Back in black and pink?

•February 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A couple of years ago, I flirted with the idea of getting back into ballet as a fun exercise alternative. The Queensland Ballet is near the office, and they have adult classes that are led by a team of two accomplished dancers, and the one in particular who taught the class I attended a few times changed the way I thought of dance, or at least opened me up to a new mindset about it. That is, it’s fun. It’s not a competition, not when you’re attending a recreational adult class it’s not anyway. I’ve had friends who have tried various dance classes for fun and exercise, but ballet is different and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, either to watch or practice. I danced from the ages of 3 to 13, ballet all the way through, but also a few hilarious years of tap and jazz.

Dancing was the main ‘activity’ I had as a child: I had little interest in sport, save for two seasons on a community girls’ soccer team. There were some decent players at one point, but I believe we held whatever title “no wins” gets. Seriously, I can’t remember ever winning once. I was awful, and I hated it, but I give myself credit in retrospect for trying something different, at my request, that I hadn’t previously considered. I have one vivid memory of playing goalkeeper, and we were actually doing quite well that day so the ball rarely came to our side of the field. I got bored, and I was frankly relieved I didn’t have any responsibility for what was probably a loss (so, actually yes I was the key player in that game), so I spent most of the hour dancing with myself, twirling to whatever music was in my head, and I was transported to a much prettier field that surely had some wildflowers in it, not having a care in the world that any of the parents who were also bored enough to glance away from their darling heroes on the offense were indeed laughing at me. I had no idea, and the thought didn’t cross my mind until my friend Katy told me she was not impressed with them. I still didn’t care – I had a much better time that day than probably any other match. Well, once I think I kicked the ball to someone and that felt pretty good. Oh, I also did a season of YMCA swim team, and I was a pretty strong swimmer and I’m still a general lover of being submerged, but I’m glad I didn’t stick with that – didn’t want the shoulders.

At one stage or two, I also felt inclined toward an instrument, and the one in my sights was the piano. We didn’t have a piano, but there are several musicians in my family, on both sides. My parents were not any of them, so the family’s pianos (Papa Larry’s beautiful, white upright Steinway, and Auntie Tami’s pea-soup conversation piece) did not live in my vicinity, as we did not live in the immediate vicinity of those relatives, who were both in Cleveland, and we were a couple hours south in Cincinnati. The Steinway is now in Stonington, CT with Auntie Mo, although it is Uncle Kenny who plays, brilliantly (by my standards) by ear; I still am not sure if he can read music (Ken, if you’re reading, chime in). The green one is far out of tune and only exists as a lovely family memento in my cousin Matt’s West Hills, Los Angeles home. He is a music buff, and works in the music industry, but he is not a musician either. However, I do recall a particularly lovely singing performance dedicated to his bride (“Save the Last Dance for Me”) nearly 20 years ago. There are many others – Papa Larry played, I think it was oboe or something a bit colorful, for a local orchestra in Cleveland, and I have cousins of that generation who went to band camp (yes) as youngsters, where they met and fell in love, and continued to go until the arthritis and travel became too much of a burden (to clarify, Idele is the cousin, Allen is an inlaw, for anyone who might have for some reason thought they were related thanks to my clumsy description). Larry also somehow acquired a church organ, which I remember him playing furiously and sometimes when we visited them in Florida we’d mess around with it – whoever ended up with that is mad and someone I would like to hang out with sometime because that thing was wild. Cousin Laurie was the first female cantor ordained west of the Mississippi. My cousin Evan – my third cousin Evan – who looks uncannily like my Papa Larry who passed in 1991 and his first cousin, Shelley, who recently passed, is quite – no – very talented and practiced and has a band as well as a formidable repertoire of a capella arrangements, which are all done over the incredible Internet with people he’s never met in person (remember this for later). He also performed on one of those talent reality extravaganzas with a group last year, and they won. But my parents were both forced into piano lessons, proceeded to suck, and did not broach the subject with me, although my dad did pick up his guitar now and again and wow me. He refused to teach me anything though, but I should have pressed him because one time he made the chords and I strummed. Their place in the spotlight was ballroom dancing, having come of age during the Dirty Dancing years, and they stole the show at every occasion with a floor.

