“Everybody’s Talkin”-Traveling with Forrest Gump

Like many people, I look back on my life and wonder how I made it out alive.

I went to college at Oswego State in upstate New York. In the fall and spring, my college was beautiful because of its resort style location right on Lake Ontario I would find solitude on the rocky shores of campus. Looking across the water, I realized that the world was so much bigger than the academic world, that someday I would leave the world of tests, papers, and notetaking and be a part of something bigger. Beyond studying there was a lot fun, Wednesdays (Hump Day) at Bucklands Bar and after April 1, Nunzi’s Bar opened and we all hitched rides to a place of dance and libations, once again on the water. The bar was only for Oswego college kids, it was all ours. (Years later, I named my dog “Nunzi”) Afterward, we would stop at Rudy’s Stand for ice cream or a burger. It, too, was on the water. It seemed like this particular Great Lake existed just for us.

But during the winter, Oswego was famous for its strong winds and record snowstorms.

I experienced weather so cold it caused the stuff in my nose to freeze. The administration had to construct a system of ropes so the petite among us would not be blown into the buildings while walking to class. And the winters went on forever.

I lived in my sorority house during the 1968-1969 school year. It was a large Victorian building with a mansard roof. I shared a room on the third floor with two of my sisters. We had a house mother, an elderly woman who we actually called “mom”. She lived in a two room apartment on the first floor.

We also had a cook who every Friday made us mac and cheese or other high dairy dishes so our stomachs would be coated for a night of drinking and dancing at Buckland’s. She also introduced me to a great recipe that has served me well when I’m obliged to contribute a covered dish to a function. It very easy to make and somewhat inexpensive. The recipe follows. (This is exciting, this my first recipe on The Autonomous Traveler site!)

Green Pea Salad (“Give Peas a Chance” Salad?) šŸ™‚

A large bag of frozen peas, thawed not cooked

Mayonnaise

Chopped white onion

Seasoned salt

That’s it. Mix it all together and chill before serving. If I really have to impress someone, say, someone who really knows how to cook, I add chopped pimento and bits of real bacon. We all know bacon is impressive.

The weather at Oswego State was particularly horrible during the winter of 1969. It was treacherous getting to Buckland’s but ironically not bad enough to cancel classes. I dreamed about escaping somehow. And then it happened, the song “Everybody’s Talkin” hit the airwaves.

“Everybody’s Talkin”

written by Fred Neil

Recorded by Harry Nilsson

Everybody’s talkin at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes

I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes

Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

I bought the single. It became my theme song, my obsession. I played it over and over again until my fellow housemates said they would kill me if I didn’t stop. I desperately needed “to go to where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain” or, in my case, completely obliterated snow.

Spring break in Florida was a sacred collegiate tradition and a great solution to my deteriorating mental state but getting there was tricky. With youthful enthusiasm and naviety, I actually considered hitchhiking the 1200 miles to paradise. Luckily, winter had also pushed some of my sisters over the edge and a great plan was made for five of us to drive down to Daytona Beach for April break. And so the adventure began.

We took turns driving. The song “Born to Be Wild” was on the radio (performed by Steppenwolf, written by Mars Bonfire) and we played it loudly with the windows down to let a southern state somewhere along Route 1 know that we were indeed wild.

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way

Like a true nature’s child
We were born, born to be wild

A car filled with teenage boys rode up next to us and a drag race almost ensued but getting to Florida safely was a priority so we chose to back off.

After 24 hours of frequent eating , gas ups, and pee breaks we made to it Daytona. We found a room. I don’t think we had reservations and, of course, we didn’t have credit cards. All I remember is that everything turned out okay as we each paid our share in cash.

Crazy fun, sunbathing ,and laughter filled our days and nights. We were involved in an incident at an empty amphitheater. We met a guy who played the guitar and convinced him to go up on the stage. As he played, more and more people came off the beach to listen and sing along. We started a regular hootenanny, as we used to say in the old days. Well , somebody reported us and a police car arrived. The small crowd kept singing and the guy kept playing. I have to give credit to the confidence of the officier, he calmly went up to the player and put his hand gently on the guitar. Without saying any more, he somehow convinced us all to leave.

