Sunday, December 28, 2003

I've got my girl! Dana came into town this afternoon, and now we're being night owls: hoot, hoot... She's living in the night and sleeping in the day. 12 hours time difference will do a number on a sister. We've got several hours to kill before once again flying out. It'll be another solid days travel, but beaches and bungalows lie at the end of this day. Actually, it'll be more like mid-day, but considering it's 2am now, it'll be a full day's travel. How wonderful it is to be together again. We want to wish everyone a very safe and happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2003

I have settled in this morning to catch up on some correspondence. It is amazing how much of one's time is spent planning while traveling. Unfortunately, you cannot just walk in any door and have a seat or a room. No problem really it's just the details. Sometimes those details are a bit overwhelming though. For those of you that don't know Dana was not allowed to leave New York as planned a couple days back. She was supposed to leave New York on December 23rd. Having completed everything necessary to leave and sleeping very little she arrived at the airport only to be told she could not board the plane becuase there was a tear in her passport. Wow, welcome to patienceville in a hurry, eh? Five months we haven't seen each other, and the latest obstruction has been a tear in a piece of paper. I do not want to go off on what I think about the security the world over. Although, I think there is a lot of wasted efforts. Yes, people hate imperialists nations then you have to spend the rest of your money defending yourself. Try putting more money into education. If even a fraction of what is being spent on current "Defense" measures was converted to education, see what the results could be. I dare anybody give it a shot. See if there is anything happening at your local public schools. See how you might be able to make a difference. Try to change the meaning of orange alert to an enchroaching finger painter!

With all that being said, I have anxiously been awaiting Dana's arrival. The anticipation has been great. The other night I even could not sleep, and for those of you who know me, this is odd. I woke up at midnight after 90 minutes sleep and I eventually resigned myself to watching the Packers vs. Raiders. Granted it turned out to be an amazing performance for Brett Favre who's father passed away less than 24 hours prior. What to do. I didn't want to be awake, but the excitement of it all was too much. Dana is coming to town; she has resolved her torn passport, and she's somewhere over the continental US as I type. Soon she'll be crossing the Pacific headed to Bangkok by way of Hong Kong. I breath, I type, I listen to new music, I anticipate.
I wish the absolute best of this holiday season for all of you, albeit Channukah, Christmas, Kwansa, and a happy New Year.

While going through my messages this morning I came across another story that Josh sent me. Enjoy:

An ambitious student comes to see his zen master. As soon as he sits down, the teacher asks, "What is the basic human problem?".
The student ponders this then answers: "We're not awake."
The teacher says, "Yes, but those are just words. You're just thinking." He rings the bell and sends the student away.
Perturbed, the student is determined to figure it out. A week later he returns.
The teacher says, "Well have you figured out the basic human problem?"
The student replies, "Yes, the basic human problem is that we think too much. We are identified with our thinking. We believe our thoughts."
The teacher answers "Again, you are just thinking. you have to see the basic human problem in yourself." Again, the student is dismissed.
Determined to solve the problem, he pulls out all the books, and reads everything he can on the subject. When he returns to the teacher he is almost strutting he is so sure he has the answer now.
Seeing the state he is in, the teacher asks the question. And the student replies, "There is no problem!"
The teacher stares at him and says "Then what are you doing here?" In that moment the student deflates, shoulders drop, face turns red, he feels totally humiliated.
Peering at him, the teacher asks: "What are you experiencing right now?"
Without looking up the student replies: I feel like crawling in a hole."

Sunday, December 21, 2003

I arrived in Bangkok this morning about 6am. No problems cruising through immigration, baggage claim, customs, and the line for taxis was the most orderly since I left New York. It was easy getting to the hotel, hassle free. And, once I arrived I thought I had the Royal Suite 90 sq. m. for $30/night. Well, almost, I had it this morning, but after my nap I came down and they asked me to change rooms. I didn't understand the Royal Suite thing was temporary, the language barrier is a bit thicker here than in India. Alas, I have a fantastic room at a good rate, and I am off to explore this new country I've just arrived in. Hopefully, I'll be able to meet up with a friend of a friend, Ed by way of Tamara; also, I found out our friends Paul and Court are soon to be in town. These last several days without Dana are going to fly by. The excitement keeps getting better and better.

There is however some sad news to report. My bag was rummaged through yesterday, and my music player was taken out of my possesion. It is sad. I had shifted my bag to some friends' room, and there was one other person that went in for sure. It's terrible when everyone says they had nothing to do with it. I believe there is a special place for all lying people. I wish them the best. It's really ashame they didn't think to take the charger also. Because now, they're in possesion of an amazing music device, with my earwax still on the headphones, that will last another one to two hours. And, they'll be pretty hard pressed to find the right adapter. In other words what was a great music player has become someone else's paperweight with my inscription on the back: "Adam Aronson: Around the World." It made it half-way, bon voyage IPOD.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

What's a boy to do with himself when he finds himself standing upright. My body is slowly becoming accustomed to being recognized. Gone are the days of kicking heels on the sidewalks worldwide, well, maybe anyway. Amazing how a bit of breathing will bring one’s center out of the clouds heading directly for the belly. I like to think of it that way, anyhow. I am in process. There is that stretch hibernating animals stay in so long as the body is waking, I am somewhere near there. YAWN. The retreat was fantastic.

Ten days witnessed through eyes always opening wider. It was a wonder to see the beauty in the world, anew. Watching bicyclists or roaming water buffalo, the world was in motion. This world is one that I am quite partial to. There are so many wonderful fancies to explore; this will remain true until the end. I feel vibrant, and my head may be emerging from the clouds. Gone are the days of walking with my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds. I want to see through the clouds or wherever there is a sight to see. From yoga in the satsang hall last week to the set of a Bombay commercial set I am traveling. Friends are all around and everybody is in motion.

It has been nice to relax in Bombay a bit. The mosquitoes are fierce, but the swaying palm trees and sinus drying sun help wonders. Lucknow has been cold, so some time in the sun is thoroughly enjoyable. In a few days time it will be onward to Bangkok with enough time to prepare for Dana’s arrival as well as adjust to yet another country. It has been quite interesting and informative learning about cultural practices, of course food included.

I send all my love to the eyes crossing these words!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Five days of yoga and my body is opening up. My flexibility has increased substantially, and my mind disappears at times as body and breath synchronize. Other times, the pain distracts my attention, and it reminds me how much I dislike pain. Although, the quiet times far outweigh the discomfort. Yoga has much value in this retreat as I have found reprieve from distractions.

Time has not had much meaning lately as I have been living in the moment. When my mind begins to reel there is some control to be exerted over it. Unwanted thoughts, troublesome burdens, evaporate like water. And, I remain present. Slowly, I am awakening into the present.

The last version of the passover haggadah I read began with God stating: "Here I am." Today, I say the same, "Here I am." I am present, I am alive, I am peaceful, and above all, I am happy.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Perhaps there is a place of origin where there are no questions; this I can understand. I have been there for brief periods, but it is not a space I continually occupy. At least, not the way I am hearing its description. Regardless, there are always questions for the mind, and these excite me. In themself the questions do have validity even if they're separate from a consciousness that lies underneath everything.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Where is a place without questions? Mom once said to me that at some point there are no more questions. She told me this many years ago. I didn't believe her. Yesterday, I was given a similar response to my enquiring. Papaji's mantra was 'Be Quiet'. This is quieting the mind, the body, and the ego as I understand. All of these things interfere with the present; reality interferes with the present. This is what I understand from the discussions, readings, and videos we've taken in. Where is this place with no questions. How can everything disappear?

I'm compassionate for the suffering of others. No matter how present I am that will always exist. Even if I was connected to core of all beings, they would still be suffering. Perhaps they're not really suffering and it's a perception that they are. Although, it does seem there are other beings and that some of them suffer. How could I ignore them when I myself have everything that I need?

There is a question, a rather heavy one, that came up again yesterday that I have been asking for some time. A while back I began asking people, even the first time that I met them, "who are you?" Most people would jerk their heads at this. Many of them thought me crazy. Other times it would form a wonderful connection even if only for that conversation and never seeing each other again. The question came yesterday; although, it was pointed in the opposite direction. As in the past when I was done asking the question it always turned around. Still, I am not sure how to answer the question. I am approaching this moment a little differently, and perhaps I am able to see a new side of honesty.

For people reading this please understand that I am trying to piece together the so many things that are happening right now. I am not however maintaining regular email correspondence. I will be checking next Monday evening or so. Please know that I love you all.

Friday, December 05, 2003

It began with introductions and a loosely based schedule, dinner, and a video. I have joined a retreat. Last night was very restful. Only finding 90 minutes of sleep the night before was a bit overwhelming by yesterday's end. It was one of the more 'productive' days I had perhaps ever. With all work things in order, I feel satisfied to begin standing back from the day to day, and look a bit closer inside. The work I began this past week has been very rewarding as it is consolidating a great many areas of interest for me. Because I will not be in Lucknow for much longer, I have decided to spend some time next week working on the project. Although, my efforts won't likely meet this past week's. Now, I am very earnest in trying to remove distractions; oddly, I consider the database project to be not a distraction, rather my concentration is pleasantly deep there.

