quinta-feira, 28 de junho de 2012

Dead Bodies

It's not often I see dead bodies floating in rivers.

Life and death swirl coexist here. Anna and I have seen the same puppies, no more than 4 weeks old, playing in the street and greedily nuzzling their mama for more milk. Every day bodies wrapped in orange colored cloth are paraded through these very same streets to the Ganges, where they will be cremated in a public ceremony. Then they are tossed in the river. The environmentalist side of me thinks "Well, matter is never created nor destroyed. After all, it is just a body being returned to its' basic elements..." but the squeamish girl in me kinda freaks out.

Two days ago Anna and I took a boat ride on the Ganges. We left at 5 AM when it was cooler. People were already up and bathing in the river. We watched people wash their clothes, smacking sari's and pants against rocks, wringing them out then hanging them on long wire lines. We listened to prayers chanted. Our eyes followed candles flanked by marigolds tossed into the river on leaf boats. The Ganges swelled with the music, the colors, the sewage. The bodies. Not everyone is cremated. Children under 7 years old, pregnant women, anyone who died of a snake bite, lepers, and sadhu's (similar to priests) are not cremated. Their bodies are wrapped then tossed into the river with stones for weights. Sometimes the stones come loose and bodies float to the surface. This doesn't seem to phase anyone. Except the little girl inside of me who read waaay to many Fear Street and Goosebumps books.

That's the dead body, next to the white boat.

Other tourists rising early.

Another dead body. 

Laundry day in the Ganges River.

Candle flanked by marigolds.

Our boat-rower.

Our offering- candle and marigolds.

But there it is, death: fecal matter, dead bodies, dead cows. And life: puppies, yogurt lassi's, coconut trees.

sexta-feira, 22 de junho de 2012

Indian Pickles!

My love for fermented things has definitely followed me across continents. I recently discovered Indian pickles, which I have never eaten before in any Indian restaurant. Anna and I were walking through one of the windy streets of Varanasi's old town when I spotted some large glass jars filled with strange things and in a variety of different color liquids. My heart skipped a beat. I stopped at the shop and asked what they were. Through a series of finger twinkles to indicate sunlight and watch-pointing to indicate time, it was determined that yes, these were pickles.

Pickle shop, Varanasi

There were so many different kinds! Mango, garlic, ginger, and a gazillion other ones whose names couldn't be translated for me. I bought onion pickles and have been eating them both in the morning with my paratha and curd and in the evening with rice, raita, naan and whatever vegetable dish is next on the list (Anna and I are working our way down the menu at our hotel).

Indian pickles are made with mustard seed oil and many spices. I decided I wanted to learn how to make them. Since pretty much every amama in India knows how, it really was only a matter of time before I found someone who could show me. As luck would have it, when I was buying my MC Hammer pink parachute pants (totally ridiculous) the mother of the family-owned shop said she had a great recipe. Along with my pants she sent me home with a jar of pickled mangoes (!) that were a little salty for my taste but still absolutely amazing. The next day, I asked her to teach me.

Me with over-ripe mangoes

Samta (the mother), Adesolay (oldest son- 17?), Devy (8 year old son), the daughter, Manya (9 years old), and the grandmother's name that I think I will need written down for me, are an adorable family that should definitely have their own sitcom. Samta is very stern and pushy, Adesolay has the biggest smile, Devy is what my dad would call a zoozooni and the daughter told me she wants to grow up to be the prime minister. The grandmother is my favorite. Grandmothers tend to be my favorites. She has a great cackle and we laughed back and forth at each other as we tried to communicate how to cut the mangoes and how badly I had been ripped off at the spice shop.

Manya: yoga master, Bollywood dancer and future Prime Minister

When I was over on Thursday night with the spices and mangoes that I bought, they clucked sadly at me. I had paid three times as much as I should have for the mangoes! The mangoes are too ripe! This sauf (spice) is too skinny and sickly looking! I felt right at home. While we mixed the spices and drank mango milk shakes with the too-ripe mangoes, they sent Adesolay to buy new, unripe mangoes for the pickles. Then we pealed and shredded the mangoes in a large bowl and mixed some spices and salt in with them. We have to let this sit for one day, they said. Samta had me try a couple of other kinds of pickles they had in the house. I tried the most delicious pickle of my life which I thought was artichoke. I said, Actually, can we scratch the mango pickle idea, and make these instead? They laughed and said ok. I went home and promised to return the following day in the afternoon.
Jack fruit and mango pieces

