Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Subletting Angst

Rumi and I are subletting from a girl (we'll call her Soap Star) who we recently found out is overcharging us almost $500 per month (it tells you something about how exorbitant New York rents are that we're paying that much extra but still feel like we have a good deal, relatively speaking). Actually, we found out some time ago, but at the time I had too many other fish to fry, including leaving my job from hell, and I was really looking forward to the summer and making use of our roof deck. Soap Star no longer lives in the city. She's on her way to California to make it in Hollywood. Meanwhile, she's been taking acting classes on my dime. At least my money has been supporting the arts.

Mostly I push this situation out of my mind, but every few months, the living situations ends up incensing me. This girl blatantly lied to my face when I first agreed to move in. She told me the rent was more than it actually was, and then didn't even bother to do the math correctly. I figured out she was lying quickly because what she was charging me and Rumi didn't add up to what she had told me the rent was. I gave her a security deposit and last month's rent and now I know that this girl can not be trusted to be honorable with my money. I really hate that. It pushes all kinds of buttons related to money, control, and security.

I can't stand liars. I also can't stand greedy, untrustworthy people who think they are pulling one over on you. People who just take and take and have no sense of justice or fairness. It enrages me, now and then, to think that she thinks that she is pulling one over on Rumi and me. Really, we're pulling one over on her because she doesn't know that we know exactly how much she's overcharging us. Our plan is to enjoy the summer and then take it from there.

The whole thing is a New York sublet mess. She's not on the lease (a fact she lied about and which we recently discovered), so she has no rights under the lease. However, neither do we because we aren't on any legit lease either; although in the beginning we had thought we were. To complicate things, a new management company has bought the building and they seem to be way more on top of their game than the old one. Suddenly, mail boxes have been stripped of their names, we think because the management company doesn't recognize so many of the names of people living in their building.

I'm in a precarious situation and it annoys me. It annoys me because I want to make my life less stressful, yet this living situation has been a constant thorn every month when I have to deal with this girl that I'm subletting from. It annoys me that I entered into this situation without ascertaining that it was on the up and up. It annoys me that she has lots of my money and I might not be able to get it back without representing myself in small claims court. It annoys me that I'm a lawyer and yet I don't know the answers to all of this (housing law is not my forte). It also annoys me that I think I have to wait it out and let the status quo continue because New York rents are such that there's a real concern that if I went to the landlord he would up my rent to above what I'm paying Soap Star.

I'm tense, aggravated, and annoyed because I've been emailing with Soap Star for the last few days. I want a stable living situation. I want her gone. I do not want to have to deal with some greedy, lying, little prima donna every four weeks.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It's Never About the Lemons

Sven and I polished off the last few episodes of this season's Entourage and then, because I had vetoed sports, found ourselves surfing through the movies on HBO On Demand. He picked the "Break-Up," a movie I saw a year ago - fittingly and prophetically - with my Mom and EXBF sometime before he and I broke up, for reasons very similar to those in the movie, actually.

It's a great movie. It's funny, the arguments are classic, and it's the quintessential depiction of how a guy should not behave in a relationship. From the beginning, Gary (Vince Vaughn) acts like a self-absorbed, immature, slothful infant, obsessed with video games, drinking beers, and of course sports. He doesn't appreciate when Brook (Jennifer Aniston), his girlfriend, picks up after him, makes a nice dinner, plans their social events, or tries to come up with things he'll enjoy doing. He doesn't appreciate when she thinks about him, and he doesn't think about her, choosing instead to take her for granted.

I'd like to say that I thought the characters were based on stereotypes, but honestly, I really can't say that because I think there's a lot of truth in how they were presented. I know so many women who give so much to their relationships, who are going out with men who don't act like they appreciate them, don't prioritize them, act selfishly and immaturely, and generally take them for granted. Of course I don't think that all men are like that, and in fact I know a number of men who are dating my girl friends who are fantastic, caring, wonderful partners.

But it's certainly a reoccurring pattern that I've seen pop up again and again, in many different contexts including brother-sister, mother-son, and dating relationships. I don't know why it happens. Maybe it's because women are, in general, more emotionally attuned, sensitive, and evolved than men? Maybe women are, in general, less selfish than men? Maybe women are raised to care for the people around them more than men are? Maybe women's needs are different then men and they try to get their needs met by doing to their men as they would have them do to them?

Or, maybe it's the way we raise our men where we allow them to grow up into over-sized boys who can get away with murder with a little bit of charm and a few crumbs of affection? Even when Vince Vaughn's character is acting like a child, we laugh at him and think he's funny. We think he's endearing. Maybe it's the classic "Girl meets Boy with issues. Girl wants to save Issues Boy. Issues Boy will not be saved from himself because his issues are too much fun for him"?

We give them multiple chances, patiently try to explain, talk things to death in an effort to help them understand, and then are hurt again and again when the same issues arise in new and different forms (same, same, but different). As Jennifer Aniston's character explained, it's not about the lemons, or the dishes, it's about wanting to be with someone who gives a shit about you.

I don't buy the end of the movie for a second, and think it was a mistake to tack on such an improbable, warm and fuzzy ending to what had been up until that point a fairly "real" movie, for Hollywood. You do not live with someone, break-up, move-out, feel devastated, get over your devastation, move on with your life and then see them on the street and look genuinely happy to see them. It wouldn't happen like that. There would be sudden intake of breath, a flicker of barely suppressed awkwardness, a desire to check yourself in the nearest mirror. Or, at the very least a reserved, cautiousness, a quick glance away, a clenched jaw. But, definitely not the warm, bubbly, wistful, open, doe-eyed greeting that Gary and Brook give one another when they bump into each other on the street only six months after wreaking havoc in each other's lives.

Maybe it would happen after a year or two, but not six months. Although, in the movie, Gary apologizes to Brook and makes an attempt (too little, too late, but an attempt nonetheless) to get her back, showing her that he actually did care about her, despite all the times his actions had made it appear that he had little regard for her. So, on second thought, because Gary was able to see the error of his ways and sincerely apologize for all the pain he had caused Brook, and because Brook went on to be far happier without him, maybe it is possible that she could have been genuinely happy to see him six months after the break-up?

...Maybe if she became a Buddha during those six months, but short of that, no way.

Monday, May 28, 2007


My boobs are sore, my nipples are swollen, and a sourceless knot of anxiety has been eating at me for the last two days despite all of the reasons I have to be blissfully happy. I have a new job that I feel all warm and fuzzy about, I went on a lovely picnic this weekend in Central Park, I motivated to go running twice last week, I have a great new roommate, and I've been having a great time catching up with all of my friends since coming back to the city. Yet, I'm not totally happy. I feel discordant, like there's a layer of funkiness flowing through me.

Today, while walking to the subway and talking to my mom on the phone, I suddenly found myself crying. I hadn't cried in almost two months; a veritable world record in comparison to the frequent sob fests of last year. Once on the subway, after I had composed myself, wiped away the tears, and checked in my compact to make sure I didn't have any tell-tale mascara streaks, I almost started crying again because the little kid across the aisle from me was so unbelievably adorable. Trust me, other than my nephew and a few other honorable mentions, I am usually not moved to tears by the sight of small children, adorable or not.

Later in the evening, after meeting some girl friends for dinner and walking a few blocks to get a cab, I realized that I had ended up in my old neighborhood, the place that I used to live in with EXBF, and I felt a wave of almost forgotten emotions wash over me. Not as strong as they once were, but still there. There was sadness, apprehension, anxiety, vulnerability, incredible loss, and fear (fear of what? I wondered). Suddenly, I was caught in a rampage of memories. I felt sad and alone and a little like crying again. When I came home, I saw that a zit had erupted out of no where on my previously smooth chin. Fantastic.

Clearly, I'm about to get my period.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Introducing Sven, My New Roomie

Rumi's gone off to the Hamptons to live with her boyfriend and teach pilates to New York's summertime migrating upper crust. In her absence, for the next three months, I'll be sharing the apartment with Sven, a 28 year old Midwesterner who I met down in Mexico at Bikini Boot Camp. Sven was the personal trainer for our group. While lounging around on the beach chairs one day, we got to talking and it turned out that just at the time my room mate was planning to leave the city, Sven was planning to move to New York to start work in a super swanky gym. Rumi needed a subletter and Sven needed a sublet. Perfection.

