Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tussore & Taxidermy

{Or, Take That, Museum of Natural History}

P. and I spent all day Saturday on a wild goose-chase trying to get access to a government-run wheat storage facility as part of my research on industrial architecture for my painting project (more on that down the road). This brought us to the state capital city of Dehradun, which is a congested, sprawling warren of traffic-choked streets that leaves much to be desired except for one extraordinary but little-known attraction: the vast and curious Forest Research Institute of India. Which contains an absolute treasure-trove of Raj-era ephemera relating to *trees.*

We paid ten rupees (about twenty-two cents) to wander the musty, vaulted halls of the spectacular and slightly down-at-the-heels Institute and Silviculture Museum, the entirety of which is larger than Buckingham Palace. I’m happy to report the following visual and historical delights: an entire hall of dusty, faded dioramas that seemed to promote the national tree-planting agenda of the 1950s; a room dedicated to blights, plagues and the paraphernalia of insect extermination; an ivory display case of disintegrating tussore silkworm cocoons from 1909; black and white photographs from An Historic Record of Beasts of Burden Utilized In Timber Management from the 1920s; a collection of charming Victorian sandalwood soap boxes; and, most memorably, a sun-bleached hundred-year-old stuffed tiger with painted glass button eyes. It was incredible. And, save for a few snoozing security guards, we were the only people there.

When we got back up to our now-familiar mountain perch in Landour that night we were pooped and happy to be home. We spent Sunday reading (still trudging through Midnight’s Children in alternating states of exasperation and joy), planning for the future, and prepping the hot water for a Sunday night bucket bath. Because -and I think everyone would agree- the best way to start November is smelling like sandalwood soap.

Happy November (!). 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Owls of India

{From the Sketchbook}

Hope you had a good weekend. I worked on some watercolors of owls here on the Subcontinent. Including but not limited to the Eurasian eagle owl (bottom), which has the enviable Latin name of Bubo bubo.

Besides painting I helped P. clean The Nest from top to bottom and caught up on This American Life podcasts, as well as a particularly fascinating story from Radiolab about the language of animals. One of the hosts, NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich, was also a frequent contributer to ABC News when I was working there, and I think he's one of the quirkiest, zaniest, creative journalists working the beat. Think of your favorite middle school science teacher and add a great radio voice and some outlandish sound effects. In my book, any story he touches turns to gold.

Listen to his Radiolab story on the language of animals here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Indian Haircut

{And, at Long Last, an Opportunity to Invoke a Quotation from A League of Their Own}

Say, for instance, one begins the summer with a sassy short haircut and messy side-swept bangs; one generally emerges in the autumn with a feathery Jon Bon Jovi almost-mullet in need of attention. The reasonable thing to do is print out a picture of the desired cut (this requires a mile-long walk to the most reliable internet cafĂ©, the availability of electricity, a viable internet connection and a working printer). Which one then presents to the “fancy” barber in the new hotel.

The fancy barber who then proceeds to lop off, in one single horizontal cut, one's *entire forelock* and then attack the remaining tuffet with a razor, so that not only are one's bangs exceedingly short and blunt, they are thinned. One realizes, with horror, what’s happening and stops Sanjay Scissorhands mid-thinning. But as one searches for words he attacks the side of one's head with unmatched voracity, exorcising a shoulder-length chunk of tresses in one fell swoop so that the mullet has been, on that side, fully realized. One remembers the word for “enough” in Hindi and invokes it,“baas!” and hurries home to assess the damage in the subterranean cheese cave that is one's dark and moldy room (not to be confused with the kitchenette/studio, which is sunny and mold-free).

In a tiny plastic mirror one can plainly see: an almost impressively freakish hybrid of Joan Jett punk-rocker on one side, 80's aerobics instructor on the other, and Simple Jack in the front. The only way to describe the resulting, complete look is DIY-crackwhore. One tries not to let one's vanity outweigh the reality that even the unloveliest of haircuts grow out eventually. Plus, what can’t be remedied with an arsenal of bobby pins and a little silk scarf wrapped just so?

