Independence Day

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Another Fourth of July — happy Independence Day to all of us. I don’t like to get political, but on this anniversary of our nation’s beginning, it feels quite bittersweet. So much seemingly falling to pieces around us — the border is a sieve, and without a border, you don’t have a country. So much friction among all those in power, so much power-grabbing all around, more desire to control the lives of others at the expense of anything else. Not Freudian that the “Lives of Others” was a movie about a time in Germany’s past better left in the past. Yet how different is that from what’s happening with our NSA?

I recently bought a book called “The American Citizen’s Handbook,” a book from the 1940s that instructs all about what it means to be an American, intended for those becoming American citizens. Why isn’t such a book required reading in schools these days? Because it’s too patriotic? Because it’s no longer “cool” to be proud of one’s country?

Sure, every country has good and bad in its history — a country is made up of it’s people and they’re as good and bad as they come. But in the past, I’ve always had absolute faith the “good” would ultimately and always prevail. Not always sure anymore, not without a lot of purging of some very ignorant isms being propogated by purposefully misleading leaders.

Also bought a copy of de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” another book that probably makes a better historical textbook of our democracy than most other history books taught in schools at present. Can’t wait to read it, to see his version about the spirit and faith that made America such a magnet. Whether that spirit and faith are still here in enough of a concentration to return to the strong and purposeful nation we’ve always been is yet to be seen. Always thought too much prosperity wasn’t a good thing; our country seems to be going through the end of the same historical national cycle of other nations that ultimately resulted in destruction from within.

Set off fireworks with our family this weekend. The little ones are just old enough to really appreciate the fun of sooty black “snakes,” the little poppers that pop when you throw them on the ground, and of course sparklers, Roman candles, and the others that make a tremendous amount of noise along with the color. So wonderful to see them watching with their eyes wide open, their “this is going to be sooo much fun!” and “whoa!” at particularly beautiful or surprising ones. Hard not to watch with a little pity; they’re the ones who aren’t growing up in the same safe environment I did, where you could run around with the neighbor kids until it got dark and everyone went home for their supper. So American, so secure, so sure were we that it would never change.

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And before I get too morbid, I know things can change, and get better, and the American values can be passed on. It will take hard work, holding our leaders to account, truth-telling, and putting ourselves out there to take a stand for the America we know and love. It IS possible, as long as we’re unwilling to surrender it.

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More about the details, 2

Once again on my fascination with Indian miniature paintings….the incredible detail in the work. And they apply the same level of detail to the really beautiful boxes that one can buy as souvenirs. One suspects a single brush hair and microscope must be used in order to achieve the level of precision one sees. I still wonder where the painting must be done when so little of Delhi seems to be dust-free, even in the closed rooms of hotels. Will never forget how the first time I was here and a Delhi dust storm would come through, I’d end up with the slightest layer of that dust on all the surfaces of my room, even with all the windows supposedly closed.

But back to the paintings….all the different styles from the various regions, various time periods. Hard to choose a favorite.

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And the subjects of these paintings — court life, elephants taking on tigers, cow processions….the kinds of things one might expect.

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Not to mention the things one might not expect — like women hunting tigers, or falconing. How wonderful to know even back then, there wasn’t a complete lack of expectation on women! At least, that’s one lesson I would take from that.

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And other more mundane topics — women fainting on their beds from love, lighting sparklers, a gallant man removing the thorn from his lover’s foot. Even the most normal of everyday activities has a beauty and interest when depicted in art.

As to details — in the paintings courtly life is depicted with pillows and fabrics tapestries all in the most vibrant color, just like the vibrant colors of all the saris and salwars nowadays. Yet when one visits a fort or palace, it’s nothing but stark stone. Have often thought it would be a great draw for someone to decorate one or two rooms as they might have been back in the days of Emporer Akbar — like Akbar’s living space at Fatepur Sikri. Would be so interesting to see it all set up as it might have been back then. Until then, will have to content myself with imagining it from paintings and pictures.

