One more week at Sunset Beach

 

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In our second week here, Gerard has started writing a story, an idea he’s had for years. This place is tailor-made for such a project. There’s not a lot to do other than the beach.

 

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Gerard and Martin meet on the beach

And for Gerard, a little beach goes a long way! Our room is quite spacious with a table to work at. He applies the same focus to his writing as he does to his painting. In the afternoon, with jazz playing through the portable external speaker of the laptop, it’s as if he’s replaced his studio in the basement back home with our room here. When I’m not playing the role of editor, I walk the beach looking for interesting shells, sometimes with our adopted dog, Blackie.

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Sitting on the verandah in the cool of the early morning we discuss the writing over our large mugs of chai. This is our favorite time of the day. Eventually, we stop talking long enough to make our breakfast: fruit, curd and chia seed.

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Gerard’s just getting over a cold and worried it was going to settle into one of his epic coughs. I on the other hand, suddenly and inexplicably woke up deaf in one ear the day we arrived here on the train. When I got down, the platform was spongy and my balance unsteady. At first, sensitive to music or any loud sound, my ear settled in to just being deaf. Our kindly landlord offered to go to the market with us to see a homeopathic doctor and do some shopping as well.

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He is the only doctor in the market (which in all practical sense is the town) meaning the locals have no choice but to rely on homeopathy. His office is up a flight of rickety wooden stairs. In a dark room, an elderly gentleman sits at a large desk covered with small vials and papers. First, he treats Gerard, asking him a lot of unrelated questions to his cough, such as, “Why did you become a vegetarian?” Some of you may know the story of Gerard at sixteen, at Easter, looking in the fridge at leftover turkey and seeing a dead bird, rather than something to eat. The doctor and Martin both listen attentively, neither of them is pure veg but the doctor responds, “OK, now I understand.” He turns around and takes a small vial of pellets from the cupboard behind him, adds a few drops and hands them to Gerard. Then he turns to me. He asks what kind of work I did, looks at my tongue, and says, “Don’t worry, the deafness is not permanent, just some inflammation.” We wonder how he can be so sure. He doesn’t look in my ear and I don’t think he has the instrument to do it anyway. He prescribes me my own vial of pellets. A week later, I’m still deaf. But Gerard’s cough has gone. To his credit, this doctor is the first to treat his cough successfully after all our years in India.

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A young Russian couple has joined us at the guesthouse. They’re not the vodka drinking rowdy Russians. In our experience, there’s two types and they fall into the more mellow, yoga group.

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He’s Armenian, living in Moscow and making films, now one set in India. She organizes photo shoots and used to work for Playboy Magazine in Moscow before it folded three years ago. She admits she cried when Hefner died! They both think Putin is good to control the thugs still in the Kremlin. But they have reservation about his foreign policy. They spend their days on the beach and via a Royal Enfield, evenings in northern Goa. So we don’t see much of them. But on their last day, Gerard suggested we have lunch together at our one and only local restaurant. Always curious to hear the Russian perspective we talk for three hours over a special feast supplied by our cook.

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We all end up agreeing we can’t believe what we hear on the news and the government is hoodwinking us on both sides of the boundary. After talking to them, it’s the second time we’ve heard that the Russian government controls the weather. It’s habitually rainy and grey but the sun always shines brightly for the May Day parade.

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Gerard doesn’t care much for celebrating his birthday so it’s not mentioned. But today, I let it slip out at lunch to Bonnie the cook, who said, “Wonderful, I’ll make carrot halvah.” When we arrived for dinner, there was not only halvah but a big chocolate cake also. Bonnie told Gerard, “You’re like my father, I do the same for his birthday.” His helper, Reagan, photographed as we sang Happy Birthday, followed with another version asking for God’s blessing, and Gerard blew out the candles. It was all very sweet.

Leaving at 7 am the next morning, Bonnie insisted on getting up early and making us chai and stuffed parathas for the two-hour train journey to Goa. While we waited for the hired rickshaw, Martin, Bonnie, and Reagan all chatted with us and then waved goodbye. Among the many send-offs we’ve had in India, this was one of the best.

