On Sunday, Sean went to church while I took my time with coffee and shower. After his return we took the street car to the World War II museum. It was a sobering experience to say the least. After seeing photographs of young soldiers, making the ultimate sacrifice to stop evil from destroying our world, after reading narratives, witnessing the devastation that war caused, we wanted to pack up the museum and send it to Washington DC so law makers can do all in their power to prevent another large scale destruction of life and property. As we walked back slowly, both of us were quiet and contemplative. The sights and sounds of war, something that happened years and years ago were still hard to absorb.
Lunch that day was surprisingly easy and delicious. We found Auction House, a conglomeration of restaurants, within a building. I had an amazing Louisiana crab cake and Sean had some concoction that included avocados. We shared a chocolate hazelnut banana empanada from Empa Nola. Instead of getting back to the hotel, we decided to go see the Lafayette cemetery. We waited for eternity, or so it seemed, for a street car to come so I put my time to good use. I watched Ryan’s baseball game on Game changer. You can take a baseball parent out of town for a vacation, you cannot take baseball out of a baseball parent.
But here is the most important information in this blog that you need to know. We broke our promise. We did not take a nap on our final afternoon in New Orleans. We just rested for a while once we got back to our hotel. After church, Sean went scouting for nice restaurants away from the touristy French Quarter, which, in retrospect, we should have done earlier. And he found an Italian restaurant in the downtown area, which, to him, looked promising. Domencina was fancy and delicious. We ended our stay with a truly sumptuous meal and we each ordered a dessert, which we never do. He ordered Cannoli, I ordered Crema cotta that had honey, blueberries and basil. Heavenly.
We walked back to the hotel and rested. No naps. As I said, broken promise and all. In the evening we slowly walked around French quarter absorbing the ambiance and the joie de vivre that we felt on the first day and which, in my mind, is truly the characteristic of this city. After looking around several sauce shops, we bought hot sauce for Ryan, mask magnet for Sahana, chocolate covered pecans for both and headed back.
We packed to go back home and watched Cavaliers beat Celtics. Sean was grumpy and berated King James .
A blog about this trip would be incomplete if I did not mention what we found when we got home. The house was immaculate, my kitchen was organized, counter tops spotless, the lawn was mowed. Ryan did not miss a singe baseball game. Sahana kept everything in order.
The trip was much needed. A little break from routine. But the realization that our daughter was grown up, responsible was priceless.
Our vacation in New Orleans was constantly threatened by a big storm Alberto that was gathering strength in the vicinity and was expected to lash out in the general area. We kept the weather channel on and checked weather update on our phones a lot before we booked tours or made plans. After getting caught in torrential downpour on the first day, we carried our umbrellas everywhere. Saturday morning was supposed to be rain free so we had booked a tour to see the bayous and meet some alligators. We showered, got dressed early and headed down to the lobby where our transportation company was supposed to pick us up and take us to the waterways. There, we were going to board a boat called Swamp Thing, explore the bayous and see alligators. Very touristy, I know. After collecting tourists from different hotels, our van left the city and deposited us by the water in a very rustic setting with a small ticket counter, a tiny gift shop, relatively clean restrooms and a captive alligator next to the gift shop, sun bathing.
After waiting for about 20 minutes, the captain of our boat, a native of the area, welcomed us all and started navigating the boat into serene waterways. He kept up a constant chatter telling us the history of the land that we saw around us, but I really wished he would stop talking. The day was so beautiful, the green around us was so lush, the water was so still that it reflected the azure sky and the breeze caressed my whole being. I just wanted quiet so I could absorb this stillness within my soul.
But he kept talking. I leaned back on Sean and tuned him out. We passed a small burial ground by the water – unkempt, forgotten, home to those long gone. As I write this blog, many weeks after our trip, that tiny little forgotten cemetery evokes a special feeling. It found a special place in my heart.
As we went deeper into the bayou, we met our first alligator. The captain turned off the boat, grabbed a bag of marshmallows and went to the side, dangling the marshmallow from his hand to attract the alligator’s attention. He also spoke French to him. It was obvious that the alligators in that area knew the drill. S/he came right to the boat, grabbed the marshmallow, chomped it down and asked for more. Since that was our first one, everyone in the boat took million pictures of him/her. During our time on the boat, we saw several. The captain spoke to all of them in French, fed them all marshmallows. Some travelers did not like the fact that he was feeding unhealthy snacks to the creatures. He pooh poohed their concerns and said alligators did not have any sense of taste. They are attracted by the white color of the marshmallow. While we were engrossed in finding alligators in the water, and squealing like children when we spotted one, the captain held up little Elvis, a baby alligator, about year and a half old. The women in the boat screamed. He offered to pass the baby around. Men held him, women refused. When it was my turn, I held him of course. After that, a few women dared to hold him as well and I believe Elvis was held by all and of course, photographed.
It was close to lunch time when we were dropped off in front of our hotel, but instead of rushing in to take a nap, we made an executive decision to take the historic street car to go to the garden district to see the antebellum style houses. We bought day passes for street cars, rode them all the way till the end and rode back to where we started. It brought tram cars of Kolkata to mind. There were many tourists on the trolley as well as residents of the city. I wonder how irritating they found us, tourists, taking up space in their public transport just for joy rides.
Once we got off at St. Charles street, it was way past lunch time. We could hear our stomachs growl but from previous experience, I knew getting food won’t be easy. Surprisingly enough, we did not have to reject too many restaurants before we found Daisy Dukes – a restaurant that served breakfast all day. Sean was happy. I was relieved. The biscuits were amazing.
Guess what we did after? Yes, that is correct. We hurried back, got in bed and promptly fell asleep. Promises to keep and all that.
