How about some travel writing: Mumbai, India

Some travel writing by me. Re-posted from https://www.casualodyssey.com/.

A Moment in Mumbai

Feb 18-20, 2019

Happy to leave the Udaipur hotel, but burning with a fever that made me both dizzy and bleary, I climbed aboard a comfortable, air-conditioned bus for a 5-hour ride to Ahmedabad. Through some flawed planning by the G Adventures tour designers, we were driving there just to take a train to Mumbai. Surely, there is a train that goes from Udaipur to Mumbai? But I digress. Five minutes into our bus ride, Allison discovered that her credit card number had been stolen. In the airport. In TORONTO. Damn untrustworthy Canadians. The person who had taken it had similar taste to Allison, trying to rack up purchases from Hudson’s Bay and Aritzia, but luckily the Rogers MasterCard algorithms were at work and none of those purchases were approved. Crisis averted!

We stopped at a truck stop three hours into the ride, piecing together a lunch meal out of Pizza Pringles, ice cream, and Snickers. Back on the bus, I had the new experience of noticing the exact moment when my fever broke. Thank goodness. I immediately felt more human than blob. Our auto-rickshaw ride through Ahmedabad was toxic and thrice as long as it was supposed to be as the driver took us to the wrong station or something. Allison and I wrapped our scarves over our mouths and tried not to consume too much diesel and dust until we found our people again.

Our overnight train experience from Ahmedabad to Mumbai was somewhat less enjoyable than our previous train journeys. We were in the third-tier a/c sleeper car, and it has the following downgrades from the second-tier:

  • Beds stacked by three instead of by two
  • No curtains separating the sleeping area from the hallway
  • No personal light or pouch to place items for easy accessibility

Our tour group was scattered across two cars. In my section, our group had all of the middle and upper bunks while locals had the three bottom bunks. I climbed right to the top to get organized while Allison and Ellen – a fellow tour member from Alaska (so basically another Canadian) – tried to figure out the appropriate time to ask the older Indian couple to move so they could turn the seats into beds.

Sleep came fairly easily for me; I was still ill and my body just wanted to shut down. Allison and Ellen’s sleep, however, was constantly interrupted by the man on the bottom bunk — whether it was his shockingly loud gastrointestinal eruptions, his constant scratching at an empty paper bag, or his irrational shutting off of the section’s overhead fan.

Nine hours later we arrived in Mumbai, and as our group shambled groggily off the train and through the station, we heard similar tales of sleepless woe from nearly everyone. Hot, tired, dirty, and (in about half the group) sick, we piled into cabs to get to our hotel, the Hotel Fortune. Unfortunately (see what I did there?) our rooms wouldn’t be ready for several hours, so we ditched our bags, and tour guide Ajay took us to a breakfast spot on Marine Drive. The restaurant was hilariously named “Pizza by the Bay,” and I tried not to be the most pathetic of a miserable group as I watched all 16 other people get their food (and in many cases, finish it) before mine appeared. Eventually, I had a superior hot chocolate and a confusing French Toast which calmed my grumpiness.

There was an optional activity on offer: a four-hour driving tour of Mumbai’s most significant sites. However, after five hours on the bus from Udaipur to Ahmedabad, one polluted hour (kind of lost) in a tuktuk in Ahmedabad, nine hours on the train to Mumbai, 40 minutes in a cab to the hotel (+5 to the restaurant), the absolute last thing I wanted to do was get back in a vehicle for four hours. I couldn’t believe when the whole group (minus us) wanted to participate.

Instead, Allison and I walked Marine Drive and met several of the street dogs (that had tags and names like “Tiger,” “John,” and “Patch”) before going to a fancy spa. We were put in individual rooms that each had its own (beautiful, needed) shower, vanity, and massage table. We each got Balinese massages, which were slightly more intimate than the average (prudish?) Canadian spa massage. Then we got facials that removed the 12 or 15 layers of Indian travel dust on our skin. It was a shame to again put on our dirty clothes we’d been wearing for the last day, but at least we were relaxed.

