Posted by: jeanne | October 24, 2018

out of delhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


total gunge

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

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

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


the market comes alive at night, especially on mondays

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

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

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

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


a metro station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


camera yoga

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

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

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

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


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

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


highly eroded landforms

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

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

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


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

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

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


the view of the fort from our hotel

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

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


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

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

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

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

we walked and took photos until the sun was setting.

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: jeanne | October 21, 2018

a little more delhi

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


working on the walls


modern sculpture is everywhere in the parks of delhi


kites in a dead tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


a herd of street goats


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


a temple to ganesha, thus the funny top


an ultra modern hospital building

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

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


majnu ka tilla temple

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


fixing the water pipes leading to the individual houses

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

Posted by: jeanne | October 19, 2018

on our own in delhi


jim is delighted with all the wooden stamps we bought

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

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

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owie. he’s all better now

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

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


the view from our rooftop


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

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

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doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


kali


dude is way old – 2nd century


buddha looking like a greek statue


shiva lingam looks more like jim’s punkin head

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


lookie, they’ve started repaving that torn up street

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

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

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


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


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


they look like models, but they’re really businessmen


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


everybody looks at jim


everybody

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


15th century ruins, right next to modern buildings


the view from the restaurant

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

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


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

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


upscale housing. much more space

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

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

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

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


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


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


a birdcage, a 15′ tall birdcage


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


this wooden chariot must be 30′ tall

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


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

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

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


ancient saris


ancient looms


our guide – namaste and daniwad to you

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: jeanne | October 15, 2018

exotic india

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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skeeter’s relatives

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

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jim, lassi, and a puppy

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

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

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

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

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

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the architecture, at times, is exquisite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


he’s getting the worst of this trip so far

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


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

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

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Posted by: jeanne | October 7, 2018

only one more, i promise

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

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

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

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

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not my favorite city any more

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

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

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

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historical reenactment meets dragoncon

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

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

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

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

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

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where we’ll be staying, more or less

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

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our side trip to istanbul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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our dog is lot skankier than this photo

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

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

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Posted by: jeanne | September 25, 2018

going home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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when i came back to the airport, i had to fill up the car, and when that was finished, i went into the bonus grocery store to get something to eat on the flight home, even tho i was still full from breakfast. i got a club sandwich, and some haribo candies for the boys, and not entirely on impulse, a leg of lamb from the freezer section. so by the time i checked in, i was well overweight, and the woman at the desk was of two minds about letting me thru. but i got the weight to the required limit (10kg) by stuffing the lamb and all the books into the backpack, which was then overweight, and wouldn’t fit into the jig properly. but she let me thru, warning me that the flight was completely full, and telling me they might decide to gate-check my rolly bag. which was fine with me.

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tell me you can’t see the troll face

then it was to security, where i didn’t have to take off my shoes (an american phenomenon), but saw both my bags diverted for inspection. the rolly bag for several small bottles of essential oils and a mess of smoked salmon, and the backpack for a frozen leg of lamb. the guy inspecting my bags jokingly asked if i was going to give him the lamb, but i only played along. nobody gets my lamb.

and then i got a cup of coffee, called jim on skype to tell him our guest downstairs needed his trash removed and a new lightbulb, got someone in the phone store to help me change out my sim card (i lacked the pokey thingie), and then headed for the gate, where it was still over an hour until the flight was scheduled to leave. so i cracked my novel and started in. the lives of tao by wesley chu. when they got ready to open the gate, they dragged a bag-measuring jig to the front, and i realized i was probably going to have to prove my backpack would fit into it, so i stuffed the leg of lamb back into the rolly bag and squished the backpack as small as it could go.

at the gate, i said they’d warned me i might have to gate-check one of my bags, and they thought that was a great idea, so tagged my rolly bag and told me to drop it at the luggage trolly when i got to the plane. our plane was sitting on the tarmac, and we took a shuttle to it. this seems to be normal for flights to and from the states. possibly because of the size of the planes (we’re in a boeing 757). an official guy with an international safety orange jacket took the bag from me and carted it over to the luggage ramp, and i got on the plane. several americans were in line in front of me (i always wait until the line is gone before getting into it, so i was the last one on the plane), complaining about the wind, so i went the other direction, and talked about how warm it was. we got to go thru the back entrance, and my seat was very close.

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we were delayed, because several connecting flights were late, so we sat there for awhile, and then a family came back to my row and asked if people move so they could sit together. the lady in the aisle seat agreed to move, and so now there’s a 6 1/2 year old girl and her mom sitting next to me. they were visiting grandpa who lives in salzburg, and had taken a train to munich to catch their flight to keflavik so they could get on another flight to washington and then drive an hour west to their home. the girl is getting on very well, watching video after movie and snacking on the free food they give out to kids.

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we flew over the very southern tip of greenland a few hours ago. i got to show the little girl a green land (not) and explain about ice land (not), and ask if she could tell why they’d do such a bad job of island naming. she can read, tho, and count to over 100. the mountains and ice sheet of greenland were clear of clouds, but the ocean was thick, so it was very hard to tell where the land ended and the ocean began.

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i have to wonder. airplane lavatories have no-smoking signs. smoking has been illegal on airplanes for 30 years, but there are still ashtrays on board, and signs saying not to put cigarettes in the waste-paper container. so there must be some countries where smoking on planes is still legal, because they’re building brand new planes that still address the smoking issue. maybe i’ll look it up someday.

there’s still several hours until we arrive in washington. we’re flying over water at the moment, but we’re only a few nautical miles from the coast of labrador, and after that it’s all land. you can see ice floating in the water 33,000 feet below us, and oooh there’s a contrail only a few hundred feet below us. judging by the size of it, we should be passing the plane that made it any time. when you look at an animation of transatlantic flights, it’s a very crowded corridor, and many of the flights are scheduled in the same time frame, so sometimes you can see airplanes flying in tandem, or one after another.

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i’m really anxious to be home. when i’m gone for a very long time, i just don’t want to go back. but when it’s only a week, i can’t wait to get home. funny, that. i’m going to my brother’s when i land, and am likely going to get up in the middle of the night to start back home. we’ll see. and then it’s a bare 3 weeks until we’re off again, on our hopefully final trip this year. we’ll see.

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next tuesday.  i’ve been home since saturday night, and am still recuperating on the porch while jim takes up all the slack. he’s off with connor at aikido right now, as i sit here swatting mosquitos.  it’s in the upper 70s today, because we’re just entering a rainy period, but in a week, when it passes, we’ll be back to 93. i long for the cool, bracing air of iceland.  i sweat beginning with my first movements out of bed.  but never mind that.  let me catch up with events and publish this thing.

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i called mike when i got thru customs, because he’s had to wait for hours before, and has better things to do.  so i stood at the very end of the arrivals platform and enjoyed the night air, hack hack.  it certainly is thicker air.  and it does different things in my lungs.

we were most of the way home, catching up on what’s going on with mom  same old same old), and the family (their visitors have departed, leaving childhood lightning illness rampaging thru the house – i held my breath and projected a uv aura hahahaha as if).  what with one thing and the other, there was a minor excitement and i brought my gear into the house and put the girls to bed.  meaning i kept them on track while changing into bedclothes and brushing teeth, telling a few grandma infotainment stories to leave them wondering, and spent the rest of the evening doing mike’s jigsaw puzzle and listening to them talk, until finally one of them asked if anybody else was awake, and got no answer.  after that it was just me and the cat until the rest of them came home and everybody went to bed.

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i had set the clock for 4.  when it went off, i reset it for 5.  then 6, and immediately shut it down.  i woke at 6:41, grabbed my stuff, got my lamb and smoked fish out of the fridge, and drove away.

first stop, the brand new sheetz on the brand new corner of a brand new part of ex-farm now comprising a growing exurb.  same amazing changes as in our neighborhood, really.

i had to have coffee and something to eat, so got something with half and half, and a sticky roll.  i wasn’t looking forward to road food at all.  i’d had a massive msg reaction eating in reykjavik.  first eating sushi – duh – given the msg in the wasabi and picked ginger, and the natural msg in seaweed anyway.  that hit was a given.  my lips tingled.  then eating at the noodle place made them tingle some more, and by the time i got to mike’s i had red blisters all around the edges of my lips.  scaly, dry, irritated.

so the coffee made them tingle again, and i knew i was in trouble.  road food, such crap.  i basically ate candy and drank coffee all the way home, with bottled water on the side.  at one point i simply had to eat something, and stopped at a omelet shoppe, where they use fake butter, fake cream, only have 2% milk, and their coffee is diner coffee, parboiled for hours.  just like awful house.  so i got an omelet with hash browns, ham, onions, peppers, and cheese.  the cheese was american sliced (processed cheese food), and a side of toast and some grits.  unfortunately the only butter was a ‘spread’, so i couldn’t eat the grits, but i wolfed down the omelet.  the coffee was nasty, but it washed the grease away.

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carrying 6 truck tires over 12 feet in diameter

it was cloudy most of the day.  but we (my fellow travelers) were on the eastern edge of a massive system, and except for the very beginning, never in any rain, and so the temperature rose thruout the day.  i had started the day grateful to still be in my travel clothes.  but first came off the outer shirt from nepal, and then i took my linen pants and shirt into a bathroom and changed into them.  my jacket had gone into my bags in the airport at keflavik, my loapeysa at the airport in washington, and now the rest of my clothes lay tossed in a heap in the back seat.  with the windows open all the way and my music on only the loudest of the recordings i brought with me.

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“alleged subversive crimes such as travel abroad”

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of course the only traffic to be had on a saturday was entering atlanta.

the sun went down around lake alatoona, only 20 minutes north of the perimeter.  but construction, and it was another 20 minutes before i was getting off at my exit and getting ready to stop the car for the final time.

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i parked the car, chased the homeless guy off the porch (he leeches when jim’s alone, like a vampire), brought all the stuff into the house, poured a guinness into a glass and went to join jim, waiting on the porch with the dogs all leashed up and ready to go for the last dog walk.

but then i felt bad, and then really bad, and then i threw up.  a bunch of times.  so never mind the dog walk, and let the elves have the guinness, and please jim go walk the dogs yourself, and i just lay in bed and was thankful to be home.

i’m feeling much better now.