Sven arrived on Friday, just in time for my first full jet-lag-free weekend in New York, and to watch my brother and I bicker on Saturday morning about Bacchus moving his hung-over body off of the air mattress in the middle of the living room floor and up into my bedroom. I won that argument by flipping open the valve and causing the mattress to deflate in a sudden rush under the weight of Bacchus' body. Once he hit the hard wood floor he moved upstairs quickly.

Having never lived with a boy who was not part of my family or someone that I was sleeping with, I'm interested to see how the next three months are going to go. As I have no intention of sleeping with him - this will not be a Billy/Allison thing - and as we're not related to one another, I guess the only option for us is to become friends. You know what's weird about that? I haven't really had a lot of male friends since high school - and those were really more like "three-man" drinking buddies - so I'm a little out of practice at the whole platonic girl-boy friendship thing.

So far, things have been working out well. On Saturday morning, Sven and I went running together on the East River. It was so gorgeous! Since he's a personal trainer, of course he kicked my booty and ran off a head after a while, but that was fine with me. It was motivating to run with him, because though I'm aware of my weaknesses, I didn't want to show him exactly how weak I was. A girl has her pride, even if that girl happens to have gained EIGHT FREAKIN' POUNDS OF FLESH in India. (But that's a different story for a different post). My stubbornness pushed me through at least one extra song before I had to give up gasping for air.

On Saturday night, Sven, Bacchus and I got the grill on my terrace fired up and cooked up a feast of steak (for the boys), fish (for me), asparagus, zucchini, and potatoes. Looking out at the city from on top of the roof deck, I thought to myself that life honestly could not get much better. Sven did this amazing thing with the potatoes where he mixed together chopped potatoes, onions, olive oil, and salt and pepper and then wrapped the whole concoction in aluminum foil and put it in the oven to cook for an hour. They were so delicious. In addition to being a personal trainer, Sven's a wonderful, healthy cook. I'm hoping his healthiness rubs off on me and vaporizes the extra poundage I picked up during my two blissful months of vaca.

The only negatives so far have nothing to do with Sven and only relate to having a room mate in general. Rumi was hardly ever in the apartment because she was always at her boyfriend's (she's the perfect room mate), so it's a little weird to suddenly have someone around all the time. During the last couple of days, I've spent tons of time watching Entourage and very little time playing with this.

Luckily, someone has the house all to herself tonight.

Photos: Amansala Bikini Boot Camp, Tulum, Mexico.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My New View

LOST Season Finale


Opening: The opening was killer. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Bernard, Jin, and Sayid to shoot the dynamite and blast the Others to smithereens. Finally, the Survivors are kicking some Other booty. Jin should not be allowed near the guns in the future.

Jack's "Flashback": The finale was awesome until the last few minutes which made me interested but thoroughly confused. For a minute, I was convinced that the entire "flashback" with Jack had not been a flashback at all but had instead been a scene from the future, after Kate and Jack get off the island. However, then I realized that Jack had referenced his father to the other doctor, saying something like, "If he's drunker than I am, you can fire me." So, the scenes with Jack and Kate can't be from the future but they also can't be from the past because - unless the writers of Lost want us to believe that Jack and Kate have been faking for three seasons - Jack and Kate did not know each other before the crash.

So what are we supposed to think about the scenes? Are they Jack's past, his future, or some parallel reality that may have or might occur because of something related to the island?

The Others: I was a little shocked to see them all come creeping into the Survivors' camp armed with guns ready, apparently, to kill anyone that they found (except for the women). The finale proved unequivocally that the Others are ruthless killers. Not only were they going to kill the Survivors, but Ben also ordered the death of two of his people just to keep his secrets. So much for the theories that the Others are a group of Scientists trying to save the world. I don't see how anyone intent upon saving the world could treat other human beings so brutally. Who is Jacob?

Ben: Jack did a decent job punching Ben in the face when he believed that Ben's order had resulted in the deaths of Bernard, Sayid, and Jin, but it didn't hold a candle to Nicki/Jessica taking down Skylar in the Season Finale of Heroes. That girl is a bad-ass.

Do you really think Ben believes there's something on the island or about the island that's worth protecting at the cost of no communication with the outside world? Or, is Ben just a crazy, deranged megalomaniac?

Sayid: I can't believe they almost killed Sayid! I for one did not believe it when we heard the shots through Ben's walkie-talkie. Sayid can not die. He's Sayid. He's indestructible and way too hot to die. After seeing him take down that Other with his legs while his hands were tied, I decided I would have to take Sayid over Sawyer. It's a big step since they were pretty much running neck and neck for most of the season, but I've made my decision. Sayid, I'm yours.

Locke: I'm a little annoyed with Locke and his obsession regarding the island. I can't believe he killed the parachuter! Did Ben leave him for dead in that ditch with all of the other dead bodies? And, why does it take a vision of Walt to convince John that he can in fact walk? I think Walt's appearance rekindles John's faith (so he can walk again), but his faith in what? Next season they better give us more than John's faith in the power of the island. I want more.

Juliet: I still don't like her or trust her. She was funny in this episode though. My favorite line was when Sawyer asked her why she was going back to the beach and she said "Karma" completely deadpan. She's feisty and smart. Now if only she wasn't so untrustworthy. I was surprised she kissed Jack, but he looked so goofy and happy for a second, it was almost worth it.
Kate and Jack: Jack loves Kate! He said he did, which I thought was a rather huge admission, and she didn't even look shocked. She's probably known it all along though. Kate looked amazingly hot in this episode.

Charlie and Desmond: Their part of tonight's episode was awesomely intense, and we learned more about the Others - mainly that Ben lies to many of them and they tend to be brainwashed followers. I thought it was a little too neat that the code to stop the blocking of radio transmissions was coded to musical notes, and that it was Charlie who was meant to go down there and use his musical knowledge to save the day. It was very cool when Penny popped up on the screen and I liked Charlie writing "Not Penny's Boat" on his hand for Desmond to see. However, I didn't want Charlie to die and I suspect he might actually be alive. We saw him crossing himself next to the smashed window, but we did not see him actually dead. There's a chance for him to beat death yet! If he is dead, I'm annoyed because he could have saved himself by trying to escape through that blasted out window.

The People on The Other End of the Transmission: I think Ben might actually be telling the truth about this, and that the people Jack spoke with might end up attempting to kill everyone on the island. They might do so if the island has magical powers and they want the island for themselves, which Ben suggested when he referred to them as the people who have been looking for the island.

Overall, the finale was thrilling, satisfying, and thoroughly enjoyable. I just wish I didn't have to wait until next season to find out what was going on with that Kate and Jack flashback/futureforward. Thank god I'll have Project Runway to tide me over!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I have been ticking for 4 days. Specifically, the space just below my left eye has been ticking in near constant spasms. It is so annoying. (It has nothing to do with the "Bush Time Bomb" picture but I thought the pic was hilarious).

A friend of mine said that it might be because of a potassium deficit and that I should eat some bananas. I tried, but I continued to tick. Another friend suggested that maybe it's because my sleep schedule is still slightly off kilter and that I should focus on getting some rest. I've been getting around 6 hours a night, which is less than the 8 I need, because though I've been going to bed fairly early I keep waking up at 3 am as a result of jet lag. Last night, I took an ambien for the first time in 2 months and managed to sleep until 7 am but I woke up with a smashing headache. Ouch. It still hurts and it's almost 5 pm!

Does anyone know about eye-ticking? Do I need to go to the doctor? Will I be like this for the rest of my life? I don't want to tick forever.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Not The Twilight Zone

I marched to work yesterday feeling as if there was a distinct possibility that I was willingly walking to my own death. I felt guarded, a little apprehensive, and filled with gritty resolve to see it through. On my back I carried a gym bag with my yoga clothes and a large rolled-up Tibetan thangka (wall hanging) of White Tara sticking out as if it were a sword. Every few feet I would catch a glimpse of myself and think of Hiro, and remember that whatever happened I was a bad ass and at least at the end of the day I'd be able to curl up on the couch and watch the season finale of Heroes. All would not be lost.

To my great surprise the day could not have gone any better. Everyone was warm, friendly, welcoming, and seemed genuinely excited to have me there. All of the attorneys, about 16, went out to lunch to a delicious Turkish place to celebrate my arrival, and shockingly I had a wonderful time. At my old firm, having a lunch with partners present, let alone sitting right next to you on all sides, would have been at best awkward and at worst torturous. Here, I found myself enjoying learning about each of the partners, sharing things about myself, and fully engaged in interesting conversations. Had I entered the twilight zone?

In the afternoon, we had another party, this one in a conference room with chips and chocolate, again to celebrate my arrival, with all the attorneys, the paralegals, and the support staff. Two parties in one day and no one acted like they had more important things to be doing. Everyone made the time to come, chatted some more, had some snacks, and welcomed me again. It was bizarre.

I got my first two assignments and they're interesting. They're also cake. There's no torture, massive time crunch, or nasty supervisor involved. My stomach's not knotting at the thought of them. One of them is a neat little problem that I need to figure out. I'm actually looking forward to diving into it today, breaking it down into it's components and fully analyzing it. I started making a table yesterday and found myself having fun creating it. All of the old nerdy, school-loving qualities started coming out, and I found myself excited at the idea of doing a great job in a way I haven't felt about work in a long, long time. It felt like a good part of me, the part that actually might like being a lawyer and the legal process even if I'm not doing women's rights work, was re-awakening. It was crazy.

By 5 pm I was filled simultaneously with a hopeful, warm happiness for my new job and a white-hot desire to punch Dragon Lady in the face. For the first time in my life, I was being treated like a human being at a law firm. It was fantastically discombobulating. It made me feel as if the two and a half years that I spent at Firm From Hell had been me stuck in a dark, evil bizarro world where everything was off from what it was supposed to be. It made me me want to reach back in time to protect my self of two years ago, to tell me that I was right, DL was a nasty, abusive, miserable, old hag, that she had no right whatsoever to treat me like she did, and it was effed up in the extreme that Firm From Hell would allow its partners to treat their associates so poorly. It made me wish that I had had the perspective, strength, and knowledge to know how wrong DL was and to tell her to eff off, instead of internalizing her evil death rays. Effing Bi-atch.

* Sigh *

I have a long way to go to achieving a detached enlightened state. Clearly, it's not going to happen in this lifetime, but that's ok. The truth is, I don't want to be totally detached. I would like to not be filled with white hot anger at the thought of DL, and most of the time I'm not. But, sometimes I am and I'm fine with that. She deserves to be the object of anger occasionally and I deserve to feel what I need to feel. I survived a hell on earth, but I've most definitely come through to the other side. I won, not her. She's still miserable, along with most everyone else at Firm From Hell, but I get to be happy.

Speaking of which, I have to get ready for work.

Photo: Sunrise from Tiger Hill in the Himalayas, Darjeeling, India.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Diving Back In?

The moment of truth has arrived. After 9 relatively blissful weeks away from Corporate America, tomorrow I'm throwing myself back into the fire pit. I'm nervous. Not about the people or the work, because I think the people will actually turn out to be quite nice and the work should be far more interesting and engaging then the work at my previous firm.

What I'm nervous about, perhaps irrationally but I think understandably, is finding myself back in the type of toxic, soul destroying environment that caused me to leave my last firm. The fear is irrational because I did my research on this new firm and everything I know about it leads me to believe that it will be a million times better than my old firm on just about every level. For example, my last firm expected associates to be at their beck and call around the clock. At the new place, most people leave by 7 pm each night, and almost no one works on the weekends.

But, it's still a law firm, and I'm still going to be doing work that's not my true passion. I worry - despite my strong conviction that worrying is absolutely pointless - that the new place won't be different enough, that in starting this job I'm putting myself back in a situation that will wear down my spirit and lead me to become despondent and depressed once again.

Even as I write this, I know that my concerns are unfounded because I would never again allow myself to get to the place that I was a year or six months ago. I'd see the warning signs - both in my professional and personal life - and this time I would get out long before my spirit was crushed into the ground and ripped into a thousand tiny pieces. I'm confident in my strength and in the lessons that I learned during the last year.

Despite my concerns, I'm trying to maintain a positive attitude and hoping for the best. I would like to believe that I could actually enjoy this new job, and I'm excited about starting my new life free of all of the negativity of the past. However, having been ripped apart once, I think it makes sense that I would feel cautious about starting something new. The new firm doesn't appear to be run by demons with steel tipped talons, but I really won't know until after I've begun working there.

Either way, demons or not, I know it's going to be OK. I survived an incredibly toxic work situation and a destructive relationship at the same time. This time around, there's no relationship negativity to wear me down, and there's no way that any work situation (short of digging trenches in India in the summer) could be as bad as the one I had working for Dragon Lady. So, really, there is nothing to worry about. If it turns out to be horrible, I'll leave. I've done it once and I can do it again. But, hopefully I won't have to.

Photo: Demons trying to distract the Buddha, painted on a temple wall in Darjeeling.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Back In The Land of Filter Coffee and Killer Cocktails

I've been back in New York for a little more than 48 hours. Since arriving home, I've marveled at how positively manicured Queens looks in comparison to India, enjoyed three cups of luscious Starbuck's coffee, had my hair highlighted twice (the first time it looked like I had a cheap faux leopard print hat attached to my head), walked down by the East River and soaked in the organized, industrial feel of the city, caught up on last month's Heroes and Lost, made a weak attempt to clean up my room, fallen asleep in two cabs (one because of jet lag, the other because of way too many drinks), discovered an awesome new bar, tried 5 new cocktails including one with tea infused gin and elderberry essence, kissed an attractive 28 year old male who looked like he was at least 32, flirted with a bartender, gotten lost while trying to find my apartment, and nursed a killer hangover while watching episodes of SATC and Sopranos.

Word to the wise: Fancy cocktails, even when infused with antioxidants, should not be consumed 5 at a time, on an empty stomach, while suffering from jet lag after not drinking hardly any alcohol for over a month. In addition, I would advise against ever attempting to drink really expensive scotch (mistakenly) as if it were a shot. Scotch does not go down well at high speeds.

Apart from the wicked hangover - that lasted for 6 1/2 brutal hours until just about now - it's been pretty great, though slightly surreal, to be back. There's definitely a bit of cultural shock. I seriously can not get over how clean and tidy everything looks. All of the houses and buildings lined up in their little rows, yards fenced off meticulously with chain link fences, garbage packed away in bags out of sight. No tarp cities, no beggar children looking up at me with their huge pleading, sad eyes, no cows ambling down the streets, no rick-shaws, no street gutters running with foul-smelling, toxic looking brown water. Shiny gleaming beautiful glass, swept pavement, filter coffee available on every corner, cute little shops, and blissful, peaceful, calming silence. Relatively speaking. New York has never seemed more quiet to me.

Away from the constant, intense, clamour of India, looking at this city with different eyes, I understand in a way that I didn't fully before why so much of the world looks at the U.S. as if it's a paradise. In many ways, it is. We are so incredibly privileged on so many levels here. We have so much. Looking around at the people on the subway, everyone immersed in the individual sagas of their own lives, listening to their ipods, reading their novels and newspapers, checking their watches impatiently, I wondered if any of them truly appreciate how lucky we all are. And, how unlucky so many others are.

Photo: Tibetan prayer flags in Darjeeling, India.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Near Miss

I almost made a colossal error. I've had in my mind this entire time that I'm leaving Mumbai (Bombay) on the 17th, so after staying tonight at the luxury hotel in Goa (which by the way is freakin' ridiculous it's so posh) I was planning to stay tomorrow night (the night of the 16th) in Mumbai. I had looked into hotels in Mumbai for tomorrow night, had planned out my last minute shopping route through the city, and had set up drinks with friends I had met a few days ago in the Delhi Airport.

