Two families wait

A mom in her 30’s cradles her son
Two elementary school girls sit by her side
Silent on the concrete bench
Hair pulled back tight
Pale pink lace dresses, two pairs of new sandals
One red, one white
A miniature white button-down man shirt on the baby
Tucked into pint-sized pressed navy shorts

Baby boy bounces from knee to knee
Tiny fingers pop bits of cereal into hungry mouths
Immaculate, contained, quiet

Greying father and mother sit in the front
Two pre-teen girls sit with their chocolate puppy behind
Parked at the curb in their restored vintage van
Hair wet and stringy tossed everywhere
Damp bathing suit underneath a faded junior lifeguard sweatshirt
A cat t-shirt stained with spots of paint and food
Over outgrown blue shorts
Hand-me-down flip flops, bare feet

Dog wrestles in the back seat
Hands shove sandwiches dripping with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise into uninterested mouths
Relaxed, loud, bored

Both families wait for permission slips to roam over borders and return home

Numbers are called
One family enters
One walks away
One White
One Latino

Which is which?

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(Word Count: 101)

Melissa wanted us to “eat our truth” at Wednesday’s potluck supper club.

Darlene brought hand-milled oat bread, churned butter and garden-grown kumquat jam. Self taught skills acquired as a new wife because her mother was never around.

Annie brought pints of butter pecan, chain brand ice cream. Growing up poor, she walked two miles to sample the thirty-one flavors. Free birthday cone every year.

I brought soup: oil slicked dishwater combined with a crumbling granola bar found at the bottom of my bag, yesterday’s coffee grounds and tears of exhaustion sprinkled throughout. Who knew my truth tasted so much like Mom’s?

(Word count: 100)

For sale: BlyssOut titanium-plated professional flat iron, slightly used. Paid $139 at high-end beauty store with odd make-believe salon in rear. Purchased for Navy Gala. Left to heat while in shower. Lost water pressure mid-shampoo, half rinsed and naked dealt with smoke alarm and burned Spaghettios…usual Mom Night Out bullshit. Rushed, threw damp hair into flat iron. Instant burning hair/plastic/scorched sugar smell. Strawberry Shortcake doll beat me to the iron, melted red hair fused to mine. Scissors and screaming. Lots of screaming. Removed all bits of Shortcake from blade, good as new. Only $80.

ISO: Used wine refrigerator, hat collection

(Word count: 100)

He shuffled past my bumper. The shopping bag handles bloodied his swollen fingers, an entire life in plastic at the ends of his sleeves.

I first saw him under the overpass at Sanjon two weeks ago. Backpack on clearance gave me the idea.

“Excuse me? This is for you.” I held out my gift. Same bag as mine: pockets for iPhone, sunglasses. Waited for a smile.

“Why?” he stuttered.

My head swam. Who was I? Savior? No. Shithead.

“Please. For you.”

He took the bag, managed a smile that hurt him to make.

“What can I do for you?” he said.

GFPancake

I’m not a chef. Sure, I’m a decent cook, but baking something in a water bath is beyond how much focus I have and frankly, I don’t care that much. I’m the sort of cook that likes to throw a bunch of shit in a pot and is lucky enough to know what tastes good together. When it comes to baking, unlike my sister who seems to think stale cereal is a catch-all substitute ingredient, I’m capable enough to make a delicious tasting cake, even if I can’t get the bloody thing out of the pan.

So when I figured out that I needed to remove wheat from my diet (because let’s be honest, no one is crying over the loss of barley or rye), I knew it was time to put on my big girl apron. For some, that means establishing residency in the cookbook section at Barnes and Noble or watching hours of waif-like kitchen sprites grind garbanzo beans and milk almonds on YouTube. For me, stepping up my game meant shopping for gluten-free mixes. Hey, America solved the nation’s baking dilemma with delicious Bisquick, so why couldn’t it do the same with those gluten-free mixes?

