Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Journey Continues...

"I'm so glad we had this time together. Just to have a laugh or sing a song."

Those were the days. Early 1970. Rainy night. Homework done. Dishwasher humming after a meal of moosemeat, boiled vegetables, and an iceberg lettuce salad with Kraft Italian dressing. The whole family, except the one who called dibs on the hideous green reclining chair, would nestle into the neo-psychedelic floral patterned Simpsons Sears polyester sofa, complete with its liberal coating of Scotch Guard. The spanking new Zenith colour TV would finally warm up to the point where the snow would mostly disappear from the screen, and the opening theme from "The Carol Burnett Show" would drift out of the speaker in glorious mono. "These Zeniths are good", my dad would proudly say. "Way better than that Japanese crap. It has Chromacolour, you know...".

We loved this show, and it always used to bring my mom to tears of laughter, occasionally causing her to spit out her Ovaltine through her teeth in a fine stream back into her mug when Tim Conway would crack up Harvey Korman, who would gamely attempt to make it through the scene whilst trying his professional best to suppress a belly laugh. Our dog, a mangy poodle that my brother did his absolute best to torture at every opportunity, would often lay half buried in a harvest gold sea of shag carpet so thick that younger visitors to the house were known to get lost for days at a time. He would sit there motionless for hours, shedding fleas, hair, and bodily secretions deep into the shag carpet, exposing only his nose and eyes above the carpet like some mutant French crocodile.

More than once, as we were sitting drinking our malty beverage and snacking on Peak Freen's biscuits, enraptured by the comedic genius piped into our home by the brand new miracle of cablevision (no more antenna on the roof for us!), a disturbed look would come over my father's face, and he would wrinkle up his nose in disgust. In an accusing voice, he'd turn to my mother on the couch and pointedly ask "Was that you?". A noxious effluvium of evil hung motionless in the air, as if placed there as punishment by Satan himself. Embarrassed by the sudden negative attention, Mom would invariably say "Oh heavens no, Kenneth. It was the dog". We all knew better, but it somehow seemed acceptable to not call her on it and let Mom have her fantasy moment. She brought new meaning to the term "silent, but deadly". Mom's gone now, and I feel it is safe to tell the world. It was not the dog. It was never the dog.

At the end of the Carol Burnett show, Carol always sang a little song, thanked the cast, and gave an affectionate little tug on her left ear, which I learned many years later was a secret signal to her grandmother. Well now we're coming to the end of our little show, and it's time to thank the cast before we sing our little song. After living in India for 6 months, we find ourselves nearly at the end of our sub-continental sojourn, and as the final days here count down, I must confess that we're all a little stunned. Stunned that 6 months has gone by so fast. Stunned that we've actually done what we set out to do, namely collect real recipes from real people in real kitchens. Stunned that what has become the norm over the last several months will be but a memory in less than two weeks. We've been doing all our shopping at markets where you can get your dinner killed on demand. We've bunked in overnight trains with strangers. We've angrily haggled over 10 rupees with usurious rickshaw drivers. We've become adept at crossing 6 lanes of chaotic traffic as a unit, and somehow reaching the other side of the street with the same number we started off with. We've changed, and we've done it as a family.

Yes, we have a couple more things lined up to shoot, but it all seems rather bittersweet. Our brains are already half focused on the next part of the adventure: Singapore, Beijing, and Tokyo. Home, and all the chores and garden work that we've put off for half a year, is looming large in our collective consciousness. But we must really take a moment now and thank the people here that have made a difference during our stay here. Firstly, our landlords Stanley and his wickedly good cook of a wife Gigi. Thanks for taking a chance on a bunch of scruffy Canadians, and allowing us to rent your house. Thanks for being so welcoming and having us into your home not only for Christmas dinner, but for many other fantastic meals as well. We're not sure why you decided to make the extra effort of renting to foreigners, but we're really glad that you did. Isaac is really going to miss playing video games at your house while Gigi feeds him appams with sugar!

Rajesh, our good friend and neighbour, completely changed our lives when he offered us a ride to the main road early on in our stay. Thanks to Rajesh, I have discovered the joys of riding on the back of a motorcycle to go and play football at 6:30 morning. You turned us on to the Toddy Shop, the Punjab House, and virtually every secret location to buy crabs on the island of Vypeen. We've often thought about just how different our trip would have been if we had not met you.

Chitra, our dear friend and chief culinary guide during our stay, has been an incredible source of knowledge, recipes, and good humour. Thank you for being such a great cook and for tirelessly giving of your time and energy to help us plumb the mysterious depths of this cuisine that seems to flow out of you with no effort at all.

And finally, thanks to Gee. Gee has an amazing talent for making the impossible possible. More times than we can count, Laurel and I have been overwhelmed by your generosity, hospitality, and superb problem-solving abilities. You're a pretty good cook, too!

All of you have shown us a totally different side of India than we saw last time we were here, and we're humbled by how you've welcomed us into your homes and your lives. You've succeeded in redefining hospitality for us, and I think it is safe to say that without your connections and logistical support, our filming efforts would have been far more challenging and far less successful. Thank you.

Also thanks to Venu, Gopal & Usha in Coimbatore, Jacob at Haritha Farms, Alok, Varghese, Anwar & Sajna, Rajindran & Suma, and the multitudes that have somehow contributed in ways both large and small to this strange, and in retrospect, presumptuous endeavor. We were pretty naive to think that we could just parachute in and learn everything there is to know about Indian food in 6 months. All of you have made for a pretty soft landing for the Bailey family. This is far from our last blog post, and there will be many more before we reach home. We really wanted to take a moment to offer some proper thanks to people who have really made a difference while our brains were still functioning!

"Seems we just get started and before you know it... Comes the time we have to say so long..."

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