Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fisherman's Cove // The Photos

The film from our glorious and refreshing trip to the beach (the swim-able beach) in February. Words here.










Saturday, April 5, 2014

Honeymoon Over?

It is Saturday and I am sitting in my office. It is completely silent save the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, the dull hum of the flourescent lights overhead, the clatter of a wrench at the bottom of the tool box as three men tinker with machinery at the other end of the room, the sounds of the traffic, omnipresent, outside. Okay, so maybe it is not completely silent, but this room gets loud during the work week, so, relatively speaking, it seems silent.

I have to work today. The sun is shining. Elise is at home, struggling alone against the daily travails of raising three children. She called a few minutes ago to tell me that after she had packed everyone up to go to the pool, then had to turn right back around and go home, because Clementine threw a temper trantrum for not getting to open her banana by herself. Wow. I should be glad I'm here, away from the insanity, but I hate those calls, because they make me feel so completely and utterly powerless. There is literally nothing I can do to make anyone feel better. To say "I'm sorry" feels so hollow and ineffectual, and it is.

To my amazement, some of my colleagues come to work of their volition on a Saturday. Even those with kids. Again, wow. No words. I have to be here. What's their excuse?

The days are growing longer and hotter. Summer is almost here. We cling desperately to the fair weather that greeted us upon our arrival, only to feel it slipping through our fingers. Unable to stomach one more run on the treadmill, I ran outside at lunch earlier this week. Actually, it was my knee that protested. On the treadmill it only goes in one direction at one speed. It called to me to take a corner, go up a hill. The mercury hit 89. It felt hotter, but I was glad I did it, not knowing when I would get to do it again.

When we first arrived in India everyone told us, "Oh...just you wait...", remarking on how pleasant the weather was then and warning Elise and I of the heat to come. We brushed them off. We'd been warned before. This wasn't the first time someone told us to "wait and see". We'd received similar warnings before we had Sam and again before we had Peter. By the time we had Clementine, I guess most people figured we could handle it and stopped warning us.

We thought we could handle the summer, too. We'll see. We're not off to a good start.

The hottest part of the day comes after the sun goes down. The breeze dies. The mosquitos swarm overhead. Bats fly from their daytime roosts and are slow moving silouhettes against the violet sky, like Gotham City. A few nights ago, I peered under the hood of our Honda CRV, myself, our driver, Sundar, and the mechanic, having the most circular conversation in a cruel amalgamation of English and Tamil, until I broke out into a full sweat from the heat and had to go inside, as much from the frustration of the conversation as the heat. I wasn't sure if I was relieved or disappointed that the mechanic had put electrical tape around the power steering fluid tube and called it a 'repair'.

India is a complex place. Elise calls them layers, and we share our frustrations of being at the same time endlessly enchanted and perturbed.

In my work, people will say you go through phases when you arrive at a new assignment. The initial phase is the honeymoon phase when everything is new and wonderful and interesting. During the last phase, you are already making prepartions to depart the country. Your body and belongings are still there, even if your mind has moved on. Somewhere in between, the grind of daily life settles in. The honeymoon wears off. This never happened to us in Brazil. Much like our own relationship, our love for Brazil grew deeper and more involved with time.

I don't know if our honeymoon with India is over. Sometimes I think Elise and I hang on by a thread. Our lives are baffingly complex, wonderfully so. Between my work, her business, three children, keeping track of two schools, domestic staff, moving from country to country, thinking about our next assignment overseas, it seems that even the slightest shift in routine can send the entire train careening off the tracks. This may have just been what happened when Clementine got lice.

Yes. Lice.

The next few months will be interesting. It will get hotter. Sam will finish kindergarten. Maybe Clementine will start using the baby potty more. Maybe Peter will stop sneaking out of his room at the crack of down and raid my wallet for rupee notes.

One thing is for sure. I won't have to work on Saturday again.

Layers

I've started a thousand blogs in the past few weeks, to tell you that I've felt like I was on the edge of something great, standing on solid ground looking out over answers; Like peering off of the edge of a scenic overlook into the many layers of earth the are cut into the walls of the Grand Canyon, yet grasping for understanding of how and why it got this way. I guess I didn't think I'd arrive at the scenic overlook of India and understand, but I also didn't think I'd be so overwhelmed.

