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.