Thursday, August 6, 2009

indian summer

(picture from the tamil version of wikipedia)

Right now, Gray is -- almost literally -- on the other side of the world, in Tamil Nadu, on the Coromandel Coast, in Chennai, the city formerly known as Madras. Tamil Nadu, Coromandel Coast, Chennai the names shimmer like a sari shot with silver threads.

Reading the English language version of the Chennai newspaper, I find that Chennai has adopted a policy of handing out gold rings to parents who give their babies Tamil names. The website of the Corporation of Chennai, the city's governing body, provides links to all sorts of civic services including online burial and "freezer box" booking, helpfully illustrated with a little picture of a cartoon coffin.

In fifth or sixth grade, Gray had a social studies book that discussed the "vibrant, yet mysterious, culture" of the Mayas (or maybe it was the Aztecs). Ever since then, we've used the term with self-conscious irony to describe any aspect of anything that's even the least bit unusual. As in: the fact that we don't happen to own a microwave is part of our family's vibrant, yet mysterious, culture.

Because, while I'm a sucker for the charm of the unfamiliar and exotic, I realize that my attitude betrays a certain provincialism. As if my life is uninflected, ordinary, and everything else is somehow "other." As if the office where I'm sitting, typing words in American English and looking out on the harbor of an old East Coast city, is the pivot on which the narrow world turns.

What "exotic" place have you always wanted to visit?

22 comments:

Candle said...

I don't think calling people geeks is a good idea, because it divides us as fellow Earthlings. Best Wishes!

Amelie said...

I love the "vibrant, yet mysterious" phrase. India must be amazing. Also, any National Park I can get my hands on. But I should probably start with closer (yet exotic!) places in this country while I live here, like the Alhambra.

Magpie said...

I'd like to visit many places, but I have to leave you a limerick:

There once was a man from Madras
Whose balls were made out of brass
When they jangled together
they played "Stormy Weather"
and lightning shot out of his ass.

Sorry. Can't discuss Madras without that.

niobe said...

magpie: Many thanks for sharing that, uh, mysterious, yet vibrant, limerick.

Magpie said...

And I may have to adopt the "vibrant, yet mysterious, culture" phrase. It represents our family well too. Though we do have a microwave, but only because it came with the house.

areyoukiddingme said...

If you want to talk about provincial...I would love to visit places like Thailand or India, but for the fact that I fear their bathroom facilities will not meet my needs. I couldn't even use the squatter toilets in Italy. So, the vibrant, yet mysterious culture that I'd like to visit next is England.

Furrow said...

Gary, Indiana.

Candle said...

India is very natural. It is the birthplace of spirituality and the West is our tomb.

painted maypole said...

part of my vibrant, yet mysterious, culture is that I have TWO microwaves

I want to go to greece and australia, among other places

Betty M said...

I am now glad to have a cultural reason for our lack of a microwave.
My family's equivalent is going on about what an ancient civilisation my mother is from and how the west will never understand it.

I have always wanted to go to Zanzibar just because of the name.

Sarah said...

at a crossroads of deciding whether and how to continue our pursuit of family we took a year off and planned a round the world backpacking trip. i had such a long list of places i HAD to see i couldn't possibly narrow it down to even a page or two. in fact just going and taking in as much as i could was far more important than going anywhere in particular. we never went, and three years later, one place stands out above the rest. i really really want to see petra.

Kristin said...

I want to go to the Maldives.

Wishing 4 One said...

Well i think i live in a pretty exotic place Egypt. (Parts of it anyway, not everywhere indeed) We have always wanted to visit Madagascar. Morocco and Turkey are on our lists too. And any island far far out in the middle of nowhere with white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters...

Chris said...

Ah, another no-microwave-owner. People tend to look at me as if they do not understand how our family survives.

As far as the exotic places are concerned -- I have no longing for any real-life exotic place. Even though I tend to travel quite a bit. Charm lies for me rather in places I can relate to for example because I know their stories (or their songs and music).

Melissia said...

The Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides to see the Callanish Standing Stones. We made it to the Isle of Skye last year in Scotland which is in the Inner Hebrides and there is timber farming happening. I am sure it is a boon to the economy, but it broke my heart to see the changes in the beautiful vistas of the island. It was still beautiful, just different.

three minute palaver said...

I have a yearning to go to Istanbul, Reykjavík, Capetown (especially for the flora), Montreal, Detroit, New Orleans, Dublin, Easter Island and Tromso (for the northen lights).

Being Australian I have been fortunate enough to see most of Asia more than once (especially love Hong Kong, Japan and Nepal). and I've travelled around Europe many times (adoring Spain, France and Italy) and the US (love NY just like everyone else on the planet) BUT the lure of some far off destinations is one that bites at my longing for fun and adventure and the new.

I like countries with interesting Botanical gardens and great museums.

and yes to microwaves. they're boring but useful.

Aurelia said...

I want to go ANYWHERE! Get me outa here!

Actually, I find this interesting. He's in Tamil Nadu? Utterly cool. Did you know that Toronto has the largest number of Tamil expats in the world?

Civil War....sigh. Horrible. The Sri Lankans just finished it by basically cornering and slaughtering every Tamil they thought might be in the Tamil tigers. Peace deal? Bah... And now they will continue to oppress the Tamil people as they have forever.

I hope Gray learns a lot while he's there.

leanne said...

I'd like to go to Santiago, Chile to see where my husband was born (though not really raised as his family moved to the US when he was still a baby).

Caro said...

Timbuktu, ever since I found out it was real and not just somewhere my dad made up.

The rest of the list is huge I am probably going to Ecuador this year to visit my sister which is cool though, I mean - it's on the equator!

Donna said...

My dream is to visit India someday. I love to travel and don't gte to do nearly enough of it anymore!

Sarah said...

I was able to visit some amazing places while in the Navy, but my current obsession is Africa, after my aunt's photo safari. I want to see Victoria Falls and Cape Town. And I've been desperate to go to Madagascar since reading about it in Nat Geo World magazine when I was about nine.

We don't have a microwave either - at least now I know there are 4-5 other families that don't as well.

Smiling said...

"vibrant, yet mysterious, culture" i love that! my family has the same one about a microwave - oh and nowadays the TV is missing too.

Iceland has been on my list since 1st grade and then suddenly without really meaning too I found myself there with a 9 hour layover last week.

Hmmm I find myself more and more interested in length time in few places, and am forever amazed at the mysterious cultures (some I how the word vibrant in reserve still) of my own nation