Friday afternoon (June 22) I returned and we made two other kinds of pickles.When I discovered that the most delicious pickle ever was not artichoke but actually made from jack fruit I could hardly believe it. This is the first time I am sad we don't have jack fruit in Michigan. I remember eating lots of jack fruit in Brazil. It's enormous, green and spiny on the outside and on the inside are these beige colored pods with seeds the size of a finger bone. Basically, they are gross, and the only reason that Ronaldi and I ate them was because we were poor and they were free, falling from the trees in the jungle.
Mixing in the spices

We finished mixing all the spices and chopping all the fruits and we put the pickles in separate plastic jars that they instructed me to put in the sun (I am suspending reality and will just pretend that BPA doesn't exist). The grandmother vigorously moved her arms up and down as if she had a beach ball between them and said "Gaba!" I took this to mean "Shake!" I was right. I need to shake them every day to make sure the oil and spices completely coat everything.

Manya and the jar which now holds my pickles and once held laundry detergent. Pretending so hard not to be freaked out by BPA and other chemicals.

I will have delicious pickles in 2 days and the family also invited me to breakfast and tea this morning!


Ingredients: 1 kg unripe mangoes pealed and shredded, 1 kg jack fruit, boiled, 1 kg unripe mangoes cubed,1 kg mustard oil, 100 gm rai, 100 gm mangralla, 100 gm sauf, 50 gm heldi, 100 gm methi, 50 gm hing, 1 pkt. salt, 50 gm red chilli.

Shredded Mango Pickles:
Add 3 tablespoons salt, 1/2 tablespoon ping, fully crushed, 1/2 tablespoon heldi, 1/2 tablespoon red chilli. Put the mango mixture on top of about 2 cups of chenna (is this chickpea?) in a metal pot, and press it down into the bottom of the pot. Put a lid on it and let it sit over night.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons sauf, 4 tablespoons rai, 4 tablespoons mangralla on low heat. Add methi, crushed. Blend everything in blender. Set spice mixture aside- this will be added the next day.

The next day, add 1/2 of the spice mixture to the shredded mango. In a pot over the stove heat up 1/3 of the mustard seed oil. Add this to the mangoes when it has cooled enough. Mix thoroughly. Put mangoes in GLASS jar and let sit out for 2 hours during the heat of the day, for two days. Let some air enter- either put cheese cloth over the top or leave the top slightly ajar.

Jack Fruit and Mango Pickles:
After jack fruit has been boiled and mango cut appropriately, add 2-3 tablespoons of salt and red chilli to each.

Heat sauf til light brown. Set aside. Heat rai for one minute. Set aside. Heat mangralla a little bit and set aside. Heat fenegreek til light brown, around 2 minutes, and set aside. Add red chilli and heldhi, unheated. Add this mixture to the cut mango and jack fruit. We made two kinds- one jack fruit and mango mix and one of just mangoes. After the spices have been added, add also the crushed hing. Finally, add the remainder of the oil (1/3 kilo among the two different types of pickles). Mix thoroughly. Put into GLASS jars and let sit outside for 2 hours during the heat of the day, for two days. Let some air enter- either put cheese cloth over the top or leave the top slightly ajar.

quarta-feira, 20 de junho de 2012


I just bought a ticket for a 42 hour train ride.

terça-feira, 19 de junho de 2012

Pranayama Rules, by Rajugi

While in Varanassi, Anna and I have been training with her dear yoga teacher of two years, Rajugi. He reminds me of a chipmunk and is full of laughter. We start each day with an hour of pranayama, followed by an hour of light asanas. It's amazing how relaxed and focused we feel afterwards. All that stuff people say about deep breathing is really true. I've always wanted to meditate, or work on my breathing, but every time I sit down to do it I really need to eat a sandwich or scratch my head or remember to take out the trash.

