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Archive for the ‘M Photos’


May 09, 2008 By: admin Category: M Photos, Music, The Album

For this post I steal liberally from Molly:

Road Story on the 101

Enjoy. :)

Bird Flu

January 17, 2008 By: admin Category: Health, India, M Photos, The Album


Well, the news isn’t good. As many of you may know, an outbreak of bird flu has emerged here in West Bengal. It is making it’s way to Kolkata and I would imagine that it will be here–we will start seeing cases of dead chickens–within the week. Now, while this is very, very scary, I want to point out a few comforting things:

#1, M and I aren’t eating any chicken. Period. We are eating eggs, but only after cooking them ALL THE WAY THROUGH. H5N1 dies at 70 degrees, so we can control the eggs. What we can’t control is how someone else cooks either eggs or chicken (sometimes chicken isn’t cooked all the way through), so we’re not having chicken or eggs if we go out. For myself, I’m staying closer to a vegetarian diet than I ever have…

#2, there are no human cases yet. Of course, you can’t believe much of what you hear in terms of reports here because there are a lot of economic fears associated with losing 300,000 chickens. Just this morning I saw a headline that read that chickens had been smuggled out of the infected areas. That’s because farmers are terrified of going broke from all of their chickens getting killed.

#3, M and I will be leaving Kolkata/West Bengal on the 27th. The disease can’t possibly spread to a human population in time for us to be affected before we leave, and Bangalore is too far for it to spread with the amount of defenses that are being mounted to quarantine it. That said–to reiterate–we are being very, very careful and not eating or handling anything related to chicken, and won’t be visiting any open markets.

The best way to keep up to date on the outbreak is the Times Of India. They’re doing a lot of reporting. Next, our phone number at Alison & Bryan’s house is: 2466-1704. Not sure what you have to do to call India, West Bengal, but y’all have the internet…;)

All-in-all, I’m nervous, but cautious. What M and I are each doing here doesn’t take us to places where there are chickens, so don’t fret. And check this blog. I’ll be updating everything. :)

At Home At “Cafe Bryan” A Day After “The Thing That Broke Me”

January 09, 2008 By: admin Category: General, Health, India, M Photos, The Film

Yesterday I had what Alison and Bryan and David call “an India day.” I got overwhelmed and cracked up a little bit. It was quiet and no one else could really see it unless I pointed it out, but it was there. A crack has developed in the armor, and so today I’m staying in…


This morning I woke up just before 6am, again with a hacking cough. There’s just no getting around it. You can cover your nose and mouth, you can take Vitamin E for the scar tissue developing on your lungs, you can even say “fuck it” and shell out the big bucks to stay in a high end hotel. Unless you’re going to stay in that hotel for your entire stay, you’re going to get this cough if you’re here longer than a week. Thank goodness for Cafe Bryan which opens at 6:00am and magically has my cappuccino ready before I ask for it. It doesn’t make all the horror of Kolkata go away, but certainly a goodly chunk.

All that said, it feels 75% better overall being here now because I know I can capture what we need to make a GREAT film. Yesterday afternoon Nandini and I visited Soma Home and walked in on all of the younger girls dancing to a Indian hip-hop song like they were at a nightclub. They didn’t even flinch when they saw us because they were having such a good time and have become so accustomed to visitors from all over the world. Seeing Nandini’s face explode with joy at the freedom and confidence in the girls was worth the whole ordeal of earlier in the day (which is explained below…). She instantly knew what we had to do–came up with The Idea–but I can’t say what it is in case someone wants to steal it. But know that IT’S GREAT and that we’re going to do such a wonderful job with it. :) I added my own touch to it on the ride back to Keya’s and got super-excited that we might actually pull this goddamned thing off, baby stresses, pollution, depression and all. :)

Traveler’s Cheques
So, if no one has told you (and no one told Molly or me), you don’t bring traveler’s cheques to India. They’re too much of a bitch to exchange, which Bryan and I found out most decidedly the hard way yesterday. Here comes the story of The Thing That Broke Me…

Like any dutiful tourist I’d looked up the address of the main branch of Citibank when I got here. I’d gotten my TCs through them in L.A. and thought–naively, I see now–that if anyone was going to be able to exchange them, it would be these guys. Bryan, with his bottomless generosity, came with me. Truly, he took me, as I had no idea how to get to the Kanak Building on Nehru Road. And there began the problems…

The main branch of Citibank in Kolkata isn’t actually on Nehru Road, it’s on Chowringee Road. Thankfully, there are clear signs for “Kanak Building” as you exit the metro at Park Street, so if the Citibank main branch actually exchanged TCs, which they don’t, I would have been fine alone at this point. Sadly, they don’t, which Bryan and I found out at the door when a very nicely dressed and well-spoken-if-timid young Citibank employee handed us a business card to “Cox & Kings” exchange house saying that they could only exchange my TCs at Citibank if I had an account there. Now, what an American is doing in Kolkata with TCs if she has an account at a local bank, I’m not sure, but it seems to make enough sense to Citibank that they’ve made it policy in Kolkata…

The next problem came when the young Citibank man told us that “Cox & Kings” was “just down the road.”


We left Citibank, already pissed off enough, and started what should have been a very short walk down Little Russel street to Cox & Kings. About halfway down we both knew we’d passed it. The thing is, there wasn’t a sign. Of course not. What, are you mad??? A SIGN???? That would be… I don’t know… LOGICAL. PRODUCTIVE. NORMAL. Now, it was hot and I realized when I started to swoon a bit on the trek down Little Russel that maybe I’m the type of tourist who needs to eat more regularly in the Third World; i.e., I should have had lunch before we’d left for the bank. I had also spent an hour that morning taking a stab at grocery shopping, something that in any first world country is trivial. Well, it’s pretty trivial here too, but when you’re additionally challenged by a language barrier, a lack of street signs, windy roads that make BOSTON’s urban planning make sense, AND it’s hot, AND you’re carrying 10 litres of water and a carton of soy milk for your lactose-intolerant girlfriend through a stinking street market in a city where you’re engulfed in smog even in the shower–the simple is made nearly impossible faster than you can say “Citibank sucks.”

I was having a rough time physically and psychologically. Nandini and I talked about it later that evening — about how we were both getting slammed by our senses being so overloaded, and questioned whether we were even going to make it to the end of the shooting time. No matter how robust you think you are, as a traveler or as a person, unless you’re part robot you can’t avoid being brought to your wits’ end by the constant sight of people–babies–living on the filthiest street you’ve ever seen in your entire life. It had been creeping up on me–this feeling that I just couldn’t take it anymore–for the past couple of days. The smog, the blaring cacophony, the poverty, and the stink of garbage and raw sewage everywhere were winning the battle of Whether Alexia Would Break Or Not while she is in Kolkata for three weeks. And so when we couldn’t find Cox & Kings on the first go-round, I turned to Bryan and told him I was feeling woozy and needed to eat and rest.

Now, I consider myself being more from New York than anywhere else so admitting urban defeat is usually a big deal. The thing is that the familiar Western concept of “if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere” is just flat wrong. Kolkata makes New York look like a dog run. And so to accept defeat here is actually to be smart, because your very mental health (forget the obvious physical for the moment) is at stake.

Pleasantly–because Bryan is ALWAYS pleasant–he said he knew the perfect place to eat: right across the street. I had beans on toast (a throwback from my trip to Scotland), a lime soda, some of Bryan’s cumin fries and watched myself perk up like a little flower. That meal might not sound so great to you, reading this, but believe me when I tell you that carbs, protein, and salt are KEY for surviving more than one week in Kolkata. Another essential is to not do too much. In fact, Nandini and I have done the math and concluded that only One Major Thing should be done per day. Truly, given all the myriad daily frustrations endemic to this town, One major thing is probably all you’d be able to accomplish anyway.

I know that some of you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, to hear me say that it’s not all bad, but it is. The things that can be taken out of Kolkata are the things that are good about it: the people we’ve met, the beautiful women in their beautiful sarees, the beautiful sarees, the music culture, Alison and Bryan’s house (wherever they live in the world they will create a comfy, cozy space), the food, the tea, the Muslim chanter, the delicate, sincere smiles of small children–all these things add to the wonder of Kolkata but do not erase the horror.

I don’t know what’s in store for the rest of my time here. I only known that I am being forced to take things slow, and that’s not as awful a thing to have to learn as it sounds like it is. Slowing down helps you appreciate things. Think about that word: appreciate. When was the last time you did it consciously? When was the last time you sat or stood somewhere and waited until an appreciation for what was around you was felt inside your heart. Well, I’m getting a crash course in “Appreciation” and that, I love. So, there you go, all you hopeful optimists: IT’S NOT ALL BAD after all. I’m learning to appreciate.

