Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All Vicki, All the Time

The second day in Delhi we came across a roadside fortuneteller. Speaking in only Hindi, he proceeded to tell Vicki her fortune. I tried to translate, but made many hilarious mistakes. He told Vicki: “Don’t get married in the month on December” – which I translated as: “December is a good time to get married.” He had a booklet with him, with astrological charts showing Jupiter in the Seventh House and so on, and he also had a caged parakeet that, for a fee, would waltz out of the cage and select your fortune from a stack of fortunes. We skipped that part because of the unethical treatment of animals. While Vicki got her fortune read, a mass of passers-by formed around us. The pundit tried to disperse the crowd – being gawked at lessens the esoteric nature of his trade, he said – but nobody budged. It was a good experience, and from it Vicki met her first boyfriend, the strapping youth named Gopal, an amateur astrologer himself, seen in the picture crouching in his faded designer jeans and knock-off Converse shoes, as per Indian style.

Vicki looking ridiculous wearing a compulsory muumuu at the Mecca Mosque in Delhi. Her t-shirt was too revealing for Islamic sensibility, although Indian women wearing provocative saris did not have to wear the florid-patterned scarlet letter.

Vicki posing in front of the things she dare not eat (unless it’s been artificially preserved and sold in a cardboard box for $5.99).

From the first night in India, Vicki was talking about drinking yak butter tea. Apparently some foreigners on the plane told her how delicious it was, and that she could procure it in Ladakh. Now I’ve had yak butter tea before. I drink it only when it’s compulsory, and even then I’ll try to dump it out a window if the chance permits. It’s an ungodly mix of a hunk of butter, a mound of salt and milk brought to a seething boil – in Hindi, it’s called “namumkin chai” – salt tea. But instead of telling Vicki this, I led her to believe that it was a soothing drink, sweet as honey. In this picture Vicki is taking her first sip. She didn’t spit it out like I thought she would; instead, clearly confused, her mind torn between her expectations and an unappetizing reality, she grabbed a spoon and stirred the evil potion, hoping a crystallized lump of sugar was at the bottom of the glass, or a dollop of honey – anything to make salt taste unsalty. After the cognitive dissonance cleared from her mind, I said: “You’ve been punked!” and took this picture.

Vicki about to use the treacherous bathroom alley in the ancient Leh Palace. The allocated spaces to do the deed were cavernous and dubiously constructed from adobe, and they dropped down a good ten feet.

Our campsite at the base of Thiksey Gonpa.

Walking from Thiksey Gonpa (Monastery) to Hemis, the Gonpa that Jesus allegedly studied at during his “lost years” (according to an ancient manuscript found in the Hemis library in the 18th century, now locked up forever, and the subject of the Penguin publication Jesus Lived in India.). Accompanying Vicki on the walk is Ram, a dog I befriended who became our rearguard.

Vicki with poor Yorick.

Vicki’s new life motto, just one healthy effect of traveling.

Vicki appearing apprehensive.

Somehow I got Vicki to walk with me along the shifty goat path that led to nowhere. She was bubbly until she had to turn around; then she became more aware of the precipice below, vertigo set in, and her instincts, her sheer will to live, honed her mind into quite, brooding meditation on the task. She survived.

While visiting Shargol Gonpa, which is built into the face of a cliff similar to Canyon de Chelly or Chaco Canyon in the USA, we heard about a local yatra (pilgrimage) to Padmasambhava’s cave. Mr P, called by Ladakhis Guru Rimpoche, is the maverick Buddhist scholar who was commissioned by Trisong Detsen in the eighth century to temporarily suspend his Buddhism 101 class at the famed Nalanda University, at that time the Harvard of India, and to travel to Tibet to subdue the fierce Bon deities. He did, and eventually Buddhism became the soup-de-jour of Tibet. In this picture, Vicki is playing Shoots-and-Ladders amid a torrent of snow run-off.

Vicki posing outside the cave entrance.

Here we are, inside the cave where Mr P spent a decade in solitary mediation. For all the hard work getting there, Vicki, being of the fairer sex, was permitted in most, but not every, room. The best part was for men only: a kind of tunnel that curved from the wall through the ceiling and back, which was described to me in Hindi as representing (or actually being) one of Mr P’s fingers.
Posing with prayer flags.

Vicki posing with another paramour at the majestic Pangong Lake. Pranjeet won Vick’s affection by quoting Rand at great length, and by extolling the business model put forth in the movie The Boiler Room (as a sales manager, he requires his minions to watch the movie and imitate Ed Norton.). And if this wasn’t enough to woo Vicki, he put forward his sophistic theory that vegetarianism is bad for animals, because if we don’t eat them then butchers won’t kill them, and they’ll overpopulate and inevitably kill themselves.
Vicki bounding over alluvial run-off. In this endeavor she was successful; however, in another instance (of which there is not accurate photographic evidence), she ended up tap dancing in the river, and I watched from the opposite shore, laughing so hard that I was rendered unable to assist her.

