting us to our driver for the trip, starting at 2am, so he contacted him to make sure everything was okay, only to report that there was a problem.  there’s a problem is something that occurs twelve times a day here in india.  there’s always something.  the lights go out, the machines don’t work, the shops are closed, there’s a petrol strike.  something.  this time it was the petrol strike.  it seems prices have risen precipitously, and so the gasoline vendors have gone on strike.  there wasn’t a drop to be found in all of delhi.  and our driver hadn’t seen fit to notify us.  so vijay called sameer, who is in uganda now, and sameer had to find someone who was on what’s app, because his phone service wasn’t good there, and it took an hour or two to find someone else to drive us, who even charged 1500 less than the first guy.  so it was on, and around 11:30, we went to sleep, only to be roused at 1:30 by vijay, who is sleeping in the next room, and was the first one to let the cat out –  but he let both cat and dog out at once, and they went in opposite directions, so his story is almost as good as ours.

we walked the short block to the front of the temple we’re behind, and the street was empty, except for a guy sitting in front of the shop opposite.  the car came to a stop in front of us, the guy got out, they spoke in hindi, and i was asked to give him the first installment of our payment, for tolls, gas, and taxes.  that was 10,000 rupees, or about $100.  sameer had told me to give him 500 rupees as a tip, and promise him more in the end if he treated us well, and i did what he told me.  vijay took a photo of the car’s license plate before he let us go (in case we disappeared???), and we were off.


a metro station

the streets of delhi were practically deserted at 2 in the morning.  we noticed all sorts of things we hadn’t seen before – buildings and statues mostly.  all the rickshaws were parked in rows along the streets, lights illuminated the streets, and buildings, and bridges, and gave the whole place a decidedly upscale urban air. of course we were travelling streets we’d never been down before, heading out of town as we were, but the whole thing had a different feel to it.  without millions of people milling around, and hundreds of horns going off all the time, it was quite peaceful and beautiful.  but we were also going thru construction areas, where they’re throwing up enormous office and apartment blocks.

we crossed the yamuna river and then we were in noida, the other side of delhi.  teeming with suburban housing, and places called sports city and such.  vast.  and only one bridge to delhi, so you can imagine the traffic jams – makes atlanta traffic seem like a jaunt.  gradually we got tired again, and pulled out the pillows supplied by the driver.  i fell asleep on jim’s lap, and he nodded off above me.  and that way we got maybe an hour or two more of sleep.  the driver, too, was sleepy, because somewhere around 4am, when i was awake again and jim was sleeping, he started slowing down and speeding up, and weaving on the road.  when we passed thru another toll booth, i suggested he pull over and get a little rest, but at that point we were a half hour out of agra, and he went on.

our driver, asho, is from agra, and has family there, so when we got to the city limits, he deviated and went to visit his brother/cousin (i wasn’t sure) who is a policeman.  he shut off he car and went to say hey, and we slept a little more, waking at least once to see a bunch of policemen peering into the car at us.  they love looking at jim.  we had made great time on the road, and there was still over and hour until the taj mahal opened up, so it was good for him to stop and get a breather.

we arrived at the taj mahal, asho showed us where he was going to park the car and get a nap, and then circled around to the gate and let us off, warning us to be very careful with touts and guides.  so we went right past the guides who assured us we couldn’t see the place without them.  and in truth, we didn’t want any guides to lead us here and there and urge us to keep up with their jogging pace.  we kept seeing western tourists being hustled along, being told the same things (the red stone is sandstone, the white is marble, the green is malachite, the black is something, the blue is lapis lazuli), being led to exactly he same spots to take pictures.  we would hate that.

it was still dark as we walked the almost kilometer path to the main entrance.  we saw women doing yoga along the dirt path beside the paved path.  it’s not the kind of yoga we do in the states; it’s almost calisthenics, and done very quickly.  we saw huge bats circling and flying to their resting places.  and the sky got lighter and lighter as we walked, until finally the birds woke up and began flying around and making noise.

we got to the entrance and had to split up.  males in one line, females in the other.  an american woman was put into the indian women’s line by her guide, and had to do the limbo to get back into the right line after being turned away by a guard.  i had to wait for a few minutes for jim to get thru his line, because there were more men than women.  and then we got into another line to buy tickets.  it’s very cheap for indians, but pretty outrageous for foreigners.  we paid 1100 each to get in.  but got shoe covers and bottled water in the price wee hah.

so we went in just as the clouds were turning pink.  only a few clouds – it’s india in the dry season and the weather is stultifyingly similar – hot and sunny (hot and hazy with pollution).  the pollution was so bad that it looked like fog all the way from delhi to agra, and smelled like smoke (they’re burning off the fields now).  it was so hazy that we couldn’t tell the outline of the taj mahal from the surrounding air, and could barely see the teeming city behind it.  there was a breeze once the sun came up, and that’s the first breath of wind we’ve felt in india.  and it was cool.  jim had worn his new nepalese long sleeved shirt against the anticipated a/c in both car and hotels, as well as his tibetan cap in case we kept the windows down in the car, so he was okay, but all i had was a muslin scarf, which only provided a little warmth.  i had left all of my abundant new woolen and silk scarves back at gabi’s, packed into the suitcases.  oh well.

the taj mahal is the taj mahal.  what can you say about it.  jim thought it was more like disneyworld than anything we’d seen so far.  pristine, glowing, carefully manicured grounds, hoards of tourists – mostly indian.  even at sunrise there were hoards of tourists, all taking selfies at the gate with the taj mahal in the background.  it’s very impressive as a building, and as a park and a monument, but it was unlike all the few bits of india we’ve seen, and so it was more like a theme park than anything else.

we went off in a different direction, following signs for the toilets, because after 4 hours in the car we had to pee.  but when we got there, a guard (they all seem to be army guys) told us there was no water in the toilets and directed us to the opposite end of the compound.  we thought it was typical india, laughed, and held our water.  this, however, gave us the opportunity to avoid the crowds by going along the treelined path to the side, and approaching the mausoleum from an oblique angle, which suited us better, because the damned thing is just so perfectly symmetrical that it made us both uneasy.  it’s certainly beautiful, tho, with all the shades of white marble, and all the inlaid colored stones (green, blue, black, red – one of the guides mentioned carnelian).


we watched several dogs swim all the way across the river, which would have been quite a swim for a human

we came upon the crowds at last, stopping to put on their shoe covers so they could go up the steps and enter the raised platform (the size of several football fields) on which the mausoleum was built.  so we stopped and put on our shoe covers (a shortcut to taking off your shoes), climbed up and went along with the crowds, but started with the mosques on either side of the taj mahal itself.  after a minute i just took my shoes off and wandered barefoot instead of clomping around in unwoven fabric looking like a doctor out to smoke a cigarette before going back into surgery.


camera yoga

it was the angles we were looking for.  the assymetric view, the look less captured.

we found plenty of those.  and finally, we lined up to go inside the tomb itself.  there was a large crowd, forced to squeeze down to one lane, and we clotted thru the door to find ourselves in a small room, compared to the vast size of the building itself.  it might have been 50′ square, surrounding an inner room set off behind a carved marble screen.  photography was strictly prohibited, and there were guards stationed around the circuit we all had to traverse.  we weren’t allowed to stop, either.  it was a lot like going to see the mona lisa in the louvre.  the guard came by, yelling in hindi i suppose, making everybody keep moving, while behind the railing, guides with flashlights pointed out the various stones set into the marble.

i forgot to look up, but jim said the ceiling went way up and was domelike, but we both suspected it didn’t go up nearly as high as the building was on the outside.  the place didn’t echo with the several hundred people that fit into the narrow corridor we followed, and the air felt close and very warm.  as we neared the entrance after circling the tomb (almost invisible inside the screen), we saw the yelling guard at the entrance reach out and yank person after person over the threshold, trying to rush them in.  and one guard was yelling at some guy who had the temerity to take out his cellphone and make a call.  i got several photos by simply holding my in my hand and shooting when nobody was looking, without taking my eyes off the scene.

then we were out, and escaping quickly.  we didn’t go up the middle walk until the end, and only so i could get the money shot.  there were several hundreds more people there now that the sun was well up.  the coolness was leaving rapidly, and we wanted to get out.  but there were still the gauntlets of vendors to cross, and a long walk to the gate and down to where our driver was.


just like in france.  the cup measure is in lieu of toilet paper

he must have taken a nap, but was hanging out with all the other drivers when we walked up, and we were soon in the car, making sandwiches from our stash as he finished saying goodbye.  and then we were out of agra and back on the road.


highly eroded landforms

i was knackered, so i lay my head down and went to sleep.  when i woke up, we were in some desolate place where erosion over the centuries has left a pitted and scared landscape of hills and gullies, with ancient forts on top, temples randomly dotting some hills, and cows.

plus tons of traffic, now that the day was fully underway.  we noticed many more bicycles than in delhi, and numerous long-distance haulers, going to mumbai, some 1300km away.  the trucks were all heavily laden, some dangerously so, and very decorated.  here, like in taiwan, the truck drivers protect their trucks with many gods and decorations and various scriptures.  sort of like our cars covered in bumper stickers.

we were stopped at a checkpoint and waved over, along with the other tourist cars (labeled tourist on the windshield).  then we sat for awhile while asho got out with his tax receipt (he’d stopped in agra for that) to show that he’d already paid.  it got hot very rapidly in the car, until finally he came back and cranked the a/c on until he finished his business.  then we went on.  the road was being repaired at that point, so we got back into motion only to stop and go for miles, jammed behind trucks.  only the center of the road was driveable, so both lines of traffic would swerve in and out of the middle, taking advantage of the smooth track to speed up, then slowing back down to a crawl to navigate around potholes.  we are so used to good roads in the states.  good roads, clean air, drinkable water.  these are things that you can’t expect in india, so i’m having to readjust much of my thinking about what we’re used to.  we live a very privileged life because of our standards and regulations, and to see those rules being rescinded out because of industry profits is sickening, and makes me lean more toward political activism than i have been previously.  some right wing members of my family may be too young to remember, but i was aware when the campaign for clean water and air was a thing, back in the early ’70s, and i remember when they coined the word ‘smog’.


rice fields, in what is otherwise arid scrub.  how do they do it?

eventually, about three hours, we reached the outskirts of gwalior.  at first i thought it was just another village like the ones we’d passed, surrounded by rice fields and sporting haystacks and cows everywhere.  there were people and shacks, trash everywhere, cows, kids, honking vehicles.  we were originally going to go straight to the fort to see sights, but we were exhausted, so we asked to go straight to our hotel.  i’d spent some time with the car’s wifi along the way, deciding on our hotel and paying for our room online.  i’d picked an expensive resort type hotel – called a non-hotel here, and pulled up the location on my phone, then tried to show the driver, who turned around to look at it, ignoring the traffic.  finally he gave me his phone’s map, and i put a pin where the hotel was, and after that he relied on his gps, which of course led him down a forlorn dirt track that rapidly narrowed, going opposite our destination.  so we got that straightened out, i by showing him the map, he by rolling down his window and asking the locals.

going back thru the usual squalor, we turned into a dirt road thru gates and behind walls.  enveloped in green immediately, we drove down the track past trees and fields, and eventually came to another wall enclosing our hotel.  uniformed men waited for us, but they weren’t army guys or police, just hotel employees.  we asked asho to come get us at 4 so we could go up to the fort, got out of our car, with our 2 backpacks, my red indian bag, and 2 plastic bags full of stuff, and they asked us in surprise if that was all we brought, expecting luggage perhaps.  we went into reception, where they gave us a glass of rosewater and took our passports and asked us to fill in a ledger with guest names, addresses, and next destination.  then they offered us lunch, which, being noon, we needed after a 3-4 hour drive.  a porter took all our bags (except for my backpack, which has this computer, our camera and lens, and a whole pile of cash), and walked us thru to our rooms.


the view of the fort from our hotel

it wasn’t rooms, tho, it was a villa.  they’re modern (we found out later), set around some very nice gardens, and everybody gets their own little house.  an english couple had checked in just before us, and were sitting on their balcony as we passed, but otherwise we saw nobody except some guy cutting grass, and some woman sweeping it up and stuffing it into a sack, putting it on her head and carrying it off.  someone brought us a lunch menu.  jim chose a cheese omelet, and i picked stuffed parathas, and we settled in, unpacking and ordering things, washing in the marble bathroom, testing the extra firm beds.

lunch came to our porch, we sat and ate (mine with lime pickle!!!), and we hopped into bed, setting the clock for 3:45.  it was just after 1, and we fell right asleep.  i woke up every hour to check the time, and at 3 i got up and started writing this post.  at 3:20 jim got up, and we met the driver at the gate for a ride up the hill to the fort.  it was a good thing we’d arranged it, because even tho on the map it was only a kilometer, by the road it was 3, and mostly uphill.  but there was a road going up to the gate, so we rode up there in comfort, passing large statues carved into the rock.