Twenty minutes ago, something told me to double check my ticket to New York. It turns out that I am in fact flying out on the 17th, but importantly I'm flying out at 12:20 am on the 17th. It took several minutes of serious concentration and my most sophisticated mathematical abilities, along with a consultation with the nearest member of the hotel staff, to figure out that a flight at 12:20 am on the 17th meant that my flight really leaves on the night of the 16th! My flight's leaving tomorrow night, not the night after.

I almost missed my flight! Who knows when I would have been able to get another flight to New York (probably the next day). It could have taken a week, possibly even a month... I could have delayed starting my job indefinitely (the job that I had an anxiety nightmare about last night). What am I thinking, that mistake would not have been colossal, it would have been Perfect!

Damn my responsible nature. Curses!

It's like I've lost two days of my vacation and am going home early despite the fact that I'm still leaving on the 17th. Omg, I'm so depressed I just might have to go get an over-priced ayurvedic spa treatment from this ridiculously fancy hotel. Maybe the full body scrub and clay body wrap? Or a massage? Last night I had a pedicure and manicure. The beautician scrubbed my heels until they sparkled - all the rough skin and traveling gunk miraculously gone.

Yes, a massage is definitely in order. And a stiff cocktail. Maybe two. For some reason, no one in India has ever heard of a Rum Runner. Hello, People, what else are you supposed to drink while lounging about a super posh resort under the palm trees with a pool at your back and the ocean in front of you? Rum and fruit juice are the perfect thing to drink in the Islands... er, India.

* * *

Update: After I got over the initial shock of the close call - or close save depending upon how you look at it - I resolved to have a brilliant second to last day. This entailed living it up at the resort and trying to ignore how much money I was spending. Things are so outrageously expensive that I might as well be tossing money about like flower petals just walking round the grounds. For example, while everywhere else in India using the internet costs about 20 rupees for a half hour (50 cents), at the hotel it costs 245 rupees ($6). Granted, still not an exorbitant sum but once you add meals, drinks, luxury and entertainment tax, and spa treatments to the cost of the internet, you can imagine how things add up.

But as I was saying, for today I attempted to ignore all of that. If I do say so myself, I did an admirable job. I discovered, when I met an American (from New Jersey!) reclining at the pool who chivalrously bought me a drink, that though there were no Rum Runners to be found, the hotel makes a decent Pina Colada. I also had a fantastically delicious lunch that included the most delicious coconut gelato I think I've ever had in my life. I'm serious, it was that good. Most of the day I spent lounging around the pool. In the hazy heat of the afternoon I managed to rouse myself long enough to walk down to the beach and then proceeded to lounge around down there. There were no more spa treatments, but I'm still thinking about them. That option may have been foreclosed by the fact that I think I seriously burned my tushie. On my second to last day!

I also managed to rearrange my Mumbai plans. The guy I met in the Delhi Airport offered to let me leave my bags at his hotel while I shop around Mumbai for a few hours. Then we're going to meet up for drinks. He's from Toronto, rather dashing looking, and, apparently, quite the hospitable gentleman. Ooh la la.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Creature Comforts in Goa

In the spirit of my blog, I've decided (At Once!) to dramatically class it up for the last remaining days of my Indian vacation. It's only money after all and you can't take it with you. Plus, I'm going to need something decadent and beautiful to get me through the transition back into Law Firm Life. Egads! Is it possible that I have to start work in just 7 days? (A brief vision of myself in a strait jacket rocking back and forth in a padded cell mumbling to myself flashes before my eyes, but I fight it off by looking out the window at the palm trees - Sigh).

The reason I need to class things up, in addition to those listed above, is that I spent last night in a plywood shack. That's right, a shack made of plywood with a woven palm frond roof. Apparently plywood shacks are the residence of choice for visitors to Palolem Beach in Goa - the most idyllic beach in Goa and the site of the opening scene in the Bourne Supremacy (totally cool). There are perks to living in plywood. It cost only 200 rupees (about $4), and it was right on the beach. The sound of the waves was so strong last night that it sounded as if my bed were floating just on top of the ocean.

Despite the perks, I decided one night of bumming around on the beach was plenty. If I were traveling for a year and I had all the time in the world, living for a time in a beach shack would be the perfect way to while away the time. However, I'm down to 4 days before I must fly home to New York. I'm on a tight schedule! I have only 96 hours left! I can't spend them all hot and sweaty in a hut made of plywood! I'm 32 and I'm a lawyer for god's sake! A big time New York lawyer! I searched the beach high and low and found the nicest bungalows at Ciarin's Camp. The bungalows at Ciarin's Camp are also made of plywood but they have attached bathrooms, surround a beautifully manicured courtyard, and have on site a terrific restaurant that specializes in fresh, healthy-ish, veggie fair.

After transporting my belongings - which get heavier and heavier with each spree of shopping I do in each city - down the beach to Ciarin's Camp, I spent the rest of the day lounging around, had breakfast, and had a swim in the ocean. The water here is nice, though brownish in color from all the silt that's been stirred up by the changing weather. Apparently the monsoon strikes these parts around June, and the water has started to get churned up in anticipation of the coming rains. After a few hours of enjoying Ciarin's Camp I decided I needed to class things up a notch further. Apparently the luxury I experienced in Bombay rubbed off a little too much on me

So, after a bit of research and a few calls, I booked myself a room for tomorrow night and the next at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa. It's a luxury hotel right on the beach that has a pool and a spa!! I actually feel like quite an adult making such a reservation. Other than the time I stayed with my brother in a super posh hotel in Bangkok, or two nights ago in Mumbai, I can't recall another time I've stayed at a fancy hotel on vacation. Granted, on family trips when I was younger of course, but never as an adult paying for it by myself. Usually I'm partial to the cute guesthouse option (not just because they're more affordable, but mainly because they're charming). In India, however, the cute guesthouse option is hard to find.

I think this is just what I need. To finish this vacation off in style and in a setting that optimizes relaxation, rejuvenation, pampering, and some quiet introspection. I anticipate feeling deliriously happy the minute I check into my room. It has a kind sized bed too! It's going to cost a pretty penny, but honestly I'm going to make it back in no time starting next week, and it's worth it because it's going to make me happy.

And that's what I'm about these days, making myself happy now. At once.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Luxurious Bombay

I just had the most marvelous time staying at the Marriott at Juhu Beach in Bombay. It was awesome. I came in off the road - after traveling from Jodhpur to Udaipur, exploring Udaipur (a wonderful city), and then flying to Bombay - a bedraggled, hot, sweaty, and slightly smelly mess, and found refuge with Pirate who was staying at the Marriott on business. If there's anything better than crashing with a friend staying at a luxury hotel on business, I don't know what it is.

The bed was like a thick, wondrous cloud of acres and acres of soft, white linens. The white drapes covered floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto the beach, and were so thick that they blocked out almost all the sun in the morning. But the most fantastic part of Pirate's room was the bathroom. Oh my god, the bliss of a gigantic tub filled with hot, steaming bubbles. I arrived at the Marriott while Pirate was out to dinner and after entering the room, waited about 30 seconds before running a bath and raiding all the complimentary toiletries. I scrubbed and scrubbed, delighted in submerging myself in glorious, sweetly scented water, and then wrapped myself up in a thick fluffy white towel. God, I love hotels. I kind of love Pirate to for making all of that happen.

After Pirate got back from dinner we went and had drinks at a club on the beach that did an excellent peach mojito, and then went clubbing at Enigma, the club in the Marriott. The music was a mixture of Euro, Indian techno-pop with flashes of Western pop. Justin's sexy back made an appearance. It was so much fun.

Now I'm off for a 4 day beach holiday to Goa. Beach bungalows, here I come!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hot, Hazy, Majestic and Blue

Compared to the 24 hours immediately preceding my arrival in Jodhpur, my time in the city has been very relaxing. I'm staying at Pal Haveli, a traditional Rajasthani home still owned by a family who has lived here for years. My room is spacious, breezy and gorgeously decorated. One wall is lined with french doors that look out onto a peaceful courtyard. The windows are covered by pale orange drapes from floor to ceiling, and when the sun filters through them the room is shrouded in a soft, hazy light. The ceilings are about 15 feet high and there are 6 ceiling fans in addition to an air conditioning system to keep the room cool.