The spa was steps away from the tourist-clogged harbourfront where we grabbed the obligatory photos of the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Palace, and I read aloud the details of each structure from the ripped out Mumbai pages of my Lonely Planet India guidebook (in Udaipur, I’d removed the sections on Mumbai, Goa, and Munnar so I could leave the hulking tome behind). We checked into our hotel and both took a much-needed nap before dinner.

Dinner was a special occasion. We’d made reservations at Ziya, a high-end restaurant whose chef/owner, Vineet Bhatia is the first Michelin-starred chef in India. In December, I’d seen him and Ziya featured on the Netflix cooking show The Final Table (which I recommend), and the idea was born to splurge on a night out in Mumbai. Allison and I had each brought one “nice” dress, and I suppose we looked good since as soon as we stepped out the hotel doors, I was mistaken for a prostitute and solicited for a whopping 35 rupees (about 70 cents). I turned him down.

Ziya is one of the restaurants in The Oberoi Mumbai, and when we walked through security into an unmarked, circular marble atrium, we already felt out of place. Walking into the lobby proper one floor above was entering a world of wealth heretofore unseen on our India travels. But who cares about the lobby? When we found Ziya, we were shown to a table by the window with a view of Back Bay. The restaurant is decorated simply, cream with accents of gold. Actual gold. Our cutlery was made of gold. There’s a glassed-in area between the kitchen and the dining room where you can watch the chefs plate each dish. There were pink orchids(?) on our table, and soon also two bottles of Perrier (for those who want water, but are fancy) and a bottle of a red blend from the Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection. Vijay Amritraj was apparently the first and only decent tennis player from India, and also the first (and only?) decent winemaker from India. The wine was excellent.

Ziya made waves in India’s culinary landscape by taking traditional Indian dishes (which are served basically the same way all over the country, with maybe an oil or vegetable or other ingredient substitution between different states or regions), and putting a modern, haute cuisine spin on them. This is done constantly in Canada and other nations across the world, where chefs are experimenting with cultural fusions and new techniques and presentations, but it’s an oddity in India.

The menu (like all Indian menus, in my experience) is large and varied. It seems crazy that they can do 50 different dishes well, but they’re a top rated restaurant for a reason. It’s a tapas-style format, so Allison and I took turns ordering, and we let one of our supremely attentive servers suggest a final dish.

Before we received our first chosen dish, we were given an appetizer of four different flavours of poppadoms with three different chutneys. The chutneys were spicy garlic, mint, and beet, and sat starkly cream, green, and pink against our black sideplates.

Next, they brought us an amuse-bouche (also complimentary) of a breaded pea ball (I could’ve eaten my weight in these) and cold pomegranate juice.

The first dish we’d ordered was the chilli garlic cauliflower with cashew cauliflower purée and black quinoa, which was a light and delicious start to the meal. This was followed by the crab kofta with Kerala white crab chutney and Mumbai cheese toast batons. The presentation of this dish was beautiful. Each kofta (small fried dumpling) sat in a depression of an egg carton-like dish, with two of the spots taken up with ceramic cracked eggs filled with chutney. This ended up being my favourite dish of the night, and the cheese toast was a yummy, salty wonder.

They brought out the lamb gucci korma with truffle oil, the chicken bhuna with salli potatoes, and the saffron-sesame naan we had ordered all together, with an extra serving of their warm roti. The lamb was Allison’s pick of the night.

Though we’d eaten a huge meal already, my booking had come with an offer for a free dessert, so we happily perused the menu again and eventually settled on the dessert our server recommended: the chocolate chikki delice with Himalayan salted caramel kulfi (ice cream). This ran a very close second for favourite dish of the evening with both of us.

It was a shame to leave the opulent Oberoi, but we slept well in our budget hotel, happy with our indulgences in Mumbai.

The next morning we took a plane to Goa, which I only mention because the Mumbai airport might be the prettiest airport in the world, and I’d happily be stuck there for a few hours of delay (but the plane was on time).

Advertisements

How about some travel writing: Hampi, India

Some travel writing by me. Re-posted from https://www.casualodyssey.com/.

