Tuesday, July 31, 2007

For the love of dog

This is my dog.

She’s not really my dog. She belongs to my neighbors. But they have two young children and a crazy schedule and don’t have time to take her outside.

I, on the other hand, occasionally want to jog before I go to work – or come home feeling cooped up so welcome the chance to take an eager four legged creature for a stroll.

She has a pretty good life. She’s almost never home alone, since she has four people of varying ages who love her, and on top of that two adoptive parents (us) who give her a colossal amount of treats and walk her at least four times a week.

When we pick her up, she’s so excited it’s almost impossible to leash her. She pulls with the force of a train and runs maniacally when we set her free in the field. If Luca walks up ahead of me she likes to dash from him to me and back.

It’s a fortunate arrangement: her rightful owners get to love a dog who has become a member of their family. We get to borrow a dog we only have to walk. The dog gets all of us.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The forks in my less traveled road

Brushing aside (with a dramatic sweeping motion) the dozens of ultimately unimportant mini daily battles I muddle through in a week, I present to you my overarching always-in-the-back-of-my-mind struggles:

Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?
I’m not sure if I’m doing what I was put on Earth to do. On good days I think I must be on the right track. On not so good days I wonder how I’m supposed to even recognize the right track if it comes over, introduces itself and vigorously shakes my hand.

Incidentally, this feeling of having a greater mission isn’t an ego thing. It comes from a fundamental sense of un-religious faith, and I think it applies to everyone.

What about my parents?
As an immigrant, a part of you always wonders if you’re going to go back home, even if when you do you know home is no longer there. And I know that my primal assignment was to make my own way. But I think a lot about the (barely imaginable, practically unbearable) day my parents will no longer be able to take care of themselves.

The fact that my husband thinks a lot about the very same thing and that his parents live 5,948 miles in the opposite direction compounds the complexity of the situation. (Early on, we wrote and signed an indelible, invisible, life-binding cosmic contract that we weren’t going anywhere without the other, ever. This unfortunately excludes short business trips. Apparently, I neglected to read the small print.)

Should I have kids?
Kids change everything, and I’m so, so happy with my life just the way it is. But, a childless life, stretching far into forever? Arg. I just don’t know. And of course, in this not knowing limbo, I am running out of time.

By the way, the fact that you think your own kids are the center of your universe and that you feel they make everything worth anything doesn’t help me at all. Struggles are deeply personal. Only I know what will work for me, and as I find what that is, I won’t impose it on you.

So, what next?

I've resolved to follow my mother's advice and take it all one day at a time. And, to follow Yogi Berra’s advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I'm not happy

I hate it when Luca goes away on a business trip. I also hate that I hate it. I hate it too when people say it’s good for us. How can being miserable be good for anyone?

It’s not just that Luca is my husband. It’s that he’s my companion. And, when he’s gone, I walk around unable to update him on things. Like how the hydrangea that he thought was dead is blooming. Or, how I used all the leftovers in the fridge and made a zucchini, tomato, feta cheese dish that is actually pretty delicious. I hate that I ate it alone.

I hate that in the mornings I stretch out my leg and my foot looks for his until it sticks out on the other side of the bed. I hate that I clean the house and fluff up the cushions and they stay that way, like a living room in a catalog, stiff, sterilized, because no one is here to mess things up. I hate that I get to the office an hour and a half earlier than I do when Luca is around because we don’t get delayed getting “just one more thing” done before walking out the door.

I like the way the world looks after he makes an observation. By way of example, I peek in the mirror and wonder how one night of not sleeping that well can make me look so disarrayed, and know full well that if he were here he’d say I look beautiful. How would not having someone stare at me with liquid eyes and tell me I’m beautiful be good for me? And it’s not about vanity. When we listen to a song, I only pay attention to the lyrics; he tells me what instrument I'm hearing. I hate that I don’t know if that was a bass.

I hate to say it, but this is going to be a long week.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Steal a word

I recently read an absolutely delicious book titled "The Meaning of Tingo" by Adam Jacot de Boinod. It's a collection of words from around the world. Here are some of my favorites - I just can’t believe I’ve survived so long without them.

Iktsuarpok - Inuit for "to go outside often to see if someone is coming".

Nglayap - Indonesian for "wander far from home with no particular purpose".

Mingmu - Chinese for "to die without regret".

Termangu-mangu - Indonesian for "sad and not sure what to do".

Nedovtipa - Czech for "one who finds it difficult to take a hint".

Narachastra prayoga - Sanskrit for "men who worship their own sexual organ".

Fissilig - German for "flustered to the point of incompetence."

Mukamuka - Japanese for "so angry one feels like throwing up."

Sekaseka - Zambian for "to laugh without reason".

Neko-neko - Indonesian for "one who has a creative idea which only makes things worse".

By the way, "Tingo" is Pascuense for "to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by borrowing them." I'm not sure if this would make me mukamuka; or if it would first induce a feeling of liberation, then invite me to sekaseka and finally set me free to nglayap.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Don't call it hopeless

I’m an optimist.

I mention in a recent blog entry that “I was convinced India was on the verge of a transformation of epic proportions”. After having visited, I can tell you this surpasses optimism. I was plain na├»ve.

The fact is, even if a few million people are getting rich, India has more than one billion inhabitants. I can’t blame anyone who calls the situation "beyond repair".

When we got back, Luca found a site that allows people on this side of the world to help.

