Pumpkins on Misty Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia
Irondequoit Bay Marine Park, Lake Ontario, Rochester, New York
A reader from India writes:
"A small lurker request. I have seen many Indian festivals described...no...brought to life in this blog. It will be nice if you can describe Thanksgiving this time if you can!" --Ramadas S
It's true that over the years I've given far more air time to Indian festivals and holidays, than my own. I'll write more about my Thanksgiving later -- but in the meantime, how about my American readers share their best Thanksgiving tales with our non-American contingent?
All you American (and Canadian?) lurkers and regulars -- don't be shy! Tell us your best Thanksgiving story. What does your Thanksgiving look like? What are your favorite rituals? What do you love about the holiday, what could you do without? If you're an expat, what do you miss most?
Tip o' the hat to Donna for this suggestion...
All pumpkins above are from Texas State Fair, Dallas, Texas
Pumpkins & spider - Petaluma Pumpkin Patch, California
The ones in the plate are my handiwork. The four in the front are handpainted, from Poland.
I've had this tune (caution! audio goes on automatically) stuck in my head ever since I first heard it. So now I'm passing it along to you, so that you can get it stuck in YOUR heads too.
Happy holidays! Go elf yourself... ;o)
There may not be any snow in Chennai, but there is plenty of Christmas cheer. Our entire office was decked out in trees, wreaths, creches, and flying reindeer, all part of an office Christmas decorating contest. There were far more Christmas trees here than I've ever seen in any office in the U.S.! Here, some scenes from a Chennai Christmas.
Frosty is melting in the 75-degree weather...
The talented carolers included a rendition of Feliz Navidad in Spanish.
Santa and his elves. Indian santas always wear masks -- I've never been able to figure out why!
This Christmas star ornament is uniquely Indian
This may be one of the biggest holidays in the U.S., but it's just another working day in India. I'm not complaining; I get an equivalent number of days off for Indian holidays. And even when I was in the U.S., I was never much into the holidays.
But I have to say it feels weird to be going about this day as if it was just another Thursday! In the U.S., even when I wasn't planning a celebration myself, everyone around me was, so there was always a festive buzz in the air. Although some people here are aware of what Thanksgiving is, almost as many have no idea what it is.
For those of my non-American readers who may not be familiar with this day, it is a day on which Americans (and Canadians, though I think on a different day?) express their gratitude for the good things in their life, big and small. On this not-so-ordinary Thursday, here are a few things I'm grateful for this year:
♦ I'm grateful for the view from my window. To be able to wake up every morning to the sound and sight of the waves. I am always amazed, still, at how soothing, how calming, just gazing at the ocean can be.
♦ I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had this past year to see new worlds, meet new faces, walk new roads.
Drink new blood!
♦ I'm thankful for my friends and colleagues at work, who have made me feel valued and welcome in my home away from home. You know who you are!
♦ I'm grateful for the visitors to my blog, from so many far-away lands, who take the time to connect, to say hello, to share their thoughts. You put an instant smile on my face.
♦ I'm grateful that I've been able to stick with a yoga routine which has meant a stronger, healthier back for me -- something that's been a constant struggle for me in the past.
♦ Last but not least, I'm thankful for having a reliable, responsible, and patient driver who daily barrels through the chaos of Chennai streets, to get me to work and back safely. Don't laugh. Having tried to do without one in the past, this is definitely high on my list of things to appreciate.
On this ordinary Thursday, instead of working a shift at a shelter for battered women, as I would have done in the U.S., I did an extra-long, soothing, yoga session, breathed in the beautiful sight of the Bay of Bengal from my balcony, and told my driver, with an extra nice tip, that I'm grateful for him. Then, I set off for work.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers -- I know it's not just another Thursday for you...
Sunrise on Chilika Lake, Orissa, India
India is always colorful -- but it is especially so today.
Today is the festival of Holi, (pronounced like "holy") and Indians all around the country are dumping buckets of colored water on each other and smearing each other with colored powders.