locals 10rs, foreigners 250rs. white privilege at work

it was about 2 hours to sunset; asho dropped us off at the gate and we walked in.  there was supposed to be some kind of ticket counter, but because we suspected it was tickets to a sound and light show, we didn’t bother.  the first thing we came to was man singh’s palace, decorated with lots of colored stone.

it was really impressive, but just as impressive was the view of gwalior from there.

it’s a huge city, spread out on both sides of the mountain where the hill fort complex was located.  directly below us were the 3 storey, fllat roofed houses of the working and middle class, and in the distance were huge tower blocks of apartments where professionals and others with plenty of money had moved when they could afford something better.

we walked and took photos until the sun was setting.

jim got waylaid several times by apparent teenagers, fascinated by his age.

they all asked how old he was, and marvelled, and took selfies with him.

i was approached by several groups of girls who wanted selfies, but just waved them away and told them to take selfies with jim.

we got back to the car and dawdled for long moments while the driver tried to get a good viewpoint on a nice temple, but in the end the light was going and we didn’t have photos of the statues, so we sped down the hill and i got out to scamper around, while jim and asho sat and discussed wives.


don’t know the instrument, looked like a stick, but sounded like it was amplified


soldiers in the parking lot. the one on the right is taking a selfie

finally, with 7 minutes to spare for tea and coffee time at the hotel, we got back, and had coffee in the garden, while the mosquitos gathered and swarmed.  they brought us a mosquito coil so we could continue to sit there, but as soon as our coffee was done, we fled back to our villa and waited for dinnertime.  jim read his book in the room, and i sat on the porch and wrote more.  after awhile i decided i wanted a beer, so i called reception, and they sent a ‘boy’ out to get it for me, as they didn’t have a bar.  first he came back to the room to collect 200 rupees from me, then he brought a huge bottle of kingfisher strong beer to me, with 10 rupees change.

but he didn’t bring a bottle opener, or a glass, so i had to use the back of a spoon to open the bottle, and then swig unladylike from it.  i could only get thru half the bottle, and finally replaced the cap and put it in the fridge for the cleaner.

dinner was a whole array of dishes of various kinds of salads and curries, and i had several spoonsful of everything, while jim had rice and the mildest of the dishses.  cottage cheese (paneer) in a spicy medly of raw vegetables, fish curry, chicken curry, not extremely spicy dal, rice, yogurt, and other things i forget.  all very tasty.  we couldn’t eat that much, tho, because we’re old and have shrunken stomachs.  that’s what the waiters were saying to each other as they saw our plates with half eaten food.  we even turned down dessert.  but we did walk thru he garden and explore a nice old pavilion opposite the restaurant (also old, but not picturesque).

then to bed, with all the windows open and the fans on.  the beds here are very firm (have i mentioned that), and up on platforms.  and after we had showers and washed, i doctored jim’s feet as per the ayurvedic guy’s instructions.  then we fell asleep to the sound of indian music, barking dogs, and honking, and were awoken this morning by several calls to prayer from the several mosques in the city.  there’s something wonderful about male singing first thing in the morning.  the birds contributed their morning songs, and then the construction guys started up banging heavy equipment, and after that the dogs started barking and the horns started honking.

so on wednesday, we got up at 6.  i sat on the porch and continued writing, jim got his book and sat opposite me.  then jim wanted coffee, so i told him to call reception and ask for some.  a guy brought instant coffee packets, and looked a little disappointed when we explained we wanted coffee with milk.  but he went away, and a little later another guy brought a tray with a pot of hot water, and a little jug of hot milk, and proceeded to tear open packs of instant coffee to make it for us.  so okay.

at 8 the other guests – two from israel, 6 from france – trooped by us to the restaurant, and we had arranged to meet our driver at 8:45, so we knew it was time to move, but we still sat there until i spied peacocks in the garden.  so i grabbed the camera and started back to the pavilion.  but then i noticed a sign saying family temples, and looked past the trees to see some stupa spires, and headed off that way.  i explored everything except the few corridors that had bats in them, and then ran back to get jim.  thrusting the camera into his hands, i suggested he get more photos of the pavilion, and then follow the signs for the family temples, which were quite old, and exquisitely carved.  i wanted to see if he took the same photos from the same angles i had, because we’ve noticed we both have the same camera eye.

then i packed everything up, better than i had late at night on monday, and went to breakfast.  they had a buffet with cereal (yuk), fruit (yay), porridge (ak), and a range of indian food.  i took a puri (fried bread) and got a bowl of bhaji (potato curry), and some watermelon, and a cup of lassi, and ate it while watching jim appear out of one temple and disappear into another.  finally, when i’d been sitting there for two rounds of breakfast, i remembered the steep staircase in the last temple he went into, and decided to go see if he’d fallen down the steps or something.  he was so busy taking photos that he didn’t hear me, so i went up the steps and surprised him looking for the steps (they were kind of hidden, and i’d had trouble finding the exit myself).

so breakfast for jim, which was a cheese omelet, and some watermelon, and i had more bhaji, made us some coffee (went to make us some coffee, only to have the instant package taken out of my hands so that i had to intervene in order to pour off some of the coffee crystals so it wouldn’t be too strong, like before.  we spoke to the waiter at some length, mainly about jim’s age, and all the other painters they ‘d had come thru in past years.

and then we went to the front desk to pay for our restaurant meals, and found all the other guests checking out before us.  when i got to the parking lot outside, our driver was taking photos of the israeli guests and their sikh driver.  and then we were off.  and i will continue this when we get to our next stop, after an anticipated 7 hour drive today.

Posted by: jeanne | October 21, 2018

a little more delhi

friday.  it’s the festival of dussehra, where, according to your sect, good triumphs over evil in several ways.  here, they’re celebrating ram’s victory over ravana, who has stolen his sweetie.  today there magically appeared in sangrathrashan a 15′ statue of ravana that tonight they will kill with fireworks, and burn to a crisp.

because i was under the impression that everything was going to be closed, i unset all my alarms, and slept until about 10.  but then i discovered a bunch of orders waiting for me, so i spent the rest of the morning finding all the various things people had ordered.  i left them in sorted piles in the workroom after i was done, because it was after 12, and we went out.

friday’s mission – the mughal gardens behind the parliament  houses.  i walked unfailingly to the street with the little 3-wheeled cabs – yay – and negotiated the guy down to 200.  he’s started at 400, and gabi had already told me cp was 150, so i figured 200 was okay.  when the average indian makes less than $1000 a year, i don’t mind being ripped off to the tune of 50 rupees.  68 cents. happy holidays, guy.

we got to the mughal gardens, and couldn’t get in.  our driver suspected as much, and told us we needed to register online, and then go to the gate and get past the guards.  we were right around the corner from parliament, and all the ministers and many ambassadors live in the area, so there were soldiers on every corner and midway down every block.  all armed, of course.  all bored looking.  but they wouldn’t let anybody pull over to use their cellphones or consult a map.


ghandi on the salt march, with armed soldier to remind us that force is the first resort of the worst kind of people

so, for another 100rs, we went to the lodhi gardens, which has a lot of ruins.  and these were only abandoned, and not really ruined at all; and in fact we saw repair work going on in each place, while at the same time saw walls crumbled to the ground and missing steps everywhere, too.  we seem to be going to gardens one day, and museums the next.

lodhi gardens was full of families and young couples.  it being a holiday, government offices were closed (and not much else), so traffic was lighter, and people were out in the gardens in force.  whole families (in india that’s a lot, because families are extended) had thrown down blankets (4-5 large blankets together in a large patchwork), had kicked off their shoes, and were hanging out and eating as if it were a large outdoor living room.


working on the walls


modern sculpture is everywhere in the parks of delhi


kites in a dead tree

we were very impressed at how much tending is done to these public spaces.  everywhere we looked, there were carefully dug water channels surrounding all the planted plants, and altho it seemed wild, it was in fact very carefully overseen by a myriad of mostly unseen workers.  likewise, the streets, tho filthy, are constantly being swept, repaired, and cleaned up, tho if you didn’t pass the same spot twice, you’d never notice.

we did a circuit of the gardens, checking out each of the ruins, and then we stopped at a shady bench and had our lunch (peanut butter and jelly on my homemade bread).  there were several parties of people with professional photographers, a few were models, but most seemed to be wedding parties.

and everybody was taking selfies.  jim got waylaid and even i got roped into posing with somebody.  they would come running up to us and ask if they could take a picture of us.  usually i said no and moved off, pointing to jim, but this one woman, after snapping our picture as we walked along the path,  came up to me, and before i could decline she had the camera out and was pointing it at us, with her in the middle.

then we walked (!) the several blocks to the khan market, where we’d been for lunch with gabi, it seems months ago.  we needed the cheapo indian version of frontline poison for dogs, and got a bunch of it.  and then, i had remembered a shop we’d passed, so led jim to it and disappeared inside, while he found a place to sit outside.  the shop was very small.  but they had wonderful long dresses with coats, and they were something i knew i’d regret if i didn’t get one.  so i got three.  the manager and shop assistant were all smiles and very helpful, as i tried on size after size of the dresses i liked.  each different dress was a different sizing, so i went thru a few tries before finding one i could wear.  actually, one of them was too big, but i can take it in when i get home.  while i was trying on dresses, the shop filled up with customers, all of them speaking english with flawless american accents, so that i couldn’t tell, even after coming out, whether they were in india on a visit home, or had learned enlgish that perfectly.  it was the same in iceland, where i was told over and over that they’d learned english from video games and movies.

anyway, khan market being the super-upscale place it is, each dress cost me a little over $30.  this is compared to the $3-10 i paid in the paharganj markets.  never knew i was such a clotheshorse, but then again, they just don’t have these type of clothes back home, and i felt like i was in heaven.  i felt like i was really in heaven while looking at the textile exhibition at the crafts museum.  but i realized, as each piece was more beautiful than the last, that in heaven, the splendor never ends, and after a few moments of it, i would be tired and my eyes would be stinging, and finally it would all turn my stomach.  heaven is good in little doses, that’s what i have concluded.

we got an auto rickshaw home, the guy accepted my offer of 150, which is what gabi said it should cost.  jim’s back was hurting him (mainly from lifting the camera to his face over and over again), and he really likes the rickshaw rides because the vibration coming thru the back of the seat works wonders on his sore muscles.

it was mostly dark by the time we got home thru rush-hour delhi (which looks just like any other time in the streets).  jim went down for his nap, and i went back out to the convenience store, then sat and worked on the last blog post, and then made dinner.  this time it was spaghetti, hoping to use up more of the lamb before it went bad.  the celebrations happened while jim was napping.  loud chanting from the temple we are behind, and millions of fireworks.


ravan the demon, roasted and toasted, bombarded with fireworks and burned.  good triumphs over evil once again

saturday, there was no sign of the demon.  i wore one of my new dresses, an indigo batik.  i had a whole load of orders to go to the post office, most of which i’d assembled the night before, but there was a brand new order in the morning, so it was noon before we left.  the auto drivers suggested 200, but i walked away saying 150, and they ran after me, telling me to get in.  but smart man didn’t have change for a 500 bill, so i had to fish around to find exact change.  the guy who took us to the craft museum didn’t have change, and had to find a bottled water vendor to get it.

and another guy disappeared a 100 note after i gave it to him, and i had to get another one out of jim’s wallet.  so this time, after dropping off the packages at the post office, i went around to a shop and got change so i wouldn’t have to deal with any shenanigans.  the shop, unfortunately, was a charbucks, and they sell coffee for an outrageous 200 rupees.  but i had change, and our destination was the tibetan colony, or majnu ka tilla, as we had to call it for the drivers.  one wanted 400.  i said 150.  we compromised on 200.

and then we got stuck in traffic.  the tibetan colony is far from the center, just as hauz khas is, only in the opposite direction.  the traffic was brutal.  so it took us forever.


a herd of street goats


delhi gate, entrance to old delhi.  so far we haven’t had the courage to visit it


a temple to ganesha, thus the funny top


an ultra modern hospital building

actually, i find the whole delhi overcrowded chaos stimulating.  our friend jack thinks the spacious, green, quiet, upper class areas of new delhi to be sterile, and i sort of agree with him.  but the quiet and green are necessary tonics to the madcap i can’t begin to get close to describing franticness of middle and old delhi.  just like you can get too much of heaven, you can get too much excitement, or too much quiet.  there’s just no middle ground here.

this driver’s trick was to go right past the temple where we wanted to be let off, and pull over a mile past it, on the wrong side of the divided highway, and then negotiate another 50 to turn around and take us back.  so, fine.  it took half an hour to get back there in traffic, but we got there, and got out, and went up to the temple.


