604 Area Code

For those of you way out of the 604 telephone area code, this post may not be of interest.  For those of you in the 403 and 306 area codes, this post may be of some interest.

It’s all about food.  And the quality of food.  Those of you who know me personally, know that I am fairly passionate about good food.  Good quality food, and food prepared well.  It’s not a snobby thing…although you may know from previous posts that I appreciate a Michelin-rated restaurant when it shows up on my horizon.  😊  It’s about homemade food from of good quality ingredients.  Not fancy, but quality ingredients with good nutrition.

So while my last post was more about the world order, this one is about the opposite.  It’s about my community and the businesses that operate within that.  I am very committed to supporting my local small businesses during this time of self-isolation: I make sure I buy from a local supplier rather than a large box store when I can; I offer to purchase services in advance from my local suppliers (e.g. haircuts); and I support local food cooperatives.  I admit it’s been a sobering and saddening experience to go into my local medium-sized grocery markets.  I still shop there and try to convey my appreciation for their continued service, but today I learned about some things to supplement that experience.

Here are a few ideas for consideration:

  1. Local farms in the Fraser Valley are hurting. People, in their panic, are racing to the large box stores and forgetting about the local producers.  Today my son and I drove out to Rockweld Farms (34205 Townshipline Rd. Abbotsford) where we were the only customers at this family-run poultry farm.  After a lovely 2 metre distance chat where we learned about the farm and its products, we came away with dozens of lovely organic eggs, fresh roaster chickens, and frozen sausage delights.  We could have also bought grain-fed beef, local honey…the list goes on.  Normally these suppliers are at our local markets, but that won’t be happening this spring.  We came away with a box of food for us and our neighbors at great prices.
  2. With the support of google maps, prior to us leaving home we had looked at local farm markets near there that we could check out. This led us to Lepp Farm Market at 33955 Clayburn Rd. in Abbotsford.  We lined up outside, briefly, to allow for enough social distancing space inside, and then entered a foodie mecca.  Lovely produce fully stocked, rows of gourmet spices and sauces, a full fresh butcher with locally sourced beef etc., homemade soups, sauces, salads in their refrigerated deli section.  We came away with fresh produce, frozen homemade perogies and sausage rolls, a couple of bundles of freshly cut daffodils from local farms…and home.

My point is not to necessarily promote these retailers, but to suggest you pick a place you like to go.  I know a neighbor of mine likes JD Farms Turkey in Langley (24726 52 Ave).  My suggestion is that you pick a destination place you like, and then use google maps to find farm markets around it that appeal to you.  They are not super busy, you will be supporting the local economy, and you will come away with quality products at a good price.  And it’s a nice way to kill a few hours.  The highway isn’t busy.  Don’t take your reusable grocery bags, but do take your hand sanitizer and have a nice break away from the house.

That’s one suggestion.

The other is to share a positive experience with a cooperative seafood supplier (perk up 306 and 403 readers!).  For a couple of years my family has bought our seafood from a local cooperative.  We decide upfront each year how much we want to spend on seafood.  The money goes directly to the fishers and there is no middle retailer.  Our product is fresher, local, and I have the peace of mind knowing I am supporting local fishers.  Here is a brief description from them: “Skipper Otto Community Supported Fishery is changing the way Canadians get their seafood. Their model for sustainable, ethical and traceable seafood supports fishing families and small-scale seafood harvesters. If you’re interested in becoming a member, you can learn how it works here: skipperotto.com/how-it-works

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What to Remember When this is All Over

Is the world ever going to be the same again?  It can’t be.  COVID 19 is the canary in the coal mine.

It’s changing the power balance between traditional “superpowers”.  The USS Theodore Roosevelt, a 5,000 person aircraft carrier patrolling the South China Sea, was forced to emergency dock for testing in Guam as more than two dozen crew tested positive for the virus.  There is no timeline for when the ship will be back in service.

The US was reduced to name calling “the Chinese or Wuhan virus” instead of using its scientific name, while China is busily shoring up its allies and global reputation by sending medical supplies and personnel to Pakistan on the heels of previous shipments of ventilators and masks.  It donated $20 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) and has sent, or is sending millions of masks, test kits and other items to Serbia, Liberia, Italy, Czech Republic and the Philippines.  The US and China are each accusing each other of mishandling the COVID 19 outbreak and calling into question the origins of the virus…a global chest-thumping-name-calling game of “it’s your fault”.

