Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Moving On?

In September of 1994, I left New York to move to an unknown place, Holland. It was something I had been wanting my entire life, and after 27 years, it finally happened. I packed two suitcases and left everything else behind with no intention of ever returning. If things didn’t work out, I would move on, not back. I’ve never been one to go back. Ever. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t have any friends, but after a while it all came together. It always does.

The end of next week, it looks like I will be moving on again, but I have no idea where, I have no idea for how long and I have no idea what I will end up doing for work wherever I go. But I have to go. My Indian visa expires in exactly four weeks. I am not ready to leave. I am not ready to start over yet again. My life has been about starting over. My entire life has been about moving, making a life and then leaving it behind. That is how it is with a military family. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I had that upbringing. I hated it at the time, but it is what has allowed me to just up and move to anywhere at anytime, knowing that somehow, someway, I will land on my feet. But now, I don’t really want to move on. I like my life here as it is panning out. I have great friends. I don’t plan on staying here forever, but I would like to stay here for now.

The end of next week, I am booking a plane ticket. To somewhere, destination yet to be determined. So many questions. Do I go back to the States? Perhaps Sydney? Thailand? How long do I stay? Do I take an extended vacation and come back to India in a couple of months, or do I move with the intention of starting a new life? And if I am starting a new life, where in the world is the best place for me to be?

I am also going this alone. Manuel will be staying in India, at least for now. He is getting is own place. Maybe this is for the best. Maybe the distance will help bridge the gap between us. Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s possible, but what keeps me going is the question “what if it is?” and that is something I need to know.

So, while 2008 started on the foot of certainty and security, 2009 is starting out just the opposite. I am confused and unsure, hoping for the best and bracing for the worst, wondering how and when this is all going to be worked out. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tagged on Facebook

I checked my emails this morning and there was the message I had been dreading since Julie added me as a friend on Facebook. The subject line read "Julie tagged a photo of you on Facebook" and I immediately panicked, a feeling that went into hyper drive when I opened the email which read "Julie tagged a photo of you in the album "Prom 1984".

Let me start by saying that 1984 was not my best year. I had not discovered hair products and I had that unfortunate stoner type haircut. I was very Van Halen. To top it all off, I ignored the numerous issues of GQ which instructed me that a tuxedo should only ever be in black or midnight blue. I also was a firm believer in sporting tails. The result? A light gray tux with tails and lavender cummerbund and bowtie. Julie was wearing a lavender dress/gown/thing complete with the requisite puffy sleeves and ruffles everywhere, basically she was dressed like a New Jersey bridesmaid. In spite of all this, I do remember feeling quite stylish and sophisticated. It was 1984, and it was prom, which meant doing the matching thing with your date. The cummerbunds and bowties had to go with the dress, as did the corsage and boutonniere. I never understood the whole floral decoration on the clothes thing. But yes, Julie and I were a blur of watercolor pastels, which were all the rage at the time. If we had been dipped in sugar that night, we might have made the perfect top for a wedding cake, or at least a set of interesting bookends at the local garage sale.
I was never sure if Julie and I were dating or just promming it. She was an older woman. Not in the Mrs. Robinson sense, I was a junior and she was a senior. It was her prom, not mine. She was the first girl I ever kissed with tongue and while I was a bit grossed out the moment I unexpectedly found a tongue in my mouth, I felt incredibly cool, suddenly a man, although I had no idea what to do with the tongue or my tongue and I didn't try to cop even the tiniest feel. I also didn't know how to get the kiss to stop, one can't exactly close their mouth when engaged in the throws of liplocking. i just let her do her thing and tried to be nonchalant and cool about it.
So this morning, when I saw the email, I held my breath and immediately made a mad dash to Facebook and there I was, bad hair and gray tuxedo with tails looking back at me. It was the first time since immediately after prom that I have seen these pictures. I was happy to see she hadn't posted THE picture. See, somewhere out there, floating around is a picture of me in a toga at our post prom day at the pond. I am just waiting for the blackmail messages from Julie. The one that says "do this or I post THE picture"- I will have no choice but to do her bidding, I will be a pawn and she will be my master. How do I know this? Because she has threatened me with that picture before and I don't have one of Julie in order to checkmate her. I am at her mercy.
I know the tag is coming... It is just a matter of time...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

My So-Called Life

I have been giving it some thought. I considering going offline, at least as far as Facebook and my blog are concerned. Not that I don't enjoy them, I do. It's just that I am going through a time in life when everything I considered my "life" is falling apart and I don't want a global audience. I don't want anyone bearing witness to my unraveling. I also don't have the energy to gloss over the things, attempt to make them funny or even put them out there for public consumption. Maybe I will change my mind. I don't know.

"I don't know" seems to be my theme right now. Everything is so confusing I have no idea what I am doing or what I should do next. Perhaps it isn't about what I "should" do next, it's about what I am even able to do next. My biggest fear seems to be looking back at me and laughing. I can't make it stop. I can't sleep. I don't want to eat. I don't want to get out of bed. I wonder if I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown and am doing whatever I can to keep it at bay. I don't know how I got here. In six weeks I have nothing left. No home. No job. No income. Unless something works out in six weeks, I will be living my worst fears. Yes, I have some savings, but they aren't going to hold me over for very long, and I need to go somewhere, anywhere, as my visa expires.

I lay awake at night thinking about my things in storage in Amsterdam and now I wonder if I should pay the bill or save the money. Twelve years of my life are in that little space. It seems odd that twelve years can fit into a little room. I arrived in Amsterdam in 1994 with two suitcases and built everything up from nothing. I didn't even speak the language. Three years later I was a director at a France Telecom company. I was thirty. That storage space is filled with paintings from Nepal, and various items from Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Iceland, China and everywhere else I went. My photographs are in there, even the ones on CD. My state of the art, computerized diving gear, my Nitro Storm snowboard, my rock climbing gear. The gifts from friends. My dad's watch. All my books. Hundreds, perhaps over a thousand of them, all read, are there. Twenty years of Vanity Fair magazines. And last night I debated if I should just let it all go.

The last fourteen years of globe-trotting, champagne, Paris, private jets, five-star hotels, Prada shoes, designer clothes and fantastic restaurants came flooding back. I don't know if they are over or just on pause. I try not to think of those things. I am trying to find the positives, but can't really come up with any. I just keep thinking "No home. No income." I try to block it out, but it keeps coming through loud and clear like a car alarm right outside the window at 3am.

Manuel seems to be taking this all very well. He sleeps and doesn't seem phased by the fact that he too will be without a roof over his head. He finally got himself a paying job. Timing is everything. The only problem is that the pay is basically nothing, less than 10% what I normally make. We can live with a pay cut, but not of over 90%. After one and a half years of supporting Manuel, he is on his own now. I can't help him. Maybe I sound selfish. Maybe I am.

Two weeks ago I was giving television interviews about the effect the economy was having on my life. I sounded positive. I was upbeat. I was ready to take on the world. Now I feel like an idiot. It was the shiny moment before the disaster. I am supposed to be writing an article for a magazine whose next issue is themed "Life's a Beach" and I have no inspiration at all. I just want to bury my head in the sand until this all gets sorted out.

So there you have it, and as I said, I am not sure if I will be blogging anymore anytime soon. Yes, writing is my release, my way out, but some things are perhaps just better left unknown and undistributed. If you suddenly don't hear from me for awhile, you know why.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Chorus Line of One

One.

Singular Sensation.

Every little step she takes.

Being part of a musical these days means my head is filled with all the songs from the play. Songs I have heard so many times, I fall asleep with them ringing in my ear. I wake up with them stuck in my head and catch myself singing them in the shower. It gets annoying. I can't tell you the latest hit on the radio or who is topping the MTV playlists, but I do know all the words to "Mumbai Mac" and "Slum Girl". I can feel your jealousy coming at me from all directions.

In the play, tiled "Mahim Junction", I play a politician running for election in the slums of Mumbai. At one point, I have to deliver a speech to my constituency, which consists of exactly three people and in my cluelessness, I use a megaphone. My megaphone prop looks like the top of the head of the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz". It is clinking, clanking and caliginous.

