Category Archives: birthdays

train from ella to kandy

DSC_0088

I spent my morning looking for Ingrida Cox (née Gunkaite). We met in Klaipeda in 1995 and she moved to Australia with an Australian she later married. I lost track of her around 2000, I think. Today is her birthday (if you know how to reach her, send her to me via contact at GrumpyYoga).

I’m still editing the train photos. I love trains, and this was certainly the most scenic I’ve been on. We waited almost two hours for the train, as it was late. We’d booked our tickets on the first night we arrived in Ella, as the “scenic” car, which is somewhat comfy, sells out very early. We found our seats and settled in. I was glued to the window for hours, while Andrea read. He found me quite funny and childlike to be so excited by the train. How could I not be? It was so gorgeous, moving through that scenery.

We heard plenty of stories before and after about the safety of the trains, about how the tracks wash out, and how it’s common to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. By the end it was exhausting as the last few hours aren’t scenic, the novelty has worn off, and the train barely moves. A trip that would take two hours by car on western roads took about 10hrs on that train. But the views were incredible and the roads don’t offer the same views.

Slideshow to come.

the birthday collection

Since around 1990, I’ve collected birthdays. I’m not sure when it became a collection, as such, with the aim of knowing a birthday for every day of the year, but I think it was around the time I moved to Berkeley for uni, or back east to NYC. Moving things is unpleasant, and any desire to collect objects (clothes, books, spectacles, etc) fell away. Any shopping excursion was haunted by the refrain, “but I’d have to move that” and so I rarely bought. Indeed, from 1991-2002 the longest I called an apartment home was 11 months! And though I’ve been in the same building for over five years now, I still don’t like to clutter the place up with stuff.

So I keep birthdays. I remember them without the help of blackberries or facebooks. Every day, I have someone to celebrate—except for the following 1 days [updated Aug 18, 2013]:

Aug 18

Once I have each day, I want to begin a project. The birthday suit project, perhaps, and photograph someone in his birthday for each day of the year.

Slowly but surely!

doing, and how

georgie's bday
Georgie’s Birthday dinner. G’s probably my oldest friend. His locker was a few down from mine in third grade. He gave me my first book on Buddhism (that’s a bit of a story, as he’s neither Buddhist or Hindu).

I will not pretend I don’t love to drive, but really, the Bay Area needs to get its act together transit wise. The other night I met Georgie for his birthday dinner in the city (he came in from Reno, it was the first I’ve seen him in maybe four years). I could have taken the BART in, because, unlike most venues, this place was close to a stop. But Heesun doesn’t live by a BART station (or any transit really) and it would have taken me 10 minutes to drive to the station, 10 to park, walk, and get the tix, 10 to wait for the train, 20 to ride into SF, and 10 more to walk to the restaurant. An hour. Instead, I hopped in the car and was there in 20 minutes for a third of the cost. That’s not right in a city like San Francisco. Yeah, I could have done it, but it was way too much work. I got home in about ten minutes.It’s so strange and lovely to see old friends and spend some real time with them. Heesun, Lide, Sherry, George, and, next week, Alys, all from way back. I feel off kilter because when I’m at home, I have so little time to spend with friends, and so many don’t live in NY anyway. It’s hard to have such important people so far away.

Georgie and I went to Santa Cruz on Wednesday, which has changed since last visited in ’89. It was a great day, and I took some fun pics. I still do not know where I stand as far as the pictures go. Editing I’ve never liked, and it’s a larger part of digital photog than film. I do love to make stories, though I feel guilty about the time spent. The internet feels unclean to me, now that I’m on vacay. So easy to fritter time, and sometimes playing with pics feels that way as well, though writing seldom does. Writing, in fact, has a cleansing quality to it. But the entire production most definitely takes from the moment. I haven’t read that much because I’ve been out and about and online. I know that I need a break from school reading, but at the same time, the no internet, no junk, just resting and reading is really a beautiful thing and I haven’t done that yet. The trip is half over, as of today. Hmm.

The Santa Cruz pics are half edited. I left Heesun’s today for Sherry’s place for a few days, up in Sonoma County. She lives and works on a nature preserve, where she’s an ecologist. Pulling up to the fence, punching in the code, and driving into the preserve was great punctuation for the shift of location (in case the interminable traffic en route was not). She made me hummus with her hand-crank blender.

blender
compost tupperware at front-left-center

And some taboule. When she came down to Berkeley last week she biked to the bus, then another, then the BART, then biked the rest—a 50-mile trip she chose to do without her truck. She’s got a commitment to public transport that requires a hell of a lot of patience. But this is the woman who biked across Australia on her own (it’s almost nothing but desert. Aussie’s thought she was mad).

She’s not mad. She’s brilliant. And interesting and fun. It’s so good to see her again.

She’s also made me question the way I do things, and the opening kvetch about bay area transit. If we are going to change the rate at which we destroy the planet, we are going to have to be inconvenienced in some ways, because it’s the mindset of ultra-convenience and the culture of consumption and ease that is the problem. Sherry walks her talk, and few do that. She reuses everything, bikes everywhere, uses a hand crank blender and windup radio. She buys her rice, beans, and nuts in bulk and brings her own reused bags to carry them. She buys her clothes, books, housewares, and tools second hand. She fixes her seldom-used truck and oft-used bikes herself. She grows veggies in her garden. She loves to know how things work, and she puts her knowledge to good use. She volunteers her Sunday afternoons to a community bike center in Santa Rosa. It’s not about wearing expensive organic clothes or driving a trendy car. It’s living in a way she believes in.

