chitta chatter

island time

Posted in being human, food, peace, photos, simple pleasures, travel, winning by Nancy on January 5, 2014

We hadn’t been out of the country since India, 2010, but D figured he could safely take off the week of Christmas to New Year’s so he told me, “we can go anywhere.” Which I correctly interpreted as, “we can go anywhere that doesn’t require a torturous 22-hour plane trip or armageddon-strength antibiotics.” Add to that my requirements of turquoise seas, secluded beaches and potent rum drinks and the field narrowed considerably.

Paradise Beach, Carriacou, West Indies

Paradise Beach, Carriacou, West Indies.

I had seen the “Caribbean Island Hopping” episode of No Reservations (pirated, of course) several months earlier, after which I became mildly obsessed with finding a relatively painless way to get to the Grenadines, a small chain of islands in the West Indies blissfully unmolested (mostly) by tourism. But after copious amounts of research, I realized that getting there from the north would be torturous indeed, requiring flights from LAX to Miami to Barbados to St. Vincent (already nearing the 22-hour mark), with a likely unplanned overnighter in Barbados, not to mention the plane and/or ferry trips from St. Vincent to Bequia then Mayreau and any of the other islands we might want to hit up…. Uh-uh. Not happening. Not with only a 7- or 8-day window for the entire trip. We were going to have to look at this from another angle.

I ran across a post on a sailing blog about the Grenadines that had every good thing to say about Carriacou, the southernmost island in the chain, and one of two (Petite Martinique being the other) governed by Grenada rather than St. Vincent, the northernmost, which governs all the rest. A 15-minute puddle jumper would get us to Carriacou from Grenada (which has direct flights from Miami), then we could take day trips by boat to some of the other islands. Now this was more like it. And once I learned that there was an organic cacao farm cooperative and chocolate company on Grenada, well… to paraphrase Jules, “Shiiittt, Willie Wonka, that’s all you had to say.”

So at 3am on Christmas Eve, like a couple of coked-up elves, we headed off on our journey: LAX to Miami to Grenada. Word to the peckish: if you’re stopping at the Miami airport with any time at all between flights, do yourself a favor and head to Cafe Versailles for a guava-cheese pastry and cortado. Ay. Díos. Mío. But I digress…

Our flights ran smoothly, and on our arrival in Grenada, we were greeted by a steel drum band and bottomless rum punches to keep us entertained and anesthetized while we made our way through the Immigration and Customs lines. (Take note, ‘merica.) We then cabbed it to our B&B, Jenny’s Place, at the north end of Grand Anse Beach, where managers Meg and Erik had kindly kept the restaurant (The Edge) open late for us. While Erik whipped up some pasta with a killer, totally improvised, peanut-ginger callaloo sauce, we took a couple steps off the deck to dip our toes in the warm Caribbean sea… our limin’ baptism.

Sunset swim, Christmas Day, Grand Anse Beach, Grenada

Sunset swim, Christmas Day – Grand Anse Beach, Grenada.

Christmas Day turned out to be kind of a bust because everything was closed (islanders take their holidays seriously) and it rained off and on. And though Thursday was mostly sunny, most businesses were still closed for Boxing Day, this being a former British colony and all. We did, however, find the Grand Anse craft market open when one of its resident artisans lured us there from the beach. He actually had some cool pieces on offer, mostly jewelry carved from driftwood. His neighbor at the next stall, Ras Ian, wasn’t as much of a salesman, but he’s heavily into Jimi Hendrix and Willie Nelson, so he and D had a lot to talk about… he plays guitar, too. He also makes jewelry, but his medium of choice is (found) tortoise shell. Really nice stuff. Really nice—really high—guy.

With the beach bars finally open but their kitchens still closed, we headed back to The Edge for a bite to eat before our flight to Carriacou that afternoon. We would be staying at another (smaller) B&B for most of our time there, but due to a conflict with their reservations, we offered to stay our first night at a hotel closer to town, the Grand View. Bob, our B&B host, picked us up from the airport, drove us to the Grand View and made sure they could set us up with dinner as well as a picnic lunch for our boat trip the next day. We seemed to be the only guests there, but they really put a lot of care into the food. The concierge / bartender / waitress was really keen to hear D’s reasons for being a vegetarian and we got into a long discussion about factory farming, GMOs, etc.. Being a sensible person, she was naturally appalled that anyone would raise animals and crops that way and assured us that they don’t do it like that in Carriacou. Cheers to that. Here’s hoping they never will.

