Pour la beauté du monde

IMG_20171224_1717316Cette veille de Noël, je suis dans un avion entre le Chili et l’Argentine : deux pays ensoleillés, terres catholiques.  La nuit du 24 est la plus importante de l’année; les rues ne sont occupées que par des fantômes. Il n’y a signe de neige, mais on entend des chansons de Noël qui célèbrent les flocons blancs et les bonhommes de neige.

« Ne sois pas déprimée! » me suis-je dit. « Nul besoin d’un Noël blanc nostalgique en compagnie de ma famille et de mes amis ».  Prête à braver la solitude, j’achète le billet d’avion le moins cher pour Buenos Aires vers Santiago.  Je ne m’attends pas à grand-chose de mon escale bon marché.  J’espère qu’il soit court et sans incident. Point.

Mais tout à coup, l’agente de bord se met à sourire furtivement. Sur un ton teinté de fierté, elle annonce au micro : « Mesdames et Messieurs, la consigne de ceinture est allumée.  Assoyez-vous s’il vous plait.  Je vous présente : les Andes. »

Je regarde par le hublot :  j’ai la sensation que les montagnes se trouvent à quelques mètres.  Éternelles et majestueuses, une torsade du bleu foncé au brun. Parsemées de taches de neige, ciselés de lacs au cœur de leurs vallées. Ébréchées, les montagnes en pic semblent prier un ciel bleu clair. Le poids des montagnes contraste avec de légers nuages joyeux qui dansent entre les pics.

Jamais dans ma vie, je n’ai approché une montagne de si près. Je n’avais jamais vécu cette sensation d’intimité avec les Rocheuses lors de mon adolescence à Calgary, ni même au-dessus de l’Himalaya ou des Alpes. Éblouissant, ce tour intime des Andes! Difficile d’imaginer un cadeau de Noël plus luxueux : la splendeur de la nature.

Dès ce moment, je sentis monter un amour qui émane des montagnes, un amour de la planète, un amour qui réunit tous ses êtres. Parfois, je me désole de l’avenir de la planète et me résigne à l’idée de la disparition de l’humanité. Et qu’il n’y a rien à faire.

À la vue des montagnes, je me rends compte que le monde est trop splendide pour le perdre.  Ce sentiment se répète lors mes voyages sur cinq continents en sept semaines… de l’Amérique du Nord, de l’Amérique du Sud, de l’Afrique, de l’Asie et de l’Europe. Chaque fois que je pense avoir tout vu, je tourne un coin et là, un autre moment d’émerveillement!

La créativité de notre planète est toujours à l’œuvre : dans ses sons, ses langues, ses couleurs. Des chansons extatiques des sufis, des comptines des écoliers roumains, des valses autrichiennes, des battantes collectives de la jeunesse chilienne, à la mer bleu émeraude de Punta Cana : il y a un monde sublime à défendre.

Ce qui devrait nous allumer, ce n’est pas le désespoir et la bêtise de nos politiciens ou de notre société, mais le désir que la beauté de chacun rayonne partout.

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The Chronological Where in the World is Sujata

If you want to read about my seven-week, five continent epic adventure in a more orderly fashion, here’s the whole trip blog in order.

She goes from Nashville to Norway, Bonaire to Zimbabwe
Chicago to Czech and Slovakia, and back

Preparing Montreal:

https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/first-blog-post/

Prepping:

https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/prepping/

Currency Chart:

https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/11/22/currency-chart/

Face Masks for the Jet Set

https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/11/30/what-every-world-traveller-needs/

The Clue

https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/11/30/the-clue/

Montréal, December 18th 2017

Before: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/18/before/

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, December 18th 2017

After: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/18/after/

What a Difference a Day Makes: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/18/what-a-difference-a-day-makes/

Punta Cana: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/18/punta-cana/

Sao Paulo, Brazil, December 19th, 2017

Punta Cana to Sao Paulo: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/punta-cana-to-sao-paulo/

Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 20th, 2017

Tree-Lined Boulevards: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/20/tree-lined-boulevards/

More Buenos Aires: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/22/more-buenos-aires/

