Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Hohoho Landia

Wow, well, it appears the the Schmidt family has singlehandedly managed to restore peace to the American economy by injecting grandiose amounts of cash into the flagging system. As a matter of fact, the ladies known as my aunts are out shopping MORE, even now.

I am personally not sure how they do it, as my desire to shop is apallingly weak, much like my desire to get manicures and to wear foundation makeup: nonexistent.

We are a funny family, prone to hours of impassioned Boggle playing, crosswork solving, and losing all our money to my brother in poker games. It's really restorative.

I must warn anyone who thinks that seeing the Benjamin Button movie. Don't. Just don't. Terribly disappointingly bad. What a missed opportunity.

Anyhow, More to come, but right now I really need to get to the crossword before they finish it without me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lazarus the journal

Ahem, I am back from the "dead"!

*crickets chirping in background*

Umm, okay, well, let me freshen this place up a bit *brushing cobwebs from corners* and regale you with my tales of wonder and intrigue.

Or just an update.

Hey, people, I live in Austin Texas again! I never thought I would live here again, but here I am. After being so far away, so unstimulated (socially), and so out of my element for so long, where better to go than where my roots are?

I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be.

Yes, the job market is crappy, the economy seems to be bottoming out, and everyone is looking forward with a gloomy countenance, but I see a lot of silver linings in this scenario.

Americans are addicted to junk and crap. It's true. (note to self, I will not let Chip give anyone mango slicers or other useless kitchen clutter this year!)

I hope that an economic downturn will make us all consider what we actually care about in this world, and get back to "basics." I want to see more people gardening and growing their own food. I long to see more people creating beautiful outdoor sanctuaries adjacent to their homes where they can entertain friends, family, and flights of fancy. *

I would love to see more folks scaling back on the things they don't really need (fast food, cable television, plastic junk), and focusing on those things that are meaningful to them (personal relationships, hobbies, learning new things, reading).

In fact, I feel so strongly about this that I will hereby proclaim 2009 my own "Year of Living Simply." ** This year will be better and more productive than the last, because I am going to try to be a better and more efficient me by trimming the fat and celebrating the simple, the visceral, and the marvelous.


*I have to hope this, because as an unemployed landscape architect, I need those people to call upon my skills to help them realize their outdoor design potential.

** Living in a house less than half the size of my house in Indiana, that is 300% crappier, I must focus on living simply because we cannot bring any more stuff into this house, we have to save $$ to buy a home here, and *cough* I am unemployed, which means I simply cannot afford to live any way BUT simply.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What to make of this new evidence of deceit?

Investigation by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast released today

Don’t worry about Mickey Mouse or ACORN stealing the election. According to an investigative report out today in Rolling Stone magazine, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast, after a year-long investigation, reveal a systematic program of “GOP vote tampering” on a massive scale.

-Republican Secretaries of State of swing-state Colorado have quietly purged one in six names from their voter rolls.

Over several months, the GOP politicos in Colorado stonewalled every attempt by Rolling Stone to get an answer to the massive purge - ten times the average state’s rate of removal.

-While Obama dreams of riding to the White House on a wave of new voters, more then 2.7 million have had their registrations REJECTED under new procedures signed into law by George Bush.

Kennedy, a voting rights lawyer, charges this is a resurgence of ‘Jim Crow’ tactics to wrongly block Black and Hispanic voters.

- A fired US prosecutor levels new charges - accusing leaders of his own party, Republicans, with criminal acts in an attempt to block legal voters as “fraudulent”.

- Digging through government records, the Kennedy-Palast team discovered that, in 2004, a GOP scheme called “caging” ultimately took away the rights of 1.1 million voters. The Rolling Stone duo predict that, this November 4, it will be far worse.

There’s more:

- Since the last presidential race, “States used dubious ‘list management’ rules to scrub at least 10 million voters from their rolls.

Among those was Paul Maez of Las Vegas, New Mexico - a victim of an unreported but devastating purge of voters in that state that left as many as one in nine Democrats without a vote. For Maez, the state’s purging his registration was particularly shocking - he’s the county elections supervisor.

The Kennedy-Palast revelations go far beyond the sum of questionably purged voters recently reported by the New York Times.

“Republican operatives - the party’s elite commandos of bare-knuckle politics,” report Kennedy and Palast, under the cover of fighting fraudulent voting, are “systematically disenfranchis[ing] Democrats.

The investigators level a deadly serious charge:

“If Democrats are to win the 2008 election, they must not simply beat McCain at the polls - they must beat him by a margin that exceeds the level of GOP vote tampering.

Block the Vote by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. & Greg Palast in the current issue (1064) of Rolling Stone. [Media enquiries - Dave Falkenstein, Sunshine Sachs & Assoc, via interviews@gregpalast.com. Note - Kennedy and Palast are releasing, simultaneously with the Rolling Stone investigative report what they call, the vote-theft ‘antidote’: a 24-page full-color comic book, Steal Back Your Vote, which can be downloaded or obtained in print from their non-partisan website, http://www.StealBackYourVote.org

For updates and video reports, also see:

http://www.RollingStone.com

http://www.GregPalast.com

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's the economy, stupid

The news this morning was ominous enough...another banking buyout, a bail out supposedly close at hand, the European banking system strained improbably (and, of course, being bailed out). The entire financial world seemed to be at the gate, chests heaving, snorting and stamping their hooves in anticipation of the race.

But the race won't come, I fear.

Forgive me for the dramatic flourish, as well as the confession I am about to make: I am a capitalist. I am not an acolyte in the cult of Ayn Rand, but I do have an enduring belief in the free market in general, and a capitalist system at large. You see, you can pretend not to like capitalism, or not to support free trade, but if you shop Wal Mart or buy gas or wear clothes or eat food (which I have a sneaking suspicion at least some of you do), you enjoy capitalism, too.

Now, we can all wear our little liberal hair-shirts and claim that we don't care about money, or we only buy organic, or we only support local business, or we only support fair trade, but honestly? All that does is prove my support of the free market. The free market has allowed you the luxury of choice, at a price you are happy to pay. While regulation is required, subsidies have destroyed the simple elegance of this system. But that is not what I want to talk about today.

As I listened to the steady BBC and NPR reporters bloodlessly reporting the end of an economic era (in velvet tones designed to not strike fear into the hearts of delicate listeners), I found myself wondering, "Are we witnessing the failure of the free market?" I percolated for a while before I firmly decided that that was not the case at all.

No, this strikes me as something completely unknown to our generation, mainly because it has been buried for decades beneath heavily biased tariffs, punitive trade regulations, and mountains of subsidies that conceal the market truths. This, my friends, may be the death of economies of scale that we are witnessing.

That long-loved theory that bigger is better, more efficient, and therefore more beneficial to everyone is a crock. We (not as in "you and me" but more like our nation's economic arms, the IMF and the World Bank) have long known this. The history of American money flowing into resource-rich, cash-poor countries to build industry and agriculture bigger than ever, only to have it fail miserably in less time than it took to create-- the proof is there. You could spend several lifetimes reading scholarly papers written on the subject, or visiting nations ruined by these massive infusions of cruelly ineffective aid.

The problem is that once an entity grows too large, it becomes unmanageable. It becomes impossible to account for, unpredictable, a monstrous, disastrous thing destined to implode. And when I look at all the mega-banks merging, all that concentrated power and all of the strategic moves designed to put more power in the hands of the Federal Reserve Bank... I see a monster rising up out of the sea of nasty possibilities.

Meanwhile, I see small banks flourishing, small-scale agriculture thriving, mom and pop businesses doing decently (sometimes), and I wonder when we stopped wanting to support people genuinely like us, people who we can look in the eye as we hand over our money for goods or services.

I don't see an end in sight, a bottom to all this falling. Of course I hope I am wrong, but in the event that I am not I would like to see a smaller, more humble government emerge, one that actually watches spending. I'd like to see a tighter investment market (though that is highly unlikely). I'd like to see smaller systems that can be regulated internally and with ease, where positive feedback loops can be detected before they threaten the integrity of the system.

I believe in these things not because I am a hippie, or a commie, or a socialist, but because I am a capitalist, who believes in sense, decency, and ethics. And I want to believe that other people do too. Capitalism is a wonderful system, it tells us who we are, what we desire, what our values are. This mad, distorted thing, I do not know what it is. But if it is a mirror it is a horror-show, carnival funhouse mirror, that tells us what we fear rather than who we are.

And guess what? We are constituents. We elect the electors. And we can all do this better. And we should. The time has come to pay attention.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Update from the edge of the earth...

We are in San Francisco, but heading back to the hum-drum Midwest in a few hours. This was a short trip primarily focused on honoring the nuptials of Chip's mom, Peachey, and her partner Carol. Yes, it was a gay wedding, and a mighty sweet and fine one at that. Let me just tell you, when a caterer caters her own ceremony, the results are mouth-wateringly marvelous.

Although it has been a painfully short trip, we did manage to get in a trip to Napa and lunch at the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America, not the intelligence agency). Let's just say that when Christmas shopping happens in Napa, everyone's a winner. (a little foreshadowing for you family-types).

How do we afford our rock and roll lifestyle, you ask? The answer is really quite simple. We don't eat out, we don't buy a lot of new things, and we save up for little trips like this. I consider it a surefire technique for living a deeply satisfying and interesting life.

We move to Austin next month. It is all very exciting, although I still do not have a job and at the moment am really focused on entrepreneurial endeavor.

