VOL I ISSUE #9
The Woven Tale Press
(c) copyright 2013
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Sandra Tyler Author of Blue Glass, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and After Lydia, both published by Harcourt Brace; awarded BA from Amherst College and MFA in writing from Columbia University; professor of creative writing on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including at Columbia University, (NY), Wesleyan University (CT), and Manhattanvill College, (NY); served as assistant editor at Ploughshares and The Paris Review literary magazines, and production freelancer for Glamour, Self, and Vogue magazines; freelance editor; Stony Brook University’s national annual fiction contest judge; a 2013 BlogHer.com Voices of the Year. http://www.awriterweavesatale.com
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Michael Dickel, Ph.D. A poet, fiction writer, essayist, photographer and digital artist, Dr. Dickel holds degrees in psychology, creative writing, and English literature. He has taught college, university writing and literature courses for nearly 25 years; served as the director of the Student Writing Center at the University of Minnesota and the Macalester Academic Excellence Center at Macalester College (St. Paul, MN). He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36 (2010). His work has appeared in literary journals, anthologies, art books, and online for over 20 years, including in:THIS Literary Magazine, Eclectic Flash, Cartier Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Sketchbook, Emerging Visions Visionary Art eZine, and Poetry Midwest. His latest book of poems is Midwest / Mid-East: March 2012 Poetry Tour. http://michaeldickel.info Kelly Garriott Waite Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Christian Science Monitor, Thunderbird Stories Project, Volume One, Valley Living, The Center for a New American Dream and in the on-line magazine, Tales From a Small Planet. Her fiction has been published in The Rose and Thorn Journal (Memory, Misplaced), in Front Row Lit (The Fullness of the Moon) and in Idea Gems Magazine (No Map and No Directions). Her works in progress have been included in the Third Sunday Blog Carnival: The Contours of a Man’s Heart and Wheezy Hart. She is the author of Downriver and The Loneliness Stories, both available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. http://writinginthemarginsburstingattheseams.blogspot.com
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Dyane Forde Author of forthcoming Rise of the Papilion Trilogy: The Purple Morrow (Book 1) http://droppedpebbles.wordpress.com Shanan Hailsip Business and fiction writer. http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com Adrienne Kerman Freelance writer and editor, her essays have appeared in multiple magazines, as well as in The Boston Globe and Washington Post. She has authored a weekly parenting column, MomsTalk, for the Boston area AOL/Patch sites. http://mintsinmymotherspurse.blogspot.com Lisa A. Kramer, Ph.D Freelance writer, editor, theatre director, and arts educator. She has published non-fiction articles in theater journals, as well articles aimed at young people for Listen Magazine. Her fiction is included in Theme-Thology: Invasion published by HDWPBooks. com. She is the director of a writers’ workshop From Stage to Page: Using Creative Dramatics to Inspire Writing. http://www.lisaakramer.com LeoNard Thompson Has published opinion editorials, weekly columns and essays, and interviewed performers, practitioners, writers, politicians and personalities. http://leeyonard.com Lynn Wohlers Awarded BFA from School of Visual Arts, NY, NY; writer for Daily Post’s Photography 101 series. lynn-wohlers.artistwebsites.com, Bluebrightly. WordPress.com,
Our staff is an eclectic mix of writers and editors with keen eyes for the striking. So beware â€“ they may be culling your own site for those gems deserving to be unearthed and spotlit in The Woven Tale Press.
Editorâ€™s Note: The Woven Tale Press is a monthly culling of the creative web, exhibiting the artful and innovative. So enjoy here an eclectic mix of the literary, visual arts, photography, humorous, and offbeat. This month: surreal ducks, a cow jumping over the moon, paper wishes, and catâ€™s eyes.
All submissions are credited by their interactive URLs; click on an URL to learn more about a contributor.