Like standing at a the edge of the Grand Canyon won’t unearth stories of it’s beginnings, standing on the edge of India would never give you answers. You'd always remain safe, comfortable and absolutely ignorant.  You could study it layer by layer, and you should, but in order to understand anything, you have to sometimes become it, if only for a moment, a year or even -I fear- a lifetime. 

People wait for years to raft the Grand Canyon. They pay a year's salary to feel that thing they’d never feel standing miles above it, safely behind the guard-rails, reading the Cliff notes on a plaque. In order to feel fear, to understand it, you’ve got to first be scared.

You must enter the rapids.

I arrived here with feet firmly on the ground, head in the clouds, just like usual, but instead of unearthing answers from the horizon down, I walked straight to the boat, put on my helmet and paddled straight for the white water. 

You may have seen me in the crowd. 



A jovial bunch of Gentlemen that I laugh with, and with whom I share technical and creative inspiration and information, posed neatly on the streets of Chennai. They feed me with knowledge of their home, I take a million photos and sometimes I take none. Sometimes the lesson for the day lies within the conversation and in the camaraderie. It isn’t always comfortable, the things we see. I've wanted to fight it, to close my eyes tightly and pretend it wasn’t there, but I’ve learned, instead, to let my body be limp and I roll with the rapids. 

These men and my camera are my river guides. They’ve all traveled this way before. They know where the rocks are to be avoided and they know which ones will cause a thrill. They also know that the more I know the more I’ll understand. Without them, without my camera I’d never get as close to truth as I do, but coming close to the largest boulders in the river means having your body and mind tossed about quite a bit and the exhaustion of it all has begun to catch up with me and I ache for a bit of a lull. A summer break of sorts.

My experience in India has been quite different than Paul’s. It was always meant to be and just as I suspected I'd have a hard time shaking some of the images that I’ve captured in my mind - se’er of all things wonderful and beautiful. It is in fact what makes India the beautiful, painful, wonderful, heartbreaking place that it is. To see one, you can not forsake the other.

I try to tell Paul all about my adventures – with words- when I return, but I don’t think he really understands what’s eating me when I finally rest safely on the shore at the end of each Sunday, but I'm sure he's glad I'm home. He's also glad I've gone, because he knows that without exploring India the way I do, I'll never feel I've given it my best. I’ve brushed too closely with death to not feel incredibly relieved, lucky and absolutely confused about why I deserve this life and others don’t. I’m overwhelmed by the need to help and paralyzed by the enormity of the situation. He recently admitted, only after seeing my photographs, that he feels where I’ve been.

One small step.

And so I’ve done the only thing I think I can do, I've developed a thirst for knowledge and a thirst to create images that is as difficult to quench as my thirst for water on a hot day. My head aches with pieces of a puzzle that are too slowly falling together. I flip each piece over one-by-one, image-by-image, to reveal the colors backed only by their recognizable cardboard, files in my inbox emails from my lab, images of India created with so much heart that I am desperate to use in a meaningful way. Only then does it all begin to make the slightest bit of sense. I don’t imagine I’ll finish compiling all the pieces in just two years and that in itself, makes me ache for more. 


I know I’ve said it before, but I've got to believe that I've come here for something, it may not at all be related to what I am creating photographically, but God how I wish it will be, because only in these photographs can I begin to understand this place and to share my experience. Only in analyzing each layer of red earth revealed on the canyon walls, each fossil pressed by time, can I process the whole. By tasting each spice, understanding it’s use and from where comes. By eating with my friends, in their homes and at their tables, by photographing raw ingredients and living completed meals can I truly live India and share it truthfully and completely with the world.  

To live a little bit of India for yourself, through my eyes, please visit my photography blog  // www.elisehanna.com/blog 

To purchase prints please visit my "India" gallery showcase here //  http://elisehanna.com.instaproofs.com/


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Regrets

I don’t have a lot of regrets. Certainly not about anything important. I might regret having eaten one too many pieces of pizza last night or having sucked down one beer too many, but I don’t regret getting married, moving overseas, or having children. Thank God, because if I did, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am, and this would be a very, very different blog.

I don’t exactly know why, but I had recently been thinking about regrets. Instead of wishing ardently that my life had taken a different course, I thought about how the things I had once regretted doing helped me become the person I am today. I could not be more thrilled with my life or feel more blessed. I know it nauseates people to hear that, but it is true. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined marrying a more amazing woman, living in India, or being so fortunate as to have such bright and articulate children.

I was voted most likely to succeed by my high school classmates. I was captain of the swim team, president of the National Honor Society, and headed to Johns Hopkins to study medicine. Objectively, I was a safe bet. But soon after arriving at Hopkins, I developed shoulder pain that plagued me for the next three seasons and almost the entirety of my collegiate swimming career and failed freshman Chem, thereby derailing my dream of being a medical doctor. It wouldn’t be the first time I would have to regroup and reassess.

By the time I had graduated college, I was waiting tables and vainly attempting to forge a career writing fiction. I spent most of my time in beer-sopped Irish bars in the darkest and hottest parts of downtown West Palm Beach. I won’t go into the gruesome, self-absorbed details of what happened between 1994 and today. I will just say that my road to success—as it often is for many—was not clear or direct. There was no freeway.

I am not sure how success is defined in high school, or whether my high school peers would find me successful now. I am most certainly not making the most money of anyone who graduated from Jupiter High School in 1990. But I do not regret not having applied myself more in Chemistry. I feel successful in my own way.  

When I was a small boy, my dad used to make me go to guitar lessons in the back of small un-air conditioned music shop on Park Ave. in Lake Park. The place was musty and smelled like old books. Stacks of yellowing sheet music littered the counters. I was taught by an old, extremely patient man who reminded me of my grandfather, Jidu, who passed away when I was also a young boy. He had large, thick, leathery hands, just like Jidu’s, and a warm, patient smile. You would have thought the smile deprecating if you didn’t know how patient he was.

The sad part of this story is I didn’t learn how to play guitar. At all. I goofed off during every class so much that no instruction ever took place. I was completely wasting my dad’s money and this man’s time. It was, for a very long time, the one thing that I regretted more than anything else: not having taken those lessons more seriously.

So, shortly after I graduated from college and moved back in with my mom, then my dad, then my mom again, before sharing an apartment with a co-worker’s cousin in Chasewood, I went to Jupiter Music on Maplewood and signed up for lessons.

I learned to read music. I learned chords. I learned to play the opening rift of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”.

When I moved to Boulder, I took my guitar with me. I signed up for more lessons at Woodsong Music on Pearl St. There, I learned to improvise jam the blues and jazz chords. I taught myself how to play a dozen Dave Matthews’ songs.

In Colorado, I played the guitar all the time in the basement of our townhouse. For hours, I would just play to myself with joy and zeal and I was chasing away regret, playing it away.

Growing up, I asked my mom to buy me silly things. I remember owning a pair of bright pink jeans. Before buying them, my mom asked me if I would ever wear them. I told her I would, but never did, and they hung in my closet for years, fading. I asked her to buy me a Casio keyboard. She reminded me about the guitar lessons and asked if I planned in taking piano lessons. I never did. When we were living in Texas, she took me to a toy store to buy a Christmas present for my younger brother, Josh. I bought three G.I. Joe figures. She asked me if he really liked G.I. Joe, and I insisted that he did. Shortly after we returned home, I broke down and admitted I bought them for myself.

For one or two seasons, I was an assistant swim coach for a high school team. I drove one of the team van’s back from a swim meet in Orlando full of teenagers. One of the girls had to go to the bathroom, but I never pulled the van over. This was before the proliferation of cell phones, and I was afraid of losing the caravan. Not that I couldn’t find my way home. I made her hold it the whole way back.

I immediately felt terrible once we pulled into the parking lot of the school and I watched her hobble off to the restroom. I ran into her years later in a bar and I told her I regretted not having let her go to the bathroom. She forgave me, but I still learned an important lesson, one that would come to serve me well later in life. No trip is worth taking if you can’t go to the bathroom. And this patience would serve me well with children, and road trips would become less about the destination and more about the journey itself. With bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, ice cream cone breaks, feeding breaks, and just run around breaks, travelling with kids is all about the journey.


So I felt regret and learned from it. I used it to make me a better person. Regret can be useful, too. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Gan's Cereal

When I was in fifth grade, my brothers and I went to visit my grandparents, Nanny and Gan, in Manville, Texas. They had built a small house there, near my Uncle Charlie, after moving from Chalmette, Louisiana to the small town on the outskirts of Houston.

There, standing on a small bridge that spanned a shallow creek, my mom told the three of us that she and my dad were getting a divorce. We wouldn't go back to Florida, but spend most of fifth grade and all of six grade there, living with Nanny and Gan.

It was mostly a happy time. I don't ever remember being sad. I don't know what other divorces are like, but my parents' was seemingly without conflict. At least, from my vantage point. Perhaps, a lot of conflict raged behind the scenes, but my brothers and I were never privy to it. Both my mom and dad did a very good job of shielding us from any conflict. If it was ever there. Like I said, I imagine it was, I simply don't know.

Most of my memories of Manvel and living with Nanny and Gan were good ones...going to Astroworld, high school football games with Uncle Charlie under the Friday night lights, visiting our cousins in Sugarland, going to country-western bars and eating Nanny's pancakes and biscuits.

I do remember my younger brothers and I flying from Texas to Florida as unaccompanied minors. It is the only time I remember wanting to cry. But I don't know if I did or not. Josh and Carlie were crying, so I might not have. It wasn't because we were sad, I think, just scared.

This isn't a blog post about my childhood or divorce. Quite the opposite. There aren't a lot of memories of my parents fighting (if they ever did), because I honestly don't remember a time they lived together. So, in my mind, there are no instance of them together, happy or otherwise. Only memories of them as distinct individuals. Separate.

This is a blog post about granola.

Gan's favorite cereal was Quaker Oats Granola.


Soon, it became my favorite cereal, too, and I always referred to it as Gan's cereal.

In Brazil, I somewhat foolishly and environmentally-incorrectly ordered it on Amazon to have it shipped to us even though perfectly good granola was available locally.

Elise does a lot of nice things for me. It's taken some getting used to. I wasn't very good at dating and got used to not having anyone except my mom do nice things for me. Girlfriends (as few and far between as they were) certainly didn't. They just broke hearts.

But Elise does. And, perhaps because I still have trouble accepting all the nice things she does for me, I call everything she does the nicest thing she does for me, when, in truth, it is just one of many very nice things she does for me.

Elise makes granola for me weekly, and it is the nicest thing she does for me. It's really good granola, too. Way better than Gan's cereal. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The World's Greatest Apology

Back in December, Elise and I went on one of our first date nights in India.

It wasn't our very first. That night I remember well. We walked a short distance from our home and flagged down an auto. Though we were only going a block or so away, to the Sheraton, we were still too trepidatious to cross the street. This didn't make us pansies. Crossing the street is not easy to do in India. It is like the most dangerous game of Frogger ever, because there is never a pause in the traffic. So, instead of waiting for a break in the flow of cars, motorcycles, buses, water trucks, bicycles, cows and water buffalo you kind of have to just take a leap of faith, hold your breath, step out into the street and pray. 

We can do this now. We couldn't in December. So we flagged down an auto to take us a block and half. When we told the rickshaw driver where we wanted to go, he gave us the noncommittal Indian head bobble. Did he know where we wanted to go? Did he understand us? Did he know where the Sheraton was? The head bobble said both yes and no at the same time. So, unsure what to do, we got in. 

Come to find out....he didn't know where he was going. After driving a kilometer or so in the wring direction, he banked the auto into a crowd of men in dhotis eating vada straight from the frying pan at a roadside cart. They barked at each other in Tamil, and the men sent us on our way. When I called, "Nundree! (Thank you!)" back to them, they giggled as though to say look at the white man speak Tamil. 

We finally found the Sheraton and after overpaying for the auto ride, Elise and I walked hand-in-hand to the palatial hotel. There was a giant man in a red turban standing next to a metal detector at the hotel's grand entrance. He had a towering, bright red turban on his head, and an imposing scimitar at his waist, and the broadest, bushiest mustache I had ever seen in my life. The tips of his mustache curled and touched the tips of his earlobes, and disbelievingly grew even bigger when he smiled. 