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A Narrow Escape to India

Just one day before the “bomb cyclone” swooped up the coast and left 15 inches of snow on the city we got out of Boston. The following day the airport was closed. But we got caught up in our own whirlwind that eventually got us on our flight from NYC to India, but for 18 hours it looked bleak. Virgin Atlantic notified us of a small change in the schedule, but one which made our tight layover in NYC yet tighter. Even the slightest delay of our 6 am flight leaving Boston would be cause for alarm. And if we did make the connection, we worried our bags wouldn’t – our train schedule in India wouldn’t allow us to wait for them to catch up with us.

So we decided to take a bus to NYC and stay overnight in a hotel at the airport and pick up the next leg of our journey at JFK the following morning. We threw everything together and managed to book what looked like the last two seats on the next bus to Manhattan. With little time to spare, we tried to get through to the airline to notify them we wouldn’t be boarding the plane in Boston, but the wait time was too long and we had no cell phone service. Nothing to do but leave and call again when we reached NYC. To cut a long story short, this was a BIG mistake.

Going straight to the airline desk at JFK, we learned it was not just a simple matter of notifying the airline staff in Boston we wouldn’t be taking the flight the next morning. Because we weren’t using the first leg of the flight, we were told our entire ticket could be canceled and we might not be allowed to board any other plane! They do not like no-shows. We could try buying new tickets for the next two legs of the journey (JFK to London and London to Delhi) IF there were available seats and at today’s inflated price. There would also be a penalty for not boarding the Boston flight even if we could get through to the airline and tell them beforehand. Further, the rep said, you’ll have to take this up with Chase, who’d booked the tickets. NOT very helpful. (We purchased the tickets from Chase credit card services using frequent flyer miles.)

At the hotel we reached Chase, only to be told they couldn’t do anything because their computer system was down. Without pulling up our record, they couldn’t even call and let Delta know we wouldn’t be on the flight in the morning. “Call back in two hours,” the rep said. We considered turning around and going back to Boston in time to board the flight in the morning. Too late for the airline shuttle, a limo service would still be cheaper than the potential cost of rebooking. But already exhausted, we decided to persevere with Chase. Throughout the night we continued to call every two hours, setting the alarm and trying to snatch sleep in between, only to be told the computer system was still down. Finally, we gave up and headed to the airport early, resigned for whatever fate awaited us. After a lengthy explanation to one of the Virgin Atlantic reps, she shrugged her shoulders and said,”You’re here now, you should just go ahead and check in.” And we did – with no interrogation. Thanks to busy phone lines, downed computers, and unhelpful help desks, we were able to pick up our flight using our existing tickets after all. With relief, I sank into my plane seat and finally relaxed. We were back on track for India!

The rest of the journey flowed smoothly and soon we were back in India in all its craziness, noise and unpredictability. Familiar but still exciting. Aware of how close we came to missing this moment, I loved it all the more. Ravi and Swarn made us feel at home in their new house on the outskirts of Gurgaon. A new development, it was so quiet at night with not even a barking dog, that it was hard to believe we were in India.

india 17 (164)The next day we visited Kamal and Bhushan’s, the house was especially full with Shruti and Arvind and their two daughters, who’ve moved back from Bangalore to Delhi. New baby,Tanya, is so cute and lovable.

P1040623The mood was joyful, no one felt crowded, just happy to all be together again. We turn up every eight months – more mouths to feed – but they always make us feel welcome and ready to take care of whatever our needs.fullsizeoutput_1c0Once again the family came to our aid in getting our cell phone activated. The government is now tracking and linking all electronic activity on different devices which has made it increasingly difficult to get a SIM card. All kinds of identification and verification are required including fingerprinting. It’s possible for a foreigner to get a SIM but it involves documentation – which we had, but it can take days – which we didn’t have. Our train tickets south were booked for the following day. Ravi and Bhushan took off for the Airtel store and came back an hour later with our SIM card!

The next morning we called Uber on our newly activated iPhone; The driver arrived almost immediately and skillfully navigated the traffic across town to the train station in plenty of time for us to catch the Rajdhani Express to Shiroda Beach. It really is an Express – not in terms of speed, but the number of station stops. On our 24 hour ride, ours was only the 5th stop. And there’s complimentary meals; for train food, it’s not bad. We took off exactly on time and were a mere one hour late in arriving. As my friend back in the US says, “You two are charmed!”