Around the rough and rugged rocks: chasing the tail of my life

At Rodeo Bar 2011

At Rodeo Bar 2011

It’s been a long time since I posted here,, posting and living being two very different things.
My husband of twenty years passed away in early 2012. My sister tells me, “Don’t say you LOST him, he’s not lost.” That seems irrelevant at this stage of my mind.

Few people can explain what this event can mean in another person’s life. I would compare it to a lobotomy. The mirror I used to make me see the good I did in the world just up and vanished. My comfy couch was replaced by a pile of cinder-like rocks. No one in the house has any suggestions for what to do about dinner. In short, as in the game of tag, I realize, “I’m IT!” What are you going to do?” I say. “Whatever I feel,” I say. Ice cream for breakfast, crumbs in the bed, watch videos into the night, drink wine, wake up with a hangover. Go to work the next day mumbling, “Never again…” And then you say…”why not?” You begin to live like a juvenile offender, but you don’t tell anyone because they already feel sorry for you.You do not want to hear about it.
Mom As Indian_jpg_'09-6
I went to visit my 90-year-old mother in Arizona last Christmas. I arrived Christmas Eve, and she drove us to a holiday party. She fell at 2:00 in the morning and broke her hip. An ambulance took her to the hospital in Phoenix. I slept in the hospital for four days, then put her in assisted living outside Phoenix. We are confused – no one in our family is ever sick, we are newbies at the hospital.

We have always had tension between us as mother and daughter (and we are both Pisces). All hostility, jealousy, misplaced anger melted away. We need each other now, we care deeply about each other, and it took all this time to be revealed. Who can explain this? We both become good little girls.

I was a sensitive child, obviously an artist. My mom came from the depression era: work and saving money are the ultimate masters. Art was frivolous; alright as a hobby but not as a real job. “You CANNOT make a living as an artist, you must choose something else.” My SAT scores got me a teacher education scholarship, and that was it. Off to the state university when students went home every weekend. Ugh.

After many adventures around the country, I became a photographer and came to New York. Visits to her were out of duty and difficult to enjoy – until I got the idea to dress her up in costumes and makeup. She saw how much trouble it was to get everything right and how I agonized over details and materials. She understood hard work. In the photos she may appear serene and beautiful or angry and fierce, but she is always out of her usual character, her self. She accepts every challenge I throw at her. “Sit up straight! Scowl!, That’s not a scowl, get angry!” She never knew that this was the work I loved…til now.

I am facing retirement. You want the “job” to end but you wonder if you will survive. You want CHOICES? Retire, quit your job. THEN you have choices, WAY many choices. You have so many choices these days, AND think you can have everything you dream of. But TIME is the leveler, you can never have enough time. You really have to put a new head on those shoulders. My new mantra is…and yes, it’s corny, “Everything is going to be fine.”

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On the first leg of my trip, in Calcutta, I was chatted up on the street by two young men, “Helloooo… where are you from?” This was the most commonly used prelude to, “My uncle’s shop is right down the street, just a few blocks from here…” I stopped the process before it started with, “I’m out of money and I go home tomorrow to the States.” After that we could relax and have a real conversation about NYC, Obama, the high cost of living, etc. Their English was good, maybe they were a gay couple, too. The taller one asked me if I knew those posters for India that said, “Incredible India.” Of course I did, they were all over New York for years. “Well, it’s incredibly GOOD and incredibly BAD!!!” Laughter all around, we said our good nights, and went our separate ways.

As I returned from my month in India, friends and family were very curious about my experiences. I took many photos and bought a number of objects and gifts… more than usual, I must say. I felt like I wanted to share, to give a piece of my experience to people I love. But as they asked their questions I still wondered what all of this means: will this trip change me somehow? Should I ask others to acknowledge the terrible poverty and suffering of others around the world and be more appreciative of what they have? Should I myself try doing something about the plight of ten-year-old brides in places like India?

In my travels I purposely did not see the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and other major tourist spots, but sought out  roads less travelled with the help of my friends in India, old and new: Santanu, Nina, Sonam, Warren and Trista. OK, I bought pashmina, but ONLY after Professor Rafi told me the entire history of the wool and showed me photos of the actual goats who gave their wool! (And then he sold me the scarves).

My friends are eager to see my photos (I had trouble getting internet service on a consistent basis, so focused on text first and did not post photos from over there). I am fielding questions about safety and traveling alone, “Were you afraid?” And, yes, I am happy I got all the shots – good health is wonderfully uneventful. But the larger questions will have to be answered more thoughtfully, and this requires time and distance. You know how you visit a foreign place, and people are wearing interesting clothes that fit into their environment; they look very cool and smart. And you think, I should get some of those clothes. So you do. And then you can’t wear them when you get home, because they don’t really fit in there.

I didn’t buy the clothes this time. But I believe something rich and wonderful happened to me as a result of my trip to Incredible India, and I’ll let you know what that is, as these things unravel themselves. Namaste

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Looking for Faith, and Watching Your Back

Tuesday I went to four Buddhist monasteries. They were amazing, of course, each fantastic in a different way. I wasn’t prepared to go inside buildings and find a 57 foot high, seated, gold Buddha staring at me with eyes so cool and calm… do they really know things I don’t know? Can they help me with my patience, compassion and tolerance? What I see is that so much art has been made in this religion, for all of the stories and characters, so much time has been devoted to beauty and the preservation of a religion so peaceful and non-aggressive. In every room with a statue, rupees bills and dollar bills are stuck into bouquets of flowers, no one around, no one touching them. Fresh fruit is left, boxes of candy and packages of chips. Could you do that in NYC? Outdoors, the white, wedding cake-shaped “stupas” they build of stone and clay here are devotions to the departed. They have prayers inside of them, and gems underneath them at the bottom…where no one can see them, or admire them, or sell them. Interesting.

I went on a trip to Pangong Lake yesterday, leaving at six in the morning to catch the morning light. The driver did not speak English, so when I said, “Two hours to lake?” He nodded…try four. And they were on the most hair raising roads I’ve ever been on. India does not have many guard rails on the mountain roads and the drop is severe. Yellow road signs replete with malapropisms dotted the roads’ shoulders. The pavement is barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass and there are no yellow lines to guide you. There must be patience and cooperation or there will be a disaster. My driver was cool as a cucumber, but as we climbed upwards my palms began to sweat and I could not look at the landscape which was shrinking below me. What was I going to do? I told myself, he has driven this hundreds of times, if there is going to be an accident I can’t control it. If I can just relax, maybe I can enjoy the ride… so I did. I looked at the rocks. And It was like looking at the landscapes on different planets, every color of rock made a rainbow of mountains, all huge, one after the other, with spectacular views. In the distance there were snow caps. We stopped for tea twice at a roadside stand. After four hours of switchbacks and driving through streams of water crossing the road, there it was, Pangong Lake, with water the color of turquoise, and clear. Gorgeous. On the way back I saw wild horses, marmots and pashmina sheep. A butterfly flew in the car window… and we were at about 17,000 feet!!!

I had to get a permit to go because the borders of the lake are shared with China, which keeps changing its mind about where those borders are. There is a big military presence everywhere. I asked why. A young monk told me, “If they weren’t here, China would just march across the border, and we’d belong to them.” On the way back I saw wild horses, marmots and pashmina sheep.

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More on Lazy in Leh

I had a terrible sleep with dreams of people haggling about money, I could not understand. I woke up with a churning stomach. A twenty minute ride to the clinic, $.04 for the visit and an hiur on oxygen and $.43 at the chemist, and I was treated. “Rest, rest, water, water…” said the nurse. So I am readind, sewing darts in my pants, taking pictures out the window and admiring the garden for the hotel… we are eating out of it: turnip greens, onions, carrots, potatoes and mint for tea. She grows nasturtiums, snap dragons, daisies, and poppies. lovely.


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Lazy as a Heiffer in Leh

When Santanu told me not to go anywhere for my first 2 or 3 days here, he was right – we’re at 11,000 ft. elevation. I flew in, had breakfast, and walked down the road and up a small hill to watch the Dalai Lama speak at a school. The children sang a song about world peace. I was in awe at my good luck. I was given a prayer scarf, told how to hold it and when to fold my hands.

That little walk cost me a trip to the clinic for Acute Mountain Sickness…more later…

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Call of the Wild, Calcutta

The Botanical Gardens in Calcutta during monsoon season is extremely lush. I wouldn’t describe them as neat… but what about this city IS neat? Nothing.

Birds called out from the bushes and trees in variety of tones and trills, but we never saw most of them. A mongoose ran across the road, stopped, and scratched himself with his hind leg. Large black fish stuck their mouths up from the surface of the water, were they carp? I’m not sure.Numerous ponds had lotus with giant pink flowers, and some had water lilies with pads at least thirty inches across.

The main attraction of the park besides the peace and quiet from the city noise is a 250 year old banyan tree that takes up the best part of an acre.

The banyan tree provides hiding and nesting places for birds and small mammals. These trees send roots down from the branches, creating yet another support for that branch, like a crutch, which later thickens and then looks like another tree. So one tree eventually can take up enough space to look like a grove of trees. This tree has survived two cyclones; the main trunk is gone but the rest of it is still standing.

It was the only place in the park where there was a breeze, something Santanu and I both noticed. The other cool thing we saw was the altar we discovered in between the trunks of another smaller banyan in the brush near the river, behind a fence. Dozens of clay deities aged by weather, moss and time.


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Doing Calcutta, Bengali Style

“Where do you want to go?” my friend Santanu asked me, hoping to steer me to the right places in my last few days here in Calcutta. “Wherever you think will give me an idea of what it is like for a resident of this crazy, vibrant city!” I answered. I had been reading Lonely Planet’s Guide to India, but didn’t want to go to the biggest tourist draws.

We got a taxi and headed to Dakshineswar, a temple complex in true Bengali style. Because it’s out from the center of town, there are no other buildings competing with this fantastic, castle-like set of domes. The whole temple complex is painted in pastel yellow with dark red trim. It is impossible to describe the detail in the arches and patterns. Photos to follow. I bought a stuffed toy Ganesh.

Next was the Fine Arts Academy, and we looked at work by artists: famous and not, accomplished or amateur, five big galleries. Many people were in attendance and walked freely between the galleries, the theater,a movie theater and the outside spaces, cooled by huge, sprawling trees and water fountains.

We left there and walked across the road to Maidan Park. It was dusk, and as we walked towards the center of the open field, I noticed that the traffic noise was disappearing, even though honking horns and buses made a complete ring around the park. Bats flew over our heads,couples and families passed us as we sat on the grass and watched the daylight disappear.

Outside the park, vendors sold local refreshments, many of which I have been told not to sample, as one can pick up the dreaded…well, you know. Santanu bought us a small bag of peanuts (pouch of folded newspaper, very cool). They were freshly roasted, and were safe for me to eat. We walked all the way home, which felt very normal and really relaxing. I slept very well.

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