To submit go to: thewoventalepress.net
The Eternal Now
Life Stories 3
Rock the Night
Beethoven on a Sunday
Sundays remind me of Beethoven. No matter how sunny the day may be, how perfectly ripe the weather, Sunday is always slightly gloomy and oppressing. Sundays were generally spent with my mother and her family. First, we went to church to get right with God or, at the very least, to bank some salvation for the coming week. Second, we would go to my aunt’s house for a proper Sunday dinner. If the weather permitted, we would congregate outside after the dishes had been washed and put away. If not, we would be stuck in the house listening to mundane conversation being had by dull adults (all adults are dull from the perspective of a seven year old). The day was particularly long and painful if we had been dressed up for church. It was the seventies after all – ruffles, high collars, and polyester. Just try getting comfortable in a floor-length concoction with a starched lace collar and buttons down the back the size of silver dollars. My father was rarely a part of this ritual. He worked hard and drank hard. Sundays were for recuperating. My mother came from a chronically Catholic family. My father did not. If he did manage to make it to church, it was because Jesus was either being born or killed. Apparently those were two occasions that were worthy of his presence. But once in church, my father would promptly fall asleep. A swift elbow to the ribs from my mother was his cue to get up for communion or to stop snoring. Once his soul was saved, it was on to the family dinner followed by a well-deserved sofa nap. It seems that church followed by forced interaction with the in-laws was too taxing for my father’s delicate constitution. Mostly he was hung over, but that doesn’t sound as forgivable. He would be woken up in enough time to act gracious by way of hugs and a thank you before carting us all back home. On the rare occasion, the Sunday routine was scrapped – if there were more than eight feet of snow, or one of us had contracted malaria. In these cases, my father was in charge of Sunday. These Sundays started around noon. The first and only rule was that we were allowed to stay in our pajamas all day. We weren’t even required to brush our teeth. And from the moment my father trundled out of bed, there was music. My father was and probably still is a music junkie. He had frankensteined several stereo combinations from others in order to maximize his listening pleasure. With his liberal use of speak-
ers, his systems could play anything from an 8-track, to a record, to a cassette tape simultaneously (although, why you would want to do that is beyond me). One system even sported two turntables. Yes, two, and top-of-the-line naturally. He was a slave to all types of music, but Sundays seemed to call for classical. More to the point, they called for Beethoven. Dark, moody, “I hope this sounds okay because I can barely hear it” Beethoven. The music was not simply to be listened to, but experienced; we did not sit quietly on the divan and analyze composition subtleties or nuances of harmonies. Instead, we were encouraged to stand on furniture and conduct our own imaginary orchestras. We even had moments when we took the show on the road, marching from room to room and playing the flute or the trombone on various spatulas and wooden spoons. My little brother was a big fan of the pot covers as cymbals. At the time, my sister and I were taking ballet lessons, and would gracefully practice an arabesque or two. She was all pointed toes and sweeping arms and twirls. I took tap lessons. Beethoven and tap dancing do not mix. I always wore my tap shoes anyway, just in case. The music was always loud which caused my mother to retire to her bedroom and close the door. I think she was just happy to have the day off. My mother’s decamping for the day meant that my father was not only in charge of entertainment but also our victuals. For most fathers this would mean opening a can of soup or slapping together a classy grilled-cheese sandwich. Not my father. He loved to cook and anything and everything was fair game. Most of the time we had no idea what we were actually eating. The magic was in the preparation, and stereo speakers were moved as close as possible to the kitchen doorway. My father in the kitchen was an interesting sight. Not only was it interesting because it was rare, but because it was the complete opposite of my mother in the kitchen – she hated to cook, and fed us primarily so we wouldn’t starve. Most of what she prepared came from a box, a can, or an envelope. Whatever required her to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen was on the weekly menu. My father, on the other hand, made everything from scratch. He had gadgets and contraptions for slicing, dicing, chopping, mincing, and filleting. He even had a set of Ginsu knives in case the recipe he had chosen demanded he slice a tin can as easily as a tomato. He hardly ever used recipes as a rule. He was part mad scientist and whirling Dervish, running back and forth between refrigerator and stove. He threw ingredients together and then threw them out if he didn’t find the combination palatable. He added dashes of this and pinches of that. He stirred feverishly, chopped frantically and braised delicately. No matter what he produced, in the end it always seemed to require every mixing bowl, every pot, and every pan in the house. 7
We usually ate dinner on the couch because there was no room left on the kitchen table. My mother would walk out of her room and sigh. She knew she was in for a long evening of pot scrubbing and dish washing. We ate my fatherâ€™s bizarre concoctions sometimes reluctantly, sometimes with gusto. We ate and we listened to Beethoven. It was always a good Sunday when my father was in charge. But those days were few and far between. It always seemed that the depressive days far outnumbered the manic ones. As much as I loved those Sundays, I find it hard to think of them without remembering the sadness positioned just beneath the surface. I find it difficult to separate Sunday from the melancholy feel of a Beethoven symphony and the gray air of gloom that it invokes. Sundays will always remind me of Beethoven.
