More to come… so much to see, too little time to blog!
Since my sinuses hurt just writing about Kathmandu I want to move on, but we have to visit Pashpatinath, the holiest of Hindu religious sites in Nepal. We immediately hire one of the students touting themselves as guides. Always do this. Here you walk among temples built around the time Europeans were stacking logs at Jamestown … temples devoted to that wild and crazy guy, Shiva, who in the pantheon of Hindu gods has the most questionable of biographies. Shiva’s story at Pashpatinath is too fantastical for me to tell – you’d think I was drunk and not just hung-over – suffice to say it’s a story involving a godly (large) phallus, a stag with one magical horn, an ocean of blue poison, a cow with enchanted milk, and said phallus transforming itself into a pillar of light. This story, quite illogically, makes Pashpatinath, with its ragged line-up of funeral ghats on the Bagmati River, the place to go to dispose of the dead. Count me in.
We are allowed to wander among the pyres to watch people dispose of the dead by burning their ‘booddies’ into fine ash … or not-so-fine depending how much fuel you can afford, and sweeping them into a rather inadequate – at the moment – barely-moving river. The Bagmati, at the end of the monsoon season, is a trickle and must be diverted into a narrow channel below the funeral ghats to receive the fricasseed remains of the departed’s temporal vessel. Not to make light of this tableaux because it is very moving and is treated reverently by our guide … whose name was probably Krishna. Don’t remember.
The fellow that acts as, and I am sorry to use this word, ‘barbequer’ does so because he is of that caste … of cremators. After the ‘booddie’ is incinerated and swept into the water, another sad soul in a dhoti (loincloth) wades knee deep into the squalid mud and fishes around with his hands for any jewelry that the departed may have been wearing … this is customary. The family will not reclaim it and only those of particular caste are allowed this ‘opportunity’.
Pashputinath is also a destination for wandering sadhus, ascetic holymen, who have abandon all material attachments in search for purity and enlightenment and ….
… occasional tips for photographs. How to tell the difference between a real sadhu’ and a pretend one … this from Krishna. The pretend ones negotiate the tip for a photo.
… and won’t stay in places like this.
btw If my wife ever gets a clue and leaves me here is where you will find me
One nice thing about trans-pacific flights is that you get fly Asian airlines. In this case Singapore Air to Seoul then Thai Air to Bangkok There is an old school elegance on international carriers, particularly the Asian ones. The flight attendants are generally young, beautifully-attired and coiffed with body styles that … let’s say and risk political incorrectness … don’t knock the coffee out of your hand as the they pass down the aisle. Which brings me … I can’t help it … to United Airlines, whose motto could be: ‘We are the not the World’s Most Exasperating Airline because we don’t try’. On our UAL connector flight from Reno to SF we settle in, the doors close and then (shockingly) nothing happens until a flight attendant hurries down the aisle opening every overhead luggage hatch … the things you are supposed close before take-off, right ? Notwithstanding the troubling impression this created in the absence of any explanation, here is the eventual announcement from the United Airlines flight attendant. This is word-for-word because I wrote it down in my Fun Facts for a United Airlines Class Action Lawsuit notebook … Vol. 3
“We have too much weight in the cargo hold and if we can’t move luggage into the overheads we will have to de-plane passengers”
Since the overheads are barely big enough to hold a box of girl scout cookies, there came this follow-up announcement: “Passenger Ivan Kofsalotsky (?) please report to the flight attendant” … which was easy since she was standing over him like Broomhilda. Mr Kofsalotsky, a befuddled old foreign national whom I am guessing had a stand-by ticket and a language problem, was hustled down the aisle clutching his carry-on to his chest. It looked like that movie scene where the Nazis find the Jew on on the train. Anyway as we sit some time longer on the tarmac, we flash back to our last United connector flight to SF which cost us our overseas flight connection to Paris – and our luggage, when an even more confused Mr Kofalotsky is shuffled back onto the plane with no explanation. I figured they probably just tossed a couple of bags out on the tarmac and off we went with Mr Kofalotsky back in his seat still clutching his carry-on.
This time we were just sitting around in my brother’s North Beach apartment over Christmas discussing travel bucket lists with the family. It was one of those rainy holiday Sundays when you eat and drink yourself into a warm couch potato stupor. The idea just popped out of that part of my wine-soaked brain that controls the involuntary tongue muscles.
