Thursday, June 29, 2006

Tuesday (sort of)

It's about six in the afternoon and Andrea and I are both feeling a bit battered and tired from the taxi we took to the venue. It was fun retracing the same route that we followed on Monday. The digital camera gave me a lot of trouble, though - I kept getting pictures of the thing that was just *past* the thing I actually wanted to shoot. Oh well. I still got a few nice shots, including a really incredible one of the venue.

I'm feeling a bit funny about just writing laundry lists of what's been going on, because I suspect most of it is quite boring. I'm toying with the idea of focusing on a particular mental affliction each day. If that's the plan, then today's mental affliction is attraction to the objects of the senses, because we actually tried to shop today.

It's hard - every shop has similar stuff, but not exactly the same stuff. There are some shops that seem to be particularly good. And the point of the shopping is that we didn't bring a lot of clothes, because we knew they were cheap here. And they are. But getting the specific thing you want involves visiting many, many shops. After today's shopping, I had afterimages of paisley patterns from all the scarves in my head.

The teaching tonight was really intense, by which I do not mean "dude, that was intense!" What I mean is that we went through thirteen pages of Tibetan in under four hours, including a complete translation and commentary. It was a lot of fun, but there was hardly a pause for breath the whole time. My fingers were really tired from typing so fast for so long, taking notes. I won't say anything about the actual teaching here, because it's pretty technical stuff, but I will say that it was a total joyride - I was working hard to keep up the whole time, and Geshe Michael was having a *blast* - he was like a little kid up there (a kid who can teach trang-nge with both hands tied behind his back!) plowing into the material like it was the best party ever.

I have to confess here that it's Wednesday as I'm writing this. I've been getting behind, partially because now that I've dumped a few detailed entries, I feel like there's less detail that needs covering. The motivation for even talking about all this detail was twofold: firstly, to allow a reader who wants to vicariously experience the visit to India to do so, and secondly so that if someone is coming to India and wants to know what pitfalls to avoid, they can see what pitfalls I wandered into.

I'm sitting at breakfast right now, alone. Andrea is downstairs sleeping. The nights have been exhausting. The commute to Pop's is manageable, but it's rough, and we need to recuperate from it. Last night we had a bit of a scare - we came around a corner and a driver wandered close to our side of the road. The speed differential was probably 60mph. I had enough time to wince, and then the car was past us, the collision avoided. Wow.

We came upon some cows around the corner. If cows are sacred, maybe they were protecting us somehow. I was very happy to see them, regardless, because if we'd hit that car, I think the best case scenario would have involved us all waking up in Delhi in a hospital there. Cows are much prettier than hospital ceilings. And these cows really are pretty - I don't know what the deal is. Maybe they get brushed every day. Their coats are perfectly smooth, and the wrinkles on their faces stand out in a very elegant way.

They have a variety of different cars here. I think there are mainly four kinds of taxi-ish vehicles in Dharamsala. One is a small car, about the size of an old Toyota Tercel. This can fit four passengers, but not easily, and not with much luggage. We haven't been in one of these yet.

Then there's a sort of minivannish thing, with the emphasis on mini. I think it's about seven feet long, and perhaps four and a half feet tall, with tires that are perhaps twelve inches in diameter. It's made by Suzuki/Maruti, as is the other kind. We took one of these to Pop's the first day of the teachings. It was really hard - I felt every single bump, and I was really sore the next day.

I met the driver outside of His Holiness' temple when I dropped Andrea there. He wanted 1100 rupees for the ride out and the return - that's about $25. I smiled and said thanks, and walked up the hill. Unbeknownst to me, he followed me (he said later he was going to get lunch, which I think was true). When I stopped to look at a scarf, he caught up to me, and offered to do it for 900. He might have gone down another 100, but let's face it - I'm an injee, and my heart really isn't in the bargaining.

When we got home Tuesday night, there was a truck blocking the road, so we had to walk up the hill, and the driver had to back down the road. So I gave him a 150 rupee tip, for bravery. Backing down that road is the act of a person with complete faith that if he goes over the cliff, his idam will take care of him and bring him to a happy rebirth. We offered to guide him with our flashlight, but he wasn't having any.

The next size up (the biggest) is the jeep. This is a sizeable vehicle, which looks a bit like Satan, the Land Rover in the movie _The Gods Must Be Crazy_. So named because of its balkiness. These vehicles are by far the luxury cruisiers of Himachal Pradesh. In a pinch, they can seat nine passengers and one driver. More if you bungee a few people to the roof and sit a few more in laps, and don't think we haven't seen that. They have enough torque to climb a vertical wall (I suspect). We took one of these to the teaching yesterday. It was much nicer. We were four on the way out, and so it was really roomy - we chucked all our stuff in the back, and just enjoyed the ride.

Unfortunately, we had a bit of an emergency, and had to load it with eight people on the way back. Petah was feeling very queasy. He accidentally ate a fresh tomato in his veggie burger on Monday, and spent all day Tuesday in a state of extreme gastrointestinal distress. Trisangma has also been feeling a bit ill, she says, but she's so tough that I wonder if she's just putting on a show so that Peter doesn't feel bad. Andrea gets motion sickness very easily, as does Rebecca, so we put them on the second bench, which faces forward and is comfortable.

I sat in the back with Elly, who is pretty much unshakeable. The arrangement in the back is like one of those old school-bus station wagons, with a pair of benches facing each other, so that when you face forward in the seat, you're looking out a side window. I do have problems with motion sickness, but I think that aside from Elly I was the least challenged of the group, so it was the right division of labor for the ride back.

Elly tried to use her computer for a while, but after the first really hard bump, where it nearly caught me in the head and cracked the screen, she decided to put it away. After that, she just sat there chatting with the people in the front seat, as if we were on a pleasant sunday drive. I found a seating arrangement that allowed me to look forward without too much of a spinal twist, but I was once again sore this morning. Not as badly sore, though, so I guess I'm not complaining. We're going to take a jeep again tonight.

The other taxi vehicle you see up here is a motorized rickshaw. These are all really old, and have horrible smelly two-cylinder two-stroke engines. They seat two really friendly people, three if you put one in the lap of the other two, six if you're from India, and need to get to work in one every day. We haven't taken one yet, and I don't expect we will - I wouldn't trust them on these hills. They're three-wheeled, steering from a single front wheel.