Posted by: jeanne | September 19, 2018

sheepy time

monday. i’ve been in olo since thursday afternoon, and it’s been glorious. i get surprised smiles and big hugs from everyone i know, and those i don’t know wave. the weather is also glorious. the vegetation on the mountains has turned a rich red-gold, and the birch trees in town are yellow and shedding leaves. in the morning, there is snow on the tops of the mountains, but it melts away as soon as the sun hits it. of course, the first thing i did was to catch a cold. runny nose, sore throat. a good dip in the pool should solve that hahahahahaha.

i’m staying at ida’s house. now that anna kristin and elisabeth are in university in reykjavik, there are several spare bedrooms, so i get to sleep in anna kristin’s room, which is decorated with lots of her paintings, and has a brilliant view across the fjord to kleifar and the valley beyond. there’s a french woman who is also there. she’s involved in a scheme called work-away, where you go somewhere and volunteer doing whatever, and your host family welcomes you into their home, feeds you, introduces you around. you get lots of free time, and you get to learn about where you are staying. and there’s no age requirement, so it’s something everybody can do.

let’s see. since it’s monday (wednesday now), i don’t really remember what happened, so let me review my photos, and i’ll be right back. okay, it all makes sense now.

friday the town began the annual gathering of the sheep down from the mountain side. when i realized i was going to be here for rettir, which is what they call it, i contacted several people and asked if i could help them gather their sheep, as if it were an individual task. little did i know, but the entire town goes out to help. they start at dawn, and walk the mountain valleys, or take cars up the tiny little roads, and 4x4s, and scare the sheep down, chase them off the mountain. it was not a clear day, but somewhat rainy, and i was told that this was good, because if it’s hot and sunny, the sheep just want to sleep, and it makes it much harder to get them.

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so everybody in own was waiting, all morning. and then at some point before lunch, the word went out that they were coming. so everybody went out onto the street and started gathering at the place where the road entered town.

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all the kids from the schools, even the toddlers, lined up along the road to prevent the sheep from running everywhere. i stepped forward to get a better photo, and got yelled at, because i was standing right where they wanted the sheep to run. so i retreated across the road with everybody else, but still, when they came to where i was, they all stopped and looked at me. i think it was because i had the camera in front of my face, and must have looked like a cyclopean monster.

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the sheep came, and crossed the road, and headed toward the bridge, and everybody followed them. what a racket – sheep moms calling their lambs, lambs answering, people yelling and shouting at the sheep, sheep panicking and running to exhaustion. some sheep were limping or dragging, and these they lifted into the backs of people’s trucks and drove to the pens.

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but most of them – several hundred – went willingly to the pens, where they were pretty tightly packed, but not so much that individual sheep couldn’t circulate. it was a constant brownian movement in the pens as the sheep jostled and tried to jump over each other. all the people who had sheep brought their vehicles down to the pens, and there was food and drink in every one of them. the first thing people did once the sheep were safely penned was to stop and get some lunch.

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so i went back to kaffi klara for some of ida’s wonderful soup and homemade bread. and then i went out to the latest wall, because it had stopped raining.

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the wall was in pretty good shape, so i gridded it, circled the intersections with a pencil, and then went to the junior college to find a ruler, and sat down to grid my drawing.

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first try, the troll was too close to the edge, and the horse was too big.  this is second try, inked in immediately because of the constant threat of rain

i always have trouble with that part, because i can never remember what to divide into who. i only got an hour at a time on the wall – now that it’s finished (it’s tuesday now) i can say that. and every time i returned to the wall, there was some paint that had run down and dried, so i had to cover that first.

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and then that would run as soon as the rain started up again. and the paint took forever to dry, for the most part, because it’s well below 50F, which is supposedly the minimum drying temperature.

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a repositioning of the tail took forever, because the rain really liked the end of the house

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but i did my best, brushed everything out as much as possible, put on thin layers that might or might not have dried before the next shower.

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and when i’d had enough, i went to the pool. they’ve got a new sauna now, and it’s shaped like a gypsy wagon, and holds maybe 6. and the temperature is set at 110F, and there’s a water pot for steam, and i can take maybe 5 minutes before i have to get out.

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the first day i was there, maya was leading an exercise group for old people. i fit right in. omar was there, and asgeir and kristin, and a few others i know but don’t know. it’s only the people i worked with to paint trolls that i know at all well, and everybody else i know to wave at. but those i got to know last year and the year before, i count as real friends, almost family. thursday, when the class was going, i was too tired, and too shy to join in, so i watched them from the hot pot. but on monday i joined right in, and exercised in the water for almost an hour, and then collapsed into the hot pot, the hotter pot, and the sauna, followed by a dunk in the cold pot, which i remembered i’d gathered the courage to plunge into the last time i was here. it’s not hard to spend an hour between laps and the pots, even two hours. and tho i don’t understand more than baby icelandic, everybody loves to laugh and joke, and laughter has no language.

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i can pretend that these trolls are modeled after me and jim

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a wall-eyed savior, dubiously eyeing the weather – nobody goes barefoot outside in iceland

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the view that greeted me every morning.  not usually with sunshine, this trip

on the weekend, it cleared up a bit, and i had several hours to paint.  the snow melted off the mountaintops and i had to remove all my outerwear and work in tshirt and long sleeved shirt.  it was brilliant, and so warm that i had to pause again and again to look at the mountains and rest my arms.  the paint dried right away.  but i paid for it, because the pool closed at 2, while i was still saying just one more color, just one more coat of paint.  waaaah.

but ida and bjarni made up for it, because they decided not to bother cooking, and we drove over to siglufjordur for dinner.  burgers.  at the gas station.  believe it or not, there is always food at the gas stations.  not just hotdogs, but specialty burgers as well, in this case named after american cities.  did we have the chicago burger or the los alamos burger? i forget.  before we settled down for dinner, tho, we went out to the edge of the fjord, where the greenlandic iceberg was currently floating by.  they’ve been tracking it since it made such a splash (haha) in greenland.  it was near the westfjords last week, and this weekend it floated by siglo.  we’re waiting to see if it comes past olo this week.

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but by monday the weather was back to normal.  still summer, sort of, but with a snowstorm on the way.  snowstorm in sorta summer means anything over 100 meters gets snow, and anything below gets rain.  and don’t forget the gale force winds coming from the north.  so maybe the iceberg will be forced ashore, and we can have an extra special tourist attraction here.

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so because it was raining, i couldn’t work on the wall, and spent much of monday and tuesday (wait, it’s still tuesday) working on a watercolor of the interior of kaffi klara, which will probably have to wait until i come back to finish.

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so i went to siglo.  i hitched, because that’s a thing you can do here.  and got a lift with a nice swiss artist who’s spending some time here.  she was going to meet a photographer and sailor who might be able to take her out on the water, if the waves go down to a manageable level (tho the locals don’t think those breakers are unmanageable at all).  so i left her there and went to the bank, where i had some business to attend to.  that’s where the painting above is hung.  nice picture, from the heyday of siglo’s herring trade.

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then to the bakery, where i had some lovely salmon on flatbread, and then a wander down to the handicapped workshop, where they make and sell all sorts of things.  i got a troll cozy, a wooden raven, and a potholder that came from the 17km scarf they knitted when the tunnels were opened in 2010.  and it cost half nothing, so i was very pleased.

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a sod roof. someone has taken a course in turf-house building

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and then i started back toward olo, as the sun came out and the rain stopped.  you have to walk past the last turnoff in order to get a lift, and sure enough, i was only halfway to the tunnel entrance when someone stopped, a tour guide going to akureyri.  everybody here knows him, but we did not introduce ourselves.  he knew who i was, anyway.  we talked about the loss of olo’s bank, their ambulance, the primary school, all gone off to siglo.  it’s heartbreaking, and the people here don’t like it, because towns without services die.  so they’re all becoming a little bit more activist as they realize nobody’s going to do it for them.

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but now i’m almost done with the mural.  yesterday was mostly about covering the runs and putting in what details i could manage.  and today (tuesday) is all about finishing it.  there was no rain at 7:30 this morning, so i piled out of bed and rushed down to the wall.  but the garage door where i am keeping the paint was locked, and nobody was home.  i plodded wearily back to kaffi klara, where ida was working on making lunch, and she texted holmar, who was in fact home.  so i had a cup of coffee and went back.  he was there, and the reason the garage door was locked was because they’re expecting a real blow in a few days, and you simply have to bring everything inside, or it vanishes.

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now i’ve only got a day, or two, depending on the weather, and i’ve seen most everybody i know.  everybody asked about connor, and i told them all i’m planning to come back with the kids any old summer now.  i got big hugs, and we spoke as much as we could, and now it’s not raining at the moment, so i’m going back out to the wall, and putting on the final touches (and covering any rained out spots).  and then i’m going to the pool.  and i’ll write up just a little more before leaving.

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the pool is always the highlight of my day.  i was there by myself today, because i was too late for the exercise session, and everybody had left by the time i got there.  so i got to go from hot pot to hotter pot to sauna to cold plunge to baby pool (floating) to lap pool, and all over again.  several times.  i might have spent a couple of hours there, just lazing around with my eyes closed, counting my breaths, watching the raindrops bouncing on the water, watching the clouds rake across the mountains.  the storm that’s coming gave us plenty of warning, with high north winds and crashing breakers.  the breakwater is as high as a house, and the water was splashing right up over the tops of the rocks. and you know the wind is high when the birds prefer to sit on the ground, facing the wind and grumbling.

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hotter pot and sauna, with the old farmhouse and the mountains

when i got out of the pool, it wasn’t raining, and the sky to the north was clear, so i dashed back to the wall, saw a couple of spots that needed correcting, but mainly put on some pink on tongues and lips, a little burnt sienna on the troll’s face, and black outlines around everything.  then i signed it (jim + jeanne), and carted all the paint back to the listhus storeroom (thanks, alice) and returned the key to anno, who is guest host for the next six months, lucky him.

the wind had gotten so strong that i had trouble walking into it.  so i only ambled off toward ida’s.  as i passed the cafe, i noticed movement inside, even tho they closed at 6, and it was 7.  so i went in the back door and found ida and gummi having a beer.  great.  i joined them.  gummi had gone around to the fish factory and bought up all the smoked salmon and trout he could find, because ida’s workaway girl, a lovely frenchwoman named danni, is going away tomorrow, and wants to bring some fish home with her.  and so do i.  so he bought the store, and now we have more than enough to take home.  i hope they let me bring it in my carryon…  i’m also planning to buy a leg of lamb to bring home, but again, i’m not sure about what they’ll let me get away with.  it’s not exactly liquid, and it’s vaccuum sealed, so i’m supposed to be okay with it, but you just never know.

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ida was waiting on her husband bjarni, who was shepherding 20+ erasmus students in from reykjavik, so we went downstairs to the kitchen and prepped 3 pans of lasagne, and a pan of pork, potatos, onions, mushrooms, and cheese for tomorrow’s lunch.  ida asked me to help out, since danni is leaving tomorrow, and she has to be at school to teach.  so i’ll be finishing lunch preparations, finally able to do something to earn my keep at ida’s.

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elf house, and an elf church

the storm is coming, but laura, who travels all the time, said it would probably be okay, that they wouldn’t cancel the flight but would only delay it until the weather lifted.  and ida needs me.  so i’ll be trusting in the luck of the trolls to get me back to reykjavik in time to do all the things i’ve planned there.  and i’m sure i’ll write that part up on the plane and include it with the sketchy drive home narrative.  i’m actually quite anxious to get home.  jim has a movie role upcoming, and there’s an auction we have some artwork in, and i’ve got to get started on making prints for an upcoming show.  and there’s less than a month to go before we go to india.  lots to do, just the way i like it.

okay, one more thing.  today i worked at kaffi klara, and managed to scorch the soup, but made more, and managed to feed everyone who came.  which was almost nobody, because it’s raining and windy all day.  so now i’m going to the pool for my last drenching, and tomorrow i’m off to reykjavik, if the plane is not canceled.  i’ll let you know.

