A Farewell to Paris

As our final days in Paris have come to an end, I thought it prudent to list a few places to visit, items of interest and tips that I haven’t covered in previous posts.

Paris: A bit about the Sixteenth

Our flat in Paris was located in the fashionable 16th arrondissement. Alec met us at the flat and gave us a quick tour, letting us know how things worked. Well, if truth be told, he really just pointed things out, making sure we knew those items of key importance like how to log on to WiFi. In the kitchen, he pointed to the coffee machine, then told us the oven door was broken. He would try to get someone in to fix it soon, to which I replied: “So, no soufflés then?” I believe my humor was lost in translation.

Paris flat: Living room

Paris flat: Living room

The neighborhood had everything we needed within a block and a half of what we discovered to be a very posh Paris district. Early in our stay, as we were discovering our new neighborhood, we kept having discussions about the cost of things, particularly coffee and the prix-fixe lunches. It appeared as if prices had gone up substantially since we’d been here last. For example, a café crème at a bistro called aéro close to the Marché de Passy cost €4.80, while our memory had the same as €3.20 less than two years ago. At the top of the price range was a Tea Salon around the corner from our flat at €5.

We had taken a “walk” through the neighborhood using Google Earth before we got here, so we had a pretty good idea where to go and quickly found everything we would need for our stay. However, you can’t get a feel for the prices of items until you sit down and order.

Purchasing fish for our dinner party

Purchasing fish for our dinner party

Fromagerie

Our neighborhood Fromagerie

Wine shop

Our neighborhood wine shop

So, after our initial shock at the cost of a café crème, we decided to do a little research, which mainly consisted of a Metro ride to another part of the city where we had lunch and a café crème (€3.50). The total cost of breakfast [Le petit déjeuner: tartines (slices of toasted baguette) with butter jam and café crème] for the three of us in the 16th was €30 compared to €21 in the 8th arr for lunch. As the days went by, we quickly switched to espresso.

A Google search revealed through Wikipedia that the 16th arrondissement has “long been known as one of French high society’s favorite places of residence (comparable to New York’s Upper East Side or London’t Kensington and Chelsea).” It is, in fact, France’s fourth richest district for average household income. And, combined with the south of the 17th and the Neuilly-sur-Seine, it’s the most affluent and prestigious residential area in all of France.

Private residence in the 16th

Private residence in the 16th

It’s a beautiful area, quiet and alive with history, museums and parks, beginning at the Trocadero and heading South and West (on the right bank of the Seine). Our flat was close to the Metro, had a view of the Tour Eiffel and was a very short walk to outdoor markets and to many parks that are so abundant in the city of light.

Off the beaten path: Paris

Butte aux Cailles:
This lesser-known neighborhood has the charm of a small village with interesting cafés and boutiques. The architecture includes art deco as well as small cottages.

Restaurant along Rue de la Butte aux Cailles

Restaurant along Rue de la Butte aux Cailles

Les Bijoux de Nico: We stopped at this jewelry shop and spent some time with Sebastian looking at the beautiful and unique jewelry that included wonderful silver (argent) pieces made by the Touareg people (nomads of the Sahara).

Rue des Cinq Diamants: Make sure you walk down this interesting street and some of the narrow cobblestone passages.

Cobblestone street in Butte aux Cailles

Cobblestone street in Butte aux Cailles

Chez Gladines: We stopped at this incredible Basque restaurant for lunch. The food and service were excellent and the atmosphere was alive with energy. {Be prepared for a wait, but it’s definitely worth it).

The bar at Chez Gladines

The bar at Chez Gladines

Chez Gladines in Butte aux Cailles

Chez Gladines in Butte aux Cailles

[To get there: Exit the #5 Metro at Place d’Italie and walk down Rue Bobillot, taking a right onto Rue de la Butte aux Cailles.]