I don't know if you've noticed, but the economy is really in rough shape. Almost all of the big architecture firms are in the process of laying off rather than hiring. Of course it is unnerving. Good thing I have nerves of steel.


My apologies for such a lackluster post, but it seemed as though an update was in order. I shall try to be more on top of this thing as the season sets in and the life changes tumble towards us.

For now, I send out bushels of love, and well-wishes to all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The flight of time

I am told that time flies when you are having fun. Time, I have noted, also has a nasty habit of flying during the not-so-fun times, too.

I've been neglectful of this journal. I could blame a lot of things, but I will settle on blaming that damned harpy, Time.

Dear old Granddad told me to be less florid in my writing. I considered taking his advice to heart, but could not bring myself to augment (although really, the correct term would be "truncate") my style in order to please anyone else.

No, friends, like dear Mister McCain, I am a maverick of the highest order. But let's not spoil a good time with political talk, okay? I just hope you all know that I think Palin is a joke and an insult to good sense and women everywhere. And that's all I have to say about that.

The days are growing shorter, and I am almost done here in Muncie. My academic work is beginning to show signs of completion, and my blood pressure should be dropping...

But wait! I still have to find a job, and sell or rent this dang house out. And move. Somewhere. Okay, I am a still rather stressed out. But all this is temporary.

I am focusing on Washington D.C. or Austin Texas, both having special merits unlike other cities. I am occasionally awash with mild jealousy at some of my peers who are neither approaching 30 nor saddled with an enormous pile of student loan debt- they have the luxury of time on their side still.

No, I feel as though I must make a politically savvy career choice now, and save the leisure and fun for later, once I have earned it a bit. We'll see.

I'm torn between disaster work and landscape architecture, DC and Austin, in various configurations. I'm rolling the dice, every time I send out a resume. My fate is in the hands of destiny as much as it is my own volition, and I find that as terrifying as I do exhilarating.

See what you missed? Nothing much.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Seriously, though

First, a touch of good news: Chip and I had a marvelous triathlon on Saturday.
I broke all previous personal records, and managed to actually place 3rd in my age group (25-29)!! This is a huge personal accomplishment, and has firmly cemented my future (and present) as a triathlete. Soon, I will post a photo of myself during the race, which will firmly cement my reputation as a slightly deranged person, as I typically find myself grinning throughout the entire bike/run legs of the race. I know. No one else is.

Next, I am really curious what my brilliant friends and family think about the extremely tenuous current state of the American economy and banking system.

Young people do not seem to be concerned. Older people do not seem all that concerned. I am utterly shocked at how HUGE an issue this is, and how little mainstream alarm seems to be raised.

In my opinion, if you are not deeply concerned about this, you are simply not paying attention! Things look mighty grim, and the Fed just prevented catastrophic global economic collapse by bailing out Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

But the headlines are still peppered with celebrity news amidst a coy "Euro climbs to 1.60 record high against US Dollar" sidebar. What is wrong with us?

Anyhow. I'll stop being an alarmist and just ask quite sincerely for your comments. I really do want to know what you all think. I'll even enable easy, anonymous commenting.

Love,
~F

Saturday, July 12, 2008

And now, for something completely different...

Okay, okay, so I'm a bit harsh on my Dad's side of the family. It's okay, this is a blog- my blog, in fact, where I get to exercise free speech and the like to my little heart's content. It's an opinion, dear ones, not fact.

So, here is an utterly self-indulgent piece I wrote a few days ago, pre-triathlon. (Chip and I just completed a triathlon this morning).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This weekend another race will impose itself upon my body, only this time I am ready. And it's been a bittersweet discovery, these past 2 months, unearthing a hidden resolve, long obscured by books and obligations, uncertainty and the denial offered by distance of every description.

I no longer dread exertion, no longer find myself longing to taper or terminate. In the cemetery, I learn the true origin of the term "cutting corners", as the lacy weave-work of paths makes it possible to do exactly that at any given moment. There is a turning point, where the body craves addition rather than subtraction, begins to endure more, and for longer--for its own reward.

I'm sanguine in this half-light, flexing beneath the waning light in the sky, urged on like any whip-worn beast bearing the weight of a chariot. There is pride in the bearing of any burden. Everyone secretly knows this.

Night encroaches, cracking a whip composed of thunder and lightning on the fringe of the sky, and although I know I should head in, instead I take another loop composed of several miles, as the light drains away, leaving the contrast of the tombstones against the shaded slopes as my only company.

Soon, I'm alone behind the locked cemetery gates, darkness clinging to everything, lighting pulsating and thunder growling, and I find myself swimming through a luminous soup of heavy air ripe with rain, illuminated by an army of fireflies. And it is not scary here in the graveyard, not eerie or unsettling. It's just delicious.

Lately, I find myself on a difficult to define level with the earth, while moving alongside it I am aware of something new and intrepid: as I move forward, whether running, or swimming, or cycling...

I've discovered that I have terrible technique in 2 out of 3 disciplines, and I am having to re-learn the way. There is a childishness in this discovery of familiar motion made strange, and it is not discouraging, but rather inspiring.

I am playing tug-of-war with the ground beneath my wheels or feet, and every advance feels as though I am gripping at some invisible rope, clicking my tongue and muttering, "C'mere!" as I tug at it, pulling it away and under and beyond myself.

It is like anything else, these small advances. Like learning a new language, where at first all the gobbledygook runs together: a puzzle, a mystery, heavy-laden with intrigue. Then the pieces begin to form, small keys to the puzzle, piecemeal. And then, one day, sentences form. And much to your surprise, the mystery is solved, and is made shockingly mundane. There is no arcana, no unraveling of secret volumes of lore. No. Instead, it is all, "I saw your sister at the store, and she told me you were looking for a job." or "No, I cannot go on Friday, because I have to work on Saturday early in the morning."

And all this intrigue filtered into mundane reality should be discouraging, but it is not.

Instead, it is a grand opening of filters, as if the world parted her curtains for a moment and said, "You there, come here and see, that all of the world comes bearing sweat, and tears that are salty, smiles that curve into upturned crescents, and hopes for tomorrow...Just. Like. You. Do."


What you do with this is yours. But for me, my feet just keep time, pulling the earth toward me in turn, murmuring, "C'mere!" to the intermittent gravel and slender blades of grass. The thread of existence, in this case, as thick as a rope, sliding between my fingers, pulling along each inch, each foot, each mile one knotted length at a time, like prayer-beads on a rosary- it ties me to something neither here nor there, but gracefully slung in between.

Here everything is new, every moment an uncovered artifact to be discovered, only to fall behind into the backlog of experience. To be perhaps unearthed another day, shining with the promise of mystery and intrigue.

I cannot complain, as every day sheds its skin and invites me to discover it again the next, like the mirror exposing a new face with every encounter.

Life, I love you. You can never push me away.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Question of Blood, and its Indeterminable Value

This is a weirdly sensitive post, but I just feel like I need to get it off my chest.


My father's family has always been a difficult subject for me to broach, for a lot of reasons. I realized this morning, after an unnecessarily explosive conversation with my dear old dad, that I am still not over it, not after all these years.

Here I am, almost 30, still smarting at the way my father's family has made me feel for most of my life. It's hard to say why I even care, considering that I honestly think they are sort of assholes, in general.

You see, after my father's incarceration (the final consummation of his well-earned position as the black sheep of the Calderoni clan), it just seems as though we were always the familia non grata of that entire branch of the family tree.

Granted, my cousins were older, but that isn't really the issue at all. My uncles all took on the name "Calderoni" after their father's death. I don't know what reason they would give, if you were to ask them outright they would probably say it was their way of honoring their mother by taking on her maiden name.

But the truth is, that in their social-climbing quest, I don't think they wanted to be saddled with the low-class connotations and stigma of being "Hernandez's".

Nor did they want they want their scrappy younger brother and his rag-tag kids around. We didn't dress right. Mom and Dad weren't rich, didn't drive nice cars and live in extravagant homes full of fancy things. And we didn't get sports cars for graduation.

So, we were invited on odd occasions to visit, like on Christmas, after all their friends had left. We could come in then, like servants- eating whatever leavings remained. I distinctly remember as a child having one of my uncles ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told him I wanted to be an artist.

And he looked me straight in the eye and said,

"Why would you want to waste your brain on art?"

Years of this sort of thing have pretty much left me impartial to that entire side of the family. The scars go deep, the feelings of worthlessness those people have embedded in my psyche over the years.

So, every time my father implies that I should go visit with them, I freeze up. Nothing sounds less enjoyable than that, seriously.

I'm fortunate to have a family on Mom's side that is wonderful, warm, genuine, and loving. I'm blessed with a family of friends that make me feel at home in the world.

But yeah, I'm always very frustrated by my father's wounded response when I tell him that I am not interested in visiting with these people.

I'm almost 30. If we were going to have a connection beyond our bloodline, I suspect it would have happened by now. And anyhow, I doubt very seriously that I will ever be in a business that makes enough money to impress them.

So why even bother? Life is terribly short, you know?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Case of the Errant Blogger

Well, hello, blog. Despite wonderful family members all telling me how much they enjoy this, I manage to neglect it quite badly, quite often. That is as close to an apology as I think I'm capable.

Onto the content:
It's been a loud week 'round these parts. Besides the obvious fact (obvious to us in the Midwest) that any self-respecting zealot in the region should be inclined to build an ark posthaste, I must note that it has been a WET spring.