My biggest challenge with photographing this event was keeping my camera out of harm's way!
My Polish readers will probably see the similarity to Smingus Dyngus, celebrated in Poland on the Monday after Easter, when people douse each other with water.
Reloading his weapon with colored powder.
The revelry brought many of my neighbors out of their apartments, including one young woman living in my building who, it turns out, is Polish! Paulina (below left, with her French husband) has been here for four months. I guess getting to know your neighbors is part of the reason for festivals such as these!
The craziness lasted until noon, when everyone headed down to the ocean to wash down.
Holi is held the day after the full moon in March or February, and marks the coming of spring and the ending of winter. Originally, the colors, called gulal, came from trees, flowers, and herbs that bloomed in the spring. Some probably had medicinal qualities. These days, unfortunately, they are more likely to be industrial dyes with an asbestos or silica base. Much has been written about the danger of such powders, but many people continue to use them.
The neighbors in my building (above), assured me they were using only harmless dyes. But that was probably not the case with the group of young revelers (below) who landed on the beach near my house, one of whom warned me not to get the fine powder on my camera because it contained silica.
Photo by Bill Steinmetz
Halloween is not a biggie in Chennai, but this year our company organized some Halloween-themed fun. Teams were given supplies and 45 minutes to carve a pumpkin and create a scary mask from scratch. We don't have the standard orange pumpkins in India, so these were the next best thing!
Monday is Gandhi's birthday, a national holiday in India, giving us a three-day weekend. So I am off on a weekend getaway, in search of kurinji, the-flower-that-blooms-only-once-in-twelve-years.
In the meantime, in keeping with this being Navaratri season in India, check out some of my sister Meg's blog writing at YogaHub. Meg is a fellow Indiaphile, former owner of Yoginis, and yoga scholar, and is doing a series of blog postings in honor of those fab female Navaratri deities - Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati.
See my 2004 entry for more details on Navaratri and Ayudha Pooja.
Performing Ayudha Pooja at the workplace
My return trip to Rochester brought me to New York City on the day before Thanksgiving. I decided to stay in the city over Thanksgiving so that I could get my India visa renewal taken care of the next day; that way I wouldn't have to make a separate trip back to NYC later.
Thanksgiving Day started off right with breakfast with my sister Meg at Dunkin' Donuts (right). We then took in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade (below). The city was jam-packed with parade-watchers. It's the first time I've seen in person this extravagant display of giant inflatables. We finished off the day with a Polish-pierogi dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant in the city.
Not quite your traditional Thanksgiving dining - but it had all of my favorite ingredients in it!
"Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, what the festival of lights really stands for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill, and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple — and some not so simple — joys of life." (From bbc.co.uk website)
This weekend, India begins the celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, one of India's most widely celebrated holidays. In terms of popularity and significance, it feels like the equivalent of the Western Christmas. In addition to lights, there will be sweets, new clothes, and thousands of very loud firecrackers.
Last year, I missed Diwali because I was on my way to the U.S. This year, I will be celebrating it in India's holiest city, Varanasi.
Happy Diwali everyone!
I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final goodbyes
Giant Christmas bow, New York City, November 2004
Happy Holidays Everyone!
Yes, they do celebrate Valentine's Day in India. Big time! I think there is even more hype about it here than in the U.S. TV stations are playing Valentine's Day marathons. Valentine's Day cards are a big business here. Restaurants are decked out with red hearts and flowers. Every day this week, there have been V-day articles in the paper. (Is Love For Real? Love Doesn't Cost a Thing, Chocolates Win Over the Heart, Where to Take Her for Valentine's Day....) I hear that it's only been like this for the last 5 years or so, before that it was a much more obscure holiday. (No doubt, someone, somewhere is cursing out the Americans for this too!). For a country where 90% of the people are in arranged marriages, they sure put a lot of energy into "true love" and romance!
