A modest little room of one’s own in India.

While writing my last post, in which I got a little carried away with fantasizing about a perfect suite of rooms such as one might hope to find in heaven, I was reminded of this room I had in a luxury hotel in India last February.  This room may look like a fantasy, but it is very real.  And extremely beautiful!

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Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take pictures of my room until I had already mussed it up, but I think you can still get the marvelous effect. Indian design rocks!

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And here was the modest little bathroom attached to my tiny bedroom.  Of course you know I am being facetious about the size of the rooms.

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The photo doesn’t show it well, but this tub was the size of an average jacuzzi designed to hold 4 people.

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A modest little mirror in my hallway; just perfect for a selfie.

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Or two.

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But, how about that wall design!  I was more than a  little obsessed with it!

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It is good to travel well.  It is almost as wonderful as heaven. And India is certainly as fine a place as any I have ever had the good fortune to visit.

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Laundry Day in India part 2, because one post is just not enough for these mountains of clothing!

In Mumbai, the Dhobi Ghat is known as the world’s largest outdoor laundry. It is a hive of activity and color. This is where Mumbai’s traditional laundrymen work in the open to wash clothes from different parts of the city.

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The open air laundry has about 700 washing platforms made of stones where about 200 washer-men families have been washing clothes as their family business for decades.
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A dhobi is a laundryman and at any given time there are between 8,000 to 10,000 dhobis at work in these stone basins that date back to British rule.

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There are rows and rows of stone washing pens, each with its own flogging stone.

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For the Dhobis, working here is generally a hereditary profession, with most of the washermen’s families doing this labor for the last 2 or maybe 3 generations and their technique has remained virtually the same. The soiled clothes are first soaked in boiling water with caustic soda and then “flogged” on a slab to get rid of dirt and stains.

After drying in the open, clothes are ironed with old charcoal presses with heavy wooden handles.

Most of the local people find it rather amusing that an activity as mundane as washing clothes arouses such curiosity in the tourists.

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If you’d like to read more about it, see this site:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/mumbai-boasts-the-worlds-largest-open-air-laundry/article637392/

To watch the work, see this video:

http://www.nytimes.com/video/multimedia/1247465044865/mumbai-a-laundry-field.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar

And, of course, there is an English language Bollywood movie based upon the Dhobi Ghat:

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If it’s Monday, it must be laundry. Stone-washed jeans.

But, before you feel too sorry for yourself, before you put all your piles of laundry in your automatic washing machine, check out how laundry is done in India.

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You get stone-washed finish by slapping denim against the stone basins.

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This sweet child knows how to entertain himself with no toys.

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And while most of the work is done with human elbow grease, some electricity is still needed.  Here’s where it comes from:

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And despite everything, this man can still smile for a tourist.

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Feeling better?  All our problems are first world.  :-))

Il Palio, Part 2

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A poster for the Palio 2010

After posting the blog post from on the Siena Palio, I am inspired to add from my personal recollections of the race.  I was incredibly fortunate to attend a Palio in the early 1990s.

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My Italian boyfriend said the Palio was not to be missed and he made a lot of special arrangements for my first experience. He was assolutamente right–it was not to be missed!

We drove to Siena that day from his home in Assisi.  He had used his contacts so we could watch the race from a balcony window to the left of the Palazzo Publico and I prepared to be amazed.  I was indeed!

It was an unbelievable thrill to be a part of the living history of the Palio.  We stood outdoors on the balcony on a warm sunny Italian pomeriggio with a perfect view of the entire race.  It was an incredible experience to be there.

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My favorite part of the day of the race was the banner guard that circled the race track prior to the race.  Each contrada enters their own people wearing their own contrada colors.  It felt like I had time traveled back to the Italian Renaissance.

