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   Our pilgrimage took us all kinds of places in all kinds of ways . . .

 

OK, so we didn’t actually travel by elephant or fruit cart, but intrepid travelers that we are, we made our way through the Orient by all means possible, and completed our journey safely.  Thank you, Guardian Angels!

Laid-Back-Waters

         While James was spending time with the beach ladies and I was principally with my computer, we nonetheless did socialize a bit with the locals as well as with the yoga community, mostly European expats or people who live half the year in India.   In honor of Earth Day, a group of us hired a traditional Kerala boat for a cruise up the Chapora River.  For most of us, this was the final hurrah before departing Goa.  What a beautiful day we spent together, a fitting end to a beautiful season.  Thank you, new friends, for what we shared together.

 

PS)  We would love to see the pictures Fernando took of our sunset swim . . .hint, hint!

Laid-Back-Easy-Goan

Here are a few additional shots of dear ones from Goa.  Thanks for the memories!

 

Easy Goan

 

 

We settled into life in Anjuna, making occasional sorties out to discover new beaches, a spice plantation in the mountains, and Dudhsagar Falls.   Dear friend and collaborator Rocco came to see us from Italia.  (Rocco was the one who originally interpreted the cards of the Pillow Deck, and continues running his teahouses in Florence).   We chalked up more great times together, this time also with his companion Daisy.

         The adaptable and friendly Goan culture, as well as the heat of southern India, did wonders for slowing down, melting down, and mellowing out.  To struggle is futile . . .

 

 

 

         Here are a few more views of our women friends from the beaches of Goa.  By in large, these women are illiterate, the breadwinners, and mothers.  Since few were deemed worthy of sending to school (being female and all), they began working when they were 8-12.   They travel from their mountain villages in the state of Karnataka to spend the winter walking the beaches selling to tourists.  They camp together in cheap rooms, and are subject to harassment from the local police and mafia, having to pay them off for the “right” to peddle. 

 

         We learned much from them about their lives, their sexual and relationship attitudes, their dreams, their suffering, and above all, their tough-as-nails ability to survive.

 

         We honor them.

 


The Beach Ladies

           Throughout our trip, James and I have given attention to the people we met, and tried to really share through conversation, so that we, from very different cultures, could come to understand one another.  While we had preconceived notions about the disparities here, even we were surprised by what we discovered in gender relations . . . the focus, after all, of our work.

 

         Neither James nor I have been to Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries (except for my 6 weeks in Morocco in 1975-76), so this is the most sexually repressed country we have been in.  And guess who gets the short end of the deal . . . ?  That’s right:  the woman.  All these years I have been writing about the injustices and suffering caused by the Patriarchy in all cultures, and here the scale of injustice boggles the mind.

 

         About 65% of girls in India get married under the legal age of 18.  And the vast majority of them are in arranged marriages.  The marriage is a financial arrangement between the parents, and girl children imply the burden of coming up with the dowry.   Dowry killings (nonpayment of the dowry) happen. 

 

         Once married, women are expected to produce a son, and abortion is common if the fetus is female. Female infanticide is also a grave problem, as being female has so little value here.  I had unconsciously noted that when I saw kids playing, they were mostly boys.  Without even articulating the thought, I imagined that the girls were kept inside to help their mother, or who knows?  But the fact of the matter is that there are less girls.  The implications of this horrify me:  how does the mother make the decision to abort, to let the midwife take the baby away to die, to bury her alive?  The mother herself must live under the threat of severe punishment to submit to this perverse system.

 

         James’ and my thesis – that our mythologies determine our realities – has been given a run for its money in India.  Because Hinduism is replete with goddesses.  Shouldn’t women, then, be revered?  We have pondered this question tirelessly and asked nearly everyone we meet.  We have also been hammering away at research, and are teasing the answers out of India’s complex history.  And it looks like all the early conclusions of our book – the need for balance and egalitarianism between the sexes, how the ideas we hold in our minds play out in our world, the effects of the dominator and partnership paradigms, and what happens when sexuality is repressed  – all these ideas we have been propounding are being substantiated here in India, with a vengeance!   The answers are way too complicated for this essay, so . . . I guess we’ll just have to write a book about it!   So Venus and Her Lover has gotten more than we bargained for in India.  Distressingly so.