And so one takes a deep breath and decides to laugh instead of cry, because, a) it’s soooo baaad it really is funny, and b) just as there is No Crying in Baseball, there is No Crying in India. My rules.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Much Obliged, Mr. Dahl

{The Flowers of Wolfsburn}

“Most cultivated flowers were originally wild and many take their names from the botanists who first ‘tamed’ them. Thus, the dahlia is named after Mr. Dahl, a Swede; the rudbeckia after Rudbeck, a Dutchman; the zinnia after Dr. Zinn, a German; and the lobelia after Monsieur Lobel, a Flemish physician. But I am no botanist. I prefer to be the butterfly, perfectly happy in going from flower to flower in search of nectar.” –Ruskin Bond, In The Garden of My Dreams

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Weekend Assessment

{A Trip to Kempty Falls}

Were goats involved? Yes. (+1)
Did you eat delicious street food? Yes. (+1)
Did it make you sick? No. (+1)
Did you pee behind a rock instead of using the fearsome public toilet? Yes. (-1)
Did anyone see you? Just a nice Indian family on a picnic. (-1)
Did you take any unnecessary risks such as scaling cliffs/taunting large animals? No. (+1)
Did you make it home without losing anything? Yes. (+1)
Do you need to wash your hair? Yes. (-1)
Is there running water in your house at present? No. (-1)

Total: +1. A success.

Also worth mentioning: tiny dark chickpeas, diced tomatoes, chopped chilies, minced onion, chili salt and lots of fresh lime juice = best street food I’ve had in India so far. YUM.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

ToyCamera Wins Again

{The Great American Road Trip via iPhone}

I finally got around to uploading my iPhone pictures onto my computer. And forgot I’d documented our road trip in the Scamp with my favorite camera app, ToyCamera. So two things. One: Can we talk about how some of these pictures -that I took with a cell phone- turned out better than the ones I shot with an expensive digital SLR? I don’t know if I should be excited or depressed about that. Two: I’m not going to lie, guys; these pictures make me really homesick. And miss the doggies. And crave bacon. Not that this whole India thing isn’t a rollicking adventure and good for our marriage and careers, but still. I’m allowing myself fifteen minutes of solitary, wallowing, inconsolable homesickness.

P.S.  For you newcomers, now’s probably a good time to introduce the four-leggeds: The Welsh corgi is Mac but everyone calls him Biscuit. He was one of our family dogs but I dognapped him my senior year in college and he hasn’t left my side since. When he’s not incredibly well-behaved he’s incredibly naughty. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but shorty can catch and kill snakes, lizards, and mice. Which he then eats. Whole.

The spotted one is Dolly, aka the Hound of Love. She is *not* a Dalmatian. She’s an English-pointer-Lab mix from the Joshua Tree pound. Dolly is a Wedding Dog; we rescued her after we got hitched and moved to the desert. (I highly recommend Wedding Dogs, if anyone's asking.) She heals weary human hearts with her gentleness, affection and joie de vivre.

We sold them both for cash money to pay for our plane tickets to India. Just kidding. They’re on the farm in New Jersey with dear old mom and dad.

Monday, October 11, 2010

We Will Take Walks

{Six Scenes from the Mountains & A Conversation Overheard}

I was going to write about the merits of feather-collecting, but lucky for you my eavesdropping on a family from Delhi sitting across from me proved more interesting. The father just told his teenage children, We have come to the mountains to be with nature. No iPods, no computers, no Facebook, no mobiles. We will take walks as a family and enjoy the mountains. Good dad.
Some images from recent walks, nearby mountains:

From top to bottom:
1. Bottles at a roadside teashop
2. Feathers, porcupine quill collected on hike
3. Rice growing in mountainside paddies
4. River water near the source of the Ganges
5. Friends descending from 10,000-foot peak
6. Cabbage, noodles at roadside teashop