I've been nurturing my inner gardener, and lemme tell you, it was really depressing for the first month. I planted beans 3 times. 3 times!!? Man, I've been growing beans since elementary school, and the one thing I know about them is that they practically take care of themselves. Not so here. The first 2 times they rotted in the cold, wet earth. The third time was the charm--they sprouted within 3 days. Crazy!

Birds from all walks of life have discovered the feeder, and so I take a daily delight in identifying and observing them while they feed. Dingo the wonder-cat likes it too, although he still doesn't seem to understand that he cannot get through the window to the feasting birdies. All told, much entertainment is to be found in the spectacle.

The half-burned out house next door was demolished yesterday, along with the other terrible house next door to it. This should do wonders to improve my property value. Yesterday I walked around the corner to watch the thing being torn down--it is very dramatic and exciting (or maybe my life is just painfully boring) to watch the machinery of destruction at work.

The experience yielded this completely surreal moment:

Setting: the sidewalk across the street from house being demolished. My neighbor "Buck" and the child that some deadbeat mom/renter leaves him in charge of is in tow. Their mangy dog, Hank, is also present.

ME: well, it's about time
BUCK: I tell you what, the whole neighborhood is going down
ME: *snapping photos*
CHILD: Cheese! Cheese!
HUGE CRASHING BOOM NOISE AS HOUSE BEGINS TO FOLD. A raccoon comes out from a dormer, looking confused
BUCK: Aw, hell. that's my raccoon up there! Heidi! Heiiiiiiiiiiiidiiiiiii! Come on out here, girl!
CHILD: Heidi? Heidi! C'mere Heidi!
ME: Your raccoon?
BUCK: I think that's her
ME: Your pet raccoon?
BUCK: Well, she crawled up into the attic, so I ain't seen her since last winter. But I feed her everyday.
ME: But, you're sure that's her?
BUCK: Well, it looks like her.
ME: Yeah, but don't raccoons usually look pretty similar?
BUCK: Hmmm. Maybe.


Aaaaargh. Welcome to white trash land. I live in a neighborhood I like to call "the white-trash hatchery of America". It's not much of an exaggeration, really.

Nothing much to tell besides the tale of this Saturday morning, when the Jehova's Witnesses came a-calling, and Chip did what any good man would do...hid in the corner of the living room, out of sight, forcing me to answer the door in disgraceful athletic attire. I softened the blow of "I am an atheist" by substituting the word "secular," but despite my repeated attempts to tell them that they were not going to convert me, they still insisted on making a future date to visit us.

We will be more prepared this next time. Oh, Chip was kind enough to set up recording equipment so that we could save the whole encounter for posterity. He's a good man that way.

So there! A blog. Hope you are all well. All my love, ~F

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Victory!!!

It's been a victorious week, in many ways, for many people.

But today, above all else, there is this:


That's Josh Perkins and me. He's been my best friend here at school. He's a country boy, first in his family to go to college, while I'm a city girl, following in a long tradition of education. But none of that matters, in spirit, we are very much the same.

We were together in Asia, and our collective motto was, "Climb every mountain," which we did a pretty great job of. When we got back to town, we'd both gotten out of shape, and it was his bright idea that we should do a triathlon together.

Over the past month, I have run, biked, and swum (what a terrible-looking word that is!) around 180 miles. It's the most physical discipline I've had since I moved here in 2004.

Today, with lightning doing a treacherous dance in the roiling, angry sky--we completed our first triathlon. It was exhausting, but wonderful. It rained heavily the whole time, but we did it. .25 mile swim, 13 mile bike ride, 3.1 mile run. It took an hour and 34 minutes, but I did it.

I don't own a scale, and if I knew what I weighed today it wouldn't matter, anyway--I have nothing to compare it to. I just don't really use scales. My pants always tell me when I need to get it together. I trust them innately.

I also trust the way I feel. Right now, I feel like an old lady. But I did something today I could not have done a month ago. And next month, I plan on doing it again. Because I feel strong, and vital and alive.

We only get one body in this life. It is my belief that bodies were made to be used, heavily.

Can I get an "Amen?"

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Every Port, an Anchor

The cabin pressure makes a dramatic shift, and the precious cargo in the belly of the beast all feel a tension between their ears and their skull. They work their jaws, rub their temples. A barrier of clouds is noisily pierced by the nose, then the body, and finally the tail, and from out the window a new patchwork quilt of a world is revealed.

There is no substitute for this moment, when the body clenches in a spasm of uncertainty, anxiety, and every pore (real and imagined) gapes wide, waiting to see what is on the other side of this waiting. There is a world outside the reinforced glass and recycled air habitat that has housed us over the past however many hours, and every synapse is twitching with the promise of it.


But for a few hours, the tiny space on this vessel has held me comfortably, cradled my body as I’ve written, sketched, slept, and read. My shoes are tucked away, and I’m swaddled in my own wrap, a cashmere/silk stowaway adopted on some other continent. This seat has been a sort of home to me. There is a twinge of nostalgia as I gather my belongings, prepare to make a home in some other unfamiliar place.

A good friend once told me that he felt confident that I could fashion myself a home on the surface of the sun if I so desired. And there was truth in his compliment. Throughout childhood, my family moved from one rented house to another, occasionally crossing state lines, one circumstance or another guiding the course for the rest of us. Consequently, there is no ancestral home that stirs up a sensation of belonging in my breast. My sense of home is an oddly-shaped, distended thing.

Imagination and desire will erect strange monuments to normalcy when they feel deprived of it for too long, and so that is what happened. I developed a “home fixation,” a desire to put down roots somewhere solid, somewhere mine, somewhere safe.
I imagined, at 17, moving to Mexico, that I would find a home there.

I imagined that I would know it, a psychic thronging that would reverberate through my very soul, screaming “You’re Home!” at every turn. You can work yourself into a proper lather seeking this untenable seat amongst the chaotic shifting of sands that composes a world.

Something happened along the way, an unexpected and dear device probably borne of one survival instinct or another: my heart claimed the earth as its home.

The wet-pavement-come-alive smell of encroaching rain twists my cells into a peace that few other things can. The windows of the kitchen obscured by the moisture of a fresh loaf of bread baking. Rice paddies, challenging every other shade of green to a duel and winning, flickering through the bus windows. The spicy hints of sandalwood and bay rum, the sensation of my own breath ragged from exertion, the taste of a copper penny blooming in my mouth.

Home is not a place, never. It is a sensation of calm, of familiarity, and peace. It has nothing to do with what I own, those possessions that own me so utterly. Home is a flash of red earth, a familiar bird song, or a queue of sullen cows on a distant dirt road. Make a home on a motorcycle for a few months, and soon enough a stand of redwoods becomes home. Make a home out of a handbag and suitcase for long enough and eventually the rich cup of drip-brewed coffee at a ramshackle cafe will become home. Dip into a well of solitude for a seeming infinity of days, and a smile from a stranger who doesn’t share your language becomes home for a moment.

Home is anywhere but where my things live. This is just a station, on the way to the next place that makes my heart entire. This relic of a heart is more than just a metronome. It is a jigsaw puzzle that my movement through the rest of the world pieces together for me.

Technology Ruins Everything

I'm having an angry and resentful day, which is actually uncommon for me.

My gripe is this: technology makes communication so effortless that everyone seems to decide that if it is without effort, it probably isn't even worth it.

Maybe I have no right to write something like this, but to be frank, it is my prerogative, and that gives me the right to do whatever the hell I want in my little corner of the internet.

What is the encoded message here: I'm introspective because of the failure of people who have known me my entire life to send something as simple as a 2 line "congratulations" email when I graduated. Dude, it's the internet. It takes, like, 20 seconds.

And yet, the simplicity of that 20 second message seems to elude most of us.

I think a lot of these more nuanced bits of communication have fallen by the wayside because the ease of it all has bred complacence, or worse yet simple negligence. All of the bells and whistles that our little lives are nested into seem to just trivialize the truly important things, by overshadowing them with shiny noise.


So, the moral of the story: we would all be better off living in a bygone age where letters had to be premeditated at length, transported by ship, rail, and pony, and were remarkably prone to loss.

That way, no one would ever expect a 2 line email and be disappointed by its failure to materialize.

Wow, I swear it's not even that big of a deal. It just makes me wonder what in the world the "family support system" role is in a globalized world where few people have the inclination to send one another emails, let alone letters. Maybe we'd be better off born in incubators and issued to parents who have passed all the tests and earned the parenting license. Eventually old-fashioned reproduction would be outlawed & there would be nothing but the nuclear family to bother with. No more huge family gatherings or awkward interactions with people who you share nothing in common with but a little DNA.

Okay, maybe that wouldn't be as awesome as it seems.

I hate technology. Although without it, how could I find an audience to complain about it to?

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Curse of Kindness

I was always that little girl who would go on long bicycle rides on windy days after a spring storm, when the air was crisp and clear, nourishing to the lungs, making it feel like you could keep riding for days. I would come home, breathless and hunched, tiny fledgling birds tucked into my shirts, always saying, "Mom, we have to take care of it!"

She would grudgingly accept our new family member, and I can proudly say that we successfully raised about a half-dozen babies over the course of my childhood.

Not so much has changed.

The past few days, the worried choruses of birds have drawn me outside, where I have stalked, looking for all the world like a crazy woman--hair like a halo of messy flames, braless beneath a ratty T-shirt, striped socks beneath my clogs reaching half to my knees--seeking the felled baby.

Raising baby birds is a full-time endeavor, and I know that mother birds are far better suited to the task than I. So, in the past week, I have placed multiple fledglings in trees, by a multitude of techniques ranging from tossing to climbing.