I will try not to talk about Politics (sort of): https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/23/i-will-try-not-to-talk-about-politics-sort-of/

Teatro Colon: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/teatro-colon/

Santiago, Chile, December 24th, 2017

Return?: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/return/

Ciao Bs As, Hola Santiago: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/25/ciao-bs-as-hola-santiago/

Navidad en Chile: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/25/navidad-en-chile

Chilean Immersion: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2017/12/27/chilean-immersion/

Valparaiso, Chile, January 1st, 2018

Chilean dreamers and Frente Amplio: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/chilean-dreamers-and-frente-amplio/

Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jaipur, India and Delhi, India, January 4-6th, 2018

Running through Cities and Continents: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/running-through-cities-and-continants/

48 hours, 3 continents, 5 cities: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/48-hours-3-continents-3-red-eyes-5-cities/

New Delhi, India, January 7th, 2018

Food we must ban to be pure: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/food-we-must-ban-to-be-pure/

Airbrushing people out: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/airbrushing-people-out/

Orai and Lucknow, India, January 11th, 2018

Tracing the Nomadic Deys: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/11/tracing-the-nomadic-deys/

Kolkata, India, January 13th, 2018

Between Karl Marx Sarani and Shakespeare Road: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/kolkata-between-karl-marx-sarani-and-shakespeare-road/

New Delhi, India, January 15th, 2018

The Delhi Rape Case Five Years Later: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/the-delhi-rape-case-five-years-later/

More Delhi: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/more-delhi/

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, January 20th, 2018

Where am I going now: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/20/where-am-i-going-now/

Istanbul,  Turkey, January 21st, 2018

It’s raining in Istanbul: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/its-raining-in-istanbul/

There is something about Istanbul: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/there-is-something-about-istanbul/

Sofia, Bulgaria, January 23rd, 2018

The best laid plans or how I ended up in Sofia: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/23/the-best-laid-plans-or-how-i-ended-up-in-sofia/

Bucharest, Romania, January 24th, 2018

Rock and Roll on the Romanian Rails: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/24/rock-and-roll-on-the-romanian-rails/

Sighisoara and Brasov, Romania, January 26th, 2018

The Unmistakable Charm of the Romanian Town: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/the-unmistakeable-charm-of-the-romanian-town/

Budapest, Hungary, January 27th, 2018

Leaving Budapest: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/leaving-budapest/

Vienna, January 29th, 2018

Wien and the Strauss ball: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/wien-and-the-ball/

Stuttgart, Germany, January 30th, 2018

My Day in Stuttgart: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/30/my-day-in-stuttgart/

Strasbourg, France, January 31st, 2018

Strasbourg and its frustrating treasures: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/strasbourg-and-its-frustrating-treasures/

Paris, France, February 1st, 2018

Last night in Paris: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/last-night-in-paris/

Reykjavik, Iceland, February 3rd, 2018

Landing in Reykjavik: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/landing-in-reykjavik-iceland/

Montréal Québec, February 3rd, 2018

Home: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/home/

Wrap up :

How I did the trip: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/i-am-not-a-millionaire/

Highlights and Thanks: https://whereintheworldissujata.wordpress.com/2018/02/06/gratitude/

 

 

Gratitude

(My view from the airpline window on Christmas eve: the Andes)

What I am grateful for:

