It’s been fantastically difficult to do anything useful this week, and that’s not to say that I haven’t been useful, but that I haven’t been satisfied with this halfway feeling that’s just taking up a lot of space without really doing anything; a balloon filling up with air, a final inhalation, or exhalation, I’m not really sure. Just holding my breath to find out
what these lungs had in mind. It’s hard to understand what my leaving means to this place, also. There are lots of redundant thoughts pacing around in this little room, their footsteps all muddied together. I don’t know what thoughts are coming and what are going; if thinking about my plans is really preparing to be home or just the hatching of a desire to escape that, honestly, has been incubating ever since I came back. And then, after all that doubt, I find out that I don’t really have any plans..?
I saw a photo from home the other day; snow in the backyard, little tufts of it on branches, leaves, tables; I thought of the taste of snow, the feeling of it. I don’t know how to say really what it is that I’m beginning to feel. It’s something more than a readiness to be home; it’s an understanding of what it means to do something from the heart. I took this adventure to test out a certain understanding of myself – and I don’t want to say now that I was being too optimistic, because I don’t regret coming, I don’t think that I’ve let myself or anyone here down. But over the months I’ve realized the ways in which I am not as ‘footloose’ as I would like to be; I cannot imagine myself here for an indefinite period of time. The arc of this journey was always curving back towards home, and for once I’m really glad to know that. Perhaps I’m taking up too many words to say something simple.
In other news, we just brought in our first harvest from the mushroom project that FINALLY began, after many many months of delay. I wasn’t able to be as involved as I would have liked with this project – it was too far away and I’m never really free. But the experience itself, nonetheless, was an unforgettable one.
Tomorrow is Uttarayan – the Kite Festival day… I haven’t made any plans, and since I’m still pretty pathetic with flying kites (haven’t really managed to fly one… ever…) I am not thrilled for it – but hoping something nice happens, maybe I’ll go to the old city, watch the sky flood with paper.
It is safe to say that this is the most difficult December I have ever had; just as I would normally be winding down, a time when I would normally be writing clever messages on cards and in the safety of my room with the heat and the cats and lights and paper everywhere, and I in the middle of it all, wrapped up in the feeling – maybe one that has lost the anticipation of Christmas in childhood, but exchanged it (fairly, I think) for the warmth and significance of Christmas as an adult, where you get to think of gifts that are really meaningful. But this year I had a really silly Christmas, in the middle of nonstop planning and working and building and rehearsing for this festival that we’re doing, sucked up into the storm, barely able to see my way out. I talked via Skype with the family on Christmas morning, but of course could not convey exactly how and why I missed them so much. I’ve never had a December like this, never one that was so exhausting and confusing at the same time. We have a festival going on right now, which involves a series of events and then a grand finale show that is now taking up all (and more) of my time and energy. But in the bigger picture, and in ways that I cannot fully explain, I feel tired and muddled and mixed up, caught in a situation which I can neither clearly respond to nor easily escape from. And of course I’ve grown stronger in the process. Whatever that means. But strength as an afterthought is not feeling like a really helpful thing right now.
I just need to make it to the end of this month; then I can think.
Last night it rained, and it felt like a real miracle.
This has been a particularly chilly day, the kind that gives us all a little taste of winter; I caught myself in a surprising proximity to the feeling of winter days back home, when I used to come home from high school, to a silent house, to eat and wander around in the house or out onto the deck in socks and a coat, with the odd company of the winter sun, burning somewhere strangely. And, like at home, the day has sunk back into night too quickly, though at least I live on the upper floor, with its enclosed porch and green paint and cold dusty tiles. At least the sun stays here longer than downstairs, at least here I’m more on the level with the huge Jurassic trees that ended up here, luckily spared from the creeping, fraying streams of the City, whose tides of sound and smoke even the walls can’t keep out.
One of the many things that is so wonderful about having the group of Dutch artists here is that I they want to do all of the things that someone who lives here would never really do. Going out to eat expensive (but artfully done) Gujarati food; going on a waking tour of the Old City at night. Which, was so incredibly spooky and weird, and beautiful, and awkward, since we were walking through someone’s neighborhood at night, through tiny alleys and in front of open doors, walking by people washing dishes, street dogs nursing their pups in dark tunnels in the catacombs of the ancient city…
The Old City really is special, though. It refers to what remains of the original structures built inside the walls of Ahmedabad, before the walls were torn down in the 1920’s (I think?) to make way for the rapidly expanding city. Many of the houses of the old city, hundreds of years old, are still existing, and occupied. A few (like the one pictured above) have been restored. Many have crumbled or been destroyed. But all of this is squeezed in so close, there’s really very little room to differentiate between what’s ‘history’ and what’s still alive, which I think is what is most fascinating about the Old City.
And at the very center of this, guided by flashlights, we came to the tomb of Ahmed Shah, the founded of the city. The tomb is beautiful, especially at night. The building has two entrances, and one can walk around inside the building all around the tomb itself, which is a separate room in the middle with honeycombed windows looking in. Women aren’t allowed to go inside; but instead, on those windows, women who want to ask for something can tie a red string to symbolize their wish.
So the Retreat, as my house is affectionately known, has gone from being filled with Rarely me, Sometimes the cook, and Always Gandhiji’s ghost, TO:
me (no introduction required) + Cristina – sharp, beautiful, and talented designer from Columbia + Arnold and Antje, 2 professional opera singers from the Netherlands working with Darpana and making the best out of the echoey rooms with their vocal warm-ups, + a very busy but happy and also talented cook who takes care of all of us beautifully.
I have lots I owe to this journal, to attempt to mend the long gap between Then and Now, for all of those who are following this stuttering narrative from afar. Things here have gotten only busier, now with a major festival coming up in December and also a new production of Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo, in collaboration with a theatre group from Holland coming up just before that. And so much more! I skipped off to Nepal to see my friend/neighbor/kin Cooper, and live a week of my life in the midst of his, which right now involves kayaking the major rivers of Northern India and Nepal… and then coming back to have so much to do for the festival – designing a website, organizing a photography and short film competition, working on a production to celebrate/integrate/do something new with the theme of Ahmedabad’s 600th anniversary since its founding in 1411, which falls this year. Learning how to use graphic design software and make flyers/posters/logos, learning how to use CSS and HTML code to craft a website, learning little bits here and there about a city and trying to think of interesting ways to use the space at Darpana to create a performance… many things.
So how to do this, then? I don’t really want to use this space just to talk about work, because that’s what I do during the rest of my day. Can we see some photos from Nepal? I think that would be alright.
So, briefly, this trip happened all on the fly. And beautifully, magically, too. It’s hard to believe, but I actually became known to this group as the person who was always on time, the reliable one, the translator, the helpful one (especially because I grabbed the half-empty bottle of rum that was left at the table as everyone stumbled out of the bar we went to to celebrate one of our group’s 25th). Originally, I was supposed to meet up with Cooper and crew sometime early December, at the end of their trip; but instead I got a call from him saying it would be better to meet up in November, that maybe I could join them on one of their expeditions, somehow; and that’s exactly what I did, buying a ticket for a train to Delhi the day that I left, to catch a plane to Kathmandu leaving the next day, and then arriving too late in Nepal to catch my bus to Pokhara, the other city in Nepal, which meant that I had to stay a night in Kathmandu and meet the group instead in ‘Dumre’ – a town that Cooper told me to go to over a horrible phone connection, where supposedly we would all meet up. But I actually got there, dropped off the bus into a town full of other buses coming and going, bright and hot and sunny, raucous and anonymous at the same time, a town where people to come only to wait and then go somewhere else, a town that doesn’t really exist on its own, a town stuck somewhere weirdly inbetween the feeding frenzy of Kathmandu, of sharks on dollars, and the wonderful disconnection between tourists and Real Life in rural Nepal, which seems refreshingly concerned with its own affairs.
Which, from what I saw, entails growing rice, gourds, raising goats and cows, and running a few small shops and guest houses in the few small towns that trekkers drift through and occasionally stay, but never for long.
There’s too much to really tell (tractors, leeches, hot springs, cover bands, …), now at least that I’ve let this trip drift down beneath new layers of experience, now that the space I was holding during the days after I got back to contain my understanding of why this trip was important to me has now been filled by the new urgency of this festival. So for you, as a placeholder until more words come, I give you pictures. But for me, I have only this: it’s up to me to hold on to the importance of the trip to Nepal, which to everyone else here will seem like a somewhat frivolous, expensive, poorly timed vacation. That being able to step outside of your situation, especially when it seems impossible to step out of, was probably the most helpful thing I’ve done for myself in a long time; a preview of things to come once this is gone.
I mean, having a few of my own thoughts about India to add to their experience, and also a chance to do some translating, showed to me that after all of this time working with people who, usually in the best of possible ways, show me that I still have so much to learn, to then feel that I actually learned something and could put it to use. Not that I take that too seriously; after all, it was an experiment, a series of small tasks, mostly inconsequential (I mean, despite my Hindi, Cooper and crew were better hagglers simply because they had been practicing so much), a new, clean medium in which this organism is printed onto to see what shapes it grows into in a week’s time.
The longer experiment is taking place here, and for so long it’s seemed to unsure whether or not it would be successful – whether I will feel satisfied with what I have done here, whether I will make it to the other end of this interminable list of To Do For Darpana.
But yeah, so after all of that nice revelation, I had to rush back to work, got fogged in in Kathmandu, missed my train, dumped a lot of money to buy a plane ticket and get back in time, and then was incapacitated with a fever for a day. Wheeee!
But. no matter. here I am, back in the thick of it. But still knowing that some tiny piece this place I have kept known to me;