Saturday, December 27, 2014

The K

I feel bad that Elise had to toot her own horn in the last post. The fact of the matter is, she just beat me to it.

As 2014 draws to a close, and the curtain on 2015 is about to go up, I truly feel that Elise has come into her own as both an artist and businesswoman. She has been working her butt off for the past year, building her brand, her network, and her portfolio, creating a brilliant and inspired body of work.

India is not the hardest place to live in the world, but it's not the easiest either. A lot of people we know don't hack it. India chews them up and spits them out. They spend most of their two years here hiding in their apartments, biding their time. It would have been very easy for Elise to do the same, to point to her commitments as a mother and a wife as an excuse to hide within the four walls of our home, sealed off from the rigors and the beauty of India.

What I am most proud of is that she took India head on. She hit the ground running and never looked back. Anyone who really knows Elise knows that for her there was no other way, still it is a fact worth noting. Elise knows India waaaay better than I do. Though I talk to hundreds of Indians every day in my work, I rarely get out into the streets like she does every weekend and every day. She meanders the city's streets, camera in hand, and sees, hears and smells the real India.

As you read in the last post, I am not the only one recognizing her talent and dedication, and her audience is growing.

The photos that appear in the sidebar of this blog come from a website called, Instagram. It is a place for members to share photos with one another. Elise is best positioned to explain the importance of Instagram in commercial and fine art photography. I think of it as a mouthpiece, every photo she posts to Instagram is seen by not only me, my mom, and a bunch of Elise's friends, but also, possibly, an editor at Conde Nast, a writer at National Geographic, or a New York Times contributor.

A few weeks ago, Elise emailed me excitedly at work (yes, it is possible to write and send an email excitedly!!!). She had just been selected by Instagram as a Suggested User. The website had recognized her body of work as especially worthy of following. Prior to this recognition, Elise had 2,600 "followers", people who subscribed to her Instagram feed and saw her photos every day. After this recognition, she saw her audience soar.

We started to check the number daily. She told me one day that her goal was, "The K."

"The K?"

"When you get to 10,000 followers, you get the K."

10k.

Elise is now up to 21.2k.

She basically adds a k every 24 hours. I am mind-blown, amazed, and insanely proud that more than 20,000 people get to look at her work every day. And can't help but wonder who might be in that audience of 20,000. Where will the next big break come from?

Last Saturday night, Elise and I stopped for a drink at the bar in the lobby at the Raintree on St. Mary's Road on our way to the office Christmas party. It had been only a few days since she had become a Suggested User, but I felt like I was in the presence of someone different. There was an aura about her, a sense of confidence that only comes from the external validation of one's work. I can tell her a thousand times that her time and money are not wasted in this pursuit, and while I know my words are important, they do not measure to the words of people who actually know what they are talking about. I would tell Elise she was great even if her photos sucked. Fortunately, they don't, and I am not a liar.

But not only is she more confident, I am somewhat tickled that she still makes time for me, that I am still important. I feel, too, the expectations an audience of 20k people must have, and how Elise must feel trying to meet their expectations, to prove to Instagram and her fans that their recognition of her was not made in error. She now has to live up to the hype. As I never doubted she would be recognized, I certainly do not doubt she will meet and exceed her new audience's expectations.

It is easy to say at the beginning of any year that it is going to be a big year, but I think that is especially true of this coming one. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Exhibit A & B


There comes a time in every artists life when all her hard work is recognized, she hopes that happens before she dies and not after as is often the case. I wanted to be an artist, a maker and a creator for as long as I can remember. I'd pick flowers in the yard and make pencil drawings of them, I'd turn those same flower petals into rose perfume in the sun, I drew self portraits, wrote stories and I dreamed of art school. I dropped out of University to make it happen. I was never sure of anything except that if I didn't create I wouldn't ever be happy. I took the long road, one I'm still traveling, but I am proud to say that I think I'm making it happen.

Exhibit A

Last week I was asked, along with my friend Ed Malcik, by our new Consular General to exhibit our collection of Chennai photographs which we've dedicated ourselves to in the past year. It isn't always the case that the spouses of Diplomats are recognized for our sacrifice, but moreover for our success in these crazy situations and we have to make our own way once we are at post. We scream a lot to be heard as artists in a new place, but Mr. Phillip Min recognized us right away and for that I am so very grateful. I displayed nearly 20 photographs in his residence for a private gathering of some of some important names in the city and people who greatly appreciated the show. I could not have been more pleased with the response and hope to begin work on the Chennai book I've been dreaming of for the past year. 




Exhibit B

I was also recently published in an arts and culture quarterly magazine called majestic disorder which you can purchase here. I was asked to provide an interview about my life here in Chennai as a film photographer and as a artist and submit some of my favorite photos which span the pages of the magazine. I have so much more in the works so stay tuned and keep up to date at www.elisehanna.com/blog when you can.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Report Card


A Stitch

Last weekend, Elise and I took the kids to a holiday party hosted by Sam's school at the Westin in Velacherry. We had gone to the same event last year and had a blast. We had arrived in India only a few weeks before. Everything was still new and we didn't have any of our own stuff yet. It didn't feel much like the holidays (Christmas is understandably not that big a deal in India) so were grateful for an international hotel with a giant Christmas tree and Santa's village set up in the lobby. We had also yet to fully realize that the international hotels were--not only the only places one could get a drink or a glass of wine in town--but peaceful oases among the chaos of Chennai.