The next day would be the highlight of the trip: our boat excursion to the Tobago Cays. I had read about Dave Goldhill, who has a house and several rental cottages (which he built himself) at Bayaleau Point on the windward side of the island, near the village of the same name. He’s a New Yorker who’s been living in Carriacou since the 70s, running day trips on a sloop (the New Moon) and picnic launch (the Mostly Harmless) that he built, and like all the locals here—expats and natives alike—he’s quite a character.

We set off with a group of Danes—who were all staying at the Bayaleau cottages—and our skippers for the day, Junior and the one whose name I never got. Pretty chill dudes, but with a fierce need for speed. Still, they were adept at reading the waves and slowing down at critical moments to avoid giving us all whiplash. The ride alone was worth the price of admission ($115 US/pp). The 2 grandparents on the trip may not have enjoyed the journey quite as much, but they definitely got down with the destination once we stopped for rum punch and snorkeling (together again).

D and I had never snorkeled before but we figured this would be a good time to start. We figured wrong. Later, one of the Danes told us that it’s best to learn in completely calm waters… as opposed to, say, the middle of the Caribbean. I threw in the flippers after a few minutes of trying but D persevered long enough to get a few cool shots of the reef.

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Coral reef, Tobago Cays.

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Coral reef, Tobago Cays.

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Daniel taking a breather, Tobago Cays.

Once the others had gotten their fill, we moved on to another spot where we hoped we’d get to swim with the sea turtles. No sooner had the anchor dropped than we spotted their leathery little dinosaur heads bobbing along the waves. That was all the incentive I needed to get back on the horse, as it were. I grabbed the camera, strapped on the mask and fins and jumped in. But it was like aquatic whack-a-mole with these things… they were popping up everywhere but vanishing faster than I could even point, much less shoot. Still, just seeing them right there in front of our faces made for such a “holy shit” experience… when you’re busy taking pictures, you tend to miss those.

After turtle stalking, we tied up to one of the cays and went ashore for lunch. Behold:

HammockTobagoCays

Tobago Cays – 27 Dec. 2013

Resident iguana, Tobago Cays.

Iggy the Maitre d’, Tobago Cays.

Then it was on to Saltwhistle Bay, Mayreau, population 300. The waters were much calmer there—which is why it’s such a popular anchorage—so the guys suggested I give snorkeling another try and pointed out an area of coral I might want to explore. Muuuch better this time. The coral wasn’t terribly vibrant, but there were some sea urchins living in it, and several varieties of tropical fish… one little zebra-striped guy followed me around like a stray puppy.

Limin'. Saltwhistle Bay, Mayreau.

Limin’ – Saltwhistle Bay, Mayreau. (That’s the Mostly Harmless to the right.)

More snorkeling, more of Dave’s Magic Elixir (i.e., best rum punch ever), more lolling on the sand under the mangroves, then back to Carriacou.

Nearing Carriacou, we encountered this beast… equipped with a heliport, natch.

Once ashore, I settled up with Dave’s daughter and ex-wife (who very kindly bestowed upon me that killer rum punch recipe), then Dave came down to hang out with us while we waited for our taxi. He asked what made us choose the Grenadines for our holiday and I told him it was that No Reservations episode that got the ball rolling, but the Grenada Chocolate Company sealed the deal. Small world that it is, turns out the late David “Mott Green” Friedman (Grenada Chocolate Company founder / mastermind) was a friend of Dave’s. If I remember correctly, he said they met through Paul Johnson—who designed Dave’s boat, the Mostly Harmless—when Mott was just starting to get into sailing. D and I both enjoyed hearing Dave’s stories about Mott as well as his own life as an expat on Carriacou, living off the grid and outside the system. Inspiring stuff. Hell, why run away with the circus when you can be a pirate, right? (Plus, no clowns.)

Our taxi finally rolled up, so we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the house in L’Esterre where we would spend the next 3 nights. It was a bit remote, but a beautiful spot overlooking Sandy Island and its cruiser/yachtie contingent. “Seaclusion Suites” have their own (essentially) private beach and are just around the point from a black sand beach which we never did hit up. But the dinners prepared by Bob’s wife, Marie, are reason enough to stay there. Before coming to Carriacou, she had worked for years in the hospitality industry in Florida as a restaurant GM, but she’s been cooking since she was a wee lass in Czechoslovakia. And I am still craving her fish cakes.

