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Grapes of Wraith

(get it? since it’s almost Halloween? I know, it’s weak…)  The older I get, the more I love routines connected with the seasons, reminding myself to enjoy each fall.  Or whatever.  Annie makes grape jelly every fall from the Concord grapes in her backyard.  Somehow I managed to get on the elite list of jelly recipients, and then would ration the jelly from that 1 jar thru the year.  Then last year I got to make the actual jelly with her, along with a running commentary of how her grandmother made blue-ribbon-winning batches.  This year she said “I’m harvesting grapes this weekend if you want to come over!”  We’d just gotten back from vacation, and I am still looking for any reason to be outside in this lovely fall heat, want to soak it up before the snow hits.  Her grape vine is as old as her house, so 50-ish (just like us… ).  It was sagging with purple clusters, and trailed along the fence and up into the nearest apple tree.  We could see grapes and apples high up into the branches.  The backyard smelled like cider and rotting leaves, that warm fall scent that’s so much better than the candles.  So we set to work filling a couple of large plastic bowls.  Then she brought out some soup pots to dump the harvest into.

When those were overflowing, out came a huge black plastic tub.  We picked what we could on foot, then climbed up a ladder into the leafy canopy, disturbing the birds, clutching vines and yanking. There is something very satisfying about the whole process, from hands covered in sticky juice and dirt, leaves stuck in hair, to an overflowing tub o’ grapes.  Ann said it’s the biggest harvest she’s ever seen.  She also said “this reminds me of an I Love Lucy episode… ”

Next step, have a seat in the sun and separate the grapes from the stems.  Livvie said she’d time how long it took us, but she lost interest after about 15 mins.  It took longer than I woulda thunk, but we agreed it felt like the perfect thing to be doing for the season.

Our bible for the jellying is The Joy, although the first page I opened to discussed snail preparation.  “The Romans, who were addicted to snails, grew them on ranches where they were fed special foods like bay, wine and spicy soups as preseasoning.”  And then there’s “about Turtles and Terrapin:  Sea or green turtles are peaceable and sagacious.”  So why the heck would you eat them?

I took home 14 lbs of grapes to crush and boil down to juice and strain (no, no barefoot stomping).  And this was only a quarter of the haul!

So you get it all boiled down, the house smelling like a Welch’s factory, then strain the juice through cheesecloth.

Ann calls this the bee hive.  You want every last drop of that juice!  But you can’t squeeze it because then you won’t get state-fair-clear jelly.

In case you were wondering, 14 lbs of grapes = 14 cups of juicy juice.  Mmmm delicious. Ann swears by it as a tonic to start your morning, “better than coffee!”.

So last weekend was jellytime.  Saturday I did one version with grape juice, sugar, and low sugar Sure Jell (oooh, just heard one of the lids pop!), and a second batch trying the Italian method (from The Silver Spoon cookbook – a fat encyclopedia of Italian recipes) using grape juice, much less sugar, and no pectin, just boiling it down.  (it says white grapes, and I’m using Concords, details…)  I want to do a taste test and see how they compare on the sweetness meter, if it’s even noticeable that there is half as much sugar in v2.

Standing there stirring, it’s so hard not to add anything to the pot.  A little ginger, some cinnamon or nutmeg, or maybe black pepper (like some of the savory juice mixes in India)?  But that wouldn’t be a fair comparison (since when is this all in the name of science?).

Ok I gave up on the Italian method.  It had reduced by a third but wasn’t looking like it was thinking of thickening anytime soon.  So I added some pectin.  Maybe Italian grapes have more pectin.  Maybe Italians have more patience. Maybe they use their grapes for vino and don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to jelly (ding ding ding!).

6 cups of juice = 7 jelly jars with version 1.  6 cups of juice = 4 jelly jars with version 2.

Sunday we repeated the process at Ann’s, she’s now the proud owner of 14 more jars.  And she still had juice left over so sent me home with several large jars of that (looked like I was rum running purple moonshine).  We are going to be so stinkin healthy.  I picked up a box of saltines on the way home.  Fresh grape jelly spread on a saltine, that’s how Ann and her grandma used to enjoy whatever was left in the pan.  You oughta try it!  (I know where you can find some jelly)

long day’s journey

Alrightee, final post for this trip.  Yes, I’ve been procrastinating because I feel like the trip will REALLY be over now…  sob. Last chance to wear salwar kameez, so today’s outfit:

And Priyanka is wearing:

We take a little artistic license with Rael’s name:

Here, now, is my humble theory about saris.  You’ve got a straight piece of fabric, either a 6 foot sari or a 9 foot sari.  If you don’t have to put any design energy into the cut of clothing, where is that creativity going to swirl out? Into more luxurious colors and patterns and prints than you can shake a stick at!

Some of the outfits I got yesterday aren’t sized, shall we say, for my six foot frame… So we take a tuk tuk (yay!) back to the shop at lunch to exchange.

Sachin says “do you want to go to the sari floor?”  Um, do we have infinite time?  Wait, don’t answer that, YES I want to go to the sari floor!!

Each sari is named based on the border style. Like the peacock border, or the checked cloth with a simple border. If I had gone into the sari shop by myself, it would have been fine, but I wouldn’t have known the lingo.

You take off your shoes and get comfortable on floor mattresses, while the shopguys bring the most amazing piles of silk for your viewing (and purchasing) pleasure.

Once again, this is the way to experience a city, with a local friend. Who is blessed with infinite patience.

Whenever Sachin chats with strangers, it’s never a yes or no transaction. Always an extended conversation with some chuckling thrown in for good measure. And head waggling.

We grab lunch on the run, samosas for the car ride to Mumbai.