I can now understand why Rajasthan has a reputation as a "romantic" destination. In addition to the beautiful, traditional rooms, it's so hot here that for good portions of the day you want to retire to your room and laze away the late morning to late afternoon. With nothing to do but lay around under the fans in bed, I could see why it wouldn't be a bad place to come with a lover.

I've been spending my days differently, though no less enjoyably. Yesterday, I toured the large fort set atop the hill that overlooks the city. Here, the buildings - one to three story box-like structures built on top of one another dotted by roof decks and courtyards - are painted in shades of blue, cream, and tan. The most popular and striking color is a bright indigo blue color, the color that was traditionally reserved for the high caste Brahmans. The color is believed to have a cooling affect and to repel insects. Looking down at the city from the ramparts of the fort, it looked like a labyrinth of blue boxes set off against the rust-red sands of the distant desert.

In addition to visiting the fort, I visited the residence of the current Maharajah of Jodhpur. It's an impressive domed structure, similar in shape to the Taj Mahal though less elegant, that took over 3,000 people 15 years to build. The work was begun as a famine relief effort, and when it was completed it housed the reigning family of Jodhpur rulers. Now, most of the palace has been turned into a luxury hotel. There's a small section that is a museum, and then there's a separate section that continues to house the Maharajah. I made a brief stop at the museum and then headed directly to the restaurant of the luxury hotel. I had an absolutely delightful time in the air conditioned restaurant - so cold that I was blissfully chilly for my time there - having coffee, a slice of chocolate walnut cake, and a scoop of mango ice cream while the temperatures climbed to sweltering heights outside. It cost me almost as much as my room at Pal Haveli but it was totally worth it.

Today, I had breakfast on a roof top of a nearby guesthouse, the Haveli Guesthouse (also a good option with friendly staff and a bit cheaper than Pal Haveli). The coffee was good, but my chocolate-banana pancake came out looking shiny, waxy, and bright yellow. Perhaps it had been made with saffron? It tasted all right, though a bit oily. For the remainder of the morning I'm going to wander the streets, do a little shopping and try to take some pictures. My A.C. car picks me up at my guest house at around noon to take me to Udaipur, a city in Southern Rajasthan that is about six hours away from Jodhpur. I expect that it will be slightly cooler as it's nearer to the coast and situated around a lake. I'm feeling very self-congratulatory for my excellent decision of arranging to be in an A.C. car during the hottest hours of the day.

I still haven't made my tickets to Goa, but I'm hopeful it will all work out.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Near Calamitous Journey to Jodhpur

My journey from McLeod Ganj to Jodhpur, Rajasthan proved a bit harrowing. Almost an entire day has passed since I arrived here, in Jodhpur, and I'm still thanking my lucky stars that I actually arrived and did not wind up about six hours west of here in the middle of the desert. Instead of a lukewarm internet cafe, I could be lying passed out from the heat in a tent in Jaisalmer surrounded by nothing but sand and camels. I know what you're thinking. It does sound kind of interesting. And, if I had more time I probably would have gone on a camel trip through the desert. However, I'm down to 8 days and my sites are now fixed firmly on Goa. I'm going to spend my last few days of freedom on the beach in a bungalow with nothing to do but drink rum punches and stare at the sea.

That's the plan anyway. I still have to get from Jodhpur to Udaipur, to Mumbai, to Goa, and as I was reminded of this morning, traveling in India can be a bit dicey at times. Which brings me back to the somewhat harrowing tale of my journey from McLeod Ganj. It started off quite nicely with a relaxing 3 hour trip via air conditioned car from up in the mountains to the airport at Pathankot. The flight from Pathankot to Delhi also proved uneventful. I met a woman from Croatia and enjoyed a pleasant conversation during the flight.

The problems started in Delhi after I purchased a pre paid taxi ride for 250 rupees from the Delhi airport to the Old Delhi train station. Usually the pre paid taxis are the way to go. They are supposed to eliminate the hassle of bargaining and ensure that travelers pay a fair price for their rides. In my case, I had gotten into the taxi (which was an old beat up black mini van) after showing the driver my pre paid form and confirming with him - to the extent possible since he did not or feigned not to know English - that I wished to go to the Old Delhi train station. This is to be distinguished from the New Delhi train station which is across town.

As we were pulling away from the airport my driver, a short, skinny Indian boy, glanced back at me and said, "Train station 200 rupees." (Which is almost 100% of the price I had already paid for the ride). At the same time another short, skinny boy jumped into the front passenger seat. This happens throughout India and in most cases the taxi driver tells you the other person is his brother. This is a lie and should not be trusted. Usually I demand that the other person gets out, but in this case we were already pulling away from the airport and I was distracted by the demand for more money.

I was immediately pissed because I knew as well as he did that I had already paid my fare in full and his attempt to get more money was pure extortion. I told him no and that I had already paid, and waved my receipt towards him. He again demanded 200 rupees. He did this several times while I continued to say no and to remind him that I had already paid, getting more heated each time. Finally, I slid the door of the mini van open, as we were driving on the highway, and said firmly and rather angrily, "Old Delhi train station. Already paid. Right?" I did not close the door until he nodded his head and said, "Right." He seemed somewhat shocked that I had opened the door and for the next 20 minutes didn't make any further demands for additional money. As we drove, I had my Lonely Planet opened to the map of Delhi and was tracing our progress through the city, making sure that he and his friend weren't going to try another way of taking money from me.

When we were 2/3rds of the way there my taxi driver tried another tact. Pretending to not know where he was going he asked, "Address?" Now I was really getting pissed. I pointed at the words "Old Delhi train station" on my receipt and said "You know?" and he shook his head and feigned ignorance. He again asked for the address and then I started raising my voice, repeating "Old Delhi train station." At one point we stopped at a traffic light and I got the attention of a man on a motorcycle and confirmed with him that we were headed in the right direction. Then I told motorcycle man that the taxi driver was trying to cheat me, that he was pretending to not know where I was going, and that he was demanding more money even though I had already paid the fare in full. The motorcycle man talked briefly with the taxi driver and confirmed that the driver knew where the train station was. Ah, to know Hindi... Then the motorcycle man told me to go to the tourist police if I had a problem. This might have been helpful except that I was having a problem, I was far away from the tourist police, and I was rushing to make my train - a 12-hour night train to Johdpur.

Luckily, after the traffic light I started seeing signs for the train station. At each sign I pointed them out to my driver and ordered him to go in the direction that they said. He then started to demand "50 rupee driver tip," and threatening not to go to the train station. I just kept insisting, rather loudly, that he needed to take me to the train station, complete with sharp hand gestures and admonishments to cut it out. I think I convinced him that I meant business because after another 10 minutes or so, which seemed to go on for ever, we pulled into the train station. I opened the van door while it was still rolling and started taking out my belongings. When he came around to my side of the van he held out his hand and asked for the paper. I gave him the paper, glared at him, and then stalked off. He didn't ask for money - I suspect because he realized how angry I was that he had tried to rip me off, and had threatened me. All of the other taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers just stared at us.

I was shaking because I was angry, but also because I had been scared. Almost everywhere in India it's been a hassle dealing with the taxi drivers. This was the only ride during which I felt a little frightened - because the driver was clearly intent upon getting more money from me - and it was the only time (so far) that I had to yell at the driver to make him take me to my destination. I basically had to show him that I was going to put up a fight if he tried anything sketchy, and if I had not been so vigilant with the map, and if I had not been up in his face demanding that he cut out the b.s. and take me to the train station I think there's a risk he would have taken me somewhere else and probably tried something stupid.

At the Old Delhi train station, I was greeted by the same masses of people lying about on the floor, begger children, unintelligible signs, and lack of any helpful official person that I had experienced in the Kolkata and New Delhi train stations. India, seriously, you have to do something about your train stations. They are nightmares. I picked my way over the bodies of people sprawled out on the pavement and tried to find my train number on the board. No luck. Then I wandered to the platforms looking for any signs or railway official. No luck. A man selling juice pointed me towards platform 17 and I crossed over the hanging walkway to that platform. There another man - this one dressed in army fatigues - told me the same thing, that the train to Johdpur was going to leave from platform 17.