Musée du Vin:
This Museum of Wine takes you on a tour of the history of winemaking in France. The museum is located in quarries from the 15th century. The site used to be an Abbey where the brothers produced wine from grapes grown on the hillsides of the Seine. The historic significance of the building and ‘cellars’ makes for a unique and interesting tour.

Wine tasting: Following our tour, we decided to sample three different red wines and ordered a cheese plate to go along with it. Our host made some suggestions and paired the wines with specific cheeses for a most interesting and delectable tasting experience.

Wine tasting at Musée du Vin

Wine tasting at Musée du Vin

[To get there: Located in the 16th arrondissement near the #6 Metro Passy station. Address: 5, square Charles Dickens.]

Parc Monceau:
This is a lovely park with beautiful landscaping, hilly outcrops, curved walkways, interesting statuary and architectural features. It was early in our trip and one of the first really warm days when we traveled to the Parc Monceau in the 8th arr. The park was alive with sun worshippers lounging in the open grassy areas, reading books or talking to friends, their faces turned to the sun and their arms bare to capture the warmth of the day.

Pond at Parc Monceau

Pond at Parc Monceau

Garden view at Parc Monceau

Garden view at Parc Monceau

[To get there: The main entrance to the park is outside the #2 Metro Monceau station on Boulevard de Courcelles.]

Le Jardin Alpin:
This tiny hidden and many times overlooked park can be found in the midst of the left bank’s Jardin des Plantes. Le Jardin Alpin is a wonderful place to go for a bit of quiet solitude in the midst of the vibrant and bustling city. Lush and beautiful, the variety of mountain flora is remarkable (over 2,000 species) due to the microclimate created by its small valley and surrounding trees and bushes.

[To get there: Exit #5 Metro at Gare d’Austerlitz. Located at 57 Rue Cuvier. Go through the tunnel that runs beneath the main path of the Jardin des Plantes to enter the Jardin Alpin.]

Using the Metro

Packets of 10 or 20 tickets: You can get nearly anywhere within Paris in 30 minutes. Unless you plan to jump on and off of the Metro pretty regularly throughout your stay in Paris, it is more cost effective to purchase packets of 10 tickets rather than the day passes.

Paris Metro App by MX Data: This is a very helpful App and is easy to use. Simply enter your beginning Metro stop and where you want to end up and it displays the route, including the number of stops, changes and the estimated time. [Notes: When searching or using the type-ahead function, you must include the French accent marks (i.e., use Hôtel de Ville vs Hotel de Ville). You may have to scroll (or copy and paste from the internet) to find the one you want. Also, be mindful of the start and end points so you know in which direction to go.]

Chips in credit or debit cards

Some cards won’t work unless you have a chip. In Europe, there is a PIN associated with the chip to help prevent fraud. You may find it difficult to use American cards without chips in some circumstances, for example, in the Metro ticket machines. When using a card with or without a chip, tell the cashier it’s an American card and you will need to sign for it. It also may take longer to process.

For petrol, we were not able to find a station that would take any of our cards, with or without a chip. We were looking for petrol on a holiday, so no one was on site to take cash. When we asked about the credit cards at the nearby town of Sanserre, we were told that the stations only take debit cards with chips. We had to drive to the toll road to get petrol with cash from one of the open stations along that route. It was a good thing we weren’t close to empty, although we did need fuel for the long drive back to Paris.

Time to go

We had an amazing month in Paris!

We focused on many out-of-the-way places that I had not seen in previous visits. We shopped at outdoor markets in various parts of the city, had our breakfasts and dinners in our flat and met up with friends. We had two dinner parties where I was able to create some unique dishes paired with some excellent French wines.

We saw the city blossom in a Spring of rolling white clouds and cool days. For the most part, the rain held off until the end of April. When the sun appeared, the days were warm and the jackets came off. The flowers changed and the leaves on the trees went from small, brilliant greens to large Summer shade.

