Saturday, December 31, 2011


We're really here in Agra for the Taj Mahal, and it didn't disappoint. Referred to by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore as a "teardrop on the face of eternity," it is monumental and stunning. The weather was monumental but not stunning, and we had to dodge a major thunderstorm on our way out (see ominous clouds in background).

Happy New Year!

From the basement of the Agra Community Center and YWCA, in what must be the strangest venue from which I've ever rang out the old and in the new. The hotel is nice enough, and they brought in the local high school band to provide the entertainment (best Karen and I can figure that's their parents in the background), but the compulsory buffet didn't start until ten and, perhaps most disappointing, the Taj, which we can see from here, isn't lit up. Even if you don't want to turn on the power every night, this seems like it would be an auspicious occasion. What are they waiting for? Some Hindu celebration I'm not aware of? Perhaps the festival of Devagana (he's the lucky deity who lives in the cow's rectum)? Either way, it's all somehow very Indian.

Next time, we take the express train

At last, we are in Agra, after a 4-1/2 hour train ride that was supposed take three hours. But with everyone and their brother and sister heading to the Taj for new years and with many of the trains booked, we're happy to have made it on any train at all, even one that seemed to stop everywhere and moved at a snail's pace.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Don't Upset the Banana Cart

Pictures can be a bit tricky; not everyone appreciates being the subject of tourist photography, while others will ask for money. Discretion is the better part of voyeurism.


Navigating New Delhi station would be impossible without these guys. They'll even take care of your luggage. Tip well.

Reflections on transportation in Delhi

Yesterday we took advantage of all manner of Delhi transport from the metro to the auto rickshaw to the bicycle rickshaw (from which the image below was shot). Based upon the insane amount of traffic on the streets and the absolute impossibility of moving at any decent speed during rushhour--regardless of what type of vehicle you are in--going below ground makes a lot of sense. And Delhi's metro system is fast, clean, efficient, modern, cheap, and easy to use. The challenge is that the environment on your way to the metro, or your way out, is neither fast, clean, efficient, modern, cheap, or easy to use.

After being crammed like Indian sardines into a metro car in the late morning, I was delighted to learn about a unique Indian metro novelty--the ladies car. The first one or two cars of every Delhi metro train are devoted to the ladies and offer a rarified opportunity to not get up close and personal with a whole bunch of random male strangers. And, there is usually seating and lots of room in the ladies car--which makes it doubly great. For the next few journeys, Michael and I rode separately, with me living large in the ladies car.

Our guide book tells us that, due to the relative newness of the Metro system, Delhians are still learning about proper subway etiquette. The stuff you normally take for granted on a subway, such as being able to get out of the train at your stop without having to push your way out of the crowd with all the brute force you can muster, you can't really rely on here. They also haven't quite mastered the idea that you let people out of the train before pushing your way inside. It's a process. And, it sure beats sitting helplessly in a taxi or auto rickshaw on surface streets stuck in traffic going nowhere fast.

Jama Masjid


> So after that adventure (yes, you really do need that international plan so can call Amex from the middle of a traffic jam just after Friday prayers get out at India's largest mosque, which must be very confusing for the person on the other end of the phone), it was time to get our Islam on.
> And I do mean on. Though Karen had already covered her head, she was robed in a full-length rental garment. Oddly, that was the only thing we weren't charged for. Entry? Rs 400. Guide (who asked with some irony if we were Muslim)? Rs 75. Shoe minder? Rs 20. Cavorting with 20,000 spiritual pilgrims? Priceless.
> Though all these shrines and temples and gods and prophets with unpronounceable names and questionable backstories do make me so glad to have shuffled off the yolk of religion.

Red Fort Diaries

The crowds today were unreal--on the Metro (think Tokyo), in the bazaars, at the fort, at the mosque (more on that later). We started wondering if it was always like this. India's population is close to 1.2 billion so, assuming a five-day work week (big assumption, I know), a quick mental calculation reveals that the number of people off from work or school every day exceeds the entire population of the US. Add to that the New Years holiday and you will likely still have no conception of what I'm talking about.

Anyway, just inside the bounds of New Delhi sits the Red Fort, though that's just the outside, carved from rust colored sandstone. Inside it's all intricately carved marble and gardens and a complex irrigation system connecting dozens of pools and fountains. That this lone picture fails to do it justice is the definition of understatement. So y'all will have to come back in late January for the full report.

After nearly two hours we were back on the street hunting for a ride to Jama Masjid, or Friday Mosque. Rs 50 (about a buck). Transportation is cheap.