It was 4:30 pm and I had over an hour before my train was to leave at 5:45 pm. Looking down the length of platform 17, most of it was deserted except for a small, beat-up, blue train way down at the other end. The train did not look like it would have any 2nd class A.C. sleeper compartments on it, which is what I had booked. Thinking there was no way that train was my train, I walked down and checked just to be on the safe side. Again, there were no officials to be found so I asked another man selling juice whether the train was going to Jodhpur. He shook his head and I walked off to sit on a bench to await my train. I waited for about 20 minutes. All around me the men on the platform stared at me, and I carefully refrained from making eye contact and pretended to ignore them. A few beggar children approached me and asked for money. As the minutes ticked by, I kept staring at the beat-up old blue train. Something told me to investigate a little further.

On the bench next to mine was a nicely dressed Indian man reading the paper whom I decided was a safe bet to ask for directions. I've become classist since arriving in India. The Indian man asked a few people nearby, and when they didn't know, he told me to wait a minute and went off down the platform, leaving me to watch his belongings. I decided then that he definitely was a good bet to ask for directions - anyone that trusting was definitely trustworthy. A few minutes later he returned and told me that my train, the one I needed to take to get to Jodhpur, was in fact the beat-up old blue train, which was bound for Jailsamer, a town on the edge of the desert several hours west of Jodhpur. It would have been nice if there had been signs to that effect.

After identifying the train, I had to locate my car, and then my berth. All of that proved slightly nerve-wracking as well. Initially, I wasn't allowed to get on the car because, I think, someone was straitening up the car. At one point, the train started rolling down the platform and I ran up to the car and started slamming on the door. A man poked out this head and told me to wait 5 more minutes as the train slowed to a stop. When I was finally allowed on I found to my great dismay that I had been given a top bunk in an area of the train that had basically no privacy whatsoever except for a small blue curtain. Worse yet, there was a fluorescent lamp on the ceiling of the train right next to my bunk, which was to stay on for the whole night.

I did the best I could to organize myself, piling my backpacks up on one end of my bunk and chaining them to the bed rail, and then using them as a rest to recline against. In that position, it was impossible to stretch out my legs unless I propped them up diagonally against the ceiling, which I did at various points of the night. I had my money belt clipped around my waist and my camera wedged between my body and the wall in a bag that I had looped over my shoulder. Needless to say, the journey was not the most comfortable train ride. I couldn't get to sleep for several hours. When I finally slept, I dozed fitfully, waking up every hour or so, each time checking my travel clock to see what time it was. The conductor who had come by to get my ticket - the first official person I had seen since arriving at the train station - had told me that the train would arrive in Jodhpur at 6 am.

At around 4 am, I fell into a deep sleep. I remember dreaming about finding a hidden bar in New York, a place that you couldn't see from the street. In the dream, you had to push a large red lever to make a bay window swing open and reveal a seat - a seat like you would find on a carnival ride, complete with a metal rod that snapped in place to keep you safely in your seat. I jumped into the seat and ended up talking to a couple who told me that they come to the bar all the time. The place had a speak easy feel to it and I was by turns impressed with myself for finding it and chagrined for not having discovered it earlier. Mostly I was happy to be there though.

Suddenly I woke up and looked around my bunk in confusion. My back hurt from where my bags had been digging in to it and my legs were stiff and cramping. There was no cool New York bar. Only the tiny little space, the itchy wool blanket, and the blue curtain lit up by the florescent light. It took me a minute to realize that the train wasn't moving, and I rummaged through my bag to get out my travel clock. It was 8 o'clock!

I whipped open the curtain, my gaze fastening on an Indian girl passing below my bunk. Urgently I asked her where we where. My heart was in my throat, and I was already mentally preparing myself to hear the worst - that we had passed Jodhpur and were somewhere out in the desert. How could I have missed Jodhpur?? She said, "Jodhpur," and I was so stunned that I had to ask her again just to make sure. She must have sensed the near panic I was in because she asked if I was getting off at Jodhpur and when I nodded affirmatively she said, "Only stop 15 minutes. Have already stopped 10 minutes." Holy crap!

I moved like I was on fire. I unlocked the chain around my bags, threw my books into one of them, checked my money belt and my bag for my camera, swiftly felt through the blankets and sheets for any of my belongings that might have become misplaced during the night, and then tossed everything down to the bunk below. I grabbed my hiking shoes which I had taken off during the night, felt through my blankets one last time, and then ran down the length of the train in bare feet, my bags flung across my back. I leapt off the train, landing ungracefully on the train platform, breathing heavily at the near miss, and dumped everything onto the ground next to a metal post. People stared but I ignored them. I must have looked like a disaster. My clothes were a wrinkled mass, my feet were bare and dirty, and my hair was a mess. I sat down on the ground next to my things and tried to calm down. I had some crackers, and slowly put myself together piece by piece.

Ten minutes later, I had my shoes and socks on and the train was still there. I was feeling a little silly after leaping out of the train, and I was also thinking that I should probably double check my bunk area. I picked up my backpacks and boarded the train a second time to check my bunk. On the way to my bunk I saw the Indian girl who had helped me earlier and thanked her profusely for her help. I checked through the blankets again and couldn't find anything, so I left the train. Somehow I had lost a wool sock, but it was nowhere to be found. To my knowledge, I got everything else. Then, for the second time this morning I stepped out onto the platform in Jodhpur. The second time I was far more graceful.

Exciting as last night's journey was, I've decided not to take any more trains for the remainder of my time in India. I'll be traveling to Udaipur via air conditioned car, and if all goes well, I will be travelling to and from Goa via plane.

I've been tagged by Artemis for a poetry meme, the rules of which are that the poem of your creation must start with "Roses are red." So here goes ("Blue" refers to the houses in Jodhpur which are painted an indigo blue color believed to have a cooling effect and to repel insects):

Roses are Red,
Jodhpur is Blue,
Goa is Paradise,
I'll be there soon.

By the way, according to two French tourists that I met while touring around the fort at Jodhpur, it was 45 degrees Celsius in the shade today in Jodhpur and over 50 degrees Celsius in the sun. For those of you Celsius-challenged like myself, that's 113 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade and 122 in the sun. It is freakin' HOT in Rajasthan.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Nothing To Fear Except Fear Itself

Pirate left this morning and I was sad to see him go. He left at 9 am in an air conditioned car bound for the airport in Pathankot, a small town about three hours away from McLeod Ganj, where he was going to catch a flight to Delhi. He was an excellent traveling companion and I had so much fun with him. It's funny, when I imagined this trip I hadn't pictured travelling around with boys but it just seems to be working out that way. First, I met P.J. on the train from Kolkata to Darjeeling and had a terrific time with him exploring Darjeeling. Then I met up with Pirate in Delhi and travelled with him up to Mcleod Ganj. I must say, although males are not essential as traveling companions, and although I really appreciate the time I've had alone as a solo female traveler in India, I do appreciate having a strong, tall boy around from time to time.

Pirate and I had a number of adventures in McLeod Ganj, including an accidental 8-hour hike to the top of a nearby mountain, to a place called "Triund" which is approximately 2,300 meters above sea level. We had intended to hike up to the Mountain View Cafe, which according to the scribbly map provided by the trekking company, was midway between the town of McLeod Ganj and Triund - about three hours away. The hike on the way up was wonderful. We walked on dirt paths strewn with rocks and pebbles that scissored back and forth across the steep mountainside. Surrounding us on all sides were forests of fir trees and magnificent views of the valleys below, the snow-capped mountains above, and the towns and little houses far off in the distance. It was beautiful, peaceful, and towards the end more than a little challenging (during the last half hour I kept envisioning how luxurious it would feel to lie down on the ground and not move for a good couple of hours).

So intent were we upon persevering onwards, and so tiny was the tarp-covered lean-to referred to as the Mountain View "cafe," that we completely missed the cafe and ended up climbing all the way to Triund. You cannot imagine our surprise - and how impressed we were with ourselves - when we noticed the sign that said "Triund, 2,300 meters." We arrived at the top of the mountain at 4 pm, after climbing for about 6 hours, just in time to catch a thunder storm that forced us to huddle together under the tarp of the Triund Cafe - a tiny hut with enough room for 4 people to sit side-by-side on the floor, outfitted with a small cooking stove and a fine selection of crackers and candies, including kit-kats. Pirate and I had cheese toast, an omelet, and chai and watched the wind whip sheets of rain across the mountain top. I was dressed in only a tank top and capri pants (not the best preparation ever, I must admit) and it was chilly up there! Thankfully, Pirate graciously shared some of his body heat with me.