We met a lot of other Americans living in Chennai but not affiliated with the Consulate community which was refreshing and a treat. (I am fascinated by the types of work that move people globally and how they make the move without the same support system my work provides us.) The kids got to decorate Christmas cookies and wrap presents. The food was good and there was mulled wine. They saw Santa, and Elise and I won a cake, a goodie basket, and a free date night in the raffle.

The week leading up to the party was especially hectic. Though Elise and I had a relaxing weekend in Mumbai without the kids, I had to stay in Mumbai for the week for work. When I got back to Chennai, we had trouble negotiating the fine ballet that is work, school and family. It seemed as though neither of us could catch our breath. Even the morning of the party, I was short with the kids, unable to get them to listen to anything I was saying without yelling.

But as soon as we started getting ready for the party--and especially as Sundar drove us to the hotel--our mood became more festive; we had all been looking forward to this evening.

When we arrived, I got a beer and Elise a glass of wine, and the kids immediately got started decorating Christmas cookies. A short while later, dinner was served and it was even better than I remembered from last year (they served beef tenderloin!). Like last year, too, we met new friends from the U.S. who had a young son Peter's ago who might be in his kindergarten class next year.

But as the evening wore on, we soon realized that there would be no Santa and no raffle. Though still fun, the evening wasn't quite the same as it was last year. We were getting ready to leave, and Elise was exchanging contact information with her new friend. Their son was jumping on the booth behind us. His dad, sitting at a table several feet away had just told him to settle down--something we constantly tell the boys to do at home so that we don't have to tell them the same thing when we are out. He jumped up and tried to grab a decorative metal divider separating the two tables, but the divider was not fastened to the back of the booth and he pulled it down on top of himself.

The divider hit him on the head and cut him on the forehead. There was blood everywhere. His mother became distraught. The boy was wailing in pain; and our kids went white. The wait staff rushed to attend to the boy, but didn't know what to do to help. The mother began to grow hysterical. She asked if there were a doctor on staff. The wait staff looked at each other. The manager shook his head. Elise got up to help, but there was little she could do.

"Do they have a driver?" I asked her to ask them. "They need to go to the hospital."

Meanwhile, still several feet away, the father had not moved. He did not get up to see if his son was okay. He finished his glass of wine while I broke out into a cold sweat.

When he finished his wine, he got up and walked over to the table where his son lay on the booth crying. He took one look and said, "Yeah. That'll need a stitch." Then went back to his table and sat down.

The wait staff finally carried him away. Elise consoled the woman, telling her how resilient children were and that he would be fine.

Someone asked the father if his wife would be okay. "You know how mothers are," he told them.

Elise received a text message later that night. He had needed a stitch. Two, in fact.

We were flabbergasted by the father's complete lack of interest in his son's welfare. Yes, he was going to be fine, but only if the dad stepped up and took control of the situation. I still do not know if he ever did. Elise wondered if the woman later kicked her husband in the nuts for his lack of response.

Our children had been well behaved all evening, and I told Elise that that couldn't have happened to one of our kids because we drill into them the importance of proper behavior when we go out. Elise corrected me, however. The boy wasn't acting that crazy, and the divider had not been attached; it could have very easily been one of our kids. I was grateful it wasn't.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Letters to Santa






Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tiny Titans

I am currently in Mumbai for working, learning how the same job I do in Chennai is done here. I was excited to come to Mumbai; it was a place I really wanted to visit while we were in India, and while our weekend in Colaba was wonderful, the work week has brought homesickness. I miss Chennai.

On Sunday afternoon, I dropped Elise off at the airport. As I kissed her goodbye in front of the domestic terminal and the cab pulled away from the airport, I was immediately saddened. I wanted to go back to Chennai with her. Sometimes, it takes getting away from the incessant chaos to remind oneself that lying beneath the din layer there are smart, funny, and kind children making all that noise.

I found the apartment in which I would be staying, a bachelor’s pad (not mine) in Bandra West, a tree-lined neighborhood that was supposedly home to several Bollywood stars. According to locals, it had at one time been characterized by quaint bungalows decaying before one's eyes beneath the effects of several decades--if not centuries--of  monsoons. Those were now, however, being snatched up by hungry real estate developers and demolished. Modern residential high-rise towers were now rising from their ashes.

I was unimpressed with my new home. I didn’t like the idea of staying in someone else’s apartment, but I tried to think of it as an Air BnB. Which was hard to do with poop in the toilet, dirty dishes in the sink, and laundry strewn over the furniture. I walked to the market and bought a fifteen dollar jar of peanut butter and a bunch of bananas, along with six bottles of Kingfisher. I vowed to eat well this week, but it has been hard. I am ashamed that I have become less self-sufficient than I was when I was single.

