rigor mortis

Earlier this week I spied two kittens in the backyard. One was older than the other, which seemed newly born and skittish, like an extra from a kitten calendar photo shoot. The one that caught my eye was the older one, amber-eyes and soft fluffy grey fur on his body with white feet. Our eyes locked when I saw him drink from the milk bowl I set out for them.

It was the wee kitten, perhaps because she was sick that ventured closer to me on Tuesday morning. I had gone out back to check on the drain from the earlier rains and there she was under the porch, a shaking ball of fur. I took her inside and tried to get some milk into her. Her eyes were dilated and she looked almost cujo-like. It was a bit off putting so I picked her up, put her in a shoebox with fleece fabric and a bowl of milk and set her up in the backyard. Then I came back inside and sanitized the counter.

The weather has been San Fransciscan in mood and swing, one day overcast and chilly, the next springlike and sunny. They are predicting a heat wave for the weekend.  It's hard to know what to wear. Tuesday was partly cloudy, and started with a with a sprinkling of light rain. There was a torrential downpour during the day that lasted well into the evening. The streets were so slippery that on the way home from the train station I fell, bruising up my hands and knees (and luckily not tearing up my dress).

Once home I bandaged myself and made my way to the backyard to check on the little one. There I made a startling, and grim discovery. The poor kitten had succumbed to whatever illness and passed earlier in the day. Her body, frozen in time, lay at the bottom of the staircase. It's such a natural occurrence, death among the species in the circle of life, one that happens every moment of every day, and yet it felt so foreign to me. I felt shellshocked and I can't say why it frightened me so much but I could feel the stiffening fear (the irony inescapable) of having to do what had to be done next.

It took a moment to self-compose and detach long enough to gather gardening tools and rubber gloves, to select a suitable location in the backyard. I was careful to not touch the body outright, instead using a shovel to transfer it from the ground to a my makeshift shroud of a biodegradable bag. I wrapped the body as best as I could and carred it to the shallow grave, and then buried her under the overgrown bush in the backyard, covering the grave with mulch. A simple yet small act of kindness for one of God's creatures. A prayer that the next act of kindness will be for one of God's living creatures.


I am back at it, in the "real world" slipping into the routine of an every day life: working, commuting, eating, sleeping--trying my best to hold onto the peace of mind from being away, trying hard not to lose myself, not to lose perspective.

breathing in, breathing out. breathing in, breathing out.


lessons learned

I've had a ridiculously productive morning: preparing a meal for dinner, a homemade lunch for work and making french toast for breakfast, all while still having enough time to eat it and write a bit before jumping in the shower. I like this kind of productivity it makes me feel alive and in my own skin, where I can feel the immediate impact of my efforts.

Getting up early in the morning, that's something I used to do ages ago. There was a time I would wake up at 5am, complete the 8 mile bike loop around the bridge, come home, shower, eat breakfast and then leave for work. That has been a foreign idea to me for quite some time. But I like the idea of it, of setting up a ritual to ground oneself before the day begins. The day, every day should be your own, driven by your own intentions and not those of others in your personal life or your professional one. That's one of the lessons I learned on my India trip.

When I plan a leisure trip I normally have a good sense of what I'm doing at any given time. While there's never a tight regiment of what is happening when, I like to map out my activities day by day to give it some kind of thematic structure--even if that means lolling about the beach reading a book. It's my way of being mindful to myself and my experience. This time around though I relinquished control, I let go; allowing for others to take the lead in planning and organizing. No doubt it was a liberating experience, and although I'm grateful for the things I learned about myself (and others, friends and strangers), I don't know that I would do that again.

When you let go, it can shift perspective, but it can also shift persona and you may find that you lose a part of yourself in the process.  That part scared me a bit, that my confidence level could shift to an extreme where my true nature was hidden from view. Whether it was the trip, a mind shift or something else entirely, it has made me more thoughtful about who I am and who I want to be.  


day by day india: as goan as it gets

Goa has provided a series of firsts for me. My first time swimming in the Arabian Sea, my first Ayurveda massage, my first taste of feni and my first long distance trip on a motorbike (and with it my first near-encounter with a monkey).

One thing I haven't had the chance to do is take a native yoga class. I downloaded a podcast to guide me in my morning rituals and it has been pure heaven to run through a downward facing dog sun salutation in the early mornings of a Goan day.  When one adds in the gloriousness of swimming in the Arabian Sea it has added a meditative layer that has inspired my writing and brought clarity to my mind and spirit.  I was told by more than one person before my trip that visiting India would be mind-altering, and it has been.

Four of the five days were spent in Benaulim at the beach near Johncy's food shack. We would stake out a patio table facing the ocean and set up camp, earning our keep eating while some of us read and all of us chatted, each of us taking turns swimming. The beach was peppered by strays living a dog's life of scraps, sand and sun. More than once I thought about how easy it would be to just go off the grid, and live a bohemian life.

On Monday afternoon, Ramani mentioned that she planned to get a massage. I had heard about these Ayurveda treatments from both Lisa and Claudia and knew that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to experience one. Vikki, the male masseur uses a sea salt scrub on my face and a series of aromatherapy oils in the treatment and massage. A great bargain at $20 for a 75 minute massage.