“We should do the Annapurna base camp. They call it the Sanctuary you know. It must be really special.
Are we out of brie?”
To ‘do’ the ABC, as it is known, means an eleven day trek in Western Nepal from a steamy hot 3000 ft to snow and ice at 14000 ft. … all to stand in a glacial amphitheater of some the most highest and dramatic mountain peaks in the world.
I was thinking, if that’s what you want to call it, that Nick is fresh put of school with not much of anything to do that he couldn’t interrupt for a few weeks, so the idea of the three of us going to Nepal seemed so … I don’t know … dad-macho ? Dad-macho is where you trash talk your son, who used to be 8 and is now somehow 23, into a game of one-on-one when you haven’t played basketball in 20 years and your first six shots miss the rim entirely and the seventh tears your rotator cuff. But the thing is, you see, Nick has taken to calling me ‘old man’.
I do have some history here. Just enough to give the idea some cred. I had been to the Annapurna region in central Nepal twice before. I trekked on a lower elevation circuit with Jacki twenty-five years ago, which a quick calculation indicates that I was at the time … let’s see … twenty five years younger. Then I went again thirteen years ago with some buddies. On that trip we ‘flinched’ and elected to fly in (and up) to Jomoson and then hike out (and down). A stroll really, and at that time I was teaching martial arts three days week … okay, it was to 10 yr-olds, but I was still in pretty good shape with all the punching and kicking. Nevertheless comparing those two treks with hiking to Annapurna Base Camp is like comparing a full moon party on the beach with actually going tothe moon. Anyway at that point, practically speaking, the likelihood of actually doing this was rather remote. I assumed the conversation would just move on.
But I forgot Jacki was in the room. The planning had already begun when I woke up from my nap.
This picture indicates where Jacki is in her Nepal planning
We left Paris on a bullet train heading to the south of France. They could also call it the quiet train. Here is something Americans in France should learn right away. Pipe down. The French speak to each other in cafes, in hotel lobbies, and on trains, in hushed voices. Americans talk to each other like they are ordering hot dogs at a ball park. I suppose like me:
Le Conductor: “Un billet monsieur” ?
Le Me: “No thank you. I went at the station
LC “Your ticket please”
LM “Oh. Here ya go. So you have le dining car ?
LC “Oui … two cars forward monsieur. You must have the reservation”
LM “ Tres Bien ! Where do I make the reservation ?
LC “From your seat monsieur. They can hear you in the dining car”
I like trains. I think trains are most comfortable and relaxing way to travel, and sometimes the most elegant. You can wander around on a train. Meet people. Go for a beer instead of waiting for one. So it’s not news that train travel in Europe is a different experience than it is in the United States. The French word for train is … train. Here the similarity ends. The French railway is known as the TGV Train à Grande Vitesse. (trans: ‘train that goes really fast’). It travels 200 mph and is powered by electricity from French nuclear power plants. In America the train is called Amtrak, and I do not know the average speed of American trains, but if you look out the window you could likely see Dudley Do-Right galloping past your car to untie Nell from the tracks. The last Amtrak train Jacki and I rode from Denver to San Francisco arrived 18 hours late ! By the time Amtrak got us to San Francisco the passengers had become zombie-fied. We had bad hair and were all shuffling and moaning in a line-up in the dining car waiting for our rations of Goldfish crackers.
You should never take an Amtrak train to a wedding, a funeral or the Super Bowl.
However if you like train travel there is a problem with the French bullet train. It gets there way too soon. Bullet is right. This train flew. It seemed like we arrived before we sat down. We had set out the cheese, crackers and sausage, a French mustard and a bottle of wine on our little train table when all of a sudden the Toulouse sign, our destination, flashes by the train window. “Mon dieu we’re here !?” Now I am Steve Martin scrambling to gather the wine bottle (can’t find the the cork ), half-wrapped cheese, (crackers on my lap, crumbs on my face), guide book under one armpit – phrase book under the other, hurrying to get off at our all-of-a-sudden stop. Jacki is somehow perfectly organized, but I am stumbling down the aisle with our picnic pressed to my chest. ‘Scusay moi ‘scusay moi’ !
A lovely French lady let me know, in a soft voice that I barely heard, that was I leaving my jacket in the overhead which just happened to have my cell phone in one pocket and my passport in the other. This is the day after we got all our luggage back.