Combine this loss of world position for these superpowers and a preoccupation with whose fault this is with the parking of usual issues.  Brexit?  Opioid Crisis?  Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial?  US/Iran sanctions and relations?  What have any of us heard about these lately?  Do we even care?

Not so much.  It’s hard not to think about the future.  Especially when we’re all confined to barracks.  It’s hard not to let one’s mind wander.  It’s clear to me we need greater international cooperation at a time when we don’t have the mechanisms to deliver it.  We have a climate breakdown, and no pun intended, we don’t have the international climate to support our ability to do much about it.

Observers who follow these issues more closely than me have said while the relief agencies of the United Nations and the WHO do effective work, the United Nations itself is plagued with the rise of nationalism and resultant divisions between its members.  Our world order is permeated with a culture that has been growing since the early 1980’s that favours individual competition within nation-sates over cooperation.  It’s not just the US being great, it’s our traditional G7 partners where a rise in nationalist sentiment has seen a rise in either the performance of those parties, or the election of leaders that promote nationalistic agendas.  This mitigates against cooperative action.

The world needs to be different and the world order shouldn’t be the same again.  Where we have the luxury of social distancing to try to protect our health systems from being overwhelmed, there are equally more people in regions that will never have that luxury.  Africa has struggled with several Ebola virus outbreaks since 1976 and there is still no vaccine.  The more deadly outbreak in 2014-15 in West Africa has been attributed to more closely grouped people due to roads, deforestation and urbanization.

What about parts of the world where health systems have been weakened by sustained conflict?  Syria and its refugee camps?  What about the long-standing Israel Palestine conflict?  By any estimate, between one and two million Palestinians are crowded into the Gaza strip which has been likened to an “outdoor prison”.

How will COVID 19 flourish in those environments?  It’s scary to think about.  I’ll say it again: COVID 19 is our canary in a coal mine.  It’s not a perfect metaphor…COVID 19 is small, but it’s far from innocent.  But our global response to it can be prophetic for our long-term survival.  Stay home for your families and your local communities.  But stay home because you are fortunate to have that choice and social distancing is a luxury that not all have.

When this is all over, we have to realize we share one small planet.  It’s time to start thinking and acting that way.

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Top Ten Signs You Live in a COVID19 “Red Zone”

  1. You surprise yourself with how shocked you are that servers in a restaurant outside your community are NOT wearing plastic gloves.  Eating at home was never so appealing!
  2. In an effort to wash your hands long enough, you find yourself silently singing “happy birthday” twice because you’ve sung it out loud so much to prompt your child.
  3. Today the grocery store has no chicken, no cottage cheese, no yeast and not very many frozen vegetables.  It boggles the mind what so many people could be cooking at once to run out of these things.  But then, maybe they are also using their stores of rice and canned goods.  But then with that food combination maybe they will soon need their 12-packs of toilet paper too?
  4. Your dog is inordinately happy with all the walks in nature you’ve been taking her on.  It’s a dog’s life with COVID 19!
  5. All the laundry is done and folded.  There are no dirty clothes in the laundry bin.  There is no dirty laundry anywhere in your house, period.
  6. While disinfecting the crevices of your land line phone receiver, using your supply of lysol wipes, you accidentally dial one of your overseas “robot calls”.  oops.
  7. What Democratic Primary?  They’re having a Debate??  Oh, you forgot about that.
  8. You keep stealing loving glances at your spouse.  NOT!  Your actually steal loving glances at those yard rocks you controlled yesterday (see Mar 14 blog).
  9. Instead of lipstick, women on the streets of your community are sporting face masks.  The number of people without masks is diminishing.
  10. While you dismiss the idea out of hand due to lack of practicality, it does cross your mind to wipe down the flowers your spouse brought home.  Transfer loving glances to thoughtful husband from organized yard rocks.  🙂
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A Blog about Traveling that’s about Not Traveling

DSC01838cGranted, these are spectacularly strange times.  Orwellian, really.  Today was Day One…Ground Zero if you like that term, of a shift in perception.  I should have been waking up in Orange County.  Am I disappointed?  Honestly, no.  But I am in danger of getting bored, or going crazy.   Now is a time to put the Greater Good ahead of my individual wants and I have no trouble with that.  But the calendar was cleared for “holidays” so now what?