When I got up this morning I did yoga and then was jonesing for a shower, but Andrea likes to keep the hot water off when we're not using it, so it wasn't warm - that's why I came upstairs first. One thing you have to get used to here is that there is no air conditioning anywhere, including the cars. And at least at this time of year, it is intensely humid. So every time I walk up the hill, I am coated in a thin layer of sweat at the top, an this takes about an hour to dry off. At home, this would be intolerable - I'd drive everywhere. Here, that's not an option. And you very quickly get used to it. It doesn't get comfortable - you just learn not to let it bother you. In Arizona you can go two or three days without showering and still be presentable; here, you could probably shower twice a day and still be pushing the edges of sociability.

I finally got the cell phone yesterday. Sharon got her stamp from down the hill, I went up to the top, and there was still more bureaucracy. I restarted the process of getting the phone at about 11:00, and I actually had a working phone in hand a bit after 3:00. When it turned to about 8:30 AM, eastern time, I tried calling my father, but the phone didn't answer. I didn't finally get to talk to him until after the teaching, when I was really tired, but it was nice to hear his voice, and I think he forgives me for not calling on his birthday. We'll see.

I'm sitting now with Andrea and Camillo. Camillo's been telling me about the Mayan Codex, which is apparently how the comet, Schumacher-Levy, was located. Camillo is very into conspiracy theories, in that sort of "I don't really believe this, but isn't it cool" way. The other day he was telling me about all the really cool hidden information in the movie that was made of The Da Vinci Code.

Earlier I got to see Michael and Nicole, who were going to the teachings, but wanted to have breakfast first. Michael wants to do another teaching session on the guitar, so I think I'd better practice. It's really humbling to get a lesson from Michael. He and Nicole have been doing Kirtan singing before the teachings start, the past two nights. Nicole has a wonderful singing voice, and it's quite inspiring to listen to her and sing along with her.

But the point is that Michael played some guitar solos in between Kirtan singing. He is a master. He played a piece by a Paraguayan composer, Agustín Barrios Mangoré, which sounded like something Bach might have written if he's had some twentieth-century influence. This morning Michael explained that this piece was written after the composer had heard a piece by Bach for the first time, as he was walking by a cathedral. It's exactly the kind of music I want to learn to play on the guitar, but I think it'll be a while before I can do it. Watching Michael do it was like watching a magic act - he fingers were just walking up and down the fretboard and his hands plucking the strings, and this amazing fugue came out.

Andrea says he could probably just poke the guitar with his nose a couple of times and amazing music would come out.

So I'd better practice today.

Right now we're sitting in the cafe, and it's about 11:00 in the morning, but it's dark. An hour or so ago, a thick fog rolled in, and then a little while later a thunderstorm followed it. It's not raining very hard - I think it would take at least fifteen seconds to get completely soaked if you stood outside in it. It was beautifully bright and sunny this morning when I woke up.

The teaching venue has a tin roof. Last night we got to the venue just before a major downpour began. The kind of rain where when it hits, the droplets shatter and turn to mist, and can come in through air vents even when the roof is otherwise solid. It was so loud we couldn't hear each other talking. In the middle of this storm, I was looking out the window and noticed a man walking across the rice paddies, with no umbrella or galoshes, and seemingly not a concern in the world.

Last night, Geshe Michael and Christie posed the teachings as a debate. Christie has been reviewing mind-only, and Geshe Michael is teaching middle way. As it turns out, the two topics play nicely together, so they just interleaved them. They're really getting into the debate format, to the point where when they were leaving, Christie came up to me and said, "if you agree with my position, I'll give you a flower." Resorting to bribery to win a debate... I don't know... :') I told her I couldn't accept her position, and she gave me the flower anyway. Later on I came up with two different interpretations of what she'd said, according to the two different schools that we are studying.

I think I'll cut this journal here for now. It's Thursday morning, we're doing okay, everything's fine. I'm going to go take a shower now.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Rice paddies on the road to Chamunda Devi

I'm writing this on Saturday, because Friday was so filled with activity, but I'll write it as if it's Friday because it's easier. I'm actually posting it on Wednesday...

Today started with a knock on the door at 7:30 am, which seemed early at the time, but turned out to be relatively mellow compared to the following morning. Apparently some group in the hotel wanted an early wake-up call, and we were accidentally counted as part of the group.

The room was easier to take in the morning, but still pretty dark. The carpet was no less easy to take, unfortunately. We decided to go to the Green Hotel Cafe, which has a wifi setup. We got there and I decided I didn't want the coffee there, so we headed back, and nearly walked into a taxi (not a difficult task). We heard a cry of joy from within the cab, and out popped the nice Kat Ehrhorn, followed by her two sons, Grail and Zeleigh, who were on their way to the Security office of the government of Tibet to register for the teachings. So we decided to get that out of the way.

The line wasn't too bad. Unfortunately, we hadn't had any breakfast yet, and unbeknownst to me, Andrea was running on empty. We were about fourth in line when she melted down completely. There was a spanish doctor nearby, and he rushed to help her, probably thinking she had some kind of serious condition. I think it was nice for Andrea though - he was a handsome fellow, and very caring.

I ran back to the hotel and got some Emergen-C, which I added to her water. She sat there for a while sobbing, but she didn't want to leave because we were next in line, so we actually got our ID cards made and then slunk out, under the solicitously watchful gazes of all the nice people in line.

So we wandered down the hill towards Hunted Hill House, which is the hotel where about half the people we know here are staying. I was hoping to run into the nuns, because visiting with them always cheers Andrea up, or at the very least takes her out of her problems. And sure enough, when we got to Hunted Hill House all the nuns were here - Chunzom and Elly were talking to Sharon, who runs Hunted Hill House and was arranging accomodations for them, and Chukyi was just finishing breakfast.

So we sat at her table, and Andrea and I both had some porridge. The coffee here is french press, which isn't nice for my stomach, but with a little milk it went down okay. The porridge is yum-tastic - it comes with honey, and is made with milk and bananas, which are cooked in and piping hot, so that it's safe to eat. But the main thing is how yummy it is: very.

So what with Andrea feeling sad and overwhelmed, and the comfort of having sangha around, we talked to Sharon about getting a room closer to Hunted Hill House. Fortuitously, a room was just opening up in Hunted Hill House. It was bright and airy, the bathroom had an actual shower head, and the toilet leak seemed to run nicely towards the drain instead of pooling on the floor under the sink. When Andrea saw it, she was really happy with it, so we took it.

You'd think that would be the end of the excitement for the day, but because of the problems with the two-hour-each-way bus ride to the venue for the teachings, we decided that it was best to try to investigate a hotel closer to the venue. Just by happenstance, the folks who are arranging the teaching were there, and were planning to go down the hill, and Chukyi wanted to check out hotels as well, so she invited me along for the ride. There was one caveat; had there been a soundtrack, ominous music would have played as it was stated: I had to be with them for the whole day, and they had a lot of errands to do, so it wouldn't be quick.

