Monday, January 31, 2011

Oh my God! India!

Sunday, Jan 31, 5:00 am - wake up in London for cab pick up at 6 to go to airport.

9:30 - flight departs for Chennai. (11hrs)

midnight Chennai time - I see India for the first time with these eyes, from the plane window.  I think to myself, "I have done it.  I have seen India in this lifetime!"  Already, that is amazing.  I have not been able to sleep.  On the plane we have a choice of movies on personal screens - I get to watch Gandhi again, and it just keeps getting better.   I can't wait for India.

1am:  Touchdown in Chennai.  Moments later, I am officially in India!  Oh, my God!  I hang around the airport until 5:30 ish, drinking chai at the seedy restaurant.

Then... I am sucked out into the gut of Chennai.  The pollution is a thick fog that you can taste ( I can't believe I was critical of London.  It was nothing compared to this) and the noise of street traffic redefines cacophony.  I have to re-train my senses to learn that here the horn means "Just letting you know that I am here/ am passing you/ am driving on this side now/ am turning/ am making you see me in the dark" and not "Watch out, jerk!"  which I believe is it's American translation.  Oh, you also hae to learn not to look at traffic.  It'll just make you nervous.
I'm pretty sure that I got ripped off not on my first transaction in rupees,  but for sure in my second - I paid 150r for a auto-rickshaw to the bus stop about 2 minutes away.  The bus was 3.5 hours to to Tiruvanamalai (62r! - about $1.25) and I still felt like I was dreaming, since I never slept and was pretty tired.  It was a gross and beautiful ride out - covered in virtual soot, my nose and throat protesting the cloud of burning petrol and plastic that seems to permeate (not that there are any windows to stop it).  Not a single person on the bus spoke English.  They laughed at my shoes (Keen's with covered toes) but mostly ignored me. 

I can't stop thinking to myself, 'Oh my God!  Oh my God!  I am in India!  Oh my God!"

By 10:30 I had taken another rickshaw to the gates of Ramana Maharshi's ashram, where I will be staying for a week.  Again, 'Oh my God'

At this point, words fail me.  This is a dream come true.
The weather is perfect.  I am warm
I spent the day meditating, getting naps in my room, and hiking the sacred hill of Arunachala, seeing the caves where Ramana spent 20 years, collectively, in silent meditation.  It is the next day now, and I have been referred to the Tasty Cafe where they have good food and free internet.  But, I am eager to hike, to sit, to be alone, and to be still for a good long time.
Taken of me on Arunachala by a tour guide (who lives on the hill)

The tree from the cover of Robert Adams' book

View of Tiruvanamalai from the Hill

My enormous love to all of you.
Oh my God!  I am in India!  At Ramana's Ashram!  Oh my God!
My personal room on the grounds of the Ashram: I learn that this is incredible luxury for here - I am very lucky!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tomorrow, India!

Last day of  being cold, is all I have to say!

Yesterday when Viiu when to her concert in the evening I took a bus to find this funky hippy joint in Camden town called InSpiral Lounge.

It was finally a place that felt more like home to me:  girls in dread-locks and tattooed funky-folk, vegan and raw foods menu, dim lighting and a DJ in the corner weaving ambient tunes - plus a wall of windows that overlooked the water of the Camden lock.  The food was good, the raw cheesecake excellent (rivals Theresa's, even) but I left before the poetry reading started. I did meet the poet, since he was sitting beside me and his agent and I started chatting.  She asked me where I live in 'Canadia'.  He turned out to be a nice guy, and also turned out to be John Sinclair.  I still didn't want to hang around that long, though. 
This is what it looked like last night, though:

So, tomorrow at the crack of dawn Viiu and I take a cab to Heathrow, and I get on a plane to India.  Man.
It has been a long time coming, eh?
Well, I am not sure when I am going to get a chance to use the internet when I get there.  I arrive at 1am local time, hang around in the airport until dawn, then take a cab to the bus station where I wait for a bus to take me to Tiruvanamalai.  I will be there, staying at the ashram of Ramana Maharshi for a week, and I have no idea what will be available to me at that time.  If I can find an internet connection at some point, you will know!
Otherwise, wish me luck.  I will send my blessings and warmth back home, and I can't wait to report on my time.  Probably I will keep notes and plunk them all down in one blog post when I can.