Now is time to provide comfort.  To root myself to my sense of humour.  And use common sense.  I honestly was almost out of brown rice and toilet paper yesterday.  With washed hands, and sanitizing wipes installed in my car, I went in search of supplies.  I should have known something was up when I couldn’t find a basket or a cart anywhere near the store entrances.  Nor could I find any kind of rice.  I didn’t need any canned goods, but those were mostly gone too.  Hugging my 12 pack of toilet paper, it was hard not to feel like a cliché, but at least I didn’t have a shopping cart full of them like another lady I spied.  Was she also one of the people buying cases of bottled water…what is the matter with their taps??

Waking up today, I went to my gym.  It’s one of those small “boutique” gyms that already had a high hygiene standard.  As I opened the door, the smell of Lysol wafted out into the cold air where I stood.  I like going to this place partly because they exude such a positive and supportive culture.  They still do, but it was clear the staff are reeling from lots of anxiety directed their way.  The class was small and the atmosphere was remarkably “different”.

So I kinda felt like some soothing was in order back home.  Cooking!  I came home and made my youngest blueberry muffins for his breakfast.  From three shelves of cookbooks, the one I reached for wasn’t haute cuisine, but comfort.  A homespun cookbook from the kitchens of Mayne Island, to which my family has a special connection.  Tonight’s dinner was also from this cookbook…a meatloaf “roll” with a rhubarb cake for dessert.  I decided to make it special and we would eat in the dining room, which hasn’t happened since our last family birthday dinner in January. Searching through cupboards looking for candles…bonanza!  I found chocolates from Christmas!!  Yum.  Things are looking up.

The other thing that gave me a lot of satisfaction today was gardening.  What I ended up doing was moving a lot of river rock.  But the end result was supremely satisfying, and, surveying my  finished product that I made several family members comment extensively on, I realized that in a world that feels a bit out of control, there is a lot of satisfaction to be had in controlling minor things like rocks in my garden.  😊  So my suggestion to you is to go control some small part of your life; it might provide a lot of joy.

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A Surprising “Welcome Aboard”

The BC Ferries tag line, “Welcome Aboard” has never been so fitting.  I never thought these words would cross my lips about a government-run monopoly.  “I’m impressed”.  It really rubs against my fiscally responsible/socially progressive grain.

Even stranger, for those of you acquainted with BC Ferries, this is the monopoly I am referring to.  Admittedly, I wasn’t completely “with it” at 5:45 this morning when we rolled up to the gate in the ferry terminal in Port Hardy, BC…aka BC Ferries’ most northernmost terminus on Vancouver island.  I struck up a friendly conversation with the large fellow in the glow-in-the-dark vest who needed to see our reservation and our government-issued i.d.  Like I said, it was really early and I don’t remember, but somehow the conversation concluded with him saying we should ask for the first officer if we’d like our son to see whales from the bridge.  Cool.

DSC00935

there’s our captain greeting the car ahead of us.  5:40am

So once we’d crossed the fog-laden straits into the fjords that would take us to our destination, Bella Coola, we asked the nice lady in the cafeteria if she could contact the bridge for us.

Our son was already known to her by name after 6 hours of our 10.5 hour journey since we had shared several friendly conversations about life on board (two weeks on, two weeks off.  They live together on board.)  She took us up there, and OMG, I realized it was the CAPTAIN who had been greeting us on the ramp and invited us on board.  I assure you, nothing like this happens on the southern gulf islands or the southern mainland-Vancouver island routes!  After a lovely tour by the second officer, we noticed a plume from a humpback whale, which breached and dove on our port side.  We thought that was amazing.  Then from the upper sun deck, the announcement that a pod of white-sided dolphins was around us and would “put on a good show” because they like to play in the ferry wake.  I think there were close to 100 of them; they were all around us, diving and arcing in out of the ferry’s waves.

I realize the government-run monopoly had little to nothing to do with the wildlife.  But they served absolutely decent food, which was freshly prepared.  As I waited for my cedar-planked salmon on Caesar salad, I was told, “oh no”, we’ll bring it to your table when it’s ready.  I nearly fell over.  BC Ferries is still recovering, as far as I’m concerned, from it’s powdered-egg “sunshine breakfast” reputation of my childhood.

Then there was the docking in Bella Coola.  Clearly only the experienced captains pilot this route.  I grew up helping my dad sidle a 18.5 powerboat alongside a dock…I know that point of leaping onto the dock, to brace the boat so that it doesn’t bash into the pilings.  But as I stared down at the approaching dock from about 4 stories up, I realized our 150 passenger passenger ferry would not be bashing into anything. DSC01081 In order to unload the ferry, the captain had to back the ferry into the dock.  When we loaded in Port Hardy, we drove on, and turned around so that we were facing the only set of doors that we had entered from.  So the captain had to do a three point turn in the water, and back up, gently, to nudge the ferry alongside the pilings and back the exit ramp onto the dock.   Wow.  Then we tramped down to the car deck, and as we drove off, guess whose was the last face we saw?

Yes, our captain was back on the ramp saying goodbye to each vehicle.

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India Won’t Leave my Mind

Even though India is in my rear-view mirror as I am now immersed back into my west-coast Canadian routines, I find it is on my mind every day.

Have you noticed how you get asked, or you ask yourself, “what were the highlights?” of recent trips?  I have done that myself in the last couple of weeks, as I check in with friends and their travels over recent school holidays.  We want to hear about which experiences were memorable.  Certainly I had those…Taj at sunrise, the wind in the trees in the Himalayas, vibrant-hued saris with hems dragging in the dust along the roadside, the smells of the most delicious vegetarian food I’ve ever had, the grace and dignity of an ancient culture and religion….

But India won’t leave my mind partly because news stories keep coming into my awareness…and they keep being about a huge disconnect I experienced.  Where I live, there is a large and vibrant Indian population.  From what I have seen and experienced, it’s a forward-thinking, upwardly-mobile, industrious and integrated population.  Politically engaged, educated, strong women, two-income families.  Daughters given the same opportunities as sons.  My image of Indians in Canada is entirely positive and the relationships between men and women seem similarly respectful to what I have experienced in my own life.

But in India that’s not what I observed, at all.  Yes I’d heard about atrocities against young women and girls in India.  I knew that element would be there, but I guess I expected it to “be like home”.  Atrocities happen everywhere, and my large urban city has its own dark side…but not one that is in my face on a daily basis like it was in India.

And I guess I’ve had trouble letting it go because I felt like my last post about India was negative.  That was not at all my experience.  As a traveler, I try to be very aware that I am a tourist and that means I experience only a very minuscule slice of a country.  Making judgments and generalizations based on such a limited and biased exposure is inherently dangerous, and it’s certainly not my place to put my set of values onto a culture in which I am a guest.

So I don’t like walking away from India with a bad taste in my mouth about how men view women, and vice versa.  But I have.  And I keep wondering why.  Why were men so disrespectful of their own wives?  Why were they unaware, or uncaring about what example they were setting for their sons and daughters who were watching how they chased my daughter?  Why was there so much violence between a young woman who had been struck on the street and the young men in the vicinity?

A news story on CBC radio this week was my “aha” moment. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-april-25-2018-1.4633565/is-india-s-gender-imbalance-to-blame-for-rise-in-violence-against-women-1.4633603

Through generations of gender selection and a process of valuing sons more than daughters, India’s 2011 census shows 37 million more men than women in a population of over a billion.  There’s a whole “Canada” of men with no women.  And even more illuminating?  The imbalance is not evenly distributed across the country.  According to this story, and according to my family’s vacation, our entire trip consisted of touring the provinces where the gender imbalance is highest.  There are no young women for these young men to look at, never mind try to interact with and learn how to be respectful with.  No wonder they were gob-smacked at the presence of my daughter.

Gender selection started with amniocentesis to screen for healthy babies.  I wonder if countries like India and China are struggling with the long-term and potentially devastating social consequences of introducing complex scientific advances into a society, without also introducing an adequate level of scientific literacy and progressive social policy to go along with it?

There are many benefits to a more globalized world, but globalization also places technology within countries that have not, in terms of social policies, fully considered the implications of the use of that technology.  My touristic experience of India’s  policies around women and diversity highlighted this in a personal way that will not leave me alone.