Seaclusion is also within a 20- to 30-minute walk from both Tyrell Bay and Paradise Beach, the latter being our hands-down favorite beach of the entire trip. Partly for the calm waters and the view of/proximity to Sandy Island, but mainly because of the Hard Wood Bar: truly, THE quintessential beach bar. Limin’ at its finest.

Hard Wood Bar, Paradise Beach, Carriacou

Hard Wood Bar – Paradise Beach, Carriacou.

Sandy Island from the Hard Wood, Paradise Beach, Carriacou

Sandy Island from the Hard Wood – Paradise Beach, Carriacou.

The fish (barracuda) plate for me, the veg plate for D, washed down with the local Carib lager… we could’ve stayed there all day. Every day. But Sandy Island was just sitting there, waiting for us to cavort along its banks and bury our toes in its sand. So we hopped aboard the Hard Wood’s dinghy for the 1-minute ride over. There’s no real shade to speak of (or a bar), so you wouldn’t want to stay all day, but we slathered on the zinc oxide and floated in the crystal clear water until the boat came to pick us up as we requested, precisely 1 hour later.

Sandy Island, across from Paradise Beach, Carriacou

Sandy Island, across from Paradise Beach, Carriacou.

I had heard about a place in town (i.e., Hillsborough) called Patty’s Deli that was supposed to have an excellent selection of wines, assorted gourmet noshes and, apropos of my personal addiction, freshly baked croissants. So after we took a little rest from all the resting we did on Paradise Beach, we headed into town to investigate. It’s a fer piece from the B&B, so we opted for the bus. Buses here are essentially group taxis that seem to be the main means of transport for most island residents. At $3.50 EC / $2 US per person (at least, for us), the fare was a little higher than the buses on Grenada, but the driver kindly went a couple blocks off-route to get us to Patty’s. Unfortunately, it was already closed, so we stopped in Bill Paterson’s for a beer instead. Paterson’s is a general store in the front, party in the back. Or so I hear. That particular holiday weekend late afternoon, it was just a party of two. Nice view, though, and really nice folks, as is the norm on Carriacou.

Next, we wandered into the Kayak Kafe for an excellent papaya-banana smoothie before heading back “home” for dinner. As we approached the bus terminal, I asked one of the drivers if he was going to L’Esterre. The guy riding shotgun threw his head back and said, in that West Indian lilt that makes everything sound agreeable, “Awwww… ‘im now go!” Which I took to mean, “Dang, the L’Esterre bus just left!” But all was not lost. He busted out his cellie and called the L’Esterre driver who came back around to pick us up! The bus was JAMMED, too. And in further contrast to LA buses, nobody had B.O. or Tourette’s or attempted to hack up a lung without covering their mouths. We got a nice little tour of the island, too, including Tyrell Bay, which we walked to the next morning.

Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, West Indies

Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, West Indies.

After another lovely dinner our last night on Carriacou (Sunday), I started going through my paperwork for our flight back to Grenada. Words cannot convey the sheer panic I felt upon discovering that the receipt that SVG Airlines had given me when we flew over had our return flight listed as 10:30am Sunday, not 8:15am Monday. I had made and changed the reservation over the phone, but they don’t do email confirmations or printed tickets or anything so high-tech as all that. So I just had to trust the agent, who had read back to me all the correct info and assured me we were all set. Their office was closed for the day, so we had no way to contact them to confirm. But Marie said it was probably just an old printout (which turned out to be the case) and I shouldn’t worry. Bob was taking us to the airport in the morning, anyway, so at least if they didn’t have us on that morning’s flight, we’d have a ride back to town. Or the nearest rum shop, whichever came first.

The next morning, we bid Marie goodbye and headed to the airport, heart palpitating and fingers, toes and eyes crossed. I watched with great dread as two other Suzuki Sidekicks pulled up, counting their passengers and worrying that they might all have seats on this 7-passenger flight. Turns out only 5 of us were Grenada-bound and SVG had us correctly booked after all. I guess, in a place that moves as slowly as Carriacou, you have a higher probability of things getting done right… if not exactly in a timely fashion.

Goodbye Sandy Island and Carriacou

Goodbye Sandy Island and Carriacou…

Soon enough, we were off to our final day in Grenada… and our organic cacao farm tour!