Throughout our stay at Zen Gardens we are serenaded at daybreak by dogs who think they are part rooster, and visited daily by the resident cats. One kitten in particular, a white short-hair who wears a black collar and bell, searches me out each evening for a tummy rub.

On Tuesday afternoon, Divyanka and George who are on a post-wedding holiday staying at Taj Exotica meet us for lunch at Johncy's. After a late swim, Ramani suggests that I try a local liquor called feni.  A spirit made from either coconut or cashew, it is local to the state of Goa and cannot be found outside the area.  Feni has a potent flavor and reminded me most of the firewater that George, Claudia and I tasted on our trip to Yelapa. I tried the cashew and it had a medicinal herbal aftertaste which was equalized by the addition of fresh lime soda. I tried the coconut varietal (Ramani had ordered that for herself) which was mixed with orange soda.  A few of us linger back on the beach to swim, as I sit in the shallow water by the shore running my fingers in the sand, it occurs to me that it feels like wet suede. A kite flies overhead.

Dinners on the beach; one meal shared with nearby friends at Martin's a local Goan eatery with live music where Divyanka sings an open mic of Black Velvet. One night I am sous chef to master chef Paul who prepares a beef tomato stew over spaghetti that is actually quite good.

Our last full day we wake early and the four of us: Advaitha, Karron, Paul and I double up on motorbikes (I mistakenly think that renting bikes means bicycles) for a road trip. We take to the local roads stopping every so often to ensure we are going in the right direction and after a pit stop at Cabo de Rama, a historical  site we find ourselves in Palolem. Heaven on earth, and I am instantly transported to the lido near Taormina in Sicily.  We spend the day swimming and
sunning and then head our way back at sunset.

Thursday morning comes much too soon.

day by day india: this is goa

Indigo Air is a campier version of Jet Blue Its pleasant staff energetic and fun. The in-flight meal packages are equally entertaining, sold in reusable containers and tins with inspirational advertorials about how to obtain inner peace whilst in the air and what foods to eat if you are in need of a little confidence. Before I can even settle in for a nap, the pilot announces that we are preparing for arrival in Goa. In just under an hour we're in a sunnier space with the sea air wafting its way around the tarmac.

We gather our baggage from the roulette baggage carousel and then hire a taxi.  

Soon our party of five  is bound for Benaulim in South Goa, stopping once to gather provisions from a local market.

Ramani's close friends Sabrina and Param have graciously offered the use of their summer home for our time in Goa.  We arrive at Zen Gardens, where a lovely row of mint green townhouses form a courtyard around a pool and patio.  We take a moment to settle in, unpack and then change into swimsuits, pile into the car toward the beach. Late afternoon, the sun is making its way toward setting itself on the horizon as we climb the dunes and make our way past the Domnick seaside shack and toward the sea.

The sea does not match that which I've imagined. It is not crystalline blue like the wallpaper I've downloaded from the web but a sea green like the Atlantic in Far Rockaway, foamy waves breaking the shoreline. The only difference is water temperature, here the Arabian is warm and inviting in mid-May refreshing to the touch.

Swimming under a twilight sky is as peaceful and magical as you can imagine.

day by day india: saturday morning

In so many ways the early morning hours in Bangalore remind me of Sicily.  The dogs barking, the birds chirping, frogs (or insects) purring. The heat of the sun behind the clouds, burning off the early morning fog. Even the sweeping sound of brooms whisking the street of dust and frangipani petals.

And like Sicily, I wish I could package the wind and how it first feels on your skin. Its been a gift to have a balcony during my stay at Brunton Heights and the only way it could have been better is if there had been a screen to protect the inner room from the mini mosquitoes and flies that so love my skin and blood.

I've been in India just shy of a week, and my sleeping patterns are slightly off. thought perhaps a part of it is the excitement of being somewhere new, there will be plenty of time to catch up on sleep when I return home next week.  Still falling asleep so early on Friday night makes for a very early Saturday, my body and mind refused to sleep past 4.30am. I've been putzing, reading (The Yard by Alex Grecian), perusing the news (Deccan Herald) and planning my day.  I will be exploring Garuda Mall, immersing myself in some shopping and spa, and if its possible I will catch a tribal jazz event at CounterCulture, a live music venue in the northeast part of Bangalore. It will be a nice close to Bangalore, before our trip to Goa tomorrow.


I spent the day shopping at FabIndia and then treated myself to a fish pedicure at the Kenko Spa at the Garuda Mall. After reading about it on Trip Advisor I was particularly intrigued. as the "doctor fish," a toothless fish which resemble guppies feed on dead skin cells and more or less suck it off whatever body part you submerge in their pool.  I arrived and was led by the technician into a bathing room where they first rinse your feet with antiseptic and a natural soap cleanse. They then escort you to the pools and instruct you to immerse your feet into the pool. The fish swarm your feet and within seconds you feel a tickle--I would imagine it might be excruciating to anyone who is crazy ticklish but for me I laughed out loud for a moment and then was immediately mesmerized by the "feeding" frenzy. Ten minutes later the soles of my feet were fantastically smooth. I later learned that the recommended time is 30 minutes to get a proper cleaning so I feel a bit cheated and will definitely have to do it again some time.