 

         Yes, there is a modern India . . . educated people, the new middle class (beneficiaries of all the outsourcing, as well as the computer/internet economy), and we’ve met many of them.  Sincere, hardworking, gentle people.   Modern women who participate in what is called here “pub culture” are being dragged out of bars by the hair or beaten up by religious/ conservative/ “family values” Hindus and Muslims, because they are unaccompanied single women often dressed risqué in tight jeans and a “noodle strap” top.   There’s a huge clash of cultures happening in India right now, and it’s hard to see how exactly it is going to turn out.    And it’s all based on sexual dysfunction.  So for our work, this has been an amazing dive into our topic.

 

         What has been poignant for us is our relationships with women here.  The majority of women we know are the beach sellers – traditional women who migrate to Goa from mountain villages (mostly from Karnataka), who are in arranged marriages, many of them beaten by their husbands and forced to work to support the family, where they are preyed upon by unscrupulous police and local mafia.  Because of their work, they speak some English.  So when James makes his daily trips to the beach, he is greeted by all the friends he’s made.  The women sit with him, he buys them cool drinks or shares fruit with them, and they all sit around and talk.   The very fact that these male-female conversations happen is itself revolutionary, and then what they confide in him, and what he says to them  . . . well, these conversations are quite amazing.  And what we note is very exciting:  many of these women are thinking their own thoughts, and say they will keep their daughters and let them choose a “love match” (non-arranged marriage).  

 

         With this page, we’d like to introduce you to some of our new friends – the beach ladies of Goa.

 

 

 

 

At Home in Anjuna

January-February-March 2009                       Anjuna, Goa, India

 

         Granddaughters Katie and Dilyn asked us to describe our new home, so this post is for them!

 

         Anjuna caught us with its vibe.  When we looked around Calangute Beach and Baga – the hip places of the 1980’s – James remarked, “Look at all the ole farts around here!” 

         I replied, “James, young people would say the same about us.”

         “Look again!”  he pointed out.  And he was right.  We’re not really typical specimens of our age group.

 

         In addition to the hipsters, Anjuna has young families.  30-something Europeans who are raising their kids here and therefore have come up with their own cool businesses.  So there’s bakeries and health food and concerts and movie nights and bookstores and internet cafés.  The old Goan families have their own little empires – guesthouses and restaurants/night clubs and Ayurvedic health spas.  The beach, though, is what got us.  A long expanse of sand with thatch beach shacks and a mellow vibe.

 

         We arrived here  toward the end of January to look for a house.  All the grand old Portuguese homes with gardens had been rented since November, and we had little to choose from.  Even so, we found a 2-year old, very clean, 2-bedroom house in a compound.  Really nice landlords who live next door, and 2 dogs for security.  Reasonable rent ($300/month), sparsely furnished, but at least furnished.  The bed is way too hard, but we found that to be true all over India.  Good location – ah, but too good!  We are right on the main road of Anjuna (incessant traffic, and in India, that’s loud!) AND a main cow path (wandering cows set dogs to barking).  I located my office at the back of the house and turn on my I-Tunes when the traffic surpasses a certain level..

 

         Throw in some buzzing mosquitos and you have a nasty recipe for a light sleeper (James) or someone prone to insomnia (me).  We don’t sleep that well here.

 

         On the property of the compound is a little thatch-roof, dirt floor restaurant (no sign outside – you either have to live here, or know about it, to find it).  Francis and Elizabeth (they’re Catholics, hence the odd names) cook up fabulous food most days.  I can’t tell you what a relief it is for me to know that when I’m working to the point of suddenly realizing I’m hungry, all I have to do is walk next door and get a 3-5 course plate (a thalli) of whatever they’ve fixed, for about $1. That means:  dahl (lentils), 1 or 2 curried veggies (cauliflower, peas, eggplant, fenugreek greens, cashews, etc.), chutney (they call it “pickle”), yoghurt (“curd”) sauce, and a chapati, all of which I add to my own whole grain. On Sundays the price triples because they fix the local speciality:  Goan Fish Curry – a delicious blend of peppers and coconut milk and curry over delicate white fish.   It’s fantastic – and 20 steps away!  How lucky could we get?

 

         You can see pictures of some of the rooms of our house in the post entitled “A Day in the Life”.

 

         Altho we’ve attended the infamous outdoor dances, the Goan trance parties are a little too techno for my taste (still searching for who’s playing tribal trance music).  So we’re not shakin’ it with the youngin’s too much.  We’ve mostly fallen in with the yoga community.  There are 2 excellent yoga centers here, and I attend morning classes in a screened-in pavilion under big trees. 