After an hour, the storm calmed down enough for Pirate and I to begin our hike back down the mountain. We set off at about 5 pm, which was about 2 hours later than we had planned to head back. At first the hike down was lovely, but at about 6 pm the sun went down (it was a beautiful sunset) and we found ourselves hiking down the mountain, through the middle of the forest in the dark. Pirate had a head lamp and I had a mag light that we used to illuminate the trail in front of us, so we weren't in any danger at any point.

However, I have a phobia of the dark that I had forgotten about until the sun went down and I found myself on a deserted path 2 hours away from civilization in the middle of the woods at night. Specifically, I have a phobia about dark spaces that stretch back into unknown depths - spaces that could shelter all manner of alien life form, bogeyman, or walking dead, psychotic mass-murderer ala Jason or Freddy. I haven't felt that level of anxiety in a long time. It brought me back to all of those times in high school when I was dropped off after a night out in front of my parent's house - a house that was surrounded on all sides by dark woods. As the car that had driven me home backed down the driveway, I would walk steadily up the path to the front door, using every ounce of control I had to stop myself from sprinting, feeling like at any moment some monstrous creature was going to lunge out of the darkness, pierce my back with its talons, and rip me to shreds.

In the end, other than my heart pounding rapidly in my throat for a good hour and a half, and more than a few startled jumps and strangled half-shrieks at random noises, everything turned out fine. No one resembling Jason or Freddy crossed our path, and it was a good opportunity for me to practice my deep breathing exercises as a way to cope with anxiety. (Good practice for when I start working again for Legal Corporate America on the 21st). One minute we were walking in the dark (me fearing for our lives, Pirate trying to distract me by making me tell him stories), and the next we tumbled out onto the main street of McLeod Ganj. Civilization! I had never been so happy to see a group of Indian tuk-tuk drivers in my life.

We headed straight for a bar and ordered ourselves some Thunderbolts (Indian beer) and pizza. It was the most delicious, perfect way to celebrate our great victory over the mountain, our bodies, and for me, my fear. Once we were safely out of the woods, and sipping our beers, the fear receded and all I could think about was how awesome it was that we had made it to the top. All in all, it was a fantastic day.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Tragic Tibet

I saw the Dalai Lama's residence! I walked the halls he walks when he's in McLeod Ganj, meditated in the temple where he and his monks meditate, looked out onto the mountain views that he sees each morning. It was so cool.

In a courtyard in the center of the monastery/temple complex groups of maroon and gold robed monks sat and stood gathered together. Some of them were debating in the traditional style which includes large hand slaps as emphasis for a particularly powerful point. The monks actually wind up their arms as if they were going to deliver a pitch and then smack their hands together in front of their adversary's faces. For all my friend (I'm going to call him Pirate) and I know they could have been debating the latest cricket matches. However, we chose to believe that they were debating the finer points of Buddhist philosophy. We've been using the hand slaps ever since observing the monks in action to emphasis our own points. It's pretty much never going to get old. We also created a new action hero, Buddhist Monk Lawyer (Ok, Pirate did but I helped with embellishment). She fights the good fight using her special hand slapping power. She's pretty much invincible.

Yesterday we also visited a monastery that had originally been built in Lhasa. When the Chinese invaded Tibet they destroyed the monastery and killed and imprisoned all but 4 monks who escaped. Later, those monks fled to Dharamsala and created a replica of that monastery. Of course most of the ancient texts, statues, and other art was lost.

I've been thinking a lot about the Chinese invasion of Tibet and that fact that the Western World, as far as I know, did absolutely NOTHING in response. I came across a book that tells the story of the CIA training Tibetans to fight against the Chinese, but that endeavor ultimately failed. The Chinese invasion of Tibet and the lack of response by the Western World is an immense tragedy. The Chinese destroyed over 6000 monasteries, bull dozing them into the ground, and killing and torturing thousands of monks and the world did nothing. The Chinese continue to persecute Tibetan monks in Tibet to this day. I know because I've represented several asylum seekers from Tibet, all of whom were imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for such crimes as distributing pictures of the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama, or the Tibetan national flag. And still the Western World does nothing.

Tibet should be free.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Little Tibet

I've reached a wonderful place high up in the Himalayas where Buddhist monks amble down the streets and ride on the backs of motorcycles and where healthy, vegetarian food - with real fresh vegetables and fruit juice - abounds! I love McLeod Ganj!

It was a long journey to get here, about 12 hours by car from Delhi, but it wasn't too bad. I left my crappy hotel room in Delhi and met my friend from the U.S. (a guy who grew up in my town in Connecticut but now lives in London) at the Dehli Airport. He had arranged for a car with A.C. (!) to drive us all the way from Delhi to McLeod Ganj. We chatted, napped a little, and watched as Indian life in the countryside passed by. We saw a lot of enormous cows with single bumps on their back, herds of goats, and many people living in very poor conditions. Any idealized notion I may have had about the simple beauty of living in the countryside has been effectively smashed into smithereens.

In McLeod Ganj, my friend and I are staying in, of all places, the Best Western! It wouldn't have been my first pick, however it's actually the nicest and cheapest place I've stayed in so far during my travels in India. It has hot water, clean linens, and best of all it's right next to an awesomely chill healthy, veggie restaurant that caters to travelers. This morning I had my first chocolate-banana pancake (a food that had been a staple when Wood and I traveled around Southern China) and a delicious cup of strong, slightly burned coffee. I think I'm a little high from the caffeine kick, that and the gorgeous views up here. McLeod Ganj is set against the backdrop of the Himalayan mountains rising up around the town. It's breathtaking and magnificent.

On the agenda for today is exploring McLeod Gang and Dharamsala (4 km down the mountain from McLeod Ganj), visiting the Dalai Lama's official residence, the Tibetan Refugee Center, shopping, shopping, and shopping, a monastery, and a Tibetan massage. After the 12 hour car trip my friend and I totally deserve a massage. In other news, I heard from Eduardo, the Chilean guy who came to my rescue at the train station in Delhi. He's going to be in Dharamsala tomorrow and we're all going to meet up. How fun is that? I'm so happy to be back up in the mountains!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Kindess of Strangers: Part I

For the second night in a row I feel too spent to write much of anything, but don't worry everything is going well and I'm actually feeling quite happy and balanced. Yippee! That's amazing because today, like many days in India, have been a mixed bag of highs and lows.

However, just when I was starting to doubt my wisdom in traveling around India instead of zenning out on some beach or mountain somewhere, preparing myself for my impending plunge back into Corporate America, I found myself feeling inspired, awed, hopeful, strong, and invigorated. I owe those feelings mainly to a number of wonderful fellow travelers that I met today, the tranquil alone time I had on the train to and from Agra listening to my music, feeling like a bad-ass for starting to get the hang of this country, and my experiences at the utterly breathtaking Taj Mahal and Red Fort today. More on that later when I can actually do it justice.

To Edwardo from Chile, who was traveling today to a place that I forgot and will be in Dharamsala in a few days, Thank You! for saving me at the train station this morning!! Ok, so he didn't really save me, and I'm sure I would have been just fine if I hadn't bumped into him. But, he did help me find the right counter, helped me to fend off the aggressive drivers who deliberately steer travelers in the wrong direction (I honestly have no idea what they hope to accomplish by that behavior but it's super frustrating), flagged down a man behind the glass to assist me, identified my train number, and then spotted me 200 rupees to buy my train ticket. Guardian angel anyone?

The internet keeper is now motioning for me to get off the computer. Drat. Writing was actually energizing me. No matter. I'm off to Dharmasala tomorrow. Hope you are all well!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Holy India!