I retrace the folds and creases on the paper, recreating an old boyhood memory— something my Grandfather taught me. He folded paper tigers that leapt and roared across the kitchen table. He made folded dogs to keep me safe at night from the monsters underneath my bed. Corner flap. Tuck. Crimp. We sailed red-paper dragons in the sky, watched green-paper frogs hop about, flew yellow-paper butterflies in the night. I sit by his bed, his breathing shallow and labored. It’s my turn to fold animals for him. Folding a thousand paper cranes… …waiting for a crane to grant one wish.
A Memento of Ivory The ivory toy piano was a memento. Grandmotherâ€™s last gift. She sat in the corner of the living room, untouched, a forlorn child unattended by the family. Its body, cracked and yellowing with age, its bones giving way neglected, its voice broken by time. The piano was beautiful once. Young in a memory, I cannot recall. Her voice sweet and playful to the ears as she sang. How the people fought to touch her then, yearned to make her sweet dulcet voice sing through night and day. I tried my hand tickling the ivories today. All I heard were tears.
Suprising...Staten Island When I was working in New York City, I found an apartment at the north end of Staten Island, the borough New Yorkers love to bash. But my rent was lower than if I’d lived in the city, and I could walk to the Staten Island ferry, then walk to work. On weekends when I went exploring, I found an unlikely amalgam of eccentricity and beauty, much of which I documented with camera and phone.
You never know what you’re going to see from the ferry, even as it docks.
The corner deli near my old apartment sells coffee and the morning paper, and for a while the owner added a fountain of soap suds, just to catch the eye of passerbys. Originally from Iran, he teaches college mathematics and runs the deli on the side. I can’t vouch for the coffee – I take black tea in the morning – and I have no idea who Sean is.
I used to see this van around the island regularly. Here, it’s all done up for Christmas. For Mothers Day it was every bit as colorful, festooned with plastic flowers. 11
Up near the Verrazano Bridge, you might find a small herd of goats if you happen to be wandering around Fort Wadsworth on a summer day. It seems goats do a bangup job on the poison ivy that infests parkland surrounding the fort.
Speaking of goats, in the old Arthur Kill neighborhood you might come across this, what’s got to be the city’s only feed store. Don’t ask me what’s going on in that second story window….
The Red Balloon Mixed Media with Reclaimed Fabric and Fibers 44 x 42 inches 13
White Memory Mixed Media with Reclaimed Fabric & Fibers on Canvas 26 x 36 inches
Stalwart Mixed Media with rRclaimed Fabric & Fibers 44 x 50 inches
Almost Mixed Media with Reclaimed Fabric & Fibers 28 x 32 inches
The Life Givers
Planchette met the old man down by the landing at dawn. It was cold and there was a mist on the lake. The water lay calm like a sheet of metal. “Get in the boat,” he said. “Sit mid ship, child, between the oars. I’ll load the tool chest.” “But I’ve never rowed before, sir.” “You’ll row today, child, and the next, and the day after. The fourth day, I’ll row so your hands can heal. From the fifth day on, you will row.” The old man followed her into the boat and set the tool chest between his boots. He sat at the prow, looking into Planchette’s eyes. “What’s your name, child?” “Planchette, sir.” “How old?” “Ten, sir.” “Man your oars. Put them in the water. Good. Now take a heading to the middle of the lake.” Planchette found the oars unwieldly. “Take an even stroke,” he said. “Not too deep, not too shallow. That’s it. That’s very good.” The boat glided easily along. “Your left is port,” he said. “Your right is starboard. Pull on the port, push on starboard to bear to port. Do the opposite to bear to starboard. Don’t mind the...” The old man paused. His eyes closed and his hand went to his chest. He sighed and his body slumped. Planchette watched him, curious, a bit frightened. 17