  • Chile’s terremoto (earthquake): the drink and the dance move where you just shake it
  • Seeing (or stalking) Chile’s Presidenta Michelle Bachelet (she said “hola to me”)
  • Seeing the Andes from the sky on Christmas eve
  • Visiting the Museo de la Memoria with Cheli, and our great times together
  • Watching the Casanueva at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires
  • The spontaneous drummers in the Plaza de Armas in Santiago
  • The Valparaiso fireworks with my friends on New Year’s Eve
  • Numerous conversations and pisco sour with my peeps in Escuela Bellavista in Santiago
  • Pablo Neruda’s house on the hilltops of Valparaiso. Neruda is the epitome of seduction.
  • The mural and tree -lined streets of Palermo, Buenos Aires
  • La Recoleta cemetary, Buenos Aires
  • The Ateneo Bookstore in Buenos Aires
  • Zumba in Buenos Aires, Santiago and New Delhi—with Bollywood
  • The mountains of Rio
  • Caprinha in Sao Paulo
  • The Undurraga vineyards, Chile
  • The emerald coloured beaches of Punta Cana
  • Having Ethiopian coffee and injera in the airport at Addis Ababa
  • Going to an Indian government school and attending the lecture from my soul sister: my cousin Smriti and Roopak
  • Hearing glorious Sufi music in Haus Khas Village: I now understand the ecstasy of Ishq
  • The glitzy over the top Bollywood performance in the Kingdom of Dreams: how to live to excess.
  • The wonderful lectures at the Kolkata Literary Festival
  • High tea in Kolkata
  • Hanging out with my family in Delhi, Lucknow and Gurgaon
  • Finding my dad’s village in Orai—and the court house where my grandfather practiced, and their house in Lucknow
  • Seeing my cousin Utkarsh’s play
  • Lucknow’s delicious makhan malai and paan
  • The Lucknow shrine of bells at the site of the bus accident where people pray for good luck
  • The lights of Park street, in Kolkata
  • Choti Imambara in Lucknow
  • Nature Bazaar in Delhi of Delhi artisans
  • The Grand Hotel de Londres, Istanbul
  • Cemberlitas Hamam, Istanbul
  • The colours of Misri bazaar, Istanbul, and Lajpat Nagar, Delhi
  • Drinking chai on a ferry in Istanbul in the rain
  • The fish market in Istanbul.
  • The Ciragan Palace—a sublime place for a meal
  • Beyoglu in general, the cobblestoned mountain overlooking the Bosporus
  • Travelling the train with my own little room from Turkey and Romania
  • The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Saint Nikolas Church, Sofia
  • Carturesti Carousel Bookstore, Bucharest
  • Dancing Romanian style in the Piaţa Universităţii, Bucharest
  • Dining the painted Caru’ cu bere restaurant Bucharest
  • The UNESCO medieval village of Sighisoara, and the kindness of Marius
  • The school kids singing Romanian songs in Sighisoara
  • Brasov, Romania set upon the Carpathian Mountains
  • The New York Café and Gellert Baths, Budapest
  • The Budapest Documentary Film Festival showing of the documentary on Ada Colau and hearing from the Hungarian women mayor
  • Palinka, everywhere
  • Attending the Johann Strauss ball in the Kursalon Vienna with my Indian Indo-Western ball gown and jewelry (with champagne!)
  • Trying to find the best Sachertorte, Vienna
  • Frühstück. and Zeitung in Stuttgart
  • The Mariuskirche Cemetary, Stuttgart
  • Hanging out with Alexa in Stuttgart and seeing her feminist German life
  • The rally of old age homes in Strasbourg
  • The Notre Dame cathedral, Strasbourg
  • The rivers, bridges, streets, and houses of Strasbourg
  • The shows of Paris, Carmen and Cello Women
  • Finding (at last!) the crystal-lined frames I always wanted in Paris

And most of all the kindness of many, many strangers who helped me, talked to me, taught me, and made may life easier and more enjoyable.

Thanks to everyone who commented and followed my trip.  As I was travelling by myself, I always felt that I had someone to talk to: my tribe of people all over the world who also want to understand and appreciate the world.

May our travels not only about our enjoyment, but about understanding and making the world better.  Our problems—whether they be environmental or rising inequality—are connected.  If we are to get through them together, we must understand each other.

Back to reality!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not a millionaire

How I did this trip (or how I am not a millionaire).

On arriving back in Montréal, I was basically interrogated by customs officials about my trip.  It was inconceivable to them that 1) I would want to do so many countries in so little time for fun 2) that I could afford this trip without selling drugs, or spying for foreign nations.  So just to clear any potential criminal record or espionage charge that may be developing in Canada, I thought it would be good to clear up how I was able to do this.

