Inside Fish Eye

January 13, 2018

Written today about yesterday and posted today from Kerala:

We are in Madura, South India.  Our local guide for today stood up at the front of the bus and introduced himself:

My name is Mudu.

My name means “pearl”.

I have only one wife and two children.

I love my job.

I love people.

I am very happy to be with you today.

I am a very happy man.

And just like that, he won us over.  He led us through the Meenakshi Temple and, later, to the Tirumala Nayak Palace.  The day felt like a hands-on university course because we learned so much from him.

Tirumala Nayak Palace:


Madurai is 80% Hindu.  The other 20% of the city population is Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist.  Madurai, along with Varanasi, is one of the longest living cities in the world.  Its history goes back to at least 3,600 years. A “living city” is a city that continues to function as a city for 2000 years or longer.  A “living city” maintains its heritage and culture and never loses its identity from ancient times to the present.


Following are various facts about Madurai:

  • Madurai’s main agricultural products include rice, sugarcane, coffee, tea, and cotton (some of the best cotton in the world is grown here).  The list is extensive and also includes coconut, bananas, mangoes, cashews, chilis, and onions.
  • Madurai is known as the Temple City with Meenaskshi Temple as the most famous.
  • Madurai is known as the “Jasmine City” because it is a major exporter of jasmine.  Jasmine is exported all over the world, always in its raw flower form only.
  • Madurai is known as the “City That Never Sleeps”, sharing the title with Paris.
  • Madurai is known as “The Festival City”.  There are 284 festivals per year. In other words, it is a party town!
  • Madurai is a Trading City. Some 300 villages surround Madurai.  These villagers come to the city to pray at the temple and while they are in town, they make good use of their visit to the city by shopping for their supplies. The streets of the city are lined with ample stores and a variety of markets.  We passed Onion Street, where all the vendors were selling different kinds of onions.  We passed Banana Street where you could see trucks filled with bananas clustered on their stalks.  There are over 2000 shops to satisfy the needs of villagers, pilgrims, tourists, and residents.
  • Madurai has a huge gold market!  People in India consume more gold than anywhere in the world.  South India surpasses North India in gold purchasing and most of that purchasing happens right here in Madurai.
  • Madurai is an up and coming modern city.  There is a new international airport with flight connections to Colombo, Dubai, and Singapore.
  • Madurai is a cultural hub.  The city offers much by way of music, drama, art, and crafts.
  • Madurai is also known as the Soul of Tamil Nadu.

At the heart of the city, is the Meenakshi Temple. It, too, has existed in one form or another in the same location for as long as the “living city” has existed, though the present structure dates back to the 6th and 7th century.  It is referred to as the “Taj Mahal” of South India.  The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum and a major monument, but Meenakshi Temple is neither of the above.  It is an active spiritual center, receiving 35,000 visitors/worshipers daily.


Meenakshi Temple is dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi, a manifestation of Parvati (Shiva’s wife).  Meenaskshi is also known as Fish Eye because, like a fish, she never closes her eyes. She watches over you. She blesses you.

Hindus pray at Meenakshi Temple to develop a deeper consciousness of the divine.  It is one of the few temples devoted to a woman. Both men and women come here, but this temple is also known as a woman’s worshiping place.  Couples come here to pray for a child.  Pregnant women come here to pray for a safe pregnancy and delivery.

This pregnant woman was at the temple to pray with her family (and holding her phone).


Women lighting candles and praying:


At the temples we see people on religious pilgrimages. Sometimes, they are groups of women wearing red saris. It is a sight to see! They are all dressed similarly and seem to float past you, a red cloud of silk, a stream of white flashing smiles.

At other times, we see groups of men wearing black lungi and some wear black shawls. They are Shiva devotees on pilgrimage. They are bare-chested, their necks flanked with holy beads.

The groups of pilgrims arrive together in large buses. Going on a pilgrimage is optional for a person of Hindu faith. For 48 days before the actual start of the pilgrimage to the temples, the pilgrims have to prepare their bodies and their minds for the sacred experience and journey. They have to undergo a strict discipline to purify their bodies and minds. For 48 days, they have to adhere to the following rules:

  • They refrain from eating meat and adhere to a strict vegetarian diet.
  • They cannot consume any alcohol.
  • They can’t have sexual intercourse.
  • They have to go barefoot at all times. This also means that when they go to work, they are allowed to go to their offices and workplaces in bare feet. Of course everyone at work would know when a given co-worker is preparing to go on pilgrimage. It is an honorable endeavor and every Hindu is familiar with the rules of the 48-day preparation for the holy pilgrimage.
  • In addition to eating a strict vegetarian diet, breakfast is to be skipped entirely. A light lunch is permitted and a lighter dinner is acceptable.
  • For a whole 48 days, men and women must not cut their hair and men are not permitted to shave. Therefore, most pilgrimage men we see at the temples are bearded.
  • For 48 days, while preparing for the pilgrimage, no bed is allowed. The person must sleep on the floor!

Thus they are purified and ready for their incredible pilgrimage! The purification process is intense. When we saw the pilgrims at Meenakshi Temple, there was a festive feeling all around them. Their skin is clear and gorgeous and they look lean and healthy.

Once on pilgrimage, the pilgrims will visit several temples and the group will stay together, pray together, and eat their meals together. The pilgrimage will take place over the next 8-10 days. It is a joyful ecstatic time for people of faith. During the pilgrimage, they will most likely sleep on the bus.

One objective of Hinduism is to raise one’s consciousness, to liberate oneself from the material mode of living, to reach a deep understanding of spirit and God. I am certain that what I have just written is both correct and incorrect, for it is really difficult to describe any aspect of Hinduism in just one sentence. I am trying my best here.