It was at that moment, careening down the street, that Karen realized her purse was gone. Credit and debit cards, driver's license, Rs 4000. Fortunately they didn't get her phone, and I'm holding on to her passport, but she'd been warned: cute little shoulder bags with no zipper and a single snap are not what one goes wandering about India with. Not to make it an I-told-you-so moment (mainly because she'd been directed otherwise by everything from travel guides to the nice lady at the hotel), but word: you're not in Palo Alto any more.

Anyway, the cards have been cancelled and she can't lose her wallet again. I thought it might be a bit of poetic justice to make her wear an extra-ugly money belt for the rest of the trip, but she's got nothing to put in it. Perhaps best of all, she's promised to never again make fun of my hunting vest, in which I store everything in separate, tightly velcroed pockets. Sure, I may resemble John Goodman from The Big Lebowski, but I'm not getting picked.

When we got back to the hotel, Karen mentioned the incident to our Maitre'd. His response spoke volumes: "This kind of thing makes all Indians sad."

Avian aid

Next stop, the Jain Temple, where we once again found ourselves barefoot. The Jains have a tremendous respect for all life, as evident in their adorable, and slightly creepy bird hospital. Here, they nurse the most sad looking peahens, parrots, and pigeons back to a semblance of life from disease and injury. Hundreds of birds in individual and collective cages--mostly of the winged rat variety. But heartwarming nonetheless.

Did we mention the sweets?

Chaat attack

One of the highlights of Indian cuisine is its chaat--or snack-- tradition. Today we headed to the Chandni Chowk market street en route to the Red Fort and indulged at Haldiram's. Two sweet lassis and a raj kachori (potato and garbanzo beans in a crunchy shell with mint, tamarind, and yogurt sauces with some pomegranate seeds for garnish). It's sweet, sour, and spicy, crunchy and soothing--everything you could possibly crave in a snack. Thankfully for us, India has got snacking down to an art form. A beautiful culinary respite for weary travelers.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Further Observations

Wi-fi seems to be prevalent, at least in the hotels, which is nice as Karen is able to use her phone without racking up cell charges. Still good to have one phone with an international plan for when you have to call your driver.

The pollution makes your boogers black.

A favorite local pastime is sleeping on the grass at the monuments (homeless? Not sure--there is an entry fee).

As noted, eat your yogurt. Lots of healthy bacteria.

Goddamn but the Friday sunrise call to prayer is loud.

Puma and Adidas seem to be having a turf war. McD's offers a McSpicy Paneer sandwich.

You can gauge a good hotel by the number of options they provide for personal hygiene.

We Take Requests

And so does the kitchen. Breakfast at the hotel, in addition to fresh fruit, cereal, sweet cakes and homemade yogurt (which might likely save your digestive system), also includes eggs any way you like them plus the Indian special of the day. Or in my case, Murgh Makhni (butter chicken), left over from dinner last night that was so delicious I had to have more. Top it all off with papaya juice, coffee and masala chai. We're now fortified to go play in the traffic.

Anyway, Dad was getting hungry and wanted to know what was for dinner.

Bahai there!

Today is our anniversary, and therefore what would be more appropriate then spending the sunset with thousands of people, all without shoes, to appreciate the Bahai (or what is popularly called the Lotus) Temple. Designed in the late 1960s by Iranian/Canadian architect Fariburz Sahba, the temple features 27 dramatic, marble-faced petals. Like a more organically rooted Sydney opera house, it's at once angular and curvy, clearly inspired by nature but also decidedly space-aged. Unfortunately, all the magic is on the exterior, and once inside, the interior just can't compete. Ultimately, it's a huge pr opportunity for the Bahai, who provide a spiritual elevator pitch to the throngs before they enter the temple and then distribute their literature as you exit.

Further Dispatches from The War On Xmas

I was going to title this post Parks & Rec, as we wandered through Lodhi Park, with all it's tombs and mosques, before repairing to the Lodhi Gardens Restaurant for a delicious, more-Middle Eastern-than-Indian repast, but the best picture on the phone was this one.

Longtime readers will recall the weirdness that is Xmas in Saigon, and this is no different, though perhaps more understated: a simple tree, gifts, an offering of bright orange flowers, and wads of cotton gauze pulled amongst the foliage. Our hotel had a similar display until this morning. Which should serve as a reminder to all of you: take it down before it becomes a fire hazard.

This public service announcement brought to you by K&M Worldwide.

Built to last in the afterlife

Next we headed to Humayun's tomb, a monumental precursor to the Taj Mahal, constructed in the mid-16th century. Fabricated from white marble and red sandstone, the tomb is set within 30 acres of tranquil formal gardens complete with pools, palms, fruit trees and the requisite irrigation canals.