On my last night in Daytona, I decided to go for a walk by myself to take in the vibe of Florida one last time. A car pulled over and a nice looking older guy ( late 20’s?)started talking to me. We chatted for a while and he asked me to walk on beach with him. I said “yes” and hopped into his car. What a foolish young thing I was to take such a chance. We talked some more and I guess he realized how naive and innocent (clueless?) I was. We drove to a diner for some cokes and then he dropped me off at my motel.

Looking back at a lot of my shenanigans during my youth, it’s hard to believe I made it through alive. I’m wiser now and more cautious. But luckily, I’m still a little bit of a “true nature’s child”. Maybe, just enough to still make my life a tiny bit wild. šŸ™‚

No photo description available.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

Traveling with Forrest Gump-Like a Box of Chocolates

I have a confession. I definitely think I have an obsessive compulsive disorder. In an upstair room in my house, I have an art studio created when painting became one of my passions. While recently purging out some of my possessions, I realized I had accumulated hundreds of paint brushes, enough to supply a large group of artists. I taught nature studies when I was a second grade teacher and there is a bookshelf in my bedroom that holds over two hundred plant and animal books. And a door in my house hopefully hides a contraption with multiple pockets that holds my very, very large collection of earrings, again in the hundreds.

I’m ashamed and overwhelmed, uncontrollably compelled by the thrill of the hunt. But luckily I have my limits, I’m a bargain hunter, a cunning stalker in the world of flea markets, auctions, rummage sales, and thrift stores. Even though some of my collections are a bit obscene, my habit of buying things at a fraction of what they cost allows me to divert a lot of my budget to my frequent travels.

Recently, on the way home from visiting my family, I decided to stop at a thrift store I had passed many times but never entered. I’ve learned to always first examine the jewelry displays. There were no earrings so I moved on to the books. In my North Country, thrift store book collections are our only option since regular bookstores are becoming rare. I found a great art history book from 1948. Yes, I had two other art history books at home but not like this one. I placed it in the shopping cart.

I visually skimmed the woman’s clothes rack. Skilled shopping for maximum rewards requires carefully pushing hangers aside, one by one, to uncover the best treasures but I wanted to get home. My eye caught something red and long wedged tightly in the slits of color. It was a blouse that proved to be perfect for my aging body because when trying it on it successfully hid some of my defects. In the cart it went.

I went over to the the CD’s hoping to add to my collection of driving music. I knew I had to concentrate as I tried to read the titles in tiny print on the stacks of plastic cases on a shelf that luckily was at eye level. My scan stopped at a CD case that was wider than the rest, the soundtrack from “Forrest Gump”! Taking it down from the shelf, I realized it was a two CD set, brand new, unopened, and $2.99. I was thrilled. I’m a baby boomer and the movie paralleled my younger life. I paid for my treasures, eager to get in my car and listen.

As I drove, I was taken back in time. The songs by the original artists brought both smiles and tears. The late 1960’s, early 1970’s were very tumultuous but somehow energetically hopeful. I’m so glad to have lived through that time.

The CD is absolutely wonderful and so thought provoking, allowing me to compare life then with our world situation today. It makes me think about who I was almost 50 years ago and who I have become. Every song will be the catalyst for my blog writing in the coming weeks. There are some things I need to say. Wow! As Forrest Gump said,

“Life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get.”

Copyright 2019 @theautonomoustraveler All rights reserved.

India-Cremation on The Ganges, A Celebration of Fire

We traveled The Ganges at night in a wooden boat. The sun was setting and the white sky was diminishing into blackness. As usual, I can no expectations, I was just content happy to drift on the water and be able to take it all in.

Direct experience is wonderful but to a modern American it could be a bit uncomfortable. Back home it seems we have to be continuously stimulated and have our senses shocked. Watch a fast paced car commercial and count how many times they change the image or count how many 30 second ads there are during a TV program break. Is the length of our attention span decreasing?

To drift down a river in a foreign country like India, to be stranger in a very unfamiliar context , to be in a reality with no escape or off button is overwhelming. As a captive in a present moment, I tried to get my money’s worth, “I will not pass this way again”. I was on the famous Ganges River, Gandhi was here, people come to be absolved of their sins. It is sacred. I take in as much as I can with all my senses. Will it be enough?

