Friday, 30 April 2021

The new normal

It is strange how if you repeatedly do something unusual it eventually becomes routine and you don´t even think about it. Who´d have thought over a year ago that as you gather keys, bag etc to leave home you also automatically grab and put on a mask, that you change footwear at the front door and rub alcohol on your hands frequently. 

I´ve noticed that as well as the above habits I also keep my left hand "clean" while I am out, never touching anything with it so that I can use it to push my glasses up or adjust my mask. My "contaminated" right hand is used to summon the lift, open and close doors and use my electronic tag to go through the two security gates as I leave my building. I wonder how long it will take for us to forget this new normal and get back to the old normal again.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Potting again

The studio where I fire my pots has finally opened again, I last went there at the beginning of the year. While I do all my making at home I can´t have a kiln in my apartment due to wiring regulations.

I haven´t made much for the last couple of months but now I feel motivated to get working once more. Since I don´t drive now I have to walk there and back, carrying my pots, which does limit how much I can take and encourages me to keep my pieces small! It is a 3km round trip so the exercise is good as well.

I would dearly love to have my own little studio with a kiln but the current arrangement, while not too practical, at least lets me keep potting.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

In court again!

 I have spent another afternoon in court, albeit virtually, while my case trundles on and witnesses are heard. It is very tiring and stressful and so far there is no end in sight. I am reminded of  Dickens and Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Bleak House where a legal wrangle was so long drawn out as to eat up whatever inheritance there was. The judge is polite and understanding but things have to follow due process and so it goes. I find it hard to believe how mendacious and brass faced some people can be, and so greedy too. I sometimes despair of the human race. when it is all over hopefully I can tell the tale.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

A childhood tale

I don´t know what brought this memory to the surface today but I thought it would be amusing to share it.

I must have been about six at the time, and my brother seven. We lived in a place called Niteroi, near Rio de Janeiro in a house on a hill. We had a large garden which sloped down to the road and on the other side of our hedge was a vacant plot of land covered in undergrowth and trees, with a narrow path running down the side of the hedge.

My brother and I were out playing on this plot one day when we found a cylindrical object about two foot long and a few inches wide. Intrigued, we decided to take it home to play with. I remember it was quite heavy and we struggled with it, one at each end and finally managed to drag it into our garden.

One end of the object came to a point and had some holes in, so my brother decided to experiment poking some lighted matches in the holes to see what happened. He fetched a box of matches from the kitchen and had just lit the first one when my mother arrived on the scene. She nearly had a fit as she recognised our toy as an unexploded shell (she had been in the RAF in the war). My father was at work so she summoned the gardener and asked him to carefully get rid of the dangerous object. We had not been in Brazil that long and unfortunately her Portuguese was not very fluent so something was lost in translation. The gardener picked the shell up, went through the gate to the vacant plot of land and tossed it down the narrow path by the hedge where it bounced and rolled its way down the hill and out of sight. My brother and I stood watching all this while the gardener dusted his hands and my mother had hysterics expecting the shell to blow up any minute.

What on earth a shell was doing there we never knew, but at least it didn´t explode and I believe my father got rid of it somehow when he came home from work. Why I remembered this story today I have no idea.

Friday, 16 April 2021

Vaccine lottery

I had my second jab of the Coronavac vaccine today, and again kept a close eye on proceedings. My timing wasn´t so good this time as it took about an hour to get seen. I should have gone last Monday but news reports said the latest information on this vaccine is that an increased interval of 21-28 days makes it more effective. Since it has also now been announced it is only 50.7% effective anyway anything to up the odds is worth it. And that is if the information is accurate since it is from incomplete and unverified data supplied by the manufacturer. For all we know they may be being economical with the truth since the WHO benchmark for vaccines is 50%. Just hope for the best I guess.

Which vaccine you get is really the luck of the draw, though. A close friend who lives in my condominium went for her vaccine a week before me at the same clinic where I had mine and was given the Pfizer one. My youngest son was vaccinated elsewhere and was given the AstraZeneca one...he works for the police as a forensic photographer so ends up going to all sorts of unsavoury places, thus his entitlement to a jab.

In a couple of weeks I´ll also be getting my annual ´flu jab. Hopefully then all bases will be covered!

Monday, 12 April 2021

India - final part

After recovering from my latest adventure, I spent a couple of days before my flight home just mooching around near my hotel and buying gifts for the family. Apart from the few scares I really enjoyed my visit to India and would love to go back some day. There is so much more to see and do, I only touched the tip of the iceberg. I would definitely not go on my own, though. I think a small guided group would be ideal as you could learn and see so much more and feel secure at the same time. Of course because my main purpose was to see Passang a group trip had not been possible.