Inside, Elise and I found a sitting room, and I ordered a Kingfisher and she a dirty vodka martini up. There was an old-fashioned rotary phone on an end table. We had a view of the pool lit for night swimming, and an Asian woman soon stepped up to the mike and began strumming a guitar and singing a song I didn't recognize, maybe Sheryl Crow. It was perfectly British Colonial and perfectly Indian. 

A few weeks later, we ventured to the rooftop bar at the Raintree. There, the twinkling lights of the village spread out before us, punctuated by the occasional, violet-lit facade of a five-star hotel. There, too, the constant bleating of traffic was dimmer fifteen stories below, but not entirely gone. Fireworks went off for seemingly no other reason than to celebrate date night. I thought I could almost see the Bay of Bengal as a black hole on the horizon.

After ordering grilled chicken tandoori my cellphone rang. Of course I answered it, thinking it could be Shanti, our babysitter. 

It wasn't. It was the owner of the car rental company we had been using since our arrival in Chennai. I could barely understand him. It sounded like he was calling us from a party. Moreover, he sounded drunk, and I doubt I could have understood him if he were stone-cold sober, but what I did make out was disturbing. He was trying to tell us that Sundar, our driver, was mad and that he was going to quit after the New Year. After hanging up on him, I tried not to let this distressing news ruin our night, but it was hard. 

The following Monday, Elise and I confronted Sundar. If he was unhappy working for us we wanted to know. I didn't want someone who was mad at us driving my family around town. Come to find out through a very difficult conversation that, looking back, I really only half understood, he wasn't mad at all. His coworkers at the car rental company were expecting me to give Sundar a gift, a bonus, candy, I'm not sure what, for Christmas and they were expecting Sundar to bring it back to the office and share it with them, and when that didn't happen they decided to call me and heckle me about it. 

After finally figuring out where the breakdown in communication had been, Sundar began to insist, "Everybody happy. Everything no problem." And then, he got down on his knees and started patting my legs and toes, apologizing. 

I told Sundar he didn't have to do that. I was embarrassed and touched at the same time, but I couldn't get him back on his feet. 

It has not always been smooth sailing with Sundar. We went through a period when he insisted on calling Peter "Crane". We couldn't figure out what it meant or why he did it. Our only theory was that Peter is a "Christian" name. Anyway, we didn't like it and put an end to it. Then, there are a the times when Clementine is crying in the car, and Sundar eggs her on by offering her a lollipop we don't have. Yeah, not super-helpful that time, Sundar. 

But four months after our arrival in Chennai, we were finally able to buy our own car, a 2002 Honda CRV that leaks oil and has a mini-Ganesha on the dash. It is always filled with mosquitoes but at least it is ours. When we got our own car, we asked Mr. Sundar to continue on as our driver. He negotiated hard, but we were able to hire him away from his rental car company. He seems happier, and, as always, "Everything no problem. You coming. You staying, Everything no problem."


Friday, March 28, 2014

2:40

Usually, I am the one that gets to greet Clementine when she wakes up in the morning. She is now in her own room, so sometimes sleeps in a few minutes later than her brothers. When her mom goes to yoga in the mornings, I listen for her stirring in her crib.

When I lift her from her crib, I say, "Good morning," and she always says "Good morning" back. I ask her if she slept well and she always replies, "Yes."

The other morning, I had come downstairs to start breakfast, and Elise got to wake Clem up. Downstairs, in the kitchen, not yet having had the opportunity to ask Clementine how she slept, I asked, "Did you sleep good last night?"

"Yes."

"Do you feel rested?"

"Yes." (around pacie implanted firmly in mouth)

"Are you ready to tackle the day?"

"Pooped."

I took that as a yes.

Clementine recently received birthday gifts from her grandparents in Cheney. They haven't seen her in awhile, but they know her too well.

Immediately upon opening the gifts, she put her hair up into a pony tail with the new pink hair ties she received. She put the Minnie Mouse head band in her air and asked me to put her watch on which she calls a "timer".

Then, she proceeded to inform us all that it was 2:40. It stayed 2:40 for the next several hours. I wish it could be 2:40 forever.