Since we bought day passes for the street cars and since I was doing a lot of walking on my bum foot, we took the trolley to Esplanade, at the end of French Quarter to give Frenchmen’s street another chance. I had to really twist Sean’s arm to go there again. He had given up on the street. It was a completely different experience from previous day though. The street was vibrant, alive and filled with music. It had completely transformed itself at night. And although the restaurants did not have any food for Sean, we listened and moved to jazz music. After spending the entire evening there, we walked back to our hotel. I was completely done with checking out restaurant menus, knowing we will find nothing for Sean since the simple red beans and rice were cooked with sausage. We stopped at a small cafe – Cafe Beignet for a chicken salad sandwich for me, omelette for Sean and a plate of beignets.
The next day was our last day in Big Easy. We still had to see World War II museum and Lafayette cemetary. We had to buy mementos for the kids. We still had to take our afternoon nap. Last one in New Orleans.
A friend commented on my last blog that she felt a sense of ennui in these blogs. The ecstasy of Rome (my blogs on Rome) was missing. That comment stayed with me. And as I reread the blogs on New Orleans, I did realize both Sean and I have learnt to slow down. In our previous travels, we wanted to do something every minute of our vacation. This vacation was different though. A lot of the focus was on resting, taking a break, sleeping, recharging. We both are beaten down by constant activity. We both needed the escape and the quiet solidarity.
We had booked a trip on a paddle boat ride for a ride along the mighty Mississippi on Creole Queen. The most interesting part of the ride was a historian narrating the history of New Orleans. The mystery of Spanish haciendas in the French quarter was revealed, the several change of hands of New Orleans was told, the battle of New Orleans to beat the British under the command of Andrew Jackson was dramatically narrated. We made one stop at the museum at Chalmette plantation, the battle field where the battle of New Orleans was fought. A park ranger talked in depth about the volunteers who convened under one flag to cause considerable damage to the British and managed to drive them away. On our way back, the talk was about Katrina. Every member on board listened with horror as the historian narrated grimly almost hourly advent of the storm that took lives of thousands. As we listened, the sky opened up, almost in grief.
By the time we docked, the rain had diminished to mere sprinkles, so we opened our umbrellas, which we smartly carried, and made our way to Frenchmen’s street. We had been told that street was a great alternative to raucous Bourbon street in French quarter and worthy of a venture. The music was better, food was good. We were disappointed. Everything was sleepy, and closed. We checked out the menu of several restaurants, found nothing that Sean, a vegetarian who does not eat vegetables, could eat. Finally, we ended up in Mona’ s cafe, a Lebanese restaurant. I devoured a delicious Lula kabob and Sean had a vegetable platter that contained the best baba ganoush.
After lunch, we strolled slowly back towards our hotel, stopping to see the majestic St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square.
Once we were back, we promptly went to bed and fell asleep. Afternoon naps, everyday – a very important part of our vacation. Neither of us realized how sleep deprived we were.
In the evening, we went out late. We decided to stroll the French quarter again since every street gave us ample opportunity to catch snatches of music and watch people. As will be the norm each day, we rejected at least 12 restaurants since there was nothing for Sean and ate at a Mexican place. Sean had veg fajitas, I had shrimp po boy. We both had simply fabulous modoros (fried plantains). Our sweet server did not know how to change channels on their TV, so she handed the remote to Sean. He found NBA basketball game and we watched a game between Rockets and Golden State warriors. After wrapping up day 2 with more people watching as French quarter became increasingly inebriated we headed back to the hotel, watched NBA in bed and called it a night.
I will end this blog with this observation. The mass of humanity in Bourbon street reminded me of the throng on the streets of Kolkata during Durga Pujo. The people on Bourbon street were immersed in the heady feeling of alcohol, jazz, beads and night clubs. The throng in Kolkata during Durga Pujo are focused on lights, pandals, extravagance, street food. But the energy in both places, I found, were similar. There was a feeling of letting loose, shedding inhibitions.
We saw quite a large number of homeless people on the streets of the city. Some were just listless while some socialized with other homeless men and women. A majority of them, especially women, had dogs with them. The dogs, interestingly enough, seemed to be in great health and exuded friendly demeanor. Sean and I conjectured whether the dogs served as body guards for many who were forced to sleep on the streets. There were dark corners too where hapless men just lay silently, most likely under the influence of some substance. One homeless man was downright honest. He asked folks for money saying, “Can you give me some money so that I can get drunk tonight?” We looked at him quizzically. He said, “What? I am not gonna lie. If I get any money, I am going to buy booze.”
We were in New Orleans. How could we not see the bayous and alligators? We had booked a swamp tour for the next day. We were going to be picked up by our transportation company to take us to the waterways, where we could either go on a loud, very fast speed boat or a slow moving, covered boat. We opted for the slow one to experience a leisurely boat ride. We gave up thrill in favor of serenity. More on that in the next blog.
We got an early start from the hotel. The driving distance from Sacramento to Yosemite National park is close to 3 hours and I slept at least half of that time. I sometimes feel guilty falling asleep on the passenger seat as Sean drives but not guilty enough to keep myself awake. When I woke up and looked around, the scenery around me had changed. All around me were lush green and gentle hills. And in the distance, shimmering in icy blue were peaks of Sierra Nevada. While my family got excited and chirpy that the destination was near, I got silent. My mind was cluttered with concerns over health of my loved ones, deadlines and schedules but I had decided to put all my worries and stress in the farthest corner of my mind as I submerged myself in the joys of being with those I love the most within the splendor of natural beauty. I hoped to soak myself in the beauty around me and hopefully, emerge rejuvenated, restored. As I watched in silence, Merced river flew by one side of the road with first, a gentle murmur and then a roar. As we came close to the park, the water raged next to us while the hills rose on the other side with occasional signs warning travelers of falling rocks. Slowly, everyone in the car fell silent as we took in the verdant countryside and powerful river. What else lay in store for us? Soon enough we spotted our first waterfall and although during the course of 3 days in the park we will see plenty of waterfalls, they never lost their charm for us. Each time we saw one we would stop each other and exclaim, “Look, there is a waterfall!” And we would pause or retrace our steps to catch a glimpse.