 By the way, the earlier reference to Primrose Hill comes from this music from my youth.

While I'm at it, I can't help but post a link to another blur song, London Loves.  It is cheesy, and the video is just images,  but I just have to listen to this pop stuff while in the city.  Possibly I will never listen to it ever again, or anywhere else.  But there you go.

OK!  Lots of love to everyone.  Talk again from India!
from Oxford - forgot to post this.  I didn't go in, but it was tempting to ask where they sat
The view from Viiu's study - my bedroom for my time in London.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Great BM (a reference to Ben) and Abbey Road

Abbey Road Studios

I woke up this morning feeling decidedly healthy, and I think for the first time here in London, today I really feel alive and present as my real-life self.  I am over that pesky cold, have not been overwhelmed by travel, tubes, thick grey air or lack of heat, and I actually want to get out a see the exhibition. To start, though, we figured we would go down the street to Abbey Road to take that classic picture.  It is only a few minutes down the road from Viiu’s house – one could walk there (but we took a 5 min bus).
Rob at Abbey Road.  Not quite the same, is it?

OK. Done that.  Then on to the British Museum.

I don’t know how to describe my reaction to this place without expletives.  Just the building is remarkable.  I paid admission, £6 to see the special exhibit on the Egyptian Book of the Dead and it was stunning.  \I took my time, and sat thoughtfully with some of the pieces of scroll.  I enjoyed just imagining the scribe – some guy like me – inking these patterns that are now actually thousands of years old.  I loved the reminder of Egyptian beliefs, and it was quite synchronous for me, since I have been reading Drunvalo’s book on the subject the last few days.  Thus, I was really struck by images of Thoth.  I am glad that the museum did not treat the religious beliefs as trite.  For the most part, they remain the most advanced ideas of spirituality that have ever graced this present age of Earth, from which only trickles now remain.  It is a shame that the symbolism of the ancient thoughts are seen so literally by many academics and lay persons,  but it can be not other way, of course.  Ruth, you would have been floored by the images of the ka rising aside the body during death ceremonies – really cool!

From there, to cover the rest of the museum.  I thought that 2 hours would be plenty of time for a guy like me, right?  Since I got overwhelmed and uninterested by other museums?  Totally, totally wrong.  This place was energizing – I could have spent the whole day there.  Mind you, feeling healthy is perhaps a good part of that, but this place is incredible.  I was walking along, and saw a group of people taking pictures of something so I figured I’d check it out.  It was the Rosetta Stone!  Holy Shit!  I mean, I can’t leave out the expletives here.  No body told me the effing Rosetta Stone was there!  I think I swore out loud and probably offended somebody.   But it was cool.  Also, it was big – really quite big.  I had no idea.  

 The other ‘Holy Shit’ moment was when I saw this:

I know eh?  In person!  I pretty much stuck my nose to the glass and stared into this for a good while.  Diana, I so, so much wish you could have been there with me!  I sent my experience to you, though, ok?  

OK – here are some pictures of other stuff.  What can I say, the place is arguable the finest museum in the world.  I was late getting back to meet with Viiu this time….
London:  best place to see a Canadian Treasure - a Haida Totem Pole
Gawdy Relic-holder, holding what is supposed to be a thorn from Jesus' crown
Tea Ceremony Room built within the Museum


With nothing particular to do, I decided to find the award-winning chocolatiers in London, and have a little treat.  Paul A. Young is the simple name of the store that stood out as the gold medal winner, so I figured it was worth the tube ride.  Viiu went to book tickets and I split off to get to the Northern Line to find it.  Still feeling miserable and cold, I found it not too far from the Angel tube station.   

They had a pan of chocolate simmering from which they poured majestic cups of cocoa, putting to shame anything I have had before or since.  No wonder the awards!   This was a posh place, perhaps the chocolate equivalent of Postcard Teas.  I tried not to laugh and look surprised when shown £15 chocolate bars made from ‘rare’ cocoa beans, and allowed myself to be educated by the Tom, the stunning blonde (who likes elbow\) who gave me concentrated, focused, and somehow perfectly aloof British attention throughout my minutes in his domain.  
 Pouring me a cup of the magic liquor, awaiting my thoughts, and then spicing it up – literally, with black cardamom and chilli – as he assessed my taste and took his queue to where else to direct my sales.  I love these tiny, chic European stores that give you such attention!  When he had to take a phone call, he directed his inferior to attend to me – and I was standing there looking.   
I wish that I could have been present for one of their £40 ‘tasting seminars’ that comes with a goody bag.  No kidding, eh?  In the end, I could not help buying two tiny chocolates for Viiu -  one a champagne chocolate, the other Drambuie (Viiu says the only things she likes to drink are coffee and champagne.  I think that may be the only things she drinks, too.)
Wall of Awards at Paul A Young
  For myself, I took a tiny bar of home-made “Coconut, Chili and Lemongrass” chocolate (ingr:  70% dark ch.(beans, c. butter, sugar, soya lecithin, vanilla) cayenne, chilli, coconut, essential oil of lemongrass.  That’s for YOU, Theresa!) 
I left there warm, feeling pretty special, and sipping a cup of liquid gold.  It may sound a bit lavish,  but having nothing else pressing, I simply made my way to the next place on my list:  cocomaya.

This place was less impressive, but still decadent.  One side of the shop had chocolates, the other side was a little café with incredibly rich pastries and excellent drinks.  My online review suggested the intense, espresso-sized hot chocolate that they melt down for you, so I took this.   
Nice, eh Glenn?
Hard to resist at Cocomaya
On the heels of my earlier stop, it was not as good, but only because it was probably the 2nd best I’ve ever had, not the first. This place offered ‘High  Tea’ for £25 a head, pre-booked, and they boasted that they sold only Postcard Tea teas.  Fair enough!   It actually looked like they were setting up a nice lunch menu when I was leaving too. 
I got home in time to meet Viiu for our daily lunch routine: either Sirous or Banana Tree restaurants.  The rest of the afternoon was a friggin’ disaster in the library. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Video of Globe Theatre

This is a video of a school group when they visited the Globe theatre the other day.  It took a while to upload!

How many hours to India now?

I have to admit:  I am kind of sick of London.  Well, I guess I should re-phrase that.  I am literally sick, and I have had just about enough of London.  It is interesting and all, but the environment is really getting to me.  I have a cold, I just spent the last 5 hours effing around with Mastercard and the utterly laughable online booking systems for India rails, running from the library for the internet, back to Viiu's for the phone, the back and forth another few times, as I desperately try to book trains in India. 
Yes!  I did try to do this before I left.
Plus, the underground actually sucks the life out of a person, I'm pretty sure.  How you do you all do it?  I dunno. 

Please click on this LINK and you will probably see what I am talking about.  


January 26, 2011

Caught the 10am coach to Oxford at Victoria station (left here at 9).  The coach was nice – had wifi which was a real plus, though slow.  The drive to Oxford looked like it might as well have been SW Ontario, really.  Just the homes could tell it apart.
Oxford was neat, though.
First off, I found the Ashmolean Museum close to the bus terminal.  Loads there – really neat stuff like the ‘Alfred Jewel’.  I liked the Indian and Japanese artefacts, 
For Don
Gorgeous Guitars from 1500 Spain
Even nicer than Ben's foam-green Fender. Maybe.
Theresa, I asked, but they just wouldn't sell these to me...

But I am really not that into ancient pottery, ceramics, and statues.  However, I did enjoy this boar: 

the oldest cast in the museum (1860 or so).  The precisely same statue is outside of the Modern Languages building at UW.  I, and probably the rest of the UW students, figured it to be an original work of art at Waterloo – but as it turns out it is a nod to Oxford. Well, fair enough, eh?
From there I wandered, it was cold and a tad rainy – but jus that british misty stuff that doesn’t get you wet, just cold.  I saw the Magdalena college (pron. Maudlin) and strolled across from Merton’s walk to Christ Church.  After finding hot lunch at good ole’ Prêt a Manger, I came back for a £4 admission fee and wander.  So I saw the great hall where some Harry Potter was apparently filmed: 

Took a picture of Lewis Carrol’s portrait there (Charles Dodgson – math prof. at Oxford) and took note of various references from Alice in Wonderland (and other books about her) at Oxford.  The Christ Church cathedral was awesome, just so ancient and remarkable. (there was an ‘Alice’ store across the street, too, with nothing  but Alice souvenirs.  Sorry Diana and Dad, nothing reasonable for The Walrus and the Carpenter or Jabberwocky.  I did ask, though.  

Then, to the Bodlean Library, also ancient and remarkable (built 1600’s) but no photos allowed, except in the Divinity Library.
Ceiling of the Divinity School ca. 1500

Bodlean library photo from web

Also, Radcliffe Camera was closed to public, but it was neat.  Mostly, I spent a lot of time just wandering around outside these hallowed halls, trodding cobblestone and wondering about the giants whose shoulders we are slipping off of.
Radcliffe Camera
Stopping again for tea at yet another Prêt a Manger I met a local Oxonian (yes, that’s what they are, apparently) who went to school for animation and loves the National Film Board of Canada, just like we all do (right?).  He does caricatures for part-time cash, and offered to do mine for free.  Sure!
My Caricature

His name was Josh.  I paid him a couple quid and we chatted for a bit.  He tried to convince me to stay the evening since Wednesday is a party night for locals and students, but I declined, despite the invitation to Fuzzy Monkey night at the bar he previously worked at. 

Oxford was, all in all, beautiful.   And the air was  noticeably cleaner.  I was blowing my nose all day, and when I finally got back into London I got off at the Baker St. underground and right off I could taste that burnt rubberyness of London.  You know, it is almost like a city where you never get outside.  You are inside, and then you go outside, and it is so close, the ceiling so low and dark, the air so bad, the people so near, it just feels like you don’t know when you are in and when you are out.  Well, sometimes anyways.  Maybe all I am really saying is this:  I have decided that I hate the tube.  And there is no other way for a foreigner to have a hope in hell in finding their way around London without it. 

Tomorrow, hopefully, I will just go to the library or something! 
Tom Quad at Christ Church College

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

12th Night the Second (Shakespeare Day)

For Diana: The Beatles store!

Viiu says that the secret is not to have friends in high places, but in low ones.  Her darling friend Nicolas works for the National Theatre, and by some small miracle was able to get us two seats to last night's sold-out performance of 12th Night at the Cottesloe. 

I guess the medical emergency that prevented the previous night's performance was solved, because the full, original cast was present.  So, Viiu and I got to go, and had a great time.  Rebecca Hall as Viola was definitely the highlight of this production, and Simon Callow (who I had known from Stratford) was a disappointing Toby Belch.
Earlier in the day I had a hot chocolate at this boulangerie on West End Lane that tasted like a cup-full of melted Mozart chocolates.  It was amazing. We went to the Globe Theatre and took a tour, crossed the Millenium bridge to St.Paul's Cathedral (where I caught the end of a service and sat in brief touch of silence), then lunch at Mildred's (vegetarian).  Another exhausting day!

For the staff at Full Circle - just to let you know I am not starving...