Sunday, July 3, 2011


On the road again....I've only been in Turkey a couple of days (I think!) but have some thoughts mainly stemming from the Istanbul airport. First, travel seems a time to rely on the kindness of others. As I struggled with 2 heavy suitcases and a full backpack, I searched for the airport carts to ease my burden. When I found them I tried to put a coin in, but alas, I had only paper money for Turkey, but some left over coins from Britian. As I fumbled the woman who just acquired her cart turned around and handed me a coin. I tried to give her a pound but she just laughed and waved me off.

Second, the Istanbul airport features food of a quality that I have never seen in any airport, except of course Orly and, oh yes, the chocolate in Brussels. But aside from those, this spread was incredible. AND, there were free samples. The best find was a delectible new treat I'm munching on right now, roasted chickpeas covered in chocolate. What an incredibly good idea. I had to ask several people to help me find the container that I could buy, because they hadn't seen them, either, and they worked there. However, again, the kindness of strangers prevailed and 2 waiters from the hot food area next door came to my rescue! As you all know, I have no pride when it comes to my sweet tooth and its needs. Aside from Rick Bayless's newest venture at O'Hare and the occasional Wolfgang Puck oasis, the food situation in U.S. airports is in dire straits. The U.S. purveyors could take a page out of the hot food cafeteria in Istanbul's airport that featured 2 baskets of real onions and garlic at its entrance. What a sure sign that there is going to be delicious food inside! I was not dissapointed. There were real vegetable side dishes, hot and fresh and very tasty, and all those samples. I was afraid of missing my connecting flight and having to explain to the embassy official I was meeting why it was exactly I missed the plane with a 2.5 hour layover, so I left some food uninspected. I shall return, however!

I've said before if you want to learn something about a culture watch the way its people cue up, or don't. The sign at the passport checkpoint said in red letters "Stay behind the RED LINE." I looked for the red line but couldn't see it because people were standing on it, in front of it, and kids were using it to play a game. Again the lines to get a boarding pass seemed just a suggestion to some.

I'm at a spa/resort near Antalya on the Mediterrean Coast to do my "work". Tough assignment, right? Yesterday I had a Turkish Hamam experience (Turkish bath with scrubbing, then bubbles, then olive oil) along with a clay facial but today I'm actually going to have to teach some. Oh well, I'll probably end my afternoon with a dip in the sea, followed by a buffet that has incredible cheeses, vegetables, and my best culinary friend, yogurt, all dressed up and spiced with great new tastes. I may reform my dislike of fresh mint just so I can include it in yogurt. I didn't tell the Turkish women I was eating with that their yogurt is runnier than the Greek yogurt we get, but it is, but it's very delicious, whether plain, or with herbs, or with fresh cherries which are in season and everywhere here.
I hope to post some photos to FLICKR soon, but internet service here is quite spotty so we'll see. I guess all the Turks, Russians, and Germans here are finding better ways to occupy their time in this gorgeous setting.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Today is our last day in India...We leave very late or very early, depending on how you view 2:35 a.m. Last night we had a farewell dinner, in which I and 3 friends sported our newly purchased saris. It was a blast to have the hotel staff come to our rooms and help us dress, and I think they enjoyed our Beatles renditions as well. It was a bit like prom, without the guys along. We had to say good-bye to many newly made friends of the USIEFI staff and begin saying good-bye to one of the most remarkable people I met here, our tour guide and general life-saver, Gagan. It was bittersweet, as most people are beginning to think about the jobs they have waiting for them on Monday, and yet realizing how many friendships we have cultivated in these past few weeks. Living in a university town has made me more used to this type of leave taking than some others, but it's still not the most pleasant part of travel.
This morning I went with 3 friends to visit the Gandhi Museum in Delhi. It was inspiring and humbling, and his message to the right is one of the messages I'd like to close my blog with, because I think it says it all.

The second message, in lieu of a Hindu deity story (I'm going to wait until I get back to the states to award contest awards, so there is still time) is a severe oversimplification of Hindu philosophy that I think speaks to the value of travel, to seeing the "us" in others, and affirming that unity. Yesterday at our debriefing session an eloquent art historian told this quite beautifullly.

In the beginning, there was nothing. Then there was a rhythm, and the rhythm was an ocean. Everything came from that ocean, all flora, all fauna, everything. Our only salvation is to get back to the ocean. The day I realize there is no difference between you or I, and that god is within each of us equally, that day I can say I've got my salvation. That is the one truth. We all come from the same source, and will return to the same ocean. You make take as long as you want to reach salvation, and take any path you like, such as yoga, or intelluctualism, or service, or devotion. It's up to you. However, the only truth is that we are all equal and god is equally within us all.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. I have posted some last photos (see link below), and will post more video when I return to the states.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


When I sat in my 7th grade geography class so many years ago in small town Iowa, I remember seeing a picture of the Taj Mahal in our textbook, and wondering what it must be like, who built it, where the country was, and being mystified by its beauty. I didn't have the imagination to think I would ever see it in person, but I was never very good at looking in to the future. I must say, however, the real thing did not dissapoint, and the privledge of the moment was not lost on me. I wish I could thank my parents for all they did to make it possible for me to have had the opportunity.

Pictures are a much better way for me to relay the Taj Mahal, so here’s the website to the photos:
BTW: There are photos for 4 separate edifices/complexes. They are separated in the set by MONKEYS, so when you see a monkey, the site is changing.The first batch is of Fatehpur Sikri, built in the 2nd half of the 16th century by Akbar the Great (actually Akbar means great, so he’s Great Squared). This was the capital of the Mughal Empire for about 10 years. This is a World Heritage Site.

The second building you probably recognize….The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as the final resting place for his favorite Queen Mumtaz. It took 22 years to complete and 22,000 workers.
The third building is Itmad-uh-daula’s Tomb, also sometimes known as Baby Taj. It is built entirely of marble as well, and built in 1628. Although the scale of this is far less grand than the Taj Mahal, the exterior of this building is far more ornate, with semi precious stoned inlayed all over the building. GORGEOUS.

The fourth building is Agra Fort, also built by Akbar the Great, although work continued on it for 2 more generations. Here one son imprisoned his father, the current king, so he could take over his job, but he built his dad a lovely white jail with a great view of the Taj Mahal in which to spend the last 8 or so years of his life, so it wasn't all bad.
We came to Jaipur last night via train, and will be seeing the Pink City, as it is known, for the next 2 days. It’s less humid here, so that’s a welcome relief. Enjoy the pictures, and I hope everyone who has the urge to see this place someday will.

Back to Hindu Deity work... First, I hope everyone is working on the God/Goddess contest entries; thanks to AK for her entry; I concur with the arms idea. I've failed to write about one of the big 3, Lord Brahma, except to explain why there are few temples dedicated to his honor, so let's talk his virtues for a change. Brahma is the creator of the world and all living things, and wisely thought to create a beautiful woman, known as Saraswati (a personal favorite we've discussed before). Sarasvati was shy, and grew tired of Brahma's constant gaze, so she tried to hide from him. But each way she turned, Brahams sprouted a head so he could always watch her. Now THAT'S over protective. In addition to his 4 heads, he sports 4 arms which are busy grooming his 4 long beards. He carries no weapon, but he does keep a carafe of water with him, which symbolizes the source of life. Brahma is also keeper of the holy Vedas, and each of his faces is thought to represent one of them.. Although he has 4 faces, you can usually only see 3, since one is watching what's going on behind him. Tricky fellow...teachers could use that extra set of eyes....

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Here it is....not short and sweet, perhaps, but long and sweet and salty and sour and spicy, and all of it delicious. India has one of the most regionally distintive, delicious, complex, sophisticated, incredible cuisines in the world, and when I ate my last masala dosa (in country) this morning, I was satiated but left wanting just one more dosa.. I think I shall have to try to learn how to make that delicious shell. On to the list...