The line to enter the National park was long. Ryan got impatient and got out of the car to walk along the parapet next to us. We crawled towards the entryway to get our 7 day pass and enter paradise. Slowly the line of cars moved and we crossed the threshold.
The first stop was Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. On the way to it, we saw several cars parked on the side of the road and its occupants out on the road with their cameras held high, clicking away the magnificent Yosemite falls. We saw it while we drove on and Ryan urged Sean to ‘have fun but not too much fun and keep his eyes on the road ahead.’
We parked and walked to take in the incredibly beautiful and powerful Yosemite Falls before walking over to the Visitor Center.
The sheer force of nature amazed us and also made us aware of our insignificance in the grand scheme of things.
My chat with the ranger at the visitor center was very productive and rewarding. He said all the trails are open, however the folks who try to summit Half Dome come prepared with lots of snow gear and ice picks since the trail up there still has considerable, knee deep snow. I looked at my over achiever husband and said, “So, NO!” The ranger looked at me and said, “We can not say a forceful NO like that to hikers but yes, if I could I would say the same with the same emphasis!”
Now that the prospect of losing my husband to Half Dome was out, we looked at different trails for the following day. But we decided to climb the Yosemite falls to see how far we could go up and discover the view from up top. So we retraced our steps back to the falls and went in search of the trail head. With a deep breath and deeper resolution we started the trail with our young Ryan leading the way. The rangers urge the hikers not to stray from the trail so as not to trample the local flora that grow in abundance in the park. Within a few minutes, I was completely out of breath. I urged the family to move on while I panted. I said I will catch up but Sean just hung out with me, pretending to take in the view. No matter how many times I said I did not want to hold him back, I will be up soon, he stayed, just looking out without saying a word. He was also our mule carrying water, coats and other climbing paraphernalia. Sahana had the camera, Ryan had another water carrier and I carried my own self. Once I got into a rhythm, the steep climb became somewhat easier and I could climb at a steady pace. Fortunately, there were enough instances where we all stopped in wide eyed wonder at the visual feast ahead of us. As we got closer to the top of the falls, the panoramic view of the Yosemite valley and the gushing waterfall provided an incredible view. What an experience!
Midway through the climb, Half Dome exposed itself to us against the back drop of bright azure sky. The vast expanse of nature around us was breathtaking and incredulous.
The Yosemite Falls is North America’s tallest waterfall, which rises 2,425 feet (739 m) above the Valley floor. National Park Services website says:
If you make the one-mile, 1,000 foot climb (via dozens of switchbacks) to Columbia Rock, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. From there, it is worth the time and energy to hike another 0.5 miles (0.8 km) (some of which is actually downhill!) to get a stunning view of Upper Yosemite Fall. Depending on the season, you may even feel the mist from the fall, which may be welcome respite after the tough climb.
And that is exactly what we did. When we climbed up to view the Upper Yosemite Fall we met with some hikers who were on their way down. We still had some fuel in our tank and the desire to see the view from the absolute top so we asked the hikers how the trail was. They all said there was considerable ice. A couple of young hikers had turned around because they did not want to tackle the ice. That put a damper to our spirits. We were not sure we wanted to navigate steep, icy terrains in the fading light of the evening. So the consensus was to turn around.
We reached our car when the sun was almost down. As we drove back to get to our hotel in Mariposa (a 45 minute drive) from the park we got to glimpse yet another hue of the green mountains in the dying light of the sun. It was truly mesmerizing. Merced river, swollen and raging, guided us back as we drove by it.
By the time we reached Mariposa and decided to stop for dinner, Sahana was feeling unwell. She opted out from eating anything while we stopped at a Subway to pick up sandwiches, checked into our hotel, cleaned up and hit the hay. The next day was going to be a full day of hiking so we needed the rest. My unused muscles were reminding me painfully that I was extremely out of shape but my rejuvenated mind told me I was up for the challenge. The following day we planned to hike up the Vernal Falls and then further up – Nevada Falls. Now for some sleep…..
I woke up the next morning, sat up on my bed and saw the ocean peeking in through my bedroom window. After almost three weeks, I still remember the overwhelming feeling of contentment that I experienced at that moment. I often feel extremely blessed in what I have in my life. That was one such moment. There would be many moments during the course of our stay on that island where I felt an inexplicable gratitude towards the universe for allowing me to witness such beauty. I felt most spiritual, most connected with the universe in my solitary moments while I sat alone on a rocky beach with no human in sight. Just me, the vast body of water in front of me and scraggly yet majestic rocks that rose above the low tide.
We quickly settled into a routine on the island. I generally went for long, solitary walks traversing the entire length of the island after a leisurely cup of coffee in front of the water. On those walks, I saw the island creatures – colorful garter snakes, deer, wild turkeys, a ferret like creature who lived near our house. Those walks were also times when I introspected about this life that I was leading, where I was at present in this journey and where I was headed. I spent time with myself, which is a rare thing to do in my daily life. I am a mother who juggles too many balls to ensure the ones dependent on me have a smooth life. I don’t have much or any time for myself. This island break gave me a week to spend with me, the person, not me the mother, wife, worker.