These are the ground rules for pranayama, laid out for Anna and I on our first day. It's really really hard for me to follow rule #3 and I can't even come close to imagining rule #4:

1) On inhalations, hold the breath as long as possible
2) Keep head down, chin on chest, when inhaling, until the head naturally rises. If you do not, this can lead to high blood pressure.
3) Do not swallow saliva until after the set of pranayama is complete.
4) Remember to focus your mind on each chakra specifically targeted by each different pranayama.

segunda-feira, 18 de junho de 2012

Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminist

Emile Chartier once wrote "There is nothing so dangerous as an idea if it's the only one you have." In modern America we are obsessed with the idea of jobs, growth, development. We don't see that these monocultures of the mind, as Vandana Shiva calls them, limit our thoughts and stifle our possibilities. Vandana Shiva is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and National Resource Policy in Dehra Dun, on organization that puts "research at the service not just of the rich and powerful in society, or of government and the private sector, but also of grassroots movements." (London, 2012) She advocates for ecological sustainability and social justice, which she perceives as one and the same. She believes that the increasingly reductionist perspective of scientific development, paired with the monstrous greed of Western (primarily American) corporations, are responsible for modern ecological and human rights abuses. She is an incredibly intelligent, articulate and passionate woman. A definite hero in my book and one of the reasons why I decided to go to graduate school in Public Policy. Check out this awesome article by Scott London to learn more.

Morning on the Ganges

Morning on the Ganga (Ganges), is slow and peaceful. The air is warm, hinting at the heat to come. People bath in one of the most holy and most polluted bodies of water on the planet. The breeze is strong. It ripples the flags and makes stained glass out of the water. Black birds with red beaks and white tail splotches dip in and out of air currents. From here, on the balcony of Alka Hotel, the trash is hardly visible. Through the haze I can almost imagine what it must have looked like during the Roman Empire. But the smells! The smells are unique to India today. Cow dung, ripe mangoes, rotting trash, fried puri. These smells are softer in the morning, the day has yet to magnify them and waft them through the impossibly tiny old streets.

Bats and Birds on the Ganges

On the Ganges, the birds rule by day and the bats rule by night. At 6:50 on the dot, at the precise hour when the sun was setting, the birds and bats changed without our noticing. Like a stealth-ninja version of the changing of the guards.

Trains and Squat Toilets

My first squat-toilet-and-train experience was an overall success!

quinta-feira, 14 de junho de 2012

Mcleod Ganj, the Dalai Lama, and a Comedy of Errors

I am with Anna and my friend Stephen and his Tibetan friend Tenzin in Mcleod Ganj, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. It is a very spiritual place, but far from peaceful. Car horns honk here as if engaging in routine conversation with pedestrians. Monkeys clamor up tin roofs and smash them with wide palms, behaving like children who know causing a ruckus will help them get their way. Tibetan monks and nuns awake around 5AM and recite mantras around the city. In the evening tourists watch soccer matches and scream when their team makes a goal. Even a walk to the waterfall was filled with the noise of cars and motorbikes screeching by each other while old wise men play the sitar and watch the comedy of errors unfold.

Nun praying at Tsuglagkhang Complex, home of the Dalai Lama

Prayer flags on the kora, or ritual circuit, of the Complex.
One of the most ridiculous comedy of errors for Anna and myself has been the epic search for India-appropriate pants. We both assumed it would be relatively easy to find pants while here. It makes the most sense, since Indian clothes are made in consideration of the extreme heat. Also, we both kind of wanted to dress up as Indian princesses, perhaps myself a wee bit more than Anna. But the pursuit of Indian pants is just as difficult if not more so than the pursuit of pants in the United States. Besides my extreme pickiness, my body is just too bootilicious for Indian pants. I found a pair of straight-legged linen pants that I couldn't even yank over my thighs. TAt another shop owned by a Kashmiri man, Anna and I tried on pretty much his entire inventory. Surech (the phonetic spelling of this man's name) was very obliging and appropriately sarcastic as we tried on the "most boring" pants in the store. Some girls, they like fashion style, he explained straight-faced. Some girls, no. It's a problem. We quite obviously fell into the latter category. In my defense, he really wanted to sell me a pair of pants straight out of MC Hammer's closet that he called "funky." 

quarta-feira, 13 de junho de 2012

Salsa Dancing in NYC

Times Square reminds me of Callao por la noche en Buenos Aires, except with more lights. Large screens flash advertisements for bank of America or Nike and they are honestly so bright that it feels like day time. It's glitzy and choked with tourists that stand like deer in headlights everywhere.

When I told Cailley the address of the salsa club Laura had suggested, she almost rescinded on her offer to accompany me. I hate Times Square, she explained, visibly shuddering. We had just eaten pizza and ice cream and investigated design ideas for my first tattoo. After a day spent walking 8 miles and eating, eating, eating, it was hard to extricate ourselves from Cailley's bed.

