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. 


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.


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.