Posted by: jeanne | September 14, 2018

iceland, niceland

tuesday. i’m on an icelandair flight to rekyavik; going to olafsfjordur for a week to participate in the second annual troll festival. it’s been a long time getting here, and it was kind of an ordeal, but now i’m actually on the plane and in the air over probably pennsylvania, i’m relieved and looking forward to the next step.

but right now maybe i will take a nap until they come around with the (optional at extra cost) meal tray.

okay, i’ve had my nap. other than a stiff neck i feel much better. we’re flying over greenland at the moment; normally one of my favorite parts of the trip. but this time, so close to the equinox, it’s been dark for hours. usually when i fly over greenland, it’s summer time, and i can see everything. but tonight, there’s not even a moon, and there are no northern lights. so oh well.

this time, i’m flying icelandair instead of wow. the price was almost the same when i booked, and icelandair leaves from dulles, whereas wow leaves from baltimore. dulles is a 20 minute drive from mikie’s house (we are in the flight path for departures), and bwi takes 2 hours to get to by car, and a deal more than that travelling by train, subway, and car. so i was glad to fly with icelandair for once. and since my last trip flying with them, they’ve dropped meal service, and now you have to pay for your bags, so it’s no wonder it’s almost as cheap as wow.

it was a rather normal 13 hour drive up to dc from atlanta. i’m so used to it now. i’ve been doing the same drive every couple of months for over a year now. i’m so very used to it that i’ve begun to forget the road. sometimes i don’t know where i am, sometimes it doesn’t feel like the right road. i remembered to bring a notebook with me, and my usb with music on it, and i filled 3 pages with observations and thoughts, and things to look up. and i finally started to record the mile markers next to scenic spots i’d really like to have a camera for. so one of these days, i can pull over and snap photos. or maybe if i ever have a passenger, i can get them to take photos.

i drove during the day this time. not because i had to, either, because i poured another big chunk of cash into the car to make it roadworthy. i drove during the day this time precisely because i’ve been driving at night lately, and i wanted to see the landscape. southwestern virginia is so pretty. but because i’ve done this drive so many times lately, i didn’t bother calculating the best time to start. i had my alarm set for 5, to avoid rush hour traffic in atlanta, but there’s really no rush hour traffic in any of the cities on the road. if i’d gone up i-85, i would have hit major cities all thru south and north carolina, but going thru the mountains avoids most traffic and most cities. as it was, i had trouble sleeping, so it was 4:30 when i snuck out of the house and got in the car.

i’d packed more casually than usual, also. this still meant popping out of bed at frequent intervals to stuff something into my backpack, but really it meant throwng almost random things into the bags. the only thing i forgot was a lopapeysa, the enormously heavy sweaters worn in iceland. so now i don’t have a sweater, and my clothes are more like fall clothes than the winter things typically needed in iceland. but it was rainy and chilly in dc today, so i was happy to put on my travel clothes and stick my lightweight driving clothes back in the car.

wednesday. i made it all the way to olafsfjordur, had a nap, met up with a few people and talked about what’s going on with the town, went swimming, lost my credit card on the road and found it again, and am now sitting in ida’s living room writing.

the flight to iceland was 5+ hours, and it was dark, and i slept much of the way. i was just so exhausted from driving the day before. and to tell the truth, i’ve been exhausted pretty much ever since coming back from pennsic. maybe i picked up lyme disease. probably not. but anyway, i didn’t have the enthusiasm to stare out the window until we were on the approach to reykjavik at dawn. there might have been stars, but the cabin lights were on. and if there were northern lights, i missed them. but the first view of land, black against the shining sea, and seeing the ancient lava cracking and rolling beneath me, and hearing the impressions of the tourists seeing it for the first time – all of that was very welcome to me. being able to say thanks and goodbye in icelandic was also nice. and it was good to be able to explain to the tourists that we were going thru lava, not permafrost, that there’s no permafrost in iceland because it’s not that cold, and that conical mountain in the distance was in fact, a dangerous but inactive volcano (dangerous because according to siggi, it’s capable of covering reykjavik in lava).

the flybus dropped me at the bus station, which is right across the road from the domestic airport, and the guy at the bsi counter told me to walk down to that bridge, down that way, and cross over, and i’d be there. but when i got outside, i headed for a taxi, because i didn’t want to bust the wheels of my carryon trudging down the street. and it’s a good thing that i did, because the terminal was far far far from that bridge, and it was a good 5 minutes before the driver dropped me off. and we talked the whole way. just like the driver of the taxi to dulles from my brother’s house – we talked so deeply that i never told him which airline until we were right upon it.

waiting for the plane to land, and when it did, everybody piled into the gate area. i was in the bathroom at the time, and it wasn’t a matter of missing the flight, just some bewilderment when i came out into the lounge and found it empty. but i got on – a bombardier propeller plane holding maybe 30 passengers. and i was seated at the window, as ever, exactly next to the propeller. i gave some thought to what it would do to me if it shattered in flight, like that poor woman where the engine blew up and sliced her window open and sucked her out. i only gave some thought, because there’d be nothing i could do about it and would probably rather die before i knew it than be conscious all the way to the ground. anyway. smooth flight, up to 30,000 feet for maybe 10 minutes, and we started our descent. we passed one hole in the clouds, and i could see the highlands, all rippling lava and barrenness, with braided rivers and a melting glacier. the ice was translucent, so i could tell it wasn’t much of a glacier. it looked like a very large snowfield melting away.

and then we were down, and out, and waiting for our luggage, and then alla was there in a borrowed car, and we were very happy to see each other. we talked all the way back. but first, we had to stop at the red cross, where alla is a volunteer, so even tho the store wasn’t open, she dragged me inside and i looked thru the boxes in the back until i found a suitable lopapeysa. and then she took me to a phone store so i could get a sim card for my phone. there was some sort of crazy woman there, speaking english with a flawless american accent, but acting peremptory and impatient. everybody was careful to avoid her eyes. i asked the person who was helping me, and she said they know her, and she’s icelandic, but never speaks icelandic to anybody, and that she was mentally disturbed. okay. but someday i could aspire to being mentally disturbed and speaking a foreign language like a native in some other country.

and then it was the hour long drive around the coast to olafsfjordur. the trees are turning fall colors, and the vegetation on the mountains is all fading greens, rich golden browns, and reds. but late into the drive, i got really sleepy and had to put my head back while alla drove. but i woke up right before we got to the tunnel, and so i got to see the first sight of the lovely valley and the tiny town jumbled at the bottom of it.

we dropped my gear off at ida’s and then alla dropped me at kaffi klara. gummi was there to greet me. he gives the best bear hugs. we talked about the town, and i had some coffee, and then stumbled back to ida’s for a nap. and then i went walking thru the town. first to the house where i’m going to put up another troll mural. i got a photo of the owner of the house, and will photoshop his face onto the drawing of the troll. that’s where i lost my card, walking thru the grass to get a look at the wall. after that i stopped by listhus and had a nice talk with anno, and artist from germany who will be here all winter running the residency. he loves the long darkness and the cold and snow and northern lights. and then i went to the pool, where they’ve built a new sauna! i wanted to use my year’s pass that i bought last year, but alas, it’s based on the calendar year and not 365 days of usage. i had tried to suspend it when i left at the end of the summer, but it didn’ take, so i had o buy a 10 swim pass, and that’s when i discovered i no longer had my card. so they let me in for nothing and told me to pay tomorrow. yay. a bunch of people were doing exercises in the pool, and i knew some of them – asgeir and his wife, and omar – but didn’t want to join them because i just needed to swim a little and then rest in the hotpots. i stayed well over an hour, and then came home to start looking for my credit card.

but now it’s found, i’ve unpacked and separated out all the gifts, and tomorrow morning i’ll start chalking the wall, and continue talking to the people here. the town is having some serious issues, and i want to be useful in solving them.

Posted by: jeanne | August 19, 2018

boys in comfortable clothing

pennsic is an old tradition. this is its 47th year, and they’ve been gathering in a 500-acre campground all that time. originally it must have been a farm, and it still had an old 2-storey farmhouse and other outbuildings, and over the years someone put some cabins in.

we pulled off the interstate midafternoon sunday; it was a nondescript exit with a gas station, amid farms and rolling wooded hills. we turned down the road where they held school bus auctions – the boys glared suspiciously at the buses. was this a trap?

the road wound on into the woods, and circled around a few hills, and as we rose over the brim of one, we saw the road cutting thru a vast sea of white tents, and then wind on up over another hill which featured a wooden castle facade and an acre of caution tape.

we were directed into a field to the left, and asked to show our receipt and some id. then we had to go down one of several parallel traffic-control lanes to the end of the field, then cut back to the road and find a place to park alongside it. we were the only vehicle. turns out, it was a good thing we arrived sunday afternoon, because all day friday and saturday had seen hundreds of cars using the lanes, and people standing in long hot lines in the sun. when we got there, we parked right in front of the troll tent – the toll booth into pennsic – and were the only ones in the tent who weren’t on staff. so we got their full and undivided attention. the boys love attention.

attendance at pennsic has swollen to 10,000+ these past few years, and procedures have had to adapt. what might have once been a simple process is now clogged with several layers of bureaucracy, and the process of checking in and getting our id badges was… lots of fun. notably, getting wrist bands for kayden and connor was absolutely necessary. but since they’re not toddlers, it was determined that they were going to get necklaces. hahahahaha i don’t have to tell you why not. it was at station number 2 where we had this discussion. i was sent to station number 3 to arrange the wristbands, but was told there that the system said badges so the kids couldn’t have wristbands, and was then sent to station number 1 to get the nice ladies to write the kids’ badge numbers on wristbands and attach them. and this was among basically the same people, across a small and empty tent, where i had to go from window to window almost as a joke. i thought. this was also the place where the ladies kindly took me aside, seeing i was a single female and a first timer, and told me not to accept any drinks i didn’t watch being mixed up, by anybody i didn’t know very well, at any of the late night parties that go on pretty much every night – especially not anything glow in the dark or sparkly blue or named something fairyish. since i had the boys, i wasn’t likely to go to any of those parties, but i thanked them the same, because nobody wants to wake up from a dose of roofies and not know what they’ve been done to.