For Hindus there are three ways to become liberated and to reach an understanding of the divine:

  • The first way is through the temple. A worshiper goes to the temple to make simple offerings and to pray to the deities. Our guide explained that there are multiple deities in Hinduism because the nature of the human mind is always wandering and unsatisfied. All deities represent facets of the divine and they represent the many ways to realize God. Everyone’s personal evolution is individual and the paths to evolving are many.
  • The second way to reach an understanding of the divine in Hinduism is through the body via yoga. Yoga creates positive energy. Yoga leads to a sound mind and body. Yoga prepares the body, mind, and spirit for meditation.
  • The third way to reach an understanding of the divine in Hinduism is through meditation. Meditation leads to God consciousness.

Ultimately, every Hindu wishes to be free from the cycle of birth and rebirth. There are several terms to describe the freedom every Hindu is seeking (the terms may differ slightly in meaning but are related): liberation, moksha, Samadhi, enlightenment, salvation.

I am far from being an expert on the subject of Hinduism. My understanding is pretty basic, even after eight trips to India. So below is my humble approach to giving you an elementary description of the deities of Hinduism.

There are many deities in Hinduism. Mainly you have a trinity. As in Catholicism, the Hindu Holy Trinity represents three aspects of one great divine consciousness:

  • Creator: Brahma (His wife is Saraswati and his vehicle or mode of transportation is the Swan.)
  • Protector: Vishnu (He maintains and preserves life and sees to it that everyone is safe and secure. He nourishes the human spirit. His wife is Lakshmi and his vehicle or mode of transportation is the Eagle.)
  • Destroyer or Transformer: Shiva (He is the patron of the yogis. His wife is Parvati and his vehicle or mode of transformation is the Bull whose name in Nandi.)

The deities marry and they have children. Each is associated with countless stories to teach life lessons to humans. They are adored, loved, feared, and honored. Each of the deities above, the trinity and their wives, have many manifestations, also known as avatars. For example Vishnu becomes a fish (known as the deity Matsya). Vishnu also manifests as Rama and Krishna.

And so we are back at Meenakshi Temple.  Fish Eye, she who never turns away from you and watches over you, has a gorgeous temple dedicated to her. Meenakshi is an avatar or manifestation of Shiva’s wife, Parvati.

This may be one of the most beautiful temples I have been to in India.  Inside the temple, there are statues of the deities and they are treated as living gods.  Flowers are placed around the neck of Shiva’s Bull, Nandi, and people whisper their prayers and desires into his ear.

Nandi, Shiva’s Bull:


Whispering into Nandi’s ear:


The temple is made of granite. The upper part of the temple is stuccoed and painted with bright colors.  It is repainted every 12 years. Inside there are statues of deities with multiple arms and hundreds of ceiling paintings of colorful lotus flowers (lotus symbolizes enlightenment, or rebirth). 

Lotus Ceiling Paintings:


The floors are made of granite and there are thousands of sculpted pillars.  The stone pillars are from distant quarries, transported to the temple so many years ago and carved on site. Each stone pillar is enormous and uniquely carved.

The sculpted pillars are below. There are thousands of them, each is unique and each one is made from a single slab of granite:


Having fun interactions with these young Tamil women at the temple:


Sweet family we met at the temple:





And an incredible cup of tea made from cardamom, saffron, and cinnamon.  The tea is great for colds.  Even if you don’t have a cold, try making yourself a cup of this tea.  It is so good!



Inside a Hindu Temple

January 11, 2018

Between yesterday and today, we visited three Hindu temples. We are lucky enough to have two excellent guides, Arvind and Raja, to usher us into the temples, to lead us up to the Brahman priests who bless us and mark our foreheads with white ash or mark our brow center with yellow or red powder. Raja teaches us to offer the Brahman priests money with our right hands, to circumambulate the temples in the direction of a clock.  Raja leads us in mantra and meditation and he interprets the many symbols chiseled into a sculpture.  When we stand before a sculpture of a deity, he guides our hands to touch the exquisite and ancient work of art. Together Arvind and Raja tell us stories of Hanuman, Shiva, Shakti, Garudha, Brahman, Nandi, and Vishnu.

Arvind and Raja are windows to this intricate spiritual world we have entered.  They gently guide us into a realm that is so different from anything else we have ever experienced.  Meanwhile, flocks of people are all around us.  They are praying, laughing, meditating, hoping, sitting in circles, standing, walking.  Some are sharing a meal, using banana leaves as plates placed on the stone of the temple floors.  The Indian temple is simultaneously overwhelming, fascinating, mysterious, festive, colorful, frenzied, chaotic, noisy, and calming.  It is a spiritual and cultural hub.  It is the heartbeat and fire of the Hindu spirit.

Inside the temple I hear bells ringing and clanging, people praying and chanting and talking.  And everywhere, friendly people in colorful clothing want to shake our hands and take photos with us.  They want to know where we are from, how long we are staying, what site and which temples we are visiting.  The women, the men, the children are charming, playful, cheerful, and so beautiful.

To enter a Hindu temple, you must remove your shoes.  Arvind paid someone to guard our shoes.  Can you imagine being a guardian of shoes?  It’s a very serious job.  There are thousands of shoes and the person must make sure the shoes get returned to the correct person.  Two years ago, Arvind lost his shoes in the mountain of shoes.  Needless to say, it was a very unpleasant experience. This time around, our shoe guardian was just outside of the temple and her shoe-load was small and manageable.

