That’s A Wrap

         (INAUGURATION Day 2017)

Tempting though an escape from the Trump years may be, time to get back and get to work — amazing to see friends and family marching the day after the election– and to be with family and friends. Videos and FaceTime are not all no substitute! 

Such a temple!

Vaikunta Ekadasi , the greatest festival of  the Ranganatharswamy Temple  year,  is about to begin in this Hindu temple, so today, police and people were swarming, traffic was redirected, and the hawkers were having a great time. Devotees – men, women, ancient and fairly young – were brilliant , the whole place just  glorious chaos.

The temple is enclosed by 7 concentric walls, and according to Lonely Planet it has 21 gopurams (those pink and blue towers), 39 pavillions, 50 shrines, including  the Hall of 1000 Pillars (though I read somewhere that the number is actually 994). As a non-Hindu, I  could get up to the 2nd outer courtyard, but as always, not inside the gold-topped sanctum sanctorum. 

See these chappals (photo, below)?  I set mine there (black Crocs, left of the pink ones), paid the ancient woman the 10 rupees she required, then walked barefoot across the road to enter the temple. There, I saw a stall offering chappals storage. FREE. I know it was just 14 cents, & I know it was perfect weather – high 80’s(Minnesota people notice this sort of thing) – but it probably took a good 5 minutes for me to let go of the injustice. It was probably a good 5 minutes before I saw the malnourished, hunched-over woman, probably my age, leaning against the temple wall and holding out sticks of sandalwood incense for people like me  to buy.                                   REALLY, Mary Ellen?

Good day. Feeling very ready, now, for the ashram.


Athens’ Exarcheia: “An empty wall is a lonely wall/An empty wall is a sad wall.”

                  Rainy day, unforgiving marble stairs, so I trod carefully, the better to see it all. 


The Great Chiang Mai Get-Together


It’s part of why I came back in February — I’d heard about the flowers, didn’t imagine it was a festival to rival the you-know-which-state’s State Fair.

I left from here with the kids … 



Lots to see and to do,  as the students set up their booth- full of purses, backpacks, key chains ( which some village people make for the kids to sell)…& food.       

  No more photos of the kids, who finally packed it in at 10pm, but speaking of food–

En route to a booth



   Light batter, rolled sausage(hot dog)



 Hard-boiled eggs-on-a-stick




 …and on and on it went.  


Beyond food, jewelry, clothes…

 Jackets selling fast, as the Mercury dipped below 80 in the a.m.  

Finally- I left at 7:30, it started at 9(-ish) – The Flower Parade. 

Some  random photo videos here —


  Yes, that is his brow being wiped – by 10, it was getting warm.


   Replica of The Three PrincesMonument…

LIVE replica–

Many,many more flowered floats, but IMHO —BEST IN SHOW….  

PS So, perhaps it’s  not like the Minnesota State  Fair at all  — have I been away so long, that it just felt like it for awhile? Probably. 

Or as one MN friend who knows this place well has put it, “You’re becoming allergic to Mai Pen Rai…”  Someday, I’ll explain, or try to. For now, experiencing it (Mai Pen Tai) as I am, it is enough to say I’m finding life here boulversant/amazing. 



7 Gopurams: Trichy’s Sri Ranganathaswamy

This  temple complex is more like a small city, with its 49 separate shrines and 7 gopurams: the last one,  added about 30 years ago, at 73m. is one of Asia’s tallest temple towers.

I wandered through streets of shops selling the area’s famous kitchen ironware, and clay incense-holders  and ghee-lamps,  as well as  geegaws of all sorts.  It wasn’t too hot yet, so I took my time, milling along  with women in red saris (a wedding? temple visit?), men in dhotis long and short, motorbikes, auto-and a few bike-rickshaws. 


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Leaving, I looked back and my eyes and camera lens landed on this man – sadhu? shopkeeper?


In Tamil Nadu, 4 Days and Nights of Pongal + A Child’s Way

 Overnight, elaborate  RONGOLIS, drawn with brilliant colored powder, appeared  in front of village houses and shops: the  great  Harvest and Thanksgiving feast of Pongal, Day 2. 
  At the ashram cowshed: Pongal altar, and Shantivanam ‘s young prior, with the pujari on the left.  