Paris flat: Courtyard early April

Paris flat: Courtyard early April

Paris flat: Courtyard mid-April

Paris flat: Courtyard mid-April

Paris flat: Courtyard late April

Paris flat: Courtyard late April

It was an amazing Spring and a truly remarkable experience. And in the end, we felt quite at home in this most remarkable of cities.

Ah India …

I wrote the piece below upon my return from India several months ago. I have been “readjusting” as I am now back in the US, and for some reason, have been putting off posting this. I believe it is because once posted, my adventure in India will not only FEEL over but BE over. And at this point, I can only say, until the next time …

______________________________________________

Dawn approaches with streaks of lightening. The rain comes down in waves as if the gods were dipping their buckets in a great cask of water and tossing out the contents on the world. It’s monsoon season in India; the air fresh and finally the heat subdued a bit. But wait … through my window, I see an airplane passing low, its landing gear at the ready, and clarity comes to my groggy early morning mind.

Ah, India … I’m gone from you now. This ache is real. I feel displaced as if a veil has been lowered muting the colors of my world.

View from my flat

View from my flat

I close my eyes. Fishermen are lined up in their small boats at the shore of the backwaters lowering their nets for the morning’s catch. Birds are calling hoping to snag a fish tossed back. Bolgatty Island is just visible through the mist, and on the other side, the Arabian Sea calls to the ships to take them to other exotic places. To the north, the Chinese Fishing Nets are lowered and raised again in hopes of a good morning.

Chinese fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets

Ah India … she calls to me, catching me off guard and I find myself drifting back, forgetting my current world in an attempt to hold on to the other.

Lake Erie is vast as I gaze out the window of the Cleveland office building. Sailboats dot the horizon, their sails billowing in the summer breeze.  The office is deathly quiet, as if I’m the only one working here.

I close my eyes. Sounds erupt; chatter, laughter, the noise of our teams working together.  The energy is palpable. I smile and the noise is replaced with a heaviness that is nearly tangible.

Ah India … the sights and sounds and colors. The uniqueness of it all will never leave me.

The colors of India

The colors of India

I smile at the memories … the cow with long blue horns riding in the back of the pick-up truck, the flashes of beautiful silk sarees adorning the lovely women as they walk quickly across the streets between the cars, autos, motorcycles, goats and other pedestrians. The trucks and buses of all colors imaginable.

Colorful truck

Colorful truck

Tea and spice shop

Tea and spice shop

Ah India … the cord that connects our worlds is strong but you are so very far away. A part of me was left behind while the part of me that remains has been forever altered.

I close my eyes. I see your beautiful faces, your eyes bright, your smiles engaging, your friendship and passion real. In the midst of tears, I laugh … my heart is full … my desire to see you presses upon me.

The Birds of Kerala

One morning I awoke from a bit of racket outside on my balcony. You see, I’ve taken to sleeping with the windows open when there’s a breeze off the ocean.

A crow was sitting on the railing looking as if it wanted something. I propped myself up and said, “Good morning, what are you doing here?” To which he replied, “Caw!” and promptly flew away.

I got up to take a look and saw a lovely yellow parakeet, clearly frightened and distressed, sitting on the balcony floor. It watched me as I closed the windows, but beyond that, it didn’t move.

Little yellow parakeet

Little yellow parakeet

After breakfast, I went back to check on it and when it saw me this time, it tried to fly up to the air conditioner, but it wasn’t able to get enough lift, and ended up landing in a corner, thankfully obscured by any passing predator birds. I left it alone so it could hopefully regain its strength, and I got ready for work. When I checked again about an hour later, it had gone.

I think it may have been a caged parakeet, as I’ve seen many of those here, and I didn’t find this particular one in my Birds of Kerala book (by C Sashikumar, Praveen J, Muhamed Jafer Palot and PO Nameer).

Except for the color, it reminded me of the parakeet my sister and I had as children. Ours was green and so we named her Kelly. While her cage was covered at night when she slept, during the day, our mother let her out.