YOGURT: ELIXIR of the Gods and savior of my g.i. track. These folks have found new and delicious ways to make this most healthy pro-biotic tempting and addictive. Check out the picture to the left to see the incredible variety of choices for yogurt goodness at one of our hotel’s breakfast buffets. My motto for yogurt consumption was/is “eat early, eat often.” I was able to eat much more highly spiced (cayenne and pepper variety of spice) food than normal because I learned the Indian trick of tempering the heat of a dish with a big dollop of "curd" as it's called here.
MASALA DOSA: Ok, maybe there is an order of sorts to this list, because after yogurt. I sought out this South Indian dish whenever I needed a fall-back delicious treat. Many of the hotels served great ones via room service, and, along with my dear mango lassi, it was a savory meal. For the unlucky, Masala Dosa (always in caps, to signify serious importance) is a thin crepe of sorts (sorry, P, I know this is your specialty and is NOT a crepe, but I’m trying to relate this to the uniformed) which is filled with a well spiced potato filling…. I can’t say enough about it, except that I think I missed the boat not encouraging my South Indian friend P to start a Dosa shop while she was still in Iowa City.
MANGO LASSI: Manna from heaven…. I’ve loved the yogurt/mango drink for years, but had to make my own in Iowa City and rely on the hope that there would be decent mangoes to be had. Here it is omnipresent on menus, and for that, India, I thank you.
MANGOES: King, queen, and ace of the fruit world. Here, however, there is a new level of mango love for me, because there are so many varieties, and it is used in chutneys, salads, drinks, and just about everything else. There was a mango festival outside of Delhi that some of us were hoping to eat our way through, but no time for the hungry during that part of our trip.
10 Course Tasting menu at VEDA. I wrote about this before, so I hope you were paying attention…. If you happen to live in Delhi, make your reservation today. Don’t miss the kulfi, the almond ice cream that has no equal, or anything else on the menu, for that manner. Good company enhanced my meal, but I would have eaten alone there, for the mutton, the shrimp, the flash fried okra, the exquisite tamarind sauce… .
Lunch at DAKSHIN, South Indian restaurant in Chennai. Again, a good friend and fellow good cook greatly enhanced my enjoyment, but I would travel far to taste the 12 banana mini pancake again, as well as some other dishes.
ALL TROPICAL FRUITS: especially the holy trinity of pineapple, mango, and coconut. God knew what she was doing when she created the weather for these to grow in.

MURG TIKKA: Score one for North India! This delectable chicken in curry is always a good idea.
PAPPADUM: This bread-like wonder deserves capital letters. Called pappad in the North, there are several versions, some with cumin seeds or other spices in the black lentil “dough’, others plain. Whichever you get, they are a crispy, tasty treat, often used for scooping up other culinary treats. I think it's made with rice flour, but it could be wheat, or perhaps chick pea flour? P, HELP!
TANDOORI: I didn’t see much of this, but hope to get some at a well known tandoori restaurant in Delhi yet today. It may mean I get less sleep before a 2:30 a.m. departure, but so be it. I had some tandoori chicken a couple of different times in a couple of cities, and it was all good.
RUNNER BEAN DISH IN KOCHIN: Can’t describe it.
FLASH FRIED OKRA: WOW, but still, can’t describe it.

UTTAPUM: a crispy rice and lentil flour dosa *(snack) that is fried but not oily... Go figure. I get this confused with pappadum; one is crispy and spicy and made with a black lentil flour and sometimes baked and other times fried, the other is definitely fried, but not spiced and very crispy, and white. I'll have to come back to get these two distinguished, I think. The important thing is, I know which is which when I see them on my plate.

MASALA: The Hindi word for spices defines what I like best about Indian cooking and eating: The incredible mix and variety of spices available here. It's great fun to make a curry by mixing up 7-8 spices in a grinder, so don't miss the fun if you've yet to experiment with the likes of coriander, cumin, tumeric, mustard seeds, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, clove, etc.
LADOOS: A great word for my favorite food group, sweets. Yesterday in Jaipur we went to LMB, famous for lots of good food, but particularly its sweets. Their sweets involves lots of nuts, dried fruits, and tropical fruits, accompanied by sugar and cream, so what's not to like?
I could go on and on, but that would just make you hungrier, so shut off your computer and go find a local Indian restuarant and experience the real deal. Better yet, get a cookbook and make your own feast. Madhur Jaffery has the best Indian cookbooks on the market in the U.S. on both Indian food in general and, a particular favorite of mine, South Indian snack foods. She has made it easy to be successful, so explore this most delicious of cuisines in your kitchen soon.


Heh, all you competitive types out there, it's time for a contest and a quiz. (Gets me in practice for Halloween.) Following is a quiz to do a comprehension check on your Hindu Deity knowledge, which, if you read all the way to the end of my blogs, you will be able to answer quite handily. Let me know how many you can answer; don't send me the answers, please! You can refer to past blogs to jog your memory!
Part TWO: CONTEST: I've been providing the stories thus far, but, now it's your turn. Here's the prompt:

If you could be one Hindu God or Goddess for a day, who would it be, why would you choose that goddess or god, and what would you do? Be sure to consider (research, perhaps?) what special powers the god holds, as well as their particular job in the cosmos,and answer all 3 parts of the prompt. Post your contest answer in the comments below in the next week and I'll award a winner (real prize, you know me!) when I return to the states. Good luck, and let your creative juices flow!
Now for the quiz:

1. Who’s usually seen with 3 heads, although he really has 4, and used to have 5?
2. Who’s usually sporting a cobra as part of his attire?
3. Who are the 3 gods in the Trimurti?