Last night we went to the Bull Temple in Tamil Nadu.  It is a temple dedicated to Shiva.  It is enormous and very beautiful, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our very lively, funny, engaging, and toothy guide Raja took us around the temple at dusk.  He had us chanting and took us into the heart and soul of the Bull Temple.  It sprinkled lightly all day so we were walking in our bare feet through puddles and over ancient stones.  After a while, you just have to let go of thinking about your feet being wet and dirty.  After all, I kept reminding myself, feet can always be washed thoroughly and scrubbed with the help of a pumice stone back at the hotel.





Today we climbed the 454 steps to the top of the Uchi Pillayar Rockfort Temple. When we climbed the steps to this temple two years ago, we were in the thick of a heat wave and the stone steps were like hot coals under our feet.  But today, we had wet stones from last night’s rain.  One of the most touching scenes were the many people lined up along the sides of the steps, sitting, waiting.  They were lean and looked poorly.  I did not photograph them.  The time was about 11:40am and Arvind explained that they were waiting for 12:30pm to come around because, at that time, a free meal is served daily at the temple. Temples serve free meals daily to the poor.

The climb to the Rock Temple was not difficult because the temperature was comfortable and not too hot.  We had some nice views from the top.


I took the most photos at our second temple visit today: Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam.  How can I explain the experience?  It had just finished raining, so we walked barefoot over wet stones again.  We were surrounded by devotees, fervent in faith and prayer, walking among the statues of the deities.  Hands in prayer, eyes closed, they prayed and left offerings of flowers and garlands.  Inside the temple there are statues and paintings, sculptures and altars, incense burning, lit candles, and paintings depicting stories of love, justice, compassion, honor, and miracles of life.


Umbrella Man:








Holy Cow!


And now I am writing from our very comfortable 5-Star historical hotel in Madurai. When we got here, I wanted to open the doors looking out over a vast balcony, but I was afraid of letting the mosquitoes in.  It’s been raining and so the dread mosquitoes are around.  I have worked myself into a tizzy over their presence.  Mosquito repellent is my best friend.  On the bright side of things, if I turn up the air conditioning and have the fans going (yes, both fans and AC), the mosquitoes don’t stand a chance and become inactive!

And there are wild peacocks and peahens everywhere on the hotel property, which sits up on hill overlooking a colorful town below.  One peacock perched on our balcony and I got this shot from inside the room:


Chiseled Town

January 10, 2018

We have been in Mamallapuram, also known as Mahaballipuram, for the past two heavenly days. With much reluctance we have to move on today. This going to another city brings a slight amount of dread (why must we leave the comfortable known, this elegant seaside hotel, the gentle breeze, the happy flocks of friendly South Indians?). However, moving on also invites an element of excitement because the India experience is one grand surprise after another. Just when we think nothing can surpass a given meal or a given temple or a given historical site, we are served up another unimaginable delight!

By Indian standards Mahaballipuram is a small town with a population of 8000 people. Back in 2001, my first visit here, the town was a quiet gem and, as I walked around, all I could hear was the consistent pleasant clink-clink-clink of stone masons and sculptors chiseling and chipping away at slabs of local granite. The sculptors’s hut-studios lined the streets and the artists magically rendered rock into statues of Ganesha and Shiva. Clearly, it seemed the chiseling artist’s job is to release the trapped bulls, monkeys, tortoises, and deities from the stones.

Today the town is bustling with masses of pilgrims visiting the temples and other holy sites of this town, but it is still charming as ever. Below are photos and descriptions of this wonderful town with its UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Monolithic Stone Temples carved from the existing granite. These 1,400 year old stone-sculpted temples are on the shore and vulnerable to tsunamis and rising sea levels.





The temple is surrounded by many bulls. The sculpted bulls were all found in the sea and you can see how eroded they are. The details of the faces are missing in these bulls. No one knows how old they are ( they pre-date this 1,400 year-old temple), exactly how many temples have been washed out or taken over by the sea, or what other treasures remain buried at sea.



Our lively guide for the day, Stalin. Presumably, his parents were communists and gave him this name.


Arjuna’s Penance below. Here, my fellow Catholic- raised readers, penance refers to “meditation”, a profound meditation Arjuna took on to seek wisdom and answers to difficult questions ( perhaps I can write more in this later). This incredible bas relief is carved into the immense live stone wall.




Beautiful little girl


My yoga Challenge continues I’m on day 46! Only 10 more days to go.


And, always a delight to lead my fellow yogis in yoga practice  yesterday, we had “International Yoga Day”. The lifeguard joined us, as did a French woman and a very lovely Irani-British woman.


Krishna’s Butterball. Krishna loves butter so this extraordinary rock, sitting seemingly precariously on the side of a steep hill, is named with Krishna in mind. Scientists cannot explain how the boulder got there.


Ellora’s Temple Caves

January 7, 2018

Today we went to the Temple Caves in Ellora.  Unlike yesterday’s caves, the fabulous temple caves of Ellora were never hidden, lost, or waiting to be rediscovered.  They were always treasured and contain Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu temples.  The 34 temples caves of Ellora were carved directly into the sides of a basalt hill and one of the temples here, Kailash Temple, is the largest monolithic temple in the WORLD!


The excavation was done from the top and downwards.  No scaffolding was used to carve out these enormous works of temple architecture. Three million cubic feet of rock was chiseled out and removed from the mountain to create these fabulous caves. The caves were built between 350 AD and 700 AD and were inhabited by holy men.


Imagine if you will, a bus arriving, packed to the gills with tourists. Most of these tourists are from various parts of India.  The women wear colorful saris. The men are cheerful and hold the babies.  The children are dressed up and their eyes so beautifully big and filled with light.  The men, women, babies, and youngsters are beautiful.They have come to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site, like us, to see this gem of India! They are all very excited. They are friendly. They are playful. They are welcoming.  How many times did I hear an enthusiastic “Welcome to India!”?  Children laughing and crying on the bus.  Many languages are being spoken and the whole bus is like a party!  Most people have selfie-sticks and are taking photos of groups sitting on the bus.  Well, I am on this bus, too! And my group is on this bus! In my row, there are only two seats, but three of us have squeezed in for the short shuttle ride to the temple caves. We are laughing along with the others.