At the end of schedules and questions we sang a chant before dinner. Raja, a local pujari at the Hanuman temple led us. Eventhough, I had been with mostly the same people in other circles and listened to them sing, I had not connected with what they were doing. When Raja began lastnight, I felt a new trust. There was no judgement, there was no misunderstanding, and I followed him as he led us into the chant. I didn't understand everything that we were singing, and I couldn't make out some of the words. Later, I asked Raja to explain to me what exactly we were singing, and word for word he went through the chant with me. He also offered an easier chant to begin with.

From the moment I met Raja he held out his arms and greeted me in loving brotherhood. It was really beautiful. The connections I have here with various people start in such a different place then when I have been elsewhere. It is in the moment.

There is a great word used frequently here in Satsang Bhawan, shanti. It means peace in Hindi. Our environment is shanti. Being is shanti.
This afternoon I am heading for a 10 day silent retreat. Although, this past week I have completely engulfed myself in very fascinating work. I am in the process of helping develop software for Organic India's Lucknow factory. The process has been comprehensive and very educational. We'll have to see how quiet I'll remain. My attention is being pulled in different directions, and I'll try to resolve this while resting as much as possible. For those of you I don't contact in the next bit I will be with you soon. For the time being I have put up a new face to my web presence. Peace.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Life in Lucknow is really great. We just returned lastnight from Azamgarh. We were there for the Tulsi Mahotsav that Organic India, Bhavani and Bharat's company, hosted. There were over a thousand people in attendance with farmers, their families, and staff to celebrate the end of the Tulsi cultivation for this year. There were a couple local politicians to bring grace and good blessings to the vision of the company. Several recognition awards were presented, and then there was lunch and a band offering a cultural program. Unfortunately, I slept away most of the afternoon trying to ward this sinus infection I developed, but such is life.

The factory in Azamgarh is very well developed. Dayael, a friend of Bhavani and Bharat's from Lucknow, and I took a tour early Sunday morning. We were shown how the Tulsi is brought into the sterile environment. The Tulsi is cleaned in two baths, it is dehydrated, it is sorted, then it's bagged. Wow, we walked into the storeroom, and the smell of Tulsi is positively overwhelming. This herb has been given star status by Organic India and Dr. Narendra Singh. There has been much written about Tulsi.

Things are exciting and busy here. I have began working with Organic India to help develop their website as well as offer some suggestions for software being designed in house. I have had a really great time getting to know the people that work for Organic India, but also understanding the working mission! They are in the process of building an exceptional company with a holistic approach to business.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving to those celebrating! India is pretty quiet about that one. It was a different story yesterday for Eid, the feast for the end of Ramadan. There were many extra treats on hand to add to the birthday celebration yesterday. That's right, I had a fabulous birthday with friends and family here in Lucknow. I have made my way south from Rishikesh by way of 36 hours in Dehli, and I think I am going to stay here for a while. Tentatively planning to go to Goa at the begining of next year with Dhanni, I may put off my visit with the monks until then. It seems as though I have put myself about as far away as possible from them at this time. C'est la vie.

So, many things cooking in the travel fire at the moment, but it all has been built on a fantastic foundation of sweets. I had a record five different deserts yesterday to help celebrate my biffday yesterday, the last of which literally took the cake, an Applespice cake with almonds on top. Thank you Raju.

Rishikesh was a wonderful mix of friendships, rest, the Ganga, exploration, reading, eating, stomach bugs, and all the other stuff that fills the details along the journey. I will probably be returning there in January to attend Dhanni's sister's wedding. Then maybe some more time in Dehli. I have the possibility of studying Kashmiri cooking with a chef, Trilochan, for a month. Wow, I am honestly begining to admit I've caught the India bug. Many times people along the way have asked, "How many times have you been to India?" Naturally, my answer is one, and they often count off about their revelations and numerous journeys. Well, if I come back count me amongst their ranks. It looks like it could happen. My visa is good through April, and we'll just have to see about it.

Tomorrow we're off to Azamgarh, that is where Organic India's main herb farm is located. It is the end of the harvest, and there will be a celebration perhaps numbering 5,000. There will be many people to meet and greet as well as, ha ha, more sweets. More detais to come.

Time is counting down until I am with Dana again! This is a very fine thing by my estimation. Beaches, bungalows, and mai-tais oh my!

Saturday, November 15, 2003

What a bizarre turning of events has happened today. Dhanni kept asking me for the past several days to watch the cricket match happening today. And, I explained I would catch it on the train on my way to Varanasi. Well, the opportunity to change directions again presented itself today, and I made a change. At least, I thought I had made a change. A later questioning friend, Dhanni, asked how long the other people, who I had agreed to meet up with in Manali, would be staying there. In a phone call sometime later they said they would be leaving the earliest day we could arrive. Hum, what to do. Some days back I wondered whether I was ready to leave Rishikesh. And, perhaps this is the way it should have ended. Dhanni and I are now discussing travelling around this area between some different villages. Life is pretty natural and comfortable becuase of the hills and their bounty. We look forward to a great few days adventuring, and there was also some mention of a local Djembe maker. I would love to learn to play with some rythym. Drums are excellent.

I hope this entry finds people well and cared for.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Internet connectivity has been spotty at best. I am up in the foothills, and apparently everybody has the same idea at different parts of the day, clogging up all the available bandwidth. Nobody here has satellite connections, and it seems like there is enough demand that a cafe with five computers could make a killing. Capitalistic endeavors aside I have been having an amazing past week here in Rishikesh. I tried to put up a post several days ago, alas, I was unsuccessful.

I met a local guy named Dhanni, and he and I have been trapsing around the area seeing the best of what's around. One day I rented a bicycle as he already had one, and we made our way several kilometers up the road then treked into the hills a couple kilometers with much climbing to see a waterfall. Wow, it was pristine, and the water was fine. I was ready to dive in the moment I saw it, the combination of high altitude, bright sun, and drenching sweat prepared me for the crystal water; although, wisely, he suggested it would be better for the health to cool off first in the shade. Yea, so he was right, but I got that amazing dip in the water! Never too cold, not at least to get in and out... Still, if I could have gills, I would take them. Since that's not going to happen, I'll take my opportunities to enjoy a nice swim.

Then, two days back we rented a jeep and headed up into the hills with the intended destination of Kanjapuri. It is a temple atop the tallest foothill in the area here. From there we watched an amazing sunset, and I also got my first glimpse of the Himalayas. On our way up we stopped in a village to do some walking and sightseeing. As we were on a particular hill I noticed some schoolkids playing what appeared to be soccer, and I asked Dhanni if we could go take a look. We headed down to the school. We were warmly received by the principal and some teachers. As was customary they offered us tea, and it just so happens they had Jelabees there. Jelabees are by far and away my favorite Indian sweet. It is a pastry like dough that is fried in oil then the result is rolled in a sugary syrupy creation. The result is bliss. That's the best for the sugar lover in me.

I thought my time here would be spent doing some yoga, but that is not the way that it has gone. Dhanni introduced me to some members of his village yesterday and we enjoyed some really amazing dishes since he invited me to dinner. His village is highly functional and the people are all quite warm towards each other. Especially when everyone is watching cricket. The Assie's were beating up on the Indians last night. I didn't go back to see the conclusion after dinner because I needed rest, but google News just confirmed my suspicions, India was beaten (not that I have loyaties). Cricket has been fascinating to learn about, and I actually enjoy watching the sport.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I arrived Haridwar this morning. The train from Dehli left problemlessly, and the train station posed no threat as I entered with ticket in hand. As retribution I got to waive off everysingle person that asked if I needed assistance. Oh well, some lost friends, perhaps. Had the opportunity to delve into Alexander McCall Smith's second installment of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, 'Tears of the Giraffe'.

Arriving in Haridwar I had not made arrangements for accomodations, but I knew the city was busting with hotels, and relative to other places it could be cessed out on foot. How's that for everyone that knows how anal I am about planning? I'm beginning to come into my own here in India. Travelling is taking on a very relaxed feel for me, and I am comfortable to make my way around and see what is available. Tourist Bureau can be quite helpful for the this that and the other that guidebooks don't always offer. A nice complement for successful travel.

After settling into the cozy 'City Heart' hotel, with a great rooftop terrace Haridwar became my oyster. I took a ride on the chair lift that quickly climbed the hill to the temple on the hill, Mandevi something or another. It was Hindu kitsch. Either that or I am at a complete loss for the meaning. It is so odd to want to offer a religious service immediately followed by a requested donation. The effect seems lost to me.

The particular reason I chose to stay here in Haridwar before moving along to my intended destination was to witness the aarti. This is everynight at sunset that the Ganga (Ganges if you like) is revered for its holiness. It was a beautiful ceremony. The blarring speakers could have been a bit clearer. I learned the hymn for puja while in Lucknow. The tune cares a nice melody, but tonight it was a bit staticy. The farm version and the Ganga version differ each with their own charm.

So, I am headed into the foothills, and from tomorrow forward I will attempt to clear my head with a bit of yoga, trekking, perhaps rafting, and other activities like reading. Without constantly being told to read and decided how I want to occupy my time I have taken a fancy to reading. I am thoroughly enjoying reading a variety of topics. Although, David, I have to tell you, I am having a hell of a time getting through Development as Freedom. Amatrya Sen has me at a loss for the way he articulates himself sometimes. People have said the same for what I said, so on my more focused days I try to delve a bit further there.

The air here can't be cut with a knife like Dehli, and I undoubtedly will not be going out like I have for the past several nights. There's a time and a place for everything, and this time happens to be quite mindful.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

This past week has been nothing short of spectacular. With the help of some Ayurvedic herbs, Ashwagandha and a formulation called Immunity, I have apparently come back to full health. Sinus infections are not particularly exciting in any way. New York is quite the haven for us southern sufferers in this regard. Season tend to help these matters or perhaps it’s the lack of humidity. I’m not really sure, but I will settle for the annual cold over the recurring sinus infection. In New Orleans, it was just a matter of time for me as I recall. My parents may tell the story better than I. They have a better memory for that sort of thing.

Lucknow finds me healthy and happy. Since Monday I have been practicing Yoga. After one session, I told the teacher, Bhavani, that it something I threatened to begin for some time now. She replied to the effect that I had already started. Simple as that, in this time and this space I’ve found something I really like. I also really like riding a bicycle. Unfortunate for her, Bhavani developed a bit of a stomach bug yesterday after Yoga, and she took day off and plans to rest tomorrow as well. This brings me to the bicycle as they have a workout room here at the farm. Convenient is the sitting bicycle with the adjusting seat. This came at far greater ease than attempting to travel with cycle; although, the roads here would not be conducive to road cycling in the slightest. One road of interest cuts through a wooded area thereby bypassing a substantial amount of road, I assume. This road has some Lucknow history it was built by a governmental official or perhaps public service person I do not recall precisely. The first time I saw this road was at night en route to the farm. However, it stuck with me because of its twists, turns, and greenery. Perhaps I’ll snap some photos for my soon to arrive enhanced website.

When I return from Dehli next week, I hope to raise my presence on the internet. It’s a project in the works, and I desire something appealing. With any luck, technician will meet creative and broaden my presentation. After all there is 78” to represent, or even more if you count more than a body. Lately, I have thought about the Mind, Body, Ego, Self assembly. Ford would be proud to see the old factory line applied to damn near anything. So, it’s been a really good question. Not that there’s just one.

I would like to share a koan that I’ve been asked to contemplate. Now, I am entering a space where the subject is more familiar (sorry, I don't have the version quote in Mark Epstein's 'Thoughts Without a Thinker'):

Bodhi originally has not tree
The mirror also has not stand
Buddha nature is always clear and pure
Where is there room for dust

Thank you Josh for your patience with my endless questions.
The road has no beginning, there is no end; even, there is no road.
The road is as the path, a non-changing form.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Each meal has proven to be great in its own right so far; although, I'm fairly sure not all of it has agreed with me. How's that for a one-sided affair? Well, I knew my stomach would be leading much of the adventure. True to form. I've been enjoying omelettes the past two mornings, and the fresh shaven carrots and sliced tomatoes are orginating from the organic farm I'm staying on. I'm currently visiting my relative Bhavani in Lucknow, India. We're having a delightful time getting acquainted with one another. We've only met once before to memory. I am trying to slow my way and see what's around me. I don't like my head to spin all of the time. Perhaps I'm seeing more of the picture. And I'm not exactly sure how to the define the picture.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Taking the morning off from the adventures of the streets. Agra is tourist craziness. From marble shops to the stories of restraunts intentionally posioning people, I've heard, seen, discussed, and lived parts of all of it. Lonely Planet published a bit in their India how restraunts were involved in a racket whereby people would be posioned and then sent to "clinics". Thankfully, nobody was killed by this tourist trick of the most noble variety; however, several doctors and restraunts were put out of business. People talk about it, and one rickshaw driver even tried to steer us away from our chosen restraunt. We told him we were fairly confident in our choice. Advice has the weight of a grain of salt around these parts. Except in certain places. The guesthouse I've stayed in the past two evenings has been incredible. Unlike most other places this hotel refuses to dole commisions to the rickshaw drivers. So, naturally the drivers will attempt to dissuade you from visiting the establishment. It's trully unfortunate that the transportation folk are so far down on the scale because you never really have the opportunity to engage in a sincere interaction. Everything boils down to the almighty, dollars.

People will pretend for an entire to be your friend and speak for their own honesty, repeatedly. When you simply want to go home, they keep pushing for the stores, the keep pushing for arrangements for the following day. It's all very off putting. Although in a more exciting turn of events last night, my new found travelling friend for the day, Michael and I went out for dinner. When we returned home the rickshaw driver concerned us because he was so small trying to push us rather stocky tourists. He couldn't have weighed more than 50 Kilos, and the two of us probably rang in at 200+ Kilos with the weight of the bike included. So Michael and I got to take turns driving the rickshaw with our driver in back. He was slightly taken aback at our offer; however, he easily conceded to letting us do this. With hand motions for directions we made our way back to the hotel.

Yesterday was one of those really great non-stop days. I woke at 7:30 to be ready for the bus to a nearby town, Fatepurh Sikri. I had a great breakfast, and then the hotel told me they would not be running their bus to the town becuase not enough people had signed up for that day. Fine, no problem, re-group, finish reading the newspaper, and I thought to clear up my confusion about my train ticket. Well, turns out that the ticket I bought was not valid for today, rather it was good for the day I purchased it, Monday. Well, things were starting to look down a bit, then a guy at the counter was asking for the bus to Fatepurh Sikri. Since I hadn't really spoken to anybody on Monday except my rickshaw driver, and I've already espoused my opinion on them, it was pleasant to make the company of a fellow traveller. Michael is on holiday travelling from Sydney. It was funny to learn the most common question he receives is whether or not he likes cricket. Yea, really big over here, and Australia currently has one of the strongest teams in the world. So we joked about it because he really hates the sport.

From the reception area at the hotel we made our way to the bus station, by foot. This was amazing because tourists walking get about as much attention as a topless woman would in the streets of New York. People are always trying to topple you. "Very Cheap." "No, you can't, it's too far." What do you mean I can't get out of my way. Many times I've entertained strolling roadside conversations. I suppose the effect is lost that they are barking up the wrong tree. Anway, back to positive travelling.

We made our way to the bus; we made the one hour journey then we were on to this beautiful town. It was built about 40km away from Agra and rumored to have been abandoned for a lack of water. It was phenomenol. There was a beautiful mosque with some of the most intricate marble screen work I've every seen. Some of the panels took four years to be carved by one individual. A very interesting site was to see the very small tombs next the larger one of the town's holy family. These were for the carrier pigeons. Once we were outside, sure enough there were some hundreds of little arch shaped alcoves for the birds to perch in. The victory gate entrance to the mosque was 54m tall and quite impressive. The red sandstone out front was so hot one couldn't standstill on it. The guide also told us the white people didn't come there in the summer time because the sun overwhelmed them. I could see that happening.

Then we took the tour of the abandoned city, had a great walk through the small local market; we picked up some fruits to snack on and waited for the bus back. We returned to Agra around 16:00 I went for the train station took care of my arrangements there. And, when I returned to the hotel they told me Michael had left two minutes prior. We spoke about meeting up to go out for dinner. The hotel has a lovely courtyard and all, but I wanted a change of scenery; something I was more willing to do with company. So, I start running down the street, no Michael. Resigned to having missed him I start ambling back to the hotel, and sure enough he goes slowly moving along past me on a rickshaw. I callout and he has the bike pulled over. And, in one of the most free feeling moments yet in my travel I asked if I could join him, and we went off on our way to the restraunt. There are so many factors going into daily decisions, and it was nice to know that I wanted to go a certain direction. The only source I needed to consulte was myself. This moment in my travels really resonated well with me.

We went for a place with a rooftop view of the Taj. It wasn't possible to see too much, only a shilouette, but it was nice to have that change of scenery. We met a lovely girl travelling from Israel. She had wanted to come to India for reasons she couldn't explain. She had been in Nepal with her husband and he had no interest in India, so she did this leg alone. The three of us had plesant conversation over dinner then went for a beer and called it a night. Oh, yea, and the restraunt owner also fed me an entire line of shit about being able to charge what he wanted for beers. At least, that's what a government sponsored advert in the paper this morning told me. There is a law here governed by the department of measurements whereby a Maximum Retail Price is printed on nearly everything. Only, at this restraunt last night the MRP had been scratched off the bottles leading to my enquiry.