So, dancing it was for me, and I loved every minute of those ten years. I thought I did, but do not have one of the priceless photos of me at two, in class looking at myself in the mirror, picking my nose (literally) as the youngest little one in baby ballet class. It really is a classic shot, I was the only girl who managed to get away with wearing a very exciting sparkly, leopard-print splashed, teddy-bear adorned getup, in contrast to the room of black leotards and pink tights. But here are some of the highlights I do have on hand (sorry, this visual content is sponsored by Instagram, and I’m forcing you to know about my infrequently brilliant collection of images):

The professional shots are of me in heels! But no I did not dance in them.

You get the idea.

When I made my soft return to the barre, it was a bit disheartening. When I was a kid, I actually got to be pretty good – not good enough for even the studio company where I attended lessons, but I had good coordination, impeccable posture, and I think I was fairly graceful. When it came time for me to progress to pointe training, I quit. My heart wasn’t in it anymore (the studio in Virginia Beach was not quite as encouraging an environment as the one in Cincinnati, or maybe I was just older and they were more seriously scouting the real dancers from the play timers) and I figured I didn’t want to go down the path of no return. I also didn’t think I had the body type for it, and by all accounts I didn’t, but the point is (sigh) I didn’t feel like it and classes were expensive, so I turned my sights elsewhere, which landed in theatre. Another time.

Actually, I was quite good. One year they gave me free tuition because my mom was sometimes late and they saw it in me. So there. That was actually the year before I quit I think, I probably felt guilty about not loving it as much as I once did. That, and it was getting to feel too difficult, as I advanced and the expectations rose.

I found myself in a professional studio, with a professional ballerina showing me moves I learned as a girl, again, and although we were all terrible except for maybe two students who must have been training for something a bit bigger, I didn’t like that I’d lost it. I was unfit and felt uncomfortable. So I stashed the shoes I wore maybe twice and told myself I didn’t want to walk down Montague Rd alone at night anymore, which is fair enough, but there is a bus people.

But I never forgot ballet, and I still think it is a marvelous and dangerous specialized form of art. When I listen to music, could be anything, I still sometimes have impossible choreography fantasies, and get wistful for the big performance I never had.

The thing is, I’m not unfit anymore. I’m pretty fit, getting there anyway, and I recently told my personal trainer (you know it) that what I’m really aiming for is a ballet body, within reason. He gave me a hint: calf raises, and so I shall do them, a part of my body I’ve never really considered. One thing I am not anymore is graceful. But I think that could be unlearned. I think I’m going to find out if it can be. I’m not talking about ever getting to pointe, probably, but I think there may be a space in my life for that performance I’ve been daydreaming of forever. Not sure where I put those shoes.

The single most important thing I’ve written to date

•February 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I wrote this down because, although I know exactly what I want to say to you, it swirls around in my head constantly and for one I need that to stop so I can get on with my day; and two, I want to make sure I don’t forget anything. So if I do, you have this to look at. Actually, I anticipate my head swimming too much to be coherent, and I also know I’m much better in writing than in conversation. I even thought about hand-writing this, because that’s more sentimental and romantic and shit, but my script is so messy and it would be awkward for you to have to confirm what a word is while reading, and generally disturb the flow. Blah

Thank you. What you have done to me, while of course it was completely heart shattering, was the right thing to do. What you did was strip me bare. It was the right thing to do for you, and I do respect that you always do what you have to do for you; it’s one of the things I admire most about you. Even if what you think you have to do may not always be in your true best interest. Even though people don’t always understand it, you’re always true to yourself. Maybe I’m crazy, but I really feel like I understand you more than most people who love you and who have known you much longer than I have. It could be because we are both damaged and broken in our own outstanding ways; it could be that our connection is fundamentally different to the ones you share with others. So although you may have made a mistake in how you went about this, because you ripped my fucking heart out, I get it. And maybe that’s the way I needed it to happen as well, for me to have this painful clarity forced upon me. Again, thank you.