The French train that took us from Paris to Toulouse The Amtrak train that took us from Denver to San Francisco
Before Computers (& Cell Phones)
In ancient times, (the 1980’s) travel meant being disconnected from everything you knew. You had no choice but to “Be Here Now”. Keeping track of your kids meant parents had to settle for the occasional postcard from their 20-something backpackers, or in our case, cyclists. When the only way for travelers to get word from home, was to retrieve snail mail at American Express offices, or make a very expensive phone call.
I have a vivid memory of waiting in the Paris post office for my name to be called. That’s how Eurailers phoned home in 1982. You went to the post office, wrote your name, and the number you wanted to call, on a scrap of paper, waited in line, handed it over to an operator, then sat and waited some more, wondering if your mom, dad, or boyfriend would be home to accept the collect call charges. If your timing was good, you’d hear announced: “Julie Conover, cabine trios”. In the small phone booth, a wooden cabin, you’d pick up the receiver and hopefully hear the correct voice. Then, anxious over the per-minute charges ticking away, you’d hurriedly give an account of your recent adventures, ask for money to be wired from your savings account to the Western Union office, or find out that your boyfriend wasn’t necessarily waiting for you anymore. (Oh well, c’est la vie, he was a world away, and you had more exciting experiences ahead)
Getting mail was a real crap shoot, but amazingly worked pretty well. You had to tell your friends and family approximately when you would be in a certain city, then they had to mail their letter in plenty of time, and hope that it would end up in the right pile, at the right AmEx office, where you’d show up to cash a travelers check. It was always so exciting when you gave them your name and there was actually something for you. I can still picture the scruffy-looking, weary travelers sitting on the AmEx steps, the curb, a park bench; smiling or crying, over a letter from home.
GPS? Ah, negative. We rode bicycles for 6 months using a AAA road map showing the whole of Europe, and a dissected “Lets Go” guide – we would tear out the parts we had no use for, carrying only the currently relevant sections. When we needed directions, we asked locals. Getting lost was part of the fun. Ya think? Actually, no, getting lost on bikes is typically not fun.
Fast forward 30 years… I miss that kind of travel. Being so disconnected from home, friends, family, our native tongue, we were much more connected to our surroundings. I guess that is why I gravitate towards off-the-beaten-path places, I am subconsciously trying to create that feeling again. I actually hate having a TV a hotel room, and see clearly how the ubiquitous wifi of Southeast Asia, is more of a curse than a blessing. My favorite place in Laos this trip was a small village, only accessible by boat, with no electricity. I hung out for hours at candle lit restaurants chatting with travelers, star gazed, walked to neighboring villages, read, and, downloaded pictures to my laptop.
My pal, Passport to Adventure’s Julie Conover – it turns out – wrote a killer blog on traveling and relationships prior to my own, which she re-posted I believe as somewhat of a comeback to the drivel I wrote. She goes after the same point ( ok … more coherently) but clearly from the female perspective. Any female perspective on men, as most men know, is slightly delusional. It is scientifically accepted that women must be ‘slightly delusional’ about men otherwise the species would never get propagated.
Julie’s post requires further comment … Read it here
Ok did you read Julie’s essay ? Then let’s review shall we … to quote Julie:
You will also see what kind of team the two of you make. Are you both struggling to be the leader?
Umm … no. The male should never engage in a struggle to be ‘the leader’. The male traveler is advised to always follow a step and a half behind the female as she will be the one who knows how to get back to the hotel room.
Or do you fall into natural, comfortable roles?
This is important. One partner should be able to follow a map, as well as know where the map is … the other should be able to carry both the luggage and the three-foot wooden replica of the Balinese fishing boat that he (of course) just bought as a mantelpiece. (note: that partner will not know at this point that the wooden fishing boat will never be allowed out the garage let alone on the mantel)
When one person is having an off day, does the other “step up”, or crumble at having to pick up the slack?
See this is what I mean … the female sees ‘slack’ as something that must be ‘picked up’. To the male ‘slack’ is a goal.
Faced with missing our return flight from Milan to the U.S., David sprang into action. While I sat on the curb with our bags
I found this troubling. This is not characteristic male behavior. The male traveler does not typically ‘spring into action’ to do anything unless he has ‘dehli belly’ or is trying to make Happy Hour. You will notice in Julie’s post David is carrying a ‘man purse’ in picture #1 which may explain a few things
and I was impressed by his ability to keep cool under pressure.
