Posted by: jeanne | July 15, 2019

on our way back home

two of us = a beatles reference, it accompanies me in my head every time i go on the road.

tuesday. we’re in the air, about to start our descent to new york. i’m expecting extreme heat, but the pilot says 70s (of course, that was at 7am, so we’ll see).

connor insisted on carrying dany’s backpack, which was almost as big as he is

but back to saturday. our friend dany came to stay, taking over the house until unnar gets back (which she should be back because i’m finishing this part up on the 9th).  we got dany from kaffi klara and brought her to the house.  connor helped with her backpack because we’re leaving the next day.  what a sweetie.

then we went to ida’s for dinner with all the other temporary residents of our little town.  i took all the leftovers i’d been nurturing, and some the sausages svanfridur gave me (she stopped me on the road when i was going to the pool that last day, and gave me a pillow case with a plover on it – harbingers of spring.  how wonderful.  thanks svanfridur for everything)

part of the hillside that has been spared from cutting

we all sat around, people from 4 different countries, and made dinner – barbecue, which is not like american southern pulled pork with sauce, but skewered and grilled meat and vegetables.  onions, peppers, zucchini, chicken, with some hotdogs.  it was delicious, with exotic ice cream bars afterward (mine was a chocolate covered vanilla ship with a dollop of jelly in the middle).  it was after 10 when ida drove dany, connor and me back to unnar’s house, and we went to sleep very soon after that

i’d packed all that day, and cleaned, and let connor spend the day saying goodbye to his friends and playing on the hoppabelgur, or the bouncy as he called it.

a hoppy thingie

i went on my final walk about town, dropping various things off with various people.  i passed the house i want to buy, tho that’s a ludicrous position for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that it needs a bunch of work.  for some reason it has disappeared from the listings, but that could have several causes, and i live in fantasy, i mean hope.  and a reliance on miracles.

on sunday, i got up early and went to kaffi klara for breakfast with dany, who is taking over at unnar’s house. she arrived late on saturday and we all had dinner at ida’s house, a barbeque. i brought the remaining everything from the house, leaving only svanfridur’s lovely lamb cutlets in the freezer.

after breakfast i went and got connor up, and brought him down to the cafe, and waited until gummi completed his rounds of the campgrounds (which he runs), and soon after that we got a lift with bjarni and gummi (thanks, guys) to akureyri.

my last look before leaving the fjord

it’s an hour to akureyri, and just before you get to dalvik there’s this cute little house. i’ve painted it before.  i had to take the phone away from connor at this point in order to get the shot.  he was texting his friend lilja using repeated emojies.

bjarni went straight to the airport for us, so i could drop off our bags, and then we took the kaffi klara taxi back to downtown akureyri where they dropped us off around noon. it was quite cold and windy, maybe 38f with spits of rain, where it had been in the upper 70s the previous couple of days. (the next morning, my facebook feed showed snow on the mountains of olo that night

the mountains on the eastern, dalvik side of our fjord

connor and i wandered around the walking/shopping street looking for souvenirs to give as presents – keychains and stuffed animals.

there was nobody around on the shopping street, and the trolls were tucked under an awning to avoid the mist

he’d been saving up his change, and decided to spend it on gifts instead of candy, partly because he hadn’t managed to eat all the candy i bought at duty free when we first arrived. i was trying to arrange a meeting with karolina, an artist with kaktus gallery and also teaches at menntaskolinn. she wasn’t busy, but my schedule kept changing moment to moment.

he just casually appeared around a corner with a hat and battle ax

(we were supposed to meet vivian, who had been at listhus for the month of june, and she was taking the bus from olo at 2. she’d confessed that she had not been to the pool the whole month, and we thought that was a crime, and suggested she join us there.) so we got a hotdog at the stand – i got an akureyri hotdog (with red cabbage) and connor got a hotdog with baked beans and bacon, and we stood and ate it in the drizzle.

and then we thought we’d go to the pool, but when i checked my small backpack i discovered that i’d packed the suits in a different bag. so we had to find a taxi and go back to the airport. it was well after 1 at this point.  i left connor with the driver and easily found our suits, and when i came back, they had made friends and were talking, even tho the driver’s english and connor’s icelandic was rudimentary. on the way back, he slowed way down (as did everyone else) while we passed an entire clutch of geese and ducks who were walking along the side of the road, and the driver excitedly pointed out the chicks to connor, who got a big kick out of seeing them. we talked about the inadvisability of getting out to pet them.

i kept trying to arrange a meeting with karolina. we were going to meet at 12, then 2, then the swimsuits, then 4, no, 4:30 while we went to the pool. she suggested the bar at the backpackers hostel, so we had that part settled right away.  but the time kept changing.  so we went to the pool after getting the swimsuits, and it was sprinkling a cold gentle rain.  but we didn’t care as we trudged up the very steep hill to the pool.  (and that’s why there’ll never be rental motorized scooters in iceland – too many steepnesses for little puttputts)  it was a big place, with chinese tourists in front of us handing american dollars to the ticket seller, who explained he couldn’t give any icelandic change back, but they didn’t care.  since we bought a pass in olo, we weren’t used to paying, but it was easy enough with plastic, and i rented a towel, too.  connor and i went into the girl’s locker room, even tho he’s now past that age, and got ready, took our showers in a big shower room with everybody else, ignored everybody else and their unique body shapes, put on our suits and trekked over the wet tiles down a corridor to the great outdoors, still raining gentle cold rain on us.  but did we care?  i went straight to the hot pot, and connor fairly raced over to the two giant slides.

for the next two and a half hours he was in heaven.  he must have raced up the 60-some-odd steps to the top of the slides over fifty times.  he always ran up, waited in the back of the line (the tower was enclosed in glass and wet people are perfectly comfortable as long as the wind can’t get to them), and then invariably chose the ‘toilet’, the slide that whangs you down into a centrifugal force bubble, and then spins you around until you’re slow enough to drop into a black hole that then dumps you into the tank.  it takes about a minute.  he would come howling down out of the tube, splash over to the side, climb out and then run back to the stairs, outmaneuvering everybody to get to the top as fast as possible.  he absolutely loved it.  i, on the other hand, enjoyed the hell out of five of six hotpots (i didn’t go in the baby pool, tho it’s undoubtedly a real joy to float in – seriously, there’s some hidden spa experience in each pot in every pool), never thought of swimming a length, and spent extra time under the shoulder massage jets, rather bruising my back as i found out later.)

he’s working on dreadlocks at this point. you should see my hair. we didn’t bring a brush with us, and went swimming every day

at 4:30 we were to meet both karolina and vivian at the backpackers.  i ordered a guinness because they serve them, connor had a hot chocolate, karolina had a latte, and vivan had tea, and then connor and vivian went off to another table to look at videos and make snapchat selfies.

and karolina and i talked about making a huge art show in olo, and finding a really good muralist to make a really good troll to go somwhere in the town.  and then she was off to another meeting, and we needed to eat before going to the plane.

so it was off to the akureyri curry house, where they remember me, to eat lamb curry and naan bread.  connor ate a chicken sandwich and fries from the chipper next door.  and then we took a taxi to the airport, and all three of us collected our bags from storage and checked them for the 8:50pm flight to reykjavik.  it was cloudy most of the way.  it was short.  did i doze?  did i whip out the laptop and write some of this???

toward saudarkrokur?

runa was waiting at the airport, and we dragged everything to the bus stop. then connor said he had to pee, so we had him duck behind the shelter in some bushes and try to not pee on the elves.  then a bus ride to the other side of town, and a change to another bus serving a subdivision of apartments covering a hill.  where runa’s sister lives but is away for awhile and runa is housesitting.  so we stayed there.  connor and runa went back out to the store (open until midnight) and i collapsed on a memory foam mattress, stopping only to set my alarm and dig out my travel pillow, and fell asleep.

monday.  up betimes.  6:45am, just ahead of the alarm clock.  out the door and to the bus stop in good time for the rehash of the trip the night before, back to the airport to pick up the rental car.

interesting progression of images near hlemmur

i got there right before 8, when the desk opened, and had a nice $5 cappuchino, then waited until ten after and picked up the desk phone to call somebody at the agency.  the guy arrived at 8:30 (but that’s iceland), and took care of me, and got me on my way just as two more customers began to hover behind me.  a little car with a stick shift, just the kind of thing i want to drive pretty much anywhere.  i got back to the house and everyone was still asleep, so i made myself coffee, had a slice of cheese, and maybe even wrote some of this blog, or called jim, waiting for a sound from either bedroom.  but it was 10:30 when i broke the silence, because we were supposed to meet unnar at 11:30 for an early lunch.  i’d already messaged unnar about it, and we’d pushed it back an hour.  so connor could have his time on his tablet, and runa could have her cup of tea and fit herself into her human body (we sleep as trolls).

eventually we got downtown, found free parking a bit of a walk into town, and walked to the restaurant.  unnar was aready there, so we wasted no time grabbing plates of sushi off the train an slurping it down.  connor had chicken teriaki and a bowl of rice.  we were so busy talking that i forgot to get a picture, but we spent a bunch of money and ate a whole lot of fish and rice.  we hadn’t seen unnar since she went off away from olafsfjordur, and she’d been very busy doing festivals and teaching and walking tours and hanging out with her parents.  she’ll be one more week doing stuff, and then it’s back to olo for her.  summers can be so frantic.

icelandic old and new architecture

an interesting tar-like texture on the metal statue, and because it’s practical, a block below so people can scramble up on his back

we all piled into the car and left for ragga’s house in the country.  it takes about an hour, and it was a beautiful cloudless blue day, so first runa put her seat down, then connor fussed and complained until he fell asleep, and i was left to drive thru the wondrous landscape.

when i got there, i left them sleeping, and went to say hello.  that’s when i met the new dog, bangsi, that ragga got under exactly the same circumstances i’d been hoping for myself – someone gave him to her – a wonderfully friendly and unbelievably unyappy icelandic sheepdog.  i so want one, universe, just saying…

we had a great time talking and drinking coffee.  connor had a few cookies, and runa and i talked to ragga while connor talked to the dog and chased chickens.   and then it was after 6, and we had to go.

we got back to hlemmar, where vivian was waiting with a bag of chili fries.  the smell of the potatos filled the little car, and we were all instantly hungry.  but then she explained with a giggle that she had dumped a whole lot of chili powder on the fries and maybe we shouldn’t have one.  connor had one, of course.  and we didn’t have any water for him, poor thing.  the smell of the chili was so intense that my eyes watered, and we had to have the windows down while we navigated over to the pool.  it was pretty damned good.  connor and vivian went down the slide/river contraption many times, while runa and i sat in various hot tubs and jacuzzi pools.  there was a steam bath, and a fountain jetting hot water, the opposite of one we have in atlanta, and a cold pot with some real hard asses who lounged in the stuff, brrrrrrr.

then it was 10pm, and the pool closed, so we got dressed and dropped vivian off at her hotel, and then needed dinner that was more then chili fries.  but it’s reykjavik, and even tho it’s broad daylight, people have to sleep. we headed to the bar district down by the waterfront, but the kitchens were closed. there was one place, and we were cautioned that the kitchen was closed but the guy would make us a pizza.  so we did that.  and it wasn’t bad, but it was kind of skimpy on the toppings.  but hey, they fed us, so it was great, and i tried not to mind the heartburn later.  ida’s pizzas are better.

then it was home to runa’s sister’s, quick call to jim while drinking a guinness (thanks, runa), and set the clock for evilly early.  it was 2:30 in the morning.

tuesday. i got up at 6:30.  connor, however, did not.  he’d been up until whenever playing on his tablet, and i had to drag him out of bed and insist he go pee – n really, wake up and pee.  i had to take him downstairs to the car by the hand, because his eyes weren’t really open.  runa was up to say goodbye, but went back to bed.  connor was asleep before i had his belt fastened.

so i drove to the airport.  it’s an hour drive, and once you’ve driven it, it’s pretty much the same road every time.  there are no surprises, except how much shorter it is than it was the last time.  by now i have my favorite spots, the ones i would make a painting of if only i could stop and get proper photos.

there wasn’t much traffic, we filled up right before the airport and it was too early to go thru the grocery store even if we’d had checked luggage and could’br braught home, say, a leg of fjallalamb.  with everything fitting nicely into 3 bags, it felt easy to give the car back, we got a lift to the terminal, we got swept by checkin, and were there hours early.

running off the energy before going thru security

we saw the same security guy twice, once when he asked all sorts of questions – and what does a mural artist actually do when they paint a mural on the wall – and once at the gate when he asked the usual questions about having been given something to take on board.

we found a brand new wool and silk scarf on the floor right on the other side of passport control, so connor went around and asked likely women if they’d lost their scarf.  he was a big hit with the ladies, and his ears turned red, but nobody claimed the scarf, so it’s a present for mommy, i guess.  thanks nameless passenger, i hope you weren’t too flustered.

we cruised thru the bookstore, and got coffee, and went to the bathroom, and wandered to the gate, where they were ready to board, and it all took very little time to get on the plane and get settled.  we were in the very last seat.  and while we were waiting to get onboard, connor decided he really needed to go to the bathroom, so i dropped him off at the front door of the plane and headed back to steerage assuring the attendants that he could find our seat, which he then reeled off like a pro traveller.  they were impressed.

