9.30.2009

Ayudha Puja ~ A Day Of Blessings

Late this afternoon, my gardener and driver performed the Ayudha Puja ceremony in our front yard. If you remember from last year, all tools, vehicles, machines, and other devices are cleaned, polished, dressed, and blessed. They smeared turmeric, sandalwood paste, and KumKum all over the car, bikes, and their motorcycles, and then adorned the car with flowers and banana leaves.

The Ayudha Puja is usually celebrated on the 9th day during the Navrathi period, and is an integral part of the Dasara festival. Special prayers are offered to goddess Saraswati - the divine source of wisdom and enlightenment. I offered my own prayer during this day too... for a few less mosquitoes in the car each morning.

Riley and Sheridan both helped participate in the Puja. They decorated the driveway and were adorned with the spice pastes. Libby just laid around, though she too had a small opportunity to be blessed as you'll see in the video.

The original video of the Puja is over 10 minutes, so I edited it down as best I could. For reference, the man in the button down shirt is my driver, and my gardener is in the white t-shirt and shorts. You're lucky he dressed up for the occasion... usually he does his work in just his shorts.


video





9.28.2009

We Came ... We Saw ... and Yes, We Had Vomit

On Saturday morning we checked out of our hotel and began the arduous drive from Jaipur to Agra; playing chicken with other vehicles, herds of camels, cows, and bullock carts. It took us five hours down these long country highways ... some paved and some not.

A girlfriend recommended we perform guerrilla tourism in Agra stating, "It's a dump. Get in, get your photos, and get out."

We rolled into our hotel, dusty, hot, and road weary. We were hungry and we were tired. The hotel was adequate ... a little dated and a lot musty. It looked like they hadn't redecorated since the 70's with glass beading and dark wood. After a brief respit, we met our guide and headed off to the Red Fort, which is depicted as the most important fort in India. There the great Mughals lived, and where for over four hundred years, the country was governed. At the fort, as is de riguer for any major tourist site here in India, we waded through the sea of hawkers, pushing a multitude of sundry POS mementos probably made in China. As Matt and I hold diplomatic IDs, we were lucky enough to pay the 'local' admission price vice the tourist fee marked up more than 1000%. The fort proved interesting and it being late afternoon, the weather was bearable. We didn't stay long, just enough to walk through the 20% of it that was available for public viewing. Then it was back for a quick dinner and camera recharging; a chance to rest up for our big day... the pinnacle of our trip ... to one of the seven wonders of the world ... the Taj Mahal.

Now would be a good time to mention that during my in-laws entire visit, and especially this trip, that Grady was teething. In fact, he cut his first tooth just two days prior to our vacation, and is still working on the other tooth breaking through. This has caused many hours of fussiness, rashes, dirty diapers, and the frustration of four adults trying to calm an at times inconsolable baby. Additionally, Riley and Sheridan both had head colds that appeared to get worse over time.

So in true Perlman form, the ailments reached a crescendo and reared their ugly head on Sunday morning. Grady woke up twice... at 2 am, and then again at 4:55 am when he refused to go back to sleep. Matt woke up with a raging sinus infection that had him feeling like he'd been punched square between the eyes. And I woke up with extreme stomach cramps, so debilitating that I couldn't get out of bed. I thought it was my GERD acting up, though even after two extra strength Tylenol, an 800 mg Ibuprofen, and four Tums, it didn't let up. I was in pain.

But we were going to the Taj Mahal. The Taj M-frickin-Hall! I refused to let my stomach pains get in the way of seeing this monument, of reveling in the architecture, of ruining our family holiday card. I slowly got everyone ready, and by 9:15 we were out the door. A short drive to the ticket counter where we again got our 'local' admission price, and then into the golf cart we went for the 1 km ride to the entrance. During this time my stomach was spasming, and I was praying that with deep breaths and focusing on the surroundings, I could work through the pain and "get in and get out."