In no time at all, we arrive and everyone piles out of the bus.  There are many hawkers/vendors waiting.  Those of us from the USA stand out, as you can imagine.  The vendors spot us and they surround us, working hard to sell books, photos, postcards, purses, bags, sculpted elephants, Ganesha, necklaces, gems, rocks.  You name it, they have it.  In their world, no means maybe and maybe is very close to yes.  Their eyes are filled with hope.  Oh, some of them are very charming. Their tactics and skills for selling are remarkable and impressive. “Miss, Miss, my name is Johnny.  Remember my face!  When you finish looking at the caves, I will be here.  I’ll save you a necklace for you for later. I give you good price.”  They are very clever.  When, later, we leave the caves, we can be sure Johnny will still be there, waiting, remembering our faces.  They are full of joy, anticipating a sale.



Inside the temples, we are dazzled by the work of thousands of hands from ancient times.  How on earth did they create these masterly carvings? Enormous life sized elephants carved from the rock greet the tourists. Kailash Temple is most impressive.  It is the last place we visited in Ellora today, the grand finale!


Kailash is a miraculous site.  It is uniquely a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.  The temple was a great center of learning.  It’s built like a chariot and has an antechamber, an assembly hall, a sanctuary, a tower, and an open sky platform.  This is a mind-boggling cave temple within a cave temple within a cave.  Near the innermost temple is Nandi, Shiva’s bull.  People were lovingly whispering into his stone ear, their whispers releasing prayers and hopes and dreams.  Nandi, it is believed, will listen and then deliver the prayers to Shiva.

In the innermost sanctum, there is a Shiva lingam.  The lingam is the divine symbol of energy of Shiva. I felt a deep inner stillness and I felt the room was humming with energy.  My mind went blank and I simply observed the worshipers. As we stood there, Hindus came pouring into the room to pray, to touch the Shiva lingam, to raise their children to touch the Shiva lingam, to press their foreheads to the edge of the yoni and to be reminded of the power of creation, of consciousness and nature coming together in perfect union and life.

In traditional Indian society, the linga is seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of Shiva himself. The lingam is often represented as resting on yoni (Sanskrit word, literally “vulva”, “origin” or “source”), a symbol of Goddess Durga in Hinduism.

The Lingam has also been considered a symbol of male creative energy or of the phallus. The lingam is often represented with the Yoni, a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy. The union of lingam and yoni represents creation or life.


Soon, I will be offering an evening yoga session.  As I write back in the cool of the hotel room, I hear the Muslim call to prayer.  India never ceases to fascinate!  Not only will I never forget the Ellora caves, but I will also never forget the lovely people at the caves, the large families and groups of school children, all vying to interact with us.  Such an incredible day!






Ajanta’s Buddhist Caves

January 6, 2018

The day started with sunrise yoga.  Yoga in India!! The sunrise, the grounds, the yoga was all very dreamlike.  The sun rose as the moon set.  We practiced Salutations to the Moon.





Imagine hiking along a ridge and spotting an unusual formation in the far distance. This strange rock formation is peaking out at you, within an enormous horseshoe rock-face wall across the valley.  You are not quite sure what you are looking at, but you are pretty sure you see a man-made vaulted entrance, almost entirely covered by vines and forest.  Your curiosity is enough to make slide your way down the treacherous cliff, ford the Waghora River, and bushwhack your way up a steep ravine until you reach that spot you saw from so far away.  You machete your way through the dense greenery to an incredible find: the Ajanata Buddhist Caves.


More thrilling than any Indiana Jones film ever made, this scenerio really happened. The year was 1819, the place is outside of Aurangabad in India, and the discoverer of the immense and beautifully preserved caves that had been hidden for centuries was a British official named Jon Smith. However, Smith wasn’t hiking.  He was tiger hunting up on the ridge when he saw the vaulted arch above one of the caves hidden openings. He was soon to discover 30 significant hidden caves within the area.


The Ajanta caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The man made caves were carved directly out of the stone, monolithic and impressive.  It took 700 years to carve out the caves between the 2nd century BC and the 6th century AD. The walls of the caves are covered in frescoes, which contain some of India’s most precious and valued art.


  • Buddhist monks lived in these caves
  • The rock was chiseled out by humans along. No animals were used in carving out the caves.  The rocks were small fragments and they were dumped into the river where they would quickly erode by force of the river.
  • Once the caves were abandoned, dense forests covered them and they were forgotten
  • The wall frescoes depict various years and events in the life of Buddha.
  • The frescoes depict scenes from the royal court (patrons of the cave building and art work)IMG_2149Above, a lotus flower painted on a ceiling

I used to think this (below) was a reclining Buddha (it is enormous), but learned today the statue shows Buddha as having just died.  I couldn’t capture the whole statue with my camera…. Below his peaceful corpse are depictions of the humans who wail, grieve, and appear to be inconsolable.  Above the Buddha are depictions of the happy heavenly creatures who eagerly await his spirit’s arrival. Above his body are images of angels and cherubs laughing and dancing in anticipation of a heavenly celebration.


Our group:IMG_2145

Posing with the school children:


Jack poses with the shoe man. You have to remove your shoes before entering temples in India.  This man is paid to guard our shoes! Arvind paid him for the important task and later tipped him. Even so, at one point, this man raised his pant leg and showed me an ace band wrapped around his presumed injured knee and he promptly asked me for an additional tip.