The other night during rehearsal, while I was in between scenes, I was listening to my iPod and practicing my blocking.  I am a master at multi-tasking. Right now we are doing rehearsals on the roof terrace of the director's house as it gives us a space larger than any place else we could be rehearsing right now, and as we are performing in an amphitheatre, it gets us used to being outside. We don't have to project our lines, we need to scream them.

Anyway, there are two separate terraces on the roof and I took my iPod and megaphone prop to the other side. And then the urge hit. I heard 1982 calling out to me. I tried to resist but it was futile. I knew it was there, lingering on my iPod. I had an appropriate prop and all that was needed was for me to press the button. I looked around to ensure I was alone. I looked across the other terraces to make sure I had no audience. India being India usually means there is always an audience, but the planets aligned, the stars converged and Jupiter was entering someone's house. It was a now or never situation.

I pressed play.

And then, using my Tin Man hat as a top hat, I performed "One" from "A Chorus Line".  I was a bit rusty, but I dare say I am sure I looked fabulous. Just me, on the terrace with a metal funnel thingy, mouthing the words as though I were belting it out to the balcony of the Winter Garden Theatre in New York. After all, I think all I have ever really needed was the music and the mirror and the chance to dance. And dance I did. I was one singular sensation if I do say so myself, all alone on a terrace in South Delhi, not another care in the world.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Letter

I knew it was coming, and the fact in itself didn't bother me. What bothered, or rather bothers me, is the way in which it was done. Back in September I broached the subject of my contract, which expires in February. I was told by my boss that it was a bit early for that conversation and I informed him of the endless logistics required if I need to find a new job. Anywhere. Even if I stay in India, there is a circus of endless paperwork, meetings, red tape and then I would need to go to another country to get a new visa. While visas can be renewed in the country under certain conditions, if you switch companies, it is not possible. Yes another display of the logic that plagues Indian policies.

Then the recession hit. One of the first things that gets cut in companies are budgets and as I work in advertising, that is never a good thing. I figured my contract would not be renewed and saw it as an opportunity to embark on a new adventure. Around that same time I got cast in a play, got contacted by a casting director for a television project and had some meetings with a couple of magazines to do some writing.

I came into work one day and was called into the office of our financial guy. Not my boss, the financial guy, who, with a smile on his face, handed me a letter stating my contract would not be renewed. No explanation. No handover discussion. No phase out discussion. A piece of paper. It felt like a slap in the face. It is the first time I have ever been in this situation. It feels odd, and the total lack of respect is just amazing.

A couple of days later, I saw my boss who shook my hand as though we were old golf buddies. And now, I have to stay motivated and ready to go for the next two months. TWO MONTHS! My work has gone from being involved with twelve or more clients and new business pitches to one presentation. That's right, one. This is going to be a long two months.

Now I am looking for a new job, which is completely unfamiliar territory for me. I haven't looked for a job since the late 1980s. They always come looking for me. I am quite out of my element. So now I am looking at companies in India, China, Australia, and anywhere else where there might be a great opportunity. Or even an interesting one. What is frightening is that the one time I need to look for a job, the global economy is pretty much in the toilet. I don't know what to do. Less than two months from now, my visa expires. I have no job. No place to live. It's very intimidating. I can't sleep. I find myself getting depressed and this is just not the time for that. I need to be on top of my game, but I am not sure what game that is anymore.

My Indian friends don't understand the stress. They have family here. They have a place to fall back on. I don't. There is no falling back, only moving forward. But to where?

Mumbai

There was a time not long ago when words like terrorism and suicide bombers were as foreign to me as the places in which they happened. It isn't a nice thing to think or say, but I miss the days when it was someone else's problem. It was easy to go through life hearing these terms when they referred to people I had never seen and places I had never been. Now it is here. For me it started at one of my morning haunts in Tel Aviv. I saw it on CNN. It was odd to have spent time in a place just a few short weeks before seeing it on live TV. Then it was the bombings in places in India I had not yet been, like Hyderabad. Closer, but still far enough away. No memories there. No friends. It was a news story. Then in September, the attack in Delhi happened. All of it in familiar places. Some of it in my own neighborhood. Two weeks later it was another market in Delhi. I started getting used to the frantic calls from Ankit to stay home or avoid a crowded market, and then as fast as it seemed to start, everything was quiet. Yes, the fireworks announcing yet another wedding reminded me of the bomb blasts I had heard. That was odd. When the market near me was attacked, I thought I had not heard anything, but discussing it with a colleague the following Monday, I realized I had mistaken it for thunder. That was a creepy realization. Maybe I am being overly dramatic. Maybe not.

So everything was quiet and pretty much back to normal until last week. Suddenly the TV was flooded with images of places I know. Places I have been. Places my friends live in and go to. Suddenly SMSes start doing the rounds as we all take inventory of who was where, who is OK and who is not yet accounted for.  I woke up on the following morning not yet knowing anything in Mumbai had happened. I had emails and text messages asking if I was alright after the attack. What attack?

I turned on the news and was shocked, stunned, appalled, scared. It was less than twelve hours into what would untimately turn into a sixty hour ordeal. I logged onto Twitter and Facebook. Status updates came from friends "I'm Safe" or "I'm nowhere near Mumbai" were the common types of updates. Then they turned angry and became voices of protest.

Twitter became the best source for news as all the channels had conflicting information. On Twitter too were status updates and messages for friends. Requests for prayers. Anger at the government. Shock and overwhelming sadness. After it was over came the Facebook requests for a minute of silence or a request to wear a white shirt today. I heard of peace demonstrations and friends donating blood. Now, of course, the finger pointing has started and the talk of ending the cease-fire with Pakistan is on the news.

What I also find really scary about this is the scale and the deliberate taking of hostages. Specifically western hostages. This is different than a low intensity bomb in a market place more designed to attract attention than anything else. This takes everything to a whole new level. These weren't hostages of opportunity, who just happened to be someplace so the gunmen took advantage of a situation. This was planned. This was part of the plan all along. I started getting messages from friends abroad, wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving and suggesting it is perhaps time for me to leave India. On the surface, it makes sense, but it isn't that simple. Where should I go? Where is safe? London? Madrid? New York? Paris? The Maldives?

What makes me sadder than anything, is that I personally see no end to it. In spite of the bold protests of "We will tolerate it no more", I just don't see how it will end. For every terrorist captured or killed, it seems there is always someone ready to step up and commit such atrocities in the name of their god, religion, nation, race or whatever.  

It really makes me very sad.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Missing My Laptop

Just over a week ago, my laptop got stolen right out of my car in the middle of a busy market. I was at Nehru Place for my television interview which took place in a coffee shop. Afterwards I had another meeting there, but an hour to spare and so decided to go walking through the market looking at laptops and other assorted electronic items. I decided I did not want to risk losing my bag or having anything stolen, so I phoned my driver who met me in front of the cinema and I put my backpack in the back seat and went on my merry little way. A little while later I get a frantic call from my driver that my bag was not in the car. He mentioned something about lunch and my bag being missing. I pictured all sorts of scenarios from him forgetting to lock the car as well as forgetting to put my bag in the boot, but also I had imagines of smashed windows and glass all over the backseat going through my mind.

After my second meeting my driver picked me up and we went to the little police kiosk where I had to write out an official statement on a absolutely blank piece of paper. I don't know why I had to write it as I was nowhere around when it happened, but this is India and logic often does not play a role. So, there I sat in the little police kiosk of Nehru Place dictating the story from my driver and then I got the actual story. It seems that after I put my bag in the back seat and left, someone approached my driver's window, banging aggressively and telling him he had a punctured tire. My driver got out to examine the situation and we assume that during that moment, someone else on the other side of the car opened the door, grabbed the bag and ran off.

Fortunately it was only my laptop. I had been at the bank earlier and had my passport and bank cards with me, but on me. That would have been a disaster. I did, however lose a beautiful story from the trip to Rajasthan which I have not yet finished putting online and the first three chapters of the soon to be international bestseller I had finally started writing. Anyway, my statement was stamped by the police and then I had to take that to the real police station. It was to be my first interaction with the Indian police.