Let me save you the endless hours walking the baking aisles of your grocery store. Those mixes are crap. Now, I haven’t tried ALL of them, but the ones that make it seem like sumptuous buttermilk biscuits can be yours again, beware. I have attempted cookies, muffins and biscuits with these “bake alls” and unless you like the taste of sorrow in every bite, don’t even bother.

GFflour

Among the many things I’ve been missing, pancakes is oddly at the top of the list. Trolling the internet, I found a recipe on Food.com that had many of the old familiar ingredients (baking soda, eggs) but some of those odd ones that made it seem like I was in chem lab as opposed to cooking breakfast. After sorting through ingredient substitutions and breaking a few laws of nutrition, I came up with this recipe that ACTUALLY TASTES LIKE A GODDAMNED PANCAKE. These totally gluten-free AF pancakes are spongy and light, rather nutty in flavor (although I’m sure if I used fresher flour as opposed to the leftovers found in the back of a cupboard that taste would change) and chew like a pancake and not like a drink coaster. You get all of the ingredients in your local grocery store or Trader Joe’s. Makes enough for a family of four (1 gfaf, 3 not so much).

GLUTEN FREE AF PANCAKES
DRY:
1/4 c. Coconut flour
1 1/2c. Brown rice flour
1 tsp. ground chia seeds (buy regular seeds and grind them in your coffee grinder. Hey, it’s breakfast, so coffee tasting pancakes are a bonus!)
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. sugar

WET:
1 1/3 c. milk of some form (cow, goat, almond, rice, coconut)
4 eggs
4 tblsp. oil (veg, coconut… whatever)
splash of vanilla

EXTRA MIX INS:
toasted coconut
gf chocolate chips
peanut butter/sunflower seed butter/almond butter…but not cookie butter, because that is not gluten-free 😦
bananas
strawberries
blueberries

Directions:
In a bowl, mix dry ingredients. In another bowl, stir together wet ingredients. Combine wet with dry, stir out the lumps. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes. Heat pan/griddle with butter or coconut oil (I’ve found coconut oil smokes more but heats more evenly) and cook.

(*’AF’ stands for ‘as f*$#’ because when you have to give up one of life’s basic joys you should declare it single every time.)

1

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Delaney stopped picking at the skin on her pimply nose to give me the stink eye in the passenger visor mirror. She’s Mom’s accomplice, but after their fight this morning, who knows.

“Lily Bear,” Mom said. “I can’t believe you’re nine years old today. Has your mustache started to come in yet?”

“Funny Mom. No one gets a mustache when they turn nine years old. Especially girls.”

Mom looked at me in the rearview mirror like I’d told her I had a cough or a splinter. “I can’t believe Delaney didn’t tell you. Ask her. Girl mustaches are silvery whiskers, sort of like a cat, you can sense danger with them. She made us shave hers off.”

“Really Delaney?” I said. She threw Mom a glare, then stuck her tongue out at me, which either meant Mom lied again or Delaney didn’t want to tell me the truth. I hated Mom’s lies. She added in enough truth, so I never knew what to believe. Like the time she told me my blue birthmark was a permanent ink stamp from when I arrived as a baby on a cargo ship from Madagascar. I’d never met anyone with a blue birthmark, not one with squiggle lines in the shape of a ‘3’ and a ‘W’. Maybe I wasn’t born in Connecticut, but on a mysterious island with friendly lemurs and those giant trees that look like carrots growing upside down. Sometimes I wished her stories were true.

“That’s your idea of a birthday gift, Mom? Dragging her around Ventura for the hundredth time on your made up history tour and freaking her out about facial hair?” Delaney said. I closed my eyes, waited for mom to comment. I heard Delaney whisper, “Fail”. The car moved faster.

I ducked my head behind the front seat, pretended to pick something up off of the floor, touched my fingers to my top lip. Smooth like velvet. No prickly hairs. Liar.

“Get ready,” Mom said, raised herself up in her seat. “We’re coming up on the first stop of our Magical Ventura Tour.” The groaning sound from the steering wheel made me think maybe the car didn’t want to be on the tour either.

“Mom, can’t we do something else for once?” Delaney said. “We know all of your ridiculous stories already. I bet Lily doesn’t even want to be here and it’s her birthday.”

“Lily Bear, is this true?” We sat curbside in front of City Hall, the engine coughed like a bear with a cold. Mom rammed the shifter into park, peeked around the front headrest at me. I turned to the window. The weird smiling marble faces carved all along the front of city hall laughed down at me. I hate birthdays. I wished Dad were with us.

“No, it’s okay,” I said. “Tell the story, Mom. Reminds me of when we moved here.”

“Well, few people know this but Ventura City Hall was built on top of an ancient Chumash burial site.”

“Not true,” Delaney said. “I asked my social studies teacher, he’s from here. He said ‘no’.”

My stomach hurt. I thought about my cake in the fridge with my name written in blue cream cheese frosting. Dad and I both loved carrot cake.

“Mr. Carver?” Mom said, brushed Delaney’s bangs out of her eyes.

“Yeah.”

“Honey, Mr. Carver drinks. He can’t be trusted. Grab yourself some Midol from my purse. You’ll feel better.”

Mom turned back around to wink at me. Delaney sighed like a movie star, crumpled into a sulking pile.

“Anyway, Lily Bear, the city planners built city hall on an ancient Chumash burial ground, then carved the faces of the Franciscan friars who founded the mission on the outside of the building. They did this to honor the men who wanted to civilize the native Chumash right out of their own culture.”

“What’s wrong with civilizing someone?” I said. Two girls in my class, Annabel and Janie, were in cotillion. When I asked, they told me they went to dances to learn how to be civilized. I tried to imagine the Chumash natives ballroom dancing together in grass skirts and white gloves.

“Depends on your definition of civilization. But the Chumash people got revenge. Know what they did?”

I did know, but I wanted her to tell me like she did every birthday. Mom started the Ventura “Her-story Tour” the first year we moved here, on my fifth birthday. In first grade, I had to write a special report after I told the class pirates put up Serra Cross, not missionaries. Mom made me a cross birthday cake that year, with vending machine toys baked inside.

“Nope,” I said.

“They cursed the land. When the rare blue moon rises in the sky, those friar’s faces come to life and tell all the secrets kept within the walls of City Hall!”

“When’s the blue moon? Has anyone ever seen them come alive?”

I felt the familiar thrill rise up inside. My mother’s magic held me.

“I have a question since you know about all things secret and mystical.” Delaney’s voice jabbed at our mother. My palms started to sweat. Unlike her usual pouty, dramatic self, a new Delaney voice came out.

“Where’s our father?”

Dammit Delaney. It’s my birthday! You need to do this now? Awesome.

“Excuse me?” Mom said, her voice like a policeman instead of a tour guide. She turned, faced Delaney head on.

“Our father. The one who used to live with us but one day never came home again. Where is he? And no more made up stories. How about some truth this time? Where’s our father?”

I stopped taking full breaths, picked at the scab on my elbow. The sun poked out above the trees. I felt the beams burn on my shoulder, but unsticking my bare legs from the car seat meant ripping at my sunburn from yesterday, so I stayed still. I made a birthday wish my window wasn’t stuck closed. We never talked about Dad, just like we never talked about earthquakes, the great white sharks spotted around the river mouth or the drought.

“Your father is out to sea.”

The car rolled away from the curb.

“For three years? How does someone go out to sea for three years?”

I can remember a lot from when I was six. I remember one time Delaney sat on top of me after I had eaten a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, tickled me until I laughed so hard I puked all over her legs. I remember Tommy Leone from down the street threw my green Matchbox car into the sewer drain. And I remember when I won my goldfish Percy at the school carnival, even though he only lasted a couple of days. But as hard as I try, I don’t remember what Daddy’s voice sounded like.

“He got on the wrong ship,” Mom said. “He was supposed to be going out for an overnight fishing trip to Santa Rosa, but instead he got on a ghost pirate ship. This ghost ship was disguised to look like all the other fishing boats. Not his fault. Now he’s sailing around the world.”