Arvind on his iPhone, tending to details.IMG_2183 2

A Day in Mumbai

January 4, 2018

I’m in Mumbai!  We had a tour and I have about an hour to attempt to write about today!  Not sure where to begin or how to write since my mind is swirling with words.

The day started with yoga! Our yoga space and session were really great.  I thought we were going to do our yoga session poolside, but when I got to the pool at 6:45am, Rajesh, the man who gives a new meaning to “Jack of All Trades”, was setting us up in the Pavilion looking out to the pool.  Rajesh had towels and water for us and was very excited to show me the space!  It was perfect except for one thing.  He had the AC blasting!  It felt like a walk-in freezer.  He was pretty surprised when I asked him to turn off the AC and to open up the glass doors looking out to the swimming pool.  In no time at all, the room was at a comfortable Mumbai morning temperature, very conducive to deep stretching, not too hot and not too cool.

A little more on our man Rajesh:


I could tell by the way he walks and stands and carries himself about that he was a yogi. So when I saw him yesterday (he was taking our drink orders at the pool), I asked him if he does yoga. He said, “Yes, I am a yoga teacher, but how do you KNOW?”

In addition to teaching yoga, he is also a life-guard, a professional dancer, a kick-boxer, a karate black-belt, a singer, a Thai massage therapist, and a professional in the art of mimicry!  I had never heard of the latter, but he explained that he does impersonations of famous Bollywood stars.   He proceeded to entertain us with various impersonations.  The funniest imitations were of a woman trying to show interest in a man and one of an angry woman!

Then we did some yoga!  He showed me a variation on Sun Salutations.  Beautiful…we did his version of the Sun Salutations together. Ha! I got my 39th Yoga Challenge photo at that point.  Then he offered to give me a Thai massage right there and then.  We found a space in the gym, using my yoga mat, and he gave me an impromptu 20 minute Thai massage.  Heavenly!

The first stop on today’s tour was to the Dhobi Ghats, where your India-made sheets, jeans, and shirts were probably washed before making their way to American or Canada… or wherever it is that you live!  The Dhobi Ghats are in one of Mumbai’s slums.  We walked through the slum and watched the washer-men and the school children and the busy lives of these very industrious people.

This man below is actually washing a family’s personal laundry. They have an intricate system of tagging the clothing so that the laundry is always washed and returned to the correct owner without error.


Prayer Flag-like lines of Laundry decorate the slums:


No, they do not launder the hotel sheets.  (I asked!)


I love the touch of the Silk-Curtained-Door:


And the school children of the slum were adorable like the little girls below:




We stopped at the Mahatma Gandhi Museum, which used to be the home Gandhi stayed at whenever he was in Mumbai.  It is a testament to how simply Gandhi lived, but also a testament to his greatness. The most impressive aspects are the library, which contains all the books Gandhi read, his spinning wheel, and his simple bedroom.  I was stuck by the story I learned about Gandhi and his spinning.  He said that spinning for him was like an act of prayer.  By spinning, he said he felt more connected to the poor and therefore more connected to all of humanity and creation.


Gandhi’s sandals (behind a glass case).  I couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to stand in these shoes…


L1400418And lastly here are some images of the Crawford Market:

L1400430Yes, you guessed it!  Those apples are from Washington!


L1400423Spices anyone?  The vendor had us all sniffing each jar!



Street book stalls!


more later….


Deep Freeze

December 28, 2017


Sayulita: birdsong wakes me up, birdsong and ocean waves are music to my ears as i write, sheltered, here at the casita, from the noisy sun-and-warmth-seekers’ holiday madness in this beach town

here at the casita, an enormous stuccoed wall painted white and covered in pink bougainvillea creates a container of safety, comfort, and cleanliness, of lush elysian tropical greenery inviting bright orange butterflies, boisterous parrots, comedic oversized chicken-like chachalaca birds, sun-bathing lizards, and lazy iguanas hanging out in the trees above


i watch them from the poolside lounge chairs as the palms sway, as the scarlet hibiscus flowers beckon iridescent-colored hummingbirds, as the mammoth indigenous salate tree loudly drops forearm-length-sized leaves, and the ominous-looking frigate birds fly overhead

silly me, forgot my laptop and ipad back home..really? that’s what i get for bragging about how fast i tap tap tap out words on a keyboard..this little phone mocks my fingertips, makes them feel fat, makes a lefty out of my right hand

suddenly i am a swimmer who cannot float

so much work to do before taking off to india for the whole month of january..quiet time away in sayulita was supposed to give me ample time to work about two hours each day.. to finally catch up…i fear i’ll never catch up on all the correspondences, emails, texts, facebook messages, phone messages, what’s app, line app, etc etc

doesn’t matter now

photos will have to wait until i can download them onto my computer when back home

so i read, lots of reading, and plenty of time for new year’s reflections

a free mind dredges up a storm of memories and rick generously lends me his computer upon my asking so i can tap tap tap while he frets about lending me his computer

my sisters tell me how cold it is in nephew gives me reports of freezing temperatures in ohio, my cousin in toronto tells me it is very cold there, that they are in the middle of a deep freeze, that winter came in pretty strong this year…and even though i am immersed in a tropical paradise, sweat gathering in the small of my back as i write, my mind easily slips back to past winters in indiana

the lake effect is something i grew up with, a weather phenomenon bringing on fierce winds, bitterly cold temperatures, heavy snowfalls, blizzard conditions, icy roads

it is a cold one can never forget

i am the little girl who digs deeper into my warm slippered-feet as I look outside the window to watch mom in her heavy winter coat, well insulated against the deep freeze, shoveling snow from the walkways…daddy, looking like an eskimo in his fluffy warm fur-lined hooded coat, walking the snowblower up and down the driveway, clearing a trail for us, i watch them producing high banks of snow on the edges of the sidewalk and driveway, they are my superheros

they’d open the garage door, start up the car, run back into the warmth of the house until the car’s engine warmed up before driving the family off to one destination or another…from warm house to warm car to warm shopping malls, avoiding the cold at all costs

how fast could i build a snowman? pretty fast then dash into the house and defrost my hands and feet as i admire my mr frosty from the windows

in the middle of a vicious blizzard, bracing against howling winds, i bravely walked with daddy, hanging on to him as he walked the overworked struggling snowblower towards my big sister’s house, to fetch her and bring her and her little ones safely to our house where there is always lots of food, big sister very pregnant, due any day and her husband got stuck at the steel mill, my young mind wonders if we’ll have to deliver the baby or will a helicopter come fetch my sister if she goes into labor? the look on my parents’ faces tell me they are having the same thoughts

catholic school and the nuns make us wear the silly uniforms in the sub zero temperatures, plaid skirts that expose a portion of our legs from knee down to bobby socks, the silly saddle shoes giving our feet no protection against the ice and frost, my mom made me go against school rules by having me wear slacks under the skirt, “if they have something to say, tell them to call me, i have a word or two for those nuns, believe me, they’d be best off not dealing with me”

the nuns of sts peter and paul make us go out for recess, out into the deep freeze, “keep moving kids, run run run move stop complaining it’s good for you,” their cruel smiles take pleasure in watching us shiver

we invented a playground game to deal with the cold…we found a corner where the dark brick walls of the church shielded us from the winds..we girls took turns crowding crushing each other into the corner..gradually the girls on the outside got a chance to go into the corner to be warmed and crushed by the bodies of the others girls…it was fun and it worked as long as you were in the corner for a brief moment..years later when i watched the film march of the penguins, i saw a similar survival technique practiced by the polar penguins


wish my mom had a chance to deal with the nuns on the issue of cold

maybe she did?

my cousin came to visit from europe one christmas…we had so much fun with him..we finally had a handsome very entertaining young man in the house..he was so much fun…he loved us five girls and coddled my pregnant sisters jeanie and zina, made them feel like a million bucks and had my mom and dad rolling in laughter…then, while he was visiting, the chicago blizzard of 1979 hit! the forecast called for 2-4 inches of snow but ended up dumping 21 inches..the howling winds-gusts of up to 40 miles per hour-, which lasted for over 38 hours, blasted snow drifts that banked up against our roof! Dad had to shovel out a tunnel to get us out of the house…O’Hare was closed for 96 hours, my cousin was stuck with us, and we all went stir crazy…all roads closed, insanely beautiful meringue roads with no tire tracks, no footprints, subzero temperatures, rose colored sunsets across the flat hoosier horizon

where did the birds go

just days before my cousin was finally going to leave, my friend simone and her boyfriend peppy called and invited us to go out for a ride in peppy’s van….major roads were now cleared, peppy had chains on his studded parents were angry because they didn’t like simone, had never even met peppy, didn’t want us leaving the house, thought my girlhood friend simone was wild…

and she was

wonderfully wild

peppy and simone showed up in a decked out hippy van, a volkwagon van complete with shag carpets and lava lamps..we headed out to lake michigan of all places, wicked cold…peppy pulls out some beer and a joint and my cousin parties with him…peppy suggests we go out to walk on the frozen lake…so we did, was like walking on a glacier but we didn’t have yak tracks and the waves, whipped up by blizzard winds, had frozen into peaked waves and we kept falling and laughing hysterically… a panicked frozen sensation in my hands and feet came on suddenly and i strongly urged us to all go back in the van… stoned and drunk peppy had trouble finding his keys because his hands were so frozen..fear crept into me, daggers in my head, what if i die out here with stupid peppy and my cousin from england and my wild friend simone? in a surge of terror, i ran over to fumbling stumbling peppy, took my gloves off, and started a mad search into his pockets, i found his damned keys, got the frozen door to the van unstuck with the help of wild simone, started up the van and stuffed still-laughing-idiot-peppy into the passenger seat while wild-captain-simone took over the mother ship

it took a while to defrost our hands and feet… i cried because it hurt so bad

one never forgets such cold

and stupidity


one more memory floods my mind…my parents are now old and very ill…zina, jim, and i are visiting them, it’s our last christmas with dad, we didn’t know that fact for sure at the time but, in an unspoken kind of way, we knew

a call comes in around 8pm from the nursing home where our youngish sister lives with old people in a home where she gets 24 hours care, her life plagued with the intricacies and hosts of problems caused by MS… she is in the ICU again, gone septic again, has had a seizure again, is fighting for her life again..but wait, we can’t tell our parents…it will do them in..they are already so fragile, so spent, they have suffered so much already, everybody knows a parent cannot take such sadness…if jeanie dies tonight, how will we tell them? will they be able to survive such a loss? we don’t know what to do…all we know is that mom and dad will go to bed soon and zina, jim, toni and i will sneak out to the hospital to see jeanie..

it is finally around 10:30pm when we leave the house…mom and dad are asleep….it is december…we are in a deep freeze…i am filled with an eerie sense of dread…jim and zina also moved away from indiana long ago, but my brother-in-law jim knows the way to the hospital..could get us there with his eyes closed if he had to….when we arrive, we walk in the sub zero temperatures from the car to the hospital door, it is 17 below with the wind chill factor, the lake effect has us in danger, within seconds my nostrils are frozen, my lungs feel restricted, is it the cold or the fear of losing my sister again and again and again?

jeanie survived that night, my parents never figured out that we sneaked out like teenagers on a clandestine date, to witness my sister jeanie bravely hanging on to life on that

cold night

that cold night….