By 3pm, the car is waiting, I very reluctantly say my goodbyes, and a last wave from the car’s rear window.

Driving west out of town, it looks a lot like the route we took last weekend to get to Mahabaleshwar, but with about 1,000 times fewer cars.

“Keep safe distance”

“Avoid cutting lanes”

I can tell you right now with absolute certainty, these signs are not being followed.

Trees heavy with yellow lantern-like flowers line the highway in spots.

It takes 2 hours from the office to the outskirts of Mumbai. Then another hour and a half from the outskirts to the hotel!  But I love just staring at the changing scene. All the variations of those cute black cartoon taxis.

Now that’s a horn, auuuuuugah!

I even see a “Bombay Police Combat Mobile”. The name somehow takes away from it’s seriousness, doesn’t it? I do not explain, I merely report.

Kids playing cricket barefoot in a field (guessing they won’t have asthma).

Women walking along balancing bundled sticks on their heads.

Roadside juice stands, with ancient crank presses, bells hung from the crank so it jingles a Christmassy tune as it turns, big wads of cane sticks shoved in one end, juice dripping out of the other.

Rael said the last time he and Jack were here, they stumbled on to the Immersion of Ganesh, the Ganapati festival maybe? He said it was insanity in the streets, but if people saw him taking photos they’d aim their handfuls of red dust away from him. So jealous.

Once my bags are stashed in the hotel room, I settle into a cushy chair in the hotel lounge. Checked the outdoor patio, but it’s reeeeally muggy here. Such a luxury to have free time, try to catch up on the blog. I look at the menu and…  where’s Sachin?! I don’t know what to order. How’s about a Bombay Gin and tonic.  When in Mumbai…

The piano player knows how to tickle the ivories, segueing from “Imagine” to an Elton John tune to a schmaltzy “Memories” and then “Leaving on a Jet Plane”!

In the car to the airport I comment on how busy the airport seems for midnight. The driver says they have only one runway, so the domestic flights use it during the day, and international flights get it at night.

It’s a bit of a shock when the tall, uber excited German man barrels his way to the ticket counter, knocking into people with his bags. I haven’t seen anyone this stressed in about, oh, 2 weeks.

In the gate area the women’s clothes are beautiful, I soak in the fabrics and embroidery (Germany and DIA will not be this rich). There are Muslims (I think?) seated in groups on the floor like they’ve decided this is a good spot for a picnic, wearing little white crocheted caps. Some are on their knees, facing east, praying.

There is a foot massage place next to the gate (how conveeenient), and since the flight is now delayed until 3:15 a.m., I think my next move is obvious. Dark and quiet inside, there are 6 or 7 people lined up along one wall being poked and prodded. My masseuse is blind, and I notice a few other blind masseuses come in. I wonder if it’s a program to benefit them. The reflexology is lovely, he pinpoints each area of my tired toes. I walk out on feet tingling and ready for 8 hours on the airplane floor (sort of. well not really).

I Googled this place (My Foot) – they started in Singapore in 1996, hiring the visually impaired from the local community, and have kept the concept going internationally. So cool!

The flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt is on Lufthansa. They call first and business class, and out of nowhere all these Germans materialize, bulldozing their way to the gate, leaving mangled toes and luggage in their wake. Subtlety does not seem to be their forte.

The guy in front of me has a brown passport, so I crane my neck trying to figure out where he’s from – Republic of Croatia. He seems calm.

While waiting for regular boarding, they call a few names, then “Julia Mary Howard”.  Ruh roh.  They give me an exit row seat! No one sitting in front of me, I can stretch my legs out completely straight, ahhhh!

The breakfast tray comes with – guess what – mangoes! And the yogurt is – that’s right, kids – mango flavored! The clean cut steward finally makes it up to our row, “Kaffee?” Do you have tea? “I just had tea, now I haf kaffee.” Pause while I’m thinking well take yer euro-design kaffee pot back down the aisle and bring tea! “I’ll get you zee tea.”

For some reason the TV’s are playing music videos from the ‘70s! Frank Zappa, Blondie, T-Rex, Abba, Neil Young (very young), Elvis Costello in a kick ass black and white checkered suit and big black frames, Bob Marley even. Without the audio it just looks like lots of jumping around. Except for Bob, of course, he is smooth.

Yep, we’re in Frankfurt now, grey and tidy.

My next flight boards in 6 hours, so it’s relaxing to walk around the airport. This is their McDonalds (?)

They had thuh best apple kuchen, you can see a few crumbs of it behind the humongous latte.

I’ll be relieved to get home, see Erik and the Bad Sisters, fall back into the normal routine, relief of the familiar. Strolling the concourse, I catch my boarding pass as it’s about to fall out of my bag. And check for my passport. Which is not there. Crap!!  Put bag down, frantic search thru, look back at the direction I came from and there is a guy flipping through something. Hurry towards him. “Julia Howard?” he asks, in a surfer dude accent.  Whew!

The flight from Frankfurt to Denver is ten and a half hours. Ok I am now ready to be done with this airplane business. There are 2 puppies on the plane, being shepherded by a couple. They’re quiet most of the flight but start whining, loudly, about an hour before we land, and heads are swiveling around. So the couple take turns taking the puppies into the bathroom. Wish they’d just let them run up and down the aisles.

At customs in Denver, a lady officer brings a little beagle around to sniff bags. She asks the group of teenagers with backpacks to put them on the ground for the beagle. Sniff sniff, ok, moves on to the luggage next to them. Wagging tail! It’s the shoulder bag of the man with the puppies. He tries to explain. Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to open your bag. Good dog, beagle gets a treat.

Coming out of customs I search the sea of faces and there’s Erik, with roses, awww!