so they brought him chips and got him a drink, offered him earphones.  they’ve started giving out hot steaming towels again, a perk i always love.  they had wifi, too, but i couldn’t actually send any messages, so maybe not.  connor toodled thru the movies and games, and settled on the boy who would be king.  i turned on a few serious drama things that i couldn’t hear because of the engne noise, and then found the lego movie second part.  food for him was fried chicken pieces with idk something vegetable and starch.  mine was halal food, and they gave me kofte, my favorite, with beans and a salad.  i do enjoy eating special meals with the airlines, tho you have to be careful what you choose if you want something edible (don’t get bland if you can help it), given the current standard in airline food.

it was cloudy even at 30,000+ feet, so we kept the shades down and watched movies, and connor played his tablet and watched a movie at the same time.  when the clouds opened up we were over brunswick maine, looking a lot like the shore of iceland, except we were way higher than when iceland looked like that from the window.

it was about noon when we landed at jfk.  i’d switched out my sim card, so we called mommy, and then checked in with jim, but there was all this bustle of people getting thru immigration, and we got put into a special line because the machine couldn’t read my passport, and welcome to new york.  then it was 2.

we dropped everything off at left luggage after changing into our summer wear, then took the subway to brooklyn heights.  our first object was food, so we went to the same place we’ve been going to for over 30 years, and i got the lox and bagel as i always do, and connor remembered getting french toast, so that’s what he had, and actually ate an entire doublt-thick piece with butter and syrup.  we promised we’d be back for coffee and hot chocolate after we found a playground, and went on down the shady side of the street, stopping to look at the apartment building where i’d lived all those 30+ years ago.

the playground is likewise where it has been all this time, and we walked down the promenade to get there.  the place had kids in it, and their nannies, and the women were all talking like they do every day, and the kids were all playing with each other or with a bunch of molding toys that are always there (left outside in brooklyn, notable for the fact that they’re actually left outside long enough to get moldy. without being stolen.  says something about a place.)


connor found someone his age-ish to play with, a rather mean girl who kept cheating as they raced each other around the parklet. when she freaked out and went to her nanny for comfort, we took our leave, connor hoping she felt better.

we went back to the restaurant and had our drinks (and were able to use the bathroom, more to the point).  then we walked over to the other side of city hall into the commercial district and went hunting for fabrics.  because 30 years ago, when i lived there, i found a shop that sold afrian wax fabrics (made in china but), and bought a bunch of lengths as curtain material.  and it was still there.  so i dragged connor along thru a very busy and lively section of brooklyn, not staid and green like brooklyn heights, but way more real.  in brooklyn heights, the real consisted of old people limping around on their walkers, denizens of the neighborhood for 60 years.  in the jay street district, there were hundreds of different nationalities making their way down the shopping street, having their version of a good afternoon in not too horribly hot weather.  we had to ask where the subway stop was, and people were glad to tell us just how to go.  i got my fabric – 3 yards of orange and blue patterns for $16.  cash only

back on to the subway.  he was getting tired, so he sat and rocked in my arms all the way back to the airport.  probably sleeping.  while i was waiting in line to get our luggage, he wandered off to pet a dog that was kind of like lily, and told his sad story to the lady.  on our way to our terminal, we met two more dogs on our train, so connor was spread pretty thin.

we ended up at the same gate as our flight last time we did this, and settled in.  connor was on his tablet, and charging it too.  i called jim, and wandered around and waited.  the plane was over 20 minutes late getting in.  i kept texting mikie about this, as we were late loading, and then we had to sit in our seats on the tarmac for over an hour.  and nothing was announced, because this was new york and they’re always an hour late taking off.

at this point even connor has had enough.  he curled up in my lap and went to sleep.  it was only an hour’s flight, and we sat in a queue on the ground for longer than it took to get to dc.

he was dead asleep when we landed, so i let everybody else off and then guided his sleepwalking form down the gangway and out to the nearest free wheelchair we could find.  they were turning the lights off in the terminal as we finally found the right direction to get to the car rental booths.  and i ended up in the wrong line and only found out 20 minutes after coming to the back of the line.  the real rental agency was up in the garage, where there was nobody in sight, and a bunch of bewildered renters who wanted to be served at once.

we finally got our car.  we had reserved a convertible – don’t ask me why it was the cheapest car available – but by this point i just wanted to have something i could safely drive my kid home in, so i got a camry.  it was fine, with lumbar support.  connor was asleep.  mikie was asleep.  i stopped at storage and retrieved our travel things (shorts, thin blankets, my pillow), then snuck in at mikie’s.  connor went striaght up to the room upstairs and plopped down on the kid mattress on the floor.  he was mostly asleep.  i had to make him get up and pee.  but he was out.  i followed shortly

wednesday.  then it was 5:45, and i could see dawn thru the curtains, so i woke connor up, make him pee, and hustled him downstairs to where mikie had left some things that susie had left for him to give me, collected that, and snuck out of the house.

connor went to sleep; i stopped and got coffee, and we were on the road.  connor slept until about 10, so i got a good piece down the road before i had to begin stopping frequently.  it was good driving weather, in the upper 70s for a good few hours.  we had the windows down, and buffs on our head to keep our hair out of our eyes.  tho he was continuously charging his tablet, it maintained 1% for most of our trip.  around lunchtime, i started to get really tired, so used some of our frequent stops to take a nap in the shade, while connor played on his tablet.  when i got up, we got out so i could stretch my legs, so we could pee, and he could run around.  he seemed unsure on the concept of running around, preferring to stand around complaining about the heat.  but we walked to the top of a steep hill, and that was good enough for him.

after 3 such naps, and then a good lunch at a truck stop, we were past knoxville and heading straight home – 6 hours with only bathrroom breaks and no running around.  it was okay.

we finally got home at 9pm, and the temperature outside was 90f, something i hadn’t seen since last summer.  it was dripping, and the air was thick and hard to breathe.  and it didn’t smell fresh – it still smelled like new york city subway in moments.  but we were home, ready for a dog walk, a guinness, and bed.

thursday was my (first) recovery day, when i practiced sleeping early and often.  it’s actually monday of the following week – no wait, two weeks later, and i’m still sitting on the porch recovering.  it’s something i consider restorative rather than lazy.  and i’m working on several small watercolors of scenes i’ve been wanting to paint in iceland.

everything has been unpacked, and instead of diving into my usual load of things to do (the etsy page, the art database, organizing to renovate the studio), i’m enjoying sitting on the porch, and taking naps, and drinking a guinness.  it might be 90f on the porch, but it’s my porch, and there’s a ceiling fan on it, and i’ve got a blanket around my legs to ward off mosquitos, and even tho i miss everything about iceland, it’s in a different universe, and i’m back in my local universe now, where priorities are different.

Posted by: jeanne | June 29, 2019

sigh. it’s time to leave. again.

monday. it’s down to the wire now.   we’ve been here three weeks, and we’re well into our fourth.  i’ve only now finished my first wall, and have two more to do in the next 5 days, and now the weather forecast is for rain starting on wednesday.  i’m sitting in the kitchen writing this while the rest of the house is sleeping – breki on the table in front of me, everybody else in their beds.  and i’ve been up since 5 because i have so much to do and don’t want to waste any time.  so rather than lay awake for hours, reading facebook and the news, i got up and grabbed the touchup paint, and corrected stray paint marks and spills, and finished buffing the wall next to the mural.  while i was at it, i lightened the color of the troll woman’s shirt, because you couldn’t see her hair against the dark green.  then i went over to theodora’s house and began sketching in her three trolls, and when i was finished with that i went down to kaffi klara, but the doors were locked, so i came back and started this post.

connor coming down the longest water slide in iceland

on saturday evening, late, with connor down at the bouncy thing and not planning to come back until the air was let out of it at ten, there was a knock on the door.  it was daddi, the guy who runs the jetski tour company.  he had asked me several days before if i would be interested in going on a jetski trip with him and some clients, and i jumped at the chance.  i can’t afford any extras on my travels, and am always very grateful when someone gives me something like this.  so he showed up at 10 and asked how i was.  i was tired, of course, and ready to call jim and go to bed.  i’d been painting, and swimming, and earlier that day i’d spent several hours in the kitchen of kaffi klara prepping a bunch of hors d’oevres for a wedding that afternoon.  so i was tired.  but there he was, looming in my door, looking at his watch.  so fine.  i grabbed my shoes, asked runa to put connor to bed, and left to go down to the dock with daddi.

his company – fairytale at sea – is set up in a shipping container on the dock, with a range of jetskis tied up in the water below it, and a handy dandy lift i’d like to borrow to use on a large wall sometime.  inside the shipping container are rows of wetsuits, gloves, helmets and shoes, a seating area, and a storage room walled off by a curtain.  it smells of neoprene.  and there are cups and hot chocolate mix for when it’s actually cold outside.  at 10pm it was about 50f, so there was no need to break out the supplies.  daddi lent me a pair of thick wool socks, and then pulled out a thermal undersuit that was too big for me, but never mind that.

the other two arrived from dalvik, asked me if i spoke icelandic, and then merrily went on their way getting suited up, getting the briefing (stay away from other jetskis, rock with the waves, etc), and joking.  i didn’t care if i couldn’t understand anything, i was just along for the scenery.  i got on the back of daddi’s bike, and off we went out of the fjord.  jetskis are loud, and the seat is too wide to really hold on with your legs, but otherwise it resembles riding a horse.  or a motorcycle.  or a mechanical rocking chair.  it was quite tiring holding on to the straps of daddi’s life preserver, because i was pushed back every time he revved the engine, but that’s what i did for some time, until i found the handles on the side of my seat, and could let go of him.  then i just glued myself to my seat, and he could stand up and run the machine.  the other guy stood up the whole time, but he’s good on a snowjetski, and his wife was good on a motorcycle and stayed seated.  i’ve never been on a jetski before, and fell off the last motorcycle i was on (is it already 50 years ago? huh).

they were apparently out to watch (chase) whales, but i was primarily interested in the landscape.  i’ve only ever seen the mountains outside of town on a map, and to cruise along the coast was amazing.  the cliffs come right down to the sea, and at one point we passed vikurbyrdha, the second highest mountain in europe (at 752 meters measured from the peak to the ocean, so never mind the alps (the highest is in the faroe islands)), according to the locals.  of course i can’t find anything on the internet about it, but so it goes up here in the frozen hahahahahaha north.

we cruised along the coast north of olafsfjordur until they spotted a whale in the distance.  the waves were nonexistent, there was no wind, the sun was eternally setting and there was a line of clouds just below the sun on the horizon.  the water was a delicate light blue that glowed, and there were golden highlights and dark depths showing in the crests and dips.  as we got further out we started riding gentle swells, but the water was like glass.  so it was no trouble at all to chase the whales.  at first we saw little ones, 2 or 3 meters long, but then they saw a humpback, and couldn’t chase it fast enough.  i really had to hold on.  they caught her on camera as she breached, blew, and slowly rolled, those enormous fins flopping gently over, the tail flipping casually as she dived.  so leisurely, ignoring us even tho we were making huge amounts of noise, while i was wondering if they ever got angry and flipped jetskiers over into the water (apparently not).

daddi told me that he’d never gone as far out to sea before, but there we were, apparently halfway to grimsey, the sun only a degree from the horizon, and it was 11pm.  from that distance it was all mountain, and we could see to the sheer cliff walls at the backs of steep valleys, snow at the top, slopes too steep to grow grass, and obscenely green valley floors.  as we got closer, the mountains began to loom over us, and when we got right up to the shore, the cliffs rose straight up out of the water, thousands of feet, the remains of collapsed cliff faces making a jumble of very large rocks at the base.  the water was absolutely clear, and there was kelp everywhere, and cute little jellyfish i wanted to reach out and touch hahahaha.

there were birds everywhere, nesting in every little nook and cranny on the rocks, and the noise was tremendous.  from afar we spotted a house at the edge of a tiny valley, and as we went up to it, we found there were three people hanging out in front of it.  daddi explained they were people from olo who were hiking (up a hanging valley, over the mountains, and down into the tiny valley (hvanndalir).  and then back again) during the evening sun.

it was now midnight.  we hung out at several sheltered spots near the cliffs; i spotted a bunch of trolls in the rock face.  and then we started back.  the ride back in was very fast, and the wind was quite cold.  the overwhelming impression i got was that olafsfjordur, which is quite large when you’re actually in the town walking around, was so small as to be insignificant when we were at the mouth of the fjord.  like it was smeared over the lowest part of the landscape, and the mountains were the only points of interest.

we got back to the dock around 12:30, and were finished peeling off the wetsuits by 1.  i felt the chill once i was back in my street clothes, and by the time daddi dropped me off at the house i was shaking.  but runa was up, and so i heated some soup and had dinner, and we talked.  the wedding across the street at tjarnarborg was still in full swing at 1, so when i fell into bed shortly after eating, i got to listen to greatest hits of the disco 80s while composing myself for sleep.  i slept until 11:30.  and when i finally got up, i felt like i had a hangover, and really dawdled putting the final final touches on unnar’s mural and gridding the wall for theodora’s mural.  it was a very early evening, and a short conversation with jim.