If asked what was most memorable time in that island I will say it was the thirty minutes that I spent by myself sitting on a secluded rocky beach with the vast expanse of sky over me and inky blue water crashing against the rocks. Little sail boats gliding gently by, the regular swish of water against rocks, perhaps the shrill cry of a gull once in a while and the excitement of an extended cormorant family complete with babies, moms, dads, uncles, aunts, grand moms, granddads cavorting on their rock. Many thoughts crossed my mind, solitary thoughts, personal thoughts, peaceful thoughts, reassuring thoughts that beauty like what I was witnessing abounds our planet, despite man made divisiveness and destruction and the fact I was lucky enough to witness just a tiny part of it.
The second most memorable time I spent on that island was with my girl. We walked over to the secluded rocky beach of the island and then hopped on the scraggly rocks to see where it would take us. Our path was difficult hence the adventure was thrilling. We strategized, mapped out, warned each other of wobbly ones and slippery ones, squealed when the cold water lapped up to our toes and scrambled higher. We hugged the coast and made our way around the island boosted by our strength and ability to haul ourselves up. I apologized to home owners whose private beaches we trespassed, they cheered us on, while Sahana apologized to each and every spider in our path since we were breaking some spider webs. We made it to the tipping cove, scurried through tall grass fearing ticks and eventually took the boring path home. But we were conquerors of the unknown and we bragged about our conquest till nobody cared any more.
Ryan disowned his own family and hung out with his ten other cousins, eating, roaming, diving down the dock at the wake of the ferry and working at the only tiny pizza store of the island for candy as payment. The boys judiciously watched the clock between playing baseball, tennis and hide and go seek. As soon as it was the time for the ferry they left everything they were doing to go to their jobs of unloading supplies for the store from the ferry. The vacation, for an eleven year old was idyllic and most importantly, free – something that children in cities and suburbs have forgotten.
Remember the kayaks, Sasha and Hexel? Well, they were put to good use as my husband took them out with his brother, his son or his daughter to explore the nearby islands. Sometimes they were gone for three hours or more.
This is what we all needed. Time. Time to connect with each other and also time to disconnect and seek solitude. I believe we were immensely successful. We left the island almost two months ago, yet today, on this dreary, rainy, gloomy day, the island’s memories are a beacon to me. I can go back in my mind to this happy place and I am not gloomy anymore.
I was made aware of this celebration of sarees on a social networking site. Women posted saree clad pictures on Facebook and told a little story or memory associated with that particular saree. I believe the notion was to highlight the elegance of this beautiful ethnic wear and boost this industry. One particular friend of mine wrote beautiful memories with each and every saree she wore. Not only did she look beautiful, but her stories made a fascinating read and her sarees, to me, became much more meaningful. Stories and memories inter-weaved within the threads – what a fabulous concept.
My sarees are well-loved but not much worn. They stay well guarded in a closet in my basement as I live my life in jeans, trousers, sweaters and shirts. Sometimes I harangue my husband to take me out on dates so I can drape one of my lovely sarees. Swim meets and baseball games get in the way. So when I open the closet that house my sarees, I stroke them longingly and make plans……one of these days I will wear this one or that. And then the weather turns frigid. However, the hope remains – next spring, next summer, next fall. In the mean time, I acquire more sarees. They come bearing love – love of my mother and father, my sisters and brothers (cousins), my aunts and uncles from home.
Two of my sarees have a story or memory with my mother that I want to share. I had heard the name of a saree store called Byloom in Kolkata. I had seen photos of sarees bought from Byloom. Their texture, design, color combination seemed different, unique, more to my taste. Two days before I was scheduled to return to United States, my mother and I decided to pay a visit to this saree store and see with our own eyes what the hype was all about. The plan was to simply pay a visit, look at their wares and then turn around and come back home. My suitcases were full, and my purse was light. I had a little bit of Indian money left in cash and I decided to take just that with me. I took out my credit cards along with my debit card and left them at home. If I did not have plastic, I would not be tempted to overspend. Wait, why was I thinking of spending? My suitcase was full, right?
My mother and I are both geographically challenged so after asking at least 3 people for directions we arrived at the store. The last direction was asked right in front of the store, so when the gentleman who pointed to the store right across the street and gave us a strange look we felt slightly embarrassed. We walked in and promptly got lost again. This time we lost ourselves in colors, patterns and texture. The salesladies were amazing at their job, the colors were splendid and rich, the textiles smelled of home and comfort. I, not a fashionista or lover of clothes by any means, was hooked. My mother, an impulsive shopper and an ardent admirer of fashion and clothes, was miserable. I had instructed her not to bring money. We were just going to look, remember?
We had never done better math in our lives!! I bought a saree for my mother. That was it, I had money (cash) for that – parting gift to my mother before I left India. And then the salesladies did their magic, “Didi, look at this color on you!” They draped a pink saree on me. Three of them came over to ooh and aah over it. My mom joined in. Then they found a blue one, a little more expensive. They double ooh aahed over it. My ma joined in again. The oohs and aahs went up exponentially with the value of the sarees – just an observation. I was calculating fast in my head. I had two days left before my flight departed, no one would make blouses for those sarees. I had to buy ready made blouses for them. Groan! More calculations. Finally, when I had hardened my heart against amazing sales pitches, when I had closed my eyes against the splendor of colors, when I had shut my ears to my mother’s berating at making her leave her money at home, I headed to the cashier with my grumbling mother in tow. I told the cashier I bought some stuff but I had X amount of rupees. I was not savvy enough to calculate the sales tax in my head so I may not be able to buy all that was being packed for me. He smiled politely and said they accepted credit cards. “Ummm…I am not carrying my credit card!” I mumbled. My mother, I think, growled.