Unfortunately, none of it went the way I had planned. As we approached the marble archway thus revealing the Taj Mahal, the pain in my stomach hit an all time high, and I immediately doubled over in agony, unable to take a single photo. In the 100 + degree heat, I got the cold sweats, and knew that it was only moments before I was going to throw up.

I quickly handed the baby to Matt, along with the video camera, DSLR camera, and my point and shoot, and headed for a quiet space to do my business... which was difficult as there were thousands of people occupying every available square inch. Thankfully I found a place quickly... because I soon bent over and got to re-live the previous evening's dinner. While my MIL stayed with me to 'hold my hair', Matt, his dad, the guide, and the kids set off to view the Taj. However, it was a short trip as they all returned less than thirty minutes later overheated and drenched in sweat. By that time I was feeling somewhat better, just enough to attempt one family photo... though, it was so horrible that I refused to have it posted. We had to go.

I left the Taj Mahal absent my family photo, breakfast, or dignity. I felt like Clark Griswold in the movie Vacation where he visits the Grand Canyon for 2.3 seconds. How anti climactic.

We checked out of the hotel around 1 pm and made the long drive back to Delhi for our 8 pm flight to Chennai. Another long, arduous drive only to be followed up by a 3 hour flight. For four hours and fifty-five minutes, the car ride to the airport proved uneventful. However, as predictable as a fine Swiss watch, Sheridan turned to Matt and mumbled something about vomit. Having been through this drill before, we quickly produced an airline vomit bag and Purell hand wipes, only seconds too late ... as Sheridan's first heave was into her cupped hands before Matt could contain the rest in the vomit bag. [Insert eye rolling and four letter words mumbled under breath here.] By the time we arrived at the airport five minutes later, Sheridan was cleaned up, the bag was sealed, and we were more than ready for our final leg of this disastrous day.

As I drifted off to sleep last night, thankful to be in my own bed, my only consolation was knowing that one day I would find this story funny. With no holiday photo in hand, today just isn't that day.




The Red Fort



Views of the Taj Mahal...
... on the left from the Red Fort ... on the right from as close as I got to the monument

9.25.2009

Seeing Pink... in Jaipur

A labyrinth of fascinating bazaars, opulent palaces and historic sights, Jaipur is often called the "Pink City" because its prominent buildings are washed in this color. Work on this city began in 1727, took six years to complete, and is laid out in a geometric grid of streets and squares ... one of India's finest examples of a planned city.

On Thursday we woke up at 4 am, got in the van at 5 am for the airport, and hopped on a 6:45 am flight to Delhi. After landing, we met our car and driver and headed southwest to Jaipur. Thankfully, we survived the 5 hour drive unscathed. After checking into our hotel, a former palace which had the girls giddy with delight, we were off for an early evening of sight seeing and shopping ... heavy on the shopping.

Today our first stop was to the Amber Fort, initially a palace established in 1592 by Raja Man Singh I. The fort offers a panoramic view of Moata Lake and the historic old town at the base of the hill. In order to get up the hill, we had to take a jeep up the steep and narrow roads. We were met at the top with gorgeous views overlooking Jaipur, spectacular architecture of the fort and surrounding city walls, and hoards of hockers selling their wares. Our guide walked us through the fort, explaining in detail every wall, every building, every design. After snapping as many photos as we could, while dealing with the girls who were obviously bored out of their mind, we were ready to move on. While walking back, Matt couldn't contain his frustration with the throngs of annoying peddlers, so he tried to sell a half-empty bottle of Sprite to every single person who tried to sell him an ugly pen, postcard, mirror, or funky instrument. Amazing how quickly they went away.

We drove through the Old City of Jaipur, snapped a few photos of the Water Palace, stopped at the City Palace to take photos of the facade which has over 900 windows, and then Matt and I separated from everyone so we could go carpet shopping. With a referral from a friend in Chennai, we stopped at a family run carpet factory just outside the old city. There, we got to see how block printing was done to make table cloths, and had an amazing step-by-step demonstration of how carpets are made on the loom... all the way through selling the finished product. It was very cool. We then purchased two carpets... after several hours of looking, feeling, touching, switching, comparing, and visualizing the furniture at our house in Chennai and what we have in storage in Maryland. Matt and I finished our carpet expedition by having a traditional Indian lunch with the shop owners. We're building relationships!

