Saturday, December 11, 2010

Going to Kabul

Larry’s and my visas for Afghanistan came today. Very exciting! The writing on them is so beautiful…I have my hands full with just learning a few basics of Dari, but learning how to write it would be a fun project. What a beautiful language.

There was an NPR story featured about the school a few days ago:

We are planning to write lots once we get to Kabul and really know what is happening there. But Robin did send us some information about the students and the school. Here’s what she had to say:

The current enrollment of the Winter Academy is still being established but almost every student I have spoken with has said they will attend. The Embassy has also offered support in bringing students from other cities in Afghanistan, so the numbers continue to increase. At ANIM there are about 8 violinists, 3 who double as violists, 5 cellists, and no double bass :( (they prefer electric bass). All the cellists are beginners, but some have shot through normal expectations and are playing Suzuki Book two leve in 6 weeks. The violinists range from beginner to intermediate. As in every school, there is great future potential in some, more enjoyment in others. But for the most part they all love to play and work hard when inspired. :) For guitar students, there are quite a few, varied in level. For the few I’ve personally worked with, their styles vary from classical to rock to folk.

- What ensemble experience do the students have? Very little, but it is growing rapidly. There is orchestra that has helped a lot with ensemble experience. There is a guitar section in the orchestra too. And often times you’ll find them playing in duets/ trios together. But the extent of their ability to play well in an ensemble setting is very basic. Within the school there is also a rock band, a percussion ensemble, a young childrens ensemble (playing mostly traditional instruments - the best thing ever!) and there was my small ensemble class where the older students put together two songs (one traditional and one “improvised”). This went well as long as they remembered their parts and the trumpet player wasn’t overpowering the sitar… !

- What experiences have the students had with improvisation? Some of the students of traditional instruments are fairly familiar and well versed with the ideas of improvistaion, though execution is a bit weak. The ‘western classical’ students not so much. Partially due to practice and ability on the instrument, not because of lack of familiarity in the style. I have introduced the ideas of improvisation to my older students this semester in their ensemble group and though they find it difficult, they are eager and very interested to learn. And they have great ideas when they try. They have requested an Ensemble/Group to be formed over the Winter Academy and I hope that you will all help teach/ coach them!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaching Music in Kabul -

In January of 2011 Larry and I will travel to Kabul to teach and perform with young Afghani musicians at the Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM -

This is part of an initiative by the New England Conservatory to set up more enduring relationships between NEC and schools in many other parts of the world. NEC student Robin Ryczek is spending a year teaching at the ANIM and we will be joining her, along with NEC faculty member Tanya Kalmanovitch, for part of the ANIM winter music festival.

We will be blogging about this trip and our experiences in Kabul! Please visit and right now to learn more about the project.

(Robin Ryczek instructs a student at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music on September 26, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Gerry Images AsiaPac. Source:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Photos and Video Clips of India

To see more photos visit:

To see longer video clips, including scenes from the wedding:

Saturday, January 3, 2009

What we were doing in India

Several months ago I got a phone call from my very good friend, Catherine. We went to high school together and were more or less inseparable during those years. Since then, we've kept in touch off and on - it's the kind of friendship you can pick right up with after a long lapse of time and feel like only days have passed. Catherine told me that her youngest sister, Emily, was getting married and that the groom, Akshay, was from Mumbai. They were going to have a traditional Indian wedding in Udaipur but Emily also wanted to have a western ceremony with western music, and would I be interested in going to India and playing for them?

Well, gee, would I?!!

Once we knew we were going, Larry suggested trying to find a gig there. There's Scottish dancing in Japan, he reasoned, so maybe there is also Scottish dancing in India. So we googled "Scottish dancing in India" and came up with a contact in Chennai (Madras). We emailed and they wrote back right away and we started making plans. Several ideas were discussed and plans were made and changed many times. We ended up with six concerts booked in city clubs in and around Chennai, with some time off for us to explore. Perfect!

It took many emails and phone calls to work out all of the details and I can't even begin to express our thanks to all of our friends in India who helped us. We had an amazing time there, and felt so welcome and so much at home wherever we went. I hope that they will come visit us here.

We can't wait to go back!

Gopal, Larry, Nalini, Eden, and Weena
at the Boat Club

Sai and Radha

Larry and Girish

Journal - Getting there, First Day in Chennai

12/8 - Charles DeGaulle Airport

It seems like the sun might never come up here - 8am in Paris and it is still dark, the airport wreathed in a thick fog. Air France is great! We have gotten so used to flying on national flights where you're lucky if they offer you a free bag of peanuts. On this trip our meals were introduced with real menus, champagne aperitifs, and wine. When we arrived in Paris we must have taken the long way to our gate, because we ended up walking through a maze of concrete and lime-green painted hallways, up and down endless staircases, and finally to a deserted airport bus which seemed to drive forever through an empty cargo world. We got off the bus and found ourselves in a line waiting with many of our fellow passengers from the previous flight. Another security check? After some minutes a man pushed to the front of the line and went down the hallway, coming back and urging us all forwards. Apparently, we were all waiting yards away from the head of the line and the security guards were up ahead wondering what had happened to us! The terminal is very peaceful - by far the most pleasant airport I've been in. I love the architecture - marble and concrete, simple lines with lots of space and light. And quiet! No beeping carts or loud announcements...but then it is early, still.

