Monday, September 10, 2012

Long, strange trip it's been

3/9-11/2012 Delhi/Hotel Malik

On our last day in Haridwar, we checked out of the Grand Basant and had hired a car and driver back to Delhi. Traffic was heavy and it took over 8 hours although our driver stopped at lovely fast-food roadside restaurant with international cuisine and English menus. Rachael had French fries with her entrée. Quel surprise!
 I had booked a hotel in Delhi near the airport on hotwire. It was only a three star, but it was better than the Grand Basant, and the room service had meat dishes, and their cheese sandwiches were especially good after our week-long diet of mainly egg rolls, fries, and cookies. The hotel Malik looks rather decrepit from the outside, but the interior was spotless, the staff obsequious and attentive, and they had amazing retro purple chandeliers and beaded light fixtures (Highly recommended - The shower curtain (the first one we’d encountered on our travels) was purple, and once again there were moth balls in the sink which this time I removed and put in a bag in a drawer in the closet. That night I awoke to a terrible smell – it was the water! The smell is so awful that only the smell of mothballs can cover it up. The hotel supplied us with pitchers of filtered water which had no smell at all. I dutifully put the moth balls back, and kept the bathroom door closed as much as possible.
The second day we went shopping in the neighborhood and found an Indian version of a K-Mart and bought ready-to-make Sari fabric kits for under $10. I also bought a lovely and silly flashing red, white, and blue “om” sign for about $2. I had to go back to buy another one for Rachael. We had chicken with mushroom soup one night and lamb with onion and spinach on our last night there. On 3/11, we returned to SFO just in time for Bouquets to Art week at the DeYoung museum in SF, and I commenced packing in earnest for my move to Antioch, CA.

May 2012 - O CANADA

Seems like I just returned from India, and I had two months to pack and move from Walnut Creek before going off to Canada in May for several events. Once again, Kim hosted me; this time in her new home she’s renting since she just sold her old one a few months ago. She’s much further along in her unpacking than I am.
The first event I attend is called “Gaia Gathering” and is held every year in a different province/city. Last year was Montreal; this year is Toronto, and it’s at University of Toronto. Kim also takes me out to the Art Gallery of Ontario and other tourist places. And I find some kewl ones of my own. This trip I learned new intricacies of the Toronto public transit system.
I’m so happy. On Saturday on the way to Jangbang, I stopped at Fortune Computer and bought the netbook of my dreams for less than $300 (an Asus Eee pc). It’s the first computer I’ve ever owned that I actually like. We had such a blast at this tiny Korean bar. I even sang “Dirty Old Town” with Dr. Myers and others. At closing time I asked the owner about a triple elephant-headed table that was mostly obstructing the hallway to the washrooms. He sold it to me for $20, and Derek carried it back to Kim’s car from the bar. 

After we arrived back at Kim’s, I could hardly wait to set up my new Asus. We charged the battery, turned it on, and a black screen appeared with an error message stating that “windows had failed to install.”  Waaahhhhh! Well, the next day was Sunday of Victoria Day weekend, and although the place was open, the tech guy wouldn’t be in till Tuesday. I was so busy and tired on Tuesday that I didn’t take the subway (an hour each way) in till Wednesday. It was so worth the wait and most of the stress; not only did they give me another new one, they set it up with skype, AVG, a new e-book reader, Microsoft office, and a purple carrying case.