After this  chanting and blessing with fire – aarti (arathi/arathi/aarti) – of the Pongal Rice…  

  …Sister Mercy, Ananda ashram’s St Francis, performed the ritual Pongal Rice feeding. 
And afterwards,we humans enjoyed the sweet rice. Amma- Sister Mary Louise – shared hers with 6.5-yr-old Abishish.

Earlier, he had been the attentive attendant bell-ringer as his dad and the pujari  blessed the cows.  

When he’d had enough, Abishish became full-on 6.5 years old again.

Towards sunset, I heard him ask for Amma’s blessing.

And so it goes!   


 That then, this now

Last night, Elizabeth, Roy, and I enjoyed one last fling, Chiang Mai’s  Night Market   

As far as I can tell, they’ve reached their next port of call. Missing them already, but the adventures continue.

 It’s Sunday, so I returned to SEVEN FOUNTAINS this morning, and a Feast of the Holy Family homily which I think only a Jesuit could give. He spoke of how M,J,&J — and other Jews — continued to make this  trip to Jerusalem because they continued to believe in freedom, even when they weren’t experiencing it themselves, at least not at that moment (those pesky Romans). It was not much of a leap from there to the Finding in the Temple, and then (in northern Thailand, where we are) from the Finding in the Temple to the situation (& incidents) in nearby Myanmar.  

So, no photos , but a great time during and after Mass. But I digress. 

 To get to the retreat center, I’d  chosen  a   Red Truck driver who became lost; then there was about a mile of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Huai  Kaeo Rd. Consequently,  I  arrived at a packed Mass as the homily was starting. I flashed my cane, and a young man in the last row – the one with  cushioned chairs – literally leapt up to give me his seat. After the homily, when  the woman next to me stood up to sing “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” I stood up, too, so she shared her hymnal. It was somewhere in the 5th or 6th  verse, and the line “…and ever over Babel sounds,” that I smiled to myself, looked around…  and realized I’d landed in the choir . 

Oh, well. It was a fine seat, as I say, so I stood up and joined in for the rest of the songs, too – all Christmas Carols, all wonderful to sing. After the Recessional – a belted-out rendition of “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” my beautiful Thai hymnal owner  leaned over to ask if I’d be there with them next week…. I said no, but I’d be back for the month of February, and she smiled: relieved she’d have a month to prepare the rest of the choir? I wasn’t quite sure.
Afterwards, in the guesthouse at Seven Fointains,  I met with a lovely Jesuit who assures me that my notion (Rosellen’s advice, really –) of reading the book by — every left wing Catholic’s second favorite Jesuit author — James  Martin, on the Spiritual Exercises, is a good way to prepare for a short retreat @ 7 Fountains, and then a February blitz on (in?) the Exercises. Well, we’ll see. 
I ended the morning  and began the afternoon @ the Orange Mac Cafe, a place which, even while missing from this  Chiang Mai coffee shop list, has the best iced coffee in Chiang Mai. IMHO.

Our Royal Progress: pre-and-post Christmas in an Eastern setting

–Lampang – Chiang Mai (Thailand)

 Two days before Christmas, Supon’s bamboo papermaking showroom and workshop are the launching pad for Elizabeth: a year’s worth of art. Roy and I looked on as Soupon packed her order and discussed  mulberry-bamboo percentages, fiber-length…  

Despite posted restrictions, we had a fine Christmas Eve, Riverside. 
Christmas Morning, we tried for the Lampang-Chiang Mai bus.   

ended up in a taxi (no complaints).

Then Roy took charge of the Christmas meal, which was  a Progressive Dinner .  Yes, you read that right ( parked riverside). 

Even if you’re  not a Foodie, I think these plates – I didn’t bother to snap E’s salmon or my curry – give a sense of the next place he chose.   


We ended our Christmas at Anantara. The former British Consulate (it  was Roy’s evening, after all), now a sprawling luxury hotel, is a hoot: rich teak everywhere, and deep green walls in the bar — Japanese minimalist in other parts — and  attentive, early-20th c. -uniformed  wait staff. Poor photos because I was trying to be subtle.


  I gave up all pretense of subtlety for this video —  

and to all, a goodnight!

And now it’s Boxing Day, with my Chiang Mai neighborhood (“mine” for another week) and its uber-tattooed western 65-year-old men on their Vespas. My guesthouse is across from one temple and w/in a couple blocks of others, lovely and cool spaces…and look who showed up in a Sri Lankan RC church!!



Rock Star Tiffany

In Trivandrum, I had the honor of 94% humidity, yes, and a very budget guesthouse, true. However, I also had the honest-to-God huge and absolutely  unadulterated honor of meeting and working for too short a time with the indomitable, young (28!) founder of Jyothirgamaya, a nonprofit which empowers low-vision and blind people…Vision Loss Resources, Indian style!

 Tiffany is a machine — amazing to see her on the phone working on fundraising one minute, teaching a mobility or Voiceover lesson, the next.

 Tiffany moves fast and deftly, in the classroom and in the street (SO fast, I’ve no “outdoor” photos of her!).
Vinitha prepares incredible Kerala food every day at the hostel near the Center – and huge hugs for Tiffany.  

While I was there, one of the young women at the Jyothirgamaya Center got a job, packed up her belongings in the hostel, and headed out —   


“This Is What 70 Looks Like,” REDUX

Senthil Kumar, the school’s director, talked to me back in February about his great hope that he could take the teachers by train and by plane to Chennai (Madras).  Honestly? I never thought he could pull it off, but donations from the fundraiser, “This is What 70 Looks Like,” allowed it to happen — 
Here is  Senthil’s description of the day, including the first-ever flight which contributions from “This is What 70 Looks Like”  provided for the teachers on India’s Independence Day this summer.
Two firsts: airplane, metro

 Another First: Chennai’s Metro

Yes, now I am here to tell you all the joy we had with our Chennai visit! This Independence day was a very special and memorable one for all of us, especially the teachers of the School and certainly you did make this possible. They are so grateful to you for this love and are waiting in wings to tell you their joyful experience in person.
Our original program was well-planned with the mid-day plane trip to Chennai and returning back by the night train. But on the day of the program an SMS woke me up, telling me the flight would be delayed for nearly 10 hours!!! I was worried and disappointed and immediately cancelled all the return train tickets so that at least we could get back some coins. And instead booked  bus tickets for the next evening, not pleasant but we  had no alternative.
I had  wanted to have the plane ride during day time but this did not materialize and I was sorry for this,  as the teachers could have seen the sky and the clouds and have gotten the  additional feel and joy of flying. And another hiccup was that both at Trichy and Chennai airports now they use the aero-steps to board the plane which leads one straight into the plane,  not leaving the passenger to have a glimpse of the carrier you are travelling in. This saddened the teachers a bit as they wanted to see the plane they were travelling in.
Apart from this,  everything was joyful! After the traditional flag-hoisting for India’s  Independence Day at the School in the morning, we ate  lunch at home, then started in the evening to Trichy by the School van and were in time for the flight. The teachers enjoyed the security checks as they saw with their own eyes how far the authorities take care to ensure the safety of the plane and the passengers. And in the spacious aircraft there were not many travelling – it was half empty. After the whiz-off we were in Chennai barely within an hour’s time,  reaching there at midnight.
We spent the night in the airport verandha and in the early morning the booked vehicles arrived at the airport to pick us up. We went to Koimbedu, the bus terminal,  and refreshed ourselves and had breakfast. Then it was the joyful trip on the Metro train which has been recently introduced in Chennai.. Boarding at Koimbedu we got down at Alandur, the tail end station and from here went to Vadapalani Lord Muruga Temple and then to Ashta Lakshmi temple at Besant Nagar on the beach.
Later we wade through the town passing through Santhome Church and various places of interest and reached the beach housing the samadhis of two former great Chief Ministers Anna and MGR.
Samadhis (funerary monuments) near the beach, Chennai
After spending some time here and playing in the sea a little, though it was terribly hot, we went to T.Nagar area for our lunch and then for the teachers to do some shopping.
SHOPPING Area, Chennai

SHOPPING , T. Nagar in Chennai

Then it was getting late for the bus, so we had to rush and caught the bus at the last minute by 1930 hrs and reached Kulithalai in the early morning,  around 0430 hrs. Our School van was waiting here at the school to pick up the teachers and drop them back at home safely. We thanked the loving Lord for protecting us all the way through in a special way.
Every one was so delighted, dear Mary Ellen, and this joy belongs to you and all those who contributed on your Birthday. Words are not enough to thank you and so we send our hearts to thank you and all your loved ones for this love and help.

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