Fact No. 51 – The Dangers of Nostalgia

Beauty Sirens

You are beautiful, difficult. Rare. Outside, a new year’s snow and a frozen river, the winter smell of never. Inside, a fire so golden it glows a hollow focus in the now and ever after, in my mind I will compose a thousand letters, send none.

Given the dangers of nostalgia, it’s not a question of coming closer if (sister, lover?) my songs hover anxiously over a bare stage, an echo chamber, while only your own words could ever pin you to a page.

Still, you will switch off the lamp near the window, cast us both in shadow, the better to watch me dance, whiskey in a crystal glass in hand, asking what is beautiful about the music we’re hearing?

As if I understand how rhythm and its exhale, rapture, and your cheerful smile and my foolish laughter, in one quick glance over the shoulder of surrender answer nothing further than time. Time! Time.

Fact No. 45 – Single-Sex Subways

As Tom put it during our car ride from Indira Gandhi Airport to my hotel in South Delhi: highways in India are, at least, totally democratic.  Lawless as they seem to terrified Americans, lanes are shared equally by pedestrians, un-helmeted cyclists and motorcyclists, cars, 18-wheelers and the occasional ox-drawn cart…more to follow about my experiences as passenger and pedestrian on the streets of India.  Meanwhile, Payal was telling me that my best options for getting around the city for site-seeing purposes would be taxis and auto-rickshaws, and that the practically brand new Delhi Metro was a perfectly good alternative, as well.

Being intimately acquainted with the concept of subways, I was instantly interested in this option.  What could be more familiar in a completely foreign country than underground public transportation?  Commuters in big cities around the world surely have the same needs: affordability, reliable service, basic personal safety and access to a city’s important places.  The Delhi Metro seemed a good choice as much for comparative research as a fellow commuter in a big, global city as for a cheap and useful way to see the sites as a tourist.

It did not disappoint!  The spotless stations; wide, vaulted platforms; and suburb/exurb connectivity reminded me of the DC Metro, while the graphic design of maps and logo reminded me of the London Tube.  The people watching was a tie between the MTA (diversity and sheer number of fellow passengers) and the Paris Metro (their beauty and impeccable style).

But, naturally, the Delhi Metro is entirely its own thing.  For one thing, it’s mad cheap: you can buy a 1-day Tourist Travel Card for Rs100 ($2), plus a Rs50 ($1) deposit, which you get back when you return the card.  It’s got metal detectors: my first time in the system, I stepped blithely up to the men’s line and was immediately waved over to the women’s line by a compassionate and quick-witted lady guard.  And, best of all, the single-sex theme carries through all the way to ‘Women Only’ train cars: I found myself loving their peace and quiet, so much so that I would not at all mind a few Women Only cars on the 4/5 train, especially during rush hour.

Why?  Because, at least as far as the Delhi Metro is concerned, Women Only subway cars are empirically cleaner, quieter, less…full of men.  I adore men, but anyone who enjoys clean, quiet environments and not being stared at by men might reasonably prefer to commute in a Women Only subway car.  Just saying.  But with Tom’s observation about the ‘democratic’ highways of India in mind, I wondered about the social separation of gender underground, and elsewhere in public.  What an intriguing challenge to my cultural assumptions about gender and democracy.  Clearly I’m coming from a very specific cultural viewpoint: gender is such a complicated subject for Americans (New Yorkers?), and apparently, such a simple one elsewhere.  But is single-sex anything really so simple…or democratic?

Not that I’m prepared to answer that question, except to note that the value of traveling (on a daily commute or around the world) does seem to be related to the experience of sharing the lanes.