 Mahatma Gandhi´s cremation site

My return flight was an early morning one so the hotel arranged a taxi for me for about five in the morning. I know I was charged way over the odds but I didn´t argue, I just wanted to get to the airport without any hassle at this point. When the driver came for me and set off with my suitcase I expected him to turn right down the alley to the main part of the bazaar towards the station. Instead he turned left up the alley and proceeded to weave in and out of ever narrower empty alleys, walking very fast, while I had no choice but to follow him and my hostage suitcase. I remember thinking "here we go again" as it was dark that time of the morning and I hadn´t a clue where I was or where he was taking me. After about fifteen minutes we suddenly turned onto a little side street and there was the taxi! Relief once again.

 Maybe my imagination is too vivid and I always think the worst but I seem to have had more than my fair share of hair raising moments on this journey. I am not usually a timorous traveler, after all I didn´t hesitate to set off and walk 800km across Spain on my own with a backpack a couple of years later. Anyway, I made it to the airport and onto my flight to London without any trouble. In London I was met by one of my sons, who lives there, and was I glad to see him. After a couple of weeks lovely visit I returned to my home in Brazil.

Passang and I continued to exchange letters but over time she started to write less frequently, especially after I refused her request for a computer, and eventually stopped. My last letter to her was never answered. I guess she is all grown up now and busy leading her own life. I don´t regret helping her get a start in life and do hope she is doing well.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

India - part seven

I know I said this would be the final India post but I have a feeling it is going to be too long, so there may be one more to come! After my successful day tour of Delhi I decided to venture further afield, after all you cannot visit India without seeing the Taj Mahal, can you? So I booked a coach trip to Agra. On the way there we had a comfort stop and I was really amused by the sign in the Ladies which said "Do not feed the monkeys, they may bite". I had visions of my cubicle being invaded by an angry simian. I actually took a photo of the sign but can´t find it now.

 This is the classic view of the Taj Mahal


A closer view which gives a better sense of scale. All the detail is inlaid and the coloured flowers are semi-precious stones. I think it can sometimes be disappointing to see a famous landmark but I can truly say this was really breathtaking and very beautiful.

 We also visited Akbar´s Tomb, some craft shops and Agra Fort,

 which was overrun with monkeys inside.

 There was also a bull-powered lawn mower!

I had a most enjoyable day and was happy to have been able to visit such beautiful and interesting places. Knowing I would be arriving back in Delhi about ten at night I had arranged for the hotel to send a taxi to pick me up at a pre-arranged place and time. Guess what? 

I waited on the pavement at the agreed place, over the road from a square where there was a busy handcraft market. After half an hour I was getting worried as there was no sign of my taxi and the number of people about was diminishing. There was a telephone stall in the market where you could make a call for a small charge so I went over and managed to get through to the hotel, who insisted the taxi was waiting for me. I was so jittery by this time that I made my way back to the meeting place without paying for my call. Still no taxi and even less people about.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone slowly approaching me and beginning to circle me. He was a tall sadhu, clad only in a loincloth and ashes. Quite frankly I was pretty scared. Where I live you have to be streetwise and it has become second nature to always be aware and wary. I would never normally put myself in such a vulnerable situation, alone at night in a strange place, but I thought by arranging the taxi I had covered my bases.

The sadhu continued circling, getting to within a few feet of me and I kept turning so that I was always facing him. A few yards away was a tourist information kiosk, closed and with the lights out but suddenly the door opened and two tourist police came out, approached me and asked if I needed help. They sent the sadhu packing and when I explained about my taxi my saviours took me into kiosk, rang the hotel and found the taxi had been waiting in the wrong place. Within a few minutes it drew up and half an hour later I was safe in my room. Another happy conclusion thank goodness.

If anyone is still hanging in there, the next India post is really the last, I promise.

Friday, 9 April 2021

HRH Prince Philip

I was very sorry to read the news today of the death of Prince Philip. At his age and with his recent health problems not altogether unexpected but still a sad day, especially for the Queen after so many years together.

I remember being presented to him when he came to Brazil a long time ago (I was sixteen at the time). There was a reception at the British Club and my family had been invited because my mother had an English school. Prince Philip was most charming, addressing a few words to each person as he moved along the line. Somewhere I believe there are photos, including one of me in hat and gloves, lovely memory anyway.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Fruit of the Gods

 Persimmons, my absolute all-time favourite fruit. Sweet and juicy, slightly chilled straight out of the fridge, who could ask for more!

I usually buy all my fruit and veg from the local weekly farmers´market. Everything is cheaper and fresher and there are loads of stalls. While some fruit, like bananas and oranges, is available all year round other varieties like persimmons are seasonal and I really look forward to this time of year.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

India - part six

I know this was in Delhi but I can´t remember what it was, I saw so many places, but I do remember it was very beautiful.

On one of my outings to Connaught Place I got chatting to two Italian ladies, tourists like myself. They were also staying in Paharganj and we met up for dinner that night, which made a nice change. I usually had dinner in my room as I didn´t fancy going out alone at night. My hotel didn´t have a restaurant but I was brought breakfast every morning and there was an extensive menu for choosing dinner. I have no idea where the food came from or what I was really eating but sometimes it is better not to know, and it was very appetizing, plus I love Indian food. My theory was if it was cooked the heat would kill any germs and I am happy to say I never had the least sign of "Delhi belly"! I never ate any salads, fruit that couldn´t be peeled or drank anything that didn´t come in a sealed bottle, needless to say.

I had been instructed to put my tray outside my door after I had finished my meal. The first time I did this I was surprised to find a chap sleeping on the floor on my threshold. There were only about three rooms on each landing so the space was quite small. I didn´t know if he was a member of staff like a night porter, a security guard or whatever. When I put the tray down on the floor he woke up and appeared interested in what remained of my meal, so from then on I always made sure I left him some food.

Before going to India I had been active on a Lonely Planet travelers' forum on the internet, trying to gather as much information as possible, and had actually made contact with a lady who lived in Delhi.I managed to get in touch with her while I was there and we met up once when she gave me some useful tips and advice. I think we were a bit wary initially as you never know for sure who you are talking to on the internet. How much easier my trip would have been now with a smartphone and instant contact. We remain in touch to this day!

Next and last post about India to follow, the more I write the more I remember and want to write about but this is getting too long winded...

Friday, 2 April 2021

India - part five

Initially I´d been pretty annoyed about my minder´s disappearing act and intended to make a complaint to the organisation which had arranged for him to take care of me. Now that I was safely back in Delhi I decided not to take it any further, after all I didn´t really know what had happened, it could have been any one of a number of things, not necessarily his fault. He had told me he was originally a Tibetan refugee himself and I didn´t want to get him in to too much trouble.

I was determined to make the best of my time in Delhi and see as much as possible despite being alone so I started to venture forth on my own, initially on foot, and wandered around the area and bazaar near my hotel, always during the day, of course. Near the station I found there was a tuk-tuk kiosk where you could arrange and prepay for your journey without any hassle so I grew bolder and started to venture further afield, trusty guidebook in hand. Connaught Place, a central point in New Delhi, was easy to get to, well-known and had many interesting places to visit so I went there several times. Growing bolder yet I decided a guided full day tour by coach to Delhi´s main sights would be an ideal way to see a lot of interesting places, as everything is rather scattered. There are many tourist agencies selling tours but I made sure to go to the official Indian Tourism one to book mine. The following day on the way to the starting point my tuk-tuk driver insisted on taking me to the wrong agency, no doubt for a commission, but luckily I knew where I was and walked the short distance to the correct place.

The tour was excellent and visited about a dozen places amongst which I really enjoyed seeing the Bahai Lotus Temple, a place for quiet contemplation.

There was the Astronomical Observatory, Humayun´s Tomb, India Gate and many others including the Red Fort built by Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal.

Cutting grass by hand in the Red Fort gardens.

Delhi has many wonderful places to visit, this tour could only cover a few but it was well worth taking. By the end of the afternoon, though, I was ready to get back to my room.

After the tour was over the guide arranged for a tuk-tuk to take me back to Paharganj where I would have to walk the last stretch to my hotel. All went well until we arrived and I went to pay the driver the agreed fare plus a tip. He demanded more than double the fare and started shouting at me when I tried to argue with him. I knew how much had been agreed and was determined not to be intimidated or ripped off. We were near the busy bazaar and a mostly male crowd started to surround us. The driver started appealing to the crowd and I decided I´d better leave before things got out of hand. I shouted at the driver that I had given him the full fare as agreed, drew myself up to my full height (5'7") and marched off through the crowd into the bazaar with my pack on my back. I really didn´t know what was going to happen next, if anything, but I was hopping mad and tired of feeling vulnerable. Despite my fears no-one followed me and I made it back to my hotel without incident, thank goodness.

Still more to come...