 

         We were invited to a Valentines’ Day party, which was a multi-segment event starting in the afternoon and going into the night, and totally my style:  Upon arrival, we were smudged and then sprinkled and dabbed with fairy dust.  Then we sipped an Ayurvedic herbal aphrodisiac tea and chatted in the lush tropical garden.  At sunset we gathered around the fire pit (in a stepped amphitheater smoothed with dried cow dung, like adobe), where we called in the directions, burned old habits in the fire, and other ceremonial fun.  Then the mega-speakers were cranked up for trance dancing under the palms and the moon.  At 10pm we all (about 60 of us) sat on the ground for the thalli-style meal served on banana leaves, followed by a concert by an amazing Russian guitarist.  I think they did a slide show and who-knows-what-else later, but we left around midnight.   But that gives you an idea of who we’re rubbing elbows with.

 

         In Anjuna there’s a group who gather to do Sanskrit chanting, complete with a bunch of musicians and drummers, and sometimes I join them. 

 

         James is out much more than me, and has made friends with all the beach peddlers (women from the hills – more on them later…) and tourists, mostly Europeans here for a week or so.

 

         It’s a mellow community but lacks a coherent center.  I have talked with a couple locals about that, and  NO, I am not going to organize anything or do anything about that!  James and I are very content with Goa just the way it is!


A Day in the Life

Winter 2009                                                     Anjuna, Goa, India

 

                  Our days go basically like this:  I work from morning till night at home,  and James goes to the beach. 

 

         The water therapy is doing wonders for his knee, and James says he’s in less pain now than he’s been in for years.  At the beach he’s also doing research for our book.

 

         Once a week I make myself go to the beach, and hopefully once a week I take my books with me to the nearby Hotel Bougainvilla, where they have a delicious spring-fed pool, do I can work and take refreshing spells in the cool water.

 

         So for all my friends to whom I’ve been less-than-constant, all I can say is:  Good thing we’re not friends in Goa!   I am now absolutely merciless about keeping to my writer’s schedule.  On rare occasions James pulls me out of my studio to eat out, or meet friends, or sit by the sea, and I must confess, I need those times.  Otherwise, I am indulging completely in the freedom to write, and am very grateful for it.

 

         Most of the beach pics, etc. that you see on the blog are from my weekly day-off.   Otherwise I am happily at the grind!

 

Let Goa

 

 

 

 

January-February 2009                                       Goa

 

         James said all along we’d end up in Goa, and he was right.  It is so different from the rest of India, I was afraid it would be too Westernized or too expensive for our Indian sojourn, but actually, it is just right for us.

 

         Goa has beaches, beaches, and beaches.  Its tropical climate (in the middle of India’s western coast) is welcome to us, but this winter being one of the hottest in memory, we are really feeling it.  One day I checked the weather online and get this: 

                                      Goa                   Taos

                  High            94°                  49°

                  Low              71°                  17°

 

         The most amazing thing about Goa is the culture.  Goa was not a part of India until 1961, when 400 years of being a Portuguese colony ended.   Hence, there are Christian churches (and Christians who may think and dress Western-style), older people speak Portuguese, and the food has a European bent.  The Goan people are extremely friendly (and for India, where we have been so warmly welcomed, that’s saying something!) and culturally open-minded.

 

         So between the easy-going culture and the awesome beaches, it was inevitable this should become a refuge for wild and crazy tourists, free-spirited artists, and other homeless global citizens.  Trance dance and raves came out of Goa in the 80’s & 90’s, making this a mecca for people who love to dance.  The line-up of beach shacks have invested more in sound systems than in kitchen equipment, creating quite the soundscape!  Thank the gods and goddesses that global trance is one of our favorite kinds of music, so we can groove with it.

 

         Part of me objects that, for the sake of my writing, I should be in completely traditional Hindu place while living in India, but the practicalities are this . . . 

          When it’s 98° out, I want to wear shorts and a tank top, not 3 layers of silk on top of a short-sleeved shirt and long pants (in Mangalore and elsewhere, Hindu extremists have attacked women wearing jeans or “noodle strap” shirts), and I want to wear a bikini at the beach.  In Goa, I can dress for the weather. (When in town, I dress conservatively but comfortably).

         When we shop, I want to buy millet and olive oil and balsamic vinegar and organic veggies, etc.  Along that line, there are several German bakeries here, where I can get sourdough whole wheat bread, chocolate mousse, apple strudel, and walnut cake (very dangerous!).

         The music scene is fabulous (not that I get out much), and the international expat community is within reach, so when we socialize, we party with peers … yoga practitioners, writers, spiritual seekers.

         English is widely understood.

         The infrastructure is reasonably together.  