What we desperately need is some separation. There is something special; and for both of us, rare, between us, and I know you know it, and I know that’s why it’s terrifying, and we were not cultivating it properly. I was not, to be precise. You were doing your letter best. You have been nothing but caring, loving, and supportive to me, even though you struggled so deeply while coming to terms with what it means to love someone. I was silly enough to think you’d gotten through that, but that was fucking selfish and dumb of me. Love is fucking scary. I was an ass and didn’t think enough about how scary it is for you. I want to tell you, over and over again, that you do not have to be scared. Because I fucking love you, and I will always be here for you. I am proud of you even, for taking the initiative to say that you need to step back and be ‘you’ again – I just hope I can support you in finding the real you. The beautiful, wonderful you, that you don’t believe exists, that is underneath all that crap you tell yourself is you. I know it’s there because I’ve seen it so many times, and it’s not going to be easy for you to find because you’ve spent your life hiding from it as best you can. Everyone who loves you knows it’s there, but ultimately it’s not for them to worry about so they care for you in the way that is best for them, naturally. None of this matters until you kind of accept that you deserve a meaningful life full of love, simply because you’re a human. Or at least pretend to accept it until you forget that you don’t. Please remember that I see the ultimate beauty in you and that it aligns with mine because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here with you right now. Also remember that I’m a million times smarter than you, so you should trust at least some of the things I do say. I wouldn’t have anguished for months and months and driven myself back into depression and finally made the decision that you were worthy of my love, and that it would all be worth the risk. That’s the decision I made and I’m sticking to it. You are worth my love. Remember that and say it to yourself at least once a day (just fucking try it) that you have inherent worth and that you deserve my immense, powerful, transformative love. And all of the love you’ve ever received.

What I need to do is pretty similar. I need to find my identity again (for the first time?), and distance myself from that dark place inside me that tells me ugly things, like that I don’t belong here or anywhere, that no one cares if I live or die, that I’m gross and not enough to reach whatever potential my mom said I had as a child, etc, and just do the things I want to do and feel I must do – I’m compelled to do this because I’ve been inspired by knowing and loving you. Those dark places are essential to who we are, and they are not going to die, but there are better ways to live with them. I need to nurture my other relationships too – I don’t have that many here, but they are so important, and of course so are the ones with physical distance. I need to go dancing with Lizzie, and write and make shit and read and sing and do whatever, generally not wasting time on what I shouldn’t waste time on and…spend time alone! This has always been one of my top priorities, and I let it go, again! I’m an introvert too, you know that, right? You more so than me, but there’s a spectrum. Anyway, when I had this realization about myself years ago, I thought of it like I’m a bucket of water (my blog, that I’ve never shown you or updated in a zillion years, is called cold slug of water, stop judging me!). I love spending time with people I love and letting them ‘drink’ out of me, and sometimes I even have abundant energy to share with total strangers (this is where you and I differ). But you know how physically and emotionally draining it is, and I often find myself needing some time out in the rain to replenish my stores. For some reason, what I always do in a relationship despite knowing this about myself, I throw myself in and devote all of my energy and then I shrivel up. So I feel like I’ve poured myself out onto you, showering love and attention to the point of mindlessness, leaving you drenched and me empty. That’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s close enough. I might not have shown it lately, but I really get the greatest joy from intimate sharing, and it energizes me when I have the energy to give in the first place. So I guess I just got lost in the moment, or the moment evaporated or some other shitty metaphor. I want to get myself back to where I can share everything with you and it feels great, or I can at least be more honest and clear.

So I have been thinking we need a break too, don’t you worry. But to reiterate I do not blame you for all of this; I blame me too. For retreating into myself and becoming a monster. Because as hard as you think it is for you to express yourself, trust that it’s 100 times harder for me to accept, feel, and express my emotions. I think you know that. You have come to understand things about me in the short time we’ve known each other that people I’ve known far longer do not quite understand. Feelings make me feel weak and ashamed, and I resent the fuck out of people who are able to deal with them in a healthier way than I am. But now I have a new way to approach my feelings. I can’t continue to live the way I lived before. I feel awful about the way I’ve treated you at times, when all you really wanted was for me to tell you what I was fucking feeling. I thought it was too hard for me, and I regret succumbing to that dipshit inside me. I blamed it on the light switch in my brain, that makes me lose control over myself, but I can control it, and I will. I think, more than anything, if I had behaved differently in that way, we could have avoided this, but we didn’t. I didn’t. So that time in my life is officially over. I’m never again going to pretend I’m not having a problem when I know I am, and I’m not going to be afraid of confronting my feelings (well I probably will, but I’m going to do it anyway).

What I really want you to take away from what I’m saying is that I am not going to give up on you or on us. You’re fucking stubborn, I’m fucking stubborn. But, you said it first: you are the one that I want. That’s a moment I’ll never forget. I want you, not just in my life; I want to be yours. However that has to come to pass. We will take our separate time, as much as we need, and we will take it all at a snail’s pace and it will be worth it. Because I know that you love me just as much as I love you. Sorry but I have to say it again: you’re remarkably beautiful, and there is capacity for love in you that makes my brain explode at times. Knowing all of this in my heart is literally what’s keeping me alive right now, so I know it’s real. It’s been real from the very beginning.

