03 July 2008

Drawing conclusions

This blog has been silent for quite some time, and I think the hiatus marked the unofficial end of "First Canada, and then the World!" I'm now in Seattle, I'm busy and happy and transitioning and missing India all in one breath. But I have no doubt that I will return to the Tamil Nadu heat before too long, if only to indulge in fresh grape juice, Classic Milds and the company of dear, dear friends. In the meanwhile, I'll be starting a new series of written ramblings here: chezmaddie.wordpress.com

À Bientôt!

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last long aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost, "Reluctance" (thanks to Nina McConigley for reminding me of this poem)

29 April 2008

Brighton. Doug. Li. Transitioning.

Abel's Index

Number of months in India: 8
Number of states visited in India: 4
Number of states in India: 28
Average temperatures in Chennai in December: High 27C, Low 21C
Average temperatures in Chennai in May: High 36C, Low27C
Average amount (in Indian Rupees) spent on cell phone per week: 121
Number of times cell phone stolen while in India: 2
Cost of a Masala Dosa in Chennai: Rs28 / $0.70 / £0.35
Cost of a Masala Dosa in New York City: Rs270 /$6.75 /
Cost of a Masala Dosa in London, UK: Rs875 / $21.86 /
Number of days taken off from work: 19
Number of times I beat Kovitz at ping-pong while in Thailand: 4
Number of times Kovitz beat me at ping-pong in Thailand: Dozens

Number of train rides while in India: 6
Number of plane rides while in India: 6
Number of bus rides while in India: too many to count
Number of road accidents personally experienced while in India: 2
Number of journals completed while in India: 2
Number of trade book fairs attended as Tara's representative: 2
Number of trade book fairs attended in life: 2
Number of months until seeing Gita and Sirish at Frankfurt Book Fair: 6
Number of times appeared on Indian national television: 2
Number of books read while in India: 12
Number of times Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino read while in India: 3
Number of boxes of books mailed from India home to Seattle: 5
Average number of Hindi classes per week while in Chennai: 2.5
Average number of cups of coffee per day while in India: 4
Total weight in kilograms of luggage when leaving India: 27.3

07 April 2008

Tamil Nadu, tu vas me manquer beaucoup!

Tonight - well, technically tomorrow morning at 4am - I board a flight to London's Gatwick airport. My time here as a Tara intern has come to an end. It breaks my heart to leave these people and this microcosm of happiness, even if I am leaving for all the right reasons.

Actually, it feels as if I have been punched in the gut. What to do?

31 March 2008

Last weeks in Chennai

A Photo Essay

Intern and the "Bosses:" (l to r) Sirish, V. Geetha, myself and Gita

Extended Family (Arun and Nina added to the mix, with Helmut as photographer)

The Fancy-Pants Collective.

I'm obsessed with my Indian nighty. Sirish loves his cheetah prints. This photo was inevitable.

Nina and Nancy on Nancy's 21st birthday.

One of my favourite photos: Gita and Sirish take a break from writing.

The mad scramble to make repping kits (dummy copies of our forthcoming releases that go to all of our North American sales reps). Could not have done this without Nancy, Ranjith, Senthil and Mr. A.

I guess technically this is Bangalore, but I still think it's a classic.

Dinner at Mr. A's, with the requisite dancing. Naya showed us how it was done.

I'm surrounded by strong women in India. It's the best part of my day-to-day.

Nina and I on our Farewell Lunch at Amethyst. Our stomachs hurt from the thought of leaving, but you can't tell.


Fresh Zone, our juice shop, and Jayalakshmi Medicals (where, as Nina noted, you can get medication without a prescription).

Rainy streets near the beach

27 March 2008


Have reverted to a diet consisting of 1.5 meals per day, 27 cups of coffee and far too many cigarettes.

This can only mean one thing: separation anxiety.