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Enjoying travel is in the details

Went back to India again, for work mostly, but able to find some time for pleasure as well. And it strikes me this time that all the little details stick out in bright relief.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Like being at Agra Fort and watching some — I’m sure very ill-paid — old man sweeping at the entrance with a very iffy broom and a combination of water in a pail while occasionally spitting where he was cleaning, when the water apparently did not suffice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA And the doorways with no doors, leading through dark to bright light, the symmetry of not only the Taj Mahal, but the Fort. Letting breezes blow through where there was no air conditioning. How important that was in the 118 degree F. sun! Making the lack of doors for a little breeze to blow through any of four directions perfect sensible after all.

Of course we had to be there for one of the hottest days in 60 years. Doesn’t that always figure! Still, it’s all an adventure. And who doesn’t feel like one can put up with almost anything, as long as one knows it’ll be over soon. (or that there’s a perfectly cool hotel or mall within easy distance!) At least, that’s my philosophy.

And then the “palaces” of today — the Western hotels where Indians seem to think Westerners like things very stark and gleaming. I don’t mind the gleaming so much, though that little detail stands out in such stark contrast to the rest of the dusty world outside the protected enclave that is a Western hotel in the middle of Delhi in June.

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There is something very much like the feel of a refuge about it. Which is how I ended up spending one entire day meandering about the hotel, admiring all the artwork, checking out the pool and spa, snapping the statuary and architecture, having leisurely meals like brunch, and afternoon tea, dressing up for dinner, like I never would at home. Like being in another world for just a little while. Taking note of, trying to be mindful of, all the little details.

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Introverts unite

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Been reading a fascinating and illuminating book by Susan Cain called “Quiet…” on the power of introverts. It’s been a bit like discovering the Gospel for the first time — all of a sudden, life makes sense, my reactions to things; the need for introspection and “alone-time” all of a sudden no longer seem abnormal. I had a great and supportive upbringing, but when you are surrounded even by a loving family, numerous siblings and cousins, it explains why even family reunions can be overwhelming and intimidating experiences.  

Also explains why as much as I looked forward to each new school year when I was growing up, how much I loved the learning and new subjects and even couldn’t wait to do homework, why I would get sick (like want-to-throw-up, queasy-stomach sick) the day before school started. Every year, without fail, like clockwork. The unknown, the getting back into the social swing, adjusting to new friends and old — it was stressful for an introvert, no matter how much I appreciated the academics.

Explains why I have had various people I’ve interacted with in the past ask me why I’m so quiet, or why don’t I talk more? And my reaction of not understanding why I needed to speak more! Is it not enough to speak when one has something of value to say?  

Explains now why I resist some things at the job now — how much I need an office where I can close the door, how distracting and annoying the cubicle spaces where there is no privacy and interruptions are de rigeur. How everything has to be done in teams, and collaboratively, and one individual doing something well on their own seems to somehow be less valid. How tiring it is to be constantly bombarded by messages that those with “executive presence” and presentation skills are the ones perceived to actually have the good ideas, or be the ones truly able to excel in today’s office culture. I always used to appreciate being known as the one who didn’t say much, but when they did, you wanted to listen.

I haven’t gotten all the way through the book yet, but hopefully there will be something there for introverts about coping with a world that seems tailored to the extrovert! Even the most introverted of us adapt over time — and even I have learned to be more comfortable in a room full of executives, to exercise my listening and consultative skills to try and add things to the discussion that have meaning. And hopefully to be seen as someone who adds value, even if I get sweaty palms, itchy fingers and stomach twinges every time I’m put on the spot in a room full of colleagues! The things we do to take our place in the world….

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Out of the wormhole

I’m not sure the wormhole is the best analogy, or that of finally coming through a great, long, dark tunnel, when you finally start to see the light at the end of it.

It has been a while since I’ve written. A long while. Months. Feels like being on a journey where you enter a door and in the blink of an eye are on the other side in quite a different place then when you started. A door you never intended to enter, somewhere you never intended to be. And in that blink of an eye a lot of time has passed to everyone else, but none at all to me.

Do you ever get yourself to one of these places (intentionally or not) where the weight of work, of life, of everything being thrown at you puts your creative life into a complete stall? Even writing one’s thoughts seems like too much effort, and you can’t even face yourself, much less everyone else, anyone else who might write what you’ve written.

Bingo. That’s been me for the past months. Wondering where the time is going, wishing I could simply get through to the other side and start feeling like the words are there again, like contemplating life and its foibles is interesting again. Where the sheer weight of what one is carrying around doesn’t black out everything else around you.

