New England, Part Two

….in which I get distracted on country roads countless times and have to turn my car around just to capture junkyards and dilapidated houses, stay with family in Maine and play hooky from life, pick the most perfect baby tomatoes from a backyard garden, play with puppies, and finally head home.

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Now what?

New England, part one

The upside to unemployment is the ability to live out of your car for a few weeks and travel around one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Just put all the gas on your credit card.

Apparently my migratory urges haven’t subsided just yet.

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Sorrento, Maine; a pit stop at St. Paul’s; Vermont and a four-day bread overdose; and York, Maine, the perfect site for lighthouse gazing and candy store-and-arcade-by-the-waterside type nostalgia.

26.02.2012

A recent journal excerpt:

Dharamsala.

Sitting in a little streetside place, sipping chai as locals eat aloo paratha. Chai waking and warming me up. These little places – can I even call them restaurants? – are my favorite. Serving up chai and chapathi and simple meals of rice and dal and maybe some veggies, they all house a single, tiny table in back that seats about eight strangers. The walls are plastered with posters depicting lord Krishna in various incarnations. I watch the old man (owner?) hover over the stove, charring chapathi and cooking onions to prep for the day, adding spices from refashioned plastic jars that once held things like Vicks VapoRub but now just look dusty (or spicy) from use. The other, younger man chops veggies, holding them by hand rather than relying on a cutting board. A crimson-clad monk takes the seat next to me. We smile as we share the experience of watching the man in control of our breakfast.

“Good food,” he says.

I smile and gush about my love for paratha. I learn that he comes here every day. We relax back into our benches as the radio plays in the background, the noise of passerby on the small street increasing as the morning gets on.

Fire spills up from below the chapathi like a cushion supporting that beautiful meeting of cast iron and searing dough. I think about how much I’d rather be here than the trusty guide book favorites (even though that banana pancake yesterday was heavenly), that I want to just stay in India, eating at places like this, maybe one day learning these old men’s secrets, how they achieve the perect char-to-doughiness ratio in their chapati and paratha, what the ideal spice mix is for a standard pot of dal. For now I’ll just sip my chai, enjoy the company of strangers, watch light spill in from over the mountains, and observe the master at work.

instagram postcard

Greetings from Varkala, India!

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The palm trees are as plentiful as the European tourists, every restaurant has pizza and french fries on the menu, and I have successfully learned how to barter.

Our cottage, set back in the palm groves, is quiet and quaint as could be.

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Ganesh protects our door from any intruders,

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And the cliffs are two minutes’ walk away.

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The day starts with sleeping in, yoga, and complimentary breakfast at a nearby restaurant. And beach time is always a must.

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It’s the kind of place where even the milkiest, weakest coffee tastes perfect (it’s free, after all), and the only thing more interesting to watch than the people is the crash of the waves.

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No more 4:30 AM wake-up calls. No more going to bed at eight. Although I still miss Mysore, I’m liking the feeling of being on vacation. Of the sand on my toes. Of having a beer with dinner if I so choose. Of laying around for hours just reading a book and watching clouds pass.

I could get used to this.

relax.

Sundays in Mysore are, in the truest sense of the word, a day of rest. They’re my only day off from Yoga, and serve as a way to keep me from completely losing track of what day it is, what month it is, or where in the world is Carmen Sandiego I am. Not that that would be a bad thing. So today, I got myself up, headed to church (I’m always the lone foreigner there; I love it), and came back to enjoy a lovely little Sunday brunch with friends. (In case anyone was wondering, Mysore’s tendency to cater to western yogis means that my oatmeal habit is alive and well. Only here, it’s a porridge habit.)

This morning, in very non-yogi fashion, someone stole Mariel’s flip flops while we sipped on seemingly endless coffee and chatted with some new friends. She had to run home for a phone date with her mother, so I lent her mine.

You know you’ve achieved full-on hippie-dom when you’re walking through the street in India barefoot and loving every second of it. The way the gravelly pavement felt on my feet, the closeness to the earth, the sun shining through the palm trees…I couldn’t have been happier. After taking a few days to adjust to the pace of life here — relaxed and full of languorous enjoyment — I am finally at the point where I can fully appreciate a leisurely walk through town by myself, an afternoon spend reading and writing on our balcony, or a few hours at a cafe with new acquaintances.

Simple enjoyment hasn’t always come easy to me. Although I’ve always been able to find joy in the little things — smiles exchanged with strangers or the smell of toast or a quiet afternoon surrounded by family — it has taken me a while to learn to appreciate pure relaxation.

Blame it on my ADD, an overactive mind, or the self-imposed feeling of obligation to make EVERY SECOND count, but over the past year I have had to teach myself to just let go and enjoy those times where nothing is required of me but to soak it all in. Over a delicious lunch with friends the other day, I was remembering a week I spent in Maine with my parents this past summer. Away from work for a whole ten days, I wanted to make the most of my vacation. I wanted to feel as relaxed as humanly possible. I HAD to take advantage of my time off. I needed every vacation day to be perfect. And it was up to me to figure out how.


MAINE.

Well, that was insane. I would stress myself out every morning figuring out how to craft the perfect day. I didn’t exactly realize that when you’re on the coast and surrounded by family and ocean and rocks and mountains and sunsets, it’s kind of hard to have a shitty day. By the end of the week I finally felt the vacation mode setting in, but only as I was gearing up to leave. It’s the catch-22 of taking time off from work: only when you are ready to leave, are you truly ready to stay. Of course my memories from the week are cherished and full of happiness, but looking back now, I laugh at myself for the self-imposed need to become the happiest person alive in a matter of days.

2011 was a big year for me. I went off on my own in a lot of different ways, and I had to learn to spend — and appreciate — a good deal of “me time”. Relaxing breakfasts at home, Friday nights spent cooking dinner for one, strolls through the farmers’ market, the daily pilgrimage to yoga class in the dark of morning. I knew that this time spent alone with my thoughts would be good, helpful, cathartic, formative. But it took me months to relieve myself of the pressure to feel perfectly blissful and appreciative at times when these emotions were expected. Sitting out on my porch and eating a salad was frustrating because my happiness was only an 8, rather than a 10. God didn’t speak directly to me at Church and I therefore wasn’t experiencing it fully enough. Quiet time with my thoughts was frustrating rather than therapeutic. The expectations I put on myself were suffocating.

Slowly, and I’m not sure how, I learned how to just chill the fuck out relax. Without the pressure to feel like a shining orb of gratitude and peace 24/7, I was able to simply experience my emotions as they passed through me. Happiness and loneliness and frustration and pure appreciation. And, finally, the quiet of my mind. The pause it took to say thank you, to appreciate, to look up and realize my surroundings or look down and find the earth beneath my (currently bare) feet. I don’t know how I did it; I just know that I wanted it. I prayed for it. I needed it.

I’m not trying to get all The Secret on here. I don’t think I buy into that. But I think in order to make a change in the way I experienced the world, I had to want it first. And wait. Days and weeks and months until I found myself here, in India, in complete vacation mode. Happy to sit and smile and write and read and observe my emotions and whisper a quiet thank you to God for letting this happen.

I don’t mean to say that the key to happiness is to run off half way around the world — or that I am even close to knowing the key to happiness at all. Or that one even exists. But I am thankful for the past year. I am thankful for alone time. I am thankful for loneliness. I never knew what was ahead, or what I was preparing myself for, or that I was preparing myself at all. At times I didn’t even know if I was doing anything right. But here, now, the wind is blowing through my room and I’m considering having a coconut for lunch and oh, also, I am in MF-ing India. Along the way, something went terribly right.

I hope I’m not getting repetitive — sometimes I feel like all I can write about is how grateful I feel and, conversely, how shitty I’ve felt at times over the past two years — but I think it’s important to share. To realize that it’s okay to want something different. To reflect and remember our struggles. So that’s that. I promise some more light-hearted posts are coming soon. I’ve been taking lots of pictures of food and cows (to clarify: those are not the same thing) and other beautiful sights around Mysore and I need to get around to sharing them and I need to stop writing exclusively in run-on sentences.

Happy Weekend!

love. food.

Yesterday afternoon, all I wanted to do in life was to come back to Mysore at the end of my trip and become Tina’s apprentice.

Tina, of course, is the proprietor (proprietress?) of Tina’s cafe, which has two locations in town and a loyal following for delicious food and good company. The breakfast joint is operated out of Tina’s house, and she offers cooking classes here by request. As I sat around a table just outside her kitchen, I was so taken aback by her knowledge of cooking, the care with which she explained everything, the role that food plays in her understanding of family and culture and tradition. She was so at home behind her small portable stove that she used for demonstration, speaking us through each recipe with such ease that the words seemed to move right from her heart to her mouth without even consulting her brain.

As she mixed the dough for roti, the ubiquitous unleavened bread served at almost every meal here (and especially in northern India), she explained that this was her first job in her mother’s kitchen as a child. As she grew older, she graduated to the more difficult tasks: kneading the dough, rolling it out, cooking it and carefully flipping the delicious bread from side to side. You could tell, watching her roll and knead and dust and cook, that this bread was in her bones. No recipe to transcribe, not a science to teach, but rather an art to demonstrate. Not only was I in awe of her skill, knowledge, and love of cooking, but I also never wanted to leave the room. Ever. I just wanted to keep coming back, learning from her, watching her cook, listening to her talk about each dish and her mother’s kitchen and how her children roll out their own roti when she’s too busy to do it herself. Because cooking is fun, and eating — well, eating might be one of my favorite things in the world. But the act of cooking foor that your mother’s mother’s mother made, food made with love, for those you love, food that embodies a culture and swells wth meaning and history and instinct — that’s the kind of joy that must be cherished and remembered. And passed on.

As the seven of us — students and teacher alike — sat around devouring the spread of dal, stuffed okra, stuffed eggplant (my favorite!!), and freshly made roti, a silence filled the table. It’s that kind of silence you hear when a table full of people can’t do anything but bask in the food they’ve just shared, enjoying the satiety in their stomachs and the flavors still lingering in their mouths and the opportunity for a shared experience, even with those they may have just met.

I’ll be back at Tina’s next week for another class, more stories, and more food. This is the kind of woman, the kind of teacher, whom you want to come back to visit as often as you can. Inspiring and nurturing and tough as nails. And damn, does she know how to work some flour and water together to make magic.

What a Jois occasion!

We finally arrived in Mysore last night at midnight after two planes, three buses, and endless wrangling of our backpacks. Our hotel is beautiful, though, and we were both able to sleep through the night in hopes of defeating jet lag.

The following amazing things happened today:
1. We showered
2. We bought bottled water to brush our teeth for the first time (I KNOW)
3. We found an apartment, and our landlords are the kindest people ever.
4. We are officially registered with the KPJ Ashtanga Yoga Institute!!

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The registration process was quite the lesson in being prepared and keeping our expectations loose. First, we arrived at the Shala and learned we needed passport pictures, passport copies, and payment in cash (also known as a shit ton of rupees). Maybe next time I’ll actually check the website to make sure I’m prepared for registration. Once we had what we needed, we finally walked up to the shala. We were greeted by a room full of Westerners, sitting on the floor and waiting for….something. So we sat too, filled out the paperwork that was handed to us, and peered into the room where a handful of people–including a little KID–were practicing as Saraswathi, one of the two teachers, looked on. Watching a Mysore practice is so peaceful: everyone goes at their own pace, each person getting themself through the practice as best they can, concentrating and breathing and moving. Each person fighting their own battle and dancing their own dance.

We soon realized that we had a choice: practice with Sharath, the current guru of Ashtanga yoga and the man we expected to teach us, at 11 AM; or practice with Saraswathi, his mother, at 5 AM. Thus ensued that excruciating, decision-making, turmoil, unsure feeling, where you can’t get a hold of your priorities and you feel utterly helpless. 5 AM was a better time slot, and practicing with Saraswathi would likely get us more one-on-one attention from our teacher, but everyone else wanted to practice with Sharath, so shouldn’t we want that too?

Finally–after going back to Sharath’s office THREE TIMES to change our minds, ensuring that he knows who we are even if he thinks we are imbeciles–we decided to study with Saraswathi. I feel so at peace with the decision, so happy, so excited. I feel joy, and gratitude to be able to study with such a revered and knowledgeable teacher.

If the last year has taught me anything, it is that expectations are irrelevant, unnecessary, and can only do us harm. Getting excited about the future is inevitable and fun and positive, yes. Excitement is good for the soul! But resting your happiness on one singular outcome is never useful, even if things go just as you expected. I thought the true, authentic “Mysore experience” meant studying with Sharath and being squeezed into a room full of 70 people, doing my best not to kick my neighbor or get distracted by the person in front of me because I couldn’t figure out where they had put their foot. While I respect and honor Sharath and cannot WAIT to take led class with him once a week, I am so happy to be learning from a woman, a mother figure. I think it’s going to be so special and I can’t even express why.

As we relax in our hotel room for one last night before our first day of yoga and our first night in our new apartment, I feel like a kid before her first day of school. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I don’t know what to wear. I hope my teacher likes me. I hope I make friends at recess. And I’m loving it.

I have felt more free today than I possibly ever have. Speeding through the streets of Mysore, being surrounded by such kind souls, going through my day as I want to and not as I have to: it’s the most beautiful feeling. The gratitude hasn’t stopped yet, and I hope it never does. Any fear I had that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate this experience has been quieted and subsequently laughed at. And thank God, because gratitude is the shit.

Namaste, y’all!

P.S. the name of this post is a hilarious play on words because we are studying at the K Patthabi JOIS Ashtanga Yoga Institute. I am a wordsmith!!! You’re welcome.