As the cashier tallied up my purchases, I realized I held my breath. Fortunately, I had enough money to pay for it all with about 15 rupees to spare. Feeling buoyant and happy we sailed out of the store swinging our bags. And we laughed joyfully. The memory is not about having enough money to buy those sarees though. The memory is about getting lost with my mother, hearing sales pitches with her, being admired by her, being scolded too and finally laughing giddily over our joint naughtiness. I am not sure I have rightfully penned the day, the story or the feeling. My mother and I were more than simply a mom and child that day. That day we were co conspirators, we were math whizzes (somewhat), we were rule breakers (rules created by us), we were quick planners, we were fast shoppers, we were fellow gigglers, we were happy bag swingers. We were perhaps more friends that day than parent and child. We were also hiding some tears behind our laughter at the upcoming goodbye. It was our last show down before the curtain of years fell till we were together again.
On her birthday, this memory stands out. Happy birthday, Ma! Here is to many more years of rule breaking, bag swinging, saree conspiring, and of course mindless laughing after being naughty. We Bengalis do not say “I love you’ because it does not need to be said, I know. This Bengali has learned to say it anyway. Moreover, she loves to say it.
I love you, Ma!
Here are the sarees, which have this precious memory!
That is my mother’s picture that you see up there. My mother, who just the other day said to me, ‘Nijer jonye to anekdin bachlam. Ebar ektu anyer jonye bachi!’
(I have lived for myself for a very long time, now I want to live for others)!
My mother was the extroverted extension of me while I was growing up. I was a quiet shadow behind my gregarious, fun loving mother. As I look back, I realize we were just that – an extension of each other. I did not know where she ended and I began, till I started branching out to become my own person. Since I was so intricately woven into her being while growing up, I did not consider her as a woman in her own right. She was my mother and that was the whole of her. The perception was selfish and yet that perception arose from a blind love too. Only when I became a woman and looked at my mother from the perspective of a fellow woman did I see the complete portrait of her. Not just the unidimensional one of a mother but also the little girl, the young woman, the young bride, the rebel, the survivor, the fighter, the whole entity of who she was and who she has become. Her journey, if you will, as a woman.
She fought for her right in the patriarchal family that she was born to right from the start. Fiercely competitive, she fought for her place with her brothers and boy cousins and strangely enough, she got it too. Stories of her spunk and competitiveness have been told and retold by her peers and elders with indulgent laughter. I have heard so many stories beginning with, ‘Tor ma….bapre, koto golp.’ (Your mother….oh dear, so many stories..)!
As a young woman in early seventies when women’s beauty was measured by the length and width of their hair, she went to a salon and cut it all into a fashionable page boy cut. Her society, family and friends were aghast. When covering a woman’s arms was the norm, she went and fashioned sleeveless blouses. There was talk. Married at 19 and a mother at 20, she did not have a chance to finish her graduation, so she went back and finished it when her child was 6 years old. I remember the celebration. When leaving your child and going out to work was frowned upon, she went and got a job. Almost everyday she came home with a book for me, so I was happy as a clam, waiting for her and a book at the end of the day. When women thought husband and hearth were the purpose of their lives, she declared loudly she did not like cooking and cleaning. Life has to be more than just that for a woman. She devoted her time to reading and on her child instead – reading Bangla literature to me, telling me stories that I still remember, reading poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, Sukumar Roy, relentlessly helping with whatever I needed help with. She fought with everyone and provided the best education that she could for her only child going beyond the family’s means. And she told me again and again that I was no less than a boy no matter what society wanted me to believe.
In her personal life, she always tried to break the glass ceiling by pushing a little more. She will perhaps be the first to admit that she made mistakes along the way. But she did not let that stop her from following her heart or taking chances while always choosing the best for me. Now that I look back, she truly lived for me, and then for a while, through me. When I went to college, the dynamics changed and she became an extension of me.
The woman who wanted to do things differently could not contain herself in her retired life. When I set her free, she soared. Yes, I set her free from my dependance, need and my responsibility. She and some like minded friends opened an organization to help the unfortunate men, women and children. I was uncertain about this venture but as she grew I looked at her with utter amazement and then pride. The picture above is from one of the events that her organization organized in Hridoypur Pronobananda Kanya ashram – a school for orphans. When I skyped with her later she said, ‘I was so nervous talking in front of all those people. I have never done it before.’
My father said, with a proud gleam in his eyes, ‘Your mother was very good!’
Life is a journey, I hear. Some rough terrains, some smooth sailing, some uphill battles, some downhill glides. Towards the end of our journey some of us get bogged down by the stress of it all, some of us choose to sit and rest and look back satisfied at the path they traversed, while some get a second wind, take flight and soar high. They finally get to spread their wings after all the responsibilities are done. The shackles that they sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly tie to their feet fall free with a resounding, joyful clang. My mother got the second wind. She is flying.
I look up to her flying high and unmindfully hug the shackles that tether me to the ground now. The shackles that I love more than my life. I smile upon them as I turn my face skyward. I say to myself, ‘One day I will learn to fly. One day my time too will come. One day I will grow up just like my mother!’
We slept in on the sixth day. Our vacations are those that you NEED vacation from, but all of us seem to thrive in action, yes even Sahana, if she is not dragged out early.
After yet another chocolate croissant Starbucks breakfast we got in Escargot to drive 40 Km to Tulum. Both the children had enough of ruins at this point but not their ruin loving mother. Tulum was built between the 13th and the 15th century and was an important port for trade, especially obsidian. The ruins, perhaps, do not match in grandeur with the impressive ones at Chichen Itza or Uxmal but the setting of the ruins is indeed spectacular! It stands on a bluff facing the east and the ancient shrine of the Diving God greets the rising sun every day over the breathtakingly beautiful Caribbean sea.