Oh la de da ! Speaking of ‘pressure’ if you look closely at David’s luggage in picture #2, it is hanging from a right arm clearly four inches longer than the left. This means his luggage is likely also 75 pounds, and if the zippers ‘sprang’ all of a sudden, his clothes would be plastered all over the walls and ceiling of a medium-sized hotel room.
This is a male traveler being prepped for the unlikely eventuality he will have to ‘spring into action’
This is the same traveler after actually ‘springing into action”
My wife once said this to my 23 year-old son about his budding relationships ….
“Before you make a commitment to the girl you think you might want to spend your life with you should travel together. When you travel you replace the responsibilities and hassles that can weigh you down in every day life with the excitement of navigating through different cultures and foreign lands. If you don’t get along in circumstances when you’re relaxed, happy and wide-eyed with wonder then you likely never will”.
The second and third sentences in that quote are actually my expansion of Jacki’s point. Jacki doesn’t talk like that, especially to Nick. She and Nick are on a less verbal mother-son wavelength that I can only try to reduce to writing. Nevertheless I like to think that Jacki is, of course, thinking about our relationship when she says things like this and that would be heartwarming … if it were true.
Here’s my version of the theory about travel and relationships: women will find out everything they need to know about men when they travel with them; therefore, traveling with a man allows a woman to more easily adjust to the stupendous compromises they must make when she actually has to live with one.
I should however point out that it’s on the woman if she is deceived in judging a man by how easy he is to travel with … let’s bullet point a few examples of potential misunderstandings:
- while traveling men frequently use separate restrooms so it doesn’t matter if they don’t put down the toilet seat,
- while traveling men have to keep their all stuff in one small confined space, namely a piece of luggage, and not scattered all over the house,
- while traveling men can’t spend hours watching ESPN. In Thailand anyway. Here it is important for the woman making the call on a particular man to take note of what he actually does spend hours watching while in Thailand.
- lastly, travel is an enterprise in which you divide the planning and research and then the everyday decisions about where to go and what to do… equally ! ‘ppllllpphhttt’ … ( whoops that was me spitting up orange juice through my nostrils). The only thing I do in preparing for a trip abroad is pack my own clothes … using the helpful list Jacki gives me. About packing: Jacki’s luggage is a marvel of forethought and organization. She employs plastic bags with air valves that you can sit on to reduce the volume of, say, the down coat she will bring to Maui just in case it cools off. She also uses these little zip-around mesh containers that divide your stuff into alphabetical categories which fit like puzzle pieces into her luggage which she then organizes by country; so if she wants her umbrella in Uruguay, there it is. Me ? What I pack depends entirely on the size of the luggage piece I choose. I have two choices at my disposal: the small gray one which holds just enough to go to the gym for the afternoon; and the big maroon one which holds more than enough to invade Normandy. I usually choose the big maroon one which I pack until it is full. It will then weigh in around 75 pounds what with the dartboard and lawn chair I packed because I had the room. I too sit on my luggage, not to economize volume but to get the zippers to engage. Here is a packing tip for guys: roll everything into tight balls as it saves space. The only problem is that you won’t recognize your own clothing rolled-up because it does not look like it does at home stuffed into dresser drawers or piled up on the closet floor. You will likely have to unroll it all find the Red Sox t-shirt you want to wear to the Louvre. It is unlikely that you will then re-roll everything after you have opened your luggage for the first time; consequently for the rest of your trip the inside of your bag will look just like your closet floor, actually making things much easier to find. The mess your clothes will be in after opening your bag the first time also makes it more likely you will leave articles of clothing behind unnoticed in various hotel rooms thereby lightening your load. I call this organic packing. You can learn more on my travel website as soon a Jacki gets it up and running.
Back to relationships. While traveling women still get to make all the important daily decisions. In a foreign land men must be completely okay with this concept because they generally have no idea where they are or how they got there; and remember it’s your wife who knows where your return airline tickets are at all times and therefore how you are going to get home … to watch ESPN.
Disclosure: I am expanding this latter point to include all men even though I am referring to me because I believe I am generally correct
Before I leave this subject once and for all I offer these two photographs to support my conviction that the design of the Eiffel Tower was directly influenced by French Lingerie.