 

 

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OMGOMGOMG

How incredibly stupid.  The pink scarf’s “esteemed” standing is now in serious jeopardy.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Our last stop on this fast-paced vacation is to get-up-at-3:30am to leave Mussoorie and catch our 7:20 flight to Varanasi in the eastern part of India.  The mood in the darkened van as we wind our way down from 7500 feet in darkness is beyond quiet.  The difficulty of the hour can be felt amongst the vehicle’s occupants, especially two teenagers.  Their box breakfasts of wonder-bread type sandwiches sit beside them on the seats.  In the last two weeks, there have been a few too many of these kinds of starts in early morning darkness to get from one place to another, too many cream cheese and vegetable wonder-bread breakfasts with battered bananas.  I think in the two hour drive down the mountain it was total silence.  One child has a cold and the kleenex box is in constant use.  The only sound are occasional sneezes and fumblings for the box of tissue.

We thankfully arrive at Varanasi airport without incident, although there was a delay for our guide (and therefore vehicle) and us to find each other.  Since we are in such a different part of India, we had to say good-bye to Jagbir.  The waiting around outside the airport for the van, while survived silently by my daughter, was not without stress.  Airport security is an unusual affair in India (actually so is hotel security, but that’s another story).  One cannot enter an airport without a passport and ticket.  So going back inside the terminal is not an option and we must wait outside in the 38C heat that  Mussoorie had given us a break from.

Unfortunately outside the airport was a bored herd of young Indian men who, like their compatriots around the country, found my daughter’s physical appearance worth staring and staring at.  It’s beyond anything I’ve seen or experienced anywhere else in the world.  Any stare elsewhere in the world…you catch the fellow’s eye, maybe the gaze lingers for a second, and then he knows he needs to stop and he looks away.  Or he looks away the second he realizes you’ve caught him.

Not here.  Staring is just the beginning…lewd gestures if you try to stare them down, or following you from place to place if you try to ignore them but move away.  My daughter’s patience for this is completely gone and she’s fed up and angry…with the lack of sleep her patience ebbs away and she laments her gender loudly and with angry tears in our car trip into Varanasi.  Yet again, as I hold her and listen, I wish I could fix her problems as I could when she was 3.  Those who know me know how I value being polite, but in the last days of our trip I have taken to yelling in public spaces and dressing down a young man when I catch him trying to take her picture.  My sun umbrella has also come in very handy as a shield that I can brandish horizontally to block a young man’s view.  Another time my attempt to stare him down led to a change of allegiance on his part and he saw this as encouragement.  Which caused me to launch into a loud  “hasn’t your father (by his example) raised you better?” lecture.  Sadly, his father has not and he really doesn’t care what this deranged white lady, who’s too old for him anyway, thinks.

After checking in at our hotel, which is a beautiful haveli (traditional townhouse or mansion) on the eastern banks of the river Ganges, we head out in the late afternoon.  By this point in the afternoon I am literally staggering…my start time this day was actually 1:30am…or aka my husband’s bouncing attempts to find comfort on our cardboard mattress had wakened me.  We go to see the largest university on the Asian continent in downtown Varanasi and we walk the narrow streets of the city near the central market.  It’s very different from anywhere else we’ve been…more of the “chaos” of India that we had been expecting.  Buddha came here  to preach his message of the middle way to nirvana after he achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya, and gave his famous first sermon here….or rather just outside Varanasi in the deer park at Sarnath.

The highlight of the day was the evening prayer service at 7 pm on the Ganges river.  All I could think about at this point was “bed” /”sleep”…by this point I was “dead woman walking”.  I wish I could have enjoyed it more.  My husband was entranced watching the priests enact a hour long ceremony in front of thousands lined up on land and in boats on the water.  Many believe that Varanasi has been inhabited for over 5,000 years and it is the most sacred city on the Ganges.  It is one of the holiest cities period, and a centre for pilgrimage for Hindus of all denominations.

Prayer services at the Ghat (apparently the Indian word for river bank, though each section of the river bank has a different name and  only a few are sacred)  occur for pilgrims every day of the year.   There are five sacred Ghats along the the miles of the Ganges as it winds through Varanasi, and we are at the busiest, the “Main Ghat”.  At non sacred spaces you will see cattle and people bathing, or washing clothes.  I think the hotel washed MY clothes in the Ganges.  🙂

At the risk of doing an ancient religion a gross disservice, Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges at a sacred site remits sins and that dying in Varanasi ensures release of a person’s soul from the cycle of its transmigration (we walked by a cremation…aka a wooden pyre on the stone boardwalk…but for obvious reasons I have no photo to show you).  Many come to Varanasi to die.DSC01910

But now we are home.  Which for me means starting my day at 4am (this is not so much a choice as it is a product of jet lag).  By mid afternoon my choices and decision-making ability are questionable.  I am doing a mound of laundry and as I work my way through it, I get to my “delicate” group.  Things that must be washed gently in cold water.  A very favourite (and expensive) t-shirt, a blouse, some things of my daughter’s, other precious things not worth mentioning.  But as I pull them out of the washer they are PINK!!!!!!  Deep, unwelcome pink where white or cream used to be.

