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COLDNOON: TRAVEL POETICS (INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAVEL WRITING) (ONLINE ISSN 2278-9650 | PRINT ISSN 2278-9642)

NO. 4 | JUL ‘12 | 1.4

ED. ARUP K CHATTERJEE


COLDNOON: TRAVEL POETICS (INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAVEL WRITING)


COLDNOON: TRAVEL POETICS (INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAVEL WRITING) | POETRY – RESEARCH PAPERS – NONFICTION |

ISSUE IV | JUL ‘12 | 1.4

ED. ARUP K CHATTERJEE


COLDNOON: TRAVEL POETICS (INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAVEL WRITING) | POETRY – RESEARCH PAPERS – NONFICTION |

Coldnoon envisions travel not as flux but instead as gaps in travelling itself. Coldnoon means a shadowed instant in time when the inertia of motion of images, thoughts and spectacles, comes to rest upon a still and cold moment. Our travels are not of trade and imagining communities; they are towards the reporting of purposeless and unselfconscious narratives the human mind experiences when left in a vacuum between terminals of travel.


First published in New Delhi India in 2012 Online ISSN 2278-9650 | Print ISSN 2278-9650 Cover Photograph, Arup K Chatterjee Cover Design, Arup K Chatterjee Typeset in Arno Pro & Trajan Pro Editor, Arup K Chatterjee Assistant Editor, Amrita Ajay Contributing Editors: Sebastien Doubinsky, Lisa Thatcher, G.J.V. Prasad, Sudeep Sen, K. Satchidanandan Copyright © Coldnoon 2012. Individual Works © Authors 2012. No part of the publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or copied for commercial use, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent acquirer. All rights belong to the individual authors, and photographer. Licensed Under:

Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Jul ‘12, 1.4) by Coldnoon: Travel Poetics is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.coldnoon.com.

Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi 110067 India www.coldnoon.com


Contents

Editorial

1

Poetry

4

Arjun Rajendran

5

Sarita Jenamani

11

Stephen Rosenshein

16

Kanchan Chatterjee

23

Salma Ruth Bratt

29

Chandni Singh

35

Nonfiction

40

Excursio – Robert Fox

41

Living in the World of Padre Pio – Claire McCurdy

58

Chilmark and Cheltenham: A Travel Diary – Ananya Dutta Gupta

64

Editorial Board

73


INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAVEL WRITING Jul ‘12, No. 1.4 | www.coldnoon.com

Editorial

Chatterjee, Arup K. “Editorial.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 1-3. Web.

Licensed Under:

"Editorial" (by Arup K Chatterjee) by Coldnoon: Travel Poetics is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.coldnoon.com.

Editorial | p. 1 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Editorial

In this little space of the world, from where I write, recently overburdened with inertia of rest, two films – Rain Man and The Rainmaker – have clustered with the intermittent rain mist around. There must be no direct relevance of this cinema here; or so you may wonder. Let us see. Charlie Babbot’s automobile business is bust in the face of a possible inheritance of three million dollars. Rudy Baylor, on the other hand, wins a lawsuit of fifty million dollars; and he drives away from his profession. Our simple, and by now drab, inference would be that travel is all around us, and always at work. Our job here is to alienate and complicate this easy understanding, which leaves out the joy of philosophizing travel as a literary concept, in most great studies of literature. We travel, even intellectually, not without luggage. So, travel, ideologically, is the ritual of carrying clothes and accessories. In writing about travel people have come to invariably rewrite facts and documents presented by their predecessors. The average travel essay is a documentation of ritual visits to places of touristic or popular interest. Frequently it qualifies at best as an advertisement on behalf of forefathers who have visited the place; the place and the essay is footnoted with “how to reach” sections as if to chart a systematic cartography and untransgressable routes. This is the greatest deterrent to the total unravelling of the travelled to the traveller’s senses, and vice versa. Travel becomes a pilgrimage whose sacredness is consecrated time and again in the footsteps of the pilgrims taking the same roads, eating from the same shops as indicated in the travel “scriptures”, and ticking on the journal of “to do list” of duties when on such a pilgrimage that is oft-recorded in the annals of travel-ideology. And this, essentially, is the death of our innate powers of subjective negotiation with the terrain; it is a destruction of the individual spiritual capacity to dwell in the poetic moment of journey and a reinstatement of the mercenary power of a religious territorial passage. The paradox that remains is the pilgrimage becomes secular and communal. Further, this is no less coercive than a military reconnaissance of a site of

Editorial | p. 2 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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combat where cartographer after cartographer is commissioned to ascertain the unchangability of geographical and anthropological data. Sigmund Freud described the act of travelling, “A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis” as that which is in opposition to the boundaries of the family, and especially those drawn by the father. When one finally is at the brink of a dream destination it undergoes a derealisation of the originary conceived reality. Travel thus sought within permissible limits is the most accessible and the corresponding travelled site the most durable. It is then like a shrine. The purity is lost no sooner than the traveller begins to conceive a journey to that which is beyond the limits of his societal conceptions. Consequently, the poetics of travel is a highly inaccessible discipline as travel becomes more and more utilitarian. It was time for us to usher a long issue at last, especially in the nonfiction series. It was also time when we noticed how “travel is all around” was not just a gimmick but a solid philosophical statement, that travel was at once power and disempowerment. Every author in this issue (who will be individually annotated in our forthcoming print publication) deals with travel never in proxy, if at all to criticize such travel vehemently. Their travels do not come from merely a tradition of colonial or governmental registers but through personal engagement with objects that could be anywhere but where they were, and were yet unrecorded. We warmly welcome you to take another journey, albeit virtual, but coming from the most real spectators of that one shared moment of collapsing identities we call Coldnoon. I welcome you all to the July, 2012 issue. Happy Coldnoon Editor

Editorial | p. 3 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Poetry

Poetry | p. 4 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAVEL WRITING Jul ‘12, No. 1.4 | www.coldnoon.com

Arjun Rajendran

Rajendran, Arjun. “Poems by Arjun Rajendran.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 5-10. Web.

Licensed Under:

"Poems by Arjun Rajendran" by Coldnoon: Travel Poetics is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.coldnoon.com.

Arjun Rajendran | p. 5 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Arjun Rajendran

First night on Big Island Though the sunset is free, the cigarettes cost so much – The GPS is still in shock and continues mapping the mainland. The taste of airplane peanuts haunts my mouth. The table is littered with brochures. Our shoes: in a state of recovery. Humorless suitcase wheels. It’s hard to believe we are in the middle of the ocean; I’m still in the air while you’re on the phone with someone somewhere, asking you for the time. I jetlag at midnight, leave my dream in shambles. From the balcony, the sight of clouds bathing a homesick moon.

Arjun Rajendran | p. 6 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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The Wooden Castro Outside a cigar store in Hilo, I stumble upon Castro – as his uniform dries in the sun, an ant braves his beard. He lets me wrap an arm around him, smiles for the camera. Smoke from my lungs is Che’s ghost, posing alongside. The caption of the photo is: two comrades and a traveler.

Arjun Rajendran | p. 7 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Lehua Blossoms According to legend, Lehua was a girl before she became a blossom. They flourish beside volcanic rock, curving the sky with their ardor. Seeing them, I am reminded of my own passion; how it was stoked by the simplest things— rain, ruins, a frock on a mannequin. A longing so palpable, it wrapped me inside a cocoon; I’d emerge days later, frail and unrecognizable, dragging behind me a hapless shadow— and now Lehua is alone on a branch, symbolizing unrequited love.

Arjun Rajendran | p. 8 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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In the Cemetery of the Painted Church Tombstone orchids. Crosses dividing the air into four quadrants. A sense of being in two places: the cemetery and nowhere. Ants trudge along grassy boulevards like serfs during wartime. Birds on an angel’s wing having a lover’s tiff— Even this church, with its wondrous ceiling of fronds, waves and sand, must paint some shadow.

Arjun Rajendran | p. 9 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Mauna Kea En route to Mauna Kea, a sign that warns of Invisible cows—(now I have seen everything!) Within observatories, heads work riddles buried in infinity’s heart. A day moon watches clouds cannibalize while the temperature drops. The wizard whose name is snow breaks light into flints; the wind’s fins lunge at our jackets, withdraw then return with renewed vigor. From the shuttle, we see the growth of sunset; a constellation blooms overhead.

Arjun Rajendran | p. 10 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Sarita Jenamani

Jenamani, Sarita. “Poems by Sarita Jenamani.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 1115. Web.

Licensed Under:

"Poems by Sarita Jenamani" by Coldnoon: Travel Poetics is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.coldnoon.com.

Sarita Jenamani | p. 11 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Sarita Jenamani

They Depart They depart And more houses sink into darkness The street shrinks a little bit more Night clenches the morbid left-over light From the Tower of Silence flocks of fear-symbols descend in quest of a morsel Those remaining behind continue to slumber under a thick layer of indifference They wake up only to move from dream to dream and murmur unanswerable questions They depart And life shrinks a little bit more

Sarita Jenamani | p. 12 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Door I tap on the door and it opens But before I enter the door enters me and keeps on opening countless doors inside myself I cannot decide Am I crossing the thresholds or are they crossing me one after the other? Confounded, I search for a roof but before I detect one the earth beneath my feet slips away

Sarita Jenamani | p. 13 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Exile All through life an unending journey accompanies you And in the absence of a destination much of what’s inside gets lost And the warp and weft of being Keep on breaking

Sarita Jenamani | p. 14 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Song of a Walkway The darkness deepened even more In my veins sinks the night Slowly the stillness pierces a knife into my heart. My body is stretched out on the wet grass Distant is still the night of union I am no tiny plant not the night hidden between the stones neither the moonlight that falls in the fisher’s net nor even the silence before the storm On the road of quest I am a walkway awaiting him to come home who had gone over me in an evening like this

Sarita Jenamani, Vienna, Austria

Sarita Jenamani | p. 15 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Stephen Rosenshein

Rosenshein, Stephen. “Poems by Stephen Rosenshein.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 16-22. Web.