we finally finished with troll, were given thick guidebooks and vendor guides, shown where to go to get to our campsite, said goodbye, and got back in the truck. it was a long and winding road in, full of one ways, and stops, and you wouldn’t ever want to go as much as 5 miles an hour for fear of hitting someone. especially with a big pickup. the roads (gravel) were marked at intersections with medieval names, and at first we passed utility buildings used by the campground staff, and the large tents of pennsic university (hundreds of classes over the 2 weeks), and then we entered several blocks of encampments, fenced off by banners strung between poles. with an entranceway – all kinds, from poles to gates to castle forecourts – and the vision as we went by of a central coutryard of some kind, and tents lined up around it. in some courtyards they’d started alleyways between tents, filling in mini blocks; in others it was still too early and the middle was completely free of tents. these were all encampments that had been reestablished year after year after year in the same areas, with the same neighbors, and we could see people inside them, going about the business of preparing dinner, or still setting up their tents, or lounging around in already completed pavilions. some encampments went all out to embody the theme, with period fire pits and period canvas tents in front, and all grills and coolers and nylon tents hidden in the back.

i don’t understand the hierarchical structure at all, and i don’t know who was a member of the society for creative anachronism http://sca.org/ and who wasn’t, which was a kingdom encampment and which wasn’t, and how serious were the campers inside it. some took the whole medieval reenactment – living history – thing very seriously indeed, which is a good thing. some didn’t give a damn, which is also good.

we found our campsite, thru the main city part of the campground (store, playground, internet cafe and charging station) and then downhill to the lake. dallas was waiting at the bottom of the hill, and guided us in to our designated camping area. it was a nice long stretch of modestly sloping land going right to the edge of an arm of the lake, so we had a reedy area between us and the water, and the ground went up a little woody hill rising to the edge of the road. there were tents lining the entrance, including a wooden gypsy van, an open tent with a wooden floor down by the water’s edge, a double stalled shower tent next to it, and then an open end going to the dividing line between our encampment and the next clan’s (?). we took the open end, and went back to the truck to pull out the tent gear.


alex, kayden, dallas preparing dinner, connor, annabella, and avery

dallas and i tried to put up the tent, and then alan came over and tried to put up the tent, but i just couldn’t make it work, as i said before. and shopping, and dinner, and someone else’s tent.

monday. so when i woke up and discovered one of the other campers had made coffee, i started in on the tent again. i’d gone thru my photos on my broken computer, found the one i took to sent to wenzel tents, and zoomed in on it until i discovered my error: so simple. i had the topmost tent loops on the inside of the pole structure, when they should have been outside. silly me. i blame 8 hours of driving and other things. so i put the tent up myself. dallas, understandably, watched from the kitchen tent over his own coffee. it was easy. and then i populated the tent with all its things.


the view for anybody washing dishes in our campsite

first the ground covers, long lengths of canvas that would someday be made into paintings, covered by several 4×6 and 5×7 rugs i love, with an 8×10 sisal mat for the screen room.

we brought 2 tents (plus the 6-person pup tent). one was the million year old 9×12 tent (that was showing more rips in the sides, mainly from my clumsiness (but i dreaded finding the boys putting their feet thru it)), and the other was the million year old 12×12 screen tent, which i had decided i was going to fit together, even tho jim never had in all their years of camping. i’d spent sleepless nights figuring out how to do it. and it worked. we had a bedroom that was spacious enough for a queensized air mattress and my bed on the rugs, plus my own clothes and bag and computer and camera etc. and everything else went into the screen room, or under the 20×20 tarp wings, depending on whether it was waterproof or not. we had the camp table set up in one section, and ran a laundry line from side to side, and had the food things and the clothing bins and the kids’ toys around the sisal rug. it was very practical, and very breezy, and never too hot to take a nap in. it took until after 2pm to finish putting everything up.

i learned a new knot while putting up the rain fly tarp. a taught hitch. my neighbor ken, who had the tent across the alley my tent made, showed the knot to me, by which you can easily tighten and loosen the knot, but i forgot it immediately and went back to the overhand knot i usually use. this meant i had to pull up the stake every time the rope was too slack, but the ground was soft, and not very gravelly, so i didn’t mind. i’m definitely learning the knot before i have to do it again, tho.

the boys slept forever, and then they ate the cereal we had bought at the store in butler, and were playing ball with the bat i’d brought, and their three balls. which reduced to no balls by the end of the afternoon. they lost them all in the rushes, and the goopy ground prevented them from going in very far. so after that they played with imaginary balls. at the campground in tennessee they played with imaginary bats.

eventually i corralled them to help me unload the truck, insisting that they bring absolutely everything out of it and put it into the screen room. we clarified it several times while they worked, and so of course they left the front seat untouched, and i had to further empty the truck when they were done.


our tent+screen house+rainfly.  i’m pretty proud of it, actually

but in the end it was cleared out, and i left the boys under supervision and went off to park the truck. oh. no i didn’t. dallas let me know that i couldn’t just leave the boys there. like it’s against the rules to be out of earshot of kids that age. so we all piled into the truck and followed dallas to the hill of vehicles and parked most of the way up.

i decided to park facing out, and since it was a wet day, it was very difficult to back into position on a grassy slope. but after leaving several smears in the grass, i got the truck into position and we remembered where we parked, piled into dallas’ truck, and went back to the campsite.

and that’s when i left the boys and wandered off to get pictures of the next campsite over, the one that went out to the point. they were playing with alex, and i was still in earshot (tho he looked really dubious when i told him i would be right back). so i walked off and went thru the boundary and wandered past tents and people, and took pictures of the picturesque. and then in the japanese camp (which i hadn’t realized i was crossing into) a very smiling woman in a kimono asked if she could help me, and that’s when i backed out, bowing, and claiming to be a newcomer unaware of the rules. blissfully unaware, as usual.


avery got himself a job filling the tiki torches every evening

and then dallas made pork ribs on the coleman propane grill (put my ’80s stove to shame), and the ladies in the kitchen made stuff to go with it, and i might have made a salad, and everybody ate sitting around the picnic tables. then the boys played, i helped clean and straighten the kitchen, they lit a fire in the fire pit, it got dark, and we went to bed one by one.


dallas making dinner, kayden, connor messing with ken, and annabella

except for the boys. they did not go to bed. they played in the tent. i was trying to hang out with dallas and alex under the awning of their porch, and the boys were in there bouncing on the queensize air mattress. on a slope. so it was jammed up against the tent walls, with children roughhousing all over the place. i had a fit. several fits. because i did not yet realize that i was going to have to sit in the screen tent and read for the half hour that it took the boys to actually get to sleep once they couldn’t squiggle and whisper. it took several nights of surprising them at it and turning into kali before i wised up. after that i finished the two books i’d brought with me.

but they fell asleep fairly quickly most nights, and i rejoined whoever was sitting around the fire, and looked for stars or the moon. but the first few days were very cloudy and misty, and we never saw the moon, and i never really figured out which way was north.

tuesday. and wednesday. youth combat didn’t start up until thursday, so we had three antsy boys. avery professed his profound disappointment to his dad, several times, on the phone. but every time i asked them if they were enjoying themselves, they said yes, so i wasn’t worrying. classes were to be had. there were some fun things to be done with kids – making felt, dipping candles, drumming, making belt pouches, etc.

and then there was fool school. that’s where kids go to learn how to entertain, with skits, juggling, acrobatics, jokes – all the usual courtly entertainment. alex said it was the most fun he’d had at pennsic. so we went there at 10am for an hour, for those three days. the first day was like cutting teeth. we were late, and they were practicing tongue twisters. the boys hung around in the back of the theater building (an open faced shed), staring at their feet, while everybody else acted like they’d all known each other for many years. which they probably had. but the second day we arrived like old troupers.

everybody was supposed to separate into groups and develop a skit, and because we had to leave early in war week, we decided to work on our own skit so we wouldn’t disrupt any other groups. so the boys decided to start with handstands and devolve into fighting. typical, right? so we worked on choreographing, and teaching the boys the rudiments of stage fighting. they’re not used to that – the concept of not hitting each other. the teacher had to facilitate that more than once.

once fool school was over, we always went back to the camp. there were classes, but none of the ones we wanted started until 1, and it was only 11. so i might have taken a nap, or the boys might have had second breakfast and then lunch, or played quietly, or not. it was different each of those days. the weather was pretty consistent, tho. low clouds, spotty soft rain, nice sunsets, no stars, and heavy dewfall.


they always enjoy playgrounds


connor, annabella, avery

and then came the first day of youth combat.  thursday of the first week. we were there at 8am. gone were the days of sleeping in. it was just like they were back in school. i usually got up before the alarm went off and had some time to myself watching the light come up over the lake. and then it was a bustle of quietness to – without waking the rest of the camp – get them up and into their garb, stuff some food into them, and march up the hill to the lists.


i vastly preferred the floor to this – kayden’s falling off the edge in slow motion, for hours – it’s nerve wracking

the first day was mainly organizational. we signed our kids in, they put on all their gear, and the marshals inspected them. for many it was pretty simple, but we ran into some headaches.


the sign-in table.  repairs happened in the back of the tent

it took avery 3 or 4 times getting inspected, and then going back with the marshal to fix something about his armor, and then getting inspected again until they hit another problem that needed fixing.

the problem was with our swords, first. they were larping swords, and not sca-compliant. so they had to examine them extra carefully and make adjustments. and then their helmets were not up to snuff. there’s no standard of equipment except if you make your own. everything you get from a sporting goods store needs fiddling with. so the marshals had boxes and cartons full of fixes. tape, lacing, bits of leather for gorgets and neck guards, loaner gear (the boys loved borrowing various kinds of swords), more tape.  on the second day, a rivet in the brow of connor’s helmet broke (i told them not to throw their gear) and if it weren’t for the toolsmiths in our camp, i’d have had to go find a sporting goods store in town.  but they fixed it, and it went back into service the next day.

everybody in the youth combat tent was a volunteer. they’d been doing it for how many years, and were devoted to it. one of the women keeping administrative calm was in a motorized scooter, and everybody (except the 27 year old who was raised in the sca) was a grandparent. if they hadn’t been so attentive and diligent, the kids wouldn’t have learned anything. as it was, they improved visibly with each session. so, thanks, youth marshals.

that first morning, they didn’t keep us the whole session. the boys were all tired from battling, and getting used to being so well watched. they had more than just themselves to battle, and that made all the difference. for avery especially, because he was in with a bunch of boys his own age and older, and he was holding his own. he’s very tall, so he had a good reach, and he’s very spirited, so he had the will to get back in there. every time i saw him he was smiling and talking with the other kids. all boys at his level.

there were girls in connor and kayden’s group of under 10 year olds, and they held their own, too. but there seemed not to be any in the 10-14, and the ones in the 14-18 range were truly iron women. and when it came to adults, there were plenty of women warriors – archers, weapons throwers, fencers, heavy weapons – all well represented. and all the women marshals on the youth list were past mistresses at the arts of war. valkyries.

the roman mom morphs into a warrior

we finally stopped for the morning, and were told we could keep our armor there in the dressing tent. which was a great relief, because the kids didn’t want to be lugging their gear back and forth. so we arranged our stuff around a tent pole, and i waited for the boys to finish putting everything away. we didn’t have the boys’ athletic cups, so that wasn’t an issue the first day. but they took a very long time in the portapotties when they were done. and while connor was in his (the disabled one, a palatial space for a 6 year old), the other two took turns cracking open the door and disturbing him. very funny. while i waited in the tent. only once, tho.