Yes.  My beloved pink scarf, which has been though countless washes of its own, I thought was safe by this point.  Oh it is clearly not at all safe and at this moment, it’s future is very, very, very much in jeopardy.  And it is very much “not safe” with me.

This has been an expensive trip…this last bit of ruined clothes, a lost phone of my son’s.  A lost electric toothbrush of my son’s, and a lost pair of his leather sandals.  Arrrrgh!!!

 

 

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My Next Wedding

For a completely different scene, we went to one of the hill stations in northern India in the part of India that used to be part of Tibet, 7,500 feet up the foothills of the Himalayas.  Specifically, a town called Mussoorie, where the Dalai Lama first fled in 1959 when the Chinese invaded.  These hill stations were founded by the British (or the Britishers as our guide in Delhi said) in the early 1800’s.  George Everest lived here during the 30-40 years he spent surveying India.  He and other British had vacation homes in the mountains to relax and shoot game in the forests; they built their hospitals and schools in the cooler climate.  I have to admit, the weather part has been a reprieve…travelling through Delhi to get here, it was 38C.  In the hills highs have been about 25C.  To us, great weather for shorts and t-shirts, but locals are wandering around in down jackets and sweaters.

 

To me. Mussoorie is really very lovely.  Its main drag (the Mall), that prior to independence posted “No Indians” signs along it, is the town’s Champs Elysee, the Strand…the 5th Avenue of Mussoorie.  It’s a nice place to soak in the local scene.  It still has the delicate ironwork railing and Dickensian lampposts but now has a busy, tourist-oriented trade that thrives on the many who come to enjoy the cooler temperatures and experience a Himalayan India. DSC01660

It’s not calm and peaceful though.  These tiny roads that seem an extra appendage that’s been glued to the sides of the cliffs, rather than carved into them, were made for horse and buggy, not trucks and cars.  There is just no room to move and when two cars want to go opposite directions, the result is noisy, protracted, full of negotiation…and before it’s resolved, billowed into twenty to thirty cars who are stuck, unwilling to back up….and honking.  How to resolve this?  Indians appear to me as an optimistic lot, and this optimism seems to get them out of these messes.  One driver may not back down, but then 10 bystanders on bikes, in shops, or walking by, will help negotiate a solution.  There is a lot of loud discussion, but tempers don’t seem to run high and traffic tangles get resolved without anger.

When our guide does get us higher, it is wonderful.  Way less traffic, fewer people in the little town of Landour.  We get out of the car and the breeze is rushing through the cedar and oak trees.  At first, I think it’s the sound of running water… no, it’s the wind.  Monkeys are in the trees.  We are told leopards are common.  Homes are far apart, set back into the greenery, some with bright Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the breeze.  Many are retreats for writers or summer homes for families with means.  They are lovely.  It reminds me of walking on one of the gulf islands near my home.  We spend the afternoon on foot, walking, talking, stopping to take in the majestic Himalayan range off in the distance while we each sip a milkshake.  At one point we are walking home with groups of small Indian children, resplendent in the British-style school uniforms.  I could definitely stay here for awhile.

 

The food is a bit different here as well…on another day we went for a hike in the forest and our guide brought a Garhwali Thali lunch for our picnic.  I had no real clear idea of what I was eating…but it was the best dahl I’ve ever had.  It’s a regional cuisine to the state where Mussoorie is located, Uttarakhand.  Lunch is grain and cereal based, flavourful and homemade by a friend of our guide.  Supplemented with home made pickles and condiments.  “Try the pickle!” says my husband.  “No, I don’t want to.”  “You’ll like it”.  Pause.  “Ok,” and I scoop up a small bit and pop it into my mouth.  Chewing thoughtfully, I think I am eating a green bean.  I’d seen them in other dishes.  But something is not right.  OMG no, this is not a bean pickle.  It’s a chili and my lunch comes to a painful and abrupt end with “chili burn” that went into my ear canal like I’ve never experienced before.