I had imagined it to be crammed, noisy and more like the New Delhi train station, but it was empty save for the swarms of mosquitoes. Of course not a person spoke English so I left my driver to deal with it while I waited in the reception area. It was there that I made mental note to self to never, under any circumstances get sent to an Indian jail. About an hour later I was brought into the office of what I understand is the chief of that particular station. There was a lot of Hindi being thrown around after five minutes of being completely excluded he asked me "what do you want?!" and so I told him I need an official statement for the insurance company. He looked at me without speaking for about a minute and then said "DONE!"

I was then taken back to the reception room and told to change my story and say I had misplaced the laptop in the coffee shop. Misplaced?? What about being robbed at near gunpoint? I found it absurd and made a couple of phone calls to my company who told me it was alright and that the insurance would still cover it. So officially, I am the kind of person who goes into an empty coffee shop and, oops, misplaces my laptop in a moment of true blondeness.

So now, I have no laptop and have been given an old desktop at the office. My blogs will be fewer and farther (or is it further?) between… I can't write in the office. I can't write on a – gasp! – desktop! I am only one degree removed from my mom's old Smith Corona typewriter I used to compose on when I was younger, but that, at least was cool. This is just torture. And to make matters worse, I can't copy/paste my text into Blogger… Is the world is plotting against me?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Getting Physical

This morning I started back at the gym... Well, let me rephrase that. This morning I woke up at 5:30 and thought about going to the gym but then reset my alarm for 7:30 and went back to sleep. This has become my morning workout routine. Every night when I set my alarm, I do really intend to go. I need to go. I know I need to go and I actually want to go. I hate not going. I feel lazy. I feel like a slob. The problem is that my life is such that going to the gym can only happen at 6:00 in the morning as my day is filled with work and then rehearsals until 22:00 or 22:30, then I come home and have to wind myself down before I go to sleep at midnight or so. When my alarm goes off in the morning, I just can't pull myself out of bed, and when I do get out of bed later in the morning, I look in the mirror and scrutinize every little thing I dislike about it and chastise myself for not living up to my own wants and expectations. It isn't really the most exciting or motivating way to start the day. And it is starting to depress me. To make matters worse, someone sent me a message on Facebook which read "the new pic is kinda sweet, makes me relaxed about my beer belly:-)"  I was mortified. I changed the picture and now have a camel head hiding my obviously not so flattering hump.

I have no excuse, really, there is a nice gym about five minutes walk from the house. Before, geography had always prevented me. Gyms in India are not at all like ones in the US or Europe, and finding a nice one can be difficult. Often it means going to a five star hotel and paying five star prices. But Delhi seems to be going through a transformation. I think people are realizing that ancient equipment in a dingy basement does not make for a nice experience. But the gym across the street from me is nice. I went in when Ulco was here. That was on the 24th of October. I mad an appointment to go. I planned to go. I was excited to go. And then for whatever reason, I didn't go.

I really like being at the gym. I like the way I feel after I have had a good workout. I like that feeling of being sore. I think it feels sexy. And even more, I like the attention I get when everything is in the right place. I like how I look in the mirror. Yes, I will admit it, I am a wee bit narcissistic.

The other thing that makes me really lazy, is the fact that I can actually pull myself together in just 6 weeks or so. I have that kind of body. It used to drive other friends mad, especially Ulco. He had been working out religiously for months and nobody made a comment. I went for a week and was suddenly the center of attention. That makes it easier for me to procrastinate. I still have time for a different body on New Year's Eve. And I have even more time for an even better body in Sydney for Mardi Gras, should I decide to go, which is a high probability.

So I am making a commitment here. I will go to the gym tomorrow. I will go to the gym on Sunday and then I will continue it through next week, going at least four times during the week. If I don't, you all have my permission to send me threatening emails and comments.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Gay Marriage

I, like many others, was so disappointed to see something as hateful as Proposition 8 on the ballot in California - and like minded ones in other states. I was beyond disappointed when people chose to vote to pass them, banning same sex couples from getting married.

I really don’t see what the big deal is about same sex marriage. I just don’t get it. I just don’t understand why people it doesn’t even affect feel the need to get involved. Tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to prevent two people from getting married, all to protect the “sanctity of marriage”. This isn’t about protecting marriage. Adultery, domestic violence, lying, lack of communication and divorce are greater culprits by far.

If people truly want to protect the sanctity of marriage, then make marriage a permanent, once in a lifetime decision. A decision that could in no way be revoked or reversed. No divorce for any reason, no remarriage after the death of a spouse. That, I can almost guarantee would be the death of marriage all together. How many times have we heard “Well, if it doesn’t work out…” Britney Spears anyone? Is that not more damaging to the sanctity of marriage than two committed people?

My parents divorced when I was very young. I don’t really know why, what happened in their marriage, and it isn’t really any of my business, but I can say with all certainty, that same sex marriage had absolutely nothing to do with it. Of all the reasons I heard from both my mom and dad, there was not a single reference to homosexuality. I can say the same thing about all my friends and family that have been divorced.

I find this to be so incredibly hypocritical of a country that is always pointing fingers everywhere else, telling other countries what they are doing wrong. Waving the flag of freedom and opportunity, but at the same time spreading hatred and lies. Today it is a ban on gay marriage. What happens tomorrow? Does anyone really think this will stop with the subject of marriage? Should gay people be refused employment? Should gay people be denied mortgages? Perhaps gay people should not be allowed to vote. Perhaps gay people should be segregated, not allowed to drink from the same drinking fountain as a straight person for fear of spreading that “gay germ” people seem so fucking scared of. Could homosexuality, like smoking become illegal? Maybe it sounds a bit far-fetched, but is it? Really?  When will people realize that gay people aren’t made?  At least not in the way they think. Gay people are not recruited. We are not out to expand our numbers and bring in more “members”. Either someone is born gay or not. People don’t choose to be gay any more than people choose to be straight. I for one never recall making that decision. Well actually, maybe I did...

I got to a point where I was so tired of being a second class citizen. I was tired of being paranoid of saying the wrong thing, making the wrong gesture toward my partner in public, that I decided I was going to be straight. I had a girlfriend, and we even lived together for awhile. It was great at first. I could sit next to her at a restaurant. I could kiss her hello on the street, any street, at any time and nobody paid us any mind. I could talk about her at work and not have to worry about offending anyone. I could go to a work party and nobody would ask questions or whisper. But that joy was short-lived. I was living a lie, and I knew it. She knew it. And yet, if I had chosen to marry her to keep my cover, have a child and then get a divorce due to irreconcilable differences, nobody would have thought anything of it. I would have been applauded. But if two people of the same sex that have been together for years and will be together whether they are married or not, actually want to get married, everyone talks about how immoral and destructive it is. I don’t understand. I makes no sense to me.

But I can imagine the kind of thinking behind this. When my mom first found out I was gay, we didn’t speak much. She said I was no longer her son and that she didn’t know who I was. I told her that I was the same person. I told her that I was just gay, not a child molester or rapist or murderer. I was just gay. She said that if I was one of those things, at least I would be normal, but being gay was an abomination. Imagine, my mom preferring I was a rapist or child molester over being gay. She has come a long away in the twenty or so years since then. But I can imagine there are thousands, if not millions of others who follow that same line of thinking. People who never make the transition my mom has. People who most likely never will. That is one reason so many teens commit suicide instead of coming out. That is a path I almost took as well. I wanted it to go away. I wanted it to end. I wanted to be normal. It took a long time for me to learn that I am normal, and yet there are still people who spend all their energy making sure that I am pushed back, boxed in and denied the exact same rights they have.

Gay marriage is not about making a statement. At least not a political one. It is about equality. It is about the promise that is made to each and every American in the constitution. The same constitution millions of men and women, including my father, fought to protect and uphold. This is about two people being able to stand in front of their friends and family and make a public commitment.

I just hope that these things get to the Supreme Court and get overturned. I hope it is not the start of something that is going to be much bigger and much more destructive and divisive in the future. I think it is time for a proposition that bans hatred and discrimination altogether. It should just be illegal to discriminate. Period.