Andrea was pretty happy hanging out with Elly and Chunzom (she'd been jonesing to see them even before the excitement at the Tibetan security office). So she agreed that it was okay if I got back kind of late. So the tour group consisted of me, Chukyi, Nancy, Shyam, Christine and Ben, plus our driver, Dipak. Christine and Ben are the main organizers for the event.

They all needed to go get their IDs, and I needed to get our stuff out of Hotel Tibet, so we agreed to meet back at Hunted Hill House at 12:30. I took my spare passport photo and a map and headed back up the hill - I left my backpack with Andrea. On the way to the hotel, I stopped at an Airtel outlet to get a SIM card; turns out that you need proof of residency (a letter from the hotel owner is okay) and a xerox of the front page of your passport. That was a nonstarter, so I headed over to the hotel.

I should point out that at this point that it's been about 26 hours since my shower yesterday in Shangri-la, and it's been bloody hot and humid for a lot of that, and it's still pretty humid, and it's a very steep walk up the hill to the Hotel Tibet, so I am feeling, to put it kindly, "not so fresh." And now I have to haul all our crap down the hill. Whee!

The lady who runs Hotel Tibet was really nice about us checking out - she even offered to return our deposit, which I neither asked for nor expected; hotels here are not chains, and having someone duck out of a reservation can be a real problem. Turns out not so bad for Hotel Tibet, though - they were full, and while we were there two different parties walked in looking for rooms; she turned them both away, so I think she already had the room rented out to someone else in her mind.

She called me a taxi, which took about five long minutes to arrive - I was feeling a little worried about being late for the trip to Palampur. But it did arrive; as we were loading up, Eon walked up, looking his usual happy self. I invited him to ride down with me - he hadn't hooked up with the sangha yet. So he jumped in the cab, and down we went. The fare was fifty rupees - a little over a buck. I didn't have any cash for tipping, and didn't try to do anything about it, because of the hurry. Sigh.

Ian was a little lost and overwhelmed at the hotel - I actually felt a little bad about dragging him down the hill, but it seemed like the right thing at the time. The ride for Palampur hadn't left yet, so I was able to go along.

Palampur is the town where the venue is, but it's a very Indian town, like the ones we went through yesterday. So we'd heard that the hotels were a little difficult, and it wasn't a good place to stay, but that there is a town about thirty minutes away called Chamunda Devi. It's a big shrine site - there are shrines to Durga, Kali and Sarasvati. So there are upscale-ish hotels there, aimed at Indian tourists, but still maybe better than what's in Palampur. And Chamunda Devi is on the road to Palampur from Dharamsala, which makes it easier to pick people up if they're staying there.

One of the big difficulties about the venue is that it's a tea plantation, and they're sensitive to too much traffic, so they don't want any private cars on the property. So everybody has to come from a bus; the current plan is to just come down from Dharamsala, but it's a pretty scary ride from Mcleodganj (upper Dharamsala) to lower Dharamsala, and also it's supposed to be two hours each way, which just seems impossible to me.

So our plan was to look at some hotels in Chamunda Devi. The drive to Chamunda Devi was a lot of fun - we left just as school was getting out throughout the area, so we saw just mobs and mobs of school children walking home from schools in their cute little uniforms. Some of the girls' uniforms include ties; all the boys' do. As we worked our way through these crowds, Chukyi and Nancy kept pointing and crowing about how cute the little ones were. It was quite annoying. (not really)

After riding through many waves of children, in many differently-colored uniforms, they started to thin out - we'd see one or two at a time, but not entire waves of them anymore. And then we rolled into Chamunda Devi. There's a big temple complex down the hill; we didn't look at it too closely, because we were feeling pressured for time. So we went by the temples and found a couple of likely looking hotels. We stopped at the nicest looking one, and went inside to look.

The bridge at Chamunda Devi

The owner seemed happy to see a large group coming in, but there were no rooms until the 28th. Apparently the 17th Karmapa's birthday is on the 26th, and people were in town for the celebration, and so all the hotels in Chamunda Devi were booked. But the 28th isn't so bad for us - the teachings in Palampur don't start until the 27th. The rooms aren't cheap, and they're a bit challenging for a westerner, but some of them are nice and bright, and they all have a lovely view of a beautiful boulder-strewn riverbed with a stream running down the middle. Many of them have showers, and they have western-style toilets.

So we went away from that little bend in the road feeling pretty happy about being able to move a lot of people down to Chamunda Devi if they wanted to go. I still had my heart set on a place John Brady had found at a tea estate in Palampur, which sounded really nice, even by western standards, but it was a lot more expensive, so Chamunda Devi was a tempting alternative.

We went a little way down the road and spotted another guest house, so we stopped there to see what it was like. It was grim. We left thinking that we had found enough information, and didn't need to look at any more hotels. And we were feeling under the gun to get to the venue. A few minutes later, we came around a corner and saw another little guest house, and despite the fact that we'd agreed not to stop anymore, we decided to stop at this one. Actually, I think our driver heard us dithering and decided to just cut to the chase and go in.

This location felt very different - it felt very peaceful and sweet, even though it was right on the road. There's a high kitsch factor - the sign out front says "Pop's Picnic Place and Hotel." The guest house is very basic - less expensive than the hotels at Chamunda Devi by quite a bit, but dark and claustrophibic, like our first room in Dharamsala (but with fewer amenities). But we thought maybe some of the tougher students could stay there, so we took the information for the place.

Then we went back outside, still talking with the proprietor. He asked Chukyi if he could call her "Ani La", which is an affectionate Tibetan way of referring to a nun. She was delighted, of course. He told us those were the only two words he knew in Tibetan, and then told us the tale of how he had met his Lama. We were a little surprised, since this man was obviously an Indian, not a Tibetan.

He explained that when he was a young man, he'd been very depressed, and had several times tried to kill himself. He saw a Lama, Situ Rinpoche, in town in Palampur one day, and decided to try to meet him; after a long effort, he did. When he got his audience with the Lama, the Lama asked him what was wrong. He told the Lama the story, and he said the Lama touched him thrice on the shoulder (he said "thrice") and from then on his wish to harm himself was simply gone. He seemed really happy to be able to tell the story, and he introduced us to his son, who was born after this event, and to his wife.

Pop's pavilion. The picture was shot Tuesday, after a lot of decoration had been done.