  • I banked holidays and overtime so I was receiving a salary the whole time I was on the trip. Which is why I had to do the whole thing in six weeks whereas six months would have been more appropriate.
  • I had a huge amount of Airmiles: like about 120,000 miles. In other words, most of the travel was on Airmiles.  I actually got an American Express card just to get the 50,000 Airmile gift.
  • Now, one could easily blown it with a return trip to Paris at 80,000 miles.  But I systematically used the Airmiles in places where people don’t normally go: South America and Asia.  So, I flew from Montréal to Buenos Aires, from Sao Paulo to Delhi, and from Delhi to Istanbul on Airmiles. I had very little fees because none of those airports are popular.
  • In South America, I bought two flights with Sky, a low budget carrier, and in India, bought two internal flights for $30 and $50 respectfully.  My flight from Paris to Montreal was $350 one way including baggage on Wow.  Which is why I was in Reykjavik.
  • Because I used Airmiles, there were no direct planes, so I took advantage of the extra stops to see countries I never would have seen.
  • I  booked trains and hotels months in advance to get the best prices.
  • For the trains, I often used night trains to avoid paying hotels.
  • The buying power in most of the countries I visited was cheaper than in Montreal. In fact, when you took out hotels and planes, it was cheaper for me to live in those countries than in Montreal. For example, in Istanbul, I ate a gourmet meal of the most romantic hotel palaces in the world for $30 CDN.
  • In India, I mostly stayed with family.
  • I limited my time in Western Europe.  Staying in Paris for a few days just absolutely blew the bank.   I actually don’t want to travel much more in Western Europe for that reason.  It is packed full of selfie-sticked tourists, it is insanely expensive, and it feels saturated. I really recommend Central Europe.  You get the old European feeling without the price tag and the crowds.
  • Chile and Argentina were inexpensive for hotels, but expensive for dining so bought a lot of groceries.  I did not book any hotels in Brazil.
  • I hate taxis and rarely use them. If that means I have to drag 30 kilos of luggage on a tramway, I will.  I think, in general, taxi drivers prey on tourists and will systematically rip you off if they pick you up from a train station or an airport.  I also  hate losing control of navigating; I see more and understand more by following my own directions. Also, I feel safer in public with the crowds than in a closed, private taxi with some macho driver. Having said that, for safety— like in India where cabs were $2 to $3 dollars, or at night, or in situations where I don’t have the time, I will use them.  And get ripped off.
  • In most cities, there are very cheap shuttles from the airport to the downtown.  Or there are lockers in train stations to leave luggage in. In Turkey, the public transit system included ferries on the Bosporus, and funiculars.
  • In fact, my most frequent source of entertainment and transportation was walking.  I would walk for hours in a city.  Walking was how I would actually discover things.
  • I ran into a whole bunch of free activities: Sufi music in a bar in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi, the Kolkata Literary festival, the Parisian singer, meals with friends, drumming in the Plaza de Armas in Chile, dancing Romanian folk dancing in Bucharest, etc.
  • I don’t buy much. I really don’t need more clutter.  And if I appreciate something, I can always take a photo.  Remember: buying things also means more luggage weight.  My major ticket purchases were shoes in India where they were ridiculously cheap, a few books, that blue ball gown in India, the winter boots in Bulgaria and frames in Paris—things that I could justify because they were needed and were either not available or substantially cheaper in the country I bought them in. (My insurance should pay partly for the frames.) Again, Canadian customs could not believe how I was well under the limit Canadians have to bring goods in.
  • I bargain really well because I am always ready to walk away without the item.
  • I did take on some debt. My overseas Indian status must have cost about $800 with all the paper work, but it is valid for life.  I also had to buy visas for the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Brazil, and Turkey.   I could lie to you and say that it was all paid for, but I would be selling you a fantasy.
  • There was a lot of planning.  I had to plan how I was going to balance weight restrictions on airplanes while carrying clothes that could deal with both winter, summer, and religious and cultural considerations in India.  I had to think of gifts.  How I could repack to go on shorter trips, or on budget airlines, have clothes for the beach, the gala, a business situation, or a wedding, if necessary.  I decided that given the countries I was travelling to, I would not transport any alcohol.   I am proud that I only lost two things: a sweater in New Delhi and a bathing suit in Budapest.
  • I did the planning myself and didn’t rely on any travel agents or formulas. So, no Eurorail pass.  And no round-the-world ticket.  That would just be too expensive.