I hope I have made some sense with this. This is just something that brings up such powerful emotions in me.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Jodhpur, Ranakpur and Udaipur, Oh My!

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It was during dinner the evening before that Jon and Ulco played the tourist card. Although it had been agreed on weeks before that the Taj Mahal was not on our list of destinations, and not only that, but I think I am somewhat allergic to Agra, they begged and pleaded and gave us “we’ll throw you out of the car in the middle of nowhere” eyes and we had no choice but to be the gracious hosts and give in after a lot of complaining. So instead of heading to Mount Abu, we decided to head to Udaipur by way of Ranakpur with a first stop in Mandore, the ancient city of Jodhpur, about 10 or so kilometers in the opposite direction. The thing about India, is that distance means nothing. 10 kilometers (less than 5 miles) can easily take an hour or so, and an hour or so after leaving the center of Jodhpur, we found ourselves in Mandore where we jumped out of the car, took a bunch of pictures and then piled back in and soon were back in the car speeding toward Ranakpur.

I had been wanting to go to Ranakpur to see the Jain temples, but that plan was also squashed when Jon announced that he was pretty “Jained out” and so it was decided in a three to one vote and guess who only got one vote in spite of organizing the whole thing and basically playing the role of Julie McCoy the entire trip? Yep, yours truly.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to Kumbalgarh, it is just that I had been wanting to see the temples for weeks, but I reread about Kumbalgarh and decided it would all be ok. I was also assuming we could at least a few minutes and at least see the temples from the outside. Ranakpur is a village, how hard would it be to miss them?

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By the time we got to Ranakpur, we did not have the time to visit Kumbalgarh. It was over an hour drive up a windy, not so good road to the top of the mountain and then we would have had about 30 minutes of time to explore before having to come down that same road in the dark and then continue out of the mountains to Udaipur. We had had a very close call with a bud earlier in the day and none of us were keen on being in the car after dark. I only had used my driver in Delhi traffic and suddenly it seemed he had vision issues and we were 700 kilometers from home and still a week to go.

So we ended up going to the Jain temples and one look at them cured Jon of his Jain burnout. The whole temple is so elaborately carved and all held up by 1444 carved pillars, no two of them the same. Of all the temples I had been in so far, that was by far one the favorite. So many details to see and pictures to take, I could have spent the entire day there, but we had to do with just an hour or so in the complex. I was also very careful to take a lot of pictures, but at the same time, make sure I was not seeing Rajasthan via the viewfinder of my 35mm or the display of my digital camera. I made that mistake the first time I came to India about 12 years ago. 

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From Ranakpur it was a beautiful mountain drive toward Udaipur with monkeys everywhere and it seemed each one had a baby latched onto it. We passed through several villages and at one point decided to stop the car at a sleepy little area. Big mistake! As soon as the car stopped, children came out of nowhere and everywhere, all wanting money. I took out what little money I had on me, and made the mistake of pulling out paper money. The 10 rupee bill was immediately torn into several pieces as the kids fought over it. The crowd kept growing and pushing and so I just went back into the car.

As was becoming our trend, we arrived in Udaipur after dark. The lake palace was brightly lit up, all bright white in the middle of the black lake and fireworks were being shot off from the Maharaja Palace behind it. It was a nice welcome to the city but t had been a long day and after a meal on a rooftop terrace overlooking the town, I was ready for bed.

Jodhpur

DSC04304 I woke up early to see the sunrise and spend some time alone on the rooftop terrace. There I was, minding   my own business, taking in the daybreak and writing a bit when a little bird landed right near me and then sang me a little song. We talked for a bit. I would say “hello” and my new friend would chirp back something I could almost understand. After everyone else made it up to the terrace, we had breakfast, which for me was my usual sunrise porridge. I started eating porridge on my first morning in Jaisalmer and Jon began calling me Oliver Twist. Being a Dickens fan, I embraced my new identity and decided that porridge would be my Rajasthani breakfast choice. This particular morning, I decided to go a bit crazy and spice it up with bananas.DSC04324

Just after breakfast we headed up to the Meherangarh decided to take a personal guide. What a difference  from the fort in Jaisalmer. In Jaisalmer, we visited the temple and walked around a bit, but it just seemed to crammed with stores and hotels that it made any idea of further exploration completely uninteresting to me. Jon went for a further tour of the Jaisalmer Fort, but Ulco, Manuel and I did not. I wasn’t interested in shopping through a fort. I wanted to see history, not wood carvings used for block paintings and patchwork bedcovers. While I was charmingly seduced by the town itself, I was quit disappointed by the fort. In a way it reminded me of old Jerusalem, only with different items to buy.

DSC04344 Meherangarh, however, was a completely different story. We entered via the Jayapol and made our way to the Imritiapol gate, which is located further up the slope after a sharp turn. This was to stop any charging elephants. After that is the Fatehpol, built by the Maharaja to celebrate and commemorate his victory over the Mughals. After that, there is the Lohapol, or Iron Gate, built atop another slope just around a bend. This gate has iron spikes which would slow or stop any elephant that made it that far and anyone that happened to be atop an elephant would find him or her self uncomfortably impaled on the door spikes. I had seen the higher spikes on other gate and could not figure out what they would be doing 2 – 3 meters off the ground. Charging elephants was not an option I had considered. Next to that gate, are a series of reconstructed handprints of Maharaja Man Singh’s widows who, in 1843 threw themselves on his funeral pyre.

DSC04362The carved windows and arched doorways are absolutely magnificent. One of those places here pictures  just do not do justice at all. This is a place you have to see for yourself to truly grasp the beauty and grandeur. Each turn of a corner introduced more intricate carvings and architecture, and below the blue hues of the city spread out like a blanket across an otherwise brownish landscape.

A few weeks ago, several people were crushed to death in a stampede at the Chamunda Devi temple in Jodhpur. This temple is at the far end of Meherangarh. It is a tiny little temple with views across a lot of the city. Our guide told us how the bodies were lined up in part of the fort and he knew a few personally. Like most places in India, Jodhpur is both large and incredibly tiny. Everyone seems to know everyone or know someone who knows someone.

DSC04521 After the fort, we went to see Jaswant Thada, the elaborately carved memorial which looks bigger and more impressive from a distance. It could also be the fact that it is competing with a fort that makes it seem a bit less than it otherwise would. Perhaps there are only so many tombs, temples and forts a person can see in such close succession before they start blending in with each other and going from being spectacular to just another stop on the tourist trail. Its like being at the Louvre or in Florence. Both great places, but just the amount of art everywhere makes it almost impossible to really enjoy everything. I was looking forward to going to Mount Abu the next day, just to have some time in nature and cleanse the palette so to speak.

DSC04614The afternoon was spent shopping for cashmere at a store that had a lot of overruns on the Hermes cashmere blankets. They were all amazing and we were reminded many times that Richard Gere had recently been by and bout 80 or so of them. With cashmere safely in bags, it was back to the hotel and then a stroll through the local market. I loved it. Jodhpur has all of the things I love about old Delhi without all the things I don’t like about old Delhi. We bought some glass, shopped for spices and teas and just took in the local sights and sounds. The next day, we were planning to head to Mount Abu, but once again, our plans did not go as planned.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Road to Jodhpur

DSC04042 I thought we had done pretty much everything in Jaisalmer, but as soon as we arrived, Jon suggested we head to Lodhruva, just a few kilometers away, to see the Jain temples. This particular temple comes complete with a resident cobra. Superstition has it that the cobra is several hundred years old. I made my silent little prayer to see the cobra, which lives under the temple and comes out every once in a while, but he did not poke out is little head while I was there. I tried my best Harry Potteresque Parseltongue, but to no avail. Perhaps I should have brought him a tasty treat from Deshnok to tempt him out of hiding. The closest I got was to the area where he supposedly sleeps. There is a carved cobra and a silver dish for whatever it is one gives a cobra. I looked into the hole to see if I could see him and immediately decided that having my face in front of a cobra’s front door was probably not a wise thing. I finally did manage to see him, but it was on a picture of him in all his hooded cobra glory, slithering atop his special space set aside in the temple.DSC04232

  Now we were truly finished and after a final night in Jaisalmer, it was off to the blue city of Jodhpur. We decided to take in the Jain temples at Osiyan on our way. Osiyan does not receive a huge amount of tourists and we were actually the only ones I saw. We were there to see the Sachiya Mata Temple and the Mahavira Temple, which we were told by the very friendly priest there, is the oldest temple in all of India. There are reconstructions all around the old temple, and whether it was really the oldest or not is probably a topic for discussion, but for now, I chose to believe it. The priest gave us our blessings and then a small tour of the complex and afterwards he gave each of us a gift… Two of us (Ulco and I) received carved Buddha heads while Jon and Manuel received carved Ganeshas. Manuel was so very excited to have a new Ganesha for his little temple. He is such a good Hindu these days with his little temple and incense and candles. I wouldn’t be surprised if I come home to find a note telling me he has run away to become a monk.