It’s not physically possible to completely fall out of love with someone you truly love – and I love every broken, beautiful bit of you – so suddenly. So I know that you are still in love with me. You will be able to be there with me again, like I’m going to be there with you. We will do it as individuals coming together, and we’ll always honour ourselves first and foremost. So I’m going to be there for you now in supporting your decision to be alone, and when you come back to me I will not push you away like I did before.

“Something said here is potentially of some value”

•March 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I recently had my first dip into the world of global Internet governance, attending the WSIS+10 Review meeting and IGF MAG Open Consultation, all hosted by UNESCO in Paris. What a workout, both mentally and physically. Luckily I had nice cheese, fresh bread, and (often outstanding) wine to sustain me.

Oh my, how glamorous to be sent on a work assignment to Paris! I received a lot of advice on how to have fun in Paris, approximately all of which was left unused. I did get to try my dangerously rusty French, and thank goodness the locals were gracious about it.

The journey was a marathon 50+ hours with a day on hold in Singapore – nice surprise to see everyone there getting ready for APNIC 35 and nice to enjoy a day of warmth. Singapore reminds me of my grandparents. That is, it’s a lush, balmy, perfectly manicured environment, like a gated community in Florida. With better shopping and food.

As I landed in Paris, I leaned over to look out the window and was struck by the grayness of late winter in the northern hemisphere. My eyes darted around for a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower while my brain remembered what a dusting of snow looked like. I jumped into a taxi, woke up at my hotel, made myself presentable, and found my way down the Rue to the UNESCO headquarters.

On the way that morning I hardly noticed the stunning Hotel de les Invalides or the Tour d’Eiffel, both in plain sight. Most buildings in Paris are opulent and timeless (well no, they all date to quite specific periods, don’t they), but the UNESCO building is undeniably retro in style and atmosphere – a perfect setting for international bureaucratic collaboration. It would also have been a perfect setting for the 1960s tv series Get Smart, with plenty of space for long, winding shots to clandestine meetings in hidden rooms, an equally labyrinthine sculpture garden, and terrifically slow elevators to accommodate the exchange of confidential information. Somehow it reminded me of the synagogue my family attended in the 1980s. But the temple did not have these – thanks to Susan Chalmers (InternetNZ) for taking these photos, and for not minding that I’ve stolen them:

phones

Long distance calling station

Or rooms like this:

This is how you build a sound-proof room. The microphones were actually needed.

Note to the architects who did the APNIC office fit-out: this is how you build a sound-proof room.  The microphones were actually needed.

It was an appropriate place to have “high level debates” on ICT, which are not so much debates as they are government representatives extolling their technological advancement and willingness to cooperate with the ambiguous “multiple stakeholders”. That was only the first day. I was so confused, I thought we were here to talk about Internet governance but I quickly realized I only have a tenuous grasp on what this means:

“…development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.” (Tunis Agenda, para 34)

The WSIS+10 Review program was nearly 100 sessions of discussion on how the expansion of the Internet presents opportunities and risks for all sectors of society, and there was a lot of talk about bridging the digital divide. At the end, a sweet little final statement on a renewed commitment to implementing the Tunis Agenda was produced. It was a chance for UNESCO to put on a “mini Internet Governance Forum” to prove there is a more suitable UN agency to take on those proceedings than the ITU [the International Telecommunications Union], because this is exactly the sort of content UNESCO [the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] was made to tackle. I can only explain what it was like to witness such a show of cordial, well-intentioned cooperation while experiencing acute fatigue with this song, which played in my head all week:

A still from Disney's The Rescuers (1977), where representatives of world mouse-ry came together to talk about saving the world. (Latvia was not the star, please ignore.)

A still from Disney’s The Rescuers (1977), where representatives of world mouse-ry came together to talk about saving the world. (Latvia is highlighted here because someone clever pointed out that Latvia was not yet an independent state in 1977, but then again neither was Vienna.)