That said, I think that my trip—around the world—was much cheaper than most people’s trips to Europe. And it was definitely cheaper than riding the Orient Express, or taking the Rajasthan Palace on wheels tours, or a luxury cruise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landing in Reykjavik. Iceland

Unfortunately, could not leave the airport—not enough time, but was able to try some Nordic salmon and Bjork liquor made from birch, Arctic spring water and birch syrup.

Very smart idea on their part to get people to come to Iceland.  The pilot ensures that you see the green steppes overlooking the expansive ocean.  And from there you see the snow-capped island. The airport itself is very tastefully designed, full of comfortable amenities, and pleas to come back to see Iceland as a tourist.

They really are profiting from their distance: halfway between North America and Europe.  So, this is where I got my stamp out of the Shengen area.  While Santiago was the farthest south in my journey, Reykjavik is the farthest north.

Last night in Paris

This  is the last evening of my freedom. My travelling ways are over and I will be returning to the winter palace known as Montréal.

I feel very reluctant to write about Paris because everyone has been here.  Everyone has seen it in film, and everyone has an idea of it.  Also, to me, as a French speaker who has been here many times, it isn’t really exotic to me anymore.  It is the least exotic part of my trip.  And it is now strange to pretty much understand what people are saying all the time after months of varying degrees of understanding. I have also lived for a few months in France, have a French social security number, and have the strange coincidence of having been a block away from the Paris attacks. (see my story here)  Having said that, I am not French—nor am I even born in Québec so take my comments as they are.

They myth of Paris and the reality of Paris are two different things.  Most people’s vision of Paris is out of the Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain: girls with bob haircuts, beret-wearing men carrying baguettes under their arms as they smoke gitanes in the café, and the Moulin rouge, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre or Notre Dame.  Poets in jazz clubs in St-Germain-de-Prés.  Maybe Paris was like that in 1950.  It couldn’t be further from that now.

First of all, it is gritty—some would say dirty.  The whole world comes to Paris wanting to make a place for themselves.  Refugees sleep near Canal Saint-Martin. And you can see that it is an important issue here. And those that do find housing hear hustle for it.  Everyone is trying to survive—pay astronomical rents, get through the packed metro, and keep alive.  There is an air of coldness to it, as there are just too many people trying to make things work for themselves.  I wouldn’t want to grow old here: I see older people struggling with their bags over the countless stairs and narrow sidewalks.

As Paris’s identity is very traditionally French, the reality is actually more African, and Middle Eastern.  Paris is not only the keeper now of French culture, but the gateway to much of Africa, particularly the Maghreb.  And that is part of it’s splendour: it is truly is an international city.  Where everyday, there are an endless whirlwind of activities from around the world: do you want Uyghur food, or catch an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, or the Musée du monde arabe? Russian or Iranian film retrospective?  Or a Dirty Dancing DJ night, or a karaoke video contest.  The choices are endless.  I would just spend hours running in circles trying to decide what it is I wanted to do.  Of course, my perspective is from the 11th.  I suppose you could find Amélie Poulin if you really looked for her.

And I like speaking French without the complicated identity question or having the mandatory follow-up question: d’où venez-vous?  Or where do you come from? (BTW: in Montréal, the correct answer is not Canada).    People here are from everywhere:  I could be a Brit or American that never left, or from wherever.  Nobody really even cares that I am from Montréal.

I resolved many of my administrative challenges—or at least I think I do.  I will wait till the refunds actually come on my credit card.  I mostly shopped for new frames—successfully ignoring all the pretty dresses in the Marais.  An accomplishment!!  Also, attended some brilliant concerts: Cello Woman, which was song, but also performance, and story telling.  And a really super dance performance called Carmen(s) which explores migration and Carmen, the opera character, as an emancipated woman.  But in true Parisian style, it involved synchronised video, French, Spanish, and Japanese works, hip-hop, Keiko drumming, break dancing, contemporary dance, flamenco, and acrobatics.  I am not sure I understood the story, but I have never seen something so original.