Category Archives: travel

Weddings and Road Songs

Today is my wedding anniversary! It was sweet of God to arrange for me to attend a wedding last night, in the neighborhood where my late husband and I honeymooned so long ago. I drove down after church yesterday and listened on the way to Alexander Hamilton on Audible. I’m more than halfway through that book now, only 17 hours to go 🙂

The wedding stirred up memories of our own youthful idealism and exuberance. I often think about weddings Then and Now and will probably have enough material for a very irritating book before long, so I will leave that topic, except to say that I am comforted that there are still weddings happening, and that one still encounters couples who have a vision of what a marriage can be.

When we left the wedding hall in the Santa Cruz mountains the sky was cold and clear, and Orion and the Big Dipper were sparkling up there as huge and bright as could be. I had to be careful walking the 1/4 mile in the near dark to my car, hungrily craning my neck at the stars with an eye on the mudholes below. Then it was only five minutes back to a humble Airbnb room where I slept soundly in a good bed.

This morning I made use of the organic coffee in the fridge and a French press to brew it in… I indulged in a carafe full. As I was packing my car and finishing my coffee I got a text from a cousin who lives just up the hill from where I had stayed. Yes, he said, we are home, please come.

The house that he shares with his wife is a mountain cabin only a few doors down from the little place where we newlyweds spent a few nights back then. This very cousin had been visiting his parents’ cabin while we were honeymooning and had stopped in to say hello one morning; I remember it vividly. Now here I was with them in that cabin that has been their home in retirement. It was almost as good as being with my children, to be with this man who knew my husband long before I did and misses him, too. They gave me coffee that was even better than my first cups, and listened to as many honeymoon or deathbed stories as I wanted to tell them.

When I made a pit stop on my way out of town I tried to eat some sunflower seeds; my hand shook and I scattered them around in my car. Hmm, I thought, being this buzzy from coffee might be as bad for my driving as being drunk. I texted my friends and asked for prayers that angels would keep me, and calm me.

My whole eight weeks of traveling to Wisconsin and India, I felt that angels were carrying me on their wings, or God was keeping me wrapped in a protective cloud, or however He handles these matters. I had accidents, things went wrong, but no disasters… For decades I’ve believed that on the highways, heavenly hosts intervene constantly between all the hunks of metal barreling along, carrying tender flesh — otherwise all of our distractions would cause many more collisions than actually happen. So it was natural for me to count on angels to shield me from harming myself or others through my foolish coffee-drinking.

I didn’t listen to Hamilton at first, because I had to drive on Highway 17 from the coast to San Jose, which always feels like a fast slalom course through the hills. I knew it would take all my concentration and I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to American history at the same time. So I let the music play through my phone as iTunes always insists on doing, and it began to shuffle through a hundred or more songs in one folder.

I’ve written before about how my husband had been the owner and manager of the iTunes account; in the last three years I have occasionally sorted through and weeded out, and added new songs. Mr. Glad had several songs by Fernando Ortega, and I heard one of them today. It reminded me of the last weeks of my husband’s life, and the many hours when, wanting to play music that was restful to him while not annoying to me, I settled on the songs of this gentle man.

Nowadays I only have one left in my playlists. It doesn’t come up very often, but when I was just getting in the groove of rapid steering wheel work on the curvy road, there he was singing “Road Song.” I’m sure some of you know this song — don’t you think he is singing about angels? I always do. By the way, I never felt the jitters at any time during the next two hours.

I let the music play, and thought about how the words of so many of the songs expressed my experiences of the last hours, or of my marriage, on this day of remembering it in particular. Gordon Lightfoot was singing about “Rainy Day People” and how “They don’t talk back, they just listen till they’ve heard it all.” That was my cousin and his wife whom I had just hugged good-bye.

Tom Petty sang, “We were built to last, on until forever. The world is changing fast, but our love was built to last.” Yes, the love between my husband and me was “built” by Christ Himself.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13)

It was not a nature-study sort of trip I was on, but I did wish I might capture some of the colors around me on my way. Driving home I stopped at a rest area south of San Francisco, down the hill from this statue of Father Junipero Serra who in the 18th century founded first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California. I have seen the statue hundreds of times from the highway but never hiked up the hill before for a close encounter.

The friar had a string around his finger — was he trying to remember something? I stood directly under his pointer to get this view.

Ceanothus (California lilac) was at its peak of bloom right by my car,
and I even got a new bee-at-ceanothus pic (top of page).