Have been having vivid dreams and spoke with Greg and Inija today on skype. I enjoy skype. If you have it, my skype name is cprudence21. Found a black goose-neck lamp for the guest room for $2 at a yard sale a few blocks from Kim’s, had lemon meringue pie at Wendy’s house, and then hung out at Timmy’s (Tim Horton’s) after watching a lame sunset in the froggy library park across the street. Am reading The Enchanted Cup, Trojan Odyssey, and Elephant Walk simultaneously. No wonder I’m having odd dreams. My shoulder pain is all gone, but my neck and knees still pain me now and then from the car accident I had on 4/13.
Kim finally tried my cheese bagels from SF and loved ‘em, and she made us Shepherd’s Pie for dinner with Orzo salad! This weekend I’m off to Flesherton to stay with David & Carol at their art gallery and home there. Both their children will be visiting that weekend for Mom’s six location “Art for Food” party/show/opening.
David and I go out the afternoon of the show and visit all the venues and wind up at the last one for lattes and butter tarts. The show was wonderful, and it turned out I knew at least half the artists and another half dozen guests from all my travels and adventures in Canada over the last 25+ years. I started telling people I’d come for Carol’s show (which was partly true!).  The food was amazing; the owner of the cheese shop even made raclette – a Swiss dish I’ve enjoyed in Geneva. I know it was the middle of nowhere, but Flesherton is a “happening” place. The next night, I joined three couples for a fiesta memory dinner celebration with photos of their trip to Mexico. We started with margaritas and ended with Mojitos and a maple flan Carol had made for dessert. True Canadian cuisine and delicious, too.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Final Days in Haridwar

At the end of the conference, the University awarded five honorary doctorates. One of them went to Jonas Trinkunas, and Vytautas accepted on his behalf. Vytautas told me on 3/6 that he had skyped Inija and found out that the operation to stop the gangrene in Jonas’ feet was successful, but he lost some toes and has hypertension.

3/8 Holi (pronounced “holy”) Full Moon
We had decided to stay an extra day in Haridwar to recover since our only expense was food. It was full moon and a Hindu holiday called “Holi.” We walked over to campus with the intention of going online in the computer room, but everything was closed for Holi. We stopped back at the Guest House for coffee and to see if anyone else were around, and the Latvians were all on their way to visit ashrams. Two of the gurus who had attended the conference had invited them. The Lithuanians were welcome also, and invited us to go along. Rachael declined, thinking a trip to the foothills of the Himalayas might prove too stressful, while I was delighted to tag along. We waited and waited for the bus to show up, and when it finally did, 20 Latvians (including their composer), and the three of us representing Lithuania, climbed aboard with their kankles (seven-stringed instrument played like a dulcimer) in traditional dress with several Indian guides and friends for a raucous and uproarious ride above Rishikesh. The Latvians sing and dance at the drop of a hat – The Latvian worldview is ethics, esthetics, and music – and this trip was no exception. The dividing line in the middle of the almost two-lane road is merely a suggestion, and once again I was happy to be with a group so I didn’t have to watch how close we came to annihilation every five minutes. It was very odd, though, watching the abysmal poverty, squalor, and hardship as we drove along, and wondering why all of them didn’t just kill themselves. I don’t think I’d want to live under those conditions. One of the saddest sights I saw was Indian women going out at dawn to gather dung and form it into patties to use as fuel. And, of course, women are not allowed to drive although they may cling to their husbands with babes-in-arms on the back of a motorcycle. We passed a billboard with an ad for gasoline showing a man holding a gas pump handle like an AK 47.
Indian Traffic
 No wonder so many see meditation and other disciplines as ways to rise above/blot out their surroundings. I did learn from the second guru that one is not supposed to kill oneself as that would be killing god. What an interesting mythology!
At each ashram we were graciously received, and the Latvians performed beautiful compositions on their kankles. At the second ashram (which was another hour or so higher up in the mountains), we leapt off the bus, and ran to the river before speaking/singing to the assembled masses. The guru gave us all prayer rugs/shawls, and thanked me for being a “managing trustee” of Romuva, and spoke about Christian oppression, and promised not send any missionaries to the Baltics as long as we kept up our good works. We were invited to stay for dinner and were seated in chairs and waited on by men while the others went through cafeteria-style lines (these lines included some American friends of mine Andras Corben and Patrick McCollum).