We sat dangling at the stop sign on the top of California Street, below the sea stretched out like a silver blanket in front of us. Floating in the mist like scoops of whipped cream, were the Channel Islands. How fast would we have to go to fly out over the pier and the sea, to get to those islands?

“They say sometimes the ghost ships return to their original port, but I don’t know if that’s true. Your father always wanted to see the world. I guess this was a wish come true.”

We moved down California Street, headed for the beach.

Aside from wishing the car window open, I had also birthday wished for a new bike, a puppy and for Daddy to come home. I asked God to cancel the earlier three and put all my wish juice towards Daddy.

“No Mom.” Delaney’s voice sounded stretched like a balloon filled with water. “The truth this time. We don’t want any more stories. Please.”

Mom yanked the car over to the side of the road, we skidded a bit when the tires hit the sand. Thrown into park the car jerked forward.

“What exactly do you want me to tell you, Delaney? What do you want the truth to be? Does it feel better to know City Hall is built on nothing more than dirt? The truth is cold and boring and doesn’t ever go away. I don’t know where your father is. He told me he was going fishing, a man who never owned a fishing pole mind you, decided to go on a fishing trip with a suitcase in his hand. Then I never saw him again. There. Does that feel better or any more real than he’s on a disappearing ghost ship?”

Delaney burst out of the car, ran toward the massive sand dune in front of the water. Mom said the ‘f’ word, kicked her door open and marched across the sand toward Delaney.

When I caught up to them at the bottom of the dune, both of them sat in the sand. A scrunched up Delaney sobbed in Mom’s arms, Mom whispered into her ear, stroked her hair, rocked her back and forth. I wanted to pop the heavy empty bubble inside of me, so I squished myself in between them both.

We came up for air, a wet, snotty, sniffling mess and I birthday wished a box of Kleenex for us all.

“Come on,” Mom said. “The sea wants to give a girl a birthday kiss.”

 

 

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Be still. Think.

Rolling the words around on my tongue, they feel swollen, slippery and cumbersome

Like pieces born on the bottom of the ocean, they taste simultaneously sweet with pleasure and sour with decay

“What do I want?”

Sadness. Loss. Confusion. Wonder. Nothingness… like searching in the fog for the hint of an outline of a building or a tree.

Consider the act of wanting? Consider objects to want?

No. Consider me.

To know what I want suggests to know who I am.

Who am I?

Who is asking the question?

Who is answering?

A reflection of time. A compilation of 43 years of thought and action. A force in motion, moving not because of desire or motivation but because of habit, momentum and expectation. Ticking forward from minute to minute, second to second. Overwound on the day I was born and set in motion,       waiting for the movement to stop and another winding to start.

You do because you should. You enact because you’re here.

What do I want?

Do I want? Do I?

I do want. I desire. I aspire. I exist.

I want to matter. I want to be heard. I want to have meaning. I want to love without fear. I want to accept love without consequence. I want to know me and love me. I want to know what I want, and know that I deserve to want. I want to be creative and feel justified in my creative pursuits. I want to leave behind the hurt. I want to laugh more. I want to let go of pain. I want to forgive and forget. I want to sleep for a very long time, then wake up refreshed and happy to not be in the dream any longer. I want to know God and see Her everywhere, and feel Her within me. I want to believe that I too am God. I want to live as an inspiration for my daughters, so that they may never not know what or if they should want. I want to see me as my daughters see me. I want to believe that my husband is a good person. I want freedom from my judgements. I want to have an answer when asked what it is that I want.

What do I want?

I want to want.

Grandpa Joe, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only Grandma Gracie

Grandpa, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only “Gram”, Florida, 1983

My grandmother, my dad’s mother, was a fierce Italian woman who hugged too tightly and never hesitated to tell you what was on her mind. She fed us too well and despite the fact that she was only 4′ 11″, her footsteps were like that of an elephant’s (she was always in heels), and I swear that they based that TV commercial on how she would call my brother in for dinner (“Annnthony!”). She passed away last October, five days before I left for Nepal. I returned to NY to celebrate her life and then boarded the plane for a journey that would change my own.