the dressing tent that first day


the dressing tent thereafter

a word about portapotties. they’re incredibly efficient these days. a sign taped up on the inside of the door says so. 135 million gallons of fresh water saved every day thru the use of portapotties. on jobsites, in campgrounds, onsite at festivals all over the country. millions and millions of molded plastic boxes containing millions and millions of gallons of blue liquid that really doesn’t smell so bad. millions of miles of single-ply toilet paper. millions and millions of motion-detection led lights velcroed to the inside walls so people can cope in the darkness. and each one is rated. each portapotty can handle 10 men for one 40-hour workweek. so how many? that’s what i wondered every single time i sat in one. if 10 men x 40 hours in a week, then what for 10 men for 7×24 hours in the week? that’s 4 times 40. so either 2.5 people a week, or cleaning out 4 times a week? for how many people? our campsite had 2 portajohns. so we should have been good for 5 people in the camp. but we were on a main road and all sorts of people used it all thru the day and night. and we had many more than 5 people with us. later i was told that the portajohns up near the battlefields were cleaned out every day, and twice a day during war week. but i still want to know how many hundreds of them there were, and how many people they were meant to serve. and i still want to know how many people actually made it to pennsic this year.

btw, off-color spoiler:  it seems, on direct physical observation, that most of the 10,000+ people in attendance had some sort of digestion issues while they were there.  i can’t speak for what ends up in their receptacles at home, but there were very few well-formed ex-food sticks poking out of the central mound of single-ply paper. most of what the blue liquid mercifully deodorized were soft and saggy piles colored burnt sienna, and textured like brown25.  not well-formed – type 5.  mine as well, for which i blame road food.  but at least it wasn’t the usual type 1 torment i usually deal with when travelling. small favors.

we came back up the hill at 3 for another session. it was always warmer, with the sun mostly out and clouds building up to some sort of rain. i usually changed my clothes to something more summery for this session (tho i didn’t take too much care about my dress) and tried in vain to stay out of the sun. the session ran until 5, and then we sloped back down the hill to our campground, there to mess around and get ready for dinner.


over 200 shops.  the boys were into necklaces, and we got material to make proper swords, and some gifts

dinner was often a group effort, with gretchen and judy taking most of the brunt. but others pulled out spare food to eat, and sometimes made something themselves, and twice dallas cooked huge hanks of meat. i even made spaghetti once (with lamb!), and salad twice. and then filling and lighting the torches (the boys often fought over it, with connor feeling left out), and then building and lighting the fire, and then marshmallows, and then bed.

friday, saturday, sunday, up at 7. to the list at 8. 8-10 fighting practice. then something wanderingish until 11 and drumming practice!

then down the hill via the playground. or lunch in the food court. or shopping. or a class (which had always been canceled). then some sort of rest for grandma (the camp we stayed in had a two nap minimum) and back up the hill for the 3-5 practice. and then back down, exhausted, to get dinner ready and go to bed.


judy, alex, mary ann, gretchen


the boys love to dance.  i believe they’re doing the dab

and since by now i wasn’t having any nonsense, the boys got themselves to sleep while i sat in the screen tent and read a couple of chapters. these nights the stars came out and we sat around the campfire just taking it all in.


a bunch of views of the same tents on different days

our tent went thru some changes. maybe the second day, word went around the campground that there was a powerful blow on the way from the southwest. so everybody went around checking everybody’s tents and lines, and adjustments were made. i moved some of the equipment further into the screen tent, and took the fly off the poles and staked the edges to the ground. the blow petered out, i put the poles back up and moved the rainfly a little toward the front of the screen tent, so the rain wouldn’t come in and drench the table, which also moved closer to the bedroom tent.

i had had to make the main tent itself completely off limits except for sleeping. only changing into our out of the garb, and sleeping or napping. because if they were allowed into the main tent for any reason, they would all pile in on the air mattress and bounce it into the tent walls. i’d already put several significant rents into the nylon sides of the tent, just getting the thing up. luckily i had plenty of tape. but i couldn’t have the kids roughhousing inside it because they would surely destroy it. thus the rules. and they worked pretty well.


judy and ken play some strategy game.  we went to some trouble to recover the tokens the bad boys flipped into the long grass AHEM

i got to know the kids a lot better over this week-ish. kayden i hardly knew at all when we started, and he had a lot of trouble conforming to the rules that avery and especially connor have been raised with. and we had some meltdowns, particularly when i would melt down and turn into kali, the devouring mother. hopefully they got to know me, too, and things will be better next time we go someplace.

by saturday, we noticed a definite uptick in car traffic, and more people setting up tents in jeans and tshirts. vistas began to close in. gladius arrived in our camp. he set up a pavilion at the water’s edge every year, and he’s been coming to pennsic longer than anybody. he’s not yet jim’s age, and he’s wearing well. his pavilion is a big open tent for the camp, with nice wooden tables and benches, and a custom made chair for the fireside, and banners, and period dishes and cups.

the picnic benches had been migrating the whole time. first out on their lonesome in the sun and rain, then one by one inching toward the shelter of the kitchen tent’s awning, and now squinched between the kitchen tent and gladius’ pavilion.

for the first time we noticed cars parked all along the lanes when we went to the lists. when we’d come, it was just lines strung in a field. but now it was a parking lot, and presumably all the hundreds of people indicated must be standing in line in the troll tent, getting their intricately stamped metal badges and their heavy handbooks and vendor guides. the boys didn’t seem to notice. they were busy improving their swatting skills and learning to listen to the marshals.


roman family with their fighting kid

and spending time in the portapotties. at this point avery was wearing one of those vacation-type pants with one seam that wrap around your waist and tie at the front and back. https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-sew-summer-wrap-around-pants/

he loved them because they were ninjalike. and he had to tie the leg ends together to keep them from flapping. it’s this that was keeping him in the bathroom for fifteen minutes at a time. because he’s not sure how to tie the knots, and tries instead to twist the two ends together. we’re working together on this. he’s interesting in wrapping cloth, and so am i, and you have to figure it out for yourself even tho all you’re doing is rediscovering the wheel. or the knot.

suddenly i had to leave the boys to the marshals, because connor finally showed someone the arm he’d been complaining about, the one that was only a scrape he’d gotten sliding home on the wet grass back at camp.  it had healed up nicely, into a huge quarter-sized scab, and he’d duly picked it off, against medical advice, and so it continued to be an issue.  but now there were little sores, and little blisters.  i knew by the blisters it was poison ivy.  so i rushed him down to the ems tent, and they cleaned him up and wrapped his arm, and put duct tape over it to make it look like armor.  and gave him a freeze-pop. we hustled back to the lists and got him armored up, and thought no more about it except to check the bandage that evening and the next morning.

at this point we decided we’d better buy anything we were going to get. we’d been booth shopping for days, after morning practice. at first they wanted weapons, and then they switched to $5 jewelry. i wanted 72″ linen at $11/yard. there were bone and wood and metal buttons, knives, glass things, ceramic things, pewter things, used saris, turkish delight. costumes, corsets, boots, sweaters, hats, walking sticks, all kinds of armor bits and pieces, drums, real jewelry, and the list goes on. and on and on. 200 vendors. very little duplication. daunting. so we didn’t get anything. $5 pendants for the boys (mostly a wolf theme), a length of rattan to make swords, and a box of turkish delight, because i couldn’t help it. and when i opened it in the next tent, the people in that booth said ooooh so i passed some out. it’s not right if you’ve only heard of turkish delight and never tasted it. and when we got to the list, they’d mostly never had any either, so i passed a few more pieces out. (but i still have some here at home, from the same box – we bought another box on monday afternoon to give to the marshals as thanks).

sunday afternoon’s practice was hot. the weather was clearing up and now it was getting into the upper 80s during the afternoon, with nary a cloud in the sky. and people were in full armor, more and more of them. war week was under way, and the whole place was lively. the cleaning trucks came twice a day (with a mixed exhaust-blue smell and a lot of engine noise) as promised, and a big food service tractor-trailer backed in to the back of the food court, and the trash truck emptied one after another of half a dozen minidumpsters.

the jannissary band, practicing in a tent nearby every morning, finally donned their uniforms and gathered for their photographer, and then went marching around the campground playing their arms off. there were the beginnings of fencing matches in one roped-off field, and heavy sword fighting in an adjacent field.

more tents were going up along the main street to the battleground, and people were dragging in seats and tables and stuff. the boys never noticed. but we were able to take connor and kayden’s chest protectors back to camp, because they hadn’t been using them for several days. the marshals looked it up, and determined that as long as the skin was covered by clothing, they didn’t have to wear gauntlets and kidney/chest protection. it was much cooler that way.

there was a fencing battle going on at the wooden castle when practice got out, so we walked up there to see. on the way around the side of the wall to the back, we noticed a bunch of swordsmen lining the walls of a keep with a narrow entrance. there was a ramp leading up to the keep, and then the walls stretched to the other side where there was another keep and ramp. the other army was clustered around that area, getting ready to attack. there were many more attackers than defenders. they all marched over to the keep, swords at the ready, and attacked. or the ones in front attacked, while the rest of them lined up for their turn, or milled around in the back. the ones in front wedged themselves in thru the narrow entrance, immediately got sliced in two by the defenders massed together in the inside of the keep, and emerged, arms raised in death, back thru the entrance while some other eager attacker wedged thru the door. slow motion suicide of the attackers. (when i related this to ken, he said that with broadswords and shields the tactic would have been to rush the door and press the defenders to the back walls, but fencers don’t carry shields, so it was a cakewalk for the defenders)

when we got back to camp, i heated up whatever canned crap the kids wanted to eat, and got to work. the ladies made stir fry to get rid of their leftovers, and i had some of that. i pulled some of the milk crates aside and reorganized them, and put most of the garb away, and prepared as much as possible to break camp the next day. there wasn’t a whole lot to be done, but i knew there was limited time. the plan was to finish up the morning session, come back and break camp, leave it all piled up by the road when we went back for the afternoon session, come back with the truck, load and leave. by 5. snicker.


dallas, alex, avery and kayden

the boys went down as usual sometime after dark. once the fire was lit, there was no way to get them in bed until they’d had their marshmallows, so i portioned out a few each from the bag and left them to toast them at will. connor particularly liked to stick it into the fire and turn it into a ball of flame, and then eat it once the charred remains were cold. avery learned to put a nice golden crust all over it. kayden worked on the middle ground. after i put them to bed, i noticed that avery was tossing and turning, and finally sitting up. so i called him out of bed, and we went to investigate the music.