Licensed Under:

"Poems by Stephen Rosenshein" by Coldnoon: Travel Poetics is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.coldnoon.com.

Stephen Rosenshein | p. 16 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Stephen Rosenshein

How to use the Lonely Planet Guide in South America Never try to do anything the way The Book says to do it. It is likely the rules, prices and routes have all changed since the articles were written, 3 months ago. Never count on The Book to explain just how absurd a bus ride in the Peruvian Andes might be. 8 cent adjectives won’t smell like half-frozen mud or press against your chest with thin air or sell you giant corn boiled in a copper pot with a slab of salty cheese. The Book will not tell you to take the giant corn and shove it inside your jacket to stay warm when 15,000 feet above sea level. Never pay a fee, tax or additional charge The Book does not mention. The Book, though vindictive, is frugal. You can rely on it to save you money. Never stay in a hostel recommended by The Book. It is likely they have grown lazy and/or raised prices since receiving this international seal of approval. Also, never stay in a hostel recommended by the taxi driver who picked you up at the airport, bus or train station. The dueño is a relative and the driver will return later for a kickback.

Stephen Rosenshein | p. 17 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Never describe places using adjectives you find in The Book. Everyone you meet just read the same page. They all know the air in Baños, Ecuador is charged with sexual energy. Regurgitating 8 cent a word descriptions will not get you laid. The Book is heavy and bulky. It takes up valuable space. When you leave a country behind, tear its pages out and leave them on the nearest bookshelf.

Stephen Rosenshein | p. 18 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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How to Buy a Mummy When you are hiking to pre-Incan ruins in Peru and an old man emerges from behind a white washed building to offer you unfiltered tap water in a tin cup, always accept. You will probably suffer a serious case of diarrhea, but accepting this water is a customary way to express interest in buying a mummy. As you sip from the tin cup, the old man will crouch into a ball, cross his arms around his chest and lower his head. This is the universal sign for mummy. Nod knowingly and smile. Now, agree upon a price. Consider the mummy’s place in life: was this an Inca, a Moche, a Cañari, a Wari? Was this a warrior, a priest, a runner or a common field hand? Consider the mummy’s place in death: is it a long hike, well buried, well preserved? Is the mummy large or small? Is the mummy covered with artifacts? Be a professional and the first to name a price. If the mummy is royalty, bid no lower than 200 soles. For anything less than a priest, go no higher than 100. Before you reach an agreement, you must have the following items: Tobacco, jewelry, cocoa leaves, coins and chichi for an offering, solid boots for the hike, a shovel to move the dry earth, a flashlight for the dark tomb, and some means to wrap and transport your mummy. Beware, without these items the attempted removal and disturbance of a mummy can only result in the flagrant violation of the honor of the ancestors and their descendants. Unless you came prepared, make sure to empty the water

Stephen Rosenshein | p. 19 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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from the tin cup. Hand it back to the old man. Thank him for his time and his water. Continue on your way. Next time, you will be prepared. Next time, you will have your mummy.

Stephen Rosenshein | p. 20 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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The German Santiago, Chile Every exit is just an entrance to something else, exclaimed a swaying German tipping his drink enough to send several drops over the clear plastic rim and onto the beer advertisement on the green table. You must leave like the band-aid, quickly and with much pain.

Stephen Rosenshein | p. 21 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Porteños Buenos Aires, Argentina Passing a construction site wet cement vaulted the walls splattered over the right side of my green valor jacket. I paused, from nowhere a couple came to me pañuelos in hand blotting up the grey muck cuidado, cuidado, te vas a manchar.

Frozen in place strangers patting me down with wet handkerchiefs I could do nothing but thank them profusely. When they left I found myself feeling in my pockets feeling for my cell phone feeling for my wallet feeling them in my pockets.

Stephen Rosenshein | p. 22 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Kanchan Chatterjee

Chatterjee, Kanchan. “Poems by Kanchan Chatterjee.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 23-28. Web.

Licensed Under:

"Poems by Kanchan Chatterjee" by Coldnoon: Travel Poetics is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.coldnoon.com.

Kanchan Chatterjee | p. 23 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Kanchan Chatterjee

Beginning there are plastic bags empty beerbottles napkins old newspapers strewn all over... I look at them then the road the rising sun and the hill at the bend.. and start anyway

Kanchan Chatterjee | p. 24 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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An Encounter 'nothing is urgent' he says after finishing the first shot orders another... looks at my fidgety fingers tapping the table... finishes his second one looks out the window squints his eyes observes the setting Sun... looks back to me 'everything happens at the right hour' he declares... I nod and sip my glass silently

Kanchan Chatterjee | p. 25 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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That strange feeling Put the coffee flask In my backpack and Kick started the bike Just before zooming off Thought I saw you Standing in the paddy field Smiling at me

Kanchan Chatterjee | p. 26 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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The journey So we’ll take the right bend From here And get onto the NH 33 His eyes sparkling I nodded Checking the brakes and clutches Of my beat up Yamaha Oh yeah He said It’s been a long time Yeah, I smiled and Patted The Bike

Kanchan Chatterjee | p. 27 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Coming Home I look at the ghost of a bus then at the tobacco-chewing conductor again back to the rickety bus and the crowd throbbing inside the blazing sun sweeping the road ahead still some 400 kms to go what the hell, I tell myself and jump in...

Kanchan Chatterjee | p. 28 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Salma Ruth Bratt

Bratt, Salma Ruth. “Poems by Salma Ruth Bratt.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 29-34. Web.

Licensed Under:

"Poems by Salma Ruth Bratt" by Coldnoon: Travel Poetics is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.coldnoon.com.

Salma Ruth Bratt | p. 29 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Salma Ruth Bratt

Henna Once a young Moroccan girl decorated my arms and hands in henna It was her gift to me If you think this gift faded away as the designs disappeared from my skin It isn’t true I can still look at my hands and remember Just where the vines of green and gold swirled Around this knuckle or that fingertip

Salma Ruth Bratt | p. 30 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Migrant No need to empty boxes Just leave the books inside Take one at a time To read at your leisure No need for the lush green sunrooms of past days This small place hasn’t much sun And the wilting discomfits you If you don’t fit in, don’t worry Be a square in round spaces Until your edges smooth over and gloss

Salma Ruth Bratt | p. 31 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Rabat The mosque is mostly imagined Unfinished columns hold the sky Imagine yourself veiled and flowing Serenity descends as a lopsided heron Forget for a moment You hectic fretful tourist Stop for a moment Without past and future Leave your identity and relations Watch a tugboat hew the surface of the sea.

Salma Ruth Bratt | p. 32 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Sleepless in Morocco Anxious thoughts toss and turn him through the night and keep him from sleeping. He looks around the room at all the people he loves, sleeping together along the cushions that line the walls of the room. Here they are, all together, not like in New York, where each child sleeps alone in a big bedroom, but all in one room, breathing in a unison rhythm. He wonders if they are dreaming the same dreams as they lie, head to head and toe to toe, around the room together. Once, in New York, he heard his son describing these sleeping arrangements to his friends. One boy said, it sounds like camping in the Adirondacks. The comparison upsets Adel, who has never been camping and who desperately wants to go. “It’s not the same at all!” He almost shouts at his friend and Adel’s big sister Salma rushes to his rescue. Daoud remembers listening as Salma describes her grandmother’s home in Morocco with great tenderness, and Daoud realizes then how the children look forward to these visits – not just to see people and places, but to be close to their parents and relatives – to breathe together and even dream the same dreams. Comforted now from his immediate concerns, Daoud is able to drift into a deep and restful sleep.

Salma Ruth Bratt | p. 33 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Templo Mayor Under the National Cathedral, Mexico City Tell the truth, but tell it slant - Emily Dickinson When Coatlicue became pregnant During a ritual sweep of the palace She swept up the truth A ball of feathers A celestial visitor A likely story Jealous, perhaps, her daughter Planned an attack Roused her hundreds of siblings Dressed in snakes and fish Climbed a mountain of sin To rout the enemy Huitzilopochtli was born In riot gear Fought the moon and stars Sent them hurtling into space A likely story Of slopes and slants Like the story of her, the hurtled one Coyolxauhqui Who landed askew Bells hanging from her ears Obsidian sandals Legs going round the truth Suspended In endless motion

Salma Ruth Bratt | p. 34 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Chandni Singh

Singh, Chandni. “Poems by Chandni Singh.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 3539. Web.

Licensed Under:

"Poems by Chandni Singh" by Coldnoon: Travel Poetics is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.coldnoon.com.

Chandni Singh | p. 35 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Chandni Singh

Two Cups of Tea Experiences in Britain and India I held the cup gently, Unsure whether to cocoon it, In a maternal grasp Or curl my fingers Against its slender handle. The blue flowers traced pretty patterns on its edges. I sat demure, Sipping Earl Grey Biting into a buttered scone gently, I sat silent, As silent as snow In this gray world of The Unfamiliar. My mind catapulted into another world Where I drank my tea sweet Overboiled and milky From a small glass Often chipped at the edges. I knew how to hold it, In a firm, familiar grasp It belonged to my hand And around it My conversations flew fast and merry My loud words littered with laughter.