Meg (from Jenny’s Place) had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport on the southwestern end of the island and take us up the Atlantic coast to Belmont Estate, one of the largest suppliers of cacao to the Grenada Chocolate Company. Our tour guide, Kelly, a huge Lakers fan, gave us an intro, showed us the cacao bean fermentery and then took us out to actually harvest a cacao pod right from the tree and taste the fruit that surrounds the beans. Amazing! And delicious. Very mango-y, with a citrus tang. Then he took us to see the huge drying racks (as well as the greenhouse where they do a lot of the drying now), the mechanized dryers and other antique-looking machinery inside. And finally… SAMPLES! First, he brought out some cocoa tea, which is a delightful concoction of cocoa nibs, nutmeg, cinnamon and bay leaf (they don’t call Grenada the Spice Isle for nothin’)… sort of like a cross between Indian chai and Mexican hot chocolate. Then… samples of the chocolate itself, in 60% and 71% varieties.

The beautiful cacao pod... freshly harvested in front of our very eyes!

The beautiful cacao pod… freshly harvested before our very eyes.

Cacao beans in the raw... the fruit surrounding them is sweet, with a mango-citrus flavor.

Cacao beans in the raw… the fruit surrounding them is sweet, with a mango-citrus flavor.

After all that, of course, I had to take some home. So I bought 10 bars from the shop, in 60%, 71%, 82%, and even 100% varieties. No sugar in that 100%-er, obviously, but it’s not as bitter as the baking chocolate we all tried as kids (to our great chagrin and our moms’ great amusement). Maybe it’s the cocoa butter that smooths out the edges… who knows? What I do know is this is far and away the best chocolate I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of great chocolate. A lot.

We reluctantly taxied back to our hotel by the airport—Groom’s Beach Villas—and settled in for our last night in the Caribbean. The hotel was one of the cheaper ones on this trip, yet somehow the most luxurious. I still dream about that shower pressure. And just 100 ft. down the hill was the eponymous Groom’s Beach and the highly regarded Beach House Restaurant. We couldn’t not get in one more swim in that warm, clear, Caribbean sea before the sun set—on the trip as well as the day—so we hit the beach immediately. The late afternoon light bounced off a couple hobie cats as I watched them zoom back and forth across the turquoise surf for what seemed like forever, unable to tear myself away.

Groom's Beach, St. George's, Grenada

Groom’s Beach – St. George’s, Grenada.

As the light faded, we headed back up the hill to get ready for dinner at the gorgeous Beach House. I started with one serious mojito and D, a beer. We ordered the curried conch (with another mojito) for me and the gnocchi for D, then capped it all off with a guava cheesecake and chocolate mousse gateaux, respectively. It was a suitably decadent ending to what has become a luxury in itself these days: a REAL (i.e., non-working, no computers, no watches) vacation.

Of course, planning such a vacation is no vacation… it took endless hours—weeks, even—of research and decision-making to get it right. But man, was it ever right. Huge thanks to all who helped make it so: Meg and Erik, the ladies of the Grand View Carriacou, Bob and Marie, Dave Goldhill and crew, and all the fine local folks we met along the way. And here’s to the one we didn’t get to meet but have been enormously inspired by nonetheless:

a promising start

Posted in food, LA, pearls, simple pleasures by Nancy on August 7, 2010

More wisdom from the sidewalks of Silver Lake, courtesy of Five Dollar Guy this time.

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The sign of a worthy croissant.

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Mmmmorning.

it’s gettin’ all soylent green up in here

I don’t usually pass this stuff along but I thought this was pretty important as it’s about the future of our food supply. Or lack thereof. If you haven’t seen the movies Food, Inc. or The Future of Food, both do a good job of explaining the situation. (If you only have time to watch one, I recommend the latter, available for free on hulu… just follow the link above. Food Matters comes highly recommended, as well.) In a nutshell, one company—Monsanto—is, right now, quietly taking control of the world’s food supply via tactics that are nearly as staggering as their potential impact on human life.

This petition is more specifically about Monsanto’s plans to spread their genetically modified seeds across the land… alfalfa, in this case. But if they get their way here, it will set a precedent that you can safely bet they’ll take full advantage of. Sure, signing this petition may not do a damned thing to change the course of events… but at least it will send a message that we’re watching them (Monsanto and the US government). And the more of us who know, the harder we can push in the opposite direction: for organic, non-genetically modified food produced by sustainable, independent farms.