He recovered and took a breath. “...the mist,” he continued. “Don’t mind the mist. It’ll go with the sunrise. We’ll see the floaters easy enough.” Planchette rowed on and on, pulling the weight of the boat with little aching arms and shoulders. “There’s one,” he said. “Pull alongside. Easy as you go, child. Ah, that’s good. Ship your oars, child. Always ship your oars aft. We don’t want water in the tool chest.” He gave Planchette the net. “Come up under him and let him drip. We want him dry. Put this on your lap and dry him with it. Now, heave him aboard. Dry him thorough and turn him over. What do you see?” “There’s a red line running its length, sir.” “That’s fore and aft, child.” “It’s glowing, sir.” “Ah, so it is. Run your finger along that line. It’ll open up.” Planchette ran a finger along the glowing line and the fish opened. “Do you see the little blue box?” he said. Planchette was breathless. “Yes.” “Take it out. What do you read on it?” “It says, C dash One. ” “Good. Take a C dash One from the tool chest and snap it in where the old one was.” Planchette replaced the old C dash one and felt the fish stir in her lap. She felt it humming. “Now lower him over the side, gently, now.” The fish wriggled and lunged deep into the water. “Good,” the old man said. “Get under way, child. We’ve a full day ahead.” 18
After a full day of C dash Ones, and C dash twos and threes, and several tens, the tool chest was near empty. “Take us in,” the old man said. “Our day is done.” Planchette rowed back to the landing with little trouble. The oars were heavy now, and tiresome. The boat moved easily to the landing. Planchette pulled on the starboard oar and held fast on the port oar. The boat bumped against the stanchion. The old man heaved the tool chest onto the dock and slumped back onto his seat. “Oh, blast!” he said. His voice weakened to a whisper. “Quickly, child! Unbutton my shirt!” Again, he slumped in his seat. His face went pale. Planchette unbuttoned the old man’s shirt. She saw a glowing red line down his stomach. It opened easily like the fish. “Hurry, child! It’s a C dash one hundred! I keep one in the tool chest! Lively, child! Make the change!” “Oh, sir!” “No tears, child. Move!” In minutes the old man was sitting up straight. His color had returned. “There, now. There’s an old Seaman back at you,” he whispered. They made the boat fast to the dock, and the old man carried the tool chest to the boat house. “Well done today, Planchette. You did well. Be here at dawn. We’ll have another day. Good evening, Planchette. And not a word to anyone.” “Good evening, sir. Not a word, I swear.” Planchette’s mother was smiling at the door. “How was your day, dear?” 19
“It was good, Mum. I rowed.” “That’s wonderful, love. Have your soup. There’s fresh bread for you.” Planchette finished the soup. It felt warm and comforting. “Your father came by with a C dash one hundred for you. It’s a mystery you’ve lasted this long. We’ll put it in before you go in the morning. Now go to bed, and pleasant dreams.” “Good night, Mum.” “Good night, little love.”
Hoh Rainforest Reflections 20
The night her blood pooled on the deck, she gave her husband a reason to live. It’s not what you think. He did not go on living hoping she might die. On the contrary, it was his dying that made her so bold; his dying that propelled her in search of answers to questions for which she knew had no answers. They were the perfect couple. Do you feel the dread that phrase occasions? You will not be surprised then to learn that the perfect couple, as always, was doomed. In the third year of their marriage a routine blood test revealed a rare genetic mutation. A physician’s prophecy granted him a few years at most, at worst, a few months. Maybe his subconscious gave up. The fact is, his body began to deteriorate within weeks. She could not bear witness, and so she took to long walks in the fragrant woods behind their house. One night she found herself at the rear of her neighbors’ house. Mesmerized, she watched them move through the well-lighted kitchen. She had never been invited inside. Nor had she and her husband invited the couple to their own home. She would not have been able to say exactly why. Shadowy reasons beyond comprehension. Then she crept across the wet lawn for a better view, and that’s when it happened. An animal trap. You know the sort. Sharp, serrated teeth that attack the foot. But she didn’t even cry out. She pulled the chain from the ground; half ran, half hopped to her house. 21
Her husband was asleep on the deck. She spoke his name. And he was at her side. Somehow he summoned the strength to unhinge the jaws, and release her mangled foot. Only when she was fully recovered, and no longer needed him, well, you know.... She will remember him with marbles. One new cat’s eye every year. “Have you lost your marbles,” they used to laugh, right before they collapsed onto the bed in a tight embrace.