Chandni Singh | p. 36 First Published in Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (Print ISSN 2278-9650 | Online ISSN 2278-9650)


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Little Laxman Little Laxman runs to me, his feet second guessing his eagerness. Balancing in one hand a cup slightly chipped at the rim, and in the other, a plate with a samosa on it – piping hot. As he puts them down carefully before me, I catch his eye. His face breaks into a ready smile I can’t help but mirror it, so warm is its touch. His eyes widen as he sees me blow gently at the tea. “It’s very hot”, I say. He nods, lingering in the presence of my strangeness. I munch through my samosa, watching Little Laxman – at once the waiter, at once the dish cleaner. Washing and scrubbing, scurrying and stacking. As I get up to leave, he runs to me – I pay. And he whispers, “Thank you Madam”. The bus blows its horn twice And just like that, Our moment breathes its last. I walk away, his wide smile Already a memory.

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At Piccadilly Circus He made a flower fly this clown at Piccadilly. It fell near my feet and I picked it up, and skipped away. He called out to my turned back asking for his flower. Then pointed cheekily to his cheek, “Will the Miss grant a Kiss?” I hadn’t touched another’s skin For so long now. At home in this foreign land, I was a lover out of love. He looked at me impatiently and I quivered unsure but nodded. “Yes.” As I moved to kiss his painted face, He turned, catching me Squarely on the lips. I breathed sharply and then putting on my best smile I laughed with the clapping crowd – They, at the humour, I, at the irony.

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Romancing Lansdowne For Siddhartha It is in places where time stands still That my soul rushes forth. We walked across the small crowd of shops That was the main bazaar No hungry touts, breathed down our necks Only the pines whispered in welcome Pots of geraniums hung outside the houses Whites and yellows blushing into pinks and scarlet, The blue room stood so still Shivering slightly in the early evening frost We whispered, anything louder seemed impure. A fog stole over us in a blanket of anonymity The Milky Way faded away, the cicadas grew sleepy I made my home in my lover’s arms and Slept the night away. For it is in places where time stands still That my soul rushes forth.

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Nonfiction

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Excursio by Robert Fox

Fox, Robert. “Excursio.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 41-47. Web.

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Excursio by Robert Fox

Yalta, unlike the rest of Ukraine I had already seen, had a more modern, “westernized” feel to it. In other words, it didn’t feel like somebody was going to fuck with you every time you rounded a corner. What Yalta also had in its favour was that it was located on the Black Sea – which is perhaps the only thing Ukraine can’t find a way to totally uglify. But they certainly tried. If Yalta was in the United States, it probably would have looked something like Miami Beach, lined with luxury resorts and condos that took full advantage of its seaside setting. Instead, you just got rows of Soviet-style apartment buildings nowhere close to the water. At least the city square was on the water. A large stage stood at one of it, where a hip-hop group was performing Russian rap. The rest of the square was filled with numerous attractions and kiosks, including rides, bungee jumping and exotic animals, including monkeys, muzzled bear cubs and parrots forced to pose with humans for a photograph if one was so inclined to spend fifty grivnas. Across the square opposite the stage, I noticed a small set featuring a jungle backdrop. I assumed that some entrepreneurial Ukrainian with a monkey decided to go all out. But what I saw just about made my jaw drop. As we got closer, what I saw on display were not monkeys. But rather, African men in full tribal garb—including grass skirts and spears, dancing to the beat of their own bongos. I just had to take a picture of this, so I pulled out my camera. But just as I was about to snap a photo, both men waved a finger at me – in rhythm – as if to say “Don’t you dare … unless you are willing to pay” as they continued to dance. So we walked away. And when I was at a safe enough distance, I pretended to be taking a picture of the entire landscape, aiming the camera in their general direction. Moments later, a group of girls paid to pose with the tribesman. After all, a black man in Ukraine is truly an exotic novelty, on the same scale as bear cubs and parrots wearing skull-and-crossbones eye patches.

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We headed to a booth to sign up for an excursion that would take us to various historical sites around the Crimea. After we purchased our tickets, we had some time to kill before our departure and continued exploring downtown Yalta. We returned to the ticket kiosk, where we were greeted by a shady man in leather pants. “Follow me,” he said. And so we did, toward a row of buses. Of course, I had no idea what was going on because I was under strict “no English” ordinance. “Wait here,” the man instructed as he approached one of the buses and started speaking with the driver. After a few moments of intense negotiation, the man in the leather pants came back to us and presented our tickets. Katya paid him and next thing I knew, we were climbing into the back of a hot, stuffy bus that would take us on our grand tour of the Crimea. The tour was sold out, but “sold out” in Ukraine simply means “let’s negotiate.” And that’s exactly what Katya did. In an attempt to breathe in the oppressive heat, I pulled a window down, but it only went down two inches, doing next to nothing for airflow. “Maybe he’ll put the air on when we get on the road,” Katya said. “Somehow, I don’t see that happening,” I said back, sarcastically. And of course, I was right. “Stay here,” Katya said, getting up. “Where are you going?” I asked in fear. “To visit a relative who lives nearby. She’s old and sick, so I’m just going in to say hi. It’s probably he last time I see her.” “You’re going to leave me here by myself?” “You need to hold our spot.” As apprehensive as I was to be left alone, she convinced me that I would be fine. As it turned out, my concerns were completely justified. After ten minutes or so, the driver started the van. Should I be worried?, I thought to myself. What if they leave without Katya? I looked at my watch and realized we still had fifteen minutes before our scheduled departure. But judging by the driver’s body language, it was time to go. After about a minute or so, the driver got up and stood before me, saying something in Russian that I couldn’t understand.

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“Nyet, English,” I said in desperation, drawing the stare of everybody aboard the bus. But apparently, that meant nothing to him, so he repeated what he had told me, only louder. “Nyet, English,” I repeated louder. A young, attractive woman in front of me said in broken English: “He wants to know where your friend went.” “She went to visit a relative. She’ll be back any minute.” The woman translated for me. “When will she be back?” the man demanded. The woman translated for me again. However, her English was so choppy, I had to ask her to repeat it several times. “Any minute.” He then added something else in Russian, before kicking my backpack, which was on the floor on his way back to the driver’s seat. The woman didn’t translate this final comment, but instead, offered a look of pity. It was all she could really do. In the meantime, there was nothing I wanted to do more than to disappear off the face of the earth all together, as everybody continued staring at me with a mix of disgust and amusement. Minutes later, Katya finally got on board. Everyone glared at her and the bus driver greeted her by pointing at me, shouting: “Is this your foreigner?” “Da” Katya said, heading to the back of the bus to join me in embarrassment and shame. Not to mention the increasingly oppressive heat. Several minutes into our trip, I once again risked the ire of our driver by begging Katya to ask him if he could put the air on. And to my surprise, he did! But less than two minutes later, he turned it off, never to be turned on again. Meanwhile, Katya translated into my ear all the historical information that the tour guide was passing along and it was clear that people were annoyed. I found a great deal of it interesting, but mostly, it was irrelevant without further context. And considering the heat, it was really hard to focus. The large amount of body odor swirling around the packed route van certainly didn’t help matters. Our first stop was a medieval monastery built into a mountain. Contemplative Orthodox priests with long beards roamed the premises. However, sustained contemplation must have been difficult, considering the constant passing and rumble of trains directly across the road.

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Let me pause here to point out once again that Ukraine is a place where nothing – and I mean nothing should come as a surprise. And usually, those surprises involved discomfort or severe irritation typically caused by Ukrainian irrationality. Or a language barrier. But being forced to wear a skirt before I could enter a church was the last thing I possibly could have expected. And yet, there I was, forced to put on a skirt. Before I entered a church. There’s a reasonable explanation, though. Since I was committing the grievous sin of wearing shorts, it was imperative that I covered my legs before entering the monastery. We were directed over to a trunk, where I grabbed a random cloth with a floral pattern that I then wrapped around my waist. After Katya found a scarf to wear on her head, we headed inside for a tour. It was utterly fascinating to think of centuries of devotion and spirituality those walls had absorbed over the years. Even when wearing a skirt, while a passing train rumbled the walls surrounding us. Our next stop on our little excursion was the Yalta conference, where Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt gathered to work out a few kinks in their relationship at the Livadia Palace. I was looking very forward to this, as I vividly remembered the famous photo of the three leaders sitting outside the former summer retreat of the last Tsar of Russia (Nicholas II). But of course, as Ukrainian luck would have it, we happened to arrive on the only day of the week the museum was closed – on a Wednesday of all days. Go figure. But even though we couldn’t go in, I was able to see the exact spot where the triumvirate of world leaders posed for their famous photo. The cardboard cutout was all the proof I needed. Our final stop was the ruins of an ancient Greek settlement. I had no clue Greeks had anything to do with Ukraine. Yet sure enough, here were the ruins to prove it, sitting on the vivid blue Black Sea, which glistened and sparkled in the sun. But before we could see it with our own eyes, I had to endure yet another babushka battle. And once again it was on the account of my camera. It all transpired after Katya entered through the gate ahead of me. As the gatekeeper was taking my ticket, Katya got absorbed in the crowd, unaware that I was being denied entry on behalf of the camera case attached to my hip. At least that’s what I interpreted the woman pointing at my camera case to mean. I naturally assumed no cameras allowed. But I was apparently being asked a question…a question I could not understand. I desperately