Kelly had a small rug at the bottom of her cage with a Ferris wheel and other toys. She used to fly to the top of the Ferris wheel and ride it down. She would fly through the house, perching where she felt safe, but her favorite spot was on top of a lamp shade on a dresser in our parent’s bedroom. Here, she could look at herself in the mirror and say, “pretty bird.” She had quite a vocabulary, but her words had an interesting lilt to them thanks to our English mum.

One day, Kelly got out and was flying around the neighborhood. We had everyone calling to her, trying to get her to fly down and land on one of our outstretched fingers, but she seemed to be enjoying her freedom. Our mother said she would come back home before dark because she had no other home to go to. So, we put her cage on the front porch with the door open and sure enough, as afternoon faded, she flew back ‘home.’ We closed the door and took her back inside and she never ventured outside again.

In my mind, I see this little yellow parakeet flying back ‘home.’ After its experience with the crow, I’m sure it was missing the safety of its cage.

The Birds of Kerala is a very large book, filled with amazing birds of all kinds with long tails and bright colors. Many of them are marked as vulnerable, threatened, near endangered, or endangered. Some are near extinct with dates from when and where one was last seen.

I doubt I’ll see many of the birds from this book, but I do see quite a few water birds and one magnificent Brahminy Kite that presumably lives nearby at the Mangalavanum bird sanctuary and frequently flies over the waters near my flat.

I first saw these amazing raptors last summer at Alleppey and thought they were Eagles because of their bright white heads. I was told they were Hawks, and while they are listed in a category with Hawks and Eagles, the Birds of Kerala shows them as Brahminy Kites. They have beautiful rust colored bodies, with black triangles on their wing tips. I can see the triangles clearly on the one that glides below me on the wind currents.

Brahminy Kite

Brahminy Kite

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a whole row of Bee-eaters sitting on a wire, and beautiful Small Blue Kingfishers that look nothing like those in the Northeastern US. Each night at dusk, Swallows fly outside my office window catching mosquitoes. (I’d like to invite them in to take care of the pesky ones inside my office!)

Birds on a wire (Blue-tailed Bee-eaters)

Birds on a wire (Blue-tailed Bee-eaters)

The other night, I dreamt about a magnificent bird with iridescent blue feathers and a very long tail. Upon waking, I looked through the Birds of Kerala to see if I could find it, but it wasn’t there. I guess that’s what I get for reading Dr. Seuss before bedtime.

Today the Brahminy Kite was back with a friend. It must be mating season in Kerala.

Birds I’ve spotted and have been able to identify:
Little Cormorant, Little Egret, Median Egret, Cattle Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Kite, Brahminy Kite, Western Marsh Harrier, Common Sandpiper, Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Tern (not sure which one), Small Blue Kingfisher, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Common Swallow, Large Pied Wagtail, Red-whiskered Bulbul, House Sparrow, House Crow and many, many Pigeons — but not as many as in Rittenhouse Square.

Captured in flight

Captured in flight

GaGa over LuLu

No, not the Lady! As a matter of fact, no celebrity was necessary to bring out the crowds for the grand opening of the LuLu Mall in Cochin, Kerala. Touted as the largest mall in Asia, LuLu opened on 10 March.

On a Sunday afternoon, in a wild and crazy moment, Aswathi, Megha and I decided to go see what it was like. Hey … we did wait a week! But, clearly, we needed to wait a LOT longer!

LuLu has shops on five floors with a total size of 3,900,000 square feet. It has a cinema complex, a 5,000 sq ft ice skating rink, a food court that includes a dozen a half ‘kitchens’ plus three fine dining establishments and parking for 4,800 cars. All of the parking spaces were taken when we got there!! Ha, ha … no wait, I’m not kidding!

It took us about five hours to get in and get out. We were probably in the mall a total of 45 minutes. Most of our time was spent sitting in the car waiting for the traffic to move so we could just get to the corner to make the turn. Aswathi pointed out that many of the cars had license plates that identified them as coming from outside of Kochi.

