Wednesday, January 31, 2007


To every thing, turn turn turn
There is a season, turn turn turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

-The Byrds [Ecclesiastes 3:1-8]

Some thoughts and changes sneak up on you, gathering weight and momentum . Others, it seems like, are the headline on page 2 of the newspaper: "Newsflash: This isn't Working, Try Something Else." On occasion, I think this entire blog could be summed up as "Ch-ch-ch-changes (Turn and face the strange ... CHANGES!)" And it annoys me to no end.

But maybe that is life, a series of changes - some incremental, some great, bounding leaps. To be all black turtleneck about it, we begin dying as soon as we are born. (Freaking black turtleneck - I hate that thing!)

So what manner of change am I pontificating about today? Recently, it dawned on me that I am entering a wintry phase. This has nothing to do with the actual season, and is more a reflection on my desire to turn inwards, to some extent - to nest. For however long this phase lasts, I do not want to make external effort. I do not want to call people, or organize things, or make plans, or .... anything. That's not to say that I won't be accepting any of these things, just that - for the time being - the giving side of the operation is going on hiatus.

Ah, winter. I want to read, to work out, to write, to knit, to nap, to take long, blustery walks, to take photos. I remember reading that tulip bulbs must experience a freeze in order to bloom in the spring. That's where I am - I need some kind of isolation and inner focus in order to spring forward.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


It started as a joke (like many traditions, I would think.) As an homage to its joke-y beginnings, every third year or so, it consists of meeting up at a bowling alley. (And I'm a crappy bowler!) Now, it's an opportunity to see (nearly) everyone I know (locally), meet some new people, and watch worlds collide. It's interesting to see which coworkers get along with which friends, see what they vibe about, etc.

Yes, tonight is my birthday par-tay! This year's theme is "My Super Sweet Sixteen - Times Two!" (WTF am I talking about? This year's theme? This is the first year WITH a theme!) As usual, I'm having a little war with myself: I'm starting to get anxious - I want everyone to have a good time, at the same time I think that things will take care of themselves.

I love having one thing I do every year. Pre-lawschool, I used to have a wine-tasting party (and when I feel more settled, I would like to start that up again.) Every year I send out an eVite, and I always try to invite everyone. (This year, I'm feeling a little bad because I forgot my dentist - next year!) It's a weird little check on the drama level in my life: is there anyone I do not want there? Someone I'd rather not see? I'm pleased to say that this year, no one fits that bill. Actually, it's always like that - every year, I invite every (local) person I've ever dated (even the fiascos upon which TBF wants me to base my tragicomic novel), every former coworker in my age range, etc. This is not because I am so great that I rise about the petty grievances -it's because I would really like to see all of them. And, it's guaranteed small doses: while I would not necessarily want to stay up all night chatting with everyone I invite, I would like to catch up with them, find out what is new in their world.

I'm excited, and it's time for me to try and "get into character" with the whole D*I*V*A! thing. Wish me luck :)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I visited my high school after I had started college. I stopped my to see Mrs. C., who had been my Geometry, Algebra II, and Calculus teacher, as well as my homeroom teacher. Homeroom was kind of awesome because she had a daughter at a different high school. We would talk about crazy-ass things our parents said or did, and she would get advice about her daughter. Visiting her classroom, I expected to just sort of say, "Hi" and maybe chat with her while the students did some in-class work, or something. Um, nope, she announced that I would be teaching the class about arithmetic and geometric series. She took a seat and kind of smiled and nodded while I stumbled my way through it.

This "blast from the past" is brought to you my thoughts today. I am thinking about patterns and series, coincidences and near-misses. Maybe also Newton's laws: how once a ball is rolling, it seems to keep on moving. Luck and good fortune pile up, and so does the crap. Often, from the right angle, there is a pattern in everything. The hard part is finding that angle: to stare at the picture long enough for the stereogram to emerge. And sometimes, no matter how you try to put the pieces together, the common factor, the design remains inscrutable.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


So, two things:

(1) During my trip, I finally (FINALLY) re-connected with my actual, physical journal habit. (So, um, I fulfilled my New Year's resolution in the last week of the year - nice!) However, that has meant not ... connecting with the blog.

(2) I've been a crazy insomniac/jetlagger. I think it's more the former than the latter, simply b/c my sleep "schedule" does not in any way map to sleepy-time in in India. And the non-sleep thing started while I was in India. One thing about insomnia: much like the cold, or any other illness, the person going through it finds it waaaay more fascinating than their friends, and thus bores everyone to tears.

One travel tip: if at all possible, leave for a trip with clean sheets on the bed, one meal in the freezer, and at least a half tank of gas in the car. Little things: Starting work again on Tuesday, I was joyful to see my coworkers again - they are truly phenomenal people, and I'm so lucky to work with them . The guy at Trader Joe's (who I call "my favorite pirate" - after his Halloween costume) remarked on my absence and asked about my trip. Yesterday, after yog-ah!, I went to Cafe Borrone. There, an elderly black lab used crazy voo-doo intense staring to get me to do her bidding: some perfunctory head petting which quickly moved into a full-on belly rub. I drove to the city last night, up the 101 and into the little lights sparkling in the hills. I'm re-connecting, and falling in love with, my life all over again.

Monday, January 15, 2007


When I was finally, finally back in my apartment, I sort of flitted around touching things. My friend asked me if I was anxious, or stressed - but I wasn't really. I just wanted to commune with my stuff - run my fingers along the spines on the bookshelf, examine the contents of my freezer. I wanted to just run around my apartment, obsessively opening and closing drawers.

It's so nice to have the comforts of home again. To sleep in my bed, to shower in my own bathroom (with access to all of my products!) To walk around in a state of undress (this is a major benefit to living alone, in my opinion.)

I've been enjoying other things, too: getting ice in my drink, driving (and being on the road without total, abject fear of death), talking to friends, and best of all - doing absolutely nothing.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Message waiting for me on my voicemail:

"DAMN! I'm sorry, this is a wrong number - but you suuuuuure sound good"

(For those who have never listened to my voicemail message, it is not in the least interesting - it's a recitation of the digits and a request to leave a message, all left in my "dear god, is my voice really that high????" voice.)


When I was younger and we traveled as a family, my father at some point on each trip would say "This is it - this is where I'm going to retire." Penang, New Zealand's North Island, Perth, etc. etc. All told, Dad must have chosen 20+ retirement spots (the irony, of course, being that he is retired now. And living in the same Northern VA house my parents have lived in for over twenty years.)

I have found my first retirement spot. I absolutely *loved* Pondicherry! It is split into two parts: the Tamil side, and the French side, with street names appropriate to each. (I imagine some "West Side Story"-esque song and dance sequences, but one can only hope.) I stayed in a cute little guest house on the French side (on Rue Francois Martin - oddly cedille-less.) The French side of town is all louvered windows, whitewashed balconies and pastel-coloured houses. In typical French style, the names of the streets are on

I went to Auroville, the Sri Aurobindo ashram just outside Pondicherry. Oddly, it reminded me of Sedona - different topography, weather, etc., but the same red earth and the same peaceful, calming energy. The Matri Mandir is oddly .... "Star Trek" (and, yes, I mean the old skool one.) Walking around the grounds is like a South Indian botany class - tamarind, cocoa, mango, etc.

For breakfast, I had a croissant, for lunch - Indo-French (Franco-Indian?) As much as I love South Indian food, it's nice to get a break from it. (If I see another vada staring at me in the morning, I may scream.) I went for a walk along the water, stopping to admire the Gandhi memorial. (As a sidenote: guys here are L.A.M.E. - but this is a surprise to no one.) I had my fortune told, not something I would have chosen to do - but the person I was with had hers done, and wanted me to get mine done as well. The person was uncannily accurate (ex. that I'm a lawyer, that I have two younger brothers), and also hit some ... obvious notes (ex. I will have a "love" marriage - I'm not married at 32, arranged is looking ... unlikely. Frankly, I'm not so into the 'marriage' idea at all, but that is a post for another time.) Apparently, people will take the things I say the wrong way for the next three months. Beautiful. (And different how, exactly?)

I think Pondicherry fits with other cities I have loved: it is on the smallish side - not so small that it's boring, not so big that you can't explore it on foot and take its pulse in a day or two. I will definitely be back.


And with that, we take you back to our regularly scheduled broadcast. I am back in the US and will be once again boring you with the minutiae of my life.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Ah, Chennai - you are as nasty, polluted, and crowded as I remember. Except, maybe more so. I will say that it was kind of a trip to be in "the city of my birth" a week before my bday.

This was supposed to be the trip where I stopped hating visiting India. Chennai didn't do very much to move me in that direction. All of my old complaints have been reawakened (and more.) I have no idea why things take so long here (example - checking out of a hotel - over 1/2 hour.) Things are so randomly officious - all kinds of stampings, and copying over, and filling out in triplicate with carbon paper (CARBON PAPER), accounts kept in ledgers, etc.

I got to speak French (a day early)! And translate! I was at the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corp.'s office and translated for a French tourist. I'm surprised at how words came back to me - it was definitely not thinking in French, it was sort of like a video game: conceptualizing an idea or a sentence, and having a bubble percolate up fromt eh depts, popping open to reveal the French phrase.

At the Fort St. George museum, where I paid the Indian rate (ha ha, suckers!), I was surprised by how much the portraiture of the Indian rulers from back in the day look like my friends. But, dressed up and without a Sierra Nevada in their hands.

The Government Museum had all kinds of interesting statues, etc. And no bloody explanations. I shouldn't be so sore about it, but I know that people have come and studied these sculptures and that there is a LOT to say about them. So far, besides natural beauty, nothing in any Indian tourist spot takes more than 20 minutes to see, largely because there is so little explanation. At times, I have turned to my guidebook(s) because they tell you more about the things on display than the display itself. Don't mind me - this is what happens when you grow up in the DC-area and are absolutely spoiled by the Smithsonian.

Tomorrow: Pondicherry - on y va!!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


My advice: if you come to Kochi - try to stay in the Fort Cochin area. It has loads more character than... just about everywhere else. It's also where the tourist spots are. Actually, when I get back I may write up a post about my recommendations/highlights, etc.

I had my first fight with an autorickshaw driver (conducted, of course, in two languages.) I was yelling at him that he was totally ripping me off (he was), and then I realized that I was arguing over the equivalent of less than $1 and got over it. It's weird, I don't mind paying more for things here - I'd say I'm okay with being overcharged to the tune of 20-50%. I can deal with that. But, when it seems to be getting above that, it really steams me.

Everywhere in Kerala there are political meetings conducted in the open, on the sides of roads (complete with LOUDspeakers.) The one I saw this morning on the way to the ferry - everyone on "stage" was dressed in what I now think of as Kerala white.

I have had some truly fabulous food here - appams that were perfectly light and crispy at the edges, doughy and satisfying in the middle with that slightly sweet finish, meen curry spicy enough to help you see through time.

Next stop: Chennai (or as my dad called it in an email "the city of my birth"), then a 2 day jaunt to Pondicherry and I head home late, late, late Friday night.

Monday, January 08, 2007


More random observations from the road: I took a 2 day trip with people who are tangentially related to me. From The Village, we headed to Munnar to experience the fresh air, drive the winding roads through the tea estates and check out Rajmalai Park.

I once visited Minnesota in June and people, to my shock, had shorts on. For me, while it was not actively cold, it certainly wasn't warm - and it was nowhere near hot enough for shorts. Indians strike me the same way - they seemto find it much colder here than I do. People have donned "monkey caps" and sweaters. For all the care that people take while dressing, cold weather measures are apparently exempt. I have seen some truly horrifying sweater and sari combos! Wearing a cardigan on top of a sari gives aunties sliken, pleated tails.

Indians don't seem to have the notion of a walk just to see the scenery, or or simply ('zimbly') the walk's sake. Like seeing some Nilgiri ibex up close wasn't enough, a man asked us if there was anythign to see up ahead. One of the uncles amusingly said "a few gods." The questioner went on to ask about number and type to see whether the gods would be sufficient motivation for his family to continue on.

So far, Munnar has been my favorite spot o the trip. The rolling sea of tea, bushes set in strips. Oddly, it reminded me of wine country (but maybe everything reminds you of home when you are away.) The views were beautiful - totally different from the Keralan coast. It was obvious where the tea money ran out - the road suddenly because dramatically worse a few miles beyond the last tea estate.