When we get to the car, I’m staring at the parking space thinking Sachin could fit two cars in there, no problem. Every time he parked I thought there is no ding dang way we’re fitting into that!  But we always did.

ho ho ho

Sometimes the sights that stick in my head are the photos that got away, I wasn’t fast enough to catch with the camera, the car was zipping by too quickly.  Like stray dogs on top of overflowing garbage cans, ripping at bags. People on top of garbage piles, picking through discards.  A man carrying a ladder on his scooter (vertically, luckily).  At one stop light, I looked left to see a man in an open air barber shop with white cream being massaged all over his face.  Sachin says “Oh, for 100 rupees more you can get that with a haircut.”

Your typical bike repair shop:

From the work window, throughout the day I’d see these ladies strolling by carrying huge pink cargo on their heads. Someone said they are bakery boxes that the women have folded together.

Usually, my photos end up being much less about people than things, more texture than face. So I made a marked effort to take pics of people here (I’m sure they were just thrilled about that), and bigger street views. And basically every time you look up, there is something interesting.

Love how snacks are available at every street corner (but are you brave enough to try them):

This was next door to the vada pav place (oh, they pronounce it “wadda pow”):

And I somehow missed including this excursion in last week’s entries.

We stop at a Sikh temple, the guys all magically produce handkerchiefs.

It’s another spot where you take off zee shoes, and the marble is HOT.

No photos inside, but you can see the altar from the door.

I am feeling quite ignorant about religions at this point. More little shrines spotted around the city (like there was this entire mysterious layer missing from my world):

And I never get a good feel for direction, dagnabit.  The streets don’t seem to be on any sort of grid and with all the trees it’s hard to see distance.  And twilight seems short, must be because we’re close to the equator. But I do finally get to take a photo of the river from solid ground, Sachin is kind enough to stop on the bridge.

When I tell them the exciting news that Amy is preggers (I can’t remember the German phrase she insists on using, mitkinderschmitzenzeld?), they ask does she know if it’s a boy or a girl? Ultrasounds are illegal here. In rural areas if they find out it’s a girl…  and their voices trail off.

At dinner last night they teased Abhay incessantly about Shweta (at least a year ago he said his family was trying to get him to marry… he doesn’t seem to be feeling any particular urgency). Today I ask Shweta if the photo on her desk of the cute baby girl is hers.  “I don’t have a baby!” she’s aghast, and Rael and I both crack up, just from the way she says it.  But she explains she is still single, and that would be a huge faux pas here.  Unwed mothers have it very hard, she would be disowned by her family.  Which I can’t imagine would be any fun at all in this culture.

Fun with phonics – I love listening to the languages, all the new sounds.

Instead of yikes, Sachin says “yucks”.

I keep hearing “the Britishers” here, not the British.

Acha (accent on the last a) = okay.  Ho ho ho (accent on the first ho) = yes, yes.

Well hello, Tuesday. Today’s the day, I am wearing that dang green outfit. And oh is it comfortable. And the long scarf feels very feminine, you can flip it over your shoulder like Rapunzel. At breakfast Rael gives me a ‘have you lost it’ look. Yes, entirely possible.  It’s just jealousy because he can’t wear pajamas and a dupatta to work.

Today’s eye openers are carrot ginger (and they DO mean ginger), and something very light green that tastes like chilis (that’s gonna need a little refining).  Yesterday they tracked me down in the restaurant – “Miss Howard, your car is ready.” Today, “we have not seen your driver”. We wait, and eventually get to the office around 10:30. Traffic is definitely worse later in the morning.

Priyanka says “oooohh, look at you, nice!” Her outfit today, and a stylish way to tie the dupatta:

We have another brown bag today, and the lunch boxes are delicious (yes, it is all about the food)! And vegetarian (but not in the least bit boring). Restaurants here have signs outside saying “veg” or “non-veg”. Or as Sachin pronounces it, “wedg” or “non-wedg”.

And mango dessert!

During training this afternoon, we digress to ghost stories.  Anand draws us what becomes known as “the ghost map”, while telling us about an apparition he and his friend both saw when they were 10 or so. They’re sitting in a tuk tuk by themselves, at the corner of a building.  An old woman comes past the tuk tuk and stands in front of them, and they realize her feet are backwards. This sends chills up my spine – I’ve had a dream about backwards feet (what does it mean?)! Anyway, she goes around one corner of the building, Anand follows her, and his friend goes around from the other direction. (Anand has a way of punctuating his stories with tsk sounds when making a point.)  They both see her disappear into thin air at the back of the building (tsk!)! He says they were safe when she originally went past them because they were in the tuk tuk, but if they had been standing on ground… (tsk!)  I love these stories and am just glad it’s still light out…

This is the little guard for our parking lot. I asked if I could take his photo and he stood there quite seriously.

And the line of stalls on the road outside work. I never saw people with go-cups. They stand and drink their coffee or tea with friends, then stroll into work. Very civilized. There are no Starbucks in Pune. Yet. I hope it doesn’t change the way they enjoy their coffee or tea. I’m quite envious of this pedestrian culture.

We are going to Pataleshwar after work, an 8th century rock-cut cave temple. Then Laxmi Road for shopping (cue chorus of angels singing on high).

Just a few sights on the way to the temple.  Bamboo scaffolding:

The temple is in the middle of the city, no signs, just a bit of lawn around it. Sachin says “well it has been here a long time, people yust know it.”

The shrine is dedicated to Shiva and his bull Nandi.

It’s another spot where you take your shoes off, walking in onto cool, smooth rock.