It's been a good time in Agra. I made my way to some of the major sites, I've seen some commercial marble, got food and rest. Soon, I'll make my way for rickshaw-bus-rickshaw-train-car-rest. Another great 12 hour travel day. But, then, I'll be with Holly and I hear the food in Lucknow is exceptional, yea!

Monday, October 20, 2003

So, as if any true ADVENTURE could be without Drama, this morning was not exception. I got up at 4:30am no problem. I was out the door for a bit past 5. I made it to the train station with about 30 minutes to spare. Great, I'm thinking. Anshul told me to show up a bit further in advance to purchase my tickets. But, I figure, time is not really an issue. I'll just find the ticket window and resolve that, only then to merrily make my way to the train.

Um, well, there was no window to purchase tickets other than the "Second Class" ticket windows, so I didn't think I would be able to purchase the ticket I wanted to get, an A/C chair... Well, guys start flocking to me, come this way, come that. 15 minutes pass, and I'm beginning to get a bit desperate, so I head for the office across the street. I'm passed off into a shoehorn stairway where a guy in a non-descript office offers me train tickets. He pulls out the India Railways book, he shows me my train and seat prices. Then he tries to make a call. Speakerphone for me to hear "India Railways, information..." Then he begins to have a brief conversation only to tell me the ticket and the alternative I chose were not available. He then tries to sell me an Indrail 60 pass, my mistake for thinking it was 800 Ruppees, it was clearly printed in USD. Anyway, I said to try for a seat on the later train, the Taj Express, and low and behold that was sold out too. He proposes that I take a luxury bus, and I immediately grab my bag at this suggestion. I'm back off to the train station for one last hope at finding a ticket.

I see two other gringos getting the royal treatment, and they were trying to figure out which track for Hardiwar, and they were not able to help me so I kept moving. No hope for finding a ticket, so I head for the train. The M-F-ing train is empty. There's about 10-15% of the seats taken. So, I try to get some info out of some guys, they were little help with minimal English. So, I walk into a car where I meet a great guy, have I mentioned to anybody reading this that I'm bad with names? I've forgoten his name, but he was a wonderful guy that was in India for some family weddings, and he's lived in Seattle the last 20 years. His fluent Hindi helped me address the "Ticket Taker" (that's what his badge said). The ticket taker returns with the exhorbitant suggestion of 1500-1600 Ruppees for taxing me, and my new friend says that it is more the 500% of the ticket price pointing out that it was unacceptable. Low and behold the ticket taker said he would consult with his superiors, and despite the fact that he sat next to me for some portion of the trip he never raised the issue again.

I'm here. Here is in Agra for a couple nights, then I'll be on my way to visit family in Lucknow. I'm very excited about validating the rumors I've heard regarding the regions' cuisine. More to come buckaroos.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

The hosts that I am staying with grew up in Srinigar. Although, they have repeatedly dissuaded me from visiting there because of the war torn aspect. And, sadly, I couldn't quite get everything together quick enough to visit Leh. I fear a combination of it being unsuitably cold and also expensive for one to travel alone through the Ladakh area I am going to settle for travelling through the southern part of the Himalayas and perhaps trek to where the four sacred hindu rivers originate after Diwali.

Tomorrow, I am going to wake and head for Agra. I'm going to see the Taj and a couple palaces. Then I'll head to Jaipur for a couple days and return to Dehli for Diwali, the Hindu New Year (Sat. Oct 25th). Some friends have invited me over a nice dinner and we can all witness the city be encompassed in smoke from all the fire crackers. I've heard quite the many wonders about it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I'm having such an amazing time, and currently, I am trying to arrange to go to Leh, in the Himalayas. It will be getting very cold there soon; however, I could take the rest from sweating my F-ing balls off each day, every day.

I would be traveling with this guy Case, he's Dutch, and good friends with Prashast. He lives in Paris now working for Le Monde as an entertainment photographer. So, he and his hasselblad are going to head to Leh with me probably taking an active interest in the methodology. He teaches color processing at Parsons if it is testament to his work... Very interesting guy.

Sarah, dad's friend from New York, owns a spinning club here in Dehli. So, I'm going to try and run myself out of breath tonight... I've never done spinning before. It ought to be a good exercise. Also tonight, our buddy Kilian is leaving town. He has been here traveling for four months. He'll head back to Paris to settle some affairs, one week; then he'll head back to Brazil for one year of sabbatical. Artists, right? Always searching for inspiration, the flavor. It's been really nice getting to know a bit about him in the 10+ days I've been here.

Prashast is also a really cool cat. He's doing his artist thing. In full motion, thou he is, he's not sure for which direction. Although, his legs keep moving, and there's always ground beneath his feet.

Case's other friend Keith is in town for the International Indian Film Festival. He was co-director of cinematography for a film called 'Beyond the Soul'. It's an interesting film shot on location in India and the US. We saw the screening yesterday and were impressed. Also at the festival is a Lars Van Trier retrospective. Last night everyone went to see Dancer in the Dark. I was not present as I had had quite my fill of spinning wheels for the day. The other day, however, I watched DogVille with Nicole Kidman. It was an interesting film if not tedious at points.

Speaking of last night, I had left the house to wait outside for a friend to pick me up, and I received another lesson in IST (not Indian Standard Time, so much as Indian Stretching Time). The only way to return to the house and make a call would be to ring the bell and wake someone to let me in. This is the way I have been returning in the evenings; admittedly, I feel for disrupting anybody's rest to let me in. Alas, there was no spare key to be found. Thus, I found myself walking in the Golf Links Colony, all neighborhoods here are described as colonies, and often times there will be a gate that one must pass to enter; typical subdivision behavior. During my stroll I passed a home with a gentleman smoking on his porch. I approached his guard at the gate. Nearly everyone in these subdivision has several people to overlook the house from the inside and out, constantly. We had a difficult time understanding each other, and eventually he agreed to let me ask the gentleman my question, "May I make a simple phone call." He was quite happy to oblige; when my friend was not available more than an hour after he said he would be ready I was invited to take a seat and have a Pepsi, tea, etc.. We talked a bit, he offered me his cell phone such that we could continue to discuss outside with needing to head in, and we exchanged a bit about who we were. An American Jew and a Pakistani Muslim, it was beautiful, free flowing exchange of ideas and opinions.

Turns out the Aslam is a recent PHD graduate in Developmental Irrigation studies. Needless to say I began gnashing a bit on his ear. It's so wonderful to have someone with such specific interests to role on and on with my questions. He was pleasantly involved in the conversation as the night wore on. Eventually, my friend showed up at the gate because I learned how to SMS message on this gentleman's phone. And, off we went.

Last night's fortuitous meeting was yet another shinning example of the dynamic people, but I would also emphasis the hospitality. Everyone is warm and will offer themselves to assisting you. From directions to travel suggestions to food.

Life in this moment, is treating me exceedingly well, and I'm grateful.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Sadly, I lost a substantial entry I intended to post here on Friday, c'est la vie.

Time is moving along, and so am I. My time in Dehli has been spent acclimating and sweating. So much for the cool of Ukraine, hello summer, again. This is going to be the continuing tale of my travels as I follow summer around the globe. It will be sweaty in Thailand and again in Australia even during their ‘winter’.

I don’t want to hold the people up at this office any longer. So I will continue again tomorrow. Typing messages and trying to blog simultaneously results in short entries.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Tonight I'm in Frankfurt. Yep, first night of Oktoberfest here, but I won't be drinking too much as I'm recovering from a case of dysentery I picked up while travelling in Crimea... Ain't that some shit? On day three of a five day antiobiotic, and I ought to be golden by this weekend to live up the Indian food. Glad to say that everything is under control. Easy flight from Kiev to Frankfurt; that would be with the exception of some spectacular driving on behalf of our friend Vitalic. He may have made the tour d' Kiev in record time to ensure ample time at the airport. It was easy going through customs. "How much money do you have left of what you declared? Do you have any antiques?" Then ruin more film with robotron x-ray 10 million. I mean seriously, the friggin' guy operating the machine was glowing. Those machines reek havic on my desire to produce half decent pictures. Oh well, the blurred effect will be artistry ala 21st century security. Oh, how post modern...

Anyhow, my film will be tainted further tomorrow as I'm heading for India, and then begin the process of reacclimating my poor stomach. Time differences, the sleep, no problem. Nowadays I'm carrying my tummy in both hands to ensure everything goes well. No really, I'm loving every minute of it. If it was the $1/KG fresh black figs that gave me dysentery, it was worth it. I must have worked about 2 or 3 kilos before departing. I even experimented with infusing Vodka with them. That worked out so-so. Sorry Martin, I tried, but I think the black pepper is an easier infusion.