Evening time finds me at Mehkri Circle waiting for Venus and Advaitha to return from visiting family. We are scheduled to attend the May Queen Ball, a local pageant and fashion show at the Bangalore Club. The sky has erupted in rain, it  sounds lovely against the city streets, the wet breeze sweeps in dampened by dirt and asphalt and co-mingled with the heat of the day creates a fragrance only a summer rain can conjure.

Next: Sunday Sojourn to Goa


day by day india: the cipro effect

The stomach cramps started on Tuesday afternoon on our long drive from Mysore. At first I mistake the discomfort in my lower back to be a kink of sorts from scrunching my body up onto the carseat from the nap on the ride back to Bangalore but a trip to the lavatory upon our return to the hotel confirms my suspicion.  I consciously steer away from alcohol and spicy foods the rest of the evening, sticking to water, lime soda and rice dishes.

As the festivities of the Mehndi are underway I feel like I am outside myself looking in. My body is lethargic and any thought of twisting in any sort of direction causes a ghost spasm. Sitting on the periphery watching the dancing rather than joining in offers a new perspective of self. I take photos and enjoy the spectacle of the performances getting to know Priya and about her family life (married with two sons) in the North.  Tanvi from across the room, sees me yawning and suggests we leave early to catch up on some sleep.

Eleven hours later at brunch I play it safe with a simple dosa and more lime soda. And even as I pack for church, I add a bottle of water and pepto-bismol pills to my bag, just in case.

At Koshy's my hunger is noticeably absent as I sip a Coca-Cola to calm the bubbles in my stomach. I thank my lucky stars that I brought Johnson & Johnson baby wipes, a bidet is not going to cut it tonight.  I pace myself throughout the wedding reception, dancing a little, eating carefully and drinking lots of fluids. My body feels like an unsettled bottle of soda.  By 11, I feel slightly feverish and find a cool spot to sit and drink more water.  The night comes to a close just in time and I am fast asleep by 1am.

Early Thursday morning I run for the loo as an army battles inside my bowels. It is not pleasant and as with all bodily expulsions, physically exhausting. I remember the Cipro and find in rereading the side effects I am on the fence on whether or not I should take it.  It doesn't help that the directions on the bottle are vague: "2x/daily"--does that mean 2x daily until symptoms are gone or 2x daily until all antibiotics are gone. I email my doctor for clarification.  I wish I had remembered to pack a milder form of medication like Immodium-AD (as Andreas had advised). Of course like a fool, I go online to check out the medication and find a cache of symptons and side effects gone awry. I am most concerned about the "oversensitivity to sunlight" -- we leave for Goa, a beach resort on Sunday morning and I've been looking forward to some time in the sun and the sea. Looks like I have to up the SPF level (normally I don't burn but am now spooked).

2:30am and I'm still at it, I pop the first Cipro pill and drink a whole bottle of water with it, praying for the best.  I take the next pill at 4pm, after the Kerala ceremony, and find myself in and out of sleep, fighting a devil inside. It's a quiet thorn in my side kind of pain, the night sweats bring on the most horrible of dreams, nightmares of an alter reality where one can touch taste feel the demons in technicolor. I sleep through the evening and try to eat a spot of Briyani egg rice from room service but it proves to be too spicy. I fall back asleep and then wake again at 3am on Friday, my mind completely aware and alert. I start writing then and can't seem to stop, going through multiple posts, online searches, Facebook posts, hydrating with bottles and bottles of water. My next pill is at 4:30am, and then I try to sleep for another few hours--up at 8:30am for breakfast and more writing.

Lunch at the China Bowl hits the spot, I have a double serving of chicken wonton soup, a yummy burnt garlic fried rice, and even some chicken and broccoli. I skip the alcohol and anything too creamy, better to play it safe and rid my body of toxins and infection I honestly don't know how I got sick, I was super careful not to drink non-bottled water or anything with ice, shying away from the watermelon in the fruit bowl for obvious reasons. I can only guess that one too many spices did me in.

I feel 80% better, the Cipro I took yesterday afternoon knocked me out, any hopes of evening socializing vanished the minute my head hit the pillow.  I haven't had a movement since early Friday morning and then it was solid though an army green, reminding me of animal dung. My stomach is not gurgling or bubbling, I suppose eating the digestive cookies has helped some.

The doctor prescribed a minimum of three days on Cipro to fight the infection, today Saturday would be my last day.  I'm still hesitant to take the last two pills, will revisit post-morning meal.

day by day india: kerala ceremony

Timing is everything and today I was seriously off.

I was told the cab pick-up time for this morning's event was 9am and so when the call came at 8am nor Tavani or I were ready to go. And because we were running late, I had missed an opportunity to find someone who knew (as the younger women did not) how to wrap the two-piece saree Ramani & Advaitha had so lovingly chosen for me to wear. Slight disappointment, and inadvertent insult that I hope I can explain.