And i’m back now, to jump into the pool

in the sunshine of sayulita

jeanie still alive in my heart, my parents as present as ever…still

and i continue my new year’s resolution thoughts

for those of you in the deep freeze, stay warm, be safe, live life in a big and brave way (like jeanie did), the only way for all of us to live


Local Bus To Sayulita

December 23, 2017

I exit the Sayulita airport. “Taxi? Muy barado!” I speedwalk past the taxi drivers excitedly touting their cheap taxi services. I have one mission in mind: to walk across the pedestrian overland bridge to catch the local bus.

It is already dark out. The air is warm and heavy with humidity. My hair instantly doubles in volume. The palm trees are more lush than ever. It is rush hour, it’s Friday, and Feliz Navidad is only a few days away.  There is no specific bus schedule. The bus will arrive when it arrives. I need agua so I find a roadside shop selling bottled water. Outside the shop I see a handwritten sign that says, “Relax! You are now on the other side of Trump’s Wall.”  My tense muscles relax and go into vacation mode.

Manana-land, here I am.

And the bus, a worn-but-clean Mercedes bus, arrives. It is overflowing with humanity. I squeeze in with my luggage. There is a festive atmosphere on the bus. Everyone is either wrapping up a long workweek, a long work day, or done with their Christmas shopping.

A kind elderly man taps my arm and offers me his seat. I decline his generosity. After all, he may have worked all day while I sat in flight. He seems embarrassed because I don’t accept his kindness.

The driver is loudly jamming some American tunes, mostly rock. I hang tight as Santana, Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Bowie, Credence Clearwater, and Pink Floyd help me ease on to the other side of the wall. My confused body slowly adjusts from Seattle’s 34 F degrees this morning to Sayulita’s 80F temperature this evening.

The seats are filled with workers, families and people trying to get home or going out for the  evening. A pregnant woman, who looks as if she just might have her baby now, rubs her belly and closes her eyes, the bus her lullaby. Three young beautiful women sport dazzling tight dresses, one in pink, the other in red, and the last of the trio in teal. Another young woman wears a t-shirt that says in English, “One world, my world, your world, our world.”

Some faces on the bus are illuminated by the odd glow of the ubiquitous iPhones.

As we leave the madness of the city and continue North to Sayulita, a seat opens up for me. I sit, cramming my luggage between my knees. A fan cools my face.  People continue to squeeze into the bus. Grocery bags filled with food, Christmas gifts, boxes, and enormous plastic bags filled with who-knows-what accompany them.

Eventually the bus arrives in Sayulita.

Here I am

without my lap top!

Yes, somehow I forgot to pack it!

Blogging for the first time on my iPhone,

no quick tap tap tap of the fingers.

Time to relax.

Feliz Navidad from Sayulita!



A New Christmas Song

December 16, 2017

a stream of consciousness flows from my brain to my fingers to the keyboard to the computer screen

my typing fingers are ants scrambling frantically, trying desperately to preserve their lives as a stream of Raid jets forth from a blue can held in the hands of a myrmecophobic person…i’m channeling my mother and her fear of ants..she even used the greek-derived-sicilian word to point them out “firmicoli!”

Eagle Pose at Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve

have i ever mentioned i’m a fast typist? quick-twitch muscles would have made me a competitive sprinter

but mom didn’t allow me to run competitively, said it was bad for a developing girl’s body to run, the nuns telephoned her, begged her to let me join the girls’ sprint teams, said i was the fastest of them all, but Sicilian Mamma said no and her no was a final NO

those quick-twitch muscles have a flip side, too, so that my hands contain much dexterity, flexibility, and steadiness, qualities that would have made me a good surgeon in the days before robotic surgeries

but teaching would become my vocation, my life’s work

and i am content


today’s stream of thought and my fingers bring me to a morning in seattle, a morning at starbucks, where i stopped to get a cup of coffee last week, a common enough occurrence, but this given morning was a frigid one, frost on the pavement, romantic pink-tinged mountains mocking my frozen face

on that given day, as i walked into starbucks, i saw a homeless man standing outside the coffee shop, yet another homeless man looking like all the other homeless people: cold, lost, distant-yet-present, hopeful kind eyes, trying not to look too crazed from the cold frost enveloping his hat-less head, his un-gloved hands, his dusty-dark skin telling me a kind of not-so-kind story about america the sometimes-not-so-great, a story that begs the question WHY?

i went inside the warm cozy starbucks laden with christmas decorations, my ears inundated with the same cheesy christmas tunes i’ve been hearing year after year since i was born fifty-six years ago, thinking to myself doesn’t anyone ever get tired of listening to this crap, but stopping my thoughts quickly lest anyone think i’m a grinch or a an avatar of ebenezer scrooge

and as my hands and feet thaw out while i wait in line in the warm coffee shop with the music i cannot stand, my thoughts go back to the homeless man standing outside

i order up two cups of coffee

one is for him

maybe it was the cold temperatures

maybe it was because he didn’t ask

maybe it was because we connected on some unspoken level

maybe it was because of his very humanness

maybe it was because i just lost my beautiful cousin julie to cancer and my heart was swollen with tears

maybe it was because i feel tons of guilt for not sparing yet another dime, a dollar, a couple of dollars when asked

maybe it is because i am sick of seeing tents popping up all over the city, in the parks, on the sidewalks, reminding me of being in calcutta with rick in 2001

did i know mr homeless would grab the paper cup of coffee and follow me back inside? did i ever imagine he would find a seat next to me and sit quietly?

