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You may recall I—after years of dodging commitment—I bought a live/work loft in an artist building this spring.
Annually, the building holds an open studios event, and I participated. I was on the fence about it, as it's pretty personal to open up your home to strangers. And while I am used to exhibiting at comic book conventions, exhibiting in a space where there may not be any fans of the genre, among many of my amazing neighbors, is really putting yourself out there.
But, it was great to meet many of my neighbors, art lovers, and some new friends. Aggie did really well, and she even let some children pet her.
It was only slightly awkward, at times, with nothing to do (you couldn't really get involved in anything, and there were definitely moments where no one came into my space). But I sketched here and there, including this monster collage.
Oh—my favorite comments were from some lookie-loos more interested in my apartment than my art:
- "Can we take a look around?" the man in his early '60s asked, nodding to the area of my loft sectioned off from visitors. "The art's all right here," I replied warmly. The man and his wife scanned the area for a moment and left.
Other than that, most people were lovely.
- "OH. I guess we're not invited to see the whole place," another man loudly declared to his wife. And, without even pretending to look at the art, spun around and left.
I was a bit curious as to who might randomly show up at my place, since it was a public event, the building doors were open, and I had advertised on FB etc. But, aside from Miriam and Craig & Jon, no real surprises.
The last days of my trip were more "business"y and no tourism.Making my way back to Delhi, I captured just a few interesting sites in transit. I loved that old guy with the beard...so wizard-y. But the more I thought about him, the more disappointed I became, as I know in my heart he was not a wizard.On the 3rd, I began my long trek home. I was eager to be home, and eager to leave India. I was very eager to see Aggie, wear some clean underwear, and sleep in my own bed. But I was not eager to leave behind the special feeling the trip had produced; and anxious that the sense of calm (despite the intensity of the trip) that had developed within me would be chipped away by personal life and loss, my job and financial stresses. En route home, one of the offerings of in-flight entertainment was Dead Poets Society, which I had not seen since I was in college. It was fascinating, the new light in which I viewed it. When it was new (and I was young), I'd not had associated myself or my headspace with any of the characters. But with my journey opening my mind, I could totally see myself in the Ethan Hawke character, walled off and quiet. In high school, I thought or actual spoke a good half the character's lines. One scene in particular stuck, when the Ethan Hawke character was defending himself to the Rob't Sean Leonard character, whose flirtatious refusal resulted in some dorm-room cavorting. The moment was very similar to Matt's refusal to accept my own walled-off behavior, so it was easy to imagine us each as teens in that conversation from the film.You'll be pleased to know that the experiences, feelings, and calm have lasted with me on my return, despite some stressful situations. The trip, in every way, added to my "journey." Yay!
I doubt the tour guide had this in mind, but it was pretty perfect to be on the river watching the cremation and Aarti ceremonies at night on Halloween, and then sunrise on the Ganges the next morning, All Saints Day.After an early wake up call and retracing our steps down the river, we loaded into our boat and rowed up river, observing the people bathing in the Ganges, and doing their laundry. Across the river we could see pilgrims making there way to Varanasi—in my drawing they look more like trees than people.It was then that some of us participated in making offerings to the gods with the leaf boat-with-lit-candles. We were told to make the offering in someone's name and make a wish to ourselves, while leaning over the boat and say aloud a request of Lord Shiva to grant the wish. I wrote it for you phonetically [sic].Care to guess the nature of my offering and wish? It's not against the rules!A busy, busy day ended in busy, busy traffic that stopped dead for an hour and a half. The jam was caused by the fact that they were literally paving the road as we went. It was really frustrating, until we started clowning around on the bus and the mood went from cranky to zany.This was my last day of really meaningful experiences as I had to turn back to "business" but what a day it was! Adding to the evening before, this 24 hour span ranks among the most meaningful of my entire life. I will carry this feeling with me for a long, long time.
UPDATE: A little creative Googling leads me to the more helpful explanation of "Om Namah Shivaya" or "I bow to Shiva."
Hardly creepy, but sort of dark evening excursion on the religiously significant Ganges River.Another rickshaw ride brought us to the bazaar that leads to the steps (or"gahts") of the Ganges River. We boarded a rickety boat and rowed down river and saw a cremation site. Family members are responsible for the preparation and actual cremation of their loved ones. Rowing back up river, the water was twinkling with candles floating in tiny leaf-boats. These are offerings to the gods.If the experience wasn't moving enough, we arrived in time for the nightly Aarti ceremony, a "thanksgiving" ceremony of sorts. In my little sketchbook, I began jotting down the layer on layer of sounds I heard, as well as the various aspects of the ceremony. I stopped, shut my eyes, absorbed in the sounds. I opened them to the light, smoke, flames, and color of the ceremony—suddenly, the "short list" of the things I am most thankful for in life jumped into my head, in an order I'd never thought of things before. For simple "tourist excursions," and not deeply invested in Hinduism, I am still in aw at how powerful and meaningful these moments were to me.
How did you spend your Halloween? ;-)
In addition to all the meaningful moments in temples, shrines, mosques, and tombs, the particular timing of the trip produced meaningful reflections, and I further actively pondered life.
The trip had a very "bookend"ing feel for me.
Three years ago, November 2007, I journeyed to Ireland as a symbolic way to purge a lot of negative feelings and bad memories out of my system. They were fading on their own, to be sure, but the escape and placing myself in new surrounds was very cathartic.
On that trip, I began reading Vanity Fair. The novel had nothing to do with anything I was going through, it was simply a novel I wanted to read. While I made good progress during the Irish Escapade, I put the book down when I returned home. I picked it up here and there, amidst working on Love is the Reason and Trust/Truth, etc.
Nearly 3 years to the day, I finished reading the novel during my Indian Escapade. As Fish-philes know, I've been on an emotional journey the past months. This journey inevitably was leading me to improvement to the point that I knew going in, the trip to India would be as cathartic for me now, as the Ireland trip was in 2007. As circumstances begin to be accepted and hearts reclaimed, the symbolism of this trip and the conclusion of the book mirrors the Irish experience in a meaningful (to me) way as a bookend.
Further, the India trip followed—by days—New York Comic Con. My recent association of the heart essentially began at NYCC 2009 and ended NYCC 2010, adding to the bookend feeling of my time in India.
That night (or morning) I dreamed of Matthew. In reality, he was working at an out-of-town event toward the end of my own trip. In my dream, he was in Boston on my return, though would not own it was due to me. In the dream, his hair was shorter than when we first met but shaggier than when I last saw him; and he wore the outfit depicted in my sketch. He offered to pay for our cab, but only had fake money with faces of drag queens on the bills. I asked, "what is this money?" and he replied, "oh—it's the event I am running." Confused, I inquired as to what sort of event was it?—but then woke up.
The drawing of Miss Becky Sharp is a Tim Fish-ified rendition of the paperback edition's cover. I'd never be able to draw a mirror shot like that on my own...
The 80+ temples at Khajuraho are mostly gone today—only 20 or so remain. Those 20 had been overgrown by the forest, which actually served to preserve them almost perfectly...just waiting centuries for the British to find them.The carvings on the temple exterior depict the soldiers' life, the daily life, the sexual life (the kama sutra) and the gods' life.The old men in the group were taking photo after photo... and one of their wives (a real spitfire and a bit of a trophy wife) said, "if you haven't figured it out by now, guys, you're out of luck."Orgies, masturbation, beastiality...nothing was out of bounds for these temples.
I think you can read my "journal" entry on the sketch page, inspired by my time at the Khajuraho temples. It was really funny, how I was just admiring the carvings on the temples, and suddenly, my mind jumped to the place it did (as described on the page).Never have I experienced so much uninhibited self-reflection as I did in India. Something in the water, probably...Since it so happened to live next to a sketch of Storm and Kitty Pryde, I went ahead and included that for you, as well.
My talent for remaining distant and aloof came in handy on the trip, navigating the sea of beggars and hockers selling their wares. But in Khajuraho, I failed! These hockers were hilarious. They called me on the fact that I was youngest in my group and therefore must have been the group leader; and not responding to them (unlike the people in the group) only reinforced their suspicions. I couldn't help but crack a smile as they summed up the situation, which only made things worse. As bad as these guys were, the only stressful time with the group was while we were in Varanasi. It was crazy-crowded and the hockers and beggars were crazy-aggressive, grabbing at us. As part of the trip, we visited 3 schools. The public school rooms were just depressing. No chairs or desks, mystery liquid pooling on the floor, flies. The school was half-empty this day, as it was innoculation day, causing half the children to flee (or so we were told). I spoke with this quartet of little boys about their school and what they were learning. When it was time for us to go, the quartet leaped up to their feet and "namaste"d us on our way. It was really cute.The final image is of a fellow doing laundry. I observed most women in India dressed traditional "Indian" but most men seemed to dress quite "western." Rarely, we saw men dressed traditionally "Indian," and this fellow was one. His wrap was kind of droopy, and one could see his underwear band. As for my laundry, I was washing my socks, undies, and T-shirts in the hotel sink with some shampoo. I was so glad arriving home to take a super hot shower and put on machine-washed undies.
I could have spent a whole day at the Taj Mahal, the world's greatest monument to "love." But, I had 2 hours at sunsrise.During the group's mini lecture, I learned it was built as a tomb for a ruler's beloved. Check, off on my merry way to explore and try to have a meaningful reflective experience before the place was over-run with tourists.I quickly walked in and around, observing the light and how it changed as the sun rose. I was able to consider love and loss and how I may live my life more fully. But as more tourists arrived, I snapped a few photos, and found a quiet spot to sit sketch the building. I need not post that here...there are much finer drawing and photos of the Taj, just buy a book. The people watching, though...fun.My favorite was the late-20s Aussie tourist guy who was really into it...baggy pants and head-wrap with a middle eastern flair. As he squatted for a better camera angle, his pants seam split, revealing a charming lack of undies. After he took the photo, he examined closely the extent of the tear—it was significant. No hiding that, though he managed by repositioning his backpack, as I later saw him.Most annoying tourist photo winner is person pretending to hold the Taj like a Christmas ornament. Everyone was doing it...
Leaving Ranthambor, a sad sight was to be seen. A tiny monkey had been run over by a car. On the wall near the road sat a group of 4-5 monkeys, looking very sad. They were definitely mourning. A stark contrast to the deer herd which basically scampered off after the baby deer was snared by the tiger.We transferred to a tourist "camp" very deep into farm country. On one hand it was kinda lame, on the other they brought in some folk dancers who were so into it, so lively, so good.From there, we camel-rode (ok, ok...cheesy tourist-y thing to do, but it was actually more comfortable than the camel-driven carts...) to a village of 60 people even deeper into farm country. They had water, and one hazardous electrical wire for a lightbulb. Otherwise, they lived as they had for the past hundred years. Despite that, the people were friendly, happy. They managed their trash better than the people in Dehli. That night, I sat for a spell in the camp's courtyard, enjoying the total stillness of the night, and the full (or nearly full) moon in the clear Indian sky. I thought to myself, "when will I ever experience this again?" and took full advantage. The moment was so definitive and beautiful, I later began re-thinking on my stance on enjoying the country and the outdoors domestically. I mean, we have outdoor spots locally I could enjoy. I am long over the anxiety of growing up in a small town, so I think it's time to seek out opportunities to spend some meaningful time in the outdoors and the country here.The next day we were in Agra, and headed to Agra Fort for our first glimpse of the Taj. It was lovely, but what really got me here is the shower in the hotel room. Entering the bathroom, it was glass-faced. No big deal, I know. But a switch raised a screen, revealing the wall between the shower and the sleeping area was actually glass. So, one could be showering and looking out at the view. Or, someone could be sitting on the chairs or on the bed, watching me shower. I could only imagine one person who would be so into THAT.
From Jaipur we made our way south to the Ranthambor National Park and tiger preserve. Pop culture followers will note that I was at Ranthambor at the same time Katy Perry married Russell Brand there. Added excitement! No, I did not see either of them.The lodge we stayed at was beautiful, comfortable, spacious, and QUIET. This was a much-needed stop after so much bustle. I took some time to sit in the swing chairs staring at the moon after our first tiger safari.On the first safari, I saw no tiger. But, I enjoyed the drive through the park, which provided majestic vistas and cozy nooks. I drew the sketch to the left as we sat and waited for a tiger. The drive through the wooded trails reminded me of a recurring Speed Buggy dream I had for many years. In the dream, I was stranded on an island with Speed Buggy, and we would be driving through wooded hilly trails getting from place to place. There weren't any wacky villains or anything. Strange that this place would remind me so much of my dream.On the final safari, we saw a tiger for about a minute, as he milled about and disappeared. But the second safari—OMG. We followed this tigress for 45 minutes. At first, she walked about leisurely, and stopped to yawn and lick her paws. Then disappeared into the brush. We'd have been thrilled with THAT. But suddenly, a solitary deer was freaking out, stomping her feet, inching closer to where we thought the tiger had disappeared to. She ran off, and in a moment, the whole herd returned, several getting dangerously close to the tiger. Repositioning the jeep, it became clear what was going on. The tigress has snared a baby deer, just a day old, and was playing with it as I've seen a housecat toying with a trapped mouse. The herd was stomping furiously, trying to draw the tigress away from the baby deer, to no avail. The baby let out a few meeps, and tried to escape, in vain. We then saw the tigress walking away from the area, baby deer in her mouth, legs kicking. As she walked toward us, the kicking stopped. She walked right past the jeep and disappeared into the shrub again. Within a minute or so, the heard ran off, and a minute later, the baby's mother did as well.It was thrilling—and not as sad as I'd expected. I mean, if the tiger didn't do that, it would die. The herd would overpopulate and starve after the grass was gone. Our guide was ECSTATIC—in his 15 years as guide, it was only the second kill he'd witnessed.My fellow jeep-ers got some AMAZING photos of the event and the tiger, which they've shared. I didn't bother with my little camera, but did get a few of me with the tiger in the background.
After the long travel day, and 4 full days of tourism, day 6 made me a little eager for some free time. I had noticed amidst the Vodafone stores and the chewing tabacco stands stood out a Pepe Jeans! Pepe works very well for me, and are common enough in Europe, but have not had a presence in the US marketplace for a decade or more.So I was really looking forward to the bit of free time I had in the afternoon. I planned out how to get to the store and how to get back. Sadly, as with most days, the traffic congestion ate into our free time, leaving us with lots of time on the tour bus, and just enough to run into the hotel and grab a snack before getting back on the tour bus. It was frustrating, but not excessively so...after all, my main purpose on the trip was for work and not for myself.The next page illustrates the trend—which I knew of in middle eastern countries, but I hadn't thought of it in India—of straight men to show PDA for their good friends. It was quite common to see young men walking hand in hand or arm & arm, or one arm around the other, etc. These men, by and large, I did not believe to be gay. I did see plenty of gays though, as evidenced by their flirtations with me, or their physical reactions to their best friend (managed to get an interesting photo or two on THAT subject...).
We left Dehli, passing the temples and moments, burn piles and trash heaps, amidst the smog and horrific traffic. The highway transported trucks to cars 10:1, alongside camel-drawn carts, livestock, freely-roaming cows, taxis, bicycles, and PEDESTRIANS. The roads to Jaipur were packed and sloooow. The bus drivers (buses and trucks have a driver, and assistant driver who leans out the window to make sure the bus can fit through the space attempted) did a great job, but still it was rather stressful as passenger. The rough roads, the stop and go traffic, and the HONKING. Most large vehicles are painted with "Horn please" to encourage honking—it's the norm to alert other objects on the road you are passing or nearby. It is constant.Out of the frying pan and into the fire to get up to the Samode Palace. I thought the roads had been washed out, with its deep ditches causing a bumpier than bumpy ride, almost flipping the bus at one point. But indeed no, the roads were in normal condition I was told.The next day, my head cold was in awkward full force, and I was excusing myself often to blow my nose. It finally subsided by the time we reached Varanasi (the last days of the trip). An early start so that we could engage in a cheesy tourist opportunity to ride elephants up to a fort. The elephant I was on left in the middle of the pack, but we arrived last...and a good deal after the others. The poor girl must have been quite old, as I am not the heaviest of fellows. It made me sad, both to trouble the poor creature, and to be engaged in something so...circus. I know the maha rajas used to ride them...but for us as tourists...it felt more carnival than royalty.Later, en route to a bazaar, rickshaw ride #2...this time, on Jaipur's seemingly busiest roads, navigating round-abouts between buses, trucks, taxis. This time was not fun, and definitely nerve-wracking. We stopped at the bazaar long enough to be bored but not long enough to really explore. It was getting sketchy as it got dark.
Dehli was a bit of an overwhelming whirlwind. It took me some time to figure out my feelings, but ultimately, I felt a bit like we were on safari, observing the locals from the bus, snapping our cameras at the poverty and conditions. The traffic was really congested for the bus to easily maneuver, so it very much felt like we spent a lot of time ON THE BUS with quick stops at Old Dehli (with a kinda fun bicycle rickshaw ride), the Ghandi memorial, mosques, shrines, temples, forts.The animals were a distrubing site for me. The dogs and cows, living on their own by eating garbage, slowly starving to death was very sad for me. Of course, the multitude of deformed people were also strikingly sad. I am a bit surprised that people, animals, trees, can live in the kind of pollution Dehli has.The symbols all over northern India—lotus, om, swasticka (actually an ancient Hindu symbol of life and strenght, commandeered by the Nazis) , and the bell, particularly adorned the temples. At the Birla Temple, I learned about Lord Ganeesha, the god of luck. He rides a mouse, and we take away that we should never let those beneath us feel our weight. Nice.I enjoyed my brief time at a Sikh temple, and I took the opportunity to sit with the faithful as they prayed, and I contemplated life as I listened to the music, my eyes roaming about the temple.
Such an amazing experience!Despite overwhelming poverty, lack of infrastructure, pollution, and worse, the natural beauty, the friendliness of the people, the historic treasures, and the spirituality of the country made India a trip to remember. While this was a trip for my day job, it dovetailed beautifully with my personal "journey" of self reflection and improvement. Between the hours in transit, to the temples, to the moments in nature, there was ample time for thinking. And, I looked for myself in every opportunity, from the temple sculptures to the inflight entertainment. As usual, I dreaded the start of this trip. Three weeks is a long time...a long time to be away from home, my dog, my family and friends, from my job. Matt graciously put me in touch with his sister, who had been to Nepal and India. Her enthusiasm was indeed comforting. During my first layover, I "discovered" Ingrid Michaelson via her song "Be Ok," which struck a chord with me. It's a simple ditty, but stuck with me the whole trip. I freely admit I am enjoying "feeling" lately, which seems to be the theme of the song. Arriving in smoggy, humid Dehli after roughly 24 hours in transit was a strange feeling. The next several days were rough, acclimating to the culture and climate. As you read my blog entries, you'll notice they become more involved as the trip progresses. The early moments were difficult to capture in both feeling and content. But, as the trip continued, I felt more a part of it, and the sketches were flowing freely. Stay tuned...