After Osiyan we head to Jodhpur with visions of a roof terrace and a relaxing dinner in our heads. We arrived at the Pal Haveli, which had been recommended by our hotel in Jaisalmer and were shown to our rooms. From the bed of my room, I had a fabulous view of the fort.

DSC04297 I had expected the fort in Jodhpur to be somewhat similar to the one in Jaisalmer, but they were nothing alike. While Jaisalmer Fort is low to the town. Meherangarh in Jodhpur is perched high above the city. While Jaisalmer Fort feels a bit friendly, Meherangarh feel forbidding. At night Jaisalmer Fort glows a warm, welcoming gold and Meherangarh casts a dominating silhouette against a dark night sky.

Perched on an adjacent hill to Meherangarh, sits Jaswant Thada, the white and brightly lit memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh I, and directly behind us was the Umaid Bhawan Palace, whose shape from a distance makes one think of the Taj Mahal. I decided I needed a bit of a break and decided that the next day, I would visit the fort and take the rest of the day for myself. But as I am often taught time and again, the best laid plans of mice and men most often go awry.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Camel, Camel, Cow

At the last minute Jon had to cancel out of the safari. India had caught up with him the way India likes to catch up with newbies. In total there were nine of us and our jeep driver. All of us would go into the desert for sunset, some would return and some would stay the night. We were staying the night, sleeping under the stars. I had been dreaming of starry, starry skies for a couple of weeks. I was so excited to crowd into the jeep, and crowd we did!

DSC03806Our first stop in the way to camels was in Bada Bagh to see the royal chhatris, which when compared with the ones in Bikaner were a bit of a let down. I had seen them from the roof terrace of our hotel in Jaisalmer and was curious to see them. Their current condition makes one doubt if they are at all maintained and the backdrop of energy windmills, communication towers and power lines killed any feelings of awe and any pictures taken had to be from very specific angles to edit them out. Some of the cenotaphs had crumbled either completely or their domes had caved in and it seems like only a matter of time before they are complete ruins. While the ones in Bikaner feel aged and respected, these felt old, neglected and somewhat abused, which is sadly the situation for a lot of incredible historical sites here.

After Bada Bagh we made a brief stop at Amar Sagar, the gardens of the Maharaja which sound far more grand than they were, except for one spot here we looked out over a dry lake bed to beautiful Jain temple. Then it was back in the jeep and we were soon speeding into the desert toward Pakistan.

DSC03829 Most of the camel safaris from Jaisalmer go to the Sam Sand Dunes, and what sounds like a nice experience away from the crowds can be ruined by the number tourists that do the safaris. We were in luck. Our hotel owners also own about 50 camels and they conduct their own safaris, limited to a maximum of about 10 people and they go to an area about 40 kilometers from the touristy spots. We arrived at a village whose name I do not know with only a few inhabitants and whose livelihood depends on camels and the income generated from the safaris. We took a brief tour of the village and met pretty much everyone living there. The homes were made of mud walls and  grass roofs. After thirty minutes or so, we were each assigned a camel – mine was named Kala – and off we headed into the desert. Kala stopped at every bush to take a bite and I heard the common complaints from Ulco, who was directly behind me, that my camel was a bit gassy.

DSC03889About forty minutes later we arrived at our spot for the night, about an hour or so before the sun set. We had our chai and the camels were taken to a small oasis to feed while we all watched the sunset, just forty or so kilometers from the border of Pakistan. We could not see a building, hear a car or anything other than the small group several hundred meters away whose voices we could barely hear in the silence of the desert.

Our guide made us a great supper over a fire and the group of us – nine, including the two guides – played all sorts of games that we haven't played since we were six. the innocent game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" was now a more vicious version called "Camel, Camel, Cow". The moon was full and so bright it blocked out most of the stars I was looking forward to sleeping under. But a full moon casts a wonderful light on the desert. It was bright enough to see quite far into the distance, making out the silhouettes of distant camels and solitary trees. It was like the world was flat and we were dangerously close to the edge. 

DSC03994 We slept on flimsy mattresses on surprisingly hard sand. Walking in it, it feels all squishy and soft. Trying to sleep on it, I felt every ridge and dent. I woke up to a damp and slightly foggy morning, a mist hanging over the dunes of the desert making it all the more mysterious. I took a bit of a walk on my own and after passing over one dune, I found myself in a valley with nothing but sand and fog around me. I could hear the voices from the camp and with my footprints still visible, I had no fear of getting lost, save for a sudden sand storm.

All too soon it was time to get back on our camels and this time it was a much longer journey to the pick-up point. At first the camel seems very uncomfortable and as there are no stirrups giving one a sense of foundation or balance I felt like if I moved the wrong way, I would slip off.

All too soon our journey was over and it was back to Jaisalmer in jeeps for our last night before heading off to the blue city Jodhpur.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jaisalmer

DSC03576At this very moment I am sitting on a rooftop terrace in Jaisalmer across from the fort, The sun is in the final stages of setting and the fort is lit in such a way that it almost seems as if it is floating. This is the fourth day of a two week trip and I feel like I have been traveling for ages. And in the very best way possible. Delhi seems like foggy dream. I feel like I could give up my job and just spend the rest of my life on this terrace, living in that space between sleep and wake, when everything seems a bit hazy and just feels so very good.

 

DSC03354We arrived here under dark of night after along drive through the desert. There were times when there was not a single car or building for as far as I could see. It was amazing. After the chaos and crowds that seem to define Delhi, I was suddenly nowhere. It was just the five of us. We stopped the car to get out and there was nothing to hear. There were no people. No car  horns. No music. Just silence and space. Lots and lots of seemingly endless space. I imagined being like Marco Polo, making my way across a land having no idea of what I would find, but when finding my self in such a place wondering if I really wanted to find anything more. I have missed the desert. In California the beach and the desert were my anchors. They were where I went to both to think, to celebrate, to make my plans, to be with friends, to just get away from it all. I always loved the severity of the desert. I really had not expected to find myself in such an isolated place on this trip. I have a lot on my mind. A lot to think about and decisions that I need to make. Suddenly the desert was here for me again.

I snuck up to the roof terrace about thirty minutes before sunrise. It was a bit chilly and the fort was a dark silhouette against a dark sky. It was that time of the day when the sunrise can be more felt than seen. The promise of something that is to come. I love that time of morning, when the streets are quiet and world partly asleep. Early morning calls to prayer blanket the city like a warm pashmina.

DSC03689After a breakfast of what I now call “sunrise porridge”, we were off on a small walking tour to see the havelis of Jaisalmer. Like a lot of tours in India, it was more a tour from store to store with some sights tossed in between shopping destinations all offering “very cheaper price, sir. Just look. No buy”. We visited the exquisite former house of the Prime Minister which is now half residence and, surprise, half store. School children crowded around, each wanting “one school pen” and finally there was one who was just so cute and so shy, I caved in and handed over my one and only pen.

  After the store to store tour of the havelis, it was time for the fort itself. The main attraction seems to be the Jain Temple and foreigners are only allowed in after 11, which created a mad rush through the main entry of the temple, which is a small door. Ulco, Manuel and I climbed a small set of steps and watched the crowd below push and shove their way in, all the while DSC03756trying to take pictures and holding up the people behind them. I noticed a small door to my left and of course, I went to investigate. I was in a completely empty Jain temple and better yet, it as connected to the main temple through a somewhat hidden passage. It was all very Indiana Jones. The carvings were absolutely amazing, but the monks kept trying to get into the picture and then wanting money in spite of all the signs that say not to give tips to temple workers. There are metal boxes that are meant for donations, but it seems that several of the temple workers don’t care for those boxes as much as getting the cash themselves.