20120223 Recto: Delhi Metro Tourist Card

20120223 Verso: Delhi Metro Tourist Card

Fact No. 41 – Dream 20120213

A week before my trip to Delhi, I dream of learning to ride an elephant.  There’s no saddle to sit on, just a rough wool blanket right on the crown of the elephant’s head.  I tumble off and am sitting in the dirt, defeated.  Standing behind me is an Indian man, very thin and taut, shirtless but wearing a turban, who insists that I climb back on board that enormous creature and learn to ride properly.  I’m afraid, but he insists.  He’s a trainer of some kind – of people more than elephants.  He’s all business; therefore, I do as he tells me, and when I’m seated again on the elephant’s head, I realize that the elephant doesn’t mind my being there, and that there is nothing to fear.  I proceed to practice steering right and left by pressing the back of his ears with the soles of my feet.  It feels good, like pressing my feet on the mat in tadasana.  Not being very proficient, however, I steer him directly through the tall marsh grass and into a deep, calm, silty brown river.  How can I describe the way the water feels?  It’s like a grandmother’s embrace, soft and loving.  The elephant is completely submerged, but I’m perched on his head, mostly high and dry, if somewhat perplexed.  Again, the elephant doesn’t seem to mind at all.  He knows I’m there to practice, and he has the virtue of patience.

Threshhold Lord Ganesha, Feb 2012

Fact No. 39 – On Injury and Inspiration (Dream 20120124)

In my dream, I take my 4/5 and 7/8 graders to an IMAX movie at the Mac Planetarium (which doesn’t really exist).  The premise of the movie is to visually depict our latest theories about the creation of galaxies, and how the universe keeps expanding and contracting, expanding and contracting, indefinitely and infinitely, as far as we humans can imagine.  But woven into the physics and astronomy lesson is a story about a middle-aged couple who have lost their son in a war, and who decide to take a star-watching cruise in Alaska as a way to find some solace.  The special thing about this IMAX spectacle is that while it’s being projected on a huge, 360-degree overhead canopy screen in surround-sound, the young docents of the planetarium are also performing it live – narrating and puppeteering from the back of the theater.  One of the docents is Ruthy!

The kids are encouraged to move around the empty floor of the theater during the movie.  In fact, another docent leads them around and around in huge circles – now running, now crawling – on the vast carpeted terrain, the topography of which isn’t flat, but rolling and hilly.  They’re really getting tired out!  Now and then, the docent brings them to a breathless halt and directs their attention to the action overhead – stars streaking across the ceiling; clouds of gas and light eddying and pooling; newly-minted constellations glittering regally – and they stand there gazing upward, sweating and amazed by how real it all seems, and how close to them.

At one point in the story, the couple’s boat runs aground.  There is disaster in the frigid Arctic waters.  Shocked, the kids fall silent, stare in open-mouthed horror.  Sorrow upon sorrow!  Those people don’t deserve another tragedy!

And then it’s Ruthy’s turn to perform, from the back of the theater.

Her god-sized index finger appears on the screen overhead, dipping into the frame and into a pulsing, throbbing, star-flecked swirl of red and black gas.  She begins to stir the red and black cloud with her finger, casually at first, exactly as my grandmother used to mix a squeeze of lemon into her scotch-and-soda, if there was no cocktail straw or swizzle stick on hand.  Then, gaining speed, the centrifuge of her swirling starts to gather the gases and the stars into a flickering ball of energy, growing denser and denser with each rotation around the axis of her index finger.  Density solidifies into matter.  Matter condenses into heat.  But the heat can’t contain its own entropy, and just at the point where the whole thing is about to explode into catastrophe shrapnel, Ruthy lifts her finger out of the picture.  The spinning continues, but in slow motion, so we can see it clearly.  To our amazement, we can see that the explosion will, at worst, merely end in a cascade of party glitter.  Confetti to welcome us home.

“This is how creation happens,” Ruthy tells us, speaking slowly into her head-set mic.  “First, there is potential everywhere you turn.  Then, swirling currents of emotion come in to set potential spinning.  Depending on the feeling, different forms of matter spin into being.  Disaster, grief and longing, being too much for the Light of the Universe to bear, make whirlpools and black holes that will – if you trust in Time – eventually collapse back into laughter.”