The entire experience was really just too funny! We kept saying things like, “Aswathi, we’ll just get out here and walk the rest of the way. When we come out, we’ll easily find you because you’ll still be right here.”

When we finally made the turn at the corner, we ended up in another long line which led to the parking garage. We got behind a car that had a sticker on it identifying it as a new purchase. There was a little rise in the road as we entered the LuLu complex and the (presumably) new driver kept stalling the car to the point where three security guards rushed up and began pushing on the back of the car so it wouldn’t roll backwards into ours. We would have moved out of the way, except there was nowhere to move to!

LuLu Celebrate

LuLu Celebrate

About an hour later, we finally pulled into the parking garage, wondering why we were still doing this, but really, where else were we going to go at that point. Once you’re in a queue like that, there’s just no chance of getting out of it, so you just go with the flow!

So the big to-do at LuLu is their hypermarket, which is a huge grocery on two floors. But we plowed our way through the crowds in the opposite direction, as it was at capacity when we came up the escalator and found ourselves deposited directly in front of it. The five of us (Aswathi’s daughter and her mother were also with us) grabbed hands and wove our way through the crowds. I led the way and felt like a salmon desperately trying to swim upstream.

At this point, I can’t really tell you what the hypermarket has, but I can tell you that all of the grapes vanished on opening day and none of them were actually sold! It seems that everyone was taking a taste … but they were just taking one grape … what would that hurt? Well, apparently there were so many people taking ‘just one’ that all of the grapes disappeared pretty quickly.

I doubt much got sold on the opening weekend, except perhaps in the hypermarket. The weekend we were there, although it was very crowded, the shops were fairly empty. People were just looking around; doing some window shopping and taking lots of photos. And in the midst of the chaos and charm of the largest mall in Asia, we saw a number of young lads (early 20s perhaps) wearing sunglasses and ‘striking a pose’ in front of signs like Marks & Spencer. Seriously! And this particular shop wasn’t even open yet!

Crowds inside

! Crowds inside

We did stop on the top floor at the ‘food court’ to have a quick coffee, but they were pretty nearly out of everything and all Aswathi and Megha managed to bring back to the table we were desperately trying to hang on to, were two diet cokes, a juice drink and a Sprite.

Glass ceiling

Glass ceiling

When we left it was about 8:30 p.m. and traffic was still pouring – well, really, creeping (very, very slowly) – into the lanes for the parking garage. I said, “Well, that was fun!” to which Megha replied, “I’ll come back in about six months.”

Outside - a changing wall display

Outside – a changing wall display

The man with a most unusual hat

About a week ago, I was traveling the typical route to work, my camera at the ready to get any interesting drive-by shots, when I saw him.

We had almost come to the by-pass and there he was, standing by the side of the road with what appeared to be a very large hat upon his head. As we got closer, I couldn’t quite make it out, but it was quite colorful and very grand indeed. Now, we were upon him and I could see that there were, in fact, chickens festooned upon his head. I raised my camera and just then, the shutter closed and I missed the shot.

I know, sounds rather astonishing, doesn’t it? Well, I can tell you it took me by surprise!

The man was tall and very thin, with a disproportionately thick mustache. He was dressed in a maroon shirt and was wearing a typical Indian ‘skirt’ (dhoti) pulled up above his knees and tied at his waist, as is the custom on very hot days. His ‘hat’ was brilliantly balanced on his head.

The chickens were laying in such a way as to appear sleeping, but clearly they were not, as they weren’t moving at all, and it would have been a fine trick indeed were they still living. I don’t know how they were tied together, but you couldn’t see their feet at all, only their bodies and heads.

They were plump with beautiful feathers in an array of colors; feathers the color of saffron with the ends tipped in India ink. Others followed in burnt sienna, burnished gold and a mottled coffee and cream. They were lying, with one head resting against the next one’s wing and so forth in a circle, like a big feathery wreath of chickens.

I wanted to ask him how he came to be wearing such a unique head dress, but he had disappeared into the crowd before I had the chance.