4. Who are their consorts?
5. Which god is considered the creator?
6. Which is the destoyer?
7. Whose nickname could have been TIGER MOM?
8. Which god is prayed to for clearing all obstacles, and good beginnings?
9. Which goddess is associated with prosperity, and consequently many businesses bear her name in the title?
10. Which god has few temples dedicated to him as a result of his bluffing?
11. Who sports a necklace of human skulls and is usually seen with blood dripping from her tongue, although she’s really nice once you get to know her?
12. Who is the goddess of education?
13. Whose vehicle is a tiger?
14. Whose vehicle is a mouse?
15. Which god has 10 incarnations or avatars? (BONUS: Which are the 3 most auspicious?)
16. Which god has this month dedicated to him, and his followers can (sometimes) be seen dressed in orange with horizontal lines drawn on their forehead?
17. The followers of this god sometimes sport a footprint drawn on their forehead.
18. Who is the goddess at the top of this blog (see clip art) and what does her iconography tell about her attributes?


Following is an essay I wrote as part of a group report of our trip. It's a little longer than most blogs, and more formal in nature, so you might want to take it in small doses. I put a great god story at the end if you want to skip to that! BTW, I have posted lots of new pics, and here's the FLICR URL to take you to several sets:
“Every 10 kilometers in India the taste of water and the language changes.”
As we observed the daily verbal interactions of the Indian population, it became quickly apparent that languages are no exception to the complex plurality that is India. Because language is the transmitter of culture, what then does that say about India at large….are there many cultures, or one, or, the ultimate Indian conundrum, many AND one? In a country where the Urdu speaking (Muslim) population has more in common linguistically with its neighbor Pakistan than the rest of India, how does India remain united?
In an attempt to reach a conclusion, let us consider three pieces of the linguistic puzzle:
1. regional language diversity
2. Indian English, and
3. the paralinguistic
It is not an overstatement to say India has an unparalleled diversity in its linguistic identity. Hindi, the national language of India, is spoken by roughly half a billion people, but there are 23 official languages, and 1,600 dialects. We often saw signs written in 3 languages, people switching with great ease from their mother tongues to English to a third or fourth language, and a churches offering 5 masses daily: one in Hindi, one each in Tamil and Malayalam (in a neighborhood where many southern Indians settled), one in English, and one in Bengali, as a nod to the local language of the area. Schools we visited also reflect the nation’s intricacy linguistic tapestry, with some offering English as the medium of instruction, others beginning instruction in the local language, while still others offered dual language programs. Coming from a country that is still struggling with accepting the fact that it has a second language, I found this flexibility admirable.

The imminent question in response to all these languages is how do Indians who travel from region to region communicate with one another? Although India has legitimate complaints about several aspects of the British colonial rule and the missionaries in the south, they did offer one gift that has proved invaluable: English as a unifying force for the country. The fact that this incredibly diverse country has a common language appears to unite the country in a way other cultural aspects may not. The levels of English proficiency one hears from city to city and person to person vary, but in the places we traveled we found there was usually someone who spoke enough English to facilitate communication. Furthermore, because English is still the hegemon of languages, it seems a propitious choice as the national language of unity. Indeed, Dr. Assema Sinha of the University of Wisconsin listed the fact that India is an English speaking country as one of the main reasons the country has seen the dramatic economic growth rate of the last 15 years.
During our time here, I did some informal field work on the dialectical differences between American English and Indian English. I observed interesting variants at both the semantic and syntactic level. In addition to the troublesome v/w phonemic distinction, there is a use of the present progressive in Indian English that is not allowed in American English (“Some of you are having it!”), and the occasional lexical item that is amusing to American ears and recognizable as a British import (“I told him he would jolly well follow our rules…..”) I also observed several pronunciation differences and styles between the 2 Englishes that sometimes provided us an exercise in careful listening. Dr. Suresh, Chennai archeologist and local historian, describes the Indian way of thinking regarding accents as follows: “Indians can only understand each other if we speak very quickly. We enjoy the up and down of the sound. Because we learn English after our mother tongue, we mix things up a bit, and our accents are different by region, but nobody cares.”

