Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day Six - PM

Ryan flew to Pune to check out the new John Deere plant and I decided one more day in bed put me at serious risk of developing bed sores. I took my laptop to the lobby where I wrote a bunch of blog entries and watched two little kids play at the table next to me. They were spinning around in the lobby chairs until they smacked in to the glass table with a loud thud. The little boy occasionally let out a blood-curdling scream that would otherwise send a parental figure running, but as I turned around to look (and give the old stink-eye) the only adults in the lobby remained unaffected and unconcerned. Interesting.

After the 5th scream, I surmised that the little boy was saying something in Hindi, but it was not mom or dad. Apparently he was screaming, "hey! somebody come over here and put me in the car that's parked out front so I can entertain myself with a pair of sunglasses" because that's what happened. I watched the two kids climb in to a huge, white SUV where they proceeded to climb over the seats from the front to the back and back up to the front, hang out the window, look at themselves in the side mirrors and scream bloody murder from the open windows while (the guy I can only assume was) their driver sat quietly in the driver's seat holding his head in his hand.

It also occurred to me that there were no car-seats in their car or any effort to "contain" these children in any way. I'm so used to watching people lift their children in to minivans, fasten their safety straps, supply them with juice cups, turn on the DVD player, find "blankie" and get them all calmed down - the process takes a good 7 minutes per child. And if you saw the way people drive in India, you would not put your child in a car with anything less than a car seat, a helmet and a protective suit made out of packing peanuts.

Eventually the people "responsible" for these energetic children casually walked out of the hotel and in to the waiting SUV. The man sat up front in the passenger seat and I watched in shock as he hoisted his daughter on to his lap. On. to. his. LAP. When is the last time you saw anyone put a child on his/her lap in a car? The 70's? The woman sat in the back (no seatbelt) and as they drove away, I could see the silhouette of a little head bouncing up and down next to her. As someone who recently purchased a Consumer Reports book on "all the stuff you need to buy for your baby, but be careful because the same stuff will also kill your baby if you do it wrong" I realize I am hyper-sensitive to these things. And it's not to say that we do things *so much* better here in America, I just think they should have reached for a seat-belt or asked the children to sit down once the car started moving.

And yes...for a woman without any children, I have a LOT of opinions on the subject. Sometimes I keep them to myself. But not always.

Lunch was by far the best food/dining experience I've had since we arrived. As I fixed my plate, I realized I'd totally forgotten about the tradition of “courses” in India – you start with starters. I was going straight to the main course because my stomach was now the size of a kidney bean and I didn't want to waste room on pickled celery and goat cheese. Along the buffet, I encountered the guy who made my pancake this morning. He wanted to know how his pancake compared to the pancakes in America. “It was perfect!” I shouted – afraid that my follow-up question about the yellow liquid they served with it (we will call it butter) would only confuse and hold up the line. It could have been butter but it was too thick. Perhaps butter mixed with sugar? Butter mixed with some sort of fruit? Either way it was sweet and amazing. So much better than maple syrup – which I also used on my pancake.

Along the second side of the buffet, there was another inquisitive employee who wondered how I was enjoying the food so far. I’m sorry, but where were you guys this morning when I sat at my table for 20 minutes by myself and couldn't get a single person to give me a napkin, a clean fork or a glass of water? Surely it has nothing to do with the fact that I carried my laptop down here with me for lunch? Do I look like a writer now? Like a food critic? Like a person with a job and an opinion that I might share with the public? I told him the food was wonderful and I was enjoying it very much (he did not need to know the truth about my new best friend, Immodium). He said “not too spicy?” and I smiled. “A little bit, but I’m weak.” He said, “You should try this” and pointed to a bowl of chick-peas in brown soup. “Is it spicy?” I asked politely. He laughed and said “no. no. no. you try.” And he was right. It was SO good. I ate every single bite and sopped up the sauce with my perfectly fluffy, buttery, naan bread. There was also this little rolled-up, fried piece of dough that looked like an egg-roll but it tasted like coconut and heaven. I realize now, I should have written these things down.

