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Monday, July 30, 2012

The time it takes a wandering body to light

It's now been a little over four weeks back in Massachusetts and I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the assistance of those who have opened their homes for me to alight in.

Pasang and his wife Janice gave me safe haven in Melrose and allowed me to stir up their beautiful kids, Kimaya and Dhewa! My friend Belinda was wonderful in putting me up in her condo in North Cambridge and I now find myself in the Villa Graziella in Belmont, which really does feel like Italy to me in the way of welcome and hospitality.

The deck and the garden are inspiring.
....and so is Akira, Samurai Wonder Cat!
I've got Melrose and Cambridge pictures on the way, but I'm posting these to celebrate a sense of place.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

FINALLY! (original post on October 2012)

Before you start reading and wonder what's going on here, this is a re-post. I had typed "right" for "write" and upon updating the post, Blogger moved this from October of last year to today. If anyone has any idea if there's a way to get a post back to its original place, let me know. I don't know which is more embarrassing; the misspelling or the messed up chronology. Hopefully, I'll find a way to get this entry back where it belongs. In the meantime, here is your humble narrator at his most irascible. Viddy well....
First things first: TSA SUCKS!

En route to Cancun via Atlanta, Georgia. The first leg was in business class on AirTran and went without incident, except the TSA guy in Houston perplexed me and kind of pissed me off. “What's your full name, sir?” I told him. Then he asked me what my final destination was. My initial thought was to say look at the ticket. Of course, in this case first thought is not best thought. Then he asks me which hand I write with. I'm sorry but this is where TSA verges on harassment. I told him my right and he says “huh, looks like you write with your left”. I was good; I didn't ask him if he was a graphologist. I didn't say that maybe all these years, why holy shit! I've been writing with the wrong hand, thank you, sir, for saving me from a lifetime of error. I did say, “nope, right hand; my whole life”. Then he looks at me and I swear it was a smirk, not a smile and he wished me a good flight.

WTF is with this assholism? Leaving Houston (again) for Colorado back in September, the TSA officer asked to inspect my wallet. I'm sorry, what? This is not a matter of security. I need to remember to get to an airport much, much earlier so that when this kind of thing happens, I can question it and not worry about being delayed so much as to miss my flight. Every time I do arrive much earlier, though, nothing like this happens.

Most of the time, I don't mind being a sheeple and getting scanned (haven't gotten patted down...yet). I've been isolated with other people, randomly (never with an explanation or an apology – however, insincere – for the incovenience); once was flying out of Dulles, once was in Charlotte, and while in both instances, that was weird, I'm not disconcerted. But what I'd like, at least, is some sense from TSA or some assurance that this all random, that “hey, we're sorry, just doing our jobs”, but that doesn't happen. The level of prickitude and minor (major) Napoleon complex is pretty high with these folks.

This is not to say that I haven't encountered friendly and courteous TSA officials. But the norm is either apathy or outright - I wouldn't say hostility – implied threat that they have the power to severely fuck up your day. I'm going on about this because it might be time to call the TSA on not holding their employees accountable to some level of professional courtesy. I think we're all tired of the implication that we're criminals just because we want to catch a flight.

...and don't get me going on Bank of America charging its customers for using their debit cards....

Now That That's Over

Despite the above rant, I actually do like the Atlanta airport. When I was here last, it was snowed under and I wasn't altogether convinced that I hadn't landed already in Boston. This was in the midst of the northeast storm that crippled the South/Southeast and up the Northeast Coast. I wound up spending a couple of days waiting for my flight home and found exploring the airport pretty interesting.

For one thing, it's part of a city wide initiative to open up more spaces to art and following are some examples. Flying down to Belize last winter, I had to fly through Atlanta and thought this was a great idea well-executed and felt a little sorry that I wouldn't have time to check out the art more. The art gods must have heard me because I had a couple of days to enjoy some reading, meditating and taking in fine work, some of which follows.


These are some examples from the Center for Puppetry Arts, Atlanta, from all over the world including Cambodia, Turkey and Bali.
This first one is a souvenir shadow puppet from Cambodia, used to interpret narratives from the Cambodian Ramayana.
A rod puppet from Bali.
Shadow puppets from Turkey - 20th century

"Young Knight":  a rod puppet from Indonesia
"Petruk", a type of rod puppet from Java.
"Dr. Faustus", from Germany, c. 1950
"Devil", also from Germany, same timeframe. Could this be Mephistofeles to the Dr. Faustus above?
Puppets from the Czech Republic
An exceptionally cool pig puppet from Nigeria!
Vietnamese Water Puppet

Vietnamese Water Puppet

 To learn more about the water puppets (and others):

A "jing" puppet from China.

"Hippy" by Susan Moore, 1980; what would an exhibit of puppets be without Jim Henson's influence somewhere in view? This guy found himself a spokespuppet for Campbell Soup ads on TV in the early 80s.

 Martin Luther King

Sadly, most of my pictures for this wonderful memorial to Dr. King came out poorly. The only images that worked were these two. This was a small, very stirring installation. I don't know if it's still up, but if it is, I recommend checking it out. Even if it's not, pay a visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. There's still so much work to be done and he stands as a beacon for all.


This is an exhibition of pieces from the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. Some nice work in the middle of the terminal!

Untitled, 1982, Dale Chihuly

Untitled from "Twelfth House Series", 1986, Michael Pavlik

"Shard", 1982, John C. Littleton and Katherine E. Vogel

"Dichronic Bowl", 1984, Steven Maslach

"Ola'a", 1989, Paul Manners

Sculpture from Zimbabwe and Malawi sculptors

I love this exhibit! The descriptions and information for the pieces follow the images. I took two pictures of each work in some cases because the flash would blanch some of the subtleties out and you lose the drama of the piece.

This is an installation from the Tellus Museum of Science on Minerals. I thought this was just really neat to see in an airport.

Well done, Atlanta!

Last Rant

I miss Steve Jobs already. Especially now that I elected to take my Netbook instead of my iPad 2. I want to be able to post stuff to the blog and I don't have the iPad set up yet for loading pictures from my camera; with no USB port, that's a light issue, but I'm pretty sure there's a workaroung. In the meantime, I'm dealing with crappy performance, programs that don't respond and in general, my own frustration that this little guy is not a proficient multi-tasker. It wasn't meant to be and I bought it so that I wouldn't feel bad if it got stolen or lost (whereas it's too early for me to deal with that post-partum if that happened with the iPad).

Yeah, I'm going to have to work out the photo transfer/upload issue before I head to India, for sure. Man, task manager doesn't even respond....

Friday, July 27, 2012

LBWF Update!

I'm pretty excited about this last email I received from Mahendra Kumar, the director of the Lord Buddha Welfare Foundation. I'm also pretty psyched that I have my friends Bob and Graziella are stepping up to the plate with support in terms of dollars and supplies.  

Mahendra started by mentioning that he had met with the parents of the students at the LBCS (Lord Buddha Charitable School) and impressed on them that the kids need to attend regularly. He didn't go into detail, but he did say that since this is the "agricultural season", the children are being put to work. When I was there in December and January, the older children were working the harvests. My guess is that for planting, it's an "all hands" situation.


He also writes that some of the kids come in dirty clothes and has stressed the importance of cleanliness to the parents.


Another issue is building maintenance. After school, some of the children hang around to play and unintentionally damage the masonry. The quality of concrete in India isn't the highest and it's not hard to imagine even little kids chipping the structure. Consequently, Mahendra notes that they're relying on people to keep watch over the property and that one of the major projects will be to erect a protective wall around the school building itself.


Teaching is going well, but unfortunately, the regular donation coming in from Finland isn't enough to cover the teachers' salaries. The Finnish monthly allotment is only 3,300 rupees ($59.89, at this moment). In January, the LBWF was budgeting $150 per teacher (2), but Mahendra notes that the accepted salary for each teacher should be 3,000 rupees ($54); so if anyone's interested, this would be a good area of support.


Lastly, they need a hand pump, toilet and a white board. Costs for this will be listed below.


I think I mentioned last winter that the LBWF has also started a computer school which Mahendra was really excited about. However, he writes:


"The computer class is running here but here is the problems of electricity so we are not able to keep it regular.We had bought the Inverter in March but it is not much helpful [sic] for this we need generator. We got funding from Shindo association for the teacher salary and maintainanance for the computer class for 2012-13.There are 18 students are studying computer."


Lastly, they are moving ahead with the FCRA process. They need to gather their past three years of paperwork together for the audit, then build up the school's infrastructure; this needs to happen first, because once the application is submitted, inspectors from the home ministry are sent from Delhi to sign off (or not) on the application. Thus, the funds that the LBWF have been broken out as follows.