I look for him every day now at the same place hoping to catch sight of him so I can confirm my story, but I fear I shall never see the chicken man again.

I’ve seen so much here in India and most of the things I’ve seen, I see again. But I have told many people here about the man with the chicken hat and they seem astonished as well. So even though I continue to look for him, I believe that was one sight that will live only in my memory.

For now, I hope I’ve described this well enough for you to see it too, if you just close your eyes.

A Biennale comes to Cochin

I’ve been fortunate to be here for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India’s first. Although it kicked off before my arrival on 12/12/12, it lasted until 13/03/13 and so I got to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

A little history

Biennale is Italian for “every other year” and is commonly used in the art world to describe an ‘international manifestation of contemporary art.’ It purportedly stems from the Biennale di Venezia first held in 1895. The Venice Biennale includes contemporary art, film, dance and architecture (this one held in even years).

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale was set up mostly around Fort Kochi. It was established to support the more modern Kochi, but at the same time, not letting go of the past and the historical values and significance of its mythical predecessor, the ancient port of Muziris.

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale

When I heard about this, I asked around the office to see who might have a bit of information and was told to begin the journey at the Kashi Art Café, also a gallery.

The Kashi is a fabulous, warm and inviting converted house, off of a small street in Fort Kochi. The gallery serves as the entry point to this unique place, which is a combination of indoor and outdoor space, with a tree growing through the roof in one room and an open, partially walled-in area in the back. The space is not large, but the atmosphere has vast dimensions. The menu is light, with breakfast and lunch options and some fabulous desserts. The food is organic and flavorful and the ambience encourages you to linger. In addition to their wonderful omelets, they have brown bread that they bake on the premises, and the masala tea is the best I’ve had anywhere in the city. (I asked if they sold loaves of bread separately, but alas, they do not.)

Omelette - YUM

Omelette – YUM

At the Kashi we found out where to go for tickets and more information. So we headed out to the Aspinwall House to begin the official journey.

Overlooking the sea, the Aspinwall House was established in 1867 as a business that traded in coconut oil, pepper, timber, lemon grass oil, ginger, turmeric, spices, hides and later in coir, coffee, tea and rubber. Today, it is a large heritage property supporting numerous artists and exhibits for the Biennale.

There were nearly 80 artists with work presented at a variety of venues including current gallery spaces and halls, with additional site-specific installations in public buildings and outdoor spaces. In some places, they used areas that were unused or barren. We were able to visit only about 10 of the spaces, but we got a really good feel for the variety of the work, which was vast.

The art at the Biennale was diverse and interesting. Some of it made you pause and reflect …

The room was dark, along the back wall ‘pockets’ of wood holding various seeds and herbs were lined up in rows. If you closed your eyes, the jumble of scents was intense. Around a corner of the large room, there were video art displays, soft blue light emanating from open books with blank pages. Messages came and went (courtesy of the video above), some with photographs, some with quotes like:

if we could separate each glance from the next
then could we separate our perception
of what each consecutive glance is seeing

or …

if a crime continues to occur regardless
of the enormous evidence available
then is the crime invisible or the evidence invisible
or are both visible but not seen?

The constant flow of messages made you want to stick around and see what was next. At the other end, was a story told in books, video and art about a crime against a young African man and the questions that surrounded his demise. The entire room was intriguing and thought-provoking, although in some regards, also disturbing.

But what is art if not something that makes you feel?

As with a lot of modern art, you have to ask yourself, “What does this invoke within me?” It doesn’t matter that you don’t understand it. You might find it interesting, disturbing, beautiful, humdrum, absurd, comical, amazing. You might feel a sense of loss, wonder, sadness, awe, enlightenment. You could even feel cynical, angry, happy, or it might even make you weep or laugh aloud. It could take your breath away or leave you completely puzzled. If you have no reaction whatsoever, the artist clearly missed the mark.