In my backpack, I carried two of her prayer cards: a laminated version with a picture of the Blessed Mother looking down with love upon three children, and a paper one with a solitary image of the Virgin Mary. Mary was my grandmother’s lodestar, her namesake, and in her final years, who she remembered her own mother to be. It is because of my grandmother that my daughter carries the same name.

Two days after my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crouching on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, the gateway to The Beyond for the Hindu community in Nepal. A continuous stream of funeral pyres burn here, releasing into the waters the remnants of the dead, and are then re-lit over and over again, burning at the base of the Shree Pashupatinath Temple. In my hand was the paper prayer card, Mary looking out into an unseen distance. I thanked my grandmother for her love and devotion. I promised to always remember that “blood is thicker than water”, and to keep my eyes out for a “decent” girlfriend for my single brother—and then I let the card be carried away with the ashes of so many others in the waters of the Bagmati.

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015 – photo credit: Sahadev Panday

Despite the fact that I was able to perform my good-bye ceremony in one of the most sacred places on the planet, it wasn’t until I was hiking through the foothills of the Himalayas that I encountered my grandmother in the afterlife. As we marched through one tiny village after another, we came across so many lovely, yet somewhat solemn individuals. Always smiling, they kept mostly to themselves, a resultance of not speaking our language I’d assumed. But rounding the corner one warm morning, we came across an ardent, ageless crone who we heard before we saw. We met what could only be described as my Nepali grandmother.

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

Also a nonagenarian, this woman called us over to show us her broken eyeglasses. Her fingers, bent by time and arthritis, pointed at each of us with aggression, while she animatedly explained to our guide that her daughter had left to go breed a bull in another village and she needed new glasses. She was hard of hearing, but sharp as a tack and had something to say about each of us. She had the same demanding attitude, the same crooked fingers, the same “what in the Hell do you know!” gestures as she waved us away, annoyed that we didn’t have any glasses to give her. I quietly sidled up to her and held her hand as she talked, expecting her to impart some wisdom or have a spark of recognition for me—for clearly she was my grandmother in another time and a very faraway place—but there was none. She took no notice of me and barely registered that I was touching her at all. I was okay with that. I had received far more than I ever expected and was grateful for the opportunity to see that my grandmother could live on in unexpected ways.

This past week, my grandmother’s cousin and her closest friend, also passed away. It was no surprise when I received the call. Nonina, as she was known in the family, was as fierce and Italian as Grandma, and together they had so much deliciousness to offer the world, and a lot to say about it too. Where Grandma held expertise in food (though Nonina was no slouch), Nonina knew her fashion, and thanks to her, as a kid I was dressed in the very best chiffons and polyesters that the 70’s had to offer. Her children were her life, as she would tell you over and over again, and there was not an award, a performance or a Halloween costume that would pass without her inspection. Now that she is gone, the world is a little dimmer, but I can only imagine the party happening now that she is home.

After Nepal, I am excited to see how Nonina will show up again. I look forward to the unexpected moment when I hear two older ladies arguing and instantly think of Grandma and Nonina. And I’m curious to see where I’ll encounter someone who refers to me as, “Doll”. While I miss them both very much, I can’t wait until they visit me once again.

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002 – photo credit: Joseph Schuyler

 

 

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

(Two weeks have passed and I finally feel as if my brain cells are lining up again. At least, in a more American, Pacific Standard Time, conventional way. I have been feeling as if I were driving in the fast lane with everyone shooting past at 75mph, my gear shift broken off in second and I’m left maxing out at 30mph. After stumbling around wondering what day it was, and mumbling “amazing” over and over again like a mantra, I am starting to feel as if I am rising from the depths of another world, still somewhat floating and disconnected, but surfacing back into familiar territory. 

This is my attempt to put into words what there may be no words for. This is my leap at calling back a part of myself that will always remain behind.)