It’s surprisingly hushed, or maybe it’s just the contrast coming in from all the street noise. Sachin rings the brass temple bell at the entry, scaring the crap outta me. Unbelievably, this huge temple is carved out of one single massive rock. Sachin says it’s beautiful at night during Diwali, all lit with candles.

It is still a functioning temple. I liked this lady kissing the bull’s head.

Ok, on to Laxmi Road, time’s a wastin!

This chubby fellow was watching over the parking garage (or not).

We walk past shop after shop full of a gazillion colors of fabrics or saris or bracelets.

Winding our way to a shop Sachin knows, we go up to the 2rd floor for salwar kameez. There are stacks and stacks of them on shelves lining the entire room! I want to look at everything (i.e. paw through everything) myself, but shopgirls stand behind counters and pour outfits out of plastic wrappers for you. I’m uncomfortable with this sort of help, but after awhile have to admit it’s easy to get used to, just pointing and saying “Nice…  Um, nope.  Beautiful but too fancy.  Oooh Yes!”

And maybe a little too easy to amass a pile o’ clothing…  but I’m taking Crow’s advice to heart, you never know when you’ll be back.

Another thing I could get used to is how courteous the guys are, whether it’s carrying my computer or my shopping bags.

Rael pointed out the unusual brakes on their bikes.

Sachin pitches in to help whenever he sees someone in need.

Sachin has his own patriotic version of Ganesh watching over his auto.

We are going to the hookah restaurant for dinner, but after all that shopping we need a little snack to tide us over.  How about some vada pav, the “Indian burger”?

Oh yum, peanuts, chilies, a coconut mixture, wish I had tastebuds of steel and could eat it with all the condiments.

The hookah bar/restaurant is in the neighborhood of the German Bakery, site of a bombing in February that targeted foreigners. The sentencing for the man who bombed the Taj Hotel is today, the issue has been on the front of every paper. He could get a sentence of hanging.

This place feels very bohemian, upstairs, walls are all open air, lots of comfy furniture, Miles and Coltrane blowing from the sound system.  Dinner is simple but delicious – chicken kabobs three ways, and a carrot celery soup that feels soothing since my nose and throat have closed up shop. The soup has fennel for spice, a nice touch with the carrot.

Only one more day here, I can’t believe it.

rocking the saris

Monday’s dilemma – do I have the guts to wear one of my new outfits today?  Will it look silly?  Is it unspoken that green is an unpopular color?  Most of the saris I see are reds, pinks, oranges, vibrant colors.

What is green here? All the garbage cans and garbage men’s outfits.  Like in Paris.  I chicken out.

On the way in, Rael’s got all kinds of stories about people in the office, since he’s been here several times. Last trip was with Jack for the Connect conference. “Do you know about Bad Sachin/Good Sachin?” Of course our Sachin is the bad…

Priyanka’s sari today (not green, you’ll note):

Jugal is back from the UK and stops by to say hello.  Which means he has to listen to me rave about India and the office and how wonderful everyone has been.  He’s from Rajastan, I think it was. He lives in a multi-family house with his parents and brother and family, so their kids get to grow up really knowing their grandparents and cousins, with all sorts of people around to teach them. After talking about how close the families are, he says the culture here is about 100 years behind the U.S. I think we may have gotten too far away from tight knit.

Office background noise is “hallo…  hallo…?”  And you get used to the lights going out every now and then, luckily the computers stay on. Gives you the impression that their infrastructure has not caught up with the city.

The lunch bunch goes to a spot up on the top floor of a modern high rise today. It’s a buffet, but still everything is interesting. Plus freshly made chappatis. The diners are mostly male, they look like creative types, “yeah we’re cool, you may observe us.”

I forgot to tell you about Friday’s “happy hour”. It’s a leeedle different from our “happy hour”. Basically it’s their monthly staff meeting, they introduce new hires (Milind got up and said a few words), and congratulate staff achievements (Rashmi won an award for climate change commitment. I’m constantly admiring her beautiful saris) (Prashant got his PE. It never occurred to me but this is a huge deal for someone in India. He had to get a social security number, and had to take the 2-day test in L.A.)

When we get back from lunch, I wander around the corner and see saris hanging out to dry from balconies.

And crackers spread out in front of a shrine.

Plus this whimsical cart.

We’re invited to dinner at Sachin’s house! I know Shilpa is making a coconut fish curry among other wonderful dishes (note to self: get the recipe).  And Sachin’s parents are coming – his dad works for a bank and is retiring in June. His mom worked for the same bank and recently retired. They just visited Paris for the first time, to see Sachin’s brother. His mom says she was the only one there wearing a sari. She’s so cute, and I love the colors of her sari tonite.

You can see how creative Shilpa is, being in her home. She’s got a stylish mushroom print on the kitchen wall that she designed, along with other vegetable prints. They’ve got a fold-down table in the living room area that she designed to maximize space.

Shilpa works from home, even does contract work for MWH, things like dashboards and Flash projects.

And behold her spice cabinet!!  This is where the magic happens.

Some of Sahil’s artwork, wonder where he gets all that creativity!

Their rooftop garden is the perfect spot to relax once the sun has said buh bye. People start arriving, and dishes start appearing upstairs.

Shilpa is passing around appetizers. These were some kind of melt in your mouth pasta dumplings, delish!

Abhay looks great, it’s so good to see him. He seems of course even more comfortable and funny in his own country.

He tells a ghost story about riding motorcycles with friends through an area close to a beach after dark.  They all saw a strange shape floating in the air, and stopped after they’d ridden through the spot “did you see that?”  One of them felt chills when it went right past him. Asking in the next village, an old man told them they shouldn’t ride through that area at night.