practically every night there was drumming somewhere in the campground. being a huge campground, it meant that practically every night there was drumming somewhere near. being on the lake as we were – a prime location and the scene of many many epic parties thru the half-century – there were usually drumming circles, in someone’s camp, every night. the camp next to ours was inhabited by musicians, so there was a drum circle every single night, and at 4pm they’d teach drumming every day. i loved it. the boys took it as background sounds and never said a thing about it. the drumming usually went on until very late, sometimes very very late, and the people who’d attended (drum circle = party) walked past our camp and used our portajohns until the sun came up. every night. but sunday night was extremely loud, and every now and again there was a big rumble from the crowd, so it was not an issue for me to grab avery and go find out what was going on and where it was coming from.

we’d seen it being built as we came and went to practice that day. we hadn’t known it, of course, because there was building going on all over camp as people there for war week set up their stuff. they built a 20×20 stage out of wood, and put up a 10′ diameter circle (i guess a shield). when avery and i saw it that night, there were hundreds of people there, milling around in the camp and on the road. we found a vantage point where we could watch a dozen drummers beating out a compelling rhythm, and see the fire dancers on the stage. guys who got up with long batons lit on both ends, and twirled them until the flames went out. then a big cheer would go up as he left the stage and another one climbed up.

monday was the start of action on the battlefield. we got up to the lists at 8, knowing it was our last day. we never even bothered with a sit-down breakfast, but grabbed the last of the pop-tarts on our way out of camp.


testing the trebuchets

morning practice went as usual, and i let connor and kayden quit a few minutes early because it was damned hot. and tho i was in a rush, avery spent an unusually long time in the portajohn arranging the fabric at his ankles. they also all had to go to the bathroom to remove their athletic cups, which added ten minutes each time they donned or doffed their armor. and i was in a rush, so i turned into kali right away.

i fed the boys when we got to camp, then put them to work. emptying the tent, one box at a time, and putting everything on the grass neatly. getting all the toys into their ziploc bags and ready to go under the back seat. gathering the clothes, separating them into kayden’s and everybody else’s, and stuffing them into their proper backpacks. stuffing all the pillows into a trash bag so they wouldn’t get wet on the still-dewy grass. that’s all i had them help me with. it’s all i could stand, really. it was so difficult to get them to do even the simplest things. avery was good. he was being really responsible and really adult about everything, and paying attention when i gave him a task. and connor was okay but draggy. but i really had trouble with kayden, who put on a major show of attitude every time. first not doing the task – just sitting there looking at something. then when i insisted, he’d throw his head back and groan and roll his eyes and stamp his feet. if he were my kid…. but i just hissed at him until he did it.

then we went back up to the lists for the tournament.  it was only the first tournament of the war, bin ut at least we got to be there for one of them.  the princess of somewhere was in attendance, sitting under the tent chatting with people while the kids battled each other.  it was just like practice except for the audience.  and there were no melee battles.  it was very hot.

the younger kids finished first, and all collected in front of the princess on their knees, while she made speeches and handed out awards.  kayden got the award for most chivalrous!  he was very pleased to go up and bow before her while she gave him a stuffed something and a trinket for his armor.  connor got the award for youngest kid, a medal, and they all got various awards just for being there, because kids love that stuff.

avery’s battles were just the same as well, but when it came time for them to kneel and accept awards, avery was tied with some kid who’d been doing this all his life for most chivalrous!  the other kid looked like atreyu, and avery towered over him.  most chivalrous boils down to not killing your opponent when he makes a mistake, but waiting and even helping him to battle readiness again before proceeding.  we were all very proud, especially back at camp, and when calling home.

then we had a short look at the happenings on the battlefield, and raced back to camp.

mainly, i packed up and got ready by myself. avery helped take down the tent, and connor gathered the poles, and kayden threw stuff in the trash. but mainly they played in the field next to me while i packed the milk crates and the big bins, making order out of everything so it could go straight back into the attic when we got home.

then i had the boys cart everything over to the truck, using the collapsable camp wagon. avery got to pull, one of the others got to stand in back and stabilize the wagon. and they had to go slow. what could go wrong? i turned into kali a couple of times during this procedure, but was luckily too busy folding and packing the tent.

after that, i let them occupy themselves arranging their seating while i packed the truck bed. and eventually it was all squared away, and everybody in camp had come to the truck to say goodbye, and the boys had all peed and were ready to go. it was 8pm.

at that point one of the women who’d been tending to connor’s poison ivy expressed her concern, so i asked her to unwrap the bandage, and the problem was worse than ever, so we went straight over to the ems tent and had them rewrap it. they wanted us to go to the nearest town with a hospital and get them to put him on steroids, but i couldn’t do that for several reasons, mostly because we had to get on the road. he was in clean bandages, and i had found some benadryl to give him, and he was okay enough.

but we took the opportunity to leave the truck at the ems tent and go to the food court next door. we got dinner there, hopped back in the truck, and started home. i ate only a fraction of my nastiness, but the boys ate most of their stuff. i let them use their electronics for the first time in a week (except for those times i needed a nap in camp and there was nothing for them to do ). they were quiet until we got to breezewood, which is where the interstate ends and you have to go thru a town before you can get back on. kayden forced me to pull off on the pennsylvania turnpike so that he could pee, by the side of the road, in the dark, which caused all sorts of issues, but i’ve talked about that already.

once we got back on the road, i called an end to the electronics, and the boys went to sleep. and then i drove until dawn. without music, without a notebook to jot down my thoughts. stars and the moon, late. now, about that missing time.

the map apps uniformly say our location to breezewood was 2.5 hours. it took us three. that can only partially be explained by having to pull over for kayden’s not having peed when he was supposed to (but i didn’t have to go then). that could have taken at most 5 minutes. but never mind. i don’t know how these apps determine how long it takes – possibly by using the posted speed limit to calculate. the posted speed limit on the pennsylvania turnpike is 70mph. but nobody goes that fast. the trucks all go 55. that’s because it’s a dangerous, narrow, old northern road thru mountainous country. the speed limit is more of an advertisement. it’s 168 miles. at 70mph it should take 2.4 hours. okay. going 55 it takes 3 hours. oh, so i’m fine after all. whew.

but breezewood to bristol, which is where the sun came up. where did i go wrong there? breezewood was 11pm, sunrise was almost 7. 414 miles, 6 hours. comes to almost 70mph, which is about right. but it took me 8 hours. why was that? oh yeah, because i pulled into a truck stop and napped at some point, and got back on the road at 5:30. i thought it was half an hour, but it must have been a lot longer than that. still, 2 hours? i would think my neck would be sore. so whatever. how about bristol to atlanta? it’s 325 miles, and supposed to take 4:45 at almost 70. but i’ve never driven it in under 6 hours. chattanooga takes 2 hours, knoxville takes 2 hours, bristol takes 2 hours. again, there must be some reason; i must stop several times. ah yes. we stopped at an ihop for breakfast, and even tho it was to go, we had to wait 15 minutes. and the boys had to pee and wash their hands – twice. and we spent the 15 minutes outside running around (i set my clock), and then jammed back into the truck and ate on the road (the secret – nothing with syrup). but it could have taken half an hour at most, even with the shenanigans in the bathroom. and i do believe we stopped at the georgia welcome center 2 hours from home and ran around some more.

we got home around noon, and i left the boys under grandpa’s supervision, and they emptied the truck into the studio end of our bedroom. i took connor to the urgent care clinic, and they cleaned everything up, lectured him some about poison ivy and washing, and gave him steroids and called in a prescription for prednisone and some gel i’m probably confusing with fungal cream but i don’t remember the name.

when i got back from the clinic, i put avery into the truck and we took him home with all his necklace ornaments and the clothes he was in. everything else went into the laundry.

i finally got out of the truck and hung the keys up around 6pm, and discovered i was out of guinness. drat. i’d been looking forward to a nice rewarding pint on my front porch. but oh well, i was still on camp time, and just did without. water is good.

so now we’re back. it’s been a good week since we’ve returned, and i’m only now finishing this post, catching up with what we did long after i’d forgotten it (as you can see with the missing time bits). if it weren’t for the photos, i wouldn’t remember anything of what i did, especially the driving part.

i’m going back to iceland for a week in september, for olafsfjordur’s annual troll festival. i’ve got things to do, people to see, places to go, and as ever, i’ll document it here.

Posted by: jeanne | August 11, 2018

road trip to pennsylvania with the boys

i’m sitting on our porch in atlanta, the morning after getting back home from our trip to medieval pennsylvania. i’m actually sitting on the porch most of the rest of the week as well – recovering.  the rental truck has been returned, the first load of laundry is in the washing machine, i’m on my second cup of coffee, and jim has gone off to the library. so, normality ensues. we’re also having a power outage, to keep things amusing (it’s been over an hour now, so i’m starting to think about our now-empty camp coolers and all the things i have in 2 suddenly nonfunctioning freezers. also, i can’t reheat my coffee without getting out equipment and lighting the stove – it’s like a campground here. like i said, amusing.

i would have blogged our trip every day or so, but my travel computer decided not to work; something about the track pad and having to resort to keyboard shortcuts that i am unfamiliar with. anyway, i put the laptop away after the first day and just took mental notes.  my memory being spotty at best, and woefully inadequate at long form composition, i’m going to break out trip down into easy to handle parts. first our trip to cleveland tn and washington dc, and then our tale of medieval glamping and fighting with foam covered wooden swords and fancifully painted hockey helmets.

i’ve spent the last few weeks dragging things out of storage in the attic. i inherited an awful lot of camping equipment from jim’s first wife, eve, who was a master of organizational skills. and everything had been kept together in the attic, so all i had to do was go thru everything, selecting what we’d need (i selected way too much of course), and inspecting everything before repacking it to go to the campsite.  the studio area in our bedroom filled up with milk crates and bagged equipment. it got a little unwieldy. jim did not complain, just waited until we’d gone and then rearranged the furniture.


a vintage wenzel tent

our tent is from the early ‘80s, or even the ‘70s. it’s a wenzel tent, and they still make tents, so i looked them up, and didn’t see ours. so i called them, and read out the model number, and even the serial number of the tent (they were way thorough bitd). but the girl on the phone had no knowledge of anything before computers, and even tho they’d uploaded their old paper catalogs, they didn’t go that far back. and i find that unacceptable, so i’m going to contact the management when i get around to it, to let them know they’ve got a museum relic still going up at the campsite. and these days, when companies are no longer family companies but owned by some jerk from wall street, they probably won’t care even at the management level. but just in case there’s a wenzel family member still running things, i’m going to call them back and offer them a photo of said relic.

always in the back of my mind was the fact that, while we’d borrowed plenty of period garb for the two older boys, connor had exactly one pair of pants that were only a little too long, and one tunic. and two days before leaving, i finally got around to making him a few more pairs of pants. and found that i didn’t have the plug to the sewing machine. so i had to borrow a machine (thanks elizabeth), and that task came with its own special difficulties and delays. but the pants got made, out of fabrics i’ve had in my stash for years, and everything got piled into the center of the floor, and the pile kept getting larger and larger, and spread out to the front porch.