sunday.  i had a radio interview at 1.  it was with trolli fm, a local radio station, and i know one of the people involved, kristin, tho i’m not too sure where and when i met her.  she had asked if i would talk to them, and asked about next sunday, but her next sunday was my this sunday, and i’d told her i would already be travelling to reykjavik then.  so she sent me a message that we were going to do the interview by phone, and i wondered why, because sound quality, and i could show up at the studio.  so she gave me an address.  i injected some coffee, still feeling like a truck had hit me, and walked up the hill to tungata.  there was a woman fixing a window at the address, and she had no idea about a radio station, so i called kristin, and she told me the address was in siglo.  so oops.  i went back to the house and waited for their phone call, about ten minutes later.  the guy doing the interview explained that he would ask me questions, and i would answer, and then he would translate for those not comfortable in english.  and so it went.  we talked about what brought me to iceland (an unfinished novel about antarctica after the ice melts), and the troll paintings (trolls not elves because it’s the troll peninsula), about the art residency that’s closing and the one that’s opening, about how hot it is in atlanta right now (i may have misspoke when i said 45 degrees C, but not by much), and how much i love being here with connor and all my friends.  i probably spoke too fast, as i do when i’m excited, and he probably couldn’t exactly translate what i was saying, but it was fun, and it brought back memories of when i had a radio show back in college (it was insanely early in the morning, and i was convinced nobody was listening, so i played my favorite music, like three different versions of twisted.

monday.  knowing i had less than a week to finish everything, and seeing by the weather report that it was supposed to rain for the last 4 days, i got up at 5am, put the final final finishing touches on unnar’s troll, then went over to sketch theodora’s figures, it was cold, and i had to come back to the house to warm up and have coffee.  i checked at kaffi klara’s at 7:30, but the doors were still locked, so i went back on the wall and did more.  they were sleeping inside, so i just lurked on the landing, adjusting chalk marks.  when kaffi klara opened, i went down there and had coffee, and then came back to the house and had more coffee.  everybody was still asleep at 9, so i went back to the cafe and found something to do – painting the outside window sills white, because they needed it.  and because they’re all so busy that little things like that just escape them.  so i found the paint downstairs in the storage room, scraped the windows, and painted as far up on the windows as i could reach without a ladder.  it needed a second coat, so i put everything away and put it in mind to come back and finish when i could.  i had my bucket of black paint in hand, so i painted #olotrolltown on the restaurant and the bank.  the early murals didn’t have the hashtag, because bjarney lea thought it up halfway in the middle of my work.

i’ve mentioned check fraud in a previous post.  we were contacted by email from jim’s blog, from a guy whose email resolves to a place in south carolina, but whose english isn’t the best.  he wanted to buy a painting for his wife for their anniversary, etc etc.  it’s a common scam, and presumes you’re more greedy than smart.  so he continued to contact us, and we led him along.  finally i gave him my address so he could mail us a check, and eventually the check arrived, for $3k more than we were asking, and instructions to deposit it, wait for it to clear (almost immediately), and take out the extra money to give to his agent, who would show up for the painting.  the money was supposed to be for the expenses of moving all his stuff to his new home in the philippines.  blah blah blah.   i’d told him i wasn’t going to take a personal check, and only wanted certified funds, and that’s what he sent.  so jim read me off all the details of the check, and i called the bank in south bend, indiana.  they couldn’t find the check number, and said that the signature was by the wrong person, and that we should contact our bank to find out which agency to call in order to turn this character in, because check fraud, wire fraud, interstate wire fraud, all these things.  we won’t be depositing the check.  and we probably won’t be able to entrap the agent because the guy wants a deposit receipt to show we actually cashed the check.  but it’s very diverting, and jim’s having a lot of fun thinking up ways to make the guy’s life miserable.  but because we responded to the one guy, it seems we’re now on a list of some sort, because we got a very similarly worded request from someone else to make the same kind of deal, and i responded that our bank has warned us not to accept any check overages, but that they should direct their agent to cash the check themselves and bring us cash.  we won’t be hearing from the second guy again, but i’m already getting emails from the first guy wondering why i’m not cashing his check.

tuesday.  runa’s last day with us, so she wandered around getting pictures of all of the troll walls, and even came up to hlid, where i’m trying to put the mountains on their barn door.  i’d been having nothing but trouble doing it, because these mountains are incredibly complex, and not easily reduced to a 2-dimensional contour drawing.  so on tuesday, when runa came up to visit instead of packing, i was about ready to tear my hair out, and had already buffed out the marks i’d made.  several times.  i took photos, but then couldn’t see my phone because of the glare.  i sat and drew the mountains, but then couldn’t find the corresponding peaks on the wall.  i tried to draw from life, but the greenhouse and its trees were in the way.  svanfridur was very concerned that i not be upset, but i assured her that it was a process, and i would feel better later.  so i came home and painted a picture from the photos i’d taken.  the problem is that the growth on the mountain changes every day, and the appearance of the mountain changes with every passing cloud.  so it’s very difficult.  and i was quite depressed over it.  so when i was done for the day and we went swimming, i got really fatigued and left connor and runa at the pool and came home to take a nap before starting my painting.

wednesday.  the pattern has been set.  morning work on the greek painting (theodora’s greek), then get connor ready for football and drop him off, then up to the farm to dea with the mountains.  i worked on the sample painting all evening, and it was okay, but then i ruined it by trying to put in one of the dramatic skies we get here.  but that’s okay, because it loosened me up enough that i could go back out on the wall and draw with much more certainty.  it’s been really hot here for the last couple of days – 15-20C (60-70F), and the wind’s been blowing hard, sometimes when i was perched on theodora’s wall i wondered if the wind wasn’t going to blow me off of it.  it was a different kind of wind up on the farm as down in the town.  i can’t really explain it.  the air is fresher up there, and there’s nothing to stop it because it’s on the side of the mountain.  also, down in town they’re very close to the sea, so they get a sea breeze that often wafts the smell of drying fish from the factory.  when it was time to go get connor, svanfridur loaded me up with yet more food.  this time one of her wonderful lamb puddings, some lamb sausages, and some homemade gravlax, only it’s trout, so gravtrout (i’m not sure that’s a word) from their own trout (trout as well as chicken and sheep farming there).  connor was too busy playing on the bouncy to eat dinner, so i ate it all.  he’s been eating sour milk with brown sugar and cocoapuffs (an icelandic treat, except for the cereal).  he finished his book (217 pages!!!) and so he plays on his tablet and watches netflix when he’s not out playing with friends.

thursday.  i got up early and went out to finish theodora’s wall.  it was a relatively easy mural to do, with only three figures, painted in the flat and cartoonish way i’ve been using on almost all of the murals (excepting the troll of iceland and omar’s sorcerer troll).  so it was easily done, and then i went up to the farm and put in the secondary details.  svanfridur has been teaching me icelandic, and so has omar.  this means i stumble thru a phrase, and they correct me, and i stumble some more, and finally forget what they were trying to teach me.  pool, dinner, playing on the bouncy, jotting notes in my blog.  and then there was a pool party for the dozens of teenagers who’ve been doing civic work all summer – planting trees, painting crosswalks, cutting grass), and it only lasted until 10, which was good, because it started to rain and i wanted to go to sleep.  in a town this small, loud music blasting from outdoor speakers goes all over, and i haven’t hear so much recent pop music in a long time.




friday.  and as it gets closer and closer to the time to leave, i get more and more despondent.  it was raining this morning when i got up, so i almost didn’t bother.  but skuli came walking by on his morning rounds, clacking thru the streets on his walking sticks, and i couldn’t stand the competition, so i got up and made coffee.  then i dragged out all the backpacks and all our stuff and started sorting to pack.  somehow i have lost my black backpack, tho i’m sure it will turn up after we leave.  but i’m glad to report that we have enough extra backpacks that i can ditch the nastiness that was my old huge backpack without straps.  it helps that connor has decided to give his beyblade arena away.  everything actually fits into three packs, i’m not sure how.  of course, we still have some clothes and our jackets to stuff in there, and all the elves who want to come to atlanta with us, but there’s loads of room.

after that, i started to clean.  we’ve already emptied the downstairs rooms and swept the floors, so now i took the broom and got both sets of stairs and the both floors above ground.  i’m doing a batch of clothes now, and have two more to do, probably tomorrow.  and then washing the floors, cleaning the microwave and the refrigerator, wiping down the surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, and straightening things back into the order unnar left them in.  danny, the next housesitter, arrives tomorrow, and she’ll be staying with us, so i can show her all the things and methods, and we’re going to be having dinner at ida’s, so i can clear out the fridge.

right now connor’s having breakfast and watching transformers on his tablet, and i’m on my second cup of coffee, backing up all my files.  and now that it’s done, i think we’ll go on up to hlid and put the final touches on the mural’s outlines.  i’ve made a painting on clayboard of the same scene, to make the difficulties of the composition more understandable to me, and i’m of two minds whether to give it to svanfridur and gunni, because i’ve had a lot of trouble with it.  i should have done it on watercolor paper, because that’s not so hard for me, but i didn’t because i don’t want to take the clayboards home with me (they weigh a ton).  maybe i’ll just leave it here for unnar; god knows i’m dumping enough crap on her.  maybe i should pack it up and give it to the red cross – that’s an idea.  i don’t even have to sign it…

it’s raining too frequently for me to go up to the farm, so i have begged off, and instead cleaned a couple of the hotel rooms and then had lunch.  gisli was up at the school, so i returned the ruler and mahlstick.  connor’s over at one of his friends’ houses, and eventually he’ll meet up with another friend, and then we’ll go swimming.  it’s a very low key day, so it’s okay if i’m depressed and despondent, because it seems appropriate for everyone.

saturday.  connor is up at hlid because his friend haldor ingi has finally come to visit his grandparents, so i’m doing all the cleaning by myself, surprise!  i had breakfast with ida and bjarni at kaffi klara, and am getting ready to do my final rounds, storing paint in various places, giving oxalis plants to people, saying goodbye.  the weather has turned cold, and both connor and i are ready to go.  just one more stop at the swimming pool, and we’ll be ready.  sort of.

Posted by: jeanne | June 18, 2019

fótbolti in iceland, etc

as far as connor’s concerned, it’s all about fótbolti.  i’m sure i have the declension wrong, but at least i’m putting in the effort – i found an app that teaches icelandic.  there are several available, but duolingo – my favorite language app – won’t make an icelandic module even tho there is great clamoring for it.  so i downloaded something called drops, and it’s fine, but being the professional cheapskate that i am, i won’t pay for unlimited access, and so only get one lesson a day.  vinsamlegast, duo.

football (soccer to yanks, south africans, australians, new zealanders and other ex-british colonies) started up for the kids just tuesday, and we’ll be here for three whole weeks of it.  connor will learn more in those three weeks than he would in an entire season back home, because here they’re serious about it, where it’s only now that the women’s team is winning so much that they’re beginning to take it seriously in the states.  but here, they live and breathe football, and kids younger than connor work diligently on their footwork up against the sides of houses and out on the playing and practice fields.  so he’s rellly pumped up about it.  we brought all his gear with us, except his ball, and he gets dressed in his socks and shin guards the moment he gets out of bed.  they have practice four times a week, two days here in olo, two days in siglo.  i have to pack him a snack and water, and see him onto the bus two days a week right around 1pm, and then go get him or wait for him to walk home at 4.  three hours of practice a day.  at home it’s an hour a week.

the aerslabelgur (bouncy thing) has been the target of teenagers recently.  i’ve been catching sight of them from my window, riding up on it with their motorbikes and scooters.  the immediate effect is to blow out the edges and cause it to collapse, which is merely wrong.  but if they should fall on it with their bikes, the metal edges will surely pierce the rubber/plastic surface, and then that’ll be the end of the bouncy thing.  so i did the parent thing and told the people at the pool, who aren’t around late in the evening when this has been happening.  and since it’s a small town, they knew immediately who was behind the problem.  so i may be a rat, but the kids who bounce all day don’t mind so much.

the mountains are greening up by the day.  the dark brown stains have turned to dark green, and now and then a bright acid green flows up the mountain along a dried up water course.  on the sunniest slope behind the town, there is a huge field of lupins, turning blue now.  they were the only green parts of the mountain when we first came, and now they’re patchy blue and also growing by the day.  by the time we leave, in only two weeks, all but the steepest slopes and the patches of scree should be growing again.  and there are tiny birch trees that grow along the ground, and there’ll be lots and lots of blueberries to be found there come august.

the moon is almost full, meaning 180 degrees from the sun.  that means in lower latitudes it is only visible – full – at night.  but here it’s a strange 180 degrees, because the sun is up all the time, and the moon rises in the east, gets high in the sky, and crosses to set behind the mountains to the northwest – all in broad daylight.  i don’t know if it stays up, as the sun does.  i hadn’t expected to be able to see the full moon at all, because 180 degrees and a sun that never sets.  i haven’t actually gone out to observe it at 5 in the morning.  but next week i’m planning to bundle up and go to the harbor to watch the sun skim along the ocean before popping up again.  perhaps i’ll be able to see where the moon is as well.  i remember driving back from asbyrgi very late at night, and seeing the sun to the north, getting lower and lower, but doing it sideways, like a plane landing.  and then i remember noticing that it was getting higher, and i hadn’t seen where it turned around, and thought this was too amazing for 2 in the morning.

friday.  at 2 this morning, i got up at a noise outside, and saw a road authority truck stopped in the middle of the main street, with two guys in yellow vests using a chalk line to snap across the painted crosswalk just up the street.  then i went back to bed, and when i went out this morning, all the crosswalks in town had not only chalk lines, but fresh paint on them.  so the road crew spends all night going from street to street and town to town, repainting the road markings.  next they’ll do the line down the middle of the road, and i’ll bet that’ll be in the middle of the night, too.  makes perfect sense.  and since there is only about 4 month of the year when this type of work can be done, it stands to reason they’d hop to it when it is dry out.