         It’s still quite cheap, if you’re willing to go Indian style on food, transport, etc.

         The Goans are so very kind and accepting.

 

         So that’s our rationale … not really surprising, if you look at our former homes.  We are always blessed with a community of magnificent nature, conscious/artistic/globally minded people who are movers and shakers, and sustaining traditions.  Well, that pretty much describes Rincon, Tuscany, the Big Island, and Taos.  Now we add Goa to our list of beloved homes.

 

         Goa is a tourist destination for Indians who want to let their hair down.  Here I’ve seen more Indian women in shorts (granted, they’re usually entering the sea with their clothes on) than anywhere, and the musicians, and others who are free-thinkers are a real delight to talk to – to hear their stories of getting liberated in a very conservative culture.

 

         The international community is quite interesting (in order of predominance):  mostly Europeans of all stripes (especially Italians, Spaniards, Germans, and heavy on the Britishers), Russians, Israelis, Japanese, and just a sprinkling of Americans.  I’d like to comment on the Israelis . . . because every kid at 18 must serve in the military (women for 1 year, men for 3 years), when they get out, they (self-admittedly) need therapy.  As one woman told us, “We all have lost dear friends in combat.”  Many are angry, others are shattered (PTSD, I’m sure).  They come to India either on a spiritual quest or to Goa for a blow-out.  They drink and do drugs and are generally so self-expressive, as only Israelis can be, that they often tangle with the cops.  India has changed its visa procedure just for Israelis, trying to restrict their presence here, coz they often tear the place up.  But the ones we’ve met seem quite self-aware; they know the war has screwed them up, and they’re just trying to put their lives back together.  It’s a tragic picture of the effects of war on young people.

 

         Still, Goa takes them in.  Goa takes us all in and heals us with its magical presence.  We’re happy to be here.

 

Next:  our home in Anjuna Beach

 

 

 

18 January 2009                                    Kerala – Karnataka, India

 

         We confess:  we like the west coast better.  Whether in California or Puerto Rico or Hawai’i, we want to see the sun set into the water.  So we made it to the west coast of India and somehow immediately felt at home.

 

         While we would have loved to do a leisurely exploration of the Kerala coast, by this point of our journey, we were travel-weary, wanting only to find a place to plop down and rest.  Traveling in India, while wondrous, is nevertheless difficult.

 

         We also discovered that our idea of finding a beach town to live in was narrowed down considerably by our Western standards:  not only did we require electricity, reasonably good internet, and some facsimile of whole foods, we also wanted a beach that was not considered a garbage dump or public bathroom.  That means not only a place discovered by Westerners, but enough of them have to have made an impact to change the dumping ground perception of a beach.

 

         So we stopped briefly in green, gorgeous Kerala:  had darshan with Amma (along with several thousands of her devotees), picked up the box of books I shipped to kindly Usha, and then headed north up the coast to Karnataka.

 

         We hung awhile in Gokarna, a Hindu pilgrimage destination with a beautiful beach still in transition from waste dump status.  We made friends with a local restaurateur who served fresh fish, much to the outrage of the locals (Hindu vegetarians). Also got to know feisty Anita, a budding feminist who left her arranged marriage (at age 16), much to the outrage of the family (Hindu traditionalists).  In this society she is now “damaged goods” and has brought shame to her family and village.

 

A short boat ride south brought us to more pristine Om Beach and surrounding beaches:  clear blue bays ringed by almond trees and coconut palms.  Anyone there see shades of Rincon?  We certainly did… and I felt so at home, I did not want to leave.  It was like Rincon 40 years ago … with beach palapas selling drink and food (but unlike greasy Puerto Rican fare, this was Indian haute cuisine), playing very hip trance and reggae, and populated by dreadlocked/tattooed/pierced international backpackers swinging in hammocks.  The vibe was Peace & Love (“Shanti”, as everyone says here).   Not quite enough amenities for me to write there, nor enough stimulus for James to be happy, but it sure was a relaxing interlude.

 

         Westerners have become something of an attraction, and Indian tourists climb the many steps down to the beach or boat in to behold the scene (see photo of sign).  It was a very friendly atmosphere, and I got to feel what it’s like to have cameras pointed at you continually.  Well, (the tourist must admit…) Turnabout is fair play!  James and I actually had a ball interacting with the locals/Indian tourists, but then had to be insistent about wanting to be quiet and alone (Why be alone, when you can make new friends?, according to the Indian view).

 

         After considering Gokarna as a home, we decided to press northward to that mecca of Western alternatives:  Goa.