We are told to look to our right, I see piles of wood, flames. and a lot of activity. This is the most sacred place of cremation in the India. If a person’s body is reduced to ashes here they are guaranteed eternal light after death.

The rituals practiced on this site never stop, they go on 24/7. A source fire has been maintained for hundreds of year and provides the flames for all burnings. Bodies wrapped in cloth and sometimes flowers are carried in by mourners, lower in to the The Ganges for purification, and then placed on the burning wood pyres. Later the deceased person’s ashes are returned to the Ganges.

Our journey in the darkness continues and we are told we are going to a ritual that is repeated every night by Hindu priests, The Celebration of Fire.

So much to take in, strange rituals, an unfamiliar religion. I shouldn’t judge. I have my own needs. Like all human beings since the beginning of time I, too, deal with the fear of the unknown. You would think with all our advancements we would have everything figured out and under control by now but it seems that the things that kept us up at night just keep multiplying. Everyone deals with this in their own way; materialism, power, drugs, alcohol, anything that offers escape.

I felt totally out of place in this dark Indian night until I was handed a diya, a floating votive candle surrounded by a ring of flowers. Our guide lit it and instructed me to put in the water to remember a loved one who has died. Tears came to my eyes. I placed the symbol in The Ganges and remembered my mom. More than anyone she is responsible for my trip to India. She prepared me in so many ways, giving me the skills and the strength to set out to unknown places.

Religion, let us live and let live. I will continue to learn and respect the beliefs of all people and hope others will do the same for me. My faith is how I deal with the puzzles of life. It’s so nice to know there are others who do the same.

India-Blown Away by The Ganges River,The World is Not Flat

Visiting The Ganges River in Varanasi, India was not at all what I expected. It is world famous and I have seen pictures of it but to be there, to have direct experience, is a whole other thing. I have had this disconnect between a pictorial presentation and an actual site before, namely The Great Wall of China. It was truly magnificent but somehow appeared different from what I imagined.

Once I talked to an acquaintance as he sat alone in this living room watching the travel channel. The high definition picture on a very large screen was breathtaking but the viewer’s reaction to the program really troubled me. He believed the TV way of seeing the world was adequate enough and made travel irrelevant. I’m afraid in this world of smartphones, his outlook is becoming common.

I am very visual, I look at everything. For me, a snapshot isn’t enough. I want to see the sky, hear the sounds, smell the smells, witness the movement of humans as I try to understand what they feel. I want see in all directions, be totally immersed in three dimensional awareness and feel the energy of all experiences. A flat screen or picture will never do this for me.

And with this attitude I took in the Ganges. It was so much more colorful and vibrant than I had imagined.

This area of The Ganges River is called The Ghat, the steps to the river.

Worshippers put diyas, floating candles, in the river to remember a loved one who has died.

Millions of Hindu pilgrims come to bathe in these waters. They believe it’s an act of purification, the wiping away of sins, and the the facilitation of Moksha, the liberation from the continuous cycle of of life and death.

Through traveling, I have become part of something bigger. I have become part of the sphere of humanity by reaching out with sincerity and accepting different landscapes and people. And I have come to realize that though each one of us is a small part of the whole, we are all significant.

I hope you enjoyed my pictures. You are a traveler on the journey of life. Slow down and take the time to really see what is around you. Start from where you are. And remember, the world is not flat.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com

Back off, Lady!!!

Spring is coming late to The North Country. I’m still waiting to take pictures of the shad bushes that, for about one week every year, break out in white blossoms. They seem to love to grow in rocky outcroppings and got their name for their coincidental appearance when the shad fish run. But this year the blossoms are late. Facebook tells me this since memory posts of the shad bushes from previous years have been appearing for weeks.

It’s been gray and rainy for the last few days. I haven’t accomplished much and this bothers me. Granted, I’ve been getting over a cold but I still feel guilty. But this morning was a new beginning, the sun was out, it wasn’t raining, and my cough was almost gone. My friend, Beth J., asks me every year to post pictures on Facebook of the spring trilliums that grow in my woods. Today was the day I would keep that promise and hike to the pond at the far end of my property to see if those lovely flowers were in bloom.

My woods was bear and sad looking. Old discarded leaves defeated by rain and snow had lost the crunching sound they had had in the fall.

I walked and walking taking note of the branches that had broken off in wind storms. It seemed winter was unwilling to let go. I followed the path across a field, through a stand of birches and, using familiar landmarks, found the trilium garden my woods always seems to gift to me each year.

Sheltered in a little rock crevice was the prized red trillium. Beth would be happy, it was particularly lovely this year.

I found the white trilliums. They seemed to be late.

But I found two flowers I had never noticed before, maybe because they only wished to show themselves after a hard winter or maybe they are the real early bloomers.

These little guys were hearty . They seemed to declare, “Back off, lady, we know what we are doing” They wanted me to know something. The last few days I had cursed the weather and wanted things on my terms, I wanted spring now. But nature doesn’t work that way. I once read a story in a book called The Zen of Gardening about a lady who planted a lilac bush where she wanted it without considering what was best for the plant. Of course, it died. David Thoreau once said, “Let us live life as deliberately as nature.” Everything in the natural world is where it is because it’s in the best place at the best time to live and grow. I need to realize that. And if we want to keep life going on this planet we better all respect that.

I went to the pond and was glad to see it filled again by all the rain we had gotten. But the beaver lodge was gone and I suspect the beavers had found better real estate in the new pond across the road from my house on my neighbor’s land.

I leaned on one of the rocks and in silence I enjoyed the beauty and peace of the moment. I was thrilled to be joined by a Canadian goose who drifted in the water in front of me.

I thought how some of my friends would laugh at my excitement in seeing such a common creature. Would it take a swan to give them as much joy? Maybe it’s true what they say, that its not the object but rather the attitude of the beholder that makes something beautiful.

I snapped pictures and at one point the goose spread out his wings. I missed the shot and tried everything to make him do it again. I whistled and tried to mimic his honk and even sang him the only goose song I knew, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody The Old Grey Goose is Dead”. I learned that song in the 1950’s in grade school. Between that kind of message and all the times we practiced hiding under our desks in case of nuclear attack, it’s no wonder I’m sometimes a little controlling!

Well, needless to say, none of it worked. And once again, nature was telling me to “Back off, Lady”. The goose was in control, not me.

I walked home satisfied with the pictures I had and the lesson I had learned.

Spring comes when it’s ready, nature’s time, not mine. I can accept that now. It will soon be here in all its glory and it will be magnificent!

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com

India-Buddha Didn’t Care What His Hair Looked Like

On my tour, we went to a place called Sarnath. As usual, I had no idea what to expect.

We went into museum and Rashid,our guide, explained that statues of Buddha all had three interesting features. The Buddha’s long ears signified the importance of being a good listener and his ever present smile represented joyful peace. What I didn’t know was that his seemly minimalist hairstyle set an example for the unimportance of outward appearances.

We passed through doors into a beautiful place of greens, sandstone and sunshine.

After Buddha meditated for forty-nine days under a Bodhi tree, he came to Sarnath to preach for the first time, speaking about the doctrine of suffering and the eightfold Middle Path to enlightenment.

  • Right understanding
  • Right thought
  • Right speech
  • Right action
  • Right livelihood
  • Right effort
  • Right mindfulness
  • Right concentration

Buddha had actually lived in this place and I was in awe. The sandstone was the remains of the Buddhist monasteries that once existed here. And the large domed building was a stupa, an ancient shrine used for meditation.

Rashid pointed out a Bodhi seedling growing out of a crevice in a tree.

I chose to immerse myself in the experience and I wander through the site alone.

I came upon a group of Buddhists who had come there as part of a pilgrimage.

I noticed the bits of gold leaf that worshipers had left on the stone to pay homage.

Later, Rashid took us a short distance away to the tallest statue of Buddha in world.

I am so glad to have had this experience concerning Buddhism. There is so much to learn about all the different ways of the world. I not only want to know them but also understand them. As Buddha said, I guess I am looking for a “right understanding”.

