You see, I'm an American. This I know about myself. I didn't find this out by taking American Government from Dean Lundblad at CHS or when I took Idaho History from Mrs. Hopperstad in the fourth grade. (It's appropriate to note that that particular class was and is, my all time favorite. Year long self-directed study of anything Idaho, culminating in a trip to the Cataldo Mission, a place that still puts me in joyful tears of another realm. It's a bold and known fact, I love me My Idaho. And as usual, I digress.) I didn't find out about being a proud and grateful American by listening to my father, who was a prominent figure in Lake County politics and was precisely opinionated about all national and international current affairs. I didn't know that I was an American by letting my mother drag me into the DAR and Colonial Dames, because I got back. In the gene pool, that is. No. I didn't know and appreciate that I am an American until I began to travel.
And that's the thing I never expected. You learn about others but you learn about yourself. Your childhood, your faith values, your family, your community, your outlooks. And when that plane touches down on your USA point of embarkment and you feel the cool, dry air of the jetway, you say, each and every time, I'm home. God bless the USA. And sometimes, you are exalting and sometimes you are asking.
So I'm an American. And I have to swat myself upon occasion, to remember that as much as I value being an American, it's just one of the ways to be in the world. Only one of the ways. Naturally, I believe it's a better way and in most ways, a superior way. But when I am being my best self, I know that it's just one of the many ways. One of the many ways to be in the world. Swat, swat, swat.
So we Goa to Goa. Many thanks to Injun Joe for this line. Goa was the Portuguese stronghold on the spice route sooooo surprise, Goa is Catholic. All Catholic. All the time. It has a distinct Mediterranean feel and look with seafood second to none anywhere. Dear god, the seafood is good.
The thing about India is this: it is a travel challenge. To the nouveau, it is imposing beyond full description; to the experienced, it is daunting. The two primary factors are the poverty and the hygiene. The first is confronting, the second is elusive. Or non-existent. One. A dear, sweet friend recently said she yearns for the moment in her life where she will kneel and kiss the earth of Mother India. I savor the anticipation of that moment for her as well, but it is my heartfelt concern that she first Purell her lips and face, hands and fingers and then, lather and repeat. In Goa, as everywhere, we wander among cows, fresh cow mess, dogs and fresh dog mess, and piles and piles and piles of garbage. Garbage and dust, dirt and filth everywhere. Everywhere. I believe I mentioned that I'm from the Lake City; at the lake, we had trash, refuse, rubble or reject material of any nature, we raked it up and burned it. They do this in Viet Nam as well. Not in India, it sits around. And this is how it is. It is Indian culture in its purest form but for us Lake City girls, it's unthinkable. Because it's causal and simple. You got a mess, you clean it up. In India, you got a mess, you live in it. And the homeless do live in it, make no mistake. Visually, it's not dismaying. It's horrifying. But to the Indian people, it is immaterial. Doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. And it's pretty easy for me to see that I impose my values and standards on these people, like a good, white, Christian missionary would do. God, old habits die hard.
So we amble about two distinct parts of Goa: the grounds of our gorgeous resort on the ocean, where we all checked into individual villas that are drop dead fabulous and the Goa of the real world, outside the gates of the resort. The former is surreal, because there is a whole community of people whose only aim is to serve you. The latter is quite exasperating, bewildering, because there is a whole community of people whose only aim is to sell you. So you bounce around between the two worlds, each very real, however, and each a legitimate response to existence. We take the bus up the road and get off and wander about a half a mile down to the beach, running the gauntlet of stalls and vendors, making deals for shoes and glittery handbags and bangles and silver jewelry. We are headed for a restaurant that has been highly recommended to us by some Indian friends in Bombay. As we hit the beach, we see the sign. Yahoo. We turn left onto a makeshift boardwalk atop the sand, probably twelve inches wide and wander about and around until we come to eight feet high piles of garbage. And the restaurant! right there together! The garbage and the restaurant! Wonderful!
We hesitate, but plunge on because our friends say the fish here is absolutely fabulous. So we go in, get a beautiful table seafront and order. Me: a Kingfisher beer and tandoori pomme frette and the GNY, a bottle of water and lobster. After they pour the beer, they place the coaster atop the glass. Should of tipped me off, but it didn't. I take the coaster off and take a big long gulp of beer and as I put the glass back on the table, the flies descend. Long story short, this is how it works: the fish comes and the air around us is black with flies. You inadvertently swallow a few while talking. So . Even more descend upon us as the food is served and the GNY pretty much loses it. Down the table, our travel friends suggest that everyone debone and create fly bait at center edge of the table in a big serving platter. The GNY snaps a lobster tail out of the shell that is the size of her forearm. The shell goes in the center of the table and in a few moments, we look up and this pile of bones is completely black. Entirely black. All black. Whine and cry or shut up and eat. We look at each other and begin eating. I order more beer. Small mercies do abide: it comes and it's cold. Best damn whitefish I've ever eaten. GNY's lobster tastes like cake. Buttery, barbecuey, expertly cooked cake. I order more beer, drink it quickly and we get up and leave.
We walk back through the sand on the little, wobbly boardwalk and a guy stands there urinating in broad daylight. The bus ride back is quiet and the resort with our beautiful villas looks extra good that night. I scrub every inch of my body until I am red all over.
I am positive I came to India to learn to understand better.
So we go over to the Jains to see their temple, which is exquisite. Just yuuummy. It is laced and bound with icons that stimulate and inspire me. It is a riot of fruit sherbet colors. One thing that's bothering me is that we didn't have many Hindus on 10th and Penn over there in the Lake City so I do not have a familiar, completely accurate vocabulary and dialogue about the Jains, about the Hindus that I can plug into. Rather, I am learning. And I am a new learner. So it bothers me that when I inadvertently say something inaccurate or incomplete, I will offend the Hindus that stop by Notes From The 'Kan EWA. I ask your forgiveness in advance and greedily solicit your tutelage and mentoring. I promise to be worthy.
The thing I love about the Jain temple is the soft, but vibrant hues that melt into each other. But I guess I mentioned the fruit sherbet, didn't I? I love this temple because there are acts of devotion everywhere, most of which I do not understand. But you don't need the is dotted and the ts crossed when the air is thick with love and true beauty.
They didn't teach us about Hindus at Central School in the Lake City, heck we didn't even speak of Jews , and that's one of the many things about a Jesuit education for which I am grateful and that made me determined to set Jesuit education as an incontrovertible value at Bellemaison. The Jesuits talk about them all and you are free to examine any of them closely. So I am so happy that the time has come for me and the Hindus. I've been waiting to know; I am just going to love this! And the Jain temple fills me with light and love, reassurance and hope so I realize that the livin' the day in dirty, needy India is going to be more than just fine. Despite the religious malevolence, man's inhumanity to woman, the air, the water, that industry known as begging, and each and every one of the one billion people that live here looking to make a rupee, I will be ok and will find the beauty that others positively glow about. Sometimes I am slow to the party, but I always show up.
As I mentioned, India was not ever on my here'swhereIwannago list. That's important because I had absolutely no expectations or anxieties about seeing certain things. So what I didn't expect and what literally took the wind out of my sails was really, really, really dirty air. Los Angeles back in the day didn't have the air that India does. In fact, environmental pollution is an issue in every single city, town and area of India. It's staggering and sobering. And whatever is said about good old Americans and their polluting hearts, I will henceforth take with a grain of salt because from what I have seen in Asia, we're the least of many, many serious problems. I digress.
Although I am genuinely sick by the time the car reaches our hotel, I am still very pleased and excited to be greeted by these Indian studs at the front door who proffer the traditional red spot and the marigold lei. Hello, indeed! The hotel is gorgeous and the people, all Indian, are gorgeously professional. And Madonna checks in, right after we do. Hello, hello, hello! Then I pick up the paper.
Seems that on New Year's morning very early, two couples left a party at another five star hotel in Bombay, the Marriott, and as they walked along the sidewalk to their cars, a mob of 80 men tore the women's western dresses off, held the men and raped the women. As the outrage in the city rises, the chief of police says the media overreacted. hello. A day or so later, in another province, a young teen age girl is taken from her home after school, raped and then burned. HELLO? are you kidding?
So I am in no mood to get too far away from our guide, Oxford-educated Bombay native now at NYU. I know of some really good bazaars around the corner and up a few blocks, but I do not venture out. I am quite happy to get on the bus with the tour and visit Gandhi's house.
And I actually really, really like that. There is so much about him I do not know and so much about British India that's fascinating in an almost ghoulish way. The downside is that I see Bombay from the bus, where I am still suffering mightily from the effects of the filthy, dirty air. The upside is that we visit a spectacular Jain temple, too.
India was an adventure which was co-scripted with the Great New Yorker. I never had any ambition to go to India but the GNY called night and day, every day for two weeks. Because I needed to get some work done at the office, I contacted the Travel Corporation of India and signed up. It worked out nicely for me because the calls resumed their weekend schedule and centered around shoes, Chanel, and gossip. But on New Year's Day 2008 a year or so later, I wake up from a nap in Seat 11C and look at the window at Bombay, India as Virgin Atlantic flight # 1920 from London screeches to a halt.
First things first: I know and am quite aware that the tribal name of one of the four largest cities in India has been changed back from its Portuguese derivation, Mumbai from Bombay. Happened back in last decade of the old millennium. Problem is, people of Mumbai, er, Bombay, and all of India for that matter, haven't gotten the word yet. They refer to this place as Bombay. Good enough for me! Don't write in about this. I always run with the locals. Let them have their way, I say.
So I'm in Bombay with only the vaguest of recollections on how I got here. But I am firmly remembering my family at home back in the snowy Pacific Northwest, seeing them skiing and partying in my mind's eye, celebrating and joyous in each and every day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Outside the plane window, it looks like it's warm. I gather my new blue pillow and my bag and trundle up the jet way, hoping there's cold water. There's no cold water but instead lots of construction, graffiti, traffic, noise and sharply acrid hot, dusty air that makes my eyes burn dreadfully even before I step into the open air of Bombay itself. Oh good! A welcome sinus headache! How much fun will this be!
Coming home. It always takes me so long to get back to life here in The 'Kan. I have a stubborn physical geography that furiously hangs on to where I was before I boarded the plane that last day; I would love to come home and bounce right into things but it just never works out that way. I do know that once I'm ready to see people in the evening, I am getting very close. So despite all indications, I horsewhipped myself into going to the Spokane Valley last night to have a steak and see friends. A false positive, to be sure. I always have behemoth unpacking to do and this time is no exception; what am I going to do with all this stuff? I have had the requisite comfort food: tomato soup and cheese sandwich and at least 4 bowls of cereal. Still, I'm not ready to be back. But I am soooo glad to be home. Even at the hand of the unforgiving jet lag.