Well, I'm going to hit this city up, try to learn something about music and a pint. Hopefully, there's stew to be had. That's really a favorite German pasttime for me.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

With many different variables for dates, people, and locations we got our act together in time to put together a great time away from Kiev. Alex, Daria, and I boarded a train Wednesday afternoon and by Thursday morning we arrived in Simferopol. Alex explained to me that it is customary to drink on the train when leaving Kiev to wash the troubles away kind of thing. Well, Daria and I must not have completely filled Alex in on our plan not to drink for the duration of the travels, and I obliged him at the train station by getting one-half liter of beer for myself. He started with a liter at that point. Until he met the colonel that is. In our cabin the fourth was an army officer going for some purpose not explained to me or perhaps anyone. Anyway he shared Alex's sentiments percisely and the two of them happily drank together for a number of hours. Daria and talked while then got a good nights rest proving to be a wiser decision with as much weight as we were going to accustom ourselves too the following day. To his credit Alex didn't once complain about his state of being until some days later when he commented the first day was a bit tough.

We left the train and caught a Marchutca to the foot of the hill leading to the Red Caves. A Marchutca is one of the answers to the questions of public trasportation. There is a growing need for mass transportation, and in addition to the existing trolleybus lines and metros that exist in various cities; to this point, I think Kiev is the only city in Ukraine with a metro. So Marchutcas are 15 to 30 passenger vehicles that run on either the same route as other public transportation or they run on their own route. The cost from 50 Kopeks to 2.50 Hrynhia, depending on the length of the journey. They can drive between towns and are often quite fast as a way of transport. Many people like Alex, think buses and the metro are too crowded. Marchutcas are however more expensive, and all of these mentioned modes of transport are significantly cheaper than having a car. Gas prices are on the rise here also.

There we were looking up towards the Red Caves. We repacked our bags with the fresh fruit, meat, and bread we found in Simferopol and we began our trek into the mountains. The first weather report I heard was on our second to last day heading back into Simferopol and it was 22C or about 76. This was fortunately our weather for the entire week. We didn't check the weather before we left; I suppose this was figguring we couldn't do much about it anyway, or another thought would be that my company doesn't put a lot of effort into forethought. They don't know the answer to the occasional question that I assume people always know. I normally operate with a strong base of information day to day, but that has changed being here. I ask different questions, and I don't have the same concerns. With the thought that I won't melt when I get wet, and put more clothes on when I'm cold I've pretty much stopped worrying about the weather. That, and it has been fairly consistent here for the duration of my stay in Ukraine day to day. Over the last two months obviously it has gotten cooler, but it has gradually happened.

After enough time to build up a great sweat we fould ourselves looking at the fork in the road pointing to the Red Caves and in the other direction a waterfall. With the idea that we might go from the caves to a higher altitude we went for the waterfall first. In very unconventional American Style I donned my birthday suit for a refreshing friggid dip in the mountain water. This is something I can honestly say has been a cultural exchange. If people here are as judgemental as I always thought they were in the states, I've missed it. The first boating trip that I went on we were sailing along, and then it the time came to throw a line off the back and pull people along. One by one I watched the members of our company strip down and jump off the back. I was not so bold in this moment, and jumped in with my bathing suit on. When we got to the island that we were to camp on we all went swimming and the same thing happened. "Let's go swimming," announced, clothes off. So, while in Rome. I have begun to associate swimming with the absence of clothing. It's kind of nice not waiting for a bathing suit to dry...

After our wonderful dip we regathered ourselves and headed for the Red Caves. They were wonderful. The caves have been forming for many thousands of years, and the highlight of the venture inside the mountain was seeing the mushroom like formation, I cannot remember what the appropriate name for it is, stalagomite? It was naturally quite damp and cool in the cave, I'd say comfortable. After the caves we headed up the mountain in a rather strenuous path to find our first nights camp. It was really great to eat the BBQ meat we prepared that night. It was quite delicious...

I'll need to continue this at another point because the keyboard's shift button sticks every time I press it, and it is quite maddening. It's a little difficult to switch machines with such poor Russian. So, until then...

Friday, September 26, 2003

Oh, la la. It has been some time. So many thing have happened in the last two weeks. Alex, Daria, and I went to Crimea for a wonderful week of warm weather, mountain hiking and beach bumming. I've been playing a lot of chess. I've gone on another boat trip; although, I see as I scroll through my blog I didn't write about the first one. I've been in a frenzy of activity and cultural exchange, and now is not even the right time to go into much of it because I have to firm up details for my upcoming transition to India via Germany. Perhaps tomorrow I will execute the grand description of what life has thrown my way the last several weeks. So much to say. Mom, I'm still alive.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

I think it is pretty funny that an American can teach Ukrainians about local music. There is a group called pyatnizza. I was exposed to them in Nikolaev by Gregory and some friends of his from Germany. There were in town having come from Kazantip.

Sidenote: Kazantip is a growing festival in Crimea, which unlike most other festivals lasts a month. It is on the beach, and everyone has an amazing time. Opening and closing ceremonies tip about 30,000; however, any given day the festival hosts about 4,000 music loving sun-worshippers. There is even a stage called stonehenge. You can Serge and Gregory's site at Yet another amazing cast of characters I've met in my travels. Good Folks.

So, here I arrive in Kiev, and I'm asking Alex and Daria to help me find this CD. I got one of their discs before leaving Nikolaev, and I gave it to Gregory as a thank you for his help during my time there. At a kiosk in the metro I was able to find another copy; Not before asking at five places or better. They're relatively unknown around these parts. Sergei, Gregory's friend from Hamburg, told me about their story. It goes that they were near Kazantip playing, on the beach or something of the like. It could have been anywhere, they're two guys with one guitar. They have amazing harmony and apparently humorous lyrics in Russian and Ukrianian. So, the organizer for the festival heard them playing, and he was either in a bind or astonished because he invited them to play on the mainstage. From there a producer heard them, and he asked whether they would like to go to Moscow to play around in different venues. They cut a disc, and I think now their trying to explode. The three of us here have listened to this disc many times, and Alex and Daria's friends also like their Reggae flavor. It's quite something to introduce this to them.

I can't speak entirely for the accuracy of the above; however, Sergei was dubbed foreign minister of Kazantip, so I have pretty good faith in his knowledge of this matter. Regardless, yet another person has exposed me to great music. Music is something I've given a good bit of thought about lately because it's very comfortable. I have been listening to music on the metro. Daria and I have typically been going to the office at different times. I love having slow mornings with some reading or tea or stretching, or my absolute most favorite of late, chess.

Alex and I have discovered wonderful chess opponents in one another. He taught himself through books in childhood. Both his father and grandfather are also players. There is a chess clock that belonged to his grandfather, but it is in ill-repair. He doesn't seem to have much interest in speed chess. Speed chess is a great game to talk some shit and have a lot of fun. The real game lies in sitting hovered over a table with bad posture, in my case twitching my leg, a nice cup of tea, and figuring out how best to annhilate your opponent. There is an amazing beauty watching a strategy executed. Pieces coordinate with one another harmoniously on 64 squares. Alfred Carlin always told me look at every square on the board, something is happening on each one. When you're able to encompass all of the board one's game expands exponentially.

We were talking yesterday over our games about blindfold chess. He said it has always been an interest of his to learn to play the game without pieces or a board. Imagine two people without a chess board, pieces, or even a table for that matter. Tell me your move, and I'll tell you mine in return. 64 squares, 32 pieces, 16 pawn, 4 rooks, 4 knights, 4 bishops, 2 queens, 2 kings, 2 opponents, and no material to speak off. That is an incredible game. Alex talking about this reminded me of a grandmaster. I may mispeak by saying it was Capablanca that played a simultaneous exhibition (where one person plays multiple opponents simultaneously) against 20 opponents. That in itself was a feat, but that there was a sheet between himself and his opponents is the really difficult part to grasp. He played 20 opponents at the same time without seeing any of the boards. All of his opponents had the pieces in front of them, and I remember correctly none of them won, with perhaps some draws. Walking in the park playing a game of chess makes walking and chewing gum sound like childsplay.

I have threatened before to return to the game of chess, competitively. Seeing how much I'm passionate about this amazing game has confirmed that I want to accomplish more. Sitting at a table with some for hours and hours struggling to topple each other in a single game is an incredible experience. I had the discpline before, and I think this time to figure out who I am has returned me to that same desire to learn and play and laugh. You've never heard language like you do when two people are having an all out slugfest on the board.

I went to Shevchenka park the other day where much like my beloved Washington square park there is a chess circle. Except this is an imperfect circle. People are everywhere. There are twice or three times as many people as I usually saw in New York. Chess is a national past time here, and they love it. And, the trash talk is the same. I didn't understand all of it. However, there is a phrase I learned while at the beach in Ochakov. Irina, Polly's homestay mom taught me to say, "A Sto Dee-a-let." Essentially, it means what to do. It's very akin to a personal favorite English idiom, "What I'm gonna do?" So, they say it in the park; we say it in the park, and you can hear it all over the city.

If you finish the phrase with "A Camoo Seechas Lighko?" You're saying, "who has it better than you." Everyone laughs when I say it. It must be my southern twang that comes out when I try to speak foreign languages.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

This past weekend was dedicated to celebrating Ukrainian independence. It was quite the celebration as we witnessed it form atop the victory memorial one afternoon of three. Daria has a very keen since of national history, and she was a great tour guide. We did the city for a while, and then returned home to host several people who had returned from rest on the sea. People take a minimum of one week in the upwards of two months during the summer to leave daily life behind and take off to other parts of the country or further. This really makes me want to be a school teacher. The vacation time would be incredible. Think about what you'd have time to accomplish for your own sake; if nothing else, peace of

Back home, we drink a little, we eat a little, and then the guitar comes out. Ukrainians know songs, and people take turns playing the guitar, which also comes with the distinction of choosing the song. It is quite a beautiful pastime. Yes, there is a lot of vodka, but as Martin tried to tell us at the Russian Vodka Room, it does help keep the evening in perspective. In a mere one week my entire perspective on drinking has changed. I enjoy myself much more, and there are many tasty treats all night long. Yet another place that food has hit home for me. The next day no longer holds the same meaning it used to. Although, Alex and I were talking yesterday about how a long night of this will still leave you fairly poisened from high concentrations of alcohol.

In all of this, there's a different attitude towards alcohol. We've had a couple discussions of Ukrainian versus American practices. The question keeps coming up about what Americans eat with beer? I have had to explain numerous times that beer is an entity for its own sake. I think Americans consider beer a vehicle; Ukrainians take that a step further by laying out fish, chips, nuts, crab sticks, bread and cheese, or any other number of possibilities. Of course this doesn't hold true for everyone, and we have seen our fair number of alcoholics, but it is sheer ignorance to say that alcohol has solely a negative impact here. It is part of the culture that means something different to everbody I've spoken with.

Having a beer at lunch with some fish is not a frequent practice, but it is not out of the question. It is also not three+ beers, it's one. And, then life continues as usual, at a reasonable pace. Another thing I have come to love about Kiev is the presence of natural springs. As part of urban development the city
has constructed little areas where there are several pumps with fresh water from hundreds of meters below the surface. The water comes out pure and cold. I have had no problems with this health wise, and I am very pleased to not be purchasing the plastic bottles daily for water. Tap water is okay after boiling (perhaps before, although I have not tried), but there is a pretty high concentration of chlorine in the water.

I have slowly been separating from my hosts and exploring Kiev little by little. I think this week I continue this habit and venture a bit more into the center. I asked about how far home is from the office (Ukrainian Holocaust Center), and I think it might be able 90 minutes to 2 hours. Perhaps, after studying the map some I'll give this a shot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I have many things to say about my time in Kiev so far. I'm quite happy
with how the past couple days have gone. I live with a wonderful and
cheery young couple, Daria (23) and Alex (26). They married this past
March, and both are recent graduates of institute. Daria has completed her
Master's in cultural studies, and Alex is currently working on a higher
degree in Mathematics. They both would be considered fluent English
speakers as with many of their friends. I have to this point only met
Dema, who was a bandmate of Alex's during their teenage years. Dema has a
company in Kiev where he does identical work to my last job with AJWS as
well as a couple other functions. We were laughing last night as I
explained being the technical person in my line of work also included
screwing in lightbulbs. He can relate to the variety of tasks required of

My spirit is rejuvinated as I was able to cook last night. I prepared a
lovely Italian sauce from local ingredients. Despite lacking my usual
addition of tomatoe paste the dish was fabulous. I love soothing my soul
with food. Daria had a friend who had prepared such a dish for her before,
but Dema and Alex had not to that point experienced Italian "Sauce". I was
happy to prepare it, and at the end Alex asked me for the recipe I told
him there was no recipe and there is time yet to prepare it again; only
next time he must watch to get it. They have offered such exchanges on
their end by a similar request from me. I'm picking up some smatterings of flavor each place I have been so far.

A personal favorite from Nikolaev was Compote. I'm sure everyone will
agree that it is a simple matter to prepare and they know of it or have
made it before, but I don't believe I have seen it before in America. Simply fill a
pot with water, add an assortment of fresh fruits, sugar to taste, and
boil for some period of time. Let sit until it cools and refrigerate. It
is so simple and delightful. It often sat on the dinner table as a lovely
alternative to water, or g-d forbid soda. I'm happy to see most people
here don't consume drinks like that. It is something I have waivered on in
the past, but when I return I'm not sure I'll have much of any interest
left for it. I can find caffeine other places like in tea for example.

Vodka is a different story for this culture. They like it, and were happy
to find out it was my favorite drink before leaving America. We have
enjoyed the spirit thus far in the honey and pepper variety in Kiev, but
before long I will try others. There is a wall of Vodka to choose from
everywhere it is sold. Many stores display their selection upon entry,
with food around some other bend. I don't think this is necessarily the
best, but it does speak to what people want.

We have had many enlightening conversations about what life during and
after the Soviet Union has meant to different people, and invariably the
topic of Vodka comes into the discussion. I'm fairly convinced it has
hindered development to varying degrees. Alternatively, I can attest to the fact that there is vitality here. My present company is shining proof to that end.
So, I've said goodbye to the people of Nikolaev, and at 6am sharp
Monday morning Anatoly Podolsky, of the Ukrainian Holocaust Center, was
waiting for me on the train platform in Kiev. I think it was really nice
of him to be there considering my early arrival. He is quite excited
about the possibilties we have to work together, and I shall return to

The folks in good ole' Nikolaevskya (this is used to describe anything
related to Nikolaev, it's an adjectivication of the word, if you will),
had nice things to say about my time spent with the community, which is
more than they will say about more work on the website. I spent three
weeks total with the community, the first was at the beach near Ochokov
for the community�s summer camp and the other two weeks followed in
Nikolaev proper. In the end Mikhail Goldenberg, the Nikolaev Jewish
Culture Community director, said to me, "The work you did with us was not
so important, I think. I think it was very important for the time you
spent with our community, at the beach and in our center."

Well, there is much to be said for expectations. I thought that I would
have a lot of difficulty communicating, and that would be alleviated in
part by time spent with Gregory, Mikhail's son. I was under the impression
from communication prior to departure we would have much time to work
together, and that he would be able to help me overcome language barriers.
Well, he found a new job prior to my arrival, and he was available to help
me after 8pm during the week and on the weekends. This made for infrequent
communication; we spoke two times during the work week each of the two
weeks I was there, and each Saturday we were at the Jewish club from 3pm
to 6pm. Perhaps I needed to be more assertive in the communication
process, but I felt the entire time as a guest. In addition to feeling as
a guest I was treated as somewhat of the younger guest because of my
inability to communicate. My nickname, kindole (Hebrew for young child, I
think), was both affectionate and paternal. My ability to assert myself
felt somewhat limited. I think this is in large part due to not being able
to speak the language. I am not trying to place blame for this fact
anywhere other than with myself. However, I had an impression that
everything was going to work out.

With regard to the web project, which I initially perceived as my main
function of the volunteership, there were other difficulties in the
communication. I was given a set of pictures and told they would be the
pictures, and after asking a couple times, I never received captions to
accompany them. I did not ask to make more pictures as they were
constantly taking more. This may have been a place I could have asserted
myself, to create my own images of the construction for use on the
website. After a couple conversations with Mikhail at the camp with the
help of Polly Zavdivker, I thought I would author the text presented about
the construction. I went to some length compiling notes from translated
conversations at the camp as well as impressions I had developed in my
time with the community. I told Mikhail and Gregory that my text was ready
a couple times; although, I did not put it on a disk and hand it to
Gregory with the explicit instructions to translate it. Several days
later, I received Mikhail�s text in Russian, and the last day I was there
I received the version translated in English for me to edit on put on the
site as the main text. They have not read what I wrote. There was a lot of
difficulty in conveying ideas to one another because of the language
difference, but also the timeframe in which conversations took place made
it difficult to work efficiently.

The time I spent with Polly, and the Summer Camp on the Black Sea was a
different experience than Nikolaev. Here I participated in group
activities, like the �Little Olympics.� Polly and I danced with the girls
ensemble in a choreographed number, pom-poms included. At the beach we
played and swam with the kids, daily. I bonded with one parent in
particular over an intense match of chess lasting several nights. I
enjoyed watching the kids sing while Mikhail played guitar to numerous
songs each evening. I took part in several discussions on topics ranging
from Judaism in the Ukraine and America to the importance of an
association with Israel. It was fascinating as a foreigner to try and
explain different concepts. There was also the challenge of making the
translation easy work for Polly. It was good to think about different
aspects of my life in those terms. Occasionally, Polly would go through
the ringer on a conversation, and unfortunately sometimes, the people I
would be speaking with did not regard her as more than a translator. This
was a challenge she overcame pretty quickly, interjecting her thoughts in
Russian. Everyone was in good spirits considering it was their summer
rest, and the organized activities offered something more than similar
programs. This one was subsidized which had a huge impact on the
attendance, but also, the parents knew there would be quality educational
programs; lastly, there would be a chance to emphasize their Jewishness.

It is important that some time in this description of my volunteership
focus on the camp�s Shabbot service. I am happy to say it had a very high
impact on the community. On Friday night, I witnessed everybody
participating in a truly communal celebration. Kids helped bring in the
day of rest with recitation of prayer. They have constructed a candle
board giving most women in the community the opportunity to light a candle
and recite the invocation of Shabbot. It is a beautiful practice. Other
members of the community helped with the rituals including myself
symbolically washing my hands for everyone and assisting the distribution
of Challah. The event was not very long in duration, but the importance is
paramount for the week�s experiences. The practice was inspirational, and
perhaps the members of the community feel the same way. It was out of my
league to try and understand that.

During my second week in Nikolaev (my third week with the community) I sat
through the Shabbot services for the Club of Elderly People. There
celebration was shorter in ritual and time, but the beauty did not
diminish in the slightest. They have other activities for the club
including Tuesday cook-ins for the ladies. Several people contribute to
the groups� celebration, and during my second week I attended the cook-in
for the first time. It was a very special celebration because we
celebrated Mikhail�s birthday as well as one of the ladies that turned 85.
The food was prepared by Maria, who has been a professional cook all her
life, now 90. She prepared the best gafilta fish I have ever had (sorry
mom). I tried to explain this to her as she was leaving, and she was
grateful. The next day I was discussing a Ukrainian dish with Galina, my
home stay�s mother, and she said it is only available hand-made. She
informed me this is a laborious process that she would not partake in;
however, she jokingly told me to ask Maria. I pressed the issue a little,
and she made the call. Maria�s response, �They�ll be ready tomorrow!� I
gleefully accepted the bowl full of cherry vareneeky (think chinese
dumplings cooked in boiling water). And, they were fabulous. Maria told me
to come back to the Ukraine. I think she really liked feeding me.

That�s a good entry point to discuss my home-stay. It worked out very
well. The family consisted of Galya (the mom), Victor (the dad), Larissa
(the daughter), Maxim (the son), and Vassa (the cat). I got along with
everyone except Vassa�s friends; he had fleas. It took very little on my
part to explain that fleas actually bite people. I showed them the bright
red inflamed spot on my leg. This was not a point I was going to stand by
and watch unfold. They were very accommodating in getting Vassa a flea
collar and spraying the carpets in several rooms a couple times. To my
last day they were still in the house, but not nearly on the magnitude
initially. So, back to the good food I mentioned. The family happily
provided three meals per day, and I enjoyed all of it. I have now had
several authentic versions of Ukrainian borscht. I explained when they
asked if I had ever heard of borscht that my dad had made it for me, but
that I thought it may have been a Russian version. Other dishes consisted
of chicken, various meats, and amazing produce. The sun that was doing a
good job of drenching my clothes with sweat was also responsible for
harvests of amazing fruits and vegetables. I had a great fruit called
deyenna. It closely resembled a watermelon in size, the smell was of a
melon like honeydew, and the flesh had a milky white color. The taste was
delicious. I also found a good chess opponent in Victor. We played so
much, Galya kept referring to us as Karpov and Kasporov. That was about
the only time I was honored with any type of Russian status, that made me
chuckle. It was very easy staying with them, and they reported the same
about me to Mikhail. It was comfortable speaking Russian with Larissa and
Galya by the end. It took a little while to be able to communicate exactly
what I needed. Refer to entries in my blog for those references.

Under the circumstances I would say a 10 class Berlitz course was almost
laughable preparation for what I encountered in Nikolaev. I had my
difficulties, and there was much that remains unsaid. I think a command of
the language could have lead to better work in the technical realm of my
assignment. I would have appreciated more assistance from Gregory and
Mikhail. To his credit, Mikhail is facing many challenges with the
construction of his new building, and he did not have much time to spend
with me. My work there did not include the instruction of any classes in
fact they were operating during my time there. Perhaps this was a little
difficult to pin down with uncertainties revolving around my pre-departure
plans, but while I was there they kept telling me little by little that
the club was not operating as normal. This behavior reigns during the
summer, unbeknownst to me prior to arrival. I feel this could have been
better communicated on their part. I had to live through it to know what
was happening. There was very little direction during my time there other
than day to day, and that usually changed on the pre-determined day.

I believe the community is asking many good questions. Personally, I took
very much from the experience. Living with Nikolaevians gave me an
intimate awareness for some challenges they face as people of a developing
nation and trying to promote their own interest as a minority within that
system. The problems I experienced were acute in comparison with my
personal development during the time spent there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

So many wonderful things have happened in the last couple days. My illness not being one of them. This cold or whatever it is is being a bit dastardly.

Monday, Larissa and I went to the Nikolaev Zoo, and it was truly something. They have more varieties of animals than perhaps anyother zoo I've been too. That is not to say that they were kept in optimal circumstances. We saw some monkeys that we're supposedly rare, I'm not sure if that equates to endangered or hard to catch. Regardless, they were amongst the most gorgeous primates I've ever seen. They had very furry heads, and their bodies were quite small maybe 6-8 inches including tails. They were very casually eating from their tray of goodies and tossing the husks or skins to the bottom. There was also a 50 year old alligator, which from the look of it, it hadn't seem to have moved much of those 50 years. Although, it did blinks or roll it's eyelids. I was very enamored with the slon, or elephant that was playing to the kids that were feeding it. After it would fetch the fresh fruit, it would stand there waiting for more by waiving its trunk in the air. It was quite something. This was as Larissa was explaining to me the depth of an elephant's memory. This elephant was no spring chicken; although, they had those also. The chickens, cows, and horses were not exactly exotic to us discerning viewers. The ostrich that chased its keeper along the side of the cage was however quite interesting giving a little bit of a hop as it approached the edge of the space it had to run. There were goats, camels, and big cats. I was particularly impressed with the jaguars, black panthers, lions, and cougars. The cages were sometimes adequate and very different in their layout that I would have expected. For example, there was a round cage half with wolves, and the other half had coyotes. They had large arcs to run along, and run they did. They were running the first time we saw them, and some hours later when we passed by the cage they were running again. They were really beautiful animals. The whole zoo experience was great and tiring, I came home and slept for several hours afterwords. It was probably the most temperant day we've had so far here, not being much above 70. Larissa was even cold when the wind blew on occasion.

Things are really good all in all, and I'm enjoying my time here in Nikolaev. My volunteership is moving along, when I finish the webpage I'm working on, I'll post the address for others to see, and then I'm to Kiev. I have been reading a lot about what will be of note to do while I'm there, and I have a lot of time to figure it out, six weeks to be precise. My Russian is improving marginally. I actually had my first dream in the language before coming to the internet cafe this afternoon, and it mostly revolved around asking politely for staples from the various stores I'll frequent for supplies while on my own. It seems as though I will have another home stay while in Kiev with an employee from the Holocaust center there. I was told the home will be english speaking and have high ceiling. What else could a 2 meter tall gringo ask for?

Sunday, August 10, 2003

This past week I received two wonderful quotes in support of my development. I would like to share those with everyone for the opportunity to take something from them, yourselves.


paraphrase: the world may seem dark outside our inner temple, but we are
called to go outside and stand in faith. this plunge into the darkness
and discomfort of the unkown is how we actively invite spirituality into
our life. It is not only the most direct way to awaken our spirit but
is the surest way to quench our deepest thirst. Acknowledge your thirst
and then step into the places of uncertainty where conventional sense
dictates you are unprepared to go. enter with trust and find the sacred
water that is waiting.

bradford keeny


Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form
of contempory violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by
nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush
and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of
its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude
of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to
help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that,
it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes
his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It
destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of
inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander"


Life goes on in Nikolaev for around $50-60/Month. I find this to be quite shocking last night in a conversation with friends. An expensive apartment on the main street here in town is $100/month, a one bedroom and bath with kitcheonette (<- Not their word). This style of life is also accompanied by little in the way of work options. I'm finding in many conversations that people work multiple jobs here. It is the only way they can maintain. My family for example between the two parents probably have about four or five jobs, including some home business work. Everybody does what they need to do to survive. Polly and I spoke a bit about this while she was here how different the style of life is because people spend so much time surviving. I for one am thankful that I have the opportunity to explore outside myself and see what the world we occupy offers others.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Galya and I have gotten down to business in the last two days with my Russian. I've passed from my stage of apathy that I don't know enough to communicate, and I'm back on track. I came to the internet cafe today all by my lonesome.