After a final stop at a shop to pick up some cushions I found far less up here than in Chennai, we went back to the hotel where we met the girls and Matt's folks, who then went shopping in the early evening.

Tomorrow we're heading to to Agra and will spend the next day on the road. So far, so good, no vomit. Though, as I'm well aware, there's still time...




Arriving at our hotel in Jaipur ... The City Palace ... Archways into Jaipur's Old City




The Amber Fort ... Piled into the Jeep ... In the Sheesh Mahal




Carpet Demonstration ... Our New Carpet (a traditional Jaipur design) ...
Watching the process of carpet making



The Water Palace ... At dinner with very sleepy girls

9.23.2009

There WILL Be Vomit

Tomorrow morning we're traveling up north to the Golden Triangle of India... Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. We're leaving early. Very early. Like the butt crack of dawn, can't believe I'm up WAY before the sun comes up, early. We're heading out on the first flight of the day, which departs around the time that most people would be hitting the snooze button for the second on their alarm clock.

We usually take a trip with our parents' whenever they come to visit us overseas. It gives us a chance to see the sights where we live, and then before we start getting on each others nerves, we get the heck out of dodge to see something new. Last time Matt's parents visited us in Israel, we went to Cairo to see the pyramids.... and several months before that we went with my family to Petra in Jordan. We've been waiting to see the Taj Mahal with Matt's folks ever since we found out we would be posted in India.

Of course, it won't be a true vacation unless someone gets car sick. As many of you dedicated followers know, Riley and Sheridan have a penchant for vomiting. Without fail, it happens on EVERY single ride to the airport, or hotel, or some point during the transportation phase of the vacation. It's a virtual guarantee that it's going to happen... at least one of the girls will be sick. No matter how far in advance I plan, I prepare, I anticipate... they always hit the one part of their clothes that I hadn't covered, or the part of the car seat that just doesn't lend itself to easy cleaning. And this trip? We have several hours EACH day where we'll be on the road. There's easily a couple opportunities a day for someone to get sick.

So I'm ready. I've pulled out the vomit bags that I've collected from many years of airline travel. I've put a second set of clothing in each girls bag. I have Dramamine. Bring it on!

Or don't... I'm really okay if it doesn't happen. Really, really okay. Because ... my father in law is a sympathetic vomiter. And while I can handle kids puking their guts out, I'm not so sure how I'll do if he follows suit. Do I pack him an extra set of clothes too?

Stay tuned...

9.19.2009

Rosh Hashanah Israeli Style

It's hard to believe that we're ringing in another Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah 5770) in India ... and with the same families from last year!

This year we decided to include the kids as the festivities called for an earlier start time. However, while dinner was scheduled to commence at 7 pm, we foolishly neglected to account for Israeli time, which equates to about 8:30 pm.

It was an enjoyable evening with plenty of Sephardic symbolic fare (say THAT five times fast) ... each provided with its own explanation (mostly real, though in some instances fabricated on the spot). In addition to the traditional dishes (say THAT three times fast), this year 's highlight was a platter with a fish head the size of an orca whale (understanding that biologically a whale is not a fish). This custom, albeit a little macabre, signifies "It is better to be like the head (leaders) than like the tail (followers)." Thank goodness ... because if the symbol was reversed you can only imagine what would have been on the table.

In all we had a great time, ate fantastic food, and drank way too much Israeli wine ... so much so that Matt slept through his alarm that was set at 3 am to go to the airport and pick up his parents who flew in this morning. In fact, he'd still be sleeping if he wasn't awaken by a text message at 4 am from our driver. As luck would have it, his parents breezed through the airport H1N1 medical screening, immigration, and baggage claim all within an unusually expeditious thirty minutes from landing. So Matt found them an hour later than scheduled, waiting outside the airport, fending off the throngs of auto rickshaw and taxi drivers. If not for the five full sized suitcases and box of frozen chorizo sausage and cheese, they probably could have taken an auto... that is, if they had our address ... or even our phone number.