The Palace Grounds have been transformed into a temple hall where the Kerala ceremony is performed. There is a raised platform at the front of the hall where Ramani is preparing the nilavilakku (a brass lamp) with oil and the wicks to be lit and another family member is arranging the thali plate with its offerings. A procession of women carry thalams, plates filled with a small lamp and other symbolic articles and lead the bride and groom to the stage.  Dinky and George once seated run through a series of rituals and blessings, offerings from family to family, and once completed circle the altar 5-6 times with George leading and Dinky following.  During the ceremony guests watch from the banquet pews below.

Once the ceremony is complete there is a brief pause where guests mill around and then the happy couple reassemble onstage and we make our way to greet them sprinkling them with rose petals and feeding them a spoonful of banana milk.

Next: The Banana Leaf Lunch

Lunch after the ceremony is served on a banana leaf. Nrithya and Prutha guide us through the process which starts with wetting down the leaf with water in preparation for an assortment of chutneys, spoonfuls of chicken and beef curries and variations of rice and curd dishes to be spooned onto the leaf. An assembly line of servers appear with ice bucket sized serving dishes and make their rounds to serve everyone. It was quite a dining experience and I was certainly glad to have local foodies to guide me through it. 



day by day india: wedding reception

The taxi enters the fairground where the wedding is being celebrated. A billboard announces that we have arrived at the right reception "Divyanka weds George" written in gold on cream colored fabric.  The pathway leads to a series of outdoor patios decorated with tables and chairs wrapped in white cloth with ribbon and sashes for the guests and a dais of gold and red cushioned chairs for the couple.  A garden of eden with lights of blue and green trim the trees, flowers and bushes. In the far left hand corner a DJ booth is set up with a dance floor.  To the right of that is a buffet of snacks and appetizers.  Behind that the happy corner where a wet bar is available for guests (a rarity for Hindu weddings). Next to that lies diverging passageways, where one leads to the WC, the other winds down a dazzling lit path to a hidden dining area.

Although the entryway is wide enough for an elephant to cross, there won't be any sort of grand entrance on any animals as this is a Northern tradition reserved for families from Delhi, Bombay and Mumbai. It's a picture perfect evening with a clear sky and light breeze, you almost can't tell if you're outside.

The emcee introduces the bride and groom (and their paparazzi) as they enter the event space followed by the wedding party. There are photos taken on the dais, and the evening commences with a spray of confetti, a series of toasts from the best man, maid of honor and sister of the bride, and then the groom followed by the cutting of the cake. All of which is broadcast on a movie screen to the left of the food stations, so anyone seated anywhere within the grounds can see what's going on. Next is the wedding march through the tunnel of love which ends with the bride and groom on the dance floor where they share their first kiss as husband and wife, and first dance to Rod Stewart's "Have I Told You Lately."

The music set spans across the decades from the 60s 70s 80s 90s and today, there is a conga line and international favorites like the Macarena, the hokey pokey and the chicken dance mixed in with slow dancing and freestyle selections. I am out on the floor slightly reserved compared to other social events this year and enjoy the observation privileges of being here. In the midst of all the celebration dinner is served, cocktails and wine consumed, a meet greet and photo session is had at the dais with the bride and groom and the dancing continues well past midnight. "This is Bangalore, show me love," cries the emcee as he wrangles and cajoles folks to the dance floor.

The evening winds down, and the last remaining guests are invited to a moonlight supper with the bride and groom in the main dining area. Ramani will not take no for an answer and so with Suphil, one of the Addu's family friends we join the last meal of the evening/first meal of the day with Dinky and George.

day by day india: get me to the church on time

3 days later, 11 hours of sleep complete I finally I feel refreshed almost back to me.  Addu's friends and family must think me quite lame, every evening thus far I've played Cinderella leaving by midnight. I don't know if it was a remnant of jet lag or my body adjusting to the climate, but my energy level has been extremely low since arrival in India.

This afternoon is the Catholic service, with the wedding blessing to take place at St. Marks Church.  Earlier someone had mentioned that it would be a short 10 minutes but if it's to be traditional, it will be at least 45 minutes to an hour.  The nuptials are a fusion of Christian (groom) and Hindu (bride) traditions. Afterwards, there will be a reception at the Gayathri Vihar on the Palace Grounds.


Pre-wedding brunch with Prutha, Tanvi, Venus, Vithra, Sango and Malavika at Konark. We first attempted to walk from the hotel but no one could decide which route was correct; and then we split up into 3 rickshaws, each of us taking  a different circuitous path there. We compared fares in amazement 28rps/34rps/42rps). Breakfast dosa style: crepe pancakes pan-fried with various fillings and chutneys to dip. I have the Masala with potato, and side of lime soda.  Malavika orders a cassata, an ice cream dish similar to spumoni with a layer of vanilla, mango and pistachio ice cream. We settle our bill (approx. $4 pp) and fare una passegiata to Bangalore Central for last minute errand and shopping.

Back at the hotel we shower and change, Tanvi who is in the bridal party goes off to get saree-wrapped and once we are ready we pile into the car to get to the church.  An interesting conundrum is that most drivers, even when an inquiry is made don't seem to know where they are going at any given moment. You must take them at their word and head bobble that yes they do.

