All posts by emily

Indian Pesach

This year, Passover was a little different from in years past.  We spent Pesach in three Indian states: Kerala at Kuzhupilly and Cochin; Rajasthan at Mt. Abu, and Gujarat at Godhra and Amdavad.  I got introduced to a lot of new foods, so I hyperlinked a lot to make it easier to find out what I’m talking about.

Erev Pesach

Pesach stories start with preparation.  Aside from choosing, printing and copying our 60-minute Haggadah, this one doesn’t start in earnest until the day of the first seder with some produce shopping and a quest for a hair drier. (Yay not being home!) Traditional Ashkenazic (Eastern European Jewish) staples are hard to come by in a rural equatorial setting.  As this area is at 10° North or the same latitude as Costa Rica, Columbia and Venezuela we got to experiment with some new foods on our seder plates.  We decided on cilantro for parsley, Karela (bitter gourd) for bitter herbs, sour lemon pickle instead of horseradish, and raw beet root for lamb shank.  We had some illegally imported apples from Germany that we made into charoset and also made a date and cashew version that was quite mortar-like.

Bitter Gourd

Having neglected to get wine at the duty-free store, we visited the long line at the state liquor store, where our tuktuk (rickshaw) driver asked a man (the entire line was men) at the front of the 20-person line to get us a couple of bottles of wine.  By no choice of our own, we ended up with port, which ended up working quite nicely for our purposes.

For the first seder, we had the pleasure of the fünf Badgers, Ankur’s sister and parents, and our host at the Kuzhupilly beach house, Anish.  With Jew, Jain, Hindu, and Syriac Orthodox, we were missing representatives of only a couple of prophets. Our 60-minute Haggadah still engaged us for 90 minutes before eating with some help from Anish, who took me up on the suggestion to ask questions.   We hoped to enjoy some Pesaha Paal (Keralan Matzah), but Anish told us that only the nuns know how to make it and they only do it on Maundy Thursday.  We could never quite clarify the date discrepancy for him of why our seder was happening on Monday, while his wasn’t going to occur until Thursday. After the seder ended, we got to hear some of Anish’s views on the supremacy of Jews and Russians along with the decline of the USA.

This year’s travels have taken us to many lands with vestiges of formerly vibrant Jewish communities: Germany, Poland near the Belarus border (the pale of settlement), Venice, Vienna, and Cochin, India.  It’s difficult to reconcile with the Elders of Zion type conspiracy theories even when they’re accompanied by prejudice that typically appears diffuse and nebulous. At least in India, I can compare the creation of the state of Israel with Partition and it’s very easy to point fingers at the Brits.

Day 1

We went to Cochin for the day and saw giant chinese fishing nets (of which we sent a postcard to G.G. with a magen david cancellation), a Cathedral that held Vasco de Gama’s remains for 14 years, ate at the Menorah Restaurant, and visited the Mantancherry Palace Museum.  Ankur and I stayed for the second seder with the Chabadniks while the rest of the crew went home to eat and sleep at a more reasonable time.

Day 2

We started off at the Paradesi Synagogue where we foolishly arrived on time for Ma’ariv.  We were soon joined by a novelist, her neuropsychologist husband and anthropology major daughter studying abroad in Hyderabad.  We had plenty of time to get to know each other before the Rabbi and two sons, a long haired dropout, and Darren arrived.  The women’s section was very chatty (all 3 of us) because we were firmly planted under a very loud fan, could hear nothing, and were pretty sure no one could hear us, either.

At the Chabad House, we found the entire Cochin community waiting for us.  Five Bubbes were seated at the seder table, having had their own private seder together the first night.  One of the women, Queenie (Esther)  inspired a recipe in the paper of record. Three children and a Rebbezin were also there. The Chabad family had arrived only a month ago, just after Purim.  She grew up in Bombay until she was twelve, so they were able to get long-term work visas, unlike the previous family who was expelled from the country for working on a visitor visa.

Samuel Koder. Queenie's Father and Cochin Macher.
Samuel Koder. Queenie’s Father and Cochin Macher.
Menorah Restaurant.  Queenie's Childhood home
Menorah Restaurant. Queenie’s Childhood home

The seder was read in Hebrew and supplemented with stories in English.  We were served homemade wine and juice and hand-imported Kedem grape juice.  Somehow they had managed to find lettuce, but it was iceberg, so sweet instead of bitter.

We charged Alice, the novelist, with getting Queenie to tell us more about being one of the last Jews in Jewtown, but Darren intervened.  He wanted to joust over Chabad and where it was going without the Rebbe.  Then he wanted to talk about how and if humans are different from other species on the planet.  He was quite the nihilist and I was disappointed to not hear more Kochi stories, so I turned instead to my study-abroad neighbor for conversation.  After he left, I asked, “Did we ever find out Darren’s day job?”

“Oh, you didn’t hear? He’s Darren Aranofsky.  He made Black Swan.” I guess between that and Noah he’s still got wrestling with the lines between species.  It’s like me and the four sons.  Every year I’m struggling with why the son who doesn’t know how to ask gets the same answer as the wicked child.