Which is good, since all I could think as I traveled through India was, "How? How are we ever going to get out of this?" (And, "Why? Why do some people have so much while others have nothing?" but I don't expect to find an answer to the latter.)

Kiva uses the Internet to create interpersonal connections. It allows you to connect with – and loan money to – small businesses in the developing world, where 50 dollars (or less) can break the cycle and help lift someone out of poverty.

I’m hoping you can visit the site and loan money to someone whose life can change because of your intervention.

I’m also hoping that when you get paid back, you can loan it to someone else.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sugar and Spice

My very first taste of Indian food (in India) was sambar (a rich vegetable and lentil stew) and potatoes, which we had for breakfast over eggs and roti. This was the morning after our 30-hour trip. The dish was delicious, restoring in a way only thick, spicy food can be, with a flavor so complex I couldn't distinguish more than a few ingredients. So I called room service and asked what was in it. "Onions, ma'am".

Later, I looked up the most common used spices in Indian food. Amchur (mango powder), bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cumin, curry leaves, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, basil, kokum (this gives dishes a purple hue), lemongrass, mace (the red lacy membrane that grows around the nutmeg seed), mint, mustard, nutmeg, pomegranate, poppy seeds, pepper, sesame, tamarind, saffron, and turmeric.

In Hyderbad, our first stop, I tasted biryani - the typical Hyderbad one-dish-meal served with raita - and was so taken by its flavors I called the server over and asked how to go about preparing a dish like this. What do you put in it? He thought for a second. "Onions, ma'am". Further research revealed that some of the ingredients of Biryani are rice (although I also tried one with millet), saffron, milk, papaya paste, yogurt, chili powder, ginger, garlic, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, mint, green chili and lime. And, yes, onions.

Hyderabad offers a mix of Hindu and Muslim cuisines. And I can say I tried a good number of the dishes in that region. How? Well, we were invited to a wedding. Number of guests: 25,000. (twenty five thousand, so you don't think that’s a typo.) It resembled a colorful, exotic, particularly joyous trade show, with a whole pavilion dedicated to food. I went from stand to stand trying really small bites of everything (except the international booths - who needs to try Italian food in Hyderabad?)

My two favorites were a dish that someone said was made with "the hottest chili pepper known in India" which I ate with gobi (cauliflower) and was so tangy it made my mouth pucker; and a sweet pistachio based dessert covered in vark (edible silver foil.)

We spent the rest of our trip in the Tamil Nadu region, known for some of the world's most delicious vegetarian food. The term "curry", in fact, comes from the Tamil word "Kari", black pepper. It turns out that what I knew as Indian food - daal, tandoori, naan, aloo gobi, lassi, tikka - comes from Punjab, a state up North. Fortunately for me, there are an additional 29 states in India, each with its own distinctive cuisine.

Our two favorite dishes from the south were dosas, soft, thin crepes made with fermented rice flour that you then dip into chutneys and relishes; and idlis (steamed cakes of fermented rice flour and daal) - which you eat with sambar ladled on top. (Luca and I took to exclaiming "IDLI!" whenever we saw them on a menu.) We also loved palak paneer (fresh cheese and spinach curry) and pappadams (crispy, super thin daal wafers with buried cumin seeds in them.)

The fundamentals of food in India haven't changed for thousands of years. Ayurveda is an ancient science of diet and healing and is, to this day, the most widely practiced form of medicine in that country. Often, ingredients are added to a dish for their curative qualities, as much as for their flavors. (For example, turmeric is anti-inflammatory, and cardamom relieves heartburn.)

The basic principle is that you cannot sustain a healthy body with unsuitable food. One purpose of Ayurveda is to maintain balance – you must eat in accordance with your own individual needs. Put simply, you crave what you are missing in yourself.

As soon as the jet lag subsides, I'll try to figure out exactly what that says about me.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


If countries had a gender, India would be a woman. She is sensual, curvaceous, languid, the unattainable seducer. Fragrant and dark, with big, honey colored eyes, lips that taste of cardamom and a crimson dot in the middle of her forehead. She is luminous and terrible and hides awful secrets in the millenary, multicolored folds of her sari. She moves slowly, so slow you may think she's not moving at all. Don't tell her what to do. Don't think you can rescue her. She is her own person, immune to your ego, incomprehensible, exasperating. I, for one, do not understand her at all. But I can't help but stare. She doesn't seem to care you think she's broken beyond repair, because she is beautiful.

And this is why I have missed my "post at least once a week" blog goal - I've been traveling in India.

Working in the tech industry in Silicon Valley and having visited India almost 20 years ago, I was convinced I would find a country on the verge of a transformation of epic proportions. I was wrong. This country is every kind of poor. It's crushing, repellent. Just when it feels too much like you’re enduring your vacation, something impossible will trap you. India is also mesmerizing.

It's been an incredible trip: no flights delayed longer than 40 minutes, no rain at all despite knowingly having come here in the middle of monsoon season, no illness or digestive distress, no accidents – and seeing how people drive and the time we've spent on the road, this last point defies all odds.

We've eaten food so good Europeans navigated across oceans to find these spices. We've been blessed by elephants and seen all the Gods, their incarnations, their wives, their chariots and their temples. We took more than one thousand photographs. And we have learned from India what might be one of the most important lessons of all: divine gratitude of the deepest, purest kind. To know what I mean, you'll just have to come here to see for yourself.