I've just arrived in Delhi after a long journey - including a three hour car trip, a three hour flight, a taxi ride from the airport to the back packer strip, and a walk on foot to the hotel - from Darjeeling. I'm weary, achy, hot, tired, and slightly overwhelmed to be back in India proper after the calm of the mountains. Oh India, you are nothing if not intense.

This time around I was less fazed by the tent cities and countless numbers of people milling about, driving, and cycling through the narrow streets. However, my head did whip around when I realized the large shape passing to the left of the cab was a giant black cow. A huge cow walking right next to the taxi in the middle of what is basically Delhi's version of Bangkok's Kao Sang Road! Right next to street vendors making snacks and peddling all manner of bejeweled bags, belly dancing belts, and sparkling saris. And just behind that cow was another cow! Incredible. Needless to say, the streets - at least in the back packer strip - smell strongly of manure. I'm picking my steps carefully.

The hotel is decent though not charming (I also found a little 'friend' of the roach variety in my shower). India is quite a wake up call in comparison to the traveling I've done around Southeast Asia. In SE Asia there are charming guest houses galore. In India you have basically two options, super basic and if you're lucky clean rooms lacking any semblance of character, going for about $5 to $10, OR super luxurious rooms in 5 star hotels that will run you $150 at a minimum. On the plane ride today I was sorely tempted by the idea of checking into the Hyatt. Sauna, gym, clean sheets, a bed as soft and fluffy as a cloud, and water so hot it would steam up the shower and all of my pores. Ah, bliss.

But, not ready to wuss out just yet, and wanting to travel to Agra and the Taj Mahal tomorrow morning (something more easily done from the back packer area than the Hyatt), I decided to rough it amongst my fellow back packers at least for tonight and probably for tomorrow. I still have a little more than 2 weeks in India and I decided to save my nights of luxury for the end of the trip. I've been thinking that I've got to make sure that I relax on this second leg of the journey. Traveling is exciting and exhilarating, but it's also tiring, and as the days get nearer to the day when I've got to start working again I find myself thinking that I need to make sure that I prepare myself. I need to get back into that place that I was after coming home from Mexico. So zen, calm, peaceful, and healthy feeling. To accomplish that I'm thinking possibly a brief stay in an ashram, some yoga somewhere, and a rejuvenating hotel stay to cap of my trip. Complete with a massage somewhere along the way...

For now though I'm going to try to stop planning and get back to absorbing the NOW. Not hard here in Delhi because it basically smacks you in the face and forces you to Be Present. I'm back to that litany in my head saying, "You can do this, you can do this," as I'm walking down the street dodging the piles of rubble and garbage, ignoring the calls of the vendors and annoying drivers, and trying to keep my face composed - exerting an air of, if not belonging, at least laid back confidence.

Cross your fingers that my excursion to Agra and the Taj Mahal works out tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Gompas, Tea, and Almost Tibet

Since arriving in Darjeeling three days ago, I have had a wonderful time. With my friend from Belgium, P.J., that I met on the train from Kolkata to Darjeeling, I hiked around the town, visited a gorgeous Buddhist monastery, toured the Happy Valley Tea Plantation, saw Snow Leopards and a Siberian Tiger in the zoo, sampled delicious Tibetan steamed momos and tea, and took in the peaceful beauty of this hill station. P.J. left yesterday to return to Kolkata where he will be working for an additional month. He was so sad to have to leave the cool weather an laid back vibe of Darjeeling for the heat, stench and filth of Kolkata.

After P.J. left, I wandered around town and discovered a beautiful old English hotel called the Windemere. It has been preserved down to the bedding and furnishings to what it was in the early 1900s at the height of the British presence in India. Stepping in to the hotel I felt as if I was stepping into another age. I had "high tea," complete with tea, cucumber sandwiches, ginger cookies, and lemon cake in a room of dark wood furnishings, rich red brocaded curtains, and luxurious hand woven Tibetan carpets on the floor with a fire crackling in front of me. On the walls were black and white pictures of British visitors from the 1900s dressed in high-collared white lace dresses and hunting jackets and trousers tucked into knee high black leather boots. Everyone in the pictures, men, women, and children are wearing hats that make them look like they're on safari, though it was probably just to protect them from the sun. Also on the walls are black and white photos of Tibetans in traditional dress and sherpas, many of whom befriended the British visitors. Along with the photos are framed hand written letters from all over the world dating back over 100 years ago from visitors to the hotel.

After high tea I walked up Observatory Hill and checked out an ancient Buddhist and Hindu shrine on top of a small hill. The hill was bedecked with thousands of prayer flags, so much so that from a distance the hilltop appeared a riotous mass of red, blue, yellow, and green. It was like Buddhist monks had TP-ed the trees, but not with toilet paper, and not with the intent of making an mischief, but instead with a thousand brightly colored prayers. Walking through the paths underneath the canopy of prayer flag covered trees, it felt like you were walking in another world somewhat reminiscent of Disney Land but with a beauty and serenity not found in the typical amusement park.

To cap off my day I decided to eat at a Tibetan restaurant and try the local food. Not to be swayed from my mission, I insisted on ordering Tibetan tea despite the fact that the hostess told me I wouldn't like it. Tibetan tea is basically heated butter with salt. I got the steaming cup, tried one sip, and promptly decided that the hostess was correct. Luckily it was only 25 cents for a cup. I also tried their steamed momos, which are basically dumplings (like dim sum), and a Tibetan vegetable soup. The momos were good but not as good as the momos that P.J. and I had at the "Hot Stimulating Cafe" on the way to the zoo, and the soup was tasty. Unfortunately, towards the end of my meal I saw a cock roach on the table which soured the dining experience somewhat.

A half hour later things got worse because I started to feel ill. I had been in India for almost 2 weeks without any stomach issues so it was bound to happen. I don't think it was the Tibetan food. Instead, I think it was the soup that the nice woman just outside of the Happy Valley Tea Estate made for P.J. and me. The woman was very sweet, but she wasn't living under the most hygienic conditions, and fairly certain she didn't use pure drinking water to make our soup. But she was so hospitable and sweet and she boiled the water so P.J. and I had decided to risk it. Bad move. I won't be accepting any soup from women in little huts in the future. Luckily the bout of illness lasted only about 2 hours. It meant I had to stay in my room - mercifully close to the toilet - and had to forego meeting up with some other friends at the local bar, The Buzz. However, it was good because it gave me some time to read (in between trips to the loo) and resulted in me going to bed early. I just picked up "The Power of Now," another book in the vein of "The Alchemist," and "The Four Agreements," aimed at discovering the inner peace that resides in all of us. It's pretty cool so far, and keeping me on track in terms of my inner journey.

This morning, I had breakfast at a cute little cafe called "Sonam's Kitchen." The cafe seats about 8 and is run by an adorable, hip Tibetan woman. She makes terrific coffee (nice and dark) and a sublime porridge, otherwise known as oatmeal, with bananas and nuts. I haven't yet discovered exactly how she makes the porridge but I know for sure that she flavors it with cloves and cardamom. It's absolutely delicious.

For my last day in Darjeeling I'm planning to hike around the area visiting all of the major Buddhist gompas (temples) and monasteries. It's very funny to me that after months of trying to decide whether I should visit India or Tibet I decided on Indian only to find myself drawn to the "little Tibets" (such as parts of Darjeeling) in India. So as not to miss India, I'm going to make sure to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, and may go through Rajasthan (I keep going back and forth on that because it's so freakin' hot) on my way to Mumbai (and my flight home). But, what I'm really excited about is my time in Darjeeling and my upcoming trip to Dharamsala, the official "Little Tibet."

On another note, I've met several travelers who quit their jobs to travel around indefinitely. Many are hippies, but some are quite normal, fascinating people such as the couple from Oklahoma that I met yesterday. They quit their jobs in 2004 and travelled for two years, then went back to the States to work for 9 months in order to earn enough money to travel again. They've been travelling for a few months and plan to travel until their money runs out. Listening to their story I was pretty much green with envy. I want to do that. I want to spend a year of my life travelling and being absolutely free! What I'm doing right now, travelling for a month, is wonderful, but can you imagine traveling indefinitely??? I just think that would be unbelievably awesome. To be free, to see the world, to meet people from all over... how awesome would that be?