majnu ka tilla temple

and were turned back.  i guess it’s a sikh temple, because every man wore a turban.  one came out and told us we couldn’t go in with shoes on, and pointed to a booth where the guy took our shoes and our bags (first asking if there was any money in them (so i took the camera out before passing it over)).  and then we had to wash our hands.  and then we had to walk thru a shallow pool to clean our feet.  i like it.  you can’t go into a holy place all dirty.  oh yes, and i had to put on a scarf, so the man turned me around and tied it on my head.  i guess they don’t have any rules about touching women, the way i understand the tibetan buddhists do.

we went in.  it was a small temple inside, despite the size outside.  there were a few people there, and we circled the altar, and then another guy came to ask if we knew the history of the temple.  some guy, miracles, temple.  he started telling us, but then said come, and led us out, past a man at the door who was handing out sweets as offerings to the people.  i thought those sweets were intended for the gods, but i’m probably mixing up my religions and rituals pretty badly here.  jim ate his, i nibbled and decided it was okay, but sweet and greasy, with a texture of cornmeal mush (otherwise known as polenta), and held it in my hand until i could make a discreet offering elsewhere.

i knew we were by the river, because i’d been looking at the map, so we wandered toward it, and found it just outside the temple grounds.  the river looked shallow, but was moving the flotsam along briskly.  the shoreline was silty from the recent monsoon flooding.  the haze was so bad we could hardly see a really interesting suspension bridge still being built.  several young men followed us from the temple to the bluff over the river, just to look at us, and without any kind of scary motive.  they stare here.  especially at jim, whose beard is quite similar to the beards of the sikh elders.

then we walked (!) up to the tibetan colony.  we had to walk in the road in places, and squeeze past food stalls and shops that spread out into the street with their wares.  we passed dogs, and beggars, trash and potholes.  here, the people had more chinese features than indian, and stared just as much.  finally, we turned in under a sign that said tibetan refugee colony.  we hadn’t seen the refugee part before, and that cleared up much of the mystery of why there was a colony in the middle of delhi.  but then, we’d also passed a similar enclave that was called the northern railway colony, and that didn’t make sense either.

we were on the hunt for a present for our housesitter, jasper, who is flirting with buddhism, actually now he’s more interested in daoism, which is different.  but i thought a red or saffron shirt would be nice, and i also wanted to get a bunch of prayer flags.  several other presents, and tshirts for the boys.  and then we got a ride back to paharganj with a guy who took my 200 offer and knew every shortcut possible, taking us thru an extensive park and over a ridge (strange in this mostly flat city).

speaking of accidents, we haven’t seen any.  drivers in india make italian drivers look like drivers from portland, oregon.  they totally don’t follow the rules, but jam themselves into any hole in traffic, drive down the wrong lanes and on the sidewalks if they’re more clear than the streets, cut right across multiple lanes to make a left turn.  it’s harrowing to be a passenger, or walking (!) down the sidewalks (or the street itself when the sidewalk is impassable).  and yet, we’ve seen no evidence of accidents, only near misses.  we sat at a right turn across divided lanes of traffic and watched while an ambulance came up behind us, swerved around the traffic waiting to turn, and then cut thru oncoming traffic to get across.  it didn’t just inch across, either, but pulled right out, a lane at a time.  and all the vehicles entering the intersection had to stop, and stop quickly.  the ambulance lurched to a slow roll in front of one after another conveyance, all of them eager to get across the intersection, but giving way at the very last moment to the ambulance, who swerved and bullied its way across, and finally disappeared down the side street.  the traffic signs and warnings seem to serve as prompts, rather than dissuasion.  but no horrendous accidents means they’re used to it, and it works, even tho with the near misses and the constant horns and jostling for position, it’s anything but orderly.  and that’s why i find it so exciting to be here.


white mares, ridden by men to their wedding.  these guys were probably transferring them somewhere

we stopped at the lassi place when we got back to paharganj, and then wandered into a shoe store and got jim a pair of sandals.  but he didn’t take a walk in them first, and soon found his feet slipping right out of them, so we’re going to have to get him a different pair.  they cost $5.  when we got back, jim went straight down for his nap, and i managed the photos we’d taken and started writing up our past few days, because if i don’t, i’ll forget.


a foot pedal powered sewing machine.  like my grandmother had bitd

i got jim up from his nap to go out with me to deal with the atm.  it was after dark, and unlike sangathrashan, the main street, gupta, has mostly men on it.  and this would be why – the wine shop.  we had to go to the convenience store for cereal for jim, and past this on the way.  it’s full of men, jostling for position at the counter, buying alcohol.  gabi always ducks thru the hatch to get to the back and away from these guys, because she has been groped and accosted before.  it’s actually dangerous for single women to be in such a crowd, because they’re even more sexist here than at home (where we have it easy).

at some point we let the cat out, and after that i got no rest.  he hasn’t come back, we don’t hear him, and the last anybody saw of him he was heading up to the roof of the house opposite ours in the alley – he just hopped from one balcony to the other.  he wasn’t on the roof when i went to look, but boy what a view from that roof.  and i couldn’t sleep for worry, so i’m out on the balcony writing this, listening for any sounds of the loudest cat in delhi.  worried sick.  it’s 12:30 in the morning, tho, and i have to get up at 5:30 to shut the water pump on, because we’re mostly out of water in the tank.  i’ll be going to bed soon, but i’m not going to get much sleep because i’ll be listening with half an ear for the cat.  it feels really bad to lose someone else’s animal.  but jim remembers once when we were away and our own cat escaped and didn’t come back until about an hour after we got home.  maybe he’s stuck in some courtyard he jumped down to and couldn’t get back out of.

sunday.  the cat came back, the very next day.  the cat came back; they thought he was a goner, but he just wouldn’t stay away.  and so it was.  after looking for him, crying his name, visiting nearby rooftops, sleeping so lightly i could hear a pin drop, looking for him in the streets at first light, worrying myself sick – the cat came bounding across the gap between balconies and scampered in the door.  when i caught up with him, he was having a good long pee in the cat box, and then he wanted to eat.  dusty, but not torn up.  he’d been alone on the roof, caught by the height of the wall he’d jumped down from.  we suspected he was up there because the chipmunks who live there were hanging out on the wall screeching at something for half an hour.  so the guy at the top of the house opposite this one was hanging out over his railing in the morning, and i waved and said the cat was still gone, and pointed to the chipmunks (palm squirrels), who were indicating where their enemy was by pointing.  he assured me he would go find the cat, and about half an hour later kaliya comes squirting the holes in the railings and down the stairs to his lair.  i was so grateful it worked out so well.  the street dogs would have mauled him if he’d been on the street, i’m quite sure, tho gabi tells me he grew up on the streets and isn’t afraid of silly little dogs.  but he’s also got a gimpy bag leg and is getting old, so i was frightened for him.  but everything was okay, and i went back to bed and got 3 hours of sleep.  i need to get a thank you gift for the wonderful rescuer.

this morning, i got up out of bed at 5:30 to shut the water pump on.  i hadn’t slept much at all, and was awake when the alarm went off.  the rest of the block was up also, getting an early start.  but ten minutes later, when i was back in bed, the lights went off.  it happens here.  but this time, only some of the lights came back on.  the street lights and balcony lights were off.  the  water pump was also off.  i went to see if it was a fuse, but both power boxes were off at the meter, so it was a general thing in at least this one alley.  so i went back to bed.  jim was awake, but we couldn’t make coffee without moving the coffee pot to another outlet, so we lay there talking until 6, when the lights went back on.  and so did the pump.  but the water only runs until 6, so we only have half a tank to get thru our day, and no water in the tank used for washing clothes and watering plants.  i’ll have to make sure to run it this evening, if this is the every other evening when the water is on.  otherwise, we’ll have to make it to monday with more than us

being sunday makes no difference here in delhi; they don’t close anything on sundays.  we have to go to an atm to see if my new pin works (i’ve had to spend a lot of time on the phone to both banks who issued me credit cards, trying to find out why i can’t take money out, and finally one of them allowed me to change my pin on the phone (while the other one is still sending me one in the mail, to my home in atlanta).  and i might as well go to the kashmiri wholesalers and get some of those spectacular wool scarves like the one i bought in france.  but otherwise, we’re staying in all day.  i’m baking another loaf of bread, prepacking the suitcases with all our wonderfully cheap textiles, and maybe taking another nap.  jim’s in there now, sleeping.  it might be 3pm, but of course it’s still only 6am for you on the east coast of america.

we leave on our journey out of delhi in the middle of the night monday, so we only have today and tomorrow left to do things.  we’re running right thru the list of things to see here in delhi, and i believe we’re leaving the hardest for when we come back from our trip – old delhi.  until then, i hope i don’t bore you with all the details, but this blog is mainly to jog our memories when it’s time to pull up photos to use as reference for a painting, back home.

it’s sunny and hot – this is india – but now i have clothes that i can wear in this weather.  the indigo dress i wore yesterday left blue color all over my body, so i’m going to have to wash it a bunch of times.  but i’m also still doing that with the sheets i dyed.  the wash is cold water only, and that’s a bit inefficient when it comes to removing excess dye.

oh yes, i almost forgot.  there was an epic fight between neighbors in our alley this morning.  it sounded like a yard full of chickens, but was only two women on either side of the alley, yelling and fussing at each other at the top of their lungs, even tho they were barely a yard from each other.  it went on and on, and the entire alley leaned over their balcony railings to watch.  eventually the screaming died down, but only because the police arrived and were talking to both parties and anybody else willing to put their two cents in.

we decided not to wander afield this day, and concentrate on napping instead.  but we did go out looking for an atm.  strangely, the banks were all closed, as they seemed to be on saturday.  so we went to the scarf wholesaler and found out that they are the ones who supply the ‘craftsmen’ at the craft museum, so we were indeed ripped off.  the guys showed me examples of all the types of wool scarves, and tried to educate me on the difference between, say, pashmina and acrylic.  it takes more expertise and a finer hand than i have, and quite possibly the dudes at the museum also misrepresented their stock when they sold it to me.  oh well, once burnt…


just a random group of i guess monks playing music and handing out free food


the respect for life – this tree goes right thru the balconies above it – they built the house around the tree


jim’s joke – somebody’s either selling ladders or wants to get really high.  badoom


the lassi maker’s setup – a bowl full of yogurt curd, water, ice, sugar, and some of those cute little lemons – 35 rupees

we came out from the street of the kashmiri sellers (tilak street, the high rent part of paharganj), and found ourselves very close to the lassi makers, so we went and had yet another cup of the wonderful yogurt smoothies – with lemon (the lemons here are the size of key limes back home:  tiny).  it’s a great opportunity to sit at street level and watch all the madness unfold around us.


fixing the water pipes leading to the individual houses

crazy, chaotic, passionate delhi.  i think i love it.

Posted by: jeanne | October 19, 2018

on our own in delhi


jim is delighted with all the wooden stamps we bought

gabi and sameer left on monday.  she’d run me thru the streets, and introduced me to her vendors, gave me a list of prices i should negotiate toward, taught me how to fill orders and organize mailings, tested my ability to function in this amazingly crowded place, and then they both pissed off to go on vacation and left us alone.

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i’ve already summarized monday, which was all about getting cash.  once we got back from that interesting and painful ordeal (because jim had a close encounter with a motor scooter – despicable), i found there were several orders that had come in that day.

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owie. he’s all better now

so after dinner, i left jim upstairs reading, and went down to the work room and opened my laptop to gabi’s orders page.  3 orders, nothing complicated, and i was happy to say i figured everything out.  it took me about an hour.  look carefully at the item’s description, find the stuff, bag it, address an envelope, weigh it, figure out and stick on postage, and checking everything twice, mark it completed and put it in the bag to go to the post office.  and then to bed.  it gets dark here around 5, and light around the same time.  at home, it’s getting light around 6ish and dark the same.  so just a different hour, is all.

tuesday, we got up at 9.  our room is completely dark.  the owner of the house closed off the window and blocked the door to the balcony years ago, so there are no clues to waken us.  except for the hum of the water pumps around 5:30, and the calls of the vendors wandering the streets some time later.  mornings have been cool (73), and we have a tendency to miss much of the coolness lying in bed sleeping.  but we got up, i found 3 more orders, and went downstairs to deal with them before going to the post office midmorning.


the view from our rooftop


the kids, evidently a preschool, or else taking prepared lunch back to school; hard to tell.  they love to say hi unless the dog is out

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this brahma bull is used for carting wagons, but when nobody is looking, he eats the load

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doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence


much of the equipment in this factory is hand operated. we saw a pedal-powered sewing machine

i had my list of things to see from gabi (and my own research), and since we had to go to the post office, there would be no time to go to the tibetan colony, which was where we thought we could go today.  but because we got a late start, and had to go thru traffic to get to the post office, we decided maybe something closer.  and what could be closer than the national museum?  so we decided we’d go there.

this was my first time negotiating an auto rickshaw.  we went to the right street, we think, tho i didn’t pass the kashmiri shop this time.  but there were lots of autos waiting for passengers.  the first one said 200, and lowered it to 150 when i walked away.  we’d paid 100 (under protest) when we all three went the other day.  i said 60, and walked on to the next one, who said 100.  i said 60 and walked away.  finally someone said get in, and we were off.

auto rickshaws have a single front wheel, and two back wheels, but no steering wheel, because there are handlebars to seer with.  and the habit of the drivers is to rush right up to the back of stopped traffic and come to a screeching halt.  traffic was very heavy on gupta, the main road to the main road, and we basically sat behind people waiting for the light to turn green.  when traffic started up, everybody rushed forward, squeezing into bare spots in the traffic, vying for the empty space with several others, blaring their horns.  there was a cow on the very busy street, but nobody gave it a second thought, and every time traffic came to a light, beggars would swarm the vehicles.  people tried to cross against traffic, people walked down the middle of the road and jumped out of the way when someone came up behind them standing on their horn.

once we got to the spacious streets and traffic circles near CP, traffic thinned dramatically, and the guy dropped us off right across the street from benetton, where we got out the first time.  we navigated to the post office, i waved at auntie didi, she waved back, and sent a stream of hindi at me, basically asking where gabi had gone and how long she would be away.  i did my best to answer, while fishing packages out of the bag and handing them to her thru the gap in the glass.  and then we were done.

we’d brought 2000 rupees with us in cash, and they were all in 500 notes, which i didn’t feel comfortable handing over to a driver, so we needed some change.  we ducked into wegner’s bakery (yum-mee) and i got a spinach roll.  it was heavenly.  jim took a bite and said it was too hot, but i thought it was delicious.  it cost 80 rupees, so we had lots of change coming back.  and then we went to negotiate a taxi to the national museum, which was about 3 km from CP.   the first guy said 250.  i laughed and walked on.  he went down rapidly from there, but it was still too much, but i talked to a guy who said he was working at the bank right there, and he said 100 wasn’t too bad.  so i walked back to the illegal taxi stand (they were parked in the ring road), and said okay 100, and we got in.  it was far; it was 90 degrees (tho 20% humidity, which is unknown in atlanta); we were already tired, so we took a cab.  as we pulled out, one of the driver’s mates tugged on the rickshaw, and pointed back to the next one, which had a cop sitting in it, writing tickets.  our driver got out, went back to the cop, and slipped him 600 rupees (i asked) so he wouldn’t write a ticket.  and that’s how it works here.

passing india gate, we noticed how much more hazy it was today.  my lungs could tell, too.  we got thru several layers of security and approached the ticket counter, where we were horrified to learn that tickets were 650 each.  we hadn’t brought an enormous amount of cash when we left the house, and it was a good idea we hadn’t bought anything more expensive than a spinach roll.  of course, 650 rupees is about $8, but still.  indians paid 20 rupees to get in.  and i’m wearing pants i bought for 100 rupees in the market.  and i was haggling with the taxi driver over the difference between 100 and 80 for our ride to the museum.

we spent most of our money on tickets (before i realized they take credit cards), leaving enough to get home on, and went on in.  the main thing we wanted to see were the miniature paintings, mostly mughal. but first we had to pass the entrance hall, w which was filled with statues.  the floors had just been varnished in the painting room, so i had some trouble, but we wandered thru two rooms, staring at the intricate details and the beautiful aesthetics.  some of the paintings had jewels in with the paint.  but then jim was tired, so we went to the bronze sculptures and wandered around several rooms of that before we’d had enough and it was time to go.  still, we spent 2-3 hours there.  we were both tired.


kali


dude is way old – 2nd century


buddha looking like a greek statue


shiva lingam looks more like jim’s punkin head

so negotiating another rickshaw, this time a quite far trip.  i just keep looking scornful and walking away, and eventually i got the man down to 140.  but he took us back.  i had to ask for paharganj, and then specify the metro station side, and then give him the imperial theater as a landmark.  it was hazy, like i said, and they were tearing the road up in several places, so it was dusty, and evidently it was rush hour, tho how could you tell when the traffic is always stop and go?  as we approached our destination, i recognized the lassi stand gabi showed us, so we got out there.  our driver said 150 right, as i handed him 200 and asked him to make change, and i insisted on 140.

jim sat on the bench with an older indian lady with a cane, and we talked – her sister lives in philadelphia and she’s been to visit.  a beggar came up and she tore into the woman; we just try to ignore them.  they put on pouty faces like my kids do, so it’s easy to overlook their methods.  the lassi was delicious, tho i’m not at all sure of the cleanliness of the production.  the ice was from a block that they chipped, and then took lumps in their hands and cracked them with mallets.  the ice went into a blender, the measured yogurt curd went into the blender, a couple of spoons of sugar, and i wanted lemon in mine so i got it last, after a few people were served in front of me.  but that was okay.  i was enjoying myself.  jim drank his, getting it all over his beard, we talked to the lady, we looked around, i took photos.

and then i remembered how to get us back to the house, and jim went to take a nap while i proceeded to tie-dye some sheets that sameer bought at my request.  it’s a gift.  our little treasure, shaloo came to clean, and my sister called right then, so i sat in the bed with a snoozing jim, while she swept and washed around us.  i’m totally unused to someone doing my housework for me, but in this case it’s a blessing, and she’s gabi’s maid anyway, and needs the money.  after that i took a shower and washed my hair with something ayurvedic, because altho the biome takes care of my hair under most conditions, it’s so dirty here that my hair was getting skanky.

when jim got up, i was researching places to stay on our trip out of delhi.  he wanted to go find some milk so he could eat cereal tomorrow morning.  so we ventured out after dark to go to the 24/7 convenience store that takes credit cards, charges the earth, and caters to foreigners.


at the temple, they took all the real estate and covered the street with rugs, and set up chairs. you can see jim on the right trying to get by


the food was all out the back, next to our alley, so we had to duck behind a sheet even to get out

we stay behind a hindu temple, and when we went to the end of our alley, they had covered the entrance with a large sheet, and were busy making food and laying out steam table things for whatever festival they’re having now.  so we ducked past the sheet and went out.  i decided to go a different way to get to the store, so we went up in front of the temple, where there was a sheet hung across the entire road.  they were using the street as overflow, and had laid out rugs and chairs, and more food.  the street was blocked.  but people were ducking under the sheet and squeezing past anyway, so we did the same.  but there was an actual pedestrian traffic jam, because the kind temple people had moved a cart into position in order to block all but about 8″ of space for people to get by.  so we had to wait, and i got separated from jim, and i saw him almost stumble and fall, and that would have been bad.


we’ve noticed that indians don’t seem to care for certain rules


lookie, they’ve started repaving that torn up street

but he got past, and after that we walked at a snail’s  pace, holding hands.  all the shops were open, and the street was every bit as crowded as during the day.  of course, it was only 6 or 7 at this point.  we made it to the main street, where traffic was stopped, as usual.  motor scooters went up on the sidewalks and beeped furiously as pedestrians sluggishly moved out of the way.  we passed the liquor store (called a wine shop), which was doing a great business, and ducked into the convenience store.  the door was opened by an armed guard (anything high end or tourist-frequented has armed guards), and we went into the air conditioned store, grabbed a basket, and got 2 different juices, 2 tetrapacks of milk, some mint tea, and some yogurt.

and then it was back out into the melee, but we took a different street to get home, because we weren’t going past the temple again.  this time it was jim who spotted the turn into our alley, for which i was grateful, because i was heading to the front of the temple again.

we got home, rested for a moment, and then i started dinner – lamburgers and rice, just like at home.  i’m not sure if i cooked mine well enough, and i’m still not sure of the lassi’s cleanliness, and so i might get sick.  but if i don’t, we’re probably going to the tibetan colony tomorrow.  and i’ve got another order to package and prepare for shipping.  at the moment i’m out on the balcony, waiting for the dog to take his final bathroom break up on the rooftop, the cat is on a leash going between his favorite chair on the porch and the inside of the door, crying like he’s really upset, tho it’s his usual noise.  the party at the temple is going full blast – we can hear lots of music and amplified voices.  the baby across the alley seems to have stopped screaming and gone to sleep.  most of the neighbors have turned their tvs off and may be out enjoying the party for all i know.  my stomach is unsettled, most probably because i had the one spinach roll at noon and that was it until dinner (i ate the rest of the leftover mutton korma that sameer left).  jim’s inside reading his book, and we’re basically ready for bed.  it’s 11:30 am edt, so that means i have no clue what time it is here.  but it’s earlyish, and we’re both exhausted.  and that was our tuesday.


the motorbikes, as well as the rickshaws, will go wherever they can to get around traffic


a really impressive hindu temple.  we’ve got one that looks like this in riverdale


they look like models, but they’re really businessmen


lots of new construction, and i loved the way they did up the sound walls


everybody looks at jim


everybody

wednesday we got up late – around 9 – and went to hauz khas village.  way back in the 13th century, some dude built a reservoir for the citizens of one version of delhi or another (there have been several, all built in slightly different places, and when that king was conquered, razed and left as ruins.  this is a very large reservoir, all done up as a lake, and it’s by far the most peaceful place we’ve found.  our tuktuk driver (those green and yellow motor scooter cabs) didn’t now where the place was in south delhi, so i had to show him the map on my phone, and at one point he took the phone and tucked it under his thigh so he could reference it as he drove.  after asking several people, one of whom took the phone from him for a minute, he was finally sort of satisfied, and we proceeded.  he dropped us at a random open gate, and we went in, suddenly surrounded by quiet and green, two things that they don’t have in paharganj.


15th century ruins, right next to modern buildings


the view from the restaurant

we wandered, and finally came upon an old fort.  it was really a madrassa (a school), and some king’s tomb, along with a fort, and all of it was in ruins, but it was really magnificent, and jim declared he’d found his first subject to paint.  i think he might have taken more photos than i, because i had my new phone, so i just gave him the real camera.

but we had to get to the fort to see it properly.  the reservoir (called a tank) was separated from it by a fence, and we had to leave the park and walk around to the edge of the village to get in.  by village, i mean lots of high end shops and restaurants.  it might have been an actual village at one point, but now it was expensive.  and expensive does not mean clean and tidy here, either.  it was every bit as squalid and hazardous to walk around as where we’re staying.  but the rents are considerably higher.


the thing is, we’re out and about earlier than everybody else, so the crowds come as we’re leaving

we passed many restaurants, and there was too much loud music coming out of them, so in the end we picked a nepali restaurant, up on the 3rd floor of a building, and had pizza, while a food channel played across from our table.  we were tired and a little irritable, but a nice pot of ginger tea with honey went a long way to curing that.  the pizza was small, thank god, and still jim only ate 2 pieces, which means i ate the rest.


upscale housing. much more space

and then we hit the ruins.  it was free to get in (imagine that!), and we waltzed by the guard who was checking the bags of indians but not us.  it might be because we’re tourists, it might just be because jim is never suspected of anything.  they call him uncle.  we wandered around until the sun went down, then got a cab back home.  it’s easier going home, because i already know the price acceptable to the driver that brought us there, and didn’t have any problem sticking to it and watching him panic as we walked away.

dinner was the same as the night before and the night before that – lamburgers and rice.  we don’t have room for any more.  jim slept for awhile after we got home, which is normal, and i packaged up a bunch of orders for gabi.  still, it was almost midnight when we sat down to eat, and 1 before we got to bed.

thursday.  my clock is set for 5:30 am, because the water in the streets only  runs for an hour and a half, every morning, and another hour ever other evening, so the whole block gets up at 5:30.  it’s cool out, too.  and there were several dried spots of rain on the balcony this morning.  how surprising.  the forecast is for SUN every day, and the lower 90s, tho with 25% humidity it’s not so bad if you stay out of the sun.  but i didn’t stay up.  my second alarm goes off at 6:30, so i can shut off the water, and then i’ve got a third alarm at 9.  so we had coffee in bed, and got up about 10.

vishnu and his helper came at 11, and took three packages to fedex, or whatever service gabi uses.  and then we grabbed our stuff and went out, this time to the national handicraft museum.  one half is a pretend village, with huts typical of several regions of india scattered around in the dusty streets.  and, typical of india, the backs of the huts had all sorts of building materials piled about, looking like trash.  we heard thunder (!) and saw clouds (!) just to the west of us, and unfortunately the shower passed us by, but it’s very unusual, so i’m told, for it to rain this time of year.  this is the time of year when farmers burn the stubble in the fields, and all of the smoke drifts toward delhi, making it even more hazardous.  my eyes burn and my lungs struggle for breath.


these are trolls, i don’t care if they’re called demons here


got to be the largest cooking pot in the universe – bronze, by lost wax process.  i can’t imagine


a birdcage, a 15′ tall birdcage


puppies, wandering thru the museum, stopped to smell skeeter on my sandals


this wooden chariot must be 30′ tall

then we spotted the vendors, i mean craftsmen, who make (retail from probably the same shops gabi showed me in paharganj) all sorts of crafts, i mean products.  there were ceramics, textiles, metal sculptures, stone carvings, paintings.  i made a beeline for the scarves and shawls, jim was impressed by the paintings, and we weren’t interested in anything else.


palm leaf etchings use water to darken the etching lines, rather than ink

ceramics break on the way home, metal sculptures tarnish, stone carvings have flaws and crack once you get them home.  they all promised us a good price, but we went into the textile part of the museum instead.

we wandered past a display of all the various kinds of saris made regionally here, until i poked my head into a room with antique looms.  a man sitting at a desk asked me a few questions to figure out how much i know and what my interest is, and then led us thru the gallery, showing us exquisite example after example of very old saris, stoles, gaming cloths, etc.  all extremely beautiful, and with such work in them that the stuff for sale outside might have been made in china for all the similarity.  so we toured hundreds of years of indian textiles until my head swam and my eyes burned (from the air pollution).


ancient saris


ancient looms


our guide – namaste and daniwad to you

so we went back to the vendors, and bought a bunch of scarves and shawls, several paintings, and a hat for jim’s punkin head.  they gave us the hat as a present for uncle, and i wasn’t able to bargain much, but it does mean i won’t have to shop for scarves in istanbul, and can concentrate on bedding instead.

then it was 5, and the museum was closed, and we went out to find a ride back home.  but it was rush hour, the day before a festival of good and evil (dussehra), and everybody was leaving town.  we found one driver, who asked for 400 rupees to get to paharganj, when we only paid 150 to get there.  he laughed.  but we insisted.  but then an indian woman came up and got in the cab, and we thought that was it.  we weren’t going to pay 400, anyway.  but she waved us into the cab, and we got a ride with her, and the guy charged us 200.  whatever.  50 rupees is about fifty cents.  turns out she was the ticket lady who charged us 200 rupees each to enter the museum (the guidebook says admission is free, but it was published ten years ago).  she said that the next time we come back, we should go shopping with her, and she will make sure we get good prices, and not get ripped off again.  (i got over a dozen silk, yak wool, angora, and pashmina scarves for about $300 – ripped off in india is not like ripped off in new york).

the sun went down as we rode home, and after a quick glass of juice, jim went off for a nap, and i went back out to get several more beautifully intricate peacock patches for an order, bought some ayurvedic shampoo that i can actually use, and went to the 24/7 for tomato sauce so i could use up a big chunk of the lamb meat, which will go bad if i don’t cook it quickly.  so we’re having spaghetti tonight.  pizza, spaghetti.  jim can’t take spices, and delhi food is very spicy, greasy, and fragrant (i love it, but i can’t take too much heat).  so it’s downstairs cooking, and i’m up on the balcony waiting, and jim’s still asleep.

tomorrow, evidently, everything is closed, but the festival doesn’t start until the evening, so it’s not certain.  it’s a firecracker festival, so i’ll let you know how the dog manages.  there is no ‘under’ the bed here, because beds in this house are on low platforms, and the mattresses are very thick foam that has very little give in them, so the beds are hard.  i like that.

i’m going to sign off for now, because this blog is already too long.  there’ll probably be another one covering the weekend, and then we’re going to travel.

Posted by: jeanne | October 15, 2018

exotic india

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tuesday the 9th. we’re at the departure gate an hour before boarding. everything got done in time, nothing went drastically wrong, and we’re just waiting for it all to kick in, so we can have something to eat and go to sleep. we’re very tired.

the last three days were a whirlwind of activity as i slashed thru items on my list. matting and framing all those prints for the show immediately upon my return – that was the hard part. 75 prints, 14 framed. if jim hadn’t helped out by doing all the framing, it wouldn’t have gotten done. if i’d tried to mat more than 4 prints of each image, it wouldn’t have gotten done. in the end, i ordered more mat board to be here when we return, and stacked up all the shrinkwrapped and framed prints. they’re ready to go, and i’ll have a couple of days to make the rest.

monday was more of the same, carving things off the list. trips to target, the bookstore, lowes, cvs. washing the dogs, cleaning the house. we had a last minute contact from our good housesitters, and so connor’s room had to be spotless, with clean sheets and bare counters. i decided to turn the bed to face the windows. it takes up more floor space, but gives a more normal bedroom appearance. it doesn’t really work with the ceiling fan, tho, because the foot of the bed is right underneath. i wonder if that means kids can kill themselves that way…

saturday. we’re in delhi; have been since thursday morning. the time difference is amazing, and we’re going to bed early and waking in the middle of the night. that’s why i’m awake now, while the rest of the house sleeps. but i still need to write about our trip here first.

on tuesday. we schlepped sebastion an hour’s drive east to drop him off at the kennel. he was happy in the back seat, and jim and i enjoyed the trip. but because i didn’t have a phone with me and the map i keep in he glove compatyment’s scale was too small, i got lost. we then visited two different fire departments and asked the fellows where we were going, and finally we got there, a place deep in the woods where the dog barking wouldn’t disturb the neighbors. the ride back was equally restful, but as it turned into a 3 hour tour, it was a little rattling. our plane was only hours away and i wasn’t packed.

so when we got home it was to open up all the bags and pack stuff into them. gabi had asked for a list of things to bring with me (after i forced her to come up with a list), and all of her stuff went into a small rolly bag. all of our stuff went into the other small bag, and these went in the middle of the big empty bags. then i packed stuff around them. i brought things like organic flour and yeast, so i can make bread, various gifts, and a spare pair of jeans for jim, and more books than we’re likely to read, coffee beans and our french grinder, canned milk for our coffee, and lots of medicine for when/if we get delhi belly. then i went around throwing extra things into the bags. finally i zipped them up and weighed them, and damned if one of them wasn’t overweight. so out came one of the rolly bags, and that left the large suitcase half empty.

i had my guinness at 4 that afternoon, still pretty much unable to eat because of the stress of it. jasper came over at 6, renewed his acquaintance with the animals, and hung out. he’s doing us a big favor, and i’m not entirely sure he’s going to enjoy living on his own (he’s such a family man), so we hope he’ll be okay. i think we managed to shove down some leftovers so at least jim wouldn’t starve.

and then just before 8, jim’s son michael arrived with his truck, and we did some last minute things, like putting all the plants outside, and then drove down to the international terminal with us and dropped us off. thanks mike.

everything was in order, and we checked our 3 bags and wandered to security with our lighter than normal backpacks. taking only the books we were going to read on the flight, and our electronics, we felt strange for not having to struggle down the concourse lugging everything that wouldn’t fit into our carryons. checked luggage is such a luxury.

we found our gate and made ourselves comfortable. i wrote the first few paragraphs of this post, and then got suspicious because the gate wasn’t filling up with passengers. so i walked back to check the boards, and of course i’d gotten the gate wrong, so we shuffled down to the correct gate and waited some more. i tried to bring up the wifi on my computer so i could track the flight and look at the weather (hurricane michael was approaching the florida coast at that point). but my computer had trouble linking to the wifi – something about protocols – and the screen grayed out. so i gave up.

so. an 11 hour flight to istanbul. jim basically slept the whole way. i watched oceans 8 (the women), and slept some, and read some, and didn’t even take the computer out of my bag. we were unfortunately in the middle of the plane. i hadn’t chosen those seats, and i was pissed off about it, but the plane was full, and it was my fault because i didn’t ask at checkin, assuming the seats i had chosen were still our seats. but oh well.

we got to istanbul, went directly to the departure gates without going thru customs, and had some coffee. there was almost 4 hours to the next flight, so coffee seemed appropriate. it was just getting dark in istanbul. we’d left at 10:30pm on tuesday, and here it was 8pm on wednesday, and we’d only spent 11 hours in the air. confusing.

for the 5 hour flight to delhi, we had our original seats. window seats, of course, and i always take the window because jim does not have the same thirst to look down as i do. we flew over the black sea, and then mostly desert, and it was already dark, so all i saw were lights on the ground. and not many of those. and they were fuzzy lights, tho the night was clear. when we descended into delhi, i realized that the fuzziness was air pollution. we haven’t had it that bad since before the clean air and water act, parts of which have now been rescinded, so we’re about to have air pollution back in the states. oh the joys of capitalism.

(thursday). when we landed, the sky was just beginning to brighten. 5am. the immigration hall was very impressive to our tired eyes. huge copper bowls lining an enormous wall, with very large statues of mudras (sacred hand positions) lined up in the middle of the wall. when we finally found our line (e-visa, at the end), there was a mural on the wall, illustrating flight with various myths and legends. we stood in line in front of a flying monkey (not from the wizard of oz) chasing a woman with wings. couldn’t tell what myth that was, because the immigration guy said no, it wasn’t hanuman the monkey god, because hanuman was much more stocky. so we have no clue. we stood in the immigration line for some time, not because there were many people, but because they took a long time to scrutinize the passports, visa documents, and to ask questions. we didn’t get the full treatment, because they didn’t really question us, and never made us give them our fingerprints, as they did to others in the line. they have a special problem with visitors from pakistan, because the hindus and muslims hate each other, partly because of the enormous violence accompanying partition (where the british, after raping the county, divided it arbitrarily to cause maximum upset (just like in the middle east), and then left).

our friends gabi and sameer were waiting for us outside. our bags had been examined, but back in the states – we found a tsa note in them when we unpacked. it was daylight outside, and the smog was thick. we got into a van that was waiting for us, and drove along very nice parkland lining the road. already, pre-dawn, there were people out on the grass, stretching, doing yoga, jogging, walking. that’s because it gets so hot here, people take advantage of the coolth by going out early. we were driving along a 4 lane highway, but none of the vehicles were paying any attention to the markings. our own driver was driving on top of the line between lanes, and there were people passing on both sides. gabi told us that sometimes they make 8 lanes out of 4. the honking was constant, and the road was in bad condition in spots; apparently it’s always under repair in one spot or other. we actually had to detour from one highway to another that was set up somehow parallel, in order to deal with a spot they were having real trouble fixing. the foliage lining the road was lush – even jungle-like. gabi told us that monkeys lived in the woods, and warned us sternly not to engage monkeys, to not look them in the eyes, not to make any movements we didn’t want copied (like no attacking or rushing the monkeys to get them off the rooftop deck when they appear). she told us of the time a monkey walked right into the house – a big one – and screamed when she did, but then took a banana and left.

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we were favorably impressed with the highway’s parklike setting, but shocked when we got to the quarter where gabi lives. it’s called pahar ganj, and it’s known as the backpackers’ section of new delhi because of all the foreigners who come to this particular area, which is next to the train station. the first thing i noticed was an electrical/phone pole with about a hundred lines coming off it. our son jody repairs messes like this, and i’m pretty sure he’ll be horrified by the photos when i send them to him.

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the streets were incredibly crowded with people, cars, green and yellow taxis, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, beggers, dogs, and lots and lots of trash. the buildings all looked ancient, filled with tiny shops, dusty and dirty. and this was at 6am. when the car dropped us off, in front of a brightly lit hindu temple with loud indian music coming from it, we had to walk our bags down an alleyway beside it, and down another alley at right angles to it, to gabi’s house. the alleys were the same size as the small streets in venice, so you could touch both sides, but the difference is that the alleys in venice are clean, and empty of things, and the alleys in delhi are crowded with bikes, motorcycles, trash, and stuff, and very noisy and lively.

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it was early yet. gabi let us in and showed us around. the house was built in the ’80s, tho it seemed much older. the floors are all tile, the walls are all thick. it’s two storeys with a rooftop deck, and a verandah on the second floor. the kitchen is downstairs, aside the hall, which opens onto a livingroom space with stairs up to the second floor. there’s a grandparent’s bedroom on the first floor, and two other rooms they use as shop storage for gabi’s etsy store, and a bathroom. upstairs are 3 bedrooms, one used for storage and drying the laundry out of the polluted air, a living room, a bathroom, and the verandah, where we’re sitting at the moment (saturday). upstairs is a rooftop deck that looks up to the other rooftops. gabi told me the history. after partition in 1947, the government set aside land for the “returning” hindus expelled from pakistan, and they built huts and opened shops. when they made enough money, they moved out to less crowded areas, and others moved in. the owner of gabi’s house was first generation, and in the ’80s built the first large house in the quarter – 3 storeys. then others followed suit. but instead of one-family huts, they put up 4 storey apartment buildings, and because of the narrowness of the street, i can lean out and touch the walls of the apartments across the street, and the laundry fills the space between, hung on lines. i could easily steal hat nice length of printed fabric over there. but then again, the kids could just as easily climb over here and steal my laptop while i go downstairs to check on my bread. but it won’t happen, because i don’t steal, and because there’s a large dog here, and indians are scared of dogs.

we went right to sleep, just after the sun came up. jim stayed home all that day, while eventually gabi and i went out to the main bazaar and tried to get me a sim card. the sim card before the phone, because it takes a whole day to activate. the guy with the sim card is the chemist, who is also the guy who takes payment for utility bills. we started the application, and had a scan of my passport, which is needed to get a sim card here. but immediately he wanted to have a print out of my visa stamp, which we didn’t have, and a passport photo to attach to the application. so we had to delay that purchase. i asked him if he could sell me the drug i use for my asthma, and he whipped it out, and said it was about $10. my prescription is $300 in the states, and half that in canada, so i get it from canada, but i’m going to go home with a year’s supply from here.

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then we went to one of her vendors, in the main bazaar, and she bought a lot of decorated pouches for wedding favors. she sells a lot of those. i looked around, found a few presents for others, and two large kantha quilts for us. he threw in a few more things for presents, and sold the lot to me for less than $50. in the end, we had more than we could put on the back of her scooter, so she put me on a cycle rickshaw with the bags, and i bounced along over the horrendous streets until i got back to the house. except the rickshaw stopped in the road outside and we had to hike in thru the alleys. if gabi wasn’t waiting for us, we would have never found the particular alley, because i hadn’t yet gotten my bearings (still don’t have them).

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she’s been introducing me to all her vendors so i can go back and get things at a good price, and everybody stared at her in the streets. she’s been here for years, so everyone in the quarter knows who she is, and tho she hardly walks anywhere her scooter would go, they all want to stop and talk to her when she’s on foot. a little like me in olafsfjordur, only instead of 800 people there are 80,000.

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the rest of thursday is lost to me. it was 2 before we’d gotten up from our nap, and getting late by the time we got back. jim had had his second nap, and i was exhausted. what did we eat? i don’t remember at all. jim had a third nap, and i stayed up talking to gabi and sameer until i couldn’t stand it any more. we’re sleeping in their room (thank you) and they’re taking the spare bedroom, because they leave on monday. i’ve got only 4 days to figure out how everything works so i can do all the things i’m supposed to do to be a good housesitter.

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friday we all got up around noon. our bedroom is pitch black, and the windows are shuttered, so we have no idea what time it is. so we slept a long time, which was good. eventually we all were up and moving, and gabi, jim and i went out to go get something to eat at ajay – one of the restaurants she recommends, where they serve continental food that jim can eat. because he can’t take spices. so of course he’s come to the wrong country, because everything is curry here in delhi, until we go to a mughal restaurant where they serve northern indian (muslim) cuisine that has lots of milk in it and few spices. here in delhi everything else tastes like curry, and you can smell the spices in the streets, especially the main bazaar.

jim hadn’t yet been exposed to the noise and crowds and bad street surfaces of the main bazaar yet, so i was concerned.  and he lagged behind as he always does, if even a bit more slowly because of all the obstacles underfoot and around him. but i had to keep up with gabi, so it was a constant struggle urging him to keep up.

we stopped at ajay’s resthouse and restaurant to eat lunch.  it was after 12, so the breakfast buffet was off, but jim and i got fried rice and gabi got chicken cordon bleu.  jim and i ate only a few mouthfuls, so we had to-go bowls when we left.  lunch (and dinner) for three was about $20.

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skeeter’s relatives

we stopped a little later to get a lassi, a yogurt smoothie. it was delicious, and very useful for keeping intestinal illnesses at bay.  there were some cute little puppies playing in the street, in the same neighborhood where gabi found skeeter several years ago.  he looked just the same, so she figures they must be related.

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jim, lassi, and a puppy

we had brought some baby clothes for one of gabi’s friends who’d just now had her first baby.  so we went along when she delivered them, but nobody was prepared for a gathering of the aunties and other relatives.  they were there to celebrate the baby’s birth, and we just happened along.

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the aunties were all singing songs in honor of the boy’s birth.  it’s a different set of songs than for a girl, and they would stop in the middle of a song and wonder between them how it went.

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as is normal for these occasions (as if i knew), the new grandma made food, and they passed out chai and sweet things for everyone to eat.  we’re watching our food intake, and didn’t dare eat because of the possibility of getting sick, so we had to refuse, which is rude, i think.

on the way back, we stopped into another one of gabi’s vendors, because she needed to buy some stamps to sell.  we took advantage of this stop to buy a few ourselves, excited about the artistic potential of such beautiful images.  a dozen or so stamps cost us about $50.

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then we wandered some more.  pahar ganjj is the quarter where gabi lives.  it’s extremely crowded, as is most of this part of new delhi.  we are told the streets are spacious and half-empty compared to the streets of old delhi, and we are advised to hire a bike rickshaw when we visit old delhi so we don’t get crushed or separated in the crowd.

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the architecture, at times, is exquisite

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and this is how it used to be done.  a very heavy cast iron iron, filled with burning coals.  the weight itself presses the clothes, but the heat makes it even more effective

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saturday we had to go to the post office to mail out some packages.  this is part of what i’ll be doing here, so i have to know how to get there, whose window to stand in front of, what the exact procedures are.  so we all went.  first gabi had to negotiate the cab.  we used an auto-rickshaw to get to cp – or connaught place – in the heart of new delhi.  this is a quarter that is extraordinarily different from pahar ganj.  it was built by the british, duh, and designed by luytens, a british architect, and built back in the 1920s to house the elite of the british empire.  basically it was built for the white conquerors and their functionaries.  now it is inhabited by more elite, including embassies and companies.

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begger children and adults are everywhere.  if you take a picture of them, then you owe them some money.  otherwise everybody ignores them except for people whose religion requires the giving of alms, like muslims

one thing about traffic here.  there are no rules.  i’ve already discussed the lines in the road, which are mere suggestions.  and then there are traffic lights.  people only stop for traffic lights when there are stopped cars in front of them, blocking their way.  otherwise everybody tries to go in every direction at once, blowing their horns and squeezing into any possible holes.  that’s why there are 8 lanes occupied on a 4-lane highway.

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we finally got to cp, or connaught place as non-residents know it (we were cautioned to ask for cp when negotiating the price with the rickshaw driver, because they’d know we were tourists if we ask for connaught place, and there would be no negotiating).  gabi gave me a list of places i might want to go once she’s left for her vacation, so i know what to negotiate towards, but honestly, it’s a ridiculous venture unless you like haggling, because that half hour taxi ride we took to cp with three passengers cost us 100 rupies, which is about a dollar.  even then, gabi negotiated, gesticulated, told the guy off (he wanted to take us to an emporium, an overpriced shop where he gets a commission for taking us there, and a percentage if we buy something), and walked away until he said, ‘okay, 100’, and we got in.  she fumed and fussed halfway there.

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the buildings might look imperial from the front, but it’s the typical delhi architecture around the back

the driver let us off in front of a benneton shop, because in this part of delhi it’s all designer, except for the people on the sidewalk selling things.  we passed identical bags to the ones we saw in her vendor’s shop, and lots of books.  but we were told that the books are so terribly cheap because they are copied, and perhaps missing pages, or being badly collated so that you have to hunt for the next page you want to read.

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the post office lady (auntie, they call her, or deedee to me) took our packages.  gabi introduced me as her helper, and we nodded and smiled at each other.  and that was that.

while we were at cp, she took us into a high-end bakery.  the smell was heavenly, but we’d just eaten at a fusion restaurant (jim got chicken livers, i got fried rice, i forget what gabi got), so we passed it by.

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the dogs in this part of delhi are pampered.  the shop owners feed them and give them clean water to drink, and they laze around all day just like this set.  the brown stains you see on the wall aren’t something horrible, but paan juice that the men have to spit somewhere.  we passed a group of workers painting the white building, and they were just going right over the stains, as if the paint would actually stick over it.

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our business done, we hopped another auto rickshaw back to pahar ganj, and walked home from the corner of the large street.  we were amused to find a cow in the street, or more likely a calf.  this is apparently common.

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turns out it must have been a calf, because along came mama cow, lumbering behind him.

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on sunday we had to go to khan market, because gabi needed to buy catfood and dogfood.  there were a lot of other things they had to do, because they planned on leaving monday morning.  plus, we needed some local currency.  we’ve been borrowing out of gabi’s wallet so far, and i was running up quite a bill.  we bought a phone, for instance – a vivo v7, made last year in china, but then what smartphone isn’t?  it would have cost a whole bunch more if sameer hadn’t gone by himself with a list of phones i had researched.  it cost me $200, so i’m not complaining.  it makes my old iphone 4 look like the brick it has turned into.

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before we got to the street with the auto rickshaws, we passed thru a street where gabi’s kashmiri suppliers have a shop.  it’s the most posh street in pahar ganj, with very expensive houses and streets wide enough to park cars on both sides.  here is one of the lovely buildings, and gabi guesses it’s actually old, unlike in istanbul, where the older and nicer a building looks, the younger it actually is.

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we didn’t do any shopping in that place, because we were short on time.  i hope i remember where it is…

it was a similar road to khan market as to cp, very nice, very gardenlike, very spacious.  terrible traffic.  we saw some women laborers fixing a brick culvert, which i thought was very unusual, because in general all the workers and shophands are men.  they had a tiny little toddler with them, and she was sitting in the street, just out of the range of the cars, and was focused on her family and didn’t seem at all tempted by the traffic, thank god.

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we passed the sikh temple, modeled on the one at amristar.  we might visit, if we have time.  hahahahahahaha

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we thought our auto was crowded with three adults in the back.  but here’s an entire family, and they’re not the only ones we saw.  they waved back and smiled after i took the photo and waved at them.

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likewise, it’s amazing what they can carry on the back of a scooter.  and that’s only a small load.

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gabi got the driver, even tho she was mad at him, to ride us by the india gate, so we could see it, since we’re unlikely to make a trip just to see it.  in this area the distances are rather vast, and completely unwalkable, so of course i sat on the outside of the rickshaw and took lots of photos of things we passed.

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we got to khan market, which was not the mall i was expecting, but rather several streets of shops.  we were on a hunt for money first, food second, and supplies third.  we tried one bank’s atm, and it rejected both of our cards, mine and gabi’s.  then we walked all the way around the market to the other atm, and it too had fits.  this was very upsetting to both of us, as gabi has learned to carry cash when she travels for exactly this reason.

defeated, we went to a restaurant where she knows the owner.  it’s a pizza place, called la vie (suggesting french food), and featuring a mural of amsterdam houses on the wall.  the owner came up and talked to us, took our order (11″ four-cheese pizza with fresh garlic and bacon on half), and brought us a bottle of hand sanitizer.  we waited for our food, and when it came it was volcanic, so it took us a bit of time before we could eat it.  i hadn’t had anything all day, except coffee, and it was running around 4pm, so we were all hungry.  gabi ducked out while we were waiting, and came back with a helper who carried her bags for her.  then when we were mostly done with the pizza, she got a text message from her american bank, saying they suspected the card of being fraudulently used.  and she panicked.  so would i.

but because i needed some things at the western market, we made a quick trip into the store while jim finished his pizza.  i got american food – cereal, cheddar, goat cheese and cream cheese, peanut butter, strawberry jam, ovaltine, and 2 kilos of ground lamb meat.  then we ducked into another western bakery and i cleaned them out of croissants, with a couple of cinnamon rolls thrown in.  and then we picked jim up and left.  or tried to leave.  gabi got help with her bags, and i followed her, but the people sitting next to us stopped jim to take a photo, and then kept him talking until gabi had finished negotiating the auto and was getting impatient.

then it was the same trip home, with packages, and we arrived back shortly before it started to get dark.  first up was panicky skypes to our banks.  gabi got her problem solved, but i did not, as it turns out i don’t have the pin for one card.  the bank is going to send the pin to my home address, in 8-10 business days, and until that i am stuck.  but gabi called her pharmacist friend vipin, and he had a friend who ran a money changer’s shop, and we had someone to go to if my one card really didn’t work in the atms.  the rest of the evening was just as hurried, because they had to pack, and we had to get several packages done and ready to go to the post office so we could see if i could handle it.  and that part went fine.  but it was still several hours before we could pour ourselves drinks (cold saki) and sit back for a final review of things that needed to happen, and things we needed to know.  i wrote everything down in my notebook.

then it was 11:30 at night, and jim and i were tired puppies, so we went to sleep while gabi and sameer finished packing, wandering in and out of the bedroom gathering things last minute.  i don’t think we noticed.  this morning we were all up by 6 (usually gabi gets up around 10 or 12, because she has to work on american time, where most of her customers are – 11 1/2 hours behind delhi time).  a few more last minute things to be written down, and then they were off in their car.

monday.  jim and i went back to sleep, and it was noon before we got back up.  and then we had to go out and solve our money problems.  so it was out on the streets of delhi, BY OURSELVES.  but i’d already done this several times with gabi, and i had my phone with its gps, so we didn’t get lost.  but jim still wouldn’t keep up, and i don’t blame him because of the state of the roads, and all the obstacles.  we walked along main bazaar to the main road – gupta – dodging motorbikes and cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws, and even a car at one point.  every vehicle blaring their horn, as if it would help, as if people would get out of their way.  we tried one bank’s atm, then another’s, and were rebuffed each time.  then we went into a bank, and repeated what my bank at home told me, which was any bank would give us cash on our credit card.  the woman only looked puzzled and said no way, and sent us to her atm, which she said would give us no problems.  but that wasn’t true.

so we found our way to vipin’s pharmacy to get directions to his friend the forex merchant.  but on our way thru a narrow alley, a passing motorcycle grazed jim’s arm, and he was bleeding.  so in the middle of waiting for  our turn to get vipin’s help, i showed him jim’s arm, and he pulled out cotton wool, gauze, betadyne cream, and iodine liquid, and i patched jim up.  he was really hassled, and annoyed, because of the raucous horns and the press of people and the unevenness of the road, and i felt sorry for him, because he was using words like detestable and despicable.


he’s getting the worst of this trip so far

we got to the money changer’s office, a tiny little hole in the wall just big enough for a desk and 3 chairs.  it was air conditioned, however.  he ran the card i don’t have a pin for, it went thru, and we got out hopefully enough to more than last us.  any money we don’t spend we’ll leave for gabi, and we’ll be settling up after we all get home.  i’m so glad i have friends here.  it would be a nightmare if we were alone.  that’s why i travel to friends; not only is it much cheaper, but you have help when you need it.


beware people who don’t count their money, especially when it’s banded

so we’re alone now, and i’ll post again in a few days.  next week we’ll be travelling outside of delhi, and that’ll be another experience entirely.  for now, i’m going to make burgers and rice for dinner, while jim naps.  we’ve been travelling for six days, with only 4 days here on the ground in india.

someone’s vintage shop, with totally vintage equipment

Posted by: jeanne | October 7, 2018

only one more, i promise

this has been a year of big changes for everybody i know, collectively.  we’re all going thru the wringer in one way or another.  we’re living in interesting times, and nothing is the way we thought.

