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 fiancĂ©e: "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).