Order in Chaos
In connection with an art biennale held in my city, I happened to hear Portuguese artist Rigo23, as he calls himself, speak about his works. He spoke about his large streetsign inspired murals in San Francisco, showing “sky” and “ground,” political art, and art that highlights environmental and human concerns. One of his projects was a collaboration with local artisans in forested areas of Brazil, to create art celebrating nature’s glories.The final work constructed from banana fiber and sisal, resembles cluster bombs and a nuclear submarine shooting out diverse flora and fauna. The contradiction of such warlike imagery made from such natural and beautiful materials was quite impressive:
Rigo23’s talk got me thinking about how India can seem euphoric to so many; the sight of goats, cows, and dogs wandering free on the road excited Rigo23. True, these and other typical Indian sights are sure to pop the eyes of those unused to Indian culture. But the average Indian passes such sights, as well as signs of abject poverty, unreasonable affluence, mammoth fun fairs and festivities, strikes, protests, and lawlessness, without batting an eyelash. We are a land full of contradictions. We worship cows, monkeys, rats in temples, and enjoy eating non-vegetarian too – beef or mutton! A woman regarded as a Devi and worshipped is subject to innumerable atrocities. 23
Thinking about all these contradictions, I did not feel chagrined. Rather, I recognized in them the strange sense of rhythm that Oprah Winfrey herself discovered when she visited India. This quote by Cezanne sums up what I feel: â€œWe live in a rainbow of chaos.â€? And out of this chaos are born those differences that makes each of us as unique. On this note, for one of my journal pages, I incorporated elements of collage and street signs, to draw attention to life and all its realities:
When I first stepped onto the old South Works site this past summer—the huge plot of land on the far southeast side that developers hope to turn into a green city of tomorrow—I couldn’t help but think for a moment that I’d been transported to the old Illinois prairie. All that un-gridded city space. All those tall weeds bending in the Great Lakes winds.
South Works, renamed Lakeside, is the jut of slag field built out into Lake Michigan— once one of the largest steel mills in the world, at one time employing over 22,000 workers, a few of them members of my family. Standing on the site this past August, I had to remind myself that this tract, larger than the Loop, had not been a vast vacant space when I was a girl. In the 1960s and 70s, the mills were still working and still part of the intricate weave of southside industry that employed the breadwinners of most of the families in that part of the metropolis. 25
This workforce, for a short period, included my father. When he was a young man, before he went on to become a high school teacher, he worked for awhile at the South Works plant. He told me a bit about the place as it was once, over breakfast recently, while he and my mother were visiting my current neighborhood on the North Side of the city. He described the open hearth blast furnace, the hierarchies of workers and pay, the toil of feeding the ever-burning fire. I’m not certain if he talked about the hot orange light of the molten steel or if that image just came to mind while he spoke. But that’s where I imagined him before I was born, as a young man engulfed by a smoky and windowless village of work. What was it like, I asked him, to cross into that place? I assumed—from my foggy vantage point amongst the first generation of my family to not work in the steel industry—that the mill was some kind of barricaded under-realm. He shook his head, not understanding my question. Everyone around there, they all worked at the mill, he said. There were taverns everywhere too. He spoke of how it used to amaze him, the way the old-timers would come off the overnight shift
and go straight to the bar, first thing in the morning, and how some of his uncles became alcoholics living that way.
