Sunday, May 28, 2006

Canyon Notes Part 2: In Hoodooland

So, please remember
When I leave in December
I told you so in May

So I sang to my manager last week, sick of optimizing sales calls to hospitals and physicians. I had forgotten all about the hoodoos of the week before, those God-like structures shaped by the wind and the water who for a moment brought a diehard atheist like me, down to my knees. But early this morning, I was brought back to the real world by the Poet who sent me his collection of poems from his visit to Bryce Canyon sometime ago. He writes about the hoodoos and about us mortals who make our annual pilgrimages to these temples of nature:

Hoodoos –
Gods eroded to the size of men
Huddling together in the broken places of the world;
Stone chessmen
Trapped by the wind’s gambit.

Where does it come from,
This urge to walk between the towering stones
And feel small?

Deep in the heart of Bryce Canyon
There is an area called Wall Street
Where the sun has its boardrooms
And the business of the wind is done in whispers
Away from the listening ears of the clouds.

What does it mean
This fifty year old name
Applied to rocks that have lasted the millennia?
Only that this too is a place of gain and loss
Of fortunes discovered in the pure gold of the sun
Pouring down from the high places.
(The eagle rising like a stock index
Sensing the mood of the sky)
Only that you have to be very brave
Or very rich
Or very foolish
To venture here.

I am not the Poet, and I cannot write verses about the hoodoos to save my life but I can and I will go back to my little travelogue and offer up some snippets, some pictures and hopefully, a few laughs.

En route to Bryce Canyon from Zion. Frontbenchers enjoying the view. Conversation at the back somehow went from Murakami to Rushdie to Mr. Sen.

BM: Is there anything that man doesn't know?
Me: I know, he is so well rounded. (Turning to Bill) Your parents should have sent you to Shantiniketan and then you would also have turned out like him. Instead some vague Jesuit school you go to and look how you ended up.
Bill: Since I have never lived in Calcutta, I don't think my parents ever thought about that. And anyway, if it means anything, the late Mrs. Gandhi went to Shantiniketan.
Anoop: If I may interrupt, I think Bill is well on his way to being well rounded, Shantiniketan or not. Don't you think so?
Me: Thanks for reminding me that I am married to a pot bellied Bong monster.
Anoop: If I remember correctly, the choice was between a pot bellied Mallu monster and a pot bellied Bong monster. Wasn't much of a choice if you ask me.
R: Look, look doodoos doodoos. We are at Bryce.
Anoop: No, we are still 20 miles from Bryce. And the word's hoodoos. But yes, these are hoodoos.

We make a brief stop at the Bryce Canyon visitor center to figure out which hike we should take. There we discover what hoodoos really are. They are a geological term for things that the geologists do not know what to call. Who would have thought? We decide to take the Navajo Loop/Queens Garden trail and set out to Sunset Point from where the trail begins. Soon, we are climbing down the canyon, switchbacks et al, hoodoos at eye-level now.

Me: I get it.
Anoop: What do you get?
Me: These Mormons and all these religious people.
Anoop: Really? You get them? That's an achievement.
Me: Yeah, I mean if I were like this pioneer who were to stumble across this place, I could be forgiven for inventing the next big religion. Just look at this place.
Anoop: I see your point but seriously, if you were this pioneer person, spirituality is not what would cross your mind.
Me: Hmm..what would I think of then? I know!
BM: We are waiting.
Me: They are red dammit, they are red. They have no clue but they sure are Red.
Bill: Hoodoos of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your tourists!
Anoop: Exactly.

Wall Street appears before us in full glory. The tree dating back 700 years. How did it ever get there, you wonder.

Past the Queen's court and up to the rim now to Sunrise Point where the lazy tourists with their binoculars are. Anoop suggests a fifteen minute silence, an idea aimed solely to shut me up so that others could peacefully enjoy the scenary. I shut up for about ten but can't take it any more. I point to some random hoodoos and claim that they were the inspiration for Mt Rushmore. Everyone glares at me and I am made to shut up. A good half hour later, we are back at the parking lot figuring out lunch. We decide to go to the Bryce Canyon Lodge where we are staying to see if we can get some food. At the Lodge, after an awesome lunch, we check into our cute, little cabins which we discover are about an eighth of a mile from the canyon rim.

This is as close to the canyon as one can get to stay, so Anoop starts planning out sunrise photoraphy, something which the rest of us are pretty skeptical about. Waking up at 6.15 AM is not a big deal for me, but getting out of bed at 6.15 AM sure is. We are more interested in checking out the night sky, we tell Anoop, that is supposed to be really pretty.

We spend the rest of the day driving to different vista points in the Canyon. Bryce Point from where you can see the Bryce Amphitheater is spectacular, but the rest of them are pretty much the same. We get back to the Lodge where the men claim they have some variety entertainment planned. Soon they are parading on an imaginary ramp wearing mundus that Anoop carefully brought all the way from Austin. Needless to say, Bill has no clue how to carry a mundu so it keeps coming off and almost every other minute, Anoop has to rush to the other end of the ramp to protect Bill's modesty. It definitely was entertainment for the rest of us.

Dinner happens soon after and as we step out of the restaurant, we are greeted with a sky that none of us had ever seen before. The density of stars up there is unbelievable, someone suggests that some kind of GM(Genetic Modification) must have been done. But the moon is nowhere to be seen. And so as we set out to the canyon rim for a moonlight walk among the hoodoos, our guiding light is a cellphone. None of us had a flashlight. BM leads the way with her cellphone blazing in front of her, a human chain behind her. We reach the rim but the moon still doesn't oblige. Dark shapes rising up from the canyon in the front of us lit by the stars up above.


Anoop: Akka! (Note: Akka is what Anoop calls me when he wants to be humble and sarcastic at the same time)
Me: Mmmmm..
Anoop: I know you are awake. So why don't you stop acting and get out of bed?
Me: What time is it?
Anoop: 6.45 AM
Me: Oh shoot. Bill, wake up.
Anoop: Austin time. Same as Chicago time.
Me: Okay. Bill, wake up na?
Anoop: The pleasures of married life. You could pester your partner to wake up first.
Me: Shut up, will ya? Bill, wake up.
Anoop: He won't wake up. Are you coming to see sunrise or not?
Me: I wil see sunrise but I am not hiking down the rim.
Anoop: Okay.
Me: Hey, when do we have to leave for Vegas?
Anoop: 10 AM
Me: Okay.
Anoop: See ya in an hour. Or two. If I don't come in two, just wait.

We all saw sunrise. Down from Sunrise Point. But the man who hiked down to Thor's Hammer got the pictures. Here.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Canyon notes, Part 1

A fast track weekend trip to a couple of scenic places out West. Back home and chill during the week. Perfectly innocent. Well planned. Well timed.

Friday 8.15 PM. Bill and moi at Las Vegas Intl Airport.

Me: I hate this place.
Bill: You masochist you.
Me: You mean you like this city?
Bill: No, I just don't hate it. Let's just say that this is the least likeable city I have ever been to.
Me: Same thing.
Bill: No its not.
Me: Wait, why are we going inside a PGA tour store? The others will be at baggage claim.
Bill: I forgot my belt.
Me: Good to know. But the question remains.
Bill: Do you see any other store here that I can get a belt from?
Me: You want to buy a belt here? And I suppose I get to pay for it.
Bill: The idea did cross my mind, yes.

Ten minutes later, at the cash register:

Register Lady: Are you guys on your way out?
Me: No, we just landed.
RL: Are you staying at the strip?
Me (vehmently): No. We are driving into Utah.
RL: Really?
Bill: Yeah, there are a couple of national parks that we are going to. Zion and Bryce Canyon.
RL: Oh. Are you Mormon?
Me: What? Do we look like Mormons?

Soon we met up with the others. Happy reunion ensued. Anoop and I go to get rental car while others went up to grab some food. At the Hertz counter:

Me: What car did you say you reserved?
Anoop: A GMC Yukon.
Me: Is it on this sheet? Show me.
Anoop: Here, this one.
Me: That thing! You expect me to travel in that monstrosity?
Anoop: There are seven of us plus luggage. You have a better idea?
Me: Wait! Not only do you want me to travel in this bus you also expect me to drive it. I am not used to driving trucks. Where are you from anyway? Texas?
Anoop: Well, actually yes.
Me: I should have known. Get a Texan to book a car and you get a Yukon. I guess I should be happy its not a Hummer.

Soon we are one, big happy family driving out of Nevada on our brand new, red GMC Yukon listening to Kill Bill and catching up on the latest gossip. BM and I were just about done with people from school and getting to bloggers when the driver interrupts. Anoop asks us to look for Bumbleberry Lane. Apparently we are staying at a place called Bumbleberry Inn which happens to be on Bumbleberry Lane. Do not laugh, Anoop does not think that's funny, neither does he care to enlighten us what a bumbleberry is. We find the Inn finally, surrounded by omnious mountain ranges (this is 1.00 AM) the building looks like something out of a horror movie. We pull up to the entrance, no lights are on, the lobby is closed. Stuck to the door we see a note addressed to Mr. Iye. (The R is silent dammit.) It asks us to go directly to our rooms; the check-in can be done in the morning. We trudge along to our rooms. They are spacious and sort of normal. Quite a disappointment after all that scary movie setting. All fall asleep.

Next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast at the Bumbleberry Restaurant we made our way into Zion National Park. First thing on the itinerary is the Scenic Highway tour which can only be taken using the Zion shuttle. We all crowded into the shuttle. Regular tourist crowd. Older white Americans, some Europeans, just one big desi family other than us. All with SLRs and Rebels and Insurgents and whatever it is that they call them nowadays.

First stop: Court of the Patriarchs. That's Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. (Not exactly in that order.) Could very well have been Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva I guess.

We decided to walk along the Virgin River to the next shuttle stop instead of taking the shuttle. It looked beautiful. What we did not realise however was that the trail was still being used as a horse route. Which meant that for the next one mile, we were treated to the earthy fragrance of horse shit. The genteel among us complained. The rest of us shut her up.

After a brief trip to some Emerald Pools (there was really nothing much to see there, I'd rather go with the waterfalls of Kutralam, thank you), we chilled around Zion Lodge for sometime. I mean food was around, so it made sense. Then we boarded the shuttle for the Temple of Sinawawa. Saw some pretty mountains on the way. The mountain ranges in the distance were either red or white depending on whether the top layer was iron oxide or calcium carbonate. Angel's Landing looked quite majestic and Anoop was very much interested to scale its heights but I had a readymade excuse. Vertigo. We reached the final stop, the Temple of Sinawawa.

We went down a trail to the Narrows - apparently the canyon narrows to about 4 feet in certain places with the river running in between. We did not get to see it as the trail was closed after a certain point as the water level was high and flash floods was a real possibility. We could do with some flash floods, I thought, it was about 96 degrees by then. The Virgin River looked quite inviting, so I ran along and jumped. Freezing water. Nearly died in there but dutiful Anoop came running. Bill, needless to say, was laughing his head off.

After I was rescued and properly cared for(I got more than my fair share of snacks), we decided to head back to the Inn. As we waited for the shuttle, Bill got talking to this cute, hep, old Indian couple.

R: Have you noticed something about Bill?
Me: What? That he is really quiet? We all know that.
R: No, not that. Have you noticed that he talks more to strangers than he talks to us.
Me: I can't say that I haven't.
R: Why do you think that is?
Me: Because strangers talk to him?
R: That's not the point.
Me: What are you trying to say dude?
R: He doesn't like talking to us.
Me: I see. Here he comes. Lets ask him.
R: Who are those people?
Bill: They are super nice. They live in Chicago and they just retired, so they are taking this big national parks trip around the country. Cool no?
R: Yeah? How did you get talking to them?
Bill: I don't know. They talked to me.
R and I exchanged glances.

Later, over lunch at our favorite Bumbleberry place(none of us were willing to try the Bumbleberry Pie as Anoop refused to tell us what a bumbleberry is), we figured out plans for the rest of the day. Our original plan was to do Mt Carmel Highway, but instead we decided to go to Kolob Canyon. Kolob Canyon was supposed to be really beautiful at sunset and we figured we could get to the Mt Carmel Highway the next morning on our way to Bryce Canyon.

We set out. Things got a little dicey as I was made the designated driver - Anoop wanted to shoot. As I mentioned earlier, I really wasn't used to driving trucks. The biggest thing I had driven until then was a big Japanese car so you see the problem. But not only did I manage to drive that bus perfectly, I even climbed on top of that thing and got Anoop to take pictures. In the interests of keeping up my bleeding-heart liberal image, I will not make those pictures public but instead, here are really awesome pictures of Kolob Canyon at sunset.

The next morning, we set out bright and early. The Mt Carmel Highway was out of the world that time of the day. Mountains on all sides, the road had a series of switchbacks leading up to a narrow, dark 1.6 mile long tunnel. If you were a heavy vehicle(since this is America, ours did not qualify), you would need to be escorted through the tunnel by a park vehicle. Coming out of the tunnel, we were treated to a number of checkboard mountains, the most popular one being the checkerboard mesa. The vertical and horizontal lines are formed by two completely independent processes and that they happened to occur at the same place is either an amazing coincidence or a proof for the existence of a God depending on which side of the fence you are on.

Coming up next: Part 2 - Wooing/Voodooing the Hoodos.

PS: If you are wondering where I disappeared for a week since all this was last weekend, no interesting excuses. 16-hour work days. Punishment for wooing the hoodoos, I am told. I will explain, I promise. Patience.

PPS: All photos courtesy of Anoop Iyer.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

They call it pollution

We call it life. Here.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Let the expletives follow.

[They were making fun of the ad in today's edition of one of my all-time favorite programs on NPR - Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.]