The first among the large, old, heavy things we came to see.

Arts & Crafts

Ah, the local bazaar. But also so much more. Delhi's Museum of Crafts blows the National Museum away (my opinion). Great "official" galleries offering textiles, woodwork, sculpture, something called Cult items, and a special exhibition dedicated to the camel, or at least how to adorn one.

Outside stood traditional structures gathered from all over India and the Nicobar islands. Good stuff, well curated, and punctuated with live music

And vendors. Never going to get away from them, but they had good stuff. Which Karen quickly found.

Where is the National Museum?

With the assistance of our driver Biki and our own directional support, along with that of a few other drivers and security guards, we made it to the National Museum, which holds an impressive collection of sculpture, paintings, and textiles from throughout the country's history. Most amazing was the extensive collection of miniature paintings--always my favorite!

Culture shock

With more than 13 million residents, Delhi has often been described as challenging for tourists. And challenging it was for us on our first day. We started off with the deck stacked against us as we were weary and slightly dazed from the long journey. But then we encountered almost every single tourist nightmare and warning about this city--from the auto-rickshaw driver who took us to the wrong destination, to the overly friendly young men in Connaught Place who are hoping to lure tourists (i.e., us) to specific stores, to the more-than-one-hour cab ride home in the very worst of Delhi rush hour traffic. Transporting yourself anywhere in this city requires confidence and fortitude. There's a great metro system, but it requires you to cross eight lanes of chaotic traffic in order to get to the station. Walking, as you might imagine, is not for the faint of heart. There are limited sidewalks, cows and feral dogs to avoid, as well as all number of moving vehicles--cars, busses, bicycles, mopeds, and auto-rickshaws. Today, with a long list of sights to see dispersed throughout Delhi, we did the enlightened thing by hiring a driver for the day. And that made all the difference.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And Onto the Colonies

We made it. After what seemed an eternity. And after only two hours, there's already much to report:

My first observation or, rather, a lack thereof, came during final approach: the ground was not visible, at least until we were a mere 30 feet above it. The smog here is so thick that even at street level it is difficult to see more than a block or two.

Observation 2: Usually in places like this the road from the airport starts with condo ads, morphs into slum, and gradually builds to city. Not so here. The road to town is lined with billboards that, without exception, advertise educational programs. Law? Check. Medicine? Check. Engineering? Triple check. Acting and dancing lessons for that eight year old in your life who's gonna make it big in Bollywood? Got that, too.

Third, the Indians are still the most polite, welcoming people you'll ever meet.

Four, the traffic is still the most bizarre on the planet. Cars, trucks, buses, autorickshaws, tractors, motorcycles (women ride side saddle), work animals, lone animals, and scores of people all moving perpendicular to the flow. Breathtaking.

Anyway, Karen found a great hotel, as usual, so let the sightseeing begin. Namasté.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Terminal 3

As the sign says, last British ale for 5,000 miles.

Hanging out in the travelers' lounge during our six hour layover. Karen gets to take a shower and I get free wifi and gin and tonics, all for a small fee. Then it's seven hours to Delhi.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Third Leg

Sacto's behind us. We're wrapping up LA, where our eight-hour layover allowed us to eat some good burgers with Karen's family. Now it's eight hours on Virgin flight 24 to Heathrow for another six hours of layover. Fortunately, Karen found the Terminal 3 travel lounge, which offers showers and sustenance.

Mildred Howard bottle house

Our flight out of Sacramento offered us a chance to see Mildred Howard's glass house installation--part of several large-scale art installations in their new terminal. For those who don't know, the Palo Alto Art Center is proud to be featuring one of Howard's bottle houses as part of our On the Road project. So, being able to be bathed in its purple reflections offered a special pre-trip treat.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Train People

Karen's never ridden Amtrak before. I've already availed myself of the warm croissants on the dining car.

Here We Go Again

Merry Xmas to all!

And so begins the first leg--San Jose to Sacramento. Why Sacto? Grandma, ham, Dad, ham, Sharon, biscuits, Dede, ham. Not much ham where we're going. Plus we get cheaper tickets to LAX, which meant cheaper tickets to Delhi.

Karen's guarding the luggage at Diridon, if you're wondering.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Three-Legged Duck

Sure, it may be a week after the fact, but the photo--languishing on Karen's phone--must be shared, as it holds the secret to perfectly roasted duck.

First, boil the thing for two minutes. This separates the skin from the meat. Then, season the inside with salt and five spice before stuffing it with garlic, chili and bean paste. Next, lacquer it with a honey-salt dilution and string it up to dry for at least six hours. Roast at 400.

This invention is Gus, me, the duck, a tripod, a coat hanger and a drip pan. Don't forget the drip pan.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Temple of Ham

We're back now, after some weather delay, but I had to share one last shot. Started the evening at Baxter Station--or so we thought. Closed Mondays, though no one will tell you that. Next up: Bourbons Bistro, which was only serving apps due to an event no one mentioned. Finally, per Karen, we ended up at The Garage, a synagogue of all things porcine. Pancetta salad and a plate of country ham. Transit provided by the best cab driver I've ever met.

Next up: Thanxgiving. Stay tuned for tips on how to properly roast a duck.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Getting my bourbon on

Bourbon, I've had a love/meh relationship with you for years. Despite a few Sazeracs in New Orleans (when in Rome...) it's been challenging for me to enjoy bourbon on it's own or in a cocktail. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of it, and the smell of it, but I can't usually get through more than a few sips of it before I start feeling like I've been hit by a very large truck transporting massive amounts of alcohol.

Michael, of course, has been a devotee for years.

Enter Louisville. After two days here, I'm starting to really get my bourbon on. It started yesterday morning with a Kentucky mimosa: champagne, bourbon, bitters and juice. It continued with an afternoon pick-me-up in the form of a Kentucky bourbon cask ale (the ale is steeped in freshly emptied bourbon barrels) and a pre-dinner cocktail of bourbon, St. Germain, and basil. Now, it is reinforced by a girlie bourbon and ginger ale at the historic Brown Hotel bar. Two more stops, two additional stamps in my urban bourbon passport and I get a commemorative bourbon T-shirt--gotta love this town!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Singular Fast Food Weakness

Sure, it's unhealthy, but at least it's an identifiable food product that comes from a single animal. When in Kentucky...

Art abounds in Louisville

After an incredibly satisfying brunch of bread pudding and lemon souffle pancakes at Toast on Market, we headed out to explore the city--hitting the art galleries, antique and design shops in the hip area East of Market. The Museum of Art and Craft in the museum district, which has a great collection of Appalacian folk art, was next. Here, Miguel poses in front of an installation outside of the art hotel 21c.

Float Like A Butterfly...

Sting like a white girl. Karen goes three rounds with the greatest at the Muhammed Ali Museum.


The weather's great, which is good since we're waiting outside for brunch. Karen's conference doesn't start until tomorrow, so we've got all day for galleries and museums. And reindeer decor.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Here's what Karen ate for breakfast this morning:
1 mimosa
1 green salad with dill creme fraiche and half a smoked trout
1 glass verdolhe
4 eggs
1 cup black beans
2 waffles
1 salmon fillet
Half an avocado
1 chantilly cream strawberry brownie milkshake

I'm constantly amazed by her ability to maintain her svelte, girlish figure.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

New York

Again, but different. I'm out over the weekend for the UN and decided to look up Darren Grout, drummer in the band. Turns out his family is having a party in Valatie, two hours north of the city. That's his brother Doug driving a tractor in a tuxedo. BBQing chicken, making small-still vodka, and enjoying perfect weather in the Hudson Valley.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lazy Ox

And that is a plate of beef carpaccio protected by a layer of shaved truffles. Not sharing.

Word on the Street

We headed to Susan Feniger's Street in Hollywood for lunch. We were excited to try this place because it is dedicated to street food around the world, features a chef from Top Chef masters fame, and we like her other place, Border Grill in Santa Monica. I had their most popular dish, the kaya toast, which is a toasted white bread sandwich filled with a pandanas custard (loyal readers will recall that pandanas is the elusive flavor we came to love in Southeast Asia). The sandwich is served with a dark soy sauce and a fried egg--just dip and eat. The most brilliant combination of salty and sweet. Best washed down with a Street Ginger cocktail. Try to avoid the loud-talking industry folks who congregate here for power lunching.

Speed Dial

The Standard Hotel is pretty swank--and their speed dial is wonderful. In addition to Front Desk and Room Service, it includes one-touch dialing for Motivational Speaker, Fluffer and Alibi. And the shower wall is clear glass facing the bed. Whoopee!


Spent the last few days in LA--Karen was down here as part of a panel awarding grants to artists, I was just tagging along. Anyway, downtown LA got 2.5 inches of rain Sunday, so we went to the Nickel Diner where I tucked into a maple donut covered in bacon. Delicious. They also had one called an Irish car bomb, but those were sold out.