Copyright 2019@ theautonomoustraveler.com

India-Overcoming My Ignorance

As I stated in previous posts, I went to India with little preparation. Sure, I had the required shots including the one for typhoid and also I had prescription pills to ward off malaria. ( I was told this medicine might produce crazy dreams while I was taking it, months later I am still plagued by night dramas with intriguing and intricate plots.) I bought a new pair of shoes carefully broken in before the trip. I wisely carried bottles of hand sanitizer and peppermint oil for odoriferous street smells.

What I didn’t bring was enough historical knowledge. As a person who thinks she knows enough to “wing it”, I found my head spinning when I saw the tremendous Muslim influence in a country I had thought was purely Hindu. This was a pleasant surprise since I always hoped to see Islamic architecture in my travels and in India, of all places, I did.

It’s funny how little I was taught in school about Islam or, maybe being a teenager, I didn’t have the motivation to pay attention. Finally, the Taj Mahal caught my attention.

The Mughals

The Mughals were Sunni Muslims who conquered Delhi, India and ruled northern India from 1526 to 1707. Akbar, the grandson of the first emperor believed in religious tolerance and ruled over the Hindus with diplomacy. He abolished the tax on non-Muslims, banned the slaughtering of cows, and promoted Hindu warriors in his army. He became a vegetarian and married a Hindu princes. He also established a place where religious scholars of all faiths could meet and share common beliefs.

Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, ruled from 1628-1658 and loved to build. He constructed the Tahj Mahal as a mausoleum for his dead wife, the love of his life, Mumta Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is made of ivory white marble and is the most famous example of Islamic architecture with its minarets (spire towers). a dome, and pointed arches. No images of living things are allowed in the Muslim faith but marble and inlayed flower designs are everywhere plus Islamic calligraphy.

Shah Jahan lived in the sandstone and marble Red Fort, which he also built during his reign.

Here I was able to see more Islamic architectural features including Moorish multifoil arches and muqarnas vaulting with its textured detail.

The fort was massive and fascinating.

Unfortunately, the romantic, creative Shah Jahan would have further tragedy in his life. His tyrannical son, Aurangzeb would become the last Mughal emperor. During Aurangzeb’s reign, Hindu temples and images were destroyed and the playing of music was forbidden. He imprisoned his father in the fort where legend says Shah Jahan died of a broken heart in 1660. As a prisoner, he could see the Tag Mahal in far distence but was never allowed to visit his wife at her final resting place again.

I learned both beautiful and tragic lessons in these historic places. We, as human beings, have clear choices in life, either we can create beauty or we can spend our lives destroying things, other people and maybe even ourselves. This sunny day in Agra, India made this lesson extremely clear.

India-Nuclear War?

This map courtesy of indiadefencereview.com

When India gained its independence from Britain in 1947, a plan was made to make Pakistan an Islamic state and divide Kashmir into two, half Pakistani and half Indian. These two areas are separated by The Line Of Control , a heavy militarized unofficial boundary. These divisions brought about a lot hardship and resentment that still exist today.

On February 14 of this year, Islamic militants staged a suicide bombing in Indian Kashmir killing 40 people. On February 26, 2019, India retaliated by bombing an airstrip in Pakistan used by these militants. The world is calling for restraint since both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons. An Indian pilot was capture by the Pakistanis but was released. Indian national elections will be held in April and May and this appears to be also holding things in limbo.

The bad feelings between Muslims and Hindus have a long history. What are the keys to compromise and cooperation? These conflicts bother me since I see the same themes in my own country. Is violence and destruction the only outcome? I hope not, for the sake of all future generations no matter what part of the world they live in.

Mughal (Islamic) Architecture in India

India-The Value of Education and Stubbornness

Education is of very great importance to me, followed by the quality of stubbornness. Like many families, my relatives don’t like to talk much about feelings. Dark secrets are buried and many tales are hidden away. As Yuval Noah Harari, writes in his book, Sapien,Ā allĀ cultures areĀ basedĀ onĀ storiesĀ andĀ those in power decide which stories will dominate. But I have another viewpoint, that eventually the truth comes out. It leaks through holes of forgotten revelations and suddenly remembered events. These conjure up “ah-ha” moments, bursts of clarity when the mind declares “so that’s why things are the way they are”. One brain scientist stated the mind “remembers patterns not rules”. Thank goodness or we would all be living in a state of bewilderment. If we really listen and observe , we can finally see the inconsistencies in fantasies accepted as true. And if we look deeper yet, we can see the lasting influence that our past and heritage have on our lives.