And, in case you're curious, here's what an Abel-bodied life looks like over the next two months:

April 8: Fly to London-Gatwick
April 8-11: Stay with Great Aunt Daphne (paternal side of things) and attend to Tara business/art exhibitions.
April 11-17: Visit with Doug and Li Elsey in Brighton (it's about damn time).
April 17-21: Abel family reunion on the isle of Manhattan
April 21: Drive with the Dons to Muskoka. 10 hour parental road trip - watch out!
April 25: Dawn, ever the trooper, goes in for surgery #4.
May 10-ish: Move to Seattle, WA!

20 March 2008

At times like these, I make lists.

The Top 5 Reasons Why I'm Excited to Go Back to North America:
1) Don, Dawn and David
2) (tie) My Pacific NW Gents: Kovitz, Daniel, Adam
2) (tie) My Pacific NW Gals: Mirmo, V, Hols
4) Bike rides & dog walks & camping in the mountains
5) Not being harassed by drunken auto-wallahs and crowds of teenage boys

The Top 5 Reasons Why I Can't Bear the Thought of Leaving India:
1) (tie) My Madras gals: Gita, V. Geetha, Nina, Nancy, Rajeswari, Suseela, Natalia
1) (tie) My Madras gents: Mr. A, Sirish, Ranjith, Helmut
3) Fresh foods and spices (especially fruits and juices)
4) Evening walks along Elliot's Beach & evening bike rides to Kotturpuram
5) Waving to and laughing with my autowallah friends, juice stand crew and neighbourhood aunties

(I've never felt so emotionally schizophrenic in my life)

19 March 2008

there's no taming the phoenix

Today I have not been a good feminist. I’m actually quite ashamed. It’s all well and good until you’re challenged to live your politics. And so I offer as a hymn of penance these lines from Ani Difranco, who always seems to put it best in such scenarios:

“…and god help you if you are an ugly girl
of course, too pretty is also your doom
’cause everyone harbours a secret hatred
for the prettiest girl in the room.
and god help you if you are a phoenix
and you dare to rise up from the ash.
a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy
while you are just flying past.” from “32 Flavours”

To days of greater solidarity.

18 March 2008

A better-than-average Tuesday

The makings of a good day:

1) The prior evening spent drinking wine and eating Chinese food with a good friend.
2) 7:45am wake-up for rushed homework before 8:30am Hindi class (also taken with and taught by good friends)
3) Hour and a half spent reading old texts and eccentric treatises on yoga in the lush and aromatic courtyard of Madras' Theosophical Society Library.
4) Happy return of boss from oppressive, materialistic, misogynistic country/book-fair. Having Gita in the office makes the team complete, which in turn makes the office hum. She came back with interesting design concepts and stories that would make Margaret Atwood's hair curl.
5) Lovely co-worker makes infamous coconut rice. Lunch spent being sassed, walking to the market for diet cokes and oranges, and enjoying other habitual affairs.

Someday I'll post about Madurai and Coorg and Bangalore. Just you wait. In the meantime, check out these publishers:
MCCM Creations


14 March 2008

Damp and Happy

I absolutely love rainy days in India. There's something relieving about the low, continuous rumble of a thunderstorm cooling off the otherwise humid Chennai streets. While I will always associate downpours with our flooded house, I also cannot help but express gratitude for the cool breezes and lower temperatures that linger after an unexpected March shower.

India is making it very difficult indeed to say goodbye.

12 March 2008

"Sweetness" by Stephen Dunn

Just when it has seemed I couldn't bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn't leave a stain,
no sweetness that's ever sufficiently sweet. ...

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don't care

where it's been, or what bitter road
it's traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

"Sweetness" by Stephen Dunn, from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994.

Brief News Update:

So I've got good news and I've got bad news. I'll start with the bad, as I do like to end these entries on a positive note.

Last night my cell phone was stolen as I was riding to the beach. I was on my bike, texting as I pedaled down the street (I know, I know, unsafe in its own right). It was about 8:30pm, and there were several pedestrians and fellow cyclists about. Suddenly, two bandanna-masked (no joke) guys on a scooter rammed into me on my right side, knocking me off my bike onto the road. They proceeded to prey on my state of total surprise, kicking me while I was down and nicking my cell phone. To top it off, they yelled "Sorry" as they drove off into the night. So if you get a call from my Indian number, do make sure you yell at the hooligans on the other end, because I'm right pissed at them.