Before long it was time to head back to the hotel for a lunch and a battery recharge before we headed out into the desert on the back of a camel for an overnight safari in the dunes.

Oh Rats!

DSC03350We left Delhi at 5am Sunday morning and after fourteen or so hours in the car, we reached Bikaner, a city described by Lonely Planet as “a dust-swirling desert city… Streets feel medieval - narrow, dark and uneven complete with open sewers”. It was in Bikaner that we spent the first night, luckily finding an acceptable hotel on our first try. We went for a walk to and in the old city and after about 10 minutes decided to head back to the hotel for an easily forgettable dinner and an early night. It was also more than obvious to me that Ulco was not having a good time. Not at all. I have to admit, it was a pretty lousy introduction to India. As I mentioned before, this trip to India was Ulco stepping way out of his comfort zone and I really have no idea where it will all lead. If he likes it, great. If he hates it, then he is in for a long two weeks.

DSC03394 Today we were all surprised to find the sandstone Junagarh Fort and a few extra sights to explore. All to soon, or not quite soon enough (depending on who you were asking) we were off to our real reason for staying a night in the oh so charming city of Bikaner; the Karni Mata Temple about thirty miles south in the otherwise nondescript town of Deshnok. In spite of having traveled over fourteen hours on bumpy roads through towns with no names and no plumbing, I had absolutely no intention of going into the temple… I just wanted to see it. I knew Jon and Ulco would not go in. In fact, I had told everyone not to mention the temple to Ulco until we were closer, because I did not want to give him too much time to get himself all worked up. I lasted about 6 hours into the drive and then spilled the beans. The only person in our party with firm plans to enter the temple was Manuel.

Perhaps I should explain a bit about the Karni Mata Temple. This temple is more commonly referred to as the Temple of Rats. As the name implies, the temple is home to thousands of rats. It is an important pilgrimage site and people bring all sorts of food offerings like sugar balls and other sweet foods for the rats. Devout believers actually eat prasad with some holy rat saliva in it, which is believed to bring about good fortune.

DSC03430 Once we arrived in Deshnok, I had a bit of a change of heart. I decided I was not going to let a few thousand rats bully me out of any place. I promptly removed my sandals and headed for the entrance. Yes, it is required to go in bare feet. I know. The “ick” factor goes way up, but I still was not planning to go all the way in, I just wanted a peek so I could write about it,  and the temple itself seemed to have some very interesting carvings. I could feel the blood leaving my head as I got closer and I felt a bit dizzy. Standing in line did not help my anxiety and I had pictures of the floor of the temple being covered in rats and having to shuffle my way through the heaps and heaps of rodents that were just a few meters away. I wondered if they would nibble at my toes. What if it was all so horrific I fainted? Would the rats run all over my body? I wanted to back out, but I was not going to let some shriveled little raisin of an old lady be a braver man than I. IMG_0071 (8)

 I took a deep breath and stepped into the temple. To the right were a few hundred rats, all minding their town business, eating and drinking and just being merry. There were not rats covering the temple floor. They were not running up my legs – I was in shorts, but still! They were not pouring out of the walls like the snakes in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and except for a couple of times when one went running across the main area, they stayed in their little areas. It is considered auspicious for a rat to run across your feet, but the closest one got to mine was about 6 inches, and that was my own doing. In spite of a life-long fear of rats, I was calm and relaxed in the temple and really enjoyed just watching the rats do their rat things.

I left the temple feeling a bit high. I had confronted my fear head on and found it to be far worse than any reality. I couldn’t believe I had actually done it, but I did and I was quite impressed with myself.

DSC03518After visiting the Karni Mata Temple, we decided to drop in on the National Research Centre on Camels and discovered they were closed. I wanted to see camels and Jon wanted a pair of camel leather slippers, but the camels were out on safari or doing whatever it is camels do when they are not at home so we decided to just head to Jaisalmer. As we were heading back into Bikaner to pick up the main road, we got a bit lost, but that turned out to be a very nice surprise. We went a bit out of our way, but soon came across a collection of domes and so we all agreed to stop the car for some photos. It turned out these were no ordinary, run of the mill sandstone and marble constructions, these were the cenotaphs for the Bika dynasty of rulers in Devi Kund. Not only that, but we were allowed to go in and there were no other visitors. We had the place all to ourselves and it was amazing, with hundreds of elaborately carved arches and pillars and fantastically preserved and cared for, which unfortunately is a bit of a rarity in India. One of the keepers opened a small door/window for us, which when climbed into provided a fantastic scene of thousands of blooming lily pads and a few white cranes with a backdrop of white domes.

Next stop, the golden city of Jaisalmer.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Coming to India

The day I never actually thought would arrive has dawned. Ulco is coming to India. Years before I moved here, I suggested many times to Ulco that we should take a trip to India. The suggestion was usually met with silence, a stare, and then a not so subtle change of subject. India has never been on his list of places to visit, and more accurately, was probably near the top of places NOT to visit. But a few months ago he told me that he was going to be coming for a visit and I was both excited and nervous. I wanted to see him, but I just wasn’t sure I wanted to see him here, in Shah Jahan’s old town. My first instinct as to keep him somewhat isolated, visiting monuments during the day and keeping all of our lunches, teas, dinners and brunches at the Oberoi or the Imperial. But then I had another idea…

I have not taken any holiday time in India since I moved, and with the exception of a few weekend trips to places like Mumbai, Jaipur or Agra, I have not really seen anything of India. Even my first trip to India 12 or so years ago was pretty limited. Trains took forever, if they showed up at all and only really visited Delhi, Agra and Varanasi. That is all about to change…

Tomorrow morning at 4:30, Ulco, Manuel, Jon (another visiting friend) and I leave for 2 weeks of adventure in Rajasthan. We were originally going to go by train, but instead opted for a car and driver. My driver, actually, which makes the whole thing a lot easier logistically. We have a rough idea of where we will be going but that is all subject to change at a moment’s notice. The only commitment we have is for a hotel in Jaisalmer on Monday night and then on Tuesday we head out into the desert on camels for a night under the stars. It is a very touristy thing to do, but we have arranged through or hotel that we will be going to an area where it will be just the four of us, our guide, our camels and the sand dunes.

I won’t write any more about the trip now as I would not want to give away any surprises, but I will be blogging about it daily and posting as I have internet access. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

Huh? Foreign Policy?

I need to take a moment to thank someone, someone who has proved to be a beacon of light, illuminating the error and ignorance of my ways and helped me shore-up my own understanding of how the world works, Sarah Palin. Chortle or guffaw if you will, but I am serious. It was while Gov. Palin was elucidating on the challenges of being the CEO of Alaska that the light bulb went off, my eyes began to sparkle and I realized the responsibilities I am expected to shoulder while here in India.

I have lived in India for almost two years, and never once bothered to buy a map from one of the peddlers in Basant Lok market. If I had, I might have seen, that like Alaska, India has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Sri Lanka, and on our other side, the land-boundaries we share with countries like such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bhutan and a few others I can’t remember right now, but I know they’re there.

It appears that my geographic proximity not only enhances my foreign policy credentials, but has completely turned my normally calm and predictable mornings into tightly orchestrated multi-tasking affairs which, quite frankly, leave me feeling just the slightest bit frazzled. 

Every morning when I wake up, I peek outside and say good morning to Pakistan which I can almost see from my bedroom window. Then I go to the roof terrace and do my yoga. But what I do now, in the interest of national security is this; I perform each round of the Surya Namaskar facing a different direction. I’m not sure there’s really a country there or not, but one can’t be too careful these days. While I am inhaling deeply, stretching my arms forward, up and back, I am also scanning the horizon for suspicious activities and shady looking characters. You never know when someone might come in via a Trojan camel.