fortunately, connor’s nana had him for the last week, and avery was with his dad, and kayden was with allison and antonio, and i could concentrate on getting everything done. i would have missed much more than i did, had i been distracted by the boys.

on wednesday morning, jim and i schlepped out to get the truck. i had some anxiety about it, because there was so much to take and a short bed wouldn’t do it, plus i needed a truck that would fit all three boys into the back so i could ride by myself up front – isolation being necessary for our mutual survival. it was a dodge ram 1500, and they skimped on things like the back leg room, and a back-up camera, and a usb feed for the sound system. but there was cruise control and bluetooth, so it was only inconvenient. and quiet. so i kept the windows open. and the boys rigged walls with pillows and blankets. rolled up rugs went under their feet, and all their travel toys in ziploc bags, and everything else got loaded into the back of the truck. anything that could be harmed by rain got stowed under a tarp or put into the front seat, and all the chargers got stuck in a pile on the hump next to the driver’s seat.

our local homeless guy, minio, came by as i was loading the back. he only added to the distractions, so i didn’t do the completely thorough check i had planned, and avoided him physically because i find him so annoying. so i missed something that i had previously spotted that morning and marked for moving into the staging area. sigh.

only i can load a truck. or a box, or a cabinet, or whatever it is that needs packing. so avery helped me lift the 4 large bins, and after i placed them in the truck bed, he and kayden lifted the milk crates and odd ends onto the back of the truck, and otherwise continued making their nests in the back seat while i packed things like a puzzle. i love puzzles.

when we were done, i sent the boys to pee and then interrupted minio’s soliloquy to say goodbye to jim. and then we were off, and while navigating atlanta traffic in a much larger vehicle than usual, i successfully figured how to set the trip odometer. without incident. yay. after that i was a grownup and acted like i had kids and cargo in an unfamiliar deathtrap on a 2446 mile journey driven mostly in the dark of night by an increasingly sleep deprived grandma.

but this was the middle of the day. say around noon. and we were on our test run. first an hour in atlanta lunchtime traffic to greater roswell, where dallas was loading his own stuff into a big old trailer, and had offered me some space. dallas was leaving for pennsylvania that evening, and i was going to be on the road for three nights and most of a day before i arrived. and i was dangerously overpacked with 4 huge bins and milk crates et al. i dropped off the huge rolly bin with the tent equipment (hahaha maybe they’d set the tent up for me and it’d be sitting there when we arrive, i thought, hahahaha), while ginger the best mother on the planet took the boys inside and fed them pancakes and let them pee off the edge of her hillside deck.

and then we were off f’real. now leaving our home state for points north. i’m pretty sure i let them use their devices for the two-hour leg. if i didn’t, they fought. otoh, if i did they also fought. avery constantly behind his wall, watching youtube demos of his favorite videogames. ever inching into connor’s territory with his barrier pillows. connor and kayden arguing over whose turn it was to take the tablet. both older boys tickling connor, whose screams short my circuits.

and then we were at the ocoee river, using my gps to find the campground. we would have stayed with emma, whose house is on the same river, except she was sick and nobody needs to be around kids when they’re sick. and besides, the boys like camping, and i brought the small (6 person) tent i’ve had for almost 20 years, and to make it even sweeter, we were going to go tubing down the river and emerge within sight of our tent the next morning.

so we left the truck mostly packed. we’d eaten recently at the sonic in chatsworth, mainly because i like their chicken sandwiches, and i can get a milkshake there (tho they’ve recently discontinued malteds). plus the boys can get what they want. so they all had a pee and washed their hands. at least i sent them in to do so. i was so naive in the early days.

i got avery to help me get the coolers to our picnic table, along with the camp stove and the milk crate with the dishes. he and kayden had to take the crate with the canned goods. connor helped take the chairs over to the campfire, and kayden set them up. then i found the small tent and sent avery out to find a suitable location – flat and free of sticks and stones – which he carefully chose at random. and then they discovered the 3 wiffle balls i’d secreted, and left me alone to put up the tent and inflate the air mattress (discovering!!! that the pump holds a charge and can be used cord free!!!). these things took no time, and i got to relax for a few minutes, only coming out of my cave to warn the boys not to hit balls into the tent again.

don’t ask me what we ate that night. i think i opened a can of soup. the boys played ball. the rest of the campground seemed to be a church group, or several, and they did jesus cheers on and off, and had a morality play of some sort around a fire once it got dark.

and then to bed. what an ordeal. the best part of that night was when i ventured out of the tent to pee some time in the middle of the night. there were thousands of stars, big and wet and splashy because we were right on the river. we don’t get stars in atlanta, only planets and airplanes.

we only had our queensized airbed to sleep on. i’d figured, why not, face us all in 2 different directions and we’d all fit. but i hadn’t considered the kids’ sleeping habits. avery curls up into a ball or stretches out, but he’s still all night. connor squiggles; i’ve documented his somnolence in iceland, and nothing has changed in a year. but kayden fights in his sleep. he shoves and elbows, he kicks, he uses his whole sleeping body to bulldoze others out of his way. all three boys sleepwalk, i’m amused to report. more about that later.

the boys might have slept well, but i did not. i had planned to put avery next to me, and connor on the foot of the bed opposite him, with kayden at the foot opposite me. that way our heights would somewhat even out. but the boys didn’t like that arrangement, and be’d bad, so i put connor next to me and angrily hushed every whisper until they fell asleep. and after that it was a matter of fending off squiggling and thrashing limbs all night. i vowed to sleep on the ground from that point on.

thursday. sometime during the blue light hour right before dawn, i thought about the bag of poles i had discovered on the porch. i was sitting there slugging down a coffee break before packing the truck, and reached behind me on the glider to find a green plastic bag full of aluminum poles, part of the stash of waterproof things i had built on the porch prior to having the boys move everything down to the loading area. i remember touching it, then bending around to look at it, and going ‘ah’ because i knew i would miss something. but then minio came up, and that was it for memory and relaxation.

i got into the truck while the camp was still sleeping, and called jim. i knew he’d be up with his coffee. he went out on the porch, and sure enough, a bag of poles. not the main tent poles, which would be a deal breaker, or the screen tent poles, which would be sad, but the bag of rain fly poles, which would be totally optional. in fact, dallas advised against it, because they have terrible blows every year, and everybody wraps their tents with their rain flies, which i can’t even stand the thought of (read: like being in an oven).

i could totally have done without the poles. i wanted to use them to extend the shade and invite the breezes and keep the rain and its weight off our 35-40 year old tent. i could live without that. but it was 53 degrees when i crawled out of the tent, with a heavy dew immediately wetting the cuffs of my pants. when the boys got up, they complained about the cold. in the tennessee mountains. and we were going to be a couple of hours south of canada.

so we went back to atlanta. while the rest of the camp woke up way early, doing jesus cheers, i shoveled some breakfast in them and we left the tent where it was, and trucked the 2 hours back home. everybody was forced to pee (but i don’t have to), and then they dug thru their drawers for thermal underwear and sweats. i found a bat. actually i had a list of things. 3 bs, a t and an f. let’s see if i can remember. bat, basket, something, oh never mind. i got them all at the time, which is what matters.

20 minutes later (minio was still there) we were back on the road, and we arrived back at camp 20 minutes before the bus left to go tubing. so it was all good.

we put on our water shoes and bathing suits. the boys wore their shirts. we walked up to the main building, where everybody waited around for awhile, and then got life jackets and picked out inner tubes, and tried to throw them up on top of the bus. it never worked, but the boys tried several times each until patience was lost and somebody threw the tubes up themself. then we joined everybody else in the bus. more cheers and chants. rah team. we were in front with the guides, and they were in their own world, separate from the rubes. the guides were mainly college kids, making a few bucks and living the river life for the summer. some of them would move up to the mountains when they finished school, and become river hippies for a few years, until their late 20s, when life, a wife, and kids would catch up to them. i know several of them; they’re a breed.

we retrieved our inner tubes off the top of the bus, and gathered on the slip next to the river. we were right below the ocoee dam, which was dry and looked unused, but i had been at emma and dallas’ when the dam released water and the river rose 4′ in 20 minutes. i’d asked several guides if i could have a line to tie all 4 tubes together, and they said yes, but never produced a line, and as the group entered the water, one of them flourished a line on his kayak and said we’d get to it once we were in the water. i was going to say something, but he was the experienced one, so in we went.

avery was lost to us immediately. he floated down the river all by himself, and we only caught glimpses of him every now and then. i grabbed kayden’s tube by one of its handles and kept hold of it, and we rowed backwards to keep even with connor, who kept falling off of his inner tube and splashing into the river. he knows how to swim, and had a life jacket on, but damn. the guide was right there with his kayak, and kept putting connor back on his inner tube, but he’d go down again. and it’s not because he was too small, either. they’d gone to pains to get him the smallest tube they had. it’s because he kept trying to stand up, or flip over onto his back or front, or sit up on the edge. again, squiggling. it’s a connor thing.

so he and the guide became fast friends, and everybody floated on down the river. eventually they came over to where kayden and i were, and we got the line and linked us all together. connor stayed still on his inner tube (because i had a constant eye out for him), and we could just see avery every now and then. we waved for him to come to us, but he ignored the suggestion and threw his head back to look at the passing trees.

it’s a wonderful river to float down, and it’s such a peaceful thing. no traffic, no traffic noises. no houses except up the hill away from the flood zone. just trees overhead, to the sides, and sometimes below – fallen into the river and making it necessary to paddle out of the way. the ride was about 2 miles? and took about 2 hours? but really it was timeless and endless, and we saw a blue heron fly up the river overhead, and i got to lean back and wash my hair in the river, and avery was waiting for us when we got there. he was shivering a little, but when the others came up they all ran around and dried off.

and then we packed up the camp and stowed everything, and drove back to the main highway, where there was a pizza joint, so we got a big pizza and the boys ran around the nextdoor farm (slightly pissing off the farmer, i think), and then we went to emma and dallas’, just across the street and down by the river.

emma and dallas live in a wonderful a-frame ten feet from the ocoee river. floating down the river, we’d passed it before i noticed. emma’s been sick, so we only stayed for a few hours. i fed the boys, and put them into the bunk beds, and then emma and i sat on the deck and talked until late. i don’t get to see her often enough. we finally went to bed; i slept in the attic room, and set my clock for 1am. which came right away. but it was sleep of a sort, and a short 8 hour trip to dc. or was that 10?

i roused the boys, who wanted to sleep walk, but i made them come all the way awake. they peed off the back of the deck, toward the river, and then went right back to sleep in the back of the truck, after only a little squabbling over space and elbows.

friday. and then i drove all night, into the dawn. i’ve often extolled the virtues of i-81, so i don’t have to here. it’s my favorite interstate highway. what i find increasingly troubling, however, is what this road does with time. i have a good time sense, and can usually tell what time it is without a watch. so it’s not that. it’s something to do with distance. somehow, every time i drive this road, it always takes significantly longer than it’s supposed to. and i made an effort to track it this time. not with a notebook, because i wasn’t set up to take notes as i usually am when i drive solo. but i noted when i passed this or that city, and mentally compared it to various map apps’ driving time. and it was always out, by over an hour. more about this later.