Now … see what I mean !?
I have several Grand Theories about things and one of them is that wherever the French have been in the world they transform the cuisine. I have been to a few of those places: Vietnam and Laos, the old French Indochina. Thailand by association. French Polynesia. Montreal. Even New Orleans. All great places for food … and bread. I would bet that if the French had invaded your home town a hundred years ago and then they were inevitably driven out by say, the local PTA, you would nevertheless be left with three French restaurants and, for the next century, all the townsfolk would be walking around carrying baguettes under their arms.
I had high expectations of dining out in Paris. It is true that every restaurant in which we dined was loaded with charm and ambience; but really, anytime all the people sitting around you are speaking French while you eat, that’s ambience, n’est-il pas ?
Here’s the thing about the food though, if you’ve cleaned up your diet brace yourself to be confronted with the likes of … ‘confit’, duck preserved in it’s own fat then cooked in its own fat and served with potatoes cooked in the same fat; or terrine, a cross between fruitcake and spam; or cassoulet, a casserole stuffed with white beans and the meat of whatever on two or four legs happens to be wandering around the backyard. And don’t even talk to my wife about foie gras and the latest outrage among foodies, The Goose Inquisition. This is Crusader food. You actually are introduced to forcemeats.
The first French cookbook dates back to Louis XIV …. Le Cuisinier Royal so that you know I actually researched this. Its revelation was the joy of cooking with pork fat. It was then updated in 1712. Not since apparently.
Lest you think I am le rube, I know I am being flip and ignoring the refinements that followed from the influences of iconic French chefs like Marie-Antoine Caremel, Escoffier and, later, the nouvelle cuisine of Paul Bocuse. The evolution was away from heavy sauces and more reliance on the natural flavors. Americans like me, who keep on-hand an arsenal of stuff in bottles and shakers to dump on food before I taste it, find nouvelle cuisine dishes …well, subtle.
“Hows your meal”.
“I don’t know it tastes like … fish.”
“It is fish”
“How do you say ‘Got any lemon pepper’ ?”
When you studied American history did you learn who George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s chef’s were ? The French know this kind of thing.
This is just the salad (yes, we started with the salad). Looking closely you will see two rounds of warm goat cheese (le chevre) , only slightly smaller than hockey pucks, but much tastier … but then I ever eaten a hockey puck prepared by a French chef.
This is of course les escargot. Notice anything missing ? There are no pools of creamy garlic butter to sop up with your french bread. Sacre bleu ! C’est un scandale ! My Aunt Helen (again) had a plastic tube of snail shells exactly like the ones pictured and she made her escargot just like this … with little spring loaded clippers to hold the shell, but no butter.
Here’s a helpful phrase when you get your first look at the calorie-laden food as it arrives.
“Oh what the hell. We’re in Paris !”
You can also use this phrase when the bill arrives – right after “Holy Crap!”
From my luggage, recently back from Ibezia, I sprung my faux oil-skin belted trench coat inspired by the Pink Panther movies, which I will wear to the Eiffel Tower with my new pencil-thin moustache.
I don’t know about you, but I never thought that much of the Eiffel Tower. I actually grew up with the Eiffel Tower in my living room. When I was a kid my Aunt Helen brought back an Eiffel Tower statuette from Paris where she lived in the 1930’s, a time when the Nazis were in town. They hadn’t invaded yet, but they did come to shop, alongside, apparently, my Aunt Helen. Her mini-Eiffel Tower gift to us kids was silvery so right away the wrong color and it sat forever on our nic-nac shelf, tacky even to a six-year old. It was also boring and not fun to play with, so I never thought much of the Eiffel Tower. I should quickly mention here that my Aunt Helen was not herself a Nazi. Anyway it always looked to me like a big radio tower.
Now I have a somewhat different opinion. La Tour Eiffel is tall, elegant and beautifully proportioned; and while it’s a mass of iron, it appears light and almost delicate. From a distance the mesh of steelwork looks like ? I have to say it … fine lace and frill. Mssr Eiffel was evidently inspired by French Lingerie. The way the Tower gracefully flares at the bottom, it looks like it could stick out a leg and toss its head back. Kind of like … a Parisian woman .
This has to be the last of my posts on Parisian women. Next we move onto the Inquisition.