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Maybe it was for the best that the trip started out in the most populated and crushingly chaotic city in Nepal. Maybe it was no accident that after a red-eye flight to NY, three non-stop swirling days of intense emotions and conversations with the ghosts of my childhood while I helped bury my grandmother, followed by a layover in a surreal landscape with red chalky dust sprinkled over sparkling silver buildings and a lashing Arabic tongue, that I am dropped onto the bustling streets of Kathmandu. I am met with a city piled high with neatly stacked textiles and copper pots, rows of marigold necklaces and strewn rotting garbage.

 

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

The air is thick with diesel fumes, alluring spices, burning garbage and the occasional assaulting whiff of sewage. Any residual melancholic thoughts that I have are shoved to the back of my being as car horns, the melodic caterwauling of music and police whistles jab their way in. It is the morning of our first day in Nepal and tomorrow is Dipawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In addition to the standard flood of tourists, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, cows, dogs, monkeys (monkeys?!?) and chickens making their way along the streets, extended family members are returning home, and everyone must stop to pick up festival supplies. Colors bleed out of the stalls and doorways. Rickshaws, scooters and mopeds ding, beep and honk as they whiz past close enough for me to feel a breeze on my skin. Kathmandu is a white water stream of demented consciousness and I am riding its mind.

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

We start at the Bazaar in the center of Kathmandu in order to get the full-frontal of what a city enmeshed in festival furor looks like. Movement in this city, whether it is the constant parade of people on the streets and in the alleys, or the transports that cough their way around town, is a study in controlled chaos. As far as I can tell there are no street signs, no traffic lights and yet everyone makes their way to their destination. It reminds me of standing on a bridge as a child and tossing sticks and leaves into the torrent of a bursting springtime creek below. Unseen currents carry the objects here and there, with some getting caught in invisible whirlpools in the center, but eventually everything makes its way downstream.

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

We meander and pick our way past open stalls that spill out wares, as shopkeepers cautiously eye the passersby. Some sellers are engrossed in stitching together flower necklaces for the festival, while others are hawking their best deals. Saris and traditional Nepali menswear hang from intricately carved entranceways, along with fleece pants decorated in Western world cartoon characters, t-shirts that say ‘I (heart) Nepal’ and hilariously misspelled American knockoffs such as “Galvin Klein.”  I try my best to pay attention to my group so that I don’t get lost, but I can’t help but wander around gaping wide-mouthed at the spectacle before me.

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our guide Sahadev (“Dave”) gathers us like the flock of chickens we are and directs us into a curved archway sandwiched between a mountain of copper pots and a curtain of spangly saris. We emerge through the darkened portal blinking with wonder at a spectacular hand-carved Buddhist pagoda-style temple looming above us, a handful of worshippers circling the sanctuary, and a stone-laid ground awash in the constant ebbing tide of a sea of pigeons.

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Having lived in both Boston and NYC, I’ve strolled down many alleyways and through my fair share of random doorways, but this hidden celestial outpost was a shock to my urban consciousness. How can Buddha just pop up any old place? Just feet from a man prostrate before a statue of the Buddha is another hawking plastic necklaces. But isn’t that the lesson? Doesn’t The Divine exist everywhere and shouldn’t we be looking in all the old familiar places?

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

(‘What is the name of this magical temple?’ you must be wondering. And here we have the conundrum of the hosted overseas tour. I spent so much time trying to absorb and photograph, taking for granted the luxury of roaming place to place without having to research or map anything, that I barely ever took notes. Now, weeks later, I can remember the feel of the hand-carved prayer wheel beneath my fingers as I made my way in reflective circumference, but I have no name, no dates, nothing in terms of recorded knowledge that will help me share anything but the ethereal with you. And maybe that is the only way Nepal can be shared.)