People react differently based on what they see in the piece, or what they don’t see. A reaction could be based upon a long-ago memory not quite present, but only sensed. One of our group had to leave that dark room that many of us found fascinating because she felt a certain dread.

Who can really tell what will move us? I remember standing outside Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona with Jennifer, one of my traveling companions. As both of us stared at this amazing sacred place, we turned to each other and both of us were weeping.

While the art of the Biennale didn’t bring me to tears, some of it evoked strong reactions.

All-in-all, it was a really great (albeit hot!) day. And from my point of view, congratulations must go out to the organizers of this amazing event!

Here are some additional photos:

The Perfect World

The Perfect World, by Uttam Duniya

Butterflies with no shoes (inset)

Butterflies with no shoes (inset)

I know nothing of the end (inset)

I know nothing of the end (inset), by Sudarshan Shetty

 

Birds on the wall (outside Kashi)
Birds on the wall (outside Kashi)

 

The book
The book
Carved swan

Carved swan, by Sudarshan Shetty

Megha at hanging wood

Megha at hanging wood

Painted tree near the Chinese Fishing Nets

Painted tree near the Chinese Fishing Nets

 

 

 

Wellness through Ayurveda

Ever since I arrived here, I’ve heard about the marvels of Ayurveda. Actually, I’d heard about it before I got here, but apparently Kerala is the heart of it, so I decide to sign up and see what it’s all about.

They recommend a minimum of seven Ayurvedic treatments, one per day lasting about 1.5 hours. The first day, you see an Ayurvedic physician (or vaidya) and tell her (mine happens to be a woman) all about your aches and pains. My vaidya doesn’t ask for a medical history and I don’t have to sign a disclaimer or provide any written anything. Even though she speaks very good English, I “visibly demonstrate” my issues. I want to be clear about where I’m broken so I can be sure they will fix me right up!

Day 1:  I meet my masseuse (I’m not sure that’s what they’re called here), Dipti (meaning Light) and she takes me to a changing room where I … well, let me just say, there are no robes here ladies, so if you’re shy, you don’t want to do this! I follow her to the chamber (my term) that consists of a rather large, teak table.

I sit on a chair while my head gets massaged with hot oil, followed by my shoulders. Then, she points to the table, I climb up and lay down on my back to receive a massage with lots of hot oil: front, back, face, hands, feet, you name it. I will say that the table gets really slippery and is really hard!

The massage ends and I’m directed to a room for a steam. The steam “room” is actually one of those really old units where you sit on a stool and a piece of wood is inserted around your neck and the “door” is closed; your head is the only thing that’s showing. You remember these, I’m sure, from old movies, right? I’m completely soaked with oil and, well, actually, it reminds me of “cooking a goose.” (I told my friends at work later that I was oiled up and then sent to the broiler! They found this VERY funny!)

I am supposed to be in the steam “room” for 10 minutes, but honestly, when Dipti returns (probably less than five minutes has passed), I say, “I feel faint.” To which she replies, well, actually, she just looks perplexed. Clearly, we have a communication issue. So, I say, “Faint … you know, ahhhhhh” and I close my eyes and drop my head to one side. OK, a little dramatic, I’ll admit, but honestly, it is really hot in here. So, out I come and that ends my first day.

Day 2:  Today, I awake with a slight headache that thankfully goes away quickly, but during the night, I had a muscle spasm in my right thigh whenever I rolled over. I have a large bruise on my left thigh and my ribs are sore. I relay my ailments to Dipti, whereupon she presses on my thigh, presumably to make sure it still hurts.

There are two masseuses today and they are so in sync it feels like one person with many hands (like one of those goddesses you see everywhere over here). At the end of the hot oil massage, they do a synchronized kizhi treatment, consisting of small herbal pouches in cloth that they place on a heated plate and tamp on my body to release the healing herbs. They tell me that this will reduce the pain and swelling. And actually, the pain does go away once they stop the pounding. [OK, I’m just kidding here!]