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Busy, trivial, inoffensive

AO Scott having the time of this life here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Raining writers / Water everywhere

A friend of a friend was in town today for a book reading and in the interest of supporting budding writers, trundled along to Andersonville this evening. Promptly got lost trying to find the bookstore and thus ended up exploring the neighborhood. Guilt, shame and denial all happened simultaneously as one realised that as much as one's heart belonged in a place like this, one would still continue to live in the yuppie paradise of Lincoln Park. Finally managed to find the Women and Children First bookstore at the corner of Clark and Berwyn. An independent, feminist store, it was exactly what one expected it to be - Plath ruled the poetry section.

Soon, the usual suspects started streaming in. Middle-aged activists from Wisconsin, students and wannabe students who looked like they just stepped out of their classrooms, a modest sample of second generation South Asians, three women of the Oprah variety who one was sure would surely feel one with the widows in the book before the reading was over, desi aunties and one uncle, a couple of moi-type people, about 40 in all. Women ruled, no more than 5 men. Guilt struck again as one realised one hadn't heard about the book until yesterday, so ran to shelf and pretended to read random passages until the authoress made her appearance.

The reading went very well. Devyani was extremely articulate, super-confident and great at reading out loud. Right amount of witticism, intelligent answers to questions, connected with audience. The passages themselves, while not exceptional, sounded well-written. One thinks that the book is definitely worth looking into especially if one's into memoirs and such.

The book: Shooting Water
The writer: Devyani Saltzman aka Deepa Mehta's daughter
Book reading schedules here

PS: Did spend some time with the writer later and she is not only nice but seems sensible too.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Random airport conversations

Yesternight. Bookstore at Chicago Midway. 8.35 PM CT.

Random Guy(RG): Do you know what this is about?

Me: No. (If you don't know that, do NOT touch that book.)

RG: I have never heard of this guy. Is he good?

Me: You have never heard of Philip Roth?

RG: No, Is he good?

Me: Have you heard of the Nobel Prize?

RG: What? Of course. Did he win the Nobel?

Me: No, but he will.

RG: Oh okay. Thanks.

Puts Everyman back on the shelf.

Me: And btw, he is also the script writer for Desperate Housewives.

RG: Really? I didn't know that.

Takes book back from shelf and walks to cashier. It is moments like this when I know that I am capable of murder.

9:05 PM CT. Gate waiting area.


Me: Hello?

BM: Hey. What are you upto?

Me: At airport. Waiting for flight to Pittsburgh.

BM: You are going to Pittsburgh?

Me: Yeah, quite unplanned. Got sick of work today and wanted to get away. So bought a ticket this evening.

BM: What?

Me: Yeah, getting AR to pick me up. Bill doesn't know.

BM: Ha ha. This is so funny.

Me: What's funny?

BM: First of all, it is so out of character. Bill will ask you who you are and what have you done with Veena when he sees you. And wasn't it just yesterday that you were making some tall claims on Falsie's blog? Here you are now, all pining for husband dear that you catch a last minute flight to go see him. You think this is not funny?

Me: Yeah whatever. Can't a girl decide where she wants to go?

BM: She sure can. Dude, is everything alright?

Me: Yeah, don't panic. I can't believe this myself okay? But what the hell? Spring is beautiful in Squirrel Hill.

BM: Yeah, of course thats why you are going. To enjoy spring in Squirrel Hill and Schenely Park. Spring there is so much better than at the shores of Lake Michigan.

Me: Enough alright? I need to board now. Talk to you later.

In flight. 11.20 PM ET.

Guy in Plane(GP): Pardon me, but did you say the name Arjunan while you were on the phone?

Me: Yes, he is the friend who is supposed to pick me up.

GP: Arjunan is actually one of my favorite characters in the Mahabharata. The story of him and Krishna is one of the best ever.

Me: Oh, okay.

GP: Have you see the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance?

Me: Might have. I don't remember very well. Wasn't it about a drunk golfer and his mentor?

GP: Yes, the golfer name was Raymond Juno. R Juno, it is supposed to be Arjun.

Me: Really?

GP: Oh yes, The story of Arjun and Krishna was what they were trying to potray in that movie.

Me: Interesting, I never knew that.

(To be fair, the rest of my in-flight conversation was actually very interesting. The man happened to be a school teacher who teaches world history to high school students in Chicago and I had a wonderful time chatting with him. When he finally said that he has never met anyone (esp in flights) who is so enthu about history, I told him that he lives in the wrong country. He agreed.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

So much for liberal bias

I am really curious. How many of you hear of Colbert's performance at the White House Saturday night from a major media source? Could I just be blind?