I remember my grandfather, sitting in the kitchen of his house on Welch Avenue in Niagara Falls, NY. I was about four but I can still see the brown radio on a little wooden shelf way above his head and mine. It was always on when he was present, squawking Polish, his native lauguage, or playing happy Polkas He was always reading a newspaper, coming from who know where, written in the language of the “old country”.

It was years later that my cousin told me the legend of my grandfather and my grandmother. A story that has impacted me and will influence future generations in my family forever.

Before coming to this country before World War I, my grandfather was part of a prosperous family of doctors who expected him to pursue a career in medicine. My grandfather had other ideas, he wanted to marry my grandmother and be a duck farmer. His family was livid and ridiculed his decision by making fun of my grandmother who was illiterate. But she was extremely stubborn and would not allow herself to be shamed. She secretly slipped two duck eggs into her apron, sold them at the market in town, bought chalk and a small slate, and taught herself to read and write.

This spirit of perseverance and the belief that education was the key to a better life and a sense of pride was passed down to my mother who was unfortunately a victim of history. She never went passed the eighth grade because she worked during The Great Depression cleaning houses for a dollar a day. She later worked as a cafeteria lady and a cook but she had learned how important education was. By working hard and saving , my mom put aside enough money so my two sisters and I were able to go to college. She stubbornly rejected the advise of some family members who said education wasn’t important for girls. I owe so much to the strength and persistence of my grandmother and mother. Education was my golden ticket to a professional career as a teacher and now has provided me with the resources to travel. My education has also made me a curious lifelong learner, something I enjoy everyday

Of course, when I visited India I was interested in their education system. School attendance is compulsory for children ages six to fourteen. But I learned there are glaring discrepancies. Private school have more resources.

Public School

What is even more disturbing is the fact that about 60% of the Indian population lives in rural areas and according to a study in 2008, the absentee rate for teachers in rural schools was on average 48% each day.

And to make matters worse, as of 2018, 28% of schools (19% public schools) have internet, 9% have computers (4 % for public schools) and only 68% of all school have usable toilets.

Those who have enough money for a good education, mainly those who go to private schools and /or have additional funds for the services of tutors are more likely to get into one of India’s 900 universities or 40,000 colleges. This privileged group does very well as professionals in the fields of technology, information, medicine, engineering, management, and economics. They have great social mobility and are sought by corporations and businesses in the US.

There is hope. Progressive companies in India like Tata Consulting Services (TCS) runs the largest private digital education school for potential employees. 400,000 employable students are coached in data analytics, cloud computing, and the “internet of things.” The company also rotates 200,000 employees at a time in a program to continuously update their techs in 600,000 competencies. “Based on market demand or project specifics, education for workers is always immediately relevant”.

Aravind Eye Care System also trains its workers and is able to provide eye care for poor Indian citizens. They have gone a step further and opened a plant that manufactures intraocular lenses that cost one fourth of those imported from the US.

It’s heartbreaking to see the woundedness of India. The country needs a better education system but also upgrades in security, protection of property rights, health services, and infrastructure. Change is slow because of governmental corruption. Bribery and patronage are very common and widespread.

India needs a strong dose of stubbornness. The people have power in their numbers. Those who are poor and rural must rise from the shame of their situation. The light of justice must be focused on corruption so the government is more effect in serving all Indians. Also, the leaders in employee training need to be encouraged and recognized so their reforms can spread across all of India.

I owe so much to my grandmother who would not allow herself to be shamed. She had the strenghth and ingenuity to do something to better herself and I’m very proud of her stubborn determination. As she lived her story, she planted the seeds of power into the heart of her daughter, my mother. Because of my mom, my sisters and I were able to go to college. Now the grandchildren, and great grandchildren in my family believe in the importance of education also and this light will go on and on. We will all be stubborn and resilient in our resolve. Thank you so much, Mom. Thank you so much, Babci (the Polish word for grandmother)!