Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014


We recently made our second—and much overdue—sojourn outside of Chennai this past Easter weekend. We drove three hours south to the former French colonial town of Pondicherry.

The drive didn’t seem long, despite the fact that I was riding folded in half in the back of our Honda CRV, partly because we were venturing into new lands and partly because Elise sacrificed herself to the car sickness gods (maybe she doesn’t get car sick the way I do, having been raised on a healthy diet of prolonged car trips) by reading the first several chapters of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

The book presents itself initially as a mystery, and both Sam and Peter were enraptured as they conjectured the true nature of the undersea monster, initially thought to be, by the book’s narrator Monsieur Arronax, a giant narwhal. Clementine napped soundly through most of the drive.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t done much planning in the run up to our trip. I realized this suddenly after we had checked into our hotel, a lovely heritage hotel converted from an old Parisian manor in the heart of the Old French Quarter in Pondicherry which was noticeably calmer than the surrounding districts. It really was like a quiet slice of Europe tucked within India. I guess I thought we would just wander, stroll, duck into shops, stop in cafes, and take photos. Then, I realized we had three toddlers in tow.

We arrived around noon and it was close to 95 degrees out. We needed lunch. I did have the foresight to scope out a local South Indian restaurant down the road, A2B, from our hotel and we headed there for lunch.

After entering the restaurant, Elise and I quickly realized that this was not a traditional sit-down restaurant, but it took us quite some time to figure out what the system was. After finding a spot to park the kids, I tried to go to the self-service counter and order. Ordering South Indian food for the kids has always been a challenge. The food is notoriously spicy as hell. This is not a problem for Elise and I. In fact, we now find we can’t eat anything without heat into it. We both suppose that a plate of volcanic buffalo chicken wings back in the States will now seem mild in comparison to some of the dishes we have to date eaten in India. But the kids still don’t do spice. Images of Pete vainly attempting to wipe his tongue with palms of his hands while at the same time screaming, “I got spicy in my mouth!” come to mind.

Fortunately, after having been cut in line no less than three times (Indians don’t generally queue), the proprietor of the establishment took pity on me and was kind enough to wait on the table of Americans (sorry, I even wore my Nats cap to shield my face from the sun). Elise quickly noticed that he wasn’t waiting on anyone else. Just us.

The food came quickly and was delicious. Elise and I ordered a traditional North Indian thali which arrived after a sumbar-like gravy that was already enough food for the both of us. I asked him the name of the dish, but I never did catch it.

After lunch, Elise and I had the notion to return to the hotel and nap the hottest part of the day away. Only Clementine, who had slept for an hour in the car, had other plans. Such as run around the room for an hour and flick all the light switches on and off and on and off again. We threw our arms up in frustration and decided to head out anyway. Okay, we thought, if you don’t want to nap then we will march you through the 95 degree heat!

We walked down to the beach and found a refreshing breeze coming off it. If we stayed in the shade we were sure we may not melt. We wandered to a Bharathi Park, in the center of the Old French Quarter. There, in the shade, the kids played on the playground until everyone was thoroughly drenched in a thick, viscous sweat. We bought Chocobars from an ice cream cart and headed back to the hotel.

The hotel didn’t have a pool much to our chagrin—few of the colonial heritage hotels in the heart of the town do—but it did have a tub. So I filled that up with some water and let the kids cool down. After bathes, we changed and sat in the courtyard outside our room under giant mango trees replete with ripening fruit. In another week or two the courtyard would have a legitimate hazard on its hard, but for now, overhead was just the promise of sweet hanging fruit. Elise ordered a glass of wine, and the kids ordered juices. I ordered a cold Kingfisher. The kids swirled around us in play on the uneven cobblestones despite our words of caution, and a minute later Clementine, chased by Sam, caught her toe on the edge of an empty trench encircling the courtyard and smashed her face on the pavement.

Blood rushed out of a gash above her eye and we immediately raced to the street to hail an auto. I hurriedly dialed the nurse at my work, hoping she would know where we could take Clementine in the likely event she needed stitches. Her recommendation didn’t come soon enough and we found ourselves outside a clinic few blocks away. We piled out of the auto and into the clinic. The auto rickshaw driver guided us past the check-in window to the triage room where I pulled up.

A man lay on a gurney holding a bloody kerchief to his head. I grabbed Peter and Sam by their shirt collars. I said to Elise, “We’re not going in there.”

We reassessed. The cut had stopped bleeding so, after stopping at a pharmacy for hydrogen peroxide, we decided to clean it out ourselves. The cut was clean and if it leaves a scar, it will be small. After the scare, we found our drinks right where we had left them and decided to go up to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner.

We had the place to ourselves for most of the meal and played various word games to make the time pass more quickly as we waited for our food. We took turns going through the alphabet. The first person thought of an animal that started with the letter ‘A’. The second person thought of an animal that started with the letter ‘B’ and so on.

The next morning we returned to A2B for a traditional South Indian breakfast of dhosas, vadas, idlys and chutneys. At 10:00 we headed to the Pondicherry Museum. We returned to the room early and made tuna fish and peanut butter sandwiches and prepared for naps. This time, worn down by the mornings heat, everyone would nap, myself and Elise included, though she snuck out of the room after an hour to go on an impromptu photowalk.

Our hotel was conveniently located across the street from the Manakula Vinayagar Temple where, in the late afternoons, Lakshmi the elephant stands outside the entrance to the temple and bestows blessing on passers-by for a two rupee coin. Clementine and I and Elise were blessed. The boys not so much.

That evening we had a reservation to eat at Villa Shanti, the nicest restaurant in town. Our reservation wasn’t until seven, and the kids help up well, despite the heat and the time it took for the food to come. We would have had to carry them all back to the hotel if we hadn’t found an auto.

The next morning, as I had mentioned in the previous post, we had breakfast at Café des Artes. There, Elise and I concluded that we liked Pondicherry…even if it wasn’t very kid friendly. We had heard from others that had visited that there wasn’t a lot to do in Pondicherry, but I think some people may just have trouble being in a place. Neither Elise nor I need to be entertained. We are content wandering, stopping in cafes and shops and just enjoying each the scenery. The kids not so much, and though they were as good as could be expected, next time I might make sure that there is at least a pool or beach for them to go to. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"This is Bull$h!t!"

I have written before that India is a complex place. Frankly this is what makes India India. Elise and I agreed this past weekend that India is confusing. It messes with your mind. One instance you’re saying to yourself, “India is amazing! It’s wonderful!” The next you’re muttering, “What the f---!” Only to wake up the next morning, the morning call to prayer carrying over the river, the man with the warm smile at his vada cart on the corner, and think, “This place is amazing! It is wonderful!” all over again.

We just returned from a weekend voyage south to the old French colonial town of Pondicherry. It was only our second time out of Chennai, and a long time coming. Elise and I have also collectively decided we need to get out of dodge more…for our own sanity, if nothing else.

Our last morning in town we had breakfast at a quaint Parisian style, outdoor café called Café des Artes. Elise ordered a crepe. I tried to order a croquet, but got a crepe instead, but remained equally pleased. We both ordered cappuccinos.

I was going to order waffles for the kids, but didn’t know if two would be sufficient for three kids or if each kid needed their own waffle. The kids’ appetites are growing prodigiously. I honestly never know how much food to order for them. We alternate between meals out where they barely eat a thing, between meals out where six orders of buttered noodles barely make a dent in their hunger.

I asked the waitress, “Is the waffle big?”

“Is it enough for two kids?”


“Or is it enough for one kid?”


“Is the waffle small? About this size?” I held up my hand to approximate the dimensions of a brick.



A week or so ago, I went to the canteen at work for breakfast. The canteen starts serving breakfast at 8:30. It was 9:20, and they were out of food. I flew into a rage disproportionate to the circumstances, but indicative of the level of frustration that can be experienced on a daily basis, alternating with equal doses of amazement and wonder.

I came back to my office and erupted, “This is bull$h!t!” It is unlike me to show my frustration in public, and much rarer to do so among my co-workers. It showed me that I had been simmering longer than I was consciously aware…and that I was more comfortable venting to my co-workers than I knew.

That being said, I live a sheltered existence compared to Elise. I get up, race around the house for an hour making breakfast and getting school lunches packed, but after that, I spend most of my day in my sheltered office, far, far away from India. Elise spends her entire day navigating through pockets of wonder and frustration, and I need to give her more credit that I do. 

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.


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  // 

To purchase prints please visit my "India" gallery showcase here //

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


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.