South Works closed in 1992, and the clearing of that site has happened slowly over the past 20 years. It’s tempting to believe, looking at this unbuilt and now green-brown expanse, that the land here has migrated back to its prairie roots, but in fact there was never really a prairie here. This spot used to be water. The South Works site, like much of the green Chicago lakefront, is built on landfill. Up North where I live now, this expansive greenery is part of the old Chicago Burnham plan for open spaces that made the lakefront parks possible, but here, on the far south side, the landfill served a different purpose. The entire tract is made of waste from the steel-making process, poured into the lake to manufacture a new industrial landmass. Prairie-style greenery, along with an invasive weed or two, grows here now because the site has been remediated; in some sections topsoil from the base of lake Peoria was shipped by barge to the site and then seeded to create a new prairie park. The rest, a motley prairie-ish brush. But can an environmental aftermath the size of South Works ever be completely scrubbed away and made into regular plantable land? I see now I’d been thinking about this place all wrong. I’m still assuming there’s a barrier between the past and the present, between the mill and the people who lived with the mill. The chain-link barricade blocking access from South Chicago to the lake has been in place for decades now, with the more recent additions of the development com27
pany guard station. That fence has become so expected it, seems another natural element of the environment, but is itself an historical object lesson of all the ways cities can change. I’ve come to believe it’s wrong to think of South Works as a ghost island separate from the city, rather than what’s left of a vital part of a much broader chain of neighborhoods, one that lost its definition in the early 1980s when the mills closed and the southeast side lost its economy. What we make in a place becomes that place and what we stop making there, and then do instead there, or abandon there, becomes that place as well. The same is true in the neighborhood I live now, at once still the Boystown gay refuge of the 1980s, where so many came to remake their identities, and “The City” where young straight couples with white-collar jobs start their lives together, before leaving again to raise kids in suburbs similar to where they started from. South Works (I have trouble calling the place by the new bland and prettified name of Lakeside) was made up of both steel production and of people and their migration stories – people who came to the city to remake themselves away from their Old Country captivities. Those mills are gone now, the heavy industrial toxins supposedly scrubbed away, but toxins have a way of sticking, as does history. The new city the developers are promising here might be a green and revitalized wonder, worthy of the international urban sustainability and design award the developer earned for their 20-30 year plan for the site. Or it might become (though the developers say otherwise) a gated fortress against whomever can’t afford the swanky new views. What’s there now is wild yet mitigated beauty that looks like what we’ve come to call nature, but rests atop a foundation, for better or worse, that’s still made of slag.
[Images from: http://southshorechicago.wordpress.com/; http://mccafferyinterests.com/content.cfm/lakeside-gallery; http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-06/changing-south-chicago-107641; http://chicagotonight. wttw.com and the photos by the author.] 28
Storm Clouds May Gather
He saw her sitting in the chair. “Meditating again?” he asked. “I did for a while.” “And then?”
She sighed. “Then the clouds began to form and my thoughts went to them. That sort of messed up the whole stop-thinking-about-anything session I was trying to have.” “What did the clouds make you think of?” She shrugged. “Storm clouds, ships, survivors…” “Go on.” “Life is a struggle played out under majestic skies. The waters are deep and so often dangerous. And right in the middle…” She sat up straight. “...In the middle is a little orange lifeboat. People are in it…rowing. Are they going backwards or forwards? They want to land on the banks, but the gods won’t let them. It isn’t easy if you need to get across the ocean by yourself.” She took in a weak breath. “Trying to live…but not all will survive. Life, the world is a table. Flat. You go across it and then, you just fall off the edge into oblivion.” She sat back. “That’s all. I didn’t think anymore.” Her eyes softened. ”I need to go make lunch for dad.” “No need to be afraid,” he whispered softly, as she left the room. 29
She dances across the stage of the forgotten theater. Dusty chandeliers and drapes laced with cobwebs surround her. Ancient floorboards creak as she sweeps over them. Her feet design pictures in the dirt. Her delicate arms paint pictures in the frigid air as her lips form words, “En pointe….en pointe.” Moving along to the ballads in the night, she extends her legs, pushing out her dream that one day someone might ask her name. She gracefully haunts the grand staircases and walks down the faded crimson carpet, still carrying hopes of stardom she will never reach. Crystals hang from the broken chandeliers and brief shimmers glow through the layers of dust that have gathered over years of forgotten memories and shattered dreams. Her long lashes kiss her elegant cheekbones as she bows to her imaginary audience, turning spiders and beetles into nobles and kings. An elegant pirouette executed with precision, a graceful porcelain-like hand extends, showing its fragile strength. Dust stars swirl in the air that smells of musty books and collapsing wood, but still the stage is her castle. Transformations of the imagination occur as the dark theater glows in shimmering candlelight. A delicate smile curves across her frosted lips as she breathes tiny clouds of frozen air, exhaling dedication. Ivory keys lie dormant in the mahogany arms of the silent piano. Still, there is music resonating in the silence that fills the room, and she dances to concertos and wanting-to-live-again melodies. Her final step is a gracious bow, arms outstretched to receive applause. The kings and nobles paraduing across the stage on spindly legs pause to acknowledge the presence of the beautiful dancer. The air stills once more. The performance is over.