I have a cat, you know? A cat whom I adore, who is my right hand fella. But he's a killer.

Today, he caught a house sparrow. House sparrows are invasive, greedy little bastards. But I love them. At first, I convinced myself (upon seeing blood coming out its beak) that I needed to just let him finish off the job. But seeing him toy with it in the periphery of my sight as I gardened began to eat at me. And then the little thing flew a few feet, and I had to intervene.

I pulled Dingo off of her, and held her in my hand, examining her body. She appeared undamaged, and after a minute or so I let her go. She perched in the crook where a tree branch met the trunk, leaning against the bark and looking very tired.

I hope she lives, but wonder if I just prolonged her suffering.

I've also been protecting a little baby blackbird that for whatever reason has decided that my yard is home. We have made the yard a sanctuary for birds this year, finally landscaping and installing feeders at every turn.

Now I feel like I am luring them to their deaths.

I've seen hungry cats hunt, and eat their kill entire in a matter of seconds. This playing with the thing for ever--I just hate it.

How, oh how do I keep my cat from killing birds?





In training news, today I rehearsed the sprint triathlon: 1/4 mile swim, 15 mile bike ride, 3.5 mile run. It took an hour and 45 minutes. And I'm okay with that.

My legs feel like achy jello. But I feel good, like I will actually finish the event. I don't want to win, just to finish, really.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Slideshow~

I just love the future!

Nowadays, we don't have to bore our friends and families with endless, self-indulgent slideshows of our recent journeys.

With no further ado, I present you my Flickr account:

HERE

where you can gaze upon my mediocre photography of exotic places at your leisure. Enjoy!

love,

me

You can't be serious

QUESTION: What is the lamest thing about being a Landscape Architect?

ANSWER: Receiving offers in the mail for subscriptions to "Interlocking Concrete Pavement Magazine"

*rolling my eyes*

I can't believe there even is such a magazine, but there it is, in all it's mind-numbingly lame glory:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Slack-Town

I'm really slacking on pretty much everything.

This is fated to be quick and newsy, I'm afraid. My lust for writing has really dropped off these past few weeks.

Graduation came and went. I wore the regalia, as indicated in this lovely image taken by my mother:



Shortly after this photo was taken, I gave a little speech to satisfy the masses at the College of Architecture and Planning. That was fun, and people--I LOVE public speaking. It is one of my real gifts in life. If you can think of a career that would utilize this skill, I'd be grateful.

Mom, Dad, Paul, and a dear, dear friend Angel came up to celebrate with me. I was extremely happy to be surrounded by some of my most beloved people in the world, even if I was slightly disappointed that my frequent-flying grandparents did not make it.

Our family has never been known for nostalgia. I'm beginning to see where I get it, that weird familiar detachment thing. It is positively genetic.

A few fine gifts included an incredible, awesome camera (that really intimidates me)from Mom, Dad, and Chip, this insanely beautiful pen set from Angel and Colin:



and a few monetary infusions which will eventually add up to a new computer (I love my battleaxe, but she's a little worse for wear these days.)

Now, I just have to finish a bunch of coursework, like my thesis, so that I can graduate for real.

I've been working in the garden, even though it is gray, drizzling, and cold outside. Sadly, I've exposed myself to a great deal of poison ivy (while pilfering flagstones from the burned-out house next door), so I am off for my second round of vigorous scrubbing under extremely cold water.

Yay!

Much love from the chilly Midwest.

~Francesca

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Extremely Random Rantingness

I should be writing my thesis, or pounding away these keys on any of the 70 pages of assignments that are still haunting me from Asia. But I am not.

No, I am instead cleaning my house (I can't have my family know what a bad housekeeper I really am) and ruminating over various things that are probably of little importance to anyone but myself.

Boycotting the Olympics...
A long conversation about this last night got me to thinking about the ludicrousness of such a "boycott." Please, like any of us were really going to go all the way to Beijing for the Olympics this year. Now, the Paralympics, maybe, but not the big Olympics. I am all for raising awareness about Tibet, but listen up people: WE MISSED THE BOAT. You see, China now has America by the balls. Once upon a time, before they owned our debt, before we were dependent on their cheap exports to fill our longings for "nice shit" on the cheap, that was when we stood a chance of exerting our influence. Now, we can protest all we want, but no one is going to strong arm China into anything. You'd be better off boycotting McDonalds or Coca Cola. Good luck with that.

The "exploitation" of teenage pop stars...Really?! A teenage pop star posed for a provocative picture? NO, say it's not so! Oh, for crying out loud, people. Get over it. You are allowed to complain about the exploitation of teenage girls when they are posing in exchange for crack, okay? Or when they are being kept in a basement by some sex-crazed weirdo. NOT when they are multimillionaires before they are old enough to buy cigarettes. And certainly not when they are publishing memoirs at age 15. Seriously, what in the hell has happened in a 15 year lifetime that I give a damn about? Are you going to talk about the trauma of potty training or the difficulty of transitioning from elementary school to middle school? Yawn. Yeah, not interesting. If anyone is being exploited, it is the parents of all these little girl (and flamboyant little boys) who are shelling out for this crap.

Bird Feeders, and Seed Trays... I like birds. I also like to garden. A couple of weeks ago, Chip and I installed a new bird feeder outside our dining room winder that does not already have a bird feeder visible through it. It is a wonderful feeder, with...okay, nevermind, you don't really want to hear about the details of this feeder. The point is that, after 2 weeks, we finally had our first customer! ONE. One bird. Two weeks. Now, I sit by the window at all times, hoping to see this stupid little bird again so that I can look it up in my bird book and feel all warm and fuzzy. No dice.
As I mentioned above, I also like to garden. This will be my first summer of actually living in Muncie full time. I'm pretty thrilled. I also don't have a job. So I'm pretty broke. Which makes the whole vegetable garden thing that much more appealing. Here in the Midwest, it still freezes at night in May, and yes, sometimes that makes me murderously angry. So I planted seed trays so that I could get my plants all healthy, rocking and rolling before I put them in the ground. I think I planted them a week ago. It feels like a month ago. I have them in front of a window in the dining room. I check on them at least 30 times a day. They are not sprouting. Actually, to be precise, the compost mix I planted them in is sprouting, but just these itty, bitty sprouts that I know for a fact will never grow up to bear yellow crook neck squash or swiss chard. It is agonizing!
Now listen, I know that I am not the most patient person in the world, but this is ridiculous. I should probably start "working"(AKA staring at bird feeder balefully or checking on seed trays obsessively) upstairs, away from all these distractions.

Or get some discipline. Jeeze. I may never complete anything but this house cleaning ever again.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

It is Really Happening!

Just a quick note to remind everyone that I am FINALLY graduating, next Saturday, May 3rd, to be exact.

I'm quite honored to be giving a 10-minute speech at the ceremony, which I was nominated by my class to do. I can scarcely tell you how shocked and delighted I am by that.

Hopefully this poison ivy on my neck and face will be faded by then. Stupid nature!

I wish you all a happy beginning of spring, and love, and love, and love.

I never though this moment would actually come.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Prodigal return

Dearest Darlings,

I am exhausted, and beset with a nasty cold. But I am home. I partied like there was no tomorrow in New Orleans for my dear Dana's wedding celebration, for which I donned victorian undergarments in the endearing role as a bridesmaid.

Chip came down, and I think he is now quite under the spell of New Orleans, too. It is an enchanting place.

Here, it is cold, although I am told it is quite nice and warm. The type of quietude consuming the afternoon is just the sort of thing that reminds me that I am in a past-prime-place, a place in the midst of a slow, lumbering decline rather than a slow upswing, or even an epic climb up a grade that almost appears to be level, such as the sometimes pace of development in the developing world.

The birds outside are not astounding, although I do not love them any less than I did before. They are the very face of familiarity: cardinals and starlings, turtle doves and house sparrows.

No more mynas, no more peacocks. No more red earth bleeding out in every direction. No more jungle filled with the keening of monkeys. No more crashing of the ocean onto the shore, announcing that this is the place where shells come to be beaten into sand.

My skin is freckled and brown, but my cat, Dingo, recognizes me just fine. Dingo, on the other hand, has filled out in my absence, become a full grown man-cat.

New Orleans transitioned me from one wild and exotic place to another, and now I sit at my Muncie window, a fresh crop of goosebumps prickling my skin, wondering how long we will be here before we are able to depart for hotter climes.

It cannot come soon enough, I sneeze into my sarong, ears trying to find the chirping of singing squirrels in the decaying post-industrial ruins outside.

Sigh.

I graduate NEXT MONTH, people. It is all happening so fast.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Backdated: April 4, 2008 "Pilgrims"

It is one fourty-five in the afternoon, and I have just woken up. This morning, a motley crew composed of my dear Josh Perkins, Mona, and our own personal Sri Lankan patron saint, Pradeep--set out to climb a mountain. But not just any mountain, this mountain is Adam’s Peak.

I don’t actually know who Adam was. What I do know is that at the top of this mountain there is a Buddhist temple, and that this time of year pilgrims make their way to the top in the wee hours of the morning to see the miraculous apparition of the peak’s shadow floating on mist and to see the purported footprint of Buddha encased in a small shrine.