I say to the doctor, “This is a process, right? So, by the end of the seven days, I’ll actually feel good, yes?”

I liken it to getting beaten up with small bags of sand and tell my work friends that yesterday I was oiled up and today I was tenderized with a hint of spice. The herbs smelled of, well, I’m not quite sure, perhaps Cardamom? Garam masala? I assumed I’d be ready for the broiler again, but they skipped that part. I’m hoping that gravy doesn’t make its way to Day 3 or I’ll be in real trouble.

Here’s a photo of the teak table and my healers.

Teak tables and my 'healers'

Teak tables and my ‘healers’

Day 3:  I am very sore today, with more bruises appearing, maybe because I bruise easily, maybe because I’m so pale you can see them! They do seem to be surprised by the bruises though. So I basically have the same treatment as yesterday, with one exception: when I am face down on the table, they put a pillow roll under my ankles. They clearly understood my whimpering yesterday about the pain in my knee caps as they pressed down on my legs, so I am really thankful for this.

Day 4:  I awake with a headache again today, but it goes away quickly. I REALLY don’t want to get up! I feel like I could sleep for another 12 hours! I am feeling really drained … probably because I go through these treatments and then go off to work a 12 hour day. Probably not the best way to do this! I tell Dipti that I need some energy today!!

What I get is another day of hot oil and kizhi, but I realize I am approaching this all wrong.

I decide I need to be one with the table. So, drawing on my brief Tai Chi experience (Judith would be proud … Calen will relate), I visually move the table to a forest (by the lake with five mountains). The table legs push their way through the moss into the soil, growing roots as they do so. Vines form on the legs and rise up to the top of the table. Flowers burst forth as I melt into the table top, drawing on the earth energy and becoming the table.  Outside noises disappear and all that can be heard is the song of the birds and the rustling of the wind through the trees.

When they begin pressing down on my arms as they lay across the edges of the table, I no longer feel the edges cutting into my skin … there are no edges, only the table, as we are one.

Today is a good day!

Day 5:  Hot oil and kizhi! The bruises are getting paler. My ribs are less painful. We may be getting somewhere.

Day 6:  As the kizhi treatments continue, I decide to follow the pain to its origins. During the hot oil massage, I reflect on the pain. I look internally to where it’s coming from. I’m afraid I’m not as good at this as I was at becoming one with the table. It seems to be less painful the more I focus though. Maybe I need more practice.

The kizhi seems to be hotter today. The pounding is the same, but the hot cloth feels like it’s on fire when it touches my skin. I decide to become the shaman who can walk over hot coals and not get burned. I envision myself lying on a bed of coals and not feeling the heat of it. It makes it bearable and in the end, there are neither blisters, nor red marks from the kizhi pouch.

Day 7:  The last of the treatments starts out the same. The kizhi is equally as hot today, so I encase my body in ice so that when the pouch touches my skin, it cools down immediately. I find myself smiling with the coolness of the touch.

The end of this day’s treatment is a therapy known as Sirodhara. This rejuvenating therapy is specifically designed to eliminate mental exhaustion and toxins. Thick threads are laid over my forehead just above the eye brows and wrapped behind my ears. Cotton is placed in my ears and wet pads across my eyes. Oil is then poured in a stream onto my forehead from a hanging golden urn some distance above me. The stream of oil sweeps slowly back and forth, like a pendulum swinging to the rhythm of some unknown universal music.

It is quite calming and I was given to understand that many people fall asleep during this therapy. I do not. I am whisked away to the outskirts of the universe where I see the planets moving in rhythm to the swinging pendulum. From here, I am pulled back to the top of what appears to be the Himalayas. The sky is crisp and clear and I can see the path before me. I have clarity of vision and feel like many pieces of a complicated puzzle are falling into place.

As I leave with my driver, Shaji, I am very calm and centered. And quite suddenly, as the colors and contrasts fly by, I realize I am looking through the chaos to the beauty beyond.

Namaste