Disbursement of funds from Finland for the Choraha school




No. Of teachers


Total exp./month


Teacher salary


1500 Rs

Rs 3,000



Rs 150



Rs 150


LBWF's needs assessments:




Estimated cost


Hand pump






Rs 25000




Rs 60,000

Total Rs 97,000

For the record, 97,000 rupees = US $1,755

In other news, I've accepted the Harvard Medical School's offer, so personally, I'll be throwing in little support and my next step will be to set up a Facebook page for the LBWF so Mahendra, Dinu and Kapil can post updates globally and hopefully, relatively frequently. It's important to bear in mind (because I forget this, too) that Internet connectivity is sometimes very, very spotty.

If anyone is interested in helping out, feel free to post a comment. I'll respond ASAP, and I can give you details on who to contact or you can get in touch with Mahendra himself by email:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Different, same

Just briefly, if anyone is interested on reading another take about returning to the west, please check out my dear friend Fleur's blog "In the Flow". She's a wonderful writer and a great person. Her most recent post is spot-on, in my estimation. You can find that here. Happy reading!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Houston, quickly

When I was back in Houston last summer and fall, I was astonished at the havoc wreaked on the city's green space by one of the worst droughts in Texas history. I also whined about Landmark Cinema's bag searching policy. In general, though, my time spent back in the Space City was illuminating and rather fun. Given the cuts to NASA, I don't think it's called the Space City anymore, but color me nostalgic.

This time around, I visited those green spaces in Memorial Park and discovered just how devastated the park was. Forty thousand trees had been removed with more to follow. Not just from drought, but blight, as well, plus wash-out from a heavy rainstorm didn't help matters, either. Similarly, but not as crippling, Hermann Park lost its share of trees, as well. In both cases, volunteers from Trees for Houston and the respective conservancies for each park turned out in force this past Arbor Day and planted hundreds of trees.

My sister and I made a return to Landmark's Edwards Theater at Greenway Plaza for a flick that I don't remember offhand. As we approached the ticket taker, my sister said "Did you see that?" Clueless, I replied, "What?" and sure enough, there was a nice sign that alerted people to Landmark's policy that they reserved the right to search back-packs, hand-bags, etc. That's all I asked for. It's still an invasive policy that I personally don't like; but hey, it's POSTED! Thank you, Landmark.

I had some lovely mornings meditating, long walks to work (seriously: I picked up a gig driving the train at Hermann Park, something every kid growing up in Houston wants to do; I saw an ad on a non-profit job board and figured it'd be fun to do), sitting in the Japanese Garden and Rothko Chapel and, in general, deciding that it was time to go back to Massachusetts. I attended the opening of the Asia Society, saw some terrific exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum, and caught up on the cinematic pop culture I didn't really miss all that much. Right off the bat, "The Avengers", "Moonrise Kingdom", and "Bernie" take pride of place in my Houston viewing. And as much as I don't care for Teevee, the BBC's "Sherlock" has proven to be stunning for its invention and wit in remagining Holmes and Watson for the 21st century.

A visit from our brother was great but far too short! Now that I'm back in the northeast, I can weary him further! An additional reason for returning (as well as the birth of my nephew's little girl).

The temptation is to go on about some of the intriguing turns of Houston politics, its transportation issues, sustainability topics and so on, but I think I'll save those for later. There's a lot to go into regarding these subjects, owing to Houston's rather idiosyncratic nature, a major city with no zoning, one with staggering growth and a place that, frankly, is a lot more interesting than the rest of the country realizes. But I'm not quite up for going over my notes right now, but as I think about it, it might be worthwhile to essay some of these aspects. I really do like Houston, but I couldn't live there, I decided, because it is so amorphous. I think it's a great place for growth and opportunity, but it lacks a center and while that may not be a governing factor for some, I find it disappointing and it mitigates any sense that any contribution I might make would matter. I can't quite explain that right now, but it articulates pretty well what I feel when I think about staying there for any length of time.

I've also have an essay I'm working on regarding my first trip back to the MFAH. What I'd like to do is to finish both it and a similar essay on the National Museum in Delhi and have them available for download as PDFs. I'll post those whenever they're ready.

I think now is as good a time as any to leave you with some pictures.

A rather large sculpture for the King Tut exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.



From the Asia Society opening:


Lion Dance 1.
Lion Dance 2.

This was pretty cool; it's a bluegrass duo who paired up with a couple of classical Nepalese musicians. The results were fascinating.

Transco Tower out on Post Oak Boulevard was once referred to by a high school chum of mine as a middle finger for those of us inside the loop. I disagree. In its phallic solitude, it may just be some lonely aroused instrument betokening the solitary machismo of those who choose to live on the outside. Or it could just be a kind of cool modernist steel and glass structure that was planned as part of a greater development that never saw light of day.