The much brighter news is that my dearest, loveliest friend Tesla (who is just wrapping up a year and a half teaching and living in Japan before traveling south east asia) received early acceptance to the MA program at the University of Toronto's Department of English. She's a brilliant academic rock star, and might actually start to believe this about herself. Congrats, my love. Congrats.

Will post soon about my fantastic weekend with Nina in the Coorg region of Karnataka. My pictures are here: http://picasaweb.google.com/jennifah.abel/Coorg

04 March 2008

My family in India...

We had to take team photos for the award we just won at Bologna, and I thought I'd post some shots to show the people who have become very good, life-long friends. From left to right: Bottom row: Arumugam (Mr. A), yours truly, V.Geetha, Nina, Nancy; Top Row: Ari, Sirish, Gita and Rajeshwari.

V.Geetha and I: If I were still in academia, I would have a serious crush on this woman and take all of her classes. Instead, I just take Hindi from her mom.

The ladies.

Nancy (far right) never smiles in photos. So I told her I wouldn't smile too.
It's really an inside joke, but I love this picture.

Muji. Office Dog. Fat, Lazy and Lovable.

28 February 2008

It's best to read Barthes aloud, alone, at 1am.

From Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse

Waiting: … And, long after the amorous relation is allayed, I keep the habit of hallucination the being that I have loved: Sometimes I am still in anxiety over a telephone call that is late, and no matter who is on the line, I imagine I recognize the voice I once loved: I am an amputee who still feels pain in his missing leg.

Am I in love? -- Yes, since I am waiting. The other never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn't wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game: whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover's fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits.

A mandarin fell in love with courtesan. "I shall be yours," she told him. "when you have spent a hundred nights waiting for me, sitting on a stool, in my garden, beneath my window." But on the ninety ninth night, the mandarin stood up, put up his stool under his arm, and went away…

Dark Glasses (the amorous subject wonders, not whether he should declare his affection to the object of said affection, but to what degree he should conceal the turbulence of his passion: his desires, his distresses; in short, his excesses.)… ...Yet, to hide a passion totally (or even to hide, more simply, its excess) is inconceivable: not because the human subject is too weak, but because passion is in essence made to be seen: the hiding must be seen: I want you to know that I am hiding something from you, that is the active paradox I must resolve: at one and the same time it must be known and not known: I want you to know that I don't want to show my feelings: that is the message I address to the other. I advance pointing to my mask: I set a mask upon my passion, but with a discreet (and wily) finger I designate this mask…

The Love Letter: (This figure refers to the special dialectic of the love letter, both blank (encoded) and expressive (charged with longing to signify desire).

Like desire, the love letter waits for an answer; it implicitly enjoins the other to reply, for without a reply the other's image changes, becomes other. This is what the young Freud explains so authoritatively to his fiancée: "Yet I don't want my letters to keep remaining unanswered, and I shall stop writing you altogether if you don't write back. Perpetual monologues apropos of a loved being, which are neither corrected nor nourished by that being, lead to erroneous notions concerning mutual relations, and make us strangers to each other when we meet again, so that we find things different from what, without realizing it, we imagined.”

26 February 2008

Six Months in India!

Six months ago today I arrived in the Chennai International Airport with two backpacks and a computer bag. I was wearing Kovitz's bright-green baseball cap and Chacos, smiling like a crazy woman. Ari picked me up, and I remember noting that he moved much slower than I did. I think I've since adopted his speed (most of the time).

Life is crazy. Wonderfully crazy.

25 February 2008

Delhi. A Belated Entry. Part I.

For the photographic account of my trip, please click here and check out the Slideshow feature.

(Quite ironically, I’m writing this listening to U. Srinivas, a Carnatic mandolin player and one of the most popular south Indian musicians today. I should be listening to an epic Hindustani vocal track, but I just cannot embrace the sounds of the north the way I have those of the south – with the exception of a few choice artists. It is true what they say: your loyalties will always lie in either south or north India, never both.)