By far the highlight of the week has been my morning runs. Sunday night, I slept no more than three hours, but I still got myself up at a quarter to five to go running. Surprisingly, there was less traffic on the cobblestone streets of Mumbai at this hour than there was in Chennai. No cows munched trash on the side of the road, though I did hear a rooster crow from inside a dark and seemingly abandoned building. I ran under the full moon, the morning surprisingly cool. I ran west to the Arabian sea and found a promenade that hugged the edge of the land.

Eventually, the promenade ended, spitting me out into a fishing village. Sleeping auto rickshaws lined the road, and out of each one stuck a pair of bare feet. I heard the occasional snore as I ran by. I watched as villagers tip-toed over the rocks into the sea to bathe or go to the bathroom, holding their cellphones in front of them to light the way. A hundred tiny emerald lights floated above the water like a cloud of fireflies.

After my run, I made coffee, showered, and got ready for work. I called home and talked to Sam. He had gone to library and checked out two new books, Star Wars and Tiny Titans, fittingly titled. I wished I could read them with him.

I know getting outside of one’s comfort zone is good. It keeps one mentally nimble. But I traded efficiency in the office for a chance to come to Mumbai. The systems and processes are different, sometimes in simple, surprisingly frustrating ways. The office is located in a new industrial location, an office park built on top of a filled-in swamp that is now like a desert, treeless, lifeless and far, far from any urban amenities. It’s not easy to go for a lunchtime run from my office, smack-dab in the most bustling part of Chennai, but here it would be impossible.

The office itself is enormous and so new and modern as to be sterile and without character. In Chennai, our building is old. We trip over each other. We hear each other’s conversations, and our cubicles are practically stacked on top of one another, but in that there is charm, and the lack of space necessitates we get along. This room is as big as a football stadium. But they do have a nice gym with three working treadmills and a commissary that stocks $12 bottles of Absolut.

I am a little disappointed in Bandra, as well. I was hoping for something a little more hip, a place to grab a really good hamburger, or a bar. Instead, there is more noise, more traffic, more people than Chennai. The fruit stands do stay open later, but the Starbucks I was hoping would be around the corner from my apartment is still on the other side of town.


Perhaps, I am not being fair. Maybe it is not about Mumbai or not having easy access to a frappucino at all. I’m guessing it has more to do with not coming home to our little Hall of Justice filled with Tiny Titans and the woman I love. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Open House

This morning, Elise attended open house at Peter's pre-school. I am in Mumbai for work and so wasn't able to go, so she emailed me the following report:

"It's nothing we didn't know, but I wish I could have Skyped you in on my conference with Peter's teacher today. Mostly he is a genius. He begs for more math homework EVERYDAY, mazes, puzzles and challenges. They tried to come up with a point for each child among the teachers, that they could tell the parents that the kids needed to improve on and the consensus among three teachers was that Peter challenges THEM intellectually instead of the other way around. There isn't anything he doesn't do well, or fast or beg for more of, except writing letters again and again. They said he is the most well behaved and gentle boy in class and he listens incredibly well. She said he finishes his work before all the other kids, he has already completed his math book for the semester with two weeks left to go. He does five puzzles in the time other kids do one and at cleanup when the teachers can't do a puzzle they'll turn to Peter and he can always do it. He says every maze is 'too easy', and after 45 minutes of math they have to drag him away from his lessons.


I was nearly in tears. He is incredible. More math. He could change the world, this one."

I guess I knew all this on some level, but it is still nice to hear. When I think of Peter, the image that comes to my mind is of him racing back and forth from the living room to the dining room, making "pew pew pew" laser noises, his hands missles flying through air, and I can only imagine what is going through that brain of his. 

Now, I know. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

36 Hours in Bombay

Elise and I snuck away from the kids last weekend for the first time in over three years. I had to come to Mumbai for a week for work, so Elise and I decided to make a date of it.

We landed in Mumbai at sunset on a Friday. The earth looked dry and the city hilly. The dirt was a deep red hue from the setting sun and made the ground look like the plains of Mars. Mumbai’s infamous slums cut into the sides of hills and stepped one on top of the other like Jenga towers, blue tarps pulled over the eaves to keep the monsoon out. The sun was a bright red ball sinking into the Arabian Sea. As we rode in the shuttle bus from the airplane parked on the tarmac to the terminal, the sun set to the right while the full moon rose to the left. Flocks of pigeons flapped between the two, as though in each sphere’s competing gravitational pull, and I had the distinct feeling that I was not flying into Mumbai, but Bombay.

Mumbai, the most populous city in India, changed its name from Bombay at the behest of the Marathi nationalist Shiv Sena political party in 1995, stating that the name Bombay reminded of the unwanted legacy of British Colonial rule, but many Indians today still refer to the city by its original name, and, I think, in the minds of many, Mumbai has become the place and Bombay the spirit of that place in much the same way Madras is the spirit of Chennai.

My first piece of advice is if you ever plan to fly into Mumbai, please do not do it at rush hour on a Friday in a city of 20 million people and a notorious traffic problem. It took us two hours to drive from the airport to our hotel in the old Colaba neighborhood of south Bombay, a neighborhood characterized by cobblestone streets and old buildings built in the Gothic revival style, not to mention the ever-present street vendors.

Elise has been to North India, as I teasingly can’t stop reminding her, but I haven’t. In fact, in a year in Chennai, I haven’t traveled anywhere except for one short work trip to Bangalore. I told Elise that though I have lived in India for a year, I only now felt like I was travelling to India, the perception of India as I had always imagined it, loud, hectic, colorful, vibrant.

We arrived at our hip, modern hotel, Abode, shortly after eight, dropped our bags and immediately set out in search of food. Elise had a splitting headache, but we had to get something to eat. We settled on a restaurant around the corner of our hotel called The Table. We immediately ordered a glass of wine, a Kingfisher, and truffle fries. The head chef heralded from San Francisco, and you could tell from the menu. We ordered a Caesar salad with kale standing in for romaine. I ordered fish tacos, and Elise’s headache had sadly eaten her appetite, though she did rally in time to share the chocolate tort.

As soon as I woke up the next morning—low and behold—I was sieged by a horrible stomach bug. Welcome to India! But…but…but I've lived in India. For over a year! I have gone one entire year with nary a gurgle, and now, exactly one year in, Ive had a stomach thing no less than four times in three weeks.

There was a Le Pain Quotidian right around the corner of our hotel, so we decided to go there for breakfast. Elise and I have a special relationship with Le Pain; immediately before I asked Elise to marry me in Central Park, we stopped for breakfast at the Le Pain Quotidian at 7th Ave and West 58th. Most people would not come to India and breakfast at Le Pain Quotidian, but we eat idly, vada, sumbar and chutney every single morning for breakfast. Given the opportunity to order a warm chocolate croissant and granola and yogurt parfait, we were going to take it.

The eggs benedict did little soothe my stomach, however, and three Immodiums later, I still wasn't better. After a few minutes back in the hotel room, eyes closing, searching for inner gastrointestinal peace, I pulled myself together. There was no way we were going to stay in the room all day. I was going to have to fight it.

Elise knew it was bad when we went to Starbucks and I didn't order anything, but we soldiered on. We hailed a cab to take us up to the Chor, or Thief’s, Bazaar on Mutton Street. It was past eleven and the day had grown hotter and the streets more crowded. The cabbie took us on a jerky ride north. I rolled the window down and tried to get some fresh air. As we drove along the sea I was okay, but as we turned toward the center of the peninsula, car sickness piled on top of my already week stomach.

I looked out the window longingly at the street gutters. I formulated a back-up plan in my head. I pictured myself ordering the cabbie to stop, me throwing the door open and retching in a drain if I had to. Sweat poured off my temples and ran down my spine. It was the closest I have ever come to finding myself in a Hitchcockian horror sequence. Events were no longer passing before my eyes in a continuous stream, like video. I was seeing images flash before my eyes: a street completely covered in garbage, goats eating from the road, a movie promo poster from an Indian terror film. The crowd and noise and stench were pressing against me, then, mercifully, we were there. Elise stopped the cab. We got out, and I was dazed. She asked me if I was ok, but I couldn't answer. I couldn't even speak. All I wanted to do was sit down. I wanted to feel better, but desperately did not want to puke.

Elise got our bearings and we found the Thief’s Bazaar. We entered Mutton Street, slightly cooler in the shade. Elise spent the next few hours in heaven, digging through a treasure trove of Indian antiquities, antique plates and saucers, old photographs, and used equipment. We even bought a gold olive spoon. I was happy that she was happy and that the shop keepers were kind enough to offer me their stools in the shade. I was finally comfortable and, in looking around me, found myself immersed in the India that I only knew through my pre-conceived notions of the place: a snafu of wires crisscrossing overhead, goats chomping on rotting cilantro, children on the way to the water pump. A Muslim man asked me where I was from. I managed to answer, “The U.S.” “How is it?” “We have good days and bad days.” He chuckled, “Good answer!”

Elise would still be there if she could, but we decided to try and find something to eat. We hopped in another cab in search of a restaurant nearby that served a North Indian thali that was to die for and came highly recommended by a friend.

After a late lunch, we went back to the room to cool down, but with less than a day and a half at her disposal, Elise could not sit still and we were soon headed out the door for more window-shopping, followed by drinks and then dinner.

For cocktails we stopped at the Harbour Bar at the Taj Mahal Palace, the oldest continuously running bar in Mumbai. We had both a view of the Gateway of India and the brilliantly-lit Victorian horse carriages adorned in strings of lights galloping by. There, we toasted to having finally sold our townhouse. We listened to the annoying prattle of a table of loud twenty-somethings getting drunk--probably worked for an NGO--and speculated that the guy at the table next to us was either Michael Douglas or David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the Great Britain.

After drinks, we stopped at Bade Miyan, a shish kabob stall a half block from our hotel. The “restaurant” is merely a grill on the side of the road. One guy rotates a hundred skewers of chicken tikka, tandoor chicken and chicken kafka, while on the opposite side, another guy makes mountain bread, slapping stretched dough against an inverted bowl, heated from within, a reverse kiln. In the street, waiters come to your car (if you happen to drive), pop the hood and place a soda bottle under it to make it level to the ground. Then, they lay newspaper on your hood and take your order. A few minutes later, the shish kabobs and bread come. You eat, then the waiter take the newspaper away, wipes down your hood, closes it, and sends you on your way.

If you don’t have a car, you crowd the grill in search of a bearded man in glasses and a brown flannel. He doesn't write down orders, but a dozen eager, young diners bark orders at them, pushing to the front. There is shouting, cacophony, scream of “The side!” as waiters come through with trays of gravy, chaana masala or daal. I was experiencing a true Anthony Bourdain moment (only without the savvy, Hindi-speaking guide), an experience atypical to most travelers, when you are so immersed in local culture that the lines are completely blurred and there is no tourism, travel or vacation anymore, just the experience. There was no mercy for the Westerner. My brown loafers were completely covered in dirt, but somehow, over the din, I was able to procure food for Elise and I, like a hunter bringing home the kill. I threw 500 rupees at the bearded man in the brown flannel (there was no price) and he nonchalantly tucked it into his front shirt pocket. 

The trip was short, but it was long enough for Elise and I to reconnect and vow never to go that long without an adventure like this one again. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

An End and a Beginning

Nearly five years ago, Elise found me crouched in the our master bedroom closet, sobbing. We had just finished doing a final sweep of our now empty townhouse, making sure we hadn't left anything behind. All of our worldly possessions had been packed into the back of an Atlas Van Lines semi driven by Carl and headed for a warehouse in Hagerstown, Maryland.

The next day, Elise and I and our two tiny, young sons would leave Jupiter, Florida and drive to Washington, D.C. to start a new life that would first take us to Brazil and then India. But before we did that we had to make sure the townhouse was empty and that we had packed every last pacifier, stuffed animal, running shoe, and interior design, watercolored by hand on foam board.

And it was. The silence was deafening. Every sound echoed in the void. We were leaving the only home our family had ever known, the place where we brought two tiny babies home to, where we had our first Christmas together, the place where Kitty threw up on the rug to voice his jealousy of Sam, the place where Elise and I slept on the floor--enveloped in only our new love--before I even had furniture. The house was just as empty then, too, holding only promise of a future together. Six years later, we had filled it with memories, and on that night, all those memories came crashing down upon my frame, weary with holding a two-month old sleeping Petey through pack-out, like boxes accidentally upset from the top shelf.

We sold that townhouse on Friday. Finally. The sale brings no new emotion. we had already said goodbye. It brought relief, a weight lifted. No more worrying about shoddy tenants. No more worrying that the home might flood (twice) while I am in the middle of a UN conference.

Elise and I found ourselves in Bombay on the night of the closing, the first time we had escaped without the kiddos in over three years, since before Clementine was born.

I asked Elise if she could have ever imagined all those years ago that we would be here, in India, in Mumbai.

She told me that when she first saw me walk into Kee Grill she knew on some level, "Yes." Maybe not specifically India, but yes, we would go places together.

For some, a closing is a beginning. For others, an end. For us, it is both.




Friday, November 28, 2014

Giving Thanks and an Affirmation

I had taken the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, off so that we could have a long, four-day weekend. This was supposed to be the weekend we finally went to see the Taj Mahal, but as our townhouse in Florida still has not sold and money is tight, we planned a less ambitious--but no less adventurous--trip.

We were going to drive six hours south to the town of Tranquebar, the site of an old Dutch fort beside the sea. After spending a day there, we were going to drive another two hours to Thanjevur to see an ancient temple.

Last Sunday night, Elise and I went to a couple's cooking class for a friend's birthday. We made chicken tikka and butter chicken, and it was actually really, really fun, but that morning I had gotten up at 4:30 to go for an eight mile run. When I got home, Elise left at 6:00 for a photo walk through the Koyambedu flower market. I napped. Elise didn't. The date event didn't start until 7:00. After three hours of cooking we still hadn't eaten, and both Elise and I were cross-eyes with exhaustion, hunger, and about to pass out from the cooking fumes.

We made it through the night, but I would have my second of what would be three upset stomachs in two weeks. And we started what was--thankfully--a short week sick, exhausted, irritated, frustrated, short with the kids and, frankly, needing a break from Indian food.

The last thing either of us felt like doing Thursday, Thanksgiving morning, was to get up early and pack everyone up for a four-day road trip while they ran around us, screaming, crying and fighting.

We scrapped the six hour drive, and decided just to go to the beach for one night, but by then, all the hotels were booked.

So, we ended up staying home.

It was exactly what the doctor ordered. We've been staying home a lot lately. After a chaotic week of work and school, no one really wants to leave the oasis that is the compound on which we live, pool, tennis court, playground. We have everything we really need right here, and for that we are extremely grateful.

I made waffles. Clementine and I went for a "turkey trot". We swam and napped.

We don't really have a Thanksgiving tradition. Yet. Last year, we had just arrived in India. We had only been here one week before Thanksgiving, and the head of my office was kind enough to host several families for a Thanksgiving dinner. The year before that, in Brasilia, we went out to Porcao for churrasco.

This year, Elise prepared a simple, but stupendous Thanksgiving spread. The turkey had a hint of Indian spices thanks to Rita, and Elise cooked it perfectly without the help of our meat thermometer which I melted brewing beer. Cranberry sauce, stuffing, green beans, mashed white sweet potatos (boniato), and biscuits rounded out the feast. The kids were impressed. Sam could not stop raving about the spread.

Everyone was forced to say what they were thankful for. Sam--family. Peter--food. Me--you (looking at Elise). Elise--family. Clementine refused to participate, so we urged her to just say something, anything. All she wanted to do was eat, so she pointed to her mouth, which was good enough for us.

Earlier in the day, the kids and I were going to run to the gourmet market for ice cream to go with the pie. We decided not to go. Clementine went into hysterics. She misunderstood and thought we were going out for ice cream cones. We did get into the car and run to the corner store in search of ice cream and a new meat thermometer to no avail. It was rush hour, and I wasn't about to attempt the across town trek to Amadora, the best ice cream store in town. So, we decided to have it delivered.

An hour and a half later the delivery guy finally called. Right as we were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. He didn't speak English, so I ran out to the road to get one of the security guards to talk to him and give him directions. My Tamil's not that good.

He called four more times before finally showing up. I was certain the ice cream would be melted, but--surprisingly--it wasn't. I wouldn't try this in June, however.

With Thanksgiving behind us, the kids thoughts immediately turn to Christmas and the boys' birthdays. Honestly, there thoughts had been on Christmas and their birthdays before Thanksgiving.

I've been giving the kids a crash course in super-heroes. I started them on late '70s/early '80s Super Friends cartoons from my youth. When we go out to breakfast, I tell them origin stories to keep them entertained until the food comes. "How did Barry Allen become Flash?" "How did Hal Jordan become Green Lantern?" Who knew this seemingly useless information would come in so handy? Peter especially is getting good at the game where I say the civilian alter ego and he names the super-hero. "Bruce Wayne." "Batman!" "Dr. Bruce Banner." "Hulk!" So, now I am filling my own kids' heads with the same useless information.

Peter has taken a keen interest in Green Arrow and races around the house with an imaginary quiver and bow flinging arrows at everyone and everything he sees. I had an epiphany that the perfect Christmas present would be a Nerf bow and arrow set, but I was afraid Elise would kill me. She is feeling a little shell-shocked from all the imaginary phasers, photon torpedoes, and ion cannons going off around her. She swears she is going to have PTSD by the times these kids grow up with all the shooting noises and imaginary spaceships going to warp in the house.

But the other day when I came home from work, she asked me if I had looked in the Amazon cart. I said, "No. Why?" I went on my computer and opened it up. She had put the same Nerf bow and arrow set that I was looking at in the cart to buy for Christmas. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Weekend In Photos

This first photo might seem a bit strange, but this guy has been sleeping with us. Ew, you guys. He has been sleeping in our windowsill, but not really sleeping per se, screeching. All. Night. So I am leading with this picture to warn you that if we look tired, this is the reason. 

Let's just call him "Jerk"
Snuggling by the pool
Snack time in Big Brother's cafeteria is big time.
Top knot Tuesday
Bags of temple flowers with my girl. The sweet old Tamil ladies love Clem we always leave with WAY more flowers than necessary. 
Bed full of babies.
Sunday cinnamon roll picnic in the kitchen.
Sweetest boy ever playing chess with his little brother.
My Sunday morning photo walk was at the local fruit and flower market. Always amazing and fragrant. These are curry leaves at my feet. The most discerning smell of South India. 
"Look Mommy, I'm just like you now!" *I do not go out like this. See below.
Date night cooking class: Butter Chicken.
Oh ya, the tired picture. I'd been up since, well I never went to bed, because of "Jerk" (see above), Paul ran 8 at 4:30, then I got up to go out shooting at 6am, then parenting, then a cooking class that didn't start until 7:30 and we didn't eat until 10. Forgive us our dark circles. 
Kitchen Stadium Hanna: Still smiling. "When can we eat?"
Little girl at big brother's school.
Little girl, big bed.


and "Eleventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen."

video


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Halloween


I know, I know I'm late. I have a million irons in the fire and some of them are hot hot hot. Most of them are little and feisty and shown below, but other ones are smoldering in really cool places more on that soon. The kids dressed up as The Super Friends for Halloween. That is a lie, they dress up as The Super Friends every day, but today they got to eat a lot of candy and show their alter-egos off. Sam wore his costume in the costume parade at school and Peter wore his costume to his local pre-school who honors the holiday because of, well TV commercials that advertise for Halloween. The rest of India was like "why the heck are these crazy Americans dressed up today?" I even joined the insanity this year for the first time in a decade and slapped together a goofy "Strawberry Shortcake goes to jail" type of ensemble. The kids weren't embarrassed just yet, but I'm only warming up.

Justice League of India


Wonder woman captures Green lantern with her magic lasso. 


Cheese. Obv.



Daddy's little Wonder Woman.
Told ya. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Trials and Tribulations of Single-Parenting

I would be a terrible single-parent.

As you may have realized from the photos in the sidebar, Elise is not in Chennai, because we don't have many camels in the south of India. She is in fact in Rajasthan attending the Pushkar Camel Fair, while I am home with Sam, Peter, and Clementine.

It is not that I am not a good father. It's just that I am not a very good mother. As a father, I am good at the routine tasks of childcare. I get up at five and make coffee, wash the left-over dishes from the night before, make school lunches, and make breakfast for the kids. Sometimes, it is just cereal. Most mornings it is bacon and eggs, French toast or pancakes. I change diapers, get everyone dressed, and brush teeth. Socks on. Shoes, too. Ready for the bus.

In the evening, it is dinner, baths, comb hair, brush teeth, read book, bed. Bam bam bam. No messing around. Soldiery in efficiency.

At this...making sure everyone is fed, clean and well-rested, I am very, very good. What I don't do as well is nurture, worry and snuggle.

When we lived in Brazil, Elise had subscribed to this service that sent you a box of clothes every month for your kids. All you had to do was tell them what size or how old your child was and feed them your child's "style profile" (still not exactly sure what that means), and every month the company would send you a box of new clothes for your kid. No more dragging recalcitrant kids through the aisles of Target. I thought this would be perfect for the single dads in the world.

With Elise out of town, I didn't have to buy clothes, but I did have to do things that fell outside of what I am accustomed to do as a father. Last night, Sam asked me to lie with him while he fell asleep. I was tired and hadn't eaten dinner yet. I told him, "No, I am not going to lay with you." But as soon as I said it I regretted it. I told myself if he asked again tomorrow night, I would do it. Sure enough, he asked again, and so did Peter and Clementine, so I laid down with all of them, asking them what the best part of their day was.

This morning, as I was lifting her from her crib, Clementine told me her stomach hurt. I hate to admit it, but typically, I wouldn't think anything of it. But all at once I realized that Elise wasn't there, and if I didn't worry about it, there was no one else that was going to worry about it either.

Later, Sam would give me a stink about going to school. He didn't want to go, he would tell me. In this, he was quite firm. But I forced myself to stop going about my daily routine and picked him up, not much unlike I used to do when he was Clementine's age a short five years ago. I sat down with him on the couch and held him close to my chest for about ten minutes, his wild mane tickling my nose. This was, evidently, all he needed. Fortunately, I recognized that before it was too late, and got him out the door on time.

Sometimes, I get up early on Saturday mornings and go for a "long" (8 - 9 miles) run to Elliot's Beach and back. I am usually home by six, but my boys get up at an ungodly early hour. In order to keep them from waking Elise, I started to tell Sam and Pete that they could play a Lego Chima video game on my iPhone until I got home.

I have Elise's old iPhone which can't carry a battery charge so there was no risk they would play all morning. The battery usually dies shortly after I get home from my run, a perfect coincidence. This weekend, I told Sam I may get up early and run on the treadmill. I didn't run, but they got the iPhone anyway. I didn't fight him on it. The battery would die soon anyway.

But before the battery died, he asked me if he could download a different Lego Chima video game. Of course, my initial thought was how much does it cost. It was free! For some reason I have trouble articulating now, I didn't say no. I guess I tried putting myself in his shoes. When I looked into his eyes, I saw curiosity or a thirst for the next cool thing. I could see myself, wanting the next comic, the next movie, the next TV show, the next video game.

So we downloaded it. He hardly ever plays on my iPhone and it wasn't like I was buying the kid a new Xbox.

This morning when Sam said he didn't want to go to school because he was so tired I may have bribed him by saying if he went to school he could play on the iPhone when he got home. Not my finest parenting moment. I guess I was imagining this alternative universe where at the end of the day every one had a little quiet downtime to engage in their own self-actualizing activities instead of the normal, happy chaos that ensues every evening starting around 5:00.

I told our nanny, Rita, that I was okay if the kids watched TV when Sam came home from school. They haven't been watching TV during the day, so I think both Elise and I agree that after a long day, it's okay to zone out in front of the TV for a few minutes. Why else would HGTV be so popular?

When I came home this evening, everyone was bouncing on the trampoline next door at the neighbor's house. When I saw how flush and sweaty Sam was, I recalled how exhausted he said he was this morning and had the fleeting thought that this wasn't going to end well.

Packages had come today, and when we came home, I showed them the the two new Super-Friends comics I had ordered on Amazon for them. See, I had ordered three. I mean, I do have three kids. But only two of them came. Presumably, the other will come in next week's package shipment. Another one of the realities of living overseas. So, I could hold the two I had until all three arrived, or I could give them two now in hopes that they would share.

There was some initial crying, but it wasn't as bad as I feared, partially off-set by the three notepads and three ballpoint pens I hijacked from my lunch meeting at the Hyatt.

As they flipped through the comics, I re-heated the dinner Rita had made for them, and we ate. After dinner, they each picked one (or two...another parenting fail!) candy from their Halloween buckets. Then, Sam--finally--asked me if he could play games on my iPhone.

It was already 6:30. He could barely see straight. The best--and, frankly, only--course of action at this point was baths, book, and bed.

"Not tonight," I told him calmly.

He went berserk, "You ALWAYS say no when it come to electronics!!" Then stormed out of the kitchen.

I did break my promise. Guilty. But the more I tried to explain why, the more irate he became. Until I heard Elise in my ear whisper, "Stop talking. You talk too much."

Somehow, I got him in the shower. He balled the entire time. I carried him, swathed in a towel, like a baby to the couch and put his pajamas on.