California poppies also dotted the hillside, but my favorite display was farther up the road. When traffic came to a standstill on 19th Avenue in San Francisco, I saw out my window by the trolley tracks a crop of those orange flowers brightening that drab space.

Now I’m home again and just under the wire getting this short report done when it is still the today I began to write about. Tomorrow is another day, if God gives it to me, another morning when the mercies of God are new again. That has been my experience, and as long as I’m on this journey that will be my Road Song.

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Glad!

Where is home, and where is Heaven?

Sooo slow I am in fully returning to Being Home. Though I suppose I never will be living in my house in quite the same way as before, having sojourned so distantly, and changed in God only knows what ways. I grew older, for sure. But maybe I grew younger, too?

clean air, vineyards and mustard bloom

I was so surprised, when I walked in the front door on my return from that other world, to see that I have wood floors. At that moment I didn’t feel the lack of windows and light, but only felt the warmth and welcome that my house had held in trust for me all those weeks, even though I had learned to live happily with hard and cool marble floors, and the strange light coming through a multitude of windows, reflected off the Arabian Sea and filtered through smog.

It’s taken me nearly three weeks just to fill and start up the fountain again. The finches were having to make do with winterized nyger seed, that is, frozen and thawed, rained on and packed down into a brick at the bottom of the feeder. But I fixed those things today and looked around some more at the garden. Rosemary is blooming and the fountain is now tinkling.

I just learned that Swiss chard is also called silverbeet!
Jerusalem Sage
Pride of Madeira with no blooms yet…

Do you remember Miss Grenadine? She was a gift from Mr. Glad. She kept watch over my bedroom while I was gone, and still does during the day:

I had lunch with my goddaughter last week. She and her husband lost their house in the fires that ravaged our area last October. A day or two after that dreadful event, she texted me, “Wherever our family is together, that is home.”

I understand some of that. Ever since my husband passed from this earthly life three years ago this month, I have felt most at home when I am with my children, wherever a few of us are gathered. I don’t think I would feel this way if we didn’t all agree on this: though we’ve been supremely blessed in this life, it’s not satisfying in itself, no matter what beautiful place you live in and with what dear humans.

At this moment I’m thinking about things homey and cozy (or cool, as we preferred, in Mumbai), but of course concurrent in all of our lives is pain and suffering. Wherever I go, I bring myself with my sin-sickness, and I carry in my heart the burdens of those whose suffering seems to me hardly bearable. But in every place, Christ is. He is the one who makes the atmosphere sweet with the scent of flowers or the affection of our children. He is always giving us Himself.

At the end of things, The Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.” And the lost will say, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.
― C.S. Lewis

Good-bye Mumbai!

I’m getting ready to leave Mumbai – I might even be at the airport or on the plane home before I manage to publish this post. It seemed right that I make my last Indian post about this city which has been the source and location of nearly all of my experience of India.

Seven weeks is way too short a time to get to know any place beyond the level of slight acquaintance, but Mumbai must be one of the most challenging in this regard. If she were a human, I’d have to say that I caught a glimpse of her brilliant form once for about five seconds, during which moment I heard her singing a few words I couldn’t understand.

In physical size alone, Mumbai takes up most of Salsette Island, and you would have to drive in three hours of crazy traffic to get from the north end to the south. There is a whole national park within its boundaries. I spent 90% of my time in one neighborhood, in a city of 22 million people, twice the population of Belgium.

Mumbai is the financial and fashion capital of India, and the city where 7-10 people die every day in train related accidents. The most expensive house in the world is in Mumbai, and the most educated slum. A million people live in this slum, Dharavi, which dates from the 1840’s, and 80% of them are employed. They live in 84 settlements taking up less than a square mile, which makes the population density of Dharavi 20 times that of Mumbai as a whole. (Nearly half the population of the Mumbai lives in slums, if you count Dharavi as a slum, which according to some definitions it isn’t any longer.)

Dharavi recycles 80% of the plastic trash of Mumbai, and produces 3.5 tonnes (Tonnes are bigger than tons) of food every day. One of its many other businesses and “hutment industries” is the large pottery business at Kumbharwada:

I took a tour of Dharavi this week but didn’t take pictures, so that one above I found online. Our group walked around through the industrial and residential areas for two hours, which gave me exposure to thousands of visual images and other sensations to process, accompanied by the excellent narrative by our guide who was from the slum. I took notes on both; but I am a really slow writer, which is why here at the end of my India stay, when I’m counting down the hours, I don’t have time to convey my direct experience.

The subject and reality of Dharavi is huge and complex, and you can read much about it elsewhere if you are interested, and watch YouTube tours. It’s another one of the many Things Mumbai that I will leave here knowing just superficially, but it was a wonderful tour and did expand my understanding quite a bit.

Tiffin wallahs

The lunchbox delivery service by tiffin wallahs or dabbawalas originated in Mumbai. Maybe some of my readers have seen the movie “The Lunchbox” that tells a story centered around this local phenomenon. I saw this charming movie years ago but didn’t pay attention to its setting in Mumbai.

Tiffin wallahs have been providing their services in Bombay since 1890, and are known for their high degree of accuracy in delivering lunches from home or restaurant, and the boxes back to the source the same day. This blog does a good job of describing how it works and why it is such a regular part of so many Mumbaikars’ lives: Dabba Dabba Do! And from another article:

“Some 5,000 men dole out over 200,000 meals a day, picking up the tiffins in the morning from women, typically, who have packed steaming, spicy dishes into each compartment: a curry, vegetables, dal (lentils), and flatbread (with some variations).

“For many Mumbai residents, this is the only way to lunch — on a feast, made with the love of a mother or wife.

“‘It’s expensive to eat outside every day, besides it’s not healthy,’ said 36-year-old Naina Bhonsle in Mumbai’s Versova neighborhood. ‘I know what my husband likes eating, and so I prefer to send him a tiffin every day.’”

The boxes are transported and distributed by train and on bicycles; on my first day here Tom pointed out this bicycle belonging to a tiffin wallah and since then I’ve seen many of the wallahs, the typically semi-literate men who do the carrying, as they pedal around. It’s another case like Dhobi Ghat of a very organized low-tech, high efficiency system serving basic human needs, and that sort of thing makes me admire all the parties who keep the thing running.

“The Lunchbox” is not a film made according to the Bollywood formula in the style of “Lagaan,” which I mentioned before. But Bollywood style movies are worth mentioning here as a phenomenon because Mumbai is the center of Bollywood. In Reimagining India, Jerry Pinto wrote: “Bollywood is not just a film industry. It is all-pervasive: a home-grown, film-a-day dream machine that maintains a pleasant stranglehold on our imaginations. It determines — or at least shapes — how we see ourselves, how we think, how we talk, dream, speak, love, fight.”

In the same article he describes the Bollywood formula as requiring: “…a fight for the young men, a romantic story for the women, a devotional song for the elderly. Films made for the entire Hindi-speaking market would have to be patriarchal, right wing, jingoistic, and patronizing in their attitudes to anything non-Indian and nonmajoritarian.”

I didn’t know much about Bollywood until the last year or two. I saw a laughably sentimental Bollywood movie first, and then last month, “Lagaan,” a much more enjoyable example. The music of Bollywood films is often the kind that is happy and makes you want to dance, even if — or especially if? — it is separated from the dance routines of the movie. I am not much of a movie watcher in the first place, so I won’t be exploring the genre more, but as a cultural phenomenon, I wouldn’t want to miss it completely. And I have added Bollywood music to my iTunes playlist to listen to on road trips.

Art Deco City

I heard that Mumbai is “the most Art Deco city in the world after Miami,” and though I hadn’t given the style or history of Art Deco one concentrated thought ever before in my life, having Tom on my first day show me some design features in their neighborhood made me focus my eyes in a new way.

From what I have read, it seems that Art Deco and India were made for each other. The Indian Institute of Architects was founded in 1929, the middle class was growing in the 30’s, and many of the buildings in the city from this period featured Art Deco elements in their design. I’ve seen structures from this century include some retro aspects from the style that Mumbai now feels is part of its tradition and heritage.

There is a whole Wikipedia article on Art Deco in Mumbai, which helped me to grasp enough of the concepts to be able to occasionally recognize the Art Deco influence on our outings. If I were going to be here longer, I’d like to go on a tour given by this organization: Art Deco Mumbai . I’ve already seen quite a few examples that would be on the tour, mostly driving past too fast to get a good picture — and some in our neighborhood.

I always love to take pictures of buildings that catch my attention for some reason. Mumbai has been fun that way, because there is such a range of ages and styles — and colors. Sometimes it is just the names of apartment buildings that strike the American ear as funny. I didn’t take a picture of Flushel Apartments, but Tom joked about what was behind that name… Were they advertising that all the toilets worked, or that the walls were straight and plumb? Haha. It was right down the street from the Executive Enclave.

Mostly for my own convenience I am posting below some images of this city that I want to have in this handy Glad collection. Maybe you will like some of them, too!

During my last days here, the air cleared a lot, and I was quite pleased to see that one of my photos revealed blue skies with cottony white clouds!

Every walk through the neighborhood, I’m realizing, might be my last down this street or that…

And when I ate one of Nancy’s chapatis fresh from the griddle, it was the most special ever because it was likely the last one that fresh.

I could never take enough pictures of women in colorful clothes to satisfy me, or enough videos of Kareena cooking. I can’t buy all of the lovely dresses in the shops, or learn the names of every surprising Indian dessert. My time of glorious Too-Muchness has come to an end, and I’m going home to Great Lent, which is the perfect way to transition from the superabundance of everything here to… what?

Lent is a journey to Pascha. It’s not the kind of journey where you are bombarded from outside by exciting and even dangerous forces and sensations ranging from air travel to chapatis and people on the street, but a quiet path on which all the struggles come from trying to tune one’s own heart. Considering my starting point, it will surely take all of my effort to accomplish anything in only 40 days.

The hardest part of leaving is, of course, that Raj and his parents are staying here! It has been the sweetest day-after-day to live in the same house as Kate and Tom and their new baby, and to love and be loved in person on a daily basis. The comforting thing is, that except for not being in the same house, we will go on loving and being loved, and be together at the throne of God, as long as He gives us grace. I’m not saying any kind of final good-bye to them.

But I do have to say, “Good-bye, Mumbai!”

Cultural studies in a flurry.

I once read a definition of culture as “everything people make and do.” That’s the one I’m working from for this post, in which I want to briefly touch on many odds and ends that interest me about India, but which I don’t have time to research or think about extensively.

One writer said that India is so diverse in its history and culture that it is more like 60+ countries than it is a unified nation. I think that is one reason that I was really glad to have limits on my explorations. How can one person deal with that breadth of possibilities? I would rather have depth of knowledge about a few things, or lacking that, just more time being exposed to a type of food, or the sound of a neighborhood, or day after day chatting with a native.

It was a treat to be in India when Republic Day was being celebrated last month, and to watch the parade in Delhi on TV with Kate and Tom. The most colorful and impressive aspects of Indian culture and tradition were on display for the international guests sitting in the stands and anyone who tuned in.

I had never seen motorcycle stunt riders before, but they are a huge thing in the Indian Army, and we enjoyed their performance. Women teams performed as well that day, and since then I’ve read about how the Indians have set records for various motorcycle stunts like most men riding a motorcycle (58) and longest ride standing up, etc. On my first day in Mumbai, you may remember that the things that first caught my attention were the trees and the motorcycles. I haven’t stopped wondering.

On our road trip when I was riding in the back of the car and watching traffic behind me, I had the chance to do a lot of people-on-motorcycles-watching. One young family was riding down the freeway at 50 or 60 miles per hour and when I first saw them, the wife looked especially pretty in her colorful sari, because she was smiling so happily as she rode sidesaddle behind her husband. The whole family was obviously carefree and enjoying their ride, a five-year-old boy sitting in front of his smiling father. The father was wearing a helmet.

At least in some places in India, there are laws that say the driver of the motorcycle must wear a helmet. Kate knows this, because when they were in Goa they rented a bike and the rental company gave Tom a helmet because it was the law that he must wear one. Kate wanted a helmet as well, but the shop didn’t have enough for anyone but drivers.

Since I heard that story I’ve been noticing, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone other than a driver wearing a helmet, and often not the driver. Many women in traditional kurtas with scarves around their heads and sometimes faces will ride solo, and they don’t usually wear a helmet.

It seemed like dozens of marching bands streamed past in the Republic Day parade, and my favorite by far was this group from the Oxford Foundation School in Delhi, who changed my life in a minute, turning me into a woman who would do anything to get a pair of velvet Indian salwar pants in that exact shade of green!

Truly, if I were staying only a week longer, I might have bought a sari to wear to a wedding the family will attend. Indian weddings are huge and lavish affairs — one important expectation is that you invite everyone who is in your life in the remotest way. If you work for a large company, you invite everyone in the company, for example.

“We” received an expected invitation to Tom’s co-worker’s Hindu wedding, delivered to the door, a portfolio sort of presentation, accompanied by a shiny box holding a family-sized confection called a ladoo. We cut it into six wedges and finished it off for dessert that night, savoring its indescribable subtle flavors which we think included rose and fennel.

Since then we’ve shopped for the proper wedding attire for the whole family – you need one sort of outfit for the morning part of the event, and another for the evening.

Indian families normally don’t take their babies out until they are six months old, so we haven’t found formal wedding wear that Raj doesn’t swim in. He may have to go a little casual. Kate has a sari now, and another sort of Indian dress; she is very hopeful that they will get more wedding invitations during their stay here so she can make further use of these traditional and fancy outfits. Tom is making do without a pair of elf-like shoes that the sharpest dressers to wear to weddings.

The book Reimagining India that I’ve been browsing has a whole section devoted to Culture and Soft Power, in which various writers treat subjects like Bollywood, Indian food and restaurants, and the mindset of the privileged middle class. One of the writers was at the time of the book’s publication the reigning world chess champion, and he wrote an article on “Making Chess India’s Game.”

I don’t even play chess, but I liked his story, and found this paragraph helpful in my “studies”:

One of the things I bring to my play is my Indian identity — my ability to shrug off a loss as destiny and hope for a better tomorrow. I am often described as a “natural” or “intuitive” player. I agree there is something to that. I learned to play chess at high speed. At the Mikhail Tal Chess Club in Chennai, where I began playing chess, we used to play “blitz” — the shortest format of chess in which players use a timer and neither is allowed more than five minutes of total playing time. We embraced blitz to make playing fun; the club was crowded, and blitz was the best way to ensure that the maximum number of players got time on the board. The winner stayed and the loser had to go back in queue. It made the evening more exciting. We all loved it. I learned to play fast, without agonizing about strategy or overanalyzing individual moves. Maybe this is a form of Indian ingenuity: making the most of a situation in which there isn’t much structure.

~Viswanathan Anand 

It just now occurs to me that my India studies have been fast and intense in a similar way. Like the traffic flow on the city streets, it looks chaotic, but under the circumstances it’s the most efficient way to go. I can’t afford to stay here any longer — I would become hopelessly immersed in the Indian jumble, only coming up for air long enough to type a few feeble words on my laptop.

This is not my photo, but I did see many women carrying water in similar containers. People carry all kinds of bundles and baskets of things on their heads in India. Kate and I discussed the weight of water if the containers held three gallons each: two containers = 48 pounds. I hope they only hold two gallons, in which it would impress a mere 32 pounds on each head.

In India, I have seen men sleeping in public every time I go out, often in shops, and I imagine they are workers on break; everyone stays up late here, so they need a nap. But what do I know? Maybe they are drug dealers who work at night and sleep in their uncle’s shop in the day.

India is labor-rich. Kate and Tom explained to me that an economy is either rich in labor or in capital, and in India it is definitely labor. A rule of thumb is that if there is a job you expect one person to do in the U.S., four Indians will be doing it here, because they are available, and machines and technology are not as abundant so they are relatively expensive.

This can be a bit disconcerting when you shop, and two to four store staff hover about, not just waiting to help you but asking you to look at one thing after another you don’t want. In restaurants you have very attentive waiters, often standing a few feet away from your table watching to be sure they don’t miss a cue that you might need something. And just generally, people, people everywhere, walking and riding their motorbikes and carrying things.

Several months ago Kate had told me that many Indians have stopped using the all-purpose “Namaste” for every greeting, because a phrase like “Good morning,” for example, is more specific and useful, and they like it.

It also is essential for the latest fad that was pretty much started by Indians of my age group, a trend that caught the attention of Google and which you may have heard about because of that. As older people started getting hooked up to the Internet, they discovered the joys of wishing all their friends “Good morning!” about eight o’clock every day, by means of image-rich text messages. These texts were using up Indians’ digital storage three times faster than average and causing their smartphones to freeze up.

“Perhaps India’s most famous morning-message enthusiast is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He gets up at 5 a.m. to practice yoga and is known to fire off good-morning messages as the sun is rising. Last year, he admonished a group of lawmakers for not responding to his greetings.”

My son-in-law has been getting these kinds of texts from his Indian coworkers and has jumped on the bandwagon himself. I don’t have any Indian friends who might send me a cheery Good Morning message, but I figure some of you are still in the early part of the day as you read this, so I asked Tom to send an example in my direction. This way I can share a little upbeat and current Indian culture with you my readers and at the same time wish you my best. I hope that in the next several hours, morning or not, your life is rich but not chaotic. And if you ride a motorcycle, please wear a helmet!