and it has been quite dry out.  the temperatures are seasonable to very hot (9c to 35c (in the sun)), and the skies are mostly a clear cerulean blue, with clouds only clinging to the mountains at times.  but yesterday we had a fog that blew in off the sea all day.  it made for a beautiful 5 hour sunset (from around 10 to around 3), with golden clouds curling over the tops of the mountains and evaporating at tremendous speed as they dropped down the sides.

jim has turned around two new mural drawings, and i’m waiting for the owners of the walls to prep so i can put them up. hint, hint.  tommi has promised me he will have his surface prepped by next week, and i despair of asgeir getting to his factory wall this year.  maybe next time, i still have all the drawings, so.

theodora prepping her wall

i’ve redrawn one of the cats on unnar’s wall (the hoop troll), and while it’s not good enough, it’s still better than before, so i’ll keep altering it until i’m happy about it.

the cats need to look like troll versions of their real selves, just like the troll woman resembles unnar, but how to turn a cat into a troll is beyond both jim and me, so we’ll see how it works.  how do you make a troll cat?  horns? claws? fangs? scruffy fur?  the other cat, the one that will be jumping thru the hoop the trollwoman is holding out, has been much more trouble.  i asked jim to draw a pouncing cat, or one ready to pounce, but he couldn’t get the pose i wanted, so when i got here i went searching on the internet for a better pose, and really couldn’t find what i was looking for.  but i did find a cat that is reaching out for something, and that will have to do.  it will be four or five times bigger than the cat the trollwoman is standing on, tall enough to reach the hoop.

gisli, up at the high school, located a stash of housepaint that i used on the trollwoman and mythical beast, so i walked up there with a grocery trolly and got three gallons of something, mostly likely blue and dark gray.  so i have a couple of colors.  svanfridur up at the farm (hlid) also has colored house paint, and has invited me to scavenge from her stash.  i’ll be doing a scene of the mountains on the barn door for her and her granddaughter to paint in, so i’ll be going back up there anyway.  connor, runa and i went up wednesday evening, right after connor got off the bus from siglo, and they fed us coffee and kleinur.  runa talked to them mostly, and now and then translated something i wanted to tell gunni and svanfridur, which is such a big help.

connor played with the border collie, a real working dog who can’t stand to be bored, and followed connor around with a ball in her mouth, ready to chase a pebble if only he would throw one for her.  while i was there, svanfridur let me know she’d like more work done on her wall, and i was more than happy to agree to do it.  so i took pictures of the view from the farm, and will go up in good weather probably next week.  connor of course can’t wait to see his friend haldor ingi, who he hung out with while i was painting the farmer and singer trolls.  haldor is their grandson, who lives down near reykjavik and comes up during the summer.  so maybe he’ll be here while connor is still available; we’ll see.

there is some lovely art on the walls up at hlid

svanfridur drove us back down the hill and dropped us off at the pool, where we had almost an hour to swim.  she loaded me up with lamb from her freezer on the way out, and i stuffed it into the ice cream freezer in the lobby of the pool so it would stay frozen.  that night we had lamb cutlets that she’d already cooked and then froze – so yummy.  and real soon now we’ll roast that saddle of lamb.  i now have enough meat to last the whole rest of the time i’m going to be here, and maybe even leave some for unnar.

saturday.  it’s tourist season now.  kaffi klara is getting them by the carload, some stopping for coffee and the delicious cakes, some to eat lunch or dinner, some to spend the night in the guesthouse.  there’s a foursome of swiss men who come to olo every summer to go fishing.  they haven’t caught anything this summer, tho, but they do love their coffee with huge hunks of cake topped with whipped cream.  i’ve been helping out whenever i can, but they’re pretty well staffed, so it’s only to keep my hand in.  this weekend is seeing one of a number of the town’s families having their yearly reunion.  even tho people might not live in olo, it was where their grandparents grew up, so they descend here from all over (i heard american accents among them), camping out or staying in the family summer house in kleifer (just up the road).  they all meet for a business meeting at some point, and then they have a big session of fun with all the kids (i didn’t count 50 of them playing at tjarnarborg, across the street).  right now they’re back at tjarnarborg having a big dinner.  everybody’s wearing nametags, and they’ll be there all evening, having fun.  the national holiday is on monday, so there are a lot of activities planned, and we’ll be keeping up with them, because olo has the longest water slide in iceland, an extreme extension of their ski jump, and even connor will be going down it until he’s blue in the face.  i’ll have hot chocolate and a hot bath ready for him, because the pool will be closed.

today i found some colored paint to add to the paint gisli found for me, and even tho it’s mainly interior paint, i’m going to put it on the wall anyway, because i just can’t stand to see unnar’s wall in shades of gray when it screams out for color.  it was very hot today – 35c in the sun – so i spent much of the day outside painting in greens and pinks and purples.  i still need some dark gray, but maybe i can mix it.

after having had two warnings by the elves (after having almost fallen twice), runa finally fell in the street, and busted herself up badly enough that she had to see the doctor.  poor baby.

sunday.  happy full moon.  sadly, our connor’s dog lily died last night, after suffering a stroke.  this is the 3rd dog we’ve lost this year, sudie dying of a stroke just one year ago.  we have no idea why lily died suddenly; she was in good health, and we don’t keep poisons in the house or spray for pests or anything like that.  connor is certain that they miss us when we go away, and that seems as good an explanation as the only one i can come up with, which is that the elves don’t like us travelling so much.  it’s a very sad thing to lose our dogs so quickly, and both he and i had a good cry about it.  he recovers more quickly than i do, and managed to have fun at the pool with his friends, while i just sat and wallowed in depression.  his solution is to get another dog.  i don’t know, tho.  it’s pretty painful to lose one after another.  our pet cemetery is getting kind of crowded.

monday.  today is icelandic independence day, and all over iceland they have celebrations.  in olafsfjordur, there was a brunch at kaffi klara, a ceremony at tjarnarborg, bouncy castles and the longest waterslide in iceland.  and it rained.  which didn’t keep people away at all.  the last time we were here for national day, it also rained, and the kids just took off their socks to get into the bouncy houses, instead of just their shoes.  connor was soaking wet, but that was okay because everyone else was too.  and he went down the slide until he was blue in the face, as expected.  then he came back to the house and took an hour-long shower.  i spent most of the day working in kitchens, helping ida make brunch at kaffi klara, and then helping asta clean up at tjarnarborg after all her helpers mysteriously evaporated after the event.  it was a good day for me, at any rate.  and i’m pretty sure connor enjoyed it.

tuesday.  and it’s raining, all day, for the next day or three, so there’s no painting outside.  i’m not even sure there’s going to be football practice.  the pool is open, however, and there’s a saddle of lamb to roast.  and we’re only a block from kaffi klara.  and i have half a novel to finish.  sigh.  can’t even see the mountains to continue a painting i started when the skies were blue.  everybody else is asleep, and i got up at 7:30 thinking maybe it wasn’t raining, to discover that it just wasn’t raining on the side of the house where the window is.  i got up so early that i put the coffee grounds into my cup, rather than the french press.  and with only leftover independence day cake to eat, i’m already buzzing.  maybe i’ll clean the house.  do the laundry.  read a book.  finish this post.

Posted by: jeanne | June 11, 2019

iceland in the summer

we don’t know what time it is here.  it’s light all day and all night, and we go to bed when we get tired, and sleep until we wake up.  the sun does not set at all right now.  it gets partway below the horizon, and then bounces back up.  i hope to go out in the middle of the night and witness this.  both connor and i have been falling asleep at around 12:30-1 in the morning.  the cats wake me around 6 every morning, but i feed them and then go back to bed.  we finally get up around 11am, and it’s usually after noon before we venture out.  if the stores and the pool didn’t keep regular hours, we would be fine.  as it is, tho, we have to scurry to get things done once we’re up because everybody else is used to dealing with it.  not that they keep regular hours in the summer – people are out playing and fishing until very late, and when there’s a party, nobody leaves until 2 in the morning.

there are only two seasons in iceland, summer and winter.  they’re six months long each, and they’re really only names, tho the seasons do start to change at the beginning of them, late october for winter, late april for summer.  because of the latitude, the change in the length of day is dramatic – ten minutes a day and more.  so it’s summer here, and midsummer approaches.  when we arrived, at the tail end of may, it was already light 24 hours a day, and will be until august.  no headlights, no street lights, no indoor lights.  think of the electricity bills in summer and winter (except electricity is geothermally and hydro generated, and almost free).  this leads to the interesting contradiction of having the heat on in the house and the windows open, at the same time.

indoor heating is practically free here, because it comes from very hot water that circulates in radiators and/or pipes under the floor in every building.  only old houses have chimneys, and i’m not sure any of them still work.  the radiators are usually on at a low level in summer, so people open their windows.  mostly nobody has huge picture windows that open, but there’s a little clerestory window that will open a few inches to let the cool breeze in.  otherwise houses tend to be stuffy and overheated.  they like their houses toasty here, but that makes total sense to me, because even in summer the temperatures can be in the 30s and 40s.

global warming (it’s a hoax) has affected the polar regions more than the rest of the world, and it shows here.  the glaciers are melting quickly, and the temperatures get higher and higher.  it reaches into the 70s here now, and that’s just too hot to deal with.  people swim in the ocean, the mountains get more green higher up on their flanks, migratory birds show up earlier and leave later.

the pool is still our favorite thing.  the idea of going to the pool is a scary one, if you haven’t been.  my first time in iceland, i never went until the moment i injured my shoulder falling off a bike, and then i wondered why i’d wasted most of my month being reluctant.  there’s simply nothing like sitting in a hot bath while it blusters and rains, or snows, all around you.  the cold water on your face feels refreshing, the fresh air blowing steam across the pool smells healthy, the patterns of rain on the water of the hot tub make me want to giggle with joy.  since we don’t have a car, and connor balks at having to hike it down to the beach for clean up day, it’s unlikely we’ll be doing much hiking this time.  we have several favorite walks up the four hanging valleys in the fjord, including one with a bunch of troll rocks (really trolls, asleep or merely masquerading as rocks), where one of our friends was badly scared by a malevolent being who recently jumped out from behind a mysteriously dark rock next to a tarn (a glacial pool).  we’d like to go up again to investigate, but it’s a hike to get to the base of the valley, and another hike to the troll rocks, and a very long hike back, and plus the ground is still pretty mucky and connor didn’t bring his water boots.  so maybe not this time.

it has been cold for the first week of our stay.  in the upper 30s and lower 40s, for the most part.  and it rained about half the week.  but we haven’t had a huge blow from the north (the kind that sends the trampolines and bbq grills flying), and when the sun comes out the temperature soars to 60 and 70 in an instant.  i found the perfect arrangement last night, putting my chair in the lee of the house, facing the never-setting sun.  blistering sun at 7pm, only a light breeze creeping around the side of the house, a book and a pint of guinness (yes you can get it here!), and i was in heaven.

sunday. yesterday morning i was awakened by the smell of lamb roasting in someone’s grill.  it was over in tjarnarborg, across the street from unnar’s house, and a guy was grilling ten or twelve legs of lamb in two smokers.  they were coated in garlic, and some sweet thing, either apples or rhubarb (which grows wild here).  he told me it was for an icelandic bar mitzvah, and we laughed, because he actually meant confirmation, because everyone here is lutheran.  an hour or two later, the place filled up with people in their sunday best (it was saturday), because some kid was being celebrated for reaching their teenage years, and the entire extended family was there to witness and celebrate.  this town is made up of extended families, and the ties between families are thick and braided.  i finally got a piece of the lamb, when it was all over and there was only fatty scraps left on the grill.  it was very delicious, even the burned bits.  so i headed over to the grocery store and got a tiny little lump of lamb to cook ourselves.

we go shopping every few days here, as in any small town where we don’t have a car, including every place in europe i’ve ever stayed.  milk, cream, lettuce – the usual.  you have to go to the next town to get beer and wine, so the other day i did just that.  i was actually on a quest for housepaint.  all the paint i used to paint trolls with the last times i was here have disappeared, so i had to get some myself.  i bought a quart of black paint, and that will do me for the outlines of a few troll murals, but i have to hit up the people who want me to paint trolls on their houses for the other colors.  and the first thing i had to do on unnar’s wall was to prep it.  and in this case, that meant painting it a different color.  so i had to go to siglo to get more paint.  i left connor with inga and ingimar (thanks again), to play video games with ingimar.  and i walked to the tunnel and hitched.  apparently everyone knows me, because someone stopped after a few moments (and a good thing, too, because i’d had to shelter under a road sign to avoid being dive-bombed by arctic terns, who nest nearby) and greeted me with ‘welcome back’.