The 200 year old cathedral St. Marks is part of the Church of India, founded in 1808. The interior is all white with stained glass windows at the top of each bay window. Most of the windows are open to bring in in the natural light and bring in a light crosswind, to the pews draped with white bouquets and gold and green sashes. The exterior architecture reminds me of a cathedral I visited while in Granada, Nicaragua where the walls were painted a light canary yellow to  reflect the sun and heat.

The ceremony mirrors that of a Catholic Italian service. There is an opening procession which consists of the groom and his mother, a ring boy and flower girl followed by the bridal party and sister to the bride, and ends with the mother escorting the bride to be to the altar.  There are hymns sung; prayers, readings and a sermon from the minister; the blessing of the rings and exchange of vows. Two things of note: a friend of the family Siddharth Abraham presented a beautiful love hymn to the couple (his carriage was a rich and robust baritone) and there was also the addition of a thali blessing, where the groom’s family presents the bride with a long, thick gold chain connected to a string of beads and amulets that signifies the woman’s married status as well as the traditions of the family into which she is marrying. The service closes with a benediction and hymn.

Outside there are smiles and laughter, hugs and handshakes to congratulate, and as there is a bit of time before the reception some of the guests meander over to Koshy's, the quintessential Bangalore eatery for a snack.


day to day india: Mehndi magic

Back at the hotel we have just enough time for a quick nap before showering and changing for the evening festivities at Mehkri Circle, where  Addu's mother has coordinated a house party and Mehndi to celebrate Dinky & George's marriage. On my first visit to their home we spent the time at their apartment and today we explore the rooftop of the building where the party is underway beneath a purple, red & yellow tent.  There is an elevated stage at the front of the and seating area. In a separate room off to the side three henna artists painted the hands and arms of the female guests, intricate designs made freehand. (Note: Dinky's arms and feet were beautifully decorated this afternoon before everyone arrived.)

Up until now I haven't met a lot of the family and it is at the Mehndi that the multigenerational women come together.  Friends and relatives are seated on the folded futon to the right waiting their turn for a sitting. Here I meet Shakuntala (Bangalore) and her daughter Priya, who is from Bombay. Shakuntala is a longtime friend of Ramani. Tanvi joins, as well as Addu's cousins, 18 year old Pritika and 15 year old Priyanka. Both are stunning and sure to be heartbreakers in a few years (if thethaten't already).  Then there is Indu and Sabrina, other friends of Ramani.  We chitchat as the three artisans decorate the hands of those ahead of us. It is a contrast of colors, the artists in neutral muted colors, the guests in bright party clothes the bridge between forged by symbols on skin. The artists work the design as if in a trance, the brown ink piping curlicues and scallops, ribbons and feathers like a Happy Birthday message on a Carvel sheet cake. Your individual body temperature determines the outcome of the color once the design dries, and a debate breaks out on whether or not you should brush on a paste of lemon and sugar water to make the color last longer.  It takes 10-15 minutes plus an additional 10 for the ink to dry; there is an element of eucalyptus oil in the ink that cools the hand.
This is not the first time I've had a henna tattoo.  A few summers ago I bought a Living Social deal for Akiyo, a local artist and had a piece done as decoration for an upcoming event. She worked out of her home, a sunny and airy railroad in Queens. I went by myself and having experienced the real thing, I think I prefer the camaraderie of a Mehndi party with friends, it's much more fun.

Hands painted it's time to join the party, in the outer room on the terrace. Here they are getting ready for the performances where members of the bridal party dance for the bride and groom. First there is Addu and her mother, than the bridesmaids, the groomsmen, and a combination of the two. Then Advaitha comes out for a solo--I'm sure I knew that she could dance the traditional folk style but it's a nice surprise to see her in moving her hands and head in a fusion of classic and modern mudras. Next Divyanka who is a vocalist by trade serenades George with an a cappella version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."

day to day india: mysore

The alarm vibrating from under the pillow stirs me from sleep way earlier than I want to wake up.  I'm still in a haze of jet lag but force myself to get up as I will be joining Amanda & Pat, friends of the groom from Boston, on a day trip to Mysore, an ancient city with a 600 year legacy of royal heritage.  I'm not certain how prepared I am for the 3 hour drive to and from Bangalore but adventures are not had by sleeping in.

We arrive in Mysore at 1/2 past nine, our first destination is Chamundi Hill where the Sri Chamundeswari Temple sits at its summit. The temple comes into view way before we reach the top, a quadrangle structure that most resembles a cross between a pyramid and a pagoda. It's buttery gold tower is covered with detailed carvings and contrasting white goddess statues, alternating between seated and standing position.

The temple is an amazement but nothing inanimate can compete with the color and playfulness of the people swarming around us.  The temple is active and many a family has made a pilgrimage to make an offering to be blessed; the queue itself is 5 lanes deep (think Radio City Music Hall at Christmas) of barefooted worshippers.  A procession makes its way through the sea of people, carrying a miniature float (made of flowers) of the temple as two men move it from the chariot into the temple.  There are numerous distractions including live chanting, a dog and owner playing catch, and our quartet of 3/4 Caucasian and 1/4 African-American clearly stands out among the crowds.  A rare combination for these parts, we are approached incessantly by peddlers, beggars and curious onlookers wanting to take photos.

On the way down the hill we stop at Nandi, a 5m high statue of the goddess Shiva's bull carved out of solid rock (c. 1659).