did i ever imagine the unimaginable would happen:

he started humming and his body started rocking to the rhythm of Walking in a Winter Wonderland and then he started singing, quietly but loud enough for those of us sitting nearby to hear him

a rich baritone voice singing “in the winter we could build a snowman…”, a trained voice, one that has sung in church choirs, a man with a voice that tells a story of one life, his life, a sweet voice that melted my heart and allowed me to hear a new christmas song:

one for julie

one for julie’s children and grandchildren

one for julie’s sisters and brother and their families

one for julie’s inconsolable mother

a sweet simple song to bolster the hearts of everyone at holiday time, a time when we are especially reminded of bitter-sweet loss and fullness, all at the same time

Friends, Yoga Challenge, Fog, and Stepping Out in the Unknown

December 10, 2017

One day in early March 2010, Linda Tally said, “Fran, you should start a blog.”  And I started one that very month. My blog has been going strong ever since.  I may not write a blog post every day and, certainly, weeks go by without a blog peep out of me, but I do keep ’em comin’. Writing blog posts has made me better at crafting my words. Blogging has made me think more deeply and, over the years, my photography has improved.  Daily, I find myself thinking about topics I could write about, even though few of those topics actually materialize in blog form.  The countless topics are tucked away into the files of my brain.

I like to imagine that one day I will have more time for writing, but, for now, so much of my life is occupied by teaching and practicing yoga. I will just have to be content with whatever snippets of time I am able to devote to tapping out my thoughts on this computer.  What I’d love to craft is a book of essays on yoga thoughts, experiences, and philosophy.  Also on the back burner is a book about my Peace Corps experience and a return trip I took to Senegal long after my Peace Corps days were over.  My dad’s incredible life story awaits an audience as do the stories, swirling around in my brain, related to my Sicilian heritage and the many colorful characters who have helped shape me into who I am today.

Until then, you get a mishmash of this human’s thoughts and musings.

Yoga Challenge: As I mentioned in a previous blog, I started a personal yoga challenge on my birthday, November 25.  For the challenge, I am posting a photo of myself doing a yoga pose every day for a total of 56 days on Instagram (Yoga by Fran Gallo on Instagram).  Today is Day 15. Each day represents a year of my life.  The Yoga Challenge is much more difficult than I thought it would be.  Doing the pose under various conditions, taking the photo or getting someone to take the photo for me, and wanting to take shots outside when it’s darned cold out and often raining are some of the situations I’m confronting. The greatest challenge is the vanity issue.  I don’t like to be showy and I feel self-conscious taking and posting the photos, but it’s good for me.  I am far from perfect in form, physicality, and character, but I’m human -very human- and I’m doing my best and the photos candidly capture me just as I am the very moment in time the shot is taken. Yoga has been a part of my life for 27 years of the 56 years the postures represent.  Though far from easy, doing this challenge only seems right apropos my yoga practice and life.

And yes, sometimes it’s fun!

Below: Yesterday at Green Lake (Thank you, Jayne!)  The winter sun was bright and hitting the trees.  I noticed the long shadows cast by the sun and noted that it was only 2:40pm.  My face looks florid because of the light.  What I love most is the skinny tree-shadow my body is casting in this photo.


And then a complete turn-around in weather today.  The lake was foggy and the weather very cold.  I almost slipped several times on the sidewalk’s thin layer of black ice. The docks were covered in a thin film of frosted ice.  Sky and water merged to form a muted gray.  The photos from today are gems. (Thank you, Gail, for these very cool photos!) My friend Dayna says this photo looks mythical. I agree.  The ducks and geese add mystery to the photo.  Green Lake’s Duck Island seems to float. The fog was so thick that the photos almost look black and white. But the graffiti tells you another story.  In the photo below, the colorful graffiti vividly stands out, looks penciled in, an afterthought-splash of blue. The graffiti tells you the truth of the photo. It is not black and white.


Because of the ice on the docks, the only type of poses I could do safely were balance poses. Yes, oddly, I had a greater chance of slippage with two feet down because there was no grip for my feet!P1010005



David Whyte On a whim, I purchased a ticket to hear David Whyte read his poetry last night at the Center for Spiritual Living.  Let me start by saying that, even though I am married to a poet, I don’t always understand poetry when I read it.  It is best for me when I hear it read aloud, preferably by the poet who wrote the poem.  And what is most enjoyable is when the poetry is prefaced by a story, as happened at last night’s reading.

The evening was thought evoking and such a treat for my heart, my spirit, my mind.  Whyte grew up both in Ireland and in England.  It was a delight to hear him speak and read.  He is a master at story telling and poetry reading.  He connects with his audience and I especially love his mastery of the English language.  His words are rich with description.  His imagery transported me to Ireland, to a river, to a talking stone with the face of a sheela na gig carved into it set upon a plinth, to a conference of Catholic nuns seeking out deeper biblical understandings via the words and insight of a poet-heathen, to the Camino de Santiago and to Finisterre, where a pair of boots are burned to symbolize the end of one journey and the start of another.  Whyte’s imagery flowed into my dreams last night.  In my dreams, I walked on water.


David Whyte’s words ask us to waken into this life:

There’s a road always beckoning

Just beyond yourself

is where you need to be.

David Whyte asks us to “drink from a deeper source”:

  • Nature calls out to you, asking difficult questions.
  • Be bigger than yourself.
  • By walking you make the path, the pathless path.
  • Dedicate yourself to the impossible.
  • Step out and get just beyond yourself.

As I write, I hear David reciting his poetry with his style of repetitions.  The words are repeated, the words are repeated, until there is an understanding, until there is an understanding, followed by silence, an understanding followed by silence.

Also of note, David Whyte spoke about friendship:

But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

Thank you, David Whyte, for your insight, wisdom, and words on friendship.  I was very moved by the reading last night.  I think it lent to the preciousness of today and to an ever deepening appreciation of the friendships I have cultivated in my life.



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