road sign with arctic tern.  they like to come up behind you and scrape your head

the tunnel was completed in 2010, and connected the towns of olafsfjordur and siglufjordur, which have different histories and personalities, and the union is a little unsettling, with essential services being extracted from olafsfjordur because they’re technically one town (separated by a 15-minute drive thru two tunnels and a third fjord) and the larger town gets the lion’s share of the available resources.  siglo is about twice as large as olo, set in a much more precarious position under its mountains, and is the setting for a series of books and tv series, while olo is not even mentioned in most guidebooks.  this is changing because of the efforts of a newly formed marketing board that seeks to direct tourist attention to the northern coast of iceland, and my troll murals play a very small part.  but mainly people are drawn to olo because it’s small and quiet, set smack dab in the middle of the nature, with world class hiking and surfing, horseback riding, jetski and snowcat tours, skiing, and boasts the first swimming pool in iceland.  and best of all, its people are friendly and helpful.  also it has the best food in the whole peninsula (rivaled only by a restaurant in siglo that specializes in moroccan food).  house prices have been rising (they want 17million kronur for the cute little house i want to buy hahahaha), and now they’ve started building new houses on the edge of the freshwater lake, because olo is the kind of place where you’d want to raise kids, and people have been moving here from reykjavik, which is just too big now.

wildflowers in someone’s yard in siglo

siglo does have a kick-ass bakery, tho, and a larger supermarket, and a liquor store.  so i got my gallon of light gray housepaint, stuffed it into connor’s backpack, schlepped to the bakery, had a pastry and coffee, talked with the women who’d given me the lift into town, toured the grocery store for anything i needed (garam masala), stopped to buy a toy for connor from some little kids who were selling their stuff just outside the grocery store (i didn’t open my mouth, but they addressed me in perfect american english anyway), humped the backpack to the liquor store and stuffed it full of guinness and wine, and trudged all the way thru town to the place where everyone passing was going to the tunnel.  it wasn’t a very long wait before someone stopped to pick me up.  he was going to the old folks home at hornbrekka, and it was his kid who was selling toys because they’re moving to denmark in a month, so we talked about that, and about the changes in the towns and in iceland in general.

the view from the living room window

tuesday. yesterday it finally warmed up.  the skies were bright blue and the thermometer on the front porch ranged from 60-75F all day.  it was glorious. the kids were all out on the bouncy thingie in front of the pool, kaffi klara had a jazz combo playing on their patio, and i drew, erased, and redrew my first troll mural, still not happy with it.  because unnar is letting me housesit for her two cats, i am painting my first mural on her wall this year, and have orders for three more as soon as they prep their walls.  because i’m staying here for free, i’m prepping unnar’s wall myself, which is actually quite important, as i get to examine the condition of the wall in detail.  they use corrugated siding a lot here in iceland, and it used to be all iron, but now they’re using plastic, which cracks and comes off, and the paint peels off it more easily.  unfortunately.  so there was quite a bit of scraping to be done, and then several coats of paint on a warm dry day, that i hope will stay.  (but i can already see some parts bubble up, so.)

unnar plans to take her house back to the original bright red, because she’s a fan of color, and so the base of the house is going to be a light gray.  i got the gray paint in siglo a few days ago, and dodged the rain to get the surface coated.  it’s all freshly painted now, and i’ve got chalk and a ruler, so i started drawing the troll in.  but it was too small.  i could only expand it so much vertically, because of the roof line, but expanded it more horizontally, so the figure isn’t as squat as jim drew it, but will extend off the corrugated part (just her foot), and takes up a lot more space, so that’s good.  and since today is another very warm day, i will start painting on it after i have enough coffee.

there was a beach cleanup this weekend.  we met out on the beach at 9:30 in the morning, grabbed huge plastic trash bags, and walked up and down the shore looking for bits of plastic and wood with nails in it.  plastic looks pretty interesting after it’s been washing around in the ocean for a few years.  it gets softened and rounded, like sea glass.  but that’s also what makes it attractive to fish and turtles and whales, and eventually kills them.  so we picked up a bunch of plastic.  if we don’t, who will?

i’m in touch with jim every day.  as usual, we talk via skype at the end of every evening, for about half an hour, trading things that are happening to each of us.  it helps a lot to stay in touch.  we’ve been having an unusual transaction with someone who contacted us from jim’s blog.  it started about a year ago, when he sent a message that he wanted to buy the painting that was on the masthead of the blog.  his email address was in south carolina, and the painting was selected to be shown in artfields, in south carolina, and so we told him to show up there and see it in person before sending us a check.

he ignored that, but resumed his request to buy a painting for his wife.  gradually he added more details.  he worked at sea and was never home, so he couldn’t check it out; it was a surprise painting, and his wife controlled all the accounts and so he couldn’t just write us a check or she’d know what was going on; he was fixing to move to the phillipines and would be sending an agent to collect the painting so it could be shipped with his household things; he wanted us to cash his check, then give the overage to his agent for shipping fees.  all the elements of a classic bank fraud scam.  i’d heard of these things, but we hadn’t had to deal with it before.  so we led him on.  we gave him a range of paintings, sizes and prices.  his range was $1-2000, and he chose the cheapest painting, which was of a skeleton dancing (not the best choice for a wedding anniversary present, we thought).  then he told us that we were going to have to cash his check and refund him some of the money, and that was it.  this was just last week.  jim went to the bank and asked them how they’d prefer we deal with it if he actually sent us a check.  they told him hahahahahahaha don’t do it, and explained the process.  so we wrote the guy and told him we’d be happy to finalize the arrangement, but that we’d prefer he send the check to his agent, who could then bring us cash, and blamed the bank on our new terms.  and we haven’t heard from him again, and don’t think we will.  greed and stupidity is what he was relying on.  plus, for a guy from south carolina, he had a curiously bad command of english, and called himself by his last name first and used his first name as his last – smith john, for example (not his real fake name).

local football practice for kids starts up today – soccer (tho nobody else in the world calls it that but us).  we brought the cleats, shin guards, and uniform he wore last time connor spent the summer here, and now he’ll fit the shirt because he’s grown so much.  we’re very excited they’re starting up.  connor learned more in his season here than any of the kids he plays with back home have learned, because they’re serious here, and at home they’re more interested in team spirit than technique.  what with that, swimming, and the bouncy thing (aerslabelgur “icetlabelcure”), he’s already tanned, and his hair is turning blond.  he’s been staying out with his friends just as long as i will let him.  the first time i let him do that, he went off with several friends to their house, and only returned to the bouncy thing after 4 hours of being ‘missing’, and with gummi and bjarni out in their cars looking for him.  we had a severe talk, and cemented some rules that he is now following (because i make him repeat them every time i let him go out), and he’s fine.  people here agree that he is very safe, but that they would not let their kids run free if they lived in reykjavik.  he’s never alone, but always with his friends, and knows better (reinforced) than to get into anyone’s car.  i’ve watched from an upper window as he crosses the street, and can see the aerslabelgur from the house and identify him jumping on it, so i’m really not worried.  as long as he comes back to the house and lets me know where he’s going next.  plus, i put my phone number on the inside of his jacket, and he will ask his friend’s parent to call me if he doesn’t make it back here first.  and the door is on the latch if i have to go out while he’s playing.

the summer tours have begun, the cruise ships are docking and the tour buses are beginning their rounds.  so kaffi klara hosted a bunch of americans for lunch yesterday.  i kept my mouth shut and took away their empty plates, but they did let me take a photo (using sign language).  i will talk to tourists, tho, one on one.  we talk about how beautiful it is, about where they’ve been and where they’re going, about the pools and the volcanos and the beautiful black sand beaches, the nature walks, the weather.  and i’m always very happy to make their acquaintance.  i even ran into a couple i met on the plane coming over, who made a detour to come to the troll peninsula on my insistence.  but i listened to this cruise ship bunch complaining about the cold and the small roads and the tunnels and the prices, and decided to keep quiet.

today was the first time i’ve tried to put the troll into paint.  it only went so well, and i found a lot of things that didn’t work, so i painted out most of the first drawing, and started again.  this is how far i got, and it’s not bad.  i used unnar’s actual hoops to make the hoops on the wall, so i could get an actual circle instead of the oblongs i was trying to draw.  i will do more tomorrow, because it’s going to be another gorgeous day.

my friend runa is here now; she came on the evening bus and we went straight to the pool (a 7 hour bus ride from reykjavik).  we’ve just finished dinner (at 9:30pm) and she’s pretty tired, so after i call jim, we’ll all go to bed.  connor had his first soccer practice today.  he’s going to be practicing 4 days a week, 3 hours a day, and he’s over the moon about it.  our days are now so full that we’ll have to start getting up early (before 11am) in order to get everything done.  we have less than 3 weeks left here, and i know i will be leaving things until next time.  like the next blog post…

Posted by: jeanne | June 3, 2019

we’re back in iceland!!!

i love this place, and can’t get enough of it, especially since atlanta is in the 90s now, and we’ve got temperatures in the upper 30s here.  you can put on more clothes, but it’s illegal to wander around naked most everywhere, so i’ll stay here.

connor and i have been back in olafsfjordur since thursday afternoon, and i’m only now getting over jetlag.  it’s getting harder to travel as i get older, and i get a migraine if i have to tote luggage.

it was quite difficult finding a good flight this trip.  usually we take wow airlines, but they went spectacularly bust right as i was ready to buy the tickets.  i knew it was going to happen because it was a slow motion crash and burn, but i wasn’t sure of the timing, and what would happen afterwards, so i waited and waited.  but then all my plans became settled, and i was ready to buy, and that day they went bankrupt and stopped flying, leaving thousands of employees suddenly without jobs, and many thousands of passengers stranded in whatever country they were in.  sigh.  R.I.P. cheap flights.  so i continued my search, and within 24 hours prices for the other airlines started to rise.  i managed a cheapish fare with delta – $500-something, but it was a complicated flight, going from washington dc to new york, with an 8 hour layover, then to reykjavik, then a transfer, and another flight to akureyri, with a bus at the end to take us to olo.  and the same thing on the way back.  but i’ve lived in new york before, and we went there in march for a funeral, and connor has spent time in new york’s finest playgrounds, so i thought it would be very doable.

the week before we left, i put my passport thru the laundry.  this is a big nononononono.

so that was an emergent emergency.  i had to call the state department, make an appointment, get my original birth certificate out of the safe deposit box, get a new passport photo, fill out a form, and show up at the passport office, where their computers were down and the turnaround time had increased to 3 days in an emergency.  thank god i live in a large city with a regional passport office.  if i did not, i was travelling to washington to catch my flight, so i could have gone there, but that would have cut it entirely too close.  so i bit my nails for five days.


then i managed to jostle my computer while it was on my knees, while i was holding a beer, and spilled beer into my computer.  it’s one thing to spill water into a computer, but beer has all sorts of extra ingredients that corrode little bits of precious metal, so that was the end of that.  the keys started to stick, the monitor started to blink, then i couldn’t log on, or anything.  i was left with only my clunky old laptop that weighs 7 lbs, and we were only taking backpacks with us, so i was dreading the extra pounds.  but as i was dropping off stuff at the thrift store, i passed the same pawn shop where i bought my magenta hp stream that i had just killed, and decided to drop in to see if they had anything else.  it had been several years since i bought the other one, and really wasn’t expecting to find anything.  but there was another hp stream, a little larger, purple instead of pink, and only $60.  so i snapped it up, took it home, put a linux operating system on it, and found that i couldn’t connect to the internet.  but i didn’t have time to worry about it, because events overtook me.

we had a family thing for memorial day – just last weekend – and i had to clean the house and ready a room for my cousins, marc and margaret.  i also had to clean the house so that i could come back to an organized place, because i hate coming back to a filthy house.  jim, who has remained behind (because he likes 98 degree weather) will keep it clean enough, but he won’t organize anything, so i had several days of clearing stuff away, dropping things at the donation center, and mopping floors.

and on top of that, jim is interested in entering art shows this year, and we’ve had a number of entries an applications to prepare.  the biggest one is the luxembourg prize, and the deadline was june 2, so i was frantically trying to finish it up before leaving, and was having lots of trouble with the words.  descriptions of what the hell he was thinking when he painted it, what it means, things jim has no clear idea about even when he’s in the middle of painting – he’s often surprised when he finishes a painting to find he’s put in a self-portrait, sometimes, or that there are symbols he included subconsciously.

one of jim’s most accomplished recent paintings

i successfully transferred the files to the old computer (i’d backed up everything right before i killed my computer), and was working on it, and my new laptop was languishing on my desk, waiting for the chance to deal with the problem.  i even took precious time to schlep it over to my friend david’s, so he could help me deal with it, but he’s a windows guy, so we were helpless.  the issue was a known one – linux doesn’t support my particular network card – and the fix was easy:  just connect to the internet and download the drivers.  but you can’t connect to the internet with this little chromebook thingie without the proper drivers for the network card, so i was stuck.  i had to order a dongle from amazon, then find an ethernet cable, and then download the drivers.  once the dongle came, it was childsplay (like i’m a great linux operator hahahaha), and i easily transferred all the files i needed, and was able to bring this laptop instead of the heavy one.  but it took two days of fiddling, and i didn’t have that kind of time.  altogether, with the passport and the computer, i had used up all of my cushion, and was now down to the wire.  i don’t have fingernails at this point, but i did get a month’s supply of zinc chewing them up.

my cousin marc and his brother steven’s son, with allison, jim, and margaret

the cousins came, we got together with more cousins for dinner, i picked up the rental car so i could drive to washington, i finished packing, we did the memorial day memorial thing, i had a nap, and at 11pm we bundled connor into the car and took off for dc, a 13 hour drive.  i like to drive all night when i have to make this trip, so connor can sleep for most of the time on the road.  it usually begins to be morning as we’re entering the bottom of virginia, so we get to go thru the most scenic areas while we can see them – the blue ridge mountains and the central valley of virginia.  i always stop at white’s truck stop, which has been a thing as long as i’ve been driving this route (40 years), and they have local produce in the shop, so i always get something to take home.  the last time i stopped in, they had candied jalapenos, which are exquisite, but they’ve stopped carrying them, and i only found the last three jars after a thorough search, the staff telling me they had none, and me unwilling to believe it.  once connor’s awake, we stop every two hours to let him run around, so our journey was slower after dawn, but that’s okay because i start to tire out.  we got to northern virginia about 2pm.  i had planned on staying with my brother michael for the night, as usual, but he was leaving for his own vacation with the family the next day, so it totally wasn’t possible.

jaci and kids, with connor.  i think there’s one missing, but that’s because he was off doing something else

the kids all playing together in the front yard

so i stayed with my other sister in law jaci and her kids, which was wonderful.  we caught up with what’s been happening with both of us, connor played with his other cousins, and we had a very laid back time, went to bed early, and were up before dawn in order to make it to storage to leave his car seat and my jalapenos, and made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

we got there almost before sunrise, and the traffic still sucked

i did manage to leave one of the backpacks on the shuttle bus at national airport, so we had an hour of waiting until the bus came back (it was connor who noticed, bless his pointed head), and then i managed to leave the very same backpack on the shuttle bus from keflavik to reykjavik (and i just had time for me to go back and get it).  this was an enormous old backpack that was just large enough to pack connor’s beyblade arena, and it was so old that the straps disintegrated as i was packing it.  but we couldn’t use anything else, and so i lugged it in my arms thru three airports.

he’s got the sniffles, and was just barely awake at national airport

i had brought some packs of exotic conjac noodles with me for unnar, my host, and they were still in the shipping box.  but when they went thru security in washington, the nice lady checked with her boss and let me know that it would be okay to take them in our carryon luggage, but that jfk wouldn’t be so nice, because they were effectively packs of gel, so i was going to have to check a bag in new york.  the flight to new york was quick, and we landed before noon.  contrary to expectations, there is actually luggage storage at jfk, so we took the time to check the one bag, and dropped off the rest, and headed for the subway to the city.

connor took the new york city subway system in his stride, even ducking under the turnstiles in the spirit of nyc subway riders

it takes about an hour to get to manhattan from jfk airport, and it’s your typical subway ride thru nyc, which brought back a lot of memories from when i lived there 30 years ago.  we had 8 hours (really more like 6), so our plans were simple.  playgrounds for connor, lunch in a wall street deli (lox and bagle, thanks), a ride back and forth on the staten island ferry (now completely free, in new york!!!), and pastry and hot chocolate/coffee in a nice little place near wall street.  then back on the subway, collect our bags, and go to our gate.

we got a picture of the bull, but this is far more palatable

not to make light of a catastrophe, but connor is seated in the arms of the irish famine memorial

his newest favorite playground, where local school kids come on their recess

the staten island ferry, a bit too cold to stand in the door and watch

that’s when a big storm came thru, and delayed everything for 3 hours, so we sat around for awhile.  and then they moved our gate to a different terminal, so we had to go thru some more hoops.  connor was so tired by the time we boarded the plane that he didn’t even watch a movie, and fell asleep before dinner.  i slept too.  we arrived 2 hours later than scheduled, and took the shuttle to the bsi terminal, where our friend runa had been waiting for awhile.  a taxi across the street (a 20-minute walk with bags) to the domestic airport, and then breakfast in the terminal.  and that’s when we discovered the missing bag, and i had to leave connor and runa there and go fetch it.  which took another hour.  but whatever, it all turned out fine.

on the plane to iceland

a nice flight under blue skies over the highlands, following glaciers the whole way, and then we were at akureyri airport, and our friends inga and ingimar were waiting for us, having volunteered to come get us when it turned out we landed during a holiday and the buses weren’t running.  the whole week had been just like that, with interruptions, and unscheduled bits, and having to scramble to adjust.  but we adjusted, and now we’re here.

not sure which glacier this is, but there aren’t that many left here. but hey, global warming is a hoax, right?

the fjord above akureyri

i’ve written much about this lovely little fjord where we stay when we come to iceland.  i originally came here because i was writing about antarctica after the ice is gone, and i needed to know what the landscape would be like, and this place is exactly like it will look in the hundred or so years after the ice melts in antarctica.  i never finished the novel i was writing, but fell in love with this place instead, and have kept coming back here since 2014.  listhus, the art residency where i stayed is no longer, unfortunately for the dozens of artists who have been here and want to return, but i was asked to housesit back in the winter, so my stay here will be for a month.

one of the cats i’m housesitting

when we arrived, it was fisherman’s day, seamen’s day, and since this is a fishing village, nearly everyone has a family member that goes to sea.  so they take this holiday very seriously, with all sorts of festivities – a fishing competition for the kids (cold and windy on the pier, but connor was there casting into the water), a rowing competition, a strongman contest, live music, dancing and dinner, a parade, all the things.  and we participated as we could, and unwillingly participated in the loud music and crowds at night, because unnar’s house is directly opposite the town hall where they have a large space for partying.

connor already knew how to fish, thanks mommy

we’re in an adorable little house that unnar bought last year, with two cats, and it’s very near to kaffi klara, where i will be working unofficially while i’m here.  when we arrived at the cafe, there was someone waiting for us who is very anxious to have me put a troll mural on her wall.  and ida took me around the back of the cafe, where they will be expanding, and asked me to put a troll on that wall.  there’s also tommi’s troll, which was designed several years ago and has yet to find a home.  so i will be very busy while i’m here, which is how i like it.

the view out of the back window

unnar left yesterday, and will be gone all month doing her thing.  and after taking long naps every day, i’m finally back to my normal energy level.  i finished the application first thing in the morning, and went to the shop in the afternoon and bought a whole bunch of food, and now i’m making spaghetti, and getting ready to make indian curried eggs, which i adore.  i’ve made a deal with ida at the cafe for food in exchange for work, so that’ll feed us lunch every day.  and i managed to help alice clear out all the accumulated stuff from listhus, so they can turn it over to the new owner.  now i’ll be going back and forth with jim at home to make troll drawings for the various walls i’m going to be doing, and all that is left is to score some paint so i can actually execute the drawings he’ll be sending me (thanks to our friend marie, who downloads and uploads the references and final drawings).

at the dinner table, probably eating candy

so life is good, we’re back in iceland, connor has rediscovered all his friends and has the run of the town now that he’s seven, we bought our pool passes and spent a couple of hours luxuriating in the hot pot while the wind and cold raged all around us, and now he’s downstairs in his room watching troll hunters, and i’m up here finishing up my first post in a long time.  i call jim every night, and we call connor’s mom every couple of days, and everything is going along wonderfully now that we’ve finally stopped travelling.  touch wood.

guess who lost his very first tooth the morning after we arrived?  pulled it out himself, and got 500kr from the tooth elf.

Posted by: jeanne | January 5, 2019

pictures of jim, and what we thought of india and turkey

i could call this post ‘pictures at an exhibition’ because jim was on show the whole time we were in turkey and india.  the attention paid to him was so extravagant that we thought we’d gather up all the selfies people took with him, and make them the visuals for this post.  but i’m trying at the same time to sum up our experience in india and turkey.  to digest it (to make a sideways pun around this xgiving time) (except as i finish this it’s approaching xmas (and never mind that, we’re into 2019 at this point, and i still haven’t finished the post)).

i’m finding it very difficult to write about my impressions.  they shift as i compare them to what i’m used to, the ways i’ve always considered the right ways, the minimum level of first world comfort i’ve always thought was everybody’s birthright.  whenever i want to complain about my own life, i’m slapped in the face by the fact that most of the world does not live as well as i do.

we returned home just a week ago (four (eight) weeks has actually gone by as i have struggled with this post) from a three week stay in delhi with a brief stopover in istanbul.  we’re getting lots of rest (ditto), and still putting new things away and finding places for new things to belong.  (i haven’t gotten my equilibrium back completely, even now (even now).) i still can’t reconcile my feelings about our trip.  (which is why i’m still writing about it.  i apologize for the nested parentheses, i might as well be writing two different posts here because my perspective is so different a month (two months) later)

a few days after returning home, we were walking our dwindling pack of dogs.  i kept remembering little moments of our journey and feeling excited, and envisioning what to do next time, while both of us had been very clear in conversations with each other that we’ve probably seen enough of india and don’t need to go back.  and this disconnect was something jim felt in himself, too.  india is haunting, lingering, and we’re like timid dogs at the waves’ edge, darting forward and cringing back.

the tuktuk rides we took everywhere in delhi were a real treat.  we sat in the back seat while the driver worked a contraption that was motorcycle in front, and a benched and covered cart in the back, with three wheels and handlebars.  we were advised to keep our bags between us and our camera twined around a wrist to keep them from being snatched.  every time traffic stopped for a light, drivers and passengers of other cars looked around, and saw jim, and then stared.  all the beggar children working the stopped cars gathered around us and tried to get something out of us and then moved on, but some smiled and pointed at jim, and he waved back at them.

india is haunting, iceland is also haunting, and venice, and the south of france, and amsterdam, and the west of ireland, and i’m quite in love with the stretch from bristol to winchester in virginia. we even dream of our neighborhood when we’re away.  i’ve always felt attracted to the land itself, not just the people.  and there’s land i love everywhere i go.  but india strikes different chords than venice or southwestern virginia.

sitting at the lassi place.  it had a nice bench at the corner of the street.  tuktuks often dropped us off a few feet away, when we used the imperial hotel as the landmark to head for.  we’d always stumble upon it – oh there it is — and stagger across the street to sit at that bench and watch the guy make lassis, and watch all the people coming up to get a drink. yogurt, sugar, ice. good for avoiding delhi belly.

india was unlike any place we’ve ever been.  i’ve lived in new york, and visited taiwan, so i have a teeny tiny bit of experience with places that contain loads of people. my friend gabi was just in africa, tho, and says i have seen nothing.  i should wear a sign – hello, my name is first-world, eurocentric, white privileged ignorance.

poverty, habitual misery, trash, rotting food, filth, bad water, unbreatheable air, makeshift infrastructure, unreliable electricity, corrupt governments cutting back services while lining their own pockets.  and those conditions were nothing like the worst possible.  and on reflection, we have all of the above here in the states, but in pockets that can be ignored.  there was no ignoring it in india.

jim went around looking like a wise man, and smiled and nodded sagely, and took no notice of anything, and radiated peace and tranquility, and took it all in, or let it all roll off his back, or however he manages to remain so copacetic.  actually, he mostly watched the ground in front of him very carefully, looking for obstacles, and when he looked around himself, it was to avoid the oncoming motorcycles and tuktuks

india was the way it was.  i could do nothing to change what i was seeing, to make anybody’s life different, and the people themselves took for granted all that was shocking to my sheltered eyes.  in my youth it would have paralyzed me with depression and anger.  in my dotage it appears to be some sort of valid way of life, and i try to accept it, to get used to it, and understand it as much as i can.  and in the end, to make art of it.

yes, sacred cows roam the streets of india. they live on the streets, forage for discarded plant material (garbage) in the streets, have sex and raise their calves on the streets.  people are allowed to take the milk, and put them in harness, but anybody who kills a cow goes to jail, and there’s a riot afterwards.  we saw many brahma bulls hitched up to carts and used as cargo haulers, in the thick of traffic, as well as men trudging their handcarts down the main streets next to long-distance trucks, laden with goods of all kinds. next to passenger buses and private cars and bicycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws and bicycles and pedestrians.  all honking their horns incessantly.  all vying for the tiniest space opening up near them.  all trying to be first.  with people stretched out sleeping on the sides of the road, totally oblivious to the traffic noises

delhi was crowded and squalid and jury-rigged, but the people were friendly and helpful, and the city was vibrant, alive – it was a land of opportunity where people made money out of nothing by dint of their resourcefulness and hard work.  electrical connections piggybacked everywhere as a testament to their ingenuity.  the crowds, the honking horns, the vibrant colors, the textures – everything a complex composition made into a mosaic of little contrasting pieces.  everywhere the smells of food and incense.  and automobile exhaust, and smoke drifting in from the vast farmland surrounding delhi for hundreds of miles.  seen from the air – enormous wealthy estates carpeting the plain like giant paving stones, with moss-like pockets of poverty growing between the cracks.  patchwork everywhere.  for a compulsive reader like me, the visual impact is stupifying.

there are perhaps 8 or 10 people in this tuktuk.  this is how families or work crews go places, sometimes long distances.  we saw the same packing of little vehicles in delhi as on the main road to mumbai, where people would be squinched together for 3 or 4 hours going where they were going.  the people in this tuktuk were looking at jim while we were at a stoplight in delhi traffic.  notice how the mom has her handbag in easy reach of anybody wanting to snatch it – as if.  in india, despite warnings about pickpockets and violence, we saw no crime nor felt any danger at all, except maybe from overenthusiastic vendors)

india’s fractal / patchwork decorative sense goes back thru its 40,000+ year history:  the filling of every visual field with color and movement and sensual bombardment.  the 9th century temples at khajuraho, jammed with small statues of people posing for selfies, every single inch of the place covered in significance and some builder’s proudly displayed skill.  it’s standard for everything in india to assault all your senses, and it did take some getting used to.  certain things, like the constant honking – right in your face – just made me angry, but for the most part i went around hyperalert, taking note (and pictures) of everything, and tended to stress out quickly.  we took daily naps.