As Professor Goswami of Delhi told us, there is no substitute for experience. As I did further field study on the particularly Indian paralinguistic phenomenon known to outsiders as the head bobble, that experience served to further confuse and amuse me. The head bobble, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of observing it, looks part like the person is wagging her/his head, part like they are tracing a graceful figure 8. It is a very agreeable head gesture, idiosyncratic in its use, and very difficult to decipher. I noticed early in our trip when I asked a question, I often received a response in the form of a head bobble. Was that a yes, or a no, or somewhere in between? Intrigued by the use of this paralinguistic phenomenon, I began to document its use. There was the obvious yes, and then no, and the uniquely Indian response, always accompanied by a head bobble: “I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter, everything’s fine.” I would get a head bobble when I asked “Is ___ possible?” or “Can I _______?” It was used to signal pleasure, agreement, emphatic agreement (more animated bobbling), deferment, acceptance to a proposition, encouragement, mild displeasure, and so much more. The head bobble unaccompanied by words can be well nigh impossible for the outsider to comprehend, which, in the end, I concluded may say a lot about the Indian polite response to impossible requests through deflection via inscrutability. It is yet another unifier for the country, as I observed during our travels many interactions where there were more head bobbles than words.

So what’s the conclusion? Does India more resemble the Tower of Babble or The United Nations without the simultaneous translations? Perhaps a little of both. To borrow the meaning of a symbol of India, the swastika, perhaps out of the (linguistic) chaos comes order.

For Hindu deity work, let’s turn to Kali. Kali, called the “Black One” is said to have shot from Durga’s forehead when the goddess was in a protective rage, so she takes the form of Durga at her most terrifying. (To me that seems a redundancy, but whatever.) She has four arms, a third red eye, and a belt made of human hands. In one hand she carries the head of a demon, in 2 others, her weapons of destruction -- a sickle and a sword. To complete the ensemble she wears a necklace made of skulls. She sends fairly clear visual messages regarding her fierceness level, doesn’t she? She is the goddess of time, although she’s often mistaken as the goddess of death because of her black and dark appearance (wonder why anyone would make that connection???) She is thought to end our illusions and free us from the cycle of karma by bring us liberation from our bodies. She is responsible for making sure that all things die in order to continue the cycle of life, but she also works part-time at making sure everyone gets the measles and mumps so their bodies can be stronger to fight other germs. Apparently she hadn’t heard of vaccinations.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Yesterday afternoon we visited Sarnoth, or Deer Park as it is known to some, the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon, called “Turning the Wheel of Law”. In that sacred spot he talked about 3 things:
Following the middle path (moderation in all things)
the 4 noble truths
1. life is suffering
2. there are reasons for the suffering
3. freedom from suffering is possible
4. follow the 8-fold path to liberate yourself from suffering
The 8 fold path
1. Right speech
2. Right action
3. Right means of livelihood
4. Right effort
5. Right meditation
6. Right minded
7. Right resolution
8. Right point of view
The first 3 involve physical control, the next 3 mental balance, and the last 2 intellectual development. I have to say that even typing these wonderful sentiments make me feel like a huge failure as a human being, so I wonder why Buddhists appear so happy all the time instead of hugely depressed. Seriously, there was a great calm about the place, with monks meditating on the grassy lawn, and lovely green gardens and trees lining the walks. BTW, all the Buddhists in the reading group, PLEASE respond with any corrections or additions to my very basic retelling of the sermon; BJ and S, I expect you to be my editors on all things Buddhist. We also visited the oldest MODERN Buddhist temple in India (made in 1931) about 1 K from Sarnoth. It is the oldest one because Muslim invaders destroyed all the temples with each of their invasions, as well as the British. Not so nice… We saw a famous 3rd century sculpture of Buddha at the Sarnoth Museum which emanated a peaceful yet powerful calm. It was a peaceful afternoon and I wished my friend B.J. could have walked with me and enhanced my enjoyment of the experience. All these religions seem to co-exist fairly peacefully, although there was a bombing of the sacred Golden Temple by Muslim extremists, and the occasional conflict which scarcity of resources helps foment around the world. This park is the summer home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and he made an excellent choice in digs. Inside the modern temple were beautiful paintings of the life of Siddartha/Buddha, and I will post photos of most of them today *(if electricity is having a good day in Varanasi). I leave you with the wishes from the sign I saw when leaving the temple: