Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And the uploading begins!

As a holiday gift for y'all, I have finally started battling the internet to get a selection of my photos online. I have just put an album entitled "Arriving" up on facebook for your perusal.

Following soon: an entry on re-entry to the United States... (I'm still enjoying/struggling w/ reverse culture shock)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last Blog Post Written In Indiaaa!

I am writing this from the computer in the flat an Indian painter who knows one of my friend's mothers rents out. It is beautiful! We could have found a cheaper place probably, but it's nice to be with someone who treats us like family on our last day. Shuchiji has been wonderful. Today we went to see the Baha'i temple that is shaped like an unfurling lotus; it was amazing. Entering the space there was like a tangible feeling in the air, I can't even explain it...I teared up immediately. Then we went to Sarojini Nagar, a bazaar that has export overstock clothing, among other things (like delicious momos, I discovered). Now I am all packed and killing time till we go to the airport; our taxis are coming in a lil under 3 hours, at 8pm. Takeoff is at 12:55am...!

But don't worry, the stories 'n' anecdotes don't end here, I've decided to keep this up till I'm all written out. There are plenty of things I meant to share that I just didn't get the chance to given internet access, stress, etc. Anyway. There shall continue to be updates here till the end of J-term probably =).

See some of you soonnnn!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Before I forget

I've had a couple quotes to share for a while now. You may have noticed that that feature has been missing from my blog lately...basically because we talk to people so little nowadays! =( anyway.

Dark, Rich Cocoa with Hot/Cold Milk is a Guaranteed 'Feel Good', The Perfect Substitute for a light hug"
-menu in a cafe in Sardar Bazaar. I wish I could've afforded it so I could judge whether that claim holds true, haha. But it was the cost of a meal in an Indian restaurant, so I passed.

"When you want to understand India, think Medieval Europe." -Rimaji (?!?!?!??!?!?!)

"You don't get this high with tissue airplanes every day." -adorable British boy to his mother at a rooftop restaurant in Udaipur

I don't remember his exact wording, but when Meenakshiji's brother picked me and Basanti up today to drop us off to see his wife and parents, he basically called Jodhpur a glorified village.

Also I don't remember her exact wording, but Nidhiji (Meenakshiji's sister in law) told us that "the sun always shines on Jodhpur. You know, it starts in Calcutta and ends in Jodhpur, the last rays of sun, till the very last minute that the sun is hitting India, it is in Jodhpur." That's why it's called the Sun City! Aw. What a lovely image.

(I'll write more about today at a later date. Basically we had the perfect last outing in Jodhpur. =)

On This Day 21 Years Ago, 2 of My Favorite People Were Born

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!!!!!!!
Happy Birthday, Roman!!!!!!!!

ps. Blogger has been actin' crazy lately when I've been trying to paste in entries, changing the formatting, saying I'm trying to do html things that are illegal (when I never edit the html at all) and basically being impossible. So that's why there has been irregular font size & inconsistency in font usage...I'm sorry. It's hurting me, but I've tried all I can think of to fix it to little improvement.
pps. today Jaswant called me Jenny... :P

Deliciousness & "Zena" in India

So I like to come up with themes for my blog entries when possible, just to mix things up and keep you interested. One night when I was feeling really down I decided to try and find something positive to write about, and I came up with--Delicious Foods I Have Discovered I Love:

Coriander paratha - when I stayed with my host family on my last trip to Jaipur, my host mom let me try making parathas. The dough used is the same as for chappatis/rotis; you just roll them out in stages and put oil in folds of them. Mine never turned out quite right; they were squares instead of triangles. But it was good because normally my host brother refuses to eat bajra (pearl millet) chappatis or parathas (they kind of taste more whole grain and are coarser), but he wanted to eat the ones I made, so all the funny-shaped ones (even ones I didn't make) were given to him and consumed without complaint, haha. Anyway, one night during the mid-internship seminar I helped de-stem a bunch of coriander, and it ended up going into parathas. They were green speckled and super delicious.

Kaju ki katli - diamond-shaped sweets made from cashews and topped with silver foil. Actual silver foil. When Rachel and I first had it at our host family's, one of us asked if it was good for one to eat silver like that, and our host father raised his eyebrows and went "Yeeees!" in his emphatic way, as though it were so obvious. Anyway. It is super delicious. There is another version made from almonds, so it's essentially silver-topped marzipan. Vogue India cites the fact that these have been topped with silver for centuries as an example of how "India practically invented luxe" =P.

Laddoo - spherical sweet made from gram flour, the first food my host mom showed me how to make. (Except not really, because she called me into the kitchen after all the ingredients had been put in the pan so I don't know what-all goes into hers.) It's funny because I'd really built these up before trying them, as they are Ganesha's favorite food, but when I first had one I thought "Huh. Tasty I guess, but not something I'd ever crave or miss." They can be kind of dry and grainy. But then of course once I was in Jodhpur I started to crave them! There are always pyramids of laddoos in like 60% of the shop fronts around my host family's apartment since we live right by a temple to Ganeshji, and people buy them to offer to him. I've never bought any since our host mom would make them once in a while and I was always wary about how long the ones sold on the street had been sitting outside, but I'm getting to the point where I would want to have some no matter where they came from.

Makhania lassi - saffron flavored lassi, a Jodhpur specialty. Basanti and I always get it from Shri Mishrilal Hotel (not really a hotel as far as I can tell) in Sardar Bazaar. It's right on the corner and has the most creamy, delicately flavored, wonderful lassi evar. It isn't really what I'm used to thinking of lassi as; it always comes with a spoon to eat it with as it is more custard-like in consistency. The first couple times we just got it to go, as the dining area was really crowded and strange (all booth-style seating along the walls, so that everyone is just facing one another), but the third time we wanted to sit down and waited until some space opened up. If you stay in the dining area you get a lot more, it turns out; their takeaway cups are quite small. There's always this awesome glob of I-don't-know-what garnishing the top of the lassi; kind of like whipped sweet cream cheese or something.

Pakora - Like laddoos, one of those foods I've always heard about but not had a clear idea of what they actually are like. These are to Indian cuisine what tempura is to Japanese cuisine. Any kind of chopped veggie deep fried in a particular type of dough. Where tempura tends to be a pale cream color, pakoras are a deep brown, tend to use different vegetables obviously (typically onion, potato, cauliflower, chili) and the sauce they are served with varies. I've had them with tamarind chutney and ketchup. Also I guess the dough is a much more prominent component of the dish, adding a good deal of weight and flavor to each piece of vegetable (so the spices used really play a role in how good they are), whereas good tempura dough tends to almost melt away in your mouth, just adding some texture to the vegetables. The best pakoras I've had were a) at the Sufi artist's home I visited b) at some classmates' host family's home. We dropped by for about 5 minutes on Diwali and in that time were offered pakoras about 3 times, it was great. They were spicy and wonderful.

Pink chutney - I have no better name for this, and not for lack of asking. It looks like strawberry applesauce, but is actually is a puree made of tomato, garlic, onion, and chili. A very intense flavor, needless to say, but really good with parathas. My host dad explained it as "prevention cure" for swine flu.

Puri - Fried puff ball of AMAZINGNESS. That is all.

Well okay, I'll give you a little more than that. They are used like chappatis or parathas, to dip/scoop into other foods. They are translucent and beautiful. My host mom gave me the impression that they are served on festive occasions when a lot of people need to be fed because they are small and quick to make. They come full of air and when you bite/puncture them they whoosh out all this super hot air on your face or hand if you're not careful. I miss them! We don't have much deep-fried stuff here, I think because our supervisor has serious high blood pressure.

A conversation about me:

Swati [handing Basanti a postcard]: This is for Julian.

Praveen: Julian?

Basanti: Julian? [takes postcard, reads address] Oh, Zena.

Swati: Yes, Jena.

Praveen: We are calling her everything. Julian, Jena, Jesus...


LOL. It's funny though, I guess I haven't mentioned this before but no one in this household can say or remember my name. Generally they just say "Basanti" when they are trying to talk to both of us, lol. It's kind of like I don't exist, but that's okay. Apparently Basanti's host family would only ever call her roommate, so it's her turn to be the one who is spoken to. When people feel like putting in the effort to address me directly they just call me vague sounds that begin with the "J" sound. At one point Jaswant definitely called me Genie.