I personally don’t mind people coming over whenever they want, as long as they are cute. The last thing any country needs is an influx of unmonitored ugly people dragging down our real-estate values and healthcare initiatives which we are trying to shore up via job creation. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Letter From New Delhi

I know it has been awhile since my last post. I have been doing my best to stay out of the political discussion. And while I do find myself obsessed with Sarah Palin, I have been biting my tongue as it were and decidedly not writing about her. But then I realized that I love her. L-O-V-E her.

I love everything about her except the anti-gay thing, the pro-life thing even in the case of incest or or rape and I am totally against cosmetic companies and politicians testing their products on animals. No matter how ugly those animals might be. And let me just say for the record, pit bulls are ugly in any shade of lipstick. I do, however, admire and am jealous of the fact that she gets to fire anyone who gets on her nerves. I want that kind of power. I also believe, and I have for some time now, that Washington DC really needs another unwed teenage mother. But at least Sarah has the decency to force her daughter into a marriage based on a lesson in abstinence gone bad. I believe that the perfect way to protect the sanctity of marriage is to force two teenagers to wed for all the wrong reasons so they can get a divorce in just a few years. And I am absolutely mad about the fact that her future son-in-law is a “fucking redneck” who will “kick your ass” and likes to “shoot at stuff” and I sincerely think we need more people like him with access to the White House and President. Its like I always say; We need more guns in Washington. We need more concealed weapons. After all, they might need them to protect all the new Meth labs.

But Meth labs are a good thing and I am confident that the sale of illegal drugs can help stimulate the economy and pull it out of this nasty little slump its in. Or at least get people loaded to the point where they just don’t care. They might be homeless and unemployed, but God bless them, they'll be high. Ah, the land of dreams and hallucinogenic drugs. But most importantly, I think what the US and world really need is a hockey mom playing backseat driver to McCain’s Mr. Toad as they travel the wild road to nowhere. The only thing that really scares me about her is the fact she uses MAC. I use MAC. What does that say about me? Maybe I need to switch to Dior 80/60 cream.

But I have no time for politics these days. I have bigger things on my mind. You might want to sit down for this one, because I have news. In case anyone has missed this little point about me, I have a thing for the stage. And not only the stage, the spotlight, pulled in tight as I break into my own song which of course will end in thunderous applause. Well, some dreams take longer to come true than others, but last Tuesday I was cast in a play. Let me say that again - last Tuesday, I was cast in a play. It all started many months ago at “Ouch” with Danielle, Anjali and Lata, Anjali’s mom and source of all her fabulousness. Anjali and Lata dabble in the arts and they mentioned they were in the first stages of a musical and thought there might be an interesting little part for me. Now, when someone says little part, I think of entering stage left with just enough hair and make-up to get by, but no real attention to detail, nothing memorable, delivering a line or two and exiting.

After that discussion I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t forget about it, but as we showbiz types like to say, “That’s showbiz!” Then Monday, I was sitting at home in the very spot I now find myself planted when my phone rang. It was Lata. Could I stop by the next evening and meet the director and discuss the play to see if I was interested and if the director thought I was right for the part. She may as well have told me I was in the final three to become America’s Next Top Model. I as excited beyond belief. On my way to Lata’s the next night, I started to panic. Would I be required to sing something? Like at an Idols audition? Ten minutes before arriving at Lata’s I decided I better be prepared. I searched my iPod for anything from a musical and the only one I had was “Wicked”. I wondered if singing a part from the witch would be the right way to go and worried I might not sound green enough. But that was all for naught. I was the first to arrive and Lata told me a bit about the play. A small part, she said. I didn’t care. Just to be back in the theatre, I would do pretty much anything. I miss that life. Not that it was ever MY life, but I miss being in that environment.

To make a long story as short as possible, I got the part. And it is not just one line, I have actual pages. I have emotions to convey, a journey of self discovery and a solo. A SOLO! I get full hair! I get full makeup! Cut to me, a couple of months from now, flowers filling the air on their way to the stage. The cries of “bravo!” and “encore!” filling the auditorium while I stand there looking humble and meek saying in a low voice “I owe it all to pasta…” The movie deals. The endorsements. The Lindsay Lohan like erratic driving to dodge the paparazzi. The rehab. The comeback. The book deal. Fun times!

But that is not all the news I have this week. The cosmos have been very busy smiling down on me these past days. Just this evening, I got a message on Facebook which included the following little ditty: “I was having drinks with my friend Valentina the other day (she works here for the US Vanity Fair) and said she almost prefers your blog to mine.” I almost fell off my chair. Vanity Fair is my favorite magazine. I have been reading it since I was a teenager. The Proust Questionnaire. Nan Darien. Vanities. Dominic Dunne. The Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

Back in 2002, I spent a year working for Rem Koolhaas, who among other things was on the board of Conde Nast. It was pretty much a miserable job working closely with one of the most miserable people I have ever come across in my life. But one day the most magical thing happened. Two, count them, TWO tickets to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party came across my desk. I had to read them 3 times. I went to the men’s room to avoid the embarrassing urinating-in-the-pants-from-excitement thing and when I came back, I read them again just to be sure. I happened to have a brand new case of OGO Portable Oxygen Cans at my desk and had to inhale two of them just to keep from fainting. I knew Rem wouldn’t go. At the time the office had recently finished work on the Prada Epicenter in New York. I had been there just a few weeks before and knew I could get a discount on a Prada tux. And if that didn’t work, I had contacts at Prada in Milan. My plotting and planning started.

The only obstacle was that the invites themselves don’t really mean anything. It was the guest list I needed to be on. I had Graydon Carter’s number in my mobile. I wondered if I could simply transfer the invites from Rem to me. I was meant to go. I was meant to be there with Judi Dench, Halle Berry, Denzel, Ethan Hawke, Sophie Dahl, Selma Blair, Ellen Barkin, Megan Mullally, Kelly Lynch and the rest. Nicole Kidman was nominated. I already knew what I was going to say, how I was going to get her to offer her cheek to me for a congratulatory buss. Fortunately, or maybe not, I had just finished reading “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” by Toby Young. Toby had my dream job and he blew it every chance he got. I was jealous. If you are going to crash and burn, what a way to go. I thought of crashing the party, but security is very tight and this was just the first Academy Awards after 9/11. I decided not chance it. It’s one thing to be rejected from a party, another to risk being put in jail as a security risk. But for just a few moments, I held the keys to the kingdom.

So imagine what it was like to know that not only do I read Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair reads me.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Attacks in Delhi

Between 18:07 and 18:38 yesterday evening, five bombs were detonated across Delhi. The last two explosions happened at M-Block Market in GK-1, just a few hundred meters from where I live. I was at home at the time, playing music and getting ready to go to Danielle’s for dinner. Manuel and I didn’t hear anything. We didn’t know anything. It was only when we got in the car fifteen minutes later and my driver got a call from his son that the first details started coming in. All he knew was that there was a bomb at Connaught Place and one in GK M-Block. It actually seemed absurd. I was sure he had some wrong information. There are 2 GKs, and each have an M-Block Market. He must have been talking about GK-2, which is close but not within walking distance like GK-1.

We live on a quiet street, bookended by one very busy street and another street that gets somewhat busy during rush-hour but nothing to really comment about. As soon as we hit the smaller of the two streets, it was obvious something had happened. For the first time in 3 months, traffic was jammed. On the way to Danielle’s, I tried to get some news, some details. I phoned Ankit who works for a TV station but couldn’t get through. Finally we got to Danielle’s. She didn’t know anything of it at all, so we turned on the local news and suddenly everything changes. Manuel was planning on going to Connaught Place to do a bit of shopping. He was planning on going to Palika Bazaar after the movie in Saket, but for some reason came home instead. Had he gone, he would have arrived just a few minutes before the bombs went off. He would have been there.

I am not going to pretend to be directly affected by the bombs. Too many people are dead and injured. As far as I know now, I have no friends among them. Had it not been for my driver or the messages I received asking if I was ok, I still would not know. I was planning on going to M-Block Market today. It’s our weekend market. It’s one of the places we go. I am typing this with the news in the background. Images from my neighborhood. This is the closest I have ever been.

