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


  1. Loved it… Thanks


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