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peered through the gate in hopes of spotting Katya. But I couldn’t locate her. In the meantime, the attendant was growing angry, as was the mob of people in line behind me. As the woman continued jabbering away at me in Russian, clearly refusing to accept the fact that we did not share a common language, Katya pushed her way back to the gate and clarified the situation. I was essentially being told that if I wanted to take my camera inside, I would have to pay. On principle, I refused to have to pay to use my own camera. So we took the camera back to the route van. I would later regret this decision, considering how absolutely breathtaking the place was. But unfortunately, the only pictures I have are stored in the recesses of my mind, like so many other moments in life. The ruins concluded our tour. As we were heading back to Yalta, Katya realized we were going to be passing right through Gaspora. So rather than driving all the way to Yalta, Katya asked the driver if he could just drop us off on the side of the road, rather than going all the way back to Yalta. To my surprise, he obliged and dropped us off on the side of the road. We headed toward what we assumed was Andrei’s apartment. After all, everything certainly looked the same. But then again, when don’t things look the same in Ukraine? But after a few minutes, Katya began to realize that things just didn’t seem right. This became especially obvious when we arrived at a spot that should have been Andrei’s apartment building. We assumed we just went down the wrong street, since street signs are a foreign concept in much of Ukraine. I certainly wasn’t going to be of much help in finding it. After a little more futile searching, Katya stopped a couple walking toward us along the road. “Excuse me? Is this Gaspora?,” she asked the couple. “Gaspora?” the man said, and then started laughing, as did the woman he was with. “What’s so funny?” Katya asked. “This isn’t Gaspora. Gaspora is the next village over.” Katya thanked them and explained to me what was going on. As much as we wanted to give the bus driver the benefit of the doubt, we were pretty sure the bus driver purposely did this to get back at us for dare asking him to drop us off without any form of payment. In any event, we found a route van

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stop on the main road and headed back to the real Gaspora ten minutes down the road. There’s a famous Russian movie made in the 60’s with a very similar concept. It’s called Irony of Fate. It’s shown every year on New Year’s, making it sort of like the former Soviet Union’s It is a Wonderful Life. It’s about a man who gets drunk with his friends before he heads off on a business trip. He ends up arriving to be in the wrong town, which happens to looks identical to his own city, including the apartment building itself. He enters what he assumes is his own apartment, only to find it inhabited by a beautiful woman. Hilarity ensues and they fall in love. Life certainly imitates art. More often than we usually care to admit. And this was more proof of that.

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Living in the World of Padre Pio by Claire McCurdy

McCurdy, Claire. “Living in the World of Padre Pio.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 48-63. Web.

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Living in the World of Padre Pio by Claire McCurdy

The tale of Padre Pio, a Catholic saint, informs this story of a rediscovered friendship of thirty years duration. Friendship found across time and landmass and cultures and equally quickly lost again. And, as I learned, he played an active role in the lives and beliefs of my friend and her family. Thirty years ago, Padre Pio’s disciple A. had been a good friend of mine and a fellow college teacher in Nagasaki. About a year ago, I had rediscovered her on the Net. The New York Times described her as the manager of Arachne, an important Venetian business. I had positive memories of my friend as, charming, kind, and valiant. I had witnessed her successful battle against a wild enraged turkey by opening an umbrella abruptly into the turkey’s beaky hostile little face. It squawked, flapped, gobbled, hopped, and ran away. I was really pleased to have found my friend the foiler of turkeys, once again. My friend had invited me to visit her in Venice for the 2010 Biennale, an international exhibition on architecture. The Biennale had its first ever woman director, a Japanese woman named Kazuyo Sejima, and a very accessible theme “People Meet in Architecture.” It seemed like an amazing opportunity for a writer. Of course, I accepted. We fixed the date for my arrival in Venice at the end of August, just after the Biennale opening. At Marco Polo Airport, I spotted her. A shock of bright grey hair, wide smile, clad in sweater after sweater, her little white spotted dog with her curled around her neck. It could have been no one else. “Cigarette?” A offered me an unfiltered Camel which looked and smelled intensely acrid,. In the Munich airport en route to Venice I’d seen a glass cage filled with smokers and smoke: the Camel smoking area. Noisome smoke billowed inside, and people exiting trailed their own personal noxious clouds. American anti-smoking rules were not the fashion here. Would that

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Padre Pio had been there on this occasion, to shower us with his flowery perfumes. I declined. We made good time from the airport to Venice despite the downpours of rain. Padre Pio must have exercised his powers, briefly stopped the rain and made it possible for a huge, beautiful rainbow to stretch over the entire sky. I thought it was a positive omen for the coming week. And I was very pleased that A had invited me to stay on the island of Giudecca. It is still one of the last true Venetian villages. Giudecca itself is fluid in name and character. The name is said to be a corruption of the Latin "Judaica" (Judaean) for Jewish ghetto, but this is in dispute. The Island has undergone significant post-industrial change - new shops and an exclusive residential area where warehouses used to be. Giudecca has also recently become unexpectedly fashionable. On a shop wall one morning I found the graffiti “ALL CITY CREW,” signifying that the artist had tagged all five NYC boroughs. As freighted with cultural symbolism, in its way, as the logo of the new, nearby Hilton Hotel. But still Venetian, still a village. As we travelled to Giudecca A described her life and times in a way which I did not at first understand. “I live in the nineteenth century. In the world of Padre Pio.” Even after she had described the saint I simply didn’t get it—that a person could live a 21st century life and still believe in saints like Padre Pio with stigmata, timeless charms, spells, the evil eye, miracles, and magic. In fact, as I later found, tiny refrigerator magnets and little icons with Padre Pio’s bulging eyes and toothy glare were everywhere in A’s apartment. Blessing the stove, the boiler, the washing machine, even the moribund Mac PC. Possibly even watching over the non-working bidet, which was filled with a bright green plastic watering can so that no one might accidentally sit on it? As if to make this plain, we were soon to encounter A’s 21st century version of the evil eye. After our arrival, A. suggested we go to an osteria – a waterfront bar. We took a tiny table in the corner away from crowds. A confided that this was necessary. “I must be careful. You see the tables in the osteria? Each political group sits together at his own table. I must be friendly with them all. But not too friendly. Especially to the Communists. You see they are watching us.” No, I didn’t see. I began to be wary.

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A then sternly instructed me on the protocols of drinking in the osteria. “When you come to an osteria, before you order a drink you must first eat tramezzini (egg salad on white bread sandwiches)—they soak up the alcohol.” She elaborated. “You remember in Japan it was the fashion to drink heavily at parties. One night I got very drunk and fell into an urn at the jinja (shrine). I was there all night. Out cold. In the morning a monk came, peered down at me, and helped me out. It was a lesson. I am still ashamed.” Consequently, A’s way of avoiding intoxication was to emulate Japanese salarymen who routinely consumed sticks of butter or cheese before a drinking bout. She consumed tramezzini. Another warning sign to me. This was not the happiest way to form an introduction to La Giudecca— on the surface, so beautiful and welcoming. But then the entire visit was marked by this contrast of light and public – exciting events, new and interesting people – Venice, La Giudecca, the Biennale – and an abrupt shift to the dark and personal. And often painful. But I shook off my foreboding and determined to immerse myself in the world of the Biennale, write furiously, and generally enjoy this unprecedented opportunity. And the island of Giudecca was beautiful, and the people themselves were all that Italians are reputed to be—charming, ebullient, warm and welcoming. Who were the Giudeccans? (Human, female) Based only on that simple signifier, dress, women appeared to span the socio-economic gamut from very high international fashion (backbreaking gladiator sandals with 4 inch heels) to very old fashioned peasant house-dresses, gray hair in buns. Virtually everybody held a cell phone in one hand and a burning stub of a Camel unfiltered cigarette in the other. Offering a smoke from a pack of Camels was a regular part of the meeting and greeting rituals. In addition to politics, the economy, and the unwelcome flood of new Eastern European immigrants, the central topic of conversation was the state of the Canal and its waters, i.e., the aqua alta or high waters. People in Venice continually exchanged account s of the stage of the moon, the moon’s possible effect on the waters, how high the waters may rise, (the aqua alta—high water) and what to do if the water rose too high. For a tourist, perhaps the loveliest and most memorable features of Giudecca were the constant ringing of church bells, the incessant barking of

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happy dogs in the central square, and most of all, the light.—soft, muted, gilding, golden. You could sit on a bench by the sea every night and view the spectacular Turneresque sunsets. As the sun went down the lights on the opposite shore would come up, highlighting the buildings blushing golden pink. Buildings nearby were of warm golden stone painted in elegantly muted pastel aquamarine, soft gold, Tuscan red, shocked by bright carnival splashes of brilliant colored laundry. After our uneasy interlude at the osteria, we adjourned to A’s apartment. The furniture and appliances appeared to have been frozen in time, perhaps the ‘40’s or ‘50’s. (Certainly the gas stove and incredibly tiny refrigerator were vintage). No TV. No electronic devices whatsoever. But the place was fitted out for a typhoon—piles of umbrellas, leashes, walking sticks and rain garments which lunged at the entrant from behind the door. Venice is a watery town. The major concession to modernity was a large elderly blue Mac PC. One could use it only for short periods—then the screen would convulse and spark and go black. A believed it was a sentient being. It would work well only for me but not for her. At no point would she ever consider getting it looked at or fixed. Thankfully, A was willing to put aside her hatred for machinery for the really essential things—an espresso/cappuccino maker. The next morning, over espresso, I attempted to wrest the conversation around to work. A described herself as a spiritual daughter to Padre Pio, and her work as a devotion to the lives of others. “I have spent many years devoted to the care of my old ladies, to my grandmother, great aunt, and to my boss. You may remember my aunt the Contessa. A friend to Mussolini – after all he was in power— and at the same time, a friend to Jewish refugees in Venice— she helped them to escape.” She continued. “My old ladies were exhausting but enchanting and they taught me many things. Louisa Crawford Landi, owner/manager of the factory, was the most vital of them all, the most insistent, the most demanding, and the most productive. She worked 20 hours a day—she got to the office at 7:00 a.m. and by midnight was still taking clients out for dinner. She demanded no less from her employees, especially from me. For twenty years I took no vacations and never went to the doctor.”