And it's not just on Valentine's Day. On my flight to India, the movie that was shown was called Everyone Falls in Love. As I flip through the TV channels, every other channel shows a man surrounded by a dozen women, all dancing and singing. It is typical of the Bollywood movie genre. (The Indian equivalent of Hollywood is called Bollywood--Bombay + Hollywood). Bollywood movies are extravagant, though usually low budget, love-story-musical-dance-fests. The storyline is almost always some variation of "love conquers all." The actors use any excuse to break into a song and dance, whether they're inside a chicken coop, in the Swiss alps, or on a motorcycle. There is lots of gyrating, lusting, chasing after each other, and flirting. But you won't ever see any kissing!
They come this close to kissing, but still no cigar!
Scenes from Bollywood films (this is not my photography, of course).
Bloom Where You Are Planted
"Basia, we miss you! stop sounding like you like it there sooo much!" ---Lesley
I'm sorry. I was just trying to "bloom where I'm planted....." I sure do miss you guys....
"I think you have an amazing ability to adjust to a new environment. I'm just worried that once you're able to find everything you're looking for, places that can give you all the small comforts that remind you of home, you won't remember where 'home' is!" --John
My sister Donna says it's the immigrant in me. Pack your stuff, move to a far away land, start life all over again? No problem, been doing it since I was 9. I am fascinated by the fact that it's possible for a person to pack a few suitcases, travel 10,000 miles away, and just pick up living where they left off. I love that feeling. My "dream life" would be to live in a different country every year. And, "home is where the heart is," right John? ;o)
Ban the Bicycle?
"And be careful with that bicycle... it looks like you almost hit that little kid running down the path... slow down, you crazed speed demon!! ;)" ---John
"....and I have to agree with John-could you stay off of dangerous vehicles for even one day????"--Lesley
"....and I have to agree with John-could you stay off of dangerous vehicles for even one day????"--Lesley
I swear, I did NOT almost hit that little kid running down the path! (Chitra, can you vouch for me here?) He was just having a hard time keeping up with me! The local boys didn't think that a white American princess could handle a bike on their dirt roads. They were all going to walk alongside me, to prop me up, in case I needed help. I couldn't help it that I left them in the dust....
Would You Like My Autograph Now, or Later?
"Karen and I are fighting for who gets to be your literary agent- you make it seem like we are right there with you! a true gift!" --Lesley
Please don't fight! Seeing's how I'm going to make millions with my published works, there will be plenty of fees to go around for everyone.
Seriously, thanks everyone, for all the nice words and encouragement about my writing. Who knows, maybe it will end up a book someday - if I get a really good literary agent or two! ;o)
Warm Weather, Warm People
Did I read you correctly when you said you are enjoying the warmth of India?!?! I assume you mean the warmth of the people and not the warmth of the weather!! --Trina
Yes, I did mean the people. Although, the weather has not been all that bad. It's been comfortably warm. I hear it's going to get much worse soon though.
The Reincarnation of Goddesses Dee and Lesley
"Oh Basia- you found us out! Dee and I have disguised ourselves as Vasanthi & Chitra! (ok- not really, but can you please pass along our thanks to them for keeping you in line and making you go to the Dr?" ---Lesley
Yes, yes, of course, I understand now, it's just another example of the whole incarnation/manifestation/energy thing. Shiva becomes Durga who becomes Saraswati, when she's not busy turning into Lakshmi. Chitra and Vasanthi are just different manifestations of the Lesley and Dee mother/protectress goddesses, yes?
"My Indian mothers love reading the BLOG and always add some to it according their own experiences. It has been like having a live book in my class. The moms rush in to see what you have sent and read it with such determination- as they are just now learning English. Thanks for opening such a wonderful door for me." ---Shannon
I love the picture I now have in my head of "your moms" crowded around a computer terminal, enjoying my blog! Hello to all the Indian moms....
Also a hello to Lesley's dad - welcome to the blog!