I forgot to mention our first adventure of the trip. Just after we passed through security in Boston Larry's shoe completely fell apart! We borrowed some tape from the security guards but it didn't seem like that would last very long. Luckily, there was a "Runway Fashion" store nearby, so Larry walked in and bought the one pair of shoes they had in his size. They look nice but aren't very comfortable, especially after the first flight and our long trek through the airport.

We still have about 90 minutes before boarding and are so far the only Caucasians in the gate area.

12/9 - Chennai

Last night we arrived in Chennai at 2 in the morning. Immigration and customs were quick, but it took nearly an hour for our bags to come. I have never seen so many suitcases come off a plane before!! I kept thinking that the belt would stop and we'd be left luggageless for a few days, but finally they came rolling off. Larry's was marked all over with the letter "B" in chalk, which was probably a customs mark, although I don't know what they would have found of security concern in our luggage. We went outside into an aisle thronged with people and found with relief a driver holding a cardboard sign reading "Notorious". It was warm and muggy and drizzling and I felt happily at home in the Houston-like conditions. We piled into the car and he drove us through the city. It was surprisingly quiet at 3am. Driving was exciting, though! It was mostly accomplished by a good deal of honking and flashing of brights, and the red lights seemed to be optional, although we stopped or at least slowed at most of them. It took a while to locate the correct address but we finally found it. The driver rattled the gates and someone came running out to open them and carry our bags up for us. We felt awful arriving so late - the doorman rang the bell several times before the door was opened by a maid. She let us in and another woman appeared, dressed in a beautiful green saree. This was our host, Sai's, mother-in-law. She got us settled in and explained that Sai was in bed with a fever. They offered us water in a jug, but we persisted in asking for bottled water, even though they said it was filtered...we felt bad being troublesome, especially at 3 in the morning! Finally, we went to our room but I had a hard time sleeping due to the fact that my passport had disappeared. I finally dozed off just as the sun began to come up.

We woke up early, and I went out to the living room where Sai's mom and his mother-in-law were making breakfast. Sai's father-in-law greeted me along with another man, Majish, who was a good friend of Sai's. They explained again that Sai was sick, but then he came downstairs and joined us. We ate a kind of pancake (dosas) with potatoes inside, and coconut chutney - yum! They also served us some very strong and sweet coffee, saying that South India is famous for the coffee and North India for tea.

After breakfast we went upstairs with Sai and Majish and talked for a while. Apparently, Sai's parents used to live on the same site in a big house, but they finally decided to tear it down and build the current modern complex in it's place. So Sai and his wife Lakshmi (who was in the US while we were in town) and Sai's mom live in one two-story condo, Lakshmi's parents live downstairs in another one, Majish has an apartment somewhere in the building, etc. We didn't see any of the other apartments, but Sai's is lovely. It opens into a marble entryway that has a guest room (our room) off to one side, the kitchen on the other, and a long wooden dining room that is shut off from the rest of the house with glass doors and walls. There might have been some other rooms downstairs as well, but we didn't see them. A spiral staircase leads up to the second floor, where there is another open space with a small piano, a laundry room, and some other bedrooms. Every room has lots of windows, and most open onto outdoor terraces, so there is lots of light and air flowing through the house. From the rooftop terrace one can see the ocean in the distance, and buildings everywhere, peeking through a canopy of trees. This city is so green! There are big crows and green parrots flying around, and colorful patches stand out where laundry is out on lines to dry. Every so often a man comes by on a bicycle, chanting something like a peddler selling wares - Sai says he is collecting paper for recycling.

Sai called the car company that had sent the driver for us the night before, (luckily it was one they use often), and the driver found my passport in his car. What a relief! I knew I would do one dumb thing on this trip, so hopefully that's it!

At noon Lavanya and her co-worker Rohan picked us up and took us to lunch, where we ate really good North Indian food, similar to what we often eat at Indian restaurants at home but much better! I mentioned wanting to find some Indian clothes for the wedding, so they ended up taking us to a mall - not what we expected, but it worked out just fine. When we got there we met up with Nalini, (Lavanya's mom and the main organizing force behind our concerts). They all went back to the office, instructing us to go downstairs to the garage when we were done where their driver, Gopal, would be waiting for us.

We wandered around for a while and I found a couple of really pretty salwar kameez, a type of dress that comes to about the knees with long pants that you wear underneath. One of them needed to be altered a bit, so I decided to pick it up the next day. Larry also bought some new shoes - his airport shoes were way too tight!