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I grew up with a horse-loving father and we not only rode horses but attended rodeos almost every summer Sunday.  I even competed in some of the events.  Sadly for my father, I am not a lover of risk-taking horseback riding, either to do or to watch.  Because of that, it was hard for me to watch certain parts of the Palio, for the race is still brutal even though it is much less so than it was during its early centuries; horses and riders careen into the temporary walls set up all around the periphery and riders fall off horses and get trampled.  It is all very chancy. You can see it in this video:

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After the event was over, we ran around all the side streets in all the contrade (neighborhoods of old Siena), which were filled to overflowing with rabid fans (think American super bowl fan fanaticism)

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all wearing their contrada colors.

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Streets decked in the contrada flag

Each contrada maintains a museum of sorts with all sorts of paraphernalia from years past.  These museums are typically only open on the day of Palio, so it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see not only the race, but the museums as well.

Siena split into contrade, with colours and flags

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Contrada flags

The one aspect of the Palio that absolutely blew my mind is that the winning horse is brought into the Siena Cathedral! The secular and divine come together in patrioticism.

The contrade parade out of the Duomo

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Blessing in the Duomo, August 2010

Somehow I just never thought I would live to see the day when I’d see a horse in a magnificent Italian cathedral!!  But that was before I knew Italy at all!

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Here are some more fun shots of the hysteria surrounding this annual event in Tuscany!

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Contradaioli friends

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The horses are brought into the Campo by their stablemen

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The Palio dell'Assunta, Siena, August 2010

Nothing succeeds like excess: India’s wedding season, Part 1

First impressions are everything.

When I landed at the Delhi airport last January, I was instantly ready to love with India!

My feeling was based simply upon this stunning first impression of contemporary art which represents timeless Indian culture in a simple, modern fashion.

First impressions ARE everything!

Nameste!  See more after the jump.

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I knew I had come to the right place! I was jet-lagged into next week, but I noticed this artwork!  When a work of art can speak to me through the fog of severe jet-lag, I know I’ve hit the motherlode.  India did not disappoint!

Arriving at the Indira Gandhi International Airport’s brand-new Terminal 3, filled me with a sense of awe. The incredible visual experience of this series of giant gesticulating hands, jutting from a wall of what look like copper discs, made me stop in my tracks in wonder.  I like anything that has that power.  It’s why I travel.  It’s why I read.  It’s why I study art and culture.  It’s why I live.

Jaipur-based artist, Ayush Kasliwal, was commissioned to produce these giant, expressive hands.   The builders of the new concourse of the truly modern airport were keen to give the terminal an Indian context, to infuse it with Indian values. The idea of the hands emerged as the winning concept, for all forms of Indian classical dance use hand gestures called mudras. Thus, mudras are a both a distinctly Indian and common vocabulary.  The writer of this blog heartily adds her compliments to the designers.  It really works!

If you’d like to know more about this stunning installation, please go to

Click to access DIALmudras.pdf

and

http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/friendly-gestures/638563/0

What Old Delhi looks like from the back of a bicycle rickshaw after 25 hours in transit from the US

After arriving in Delhi on the heels of a 25 hour transit from the US, including a 14 hour flight over the NORTH POLE people!! from Seattle to Dubai, I snuck off to my hotel room for a few hours of sleep.  Later I joined friends for a tour of Old Delhi on the back of a bicycle rickshaw through the Chandni Chowk market.. It was the most uncomfortable ride of my life and, of course, it was raining, and I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep, or the fact that I had entered a very different world, but I felt like I was on an acid trip.  The pink turban of the man in front of me was my bicycle rider/driver.  I was in his rickshaw.

Some of my pictures are blurry because he kept us moving.  Some are a little bit more clear, but only because he paused for a moment to let the masses of humanity and animals pass us.  He never gave passage on purpose, but only because he was driven to it by a lack of chance.  I got my first lesson in what it takes to survive in India.  Reticence and fine manners are really low on that list.

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Yeah, so it was a blur and it was chaotic all around me. And then you notice the electrical wiring and you just wonder how India can operate at all.

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And, I gotta say, I never stopped puzzling that last statement for the whole month I was there.  I still don’t know any answers.