Last night Anjali cancelled out on dinner to stay home. If I had known what was happening, I am not sure I would left the house. Danielle lives in what is probably the most secure part of the city, but it is 30 minutes between her place and ours. The restaurant which would have been normally crowded and turning people away had at most 4 tables of people eating. Everyone taking and making calls whenever we could get a line out. Text messages checking if everyone is ok. Promises to phone or text when we all reach home safe. Calling home to make sure our parents don’t worry when it finally hits the local news in Europe and the US. Just as we got to the restaurant we heard that some markets were being closed, markets and restaurants evacuated. Our conversation kept drifting back to what was happening in our city.

This morning on the news I heard that India is only behind Iraq and Afghanistan in the number of terror attacks. For me, one of the scariest times of these attacks is not knowing when it will end. Yes, five bombs went off and several more were diffused. Not knowing if that is it or just the start of something much bigger is what I find the most difficult. Everything becomes suspect. A car on the side of the road. A person putting something in a trash bin. The saddlebags on a bicycle. That’s what was used yesterday. Trash bins and bicycles.

No bombs have gone off since yesterday evening. The city and country are on high alert. Hopefully it is over for now, but we know that another is on the way. It is just a question of when and where…

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Friendship 2.0

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems the more “connected” I am, the more out of touch I feel. I have my email, Google Talk, Facebook, Twitter, BriteKite, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, blog, etc., and the invitations to join new things come everyday. When I am not online, I have the appropriate application on my iPhone – I am always connected, always keeping everyone up to date with any little detail of my life. Just like most of my friends. I know where they are, where they are working, I see their pictures of holidays and weddings and children. On the surface, it seems great, amazing that it no longer matters if you live next door or on the opposite side of the planet, we are always there in each other’s lives, in the know about what is going on the moment it happens.

But are we?
Really?
I wonder...

I feel more disconnected from my friends than I ever did before. I have fallen into the trap of letting Facebook and my blog keep the people I care about up to date. I become lazy and passive in my friendships. I used to be the guy that picked up the phone and sent long personal emails and now it’s almost as if I can’t be bothered. I would worry if I hadn’t heard from someone for a couple of days. I used to take my time writing for just that one person who was on my mind, investing time and energy and now it seems I just broadcast my life for anyone that happens to stumble across my blog or Twitter. Friends I used to be so in touch with are the ones I feel so distant from.

I can’t remember the last time Nik and I exchanged an email. I read his updates, check out his pics on Facebook, I get the false sense of knowing what is going on with him, knowing where he “is” in life, but for some reason I don’t email him. I don’t even message him on Facebook. I don’t ask questions. I don’t dig deeper. I content myself with the snippets he chooses to post and I comment here and there. Comment. Is that what my friendships have become? A series of short and easy to overlook, easy to forget comments?

I feel more like a voyeur than a participant. And the crazy thing is, I have fallen into the same trap. I put up my pics, post my status updates and assume that everyone is up to date and participating in my life. Sometimes I post updates that I think should get a response from people and yet nothing comes. I get disappointed. But if my friends are like me, they get tons of updates every single day in Facebook alone. And then there is Twitter and the rest. Who can keep up?  I am not one of those people that collect people on Facebook. With only one exception, I have met and know every person in my friend list. I see their faces everyday on my screen, but some of them I haven’t exchanged a single message with for over a year. A year. They are just a click away and yet that too is becoming so far. These are people I would have sent an email to or phoned regularly. Ken, Christina, Marco, Nik, Joe, Laura and on and on the list goes.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Facebook and the rest are great at keeping everyone up to date. What scares me is that they seem to be replacing and redefining the relationship, making it less personal, more generic. I don’t want that to happen with my friends. I value my friends. I love my friends. We have seen each other through high school, relationships, children, careers, illness and death. We have shared cocktails and gossip, leaned on each other and pulled each other up. Ken, Ulco and Marco have at different times saved me, coming to my rescue at just the right moment, even if they didn’t know it at the time.

I like the snippets of life I see everyday about my friends. I just don’t like when I see the snippets replacing the real deal. So I am going to pick up the phone more. I am going to write more emails. I will get back onto Messenger and I am going to get my friendships back the way I need them to be. A lot more personal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Poor Little Piggy

Fact: Marble floors are very hard and very smooth
Fact: Water tends to make marble floors slippery
Fact: When one has wet feet on a marble floor, one should avoid any actions that require even the most minute traction
Fact: When one ignores these facts, one ends up in a lot of pain

Yesterday morning after my shower, I was walking across the bedroom to the closet which requires me to pass by the foot of the bed. For some reason while at the foot of the bed, I felt the need to pull something off the bed. I lost my balance and both my feet went sliding under the bed and into the middle bed legs, causing me to run through my entire list of favorite expletives and causing Manuel to laugh.

I tried bending my toes which worked a bit in spite of the shooting pain and decided they weren’t broken and the pain would subside in an hour or so. I finished getting ready for work and decided to wear my Crocs as they would be the only footwear that would not put pressure on my foot. By the time I got to the office, I was leaning against the stair rail just to get upstairs. An hour later I pulled off the sock and there was my swollen purple toe looking back at me and I decided it was time to take it all a bit more serious.

I got to the hospital and was sent to Orthopedics who, without even looking at my foot or listening to what had happened decided I needed to see a surgeon. I think that is just the default answer to any foreigner with an injury, sending them to a surgeon. It was all very Grey’s Anatomy, but suddenly the thought of someone cutting open the little piggy that stayed home was not so amusing. I waited about 40 minutes for the surgeon to arrive, during which time my entire foot was going numb and I start jumping to worst case scenarios and in my mind my foot was being amputated just below the hip.

Finally the surgeon arrived to take a look. He was not McDreamy or McSteamy, but he did determine my toes – by now more of them were changing color – were not broken but possibly fractured so I was put in a wheelchair and sent for some x-rays which showed no fractures of any kind. I am not sure what was more painful at that moment, my foot or the fact that 27 days after I turned 41, I was being wheeled around the hospital like a little old man.

I am now on my anti-inflammatory medication, right foot elevated and a nice shade of blue slowly but surely taking over more of my podiatric real estate. I am not supposed to walk for the next 2 days unless it is absolutely necessary, something I don’t think I will have a problem sticking to as even walking across the living room to the washroom takes me about a minute.

But I did get some real cool x-ray photos of my foot to go along with my snowboarding vacation x-rays which include broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, two concussions and a sprained ankle. Souvenirs I collected over the years in Val Thorens. Oh yeah, and there’s the broken collar bone pics from when I got hit by a car in Amsterdam, but that is another story.

Monday, September 08, 2008

I Want My MTV

There is one woman in music who impacted my life more than any of the rest. She came into my world via MTV when I was fifteen and I didn’t know at the time what was happening. It was the age of Martha Quinn and the time when video killed the radio star.


I was fourteen and living in Oregon. I was going to a new school and to say I didn’t fit in would be a massive understatement. I dreaded school and everyday my classmates seemed to outdo themselves finding ways to make my life miserable. But every afternoon I would go home and lose myself in MTV. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. My musical life had been limited to the few radio stations that were available and whatever my parents decided to play in the car.

Suddenly the Buggles, Adam and the Ants, Billy Idol, Duran Duran, the Motels, Stray Cats, Joan Jett, the Cars, the Go-Go’s, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Human League, Madness, Devo and Depeche Mode were on my TV and in my life. I wanted and had my MTV,

I would record MTV like most people at that time recorded a cassette. I would keep the VHS on pause, waiting for my favorite songs to come on. It wasn’t long before I modeled myself after the images on the screen and the safety pin became the “don’t-leave-home-without-it” accessory. My favorite MTV artist was Billy Idol. I thought he was the coolest person I had ever seen. The hair. The spikes. The leather pants and gloves. That snarl. I practiced that snarl in the mirror and even now, when I feel angry or aggressive, that snarl comes up.

The videos were crude, there were only a few and they were repeated often. It didn’t matter as long as they kept it coming. And our patron saint was Martha Quinn. One of the original MTV VJs. Yeah, there were few others, but none of them even came close.