As many of you know, I spent the first 10 days of this month in India’s capitol city for the World Book Fair. This was an absolutely fantastic, chaotic, mind-expanding and physically tiring experience, and one that I have not really had time to relate before now. On Friday, February 1, I flew with Sirish (co-editor/publisher/author/friend at Tara) to Delhi, where we checked into the uniquely memorable Asian Guest House. It is difficult to explain the Asian Guest House; no space-heaters or even windows that fully closed, despite the fact that Delhi was in the throws of an unusually cold winter with evening temperaturess sometimes dipping below freezing. 24 hour running water meant that at any time of the day or night, a boy could be fetched to run you up a bucket of water. This water was only hot between the hours of 9 and 10 am. Most of the rooms were inhabitable because the place was under severe renovation, which was a problem because Sirish really needed to change his room. When we arrived, he was ushered into a room wholly outside of the guest house itself. The room had a newly redone bathroom and absolutely no windows. When he went to open what he thought was a closet, Sirish was promptly told that the door lead to a private office and should therefore not be opened. One night my bathroom wall fell into my bathroom, leaving a hole in the wall into the adjoining room. Another night the construction right outside of my door never stopped.

Despite, or perhaps because of these many sordid details, I became wholly enamoured with the Asian Guest House and refused to leave, even when Sirish made it very clear he thought I would be more comfortable almost anywhere else. Hell, the staff knew me, they knew my routine of two buckets of scalding hot water and a poorly made cup of instant coffee at 10am sharp, what more could a book-fair-walla need?

The book fair itself took place at Pragati Maidan, an enormous compound that contains 15+ convention halls of various sizes, lots of marginal fast-food joints, an amusement park, a water park and – in pseudo-Epcot Center style – a pavillion for each of India’s states. The whole place really is a surreal homage to 1960’s Soviet architecture, with the exception of the Andra Pradesh pavillion, which seems to have been designed by someone strangely confused by terms such as “avant-garde” and “post-modern.”

Perhaps the most fascinating and often upsetting aspect of Pragati Maidan is the large community of people who are entirely dependent upon the conventions centers as their only means of income and shelter. A great many men make their living building elaborate stands for convention participants (Sirish and I garnered more than a few stares when we set up our entire stand by ourselves). Small, filthy children run around the halls, rolling large magnets on the floor to collect scrap metal. Women gather discarded wood scraps to fuel the evening fires that glow about the convention center grounds. Dogs, goats and crows make the buildings their homes. And petty theivery is commonplace – we actually had 20,000 rupees ($500 US) stolen from our stand on the second day. There is absolutely no security and the halls are open to the public (unlike other book fairs, such as Frankfurt, which are strickly trade-based). I would love to do an in-depth look into this community wholly sustained by rotating conventions, fairs and shows. There is definitely an article there waiting to be written.

More on the Delhi and my Cinderella-like experience at the book fair to come….

Revisiting a Topic: Weekends in Chennai.

Friday evening: rally the troops across the city (International Justice Mission friends, IIT folk and flat-mates) for a free jazz concert at the Alliance Francais. Arrive ten minutes late thanks to Chennai’s typically horrible rush-hour traffic to find the concert completely full. Loiter about as the troops slowly trickle in (everyone being caught in similar traffic), and make the decision to relocate to local outdoor hookah/coffee spot. Stroll through the wealthy backstreets, enjoying the tropical evening and the general feelings of safety despite my gender and my skin colour (both a relief after ten days in Delhi). Smoke strawberry-mint sheeshah, drink delicious Indian coffee and revel in a rare chicken-pesto panini. Home by 10pm. Have the landlady’s 10-year-old son teach me The Electric Slide, which he just learned at his local dance class, in the middle of our empty street. In bed by midnight.

Saturday: Snooze through my intention to go to the gym. Up in time to shower and apply sunblock before wandering through our neighbourhood to the bus stand. Meet up with Ari’s friends and wait and wait and wait for the bus south to Mahaballipuram. Take a share-auto with five other foreigners to another bus stand, where we wait only 5 minutes before catching a bus that will take us to our destination: Ideal Beach Resort – the favourite getaway for Chennai’s resident expat population. Slightly-spendy beach resort sandwiched between two local fishing communities. Spend the day sleeping in a hammock and drinking Kingfisher beer with intelligent and engaging Americans before driving home together along the coastal highway at dusk. Home by 8pm.

Sunday: Make it to the gym. Leave said gym early to come back home for the first-ever “10th Cross Street Neighbourhood Watch” meeting. This meeting was organized by my landlady after one of our fellow tenants had her cell-phone snatched from her hands out on our street by two men speeding by on a scooter. I was amazed that twenty-plus neighbours showed up to sit in a circle in plastic chairs to argue and talk over one another and make suggestions on how to best protect the houses from “hooligans, burglars and snatchers.” There is something quite encouraging and optimistic about the grassroots activism that takes place all over Tamil Nadu. Such small meetings and impromptu collectives are much more efficient than the larger bureaucratic systems. There were both men and women at our meeting, and many of the women acted as representatives for their households. We’re going to petition for a police booth (these are notoriously empty all over the city) and for more apathetic, overweight policemen to ride their motorcycles down our street at more regular intervals between 11pm and 5am. We’re also hiring a man who will walk up and down the street all night, ostensibly keeping would-be burglars at bay. Finish quitessentially Tamil meeting, nap, then meet Mr. A (Arumugam) to do our Hindi homework together (have started twice-weekly Hindi classes). Come evening, visit friends, visit folk art/tribal crafts bazaar, lazily attempt to cook myself dinner, write current blog entry. In bed by midnight.

Post-Script: The Kalekshetra Craft Mela is absolutely fantastic! There are rows and rows of handmade crafts, silks, artwork and artists. I’m planning to go back tomorrow, and will probably find an excuse to browse on several more occaisions this week. Durga Bai, one of the artists in The Night Life of Trees, is there selling her work, and she is very sweetly letting me practice my apalling Hindi with her.

15 February 2008

From "Seed Catalogue" by Robert Kroetsch

We took the storm windows / off
the south side of the house
and put them on the hotbed.
Then it was spring. Or, no:
then winter was ending.

‘I wish to say we had lovely success
this summer with the seed purchased
of you. We had the finest Sweet
Corn in the country, and Cabbage
were dandy.’
- W.W. Lyon, South Junction, Man.

My mother said:
Did you wash your ears?
You could grow cabbages
in those ears.

Winter was ending.
This is what happened:
we were in the garden.
You’ve got to understand this:
I was sitting on the horse.
The horse was standing still.
I fell off.

The hired man laughed: how
in the hell did you manage to
fall off a horse that was
standing still?

Bring me the radish seeds,
my mother whispered.

Into the dark of January
the seed catalogue bloomed

a winter proposition, if
spring should come, then,

with illustrations: . . .”

14 February 2008

A Very Happy V-is-for-Vagina Day!

As I'm sure you all know my opinion of this ridiculous day, you won't be surprised that I've linked a few articles that really pushed my feminist buttons (courtesy Nina McConigley, Intern 3 Extraordinaire!)

Isn't Seattle supposed to be progressive?

To Settle? To Be Realistic? To Have Missed the Entire Point of the Women's Movement?

13 February 2008

Tara wins a BolognaRagazzi Award!!

I know I haven't written and that people are starting to grumble. While you're waiting for a update, please be content with good news from the publishing house in which I work.

Tara won in the New Horizons category for The Night Life of Trees, our beautiful handmade visual title featuring artwork and stories from three Gond artists from Madhya Pradesh. This is a huge honour, as the Bologna Annual Children's Book Fair is the
the world's leading event for children's publishing professionals. Publishers, agents and licensing developers are there, as well as a discerning, buying public! :) Gita and Sirish will be there end of March/beginning of April, and Tara was already to be featured in an exhibition, a children's workshop and a bookstand. We took Jaipur by storm, we certainly held our own in Delhi, and now Europe must brace itself!