The Hampiest Place on Earth

Feb 4, 2019

Good morning Hospet! Not-so-fresh off the train we found Ramesh and his auto-rickshaw (which, according to the back decal, was named Suzie) to take us to the “ferry crossing” at Hampi.

We were staying across the river from Hampi Bazaar in a little town called Virupapur Gaddi. This is where most visitors to Hampi stay, and there is a community of roughly identical guesthouses with roughly identical restaurant menus and an infinite number of guys trying to rent you a scooter. The river, currently about the width of Winnipeg’s Red River, doesn’t have a bridge, so there is a group of enterprising young men with a couple of motor boats that charge tourists to cross. Three days before we arrived, the crossing was 20 rupees. For us, 50 each for one way (roughly $1 CAD). Not a ton of money in the grand scheme of things, but a lot for a 30 second boat ride. Plus, the boat would only operate when 12 or 15 people were crossing, which meant we always had to wait. Basically, these guys have a nice racket going.

We had booked a room at Sai Plaza Guesthouse. The location is great, very close to the ferry crossing, and the restaurant has an amazing view of Hampi’s ruins (and of the temple elephant, Lakshmi, getting her 90 minute bath every morning). We lounged in the restaurant, listening to what can most easily be described as Indian spa music, until our room was ready. Our accommodations were basic – a modest two room structure – with hot water only at a certain time of day. The bed had a baby pink mosquito net, which made it look like a child’s faerie princess fort, and outside there was a little patio with a hammock.

In the afternoon, we crossed the river to start exploring.

First thing to say about Hampi: the landscape is unique (and those readers who’ve met me know I don’t use that word lightly). Piles of boulders as tall as mountains dot the area, with bright green sugar cane paddies, palms, and figs growing in the low areas between. It’s a strange mix of arid, rocky expanses and verdant tropics. And the way the boulders sit, precariously piled in unlikely towers, makes it tempting to believe they were placed by the gods (or by their monkey army, as the story goes).

Second thing to say about Hampi: it’s huge. 3700 monuments in 36 sq km. In our 3 days in the area, we could only come close to biting off a slice of the Hampi (Banofee) pie.

Third thing to say about Hampi: it’s shockingly uncommercial. Don’t misunderstand: there are a host of people waiting to sell you jewelry and coconut milk, sunglasses and saris, auto-rickshaw tours and anything you’d like to eat, but when it comes to the World Heritage Site itself, it’s remarkably open. You can walk where you want, visit still-active temples with monks at prayer, or clamber over the crumbling ruins of temples from the 10th century. You can touch everything, photograph anything. Only three sites charge you for access, and in the rare places where there is security at work, the only time we heard them warn off anyone is when two middle-aged European tourists attempted to climb up on a large statue of the sacred bull calf, Nandi.

When we crossed the river on our first day, we wandered up past Virupaksha Temple (notable for the golden-coloured, intricately carved, 50m-high gateway tower) to the temples of Hemakuta Hill. While most of the structures in Hampi date back to the 13th to 16th centuries, Hemakuta Hill features some of the oldest ruins on the site, stretching back to the 9th century. The site is rock structures built on natural rock slabs surrounded by piles of boulders, so mid-afternoon, the 35 degree sun is unforgiving. A couple hours was enough for our uncovered parts to get a burn.

Not knowing much about the site except what my Lonely Planet Guide had to say about Hemakuta (“Hemakuta Hill has a few early ruins” — thanks LP, we cottoned on to that using our senses), we were lucky to find a couple signposts that explained the significance of the site. Signs like these were inconsistently present at the rest of the monuments and temples in Hampi, but when they existed, there was almost always an English version to read.

Without a route to follow, we eventually found a garbage-strewn trail to a temple sunk into the trees (a rarity here) where a huge number of monkeys played together. Then by accident, we found a back way into Virupaksha Temple and explored it for free (though we wouldn’t have balked at the teeny admission of 2 rupees, or 52 if you have a camera). It made us sad to see Lakshmi working as mostly a backdrop for selfies, but the temple itself was vibrant with devotees and lively with monkeys.