The trip began shakily, our train arriving many hours later than we expected it to, dropping us into darkness around 10:45 PM. We were immediately shuffled onto a bus, and were deposited a miserable, half-asleep hour later a short hike from lodging. And it was cold. Our friend Pradeep is from the tropical, southernmost province of Sri Lanka and has never seen mountains, or experienced cold before. This trip is our gift to him. As we all purchased warm clothing, we asked ourselves if he would be cursing us by the time we reached the summit of the mountain.

Mona and Pradeep:


We literally fell into bed sometime around midnight, wishing that we would not have to wake in mere hours. But we would do as pilgrims do, beginning at 3 AM in order to climb the 4,800 steps up in time for sunrise. The climb is 14 kilometers in total.

Mona woke us at 3 AM, and we all laid in bed wishing we were still sleeping. We finally rose, dressed, and set out into the night, accompanied by a dog from the guest house, Sudu (Sinhala for “white”). We had no idea that she would be our guide, but we quickly realized that she knew the way far better than us. First, we walked through a gate:



We passed a multitude of sellers in the beginning, vending water, food, and warm clothing. Then came the temple, where we were blessed by a monk, and made to ring a bell, signifying our first pilgrimage.

At first, we laughed and joked. Then, we had tea. Sudu remained by our side. More tea, more climbing, along the shambolic, crumbling steps. The night swelled out on all sides, mostly quiet, and presided over by more stars than I had imagined possible. As we tired, our jokes faded, and our hiking became more earnest.

Pradeep would stop and point to one of the Buddhist inspirational messages posted along the way in Sinhala. “You read, Francesca” he would insist. Everyone would rest while I slowly sounded out the words, finally asking what it meant. I think he is proud of my rapid learning, but the truth is that we all needed the rest.

At times, the lighting that instructed our feet would disappear, and we would be left with only a thin crescent of a moon and the endless splatter of stars to light the way. Eventually, the sky began to color, pale around the edges, revealing the mountains beyond, and the sea of mist many hundreds of feet below. With the sun came the twitterings and buzzings of all the fauna that had been silently present around us through the night. The beauty of our surroundings was disorienting.



Sudu, the World’s Most Heroic Dog:


She accompanied us every step of the way, joyously bounding up while we lagged achingly behind. Eventually we reached the top, one by one, all at our own pace, where we were rewarded with Buddhist blessings and the ringing of another brass bell in the crisp, chilly dawn air. The view was priceless, and the temple grounds at the summit were populated by hundreds of moths, many as large as my hand, in every color and shape imaginable. Perhaps it was a pilgrimage for them as well. I would have taken photos, but it was not allowed.

The view from the top was a splendid, multifaceted thing:



The quality of light on that mountain and in the hill country in general, is a pale, dancing wonder. It is simply a cleaner and brighter light that reflects back the intensity of the green tea plantations dappling the contours of every mountain here. Tomorrow I will backdate you a snippet with photos to show you where the world's best tea comes from.

One hint: it is breathtakingly beautiful.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The home stretch cometh

Exhaustion creeps in, makes itself at home beneath my sun-strewn skin.

There is too much to tell, and not time enough with which to do it.

My mouth moves in symphony to these marvelous new letters, the incredible strangeness of an entirely new alphabet. My ears have adjusted to the rhythm and cadence of the Sinhalese language...Sinabasa.


Mosquitoes lullaby my body into disjointed, heat-stroked sleep. Clothing has acquired its own form of accursedness, stiffening in the wake of the naked ministrations of my hands under an infinitude of cold shower streams. Nothing I own has been laundered by anything but my own hands in months. The freshness of these cold, purposeful showers wilts the moment I step out of my towel into the suffocating, chewy humidity.

The heat is dizzying and oppressive, setting itself upon the undoing of effort. It is senseless to move quickly in such a climate, so one resigns oneself to the slowness that marks this gorgeous island nation. Adaptation reigns supreme.

The constant stares and "hello, where are you going? country?" have become as natural as the flocks of house crows that "caw, caw, caw" throughout the day, endemic as pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

My eyes are trained to the dark skins of my countrymen and women, no longer feeling isolated and strange in my whiteness. No, instead, I feel at ease, toting my umbrella everywhere like a proper Sinhalese woman, accompanied by her own personal cloud, blotting out this tiny spot of sun.

Translating for hours and hours today with our wonderful and generous beyond compare friend Pradeep, under his gentle encouragement I began to realize that I was reading Sinhala. Not well, not quickly. But reading it, nonetheless.

Do not misunderstand. This is not an easy country. Nothing is even slightly simple here. It is endlessly complicated, all of it. It is a nation that has been spared the savagery of Western Capitalism because of a long, bloody civil war. The irony is not lost on the World Bank and the IMF, both with their fingerprints all over the aid packages that swept in after the tsunami, determined (with the blessings of the Sri Lanka government) to convert this impoverished coastal paradise into another Maldives resort island, at the expense of the poor fisherfolk.

Confusion reigns supreme, as the reality of each player in this enormous mess of opportunism and dispossession has surfaced. It is ugly, and unfair, but then so are so many of the things in life that we have already accepted as "just life."

Each one of us, with our American passports and our white skin, represents a world of opportunity to these people. We are each considered a one-on-one aid organization, and it is precious and rare to meet anyone who does not ask at some point for some sort of assistance. Not something as tangible as money. That would be too easy. People want jobs, and they want a ticket out of this place.

And they are willing to work harder than anyone to make life easier for those who stay behind.

You can never know what opportunity is, until you see entire nations that suffer a complete lack of it. Until you learn to love people who can never see what you've seen and done what you've done, by the simple virtue of unlucky geographic circumstances.

I am beginning to think that the only real sin in life is to do nothing with the opportunity that you have been given by the grace of birth in a prosperous nation.

Then again, the land of opportunity has driven me into the arms of every developing nation I can get to. So what does that say about me? I am either very foolish or very crazy, and quite likely both.

I can live with that. I guess I have to.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Loved by the Sun (too much)

Tangalle is a salve to the wounds of Bombay, too much so, perhaps. Four friends and I went down to the beach to swim, and then to stroll, and before we knew it we were all pulling in the nets for some fisherfolk.

The nets are 2 kilometers long, and it took two hours to reel it in. Two hours.

Let me spell that out for you: we were on the beach between 11am and 1pm, pulling up nets. And we are all so sunburned that we are a little bit incapacitated. I'd been hoping to get a touch of color on my fish-white legs. Done. Fuscia. Thanks, sun.

I'm trying to be calm about the pain, the tenderness, the fact that I have not been burned like this since childhood. It's excruciating, and shameful. And yeah. Enough complaints.

~~~~~

Meanwhile, I am sifting through the sands of this journey, mining it for truths small and large. The conflicts arising in my heart and mind are constant, and seemingly irreversible.

Nothing stays the same, not the shoreline, not our bodies, not the position of the heavenly bodies, not the employment of our friends at our guesthouse, nothing.

Every time I think I find a foothold in this world, a small shred of security, the foundation crumbles beneath me, and I am left flailing once more.

Sometimes the flailing is a joy, windswept like a kite on a thermal lift, other times the flailing leaves me bereft, without direction, without trust, without hope.

I'm somewhere in purgatory at the moment, suspended between meanings, straining my lean hope against all odds.

~~~~~~~~~

It has been eye opening, traveling with spoiled adult children dependent on Daddy's dime, shallowly making their way through the world as though traipsing through a large shopping mall...

I find myself faltering, questioning too deeply, letting the gravity of places and people sink into my psyche, while wondering why these other students are immune to it, responding to the darkness with either strident dismissal or ironic humor.

I'm afraid, my friends, that I enjoy the abyss too much, peering into it, shouting into its canyon and receiving the answer of my own voice filtered through its lightless horror, cleaving its cracks for meaning, extracting my own definitions from its crags and edges.

Sorry, I'm saying too much without saying anything.

Maybe I should leave you with a video:

Nevermind, that was taking forever and a day. Here is the totem animal of this entire trip: the ubiquitous question mark:



Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bombastic Craptastic

I know I should be gentle, roll with the punches while exuding a gentle sort of generosity of spirit. But I cannot. I'm not a Buddhist, and I have reached the end of my rope:

Bombay, I bloody HATE YOU.

Don't get me wrong, there have been magical moments all around, and really- as a matter of fact it has been chock full of truly revelatory experiences.

Meeting Akshay, an amazing photojournalist who has exposed us to the high-end world of swank Bombay, of international correspondents and Bollywood industry elites shipped in from overseas for their skill and work ethic. A world of intrigue and morbidity (and with it, morbid curiosity, of course) was opened by this channel. Sadly, the slice of this life comes complete with 12 dollar cocktails and 20 dollar cover fees for discos. But what are you going to do? Live it up, while ye olde ventricles are pumping, methinks.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is Dharavi, the magnificently large, shockingly well-developed "slum" where I met the Shaik family who took wonderful care of us in many ways, feeding us night after night, assisting us in the markets so that we would not be ripped off, and treating 4 of us to a family day at Elephanta Island, a wonder of the old Hindu world.






Then there is the outright absurdity of being extras in a Bollywood movie, as a few of us were one night. The absolute crush followed by cat-fight of the lady-only cars on the train, the filth that streams off in the shower each night.

Alas, the endless stream of beggars, each more destitute and insistent than the last, the rivers of shit, the air so choked with pollution it has left me with some sort of respiratory illness, the pavement dwellers numbering in the hundreds of thousands, who live and die on the sidewalks and streets, entire families of them...how do you reconcile these things?