(the link does not yet announce our win, but I imagine it will in a day's time).

31 January 2008

29 January 2008

Equal Thirds

Over the course of the last five months, I’ve come to realize that my heart has divided loyalties. One third is dedicated, through nostalgia and familial affection, to Muskoka. One third is, much to my delighted surprise, proudly affiliated with the Pacific Northwest. And the final third, ever ready to cause complications and inspire adventures, rests wholly in Asia. While I cannot reconcile the three parts, I do not wish to. It simply means that I will remain a penniless backpacker, firmly rooted in family and snow-capped mountains framing saltwater harbours and the stillness of a Buddhist temple and the urban clamour of 10 million people and the international language of pingpong until the end of my days.

Thailand was beautiful. It was also heartbreaking. The casual destruction of the Koh Samui environment for a few more jungle spas and hill-top resorts truly detracts from the island’s beautiful beaches and tourqoise waters. The endless stream of men with one (or even multiple) Thai prostitutes by their sides became almost blasé. And I had forgotten just how fat the Western world really is. But none of these details could spoil the two weeks for me, or for Jeff. We found ourselves a few excellent little bungalows in which to hide, retreated to the tiny island of Koh Tao and managed to play pingpong and gin to our hearts content. Honestly, I think we’d find Kabul amazing if there was a pingpong table and beer available. I also really loved Bangkok, particularly once we left the shady tourist areas and saw some of the smaller temples and the “JJ” Weekend Market. Jeff was a bit shocked at the pollution and garbage, but compared to Chennai, Bangkok felt like being in a Western city. There were 7-11 stores! And Starbucks! And hot showers! Oh my! (Of course, I live happily and well without these things…particularly Starbucks…but I had to have my soy latte nevertheless.)

Koh Tao was supposed to be a one-night stop-over, but we ended up spending five nights tucked away in various coves overlooking a variety of absolutely stunning vistas. The best snorkelling I’ve ever had, ATVs on the island’s otherwise innavigable roads, and sushi and wine to top off the week. Romantic as hell, to be sure, and Jeff spoiled me rotten. But I think both of us grow tired of only vacationing together – I welcome the day when we can really make a day-to-day life together. Watch out, world!


On Wednesday evening I leave for Delhi. 38 hours (if I’m lucky) on the Tamil Nadu Express Train. I hope to arrive by Friday at 11am, when I’m due to take possession of Tara’s stall at the World Book Fair in India’s capitol city. The Fair itself runs Feb. 2-10, and I’ll be in Delhi until the 11th. I’m incredibly excited to visit northern India (south Indians have quite the prejudice against the north, and vice-versa), as well as partake in my first real book fair. Meetings on foreign rights and collaborative efforts and author signings and upcoming projects. An opportunity few North American publishers could offer me. And yet another experience to satiate the third of my heart so deeply in love with this place.

But the two remaining thirds clamour for attention, as do my personal finances. And in oversimplifying my reasons and my decision for the sake of brevity and privacy, I will simply state here that I have decided to leave Chennai early, to return to Muskoka via the UK (Doug and Li) and NYC (Dave), and to be back at Mountain Trout House when the ice melts and the first boats need to be launched in mid-April. Come first week of May, should the universe continue to send blessings my way, I hope to be moving into a small red house with a big yellow lab on a hill overlooking Green Lake in Seattle, WA. The world is a strange, funny and delightful place sometimes. Baruch Hashem.

05 January 2008


This trip may just be cursed. Not sure why, or by whom (or what), but I deeply suspect a plague o' all the houses.


1) Miriam gets the mumps (an ancient virus that should have gone out with the whooping cough - although I've had dear friends get that horrible sickness as well) 36 hours before she is to fly. As of 11am Saturday India time (I am due to arrive in Bangkok at 1:40pm Sunday India time), I still don't know whether Mirmo is coming or not.