That said, I actually like it, but I also enjoy the fountain to the building's north.

Despite the drought, Houston has some lovely, tranquil green space. This is a park adjacent to Rothko Chapel.

Next up, a Japanese garden, art cars and a big head....


Houston: Point of Departure; Boston: Point of Return...But first...

Two months, two weeks or so back in the United States. I spent two months in Houston and am now back in Massachusetts. I'm hard-pressed to review the return, though seeing my sister and brother and our cousin Bonnie was great. That said, it is odd being back. 

It's not a bad odd. Just that when I think of the radical differences in the economies of scale between where I was and where I am, I'm given pause. I just spent the equivalent of 800 rupees on a sandwich and a pot of tea that would have cost, at most, half that in the most expensive restaurant in Dharamsala and even less in Bihar. I'm astonished at what the dollar buys and how far it goes and then, I'm more amazed at what it does in a developing country.

I'm grateful for the Clean Air Act and the EPA, but I miss the smells and the assault on the senses of India. I'm not sure I've gotten used to sidewalks or orderly automotive traffic. The lack of horns constantly blowing is something I didn't think I'd miss. Now I'm not so sure.

The absence of garbage is wonderful, the general cleanliness of the states is, of course, welcome, but I miss the mountains and the plains and the accessibility of a temple or a monastery to just go to for a moment of quiet or reflection.

I'm not done with India. In fact, I feel as though something has just begun that may involve the rest of my life and one part of this is found in this post. My friend Bob Publicover contacted me about wanting to make a donation to the LBWF's school in Choraha and I quickly moved to get in touch with Mahendra and Kapil, the director and secretary of the foundation. I am determined that, on this side of the Atlantic, I will continue to find funding for them, but more importantly, that I'm going to continue assisting them in developing their donor base in-country.

Mahendra wrote me yesterday to say that since Leigh and I left, no new funds have come forward, which essentially tells me that he and Kapil and probably Dinu are contributing out of their earnings. That said, I'm of the mind that our contributions were significant enough to fully supply the school, and they have a new teacher, as well.

Along with the development I saw in Bihar - hotels and guest houses, restaurants were going up at a fair clip - comes inflation, apparently, and Mahendra writes: "In Bihar all the goods are getting expensive so the teachers ask to increase the salary so we need regular funding for this very needy purpose". Additonally, the foundation still hasn't gotten. It's FCRA, but I'm hopeful that as more businesses come into the area and wages rise, there will be less grift. I'm hopeful, but not naive. This is a process that will take decades.

Be that as it may, now that the LBWF has snagged a donor in the form of one of the most generous people I know, I feel better that others might step up to the plate. To that end, if anyone reading this wants to kick in a little their way, please contact Mahendra directly. Probably the best way is via email at Please bear the following caveats in mind:

  • To make a donation, you have to wire funds directly to Mahendra Kumar in Bodhgaya. He will acknowledge receipt of funds by email or snail mail according to your preference.
  • The LBWF doesn't have any tax exempt status in the U.S. or outside of India, so near that in mind. But do know that what to us is a small amount can go pretty far. Twenty-five dollars can go toward supplies and clothes that will take care of a handful of kids' needs. You don't get a tax write-off, but you will be contributing to some kids getting a leg up in one of the more impoverished places in India.
  • Mahendra is a dear, dear friend of mine, but his written English isn't the strongest. Talking to him, you'll find a sharp young man trying to make a difference with limited resources and he's all too well aware that the LBWF just isn't the most professional of organizations. In addition to financial aid, the LBWF could use a real website. I don't have the bandwidth right now, but if anyone wants to build and/or host a site, please email Mahendra and me (leave a comment on this blog and I'll be in touch).
  • Along the same line regarding communication, I'm not sure now much Mahendra gets about transparency and accountability. When I contacted him about Bob's contribution, I pretty much hammered him on both those points. While I trust him, I want him and Kapil to get in the habit of updating donors, keeping in contact and eventually growing an organization that can be a model for other, smaller groups in areas like Bihar. If you elect to make a donation, let him know that you want to hear from him, heat you want updates not just on where your money is going but the overall health of the organization.
So I'm back in the states and I'm still writing about India. I'll post more about the past couple of months in due course. I realize that whatever I write here will be mostly for my friends elsewhere; however, I hope that those of you who have been following this are finding something of note or merit.