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when 2018 began, we weren’t planning to go anywhere.  we’d done our months here and there, simply because connor wasn’t yet in school, and now that he was firmly in the clutches of the education department, our travel was limited to short hops.  so we planned to get lots of work done around the house, and many paintings painted in 2018.

hahahahaha.  back in the fall of 2017, i was looking at the various school holidays in the two different school systems, to see if the boys would be off for a week together.  their february breaks were together, so i checked out flights, which were on sale, and combed places to stay, which weren’t so bad, and decided to take the boys to venice.  jim stayed home.  we took thousands of photos.  we had a stopover in istanbul, and they loved the playgrounds, especially in istanbul, where they lavish affection on children.

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fantastic even without the supersaturation

in march, there was an abortive trip to mini-carnival in new orleans that was hell for me and my travelling partner.

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not my favorite city any more

over a year ago,  jim and i were thinking about scoping out the south of france, and i’d been working on it ever since the time he remarked, “i suppose venice is too expensive to live in.”  so we took ten days in june to rent a car and stay in 10 different little bastide towns, and drive around taking thousands of photos.  we liked it.  i’ve narrowed my searches and have more questions.

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baguettes, local wine and cheese, artists, not too cold, not too hot, lots of exercise

then pennsic, a medieval reenactment camp in august, where we slept in tents with no electricity (not peoples’ nasty tvs and radios at night, but drums!), wore medievalite clothing, walked everywhere, never played on electronic devices (but the phone worked so i could call jim), and best of all, the boys got to swat each other with padded swords and decorative armor, and i got to look at the stars at night.  and take thousands of photos.

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historical reenactment meets dragoncon

after that, a month passed, mainly on the porch, until i left jim home (painting french castles with medievalish men in armor marching as to war) with connor (thanks for helping, mommy and nana), and  – escaping the nasty hurricane that drenched the carolinas – flew off to my second home, olafsfjordur, north iceland.  i got a mural done despite interesting pre-winter weather, and saw almost all my friends (sorry i missed you, svanfridur og gunni, asgeir and kristin), and escaped just as the first in a series of snowstorms swept the north.

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there’s a hidden valley you can walk around to; i’ve never been there

now, less than three weeks after getting home, we’re leaving again.  i’m still recuperating on the porch, because it’s only been a couple of days after posting the final iceland roundup.  but i just made my final amazon order, and have a list on paper of things that have to get done before we go.  everything from tetanus boosters to backing up the computer backup, sort of the same thing when you think about it.

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20 million people, and just look at the gunge in the sky

right around the beginning of the year, my friend whom i’ve never met in person invited me to housesit, take care of her etsy business, and her pets, while she went on safari with her boyfriend.  we met years ago when she sold me a few kilos of used silk saris, the ones i’ve been making things with, and learning to wear (i got a book on different styles and methods).  we became friends on facebook, and really enjoy each other.

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where we’ll be staying, more or less

i was dubious at first, because i’ve never considering being a housesitter – it’s never occurred to me. but once i got over that, i figured jim would be reluctant to let me go for more than a week or ten days.  and when i talked to him about it, he was eager to come along with me.  his enthusiasm for the trip is driving this one, and i’m going right along with it, enabling at my best speed.

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our side trip to istanbul

so jim and i are going to spend 3 weeks in delhi. and one week trsvelling for art.  and we’ll stop over in istanbul for a couple of days.  and we’re going to take empty bags with us, and come back with all sorts of things, both textile and sundry.  and we’re very much looking forward to it.

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there’s a sufi joke about a smuggler and his donkey

and it will be our last trip this year.  i promise, barring some sort of catastrophe or other sad occasion, god forbid.

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sunday a week from departure.  i’ve got my notebook and pen, with a list 5 pages long, including phone numbers, notes, things to get, reminders, circled items, dated items, and things with underlines.  there’s a pile of things to be packed in a corner of our room, and a stash of empty suitcases in the back room.  i have not yet begun to prepare for our housesitter – jasper again!!!.

we’ve had continuing trouble getting someone to care for sebastion, but the neighbors on nextdoor recommended a bunch of walkers and kennels, so i’m going to be calling bunches of people starting tomorrow.  right now i’m updating this post on the porch (of course), while my other computer facilitates backups of backups (both external).  i’ve stopped measuring and cutting mat board for the day, and have to mat and shrink wrap up to 100 prints by the time we leave.

monday, i have to get passport photos and take connor down to the post office to apply for a new passport for him.  it expires next year, but they don’t let you travel if your passport expires in six months, so we’re getting it done before we leave.  also jim needs to go to the bookstore for something to read, and we both have to go to the health department to get tetanus boosters.

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on tuesday i get to be part of a mock jury, which i’ve done several times before, and always loved it.  real trial lawyers never want me on their juries, so altho i’ve been called a lot, i’ve never served.  they give you $25 for showing up, tho, and that’s enough to get a cup of coffee.

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all sorts of stuff still has to happen before we leave next (not this) tuesday.  we’ll be flying for 2 days, thru i don’t know how many time zones, leaving after 10pm on tuesday and arriving at 5am on thursday.  i’m sure i’ll have figured it out when i write about it at more length.

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at least i’m not hustling to finish a commission right before traveling, like before i went to iceland this last time.  that was brutal.  now i’m just hustling to produce as close to 10 each of close to 15 different prints of atlanta scenes, for a little show i’m doing at a neighborhood bar.  and since they’re atlanta scenes, and the show is in november, i expect they’ll sell well.  however, we’ve had jim’s dragon prints at the same bar and have sold 3, i think – to a fan.  so okay, we’ll see.  it’ll be good to have prints on hand again; it’s been a long time.

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saturday.  the mock jury trial has come and gone.  it was an amusing 12 hour day, and i got paid nicely, and it’s really odd how people can look facts in the face and find all sorts of excuses for making an emotional and personal decision that pays no attention to the facts at all.  mostly, i’ve been working on whittling down my list.

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i’ve got well over a hundred prints, and cut all the mats for all the prints, and then went to cut the backing board and promptly ran out.  so i had more delivered, and have now finished cutting all the backing boards, and have measured all the openings, and have cut out and assembled exactly one of each of 13 prints, and shrink-wrapped those.  these prints are going downstairs with jim tomorrow, and he’s going to make frames for them, while i continue to cut openings and assemble ready-to-frame prints.  but i’m not going to try to do all 10-of-each.  i’m doing as many as 4-5 of each print, and at least 2, so that the day after i return from the exotic east, jetlagged and everything, i can take everything up to the milltown tavern and put the frames on the wall, and the prints in barb’s office.

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i packed all the stuff we’re taking and all the stuff we’re taking for gabi – that’s my friend in delhi – into the two carryon rolly bags, and plan to put them into the bigger bags and check them.  that way we only have to take our backpacks with us.  and we get two big bags each, included in the price of the ticket.

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my list is down to one active page now.  i should hope so, because we leave on tuesday.  from the reaction of a bunch of friends, i think i neglected to tell people we were planning to go to india for three weeks.  it seems to me like i told everybody, but they were all surprised, so maybe i didn’t.  anyway, i haven’t packed everything by any means, and there’s still a lot to do.

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in all my travels this year, things have gone wonderfully smoothly.  but this trip is testing our flexibility.  at the last minute, all sorts of things went wrong.  suddenly my phone, (which had been giving me increasing trouble,) went dark and refused to work.  this meant i had no contacts or phone numbers.  only some of these numbers are written in the back of my daybook.  then the landline died two days ago, and suddenly i couldn’t call anybody .  the fault was intermittent, but it still took a couple of days of not being able to contact anyone except by email.  (note: that’s why i have three different providers) – pay-as-you-go, att, and comcast – and a landline.)

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the famous blue screen of death.  you just don’t get those in linux

then jim got ill, and spent the day in bed, and the next couple of days being low-energy, something that’s always a concern, but really important when travelling.  then the part where i ran out of backing board and had to wait a day for more to be delivered.  and how the various dog sitters we had asked about watching sebastion threw up their hands in horror (he’s a very old dog, on his last legs, blind, deaf and lame, incontinent and prone to bite when startled) so i had to scramble to find someplace that would take him, because despite his disabilities, he’s not ready to die – he’s more lusty for life (=difficult and headstrong) than ever.

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our dog is lot skankier than this photo

all in all, it’s a time when, if things were going the way they used to in my life, each failure would cascade into the next, the entire plan would unravel, and our last and most challenging trip would fail.  but the days when i lurched from crisis to crisis are over.  i’m no longer in that stage of my life, and things are rather more comprehensive and thought-out, simply because of my life experience.  there are still many lessons to be learned, but i’ve developed good habits for learning them.

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i think i’ll find some stock illustrations for the post, because i don’t document my daily life, only my travels, so i can remember them in detail later (where were we in april, dear?).  then i’ll go ahead and publish it, because if anybody doesn’t know, i need to tell them before i post shots of somewhere between greenland and ireland from 30,000 feet.  sunday is definitely not a day of rest, because prints need framing and assembling, the house has to be straightened and prepared for housesitters.  we have guests on monday, former housesitters on the way from here to there who we welcome into our home even on short notice.  tuesday we take sebastion to his luxury dog run kennel a scenic hour’s drive away from the big city (where they want $25-50 a day to board a dog).  in between time i’ll rest, sit on the porch, answer surprised inquiries about going to india, walk the dogs 3 times a day, fix and eat regular meals, and read bedtime stories (column of fire) before jim sleeps and i toss and turn and finally get up and go out on the porch…

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Posted by: jeanne | September 25, 2018

going home

thursday. i’m sitting in akureyri airport with coffee and some salmon on sweet bread, an hour before the flight. we’re in the middle of a storm, but you can’t tell it from the departure lounge. iceland’s weather is famous for its fickleness, so the wind, forecast to be 17m/s (mph), is calm. if it holds for an hour, we’ll have no trouble flying out.

the last post ended wednesday at the pool, i believe. the erasmus students got into town for their week in iceland, and immediately went touring thru the town, looking into all the businesses, all of which were open just for them – the gift shop and museum are only open on weekends and special occasions now that it’s winter. their first task is going to be to think up a new business for the town, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

ida had a dinner for the erasmus teachers, italian and spanish people, so i went downstairs and helped her replate the leftover salad, and heat up leftover cod casserole and smoked pork casserole (pork is pink here, and has a completely different texture than it does in the states). we moved some tables around and set them up for dinner, and as it got dark we ate and talked in several different languages. it was a good time. and after the teachers left, ida and bjarni went back down to the kitchen to continue prepping legs of lamb for stew, and i cleaned up in the restaurant and went back to the house, where i completely blew off packing until the morning.

the forecast was for a yellow alert storm in the north, with high winds, low clouds, and heavy snow quite close to sea level. the wind came up in the afternoon, and i went to the pool when lunch was cleaned up. there hadn’t been many people for lunch, so i got to sit and talk to lara for some time. she’s very good at filling me in about all the things. i had already burned the lamb goulash, not realizing that 3/10 was hot, and i should have been using 1/10 and stirring often. but i didn’t do that, and by the time i checked on it, the bottom of the inside of the pot was black and sizzling, the goulash was ruined, and i had to start over using leftover lamb stew and adding some of the same things ida had put in the ruined one. before pouring the pot’s contents down the sink, i collected a large bowlful, and ate it for my lunch. smoked lamb soup…

the wind was fierce. i’m so glad i finished the mural on tuesday, because there was no way to work after that – too much wind, too much rain, too cold. and ida needed me in the restaurant because she had to be at the junior college all day. so i was very happy to have something worthwhile to do, and decided i was just going to have to trust the elves to make the weather behave for my flight to reykjavik.

walking home from the dinner was an exercise in verticality, and as i was walking north, into the wind, i had my hood on, tightened down to a small face hole. during the night, it got much cooler, and much much windier, and i had to close the window. there was a window open somewhere in the house, and i heard it banging all night, until it calmed down sometime after 3am. by 6 it was getting light, and i could see fog, which lifted to show snow down to the bottom of the mountains, and enormous waves crashing all along the shore. but the wind had died in the night, and it was calm outside, which was surprising, but they tell you never to pay too much attention to the forecast. ida and bjarni were up, so i went down for coffee, and only after they left at 7:30 did i go back to the bedroom to pack. i almost forgot my smoked fish in the fridge. it takes up 1/8 of my suitcase. then i stripped and remade the bed, and left everything as neat as possible, given that gummi drove up before i was finished.

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gummi drove me to dalvik, 15 minutes away, and dropped me just past the gas station (gas is almost $100/gallon in iceland, can you imagine?). people are always going to akureyri from dalvik, gummi assured me as he drove away. so i stood by the side of the road, all my gear on, with my jacket open to show my lopapeysa, and my orange buff on my head, looking as much like an icelander as possible. and yes, perhaps people are always going to akureyri, but in weather like this, it means maybe 20 cars in an hour. so i waited. but it wasn’t snowing in dalvik, only a light rain (there was snow on gummi’s car, and the road on the other side of the tunnel was quite slick), so i was thankful and happy to stand around looking at the geese flying overhead and listening to the rain hit the leaves of the quite substantial trees lining the road.

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and then someone stopped. it was kiddi, from olafsfjordur, who recognized me from the pool, because his house is perched on the hill above the pool, and he can look right down and see who’s there. it’s a really small town, so he knew me from that, and recognized me from last summer, when i spent three months living there. we talked nonstop all the way to the airport. he is a mechanic, and worked on the tunnels from olafsfjordur to siglufjordur. and now he’s working on a tunnel in the east, and another one in the westfjords, at the same time. today he’s driving 6 hours to the westfjords, and had a list of things to get in akureyri, so he was happy to give me a lift all the way to the airport.

we talked about the town and its character – strong and self-reliant. we talked about siglo, how they are swallowing up all the services that used to be in olo, and how they relied on one man’s money to rebuild the town, with a huge hotel, a perfect harbor, many fixed up houses. and now the man has had a hissy fit and moved his world-domination to akureyri, where he’s going to build housing. so siglo has had things handed to it over the years. and olo has not. so the character of the people is different between the two towns. and this is beginning to show. the town got together to clean up the harbor area this summer, and this really impressed the people of siglo, who don’t expect things like that. and they’ve formed an overarching tourist organization to coordinate all the many things tourists can do in the valley – surfing, whale watching, hiking, boating on the lake, boating in the sea, horseback riding, troll spotting, with places to stay and places to eat. just no longer a bank, and no longer an ambulance, which really disturbs most of the people in the town. we talked about how more people with kids are moving into the town, and that there only needs to be more jobs and he place will be perfect. we talked about new ventures, like salmon farming (in tanks on land, not in the sea, which is a horrible idea on so many levels), like getting some cows and opening a dairy and making specialty cheeses and olo skyr (troll skyr???).

and then we were in akureyri, and kiddi kept going, and damn, my plane is arriving already so i’m going to have to wind up. i checked in, and went to the cafe for some coffee and a piece of salmon on thin, buttered sweet bread. i talked to the owner, and after awhile he stated that my parents must be from scotland. i asked how he knew, and he said i resembled his mother, with red hair and a certain kind of face. then we talked about how the dna of all the icelanders is viking, tracing the male line, and how the rna of icelanders is celtic, meaning the men stole the women from ireland and scotland, etc, and brought them here. his great great great great ….. mother was a princess, and was stolen early in the country’s history, and is a famous strong woman of iceland. i remarked that all icelandic women are strong, and he said yes, poor men, which we both found funny. while talking to me, he reached into a display case and gave me a pancake, for free. i felt very happy.

and that reminds me of the dubious looks guests to the cafe gave when presented with what icelanders call breakfast. some bread, butter, slices of ham and cheese, cut cucumbers and tomatos. it looks so spare to people used to a three-course meal for breakfast. and that’s funny, because tourists in ireland (not iceland, ireland) are amazed at what they’re expected to eat when they order a full irish breakfast, and often want cereal or porridge instead. in iceland, tho, they ask if they can have pancakes and bacon, and feel like they’re being ripped off when they’re offered cereal. but that’s not what they eat for breakfast in iceland. pancakes are a dessert, bacon is something you have for dinner.

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so i’m sitting here watching people disembark, the chinese tourists clutching each other against the wind, which is coming up again, the icelandic people strolling with their jackets open. it’s a tiny luggage train, with only one car behind the bac, and the propellers are slowly spinning in the breeze. we’ll take off in about half an hour, and i should be in reykjavik as planned, ready for a day of socializing and driving around. i’ll talk about that when i’m waiting for my next flight, tomorrow afternoon.

friday. we got on the plane, several tourists complaining about the wind. it was easy to crack that this was nothing as i leaned into my walk. the joke about icelanders falling on their faces when the wind stops occured to me, but i didn’t think i could deliver it properly without body language, bent double at the waist, with my shoulders heaving sideways as i shoulder into the wind. so okay, never mind. this time i had changed my seat, because the propeller freaked me out a little. i chose a seat in the back, at the window. my dad, who was a pilot and a reporter, always insisted on sitting in the back of the plane, because when planes crash, the tail section is usually the largest piece left. for this flight, i had a great view of the back end of the engine. a turbojet, who’d have thought?

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the flight departed on time, with the wind picking up as we readied for takeoff. but we were 4 minutes early because of the strong tail wind. we flew into the wind at takeoff, and circled around the fjord, getting a good view of the mountains surrounding olafsfjordur. and then it was clouds most of the way to reykjavik. when we got below the clouds again, i could see the sea, and the mountains around reykjavik, and pretty soon the landscape became dotted and then strewn, and then clotted with houses. they like nice patterns in iceland; their sense of design is wonderful and very modern, so even houses built in the ’50s and ’60s are like little we have in the states.

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when we landed, i picked up the rental car, assuring the guy i could drive a manual shift. he seemed doubtful, since i’m american, but i’m old, and have been driving for 45 years or so, and own a manual shift trucklet. it’s funny. it’s not possible to rent a car with manual transmission in the states, but thruout europe that’s the standard, and woe to americans who never learned to drive that way. it’s almost a lost art. runa texted me that she was on the bus, and kept sending me updates, and finally i went around to the bsi bus terminal and picked her up there.

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and then it was time for lunch. i’d been hankering for sushi, so runa and i went to a sushi-train restaurant. i was going to go to sushibarinn, on laugavegur near the backpackers’ hostel, but we had to find a place to park, and were heading to hvalfjordur to see ragnhildur, so we ended up at borgatun, parking for free in back of the building, and finding ourselves in a japanese style restaurant. meaning everybody sits at the counter, the sushi comes by on a conveyor belt, two pieces per plate with a plastic cover on it. the food goes around and around, and you pick what you like, and stack the finished plates on the counter. runa had never had sushi, so we got a bowl of bite-sized tuna pieces, a bowl of bite-sized salmon pieces, and several pieces of sushi roll of various types. i didn’t see any fish other than tuna and salmon, but i put that down to my inexperience identifying raw fish. we also got a bowl of rice, and by the time it was gone, we were both feeling full. we spoke to the woman tending the bar. she’d been several times in the states, and was a grandmother herself (looking about 35, but claiming to be 55). the bill was $50 for both of us. then we went next door and bought coffee, and got on the road.

the weather in the south was completely different from the weather in the north, sunny and bright, few clouds, the wind not very stiff at all. and we were in a peugot with a sunroof that extended almost the length of the car. it was a very nice car, and i enjoyed driving it. i couldn’t find the cruise control, and never learned many of the controls, but it had heated seats and some sort of plug-in wifi module. we drove along the coast almost to the new tunnel, and turned right to take the old road around the fjord. i knew the way!

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we pulled in to the driveway and went up to the house. ragnhildur’s dogs met us, and she followed soon after, and waved us into the farm building next to the house. they’d completely done it up since our last visit, turning an old exhibition and gathering space into a great, airy workshop where ragnhildur’s fabric stash took pride of place. on the wall was a friendship quilt that dated from 2005, when women around the world embroidered postcard sized pieces and sent them to iceland. and on a side table was a collection of troll and elf and god figurines ragnhildur has assembled, some of them dating back to her childhood.

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we had coffee and a number of small things to eat – pancakes with rhubarb and date jam made that morning, goat sausage, various cheeses, dried fruits and nuts, chocolate. we pigged out, and talked and talked. there was a lot to catch up on, because all three of us have experienced big changes in the last year. everybody’s had big changes this last year, and it’s good to stay abreast, because when things change a lot, it can really upset your emotional equilibrium, and even your idea of self-worth and personal mission.

then, when it was time to go, we took a tour of the home-field surrounding the house. ragnhildur and larus have been very busy planting trees and bushes this past year, and there are dozens of roses, and hundreds of saplings now, as well as several avenues and circles of stones. it’ll be wonderful in 30 years, and we could imagine what it would look like. i always make gardens i know i won’t be able to tend forever, and make them so that i can walk away and they’ll still survive. they do the same thing. it’s good to tend the earth, and good to leave something behind for future generations.

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when ragnhildur was frozen stiff, we said goodbye, and drove thru very light traffic to the university, where anna kristin is now a student. she was working on a video presentation, involving lots of clips and more editing, and was okay with taking a break to go with us to a noodle place down near the docks. it was a tiny little shop, with an 8′ counter and 8 stools. the choices were what kind of broth, and what kind of meat. all three of us chose miso soup with chicken. the customers were lined up to the door, but people left after their meal. and soon we were seated at the counter, where the cook was from new zealand, he told us, came to iceland because the owner of the shop asked him to, and stayed. it was a substantial meal, with fresh, organic noodles, and we were almost too full to drink our ginger tea.

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when dinner was eaten, including a side order or two of dumplings, we walked up the hill – a part of reykjavik i hadn’t seen before, with old houses, and then grand old houses – to collect a pottery vase anna kristin had ordered (volcanic black and ice white), and then we bushwhacked back to the parking garage where we’d left the car. it was dark by the time we dropped anna kristin back at her apartment. and then runa directed me to her apartment, on top of a hill somewhere… it’s a small apartment, 30 square meters, but she had it arranged into several rooms using the furniture as room dividers, and tho it was crowded, it was neat and organized, something i hadn’t seen her do before. i congratulated her on her use of space and decoration, admired the stars from her balcony, destroyed the toilet (and then fixed it again), and went to bed.

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next morning, the sun came thru the windows, and we were up by 8. by 9 we were in the pool. there are 7 pools to choose from in reykjavik, and she took me to the closest one, which is also one her uncle designed. arbaejarlaug, it’s called, and it’s got a lap pool, several jacuzzis, a bubbly area with a shoulder massage jet, a steam room, 5 or 6 hot pots, and even an outdoor locker room and sun trap, as well as the usual indoor locker room. it was wonderful. 10 came too fast. and i got yelled at, because i was consulting my phone’s map when the attendant came by, and she told me phones had cameras and there were naked people there. i grimaced at the thought, and put the camera away.

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by 10:45 we were pulling into ikea (which is pronounced eye-key-a in the states, but ee-kay-a everywhere else) for breakfast. the typical icelandic breakfast (see above) was 440isk (about $4), and runa got that, but i went for the trifecta – roast beef and mayonnaise on bread, tiny shrimp with vegetables on bread, and smoked salmon on bread. i could hardly finish it, and wrapped up a roll i had gotten for the road. it’s still in my carryon. we sat and talked for awhile, and looked at flights for runa’s impending visit to stay with us. and then i left her to shop, and got back in the car to head out to the airport.

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there were several hours before the flight was due to leave, so i drove past it, and continued down the coast to the crack between worlds – sorry, the bridge between continents – where the eurasian plate diverges from the north american plate. there’s a big sand-filled gap where the plates diverge, and several chinese tourists to give the photo scale. otherwise this end of the reykjanes peninsula is pretty barren, nothing but lava not old enough to be covered with moss. i read an article just the other day that said the volcano on reykjanes is ready to blow, and it’s a real lava producer, and the lava runs fast. the peninsula is very interesting. evidently the sea runs right under the land, and fish swim from one side to the other. i’m not sure whether to believe it – the information came from siggi – but iceland is a very strange place, and normal geology doesn’t apply here.