Bombay will break your heart, in ways that you did not know it could be broken. I am a natural wanderer, who often imagines herself living in these far-flung places, eking out an existence amongst the monkeys and the flowers. But here, no. I say NO. My heart is simply not that resilient. I am not a machine, and all of the people who live here must make their compassion a mechanized thing in order to deal with the day to day.

I want to cry at least 30 times a day here, and yet I do not.

Bombay is a lyrical, rhapsodic place that is sustained on a thin gruel of hope; that very thing that keeps people here alive.

I may be hard, but I am also soft, and I find myself secretly everyone who claims to love this city, because I imagine that they either have no compassion or simply love suffering. That is not me.

Our (much, much) anticipated flight to Sri Lanka was cancelled after dramatic engine problems with the airplane. I am desperately happy that we are not on a defective craft, but Dios mio, I was looking forward to escaping back to my beloved Sri Lanka.

It will all be okay, I know this to be true. But even from the clutches of a 5-star hotel, I must tell you that I would rather be in our shoddy guest house in Sri Lanka.

Bombay, for all her reputed splendor (and in spite of her wonderful people) ranks very low on the list of places I believe people should visit.

India is not for the faint of heart, and Bombay is probably the worst of all.

And so tonight, half-drink on crappy beer, I cannot help but muse that Western influence is destroying the East.

I love you all, and wish that the world was a better place.

~F

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A city of sighs.

Everything Becomes Us

The stink of the West may hang heavy in the air, but there is no denying the distinctly Eastern flavor of this place. Walking around Bombay, I am taken by the notion that perhaps the British Empire constructed an armature, a skeletal frame for this city, and the Indians built the sculptural form around it that has come to be known as “Bombay,” and in more recent years “Mumbai,”

It is ugliness incarnate, if that is what you choose to see. There is filth, and poverty, and a swarming mass of human population that is dizzying and disorienting all at once. But there is beauty as well...an order wrought of chaos that is evident in the motions of this massive city and her inhabitants at every turn.

There are crumbling remnants of the British reign in every corner of the city. These remnants are clearly such, as their stained and ruined facades are the indicators of their age and wear. They seem tired, and quaint, like the desperate pleas of a doddering old woman who really just wants those pesky kids playing outside her window to pipe down. And Bombay will not pipe down. No, pesky Bombay will keep spewing filth into the hazy sky, and pouring shit into its rivers, and drawing rural dwellers from outlaying areas into its seductive, economically promising fold. And those rigid old British structures must simply stand there and take it, because their enfant terrible has outgrown them, and is free now to do what it wants.

The city is a recycling bin, everyone tossing their wrappers and cast-off bits and bobs out windows and out of train cars, into the streets and canals at will. If you observe closely, you may notice that there are men and women, bedecked with magnificently enormous burlap sacks and such, who comb every inch of the city, each culling their particular brand of waste from the bounty of the streets. Each kilo of waste paper, of plastic, of cloth and whatever else is absorbed by one industry or another, eventually. One man’s trash has perhaps never been so completely another man’s treasure as it is here in Bombay.

By day, the sidewalks are awash in a multitude of hawkers selling fresh fruit, vegetables, stationary, incense, jasmine garlands, saris, and any other number of needful things. The other day while walking through Bandra, the strap of my sandal snapped. I limped along for a few blocks until I came to one of the shoe repairmen who are ubiquitous on the streets here. For 10 cents, he fixed my sandal on the spot! A few blocks later, smitten with a pair of Rajastani shoes, I purchased a pair for no more than 8 dollars.

Not that it is all ease and convenience. No. The train is an exercise in tolerance, as rush hour means that an ocean of human bodies surge towards and away from the cars, flowing up and down the station stairs at a rate that is both unstoppable and unfathomable. You could pass out cold during these high-volume moments and likely be carried back to the entrance by the pressure exerted via the walls of flesh enclosing you on all sides. You couldn’t stop your trajectory if you wanted to.

The train cars themselves are unreal, packed to the gills with human bodies. If you are fortunate enough to find a seat on the train, you may find yourself relaxing a bit. At this point, the train’s gently undulating rhythm will make your head wobble from side to side, performing the Indian equivalent of a head nod. “Yes,” your head says as the train moves you towards your cause. “Yes, Okay.” The train makes you somehow more Indian with this one small mechanism. You need not even try. You need not fight it, because you cannot, so don’t waste your time. It is, like so many things here--effortless.

What is an effort is breathing. The air quality is nonexistent. Your nose is subjected to every olfactory injustice imaginable, and when you blow your nose at night, a sooty black mess is the evidence of a day spent in the city. The mark, I imagine, of a proper Mumbaiker.

I will never be a proper Mumbaiker, as I have no desire to. Yes, there is much more to tell, but I fear I’ve rambled on too much already.

For now, simply know that I miss my cat, and my bed, and my marvelous boyfriend. The adventure is perfect, and I am not unhappy, but there is, you know, no place like home.

And home is wherever in the world my cat and my man happen to be at the time.

Good night, and all my love,

~Francesca

Monday, March 10, 2008

Clearing up Misconceptions

Oh, dear family.

I am glad that you are so concerned about my health. I had begun to think that I couldn't do anything that would concern you!

Let me tell it to you straight~ as you know, I have suffered a few really nasty tropical illnesses in my many travels (including, but not limited to: Ghiardia, Salmonella, Typhoid, and a dozen different types of dysentery).

Thus, trust me when I say that I do not wish to ever get than sick again. Ever.

So, when I say "tap water" in India I mean the water from the public "Drinking Water" taps. And in Sri Lanka, I drink tap water in the village I work in. I happen to believe it is safe to drink. I have been assured by several.

When I say "street food," I mean food that is being prepared on the street. Of course I don't eat street meat, and I generally indulge in things that look clean.

But hey~ I'm feeling very comfortable here, and I have had about a million inoculations. And NO, I will never take anything like the malaria prophylactic drugs.

I don't believe in taking antibiotics for a disease I don't have. That seems as insane as going to war over a threat that might exist. Ahem.

In conclusion, I take risks, yes. Measured and calculated risks. I love my life quite deeply, and plan on doing it for at least another 90 years.

Finally, medical science has a cure for almost everything! Let us rejoice.

Loving you all from stinking, sweltering, honk-a-thon Bombay.

Hope you are all well.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Bombay Days & Nights

Oh, if I was a better blogger, perhaps I would regale you with images and words that would make you swoon, paint a picture of the chaotic smorgasborg of saris, incense and auto rickshaws that is Bombay...but I'm tired.

Bombay is in many ways less overwhelming than I expected it to be. We've spent some time exploring Dharavi, the "biggest slum in Bombay" in order to gain a deeper understanding of informal settlements.

It does not look anything like what the word "slum" implies. There are no tar-paper shacks, it is no slumping shantytown precariously perched on a mountainside littered with filth. No. It is nothing like that. It is, in fact, a really ingenius town, complete with running water, paved roads, and every sort of service and good you could imagine anyone wanting or needing.

Sure, there are goats and chickens wandering around, but that is normal for S.E. Asia. If anything, (as one of my colleagues noted) it is a perfect example of urban people living a rural lifestyle.

Unlike the rest of Bombay, Dharavi is not dusty, and it is cool and quiet compared to the craziness of the streets in the city proper. Yes, there is a creek running through it that is choked with shit and trash. But there is an incredible plastic recycling industry, a tanning and leather manufacturing industry, a food industry and a ceramic industry all INSIDE the "slum."

Their biggest problem is that their land is very valuable, and developers are planning a "slum rehabilitation" program that will destroy their way of life while moving them into high-rise apartments. This is supposed to magically make them middle class. Apparently these people have never seen "the projects" in America that have miserably failed to accomplish these goals.

A couple of my colleagues and I have made friends with a family in Dharavi, and are going to have dinner with them tonight (not for the first time).

My ideas about poverty have been deeply challenged by my experiences here.

In other news--you would all be horrified to know that between Sri Lanka and India I have broken all of the travel rules (drinking tap water, eating fresh vegetables, eating street food, drinking street drinks with ice) and yet I seem to be healthier than ever.

Life is beautiful, and exhausting.

And I love you all very much.

If you want to see some amazing images of Bombay, you should visit my new friend's blog here:

http://trivialmatters.blogspot.com/

Akshay says it beter in pictures than I possibly could in words...

Friday, February 29, 2008

February 26th: Sri Lanka, lover

Tragically, I am in a HUGE hurry right now. Currently in Kandy, the city famous for housing the Buddha tooth relic and withstanding the forces of the Portuguese and Dutch colonies for centuries.

It is breathtaking. Breathtaking. I am in love with this country in ways that I cannot put into words.

Wild peacocks, tropical birds of every hue known to man, monkeys in the trees, and the most beautiful, smiling people I have ever seen.

I am now officially reading Sinhaha. It is incredibly beautiful...the letters sensuous, round, with fat bottoms, and arching backs. Reading them makes me tingle.

February 21st: slumping towards the future

Slowly coming back from a pesky cold...chills and a dry, hacking cough keeping me up with the dull roar of the ocean swallowing everything outside.

We missed the lunar eclipse, my colleagues and I, on account of being on the wrong side of the world.

Comprehension dawns on me slowly as people in the village have become more accustomed to our presence here. Nothing is as it seems, and as much as I hate to say it: being pragmatic has been incredibly useful to me as a researcher. I don't believe anyone is ever telling 100% of the truth, as I happen to think that truth is more arbitrary a science than exact.

In short: people lie. Particularly when you are the Other, the White Other in a brown world.