Always thought Goa was a city, but it’s a state along the west coast, south of Mumbai. It’s about an 8-hour drive from Pune. Liquor is half price compared to Pune. The local drink is something called Fenny, a liquor made from either coconut or cashews. Another item added to the places to see list.

We are treated to Alfonso mangoes (“haapoos”) an exquisite variety, for dessert, wowzah! I know the easiest way to get all the goods out of an avocado, but a mango? Couldn’t tell ya. I always struggle with the pit and end up covered in mango mush. So I’m watching her cut one up and realize I have a recording device in my hand. I got it on video but can’t figure out how to add it to the post, so will put it up on Picasa at some point. These were melt in your mouth deeeeelicious.

A thunderstorm sends us back inside, so Sachin shares photo albums, and a large wedding album!

And I get to see Shilpa’s closet!

And some of her wedding saris (their weddings last several days, so you’ve got multiple costume changes)!  I don’t have enough exclamation points.

This was her outfit tonite, a lovely chocolate brown linen with a pintucked bib (yes, I am still lusting over it).

Shilpa says “when else will you get the chance to wear your new clothes where everyone else is wearing salwar kameez also?” She has a point.  Tomorrow, missy…  tomorrow…

birdie num num

On the agenda today?  Sleeeeeep innnnn!  Catch up on the blog, admire my kaleidoscope of new scarves from the garden spot, and how’s about we relax some more.

When I click on my Google bookmark here, it brings up the Google UK site. Which looks just like the Google US site, but with a little “UK” under the e.  How do it know? Laura Loo sez:   “ooooooooooouuuuuuuuwwwwh i can’t stand it! you’re already there and probably recovered from getting there too! are you still percited? i’m still percited fur ya! can’t wait to hear back about the lush puma room you have and all the man servants and stuff!”

It is definitely a lush room but the man servants seem to have been called away unexschpectedly. Here’s the new view:

Oh boy oh boy, here’s what the laundry looks like when it comes back all clean and pressed.

The tour director calls with today’s plan – he’ll be here at 2:30 and we’ll go see a fort on the outskirts of town, “a short drive” (whew).  Rael got in last night, after his trip was delayed a couple of weeks by the unpronounceable and unpredictable Icelandic volcano. We catch up in the lobby over coffee and cardamom cookies. I find I’m oddly relieved to talk to another American. Even though everyone’s English is fine, it’s just nice to compare notes, did you see that? Isn’t it cool how… ? Did Sachin take you to… yet? Did you notice when he puts the car in reverse it plays the theme from Titanic? Did you see the people sleeping in the streets? The naked babies? The little kids wandering through traffic hawking books?

Last week the guys pointed out a truck on the street with cops in back. If a motorcycle is parked illegally they throw it into the truck and haul it away. Across the street a motorcycle rider hurried to his bike and hopped on.  Rael said if they commit any traffic offense, the cops will just yank the key right out of the ignition.  And the bike goes, you got it, into the truck. So to me there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason on the streets, other than pure pandemonium, but some rules are being followed. And they do pay strict attention to the traffic lights. And I’m getting used to the honking, it’s fading into background noise now, part of the Pune soundtrack.

Today Shilpa is wearing a luxurious raw silk ensemble:

I could totally turn into that crazy old lady who, after one trip to India, only wears saris and salwar kameez. You’ll tell me when it gets embarrassing, right? But they’re so beautiful!

Driving SE out of town, the traffic is much lighter and, after yesterday’s excitement, I’m curious how often they see accidents.  Sachin says “Ahhhh, maybe couple of times.”  Ok good, that narrows it down.

I love the jolly little Ganesh watching over us. And the bright green offerings of chilis and fruit I see hanging from car bumpers (I think they are called nimbu mirchi), warding off accidents.

To my ear, Marathi sounds like a mixture of Thai and some Germanic language. Trying to find the fort, Shilpa rolls down the window and sing-songs “ohhh Baba…” to an old man on the sidewalk. He points us in the right direction. It’s faster than GPS.

Driving thru a tiny village before getting to the fort, we pass a group walking along carrying water pitchers on their heads, and a toddler not even 2 years old with her own toddler-size cup on her head! And every now and then a white cow with a rosy halo around its head and butt. They use the same powder as for the forehead dot, but more magenta, in their daily worship. This is the school outside the fort.

Fort Jadhavgadh was built in 1710 by a Maratha general. It’s been turned into a snazzy hotel. The hotel website says these huge steps made it easier for horses and elephants (!) to maneuver.

A horn serenade announces our arrival.

And everyone gets a dot of gold colored powder.

This was the dinner plate of Raja Jadhavrao’s favorite elephant. How would you like to keep him in kibble?

Crow, you would love it here, definitely worth a visit.

We get to tour the penthouse which has been turned into a guest room.

And take a winding staircase up to the roof.  We have to duck through tiny doors about 5’ high. The guide explains this made it harder for enemies to get their swords through, and if they were leaning over to get through the door it was much easier to behead them!

You get a nice view from the roof, lots of farmland, and a cool breeze:

They are fumigating the dungeon, but that doesn’t stop Sachin.

While we’re waiting for the restaurant to open, we wander over to the museum.

Unfortunately no photos allowed inside, but this was an extensive collection of everyday things they would have used 300 years ago – cooking utensils, hair combs, containers for oils, children’s toy sets, horse carriages, incense holders, with a quiet central courtyard.

The village kids are playing their version of stickball.

We walk through the restaurant on the way to the temple at the back of the fort. I have never smelled anything so delicious in my life. Seriously, the most a-maz-ing smells are wafting through the air. I feel like one of those cartoon characters who helplessly follows some undulating fragrance.