He was still crying. He told me, "It's like you are the king and I am the guard. You're always telling me what to do."

"I am not the king. I am your father. And I only tell you what to do because I love you."

Sam, "Your always telling me what to do!"

"At my job, someone is always telling me what to do. Someone is going to tell you what to do your whole life, and the sooner you get used to that fact, the more successful your are going to be."

(Not sure where I was going with that one, but both Peter and Clementine were both running around naked in the background and the shower was running and maybe even starting to flood the bathroom.)

Eventually, everyone calmed down. I laid with Sam while Peter and Clementine took their showers. Only God knows if they used soap. Clementine's hair was wet so that was progress. We did read one a story from one of our new comics. Sam asked me if Green Lantern's battery recharges his ring faster than the iPhone's battery or about the same, and we learned the words "relinquish" and "successor".

Only two more days to go, and I am still awaiting confirmation that she has actually ridden a camel. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Diwali to Detlef Schrempf

Diwali or Divali also known as Deepavali and the "festival of lights", is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

Detlef Schrempf (born January 21, 1963) is a German-American retired professional basketball player. He played college basketball for the University of Washington Huskies from 1981–1985, and was drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA) by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 1985 NBA draft, with the eighth overall pick (both entries courtesy of Wikipedia).

This year, we celebrated our first Diwali. I don't know anything about the holiday except what I just copied and pasted from Wikipedia above and that the holiday is celebrated with fireworks. Lots and lots of fireworks. 

Diwali fell on a Wednesday this year, and the fireworks started the Saturday before, exploding over our house in monstrous globes of blue, green and red light. I had heard Diwali called the "festival of light", and this was affirmed by the fireworks and firecrackers that basically boomed and sparked non-stop for 24 hours, starting the night before. 

We had the day off from work and school, so we went to the pool and swam with the sounds of firecrackers going off all around us, carrying over the river. 

Somehow, we took naps though the sonorous crackling and after naps, decided to go out to a nice dinner at one of our favorite spots, Chop Chuey. Located in the basement of the Raintree on St. Mary's, a five-star hotel near our home, Chop Chuey is the kind of restaurant where you make your own noodle bowl then give it to the wok chef to cook up. He greases up a giant wok and places it over a burner that is like the mouth of a volcano and spews fire like the engine of an F-14. The kids love it and eat for free.

On the drive there, we had to navigate the crowds of Indians setting off firecrackers in the road. They went off around us like we were driving through a minefield, showers of sparks raining down around us. 

We were a few minutes early for our 7:00 reservation, so we decided to head up the Raintree's roof top restaurant. There, you could see the entire city laid out before you. As far as the eye could see, a blanket of continuous fireworks covered the entire city in all directions. Standing there, Elise and I knew it was something the kids would never forget. It was something we would never forget. 








The two weeks after Diwali were long. Elise wasn't feeling well. We put two contracts on our townhome in Jupiter. Both fell through. I've been carrying a mortgage on a house we do not live in for four months, and the burden is getting tiresome, to say the least. Money is tight. Clementine contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease from the playground, then gave it to Sam, Peter, and, lastly, Elise who was sickest and couldn't eat or drink anything, couldn't touch anything, couldn't even walk for the sores on her hands, feet and mouth for two weeks. Sam and Peter, both contagious stayed home for school for a week. It has been raining every day for weeks. Monsoon season. The weather is nice, but nerves were fraying.

Somewhere in there, we found small victories. Elise saw her first work in print. Peter comes home from school everyday with stars penned on the backs of his hands and on his cheeks for reciting the alphabet and solving math problems. Sam was the star in his Indian studies dance for Diwali.

In the pre-dawn, rain-splattered gloaming, Sam and I sent Elise to the airport to catch a flight to Jaipur. She will spend two days there before travelling on to Pushkar to photograph the camel festival, sleeping in a tent in the heart of the desert. She has already sent me a photo of the most amazing bar I have ever seen and her on the back of an elephant.

The kids and I are holding down the fort. We grocery shop, ride scooters around Boat Club, and gor for ice cream at Amadora. Sam rides in the back seat with his window down, chin on his elbow, the wind blowing through his air. Scooters, motorcycles and autos race by, horns honking. I don't think he thinks it is chaotic. To him, it is just normal. We stop at intersections, cars nosing one another to get through the light, no queue to speak of, and young men on motorcycles slow and smile at him. He smiles back, on the look-out for Royal Enfields. Last night, Clementine and I danced to Band of Horses' "Detlef Schrempf" in the kitchen, she clutching my neck like it is prom night.

If nothing else, we--all of us--are making memories. It astounds me when I think of the things they will remember about their childhoods. Looking out the car window up at a city bus with no windows and no doors. The buses don't stop or even slow at the bus stations, people hop off, landing in a run, and race to catch the bus and hop in, a maneuver out of an Indiana Jones movie. Sam looks up at the people on the bus. They stare back (Band of Horses: "My eyes can't look at you any other way"). Old ladies with ritual face paint smeared on their foreheads flash him toothless grins, and he just smiles back.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Recently

Monsoons, trains, tropical slip and slides, babies acting like ladies, you know, the usual.