But up until that pickle, it was some of the best food we’ve had on this trip.  My husband was so taken with our guide that he and my daughter took the time to help our guide with his business and developed this website for him: mussoorieforestwalk.weebly.com

 

I was also curious about the Dali Lama having sought retreat here when his homeland was invaded.  Where did he stay?  Well, it turns out he stayed in what is now the nicest 5* hotel in Mussoorie.  We had breakfast there one day.  I need to preface this with a comment about Indian weddings.  This is a huge industry and families spend a lot of money and go to a tremendous amount of trouble to put on a traditional wedding for their daughters.  In our time here, we have driven by countless roadside establishments…often in small villages… that have large gated properties with locations to host ceremonies and entertain hundreds of guests.  Our guide in Udaipur said that city, and many of its beautiful former palaces is a popular site for destination weddings for Indians and foreigners.

So this is on my mind as we are walking through the Savoy.  If you are familiar with any of the Canadian CP hotels, then if I say a mini “Empress” or “Banff Springs Hotel”, you’ll know what I mean.  It’s completely lovely…our shoes are squeaking on the gleaming floors, the polished woodwork is gleaming, the grounds are calming and peaceful.  It’s gorgeous.  It’s a good thing I’m already married because THIS is where I would have my “destination wedding”!  And I can tell it wouldn’t come cheap.  🙂

 

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Highways, Goat Tracks, and Perspective

So the patterns on my scarf are Sanskrit, I learned from my sister-in-law.  And apparently my scarf has “come home”.  A guide told me the writing was about one of the three “main” gods in the Hindu religion Shiva the destroyer…as in the destroyer of bad things.  If you’re wondering, the other two are Rama (the creator) and Vishnu (the protector).  There are many, many more.  Every vehicle has a Ganesh (the God with the man body and elephant head) for good luck.  Our erstwhile driver, Jagbir, has one permanently affixed to his dash, as do many vehicles.  Or they have bits of red and gold hanging from the front grills of their truck cabs, or tied to the handlebars of their vespas.  Apparently, luck is something that’s essential in navigating the roads in this county, which doesn’t surprise me one bit.DSC01519 Jagbir

The backroads of Rajasthan sometimes look like a fancy goat track.  Or at least that’s what the herds of goats seem to think as we pass by… a sentiment of what are YOU doing here is held in their baleful gazes.  If it’s not goats, it’s sheep, camels, school children, women carrying loads on their heads, a child’s hand her hers, the dust visibly dimming the hem of the often-gorgeous saris.  Their vivid colours and patterns are stunning.  One of the thing’s I’ve had to get used to here, is accepting the fact that oncoming traffic is treated like a constant game of “chicken” with a level of forced calmness.  There is only room for one vehicle, but each comes barrelling head-on down towards the other, goats and people scattering, horns blaring and then at the very last minute, one of the vehicles will allow one set of his (haven’t really seen too many women at the wheel) tyres (that’s how it’s spelled here) to drop into the bumpy track.

Sometimes there’s no pavement at all…just the goat track per se, so the dirt hills and valleys that our tyres barrel over send limbs in the air, knitting needles crashing into the ceiling, followed by our bodies rocking back and forth with a sort of resigned floppiness, or in extreme cases bouncing from seat to seat, seeing as in the back row there are no operable seat belts.  My daughter and I have developed a new level of closeness in our relationship as a result… with accompanying bruises. Our driver, who despite the impression of this description, is a very attentive and caring man who is a very skilled driver, has a good sense of humour. After one leaping fiasco caused me to exclaim “woohoo” he immediately joked back “Indian roads like massage!”

And he’s a competent driver who gets us from place to place with confidence and knowledge.  But I confess that more than once I’ve been grateful for my back-row seat that doesn’t afford a view of absolutely everything.  The photos I posted previously, by the way, look like “highways” to me now.  And they are a smooth. Compared to the back roads, these previously scary highways create a chaotically predictable experience of weaving in and out of traffic and living beings; horn constantly on the go to say “I’m coming”.  “passing on your left”, “move over”, “you can pass now”…or to pedestrians “stay on the side of the road”, or amazingly to dogs, cattle and other livestock “move over”.  If we’re stuck on a narrow street in a town with buildings on each side that wasn’t ever intended for two vehicles…”I’m tired of sitting here for 5 minutes, get going!”  It seems there is an entire complex language of horn honking to which I was previously uninitiated to. I’m amazed how even the sheep are trained to get out of the way.  But the back roads are something else, man.  And my pink scarf has shielded my eyes sometimes when I just couldn’t look at the accident that I was sure was to come…but never has.  Knock on wood though…don’t want to jinx it!  Or thanks to Ganesh.  I don’t know.

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Grab the Bull by the Horns

(co-edited by the one in the blue scarf…aka my daughter)

The versatile pink scarf is acquiring some new purposes on this trip.  On safari to the “jungle” (which just looked too dry and sparse to allow my brain to categorize it as “jungle”) it was a bug screen. We were out there looking for tigers but our guide sadly admitted later “tigers sleeping”.  In our open-air jeep ride down the paved roads to get to the national park in the early hours, it helped keep little bugs from going where they shouldn’t.  DSC00591It’s been a sling for a shoulder that isn’t happy with the vagaries of travel (don’t worry Mom, I’m fine!).  But mostly it’s just been plain comfort.

I was looking for one like it to complete the gift cycle of its life (give one to my friend)…and in the, rather aggressive, markets in the city of old Jaipur, it was very useful as each stall hawker called out for me to see what he had to offer.  All I had to do was hold up my scarf to change him to my agenda and stop the onslaught of “Ma’am!  Ma’am!  Come see in my shop.  You buy.  You like some pashmina?”  and if my gaze accidentally lingered on something for just one second longer than dismissal…. “Very good quality! (not)!  Yes!  You look!  I have others!”  “Come inside!”  “Sit!”    But one enterprising young man wanted to take my pink scarf off someplace to see if he could find one like it.  No way! I’ll never see it again!  I clutched it to my chest and refused to relinquish my beloved travelling companion.  So he consoled himself with a photo of it and went off to find a worthy comparison… but it seems my scarf is unique.  It doesn’t help that my tolerance for browsing quickly goes downhill, so I had to leave empty-handed.

I have enjoyed shopping in other places though.  In one of my new favourite cities, Udaipur, we spent an hour with the CEO of an NGO called Sadhna, a collective of 700 rural women who do lovely handwork that is turned into clothing and household objects.  The story she told was inspiring, It’s existed long enough to be positively impacting the third generation of these women’s families.  The money earned by the grandmothers went into their own bank accounts (not into their husband’s hands).  Many of them used that money to pay for their daughters to go beyond the publicly-funded grade 8 education for girls.  Now those daughters are doing the same and more for their daughters, many off to university.  One ran for political office (not successfully though), another opened a shop that she is going to pass down to her daughter-in-law (she says her son can go do what he wants, her daughter-in-law needs the business for her family).

But to return to Udaipur, we could have spent more time there than we did, which was a grand total of one day.  It’s the kind of place I could live for at least a few months.  It’s pretty…lush compared to the desert-like landscape of most of Rajasthan.  The title “city of lakes” is well deserved.  Udaipur has a vibrant local scene with a somewhat artsy/individualistic flavour.  Lots of young people who are studying beyond high school.  We did a cooking class in a home here.  It was run by an enterprising family where the aunt is the talent, and her 20-something nephew is the marketing, English-speaking p.r. guy.  Our class was in the evening and he had a business class exam the next morning, best of luck to him.

A hilly, narrow street neighborhood around an amazing Hindu temple attracted us for its variety of shops, little restaurants along the lake edge, and pretty bridges over the water…. even if I did have a scary moment on that cute bridge.  I was taking a picture and turned around to see a bull with sharp-looking horns lowering his head, shaking it back and forth and advancing toward me.  I speak enough “bull” to know that is not friendly and I that wouldn’t win in a horn altercation, but not enough “bull” to know what to do about it.  The bridge railing was behind me and there was no place to hide.  Could I wave my “Shiva” pink scarf at him, matador-style, and hope Shiva-the-destroyer would work his magic?  I think not.  Thankfully a passing man on a vespa grabbed the bull by its horns and physically yanked him away from me.  That expression “grab the bull by the horns”…you know, the one that means “get on with it and take action”?  Yah.  That will forever more have a Udaipur meaning for me.  Don’t stand in the road wondering what to do, with your hands starting to go up in the air…tell that bull who’s boss and get on with life! Phew.

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