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The 12th International Architecture Exhibition had opened in August 2010 and would close in November 2010. The exhibition featured 48 participants—firms, architects, engineers and artists from around the world, and collateral events by international individuals and firms. The theme of the exhibition: “People Meet in Architecture.” and the Biennale’s first woman director suggested that this Biennale would mark a great departure from tradition. And it was. I did notice a compact, elegant Japanese influence on models of city planning, and a dedication to transparency and accessibility for the visitors. In addition, many exhibits invited the visitor to communicate, touch, and play: the Canadian pavilion exhibition’s brilliant white tendrilled “creature”; from Hungary, enveloping curtains made of pencils suspended on string; through which the visitor walked; from Korea, an ancient Korean wooden house (Hanok) with children happily crawling all over it; and two extraordinary exhibits featuring intangible elements filling space, clouds or music. And last but not least, there was the brilliant posthumous collateral show of Louise Bourgeois, centering on a statue of a giant spider; and its webs. The Arsenale, site of many of the Biennale’s most significant exhibits, is a grand former munitions warehouse with cathedral-high ceilings, sandblasted brick walls, flooring of huge wooden planks, arched brick doorways r. It is a long continuous space so that one wanders through it, dazed, by massive structures or illusions. The exhibits in the Arsenale were voted by critics to be exceptional. Many visitors particularly admired “Cloud Storm”” and “The 40-Part Motet”, two exhibits not traditionally architectural. Using the intangible to fill and inhabit space— the first, clouds, the second, sound/music. Both were astounding. In “Cloud Storm,” visually stunning, a huge space flooded with clouds, domed windows reflected light and cloud; and if you ascended the giant iron staircase you would come up above the clouds and could look down to see the mist continually generated. It was an extraordinary way to begin my Biennale. But after my epiphany at the Arsenale, I had to return to the apartment, and to the ongoing strain of sustaining conversations. At dinner, over the fettucine alfredo, I waxed rhapsodic about the exhibits, hoping that we might enter into a discussion about them. But it was not to be. A ignored my

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remarks and began a series of rants directed at my many personal flaws. . And I think she believed that by sheer force of personality she might regain control over the conversation. She could eradicate my many erroneous beliefs and replace them with her own. It was part of an unspoken campaign to mould me into a potential long term companion. The more vehement, because unacknowledged. A was determined to educate me first about health. “Doctors are butchers. Why do you think you are ill? Because the doctor told you so. If you don’t go to doctors you remain healthy. I won’t go to the doctor; I won’t go to the dentist.” I forbore to note that she had already lost several teeth and was probably going to lose a few more. Similarly, A had strong views on literature. Although I was there in Venice to write, A told me that this goal was pointless. She said, “Nobody in Europe reads. It’s all Harry Potter.” Her attitude became a little more comprehensible when she told me that John Berendt, in his The City of Falling Angels, celebrating beauty, fantasy, and corruption in Venice, had interviewed A extensively and cited her as an informant for many potentially embarrassing assertions, causing great fury among her family. “Never assist a writer, my dear.” But of course this was pure rhetoric. A had some very interesting collections, including antique books in vellum, Storia dei Dogi Venetzia” (Stories of the Venetians Doges) piled next to Berendt. Archaic images and objects were scattered everywhere: engravings, paintings, etchings, Greek and Roman classics, photographs and letters from before the turn of the century to the present. That evening, before a party, A segued to her next topic — bodies, beauty and fashion. A explained that she was much fatter than she had been, squinting closely at me to see how much fatter I might be. Peering intently at my white roots, she remarked, “My boss tells me I should color my hair.” Considering that her reference points for high style came from her buying trips to Manhattan 20 years ago, she could not possibly have found their counterparts in me. As to contemporary fashion, she was determined to keep me in line. Re: the party, I said that I assumed jeans would do. “JEANS!!? NEVER! It is a formal occasion.” With difficulty I kept my mouth shut. A’s idea of fashion

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was idiosyncratic to say the least, in this temple of high style. Her pantry held possibly a year’s worth — of multi-colored clothing heaped up, dried in stubborn rigid wrinkles. So that she could just peel off one or two layers and throw them on, then on with the many sweaters covered with little white dog hairs, finally wrapping the adorable little dog around the neck like a boa. And off. Very formal. But in this case she was quite right—the partygoers were in full suit and tie. I was glad of the backless frock and bright woollen Indian shawl I had brought. In fact, I needed all the ammunition I could get to deal with this glittering array of Irishmen and Venetian expats. For, it was the social occasion of the week— a party held by my friend’s expat neighbours for their friends, Irish visitors to the Biennale. Who were our hosts, these Venetians? Artists, expats, former Bohemians many years resident in Venice, now landed gentry with children, land, palazzos. The evening was Irish night and the conversations were intensely competitive. The central theme —establishing the pecking order by means of demonstrating the ability to talk the hind leg off a donkey. The talk was entertaining, often deadly. I was put to the test. Robert our host was English, an eminent painter. In fact, a notable English woman academician whose portrait he had painted paid us a surprise visit that evening. We all had to shift our places at the table. Some of us ended up clutching oily, sandy cold plates of clams on our laps far far away from the table, in Siberia. Alison, Robert’s wife, an American, blonde, and charming, ran a gallery in Venice. Alison starred in one of the evening’s documentaries, featuring the invasion of bees into her Italian country house. The film showed her, friends and family as they struggled to cut out the combs, trap the combs and the honey, and lead the bees to a new locale. The guests were Irish folk in town for the Biennale—architects, writers, documentary film makers. Highly articulate, funny, fond of slipping subtle insults into the chat. These Irish were fluent, dramatic, ardent filibusterers. They may possibly have reserved some special zinger for me—I had been billed as a female “journalist.” Red rag to these bulls. I did have one point in my favor— the fact that I was Irish (remotely) on my father’s side. I did not tell them my mother was British.

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The leader of the group was documentary filmmaker Dylan. Dylan’s opening leer to me about his own girlfriend: “She’s like a bloke as a friend, but she cleans up nice, doesn’t she?” There were some interesting tensions. After a two week holiday in Japan Dylan was now a self-proclaimed expert—on the country and on its women. Dylan explained to his audience that any Japanese woman could be described as one of three G’s- Gucci, Geisha, or Goth. However, Dylan’s Japanese documentary was beautiful. The ryokans (country inns), brilliant autumn leaves; the temples and shrine festivals— it was deeply nostalgic. The man was gifted. I had tears in my eyes. Dylan’s next Italian documentary was about a plague of bees, at our host’s country Italian estates. Images—the large dripping combs of honey; the swarms of bees circling menacingly and stinging our hostess. We saw the dead bees; we saw the blood. Finally, we saw the giant combs of honey drained and stored. It was more ominous than charming. The next Irishman I met carried photos not of family but of his stately home, his land, and his pigs (he had advised his wife to keep pigs to occupy her mind). I had no pigs and no land. So I kept mum. We did establish one thing in common. I learned that my favourite Biennale exhibit had generally been acknowledged as among the Biennale’s best: “Motet for 40 Voices”, The Motet was a piece of musical architecture showcasing the exquisite Spem in alium nunquam habui by Thomas Tallis. The music echoed throughout the Arsenale. Every one of the voices, miked alone, stood on its own speaker in a huge semi-circle. One could listen to this single voice, travel around the circle and hear the voices joined, or stand in the middle and hear all forty voices at once. I commented that technically it was stunning. I said, it must have been quite a trick to get the mikes positioned exactly so that the ambient noise would not interfere. My respondent was affronted. This was his métier, not mine. After a discussion about Obama (I liked him, he didn’t) and about Sarah Palin, whom he purported to love, and I didn’t, he abruptly went silent, then turned on his heel to go for a smoke.