Ok, we will return.  We take a stroll to the 300-year-old Ganpati Temple.

Families are sitting out on the lawn, enjoying the evening, playing cards, lots of laughter.

You can stay in tents if you prefer. I ask Shilpa do they worry about malaria? “No, not this time of year.” She said they will hear about it in the news, like we hear about flu strains when they become active.

Back to the restaurant, is it open yet, isitopenyet?

Alrightee then! Sachin orders for everyone, at each meal actually. Rael originally thought he was doing it as a favor, but Shilpa says even when they go out to eat with her parents, everyone puts their menus down and lets Sachin do the honors.  Well he did cook at the Taj Hotel and he’s a font of information if you want to know what spice is in that soup.

This is the most delicious dinner EVER.  I’m sorry you can’t smell it, or taste it.  You’ll just have to go. The rice has those crunchy bits that have been sitting on the bottom of the pan, marinating in ghee…  the spices are just more subtle and complex than any curries I’ve tasted in the U.S. And for dessert? Freshly made jalebies, still warm! I have died and gone to heaven!

You can bet I eat all of them this time. I don’t care if they have to roll me down those elephant-sized stairs. There is some commotion and people are standing up looking at the fort wall, pointing, exclaiming “owlie!”

See the white dot? Sorry it’s blurry. But it was a big white owl, on the prowl for his own dinner.

One last look back.

And a big ol froggy trying to navigate the steps.

No YOU kiss it!

get outta town

It’s Saturday! Throw open the curtains to find bamboo scaffolding outside, bamboo, 9 floors up…

The painters are splattered in white paint and barefoot, easier to navigate the scaffolding that way, I suppose.

The plan today is to get outta town, to a hill station called Mahabaleshwa (say that three times fast), about 75 miles SW of Pune.  It served as the summer capital of Bombay province during the British Raj. I’m excited to see a hill station, since Woodstock, where dad and the uncles all went to school, is one also. We meet in the parking lot, Sachin, Shilpa, Sahil, Milind, and the driver. The car doesn’t have AC so they’re trying to decide should we wait for one with AC. No, let’s go!

Heading out of town, this driver subscribes to Level 2 honking (see 3 levels of honking). Admittedly there is a lot of traffic.  Today is May 1, their Labor Day, so a 3-day weekend. And we are not the only ones with the idea of visiting the hills. But it’s a spectacle, zooming by at I don’t know how many kilometers per hour.

Sachin said this is a bull market (kind of hard to see but it was a huge crowd of people):

Sachin and Shilpa are very sweet with Sahil – cajoling and silly, little inside jokes, you can tell they all truly enjoy each other. Shilpa keeps passing around yummy snacks in the car – little sweet cookies, flat round cracker breads.

Seriously, it is not necessary to encourage use of the horn.

We stop in Wai, for a visit to the Dholya Ganpati (I think) temple, built in 1762 with an idol of Ganesh inside.

To go into the smaller temple, we take off our shoes. Feels good, cooling, to wander around barefoot, like you are experiencing the place more intimately.

Back on the road.

Next stop, Sherbaug Gardens, calm and green after the traffic and exhaust.

They have a quaint outdoor cafe, sounds like a lovely spot for lunch!

Shilpa says this is a traditional Maratha sweet bread. Drizzled with ghee, yum!

Even the restrooms are quaint.  Heeding Uncle Lee’s advice to never turn down an offer of food or WC…

Next stop, the table lands in Panchgani. There are five of these plateaus, it’s a festive atmosphere up on this flat top.

How about a camel ride?

A horse cart driver is trying to sell Sachin on a ride. Sachin’s driving a hard bargain so I keep walking.

Oh yay, he got one!

OMG, no shock absorbers, grab on tight as we go jostling out to the edge of the earth.

Now to Venna Lake, a popular boating spot. As soon as we get out of the car a horse goes thundering past at full speed, his owner yelling after the rider.

Then on to the village of Mahabaleshwa and the bazaar.  Strawberries are a local specialty.

I hear a pair of shoes calling my name. They offer you a seat and then start bringing shoes to you. And they actually find a few in my size.

All the shops are open to the street, and while we’re trying on shoes it starts to rain harder and harder, until it is just dumping. Everyone takes cover under the shop awnings. Rivers are forming in the street. This is definitely more entertaining than tv, some brave souls running past under whatever they can find for an umbrella. A group of teens in the shop put all their cell phones into a plastic bag, then venture out.

Eventually our driver stops in front of the shop and we all pile in. Besides not having AC, he also doesn’t happen to have functioning windshield wipers.  And his gas gauge is close to E. And we’re not sure how to get back to the main road. He turns down a side street, head out the window, and we are in complete gridlock. Cars trying to squish through any available space, moving inches at a time. Lots of honking, shouting to shopkeepers, which way is out?

Inch forward, inch back. Time ticks by. Rain still pounding down. Every now and then a horse wanders through the chaos. I figure we are sleeping in the car, there is no way I’m seeing my 400-count cloud-like sheets tonite.

But after about an hour or so, and going half a block, the rain seems to be letting up, and we actually get onto the main road out. I never hear anyone complain about the situation. They joke, they kibitz with pedestrians, it’s an adventure.

We stop at a hotel on the way back for dinner. As soon as we sit down, the lights go out, but they come back on and we do eventually get to eat.

We’re back at the hotel by 1 am. I can’t find my card key so ask at the front desk. And by the way, would it be possible to move to another room tomorrow? (it sounds like the generator is on the roof right above my room, and when the power comes on it shudders like it’s going to shake through the ceiling)  But of course, we can move you to a quieter room right now! They even send a porter along to help me pack. Hello new quiet room, hello snow white sheets. Goodbye alarm, I won’t be needing you tonite!

yesterdayland

Checking the trusty iPhone this morning to see what time it is in Denver, it says “8:18 PM Yesterday.” Hello all you folks in Yesterdayland!