I’ll be honest. There’s no way the clean freak in me is going to reuse most ziplocks. But how hard is it to bring my own bags to the store with me (I do it only about 60%)? Or a mason-type jar to Samad’s for my hummus? Get a good bottle and mug for water/tea/coffee and fill that instead of using paper and plastic all the time? Hmmm. Trouble.

She’s also made me question the way I do things, and the opening kvetch about bay area transit. If we are going to change the rate at which we destroy the planet, we are going to have to be inconvenienced in some ways, because it’s the mindset of ultra-convenience and the culture of consumption and ease that is the problem. Sherry walks her talk, and few do that. She reuses everything, bikes everywhere, uses a hand crank blender and windup radio. She buys her rice, beans, and nuts in bulk and brings her own reused bags to carry them. She buys her clothes, books, housewares, and tools second hand. She fixes her seldom-used truck and oft-used bikes herself. She grows veggies in her garden. She loves to know how things work, and she puts her knowledge to good use. She volunteers her Sunday afternoons to a community bike center in Santa Rosa. It’s not about wearing expensive organic clothes or driving a trendy car. It’s living in a way she believes in.

shaman by night

Thanks for hanging in there with me this last year or two. I’ve been delinquent about birthdays and have let the birthday project slide a bit, but it’s in no way a reflection of my feelings toward loved ones and, well, birthdays. I’ve been internally focused these past few years, particularly since June of 2003, and I don’t relate to everyone in the same way. This is a great thing, truly, as I’m not as gripey and adversarial as I was, but I’m still in an inward phase and until I come out of it, I fear your judgment. I am not moving head on into projects, jobs, degrees, plans, elaborate money making schemes or anything else our culture so applauds. I am moving into myself, figuring out the niggly bits that irk me and hold me back. Internal focus is not depressed focus. Worry not. I’m happier and more grounded than I’ve ever been.

No, I’ll not keep in this direction forever. It doesn’t ultimately suit my nature, which leans slightly toward external exploration and curiosity. Yet I’ve discovered that much of my wanderlust was a misguided affair. I sought safety without, from cultures where I found more comfort and acceptance than from my own fast food, Prozac nation. Cultures where in not belonging, I belonged. As a foreigner, not belonging was my place. It was a role that suited me.

But that role had limits and its comforts were, ironically, superficial. Finally I accepted that itinerancy was an attempt to avoid myself and my fears, which tend more toward commitments than dragging octogenarians about Iran. It was easy to pretend I was fearless working and traveling as I did. I also accomplished this less dramatically by delving variously into education, career, family life—any platform to keep busy and avoid my personal truths. At times it seems our entire society is designed with this in mind. Our careers, our lifestyles, our manners of education and communication are all about moving fast and keeping busy instead of connecting or understanding. Keep busy so we can buy stuff and impress because if we slowed and looked at the state of things, we might have to change radically. And that is terrifying. Much better the devil we know.

But the truth doesn’t go away. Ignored, mine festered within mind and body until its poison drew me down and demanded I answer to it. Until I can, or until I understand it at the least, more such plans of photography projects, work abroad, anthropology PhDs or law school will not take flight successfully. Obviously, I’ve got some questions about how and where I fit into this society of ours. Born to a family of black sheep, this should not surprise.

kalyan minaret girls

Cranky and annoyed, I left the guesthouse after snapping at Ulugbek and went off to see my Kalyan girls for a last sunset shoot. When I stepped into the alley I realized I’m behaving exactly as poorly as I did last month when it grew time to leave Bukhara. I laughed, chagrined that grinning Ulug realized my trouble before I did.

I’ve yet to mention the Kalyan Girls because I want to introduce them properly. Three hours before I leave Bukhara for Tashkent is probably not the best time, but I want. They are ten or so girls who sell souvenirs on the street by the Kalyan Minaret, a structure so grand Ghengis Khan decided to spare it (though little if anything else in Central Asia). By talking to tourists they have learned to speak English remarkably well, as well as some French, German, Italian and Japanese. They speak with an ease that book-learners can’t manage and attack Australian tourists with, “Goood’ay Mate!” Americans with “What’s up?” and so on. Years back, we initally met common ground with our need for making fun of the tourists.

The photo of me on my info page from 2000 is with the baby cousin of one of the girls, with the Kalyan complex in the background.

My first night back in Bukhara, I planted myself on the curb near the minaret and tried to catch up on the past years. We settled in and they braided my hair and asked personal questions. I answered and asked some of them. This pastime of just sitting, relaxing and watching at their sidewalk shops in the shade of the madrassa, is one of my favorites in Bukhara. They fill me up and I feel connected.

My last night, I went to shoot some last photos, collect birthdays, and to buy something from everyone’s shop. Yes, shopping again. I loath it, but they helped. Of course, the original twelve kids became thirteen, then brothers with shops popped up, and mothers and fathers. I cut it off at sixteen, said goodbye and carried my loot (your souvenir presents) back to the hotel with me. I didn’t bring enough cash but they made me take and come back with the money in the morning. When I left to meet Maryam for dinner, tears welled up and I stared through them at beautiful, dusty old Bukhara at sunset. I’ve no idea what God is, but it is positively, definitely present to me in this city.

Their slideshow is better viewed after reading the bulk, I suppose. (Kalyan is transliterated a number of ways. I’ve used both Kalyan & Kalon to help searchers.)