Monthly Archives: August 2011

On the way to India

January 30, 2011 – Between Guatemala City and Miami
We flew along the Cuban coast and over the green puzzle of the Everglades in a sky so clear that the view below might have been an enlarged version of a satellite picture: the turquoise brush strike of the reef lazily following the white, sandy edge of the coastal beaches; the shadows of the clouds casting over the ocher land of Florida the silhouettes of huge, somber lakes.

The Everglades' Puzzle

Being, from the very start, launched from  the futuristic base of Miami Airport was a strange introduction to India.  I must have been away from the United States and the First World for too long, because everything astonishes me as new and unfamiliar.  The Miami Airport was one example with its neat palm trees planted like soldiers along the landing strip and its sleek Sky Train shooting from one terminal to another like, well…yes a sky train.  I was reminded of Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 time train.  We could have been moving into space, so unobstructed was the view into a fiery Florida sunset, with airplanes taking off from both sides like rockets.  I might have been noticing airplanes for the first time.
Yes, definitely, I have been gone for too long I was thinking, while marveling at those – oh so elegant – Italians waiting at Immigration.  We don’t have such nice shoes-and look at those handbags-in Guatemala, let alone the people to wear them.
The Immigration and Security people were even friendly and smiling, instead of barking and scowling at you. Something has definitely changed here after all those complaints of people being unceremoniously pawed in front of everybody.  They didn’t even try to send you through the body scanner, not that I was planning to go anyway.

And then, there was a flat screen t.v. in my hotel room.  Another novelty for the yokel that I’ve become.  And CNN too, showing and commenting demonstrations in Cairo, demonstrations as fiery as the sunset a few hours earlier.  I was up until late, riveted to the television, something I hadn’t done in many, many years.
I was flying from surprise to surprise as a message from the sports drinks and soft drinks lobby warned US mothers against letting, the government raise a tax on these wholesome choices that allowed them to keep the kids pudgy, while still balancing the budget.  Mothers of America, unite!!!  That’s the true spirit of democracy.
Yep, I have been gone for too long.  Will India manage to surprise me as much in its exoticism that the United States in its own version of it?

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From Varanasi

Varanasi, February 4, 2011

I will not get up at five tomorrow morning and go for a dip in the Ganges.  Too early, potentially too cold and, in spite of the fact that faith is the best antibiotic I’m told, I lack in faith.  To put it plainly I am a chicken.  But I plan to come back to Varanasi, that’s the wish I made while floating on the Ganges at dusk and launching a ghee (butter) lamp garlanded with marigolds into its the murky waters.

This is where I will not be tomorrow morning

Varanasi might be a good place to start veiling one’s face, that’s what I did tonight while crossing the ancient town in a rickshaw; the air feels somewhat like what blows back in your face from your vacuum cleaner bag if you shake it a little too much while changing it: dust and ashes, with the added bonus of incense, human excrement and urine, cow dung, open air sewers and the occasional whiff of rose attar mingled with smoke of course from the pyres on the shore where they burn the dead.  A veil filters some of that and prevents your throat from getting too scratchy.
And yet, I love it all, the filth and the smells, the crumbling buildings with the surprise of an Anglican church besides a gingerbready mosque; the gentle cows (and bulls too) lying in shops, happily chewing their cud and minding their own business while respectable, bespectacled Hindu lady inspect yards of extravagantly embroidered,brocaded and sequined silks in tart lollipop colors.  I love those two men carefully carrying a vat of boiling milk across the street; the be-turbaned head of another man peeking way up there from a narrow window; the Babus and Krishnas and Carlos (!!!) who follow you through the crowd, never letting go as they try to sell you bindis, postcards, any trinket really and make you promise to buy tomorrow, because today you have no money of course. I can’t count anymore all the promises I have broken already; keeping on like that might very well attract Kali’s wrath upon me.

Yesterday was Saraswati’s festival in Varanasi, and it continues today, which means that the rickshaw had to wend its way through mini-floats bearing the goddess’ effigy, each surrounded by a flock of exuberant young men, their faces painted red and having great fun jumping like monkeys around the goddess, singing, laughing and having more of a boy’s night out apparently than a spiritual experience.  I might be wrong about that.
The noise, music, honking is deafening.  I can still hear it from my room: ear plugs tonight will definitely be de rigueur.  And, on this, I am going to sleep.  I had my calls blocked until 8 am, in case some practical joker might try to wake me up.
India is wonderful but it takes its tolls, that might be the punishment for my broken promises.

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