In the basement we successfully found Gopal, who was waiting for us near the elevator. He navigated the sea of cars with care and we popped out onto the busy streets again. I sat up front with him and he asked me if this was our first trip to Chennai, and where we were from. I told him that we were Americans and asked if he has ever been there. "No," he laughed, "I am only in Chennai." I noticed that he wasn't wearing shoes and wondered if that was by choice or necessity.

As we drove he pointed out a few things, like the big movie theatre. I was trying to take in everything - cows and dogs wandered through traffic, the cows aimlessly, the dogs with their tails between their legs; women wearing bright sarees carried things on their heads; children in school uniforms waited in droves for buses; three-wheeled yellow cars and bicycles darted in and out of traffic on both sides of the road; trees grew out of the sidewalks and hung into the street. And everywhere was the sound of construction and traffic and incessent honking. It was a lot to absorb!

Now we are back at the house, relaxing before the big shindig tonight. Larry is asleep but I am restless - too much to think about! It will be fun to meet everyone.

Journal - 12/9 - 12/13 in Chennai

12/9 - Chennai Roof Party

On Tuesday night there was a big party at Sai's place - the Chennai Scottish Dancers came over for dinner and dancing on the roof. It had been raining all day off and on and Sai was worried about the weather. If it rained we could dance inside but there was some concern about the food, as Sai's family was vegetarian and there was chicken with dinner which could not come into the house. Luckily, the rain cleared up enough and we were able to meet on the roof terrace.

People started coming around 8, but Sai had already given me some very nice scotch so by the time they arrived my party had already begun. Weena (pronouced "Veena") and her husband Girish came first and their warm smiles are still etched in my mind. I am usually very shy at parties but I never felt that way in India. Everyone was so welcoming, from the moment we stepped off the plane. We felt that we were good friends with everyone we met. More guests arrived and more drinks were served. Nalini was there - she is a petite, cute, powerful ball of energy and looks way too young to have a daughter in her 20s.

Eventually, the dancing began. It turns out that they are going to do some exhibit dances at our concert at the Cricket Club so they were eager to practice. Most of their very experienced dancers are either out of town, (including Sai's wife, Lakshmi), or slightly out of commision (Gopal still healing up from surgery and Sai still not feeling his best), so many of them hadn't been dancing long. So we ran through the dances that they were going to do and we played a couple of others that were taught to the new dancers and everyone had a great time. We took a break for dinner around 10 and then they wanted to have a jam session, which meant that people wanted to sing songs like "Que Sera, Sera" and "Scarborough Fair". Let me tell you that after traveling so far and having such little sleep, sitting on a rooftop in Madras singing Simon and Garfunkle was a bit surreal, to say the least!

Larry and I weren't as up on the pop tunes as we could have been, but luckily one of the dancers, Sushil, brought his guitar and loves to sing, so he did a bunch of songs including "Feelings" and "Feliz Navidad". People stayed until midnight and it was a wonderful party. I'll never forget our first full night in India!

12/10 - Chennai, Race Club

This morning we ate breakfast with Sai's mom and Lakshmi's parents, who had brought breakfast up from their flat. We ate hot cereal, both rice-based and one flavored with curry and spices and the other with jageri, unrefined sugar. We also had some little bananas - so sweet! And of course coffee. The food was delicious and the father kept urging Larry to eat more. We ate with Lakshmi's parents but Sai's mom sat in a chair nearby, as she had the previous morning. And a maid was there, making coffee in the kitchen and chatting with everyone.

After breakfast we rehearsed the music for the wedding while Sai's mom listened. We felt bad, because we were really practicing and starting and stopping a lot and working out chords, but hopefully it didn't sound too bad! Eventually, a car from Media Mix came to collect us and they took us over to the Race Club to settle in.

The city clubs are sort of high-end community centers that require memberships and offer great facilities, like pools, tennis courts, etc depending on the club. Each one had a restaurant and a few guest rooms where members could stay the night. Someone in the Scottish dance community was a member at each club where we played, and each club put us up for the night after our show.

Anyhow, we got to the Race Club and went up to our room - it was really nice but smoky! Apparently, smoking in public places was outlawed in India just two weeks before we got there, so the last guests must have been making up for it in their room. Anyhow, we left our bags there and then the driver took us back to the mall so I could pick up my clothes. Traffic was awful! We got there at last and the driver waited for about 90 minutes while I tried on my things and had them altered. It was too tight at first so they asked me to come back in 30 minutes while it was fixed! Larry and I went to eat lunch in the food court, where we had dosas, and wandered around a bit. I went back and tried on my dress again and it was still too tight. At this point the shop owners yelled at the seamstress, which made me cringe - after all they hadn't even been pinning the dress, so I didn't see how they could possibly nail it the first time. But no one there seemed to find it unusual. They asked me to come back again in 30 minutes and I did and everything fit just fine.

Then, back to the Race Club for a sound check. Our sound man's name is Nelson and he is great! He'll be working with us at all of our shows, and he is so pleasant and quick and has really good ears. We feel really lucky to get to work with him.

This concert was out in a courtyard with a big marble floor set up with tables and chairs. The stage looked great - Lavanya had designed a back drop for us, which was white with shiny things on it and a blue sash. Danha, Nalini's business partner, came up to us during our sound check and told us to play for about an hour and that he would set up the lights. Cool!

We snatched a quick nap and then got ready and went out at about 7:30. "Go rest," Danha said, "Someone will get you when it is time." The concert was supposed to start at 8. When they were finally ready for us Lavanya made an announcement saying that we would play Scottish music and we went on to a smattering of applause.

It was so hard to know if we were going over well! We were up pretty high and felt far away from the audience, and the bright lights made it hard to see their faces. So we had no idea if people were enjoying it or responding to our stories at all. We played for about an hour, doing our usual stuff, then said something about playing a couple more tunes. Just as we were getting ready to launch into our last number Lavanya came up and pulled me aside and asked if we could play some "easy listening" music as we had done at the party the night before! Ack!!

We thought fast and came up with "You Send Me", "Bei Mir bist du Schon" and "Rte 66". The crowd didn't go wild, but when we came off stage we got lots of compliments and a little boy ran up and asked for our autographs, so that made us feel better. Nalini and co were thrilled and so were the sponsors. Whew!

It was 9:30, so we put our stuff in our room and went back out for dinner, which was lovely North Indian food, chicken tikka for us non-vegs and rice and dal and naan. When we first went out Nalini asked us to sit with her and her husband, Radha, and Weena, but then we were taken to meet the sponsors for that show, who invited us to sit with them. We hesitated, but Nalini said, "we'll all sit with you," so we went back to Weena and Radha and asked them to come sit with the sponsors. "Oh, just sit down and they'll forget about us eventually," Weena said, "we want to relax." So we did, and Nalini came back eventually and the sponsors came over and said goodnight and it seemed like we had done the right thing. Funny!

Nalini's husband, Radha, is quite a guy! Apparently, he is acting with a professional company performing "The Importance of Being Ernest" in bangalore. He has also played pro golf here - apparently there is a yearly match between Bangalore and Chennai that has been going on since the 1800s, the oldest in the world, "even older than St. Andrew's" we were told, impressively. We finally said goodnight around 11 and I was so happy to sleep - it was my first night of good sleep since we arrived and I was exhausted.

12/11 - Chennai, MCC

Today we woke up late, around 10, and will soon be picked up and taken to our next club, the Madras Cricket Club (MCC). I just remembered one more funny thing about our show last night. It was a beautiful evening, with a big moon and some stars. Lots of planes were going over low, so we must have been on a flight path near the airport. But the whole time we were playing there was a quiet construction project going on just a few yards to the left of the stage. People were clearning out baskets of earth from an open concrete room that was being built, working by the light of a strong spotlight. It was so bizarre to watch them while I played, and it was a really interesting contrast.

After the car picked us up from the Race Club we went over to Media Mix again. The office is right next door to Nalini's house, where they live with her mother-in-law and Lavanya. They also have several live-in servants, including a cook and a couple of maids and a driver. They also own a house across the street, where Nalini's parents live. Her son manages that property, I think. Anyhow, having servants seems to be the norm for people who are well-off here, and many of them tell us that it is one of the great advantages of moving back to India after living in the US for a long time.

We ate lunch with Nalini's family. They served rice and many vegetable dishes, including green beans with lentils, a curry dish, and a broth with lots of ginger in it that was really yummy. There was also yogurt with rice in it, which is a very traditional way to end meals in South India. The food was served on big plates and the rice was used to sop up the other dishes, because for the most part people eat with their right hands here. It can be tricky to do this without making a mess if you aren't used to it! But by today we were getting fairly comfortable breaking bread with one hand.

After lunch Nalini took us over to the Kalakshetra Dance School, which is one of the most famous dance schools in the world. The grounds are lovely, very peaceful with lots of classrooms nestled in between the trees, and a huge theatre. Students come from all over the world to study traditional music and dance here, the main focus being on Carnatic music, which is South Indian classical music. We watched a dance class for a while, then went to the theatre where a rehearsal was going on for a show coming up on Saturday night. It was so amazing! There were several musicians, including two singers, a drummer, a fiddler, a flute player, and a synthesized drone. When we entered there were two male dancers on the stage, but as the rehearsal progressed we saw several women dancing as well. Every motion was so rhythmic and it seemed that even the smallest gestures were in time and with a purpose. I could have watched for hours, but we were only able to stay for a short time. We went out to meet the car and go back to Nalini's place for a short run-through of the Scottish dances for our evening show. Her house is in the same neighborhood as the Kalakshetra school, so luckily it was a very short drive. The streets near the house are really interesting, lined with shops with open fronts and busy with all kinds of traffic. I love to see the motorcyles go by with women in beautiful's such a great contrast of tradition with contemporary living!