Periyar sanctuary was also beautiful. We didn't see very many animals, but the boat trip on the lake was so peaceful and serene in comparison to being on the road. While on the boat, I realized that taking photos has become like game hunting - less about the experience itself and mroe about baggin the "trophy." (Obviously, photo safaris are much better for animals!) All the people who scramble to take pictures of the animal's retreating rump - I wonder how often (if at all) they will look at their snaps.

The Village

I took the train from Thiruvananthapuram to The Village - one of my goals while in India. (And finished another goal - reading Rushdie. I read "Shalimar the Clown" - RECOMMEND!) I've started jotting down notes in my journal - no matter how shakey the handwriting - so that I have something to jog my memory. A few notes:

  • Apparently, that oft-repeated saying that there are more accidents on American roads than Indian ones is pure bunk. The Indian tourists I met while on my tour of Thiruvananthapuram laid that one to rest - as it turns out, many (if not most) accidents are not reported and thus do not figure into the statistics.
  • The walls of Indian homes have banks of light switches and dials, controlling lights, ceiling fans and mysteries.
  • There are lots and lots of roadside signs related to driving safety and civic-mindedness. For example, 'Keep your side, save your hide" Still, being driven in India is nerve-jangling. It requires something like a zen-like detachment and a focus on the driver's head. Driving school here must be a trip, I saw 2 different students on the road. Each had a death grip on the steering wheel and ramrod-straight posture.
  • Watching cricket is like watching curling - the announcer assumes you already know the ins and outs of the game and doesn't take time to explain. Sadly, my working knowledge of cricket comes from watching "Lagaan." I'm not kidding. I've watched cricket on nearly every trip to India, but never had anything explained to me. It reminds me of when I was five and asked my father how the scoring in tennis works. He told me to watch the game and figure it out. Parents and would-be parents: that is really CRAPPY advice! I mean ... love, 15, 30, 40, deuce, advantage, tiebreak, etc. - some things require an explanation.
  • Ah, Kerala - where the men have more ear and facial hair than actual hair.

Here in Kerala, I'm like the Italian cousin - somehow related, but .... different and a little laughable in my cluelessness and lack of language skills. I've decided that all of the staring makes me some kind of a celebrity. Maybe I'll start wearing huge sunglasses a la Nicole Ritchie (or dressing in baglady-chi a la Marykate and Ashley.)


I awoke thinking that I had injured my tongue. In my sleep-fog, I examined it in the miror. Satisfied that it was whole, I returned to bed. Now, I think that my tongue was changing configuration - hinging in the middle to pronoune the polysyllabic, metered words here. Exchanging one for the other - Thiruvananthapuram for Trivanduram, Kunyakumari for Cape Cormorin.

I don't know what people want me to be here, and the question of identity seems to be at the forfront. Like so many things, there is no proper answer. If I say that I am American, people insist that I am Indian "but settled in the U.S." If I give them that answer, they tell me that I am American. I think what people really want - what is important to them - is to place me in a category themselves, to affix the label like a "Hello, My Name is" sticker at a convention.

I went to the sea. I expected to to speak to me, but all I heard was my own voice telling it that it is not my ocean. Beofre I could really miss the Pacific, I began to feel connected to the sea, vibrations along a long, long, invisible thread.

Contradictions and ironies are everywhere. People here are modest, theoretically, yet the men show more leg than any of the styles in H&M last summer. It's all about the mini-lunghi apparently. So, the men are walking around in mini-skirts and I get looked at askance if I don't wear a duputta with my loose-ass salwar. (Duputta and backpack do NOT work well together.) It shouldn't surprise me, modesty has always been applied nearly exclusively to women.

I am over being cranky-pants (cranky-churidar?) about this trip - it's starting to find its own rhythym now. So far, this has been my best trip to India - but that is thanks to the low expectations standard.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Station Identification

I wrote pages and pages and pages in my journal on the train from Trivanduram to Ernakulam. Lots of observations about travel in India and life in general. At some point, some subset of these pages and pages will make it here as a blogpost. But not now. Blogging will recommence once I am out of The Village. (Hopefully, Jan. 7 or 8.) Ah, sweet Internets at non-dialup speed - how I miss you!