After Darren left, we did get a chance to ask Queenie about her Pesach habits.  I was hoping for some insight into Kitniyot.  Kitniyot are legumes and other grains prohibited by minhag (custom) by Ashkenazik or Eastern European Jews, but not prohibited by halachah (Jewish law and tradition). Queenie would never eat dosas (South Indian lentil pancakes) on Pesach.  But in the Times article, she talks about making dumplings with rice flour.  Those are Persian, not Indian, so…clearly, it’s complicated.

So, I would need to draw my own line in the sand for Kitniyot.  Matzah is called the bread of affliction for a reason.  For me, passover is not about what you don’t eat, it’s about what you do eat.  Eating matzah is the reminder of slavery.  Omitting bread is not the reminder. If I’m going to eat matzah as a staple at every meal, which is what I believe is the intent of the prohibition, then I’m going to have to exclude tastier starches.  If I allow ersatz breads, I’m going to eat them and then I won’t need to eat matzah and it will sit in its box on the shelf until next year when I decide it’s still edible.

It turns out there’s a lot of really great matzah replacements in India. Would I rather eat  Palappam (Keralan rice crepes) or matzah? Dosa or matzah? Pappadum or matzah?  Khandvi (amazing Gujarati chickpea rolled crepes) or matzah? Nasta (crunchy chickpea flour snacks) or matzah? If I ate all these delicious foods, I’d never go for the matzah and it just wouldn’t be Pesach. (Don’t worry, I got to eat them all before and after the holiday.)

If legumes are abandoned completely from my diet, I end up eating a lot of cheese, eggs, and more meat during Pesach than I do during the entire rest of the year. That just doesn’t seem the way to commemorate slavery and hardship, so kitniyot seem worth eating, especially while spending the week with vegetarians.  There’s a limit to how hard I can be on myself and still maintain whatever arbitrary rules I’ve eneacted for the week.

How to enjoy some plant protein but not eat foods that are chometz-like?  Not be hungry, but still feel like it’s Pesach?  I think I found my land in the sand, eat whole kitniyot, but not foods from kitniyot that are made into flour.  I ate dal, but not dosas.  I ended up avoiding rice, too, because it usurped my matzah intake.  It worked pretty well for me, although I learned quickly that piling dal or vegetables onto matzah is very messy.   Substitute matzah for a fork only at the peril of one’s clothing.

Also on this day, Scientist Maya learned that elephants have ritualized eating habits.  The ones she saw swung their trunks side to side, down to the side, touched their foreheads, swung between their legs, and then brought the food to their mouths.  14 times she saw this.  Ritualized eating habits, people, animals?

Chol Hamoed and the last days

Our raw beet root got turned into a delicious coconut-beet puree for dinner.  Yum!

We left behind the steamy tropics and flew north to Ahmedabad to see Ankur’s family.  It turns out, sometimes, all you need is the right word to make yourself understood.  The Jain side of the family was on board with the concept of fasting.  It’s kind of a weird fast, but the idea that you don’t eat certain foods for a week resonated.

Isru Chag – Immediately After Passover

I thought real leavened bread would be hard to find, but I picked up the Indian street food version of a veggie burger, vada pao, a spicy potato patty on a Parker House-type bun while waiting for a laser-light show to begin.



Restricted Access

We are finally going to be in one place for more than a week after a mere 38 days on the road.  Unfortunately, our internet access has been slightly off since arriving in Europe.  Our room was on the top floor of the hostel and the wireless was in the lobby.  We can only have one device at a time online in our place in Partenkirchen and in Poland we had nothing.  So, we have many pictures and stories to share, but they’re going to start trickling out slowly.

In the mean time, Maya is eager to write about our time in Berlin.  Sarita started Waldkindergarten (forest preschool) in the rain and in the sun.  Lela is happy to be reunited with her violin.  Ankur is answering email and trying not to get sick.  And I’m hoping to decipher the extremely specific school supply list and find all the things on it.  More stories on the way.

AT&T Can <Insert Your Favorite Curse Here>

Ankur and Jose had an awesome first date while I was on hold with customer service.  Yes, that’s right, my husband schmoozed with the cell phone store “retail sales consultant” representative while I was on hold with the same provider’s land line division in attempt to use my iPhone in Germany and still keep my Madison phone number. It’s been a roller coaster ride of hope and despair and at the moment, I’m not sure how it’s going to end.  Currently, it looks like I won’t be able to unlock the iPhone until early to mid September, but I am keeping the Madison number.  I am now fully prepared for governmental bureaucracy.  Bonus! Retelling the story would be hopelessly boring, but here’s the highlights:

  • I’m so nice on the phone during ridiculous conversations that Jose asked if I was Canadian.  I thought he said a comedian.  I flatter myself.
  • I’ve now now visited wireless stores in Wisconsin, Michigan, and New Jersey and talked on the phone with wireless, web services, pay-as-you go, and land line people.
  • Michigan is home to the only employee who gave me bad information.  He is the only person who was convinced that terminate and cancel mean two totally different things and it took us an inordinate amount of time to figure out what he meant.  He also told us that it didn’t matter when we ‘terminated’ the contract.  This misinformation has foiled my unlocking before we get there plan.  Curses!
  • The old account is no longer “manageable” online.  My bill comes to me online.  I receive an email that tells me to log into my account so I can look at my bill. “Unmanageable” means I can’t log into my account any more.  I can’t unlock my phone is paid in full.  I can’t get into my account to see my bill to pay it.  I can’t unlock my phone until my bill is paid in full.  Joseph Heller IN THE HOUSE!
  • Contract department, web services, and pay-as-you go representatives have separate computer systems that provide inconsistent account information when it comes to what I owe, but give me exactly the same stories about how they can’t help me.
  • The computers won’t allow customer service to make changes to help customers.  It’s ever so
  • According to his blog posts, Ankur’s work is fascinating, but, to the lay person, no more comprehensible or communicable than giant corporate policies.

If you ever want to unlock your iPhone from AT&T, allow 1-2 billing cycles from the time that your bill is uncombined from any other AT&T service.  Uncombining your bill also takes 1-2 billing cycles.  You’re welcome.

Ancaster Dairy

We took a real road trip.  Something we haven’t done in I-don’t-know-how-long.  There was lots of driving and lots of fun stuff, too.  Maya’s cartoon pretty much sums it up, but it doesn’t share enough about the most dreamy part of the drive.

We stopped at Ancaster Dairy in Ancaster, Ontario to use the restroom and perhaps have some ice cream.  They had a hand-written sign, “No Interac.”

“Does that mean you don’t take credit cards? Do you take U.S. dollars?”  We were all set with flavors like Tiger, orange and black licorice.

As we were piling into the car, the proprietor, a retired gentleman with a new career, came out to warn us of the Hamilton rush hour and give us an alternate route. “Do you have GPS?   Well, even so, at the third traffic light take a left and keep going until you get to Niagra Falls.  It’s a nice country road and you won’t have any traffic. A real pretty drive.”

And it was.

There’s something remarkably different between a controlled access interstate and a state highway.  It was smooth and  rollercoaster bumpy and a delight.   At least up until we got to Clifton Hill in Niagra Falls, where it turned into a house of mirrors, literally.

Resolution and Embarkation

I know that you are expecting tales regaling our trip across country or, even better, starting our sabbatical in Germany, but we’re not there yet.  Packing and paperwork are still happening, but we’re still wrapping up health care, too.

After 5 well people visits, two trips to the gastroenterologist, multiple visits to our adored optometrist, and one echocardiogram, it seems we are done for now.  I suppose I should have asked the pediatrician more questions ahead of time, because I had no idea that an echocardiogram is an ultrasound.  It was fascinating to watch and totally different from the other ultrasounds I’ve seen of my children which were taken when they were in utero.  They take images from many different perspectives and the all look very different.

The repetition of the beating heart was so mesmerizing, it took the edge off the purpose of the visit.  Sometimes it looked like a fish gulping for air, mouth opening and closing. Open. Close.

Other times the image was like two people shaking hands, their limp flopping fins swiping at each other again and again. Sometimes one limb went up first, sometimes the other.

The colorized version reminded me of whole lot of this logo, which was a mixed bag.  A good groove gets on, especially watching the rhythms, but the band name is not exactly reassuring given the circumstances.  Grateful Dead when the pediatrician says the heart murmur that she heard is outside of her usual repertoire is only mildly disconcerting.

My favorite view is hard for me to describe appropriately to an audience that may include first graders and girls on the leading edge of puberty. A less exciting analogy would be one of the top view of a throat swallowing.

I assumed since it was not the physician herself calling, everything was fine, so I didn’t pay close attention to the acronym at first, just that there’s no restrictions on her activities and come back for another echo when we come back from Germany.  The littlest girl has a hole in her heart that’s common and should close on its own. Before the girls each turned two, I was always on the lookout for ASD, I just wasn’t expecting a heart defect. Atrial septal defict. Autism spectrum disorder. Hmm.

A friend who returned from sabbatical abroad reminded me just because we went to the doctor, doesn’t mean we won’t get sick in the coming year.  This came as quite a shock, because I was under the impression that if we chatted with our primary care providers and got our blood pressure, height and weight measured, we’d be healthy for the coming year!

Our Madison errands are seemingly complete, at last, which is good since we aren’t there any more.  We waved goodbye to the house (and our tenants), had a farewell breakfast at Lazy Jane’s, complete with gluten-free lemon cream  scones, and unloaded the van in Door County for an eagerly anticipated weekend with friends.

Consequences of Preparation

I should have known that catching up on preventive health care in the weeks just before we leave would lead to multiple follow-up visits, but who would have thought this would be the outcome?

New Glasses

Yes, the normal right eye/far-sided left eye has been handed down from father to daughter to grand-daughters.  However, we are more than the smiling cherubs above.  Their sister has her own feelings about the new accessories.IMG_0307

I think she’s picked up that the proper response to how do you feel about your upcoming move is “excited.”  She keeps using that word.  I do not think it means what she thinks it means.

If you look closely, you can also see my new reading glasses lying on the coffee table.   Mom, you are definitely not old enough to have a daughter with reading glasses, I agree.