India: a Princess in the Wilderness
I’m sitting in our cottage in a wilderness lodge in the middle of Panna National Forest. The accommodations are luxe for a wilderness lodge, but the art leaves something to be desired: there’s an angry-looking monkey hanging over the heater and a photo of some scary exotic beetle blown up as big as me on the bathroom wall.
I hate photos of bugs more than anything. I am a princess. I am reminding myself of that so when I plan our next trip I have no further lapses in judgment. We arrived here after an arduous, 12-hour journey that began with a three-hour trip on Indian Railways, an experience you’ll want to miss, if at all possible, even in Executive Class. After that, we got on a bus with no toilet for nine hours. I’m not sure I understand this, since our buses until now for trips way shorter than nine hours had very serviceable toilets. This one? None. Wait. Is that the snuffling of a Bengal tiger I hear outside the cottage in the dark? No. it’s our houseboys here to turn down the bed, light candles and clean the bathroom we have yet to use. Back to our journey. If you think a huge roller coaster is a thrilling ride, you haven’t ridden on seriously-potholed dirt roads at 50 mph, single lanes but with two-way traffic— trucks, other buses, motorcycles, bicycles, water buffalo, dogs, cows, goats, you name it, with much honking of horns. For all nine hours, I was seated in the second row with a great view of every minute of excitement. “Holy Mother of God!” “Yikes!” “Oh, my God!” “Holy shit!” Just a few of the phrases I uttered during our drive. Indian drivers are either the worst in the world or the best, I haven’t figured out which. It was better not to look, and the wisest among us sat further back so they didn’t have to. When we finally arrived here, in pitch dark, we were welcomed by a group of wilderness bellmen-jeep-drivers-chefs waving both hands above their heads in some sort of greeting. I was in no mood. That’s because at the tourist hellhole we stopped at for lunch, I ate something that didn’t agree with me. Considering I am hardly eating anything at all, that was a real feat. And while other people have contracted “Delhi belly” on the trip, this was my first time. The restaurant rest room? Required a face mask. 31
But one bathroom stop wasn’t enough. The urge hit again shortly after we resumed our drive. And since we were driving through rural India without a bus bathroom, and since I was in extremis, we had to stop the bus so our cabin boy could show me to some bushes. Yes, our bus came with a cabin boy and his job description included showing affluent American tourists to bush-toilets. “It’s my job,” he told me. Thankfully, all the climbing of gigantic steps and hills we’ve been doing plus my trainer’s good work had honed my low squat to a fine point, and I managed to avoid falling over into some poisonous anthill. Back at the bus, I took meds real quick and they did the trick. I am a princess. WTF am I doing squatting in the bush? Such a good question. We are off to look for Bengal tigers and other wildlife in the morning. This is the place that inspired Rudyard Kipling to write The Jungle Book. I, however, am inspired by something else: power-shopping in Delhi in just a few days. And the day when we can sit on our own bed, having showered in our own shower, used our own clean toilet, and hang out with Riley, watching Ice Road Truckers, and laughing our asses off about this. I am, after all, a princess. And I won’t soon forget it.
India: As We Say Goodbye I’m writing this in Varanasi a few days before we leave. While I may still be a “princess,” I’ve come away from this trip with a broader world view and less tolerance for our self-indulgence – we think we’ve got problems? We’ll never forget you, Mother India. Ever. My mind is full of everything we’ve seen and experienced, and here are a few moments that stand out: Student uniforms were the nicest clothes we saw on kids. Usually, they were dressed in rags. It was heartbreaking.
Very clear communication, don’t you think?
These are actually ancient carvings of earring styles.
This is not Santa Claus. A float in a religious parade at Pushkar. Note the marigolds.
Ancient stone art that appears quite contemporarty
Pushkar Camel Fair had an old-timey midway, complete with ferris wheel.
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