We crossed the river again (are you hearing the cash register cha-ching?), and grabbed an auto-rickshaw down a bumpy road to the highway, on our way to see the Monkey Temple at sunset. Something Allison heard, but I did not, when we were told about the temple: it’s up. 575 cut stone steps up, to be exact. Tease me if you must, but this Prairie girl’s legs are not really conditioned for a lot of up. Anyway, winded, we climbed to the hilltop Monkey Temple and the spot a which the god Hanuman (in monkey form) was reportedly born for the sunset view, leaving before the sun actually set so we could see our way down.

In the evenings, all the restaurants in Virupapur Gaddi show movies (of wildly variable quality and content, though Disney seems to be particularly popular), so we chose the restaurant that was showing Toy Story 3. After Allison gave the owners some IT support, we settled down with our first drinks of the trip (“do you have any local beers?” “Budweiser” “okay”), and Allison somehow did not cry at any of the three tear-inducing scenes in that excellent movie (you know exactly what scenes I’m talking about, don’t you, readers!).

Feb 5, 2019

We met Ramesh on the Hampi side of the river after waiting 30 minutes for the boat to take us across (all the operators apparently need to eat breakfast together). Allison had arranged for him to take us around the major Hampi sites, and I’ll mention it here once, though it deserves to be said a bunch, it’s a total game changer to have pretty consistent internet access on a trip like this. Being able to “What’s app” message tour guides, drivers, and hotels, navigate using Google maps, and look up things we can’t figure out on our own is such a simplifier.

Anyway, Ramesh, whose English was very good, took us to two off-the-beaten-track stops to start the day. The first was the Bhojana shalaa, a site featuring long, low rock dining tables with cut-outs carved into the rock to act as plates and bowls. This was made, he explained, so poor families in the Vijayanagar Empire could host celebrations like weddings and not worry about having enough dishes for all of the guests.

The second stop was beyond the typical Hampi exploration, a temple on Rama’s meditation site called Malyavanta Raghunatha. There were orange-clad Hindu monks practicing their devotions while Ramesh took us through a couple of the site’s buildings. Most notably, he showed us a social hall that used to be decorated with diamonds and where genius architects created pillars of stone that ring like timpani when played and where everywhere there are bas reliefs of gods and animals and nature and Kama sutra. This temple has a nice lookout point from which we could see the high Monkey Temple we’d climbed the previous day.

Ramesh dropped us at the parking lot for the Vittala Temple, and we made the kilometre walk down an open sand road to the proper start of the site. A ticket to Vittala costs 300 rupees each, but gets you same-day admission to the Archeological Museum and the Zenana Enclosure as well. The main temple here also has the musical pillars we saw at Malyavanta Raghunatha, but here they are off limits to tourists. One of the greatest attractions is the ornate stone chariot in the courtyard (apparently the wheels were once able to turn).

The Archeological Museum is worth a look for the pre- and post-excavation photos of the Royal Centre, the room-sized model of all of Hampi, and the collection of unearthed gold coins. Also, good for a break from the mid-day sun.

We had a lunch of Thali (Allison) and Chicken Tikka (me) – essential to keep up our energy – and then we were off to the Royal Centre. We started with the Queen’s Bath, an Islamic-style building, with an enormous, now empty, pool within. The pool holds 15 cubic meters of water, which they scented with jasmine for her baths. This building was for the Queen’s exclusive use, and even the King had to ask permission to enter.

Next we saw the recently excavated Royal Enclosure, including the Mahanavani-diiba, a 12m high stage platform with great views and intricate carvings. The elephant carver was really working overtime on this whole area, as dozens and dozens of elephants line every wall. Also here is a stepped pool called the Pushkarani, which looks like someone buried a hollow pyramid upside down in the earth, and the Hazarama Temple which has some beautiful black granite carved pillars transported from the southernmost reaches of India when the Empire had stretched across the country.

