Saturday, April 23, 2011

Prodigal Returns

Or not?

Dear ole faithfuls, at the risk of boring you with the inordinately long tale of my absence, let me sum it up thus:

(a) Travel
(b) Conferences
(c) Work crises
(d) Travel
(e) Work that I had to get to because I lazed around on the beach...

And it is this last that should catch your attention because wait, isn't she in Wisconsin? Wasn't it winter? Where is the beach? Has she lost it?

To answer all of the above; I went to Hawaii. For a conference. Really...

The one thing I was not ready for when I signed up for this conference was how far Hawaii is from the West Coast of the US. Really. Here's a map.

It took ten hours to get from Chicago to Honolulu. I traveled from freezing, 3 degrees Celsius weather to a lovely balmy, humid, sunny 25. The sense of travel itself is so funny. Distance is difficult to comprehend. The travel corridor is so inundated with technology and speed. You enter into the plane and exit into another airport. No whoosh, no bodily disintegration and reintegration. No magic. In so many ways, the disenchantments of modernity are so horribly obvious.

And of course, even if it's Hawaii, it is inexplicably part of the US and therefore culturally expected to produce the signs of Americanness. Like diners. And fake politeness. Not that the stewardesses on Continental felt the compulsion to be anything like that. They reminded me of an older generation of Air India aunties who find it their birthright to be both snooty, and matronly, in the same sentence. Imagine an American aunty mentally wagging her finger that you asked for wine. And producing it five hours later than requested. At which point you are asleep. Which is precisely the state that you needed the wine to catalyze. But of course, you have now been woken up so you can ingest said wine. Hello aunty.

Let me also mention that my travel companion was upgraded to business class while I was stuck mangling my already stunted frame into tiny, "small is friendly (to capitalism)" persuasion cattle class seats. Skank. The travel companion, that is.

We finally landed in Honolulu. Just the name was enough to warrant my feeling happier already. We all have these mythical places of exotic repute that have been mythologized in quizzes, drawing room conversations, and nerdy oneupmanship. Mine are Honolulu, Mombasa, and Jhumritalaiya.

The conference was in Honolulu, so we stuck to Oahu and didn't explore any of the other islands. Our hotel was by Waikiki beach, my presentation was on Day One, and there were very few anthropologists around. Clearly the Gods were in support of my intellectual laziness.

For four glorious days, I ate pineapples, and walked by the beach, and drank beer and rum. I walked endlessly, drove around Oahu to the beautiful surfing beaches and got browner than ever before. Thanks to fabulous travel companions, I also discovered great Japanese food, drove by the coast, and felt rather wonderfully ready to return to work.

Honolulu is strange. For one, it is unbearably touristy, commercial and built-up. The hotels, and condominiums come right up to the beachfront. It is also racially very diverse (which is a relief). You see many Polynesians in the city, and of course, white Americans in hordes, but also African Americans, Asians, and Japanese residents. What is also obvious are the levels of poverty. The city is inundated with the homeless and we were trying to understand the phenomenon. I suppose the most obvious reason would be the weather. It is not disturbing on the whole, but the city is far from soothing. It seems like a city forced upon a rather differently oriented landscape. As if this is were not meant for urbanity of this kind. I'd like to think that this is not pastoral nostalgia, but in some ways, I suppose...

The foliage though is something else. It covers, adorns, and wraps around the island like a living, breathing ferment. The city thankfully cannot escape it either. It is the kind of lush green that I know screams forth after it rains in the Sahyadri ghats. And it's tall, and broad, and generous and kindly. Like a favorite uncle. Or an aunt.

So here we are at the end of our travels, calmer, wiser, quiet-er....and here are a few learnings:
(a) I will write more frequently...cause it is good for me. And I forget that in any case, there is always the written word.
(b) It might not be everyday, because life interferes, but it will be more frequent, because writing makes me happy.
(c) I like pineapples
(d) I should swim more.

On that note peoples, welcome back. Tell me all about yourselves now. Next week, I will tell you all about NYC.