*Update*: Miriam is officially not coming. She tried to fly, but felt so ill after Portland to Seattle that she felt it would be an enormous mistake to fly the other 2 legs of the trip. Of course I'm incredibly disapointed, and the worst part is that there are no flights available in the next few days should she feel better and still want to come. What a different trip this is turning out to be. I'm trying to practice patience and openmindedness and remember that I'm still seeing Kovitz and I'm still going to freakin' Thailand.

2) Sarah is denied entry to Thailand because her passport expires in April '08. Evidently (although we still cannot find this printed anywhere), the Thai government requires at least 6 months validity on all passports, even though North Americans are allowed 30 days entry to Thailand without a visa and Sarah has a return ticket scheduled for January '08. So as of now, she isn't coming at all because it will cost $300 to rush a new passport and then all flights to Bangkok are booked (she's flying on points) through the 14th of Jan.

Ick. I feel an ulcer coming on.

03 January 2008

Out of Station

To use the Indian phrase, I will be "out of station" for the next two weeks. For those of you who have not been privy to my excitement frenzy, I leave for Thailand on Sunday! Fourteen days of delicious food, white sand, gin & tonics, and these clowns:

I find myself wondering if I will experience culture-shock in Bangkok and at the tourist beaches. Even being in kitschy Kerala sent my head spinning, as I was no longer in the minority and could find things like french-press coffee and porridge without effort. I imagine I'll be a bit overwhelmed for the first few days. I can't wait!

I imagine there will be very few posts over the next weeks. I'll be too busy jive-talking and laughing like a crazy woman. Bring. It. On.

(no apologies for the number of exclamation marks in this entry).

A few good clicks of the tongue…

In that absurd 101 Things to Do Before You Die book, attending the December/January music festival in Chennai is not listed. But it should be. By far, the most enjoyable part of this city continues to be its art scene. There are often ten to fifteen concerts a day, in venues all over the city and featuring world-class musicians, dancers and actors. And while I have only been privileged to see a half-dozen performances, almost all of them have been an incredible showcase of talent and musical heritage.

On Saturday, Natalia and I went to Kalekshetra – where we saw the sunrise concert – for an evening recommended to me by a work colleague. T.N. Krishnan, a Carnatic violin prodigy now in his seventies, was performing with his daughter at 7:30pm. But beforehand, seeing as Kalekshetra is a dance academy and temple dedicated to the arts, there would be a Bharatanatyam (Bharata: India; Natyam: dance) performance. Mythili Prakash, an Indian American who has been dancing traditional Indian forms since she was eight, had flown in for the Chennai music festival. And while I studied the history of Bharatanatyam at length in university, it would be my first live performance.

The entire night was a metamorphosis. Bharatanatyam pieces are often stories told through dance; mudras, or hand signs, facial expressions and bodily positions tell tales of heroes and demons, gods and goddesses, women in love. Mythili Prakash became the goddess Parvati. She was mother and lover and warrior, all in her dance. It was absolutely beautiful, and I’m so excited to see her dance again in her native U.S.A.

T.N. Krishnan was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. In 2005, I went with Seth to Tanglewood in the Massachusetts Berkshires, the summer home of the Boston Pops. I remember thinking that it was a rare occasion to see such talent, such deep commitment to classical music and its inherent emotional potential. Not since that summer have I seen such musicianship, have I heard such a beautiful rendering of the violin. Sri Krishnan played the violin with his daughter, and was accompanied by two incredibly talented percussionists. Much of Carnatic music involves very complicated rhythms, and this performance was no exception.

Also like Tanglewood, the audience on Saturday evening was knowledgeable and scrupulous, and many of them were obviously artists or retired artists themselves. Indian custom calls for one to show appreciation of a musician not through whoops and hollers, but through a soft clicking of the tongue and a few well-timed grunts. So as T.N. Krishnan played, you could here what sounded like scolding clucks reverberating through the crowd. It was truly amazing to be part of such an engaged audience – and Sri Krishnan obviously felt the same way, because he played 3 encores.

After the concert, Natalia and I rode our bikes to the beach, allowing ourselves to further absorb the evening as a blood-red moon rose over the Bay of Bengal.