An iPhone costs around $700 here, so they buy them in the U.S. and unlock them to use with India’s phone system.

This morning’s eyeopeners:

We go to a cool old sandwich shop in Rohit’s neighborhood for lunch. It looks like it’s been around since the ‘30s.

So far I’ve had mango kulfi, mango shake, and mango lassi – all delicious.

They bake their own breads in back, and it’s the spot to buy your holiday sweets.

Next up, a quick spin thru the Pune University campus. They’re doing some renovations. Sachin says it will be lush and green once the monsoon arrives.

Pune is known in India as the “Oxford of the East”. There are 9 universities and over 100 “educational institutes.”  Universities in Pune have hundreds of thousands of undergraduates, of which over 17,000 are engineering students. Rohit says if you have a college degree, companies will hire you, no matter what your major.

At another stop, we walk into a courtyard and up several flights of stairs to see the spot Sachin grew up. “Maybe my aunt will be here.” And she is, she and his uncle live here now. Sachin says “you will like to see this.” His uncle has an elaborate shrine set up in a small room. “Yes, my uncle does all dos tings.” He switches on the lights and om shiva music starts playing.

Her kitchen, imagine all the wonderful meals that come out of this!

Sachin’s aunt gives us sugar in our palms before we go. It’s their tradition not to let a guest leave without offering food. From their front porch you can see one of the rivers (Pune is at the confluence of the Mula and Mutha rivers). Driving over the river, Sachin said he used to swim in it as a kid, but now he wouldn’t let Sahil swim, it’s too polluted.

Back to work, we have training scheduled for the afternoon.  We leave around 7pm, picking up Shilpa and Sahil on the way to Rohit’s.  He has graciously invited us for dinner. Sahil is a beautiful boy, huge brown eyes. Shilpa is wearing a turquoise blue silk salwar kameez that she designed, with a chiffon scarf of the same blue that fades to dark red/orange on the ends.

Rohit’s wife is a school teacher, for 4th and 5th standards (grades). She said class size is around 50 kids. “It used to be between 60 and 100 kids to a classroom, so this is much better.” It’s the start of her summer vacation and here she is cooking for about 10 people!

But I’m so excited to see another actual home and kitchen! They keep a big round pitcher of water on the counter “in case the water goes out.” And she uses a pressure cooker for the dal “or we’d be in the kitchen all day.”

As much as I would appreciate it if my mind functioned like a tape recorder, it does not. Rohit is full of interesting facts about Pune, Goa, Kerala, and passes around photo books from various family vacations.

They’ve got a beautiful rooftop patio lined with lush plants. The air is warm and the low hum of honking and brakes floats up from the street. Anand tells a joke involving Donald Duck impersonations, he’s got the quack down. And entertains with a song from classical Indian music. He has a lovely voice and the hand gestures to go with it. I ask what the lyrics are saying. “Oh, that would take several days to explain.”

Rohit says “my daughter would like to show you her laser light display.” We relocate to the darkened living room, where she’s got a dance hit (Tik Tok by Kesha, I think?) pounding out of the speakers. We all join hands and dance around in a circle, with everyone taking a turn in the middle (except the daughter, teenage shyness kicks in).  The guys are into it, moonwalking, spinning, there may have even been a sprinkler move thrown in.

On the menu for dinner, a cinnamon-y chicken curry, a veg curry that is kind of spicy (she says “we would normally make it much hotter!”), rice, dal, raita with celery seeds, and homemade chapattis! This is such a treat, everything is delicious.

For desert, jewel-like Bengali candies and jelebis!! Even with the pre-dinner dancing, there isn’t enough room in mah belly for more than one crunchy sweet jelebi, sob!

They won’t eat until all their guests have been served, and we don’t leave until around midnight, full and happy. Another amazing experience in todayland.

The baked tomatoes at breakfast are covered in fragrant cracked pepper. If we can’t put spices on it, we shall encrust it in black pepper for you. It’s the least we can do.  The mango lime chili eye opener shot this morning has a really nice level of spice, very smooth, I could make this in the blender at home!

Decoration around the fountain in the lobby:

Yesterday I got to the office at the same time as one of the admin guys, so he let me in, turned on lights and power in my office, brought me a new bottle of chilled water. Same thing today, I feel very spoiled. Instead of a red dot (sindoor?), today Priyanka has a little design between her eyebrows. She said she draws them on herself. Will have to start taking photos of her saris.

After the thrill of the cab ride, it’s very calm, cool, quiet inside. Muffled honks from the street and what sound like peacock calls. And a bird that reminds me of someone trying to start a motorcycle, turning over 5 or 6 times.

It is very strange during the day to not get any emails.  There’s just a pack in the morning when I log on.  Does feel very remote.  And I’m aware of having to be super careful before sending stuff back so I don’t waste a day with errors.

Sachin drives the lunch bunch to Shabari on Ghole Road for thali today!  I’m struck by how calm he is behind the wheel. Amazingly, it doesn’t seem like any of the drivers are upset by the traffic.

They put the platters down and the food starts coming. A thali usually includes two vegetables, a dal, salad, rotis, rice, papadum and vadas – deep fried patties made from gram flour and lentils.

Plus chutneys, fresh limes and red onions.

And my new fave, dahi vada, in a creamy yogurty coconut sauce.

And a little mango puree for good measure!

After lunch Anand offers us paan masala, from the seller outside the restaurant.