morning dawned, and we were only in bristol, which is halfway. i had been telling everybody that we would be getting in to northern virginia by breakfast, but it was 11:30 when we pulled in to mikie’s house to deliver presents for the kids. who weren’t there, so we made a quick getaway and were at the storage place by noon. the boys all helped cram everything from the truck into storage, and then we got to mom’s around 4, and took her out to dinner at an ihop not too far away. she had steak. i don’t know what the boys had. i fiddled with a salad. then we got back in the emptied truck and went to alexandria and parked it in a storage garage for the next 2 days. we hiked several blocks to the marriott in crystal city, got our room (upgraded to a suite wrapped around the elevator bay), got in our bathing suits, and went to the pool.

it was an indoor/outdoor pool, and the deep end was outdoors. it had a hot tub, just like in iceland, only with something bubbly on the surface mingling with a lot of unwashed body oils, unlike in iceland. it was heaven for the boys and myself, and we talked to an ex biker guy who was now a youth counselor, with an impressive beard and rippling tattoos on his arms and chest. mostly naked, in the hot tub next to me. his wife was also interesting, so we had a nice talk about the kids while the kids tried to drown each other in the deep end, and the lifeguards (students from eastern europe) stood like sheepdogs over them.

the bliss lasted for 30 minutes. and then they kicked us all out for the night, and we had to wait until 10am to go back. life is just not fair.

so we scrambled back to our room, thru the freezing corridors of endless conference rooms. the boys took their turns calling the elevator, pressing the floor button, and pressing the doors closed. we settled it first thing. and then it was in the room and get ready for bed. my part of the kingsized bed was comfortable. connor was asleep in moments on the other part – safely out of squiggling range for now – and kayden and avery got the foldout in the living room, and kept it at a whisper.

saturday. i had thought it was a free breakfast, but evidently not, and it was $40. the croissants were spongy. good thing i’d found a website that sold me cheap parking in a nearby garage, because you pay $40 a day to park at the marriott, with no in and out privileges either. grrr. after breakfast we went down to the pool, and texted mikie about our plans for the day. the zoo. and then mom.

we walked a tunnel directly from the hotel to the subway station, switched trains at metro center, and got out at the zoo stop, which is down the hill from the entrance. we noted some construction delays on the line, but didn’t think it would affect us because it was further out. hahahah

the national zoo is a wonderful zoo. it takes up many many acres of rock creek, and takes forever to see all of it. and it’s free. socialism at work. most of the museums are free in washington. and i grew up there. so i still hate paying to go to a museum anywhere in the world. that’s privilege for you.

mikie texted me when he and shan and the kids arrived by car, and we went way down the main drag to meet them in the lion exhibit. it’s a circle around several different habitats, and we found them over looking pride rock. so we all hung out there for 20 minutes or so, their 4 and my 3, and then we all moved on around the circle in a cluster. to the tigers. halfway around, with the family all lining up for a group photo in front of some imprisoned fellow-mammal, we noticed that kayden was missing. so shan kept track of the kids and mikie and i went opposite ways around the ring, until we got back to where we’d been sitting, and found kayden perched under a tree on the bank, sniffling and looking scared. that’s one. or no, i guess connor falling off the inner tube a bunch of times should be one. so kayden is two almost-catastrophes. there’s always three, right?

we wandered to the primates and the otters and the vultures and the white wolf (who hid from avery’s camera), and the bears and seals and i forget what. it took several hours, and it was quite hot. we took advantage of every misting station we found, and the boys were very helpful showing other kids how to turn it back on when it shut off after a while. and then we said goodbye for a while, and mikie’s family returned to their car, and ours went back to the subway. first we got hotdogs and sat down to eat them. 4 hotdogs, 4 drinks, 4 chips was $30. cheap.

and then we were affected by the construction work on the line. evidently the washington metro has been spending money on things other than keeping up the tracks, so there are massive problems and massive repair work, and they’ve been single tracking for a long time now. so we waited on the platform until a train came along, and then we got on, only to discover that we were going the wrong way. they we got on the right train, but got off on the wrong stop for our change, so had to wait for another one. and when we got to the right stop to change, our train was one of those affected, and we had a very long wait for it.

so when we finally got to our destination, tyson’s corner, we were way way later than mikie, who had been hanging out with mom and the kids at barnes and noble for a long time. mom was sitting in a chair fonding a random book, and the kids were all upstairs with mikie and shan, and i sat there with her for 20 minutes, talking about nothing in particular. she was in a good mood, for the most part. i was glad to be sitting still in a cushioned seat with my mom in a good mood.

eventually we collected the kids and walked down to the food court at the other end of the mall. mom had brought a rolly chair/walker with her, and stumbled along for awhile, then decided to sit in it, even to it’s not really a wheelchair. i took the handles and pushed her backwards, joking with her about every little thing. we had a good time. it was a long walk. the kids resisted all the stores until we passed the disney store, and the girls just walked on in and made themselves at home. so we hung out in front of the store while the boys went in to see what the fuss was about. it was all girl stuff, except there were action figures. but i went in and rescued them from that.

we stopped at panera and got lunch. it was crowded, but magically a large table appeared empty soon after we arrived, so we colonized it, and everybody fit but me and mikie, who occupied the adult table adjacent to it. everybody got stuff to eat – all of these steps take a really long time because both kids and moms can’t make up their minds and want things they can’t have, and throw hissy fits when they’re told no. i picked at my salad and talked to mikie, who was tired. mom enjoyed her great-grandkids. shan looked stressed but doing okay.

then we walked most of the way back to the bookstore to where we had come in from the subway. there’s an astroturfed parklet there, where people hang out. with a plastic toddler-sized chess set (tho they’ve painted out the chessboard as it conflicted with the other decor (or something)). the boys let loose and the girls joined them, and shan and i sat on a bench and talked. mom and mikie had stayed behind so he could go get her phone fixed at the phone store, and i was surprised when my phone went off. it was mikie. mom had fallen, and i was needed.

so i took off and walked as fast as i could back toward the phone store. but mikie yelled from across the hall halfway there, and i saw him on the phone, with mom hunched over on her chair with her arms over her head, and a security guard looking concerned nearby. she’d been siting on the chair, and mikie had been pushing her, and he’d hit a rubber gasket on the floor, and she went over backwards and hit her head on the marble floor.

and omg there was a golfball sized lump on her head already, and it was bleeding, and she was shaky. mikie was on the phone to 911 and they were sending an ambulance. so we just had to wait, and nothing could actually be done until the ems people got there. we had security people, tho. including a nice young cop, who mom kept noticing was very nice looking, and saying so.

it took about 20 minutes for the ambulance to get there, with deathbed humor and frequent checks on mom’s condition. mikie gave me his car keys and we fished mom’s id out of her wallet. mom complained of a headache and a stiff neck, and various pains in her ribs and chest, and began to get shaky and mottled looking around her mouth. and then the ems people showed up and everybody backed away as they took readings and got her ready to transport and fixed her up with oxygen. we made more jokes, and then we all paraded most of the way to where shan and the kids were, to the loading dock of macy’s where they’d come in. mom hardly noticed my goodbye kiss. mikie went with them, and i went back to the play area, gave shan the keys (frantic calls to mikie to find out where he’d actually put the car), and then took the boys back to the subway. where we had to wait almost an hour to catch a subway back to the hotel. and got only 10 minutes in the pool before it shut down for the night.

sunday. i set the clock for 6, but woke at 5 with the quarter moon shining in my eyes. so we got up, dressed (everything was fully packed), and hiked to the truck, retrieved it from the bowels of the other hotel parking garage, and drove to the storage unit as the sun was coming up. we loaded, then i made the boys run twice around the long storage building before getting into the truck. then we drove to a dunkin donuts nearby and got coffee and crap, and we were on the road at 8am.

it was during this leg of the drive when i first noticed individual peculiarities in the boys’ travel habits.  we practice three travel rules in our family (just ask the boys’ mother:  she hates this part).  eat when you can, pee when you can, sleep when you can.  because when you’re traveling you never know when you’ll get the chance.  avery takes forever in the bathroom.  i don’t know what he’s doing; preening in the mirror, probably.  connor is in and out, and i have no complaints about him, but he does love his soap and the electric dryers.  and kayden only pretends to pee and washes his hands like a dry martini (waving them over the faucet).  each time we would take a rest stop, we would be delayed for about 15 minutes while i waited for the boys to finish messing around where i couldn’t get to them.  and as soon as we got back on the road, kayden would tell me he had to go, urgently.  so i’d have to get off at the next exit.  and when we were on the pennsylvania turnpike, where you don’t just get off at the next exit but look for a rest area on the turnpike, we had to go an hour between rest areas, so finally we had to pull off at an emergency wide place in the road, which was horrific – our truck shook as the 18-wheelers roared by  – while the boy got out of the truck and went to pee over the guard rail.

it’s supposed to be a 4 hour drive from dc to pittsburgh. the campsite is only a little ways north of the city.  and tho we did stop twice, to let the boys run around, pee, gas up, and eat, and tho i took a wrong turn in the end and had to bushwhack cross country for a few miles to get to our destination, it was 4pm when we finally arrived. and we’d left at 8.  so that’s 8 hours on the road.  even with stops, we weren’t hanging around for 4 hours.  it’s just too much missing time to account for.  i think aliens might could be involved.


they work off the energy i need while i sit in the car and close my eyes for a few minutes


there were some really nice rest areas on our trip; whole acres of field where the boys could race


avery defines his space, connor rigs up his own wall


i’m sure there’d be a wall between them too, if they weren’t sharing a tablet


another rest area on the pa turnpike, with services.  and dogs


bushwhacking thru some old industrial mountain towns


connor messing with his spacer, excited to finally be at pennsic – that’s a sea of tents in the background

i couldn’t explain our lateness to dallas, who was anxiously waiting for us. we unloaded only the tent things from the truck, and unpacked the tent, but i couldn’t for the life of me remember how to set it up. others in the camp were unfamiliar with this kind of tent, so tho they tried, they couldn’t figure it out either.  it was a very frustrating hour that dallas and i and the boys and alan spent trying to get it going.


mainly, the boys stayed out of the way while we struggled with the tent, not shown

in the end, dallas pointed out that we still needed to go shopping, and the stores were going to close soon, and it was a 20 minute drive to the grocery store in the next town. also, there was an empty tent with an air mattress in it, and we could use it that night. so we abandoned the fruitless task and went out for food and ice, and when we came back we ate ravioli and some other canned something, and piled into a kind neighbor’s tent.

and as this is the end of the non-medieval part of our trip, i’ll stop here, and resume with our entry into medieval pennsylvania when i continue the post.

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