The MCC show went really well -the stage was low and much closer to the audience, and the place was packed. On the other hand, the concert room backed right up to the bar, so there was lots of background noise. The Scottish dancers did their demos and they went really well, including the party dances where they invited the audience to participate. But it was a long night - near 11 when we finally packed up. This time we had Indian Chinese food for dinner, which was much better than American Chinese food. Nalini ordered several whisky's for me, as one of our sponsors for all of the shows was Black Dog Whisky, and insisted on getting a beer for Larry, even though he really doesn't drink much at all. So after that and our big day we were really ready for bed...

12/12 - Chennai, Presidency Club

Neither one of us slept well, although the room was really nice and very comfortable. (By the way, it is standard here for the rooms to have two single beds in them rather than one bigger one.) We ordered some coffee and went out to watch the match...because the MCC is part of the big stadium and we were in town for some of the India/England test matches. Very exciting!

We walked across the terrace and into the stands. England was at bat, so we were told that it wasn't as crowded as usual. But there were thousands of people there. It was fun to watch but really confusing as we knew nothing about the game. There were food vendors just outside the stadium, so we bought some biryanis (rice with veggies mixed in) and ate while we watched. After an hour or so some of the hotel attendants came in and found us because the car was ready for us! Clearly, we needed to figure out our timing. Every day we were told that the car would come at a certain time, but no matter how prepared we were to leave on time we were always called much earlier than expected. Hmm...

Dahna met us and took us out for South Indian food. He first suggested that we go to Subway, because he was worried that Indian food might not be good for us, but we insisted that we loved Indian food and that we wanted to try everything we could while we were there. It was great - very similar to what we had for lunch at Nalini's house, and we were getting much better at eating with our hands.

After lunch he dropped us off at the Theosophical Society. We had been wanting to get out and walk ever since we got to Chennai, but whenever we got ready to do so a car would appear for us from Media Mix. I think that if people have cars or drivers here they go by car, so walking just wasn't done unless necessary.

The Theosophical Society is a sort of retreat center for all types of beliefs, and the grounds are lovely. We were amazed at how much the city disappeared inside, just like at Kalakshetra. Chennai is a noisy city, but inside the walls of these grounds one could hardly hear traffic at all, and certainly couldn't see the city at all. I wish that American parks could achieve that somehow - it seems that even in the most lovely city parks the noise and presence of the city is still there.

I love the banyan trees with all of their roots coming up in new places. There is one at the Theosophical Society where 3000 people can sit under it's boughs. Amazing! We wandered all over the place for a couple of hours. At one point we were on a path and we heard a man yelling, "hey" - we looked up right into the eyes of an ox that was pulling a cart around the corner! I've never been ousted from a path by an ox before.

The driver came and picked us up when the park closed and we went over to the Presidency Club for our sound check. I loved the location of this show.

The club is right in the middle of a busy part of Chennai, but it seems very peaceful. Our concert was on a roof terrace overlooking the city, with a lovely breeze and the moon coming up just over the stage. We were on another high stage, though, and the audience was really far away from us again, so that was difficult. We played for about an hour and got a polite response. But after we had unplugged and were packing up Nalini came running up and told us that everyone wanted to hear more and couldn't we play a bit longer. So we took our instruments and went right up to the crowd and played acoustically for a while, and that was really nice. The night's big hit was "Dodi Li" - we were asked to repeat it! Other favorites seemed to be "Dream and Little Dream of Me" and "Rte 66".
In fact, someone at the MCC concert told us that it was the best night he'd ever had at the club in his 30 years of membership. So I guess we were making a hit, even though the audience didn't respond with the same show of enthusiasm that we are used to.

After the show we sat around visiting for a bit but with the drinks they served us and it being so late we were really hungry! So we finally went and got some food from the buffet, even though the plan was supposedly that we would leave with Nalini and go out right after the concert. She wasn't a member of this club and so she couldn't host people there and she had relatives from the US in town that night. We were really tired, so were happy to stay and have dinner at the club and so she went off to be with her family and we visited with some of our new friends from the audience. They were all very concerned about leaving us alone, but of course we were just as happy to sit and have a quiet evening to ourselves...even so, not one of our friends could leave until they were assured that someone else was looking out for us, and we were invited several times to go out for dinner after that. The place was clearing out and we were just getting ready to go back to our room when a man came up and asked if we would join his party. So we went over to sit with them - they were funny and tipsy and very nice. They kept scolding us for not visiting all of the other amazing cities in India while at the same time assuring us that to be in Chennai for several days was by far the best plan. Eshwar, the one who had invited us over, insisted that the next time we come we call him and he'll book a tour for us. After a while another man came over and joined us and it turned out that he was the president of the club! He was really kind and we had a lovely visit with our new friends.

12/13 - Chennai, Boat Club

Today we got up and ordered dosas for breakfast, then the car came and took us over to Media Mix. We are waiting for Nalini's mother-in-law, who is going to go with us to a temple nearby. Meanwhile, we've been reading the paper and checking email. I just read an article about how an air traffic controller here recently told a pilot to "shut up", causing general tension over the airwaves and the industry. His boss said that the air traffic controllers are all under a lot of pressure but that is no excuse for such behavior, and that they are all going to be sent to yoga sessions. If only solutions like that were proposed in the US!

Incidentally, even though traffic here is totally nuts no one seems to stress about it. I have yet to see any sign of road rage, although there is tons of honking, swerving, cutting off, and occasional "taps" between motorcycles. But no one gets mad. It is much less frenetic than China and way less pressurized than in the US or UK.

Journal - 12/13 - 12/21: Chennai

12/13, Saturday, Chennai - Boat Club

During the day we went to the Marundeeswarar Temple, near Nalini's house, which is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva in his avatar as divine physician. Much of the land originally belonging to the temple has been sold off, and it is a busy area with lots of shops. Inside the complex there is a small pond where people used to wash their feet before entering, (now railed off), images of saints and other deities, and several shrines. There are also cattle stables around the perimeter. One of the shrines is dedicated to the composer-saint Thyagaraja, and there is one shrine dedicated to a saint who is deaf, so to get his attention you have to bang on the bars around the shrine. Nalini's mother-in-law was with us and she told us all of this as we followed her around. She goes there most Fridays to workship.

After that we went back to Media Mix where Nalini sat down with us and helped to plan out a tour of the city for the day. We got into an old white cab and were taken to the Snake Park, the Santhome Basilica, and Mt. St Thomas. The snake park had tons of crocodiles in it, which was fun, along with some snakes. There were a lot of school groups there and it was fun to see the kids getting so excited about the animals. Here's a film of one of weirder animals we saw there, called a gharial:

St. Thomas mount was exciting to get to - it's a little west of the main city of Chennai, and to get there you have to make a right turn across huge torrents of oncoming traffic, then wind past a military base and up a hill. There, we passed a few small houses and mounds of garbage, where pigs, dogs, and cattle were scrounging for food. From the top of the mount, a 300-ft hill, one has an amazing view of the entire city.

Legend has it that St Thomas the Apostle (Doubting Thomas) was one of the first Christians to preach in India, between AD 52 and 72, when he was martyred at the site of the mount. The shrine itself was built by the Portuguese in the 1500s. There is also a cross there, said to have been shaped by St Thomas himself, called the "bleeding cross" because it "used to sweat blood on the 18th of dec every year from 1551 to 1704".

We finished up the day at the Boat Club, which is a beautiful place right on the Adyar River. We got there early, did a sound check, and played some tunes on the river banks - it was beautiful. Gopal, our original contact in Chennai, also arrived early so we had the chance to visit with him a bit.

The concert at the Boat Club was one of the best - we did our thing and the crowd loved it. We ended up playing over two-and-a-half hours, and could have gone longer. We were still having trouble judging how to time our shows...every time we said, "I think we'll do three more" and then played them, one of our contacts would come running up and ask us to do a few more. It was fun, but made it hard to program our sets. And since dinner would always be after the show we'd be really hungry by the time we were done. People always offered us appetizers while we were playing, but it's hard to eat and play a concert at the same time.

After we played we went and sat with the Scottish dancers, who had done a short demo and a party dance. We sat there sipping drinks and Nalini said, "Isn't it nice to say that you are having a drink with friends on the banks of the river Adyar?"

I thought so!

We stayed at the Gandhinagar club that night as the Boat Club was full, and it was so late when we got back that we had to wake up the staff to let us in. There were several men who worked there and a few of them were sleeping on the floor on blankets in the lobby - we felt awful waking them up.

12/14, Sunday, Pondicherry

The next day, we woke up early and went down to meet the car that was to drive us down to Pondicherry. As we left town the houses got smaller and sparser, and we saw more dust and people on the streets and animals pulling carts. We stopped at a craft village called Dakshin Chitra. There are craft villages set up near Udaipur and Agra as well, and from what we could tell they are sort of living museums set up for tourists and sponsored by the government. There were many different styles of south Indian houses there and all of them had been donated by families who wanted to build modern homes instead. Outside one of the houses we stopped to watch a glass blower, who whipped on a jet of fire and worked with tiny little sticks of glass to shape a figure of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god. It was fun to watch him do such detailed work. In the middle of the demo his cel phone went off but he answered it and continued working away. That seems to be really standard here. Most people have cel phones and they are on all the time, going off constantly, and rarely go unanswered.

There were several booths set up near the front of the village for artists who came to sell their wares. I couldn't figure out if they were paid some kind of grant money to be there or if it was just of a chance for them to come and sell to visitors, but we saw some really nice stuff. We met a young man who was doing some beautiful etchings on palm leaves. He would scratch a drawing in with a thin metal pen, then spread ink over it. We chatted with him for a while and ended up coming back at the end to buy a couple of pieces. We also bought some paintings from an older man who had come from a village near Udaipur. In both cases, the artists came from families where their fathers and grandfathers did the same kind of work. I liked that the crafts were passed on in families from generation to generation.
Our next stop along the road to Pondicherry was the Crocodile park. This place was huge, and we could have spent a lot of time there, but our driver cam running in to get us after about 30 minutes and urged us on. (Whenever we were dropped off anywhere the driver would say, "ok, take 20 minutes, I'll be waiting" but inevitably we took longer than that. There was no way we could get through some of these amazing places in 20 minutes, and we didn't want to rush. Sometimes we said we'd be longer, but they didn't seem to care. Time is generally very flexible in India, so we decided that 20 minutes

could mean many things, depending on the situation. We always came out and they'd be there waiting for us and that was that.)

We were driving south and caught glimpses of the ocean and vast stretches of beach. There were long green fields of what might have been rice (very wet), inlets where people in long narrow boats were fishing, many carts pulled by oxen, small crude shacks built in empty lots. We also passed through numerous villages that were packed with people, from vendors to workers to kids or all ages dressed in school uniforms. We also passed motorcycles with whole families on them, usually driven by a man with a woman sitting behind him clutching small children who were sandwiched in between or hanging off the sides.

Towards the end of the drive we passed through a fishing village, the most rustic of anything we'd seen. The road was incredible muddy and rutted, the houses were mainly low thatched huts, with a few bigger homes built out of stone or concrete. Children were playing in the road, some without clothes and all without shoes. We bounced and jolted through the village, came around a curve and onto a nicely paved drive and glided through the gates of a luxurious resort. Wow. The contrast was a little overwhealming.

The resort is called Zest Big Beach and it is only 8 months old. The buildings are very modern, clean lines and simple in design. They have cultivated native plants and flowers and it feels very lush and green.

When we arrived they loaded us and our bags into a golf cart and drove us rapidly along little windy paths to our room. The driver of the cart addressed his comments to me, and finally stopped outside a room saying, "I have chosen a very nice place for you." Fortunately, he went in first because there were other guests already staying in that room. We went along to another very nice room and were happily installed there.

Then we went down to the beach. It was amazing - so powerful and loud. We were told that no one swims there as the waves are much too strong. But the fishing village is just a little ways away and they must set out in their tiny little boats every day. I stuck my toes in the water and we walked along the shore of the Bay of Bengal.

Our concert that night was fun, although very small. It was Sunday evening and most guests had gone home for work the next day. But the few who were there seemed to enjoy it a lot.

After we finished, people clapped loudly and then sat there and continued to visit and enjoy the evening. Barun, one of our contacts at the hotel, came running up and said anxiously, "They're still sitting there. Maybe you should play another one." So we played a couple more. When the audience continued to sit and talk after we were done, Barun went to the front of the stage and yelled, "It's over, they're finished!"

We played on the early side and had a great dinner afterwards with Dhana, who had come down from Media Mix. Nalini had instructed us to make sure that he announced us, but as we were getting ready to perform he looked nervous and said, "Oh, I think I'll just let you announce yourselves." We gave him a hard time about that! He is such a nice guy and we really enjoyed talking with him. The hotel restaurant served a large buffet, although it seemed like you could order things as well, and the food was great. Some dishes were familiar to us by now but others were new, including mulligatawny soup, which was very yummy. At every meal there were Indian and Chinese dishes, as well as idlis (spongy rice cakes) that were served with chutneys, and of course rice and sambar (spicy kind of veggie gravy).

12/15, Monday, Pondicherry and Auroville

The next morning we hired a car to take us around to the local sites. The first stop was Pondicherry, which is a city that was colonized by France. We spent some time walking along the beach, which was full of big black rocks and nice sand, then wandered into the Aayi Mandabam park. Then, we went to a temple for Ganesh. This is the story of Ganesh, as told to us by a painter in Udaipur.

Ganesh is the son of Shiva, born while his father was away. When Shiva returned, neither recognized the other. Ganesh tried to prevent him from entering the house, so Shiva chopped off his head. When Shiva found out that Ganesh was his son, he went to the forest, killed an elephant, and brought back the head for his son to use. So Ganesh is the elephant-headed god. He brings good luck and is always a big part of any new venture, including weddings.

At the temple there were musicians playing, one of them blowing a loud reed instrument and the other playing a long oblong drum with a head on either side. People were pulling a cart around the temple with a Ganesh figure on it and worshipers were touching the cart and placing fruit and green grass (alfalfa?) on it. It was very loud and very exciting!

We stopped for lunch at a random restaurant (our driver had been instructed by the hotel to take us to a certain place, but he couldn't find it, even after stopping and asking several people and after calling the hotel) and then went on to Auroville.

"Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity." These are the words of the founder of Auroville, Mirra Alfassa, also known as the Mother. The city was begun in the 1960s and is now a thriving community with all of the benefits of any other city - schools, medical facilities, etc. There are about 2000 people living there now, although it was conceived to eventually hold about 50,000. The center of the city is a meditation room enclosed in a huge golden globe, called the Matrimandir, which looks like an object out of a sci-fi film I once saw. Some really neat things about it are it's promotion of sustainable farming practices, the use and development of renewable energy resources, the vast number of artisans living there, its international community, and it's hope to create good schools and better situations for the local villagers. I find the whole "Mother" thing a little weird, especially from a community that "is above all creeds." And there have been allegations of abuse in the village schools there...I don't know how that situation has played itself out. And I love the idea of bringing higher consciousness to the world, but if one shuts oneself away in a community separated from the outside world how does that work out?

It's an interesting place, and we really enjoyed talking with one of the women who works in the visitors center. She is French and used to be a ballet dancer, and seems to really enjoy living there. I think it would be a fun place to explore in more depth, so I hope to go back some day.

We went back to Pondicherry after that, because I wanted to visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram (he was the spiritual leader of Auroville). It was a very peaceful place in the French district of Pondicherry, which felt much more European than India. The streets were wide and less crowded and everything seemed to be planned out. In Chennai, one gets the impression that construction projects and trees and buildings just sort of pop up and flourish wherever they like. As we headed back to the car we saw a huge crowd of people in front of the temple that we had visited earlier in the day (the Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple) so we went to have a look - there was an elephant standing outside the temple! He was clearly there with a handler, and had been decorated with chalk designs. People were trying to feed it bananas and other treats but it must have been full, because it was mostly looking around and reaching out with its trunk to explore. Beautiful!

Back to the hotel, where we played some music with one of the managers. He liked to jam over riffs, so we did that for a while, then we took turns singing songs. He went off to play some music for a party in some other part of he resort, saying that he'd rejoin us in an hour. But we went and had dinner and two hours later he still hadn't come back, so we finally left him a note and went to bed - we had to leave early the next day.

12/16, Tuesday, Mahabalipuram and Chennai - Gandhinagar Club

On Tuesday we woke up early and went down to the beach, hoping to catch the sunrise. It was too foggy to see much sun, but it was still beautiful. There was really loud religious music being played in some ethereal location and it made everything seem mysterious and exotic. We walked back up the path to the hotel, collected our things, checked out, and headed back to Chennai.

On the way, we stopped in Mahabalipuram. I was confused by the name, because some people call it Mamallapuram. We were told that Mamallapuram is the name of the old worship site where sacrifices were made, and that Mahabalipuram is the name of the city itself. I haven't found any info about that on line - everything I read says that Mamalla was the name of the Pallava king who founded the city in the 7th century, but that it is currently called Mahabalipuram. We hired a guide and he showed us around, which was much better than us trying to find things on our own at that point. The place is full of incredible architecture, all from, I think, the 7th century - beautiful temples carved into the rocks, a huge rock relief, sculptures and statues. We visited a temple where there is an enormous statue of Vishnu reclining. I'll put a couple of photos down here:

This huge rock is called "Krishna's Butterball". It's a natural formation that is perched there on the side of the hill - it looks ridiculous! You can see how big it is by the people sitting underneath it.

The stonework is so amazing. Apparently, they would carve into these huge granite rocks working from the top down so they had to have a very clear idea of dimensions before they began. In order to split the big rocks they would drive wooden wedges in and then add water to make the wood swell. Eventually, this would make the rock split.

We headed back to Chennai, dropped our things at the Gandhinagar Club and met Gopal and his wife for lunch at the Madras Club. That was a beautiful place! It is right next door to the Boat Club along the banks of the river, but the architecture is totally different, with really high ceilings, a porch that runs all around the building, and a huge green lawn. We had a slight problem - they had warned Larry that he would need to wear close-toed shoes and a collared shirt to go to the club, but they didn't say anything about we ran into a little snag there. We ended up not eating in the main dining room, which everyone said was just fine, but we felt really embarrassed!

After lunch, we visited their apartment for a few minutes. It is a lovely place, up on the third floor of an ordinary-looking building but they have created a lawn on a terrace outside their living room! It's really extraordinary. Sitting there, with the sunlight streaming in and the breeze coming through the windows it didn't feel at all like we were in the middle of a city of four million people.

Back at the Gandhinagar club we got ready for our last show in Chennai. This seemed the least fancy of all of the clubs we had played in and the concert space was smaller than the others, so we weren't expecting a big night. But it ended up being our biggest of all. Tons of people came and they loved our music! We played for about 90 minutes, but just as we were winding up Rohan came up and said, "Could you play a little longer, because more people just walked in?" We did a few more but at 10 we had to stop and take a break - we'd been playing for two hours! At this point many people came up with requests: Zorba, Fiddler on the Roof, Besame Mucho, and Carol King. We did the best we could, and it seemed to go over well. Talk about drawing on everything we knew...

After the show we had a really nice dinner with Nalini and some of her family from the US, who told us about the awful wintry weather we were missing (they live in CT). It was a nice evening and a great end to our time in Chennai.