Finally we decided to go and in a whirl of old spice and vigorous gum chewing we raced out the door. Club Cache is a basement club nestled between an Italian restaurant and a parking garage. The floor was intimate, and surrounded by slightly elevated booths and bar. The dancers were, over all, better than in the Metro Detroit area, but I still think we have a few of the best dancers (Randy and Louis come to mind). My best and last dance was with one of the most smooth and subtle stylists I ever met, and he had a big smile on his face the whole time. The best dancers in my book enjoy dancing with everyone that's receptive, regardless of their level of experience.

Katz Deli

I love visiting New York for a day. Any longer and I feel stifled and nervous. I spent a year feeling like the world was going to cave in around me in Buenos Aires, and after that I promised myself never again. But New York for a day is perfect. Just enough time and money to eat the most delightful treats and gawk at strangers.

The hands-down best meal that Cailley and I had was at Katz, the Jewish deli where Meg Ryan had her most public fake orgasm with Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally. There's even a little sign that hangs from the ceiling over where she sat, hoping "you get what she had." I did. The food is simple and mouthwatering. Corned beef, pastrami, salami or reuben sandwich layered with sauerkraut on rye topped with stone ground mustard and served next to new and old pickles. Cailley and I split a corned beef (they were $15!). The walls were covered with photographs of Katz, the original owner, and celebrities. Katz seemed a perpetually oldish man, with a heavy nose pulling his neck into his chest and an apron which, for the frequency that he wore it, must have been grafted onto his skin. He only wanly smiled in the photos, as if mildly amused at his own celebrity and slightly annoyed at the distraction. The tables were all family style. We ordered at the counter from cappucino colored Spanish speakers who called me "my love" and gave us samples of the corned beef on plates. We took the food on a tray to a table next to an Asian woman with the strongest Jersey accent I've ever heard. This, I thought mid-way through my sandwich, is New York City.

sexta-feira, 1 de junho de 2012

Really, You ate MORE of the Stuff that Makes You Sick?

In a fit of what I now see is utter foolishness, I ate more of that roasted red pepper and tomato soup. It was an ah-well-the-cleanse-is-almost-over-so-whatever kind of moment after having to badger the Office of the Registrar about my out-of-state residency, which they've given me again. Then I ate lots more trail mix. Really? I wanted to say to myself. Are these really the choices we make when we're angry? Yes, said badger-Kat. So what?
Our garden is a magical place and I live with a goddess.

Packing Until the Bitter Burning End

It's taken me a week to pack my shit and I'm still not done. I don't even have that much to pack, but there is something about the process that is intrinsically therapeutic, meditative. My housemates all tease me because under the influence my two favorite things to do are clean and stretch, which I tend to do efficiently and effectively. Packing is similarly therapeutic, but takes at least triple the time it needs to. Cleaning and stretching are synonymous to physical and emotional maintenance for me. Packing is a trip down memory lane where I never know what ghosts from my past might pop up. I am easily distracted by old to-do lists, sketches, articles of clothing I thought were lost and remind me of what I was doing the last time I wore them or took them off. Then I have to stop and write, or listen to a song. I've been listening a lot to Bon Iver's rendition of I Can't Make You Love Me, which I discovered on my sisters' facebook profile. She has such great taste in music and I am so grateful to have this song accompanying my rainy Friday of work/pack/reflection time.

Chris and I just smoked a rolled cigarette on the porch. It's something we've done on and off all year and I really have grown to cherish those 10 minute moments of stop-time. It's hard for me to just be, and I feel like the cigarette is always a good excuse to watch life unfold without feeling like I have to be the agent of it's progression. As usual, I smoked the nub til the bitter end. I love smoking until I can feel the heat on my lips, until it almost burns.

My First Cleanse Attempt

Inspired by the Gerson Therapy, and my friends Elizabeth and Brenda, I began a cleanse this past Monday. I removed gluten, dairy, sugar, eggs and supposedly alcohol and coffee. I say supposedly because I never actually stopped consuming them. I rationalize this by pointing out that imagination is the first step towards action. One day, if I just consider it enough, I will have the will power to not be crazy before my morning cup of joe or race home to my nightly glass of wine. Besides removing typically unhealthful foods, I have supplemented my diet with a superdose of vitamins, minerals and healthful, non-dairy bacteria. My meals have consisted of fresh juices which I have made with the help of Brenda's amazing juicer, rice, beans, and fermented radishes, kale, and onions from the farmers market and our backyard garden.

