The Season Must End

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In disbelief the young Ukranian couple watch on computer, snipers firing at protesters in Kiev; tonight they’ll celebrate a friend’s birthday with vodka and balloons

Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the breeze as Frederic sits writing in a corner to make sense of his shattered life

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Another year English Jerry and Tessa walk the beach, the cure for his cancer is beyond their reach

Liam and Lara who met on the Pilgrim Walk in Spain have left for Hampi; bulldozers are systematically destroying the bazaar turning Hampi into a fossil

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Playboy Tony escapes the bone-chilling Greek winter and hopes for love as his prospects grow thinner

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Ralph the guitarist from Germany sets up for his weekly fusion session, while the perfectly poised yogis chant “Om Mani Padme Hum”

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After three years in Agonda Christina sees her mother’s Alzheimers abate; she walks watching the sunset until late

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The old German couple walk on the water’s edge soothing his gout-swollen feet; Indian tourists float fully clothed on the rising tide

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Yogi god and goddess in the form of Barbie and Ken dream of giving birth to a baby in full Lotus position

Two Italians, Rotisserie Man rotating for the perfect tan, 80-year-old ‘Boom’ starts his day with rum and coke; will we see you next year, we hope

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Marion, an attractive young traveler widens her world and narrows her bed, protecting her bohemian lifestyle

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All nationalities gather on the beach to contemplate the setting sun, some practice yoga in Masala style, some sit in painful style, some meditate in Enlightened style, a few sit in no known style

Footprints in the sand: crows, crabs, dogs, humans, horses crisscrossing again and again. The tide removes all traces.

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In this community by the sea, relationships are formed with urgency

How long can they last?

People come, people go; some like Jonny never came at all

But as sure as the rising of the tide and setting of the sun

So too the season now is done

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A Russian Story

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Russians have a bad reputation in Goa for their unruly behavior. Many say they are unfriendly but it’s probably due to the fact that few speak much English and just appear to be standoffish. In the north several beaches are completely taken over by vodka drinking rowdy Russians – even the signage is is in Russian. Has anyone been to Brighton Beach in NYC recently?

We’ve heard stories of the Russian Mafia buying up large parcels of land in an attempt to launder money. Just yesterday we heard a story of an altercation breaking out between a waiter and a drunken Russian tourist. The Russian pulled out a knife and stabbed the unsuspecting Goan waiter. The culprit fled and was chased by an angry mob wielding bricks, bottles and stones. Narrowly escaping with his life, he jumped into the sea. After treading water for several hours, he was ironically saved from drowning by a local lifeguard!

But all of this is not the case for us – our experience has been completely different. We’ll start with Natasha, a Russian woman staying next door to us. An easy going, mellow yoga teacher back home. She’s the perfect neighbor never makes any noise in her room, comes and goes who knows where, and when we see her she’s always smiling and easy to engage in conversation. Natasha speaks good English because she lived in Sacramento with her husband for ten years. Not excited about returning to Russia two years ago, her first complaint was the long cold winters. But more bothersome is the pollution – with the rapidly expanding economy many people are now able to buy automobiles spewing out carbon monoxide. As in the US, the majority of the money seems to be held by only a few.We briefly met her two years ago when she was attending a yoga retreat and found Agonda to be as special as we do, and has returned now for a month. She’s even commented she likes the music she hears coming out of our room at lunchtime, predominantly jazz.

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1688938_741120335928435_1278882104_n[1]Another guest where we’re staying has also been here numerous times, but this is the first year we’ve become friendly. In her 40s, Tatiana’s a striking character – with long platinum blond tresses, often piled high on her head. She speaks very good English for a Russian. In only the last ten years, English has become the preferred foreign language taught in schools, over German and French, thanks to the computer age.