The Conference

March 3-7, 2012 at Haridwar, India        
I arrived early on Saturday to find a Native American medicine woman conducting a pipe ceremony in the “acu-torture” (as opposed to acupressure) garden. Felt like I was in the opening ceremony for the Olympics when I marched in the parade of delegates with two Lithuanians and the WCER/Romuva banner all around the campus.
The rest of the conference held many workshops and presentations. The water was filtered, and all-you-could-eat (which wasn’t much for me) vegetarian meals provided three times a day. (I lost ten pounds in India.) Each night after dinner there was amazing entertainment by many of the participants. One night I missed the entertainment when we went back to the hotel in 90+ degree heat to take a nap before dinner, and wound up sleeping the night through.
On Saturday night (3/3), Radhey Shyam took me for a walk off campus to three different ATMs. The last one ate my card, but Radhey Shyam (pronounced Ravashim) was kind enough to lend me 4000 rupees ($80) which amazingly covered all my expenses in India. That evening we transferred to the Grand Basant, and I owe our survival to the Maori tribeswomen who turned me on to the spring rolls!

My paper on the topic of “Worshipping the Ground We Walk on” was well received, and I found my co-speakers’ topics interesting as well. I was interviewed by local media twice that day. There were many excellent presentations, and while I was sewing during one of them, an Indian woman taught me their “star” stitch. The students were in awe of all the foreigners, and followed a lot of us around asking for their photos to be taken with us. There were over 400 delegates from all over the world, and an unknown number of students and locals at the gathering.  I arrived at my lecture site over an hour early so I painted a watercolor of the Goddess of Wisdom sculpture they had in the atrium of the building.
3/7 Priestess
On the last day of the conference, there were at least seven different fire ritual presentations. The Lithuanians were asked to go first, and the night before Vytautas had asked me to participate in the rite in Inija’s place. We had lots of amber dust to perk up the fire and plenty of gira (a fermented bread drink which is non-alcoholic but which tastes like beer) to share. One of the Latvian elder women stood by me to make sure I didn’t mess it up. (I didn't - I've participated in this rite at least a dozen times.) That evening we went with others to the Godwin hotel 1½ blocks away for “real” coffee and food, and were delighted to learn from the menu that many of the dishes were served with a “polite sprig of mint.” Can’t have impolite sprigs at a fine hotel!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day!

9/2/2012- INDIA – part 2
Since I first wrote about India, I’ve been too busy and the topic was so depressing, it was hard to write about it. I awoke early on March 2nd and heard people talking downstairs, and thought I’d at least check it out before going back to bed for more rest. I found half a dozen people in the lounge downstairs having breakfast which was coffee or tea and assorted ‘cakes’ and gruel. I also ran into someone who told me that Jonas and Inija would NOT be there due to Jonas having taken ill. On hearing this I was ready to leave then and there, but maybe I was just tired.
There was also a group of people who were planning on an excursion to Rishikesh (the holy city) for the day, and asked if we wanted to join them. We did, although Rachael tried to tell them she couldn’t walk very far.
 India is full of many beautiful and ugly things. On our excursion we walked across a suspension bridge over the Ganga that was wide enough for people to ride bikes and motorcycles across. On the way, as we moved to the side of the bridge to let a cycle through, a monkey grabbed my arm and almost bit me. My companions told me I was lucky! Usually they knock your glasses off into the Ganga (their word for the Ganges River) below.
We saw lots of temples, statues, filth, poverty, fakirs, holy cows and other livestock, gods & demons before we went down to the Ganga and achieved varying individual degrees of immersion before we caught a ferry back to the other side. That night our guide told us we could move to another guest house off-campus or across the street to the 4-star Grand Hotel Besant (which advertises on its card that it is “opposite Asia’s largest Ayurvedic University”) on 3/3. Easy choice! Especially since they had elevators and the toilet had a seat instead of a hole in the floor. The room service menu was very disappointing, but we managed to subsist on spring rolls and French fries for Rachael for the rest of the conference.

Can’t wait for my Baltic trip? Check out this poetography shoot at my house in our village: