Tuesday (sort of)
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.