At one point the maitre’d walked over with a grin – he was the one who insisted that my laptop was too heavy to carry so he would gladly set it down for me at the table where I could eat and do my work in peace. He asked if I’d like to try a starter – something he would mix up and happily bring to me. I said that sounded wonderful. He proceeded to describe it – something about coriander and chili and fried blah, blah, blah. I know nothing about food, but I appreciated his effort. Of course I’ll try it. Ryan would be so proud of me!

Oh. My. God. Why didn’t I pay attention? It was like a salsa but with things that looked like rice crispies. Tiny pieces of chopped onion and fresh cilantro, I think? Tiny little red peppers. I was going to inhale this entire bowl. He came back and asked if I was enjoying it “Oh. It’s so good! Thank you!” then he said it was something they serve on the side of the road in India that’s becoming really popular – that their chef tried to make it but it wasn't as good, so they hired a street vendor full time...or something like that. It was really difficult to hear him over the loud waterfall in the lobby and all of the yummy noises I was making. I will never know how to make it and I will never know how to describe it or even how to order it again, but wow...it was good. And when I close my eyes and think really hard, I can actually recall the flavors and the textures in that dish. It was amazing.

As I sat at my little table - chewing and moaning over my delicious lunch - I noticed the glass elevator to my left. It was taking a lot of trips up and down but it wasn't depositing any people. The maitre'd noticed too. He walked over and held the door open and it became clear that there was a little "operator" inside. I couldn't see who it was, but I'm guessing he was about 3 feet tall - judging by how far the maitre'd was bent over to talk to him. I also couldn't hear everything he was saying, but he had a smile on his face the entire time. Very pleasant. The doors closed, the elevator went up and seconds later it came back down again. Then up. Then down.

Finally, a hostess from the desk sternly walked over to the elevator and stopped the door before it closed. I heard a little voice inside say "hey!" to which she replied "HEY!" and pushed the button to accompany him back upstairs. Nice. The staff here was ON it. His parents, clearly not.

Time for dessert. As I stood up, a waiter came running over and asked if he could clear my plate. Seriously. The service was astounding. Was that guy standing behind me the whole time? Did they think I was somebody else? I said, “Yes. Please” and walked to the dessert buffet. I knew I just wanted some ice cream, but the desserts were so pretty, I wanted to look at all of them. As I made my way past several clumps of men standing next to the big bowls of fruit (picking pieces one-by-one and popping them in their mouths) I encountered my first taste of “eve-teasing”. It’s this thing I read about in which American women get “harassed” in a way. I heard one guy make a bizarre noise like a turkey call as I made my way past him. I ignored it and kept moving, (maybe I was imagining things), but there was another clump of men blocking my path between the bar and a table full of people. I had to turn around and go back. And there it was again. A creepy, high-pitched little turkey call that was either supposed to intimidate me or turn me on. Gross. I kept walking and made my way to the ice cream counter (directly across from the turkey callers). I could feel them staring at me. If we were in a movie, they would be licking their lips and smoothing their moustaches. I asked for a scoop of pistachio ice cream and the guy behind the counter asked if I was American. “Yes.” (how did you guess?) And then he said something else I couldn’t understand (again with the loud waterfall) but I was so distracted by the creepy men in short-sleeved cotton shirts eating fruit off the buffet that I just smiled and took my ice cream straight up to my room.

If I could draw a pie-chart of the TV programming in India, Bollywood would take up about 40% of the pie. World news and financial advice would be 25%. Cricket would come in around 20% (they REALLY love their cricket in India, but slightly less than they love hearing about that volcano that erupted in Iceland). Soccer, tennis and random sports like badminton (televised!) would be about 5% of the pie. And the last 10% would be divided up among the following: classic westerns, Top Chef, Friends, America's Got Talent, David Letterman, and 90210.

I watched all of these shows while waiting for Ryan to get home. I couldn't sleep until he was safely curled next to me - and I could explain to him exactly what happened on tonight's episode of Psych.

No comments: