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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!

 

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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.

Hell on a Bus

11-12 January 2009                                             Tamil Nadu to Kerala,    India                                   

        

         Travelling as we do, without advance itinerary and open to the Universe’s suggestions, can lead to magical events as well as disastrous consequences.  We’ve already had a couple hell rooms (one was so bad that the mouse living there hitchhiked out of there in our backpack when we checked-out, as we were too grossed-out by the grunge to even sleep there one night).  So I guess it was inevitable we’d have a hell ride, too.

 

         While it’s true we are budget travelers, we do try to do the best we can with what we’ve got.  Because of the high tourism season, we could not get any train or 1st class bus out of Pondicherry, so we made reservations on a 2nd class, “semi-sleeper” all-nighter, direct bus to cross South India.    This “direct” bus made so many stops, (sometimes at the drivers’ relatives’ places we think), that it ran 6 hours behind schedule.  We stopped to load burlap bags on top, a box of fish next to our bags down below, take on a man with peeping chicks in a bag, and stop for chai, every time allowing mosquitos to pour in through the open windows (they got to ride for free!).  At one stop a man loaded his motorcycle into the cargo hold, and the bus guys heave-hoed it on top of our bags, thereby smashing and breaking one of them.  James was so exasperated (and no one spoke English) that he chained our crumpled bags on top of the motorcycle so they wouldn’t move them again without our knowing.

 

         Sleeping was a torturous endeavour.  We suspect the bus driver avoided the toll road, as he seemed to wander around the countryside, hitting bone-rattling pothole after pothole (worse than Taos’ finest during mud season!).  Or maybe that was the highway…

 

         When we left the state of Tamil Nadu, we had to change buses because of some supposed law that doesn’t allow Tamil Nadu buses to haul less than 7 passengers across state lines.  There were 6 of us going on to Kerala.  So we disembarked at 5:30am, to catch the next bus out at 7:15am.  Finally the new bus started off, but stopped in 1 minute because it had a flat tire.  We finally got on the road at 8:30am.  There was no further dozing, as James used his force of will to keep us out of head-on collisions on basically a one-lane road.  This new bus driver cut it very close many times.  The positive take on the situation is that the Indian drivers are so good that they can cut it close – within inches.  We have noticed that 99% of vehicles have side-swipe marks, and broken-off side-view mirrors.

 

         The consolation prize was the scenery – banana and palm groves watched over by the distant mountains, the Western Ghats.  Sunny, green, clear, and even clean…  apparently Kerala has a left-leaning socialist government, which I suppose translates into better education and social programs.  There is a marked contrast to the trash and ramshackle quality we found in what we saw of Tamil Nadu.  Kerala seems to us to be quite lovely.  And we made it here alive!

A Dream – Auroville

 

11 January 2009                                         Puducherry (Pondicherry), India

 

         Pondicherry used to be a French colony, so we got to enjoy the French-style promenades and real baguettes and croissants with café latté, and I got to speak French more.   Our main goal here was to visit Auroville, the largest intentional community in the world, which is just north of Pondi.  We rented a moto-scooter (from a rental guy with a main street business who told us, “If the police stop you, tell them you borrowed it from a friend.”), and James adeptly jumped into the chaotic fray that is Indian traffic, until we got to the orchards, cottage businesses, and waterways of Auroville – an impressive land-reclamation effort on what used to be a severely eroded, dusty plateau. 

 

         Ramses, I kept thinking of you as we observed the community putting their high ideals into practice through the gardens, water management, educational programs, arts development, and cottage industries.  What a relief it was for us to be in a place in India that was green, had clean air, little litter, and no honking horns.  We ate  lettuce for the first time since we left the United States … and it was organic!  Oh, and brownies, too!

 

         This large community was born from the spirituality of Sri Aurobindo, and the visionary manifestation powers of  Mirra Alfassa, known around here as “the Mother”.  An Indian man and a French woman … we liked the yin-yang balance of this powerful duo.  Altho Sri Aurobindo died in the 1950’s, she carried forth the vision to fruition, breaking ground on the community in 1968.  What it is now is commendable, and they are still reaching toward more and more infrastructure and community building.  The statement of her “Dream” I find very inspiring. [see below]

 

         We connected with 2 friends here:  KK (from Taos, who has just moved from Tiruvannamalai to Auroville), and Tiara (from Hawai’i, founder of Children of the Sun meditation grid, who’s doing her own spiritual journey through India).   

 

         James and I were very happy to find ourselves back on the coast!

   =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Following is a copy of the Mother’s “Dream”:

 

 

There should be somewhere upon earth a place that no nation could claim as its sole property, a place where all human beings of goodwill, sincere in their aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that of the supreme Truth; a place of peace, concord, harmony, where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer the causes of his suffering and misery, to surmount his weakness and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities; a place where the needs of the spirit and the care for progress would get precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the seeking for pleasures and material enjoyments.

In this place, children would be able to grow and develop integrally without losing contact with their soul. Education would be given, not with a view to passing examinations and getting certificates and posts, but for enriching the existing faculties and bringing forth new ones. In this place titles and positions would be supplanted by opportunities to serve and organize. The needs of the body will be provided for equally in the case of each and everyone. In the general organisation intellectual, moral and spiritual superiority will find expression not in the enhancement of the pleasures and powers of life but in the increase of duties and responsibilities.

Artistic beauty in all forms, painting, sculpture, music, literature, will be available equally to all, the opportunity to share in the joys they bring being limited solely by each one’s capacities and not by social or financial position.

For in this ideal place money would be no more the sovereign lord. Individual merit will have a greater importance than the value due to material wealth and social position. Work would not be there as the means of gaining one’s livelihood, it would be the means whereby to express oneself, develop one’s capacities and possibilities, while doing at the same time service to the whole group, which on its side would provide for each one’s subsistence and for the field of his work.

In brief, it would be a place where the relations among human beings, usually based almost exclusively upon competition and strife, would be replaced by relations of emulation for doing better, for collaboration, relations of real brotherhood.

The Mother


 

 

   8 January 2009                                                       Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India

 

         Arunachala is a sacred mountain, and after our relationships with Maxwaluna in Taos and the apus of the Andes, we were ready to meet this mountain.  Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi attained self-realization here, after sitting in silent meditation in a cave in this mountain for many years.  James was especially looking forward to Arunachala, as Ramana was the first guru to get James’ attention, years back when he was living in Spain.  Soon after this he began dreaming of Puerto Rico and remembering me, which led eventually to our partnership.

 

         “So in a way coming here is coming full circle,”  James said. 

 

I guess so, in a circles within circles kind of way. . .

 

         Now that we were in South India (and gratefully out of the cold winter of North India), it was only proper that James should come to Tiruvannamalai and pay homage to his guru.  This meant walking the stone path up the mountain – not the easiest feat for him.  So we went slowly, sometimes he leaned on me, but mostly he did it himself.  Step by step.

 

         We had agreed to make it a silent pilgrimage, so we did not talk.  As a writer, I am literarily overflowing with words, which accompanied me, incessantly, on our climb.  We passed families of monkeys; they foraged through the bushes, chased one another, and swung from tree branch to tree branch, very much like my thoughts.  Stilling the mind is an enormous challenge, even in a walking meditation!

 

         James spied some yellow flowers growing just off the path, and indicated that he would like me to pick them for him, so he could make them as an offering.  I winced.  Being barefoot, I was wary to step into the brush, but I certainly did not want him to step onto unsteady ground.  So I picked my way to the bush, as I was silently flogged by my internal growling.  Just as I, glaring at him with the eyes of a martyr, handed him the sprig of flowers, I stepped on a thorn. Shedding my blood on Arunachala, I had to laugh at how adept it was at instant karma. 

 

         Finally we reached a shrine marking where Ramana had lived and we joined people inside to sit silently.  My mind kept up the monkey circus, so I decided to do the talking:  I prayed there that James be able to transcend the pain of his body.

 

         Hiking on, we came to the cave where Ramana had spent years on end in silent meditation.  People who used to approach him could feel the power of his divine realization, without him even speaking a word.  Inside I could make out the flower-draped shrine in the light of ghee candles.  Settling in, I closed my eyes, and finally my mind allowed me to drop down, under the radar of my constant internal chatter.  In the quiet, what arose in me was a flame.   Naturally!  I had read that, according to Hindu mythology, it was here that Shiva appeared on the Earth as a column of fire, and Arunachala was his blazing sthavara lingam.  During the holy festival of Karthigai Deepam, in December, a huge lamp is lit at the top of the mountain (using 2000 liters of ghee and a 30-meter wide wick), so that Shiva’s light burns for all to see.

 

         In my meditation  I did not perceive the fire element as I had in Hawai’i – the churning and erupting of the goddess Pele – here it was a candle flame:  constant, consuming, yet continually renewing.  The flame lapped up the center of my body, so that I was the connection between the earth and the sky.  In fact, all humans forged that circuit with our internal light, allowing energy to flow between the worlds.  We were the bridge, and at the same time, the river.  I envisioned all of us as human candles, a glowing aura around the Earth, and its light bathed me in love.

 

         When I opened my eyes, several people sat cross-legged in silence, and James had gone out.  I found him outside the cave, and he offered me a banana.  Breaking our silence,  I said, “You mean you have bananas left?”  He had been giving out fruit to beggars and saddhus all along the way.

 

         As we carefully placed our steps going down the mountain (which was steeper and more difficult than the ascent), I asked James if he had had any realizations or experiences on our little mountain pilgrimage. 

 

         With a determined grin, he replied,  “Before enlightenment, there are many bananas to carry.  And after enlightenment, there are many bananas to carry.”

Varanasi Views

A few more views for you ….