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The third man, named “The Little Monk” in Gaelic, a Gaelic linguist and historian, and a writer, was a little too interested on what I was doing.. He became agitated. “How much of the Biennale are you covering?” “Who’s your editor?” “What is your page count?” Fortunately, at this point, the party broke up. Next day, over espresso at breakfast again, A said in tones of deep disapproval, “I think they liked you.” It did not sound like a compliment. With a lifetime of experience as a good enabler, I quickly moved on to less controversial subjects: the lives of our animals and children. Me: no husband, two cats. A: one cat, no husband. One child. But a former husband. “My cat, the one you knew in Nagasaki, lived for twenty years.” (Padre Pio must have performed a resurrection). In Japan A had carried her cat in a holster everywhere. This little white cat had recently been replaced by Fanny, a little white dog. A photo shows the little dog happily riding on A’s shoulders, like a feather boa, as she jogged along the waterfront. Children: “This apartment is a shrine to my daughter.” Indeed it was. The central figure in A’s life, whom she clearly loved dearly but never mentioned without a biting criticism, was her daughter, born late in her life. (Remember Padre Pio healed barren flowering almond trees.) In a beautiful formal family photo, her daughter was the white-lace-bedizened baby. A’s then partner French Canadian chef Jean Claude, huge, moustachioed, towered over A, wearing a giant chef’s toque. She was holding the baby, attended by another little white dog. The photo was haunting: the partner and the little dog were either deceased or vanished, and the mother had raised the child for many years, alone. Indeed, A never ceased to talk about her daughter – it was her most endearing characteristic—but never with approval. Portraits of the daughter were everywhere. In one painting, at the age of ten, she was lovely, solemn, but compelling—it was not the face of a child. Another, a large photo of her at twelve, depicts a young woman on the brink of sexual maturity: very knowing, beautiful, and provocative. Her presence on Facebook had undoubtedly already caught the gaze of many. A singular monument to A’s daughter, in the dining room, had begun life as a huge dollhouse. But the structure now resembled a Pixar fantasy--a sprawled castle populated with action figures, science fiction creatures, Father

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Christmases, Ronald MacDonald, Wonder Woman, and bizarre winged and fanged and armed caped figures from alternate worlds I didn’t recognize. Shells. Tibetan prayer flags. The former dollhouse was now so large that it materially impinged on the dining room. One had to step way around it to get to the moribund PC or to the dining room and kitchen. But I loved it. I had had one too. In fact I never actually met A’s daughter, she had wisely taken herself off with a friend for the week. But I feel as though I do know her and admire her. She is a survivor, of a difficult single parent household. And she has had the self-possession to have made, at the age of twelve, a near independent life for herself—not easy on an island and village. We had reached another conversational dead end. I attempted to move on, to describe my life and times. “Crazy” a word I used frequently when describing family, seemed to strike a nerve. She took it as an inverted attack on her. A: “Yes, you are crazy. Ah, so am I crazy. And my neighbour is crazy too. But my neighbour and I try to tailor our craziness to each other. We need each other.” A took great exception to my comments about my family. Although her own family stories displayed marked ambivalence, clearly family was supposed to be sacred. “Your family stories are like pus seeping from a wound.” And then, with a sneer: “You are exactly like my sister in LA – always complaining about how she is estranged from the family. Always wanting me or my daughter to visit her. You must make amends with your family.” I could not let these assertions go without a challenge. I pointed out that what I wanted was to look forward rather than backward. That reuniting with my family was a lost cause. I thought I’d made my point. But she brusquely dismissed me. At a later dinner conversation, A decided to change tactics by sharing some painful stories about her own family. “My aunt used to lock me in the cupboards as a punishment.” Another: “My father does not treat me with the respect owed to me, the eldest daughter. “I gathered there had been a painful incident at her parents’ dining table. Despite the fact that A, the oldest in her family, ought to have taken precedence in the seating arrangement. Her father had tried to make her get up to honour her (younger) brother’s wife. Clearly a significant family snub.

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Memory is treacherous. I had remembered my friend as genuinely kind, and caring. A colleague and friend. Thirty years ago she had been the star teacher at our Japanese college., with a wide circle of affectionate pupils and friends, and very close to the charming and determined professor who was expected to take over the headship of the college. I remembered her also as very entertaining, a clown. Once, after shooting a Japanese TV commercial she had travelled home to Nagasaki dressed in full geisha drag wearing a black headdress, white lead face paint, dramatic eye make-up and bright red pouty lipstick. Admiring travellers offered her cups of tea, bottles of beer, dried cuttlefish, and bean paste cakes. Probably offers of marriage to boot. But in real life, clowns are often sad. And angry, underneath all the paint. I was forced to recognize that all had changed. A’s Nagasaki-mentor had suddenly and unexpectedly died. During her time in Venice she had lost her partner and finally, her beloved Venetian boss. And now, she had attempted without acknowledging it to import a new companion – me – and that had gone bust as well. By this time the conversation had again come to a halt. In a possible attempt at a truce, A suggested that I come by her Pavilion at the Biennale the following day, and we could go around the exhibitions together for a while. I agreed. We set off for the Canadian pavilion, a wonderful exhibit called “Hylozooic Ground”, a fantasy of white fronds and tendrils curling up and down, sparkling with lights, reaching out to touch the visitor’s fingers, appearing to be a live and intelligent animal. But even after this, the mood again turned sour and angry. When we met the people managing the Canadian exhibition, the woman in charge greeted her: “Oh, here is A- our international bon vivant!” A did not like this. She muttered “Hah! bon vivant, bon vivant” to herself. I asked what on earth the problem was. I gradually realized she thought that it meant they were saying she was a drunk. Another warning. That night A seemed determined to prove them right. She worked her way through a couple of bottles of wine—with some help from me. As she became drunk, she underwent a marked change. Her face became flushed, and

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puffy, her eyes glittered, her laugh was raucous, speech mumbled and incoherent it was as though she had gone from sobriety to alcohol toxicity, without passing go. Exactly like Japanese businessmen. And she was a mean drunk. She ran into the kitchen and came out with a vegetable I didn’t recognize – resembling a stalk of celery with a bulb shaped root. She shook it at me, cackling uproariously: “Finocchio!” she shouted. “Finocchio!” Fennel? I asked. Oh yes, I see. “NO! YOU are the finocchio!” (Italian street slang for faggot, dyke, homo, etc. etc.) Brandishing her bulbous stalked vegetable. Like something wicked out of Punch and Judy. I looked at her, appalled. I no longer recognized my old friend. By the next morning, she was perfectly bland and noncommittal. It was as though this incident had never happened. I wondered if I could cash in my plane ticket early. No, not without a hefty penalty. And not without missing some important exhibits. Clearly I would have to stick it out. In retrospect-this crisis had probably been inevitable. But I played dumb. Denial had worked for her just fine; I was determined to let it work for me too. By this time, I was determined to end the Biennale week happily —attending a memorable exhibit by Louise Bourgeois—”The Fabric Works”. This show rang many changes on the theme of feminist/women’s art, and the ancient divine. The central statue, a menacing bronze “Crouching Spider” was juxtaposed to its “webs” of fabric. The spider and webs conjured up images used for women throughout time—of spinning threads and nurturing, creating cocoons, and also of ferocity and destruction. The witty webs, on the walls, were constructed of Bourgeois’ own clothing—coarse mattress ticking and fine lustrous silks and satin, embroidery, buttons, and sparkling beads. The effect was both rich and surreal. In a nearby glass cage, a giant silk cocoon was attached to spools of silk thread. In yet another glass cage, gigantic cocoons hung in mid-air. One could only wonder what fell creatures were brooding in there. Bourgeois, who died at the age of 98 in May of this year, was both artist and a master craftswoman. She created high art with humble stuffs, evoking thoughts of those ancient spinners the Three Fates. Bourgeois herself wrote: “I have a religious temperament. I have not been educated to use it. I’m afraid of power. It makes me nervous. In real life, I identify with the victim. That’s why I

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went into art.” If I could have chosen only one show to see that week, it would have been this. It was the end of my week in Venice., I hoped that we might finally bury the hatchet. At yet another espresso breakfast, A announced that she had a job for me. Which would validate my staying on in Venice. And indeed, was possibly the real reason she had invited me to come to Venice. A wanted a biography written about Louisa Crawford Landi, her former boss, the aforementioned owner/manager of a renowned textile weaving and finishing factory. Whom she had loved, admired, feared, obeyed in all things. “Of course Louisa was an American woman! And American women are so strong, so positive. Louisa absorbed me into her world. She called me ‘the girl’—when getting ready for a meeting she would say, ‘I am bringing the girl.’ It was a mark of honour. She brought me into the company, trained me, and then came to depend on me. Like Louisa. I was chained to my desk. I didn’t take a vacation or go to the doctor or dentist for over 20 years.” I said dryly, “Some might call this slavery”. But A was very proud of the sacrifices she had endured. I was, foolishly, thrilled at this offer. Perhaps Padre Pio was attempting to make my own barren almond trees flower. I found the story of Louisa Landi entrancing. Writing her biography could make a name for an emerging writer like me. A’s boss, a legend, citizen of Venice/ and New York was a powerful, brilliant business woman, and an interior designer. Born at the turn of the century she saved the textile importing and production house from financial collapse, and founded Arachne Inc. to act as an importer. She continued to work full-time at the factory and its offices until she was well over100 years old. After the flowering almond trees, the barbed wire! I realized that this story could also turn into a nightmare. I would have to formally request permission from the lawyers who now managed the factory to take on the project. Not a foregone conclusion. I tried to get A to talk about fundraising. But A could not see that this would be necessary. In her mind, the idea was hers. The story was hers. The kudos and profits would be hers alone. She might hire me but it would just be work for hire – “hire” being unspecified. The idea of compensating a writer

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was utterly alien to her. Why would I need money? After all, I was always scribbling away anyway! A crossed her arms and lifted her chin defiantly, turning her head away. Taking refuge in a grand form of magical thinking or denial. Her convictions were hers. Her contacts were hers. The project was hers to deal with as she saw fit. I left Venice very happy about writing tales of the Biennale, but full of dread about the Louisa Crawford Landi project. Nothing had been resolved but I had made an uneasy pledge to begin research and to contact the lawyers. But I knew that I had to face facts. No matter how viable the project might once have been, any genuine possibility of its working had been scuttled by the conflicts between me and A. What exactly had happened, I can only guess. I believe that A had decided that she needed a new (unspecified) partner in life. To help raise her daughter. The candidate must be acceptable socially to her and her neighbours—hence the invitation to the Irish Night. But that partner must not be too accomplished or social since that would constitute unacceptable competition. The first piece of bait, an invitation to the Biennale, had backfired. So the second was the Louisa Landi biography. But I had not entered into this agreement with the docility that A required. Nor did I agree to delay my departure from Venice. I don’t think A ever recognized her own role in setting up unrealistic hopes and expectations. Or, for that matter, her inability to discuss openly what she wanted. She simply felt increasingly thwarted, and she was bitterly angry. In the event, unbeknownst to either of us, A had already lost control of the project. Less than two weeks after I’d left Venice the first flood of blog items, articles, and Facebook entries about the company and its owners appeared on the Net. Followed by a chic, hip and trendy new corporate website. A clear message to a would-be old school unofficial biographer: back off! Back in New York, I charged ahead. I called my editor, a designer, and a costume historian. The designer, a difficult but brilliant lady whose work I had recently profiled, laughing angrily made it clear she felt the project ought to be hers by right. She was more cautious but began deluging me with mandates

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and instructions. Her last directive was that I must immediately drop everything and attend a conference in Scotland where a costume historian would be speaking. I asked, on whose dime? Well, mine of course. Was I not an independent scholar? My erstwhile editor, another powerful but difficult lady, was furious with me. I was undertaking a project which she had not blessed; and, drawing one of her favourite writers and friends into it as well. How dare I do such a thing! She hoped I did not have any ideas of drawing on her agent or publishing contacts. I need not expect any help from her. Too many forces arrayed against me. And I feared getting entangled with the company lawyer, reputed to be a relentless litigator. One writer friend urged me to get out fast, that I was dealing with people capable of bending the world to their wills, and that I would be unable to contend with them. I felt that she was right. I sent A a message saying that I was getting out. A’s response was both sad and funny. First, she said, her computer was broken so she could not communicate with me. (This was a Padre Pio moment. If he could heal beat up motorbikes surely she could petition him to fix her computer!) Then she said she knew nothing of articles about the company and its owners/managers. Where were these articles? She did not believe there were articles. I must send her the articles. Time for Padre Pio to arrange for these articles to be sent to her and to arrive at their destination—without postage. (A pretty good analogy for email, when you think about it.) Finally A said that the project had only existed because of me, because I had been so interested in it! It was all my doing and none of hers. This made my decision much easier. We were done. It is possible for friendship to survive distance in space and time, even after thirty years. Even if one person is a 19th century Catholic, a disciple of the old religion, living in Venice, and the other an aspiring Buddhist, struggling to make it in 21st c. New York. But their worlds may simply collide. And indeed, our worlds did collide, and fell apart. No divine intervention from Padre Pio could bring these two people together again. So, someone else – perhaps Padre Pio – will help to battle this year’s acqua alta, the high waters. To bring up the difficult daughter. And perhaps most importantly, to tell the tale of Louisa Crawford Landi. But it won’t be me. It is time to move on.

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Chilmark and Cheltenham: A Travel Diary by Ananya Dutta Gupta

Dutta Gupta, Ananya. “Chilmark and Cheltenham.” Coldnoon: Travel Poetics 1.4 (2012): 64-72. Web.

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Chilmark and Cheltenham: A Travel Diary by Ananya Dutta Gupta

11th July: I change trains at Reading and Basingstoke for Tisbury, station just after Salisbury; first train journey through beautiful, green England. Keep thinking of Sherlock Holmes catching trains into the countryside. Alight from the train to a warm greeting from Mr. Woodhouse; hop into the car for a two-and-ahalf-mile ride into the village of Chilmark; pass by an old barn on the way; Mr. Woodhouse explains that the barn was used by the church to store the onetenth of crops it collected from every farm as tithe; ask who sold the grain in the market on behalf of the church; Mr. Woodhouse waves at a bus-driver and I find myself asking if everyone in the community knows everyone else; told with a smile that is not the case; rather it is the minimal mutual civility without which life in the country would be difficult; bring up the topical subject of public transport or the lack of it in rural England; learn that private cars are an absolute necessity , rising petrol prices notwithstanding. The local river, Nadder, is on the right most of the way. Note the village pub, The Black Dog, on the way, not realizing that I would be back there that evening for my first visit to an English pub. The Cottage, as the stone-built Woodhouse residence is called, comes into view. Step into the house to yet another warm welcome from Mrs. Woodhouse and Westie, the friendliest dog I have met. Shown to my room upstairs: full of Holly, their daughter’s childhood souvenirs; beautiful old dressing-table; lovely low window overlooking the front of the house; intrigued by a framed photograph of a rat. Spend a long time trying to identify Holly on the snaps stuck to the side of the bookcase. Go down to the kitchen for a cup of tea with my host and hostess; feel instantly at ease; gather that they had spent one whole year in the Nilgiri Hills and one whole day in Calcutta, without getting the shock of their life.

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Talk briefly about Sir Philip Sidney. Hear a proud Englishman’s views on the autocracy of Brussels and the foregone conclusion of the future referendum. Told, much to my excitement, that Wilton House, the Pembroke family-seat where Sidney wrote The Arcadia, is close. Soon afterwards, start on a trip to Salisbury with Mrs. Woodhouse. Drive through the narrow roads flanked by verges and hedgerows, reminding me of English countryside-scenes in television serials; now and then, horses with amateur jockeys trot by; one of them is a beautiful chestnut; my father loves chestnut horses, I remark; then, quite suddenly, appears the Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain. Within minutes, we are at the car-park. Gaze at the haunting sight of the stately rocks through “barbed wires”. Speculate on the purpose of the building; the information that the first rays of the morning sun strike a certain set of three vertical and parallel rocks with another laid horizontally on them sets me think about the similar phenomenon at the marvellous Konark sun-temple in Orissa, India- there the inner shrine is so positioned that the sun shines directly on it every morning. Find out that those black-and-white birds that guard the Old Bank Hotel vat in Magpie Lane, Oxford, are called magpies. Take my first snaps of the day; am photographed peering through the wiry fences; make for the Old Sarum ruins; share a smile with my hostess about the glib assistant at the ticket-counter, wander through the grounds and ruins, peer into the deep echoing well; Mrs. Woodhouse recalls a poem by Hardy I do not know; see the old cathedral site, climb onto the high ground for a panoramic view, try to imagine why the cathedral had to be moved stone by stone to its present site in Salisbury town; scarcity of water and the potentially inhospitable surroundings. My hostess, who teaches English as a foreign language, corrects my phrasing of the question, ‘Do you go to the church regularly’, by pointing out the superfluous article. Pass through the beautiful old gate-way into the town. Rush to the Salisbury Cathedral to listen to the Evensong; learn what a ‘close’ is; find the edifice just as imposing, but more inviting than the Gothic cathedral of Cologne; manage to hear the last couple of minutes of the Evensong; as always, soothed by the serenity of the Christian religious experience; watch as the small boy-singers silently walk out of the choir; wish the hymns had gone on longer; taken on an expertly conducted tour of the interior; admire the chantries; Mrs. Woodhouse explains what the ‘chancel’

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and ‘nave’ of the church mean. Told about the Christian ecclesiastical version of the Roman Saturnalia, in which one of the choir-boys plays bishop on a particular day; that night, Edward, the youngest Woodhouse, reminisces about his turn at playing boy-bishop; I ask if it was his first public speech; ‘yes, but probably, my last, too’, comes the quick rejoinder from Edward. In the cathedral, I walk through the cloisters into the exhibition room to look at the wonderfully preserved copy of the Magna Carta. A suitably proud and portly guide who has been explaining to an American couple that the Magna Carta was the father of modern democratic constitutions remarks how the condensed Latin sentence helped the ‘men’ who had to fit all the contents into the seventy-six lines of dense minuscule calligraphy on a single scroll. ‘Or women’, quips Mrs. Woodhouse; I snigger mischievously. Our antagonist shakes his head saying, ‘We won’t give in on that yet.’ Admire the dazzling stained glass-works and the oldest existing clock in England. Mark the relative sparseness of the decoration, cleared away after the Reformation. See two beautifully carved panels imported from India sometime in the past. The national flag and the plaque in memory of First and Second World War soldiers remind me of the close ties between church and state; admire the grand building from the outside; my hostess’s enthusiasm is infectious. Talk about the famous Constable painting. Pass the former Prime Minister Edward Heath’s house, a stone’s throw from the cathedral. Learn that Mrs. Woodhouse was in the choir at his eightieth birthday celebrations. Nearby is the Georgian house in which Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was filmed. Drive past the Old Rectory where the poet George Herbert lived and Claysmore School where Mrs. Woodhouse teaches. Beautiful stone as well as cob-and-thatch cottages on the way. Back at the Cottage, meet William and feel gratified to know that I am not the only person to have ‘studied’ soap operas; settle down with the Hardy-country guides Mrs. Woodhouse has procured for my benefit. Then, go to the village pub with William and Edward, sit outside and talk about films and alcohol. Walk back through a wet meadow, climb over a fence and down a stile for the first time in my life; reminded of Little Women. Shown the hermetically-sealed Chilmark Manor, owned by a German prince who comes periodically to shoot deer, and the new wooden cross inaugurated by the Prince of Wales; gather that the boys found him unassuming. Sit down with the family for a proper English

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dinner; talk about the exotic British-Asian ‘curry’ cuisine; quite disarmed by Mr. Woodhouse’s question whether India’s hierarchical caste-system offered the safety-valve of carnivalesque topsy-turvy-dom. Rack my brains to fish out the one example I know through the good offices of BBC Radio 4, namely, the carnival among the untouchables of Kerala, where they metamorphose themselves into deities to rise above their social superiors and oppressors. Try to think if Kalipuja may be seen as carnivalesque; probably not. I ponder: does this reflect positively on India’s much-maligned caste-system or negatively on my paradoxical familiarity with Occidental customs and ignorance of their Indian counterparts? Use the unforgivably misleading term ‘somersault’ to explain the acrobatic skills that the North-East Indian dance-form, Manipuri, calls for. Told a delightful anecdote about an eccentric aristocrat offering Edward a twenty-year-old ant-infested lozenge out of her coat-pocket. Enjoy the ‘alkalizing’ aqua libra and the salmon steak with watercress.