Life’s a cycle like that, I find. Traveling around without wormholes, happily getting by while observing and finding the words to write about what’s going on around me. Other times it’s not easy, spending weeks that fly by so even one’s loved ones wonder what’s happened. Just getting by, biding one’s time, waiting for things to get better.

Thing is, I also believe that you have it in your power to make it better. That no one else will if you don’t. So, all these times things feel so heavy like I can’t do it for myself, I’m still the only one that can. Scary and empowering at the same time, funnily enough!

So, back again.

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The secret life of…

So I’m passing through another airport for work this past week and I get on a “people-mover” escalator or whatever they call those things. The one that just goes level for when there are miles to walk from gate to gate…the one where you’re supposed to move to the right (the slow lane) so people can walk by you, but some people just don’t get it…?

Okay, I’m getting distracted, this isn’t a “things that annoy me post!”

When I got on the”mover” I noticed it made a very distinct “ta-pa-ka” “ta-pa-ka”noise, exactly like the old Danny Kaye “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” movie, whenever Danny Kaye went into dream-mode and started saving damsels in distress. I’m sure they’re going to have to update the new Walter Mitty movie so there are no damsels in distress (though it never bothered me that much). I do like a strong heroine, however, so perhaps it’s just as well!

I’m still not sure how they’re going to top Danny Kaye for creativity and absurdity and flexibility all in one (I mean, Anatole of Paris, the French milliner who designs hats because he “hates women”?! absolutely classic). And the “patter songs” — to me that kind of ranks up there with singing “skat” in terms of how do people have the imagination or facility of tongue?!  Amazing.

Aaannd…these are the things I think about when I’m heading off to serious work meetings! Instead of preparing my topics I go into my own little dreamland — if it’s not places I’d rather be, or things I’d rather be doing, it’s about the people boarding the airplane, or working in the airport stores, or the drivers of those carts…ta-pa-ka, ta-pa-ka, ta-pa-ka.

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Safe places

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I went to afternoon tea with two of my friends on Friday. This is full-blown, scones and clotted cream, wait-on-you-hand-and-foot, be pampered for three hours English afternoon tea. It’s something we do twice a year, but the Christmas tea is always the most special, so we always go to the poshest hotel in town to really enjoy the experience.

And once again, it didn’t fail us. The scones are the best I’ve ever had taking tea anywhere, including anywhere in England. Who’d have thought in Houston, Texas, we could exceed ourselves that much? (Well, some of us would have thought that!)

I’ll never forget the previous tea host at our usual place who used to serve us  — the lovely Charles, who not only always remembered us, he remembered who liked which type of tea and he only saw us max twice a year. Charles also used to tell us the story about when the Lord and Lady Grey stayed at the hotel at one point while he was there, they even commented to him how the scones were the best they’d ever had (and yes, that’s Grey, as in Earl Grey tea). So he said, anyway 🙂 Charles always told the best stories, and took care of us like no one else who’s ever served me tea, and I’ve experienced tea at quite a few places, in the US and abroad.

The most telling moment with Charles was, however, the time he said to us that tea is and is meant to be a “safe place,” one of those experiences where you come because you know you will be totally taken care of, that you have the luxury of fully relaxing and leaving behind everything else to just enjoy the friendship, cameraderie and good food that the whole afternoon tea experience gives one. He saw his job as enabling that for his guests, making sure they felt entirely secure and pampered for that little time we spent with him.

Besides almost leaving us in tears, my friends and I agreed that he’d hit the nail on the head. No matter what else is going on in our lives, and even though we do not see each other often, this is one of those sacrosanct moments that we plan for all year long. We call for our tea appointment months ahead to make sure we get in around Christmas, when it fills up quickly. It doesn’t matter what’s going on at work or home, we dress for the occasion, leave early enough to get there in plenty of time, and deadlines be hanged.

And when Charles described it as he did, that safe place we can take temporary refuge with each other and walk away feeling refreshed and satiated, body and soul, we all felt the truth in it. We talk about everything — work, family, home, personal goals and ambitions, all the things we haven’t done and want to do — we put it all out there in a spirit of total trust of each other and the silent waiter flitting in and out and making sure our cup of tea is topped up at just the right time, and the next course is on its way. That, for me, is the magic of tea time.

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