Besides my lack of will power over addictive beverages, I keep accidentally cheating! On day two I was so hungry that I just heated up an organic roasted pepper and tomato soup without reading the ingredient label on the back. My first bite tasted so creamy and delicious that I purposefully put the box into the fridge so I could enjoy each bite without remorse. In the morning, when I felt strong enough to handle my obvious failure, I read "CONTAINS MILK" in bold and all caps. Whoops. In another deliriously hungry moment I stumbled into Cherry Republic thinking I would buy some cherry jam to bring on my upcoming trip to India as an emblematic Michigan gift and was of course overwhelmed by free samples. I devoured about 10 chips with cherry salsa before examining the jar's back label and finding SUGAR written all over it. I know most salsa contains sugar but I have realized that memory is selective and not nearly as convincing as hunger.

Besides accidental slip-ups, I've also made some really bizarre dietary choices. I went to lunch yesterday at Olga's with two coworkers from Greenhouse Montessori. Olga's is a chain restaurant that purports an Eastern European image through it's name though it's food suggests more of a McDonald's version of Bulgarian peasant cuisine. I had some veggies sauteéd in a mystery MSG sauce and a side of grainy hommus. It probably would have been healthier to just order a sandwich than to get that superdose of congealed, processed slime. This morning I had an especially uncomfortable bowel movement due to an inordinate amount of trail mix I ate last night. After a quick trip to REI yesterday where I bought a mosquito net hammock for when bugs attack me in the backwaters of India and I curl into a defeated ball between two trees until rescue or death comes, I popped into Whole Foods. They had some trail mix on sale and, desperate for protein, I got a whole pound. Three fourths of that pound were gone by morning, and my bowels are not happy.

Another unusual component to the cleanse is the coffee enema. The Gerson Therapy is a cleansing method used primarily by people who have seemingly incurable cancer. Practitioners are cured through the removal of unhealthful foods and all their latent affects, paired with a superdose of vitamins and minerals from juicing and eating a mostly raw diet. The practitioners also undergo coffee enemas, administered by medical professionals, various times throughout the day. Dr. Gerson, the founder of Gerson Therapy, discovered that caffeine and palmitates (the chemicals in coffee) work together to stimulate and cleanse our blood and liver. The coffee is absorbed through the bowel wall where it is directed to the liver. The liver and bile ducts expand as a result, increasing the release of diluted toxic bile. Peristalsis (intestinal muscle contractions) then expel the toxins. The liver is now less congested, allowing space for future filtering. Though drinking coffee can loosen our bowels, it has none of the detoxification properties of coffee enemas.

When I first read about this in the Gerson Therapy, it reminded me of my childhood as a reticent pooper. Fortunately I am no longer squeamish about natural physiological processes, and when I decided to do this cleanse I was actually pretty excited about the idea of administering a coffee enema for myself. It was a little awkward, though, and I had to practice a couple of times in the shower with water before I wasted some of my prized dark roast. I used an old camel back which I will never drink from again. I held the enema for a grand total of 15 minutes, as is recommended, and then had an amazing detoxification experience. The first time I did it at around 8:30pm. Poor choice, as I was up half the night with the shakes. Now I do it once in the morning and I feel energized and clean the rest of the day.

In general, I feel much better due to these dietary changes. Drinking vegetables is actually more effective than eating them, since the digestive enzymes in our saliva break down much of the vegetable before it has time to deliver it's health benefits to our system. And in the past week I have had about 10 pounds of carrots, 6 pounds of apples, 2 bunches of spinach and 1 bunch of chard, not to mention all the bacteria that I ate in the fermented foods. I flushed out a lot of toxins that I was just carrying around needlessly in my digestive tract. I would like to do this twice a year. Though I was initially considering doing the cleanse for two weeks, my boss invited me out to brunch on Saturday at one of my favorite restaurants and I absolutely cannot imagine eating something besides cheese-bread-grease-sugar delightfulness. I guess it's a good thing to prepare my digestive tract for the food poisoning which seems an inevitable initiation for anyone who has ever traveled to India.