I am not sure what word would describe the blueness of the ocean. There was not just one blue though, there were different hues and shades of blue. No matter how talented an artist or a painter is, can they ever produce that perfect hue in their canvases or papers? Is that blue an example of what perfection is? Just so? Not a bit more and not a bit less? As I read my journal, I see I wrote down ‘pristine, turquoise, aqua marine – none of these seem to really bring forth the true hue of the color blue.’
The children decided to jump in the water while Sean and I continued to tour the entire site paying homage to the reigning deity of the area – the descending god. It is a figure with legs splayed upwards and head down diving from the sky to the ocean.
According to Ancient History Encyclopedia:
The Temple of the Descending God, located at Tulum, is an intricately designed structure which is illuminated brightly by the setting sun every April 6th – which is the birthday of The Descending God (so named because he is always depicted with his feet in the air)and is carefully aligned with the planet Venus. While it has long been held that Tulum is the only temple complex to depict the Descending God, his image has been found elsewhere. Attempts to link him to the figure of Jesus Christ have been dismissed by all reputable scholarly authorities.
The camera, as some of you know, is almost surgically attached to my hip. As I walked the ruined walls at the edge of the cliff and looked down at the brilliant emerald sea beneath, I kept stopping to take pictures. And when I looked at them later, I discovered I had taken picture of the same scene again and again – a multitude of times, obsessively. My desire, perhaps, to capture the entire day, along with the blue sky, the wispy clouds, the magnificent ruins, the mass of humanity speaking various languages of the world, the sea, the moments, my family, my feelings of joy and fulfillment, in each shot.
After walking throughout the site, Sean stripped to his swimming trunks and entered the water. I did not bring any change of clothes. Nor did I have swim suit underneath. So, like a true Indian, I followed my husband in the water, fully clothed. And had the best time swaying with the waves.
Finally, when nobody could ignore the pangs of hunger any longer, we made a unanimous decision to bid adieu to the sea, the sand and the ruins to head towards Akumal, north of Tulum, towards Playa Del Carmen. We were on a mission to find the restaurant La Buena Vida in Akumal, as suggested by some fellow travelers from Canada. The nachos there were to ‘die for’ they said. The setting of the restaurant, on a tiny cliff by the sea, was unparalleled, they said. We had no directions, no GPS and Sean refused to ask directions. By sheer instinct he got us there while I grumbled about typical male pride about directions. He parked the car and said, ‘Here you go, we found it!’ smugly as we walked in. There were palapas roofs on picnic tables by the water and we were directed to one of those.
La buena vida – the good life. The name is chosen from one of the cardinal principles of the ancient Mayans, live the present moment fully. Be in the moment. Nothing is more important than being in the moment, living it, doing it justice. The worries can wait.
I live by the important (for me) mantra ‘This too shall pass’. In moments of sorrow, this thought gives me solace and the courage to face my sorrow. In moments of joy, this reminds me that happiness too is transient and I must make the most of it. The memory of the happy times become that jewel that I wear around my being, which embellishes my soul. Hence the photos, hence the journal.
I remember sitting there with my little family looking at the vibrant blue water, the coral reefs afar, the gentle sway of the palm trees, the yellow sand beneath my feet, I thought ‘this moment too shall pass’. But I am so grateful to HAVE this moment, to be able to live it fully. I remember thinking this must be what true happiness feels like…la buena vida.
We drove back to Merida on the seventh day and headed back home on the eighth morning. I brought back happy times, laughter, thoughts, bonding and the realization how different traveling with the children is becoming. I remember hauling luggage and entertaining both of them during long flights to India. This time, however, Sahana navigated the airports, Ryan lugged around our heavy suitcase and a backpack. My offers to help carry luggage were refused with ‘we got this, Mom!’ I ended up carrying only my purse the entire trip. That was sweet, but somehow bittersweet.
This was the last post of the trip. Thank you so much for reading my journey and being a part of it. I appreciate you all greatly.
If any of you have traveled with a teenager, you probably know to give them a wide berth after waking them up early (very early) to catch a plane, bus or train. We woke Sahana up amidst whines and groans to catch our scheduled Easy Tour van at 8:30 am to go see Xcaret (eshcaret). Xcaret is one of Maya Riviera’s most popular destination – a ‘eco archaelogical’ theme park where one can go snorkeling in the part underground river, relax on their impossibly soft, yellow sandy beaches, swim with the fishes, pet dolphins, eat a 28 course buffet lunch, visit a mariposa (butterfly) garden, take pictures with macaw on one’s shoulders, see soft pink flamingos, tapirs, pumas, jaguars, turtles – all this at a high price. And yes, it does possess the ambience of a Disney theme park. You can have your adventure under well controlled environment.
After packing our bio-degradable sunscreen (only bio degradable are allowed since you get up close and personal with sea creatures), swim suits, change of clothes, hats, shades et all, we grandly exited our Adventure Experience Hotel after greeting the lovely receptionist a cheery, ‘Buenos Diaz’. Sahana just grumbled.
We had no time for a sit down breakfast so we ran to grab something from a nearby Starbucks. Cafe latte and chocolate croissant for me, chocolate croissants for Sahana and Ryan while Sean got something distasteful and healthy – egg white and cheese sandwich. We chomped on our breakfast while waiting for the van and slowly, like the rising sun, Sahana’s disposition became sunny with every bite of the croissant. It is funny what chocolate can do to a choco lover.
The van arrived promptly at 8:30 am and after stopping to pick up some other fellow Xcaret adventurers, it dropped us off in the expert hands of our guide, who then expounded upon the do’s and don’t’s of the theme park for the next 20 minutes – in Spanish! After 10 minutes or so, Ryan asked, “Can we please just go?”