Preeviet mojna dva chas n'internet, pajalsta. (Hello, may I use internet for two hours, please)
Response: Yes, computer number 10, pay when you're done.

I can do this. I was trying to explain to Larissa yesterday that if she weren't there I still would have been able to buy shampoo. No, I would not have been able to answer the question about what type of hair I have, but we all know that all shampoo comes from the same magical batch anyway. It's just the packaging, some corn starch, and food coloring that makes the difference. I pointed to the comb that I wanted, and when I handed over the ticket for film processing all they wanted was the 27 Gryvnah. I'll do just fine in Kiev. Anatoly has agreed to pick me up from the train station, and put me into a hotel. I will spend some time volunteering at his office. Life is going to be just dandy. Galya is very happy to speak Russian with me and offer grammar at a pace that I can't keep up with, but that too is okay.

Even my sinus infection is on the way out. I don't think it is because of the black light I held up to my nose last night. They are convinced if you heat your nose for three minutes each night your condition will away within 2 to 3 days instead of 7 to 10. I bet google will have something a little different to say about the matter. But, who am I to question the healing powers electricity has to offer.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

A reflection on the camp:
On the campground there were several gazebos. There is a small table in the center and seating for about 7. Often, I would pass by the gazebo adjacent Misha and Polly's room, and he would be perched with guitar on knee with anywhere from three to twelve kids lingering. Misha would be playing from a variety of songs he knows and everyone would chime in on the tunes they knew. Others would watch and wait for the next song, but everytime the favorites came along everyone would sit up on edge and sing loudly tune like 'Hop Stop' which Polly's homestay mom, Irina, explained is a song about gangsters. Misha wears the hat of pied piper amongst so many others. But, everyone was enlivened with their participation and some would go and others would come along. This would sometimes go until 1am. His energy is breeding community; it truly has been something else to witness.

Last night:
So, the shower has a gas unit that you need to turn on regulating the hot water. My understanding of the matter was when the water got too hot you'd balance it out with some cold water. That is what I had done for the past two days without difficulty. Of course, lastnight when I was tired, it wouldn't happen that way. The shower head started balking, so I changed it for the water to only come out of the faucet. The same condition continued with the faucet rattling a bit. At this point I'm completely covered in Soap, but conditions seem to be worsening a little. I turned off the gas grabbed my towel and went for help. Galya came in and took at look at what I had done. She turned off the cold water and then a couple seconds later a combination of rust and water came out followed but a rush of steam that I thought was going to crack all of the porcelein in the tub. It definately would have been a problem for that to contact skin. We concluded with her saying that I received another lesson in technology. It's not that I can't do these things properly, but I suppose some of them are not quite as intuitive since all my life there have been two knobs, and no fear of blowing up the block. Think about that next time you easily draw a bath!

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I have run into what might be called an language blockade. It's tougher than a roadblock because everytime you think you're going in the direction that you want to be going in things completely change. For example, after being in Nikolaev for three days I have finally made it to an internet cafe. The russian/english difference is very great. There is no middle ground of understanding. I asked to go to an internet cafe today, for the third day in a row. They asked me if I would like to instead use their home connection, and I said that would be fine except that I would tie up their phone line. The mother, Galya, then retorted with, "who's going to be in New York to talk with now, anyway." There is no simple way around it. I'm not an idiot, but since I don't speak Russian my intelligence is equated to that of the cat. My host family has many bizarre traits about them, but I guess that's because I'm an americansky. Okay, so Maxim, the son, and I start to head out of the house anyway after what I thought was an agreement to use their connection, and we head to the post office to send off a letter. After that we go to an internet provider. Apparently Maxim understood my request as his house needing an entirely new provider. I have no clue where they come up with this. I feel as though I'm requesting simple things. But, it's not coming across that way.

Hopefully, tomorrow, I will go to the Jewish 'club' and begin my work with some regularity. Oh yea, after lunch, because that was proposed as a good time of the day to work. I have had a lot of time to learn how to slow down. The first week was spent on the Black Sea 'resting', and I was told when we returned we would spend a couple days for down time. They have an interesting concept of summer here. I guess it was a little odd to come this time of year.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

I am back in Nikolaev after a week of complete rest. I took the overnight train from Kiev to Nikolaev, meet my host family for my volunteership, took a shower and headed for the buses to go to the beach. We were at a resort on the Black Sea, and we went swimming nearly every day. It was wonderful to relax this way. There were very few scheduled events, and our little group: Anatoly, Igor, Irina, Alla, and Polly took some side trips by ourselves. Polly is another JVC volunteer who was here two weeks before me. She heads back to Kiev today, Berkley Tomorrow, and then to New York two weeks after that. She is fluent in Russian (similar to the way my friendship with Alissa began in Paris) and she's a really sweet girl very interested in learning more about her Judaism. She's moving to New York to attend a Yeshiva. Anatoly is another jcdf grantee. He runs a Holocaust project in Kiev dedicated to the Ukrainian plight during the war and it effects afterwards. His son Igor came along for the ride. Irina was Polly's host mother, and Alla her daughter. They also brought their dog Vishnye along. All in all it was an amazing time. When I am not tying up a phone line I will send more.

I'm doing really well and trying to figure out what comes after the two week volunteership here. I don't think my Russian skills are adept enough to go out on my own, so residence in Kiev is a distinct possibility for six weeks. I have spoken with Anatoly about a possible volunteership.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Planes are small, and I am big. However, the lady in front of me had it a bit worse off. She could not lay back the entire ride; my knees were pressed up against the back of her seat before she even got in it, and the guy in front of her "had a sleeping problem" and he wouldn't bring his seat up at all. 7 hours, it's over, and I'll get to the airport a bit earlier every time from now on because that 30 minutes to an hour wait is not worth missing exit rows!

The hotel in Kiev has been pleasant, a little pricey, but I'm really close to the train station where I'll be going this evening to ride another 12 hours south. Tomorrow I will connect with the people from the Nikolaev JCC. I join them for their annual summer camp where they try to bring more people from the community into their organization...

I'm about to meet a representative from an organization the Jewish Community Development Fund grants money to here in Kiev.

Quote from yesterday: "No, the price I gave you was in Euros, it is ____ in USD. Then the negotiations began, again.
-Excerpt from Airport Taxi to Hotel

Friday, July 11, 2003

I am an oròdoigèvokjàkonjhèàpotjhpojn+pok+poki

Travelling has been quite succesful to date. I am sitting back in New York before whirling off Transatlantic. Time in New Orleans was amazing and quite productive. The month I spent there was used for a variety of endeavors which won't be described at this time. Suffice to say, I will likely sleep more in New York than I did there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Wax tablets would be a much healthier pursuit for me at this moment. I've been trying to get my buddy Rob's Apple to do something for me all day. Off and on for over 12 hours, the same problem has turned into a plague now... Soon, my part will be over, and complete or part of the way there, it will just have to be. He is off to Santa Barbara for a "C de P" reunion, and I fly southbound. Next stop New Orleans.

Oregon has been a wonderful break from the non-stop pace New York only knows how to offer! Sleep has returned to my life as a regularly scheduled item, until haha I try to fix a computer, then magically, I stay up into the morning hours. This is probably why I had a dream in which I stated, "I hate computers." I never exclaim things much less profound statements like that. (Note: I'm not sure what I just pressed, but my blog has just been published to the interenet unintentionally). That would be proof that there is no joy in mudville this evening. I'll begin anew tomorrow or later...

Saturday, June 07, 2003

This is my first entry, a test really. I can no longer say I quit my job last Friday because another Friday has since come along. Escaping to Oregon has helped in distancing myself from that now closed chapter. That same distance, however, also takes me away from my love and companion, Dana. With this and other electronic communications I feel the distance can remain physical and nothing more.

I arrived Thursday afternoon, and the sun has not let up. This is a welcomed change from this past Winter's harshness and negligible Spring in New York. Time here has been mostly supporting my love of food and leisure. It's nice to have no agenda. This morning it was difficult to ascertain the time because the guest house I'm staying in has no clocks. Rob's mom told me this was intentional when I inquired. Her answer was quite delightful. I stopped wearing my watch some months back, and I'm fighting to keep it off. Appointments are beginning to take on somewhat of a burden-like characteristic with their punctuality. Parties are really nice from this perspective because people simply come and go as they please. Start when guests arrive and finish when they leave.

My buddy Rob lives currently with his mom, Sharon, and his step-dad, Peter, in Newburg, OR. The property is dedicated to many different loves amongst them: roses, food, and family. The Willamette River runs all the away across the back of the property. It's quite the lovely river to swim in, without drinking any of it, but it does carry a somewhat unsettling odor. I guess the city life took me away from nature a little too far. I'd rather be in that river any day over simply telling tales of the Hudson.

That ought to be enough to see if this works.