12th July: Walk around the wild but peaceful garden with Westie, staring at the flowers and the leaves without knowing their names; avoid eye-contact with a blackbird because of its hostile eyes; wonder why English birds with their sweet voices look so aggressive; savour the fresh, almost moist, smell all around me; peep into the small brick go-down at the back and wonder if it’s a hideaway; quite frightened by the big shovel; amused by the very unreliable-looking wooden ladder rested against the tree , tempted to climb up to the arboreal seat, but desist ; steal a look at the windows of the house, embarrassed as usual at what might be an invasive act. Westie returns sporadically to her acrobatics with a piece of battered plastic; wonder if she is trying to entertain me; wish I could tell her that she needn’t have gone to so much trouble, because I liked her anyway; smile at her off and on, not daring to speak, lest a chance Bengali endearment make her suspicious, as it did the Meuellers’ dog in Bonn. Breakfast-hour approaches, slowly walk back towards the house, very proud of my wet feet in Indian slippers; not sure what exactly I enjoyed about

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the garden; less sure what I had actually managed to see; try to imagine the many privations of an urban Indian upbringing and the difference a backgarden might make to many people’s lives back home. Talk about Bill Clinton at University; told how he dodged the Vietnam conscription because he didn’t want to kill. It is revealed to me that primary-school teachers are better paid than even Oxford dons. Mr. Woodhouse opines that school-teachers should be morally exemplary and university-teachers, intellectually, rather than the reverse. Enjoy the cool watery melon at breakfast; relieved to see Edward use fingers to hold his slice, having had a hard time myself negotiating my slice with a fork and spoon. Leave shortly for what will be a day-long Thomas Hardy pilgrimage; try to take in the Dorset landscape, hear interesting anecdotes about life as a foreigner in Moscow; discuss yet another topical subject- the English school system and the hardships of parenting in the First World; embarrassed at the number of questions I have already asked my patient companion; can sense the palpable attachment that the nation feels towards the land and its tradition; empathize with the fiercely protective instinct. Before Edward gets down, we talk about Indian Classical Music. Ask if it is possible to want to live elsewhere after living here: told, it can get a bit too quiet. That’s why the English went sailing, I suppose. An elderly man trudges along, with a walkingstick. But for the car and the mobile-phone, we could still be in the nineteenth century. Mrs. Woodhouse often raises part of her hand from the steering– wheel in a gesture of greeting or thanks or both, which, as I have already noted, is common among vehicular drivers here, especially when one offers right of way. Like all confident female drivers of private-cars, Mrs. Woodhouse looks incredibly smart when she does that. A monstrous truck invariably elicits a good-humoured ‘Ugh!’ from her. A fast car from the opposite direction or the need for a sudden break or tackle evokes a ‘Woops!’ I will later note whether Mr. Woodhouse makes that gesture to passing cars just as often; he doesn’t. I form the impression his wife likes driving, and likes the elegant gestures that go with it. I even ask her if my surmise of long standing is true: that driving imparts a sense of liberation, all the more cherished by women because of the sex’s long-endured constraints. She agrees. ‘Are you feeling peckish?’ my hostess asks after a while. ‘What does that mean?’ I ask back. ‘Hungry’, comes the answer. Yet another word, I would never have learnt if I hadn’t made this

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trip. Soon, reach the car-park at the bottom of the ‘woodland’ path leading up to Hardy’s birthplace, hence Higher Bockhampton; love the now familiar fresh smell of leaves all along the unspoilt path; feel a hint of adventure when Mrs. Woodhouse holds some branches of holly for me to pass through unpricked; linger in the colourful unmanicured garden outside the cottage before going in; love the tiny window beside the staircase through which the Hardy family paid the workers, make my way through the tiny rooms; find the patch-work bedspread on the bed where Hardy was born very pretty ; go over the strange anecdote that the frail new-born Thomas was given up for dead by the doctor; marvel at ‘life’s little ironies’; as usual, the photographs and framed manuscripts and letters do not speak to me immediately; relate the curious fact that The Mayor of Casterbridge remains my mother’s favourite, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles my father’s , and that I take after my father; very touched by my fellow-pilgrim’s interest in people whom she has never seen. Look back at the house several times afterwards, especially at the pretty floral curtains swaying in the breeze. Meet the village donkeys on the way back; realize for the first time in my life how gentle a donkey’s eyes are; will never forget them. Visit the Anglican church of St. Michael’s at Stinsford, which Hardy used to frequent; stand in front of the stained glass representation of Elijah put there in Hardy’s memory; learn what a ‘hassock’ means; visit the graves, learn that yew trees in the graveyard are a pagan leftover; also learn, much to my surprise, that Christians do cremate their dead like Hindus. My hostess draws my attention to a battered, twisted sign-post by the roadside and we share a good laugh over it. Visit the West Stafford Church, admire the green creepers adorning the doorway and the beautifully simple iron-bolts on the wooden church-door; this is where Tess and Angel were married. Then the drive to the town of Dorchester; can’t follow the thick West Country accent of the Park-and-Ride bus-driver; talk about widowhood in Bengal over lunch; try to convey some of the thinking behind the cruelty without denying the obvious social discrimination; speak about Satyendranath Dutta’s poem on the subject. Visit the Old Crown Court where the Tolpuddle martyrs were sentenced; mention Satyaprasanna Majumdar, my greatgrandfather, who was a judge; visit the Dorchester County Museum, look closely around the Hardy Wing, especially his recreated third study through the glass barrier. Love the Vaughan Williams song, which Mrs. Woodhouse

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identifies for me; touched yet again by the gift of a specimen of brass painting; discover William Barnes. On the way out from St. Peter’s Church learn that a particular mythical gargoyle figure is a ‘gryphon’; its head and wings are an eagle’s and its trunk, a lion’s. Pose for a photograph in front of what was Michael Henchard’s house in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Can sense that ‘browns’ are still a novelty in this part of the country. Last halt: Max Gate, where Hardy lived with his second wife, Florence, forty-years his junior. Enjoy looking at the old album; amused to be told by the present tenant and curator of the house that Hardy changed his study thrice; struck again by the far greater freedom that life in the past must have offered; in other words, one can only grumble about a room when one has the choice of moving to another; quite unthinkable in the modern Indian urban context; quite at a loss as to what to write in the Visitors’ Book; can’t tell our guide that a slightly self-indulgent writer’s complaints about the lack of space in a sprawling house is the only thing that has interested me. After staring at the page haplessly for a while, pen the following unimpressive comment: ‘makes one think about Hardy the Man’; feel that it has not lived up to my ‘image’ as a student of literature at Oxford. Hurry out of the house, into the pet’s graveyard; quite a revelation, again- can’t fit it into my mental image of Hardy the Writer. On the way back, shocked at my inarticulateness when it comes to describing in English the biggest Bengali festival. Back at the Cottage, change into a sari for the evening; embarrassed for the umpteenth time that day at the fact that my hostess hasn’t had time to dress yet; find ‘hulling’ strawberries a most interesting occupation; quite delighted with myself at my first witticism of the day: the observation that Russ’s nickname is derived from his surname. Led into the sitting room to meet the guests; abashed at how much of Shakespeare I either don’t know or have managed to forget. The Head of English at Claysmore, Michael Howard, does match my mental image of an English schoolmaster. He seems to be a very earnest man, dedicated to his students. He gives me a useful lead for my dissertation. Pleasantly surprised and deeply honoured when he later suggests that I should come to Claysmore to give a talk on Hardy. Answer questions on the Communist Government in Bengal very shakily, anxious all the time not to make a grammatical mistake; ask questions on diplomatic ‘meetings’ and ‘interpreters’ misinterpretation’ and the war in Chechnya; still not sure

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whether my questions were simple or clever; go inwardly red when I contradict the host on Sinbad the Sailor, having spoken inadvertently about something I know so little about; impressed with the spirited, chain-smoking octogenarian lady’s knowledge of world geography; touched when my hostess bids everybody watch as I taste my first strawberry; wish my face wasn’t so expressive; add a spoonful of sugar and begin to enjoy the rest in my dessertbowl. Enjoy the post-dinner conversation with my host and hostess just as much, before retiring.

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Editorial Board

EDITOR Arup K Chatterjee Poet, Critic and Researcher Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi, India

ASSISTANT EDITOR Amrita Ajay Researcher, and Teacher of English University of Delhi, India

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS K Satchidanandan Poet, and Former Professor of English, University of Calicut Former Editor of Indian Literature, The journal of Sahitya Akademi New Delhi, India Lisa Thatcher Writer Sydney, Australia

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Sudeep Sen Poet, and Editor of Atlas Magazine Editorial Director of Aark Arts Publishers New Delhi, India, London UK GJV Prasad Poet, Novelist, and Critic Professor of English, Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice Chair, Indian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies Editor of Journal of the School of Languages New Delhi, India Sebastien Doubinsky Poet, Novelist, and Critic Researcher, and Lecturer, Aesthetics and Communication Aarhus University, Denmark

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