Next the Maharaja's Palace, the grandest of India's royal buildings once ruled by the Wodeyar maharajas.  After purchasing our tickets, hoodwinking (or so we thought) the security check about our cameras and checking in our shoes, we proceed to take a self-guided tour of the grounds and palace interior.  The concrete is surprisingly not hot and the tiled floors are smooth from all the wear and tear of walking feet on ceramic. At the entrance to the palace building we pass through a metal detector where a security guard threatens to confiscate my camera unless we tip him. Not surprising he directs all talk of bribery to the sole male in the group, and after we slip him some cash we are encouraged to pass through, camera and all.

The magnificent opulence of the palace interior (photos here: http://www.esamskriti.com/photo-detail/Mysore-Palace.aspx) is mesmerizing. I am most impressed with an interior room with intricately painted stained glass windows depicting peacocks and feathers. The adjacent hallways and rooms offer a kaleidoscope of color from palettes of red to shades of blues, accented in white and gold.  One courtyard in particular features a pair of bronze cast panthers at its entryway and an intricate spiral staircase on its exterior leading up to what might be considered royal box seats.

As we pass through an interior hallway, one of the patrol guards approaches and asks where I am from. Once I share New York, his eyes light up and he leans in to tell me about the secret chambers that lie behind the locked doors in front of us.  According to lore, the royal family would use the rooms to gut animals they had hunted and prepare to mount them. He conspiratorially adds that if we wanted he could arrange access for us, for a price, of course.  Touring the palace is a lot like practicing magic in Storybrooke, everything comes with a price. We passed.

After collecting our shoes, we make our way back to the closest of the four gates that guard the grounds to exit. It is amusing how many times we are approached (or nonchalantly included) about having our photo taken. The Americans are seemingly a better attraction than the palace structure itself.  At one point, Venus laughingly demands 30 rupees for the opportunity. No one concedes.

We conclude the outing with a buffet lunch at La Gardenia, Hotel Regaales on the outskirts of Mysore.


day by day india: fashion forward blessings

The traffic patterns in Bangalore mesmerize me. The amalgamation of vehicles is like the Palio, the running of the bulls, i motorini of Rome and the taxis of New York all rolled into one.  The people walking in between the cars and rickshaws, the dogs--so many strays--taking on human mannerisms as they too weave their way through the mayhem. I felt braver today and it was a little less stressful crossing the streets as I made my way down Primrose to Magrath to Brigade (the main shopping area) to Church street, taking photos along the route. There is so much color and life in every nook and cranny of every street. As I strolled down Church street one of the local drivers fell into step beside me and aggressively attempted to sell me a (1) hour tour for 30 rps ($.50)--even direct No's and No Thank You's didn't deter him. Later on in the morning I turned the street corner and there he was again smiling, as if karma had brought us together for that rickshaw tour. I crossed the street.


Two days in the jet lag still lingers. I took an ambien before bed last night assuming I would get at least an 8 - 10 hour respite of zzz's but I woke up at 6am raring to go. I crashed after my morning walk and had the craziest dreams. I attribute that to the heat, which is very different than what I'm used to. Every time you are outside walking it's as if your body goes through a detoxification, you don't realize of course until you return to your residence soaked from the sweat.


Addu picks Venus and I up at 3pm for a shopping expedition to FabIndia and then Commerical street.  We each pick up blouses, saree accessories, chuppas and I begin an ardent search for the dhotti harem pants. Molly my yoga instructor wears them to class and they look so comfortable, in prep for the trip I searched the selections on Etsy, where a pair ran anywhere from $6 - $50 depending on the style and color. At the local shop on Commercial street they sell for 175 rps, or the equivalent of $3 each. Looks like everyone may get a pair as a souvenir.

Next stop Muniswarmy Tailors at 75 Dispensary Road, just off Commercial street where we've hired a local tailor to peephole stitch our saree hems and make blouses--mustard for me; light blue for Venus.

While we're out I'm assigned a roommate, Tanvi is a friend of the bride's. They met at college and she is from Delhi. I ask if she'll be attending the blessing ceremony but she opts out to rest from all her travels. I shower and dress before meeting Venus and Addu in the lobby.

We arrive at the Grand Magrath hotel, and are introduced to Addu and Dinky's family members, as well as those of the bridegroom. The ceremony takes place in large room of a reception hall, a slightly elevated stage stands front and center. Divyanka is wearing a red/pink and gold saree and sits in the center of the stage. The groom's family brings out a large silver tray, placing a variety of offerings upon it: an urn of sandalwood paste, censers filled with rosewater and coconut oil, bowls of fruit and sweet meat and garlands of jasmine. Next the married female members of both sides take turns administering each of the elements onto Dinky's person. The sandalwood paste on her face, censers douse her head and body, they each feed her fruit and/or the sweetmeat and then offer flowers for her hair and hands.

After the ceremony there is a buffet dinner of Mangalorean and Bangalorean cuisine and dancing until midnight.


day by day india: bangalore

I leave the hotel turning left onto Brunton Road walk west toward MG (which stands go Mahautma Gandhi) Road and follow that to the intersection roundabout near Commissariat Road and soak in the scenery.  First off let me start by saying that walking Bangalore requires one to be extremely mindful of their surroundings.  The sidewalks have been through a war with who knows what, concrete slabs are broken in two and in some cases multiple pieces, revealing a trough one feet deep filled with garbage and stale water. If you are a fast walker with tendencies for accidents take heed unless of course you're the adventurous type and hell bent on cracking a bone and visiting the ER.

Crossing the street is a whole other matter, jaywalking similar to other cities is prohibited.  Traffic lights are few and crosswalks even less, once you find a momentum of courage there is no other way to cross the street than at your own risk. And the risk involves collision with cars, busses, trucks, bicycles, stray dogs, motorized rickshaws, motorcycles and mopeds, some of which carry a whole family (father, mother, baby, child), and groups of pedestrians.

Somehow I made it safely to and from, taking photos of the traffic and surrounding scenery which included the wide wing span of kites (a breed of hawk famous for scavenging) circling the air space above the buildings and butterflies (the size of hummingbirds) flitting through the leaves of "fire of the forest" trees lining Brunton Road.


Karron, Addu's friend picks Venus and I up from the hotel. We are bound for Malleswaram Street to purchase saree accessories--an under blouse and petticoat--for the week's festivities. One part open air market, one part fashion district the street is pure mayhem with people shopping and haggling.  Women in colorful sarees criss cross the streets from store to store. Others sit on the sidewalk selling fresh peanuts and stringing jasmine garlands by hand.

Afterwards Ramani and Advaitha take us together with Karron and Parvathi, Addu's auntie to BGC, the Bangalore Golf Club for cocktails and dinner al fresco.


One full day in Bangalore is complete (2 hours shy for those readers who are sticklers).  Somewhere on Brunton Road someone is watching an Indian novella on TV, another is listening to the news, still another the crooning of a singer. There are trucks on the road nearby and the air is still, carrying cigarette smoke from somewhere. The moths take up residence near the overhead and I can feel the mosquitoes biting.  A whoosh on the wind sounds more like a spoken hush, and I catch my breath as I close the door. My tired mind hearing things in the stillness reminds me that it is time to sleep.

day by day india: settling in

Chai tea and english biscuits, it is 3AM and  Addu and Ramani, her mother, and I sit at the dining table. I am awake and aware but nowhere near coherent, my mind cannot compute how I am here (in India) when once I was there (in New York). Dinky, the lady in wait is asleep in an adjacent room, a sash on the door marking her as the "bride-to-be." The family dogs, Devon, a german shepherd and Chennai, a golden retriever doze at our feet. Chitchat gives way to yawns and soon we make our way to bed.  It feels amazing to lie flat with enough room to stretch arms, legs, hips, back. I fall asleep to the stirring of a city about to wake.

Morning reemerges and there are introductions, first with Divyanka then with Rehka and a mini stream of other family, friends and staff who make their visitation during mid-morning. Freshly made hot chocolate follows with breakfast dosas. First the savory Indian crepes are served with coconut chutney, pickled tomato and gunpowder (a spicy remoulade of spices and oil). Then they are followed with the sweeter version served with granulated sugar and a selection of marmalades and jam. The meal is accompanied by sweetened coffee steeped in milk (not water) and served in metal demitasse cups.

Another friend of Addu's arrives from New York, and after breakfast we are transferred to Brunton Heights (with the British Indian intonation sounds a bit like Downton Abbey), a hospitality hotel where we will be lodging for the week. The hotel suite is lovely and has a balcony overlooking the frangipani tree in the garden.  Once unpacked and settled,  I shower (loving the rainwater faucet set up), change, grab my camera and go.

day by day india: first impressions

Addu in describing Bangalore, India in general spoke about amora and its arresting invasion of the senses. Senses that is how you experience a foreign land, through sight and sound, touch and taste.  The first thing I notice is that Bengalaru airport is silent, meditatively quiet. Yes, I know it is just past three in the morning but there is something calming about seeing people through glass but hearing the sound of birds fluttering above the hangars,  catching glimpses of fireflies dancing in the flood lights, the scent of curry and a dozen spices I cannot identify permeating the air.

Exhausted, I am parched in dire need of water walking past Shiva gods placed (strategically?) near entryways and exits, there is no kiosk or boutique selling food in sight. I make my way to the carousel and find by bag quickly and immediately queue up to customs, where the crowd is a brown ombre wave. We all fall in, standing behind the yellow lines with cursive writing warning us to "Stop. Stay here to wait your turn." The agents ahead stoically great each tourist and resident, processing their papers. When I realize I am in line #13 I feel a peaceful presence, mom is with me today on this journey. It hits me like a tidal wave, remembering all those 13 years lost, all the time we could have spent on adventures like this. The irony that it is Mother's Day does not escape me, though it does remind me that today is also my Dad's 88th birthday and I find comfort in having left him a card and a gift just before leaving.