Our second-last stop of the day was the Zenana Enclosure, where the Queen’s mansion, the Lotus Mahal sits. This site is green and grassy, as if ready for a queen to return at any moment, and the Lotus Mahal’s scalloped doorways are gorgeous from every angle. A few steps away is the shockingly well preserved Elephant Stables, where Allison and I made echo-y elephant noises to stay true to the building’s history.

Exhausted after all the ruins and temples, we opted to look out over the Nobleman’s Quarters, the King’s Palace, and the Mint, rather than walk through.

Back at the hotel, the movie of the evening was The Lion King, and we stayed up our latest yet… 10 p.m.!

Feb 6, 2019

We rented some mostly functional, one-speed bicycles and rode out of Virupapur Gaddi with some vague directions to “the lake.” After only one missed turn and more hills than I had hoped for, we made it. The lake was nice enough, but with no beach area, so we sat on some rocks for a couple hours, while a goat herd eventually found it‘s way to and around us. After a (more downhill, but equally as bumpy) ride back, we enjoyed the view from the Sai Plaza restaurant for a couple hours before saying goodbye to Hampi, travelling to Hospet, and getting on the overnight train to Delhi.

How about some travel writing: Mysore, India

How about some travel writing? Recently I got back from India, where I was traveling for a month with my sis. We blogged it on her site: https://www.casualodyssey.com, but I’m going to re-publish the articles I wrote here. Enjoy!

Two new additions to the zoo

Feb 2, 2019

We woke up in Mysore to the incongruous sound of the Muslim Fajr (“dawn”) prayer mixed with a chorus of howling street dogs. Well rested and hopeful, we checked on the status of our bags and learned that only one had made the trip from Frankfurt. Honeybee (my yellow and black bag) would be delivered to us in the afternoon, which at least allowed us to look forward to fresh clothing. Butch (Allison’s bag) would be on the next overnight flight. Or so we were told. Maybe we’d be travelling one city ahead of Butch for the next four weeks, it chasing us across the country at Lufthansa’s expense.

We walked the few blocks to the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, and I got used to stepping into oncoming traffic to cross the road. Zoos are polarizing, but Mysore‘s zoo is recognized as among the best in the world and we were impressed with the size, all rescued and rehabilitated animals, and its no plastic policy.

It was Saturday, so the zoo was busy with families. I lived my childhood dreams and saw a blue macaw, and I especially adored the funny, tank-like rhinos. Allison was charmed by the statuesque Saurus cranes and the marmosets, which she dubbed “the bulldogs of monkeys.” The animals were surprisingly active for mid-day, excepting the lions, white tiger, and hyenas who were napping or nowhere to be seen. Most active were the elephants, who were feeling… romantic.

The amorous elephants were a popular photo, but a bunch of locals were just as interested in taking a selfie with the newest additions to the zoo: the two blond-haired, blue-eyed Canadian women wandering freely. The attention (and strangers just passing their children to Allison to hold for photos) made us feel part celebrity, part exhibit, but was ultimately harmless and something we’ve since learned will happen wherever we go.

Signs at the zoo explained that “Watching Animals Calmly gain’s Peacefulness” and “Animals are true Friends than Humans” alongside some others that illustrated the graphic results of sticking body parts into the animal cages (plus, the signs said, eating us might make the animals sick). A couple hours in, ice cream was a necessity, though we had to finish our treats before rounding the corner because the monkeys (local and loose) would take our cones.

In the evening (after Honeybee was successfully delivered!), we took my first-ever auto-rickshaw ride to Mysore Palace. We were surprised to see mostly Indian visitors at this busy tourist stop, and once we figured out how to deposit our shoes behind the counter, we joined the crowd to walk through this gaudy early-20th century building. Beautiful tile work, ornate pillars, carved teak doors, and chairs made entirely of glass were the highlights of the palace. This location was the seat of the Wadiyar dynasty which ruled over the Kingdom of Mysore for nearly 200 years. The old palace was gutted by fire in 1897.

Busy day completed, we went back to our (air-conditioned!) room and hoped for good news on Butch in the morning.