“Western Tool Solution”

January 08, 2008 By: admin Category: General, Health, India, M Photos

To look around Kolkata is to be bombarded with evidence of unbelievable problems. This city needs SO. MUCH.


So, what do you do? Maybe you run around and see what tugs at your heart, or you read the papers and see what others are complaining about, or you talk to residents about their concerns. None of these avenues, however–for a variety of maddening reasons–will help to solve the overarching crises that are truly at the root of all of the issues here. These are: clean water, sanitation, and education. It’s that simple. Even the pollution is secondary. Sadly, the pollution is the one issue that can be addressed in real-time that would have an immediate benefit. If the cars were retrofitted to be carbon-monoxide conscious, that would help A GREAT DEAL. 10-15-20 years from now the air would be much, much cleaner. And that would go a long way toward improving everything. But it wouldn’t birth a sea-change. That will take a revolution of action and would involve sticking it out for 100 years or more because what I’m talking about is the need to clean up the stinking waterways all around the city, and to institute a clean drinking & bathing water system. Children are being stunted because they are ingesting–in every way imaginable–heavy metals, bacteria, and just straight-up filth. They drink it and they bathe in it. These issues will not be solved by an initiative to give “One Laptop Per Child.


Although education is also paramount, this “top-down” suggestion isn’t going to do squat. And everyone knows it. Bryan calls this endeavor “a typical Western tool solution.” The thinking is that you throw technology at the poor and they’ll lift themselves up because they have access. But that’s not correct. Then poor need to be educated before you throw a laptop at them. What this country and this city need are more teachers. The Indian government needs to throw it’s money into it’s main resource: people. They need to create teachers and then farm them out into the villages and towns and cities to educate EVERYONE. This is a bottom-up approach. This will also take a generation’s worth of time, but, once done, India will not be the same. It will be better. And by that I mean cleaner, healthier for all.

Ami bondo. I’m finished. Rant over.

In Praise of the Western Toilet
Y’all… Let me tell you… Whenever–and I do mean WHENEVER–you enter your bathroom in the USofA, drop your drawers and sit down on the porcelain throne to express yourself, BE. GRATEFUL. Alison and Bryan have a Western-style toilet and I give thanks for it every, single day.


January 07, 2008 By: admin Category: Health, India, M Photos, The Film

Bicycle Rickshaw

Yesterday Brian was down for the count with a smog-related headache. All of us are coughing. “The black cough of Kolkata.” Every time she visits, Juthica gets this cough. We were spared it last year because we were being shuttled around in an air-conditioned car every day, and went home each night to a four-star, climate-controlled hotel. Now we’ll wear masks whenever we walk around or ride in a taxi. Taxis all have their windows wide open and are low to the ground — the perfect height to be in line for the thick, black chemical exhalant barfing forth from every rickety, broken bus.

Waking up here is tough. As you sleep you breathe in exhaust. It’s not as bad as being on the street, but it’s bad enough that you wake up couching and hacking. I don’t know how people do it. Most of them don’t have a choice, yes, but the ones who do…???? Anyway, the other day Bryan said something about the essentials of living and I came up with this list as a result of being here:

Long showers
A second helping
More clothes that can fit in a good-sized duffel
More than one book in your library (how many do you read at one time????)



The good news from yesterday is that last night Nandini and I settled on how we’re going to approach this film. We were brain-storming and brain-storming at New Light while watching all the kids in their classes, and then POOF! It came to us both at the same time. We were tripping over each others’ words saying “Yup, yup, yup. That’s it. Yup!” So I’m psyched to get started actually shooting!!!! We’ll start at Soma Home, telling some stories of the girls there, and those stories will loop us back to the shelters at Kalighat and the Burning Hut. Through each project we’ll tell stories about the women — the sex workers — and that will bring us to a discussion of Kolkata, Indian society, and then-of course-global misogyny and the need for education for all. Not a big task, so I think we can manage… 😉

M’s latest photo. Her caption reads: “There are moments in India when you turn one corner and you are suddenly walking in another era.”

“Why did you bring gnomes….???”””

January 06, 2008 By: admin Category: India, M Photos, sustainability, The Film, Video

Last night M and I were telling Alison and Bryan stories of past hallucinations. In college M once had about a 104 fever and was seeing gnomes in her hospital room…


Yesterday day The Group (David, Megumi, Alison, Bryan, M, Nandini and me) met for coffee at a place called “Cafe Coffee Day.” Somehow if you say that a bit fast in a Bengali accent it sounds very cute… Anyway, we had great fun getting to know David, who is an English former fashion professional currently running a for-profit business making and selling handmade blankets that Bengali village women stitch together from old sarees and shawls, per his design. He sells the blankets to high end shops in L.A. and NYC, and pays the village women well for their work. With his money he runs a home for deaf and otherwise disabled indigent boys, and with their money the village women live a quality of life they otherwise wouldn’t. It’s a very sustainable operation that I hope to film for my online series before I leave.

There’s actually quite a lot of content here that can fit the series. There is a “caste” or faction of poor folk here who are the recyclers. Every day they gather paper and plastic, sort, and redistribute it in a way that shames us in the West. I hope to “cover” that story as well as the blanket-stitchers’ story so people can see how dumb we’re all being in the US. We don’t know where our recycling goes. We don’t even know if it goes anywhere good. These folks in Kolkata KNOW.

Stories are things there aren’t a lack of here. Every day brings about five good new ones that I feel compelled to tell. Megumi’s is another… A young Japanese woman, she has lived in the US, South America, and now in Asia, speaks fluent English and Bengali, and practices Kathak dance, tabla, and Indian voice. She is M’s “connection” here, and has already come through 100% by introducing M to her tabla and voice gurus. M has already had one lesson with each and her voice teacher said she was “very professional.” Megumi, who has known this voice teacher for a long time, told us that she could tell that he was very pleased to hear M sing. She said he was clearly happy to have a new student that had such a beautiful voice. :) I BEAMED with pride as Megumi told us all this at the Cafe. M is having a life-changing creative experience and I can’t imagine a musician more worthy of such good fortune.

For me, today will be about The Film. Finally. While Megumi and M are out at a vocal concert of Venkatesh Kumar, Nandini and I will be at New Light, taking it all in. It will be Nandini’s first time there so it’ll be very interesting to see her reaction. We’ll meet Urmi there and will discuss car, filming needs, etc. Next, I’ll go and get M from the theatre and we’ll come back to Alison & Bryan’s where we will likely decompress from another day of wonder in Kolkata.

“Get in your car and take a trip for no good reason and without permission.”

January 05, 2008 By: admin Category: General, India, M Photos, The Film

–Garrison Keilor

Sunday’s Indian entertainment:

“Wanted: Brides. By Community. By Language. By Caste. Wanted fair. Fair boy seeks… Strictly vegetarian. Non-smoker.”

My mind has been wandering. I haven’t been thinking about the film. I keep thinking of Bangalore and summer on the Vineyard, of being home and appreciating it so much more as a result of only a few days here — anything but the film. You see, I have a worry: I can’t find the story. To be fair, no, we haven’t been to New Light yet and I’m sure we’ll “see” the story once we spend some time there, but for the moment I’m a little freaked. And so i read Garrison Keilor and promise myself that I’ll drive down to Mexico when I’m back in the U.S.

I got scared again last night, waking myself up with thoughts of malarial mosquitoes having their way with me. Let me explain… Nandini and little Armaan arrived last night. Alison and I went to get them at the airport. Somnath, one of Alison’s faculty at Uddami, very graciously went out of his way to arrange a car and we all went out together. The ride out was fairly horrible as there was a lot of traffic and I became slowly choked by smog. For the last half of the drive I had my wool shawl over my nose and mouth praying I wouldn’t lose my sight as I blinked through the thick particles whipping my face.

Anyway, when we all got to Keya & Rono’s place–where Nandini and Armaan will be staying–Keya asked Nandini if she wanted mosquito nets. There was some discussion about how much it would suck for a 13-month old baby to get malaria and that’s pretty much when things went downhill for me. “M-A-L-A-R-I-A????????” my brain sweated as the others talked nonchalantly. “Malaria????????” I am--I think I can go out on a limb and say this–wholely psychologically unprepared for bacterial infection. Read: I’m a pussy about getting sick in the Third World. So, naturally, I tossed and turned in my sleep last night because last night was DIFFERENT FROM EVERY OTHER NIGHT I’VE BEEN HERE. You know, nights when I WASN’T afraid of getting malaria.

Anyway, so my mind has been wandering to things other than the film. To be fair, though, I’ve been listening and looking and have gathered some terrific colloquialisms and small understandings of where I am and where Bengali society seems to be. And that, thank god for wrap-arounds, will be great for the film. :)

M’s latest photo:

M. India Photo #1: Priceless

January 05, 2008 By: admin Category: M Photos

M’s caption for this one: “The Birds in India and Their Social Commentary”