Past customs there is yet another security checkpoint, this one to screen your hand baggage lest you have something dangerous hidden in the bag all these hours while in flight. I see one lone metal knife on the floor camouflaged in the rug, a stolen souvenir from an Emirates flight. Out in baggage claim I locate my trusty navy LL Bean suitcase with brown piping, recognizable by the cursive "Lucy" stitched on the front cover and a snowflake pompom tied to its handle. While waiting I see a sign for a bridal jewelry store I see a reference to "seven vows" and contemplate what that could mean.  A woman in her mid-30s is also waiting for luggage and she is wearing a modern embroidered fashion set and nude platform stilettos. My feet ache looking at her. Despite all the people around the area is silent, and save the whirr of the carousel itself and the beep from the strobe lights it is eerily quiet.

Entering the main greeting area there is a swarm of people flush against the gate, some searching my face others waving a sign in hoping I am the name on it. I hear Addu before I see her, it is an emotional reunion. Whether it is exhaustion or emotional fatigue I cannot tell you but it as if we have not seen each other in years, not weeks. Some friendships are like that where the depth of care and the absence of time, truly reiterate the solidity of the relationship. Advaitha, Claudia, Lisa. It's these female friendships that give us strength.

day by day India: in flight

The trouble with arriving early for any flight is the chance it may be delayed. As was my long haul flight to Doha, Qatar, every 1/2 hour adds to the 10+ soon to be in the air. Terminal gates 16 and 17 are packed, a small city congregating in anticipation of flights to Doha UAE & São Paulo Brazil. My only wish is that all the children crying out loud will sleep sleep sleep once they are on the plane. The crowd is mixed a cross-section of races and nationalities, mostly male and almost everyone is connected to one device or another: smartphone, cell phone, laptop, tablet. 


Daybreak in the afternoon. Eight hours in on the long haul journey to India. my body aches, my mind fuzzy. Not knowing what to expect with meals and bathroom breaks, water replenishment, I opted to not take the ambien, it seemed less important to take one if I was already sleepy. I am most grateful for having the foresight to take a hatha yoga class earlier today, the stretching certainly helped with the scrunched up wear and tear. 

Seated on an aisle in a center three-seater row my seat companion, Kanish, and I are lucky to share the absent middle seat which offers more stowage and a little more leg room (although on an angle). We have 3 hours left before landing on the Qatar peninsula, at Doha International Airport. All that planning and research on the latest movie releases is lost, and instead I crack open 1 of the 4 books (plus my Kindle) that I brought with me: The Yard (Alex Grecian). Ambitious challenge I realize but two weeks is a lot of time for the brain to still itself, I must feed it a little as well. 

When I first boarded the plane I had passed the luxe seating in first and business class, one of which had Jetson like pods to sleep in. I wonder if those passengers feel as uncomfortable as I do? The worst part is my backside, airplane seating does little to support the lower back, sacrum and rear--when seated for extended hours the pressure can result in the absence of feeling, a numb sleeping body. I have high hopes that I will have enough time in Doha to stretch. Breakfast is served with a side of turbulence, as we begin our descent.  


We arrive at dusk into a waking dream of midnight skies and starlight. It is Saturday evening of the quickest weekend ever.  I step outside onto the portable staircase and my mind races back to the first time I visited Siracusa as an adult: the balmy weather, the easy transfer from tarmac to terminal, the simplicity of moving from runway to walkway. The terminal is a pristine structure of white marble, granite and glass. The duty free shopping area lies just outside the security checkpoint, it is the size of a small mall--I catch a glimpse before dashing off to gate 17 and my transfer to Bangalore. Another full flight, again a lot of men, some in traditional dress others in modern wear. There is a woman in full burqua and perjida (sp?) with just a slit for her eyes, even her hands are covered in black gloves. She is with a gentleman in white robes straight out of a history book.

For this route I am on the aisle of a two seater, next to a young woman returning home to Bangalore. There is time for a movie (The Great & Powerful Oz) and more reading, and a nap or two or three before we make our great way into Bengalaru.


Star Struck: Isabella Rossellini

Elevator rides are normally drab; you get in ride up, ride down, and get off. Sometimes you see someone you know, most times it’s just you and a bunch of strangers quietly thinking, ear buds activated to favorite music or a podcast. That’s how it usually is for me day in, day out. Until yesterday afternoon when my normal lunch time elevator jaunt had a bit of a lift.

An older woman with short dark cropped hair, wearing a raincoat accented by a red and whitea floral scarf stood across from me, an animated twenty-something talking about the traffic and the weather stood nearby. The woman looked familiar and my brain and I couldn’t place her on first sight. Kaleidoscopically whirling about the inner archive in my mind, pulling out a snapshot from Casablanca and a magazine ad from the early ‘80s, and then it came to me. Isabella Rossellini, daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, famous Lancôme model, and animal activist.  She was stunningly beautiful, with kind eyes and a settled poise about her. I am not normally star struck but I found myself gleeful at this chance encounter and couldn’t help but make eye contact and express my admiration for her work. 

When I returned to my desk I shared my experience with a few co-workers, one had no idea who Isabella Rossellini was and when I used Bogie & Bergman as a cultural reference I only received a blank stare. I rang another colleague who like me knew her and her work and together we reveled in my chance encounter. Ms. Rossellin who is in New York on a press tour for her new project Mammas, a series produced for the Sundance Channel. She was at our offices to promote the project on HuffPost Live, you can view it here if you like.