Finally his very elaborate lecture ended, he extracted promises from us to meet him at the exact spot no later than 9:20 pm and after procuring that he let us loose and left us to our own mischief.
The plan was simple. Three of my family members would get on a boat with their rented snorkeling gear and get thrown off the boat mid-ocean to swim with fishes while I would find a lounge chair by the aqua marine water and update my journal.
Snorkeling in mid-ocean was not my idea of fun. As we waited for Sean, Sahana and Ryan to board their boat, we watched people getting kissed by dolphins, petting them, hugging them, playing with them – at a steep price. When Sahana heard how much it cost to touch a dolphin, she exclaimed, ‘Gosh, no!’
As the children and Sean waved goodbye to me and their boat turned a corner, I walked back to the beach, found a quiet spot under a beach umbrella and brought out my notebook and pen to retrace our steps with words. I realized a smile often formed at the corner of my lips as I recalled a particular incident in our journey together, a special moment of bonding as my notebook filled up in that hour and a half.
After an exuberant retelling of how exciting the snorkeling was, how fearless Ryan and Sahana were, how many fishes they saw and how they separated from the group to swim with a sea turtle, we went to an elaborate and sumptuous lunch in an international restaurant within the park (the price of the ticket included the buffet) which incorporated varied local delicacies along with dishes like pasta, fish and chips etc to accommodate all kinds of taste.
The next adventure was snorkeling down a part underground river – along with the mother this time. The water in the river was about 6 feet deep and the mother had already asked the guide in very broken Spanish whether it was safe for someone who can not swim well to go down it. The guide had said, ‘Oh sure!’ The mother was not sure if something had gone lost in translation. Bravely donning my snorkeling gear I took my valiant husband’s hand as I flopped my flippers on the stairs going down to the river. The first touch of water sent shivers down my spine. It was a chilly 75 degree Fahrenheit. There were two options to go down the river – one way was outside, lit up by the sun and pleasant foliage overhead to form a lovely canopy over your head, or the dark, sinister tunnel through which the river flew secretly and where the rays of the sun were prohibited. Ryan chose the tunnels. And I unhappily complied. Mistake.
I have claustrophobia and I have a fear of water. An unhappy combination if you are about to float down a river that flows through pitch black tunnels. As soon as we entered the tunnels, floating and splashing, I knew I was in trouble. I felt panic rising in my throat. And for a few moments I thought I could not do this. The tunnels were pitch black, there was not a single glimmer of light to illuminate our way, we had to feel for the sides of the caverns through which we floated by or jutting rocks with our hand. While struggling with my fears of enclosed space and drowning, I felt something touch my legs.
“Sean, is that you? Did you just touch my legs?” I screamed.
“No, I am right here. Next to you. Here hold my hand.” He said.
“Oh my gosh, something touched my leg. Something living touched my leg. A rat touched my leg!” I was almost hyperventilating in panic.
“No rats, no rats. Rats will drown here!” He tried to pacify.
“Then it was a snake! We are swimming through sewage water with rats and snakes! Why did you agree to come through the tunnels? Why did we not go the other way? It is all your fault!” I was wailing.
“You are doing great! I am right next to you!” The good man consoled me as he pulled me along.
A man, trying to navigate his family around my thrashing legs, had touched my legs. Not rats, not snakes, I discovered in a few minutes, when he said a fearful sorry – fearing my madness!
Thankfully at regular intervals there was sunlight pouring in through holes above us. We found Sahana waiting there for us, waiting to see how her brave mother was faring. She too, did not like the dark and was complaining that Ryan always gets his way about everything. Floating down the river in the sunlight would have been so much more pleasant. After gulping down the sunshine at these breaks, I sorrowfully plunged in the murky dark waters again, just to get to the end of it. Those moments of light were such blissful ones. I truly appreciated the phrase ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ when the tunnels regurgitated us floaters into clear water and blinding sunlight. Surprisingly though, somewhere between starting the river journey and ending it I learnt to rely on my life vest and finally started believing I was not going to drown. Somewhere along the way, when we got out into those sporadic moments of sunshine, I put my snorkeling gear on and put my face in the water, I learnt to breathe through my mouth. Somewhere along the way, I pried loose my fingers and let my tightly held fear slip away. Instead I grasped on to the belief that I can do this. And that is when I started having fun. As I put my face in the water and opened my eyes, once the tunnels ended and we emerged onto the sunlight, I discovered a brilliant world underneath me. Fishes of different hues swimming along beneath me. It was a moment of wonder, a boon of sight – ‘I once was blind but now I can see’ moment.
The day ended with a truly spectacular show of the cultures of Mexico which dated from the cultural aspects of Ancient Mayans and ended with modern-day Mariachi music.
By the end of the show the people in the entire stadium, irrespective of their country of origin, were rocking, clapping and chanting “Mexico, Mexico” It was a moment of bonding with the beautiful, hospitable, very pleasant people of a truly enchanting country of rich cultural heritage.
We kept our promise and returned to the tour guide by 9:20 pm. We were dropped back at our hotel tired, hungry and very content. After a quick dinner of lousy pizza and a promise to Sahana that we will let her sleep in tomorrow, we turned the lights out.
Oh, and if you are worrying about my infected finger still….rest easy, the antibiotics are working. Both the swelling and the pain are down. Dreaming of the ruins of Tulum that we plan to see tomorrow…
Disclaimer: This blog has some gross stuff. If you are squeamish about doggy doo doo, please stop reading now 🙂 !