This is the tone of the IGF as I gather – or at least what it’s meant to be. It’s a forum for discussing things in a “safe space”, where everyone present can express their opinions with the intended outcome to send the policy makers home to make better-informed policy for the good of their constituencies. In a nutshell. Almost all sessions were webcast for remote participants and in many cases those not physically present could contribute to open talks, however crude the WebEx situation continues to be. The session moderator would have the chat window projected for the room, so any private conversations could be read by all participants. Now that is open participation! (yuk yuk)

So I soaked it up as much as possible, and attempted my duty as window dressing/cohort while trying to talk to someone/anyone about getting some messages across about participating in the actual IGF later this year in Bali, Indonesia. It was even more of a struggle than I’d imagined it would be, with my vitality significantly reduced by a nasty cold. By the end of the week my little body was spending most of its energy fighting, and all the Vitamin C chewables in Paris could not fully mitigate the triple-front attack of stress, near-freezing temperatures, and weariness. I did come away with some understanding that there would be a lot of work to do this year, both for us rallying excitement for the IGF’s 8th installation and especially for those throwing it, as it probably needs a revamp to bring it back to its innovative roots.

I didn’t know what to expect for the actual IGF component of the week, the Multistakeholder Advisory Group Open Consultation, but somehow it took me by surprise. The MAG is like the IGF program committee, and they have two meetings. The first was about theme and format. Alright, okay, this is apparently what happened. The IGF seems to have devolved into a space where the US State Department might feel more comfortable than say, an Asia Pacific Internet Service Provider Association to make a comparison. I’m a newcomer here, and here’s what I noticed: they say it’s for “everyone”, but it didn’t feel that way. The Open Consultation day was indeed the time for anyone to give suggestions on any aspect of the program, theme, or format of the IGF. The Chair then magically digested it all and regurgitated it for the following day, where the MAG members continued the previous day’s discussion.

Two days of discussion transpired on shaking up the format, which may not eventuate, and themes. If you look through the past seven IGF themes, they’re all pretty vague (and pretty much the same), so I didn’t understand why there was so much discussion on a theme in the first place. What I really couldn’t understand was the ultra broad, popular suggestions like “human rights” and “freedom of expression”. This is the UNESCO treatment, I suppose, but wouldn’t it make more sense to fit human rights into discussions about the Internet than the other way around for this particular forum? Call me cynical, but are we going to waste time bringing an authoritative regime to task on its Internet access policies in this space?

Number one take-away observation from the IGF: there is a spectrum of communication styles and universes coming together here, into a neutral environment that looks more like it leans in a certain direction. There is the ministerial end: formal, agenda-driven, outcome-oriented. Then, in a way, there’s everyone else: the business community definitely has an agenda, but its more homogenous than the UN member states. They all just want to continue making money. The academics and NGOs want to respectively talk about and make provision for extending the benefits of the Internet to every corner of the planet. But the [under-represented] technical community, in how they hash out a decision that affects everyone, could not be more different from the public sector community. There are no invitations, and there is no decorum; there is only the matter of keeping the Internet functioning and growing.

Our big challenge for the year is to remind the techies that without them the other stuff (free-flowing information, much loved by all Internet users) can’t happen, so they should make an effort to explain a bit about what they do and why in the common space, now that alternative ideas about running the Internet are being considered in earnest. Even in its poorest state, the IGF is the only semi-official, global forum where a small network operator from Bangladesh can conceivably speak to his or her communications ministry representative about Internet plumbing. The non-global, totally un-official place is of course an APNIC meeting.

Reclaiming the space

•December 11, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been underwater for a long time and have felt too lazy to add further documentation to my claim on this life. I am still here though, and thinking about making big changes, so it’s best to write it down for my own recollection. Think of it as a fleshed-out list in semi-chronological order. Whatever it is, it should contain plenty of hyphenated words.

It’s not just about being lazy, only partly. The last few months were more anxiety-ridden than I cared to admit to myself while I was living through them. Before I left Brisbane for my month-long adventure through the bowels of Hell i.e. Virginia Beach (just kidding, it’s not that bad) and out the other end in Los Angeles (which I previously associated with Hell, oddly enough) I was experiencing some sort of gastro distress I likened to birth of a tumor. When I finally sorted it out I realized it must have been stress-related, because I do the right thing otherwise: I have a healthy diet, I exercise, I drink water, etc. Anyway great news, my tummy is flat(ter) again.

There is a stunning heap dearth of photos from my recent third annual jaunt to the US, which could mean I’m not enchanted by familiar scenery but the truth is I was either too engrossed in spending time with whoever was around or driving. I would have taken photos of Topanga Canyon, on my way from my cousin Matt’s house in the West Hills down to LA, but I was more interested in taking it in (and not crashing my rental car, for which I do not believe I was insured).

