It is cleaner, greener, and more beautiful here than the tour books suggest. We are in a lovely residential neighborhood called R. A Puram, renting an apartment in a four-story apartment building. We have a large living room, a kitchen, a laundry room, two small bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a Western toilet and the other with an Indian toilet), and a wonderful screened-in porch where we eat our meals. It is really nice to have a cozy home base to come back to, and good to have a kitchen where I can make a cup of chamomile tea or get breakfast when I’m hungry. This is very cushy, even in this neighborhood, where there are some very large houses owned by So-and-so Senior Advocate or Mr. Such-and-Such Film Director. (Honestly, I saw that on a gatepost yesterday.) I’ll try to insert some pictures when I post this – we have limited Internet access and I’ll be trying to write things up on Word and then cut and paste them into my blog.
We arrived about 1:30 a.m. Saturday. The flights were fine, especially the flight from London to Chennai, when I slept most of the way. I did have a moment of panic when it was time to board the plane; truly, I’m not sure if it was the medicine that I took to help me sleep (not a sleeping pill, even, cause I’m a lightweight) or the thought that I was boarding the plane that would leave me in India for a whole month. I suddenly felt nauseous, dizzy, and, oh yeah, I had hot flashes throughout the entire flight. But everyone on the plane was polite, friendly, really attentive to their babies and assorted small children – we were seated with a young woman from Miami going home for 3 months to see her parents – and midway through the flight, a friend of hers who was also heading home to plan her wedding stopped by to visit – and it was like listening to a semi-bored teenager who likes to party some (she was bored, couldn’t find a movie to watch, drained her Ipod and forgot to recharge it…)and that made me feel more comfortable, too.
The trip from the airport to our apartment? You cannot imagine the way people here drive. If there is a tiny bit of space, they barrel through. If they want to go in another direction, they U-turn. Anywhere. If the traffic slows down, they pull around the cars, drive into the oncoming lane, and then swerve back into the proper lane. And these aren’t even the rickshaw drivers, who are an even crazier version of the typical drivers. People ride two and three to a motorcycle, bicyclists file alongside, cars move in and out, and most of the time, it works, though I have seen one tiny accident so far, when one car scraped the side of another because that opening she tried to squeeze through wasn’t quite wide enough. And honking accompanies every few feet covered: honk to let the car in front know that you’re passing, honk to say you’re U-turning, honk to let the pedestrian walking down the street know that you’re coming, honk to insist that traffic jams get moving. (Hannah, you’d be dumbstruck – this beats out Boston hands down.)
On the other hand, walking and crossing the street – which was described as a certain death trap – is much more manageable than anticipated. (And yes, you suddenly notice that a cow is walking down the street in front of you, but they are sweet and gentle and it's seems strangely normal.) Especially in the mornings or late afternoons. And by today, we could walk down the street without being approached constantly by rickshaw drivers trying to get us to take a ride. Our goal this afternoon, after getting lost yesterday walking home, was to go out, walk and map our neighborhood so that we felt more aware of our surroundings. Definitely confidence-building. As my yoga students know, I’m not good with left and right nor with maps, so walking, looking for landmarks, and drawing my own little maps into my notebook with ways to mark the place (NOT the “house with Ganesh alter on the corner,” because we quickly realized that almost every corner house has a Ganesh altar) gave me a much clearer sense of where we live and how to get to the street with the markets or back home from a walk.
Once we reached the shopping area near to our house, we roamed up one side of the street and down the other to get a lay of the land. Sunday is a holiday (not sure if it’s every Sunday or a special day – the large wall calendar in the apartment has an image of a god on today’s date) and some things were closed, but we found a store where I bought a Coke and then spied milk (10 rupees or about 25 cents) for coffee and cereal (it comes in a plastic sealed bag which I’ll have to decant into a container), a fruit and vegetable store where you pile your selections into a large metal bowl, take it to the counter, and the gentleman weighs it on a scale (97 rupees, or about two dollars, for two small pineapples, what I think might be a pomegranate but could be something else, five small potatoes, some shallots, three onions, a cucumber or maybe a squash, green beans, some small eggplants, five little carrots, and a papaya), and the coffee store, where just the aroma of the roasted beans coming out the door was enough – you didn’t even need to drink any. (By then, we were new-experienced-out, so I’ll come back another day. The coffee in Chennai is renowned.)
All together, much better than yesterday, when we did too many new things and set our expectations too big. Though, after wending through the maze of stores in Spencer Plaza (as awful as any American mall, with too many people, too much noise, and those damn hallways designed to keep you going in circles so that you will shop more), we found FabIndia and after some gentle wrangling with the young clerk, who wanted me to buy silk, I found some batiked and cotton shalwar kameeze (the long tunics and full-legged pants worn by most women here, though I’ve noticed that the women I see walking, marketing, and such in my neighborhood all wears saris, so I’m wondering if there’s a class or age difference involved? And every woman here looks beautiful, and the colors and the way they are combined in the clothes could inspire an artist for years) so that I feel less conspicuous and much, much cooler and comfortable.
Tomorrow, my first day of work.