This is the sweet version, filled with coconut, fruit preserves, rose petal preserve and spices. With a cherry on top.

They chew paan as a palate cleanser, a breath freshener, and for digestion.  I bite into a corner for a taste – yowzah, that’s an intense blast of mint!  Just put the paan down and no one will get hurt.

Each car ride we take is a feast for the eyes.  Let us say the ladies embrace the bling here. Elaborate silk saris with gold or silver woven borders, lots of spangles, and full on color just seem to be everyday wear.

Plus everyone seems to have beautifully straight posture and they walk with a stately gait. No scurrying about.

Dave Baar stops by to chat, he’s in the office this week from the states also.  He says oh did you know Pune is in a bowl, with four dams keeping everything from floating away? He asks Sachin “do you all talk about that much?” Sachin says “nope.” It’s probably like living in San Francisco, you’re aware of the earthquakes. Water levels are really low now, but monsoon season hasn’t started yet.

Sachin says almost everyone in India uses CorelDraw instead of Illustrator, and that PageMaker is the standard, not InDesign. I didn’t even realize PageMaker was still around.

Sachin, Anand and I go to Thousand Oaks for dinner, a mildly Tudorish looking spot. They’ve got a nice outdoor seating area and the temp is perfect in the evenings.

Still stuffed from lunch, my stomach isn’t on the Pune dining schedule yet. Plus they eat much later here, dinner starts around 9 and goes until 11 or midnight.

I am little-kid excited to send something off to be laundered at the hotel.  Some of the items on the laundry form under men’s wear – safari suit, pyjama suit, kurta. And under women’s wear – saree, petticoat, salwar kemeez, dupatta, night dress.

I got a beautiful knee-length grey silk skirt and matching jacket for the trip, but I haven’t seen anyone here wear a skirt. It’s saris or salwar kameez to the floor. Whew, I spot a knee length skirt on one other girl at breakfast, she’s Japanese.

If you’re waiting in the hotel lobby alone, the concierge comes up and chats, keeps you company. I ask her about religions here and she says 71% are Hindu (not 70, not 72), and the rest are Christian or “Mohammedan”.  When I asked the driver yesterday he said it’s all three evenly. Maybe it depends on which religion you follow.

Into the car for work, down the serene driveway, and onto the street – pure cacophony.

Sachin says there are three levels of honking. “The fust is a nervous driver, he yust honks at everyting. The second is pretty arrogant? He makes his own way. The third is just a ‘hey I am heere, coming up on your side, go slowly!’”

Oh and there were 2 camels crossing the bridge! (wasn’t quite quick enuf with the camera)

I get to sit in on a brown bag lunch meeting with about a dozen from the office, led by Uma Ghate.

They go around the table and talk about what they’re working on, how it benefits the office and ties in with others’ work. Discussion is all in English, I’m guessing for my benefit, which I thought was very generous. They switch back and forth between languages effortlessly.

Uma says they have 20 open positions they’re hiring for at the moment. They have 5 floors of a 7 (or 8?) story building, a little over a 100 people. Sounds like they will soon outgrow the building.

The lunch boxes are kedgeree (rice and dal mixed together, nice and mild, sounds simple but was delicious), and a soup that tastes yogurty. Or pizza from Dominoes. “Do you have Dominoes in the U.S.?”

The guys take me on a tour of the building and roof, where you look down on a solid canopy of lush green.

The fab four:  Milind, Rohit, Anand, and Sachin

Ed Barnhurst is here for 3 weeks at a time every quarter. He’s working on the Portland proposal we just did, I recognize the Kelly Butte cover on his desk! Cool to see the next step in the process. I have a terrible time remembering names of everyone we meet… they are so exotic, so much for my ability to speak much more than English. Everyone is gracious about introducing themselves, explaining what they do, talking up others’ fine points. Turns out Sachin had organized a photo competition for the office – how come we haven’t seen the pics!

I want to take a photo of the fruit vendor across the street, so we wander out, and get some shots of the MWH building too.

It’s quiet on their street, calm under the tree canopy shielding you from blistering midday sun. When the scooters and tuk tuks putt by, they are surprisingly quiet. All kinds of interesting bikes in the parking lot.

Rohit, I think, says the economy in Pune is very good, up 7%. They aren’t feeling the recession anymore.

On the agenda this evening, Mandai – the vegetable bazaar in the old part of the city, with Sachin and Anand.

Love being in the middle of something so exotic and authentic.

There is a basket of things that look like embroidery hoops, with patterns screened in, for making the colored sand designs they put outside their doors. And strands of delicate white flowers (jasmine?) strung on cord, for the women to decorate their hair.

Orderly piles of betel leaves, with the seller sitting cross legged on the table.

The guys say this is mango season, amid stacks and triangular stacks of mangoes – what luck!

Smells are more intense here – humidity carries the fragrance of trees and perfume farther. The tuk tuk driver yesterday smelled faintly of fine sandalwood.

At the housewares market – Tulshi Baug – Sachin points out bronze nut crackers. Yep, one please. What are these for? Sachin says “Ahhhh, we call dem Ganesha’s mother.”

They dress them up with saris and flowers for a 5-day celebration of Ganesh at his father’s house. His father owns 2 of these torsos. They will be handed down to Sachin, as the oldest son.

There are shrines hidden around every corner.

Have been running on shopping adrenaline. But now I’m too wiped out for dinner, just collapse back at the hotel and feebly order herb chicken, which hits the spot. Nothing has bothered my stomach yet, but everything has just a little bit of spicy heat. Everything.

The wines here are crazy expensive. The converter in the Frommer’s iPhone app (all time favorite app at the moment) says around $60 for a basic bottle of Australian wine. I can wait.