Cape May, NJ

Cusco – Salkantay Inka Trail – Macchu Pichu

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Holiday Party

Well, our apartment is still a bloody mess and of course nobody has showed up yet to start painting the walls, so they are still dusty with cement droppings everywhere. On the upside, we got rid of our entirely overpriced and underperforming internet cable service. The bastards had charged us almost $100/month for a broadband connection that was 56kps dial-up at best. But Ksenia finally took matters into her hands and went down to MTNL, the semi-government telephone provider.

Back when we had moved in, MTNL weren’t able to get us a working phone connection for ages, but I had been told that once they install DSL, it is actually very fast and cheap. We had tried at some point, but nothing ever happened after they determined that the phone lines in our building are crap. Funnily enough, they had left the DSL router in our apartment for about two months. Phone bills come every other month, so we weren’t all that pleased when we discovered a few weeks ago that they were charging us for DSL service anyways.

However, to our great surprise, two days after Ksenia went to their office (it’s a decrepit building that looks more like a prison, and the office rooms look more like disorganized torture chambers), they installed DSL and everything worked. Well, they couldn’t be bothered or were incapable to get their DSL play nicely with our router, but that was to be expected, and we took care of that ourselves. But since then, speed is great, Vonage works, and we are happy.

There were more positive developments this week. Our new maid started and she’s great. She is Karilyn’s maid’s aunt, a bit older, and positively pleasant. She actually figured out to best mop the terrace, which is really advanced service. Also, Deepak, our trusted driver, keeps cracking us up. He always seems incredibly disappointed when we tell him that he doesn’t have to work tomorrow and asks but why, Sir? And when Ksenia told him that on Saturdays I am her driver, he cracked up laughing. If I happen to see him in the evening when he drops off the car at work, he always tries to drive me all the way home, even though that means he’s got to take the train all the way back to his home, and he can’t believe that I of course insist to drop him off near where he lives and drive myself.

Ksenia tries to teach him a bit more English, so by now he knows that it’s not something something but a little bit. Apparently, it took him quite a while to learn the words a lot, inside, outside, and flyoverflyover is what Indians call the highway bridges that cross local roads, and Deepak would always call them flowers instead. Anyways, we are overpaying him by quite a bit, but he’s great.

Finally, yesterday was my company’s year-end party at the JW Marriott. The theme was Bollywood Bash and it really was the strangest company party I have ever been to. In New York, the company usually pays for some professional entertainment at these sorts of events – some band and/or acrobats or whatever. In Mumbai, employees insist that they will provide the entertainment themselves, no outside help needed.

So they had a sort of competition with a number of Bollywood movie scenes being re-enacted, including the costumes, dance and singing. Of course, I didn’t understand a word, but within minutes, the crowd of about 500 was absolutely ecstatically screaming and cheering. The whole thing culminated in senior managers doing an absolutely gay looking and incredibly funny dance scene, and that kicked off the open floor with hours of Bollywood dance music (interrupted with a bit of Smells Like Teen Spirit, oddly enough).

There was plenty of food, but no tables. I had wondered about that at the beginning, but I then realized that nobody needs any tables, because absolutely everybody was dancing like crazy. And I mean like crazy – dancing at Indian office parties apparently does not mean to shake your leg a little, trying not to make a complete ass of yourself. No, making a complete ass of yourself is the absolute requirement here, it is in fact the whole point.

Rather than just dance, you have to re-enact the dance scene of the movie that the song originated from. I had seen a bit of that in clubs, but I had not realized that my colleagues apparently were all total experts in Bollywood movies, because they re-enacted, and how! Grown-up men in their 40s doing the silliest dance moves imaginable, the arms waving wildly in the air, legs all over the place, hips going left and right, and pelvis going back and forth. The whole deal, for hours, and unlike in New York, they weren’t even slightly drunk. It was quite a scene, and of course the only one making an ass of himself was me, by trying very hard not to make an ass of himself…

So this was a pretty good week, I have to say.

Indian Dance

Last Saturday, just before Ksenia took off back to NYC (and actually was lucky enough to get out of the floods on time), we went to her Indian Classical Dance teacher’s performance. Ksenia had taken up classes a while ago with that teacher and is trying to get her foot and finger movements straight, which is quite a challenge. Of course, I know nothing about Indian Classical Dance, but basically, a lot of them, if not all, have religious roots, there is not just music, but also vocals, and it seems like the vocals tell a religios story, which is then acted out by dancing and by the all-important hand movements, where every single hand gesture has a very particular meaning. So if the hands and arms are one way, it means “Lion”, and held a slightly or not so slightly different way, it means “House”. Or something like that.

So the art is then in the execution of these movements, there really is not all that much space for interpretation – and improvisation or any other Western concept of dance is entirely foreign. Of course, in the West, art is most of the time all about me, myself, and I, so this is a whole different world. Apparently, if not for the Love Of God, then why bother dancing or being an artist? Unfortunately, if one has no clue what the story is, or what the hand gestures mean, or how they should look like, if executed correctly, then watching a performance like this, is a bit of a challenge. I can’t say I hated it, but I was definitely looking for the subtitles somewhere.

The teacher’s husband very helpfully spoke some introductory words at the beginning of each segment, but of course it was in Hindi, and I could only make out a Shiva here and a Vishnu there. My seat neighbor tried to translate a little bit, but it was pretty hopeless. The fact that these introductory words tended to drag into rather longish 15 minute monologues didn’t exactly help. But certainly the costumes were very colorful, and her student dancers very very cute and dedicated, and the whole thing had a nice family affair touch to it, even though it was performed in a real auditorium, with a light manager, a sound manager, etc. I didn’t quite get the light effects, becuse they were a bit like Disco, and it was too dark to take any good pictures during the performance, but maybe it was meant less for entertainment as for reflection and devotion, so I should shut up.

Surprisingly, maybe, my seat neighbor knew all the tunes and all the lyrics, and he was happily humming along. The teacher’s husband’s words also seemed to make an impression on the audience, and he spoke with a lot of pathos. In between, there were flowers and ovations, I suspect for the benefactors and supporters of the dance company, who were called on stage as well, gave a longish nice speech, and then went back to their seats. The auditorium was sadly empty, and a lot of people left early. The whole thing was over two hours long, and they started maybe one hour later than what the invitations had indicated. The Temptation hipsters would happily refer to that as Indian Stretching Time (IST), and I can’t argue with that.

Kanheri Caves

So today we went back to Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which was very nice. It’s green, it’s less than an hour from the city, and given that there are 16 million people in this town, there were surprisingly few people in the park. There were a bunch of rather loud teens in party mood (including beer and whiskey bottles), but most were families on a picnic. Even the trash was quite a bit less obvious, although we did see a monkey playing with an empty bag of junk food. Yes, there’s monkeys there; they like to hang around people, who usually feed them, unless they are as scared as Ksenia, who was very much afraid that they’ll jump onto her head and bite her.

We didn’t really see much of the park though. There’s a lion and tiger safari to see, but we went straight to the Kanheri Caves, which are over 2000 year old, and later became a center of Buddhist teaching and meditation. Most of the over 100 caves were quite simple, but a few were very impressive. There was a rather large church-like one with very high ceilings and huge statues. Even the simpler ones had some pretty interesting details, and were bigger and seemed more sophisticated than the Maya caves we had seen in Mexico.

Apart from the teens and families taking a plunge in the little river that ran through the area, we heard some people sing Hare Krishna. I was a bit surprised when we later saw them, because none of them had the Hare Krishna clothes I had expected, nor did they look like the Buddhists we had seen earlier. Instead, they were all dressed in regular clothes, and there were no women.

Strangely, there was also a temple in ruins that looked like it had been built with Soviet white marble. It didn’t really make any sense to us, but there it was, with an odd little public bathroom size construction next to it, a statue that was cut off at its hips, and someone was kind enough to put some fresh red flowers on the steps.

Anyways, it was a nice little excursion. Good to know there’s a place this close where one can actually breathe some fresh air (even though it was very humid). We didn’t have time for the tiger or lion safari, but we’ll definitely be back.