Meanwhile, Nancy had spotted a dining hall out behind the hotel, and came up to ask if there was room there to do yoga, and if it would be okay if the students staying there did yoga. The answer was yes, so she went back to investigate further. It turns out that the dining hall is a huge pavilion, suitable for holding weddings. And it's available during the time when the teachings in Palampur are happening, and is very convenient. But we already had a venue, so we were talking about this in fairly academic terms.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the place, really quite reluctantly, and went to the venue. The venue was a barn on an old tea estate at the end of a very bumpy dirt road. It had kind of the look of a winery barn - big machines for sorting and drying the leaves, rather than for pressing wine, but still somehow very similar.

It was four in the afternoon when we got there, and there was a lot of prep work to do at the location - digging toilets, cordoning off the more dangerous areas, and that sort of thing. So we expected a hive of activity. Unfortunately, when we got there mostly what we heard was crickets chirping. No work had been done yet.

Because the location was so rough and because no work had been done yet, we debated for a while and finally concluded that it would be better to simply start the work at the other location, which was already much more servicable, rather than trying to make a heroic effort to get the tea plantation venue working in the short time we had left. This involved two trips back to Pop's, one with to negotiate with the owner, and one with the tent man so that he could check out the location.

Rice fields out behind Pop's pavilion

On the first trip back to Pop's, we stopped in town to get some aspirin for Christine, who had a bit of a headache (and who can blame her - she's one of the two people actually organizing this teaching, and we'd just completely changed her plans). While we were waiting for Ben to buy the aspirin, a few younger women from town gathered nearby and started watching us. There was one with very light brown eyes, wearing a pure white sari, who particularly stood out - she had some kind of mystery about her, and she kept looking at us and smiling enigmatically.

After stopping at Pop's to make sure we could have the venue, we came back to the tea plantation to talk to the organizer. Fortunately, he was there, along with the tent man. Ben and Nancy went off to negotiate the switcheroo, and the rest of us stayed outside so they could have some privacy. The neighborhood kids started to wander in to check us out.

It was a motley crew - two of the older girls were taking care of their baby sisters, one of whom liked us, and one of whom thought we were the worst thing that had ever happened to her - when one of us smiled at her, she hid her face and started bawling uncontrollably. The other kids, most of whom were around three or four years old, just stood around smiling at us. Everybody who had a camera took lots of pictures - unfortunately I didn't have a camera, so I lost out, but maybe I'll be able to get some later to put up here.

One of the people who showed up to watch us was the same young Indian woman we'd seen in town earlier, in the white sari. She had the same enigmatic smile, and kept watching us the whole time we were there. Chukyi became convinced that she was Tara; I'm not sure she was wrong. With her light brown eyes and dark skin, she had a very unearthly look about her.

When we finished with all the arrangements, it was about 7:00 in the evening. We'd gotten a call earlier from Mercedes who wanted two of our party to go have dinner with the Lamas. Fortunately or unfortunately, we only had one car to use, so we all had to go. It's always nice to get to have dinner with the Lamas, but I was really hoping to go home. It was not to be. We had a nice dinner with the Lamas, and then headed back to Palampur to take care of one last errand - Ben needed to pay the hotel bill for a couple of Lamas we'd invited to come visit us in Palampur. So we stopped there. The Lamas were there, so we stopped to visit with them, and got an impromptu teaching on the death meditation - a perennial favorite.

By the time we left Palampur for Dharamsala, it was eleven at night. The ride back was interesting - all the Indian villages on the way had shut for the night, and there were very few lights, so it felt a little bit spooky - villages that had been hives of activity during the day were completely deserted, like ghost towns. I expected to see tumbleweeds blowing through the streets.

At one point a taxi driver flagged down Dipak to talk to him about something - I don't know what because they were speaking Hindi - and we saw two other people on the road who were working on another taxi that had broken down. But that was pretty much it, all the way to Mcleodganj.

It took us a hair less than an hour to get home, and after about five minutes of banging on the door the night manager let us in. Then I had to bang on our door, since Andrea was wearing earplugs, but she finally let me in, and I pretty much collapsed on the bed. Falling asleep was not a problem. Little did I know that someone else was going to be banging on the door at 6:20 the next morning.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Here are some snapshots I've taken today. Today's the first day the camera's been out - we've been too busy doing other things. I'm sitting in the Green Hotel Cafe, using the wireless as usual. The rains have started for the day, so I'm totally hosed at the moment - if I leave, I'm going to get soaked. The two following pictures were shot just as the rain was starting.

This is a view of the buildings behind the Green Hotel. Nothing special - I just thought the shot of the road was amusing. But I don't know if you can even see the road in the picture without enlarging it - it's more obvious with cars on it.

This is the garden behind the Green Hotel. Maybe that's how it gets its name.

A very relaxed street scene up on Bhaksa road in Mcleodganj. This is about as mellow as it gets. The yellow building up where the road curves is the last building before the one that houses the Green Hotel Cafe, where I am sitting at the moment.

This shot is from a road up at the top of Mcleodganj, where there are a couple of really fancy hotels. You can see deep down into the valley - I'm not sure if the town you're seeing is Kangra or lower Dharamsala.

You might be fooled into thinking that this cow is reading the bulletin board. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cows do not appreciate literature by way of reading. They simply eat. This cow is ripping paper off the bulletin board and eating it. This is a little way up the hill from our hotel.


I managed to do a decent yoga practice for the second day in a row - I'd had a hiatus since we flew in to Delhi, although I actually did a little yoga on the airplane just to unkink my body from all the sitting. It's a nice way to wake up.

I think it has been helping me to practice that even when I'm hungry, I'm a little reluctant to eat, so doing yoga first doesn't seem like as much of a hardship. Unfortunately, the space we have to do yoga is a little small, and also there are some bolt ends sticking out of the concrete wall, so there are some postures I'm reluctant to do there - it would hurt to bang against the end of one of those bolts.

I didn't get a chance to practice on the guitar yesterday. I feel like the act of carrying it here has already been justified by the lesson I had on Saturday night, but a lesson's no good if you don't practice, so I'd better get to it, soon. We've been hearing nonstop Don Henley on the stereo system in the Cafe - I think it's the only CD they have. It's not so bad - it's a pretty good mix CD - but it might be nice to have a change at some point. I'm thinking of burning them another mix CD to play.

It hasn't rained yet today, but it's looking threatening. The rain is a mixed blessing - it washes the streets, which are kind of scary otherwise, and it clears the air, and of course as an Arizonan it's just nice to see. On the downside, though, it's very damp here - things that haven't been wetted still feel wet from the humidity of the air.

There's no point in complaining, though, and I don't feel inclined to anyway - I'm just wondering how our laundry will get done without mildewing. I guess we'll find out. Mostly I'm really enjoying the rest here. I feel a little twinge of guilt from time to time about not seeing His Holiness, because he's teaching just up the hill right now, but I think I really need the rest I've been taking, and we're about to embark on a heavy emptiness teaching, so I'm trying not to feel too lame about it. It really was wonderful to see him on Saturday. On an academic level, you can question whether or not he's as special as they say he is if you haven't met him, but I think if you've met him, even from a distance, any questions about that fade away. He radiates a kind of stern, slightly whimsical kindness that you can feel in your very bones.

I don't know how this journal feels to the reader. It's been fairly exhausting getting to Dharamsala and getting settled in, but this is the first real vacation I've taken in a long time. I'm really enjoying the change of pace. I think not being able to do email 24x7 is a big part of that, and I'm wondering now if there's a way for me to keep that habit when I go home.


It's started raining again. Sharon said I could use the one outlet in the restaurant for my computer, so I'm going to just cocoon here for a while and work on a technical edit of a book for Jinmei-san. He's been waiting for it for an embarrassingly long time, and the deadline is really looming, so this is probably the best way for me to spend my time today. Jinmei-san has done so much to make IPv6 a reality, and to make it actually usable. Unfortunately, using the outlet means I have had to abandon my favorite table.

During the peak of Saturday's storm, you couldn't see the trees on the nearby mountains silhouetted against the sky - the farthest visible tree was only a hundred yards or so up the hill. Today the rain seems gentler, at least so far. I can still easily see the nearest ridge line, and most of the other foothills, although the actual Himalayas are not visible right now. We heard from others that there were hailstones the size of big marbles, but unfortunately I didn't get to see those - perhaps they didn't make it down this far on the hill.


The rain stopped for a while, so Andrea and I went up the hill and had lunch at the *other* Snow Lion restaurant, the one that Chapman had recommended. It is very good. I had vegetarian Gyathuk, as usual. Gya means sea; thuk means noodles. So it's basically noodle soup, with a mildly salty broth and lots of shredded vegetables. It was very good. I also ordered Tibetan Tea, which came when Andrea was almost finished eating. I tried to order it in Tibetan, but I mispronounced all of the consonants, so it took the waiter a while to figure out what I was saying. He corrected my pronunciation; maybe I'll do better next time. The 'ch' sound here is closer to an 'sh' than the equivalent english sound, and it's also heavily aspirated if you want tea.

While Andrea and I were eating, the local spirits came out again for some happy rain action. By the time we were ready to leave, it was raining cats and dogs, and I'd left my poncho down the hill. Andrea, ever-prepared, had hers, so she helped me to get an umbrella. This is the third umbrella we've bought so far. They are incredibly beefy umbrellas, nothing like the crappy ones you get in the 'states - they have to stand up to monsoon. Each rib is a double box, so that the profile looks like a squared-off figure eight. Usually in the 'states the ribs are single, and they're just squashed, not folded, so the profile looks like a letter 'o' that's slightly taller than wide, but still rounded. These hold up okay for a while, but you see Tibetans with the local umbrellas walking around who have obviously had the same umbrella for years, judging by the stains.

The reason we've bought three is that several of our friends came unprepared for the vicissitudes of monsoon. These umbrellas are 180 rupees if you don't haggle, which is about $4.50. The first time I tried the old haggling trick of walking away from the deal, but it didn't work - the Tibetans aren't big on haggling, although they will come down a bit in price if you ask nicely. So I wound up buying the first umbrella up the hill, for the same price, and as I walked down the Tibetan woman I'd tried haggling with gave me a very affectionate "you schmuck" look. I would up buying the second umbrella from her, and she helped Rebecca to find Dr. Yeshe Dunden (His Holiness' doctor) later on in the day when she was closing up for lunch.


I ran into Alistair and Chapman at the Green Hotel Cafe. Alistair was on a quest for wireless. Still no luck getting a cell phone - maybe later today. On the way back down the hill I saw a tall, thin Tibetan monk walking next to a little girl, talking to her in a very kindly way. She seemed to be enjoying the grown-up attention. I don't know how common it is for monks to do babysitting duty here, but I know that in a lot of Tibetan families there will be one or two monks and some other children, so I guess it's probably not surprising.


Back in the Hunted Hill House, I sat around for a while by myself drinking fanta, and then Rebecca walked in to show off her new Tibetan dress. Actually, she was waiting to meet up with some other folks who were heading to Palampur for dinner with the Lamas. I don't know where she's staying tonight - I hope she's okay.

The next person to arrive was Elly, who sat down with me and ordered some food. Shortly thereafter, Ben K. came in and started organizing a bookbinding party. Actually, when it looked like his organization was too chaotic, Sharon swooped down and sorted him out. They made quick work of the probably two hundred copies of the reading, but they talked the whole time they were doing it, so my concentration was completely shot. Elly gave me one of her spring rolls to make up for it. Chunzom also sat down with us and had an aloo parotha and some chai. I don't think she'd eaten all day. Yak butter tea can be deceptively filling, but eventually you need to eat something.

Finally Michael and Nicole invited us to dinner with Camillo, Renee and another friend who I hadn't met before and, consequently, whose name I can't remember. We had a rollicking discussion about the various schools of thought on the topic of emptiness (or suchness, as some schools call it). Camillo caught me treating concepts as if they were self-existent, but I felt like he was falling a little into the extreme of existence with his position as well. We didn't finish the debate, and I'm sure we'll pick it up again later. Michael had his own set of theories, which sounded pretty good.

I've been feeling guilty around Michael because I didn't get around to practicing what he'd taught me yesterday, and hadn't even practiced today. This happens with Lisa-ji as well - sometimes when she comes to teach me, I have to admit to her that I didn't practice all week. Not too often, though. So tonight I played around a bit with it. It's hard. The thing I find hardest is actually the strumming technique he taught me. I had trouble with the calypso technique my father taught me as well. I think I'm rhythmically challenged. Hopefully not irretrievably so. I'm also having a bit of trouble with the hand positions he showed me - I think what he taught me is going to be hard to fully grasp.

I got about 30% of the way through Jinmei-san's document today because of all the distractions. Tomorrow promises to be distraction-tastic as well, but I really need to push through the review before we head out to the teachings in Palampur, so I'm really going to have to put my nose to the grindstone a bit. The good news is that it's actually quite interesting - I'm reviewing Jinmei's implementation of his DHCP client right now, and since I've also implemented a DHCP client, it's interesting to see how our implementations differ. I don't think I would normally have looked so closely at someone else's implementation.

Sleep. Sleep would be good....