Ways I’ve been called

•June 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

delicate, elastic, lively, outgoing, upfront, state of the art, multicultural, fast acting, high definition, double wrapped, gender specific, high class oriented, bite sized, nice panoramic, anatomically correct, downloaded, uplinked, on point, ahead of the curve, top notch, foot loose proactive, knee jerk reactive, sugar based, waterproof,  new wave, mover and shaker, giver and taker, down to earth, up and to the right, riding the wave, above the average, under the radar, over the edge, sophisticated bottom up, straight up top down, casual black tie, classy urbanite, hands on, emotionally intensive, scientifically compliant, laterally thinking, status quo defying, reverse engineering

         

Holi elephants, batman

•March 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Following my busy week in Delhi, I treated myself to a week in India, visiting Jaipur and Pune, a lovely city and home of a lovely friend from university.

Anyone who hasn’t taken domestic flights in India might be apprehensive, but trust that there are several decent airlines. Better than taking the train, anyway…I assume! Like any other airline, the plane is staffed with attractive young women, with perfect hair. Too perfect. They were wearing wigs. This is not an industry standard, but okay. I also came across this:

Don’t get me wrong, these are obviously typical criteria. When’s the last time you boarded a plane and thought, Eeesh at any of the crew? Many airlines don’t have a female-only policy, but then again many do – I just found this …transparency…refreshing. It was a pleasant enough (short) flight.

I was told Jaipur was beautiful. This is probably a creative use of the word. Certainly there are beautiful areas, beautiful bougainvillea, and unbelievable works of combined Hindu and Islamic architecture. The city is lively and colorful – yes, parts are pink, but mostly the buildings are painted a rusty sandstone-reminiscent hue. There’s a reason for it, but why don’t you just wikipedia that and save me the time? Now, my mediocre representations of the grandest monuments I’ve ever seen:

Cleverly taken to the top of the building opposite!

And what a lady I am.

First, the Hawa Mahal – Palace of the Winds. Called so because all the windows and hallways allow a very pleasant breeze to flow through so the king’s ladies housed inside would be comfortable. I did not make it to the concubine house on the hill this trip. Not because there wasn’t time, but because I had pampering priorities.

The first stop on my jam-packed day tour of Jaipur’s hottest was the Jantar Mantar – an observatory built by the King of Jaipur, Maharaja Jai Singh II, in the early 18th century. The Maharaja himself was obsessed with the stars and built beautifully precise instruments for tracking the sun and other heavenly bodies.

If you are ever in Jaipur, this place is definitely not to be missed. There are four others scattered around western central India, but the Jaipur observatory is the biggest. There were originally dozens of applications for each of the instruments, but now it’s more of a novelty to be able to see the exact placement of the sun in various ways. The real genius is in the architecture of the instruments themselves, as they are built to be large enough for a person to climb inside to take readings, many of the instruments are split into two complementary parts, just to allow the Maharaja (or any other astronomer) to observe more closely.

This is the 'small' sundial. See? It's tiny. It tells the 'local Jaipur time, which is UTC +5:30 (-37 mins)

There is even an instrument for each sign of the zodiac, which points in a certain direction at the correct angle to see the constellation in the sky. Raj, my guide, told me about ‘rising signs’, which is more or less the sign ascending the horizon when you were born.

World's largest sundial - tells the time to 20s precision!

Both sundials together

This is housed in the City Palace complex, which is the historical royal family home. The Queen and boy king apparently still live in there, but they don’t have any royal duties, or even any money to speak of. Still pretty cool, right?

Raj also took me to the Amber Fort, and my phone died so I had to rely on his camera phone for documentation. Still awaiting those shots. Oh well, I have my memories.

The next day I was meant to go see a couple other things, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend hours being ‘worked on’ for a trivial sum. It’s like, why I was there. No, I was there to see elephants in makeup, but that was to happen in the afternoon. So I found a place near my hotel to get a super duper facial, a pedicure (so, so necessary after my day of trekking in the dust), and a massage.

There I was, about hour three into my five-hour spa day, and I hadn’t had a drink since breakfast. The man servicing me (the facial was thorough) kindly offered a glass of water and without thinking I took a sip, having gotten used to the assumption that all drinking water comes from a bottle or a filter or a kettle. As I swallowed that first sip, I thought, “huh, that tastes different,” and then I realized. No. Oh no.

NO!

I have not seriously had a whole sip of tap water! Outside a hotel! Where they have no toilet paper! Yes. I did. I’m still here.

I was lucky enough to be in town for the annual Elephant Festival, held the day before Holi in Jaipur. Everyone interested (tourists) pile into the polo grounds (for free!) to see a parade of giants dressed to impress, and the winner gets something for being the best. I don’t know which won this year, but they were all pretty spectacular.

There were beautifully adorned elephants, but I really liked this one.

It wasn't all about elephants, just mostly.

I was in Pune for the actual day of Holi, and we went to a party of color throwing and music that reminded me of something you might come across in Australia, except it didn’t last more than 24 hours and there were no drugs. It was fun, and I got smeared with all sorts of dye which came off more easily than I expected, but I did spend the next week with a terrible cold.

I kept trying to get the guys with the purple powder to get me, but I got a lot of red and black.

Namaskar, encore

•March 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

My impression of India is like this: I love India!

Ooooh I hate India.

Oh, how glorious you are, India!

Get me the fuck out of India.

Goodbye, fair India. When shall we meet again?

And so on. I may never do that extended backpack across India many travelers use as a benchmark of their prowess. Whatever. All I care about is being at the tail end of a busy three weeks away from home, which means I get a holiday! Well earned, I’d say, and my very first trip alone. I booked it without thinking, because who knows when I’ll be back in India, but as the week in New Delhi came to an end I caught the fear of traveling to my next destination. Not only a little apprehensive to be going somewhere new and intense alone, but who the hell will there be to talk to? I was tempted to cancel and run back home to my friends, cat, and desk. Knowing I’d never forgive myself, I shoved that thought away and boarded the plane (10kgs overweight – luggage, not moi) to Jaipur.

It really pays to get to the airport very early in India, at least at a major airport like New Delhi. I checked my bags, knowing they’d weigh too much and reached into my purse to hand over however many rupees would be required, but no, you actually have to get out of line, go pay the cashier at the end of the row and then get BACK in line to get your boarding pass. Since I had plenty of time, I shuffled over, paid my fine, and looked back. There was no way I was standing in that line again, not because I was in a giant hurry, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I did something I should be ashamed of but honestly felt great about, and sneaked in (“trying” to grab the attention of the usher so I could explain my trouble – but he would have sent me to the back anyway) and craftily placed myself second to be served. They even expect you to speak to the same counter! Sheesh. The Jaipur airport is much, much, much smaller so hopefully I’ll have less hassle (I wouldn’t get away with queue jumping there).

Anyway, back to week one. I happened upon the incredible good fortune to be in the right place at the right time when a spot opened (read: I was desperately needed – how good of me to step in) to attend and take minutes at a two-day meeting in Mauritius, of all places. An eyesore, really, a blight on the Indian Ocean. Like North Queensland’s coast and hinterland smushed together. Yes on the whole unattractive. In addition to my task of furiously jotting down (furiously, messily) notes about brochures, translations, and who will volunteer to take which extra jobs over the next six months, I managed to fit in a fish festival for one. Every meal was fish and/or seafood and I ate NOTHING that wasn’t absolutely delicious. I must have eaten my weight twice. Highlights!:

  • Vindaye – Mauritian ‘vindaloo’ which is made with wholegrain mustard and magic. I had it once with fruits de mer and once with fish
  • Rougaille – Creole tomato sauce with coriander, paprika, and more magic
  • Smoked marlin – every morning please and thank you
  • Scallop sashimi – better than mother’s milk
  • Plain ol’ bbq fish – not sure what fish it was, nor did I care. Some things are just perfect as nature intended (barbequed, that is)
  • Les Moules!
  • Raw coconut for breakfast and;
  • Coconut Mademoiselle – a very sweet, rummy coconut drink, of course served in a coconut, like so:

Let’s of course not forget “The Creole”

I made sure to try some creole dishes, because I saw an episode of Food Safari that made prawn rougaille look easy to make. We shall see.

Mauritian culture and cuisine has French/Creole, Indian, and various African influences. French and English are the most commonly spoken (at least heard by me) languages, but of course Mauritian French is quite different to French French. I didn’t bother trying. I did however notice a striking billboard just about everywhere that was a PSA for road safety. We were always driving too fast to capture/read in entirety, but the gist is: Don’t drink and drive, you’ll die with a generous blood spatter in the background.

The island of Mauritius is a big hill. The resorts are along the low-lying coast, soaking up the heat and moisture (creating a surface-of-the-sun environment) and then everything moves central and rains on the major cities inland. The center of the island is hilly and lush and cool, but where we were staying is eternal beach paradise. So after we finished our business I took a morning sunning and swimming – I was obsessed with the feeling and taste of salt water after missing it for so long – and got myself a nasty full-body sunburn! The remainder of the day would reveal exactly how nasty it was, but on my way to lunch I popped into a chemist to get some after sun cream thinking I’d be clever. Ha ha.

Can you see my flesh sizzling?

I ambled along, my skin searing in the afternoon sun, after a local lunch and sneaky cocktail. I was looking for a spa experience, or an ice bath. I climbed into the first shop along the row of similar establishments and found I couldn’t stand a minute longer in a room without air conditioning. Actually, I couldn’t stand the thought of someone touching me. This was not meant to be. I ran out of the salon and into the next haven from the sun into a textile shop, run by a friendly Pakistani. I am not a great sucker, but can be persuaded to buy something I want. I walked away with a beautiful gold silk quilt cover set and a pashmina the color of the sea (in Mauritius that is), which ended up coming in handy during the following week as well as the week after when buying more, as I already knew what I was prepared to pay – my proudest haggling moment!

I departed Mauritius with my burn reaching its peak of painfulness – it felt like someone had beaten the backs of my thighs as my fluorescent grimace tried to hide my discomfort and embarrassment. I do actually know better. I swallowed a fistful of sedatives for the bumpy journey north to Dubai, where I spent a miserable five hours sleeping in a chair, and finally on to Delhi where I was grateful to go from tarmac to hotel in an hour. Unheard of. I spent the next three or four days laughing with my colleagues about the unfortunate condition of my usually pale skin, which grew more and more unfortunate as the shock of moving from ultra humidity to the excruciatingly dry Indian air and blasting air conditioning took its toll. My skin was falling off in sheets (face first, naturally) before I could say “masala tea, please”. Not surprisingly, the coffee was undrinkable, and I laughed through my glorious cups of Ceylon at everyone visibly choking down the black stuff.

This was a work conference as per usual, with the regular scurry, stress, heightened nerves, and binge drinking. There were some delightful extras this time, however – first were the hotel fires:

Not the source of any of the three separate fires, but you get the general idea.

This was easily the largest hotel I’d ever been in or seen. In fact, I’d have been closer to where I needed to be each day had I been staying at the hotel next door. At least I got a bit of exercise in that week, in addition to a glorious morning yoga session.

Aside: The above link may have poses familiar to anyone who has ever practiced yoga, but we were led through them in a way that was new to me. First, we did several rounds at normal speed. Then, we did 16 rounds at a breakneck pace of one normal inhale/exhale per pose. Then, we did each pose holding for ten seconds (and breathing “normally”). I had bruises on my arms from my muscles over-exerting themselves and they are still sore nearly a week later. The killer is the chatturanga dandasana, where you slowly lower your body from plank to the floor. I insist on doing it every time, since discovering I actually am ABLE to do it. Hence my internal hemorrhaging. <end aside>

So anyway, when a few places caught fire, no one was really bothered about it. This “she’ll be right” attitude taken toward the situation was far more concerning than the actual acute danger of being inside a burning building. Early that morning, someone asked if there was toast. No, there’s no toast, but there’s an awful lot of old wood. Must be something burning. To be fair, maybe one of us should have said something at that point. About three hours later, we were all asked calmly to leave the lunch room and go down to the lobby because the middle two floors were now filled with smoke. There was never an alarm, and we never knew exactly what happened, but one was a kitchen incident and it’s safe to assume the others were due to clever electricity experiments.

Only in India – the hotel staff brought us a gigantic printer/copier (see above for how it was hooked up), complete with our own printer-walla who spoke no English. We all felt badly for this young guy who had to sit all day waiting for someone to ask him to make a copy – obviously no one was going to do that because who needs a copy these days – at one point a few staff asked him for a sympathy copy. All this time the printer was not even on our network so it was not a functional printer, which we could have used.

Now at my hotel in Jaipur, there is only Internet access in the lobby.  I’ve spent a bit of time each night on the couch in front of the door, on a busy street. It’s pleasant, but not as convenient as being in bed (although the bed is not so much a bed as a plank of wood). The lovely young concierge saw me sitting and asked “are you interested in novels?” I thought well, yes, I could read something it’s been a while, looked up to see him offering me an early edition of Ulysses. “No, I don’t think I’ll get through that in the next 24 hours, but thanks anyway.”

 
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