End of sermon. Now go eat yer veggies… while you still can. And don’t forget to sign the petition here. (You can repost it on Facebook and Twitter, too!)

silver lake, sweet silver lake

Posted in food, LA, photos, yoga by Nancy on February 4, 2010

Ah, it’s good to be home.

We arrived at LAX yesterday afternoon and Mayra was there to greet us, giant bouquet of flowers in hand. After a stop to pick up my car at her house, we were soon cruising the old familiar 101 again, windows cracked to let the recently rain-washed wind blow through our hair.

Within the first 24 hours back I:

– Took a long, hot, glorious shower.

– Slept. Late. On a real mattress, with springs and everything.

– Watched It Might Get Loud for the hundredth time. Jimmy Page still outrocks them all… even Jack White.

– Walked to Trader Joe’s to restock my fridge. Looking forward to fresh broccoli sautéed in soy sauce, honey and ginger.

– Did primary series. On my Manduka (which, of course, I did not haul to Mysore, though the shala’s tile floor made me wish I had). The 9 rolls of garba pindasana never felt so good. Actually, after 22 hours on a plane, a 3-hour ride to the Bangalore airport, the drive from LAX/picking up the car in Long Beach, and god-knows-how-many hours in bed, the whole series felt good.

– Saw that the dosa truck is still parked on the corner every Wednesday. Don’t imagine I’ll have a hankerin’ for a while, though.

– Tried on my favorite jeans (which I also did not take to India, being my favorites and all) and discovered that, contrary to my usual travel MO, I actually put on a pound or two this trip. Damn you, India, with your ghee and sweets… and sweets made with ghee!!!  [ shakes fist at sky ]

– Noticed a new mural splashed across Circus of Books… Anthony Bourdain was here???

Still on the to-do list for this week:

– Start a flickr account and post the rest of my photos from India. Will post a notice here once it’s up.

– Laundry. Courtesy of Maytag. My clothes will finally be clean. Really clean. And my poor, dry, wrung-out hands will be conspicuously—and gratefully—absent from the process.

– Friday morning yoga at Runyon Canyon. Can. Not. Wait! Fingers, toes and eyes crossed that it doesn’t rain.

– The veggie taco and potato/cheese flautas at Pinche’s Tacos. It ain’t just the name that’s fresh!

– Meeting with my agency for a web gig for one of my favorite clients. I had a check waiting for me when I got back and work still coming in. Life is good.

– Pizza at the Rainbow. To be chased with a $5 shake that tastes like a $5 shake.

– Farmer’s market. Either Silver Lake’s on Saturday or Hollywood’s on Sunday. Probably the latter as I’m in need of more o’ that tasty, cold-packed honey they sell there.

India Sweets & Spices. And not for the spices.

Huh… even in LA, it’s all about the food for me. I guess it’s true that “wherever you go, there you are.” In any event, I’m glad to be back.

firsts and lasts

Posted in food, India, photos, yoga by Nancy on February 1, 2010

Last night was our last dinner at Aunty’s. Her uncle is sick so she has to go to Bangalore today and we won’t get to see her again before we leave. I was really glad we brought the sweets we got her last night instead of waiting until our last night here.

Turned out everyone else we had invited to “the last supper” decided to show up last night instead, as well. Almost everyone in our yoga class was there. Aunty was running around like the proverbial headless chicken trying to get us all served, but was clearly delighted to have all these new customers. We’ll both sorely miss Aunty and her fine south Indian food.

Earlier in the day, we had one last lunch with Elisa who’s just back from leading a photo tour through south India. The driver she hired for the tour started off by taking them to shiny, sanitized, touristy spots until she explained to him that, since this was a photo tour, they were after something with a bit more character. “Oh, you want old and broken!” he said. It was a request he had no problem accommodating.

We also batted around ideas with her for the upcoming ‘round-the-world Odanadi event (called “Yoga Stops Traffick”… wish I’d thought of the name) as D will be heading up the LA contingent. Then we were off to Devaraja Market for some last-minute shopping and to pick up the sweets for Aunty from Bombay Indra Bhavan… a shop she turned us onto. “They use ghee in everything!” she gushed. “Sold,” said I.

This morning’s was our last class with Iyengar.  We’re now sitting down to our last breakfast at the Mandala. We’ll also probably take our last rickshaw ride today. One last bucket bath. Have our last regularly scheduled power outage for a while. And hopefully it’s the last time for a very long time that I’ll have to get up at 4:30 in the morning. So many lasts.