Tatiana spends a lot of her time traveling, financed by a smart move fifteen years ago. When property values were inexpensive, she bought a building with apartments and a shop in Moscow. Keeping a small flat for herself, she rents the rest of it which is more than enough to finance her excursions around the world. Staying two months in Agonda, she’s always on the go and has rented a stylish white motor scooter that goes well with her red swimsuit and blond hair. Tatiana’s a strong swimmer and semi-professional photographer – one of her photographs of a fisherman in Agonda won an online competition. With a lighthearted view of herself and life around her, she has a smile that makes it compulsory for you to smile back!

 

 

 

 

Tatiana's winning entry

Tatiana’s winning entry

The Russian family who last year stayed next to us in the guesthouse have now rented a house in Agonda village, away from the beach. With a kitchen and several rooms this suits them much better and doesn’t cost more than the guest house. As mentioned last year they are a very serious couple, learning Aurevedic medicine, and working through the maze of mystic philosophy this country has to offer. At present they’re reading the sayings of Krishnamurti. Staying three months, Irina home schools their nine year old son and visits the beach only at sunset not wanting to spoil her soft milky white skin with a suntan. Irina’s husband Jalil, who is older, has had long talks with Gerard about what it was like living in the Soviet Union and more interestingly when the Union collapsed. He’d spent 18 years in the military and quit one year before that. Jalil said many people sensed that something was seriously wrong at least five years before the dissolution. When asked if he was a card-carrying Communist, he said, “Of course, I was in the military. But even as a child I felt a discrepancy between what the government was saying and the everyday reality. factory workers and other unskilled laborers, who earned little money but were taken care of by the state, suffered the most when the Union finally ended. They had nowhere to turn as factory after factory closed no longer subsidized by the central government. On the other hand, during the Soviet period, it was the businessmen who were under constant suspicion for being budding capitalists and had found it hard to survive. But later, they benefited the most from the gigantic economic opportunity. In fact, anyone with a business inclination did well.
Gerard asked, “But was there a sense of disillusionment?”
“Yes, of course, amongst the old guard. It was a very bitter pill for them to swallow.”

Jalil is the first Russian we’ve met who was old enough to go through this turmoil and see it from both sides. Our life is a little fuller from knowing these people who shared with us. They’re far from the stereotypical Russian tourist that come to Goa.

 

 

Frederic and I writing

Frederic and I writing

Last summer Gerard saw a program called Secrets of the Dead that was about the Cuban Missile Crisis. He can remember the “Dive and Duck” practices they had to do at school then – as if ducking under a desk was going to give you any protection from a nuclear bomb! There was no doubt that the world was on the brink of nuclear destruction. But little did anyone know that this crisis boiled down to the decision of one individual! Kennedy had imposed a navel blockade around Cuba stopping any Soviet ships carrying war material. Both countries were sending their submarines to the opposing borders. But this story focuses around one diesel-powered Soviet sub which had reached the blockade. It had been submerged for some time and out of communication with Moscow. They were also running very low on battery power and needed to surface soon. The US navy destroyers were well aware of their presence and dropped depth charges trying to persuade them to surface. With no communications with Moscow it was not clear if war had been declared or not. In the sub they were not clear of the destroyer’s intentions and after a lengthy discussion the sub decided it would deploy nuclear warheads fearing that war had already been declared. In order to go nuclear the three top officers on the sub had to agree. Two of them were in favor of deploying, but the third said, ‘No!” The whole crew were against his decision, calling him a traitor for disgracing the Soviet flag and letting down the mother country. But he remained determined, saying, “ We don’t know for sure if war has already broken out. But then why are they bombing us? the crew demanded. Try as they may, they were unable to convince this officer and were forced to surface. Now realizing that there was no state of war, this lone officer was still in complete disgrace. The destroyer gave orders for them to return to Russia which they did. When the commander of the destroyer was questioned what his response would have been if the sub had filed its missiles, he said, “Do I really need to reply? Of course! All of the naval blockade would have deployed their nuclear weapons, no questions asked!”

Back in Russia, the dissenting officer was called a traitor – a disgrace to his uniform he was thrown out of the navy. Lived the rest of his life in obscurity, and died in 2002. Ten years later his wife decided to make his story public. This man should have been hailed not only as a national hero but a hero of mankind. He deserved the Nobel Peace Prize instead of living his life in disgrace! When Gerard told Jalil, he was not surprised and said this is how the Soviet military operated. You would think all Russians would know about this story – but they don’t. Gerard was so moved, he’s taken great pleasure in telling it to every Russian he’s met! The consistent reaction is the same as his – completely overwhelmed thinking how close we came to nuclear holocaust.

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Stolen Moments

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As much as we love our guesthouse, it’s still a concrete block that acts like a heat sink. But leaving the door open at night, created a nice cross draft which cooled the room off. Gerard hung our mosquito net as a curtain in the doorway and we secured it at night with a chair and a heavy jar of peanut butter. After six years in Agonda with no incident, we had developed a false sense of security. Our room, and two others, on the second floor has an exterior staircase, with the landlord or his son sleeping right underneath. What could be safer? We had heard rumors of theft a few years ago but nothing recently. And of course, as Frank Zappa used to say, “I’m telling you my dear, that it can\t happen here!” We believed it! Drank the cool aid and went to sleep.

Somewhere between 12 and 4 – the hours of which Gerard manages to sleep, the intruder stealthily did his business. At 4 am, Gerard wondered why the chair and peanut butter had been moved, but dismissed it as our new neighbors who had arrived that night may have needed it. But in dawn/s early light we noticed an empty space on the table where the computer used to lay. With heart in mouth, Gerard noticed the fancy recording device that he’d borrowed from a friend had also gone, along with my camera. We went down to tell the landlord and all he could say, was Shit! Oh, Shit! The landlady muttered something about paying us which we didn’t really understand. As more people joined the conversation, it became clear that going to the police would be no good. We would have two problems – one, our lost property, and two, the police! Whenever possible, DO NOT get the police involved. They would also insist that the landlord pay us some ridiculous amount as reimbursement. But why should they pay? They didn’t leave the door open. Others told us we should make a police report, but when asked have you heard of them recovering anything,they admitted, No.

Many of you expressed kind thoughts and they were appreciated. One dear friend summed it up by telling the short story of having his shoes stolen off the beach in Sri Lanka many years ago. He said for a short time the landscape became dull. We also felt the sun had gone under a cloud. But really as Gerard reminded me, all we needed was an attitude adjustment. The losses just made our life a little less convenient. I couldn’t write the blog while Gerard hovered over my shoulder doing his editing…and no morning raga with breakfast, or jazz hour at lunch. As the Indians like to say, What to do?

A French friend of ours from three years ago who we first met up in a little town in the mountains, arranged to meet us here in Agonda. He was not using his laptop and was quite happy to use his iPhone for email and let us borrow the computer for the rest of his stay. Our good fortune! Only thing is that getting used to his French keyboard is a bit of a hassle. So please excuse punctuation errors while I struggle to find the right keys. Who would have thought the letters would be arranged in a different order to qwerty! So for the time being our schedule has resumed quite interrupted.

DSC_0261We first met Frederic in Rewalsar – he was eating his dinner buried in his newspaper. When we asked if we could borrow his paper, he looked up over his wire framed glasses and gave us a stern look. It wasn’t particularly welcoming but the restaurant was the only one in town, so he couldn’t avoid us! A fiercely private person, we broke through the barrier. Over the next few days, we quickly struck up a relationship, spending a lot of time together in Rewalsar, and visiting nearby Manali together. He began telling us a fascinating tale = a true story of love, abandonment and reunion that began after WW1 and spans several generations.

Ten days later we met up at the Delhi airport, we were both on the same flight to Heathrow, and he continued to expand on this story about his girlfriend’s family. We both had hours to spend before catching our connecting flights. The idea was that I would write it up when I got back home. But when I started, I quickly realised it was way too confusing and I needed to hear the details again. Unfortunately our paths did not cross until this year. Frederick was very happy to retell this complicated tale, this time with even more sidebars! We sat together for several afternoons in the loggia at our guesthouse while I typed up copious notes. And then….as the story was finally taking shape, the computer was stolen. And of course I’d failed to back up. Maybe there’s a lesson here. But losing this writing was the hardest loss. Anyway, Gerard is helping me to start over. And as often happens, the rewrite is better than the original.

My good friend from Boston reminded me that Hemingway.had a similar experience. While he was traveling, his wife came to meet him by train. Without telling him she brought a novel he’d completed but only had one copy. She thought he might want to show it to people.  She went to the restaurant car to get tea and when she returned the suitcase with the writing was gone.  So all his work for months was erased. When she told him what had happened, he freaked out for a while and then decided it was a good editing tool – that he would remember the substance and start over again.

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There are many stories in Agonda and some are not happy at all. A few days ago Gerard and Frederic took a rickshaw into Chaudi, the neighboring market town. The rickshaw driver agreed to wait while they shopped and then bring them back. On the return trip, the driver suddenly said, “One minuter, sir.” and stopped at a house. He called out, and a young girl came over to the rickshaw; he embraced her and said, Happy Birthday! Back in the rickshaw Gerard asked him if it was his daughter. ‘ No, it was my niece.” “Do you have children?” Frederic then asked. The rickshaw driver indicated that he had one. Struggling with his few words of English, and also it seemed his emotions, he resorted to sign language to indicate that both his parents and wife were gone. They didn’t understand what he meant and eventually it came out that his parents had died from cancer and his wife had also died – but he did not explain how. He also managed to convey that his daughter was living with her aunt 25 kms away and saw her very infrequently.

When they reached Agonda, Frederic joked, “Should we pay you or should you pay us for our wonderful company?” With a long face, he said, “No sir, I need the money.” Frederic gave him three bills. He kissed them and then touched his forehead with them. Frederic was now aware that the man was very upset, most likely from telling his story. Frederic reassured him. “This will pass and you will also have a life of your own.” He continued, “I had cancer two years ago and I survived it.” Out of the rickshaw and facing the driver, they could see tears running down his face. They both did their best to console him saying, ‘You have to deal with today only, and tomorrow will take care of itself.”And then Frederic cautioned, BUT NO ALCHOL! The driver clasped both their hands and thanked them.

When I heard the story, I immediately had terrible thought, that maybe his wife had been murdered and, God forbid, raped. This was prompted by of a horrific incident in the same town of Chaudi that happened last week and was reported in the newspaper . A fish seller, a woman of 51, was on her way to work early one morning when she was murdered and although the papers have withheld this, also raped. There has been a huge outcry and criticism for the police’s inability to arrest anyone. A few days later there was a strike in the town, meaning all commercial operations were stopped, no shops were open and no public transportation operated. There are demands for a public hanging. Beginning with the much publicised rape in Gurgaon last year, there has been a surge in the reporting of rapes. Every day there are reports of rapes in the newspapers. But it begs the question, are there more rapes or is rape just being more publicised? Women are becoming more confident in reporting abuse. In the past, they were afraid that their community would reject them and their family. A raped woman lost her good reputation and was no longer be able to marry. There is a history of abuse towards women in India that is finally receiving public attention. Women have had enough and want it to stop. Before much change can take place, however, there has to be a change in attitudes.

The Shoe Finally Drops…

After six years of traveling in India with no real problems, a little bit of our luck has finally run out. Last night our computer was stolen. We’ve been leaving the door open because of the heat, and a sense of security – with a mosquito net and chair over the door.  Inspite of both of us being light sleepers the culprit managed to stealthily remove the chair and net and enter the room without waking us.  The background noise of the ocean was in his favor.  So from this point forward it will be more tedious for us to always write in a cyber cafe.  But we will stay in touch  The sun still shines and the water sparkles.