Particularly when you represent hope and power. Power has so many meanings. We can do and undo things with the power we wield, us educated, us active.

My camera LCD is broken as of yesterday, so I am shooting blind, out of a digital machine rendered analog. I dub my camera "digalog" (as it's now officially a digital camera with an analog feel) and soldier on.

Today the rain fell with a fury, staining the sky black and pockmarking the ocean into a roiling, alien landscape.

The only other woman in our group, Anuja, broke down tonight, upon hearing that her 2-year-old is in the hospital, convulsing with seizures from an intensely high fever. She is in the village with us, preparing for the town meeting we've organized for tomorrow. I held her hand and stroked her hair as she wept, feeling the deepest sympathy for her, simultaneously realizing yet again why I will never have children. I could never stand to love anyone that much. The fear of losing that part of a self is actually too much for me to imagine.

The wife of the guest house owner where we stay in told me the story of the tsunami this morning, and how their 1.5 year old son was swept away into the ocean. The same ocean that roars, 25 meters beyond the front door of her home now, day and night. How can she stand it? I could not.

One of my colleagues honored me with the telling of her own story the other night...It cleaved me in two, her story of love and adventure sandwiched in between 2 unspeakable tragedies. It made me marvel at how positive and upbeat a being she is, how marvelous and brave.


These people all make me feel small and cowardly in my small triumphs and battles.

I want to speak Sinhalese in a way I have rarely wanted anything. I bought my first book to begin to learn to read in it today.

I have begun to research NGOs in the country. I want to live here within a year, for a long time.

I want to go native, lose myself to this delicious lobe of SE Asia forever.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Phuket Impressions

Tonight, I am twitchy with restlessness. My timing just seems to be off. I'm suffering a slight bout of world-weariness, finding it irritating how smitten my colleagues are with Thailand.

I love it, too, but I've got months of Thailand under my belt, and I can't help but see her for what she is. A tourist mecca along the Andaman coast that promises smiles and elephant paraphernalia galore, as well as underage girls for sale in shady show bars where they stand (looking all of 12 years old) in tall boots and sexy dresses, lip synching while looking as though they are trying not to cry.

It is enough to make even the hardest, most cavalier man break down. We wandered in the other night, mistakenly thinking that we had found a Karaoke bar. The beer was cheap, so we took a seat, and slowly realized what was going on. We were all uniformly horrified, and left quickly.

Tonight I felt stretched thin, still fighting a nagging tickle in my throat, still feeling a bit off kilter.

I wandered away from the bright lights and markets, wandered onto one thin, winding street after another until I was thoroughly convinced that I was lost deep in the bowels of this place. Slowly, I backtracked my way to familiarity, like a thread winding its way out of an enormous knot, dipping and diving, sleepwalking my way past open doors revealing old ladies in sagging dresses, Buddhist shrines, steaming noodle alcoves.

Every sense is razor sharp when I am lost, so that each detail stands out like a bloodstain on a white sheet: distinct and indistinct, a Rorschach test designed to reveal what I am really feeling beneath the stress of group travel and the pangs of senseless desire to disappear.

A mother watches a tiny little girl squatting in the grass beside a restaurant, peeing. A beautiful young man sits astride his motorbike holding a steel-gray cat with half a tail in his lap, petting it adoringly. Two homely, stocky lady boys riding a motorbike cruise by me, both smiling and staring. What in the hell is this white gal doing in our alley? their glittering eyes seem to say.

A woman at a noodle shop tells me that the soup is too spicy for me. This is all done with sign language, the unofficial, international variety practiced everywhere by non-native visitors and endured by their patient (and sometimes impatient) hosts. I assure her that spicy is "Dee Maak," or "very good." I sit to a bowl that looks as though it is full of tripe, and my heart sinks. Screw it. I'm hungry, and I need to not get sick. I recall my father once saying that menudo (Mexican tripe stew) is good for you when you are sick.

My first bite proves my bravura foolish. It is a chicken foot. A chicken foot for crying out loud! I don't eat chicken at all, and I happen to rather like the little buggers, having had 2 as pets for the last few years. I gag it down, and then proceed to eat the blood cake floating in the mind-numbingly spicy broth. At least my mouth is on fire, obscuring the taste of congealed blood for the time being.

I eat almost everything by transporting myself to a better moment, smiling wanly as I recall our perfect lunch this afternoon, and the Thai students we are working with when they told me, "Francesca, we like to watch when you eat, when you talk, it is like you are always dancing." I recalled myself presenting today, realizing that years of dancing must have left an imprint on my mannerisms. My hands are like eager little birds, painting pictures in the sky to illustrate my points. I watch my fingers lace when I say the word "unification" and I see them flutter apart when I say "the community was broken".

My hands chase one another as I describe tsunamis wrecking the coast, and I make my fists into houses to illustrate proximities and spatial relationships. Public speaking is a performance for me, it seems.

I watch myself in my mind's eye as I eat this impossibly spicy, revolting meal: I speak slowly and with great clarity, choosing my words for conciseness. I never say "um." The foreigners appreciate my presentations, because I pan around the room with my eyes, and on the lookout for comprehension and confusion.

I wonder what the future holds for a lady like me. A dancing, dreaming, public speaking pixie who never knows when to give up, who does not know how to admit defeat...

I wander through the spiderweb of streets, mournful Karaoke songs accompanying my every step, a lone star glistening beyond the concrete roof lines. Eventually I see, out of the corner of my eye, a familiar building at the intersection.

I walk toward the light, drenched in my own sweat, the swarming of manufactured sounds turning the heavy, hot air alive. I have found myself again, by losing myself to the night.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Miracle Morning

I wish I had more time for eloquence, because this morning deserves much more than I can possibly give it here and now.

We are conducting our research here in Tangalle, the sounthernmost state in Sri Lanka. Our village, Yayawatte, is several kilometers away, but our guest house is 25 meters from the Indian Ocean, and is a truly remarkable sort of paradise.

It is Saturday here, and I awoke shortly after 7 a.m. with a heart full of resolve to go for a jog along the crescent-shaped cove of beach we live on. My colleagues were already in the ocean when I arrived beachside. I slathered on SPF and began my jog.

Perhaps I should describe the waves here. In a word: terrifying. In another word: murderous. And one last word: thrilling. They roar like thunder, and lap at my legs intermittently as I make my way along the way. The stray dogs along the way greet me, in a way that is at least partially friendly.

I pass the fishermen, returning to land, pulling up nets, and their smiles and waves meet mine, illuminating as ever the incredible welcome of the Sri Lankan culture. After a kilometer or so, I arrive at a lagoon, where I spontaneously decided to do something I have not done in years. Yoga and meditation.

I situate myself beneath a small tree on the lagoon's edge, and do a series of sun salutations. Then I sit. The coarse sand coating my feet coupled with my tender, white thighs has the effect of sand paper. I cannot manage a lotus position. And so I sit, crosslegged, and close my eyes. After several deep breaths, for whatever reason, I open my eyes, and gaze at the lagoon.

There are these enormous, Komodo Dragon-type lizards all over the place here. I see one, roiling in the water. I think it is clinging to a log, but as I observe it, I realize there are two, locked in an embrace...mating?
I am transfixed! I stand, feeling incredibly fortunate to be witnessing this. A toothless fisherman points excitedly, leading me to believe this is a rare and strange thing to see. I watch the coital lizards as they are rolled along in the lazy current toward the inlet, where the lagoon is joined by the sea. They swim to safety moments before the violence of the waves swallows them.

I return to my seat, and meditate briefly, slowly being dissolved into the cacophony of birdsongs, the monkeys ululating, and the waves roaring. I hear a distinct voice in my head say, "I wish I could always be in meditation."

I wonder at this as I stand, and begin a slow, long jog back to the guest house. I know that meditation means a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me, it is profoundly simple: The cessation of static filling your head. The ability to exist, for a moment, in the moment. It really is that simple. And that difficult.

I jog past a fisherman, who gestures to me, pointing to his elbow, "You like?"

I do like elbows, I think...but not particularly. I bobble my head side to side (the Sri Lankan version of nodding, 'yes'). Sure, I like elbows. Wait, maybe he means, 'swimming'. I bobble. I like that, too.

He gestures, "come". So I do. He lifts a beautiful lobster from the boat, "You like?"

Hell, yes, I do! "Keyaduh?" (how much) I ask?

He lifts 3 more out. Okay. "Keyaduh?"

He runs off, and grabs 2 more from a neighbor's boat. "$1,400 rupias" he says, grinning over the 6 lobsters. That's 14 dollars for about 3 pounds of still-living lobster!

I say, "Oh!" (which means 'yes').

His friend offers to bring them to the guest house, as I have no money on me.

I continue to jog. As I approach another group of fishermen pulling in their net, the lead man gestures to me,"You help!" he says. I join the group of 6 men, heaving at an impossibly heavy length of jute, strung with wooden floats, presumably attached to a net somewhere out in those murderous waves.

I grab on, and as they chant a strange, rhythmic call, I pull alongside them. This is an entirely different sort of meditation. As the waves roll in, you pull, and as they roll out, you plant yourself in the sand, straining against the more powerful party in this game of tug-of-war.

Within minutes, I am sweating profusely, marveling at these stringy men in their sarongs, pulling at what seems like an impossible length of net. I continue to strain my muscles alongside them, as pale as the flesh of the fish that struggle within that net. Another man joins us, and I take my leave, their wide smiles trailing behind me.

As I jog back, a behemoth wave is piggybacked by another 10-footer, and they magnify each other. In spite of my distance from the ocean, their wash takes my feet out from under me as efficiently as a lion takes down a gazelle. The ocean rakes my body across the sharp, granular sand, scraping my right side. I struggle to my feet, and run inland.

When I look at this ocean, I feel fear and awe. When I muster the courage to swim in her, I feel the same.

Still, I am in love with this morning, as I am in love with every morning here.

And I wanted to share it with you.

Monday, February 4, 2008

We Escaped with our Lives...

Today, while the rest of the students accompanied our professor to look at some famous Sri Lankan architect’s work, three of us took the train a short way to Colombo. We had been emphatically warned against going, on account of the fact that there is currently a civil war of sorts going on in this country between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. It is very complicated. And tomorrow is Sri Lankan independence day, where there will be huge parades in the capital city celebrating 60 years of sovereignty from the British. Violence is expected, in the form of Tamil Tiger bombings.

I lead the charge of rebels, in spite of a Sri Lankan friend warning me yesterday not to go to the ‘Fort’ in Columbo. He was certain that it would be fine elsewhere, but that this particular place was unsafe. I don't even know where the "Fort" is. Oh, how we laugh when the ticket master at the railway station hands over our tickets, which clearly read: Columbo Fort. Like moths to a flame, we have gravitated straight to the epicenter of danger.

As we wander by foot, we are approached by a seemingly endless number of Sri Lankan men, armed with a smattering of barely-intelligible English, all eager to ‘help’ us out in some way, the generic, “My friend, let me show you a good place for to shopping” routine. My companions are a still a little wet behind the ears, and unfamiliar with the hustle that naturally accompanies the white visitor to a brown country. I take a step back, and allow us to be led by a particularly ‘helpful’ guy to a sari shop, where I must admit~we get some pretty good deals on a couple of gorgeous saris.

We finally shake our helpful guide, who seems disappointed with the generous tip that we gave him, after much bellyaching about how much help he provided us. We gave him $5 dollars, in a country where a meal too large to eat in one sitting costs 50 cents.

Free at last to wander, we buy fruit from a dense vegetable market, the ripe, oily smell of dried and spoilt fish hanging heavy in the stagnant air. A soccer stadium provides myself and lady friend Ashley a respite from the sweltering heat and sun. I slice chunks off a fat, salmon-fleshed papaya, and we eat them, drenched in lime juice, right off the knife’s blade--while watching our companion, Josh, playing a friendly game of soccer with the locals.

As we seek out an ATM, broke from our sari shopping and visit to the tailor to fit us with choris (the sari blouses), a thunderous -BOOM- split the nearby air. I feel it in my feet, through my shoes. “Josh. That was a bomb, it had to be. Nothing else would do that.” I am vaguely concerned, but choose to focus instead on extracting funds from the ATM, which proves uncooperative. When I emerge from the bank booth, Josh is wild-eyed, and a tone of panic underlays his normally cavalier tone, “Francesca, everyone is running, people keep telling me we need to leave.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine. They just don’t want us to be freaked out, since we’re foreigners.”

He seems unconvinced, as we trace a funny, winding path through the streets, in search of another bank machine. Shopkeepers are pulling their roll-doors shut, street vendors are packing up their wares, and the streets are suddenly swarming with military personnel.

Ashley turns ashen, her fists clenched tightly, knuckles bone-white. “Everyone is closing, everyone is leaving. What do we do? What do we do?!”

My calm is still intact. “I’m sure they’re just closing for midday. It’s hot, shop keepers always close up midday in this sort of climate.”

We take our money from a bank machine and head back to the tailor. We are two hours ahead of schedule, but my companions are desperately ready to head back. We note, at one point, that we are walking in the opposite direction of everyone else, three glowing, white pearls trickling against the steady flow of mahogany bodies.

A tall, studious-looking young man walks up to us and says, “There has been a bomb, at the station, you should leave Columbo, it is very dangerous.”

The tailor asks us to return in an hour and a half. My companions are actually beginning to look very afraid. We grab a tuk-tuk (awesomely noisy, 3-wheeled taxi ubiquitous to SE Asia) and I ask for him to take us somewhere where we can get a beer. As we navigate the streets, it is impossible not to notice that the same city streets that had previously been a colorful, mad melee are now magically transformed into a tense, sparse ghost town. Military barricades have been erected hither and thither, and all of the streets that were 2-way thoroughfares have been converted to one-way escape routes.

Our little corner of Colombo is no longer a vibrant, functional body. It is vomiting everything, everyone, out of the vicinity of the violence.

We are delivered to a hotel where a Japanese man and a hotel clerk sit glued to a TV screen. We sit beside them, and watch the *Breaking News* footage of the bomb blast. We had assumed that the blast was at the market, near the bus stand, or at the bus station, as much of the rebel violence is centered around the busses. Nope. The Colombo Fort train station, where we had landed only hours earlier, had suffered a serious bombing. A shaky hand-camera relays footage of the the floor and pillars of the station, splattered with the blood of innocent civilians, their broken sandals and bags of vegetables strewn about~ a tragic end to many a benign trip to the market. People died, just now, right there. I felt the shock of it in my feet. We were that close.

http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20080203_12

For the first time, I feel uneasy, and a little sick to my stomach.

I brought these people here, my friends, on the brash assumption that our professor (who is a native of Colombo) was simply being paranoid when we forbade us to go into town this weekend. They trusted my authority as a seasoned traveler who refuses to worry about anything.

We sit, sipping our beers, ordering another, and another, until they go to work on the frayed nerves and disbelief, lulling everyone into a softly alcoholic sense of reassurance. The main problem now is that the trains are not running, and we have to find an alternate form of transport to Moratuwa, the township where we are staying.

We take a harrowing tuk-tuk ride back to the tailor, where we catch them just as they are closing up shop. The streets are now entirely empty, save for men and women in military dress, many with their enormous guns slung over their shoulders. On the long, and comparatively expensive (15 dollars as opposed to 30 cents by train) tuk-tuk ride back to Moratuwa, we vow to not tell our professor, or anyone in our group, where we had gone. This is the sort of lie that protects everyone from a truth none of us want to consider:

Like bad soldiers, we disobeyed orders, and were rewarded with the realization that sometimes orders make sense. We were wrong, and the authority figure of this trip was right. We risked our lives to sight-see and go shopping.

In spite of it all, I must report that I was strangely unafraid throughout the entire ordeal, leading me to believe that I am at least part-robot. Maybe I should be a war-correspondent, as my temperament seems to be rather well-geared for it.

Nevertheless, I won’t be playing around in the war zone so carelessly again. Some wake-up calls are louder than others, and this one is still reverberating beneath my skin.

I count my blessings, once more, as always.

Even paradise is haunted by the promise of violence, the lions & tigers & bears of jungles and forests. Here, it just happens to be Tigers, with a capital T.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I met a monkey, and a few other moments...



From Banda Aceh with love

The volcanic mountains of Aceh rise up like jagged, verdant teeth; we lay within the mouth of the ‘Ring of Fire’. Rice paddies glisten like jewels, and the sweet aroma of clove cigarettes wafts through the streets, hangs in the air like a quaint reminder that even smoke can be candied.
The air is pregnant with moisture, it clings to your skin, glazes everything in a clammy film. Dragonflies swarm the air, a constant droning as the soundtrack to their predation. The hotel pool is blessed by this army of mercenaries, as they keep the ravening mosquitoes at bay.

Our hotel provided the softest of landings, and rather unexpectedly so. I could not have imagined this sort of luxury in the midst of this very undeveloped country, site of the most significant natural disaster in the modern record.

The roads are an exercise in perfect order emerging from chaos. Like gnats or starlings, the myriad of motorbikes, buses, tuk-tuks, and everything in between- all somehow manage to coexist, darting here and there, yielding and charging, and yet somehow never touching one another.

The people here are incredibly kind and helpful, welcoming and curious: like the people in every underdeveloped place I have ever been. The influx of NGOs has not corrupted the culture...yet. The KFC and Pizza Hut in the center of town serve as brutal reminders that with development comes the spectre of consumer culture.

We’ve met many, many tsunami survivors, and the stories are both shocking and incredible. There is much involved, the compensation, rebuilding, and in many cases the complete losses suffered by some.

The tsunami created an incredible opportunity to end the separatist strife that divided Aceh and Indonesia for the past 30 years. In the wake of utter devastation, there was a great residue of hope deposited on the ravaged land. The people have a spirit and an interest in their own well being that has come as an absolute delight after the spectacle of New Orleans.

The Aceh People’s Forum, an umbrella organization that organizes all of the relief efforts, arranged a roundtable discussion for our group yesterday. We presented our aggregated observations and recommendations to the group of locals, NGO coordinators, press, and others, and spent an incredibly successful time discussing the merits and flaws in our work.

Ultimately, it got us all fired up, put us on Indonesian television, and is being incorporated into a document that will be published and presented to the Indonesian government in an effort to help shape the debate around redevelopment efforts.

In other news, the muezzin’s song wakes me shortly after 5 a.m. each day. I lay in bed listening to the call to prayer, luxuriating in its exotic, haunting melody. No one else wakes to it, a testament to what a light sleeper I am. I’ve been to the gym each morning at 6, swimming laps in the outrageous pool as the sun ascends.

In short, it is a strange sort of paradise, the luxury hotel juxtaposed with the redolent down-market grime of the streets. I wish we could spend a month here.

Next stop, Sri Lanka by way of Singapore. Over and out.