Vicki being Vicki, sleeping well past sunrise.

After Ladakh we did a short trip to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. In this picture Vicki is exorcising her shopping demons by buying every bangle that shines as bright as a comet.

I convinced Vicki to pose next to a three ton bull who wanted to give her an affection head rub.

All good things must come to an end. Us in a rickshaw towards the end of our trip. I will try to post more pictures next week, less Vicki-centric and more about the general contours of our trip. I think Vicki’s been roasted well enough. I should mention that I gave Vicki every chance to participate in my blog, but she refused. So feel no pity. She doesn’t blog. Well, I do.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer in the City of Champions

In June, as many of you know, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup! The whole city was incredibly excited, and an estimated 375,000 turned out for the victory parade - that's more than the population of the city! After missing the Super Bowl parade last February I wasn't going to miss this one. I met my friend Bryna downtown on parade day. After the motorcade of VIPs passed by, we decided it would be fun to walk in the street behind it, and we crossed over a barricade and started walking next to one of the high school marching bands. Nobody seemed to mind and people even cheered and high-fived us as we passed by. We marched all the way down to the end of the parade route and the stage was in sight. Another sneaky maneuver and we had made it all the way to the media and VIP section right in front of the stage! Luckily no one seemed to notice that we were the only ones without special passes around our necks. We only had cell phone cameras so the pics aren't great, but the content makes up for it. Above is us with Iceburgh, the Penguins mascot. I love the people standing on roofs in the background.

Here's us with the stage and big screen in back of us. It was great to be so close to the action.

It's a little hard to see but that's Evgeni Malkin on the video screen, pouring champagne into the Stanley Cup. Right after this his parents joined him in drinking from it. Mr. and Mrs. Malkin, nicknamed "The Genos" by Pittsburghers, became local celebrities after attending lots of games during their several months visiting from Russia. Mrs. Malkin's homemade soup is thought to have been responsible for much of her son's late-season success.

Mario at the podium, and that looks like Staal next to him.


The Cup!

Love this picture - from the front page of the Pitt News with the headline City of Champyinz. It has everything you could want in a Stanley Cup celebration photo: Lemieux jersey, homemade tinfoil Cup, excited girl cheering with her arms in the air, and... the guy who just couldn't wait to eat his Cheetos. And that's no snak-pak folks, that's a full-sizer.

The Steelers received their Super Bowl XLIII rings in a ceremony before game 6 of the Cup Finals. Now that's a ring! Some of the Steelers players even left the celebration early to attend the Pens game, and maybe they brought the championship vibe with them!

And, for those of you who are interested, here are the places I photographed for Stephen's birthday blog - I know, it's been two months! But still. The first photo I used was of this huge sculpture - it's by Richard Serra, in front of the Carnegie Museum - and I took the original pic from inside of it, looking up. The inside is like a cathedral of steel and rust open to the sky. Unfortunately, some see it instead as merely a convenient urinal.

The next pic was of some paint-splattered pebbles - I've loved to visit them since I was little. They are under a big fence on the CMU campus, and above is me leaning against it. It's a tradition at CMU that various campus organizations paint and repaint the fence every week or so, with different colors according to their preference. This has been going on for as long as I can remember, and as a result the stones underneath have become intricately multicolored - beautiful.

Another pic was of me in the Allegheny Cemetery, near where we lived in Bloomfield last year. A great place for walks, complete with Egyptian tombs, huge obelisks, duck ponds, deer, geese, woodchucks, the occasional bird of prey to stare us down from a tree branch, and even two resident cats. One cat is black and one white, and they each have their own little shelter that someone made for them, to keep them warm and dry.

The nighttime cityscape pic was of the view from the Panther Hollow Bridge, facing the Carnegie Library in Oakland. Here is a view from the bridge during the day - with Michael Chabon's famous Cloud Factory in the background. As I was walking across, I came upon this strange string creation woven into the chain-link fence. I'm not really sure why it is there - whether a public arts project sponsored by the city or just something an inventive passerby decided to do. It has an unofficial, unsanctioned feel to it, like someone secretly made it in the dark of night. The phrase vigilante macrame came to mind as I looked at it, although it isn't technically macrame. I just like the sound of it.

Here are several more of the creations, with a view of the Cathedral of Learning. Going in the other direction across this bridge takes you to my new house... But more about that next time. And no more cell phone pics - I finally got a new camera.