But it was also my very first trip to India. And I have a brand spankin’ new appreciation for LA because of it. Looking forward to getting back to real life. In the Land of Make Believe.

* * * * * * * *

Scenes from our last morning in Mysore:

home:

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moon over Mysore

Posted in food, India, photos, things that make you say "whaaa?", yoga by Nancy on January 16, 2010

All the lunar shenanigans of late have made for one crazy week.

Starting with the yoga. Now, ashtanga ain’t for sissies. And when you practice every day for weeks at a time (and are no longer in your 20s), injuries are bound to happen. At Wednesday’s class (my 12th in a row), I pulled something in my lower back during supta kurmasana.  So I’ve been out of commission the past 3 days and probably will be again tomorrow. But Friday’s class was canceled anyway because of the new moon*, solar eclipse and the Makara Shankranthi holiday.

Makara Shankranthi is a harvest festival that starts January 14th and continues through the afternoon of the 15th. Rice and cows are the featured attractions, but the cows definitely get top billing. The locals wash the cows (mercifully) and paint them yellow (with the same powdered pigments they use to paint each other during other festivals), their horns and hooves painted red. Then they adorn them with flowers and bells, have them blessed in a “cow puja” and, for the grand finale, make them run through streets that have been lined with hay and  set ablaze. And these are the animals they like.

how bob became bessie:

looks like there should be a floating craps game going on in this alley… nope, just painting farm animals:

watch out fer them horns, cuz’:

Shankranthi Yellu

Aunty had invited us for a special festival lunch and served up my new favorite rice dish, pongal, made with jaggery (a natural sweetener) and raisins and/or cashews. Daniel hates the stuff so I ended up eating all of his, too. Aunty must’ve noticed he wasn’t shoveling it in as per usual and asked if he didn’t like the food. Fortunately, he had an alibi that satisfied her: he had been invited to a fire ceremony by his meditation teacher that morning and after the ceremony there was food (including pongal) so he had already eaten before we got to Aunty’s. When we left, she gave us a bag of seeds and nuts and sugar that was molded into little figurines. She said it’s prasad (blessed food) and it’s traditional to share it with friends and family.**

Later that evening, we went to Nagarathna’s Yogic Supplies for dinner. We had gone by her place earlier to check on an order Daniel had placed with her… part of the order had come in, but she had forgotten to place the other part. So when we returned for dinner, she told us that, because it was a holiday, she could not charge us for dinner (which was dee-lish, btw). I think it was more that she felt badly about having forgotten part of D’s order. But whatever… free meal!

Afterwards, her husband told us we should go to the Mysore Palace to see the festival spectacle… he said they would light the palace (which they usually only do on Sundays) and there would be music and a lot of people would be bringing their painted cows. “Good for snaps” (snapshots), he said. So we hired a rickshaw and headed over.

When we arrived, two little boys dressed like scouts (school uniforms?) greeted us and seemed to be trying to strike up a conversation to practice their English. Daniel offered them a few “country coins” (coins from one’s home country) and they went berserk over them. Later, one of the boys found us and thanked D for the coins. D thought it was odd that he would go to the trouble, but I told him the kid’s mom probably made him. Sure enough, we ran into them again at the Ganesh temple and his mom was with them. The kid went on to explain how “very, very old” the temple is and how “people from all over the world are coming to see it”. He’ll make a hell of a tour guide someday. (Like tomorrow.)

Anyway, as promised, the palace lights came on not long after we arrived and it is, indeed, quite the spectacle. Walt Disney would be proud:

But the unlit Palace is truly impressive, especially for dingy little Mysore (eat your heart out, Marie Antoinette):

It’s one of the few Mysore attractions that consistently make it into the India guidebooks. Daniel’s friend Sean is actually helping to organize a yoga event on the Palace grounds to benefit the Odanadi Project.*** The location alone should help them generate plenty of press.

Sean invited us to his house in Gokulam yesterday morning for his birthday breakfast bash. Great timing, since everything was closed for the holiday. And quite a spread—croissant, fruit salad, eggs, French toast, muesli, yogurt, chai, coffee—not to mention a gorgeous house. Seems accupuncturists can do a brisk business among the well heeled ashtangis who converge on Gokulam like lemmings to study with Sharath (Pattabhi Jois’ grandson and heir to the cult/throne).

Later, I went over to the Mandala for (another) fruit salad, but the café was closed (power outage). As I walked through the gate I found Kumar (the cook, whose wife makes some righteous chocolate candy), Shanthala and the rest of the staff out front, looking up at the sky through a piece of glass that had been painted black. They asked if I’d like to see. It was my very first solar eclipse. A phenomenon at once enchanting and hazardous to your health. Not unlike India herself.

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* No class on moon days is traditional in ashtanga yoga. The belief is that your body is more affected by the tides or gravitational pull or some such natural phenomenon during the new moon and full moon, so it’s best not to practice on those days. But Iyengar—because he is a workaholic or because he’s 83 and reckons he’d better make hay while the sun (or moon) shines—still teaches on full moon days, though not on new moon days. Personally, I don’t mind that a bit… my practice usually sucks during the new moon anyway, but during the full moon it positively rocks.

** Daniel was given some of the same stuff by his meditation teacher. D is his only western student.

*** In March, a few of the Odanadi girls will lead hundreds of hardcore ashtanga yogis through sun salutations on the Palace grounds, kicking off what they hope will be an internationally coordinated effort to benefit the Odanadi Project. (Last time Daniel was in Mysore, he produced the soundtrack for a documentary about the women and girls being helped by Odanadi.)

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greetings from the subcontinent

Posted in film, food, India, photos, yoga by Nancy on January 3, 2010

Well, we finally made it to Mysore. 22 hours on a plane is sheer hell on the body, but Lufthansa was at least civilized enough to keep us well fed. We didn’t arrive in Bangalore until 2am (Jan. 2nd) and once we made it through passport control and the gauntlet of private guides and “official” cab drivers, it was 3am, so we didn’t have a whole lot of choice in accommodations. We got to Bangalore, the city proper, a little before 4am and ended up staying at a place the cabbie knew of that was about as expensive as a Comfort Inn in the states but really posh by Indian standards, with Beverly Hills-style service and a nice (free) breakfast buffet that was remarkably similar to the buffet at my favorite Indian joint in DC. I do love me some south Indian grub.

The next morning (and by “next” I mean 5 hours later) we had to take the train to Mysore. Getting tickets was a major ordeal, complete with 4 different lines to stand in and forms to fill out. We met some nice fellow travelers (one of whom taught us some Kannada, the language most people speak in Mysore) while waiting for the train, and were even fed on the 2+ hour ride (and given bottled water). We won’t be going hungry this trip, that’s for sure.

Got into Mysore the afternoon of the 2nd and Shanthala (who runs the Mysore Mandala, where Daniel studied last time he was here) had found us a flat next door with everything we asked for (except we never could get the internet to work well, so I’m using the wifi at the Mandala). That night we found out the place had 4 squatters… really fast, well-fed Indian cockroaches. (What do you want for $140 a month? The Ritz Carlton?) Anyway, Daniel dispensed with them quickly and word must’ve spread among the local roach community because we haven’t seen another one since (knock on wood).

We’ve found lots of good (safe) places to eat, most notably Aunty’s. She serves breakfast, lunch and dinner out of her home near where we’re studying yoga. A full meal with chai is only 50 rupees (about a dollar, US) and REALLY tasty. Can’t beat that. Aunty is a character, too, totally wrapped up in TV and Indian popular culture… probably subscribes to whatever their version of the Enquirer is.

After our first dinner at Aunty’s, we went down the street and found the house/shala where BNS Iyengar is teaching now. We registered for classes and started yesterday. Iyengar is crusty but cool. His class is really fast paced and he gives a lot of adjustments, which is pretty impressive considering he’s in his 80s. And he teaches 7 days a week. I’ll probably be skipping once or twice…

We’re going to try to find “the” female tailor in Gokulam who is reputed to be true to her word (apparently a rarity among tailors here) and actually finishes your clothes when she says she will. After clothes shopping, we might take in a movie… some friends from LA have a friend starring in a big Indian blockbuster that’s out right now called “3 Idiots”. We walked by the theatre yesterday and the line was wrapping around the building. Maybe the crowds will be lighter during the week.

That’s all for now… more to come. Happy belated New Year!

Daniel on the balcony of our hotel room in Bangalore:

the train station in Bangalore:


Best. Fruit salad. Ever. (with chai and dosa, a whopping $2)


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