Feb 3, 2019

The Devaraja Market was a wonderful photo op filled with flowers, veggies, and spices. Not much for us to actually buy, but still worth the look. Google Maps led us on a roundabout journey through alleyways overflowing with bananas.

The afternoon saw us relaxing in the common room of The Mansion, waiting for Butch to arrive, and counting down the hours until our overnight train to Hospet, outside of Hampi. By 2 p.m. Butch was in our hands and our train travel plans could stay on track.

Fully bagged and ready to say goodbye to Mysore, we navigated the train station without too much trouble. Once we found our proper car (thanks to the kind porter who checked our tickets and pointed us to the air-conditioned car), I had my first ever overnight train ride. Allison, for whom Asian train travel was old hat, was thrilled that everything seemed to work on the train. I was mostly thankful for a western-style toilet. Allison kindly gave up her bottom bunk so an older couple didn’t have to climb to an upper, and eventually, we slept.

Writing by me: Flight

I like this, but I don’t feel like submitting it anywhere, so I’ll share it with you instead.

————-

Flight

He loves the recycled air taste of the plane. It reminds him of plastic cups against his teeth, breathing in antibacterial cleaning products, licking polyester. It’s distinct. He files in behind a woman who can’t compose her carry-on – it stops and starts independent of its owner and trips her, bangs her ankles. Her elbow hits the plushy part of the green fabric chairs and she murmurs “sorry,” even though those seats are empty. The woman and the carry-on turn into a middle row though its number had not yet been called for boarding.

Five rows further back, he settles in his the window seat. Though the aisle is infinitely more convenient, he always choose the window. The view is worth the awkwardness of climbing over his row-mates. But the perspective of a Jack’s giant glancing down at the teeny human world is not the view that he craves. No, he just wants to watch the wings shake, the machinery flipping and lowering and raising depending on its distance from the ground.

It’s time for the safety demonstration, and the flight attendants throw in a joke or two to spice up the speech. He mimes all of their actions as they speak which impresses the woman two seats away, in the practical seat. The plane is backing up now, so it seems they’ve been lucky; it’s just the two of them in row fifteen. She asks if he is a flight attendant on the sly. He likes that “on the sly,” but says no, just a frequent flyer, just attentive, just good at choreography. She laughs. She is not pretty, but he finds himself smiling at her anyway. Her face is interesting. There are thousands of expressions trapped in there, he can see them wrestling, and he can’t determine which one she’ll experience next.

She gives him her name and they shake hands, but then she turns all of her expressions away and he’s too distracted by the impending take off to remember what she said. Mya maybe, or Nancy. Something like that.

They are taxiing now, and as he watches the wing shake as the plane ups its pace, he wonders why they call it taxiing. Why not cabbing or something made up and technical? He also wonders how he would spell taxiing – if there’s a hyphen or if there’s a “y.” He thinks about ringing the flight attendant bell, but they wouldn’t come now anyways.

The blood-suck roar of the plane is in his ears and the wheels are off the ground. This is the best moment, when he sees if the combined genius of humans who dreamed of flight can successfully hoist him and all these heavy, gravity-bound strangers into the air. The wings are trembling like fever-struck children at first, but they still after only a few thousand feet. The seatbelt light goes off confirming, yes, he’s flying now, the geniuses have done it again.

The seatbelt light is off but not the “no smoking” light. It’s always on. It’s been on since the ‘90s, saying no. He’s not a smoker but he feels for all the little cigarette figures captured and sliced and lit for display like so many carcinogenic antlers above their heads. He hates that violently rude symbol that surrounds an object and then slashes its middle. Some airlines just put a polite little red “x” over the cigarette. Much kinder.

The view is clouds and boredom, and he gently reclines the seat back. It feels rude, but if it was frowned upon he’s sure they would make the seats unreclinable. He hopes that the person behind him has short legs.

The woman beside him has pulled out a book. Something clunky with one of those spiky-edged circle stickers on the front. An award-winning book. He tries to remember if there’s a name for that spiky edge. Is it beveled? He tilts his head, slides his neck forward without removing his shoulder blades from the seat to try to read the title. East of Eden it says. John Steinbeck. He remembers reading Of Mice and Men in high school and crying.

The woman speaks to him, but he’s thinking about the rabbits and how distant they are from him. They are Earth things and he’s a sky thing right now, higher even than the rabbits’ feathered predators. The woman says have you read it, and he shakes his head no. Just Of Mice and Men. He asks if it’s good and she shrugs. Better if I knew the bible, she says. Her expression undulates again and it’s self-mocking. She says, but maybe then I’d like it less. He nods. Religion only makes the bad things better. The raise of her eyebrows pulls the edges of her mouth up. A cynic, she says. Then smirks. Thank God.

The book shields her face and he turns to stare at the comically large plane over the little screen map sneaking east across the country. They are an hour away from a destination, but not his. He will switch planes at the next airport to a small, low-flying, trembling thing. He’ll skim the bottom of the clouds in the body of that rickety creature, and no matter how long that flight will take, he’ll wish it was longer.

The best flights are when he goes north to the wind-chilled villages dotting the top of the prairies. Those planes fly low and slow and the walls feel thinner. The passengers can hear the wind, feel even its gentlest buffets, and can’t fool their minds into believing they are safe. He thinks that’s why they fly closer to the ground. Not because the plane needs to, but because the passengers want to convince themselves that they would survive the crash they feel is imminent. Survival. It seems possible though he knows it isn’t.

The flight attendant comes with her cart. He knows this one. Sheri. Or Cheryl maybe. She recognizes him and he’s impressed and uncomfortable. She asks, economy today? But means it rhetorically. He nods and answers water and cookies. No ice. The reading woman puts Steinbeck down, orders a vodka and orange juice. Breakfast drink. Cookies too.

Sheri takes a step back and he remembers and calls wait! She smiles her pleasant and patient customer smile and calls him Sir. He asks why it’s called taxiing and if she knows how to spell it. The woman snorts into her orange juice, and Sheri says she’ll try to find out.

The woman pulls out a pill from her bag, pops it into her mouth, and washes it away with her concoction of yellowy citrus and mashed up grains. Sleeping pill, she tells him, even though only his eyes had asked. He says she shouldn’t force herself to sleep. First of all, it’s mid-morning. And second, what if something urgent happens; what if she needs her life vest and oxygen mask? She laughs and says she expects someone will help her. He shakes his head. People panic and they don’t think about each other, trapped in a metal tube falling from the sky. Her face shifts from kind. Her lips say angry and her pupils say scared. Well it’s too late now, she says and shuts her eyes like slamming a door.

When they drop below the clouds he doesn’t wake her. He’s watching the wings. The pressure builds and threatens to explode his ears, but he holds off on swallowing to see how much he can stand. Cars wink the sunlight at him and glass buildings glare it. The man in front of him pulls back from the crack between chair and window, but he leans into the brightness.

He needs to see the landing gear drop.

————-

obvs:
© 2014 Sarah Lund

So I guess it starts with… Part 1

Who can wait for the new year? Ahead of schedule, please enjoy the first installment of what could be a horrific mess of a novel. Yay!

——————–

So I guess it starts with a girl…

Is it already cliché? I promise she’s not beautiful. Or a vampire. Or from a tragic background. Still? Fine. Then how about:

So I guess it starts with a murder…

Is that too melodramatic? What if it’s true? Okay, I’ll try again.

So I guess it starts with a broken down truck and a baby and a miscommunication…

 

My father used to drag my high chair into the garage where he would inexpertly tinker with a partly dismantled piece of junk “classic” car while narrating his actions. He’d leave me with a stack of those special baby-formulated dissolving cracker-cookies, most of which would end up on the floor, or in my hair, or on the corner of the work bench that was just within reach of the fingers I had recently discovered were connected by invisible wishing strings to my desires.

I’d study the shiny silvery tools that shot sunbeams into my face and shaky spotlights onto the rest of the garage while he used the wrong words to refer to parts of the car that he was restoring. I had tested a number of those words in my mouth, operating under the theory that if invisible wishing strings could command my fingers, they could also command my noises. Most of them came out as a sort of garbled screech, but motor was a bit easier. The mmm was one of my favourite sounds and possibly the pinnacle of my vocabulary. The terr was fun to practice, like spitting out letters. The oh was the hardest, but after a week or two I had figured it out by making kiss lips and pushing noise from the back of my throat.

When I was ready to put them all together, I waited for a break in my father’s babble. I wanted him to know that I had been listening – that his chatter wasn’t in vain. I wanted to show him that I appreciated the cookie stacks and the fresh air from the open garage door and the silly bouncing refracted light and the intrigue of him creating a mess slowly, piece-by-piece, over hours and then becoming overwhelmed all at once by how much there was to clean up. He reached for a screwdriver – flathead, he told me, not Phillips – and I responded with my hard-earned word.

Motor I told him.

He looked at me. “What did you say?”

Motor I repeated.

He hopped up and ran to the inside door.

“Jane, you’ve got to get in here!” he yelled.

Motor motor motor I said, enjoying the active spectacle I had created.

“Jane! He’s talking!” my father yelled again, and then ran back to me. “Your mom is going to be so excited. Though you couldn’t make it ‘daddy’ huh? Oh well. Maybe the next one.”

I smiled at him. Daddy seemed like a pretty challenging sound to make, but for him, I would do my best.

My mother jogged into the garage. She was wearing the terrifying dish-washing gloves that gave her monster hands. I tried to keep my eyes on my father to distract me from the threat of them.

“Okay buddy, can you say it again?” my father asked. I gargled a little in my throat to regain my composure.

“Come on baby, talk for mommy,” monster-hands said.

Motor I repeated, and she squealed.

“Didn’t I tell you?” my father said, smiling his big bearded smile.

“Amazing!”

She reached for me and pulled me out of the high-chair with her monster hands, and I squirmed as hard as I could to get away. “Can you say it again?” she asked, and I weighed my options. If I talked again, maybe she would put me down, or give me to my father.

Motor I said, and she laughed.

“What a funny little gentleman you are. So formal!”

“I know,” said my father. “Who’s ever heard of a kid’s first word being ‘mother?’ It’s usually mommy or mama or something. That’s one classy baby we’ve made.”

I shook my head. I wasn’t saying ‘mother,’ obviously. How boring would that be? Plus, why would I have needed another word for her? She already came when I made the screechy cry noise.

Motor I said, trying to annunciate, Mmm-o-terr.

It was no use. They threw me about and clapped and petted and hugged and kissed. Their excitement was funny, and after a few minutes I got into the spirit of it as well, especially when my mother remembered to take off her monster-hand gloves.

Sometimes I think I should have tried harder to make myself clear – that giving into the first misunderstanding set the tone for the rest of my life – that I created this destiny for myself by giggling while they twirled me around and doted on my brilliance in that garage – but, then again, maybe I would have become who I was regardless of that mistake.

————————–

obvs:
© 2014 Sarah Lund

The surprising dullness of entering a writing contest

Last night I entered the “Canada Writes” CBC Short Story contest. Instead of feeding the online submission form a piece that I wrote a long time ago, re-read, edited, and perfected, I provided it with something new. I wrote” Comfortable” on a whim last Thursday. It’s about a man who hates his job and dies choking on his ten-year anniversary cake. It’s decent enough – it’s the right length, anyway – and now it’s off in the universe, ready for judgment.

This is the first time I’ve ever submitted my work to a large writing contest. I thought it would be exciting, but it’s hard to be excited since it will take three months to know if I even made the long list (don’t get your hopes up, friends). Oh well.

I should be happier, since I’ve set some goals (shocking, I know) to more aggressively pursue writing, and submitting to three contests before June is one of those goals. I guess it does feel rewarding,  in a vague kind of way.

Something else to be jazzed about: I wrote a complete and creative short story in a day. Usually it takes me much longer to go from inspiration to finished product… though now that I think about it, the short stories of which I’m proudest were all basically complete in one sitting. Holy shit. I can’t believe I didn’t notice that before.

Mind = blown