sometimes i was concerned about jim when we were riding around town.  the tuktuks bounced into every pothole and swayed with every turn, and we bounced along with them.  and the noise was deafening.  in several videos i took, it turns into white noise – hundreds of motors and engines running, exhaust pipes, radios, horns horns horns.  long-distance truck horns are musical, and they blare them for 20 seconds at a time on the highway every time they pass or get passed.  the horns seem to be obligatory, and some trucks have signs on the back advising the use of the horn in passing.  a very few trucks ask for no horns, but so what?  if oxcarts had working horns, the drivers would blow them

unfortunately, the stress i felt meant i didn’t have the energy to fully experience our neighborhood.  we had to watch every step out in the streets, because they were dense with obstacles.  i was always turning around to check on jim – it was too crowded to walk hand in hand.  we rarely went out after dark. i never went to the vegetable market or got a soon-to-be-plucked-and-quartered ex- live chicken or bought milk and juices from a vendor’s booth, but always went to the expensive upscale convenience store around the corner, or credit-card markets a tuktuk ride away from where i was staying, and we made do with food i could make myself (as ever).  next time, i will even want to eat the street food; this time we only got up the courage to have a lassi every day or two.  we were terrified of getting sick.

people stared at jim.  unselfconsciously – they didn’t compose their faces into a smile, they didn’t hide their stares, they stared like children, their wonderment showing on their faces.  they had apparently never seen anybody like jim before, and they were all fascinated, young and old.  we couldn’t figure it out.  eventually we talked to someone who explained that in general, people in india only live into their 60s.  and whenever they found out that jim was 80, they would back up, astonished, and repeat 80, 80, and then ask for a selfie.  they all wanted a picture with him, and some of them made fools of themselves asking ,and then being too bashful, and then running after him to get a shot anyway.  he was always gracious.  i always offered him to people, and never had to pose for one myself (i’m his agent in atlantawood, as well – he does extra work)

i loved india, but in small doses.  just like delhi food, the level of spices will take your head off if you’re not used to it, but every bite accustoms you a weensy bit more to the pain of the burn, until you’re craving it.  the house where we were staying was isolated in a small alley, and private, and had space to move in, so it served as a real haven. and the bedroom was windowless to keep out the noise, which was a blessing (and there was a fan in every room (and even a/c)), and we had a balcony with plants and the gallery-like display of the neighbors’ colorful laundry.  by going out every day for a three hour tour, and then retreating to gabi’s wonderful house, we set a pace that suited us both, and experienced a remarkable variety of rich and complex convulsions of difference – a tourist goal.

it was my job to capture all the looks, all the selfies, so i waved off offers to participate in photo sessions, and just backed off to get my shot while strangers enjoyed whatever kind of jim-groupie emotions they were feeling.  it started out as open staring, especially when in traffic where it was awkward to propose a selfie.  but as it went on, it got more and more pointed, to the point of giggling teenagers actually mobbing him

in india, people live with their history. ancient mud huts in the shadow of a 3-story brick house at the edge of a rice field next to a 12th century ruin.  in atlanta, they just bulldoze and build over.  in india perhaps they take a few stones for their walls, but maybe they pen the animals there instead, if it’s no longer fit to live in. and they use and reuse and break down for parts and sell as scrap until there’s nothing left.

at lodhi gardens, where indians go to enjoy the greenery and ancient ruins, there were gaggles of people out with their professional photographers, doing wedding photoshoots and fashion shoots and more wedding photos, and there were family gatherings, and toddlers, and young people out having fun together.  it was more like a party than a park.  while in our neighborhood nobody paid us any attention – we were the old gore couple in paharganj – the moment we stepped into a place where there are sights to be seen, we were on display, and the cameras came out.

there are so many people that the streets were constantly littered even tho the trash was swept up several times each day – there was always someone sweeping in front of their shop or sprinkling water to dampen the dust. the streets were always being torn up and worked on and repaved, and people had to cross gravel and broken-down building rubble, and not trip over one-inch water pipes running along and across the path.  scraps and shards of hard plastic were part of the loose rubble, looking like weathered pebbles.

after awhile i was numb to the traffic and the noise.  the traffic was constant until late in the evening, and the noise was deafening. but with all the chaos, we never witnessed any accidents.  insane traffic is something they’re used to, and is very practical in its way.  they took the structure handed to them by the british – in so many things, politics, education, the courts, the street systems – and turned them into something entirely indian, disregarding the british sense of order for the indian sense of montage and collage that rules the aesthetic

our neighbors constantly cleaned. the insides of their houses were always spotless and comfortable, with a flat screen tv. there was laundry drying every day in the dirty air, they washed their clothes (and bodies) with moderately contaminated water, took their clean selves thru the dusty streets. people went about their daily stuff because that’s what people do.  we do it to.

i always kid jim about the trail of evidence he keeps in his beard.  in this case, it was our semi-daily lassi.  he smelled like yogurt, kind of a grandpa smell

the difference in prices from what we’re used to was striking, both in india and turkey.  a five star hotel room was $83, a fish dinner for two was $36 with tip, a pair of boho pants was $3, large bottles of water cost 25 cents.  jim’s nepalese winter jacket cost $20 and his leather walking shoes $18.

jim found his candy shop at the wood wallah’s. i brought a few home from the first stop there, he came the second time and got a big bag full, and we stopped by right before coming home for a final shop, and bought a bunch more.   all exquisitely carved wooden stamps, which he will use as woodblock prints, and embellish them, and incorporate them into paintings (already, a month later, he’s made test prints of all the blocks, and finished several of them as xmas gifts)

20 rupees will get you a fresh and delicious lassi at the guy’s shop, and a 2 rupee coin will refill your water bottle from a dispenser in the park.  50 rupees will get a tuktuk across town.  locals pay for things with tattered and dirty ten and fifty rupee notes.  tourists pay with credit cards or 500 rupee notes, brand new and shiny.

and practically no matter how badly you get ripped off for being a tourist, it’s still cheap compared to what it costs at home, and so much more exciting than amazon.  ‘practically no matter how badly you get ripped off’, i said – the things you’re a sucker for, someone will feed you until you’re broke (me and saris) at prices you would never pay at home.  but oh well, it evens out.

we made a real effort to get out and see something every day.  ultra-british connaught place where the post office was, expensive khan market, the craft museum, the national art museum, hauz khas, the gardens, the tibentan colony, and finally, old delhi.  they were all very unusual, very crowded visually, with intricate details, and we went early to avoid the crush of people, but it was always a riot of color – an assault on the senses.

jim down on his knees with the big camera, getting good shots of some sculpture or other in the craft museum.  something random he saw that he thought he could make a painting out of

the roads of delhi became familiar, and after awhile i stopped holding the big camera ready to photograph the traffic, because the traffic was always equally insane, and became blurry, like a tunnel of faces, with colorful clothes, decorated trucks, ox carts and beggars, all making as much noise as possible and crowding closer together than atlanta traffic at rush hour – much closer:  they use the painted lines as extra lanes and squeeze into any gap or opening, totally disregarding traffic lights.

we watched an inspiring chess movie last night, just a week back from our trip.  it’s called queen of katwe, and it’s the coming of age of a chess master from the slums of kampala, in uganda.  katwe reminded both of us strongly of delhi, only it was several magnitudes of order less well developed.  no running water so you had to carry big cans back to your kitchen, no electricity, actual tin shacks, dust and trash everywhere, overcrowding, inadequate medical care, never enough to eat.

and there we were in delhi looking askance at 1″ water pipes running thru the rubbled streets, the water only on for 1 or 2 hours a day so you could pump it into your rooftop cistern (when sometimes the electricity goes out the whole time because everybody’s got their pumps running, so nobody gets any water).

we who live in a place where we have huge water pipes running deep underground from enormous water mains, and can turn on the tap for all the water we want, any time we want, with no fear of the electricity going out –  what’s a cistern, anyway?

of course, here in america, we’re finding out that our water isn’t as safe as we thought it was, and we have isolated communities approaching a similar level of poverty as dehli.  but in general, this is the first world, and most of the rest of the world doesn’t have it as easy as we have it.  and we don’t realize it, and we don’t consider it, and we don’t think it can happen to us.  and if it’s horrible to have to live with contaminated water, flint michigan has been without drinkable water for almost 5 years and it still hasn’t been fixed.  as for air, california’s fires made for worse air than delhi’s for a moment.

it’s hard not to be politicized at first, to see problems and want to help.  but except by being kind, considerate, and thoughtful, here’s not much you can do.  so you get used to it.  you can get used to anything.

jim at 2am on our way into the hinterland for 4 days.  on a tour planned by me based on maps and reviews, with no actual clue about the landscape or the conditions, wide open to the possibilities because we had a driver and guide

after two weeks of daily outings in frenetic delhi, we (thanks to our hosts gabi and sammi for making all the arrangements) got a driver and skipped town in the middle of the night, going to #1 bucket list place, taj mahal.  it wasn’t actually on our bucket list, because it’s so stunning and perfect, but it was there, so we went – of course.  and took over 500 photos, so nyah.

with his clothes from nepal (thick, cotton and wool, the stuff we wear in the winter in atlanta), people in the country didn’t know what to think of him.  we got this in europe also.  he’s not wearing american clothes, he has a long beard which isn’t typically american, and he’s mainly quiet, so nobody knew where he was from.  vendors tended to think he was muslim because of the hat, and in agra especially they came up to him saying salaam alekhum (also, i was wearing a scarf over my head and shoulders because of the early morning coolness, but nobody addressed me)

and we went to gwalior with its hill fort, and khajuraho with its naked statues doing all sorts of (mostly not) lewd things, and to orchha which is still dominated by its medieval hill fort, and then back to delhi.

to counter the neighborhood in delhi where we spent most of our time,  i took luxury accommodations on the road.  hostels and  homestays were $15 a night, but i wanted western things – a private bathroom, a restaurant, a spacious suite.  india is very good with luxury.  our favorite was a hotel/not-hotel in gwalior, an estate behind a wall with private family medieval temples and individual (modern, purpose-built) villas.  so we paid motel 6 prices for 5 star luxury, and i didn’t feel guilty about it because we were traveling

we spent 3 nights in expensive hotels ($89-115).  we rode in a regular air conditioned car on roads modern and fast, as well as potholed and blocked.  we saw picture postcard tourist extravaganzas at the break of dawn, and medieval hill forts with fantastic views of crowded cities surrounding them, and ancient monuments with fantastic carvings in out of the way villages.  we got lost following the gps and spent hours roaming thru the rice fields and trackside hamlets that looked mostly the same way as they did a thousand years ago.  it was epic.

one place we felt very much like strangers was a jain temple in old khajuraho.  the most peaceful of all the indian religions, it’s a minor religion, and the jains stick out as much as we do.  so we were doubly out of place, and trebly ignorant of what we were seeing and experiencing

everywhere, it was india.  very hard to describe, but it was all of a piece. ancient and modern, orderly and chaotic, cruel and kind, life and death.  horns, dust, crowds, colors, potholes.  but indian horns and dust and the rest.  always there was a feeling, a distinct air (and not just pollution) of fullness.  even the open fields were packed full of things.  even the flat plain going on into (smoky) obscurity was crowded and dense.  music, art, architecture, agriculture.  everything gave the impression of antiquity, of the same things being done the same way for ever.  and nothing was discarded, just another style, another layer, another way slapped on top.

medieval structures were everywhere.  all the parks had them, they were scattered thru the countryside.  some were restored, some were ruins.  jim found his inspiration in the ruins.  the architectural marvels of the time before cement, steel, and cranes fascinate him.  when he got home, the first thing he painted was a verandah structure in the fort of orccha

i was somewhere, passing some people having an argument, and one guy made his point saying, this is india, with hand gestures, and everyone accepted it.  it’s a special place, and you have to take it on its own terms.

from the hilltop forts, which are monuments, the cities surrounding them stretch out for miles, disappearing over the tops of the hills and into the smog.  we were fascinated by the views, and the obvious defensive strengths of the forts, which were built right on top of cliffs and only accessible by the same roads and paths tourists take today

always there were friendly people who volunteered information about what we were seeing.  these guys showed us some thousand-year-old painted ceilings in a (shouldabeen) locked room.  and then wanted to take selfies with jim.  80, 80, you are the oldest person on earth, how do you like india, where are you from, can i have a selfie

even the soldiers on guard at the hilltop forts (why on guard?) were in the habit of taking selfies.  i like to think the guy with his back to my camera was positioning his phone to incorporate jim, who was farther across the parking lot than i was, and might well have been in the shot

people would accost jim, interrupting his photographic efforts to ask him questions and request selfies. he was always polite and interested, and talked to them for several moments before posing with them

they were always polite, always in awe of his age and his beard, always wanting to talk to him and find out what he thought of india, always happy to hear that we were very impressed by it

sometimes they came up to me asking for a selfie, but i always refused (except the first time, when i was caught off guard).  i would always wave them in jim’s direction for selfies, but some of the girls really wanted to pose with a woman, and were disappointed that i waved them away.  not very sporting of me, oops, but i hate cameras

they were all young, too, the people who wanted selfies.  i guess older people weren’t raised taking pictures of themselves, and don’t tend to think of it, but the kids all wanted to post photos of themselves with celebrities, and jim was the closest they were going to come in that ten minutes, so they were very bold about asking

even our driver, ashok, was up for a selfie.  but in this case i had a diabolical reason to take this photo, because jim planned to make a painting of him as a gift, and we needed a photo reference

in the end, after we got back from our trip down the country, i came back to delhi and had disturbing dreams every night until we left, intense dreams of vast crowds and malevolent strangers, being naked in pubic, losing my phone or having it spew out garbage instead of information, losing the passports, my bags, jim, being molested ffs.  and since we’ve been home, we’ve both dreamed vast crowd scenes that feel like delhi.  so it haunts us, and it makes me question my perceptions and attitudes, and fills jim with creative energy and a new approach.

i just love this man

it’s 30 or 40 degrees colder back home than it was in delhi, and unlike last year (coming off a summer in iceland), when i could sit out on the porch all winter with only a jacket and lap blanket, this year i’m absolutely freezing and wondering if i should reprogram the thermostat higher.

people in poor countries – poor people everywhere – deal with reality.  the basics.  food, shelter, and clothing.  the ugliness and pain of life and death.  people in wealthy countries don’t deal with reality in the same way. we hide the ugliness, we run to doctors with every twinge because we have insurance, we ship people to retirement communities when they get old, and practically everybody goes to the hospital to die.  food isn’t a handful of rice and maybe a few vegetables, it’s mcdonald’s or maybe a pizza,  or – i know – sushi!  home delivered gourmet meals in a box, frozen entrees, a pint of ice cream at a sitting.  (i realize i’m being mean.  pretty much everybody i know cooks their own food, and tries to avoid junk, tho we each have a weakness we indulge.)

privilege blinds you.  when you’ve gotten past getting your basic needs settled, you don’t tend to look back.  you see poverty out of the corner of your eye and reassure yourself that it can’t happen to you.  you work hard, you paid attention in school, you’re a good person, and you’re on the right track.  you ignore the fact that it could indeed happen to you, in the blink of an eye.  lose your job.  have an accident.  get a dread disease.  stop making an income and it’ll all fall apart within a few months.  and you’ll be as poor as the homeless guys asking for money.  and that’s a horribly unpleasant idea to think about, something that in our ‘stay positive’ culture shouldn’t be thought about at all.  and we’re glad to avoid it and go on being on the right track and getting ahead.  but poor people can’t avoid it, because they haven’t had their basic needs met yet.

we are so much more fortunate than they are.  we have a relative fortune, even the homeless guys.

it was very difficult getting food we could eat.  jim doesn’t do spices, and in our horror of getting dysentery and other diseases, we couldn’t chance getting street food, and didn’t trust commercial kitchens.  so it was lamb spaghetti, and lamb burgers, and a whole freezer full of frozen lamb and cans of this and that.  it was a real shame – i adore indian food, but we even had to brush our teeth using bottled water.  and still, we picked up some respiratory infection in our last days in india, and were coughing just like the residents in the horrible air, as millions of farmers burned off the stubble in the fields and the smoke sloshed all over the indo-gangetic plain, trapped by the mountains to the north and west

we are hobbled by our wealth in the west.  i think that living in a rich country is a disability in that way.  people in the first world hardly know how to change a tire, never mind pick a wrecked car apart with chisels and tin snips in less than a day.  in the third world, every little thing gets recycled, because enterprising wallahs collect the stuff and turns around and sells it to someone else who collects and sells a whole lot of it to someone who then manufactures something else out of it and sells it back down the line.  we have it easy, and so we don’t have to struggle for everything, and so we don’t.  we don’t make our own clothes and we don’t bake our own bread and we don’t make our own furniture or build our own houses or cobble together our own bicycle powered sedans and pickups.  we don’t build our own solar collectors and gather rain water into cisterns and repair things when they break and grow our own food in the yard.  we have enough money to pay for all these things, so we do, because it’s undeniably convenient and time saving, and frees us up to have 70 hour workweeks and all sorts of after-school stuff with the kids and take our work computers on vacation with us.

jim in his nepali hat and shirt was more of a draw than ever down the country, and we still had no idea why.  we told ourselves it was because he is old, and most people don’t get to be 80 in india, where the life expectancy only runs into the mid-60s.  we told ourselves it was because we’re white, and he’s whiter than most.  we told ourselves it was because he looked like a sikh with his long beard and kind eyes.  but we really had no idea, and could find nobody to explain it to us.

when i looked at maslow’s hierarchy of needs for a link, i realized that in india, where people are still struggling to meet their physical and security needs, they have everything else – their family-based society provides a sense of belonging, their helpfulness and kindness earns them respect and self esteem, they are extremely self-actualizing because with their bare hands they turn trash into the means to live, and they constantly transcend the misery and madness to attain peace and love, raise their kids, be happy and die peacefully.  so even without getting the basics fully met, the india i saw was full of people making the best of every day.

jim and i were talking about our impressions of india on our dog walk last night (two months ago last night). a friend of ours came over and saw our kantha quilt, and said she had one just like it, and aren’t they wonderful.  they sure are.  i bought mine for $20.  hers cost $120.  jim and i wondered how come people here in the west have to pay 6 times as much as it costs on the ground in india.  it’s not shipping.  i spent 3 weeks handling shipping costs, and shipping for a pallet of kantha quilts bound for the states does not cost $100 times however many quilts fit on a pallet.  we pay a real premium to have the same things that indians buy to put on their beds.  it’s because we’re rich here in the west.  because everything costs a lot of money in the first world.  you can’t buy a quilt for under $120, your car costs $35,000 or more, houses in your neighborhood sell for obscene prices around a million dollars.  dinner and a movie for two costs well over $100.  but things are cheap in the third world. food  is cheap, rent is cheap, healthcare is cheap, wages are cheap.  why is that?

i think that here in the first world, we pay a rich tax, and that tax goes to the third world and theoretically helps to raise their standard of living.  (my conservative friends can be reassured that it doesn’t actually go to poor people, but to the third world 1%, the manufacturers, wholesalers, and dealers, who pay their staff a few rupees a week and build themselves huge estates in the flight path of the airport (which is now prime real estate)).

we pigged out on food in istanbul.  i took jim back to the same sharma restaurant i’d taken the boys to, and we ate wonderful turkish food several times a day.  it was heaven.  fresh, raw vegetables, food without a lot of chili in it, tasty middle eastern spices, lamb this and that.  we were very happy to be back in a country where the water was clean and the air was clean and the streets were clean.  we really appreciated it

we heaved a sigh of relief when we got to istanbul.  it was quiet.  people didn’t blow their horns.  the air was fresh off the sea and the sky was blue.  we hadn’t seen blue skies for weeks.  we hadn’t eaten vegetables for weeks (tourist dietary fads).  the beds seemed a little too soft, and the vendors were much more aggressive.  but we were happy to be in a modern european city that featured onion domes and calls to prayer 5 times a day.  where the streets were cobbled and broad, cars stayed in their lanes, and there were police and soldiers everywhere (we didn’t much like that, but there were soldiers guarding the wealthy areas of delhi, too.  in istanbul they guard the tourist areas).  it was a place where the locals looked like us, only with dark hair, and we weren’t pointed out as white people.  they didn’t ignore us – we were obviously tourists and therefore fair prey – and they made even more of a fuss over jim, but we kept to ourselves and didn’t try to talk to people (every one of them was trying to sell something), and felt casual and anonymous, like tourists.

jim was stopped by a film crew in the plaza outside the aya sofia, and asked to say something in turkish for the camera.  we have no idea what they were asking him to repeat, and i wandered past them too far to ask, and then circled back when jim didn’t appear right behind me, and caught them filming him absolutely butchering the language

we had a vacationlike 3 days in istanbul, again using our first world privilege to stay in a nice hotel and fill our bags with all the very cheap tourists things like textiles and ceramics.  the food was wonderful, mediterranean, fresh, with lots of salads.

inside the aya sofia it was the same.  people lined up to get their pictures taken with jim, and sometimes they wanted pictures with me, but i always waved them off and turned around to take pictures of them taking pictures of jim.  we thought it was funny each time, but escaped as quickly as we could

we loved istanbul.  it was as exotic as india, but more familiar, less confusing, less of an assault on all our senses.  the crafts were more polished and slick, less enthusiastic and less vibrant.  and except for muslim women dressed in long, dull dresses with scarves, absolutely everybody was in western clothing.  because jim bought a hat when we got there, and i wore a scarf against the chill coming off the sea, tour guys would come up to us saying salaam alekim and hoping to entice us to tour with them.

even professional photographers stopped to take his picture, this time down by the galata bridge, which we didn’t try to cross, because we could see vast crowds of tourists getting off tour buses in the middle of the bridge so everybody could take photos of the hills surrounding them.  i would have liked to go down there, and farther, but we didn’t have time, and wanted to avoid the crush of selfie-takers who would inevitably latched on to him

in summing up our feelings about india, i had to struggle for the two months that we’ve been home to reconcile my conflicting feelings.  jim has been downstairs making paintings the whole time, while i’ve come back to this post again and again, only to delete my more negative impressions and try to sound positive about the rest.  i am still fascinated by the place – haunted – and with time and distance the annoyance of the traffic and the infrastructure fades out, leaving the colors, the smells, the old and new together.

at topkapi palace we ran into big-time interest from the tourists, most of which were schoolkids from turkey, visiting their heritage.  while waiting for the place to open, jim was surrounded by about a dozen students in various groups, and once he posed for one selfie with one group, the others swooped in, and with varying degrees of boldness asked for their turn.  he obliged, as ever, and i just shook my head and backed up for a wider shot

i’m a process artist.  i’m more interested in the how and why of art than in making a body of work or selling paintings.  i’m very intrigued to find indians living and using their history.  they still wear saris (the older women), which predate stitched clothing by thousands of years.  they still live in ancient buildings and attend ancient temples, and use smartphones and flat screen tvs.  they don’t waste anything.

a second or third group of kids taking pictures with jim in front of the gates of topkapi

the ancient crafts have always interested me, and so every part of indian and turkish life was an education in ancient ways, transposed to modern times.  ancient buildings and floor plans, ancient agriculture, even ancient hairstyles (how old is the basic hair braid, anyway?)

when we got to the harem, we were minding our own business looking at ceramic tiles, when a gaggle of students came up the stairs onto the deck where we were standing, and surrounded him.  their teacher, a man, came up to jim and started asking questions, and one bold young lady started off the selfie requests

i think the best example of how we experienced india is to be found in a novel by wesley chu, called the rise of io.  it’s set in india, and perfectly describes the conditions we experienced, but from the point of view of someone who grew up there, and loves it.  it has everything – squalor, crowds, filth, narrow alleys, subsistence living – but it also has joy and celebration of everything that shocked us.  it has made me re-evaluate our experience there, given me a way to put a handle on it all.

more kids gathered, and more and more, all wanting to talk to jim, all at once.  they asked who he was and where he was from, and what he thought of their country, and all sorts of things that jim frankly doesn’t remember, because they were talking all at the same time.  he asked questions of them, and found they were a local school group touring cultural icons.  they spoke excellent english, but they all spoke at once, so he doesn’t have a clear recollection, except for being mobbed

jim won’t be going back to india.  he’s had enough, and had a difficult time navigating – it’s not for the wobbly of foot.  i was much more resilient there, but the pollution was devastating.  so i am willing to go back again, after only two months back in my cocoon, but i will have to time it to miss the worst of the smog, and perhaps go to a different part.  we now have friends from mumbai and bangalore, so perhaps i will go back to see what it’s like closer to the equator.  but not now.  now, we have to pay down the credit cards and work on the house, and get things organized for whatever is coming down the pike at us in 2019.  it has been a very active year, and my next post will be to summarize all the traveling we have done.  but for now, i’m happy to be finally finishing up this post.

we came away with the feeling that he must seem to them to be some kind of celebrity

the only thing left to explain is why everybody wanted to take selfies with jim.  it took the entire month we were away to figure it out, and if it weren’t for the nice barrista in istanbul (who wants to move to the states and work for charbucks), we still wouldn’t know.  it was a little cafe we found on our first day, after our first trip to the grand bazaar.  i had been looking for something to wear in the sudden chill, and we didn’t have anything like winter clothes with us, so we ran the gamut in the bazaar, and found a beautiful embroidered coat i would have bought if the vendor hadn’t quoted me dollars instead of turkish lira.  i would never have paid $250 for a coat, anyway, but the added insult of assuming i couldn’t deal in lira was enough to make me scowl and sweep out of the shop, the vendor cursing me out in gestures as i did so.

when we got a turkish hat (cotton embroidered with silk for the amazingly high price of 600tl ($112)), the reaction to jim’s looks became even more exaggerated than before.  we still had no idea, but since we’d made friends with a barrista who spoke excellent english, we quickly decided to ask him why.  at first he was very shy about it, as was everybody we asked.  but eventually the truth came out – we resembled movie stars.  omfg

it was a very welcoming cafe we stopped into, warm and full of good coffee smells, halfway down the hill from the bazaar to our hotel.  and we found a wonderful coat in a small shop right near the cafe, for about $30, which was much more like it.  we stopped and got jim a turkish hat for much more than that, but he collects hats to cover his punkin head, and so far i’d done most of the buying.  we asked the guy why we were getting so much attention, and he knew immediately.  seems we do resemble celebrities, and we laughed so hard we sprayed the foam all around the store when he told us who.

who could we possibly look like, a pair of aged american tourists like us?  well, we did find out, finally, and it explained everything

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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.

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.


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.


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.



oooh, look at those art nouveau details

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.


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.


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



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.


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.

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,

truly nasty once it gets going

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


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


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

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