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

From the Bazaar we move on to Durbar Square and Hanuman City, the location of the old royal palace and two large temples in tribute to Hindu deities, Durga and Hanuman. As we stop every few feet to discuss architecture, art or the reality TV-like history of the last royal family in power (disgruntled children, illicit love affairs, murderous family members… watch for it to hit cable soon), I notice well-dressed men on their knees in the square, digging out the cracked and crumbling mortar between tiles, their hands, resembling crows feet, curled around tiny sticks, work diligently, reverently to restore what was deteriorating. I try to remember when the last time was that I saw anyone using such crude tools to complete such an enormous task by hand. Or dressed so formally for such a dirty and unassuming chore. I cannot.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourists trickle into the square stumbling about like foreign and confused paparazzi. They mostly stare at the workmen dangling precariously on handmade bamboo scaffolding 30 feet up in the air. One woman, standing almost dead center in the square, digs out her recent purchase: a Nepali singing bowl, an instrument designed to produce vibrations meant to soothe and heal the human spirit. With the plastic shopping bag tucked under her arm, she cradles the bowl in one hand, the striking mallet in the other. Tapping the bowl over and over again, a look of wonder comes over her face and she becomes absorbed in the vibration. Despite the fact that she is standing in a public square, surrounded by a slew of people, this seems to be the most natural and expected thing to do. I stand as close to her as I can get without invading her privacy and seeming like I am about to mug her. I close my eyes and soak up the moment… the sound, the light, the energy of the square… like a sponge. (I’m grateful there is no picture of my face in that moment.)

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

From Durbar Square we move onwards to lunch in a restaurant and B&B tucked back off of some alleyway that I try to memorize but fear I shall never see again. At the head of the alley, a group of men of varying ages stand around a cascading tangle of electric wires, some with exposed ends, watching one individual as he picks up one and touches it to others. Rather than a property of science, electricity still seems to be a matter of alchemy in Nepal. Electric power is illusive. There is no system determining when it is available and when it is not, or even where it can be accessed regularly. In addition to a lack of consistency, there seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Why the Hell Not” as the configuration of wires about the city is reminiscent of abandoned ice picks on the side of Everest.

As we pass, a couple of the members of our traveling group, specifically a retired engineer and a retired director of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), briefly pause to watch… fascinated and horrified.

Lunch is an assortment of traditional Nepali light fare—momos (similar to Japanese shumai or Chinese potstickers, are stuffed with a ground chicken, heavy on the cilantro and a ‘momo masala spice’, served with a tomato-based sauce featuring cumin and ginger), noodles with vegetables and a sampler platter of tastes of Nepal, including a vegetable curry, rice and a mint sauce.

This is the first real exposure to a Nepali meal for my lifelong friend and now foreign traveling companion Elena and myself. The Cliff Bars and tea the night before and the 12′ resort breakfast buffet that morning (featuring everything from yak cheese to waffles) really didn’t count. Prior to that we’d had a questionable experience with lamb wraps on our Fly Dubai flight into Kathmandu (Eating lamb should have been my first warning sign for how out of my mind I was. For a woman who barely eats anything that walks, especially if she hasn’t vetted the farmer first, this was a bold move on my part. Something about the cardboard standup signs set on the seats of the first row of the plane charging $35 to ride in their “first class” section said to me, “You go right ahead and enjoy that tasty adventure!”) and were now ready to take on some authentic food. So, we did what any overzealous and excessive American would do… we order it all.

Lunch is an awkward hour of trying to consume an irrational amount of food for two people in a land where food is lacking, while simultaneously presenting ourselves to our trip-mates, none of whom grossly over-ordered as we had. Faced with the notion of wasting food in a developing country, we force ourselves to finish it all (damn those lamb wraps!) and even sample the bowls of red condiment left on our table. (We quickly realize that this was ketchup and completely irrelevant to any of the food that has been served. The only reason it is there? We’re Americans.)

The whirl of recent events, moving physically across space and time to get to the other side of the globe, the frenetic nature of my surroundings and now the unreasonable amount of food in my stomach is getting to me. I’m losing the ability to move logically from one moment to the next. Our guide gathers us again. Time to go to Patan City.