Speaking of namessss, I have spotted my name in Vogue India, so I know it exists in this country. (There was a photoshoot of a pair of twins, Zoya and Zina Singh, modeling day and night looks. Zina was night, of course.) I can't tell whether substituting J's for Z's is a regional thing or not. Once when I was making hotel reservations in Varanasi and the manager couldn't tell what I was saying (Tina, Dina, etc), I tried going, "Zena as in zindagi (life)" and he proceeded to go, "Ohhh! Jena as in jindagi! Very good name." Sigh. I guess it could have to do with the fact that the way Z is written is exactly like J but with a dot next to it, and often the dot is left unprinted as though it made little difference. My host family, interestingly, always called me [zeh-nah] as opposed to [zee-nah], making the e sound short, when I would have expected their issue to be the Z, since they tend to use only j sounds; e.g. bajaar for bazaar. Anyway. Yes. So my name is supposed to exist, but most people seem to react to it as though it were completely foreign to them and unpronounceable. Two people have informed me "That is a Muslim name." Strangely that happened twice in one day, and never since. (And no, neither of the people telling me that were Muslim.)

Actually I've gotten a couple theories on my name's meaning here; one woman told me it means "beautiful," Rekhaji and my host mom said it means "staircase" (sounds funny, but when Rachel and I laughed my host mom went and made it profound by saying it was a very good name, and implied "always going up...high thoughts, high spirits..." aww.), and Shravanji from the museum said it means "alive." I'm thinking he meant in the local language, or maybe he just misheard me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oodles of Udaipur phots: Volume I

Some of our classmates befriended locals, one of whom owned a shop, so we often met up there. Many many wedding processions went by the street it was on. This one was kind of sad; the horse had to pull this thing downhill and its hooves were slipping like crazy; the man in front and ones along the side and in back had to help support the weight of the carriage so it wouldn't go zooming down and hurt the horse.

This is the view from the restaurant I ordered my lunch from the day we left Udaipur. The food was very blah, but the decor and view were gorgeous. There were all these mirrored insets in the ceiling, we sat on what looked like silver chairs with different animal heads molded in them (rams, elephants, horses)... Come to think of it I think I ate every meal except one at an elevated restaurant over the 2 night stay, without even trying to. They're pretty much the norm. They day after I got back my legs were sore from all the stairs we walked up and down. Indian stairs tend to be sooooo steep! Sometimes it would almost feel like I was about to pull a muscle, my legs had to flex so hard.

Shops tend to stay open till 9 or 10 pm and Udaipur felt quite safe, so we did some night shopping. I came across a couple cows curled up like puppies; they were so cute. I tried taking a picture of another one after this, but she lifted her head just as I was doing so. Mooo.

We stayed at the Udai Niwas Hotel, which was pretty centrally located. We were just a hop skip 'n' a jump away from a lakefront, and were surrounded by places to eat, shop and catch rickshaws. The place was gorgeously decorated; I think I'm going to have to use this wall painting technique on my own living space one day! The base was a rich teal with a pale gold sponged over it. There were elephants painted on the ceiling in each corner. Downsides: very poorly lit, no soap, no toilet paper, the television received about 6 channels, all in Hindi, none of them music video channels (which at least could be appreciated without being understood). I feel like the latter two issues are particularly odd considering their clientele seemed to be about 96% foreign. Oh! And another weird downside: the hotel gave us a curfew! We had to be back in by 11pm. One of our classmates' local friends knew the owner, so she was able to get in later without a problem, but for the rest of us it was annoying. Anyway, some other positives: our room had a view of 2 temples, and the restaurant on the top floor was a lovely place to have breakfast.
Note: yes, I did a lot of eating out on this trip. However, I kept all of my meals at or under $1.50. =) Most of the food was pretty blah, but oh well. It was sustenance; I survived.

When Rachel, whose NGO is in a town right outside of Udaipur, told me about the shopping in Udaipur, she said there was a lot of jewelry and clothing made from fine local materials that are more oriented toward Western tastes. The most outrageous item I found: a silver mesh bra. I commented on one I saw hanging outside a shop as Basanti and I passed by, and the shopkeepers heard me! So after that anytime I walked by they would call out "You want bra? All sizes possible!" lololol. We saw it again inside another shop, and asked about the price--2000-something rupees (between $40 and $50). Technically a good price for the amount of silver you get, I guess...