L'Shana Tova Umetukah. May you be inscribed for blessings in the book of life...





Left: The Beautiful Tables ... Right: The infamous fish head...



The girls lighting the Shabbat candles



Left: The guests during the opening blessings ... Right: My boys



With the hostess

9.17.2009

The Duvets Are Done!

Finding the time to complete the girls duvet covers this week proved quite challenging. But I did it ... the girls LOVE them ... and so do I.

Each side is a different color and design. The first photo below is what the girls specifically asked for... very colorful ... very India ... with many different fabrics.



Sheridan's bed is on the left ... Riley's on the right




The other side below is a little more whimsical... softer colors and a wider range of fabrics.






All that's left to sew are the pillows ... which will have to wait. But when I finish them, and the curtains, I'll post the completed room!

9.15.2009

Name That Rash ~ Round 3

We thankfully haven't played this "game" for awhile... though with Matt's parent's coming to Chennai this weekend, it's only fitting that Grady's rash around his eyes should get worse!

Grady has had this rash for about 3 weeks now. It started off as just a minor irritation that I noticed when I picked him up out of his crib after he was crying. A couple of cuddles, and twenty minutes later it dissipated. For a few hours. The next time it came back looking irritated and with raised red dot. Which I only noticed after he had been crying. Give him a few more cuddles, wipe his eyes, wait a little bit and it goes away. Until it comes back with another dot, and a little more irritated... and repeat, repeat, repeat.

I took him to the doctor at the Consulate yesterday, an exercise in sheer futility. After attempting to guess why he has the rash (no it's not because I use give him a bath as I don't wash his face with soap ... no I don't use baby wipes on his face and certainly not near his eyes ... no I don't wear perfume, so clearly there's no scent getting on his face ... no I don't use lanolin on him ... no, the water coming out of the tub is just fine, I don't need to use the distilled water on him...) we concluded that we need to see the dermatologist.

BUT, before I go, I'm showing photos of his eyes just in case any of you can help me decipher what it is and why he has it. The photo on the left is what his eye looked like about an hour after he woke up this morning... about the time the rash starts to go away (for now). As you can see, it's only in the corners, on both the upper and lower lids, and no, it's not a mosquito bite. The photo on the right is his other eye, where a new rash is starting to form. He is 4 months now and he's teething...

Any ideas?


9.14.2009

Madras... In Madras

In honor of his 4 month birthday, Grady decided to spend the day in his madras ensemble... as if he really had a choice. It seemed only fitting to be wearing such a festive outfit named after the place in which he lives (Chennai was actually known as Madras until 1996 when the Tamil Nadu Government renamed the city its Tamil name instead of the English one).






9.11.2009

Walk With Me...

Matt often refers to India as an assault on the senses. The noise, the smells, and the sounds can at times be overwhelming. It's very difficult to capture what life is really like here; one can't truly appreciate it until they've seen it with their own eyes.

For several months I've been asked to upload photos around town... things I see on a daily basis. As one who isn't normally comfortable hopping out of my car at any given time to snap away, I usually would just find ways to cleverly take out my little Canon digital point and shoot and discreetly take photos.

Until today.

My driver took me and a friend out around town where we both used our DSLR cameras to photograph Chennai. We started off by taking photos out the window from inside the moving car. As that proved to be a little challenging, we decided to hop out of the car and walk up at down some streets. I wasn't quite sure what I was trying to capture while snapping over 200 photos.... the poverty, the filth, the innocence. It tugs at your heart strings when you drive down through these slums and see kids running around naked, or animals eating anything and everything to survive.

It's raw, but it's real. Come with me as I show you a little more of Chennai...



Relaxing ... Pumping Water ... Peeling Onions







An Ironing Stall ... A Tailor Stall ... A Tailor on the Street



Coconuts ... Banana Leaves






A National Pastime



Innocence...



Beachfront Properties ... Literally

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