Sunday, April 26, 2009

113 degrees, Life on Mars

Yes, it's boring to talk about the weather. But it was over 110 where we spent the day yesterday, and the town, Surendernagar, wouldn't hold too much charm at 72. But Surendernagar, which would fall top center on this old map of Gujarat, has a good enough hotel and places to eat. Wendy stayed there while she was working with the weaver in the nearby village of Somasar. Somasar has two pop stands and three betel nut stores for facilities. Pleasant place, though. The citizens of the town find foreigners unusual. Ben and I went for a walk there yesterday, and halfway up a silent block a dozen kids surrounded us. A young water buffalo, apparently not accustomed to strangers, took a look at us, turned and ran. We come in peace. It fell just short of having to explain what it is like to live on Mars. Oh, and Wendy completed her research yesterday. Endless delays and irritations, and she made it. Hurray!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Let's Sum it up a Little

Yes, that's toothblack guy, returned to something close to his origins, a rubber stamp. One could think of this adventure as the Rubber Stamp Expedition, due to the number of times we've heard a rubber stamp fall on a document, for good or other. But until now I've missed the other side of the rubber stamp: having them made. It only costs about 2 dollars. The other foot falls here. I'd planned to commision instruments, but no one makes instruments in my town. We went to Kambhat with our friend Gregg Jamison to see beads made from stone, and I ordered a slide, for slide guitar. It works and sustains like the wait in a public building in India. The key concept here is stumbling on what people make and personalizing it. Hello, toothblack.

Across the street from the stamp maker, which is, sweetly, very close to the State of Gujarat Documents office, I found a sign painter. He is of the old style, painting on metal or wood, illustrating dentures and rubber stamps and heating stoves. The guess was that the rubber stamp maker would know an old-fashioned, non-computer based sign painter. He did. And he sent us across the street. One of my most profound delights in the land of the Taj Mahal (we didn't bother) and the floating palace from Octopussy ( we did ) , has been the hand painted advertising signs in the bazaars and old sections of town. So, like fine artists everywhere, I'm hiring someone to complete my work. A jellyfish. A mighty vitamins poster. A cell from a plant.

To summarize. In India, you don't find what you thought what you were after, but you find possibilities you hadn't considered that extend that thing you thought you were after. I couldn't ask for more, and it is more work, in the form of relentless attention, than I had anticipated.

Monday, April 13, 2009

It was 110 Degrees Fahrenheit, Yesterday

Reflecting on that number leads to no further comment. It will be getting warmer.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dwight Died

Dwight died. He wasn't ancient as cat's lives go, but he exercised his option on all nine. Bryan Day, who is staying in our house, emailed to let us know Dwight was doing poorly. We asked Bryan to take him to the vet. The vet emailed, we called and decided that the best thing was to euthanize my favorite cat. I didn't even know I liked cats until we got Dwight, but I found out. He used to lick my beard and my neck, and bite my ears until I couldn't take it. But he would hold on almost like a small child. A small child with claws and a predator's teeth.

As it turned out, he died on his own, resting exhausted on a blanket under a heat lamp at the vet's office. This was some small relief, but I'd again had the experience of deciding on an ending. Can I please be seven years old again?

Losing a favorite pet from a great distance was strange, and we each handled it in our own way.
While we've established a regular domestic life in India, Dwight's death was a little needed reminder of our lives at home and how parts of those lives go on and even go away while we're gone.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Until the Cows Come Home

To wrap up the cow story, a synopsis. The cows led us into a huge open space, university land without buildings, and they worked the grass there. We stood in the shade of a banyan tree and Lee shot video. After finishing with the sparse grass in this place, the cows left the way they had come in, through a hole punched in a tall brick wall. We followed them up a street where they strolled through another hole. Here we hesitated, because the other side of the hole was clearly a piss stop for pedestrians and rickshaw drivers. Then we saw some kids come out and we went through and caught up with the cows.

This area turned out to be university residential space. It is divided into three areas: staff, professors and peons. This description from the father of an economics professor, a retired Indian airforce pilot, who lives there with his wife and adult son. He was the second curious resident of this neighborhood to speak with us and offer us chai. The first was a staff person. We turned down both because the cows were on the move. The third offer came from a sculptor who works in the archeology department. He was curious about the filming of the cows. This time we got chai and a relaxed conversation in the house he shares with his family. The house is 150 years old with patina to show for it. The sculptor's wife is also a sculptor, who teaches in the fine arts department. Here we nearly stayed for lunch, but left when we discovered the cows had moved on unexpectedly. They typically spend the afternoon nearby.

Scared we'd lost them, Lee and I ran around the neighborhood and found the cows, just as they were leaving through the hole in the wall. They walked about a block and entered a partially built neighborhood behind the university's chemical analysis building. The cows spent the rest of the afternoon here, grazing. We entertained and were entertained by a group of kids. They sang, they danced, they told jokes. Wendy brought water, Ben brought food. It never got boring.

Finally, around five, the cows headed for home. They had consumed remarkably little garbage, mostly grass. They trotted down major roads and the traffic parted. When they made it home it was too early for milking, so Lee and I relaxed in the neighborhood, then decided to go back to the apartment to gather energy for the final filming. We went back at mosquito time, around 6:30, and videotaped the evening milking. We waved goodbye to our urban farmer friends and walked home. As I said, it never got boring.