If not, here is a story:
‘Bring a urine sample and a fecal sample when you bring Sage for his annual check up. And collect the first urine in the morning, that gives us the best information about his kidney functions.’ The vet tech informed me as she gave me an appointment for Sage’s annual vaccinations and well check.
‘Ummm, urine sample?’ I gulped nervously.
‘Yes, our records show that he hasn’t had a urine culture done for the last three years! It is time for one!’ She said sternly! I could hear ‘you negligent doggie mother’ going through her head.
‘Ok, Ah, I will try!’ I was still squirming, feeling judged.
‘Just take one of your throw away plastic containers and hold it under him as he raises his leg to pee! You will be fine!’ She tried to be reassuring.
Poop, I wasn’t worried about. Don’t I pick up his poop everyday to keep our environment clean? Don’t Sean and I get into a poop counting competition – who collected more poops from our backyard? Yes, the fecal sample is a piece of cake! What? You don’t like that analogy? Well, should I say fecal sample is a walk in the park, then 🙂 ?
The only time I collected urine from Sage was when he was less than a year old. The vet’s office had given me a tray and asked me to hold it under him when he peed. I came home with some trepidation about the whole thing about collecting pee and felt irritated that I had to be the designated one to do this job – the mother, of course.
I remember the day being extremely windy. I remember Sage being exasperated with me and then decided it was a game I wanted to play with him. He kept running away and play bowing, ‘Catch me if you can!’ He was still a puppy and hadn’t acquired the dignified disposition that he has now. I had led myself to believe I had trained Sage to do his business on command. On shivering, cold nights, I held on to his leash and said, ‘Hurry up!’ When he did his stuff, I gave him a treat. He is an extremely smart dog, he caught on quickly. The day of urine collection, ‘hurry up’ command failed. Long story short, I got the urine sample somehow. I remember the urine blowing in the wind and me blowing with it. Anyway, the deed was done. I ran it to the vet’s office, paid a bunch of money to get the urine tested. Sage was proclaimed disease/germs free and I felt the money and the effort was well worth it.
I do not know how I managed to dodge the urine check up for the last couple of years. I probably said I won’t pay for it, the accusing eyes of the vet be damned. This time however, the vet tech’s serious accusatory tone was my undoing. Also Sage is 4 years old, still young but getting up there. I acquiesced.
The appointment was at 9:30 in the morning. I did not sleep well the night before devising different strategies for collecting pee. When morning dawned, I was loath to get up because of the unpleasant task that lay ahead.
Here I must give you a brief description of Sage. A friend described him aptly – he is that kind of dog who gives you the feeling that he will don his bifocals and read the Sunday New York Times. He is dignified and Sagely. He never grabs a treat from your hands, but takes it between his teeth daintily. He stares down his food but doesn’t eat it unless he hears the magic word ‘ok’. He doesn’t break his ‘stay’ command (unless given by Ryan) till we say Ok. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. His wild side comes out while playing with his 8 year old human brother (who, he considers a fellow puppy), when people come to the house, he goes overboard showing his love and errrr….when he discovers fox poop. He rolls in it! Other than these indiscretions, Sage is very dignified. And so am I.
So a dignified dog and a dignified woman were on a mission – to wrestle some pee out of the dog and collect it in a container.
I put him on a leash and took him out at 7:30. Hurry up Sage! Sage knew something was up since I had a container in my hand and a leashed walk this early was highly unusual. The usual routine is a grumpy woman opening the back door for him, first thing in the morning. He wasn’t going to make it easy for me. Of course!!! He sniffed and sniffed and my hopes leaped. Maybe now, may be now! Now???? After 10 minutes, I gave up, came back in to yell at Ryan to get ready for school. Sage looked at me with his beautiful, chocolate drop eyes, ‘What is wrong with you, today???’
I didn’t wait for Ryan to get on the bus, like I usually do. I gave him a kiss, said goodbye and took Sage for a walk, armed with the container, a ziplock bag and a big plastic bag to hold it all. My focus was only on the dog, or rather on his back legs! When would they rise, when would I hold the container? It rose in a while! I jumped ahead and put the container under him! The leg dropped. I had collected a single drop! Literally, a single drop! On top of that I got a look from Sage which said, ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOINNNNNGGGGAAAA???’
You’ve got to be kidding me!!
I realized then as I straightened up and looked around me in frustration, that each driveway had children and their moms standing, waiting for the elementary school bus. I had started walking too early. And they were staring at me, at my container and my baffled dog.
I was too determined to turn around. I wanted the job done. The dignified me wanted to dig a hole and hide in it but the ‘let’s get this done’ me wanted to get this DONE once and for all. I plodded on. Sage, finally lifted his leg at his favorite fire hydrant and let out a stream. Elated, I crouched down and held the container, ignoring the warm spray on my hands. And then he dropped his leg. And his leg hit the container held in my hand. And the container dropped from my hand! I looked in horror as the precious yellow liquid stained the white snow!
Now, I am not the one the one to curse. But once in a while, I reach my limit. This was my limit!
SHHHIIIT!!! I semi-yelled.
And then I heard a whisper, ‘What is she doing, Mommy?’
Another whisper, ‘I don’t know honey! Shhhhh….!’
I did not look. I knew it was one of the little kids waiting for the bus. I pulled down the brim of my baseball cap with my unpolluted hand and walked on without looking back.
Finally, Sage did do his business. I did get adequate sample. Sage could not figure out my erratic behavior and I did not explain.
We went to the appointment armed with our booty. Sage shivered and asked me repeatedly to take him home. He got 4 shots, lots of love, bunch of treats and a clean bill of health. All’s well that ends well. I will not do this urine test for him for the next three years. He’d better stay healthy!
Oh, the indignity of it all!!! But the clean bill of health makes the pee collecting effort, somewhat, worth it.