Monday, June 26, 2006


It's really wonderful, when you are trying to learn a practice, to watch a master of that practice at work, whether it's yoga, kindness, or music. Last night, I saw Michael sitting in the cafe, and had a rare impulse (I'm generally very shy) to hit him up for a guitar lesson. So I went downstairs, got the guitar out, and very unsubtly walked up to where he was sitting with Camillo. Camillo's eyes bugged out when he saw me with the guitar, but Michael just smiled his usual slow, gentle smile, reached out, and took the guitar.

He spent a minute or two kicking its tires, and told me that he thought I should adjust the neck a little bit, and also that the bridge looked like it was too high. Then he asked me to show him my stuff, so I wandered through all the chords I could remember. He wanted to know why I wasn't using a pick, and wound up giving me one of his - he said that I should learn to play with and without, because the sounds are different, and you never know what you're going to need, so you should have everything in your toolbox.

Then he told me to put my thumb on the neck and use it as a lever to get more pressure in my fingers. And he showed me how to make barre cords, and how to do arpeggios alternating sides of the strings rather than plucking them all in the same direction. I could go into excruciating detail - he managed to pack a huge amount of information into a fairly short lesson. Then he showed me the ultimate goal of this particular path, walking his hands up and down the neck of the guitar moving from one chord to another, making it look, if not easy, then at least possible. Having the guitar has been a really sweet thing - if I pull it out, some master comes over and shows me something, whether it's my father or Michael. I need to practice more.

We actually closed the hotel restaurant. They were too nice to kick us out, but someone noticed that they looked like they'd like to shut down, so we paid our tabs and went downstairs. Michael showed me one last thing on the guitar, and then went off with Camillo to watch the World Cup games.

They lock the front gate here at 11:00, so they actually locked it behind Michael, who is staying at the hotel, and Camillo, who is not. Earlier in the day I'd talked to Rebecca, who was coming in from Palampur to stay for a night or two amidst the bright lights of Mcleodganj. She was going to stay with Susan, who I thought was staying at Hunted Hill House, but who is actually staying at Tenwang hotel, quite a bit up the hill. I was afraid Rebecca was going to give up her cab before I got the door open, so I waited up for her. She finally got in around 11:00 or so, and I gave her directions to the new place.

Unfortunately, the road is too steep here, and her cab was one of the little ones that don't have very large engines, so it couldn't make it back up the hill. I heard them trying to back up and then failing, around the corner where our little offshoot road goes down to the main road, which is much less steep. I stayed up for a while listening to hear if they seemed to need help, but I didn't hear anything more. When Chukyi and Nancy came in a little later, I let them in (I'd figured out where the front door padlock key was), locked up, and went to bed.

Today was pretty relaxed. One of the challenges that I'd thought I was facing down here at the bottom of the hill is that the internet cafes all ask you not to do any huge downloads. So I assumed I was really out of luck for getting email, since I tend to get about six megabytes a day to sort through. One of our friends was feeling pretty down, so Andrea and I spent the morning with her, and while we were wandering around up at the top of the hill, we decided to visit an internet cafe.

When Andrea and I first got here, we'd heard that there was wireless at the Green Hotel Cafe, but we got distracted from that by the hunt for coffee and the meltdown in the Tibetan Security office. So Rebecca and I decided to check it out again. It's *really nice*. At least by McleodGanj standards. I think they must have a 512kbps connection. The connection was faster than the connection at the Shangri-la (which, admittedly, was quite slow).

I was able to download all my mail in under five minutes, which is practically a miracle. But I still managed to run off the end of my hour of wireless (they charge fifty rupees an hour) with my personal mail unread, so I signed off and we went back down the hill to hang out in the Hunted Hill House cafe.

I have a standard table at the hotel cafe now - it's the one right by the door, with my back to the wall, were I can watch everything that's going on. Which is probably not the best idea since I'm trying to get work done, and people keep talking to me, but I'm on vacation, so I'm not sweating it. We had a little snack there, and I did a little work, and after a while Camillo walked in with a huge grin on his face and said "his Holiness said something really amazing at the teachings today: the reason why everyone has to get enlightened and you can't just let some Buddha who's already enlightened save all sentient beings is that not every being has a karmic connection to every other, and only beings to whom any particular Buddha has a karmic connection can be helped by that Buddha. So there are beings that only you can reach!" I'm going to have to cook that one, but seeing Camillo so excited and happy was a lot of fun. Camillo seems to be having a really good time in India.

Unfortunately, a lot of people aren't - a lot of our group have gotten some kind of illness or other. It's pretty sad to hear about another student going down for the count and having to start a sequence of Cipro. Makes you wonder when your time will come.

We had dinner at the Hotel Snow Lion restaurant. Chapman had recommended it to us, or so we thought. It turns out that she'd recommended a different restaurant. But this restaurant had deep-fried momos, which were quite yummy, although I could have done without the spinach-and-cheese momos. We also had aloo chips (french fries), and Chukyi ordered a large thermos of tea. When they said "large," they weren't kidding - it was one of those giant Chinese thermoses that are about two feet tall and seven inches in diameter. We didn't finish it.

Andrea couldn't get the waiter to bring her lime mix in a cup that wasn't wet, so she finally gave up and tried adding sugar to her seltzer water, which promptly exploded. Ain't chemistry wonderful? My theory is that water likes to dissolve sugar more than it likes to dissolve carbon dioxide, so adding the sugar kicked all the carbon dioxide out of the soda at the same time. It's just a theory and probably wrong - it's probably just an issue of partial pressures seeking a new equilibrium.

The rain from last night didn't stop until this afternoon. When it did stop, the clouds slowly rolled away, leaving picture perfect views of the Himalayas. If I were a smart person, I would have taken some pictures. Sigh.

Anyway, here it is, 11:00 PM. Not much accomplished, but maybe I can get to sleep at a decent hour tonight.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Just a note: my journals are coming in out of order because I was a bit exhausted when we get here, and I'm just catching up. Email is difficult here - I finally found a place that's got really fast WiFi, but it's a long slog up the hill. But man is it fast - it's better than the connection at the Shangri-la. More on that later.


This morning we were awakened by banging on the door at 6:20 am. We'd heard that His Holiness was teaching in the afternoon, so this was a big surprise - it turned out that there was a morning teaching after all, and we needed to rush up to the temple to get our seats. Halfway up the hill I discovered I'd forgot my ID, so I had to come back down the hill to get it. It's uphill both ways to the teaching, so you don't get a break.

I lucked out - Sharon was here when I got back, and was about to lead a group up to the shortcut, so I followed along. She dragged us up the hill, hooked a left up a staircase I hadn't known was there, and dragged us through a maze of interconnected staircases and paths that ran between houses. It's a very ad-hoc path. There's one place where in order to avoid slipping and falling in the mud, you have to use some basic mountaineering techniques (mainly, being very careful how you transfer your balance from one foot to the other).

The path goes almost straight up the side of the mountain, finally levels off just about when you think you're going to have a heart attack, then runs along the back of some monks' dormitories, and finally dumps you down a steep road that comes out in the area in front of His Holiness' temple.

When I arrived, I found Andrea sitting on the pavilion nearly alone - apparently "come up immediately" means "in a couple of hours" here. The teachings this time have been sponsored by a group from Taiwan, so the main translation is in Chinese, and us furriners had to listen on FM radios to his Holiness' English translator, the same man you hear whenever you listen to his Holiness teaching in the United States.

Supposedly about three thousand people came for the teachings. The Diamond Mountain contingent has a space in the back off to the right, but under the pavilion. So we were surrounded by familiar faces, but quite a few unfamiliar ones too, including the nice Tibetan man who was sitting behind me. He looked like he was about eighty years old, and at a couple of points while we were waiting for His Holiness to arrive, he used me as a crutch to sit up and move around. Once His Holiness arrived he stayed where he was.

The setting for the teachings is a lovely open space, quite large. There's a temple in the middle, with lots of doors on all the walls, which are open. His Holiness sits inside, so you generally can't actually see him from the pavilion.

Outside the temple there's a walk that you can follow around it, and then lots and lots of concrete covered with reed mats, cardboard boxes, thin blankets, or whatever people thought to bring when they were setting up for the teaching. This whole area is roofed over by a pavilion, but there are skylights everywhere, so it's filled with lovely indirect sunlight. The temples are all painted yellow, so you feel like you're sitting in the middle of a buttercup.

I think many of the sponsors were seated inside the temple with His Holiness - whenever his Holiness cracked a joke, you'd hear laughing inside of the temple in time with the Chinese translator.

The space to the right of the temple is set aside for "foreigners;" the space in front of the temple for nuns and monks, and then there is more seating for the nuns and monks behind and above the temple, and also in a small temple off to the left, the Kalachakra temple.

When we arrived, it was like the beginning of a flea market, when the first vendors are arriving and setting up. About an hour in, it started to get a tiny bit crowded. People kept filing in right up until the time that his Holiness arrived, and after that as well; when he arrived, the place was mostly packed solid.

His Holiness was all over the map with his teachings in the morning - he wanted to introduce the "beginners" to the Dharma, so he talked about the Four Noble Truths first, and then taught about the actions that you need to follow as a result of these truths.

Then he talked about different levels of practitioner, and wove into that the three turnings of the wheel - first the turning which is mostly preserved in the Pali Canon, which talks predominantly about impermanence and about achieving individual freedom from suffering, then about the second and third turnings, which appear predominantly in the Sanskrit texts preserved in China and Tibet after the fall of the monasteries in India in the ninth century.

The second turning he described as being the turning about the pervasive lack of a self-nature to things; he contrasted this to the third turning of the wheel, where the Buddha emphasized the lack of a self-nature to external objects.

He want on to talk about the controversy about whether or not the teachings of the second and third turnings are authentic, and about how Master Bhavaviveka refuted the assertion that some schools make that the latter two turnings were not authentic. I would have liked it if he'd gone into more detail about this, but I don't remember him doing so, perhaps because I was drifting in and out of a light doze during this part of the teaching. I'm feeling a little bit better now, but I was really exhausted from yesterday's events, and it can be very hard to concentrate when you're that tired.

Anyway, His Holiness eventually wrapped up his gentle introduction to the deepest technical issues of the Dharma and started in on the Bodhicharyavatara. He talked about how Master Shantideva followed the system of Arya Nagarjuna in writing this teaching, covering both the "vast" and "profound" branches of the Arya Nagarjuna's teachings. "Vast" refers to the activities of bodhisattvas; "profound" to the teachings on emptiness.

His commentary got as far into the book as the statement of intention to complete it; traditionally a Dharma book starts out with a title, followed by a statement of praise, the object of which varies depending on the topic of the book. Here it was the Buddhas and their children (bodhisattvas), because this is a book about the activities of the Bodhisattva.

The third part of the beginning of a traditional Dharma book is the statement of intent, where the author explains why, even though the Buddha already taught the same thing, he is writing a book about it too, what benefit might come from the approach that the book takes to the subject, and a promise to complete the book or die trying. There are Dharma books, really good ones, that end in the middle of a sentence because the author kept at it throughout their life and was still working on it when they passed away, perhaps with pen still in hand.

Anyway, the teaching just suddenly stopped - I'm sure His Holiness made some sort of gesture, but we of course didn't see it, and then we stood up and he came out and walked by us down the stairs. He looks good; we've been concerned about his health, but he was moving nicely and very radiant.

Andrea wanted to get out and get some food, so we beat a hasty retreat. She went with Elly to have lunch near the teaching site; I went back to the hotel, which is where I am now. It was nice to have a cup of coffee, a bowl of porridge, and a pancake. I'm not sure what to do next - I guess I'll work on yesterday's journal entry. Yesterday was a very eventful day.


It's raining so hard that the road outside is a river right now, and not only can't you see the hills, you can't see very far up the street. I half-swallowed once during my shower, so I was feeling a bit paranoid - I gargled with soda water and drank a whole bottle of it, hoping the acid and no sugar would be an unpalatable environment for any little friends that might have hitched a ride in my alimentary canal. But now I'm drinking black tea and debating whether to add sugar - paranoia doesn't last forever. If I get sick tonight, I'll have a pretty good theory as to why.

One of the recurring things that's been going on for the past couple of days is that I'm trying to get a SIM card for my phone. In order to issue a SIM card here, they need proof of residency, which basically means they need someone to vouch for me. The vouching is quite formal - they need a letter that's got the official stamp of a local registered business. Plus they need a passport photo. It's quite a hassle.

Why do I need a cell phone card? I'm not sure I really do, but I wanted to call my father for his birthday, which was several days ago, and it's also nice to have a walkie-talkie - I really could have used one yesterday.

The rain has gotten heavier as I've been writing this. I'm surprised this town doesn't just wash down the hill. Of course, the one thing that seems to be *really* well-maintained here are the gutters - each street has a three-feet-deep, one- or two-foot wide cement gutter, even if the street itself isn't paved.

Andrea and I are having dinner in the hotel, partly because it's too wet to handle going outside even a short distance (sorry, dad, no email tonight) and partly because we're just enjoying the experience of cocooning here. The restaurant is quite good.


The rain got even heavier. Sheets of it are blowing by the windows. The local spirits are clearly having a big party.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A brief word of apology here - the reason I haven't been responding to comments is that Andrea and I are going nuts getting ready for India - it turned into a crisis in the middle of last week sometime, I think. Not really nuts, but there are some things that need doing before we go, and they take priority, so a lot of email has gone unanswered.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A couple of days ago some government thugs raided an ISP in Sweden in order to take down a web site that promoted peer-to-peer file sharing - a "pirate" web site.

To my way of thinking, people who actively go out of their way to pirate copyrighted software are not doing the world a service, because creators of copyrighted works need to make a living somehow. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I'm fairly sympathetic to these "pirates".

The leader of the Pirate Party of Sweden, which is an actual political party with members who hold elected offices in Sweden, gave a speech yesterday about the issue. I think this speech is worth a read, even if you are firmly of the opinion that people who violate copyright are actually doing something wrong.

A rough translation of the speech lives here.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Yellow/orange skies at night, desert delight...
Yellow/orange skies at morning, well, what the hell, it's not like we're out at sea or anything...

We had a really cool storm yesterday. Andrea and I were sitting around in the living room being lazy (we're still a little tired from the trip). Gradually the light changed - it felt like one of those excellent thunderstorms you sometimes get in Western Massachusetts where the sky turns green. Here the sky turned a surly, looming yellowish-orange. I wonder if the reason for the color of the sky is that it's reflecting light that was reflected from the ground.

Anyway, the wind came up, and I opened the door to look around. It was just starting to rain, in that kind of rushed end-of-the-world-rainy way rain sometimes arrives, in Arizona. Andrea and I just stood on the porch holding hands for a while watching it rain. We heard later that the folks at Three Jewels went outside and danced in the rain, but I guess Andrea and I are more the stand-in-awed-amazement type.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Andrea and I just got back from a visit to my parents out in Warwick. I sometimes wonder if flying isn't something like giving birth. Apparently there's a process that mothers go through where they forget just how bad the actual birth process was once it's over - nature's little defense mechanism.

There was a period on the airplane last night when, after having flown several hours out of our way (we flew from Boston to Phoenix by way of Seault St. Marie) we still had to fly between two major lines of thunderstorms. So I'm sitting in the airplane, with Andrea snoozing on my left, and the plane starts shaking. Really shaking. Intense buffeting - we're flying into a serious headwind. This is the kind of buffeting that makes me seriously think about where I am in the timeline of my mindstream, and try to do the practice of not feeling attached to my present body, so that if I find myself suddenly ripped from it I won't freak out, but will just move on happily to the next rebirth with the Wish to help others firmly in my mind.

And then the pilot gets on and says "sorry, folks, I'm going to have to put on the fasten seatbelt sign because this turbulence is going to continue for at least another fifteen minutes." And I'm thinking to myself "great, I have to do this practice of not being scared shitless due to attachment to my present life for fifteen fucking minutes?!?"

Well, really, I'm supposed to be becoming a great meditator, and fifteen minutes is nothing, but just then it was looking like a really long time. But what are you going to do? You can't get out and walk.

The thing is, I have this experience pretty much every time I get in an airplane. I really, really don't like flying. I know that my visceral reaction to the situation is not supported by a genuine risk analysis, but the problem isn't that I'm at risk - it's that I'm having a really unpleasant visceral reaction.

But I have commitments that require me to fly, so I fly anyway. And I think the only thing that lets me get back on the airplane again and again is another completely irrational human capacity - the capacity to forget just how bad an experience was.

I'm not sure what this says about anything - I'm just making an observation about the human condition, I guess, as it emanates in the form of my own personal experience.

On a happier note, the visit to my parents was nice. I never really feel like I get enough of a visit with my mother, but it was nice to see her, and we had some nice chats. Mel and I traded our usual affectionate barbs. But the highlight of the trip for me was that I brought my guitar along.

I hadn't originally intended to, and frankly Andrea isn't entirely pleased about the whole bringing the guitar along thing, but it was nice. We're a fairly musical family; I think my father had hopes when I was a kid that I'd follow in his footsteps and become a piano virtuoso, but for a variety of reasons that didn't happen. I always felt like I ought to be a keyboard player - my big hero when I was a kid was Rick Wakeman, who I think embodied the qualities of my father's piano playing - he's wonderful both at playing jazz and classical, but Rick had long hair and played in a rock band, so I could at the same time admire the qualities I liked in my father, but have a comfortably rebellious teen idol.

So I spent a lot of time and money on the keyboard playing ambition, and I actually got to the point where I could play a couple of pieces pretty well, but never got any kind of visceral connection with keyboard playing - I never got to the point where I could play the sounds that I heard in my head, and once I got to the point where I could play the toccata and part of the fugue from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, I never really felt like practicing. So I'd have these $2k keyboards lying around collecting dust, and I would eventually get disgusted and sell them.

I don't know for sure that the guitar is different, but there is something visceral about it that was missing from the keyboard experience. It reminds me of my reaction to a friend's harp that I got to play once about ten years ago. Maybe it's the physical strings, I don't know - if I could have managed to have a real piano, I might have stuck with it, but they're kind of bulky.

So anyway, I showed up at my parents' house with a guitar, and we wound up pulling out my father's guitar that he hadn't played in 25 years (man was it dusty) and he started showing me things. When I was a kid, with the piano, that didn't go very well, but this time it went really nicely. I now know six or seven more chords than I knew last week, I know the standard key of E blues progression, and a couple of hard chords like G and F. Still working on C. I'm getting close to the point where I might be able to do a fairly decent accompaniment for House of the Rising Sun.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun sitting with my father learning some things about guitar. As far as regular guitar practice goes, I feel a little funny if I don't practice for a day. Practice right now consists mostly of reviewing chords and playing with the relationships between them, but this is very different than the practice I used to do with the keyboard - that practice was 0% theoretical and 100% "can I play this particular piece?".

Traveling with the guitar was a little exciting - when it came out on the carousel at Logan, two of the three latches on the case were not latched. I don't know if this was due to TSA not latching them after searching it, or due to the latches just coming undone during handling, but it was a little disquieting. On the way back the guy at checkin hand-carried the guitar through to TSA, and made sure they latched it, and when it came out on the carousel it was still latched, so I suspect some fumble-fingeredness on the part of the Tucson TSA, but who knows? Sigh. I can see the blog headline now: "Terrorists wrecked my guitar." It'll be interesting to see how the luggage fares on the way to India...