Friday, November 30, 2012

My Egyptian Scarf

When I was planning my trip, I asked Mary if there was anything she would like me to bring her.  She said she wanted a necklace from Egypt – one that has the ethnic overtones of Egypt.  She took me to her room and showed me a prototype, one that she has from Africa.  That example was unlike something that Mary would buy for herself, both in width and length and critical mass.  But she gave me the idea of what I should look for – something big for her. 

When we got to Safaga, I knew I couldn’t deliver my kind offer to her, for Dave and I had planned two daytrips and there would be no shopping involved in them.  Moiya and Wyona took on the task of finding a nice big piece of jewellery, and said they would also try to find something I was looking for – a scarf that had overtones of being expressly Middle Eastern.

I would think that would be an easy task, but when I got to Malaysia, I could see that it is no mean feat to find a scarf that a Westerner can wear.  The majority of scarves are meant to be worn as head coverings, not something to wrap around a cold neck or chilly shoulders.

When they came back from shopping, they had a black scarf with white rubberized lettering on it for me.  I was happy and wore it a few times when I needed a covering on my trip, but noticed that sometimes people were looking intently at the scarf and then when I would catch their eyes, they would avert their gaze.  I idly wondered what was on the scarf that would attract that attention.

After ironing it yesterday I brought the scarf upstairs and asked Amir, my Iranian roomer, if he could give me an idea about what is curious about it. We laid it out the length of the counter. He pointed to this mark and then that mark and telling me it is written in Farsi, but in a old script, one that not everyone reads today. Before telling me what its meaning he discussed some facts about what a person can look for in Iranian art.  I was reminded of what I learned when I would take the one hour guided tours in the basement of the British Museum on Iranian art.  The bottom line is, don’t look for images of people in art from that tradition.  Amir got more specifically to the point of my scarf saying it contains words from the Koran, a warning, which he transliterated to mean, you may not understand now, but when you are raised from the dead you will know, really know, that the punishment to the wicked will be far worse than anything you can imagine in this life. 

Mak was in the room jumping up and down unable to contain his joy that I should own such a scarf when he heard the translation. Braden Keeler said a bit of him wishes that the scarf were his. I am satisfied that the scarf has a owner who will pay attention its warning.


December’s The Met Live in HD

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
La Clemenza di Tito
For me, December is the best time of the year for going to the "theatre holiday celebrations" in Calgary.   If you live elsewhere look for a theatre near you for these productions.

La Clemenza di Tito, LIVE  -- Saturday December 1/12 @ 10:55am

UnBalo in Maschera, LIVE --  Saturday December 8/12 @ 10:55am

Aida, LIVE December 15/12 @ 10:55am

December also brings to the Scotiabank Chinook the following:

Jesus Christ Superstar
, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera sensation, Sunday December 2/12 @ 12:55pm and then again Wednesday December 5/12 @ 7:00pm. This production stars Ben Forster as Jesus, Tim Minchin as Judas Iscariot, and Melanie Chisholm (aka Mel C from the Spice Girls) as Mary Magdalene.  If you can't get to the show, you can at least enjoy the review.

The Nutcracker
from the Royal Ballet, Thursday December 13/12 @ 7:30pm and Saturday December 22/12 @ 12:55pm 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Green Tomato Preserves

This fall my neighbour had literally a bizzillion green tomatoes.  She kept asking me if I wanted some.  All I could think of to make with them was fried green tomatoes, but I had no cornmeal (which is what you use to bread them) so I did not take her up on her offer.

A few days later I was looking at the Johnson (Arta and Kelvin) Family Reunion 2009 book that Cathy had put together.  In it was an interview she had done with Kelvin Sr.  She asked him what he ate when he was young.  How surprised was I when one of the things he listed was green tomato preserves.  What a coincidence  I thought to myself.  I have never heard him speak of that.

Fast forward two days and I am talking with my neighbour and she asks yet again if I want some green tomatoes.  I tell her about the story I read and say, too bad I don't have my grandma Johnson's recipe.  Then it hits me...  I do have an extended Johnson Family cookbook called Mana from the Prairies.  Maybe it is in there.  I grab it to flip through with my neighbour and here's what I find:

Green Tomatoe Perserves
Grandpa Johnson

3 qts. ground green tomatoes
3 oranges, 3 lemons
3 qts. sugar

Drain water off tomatoes.  Slice oranges and lemons very thin or grind.  Add sugar to tomatoes and oranges and lemons.  Stir and cook till clear and thickened.  Bottle and seal.  Yield 8-10 pints.

So my neighbour and I decided to make this together.

It tastes jut like marmalade.  I guess that should not have surprised me, but I have never made marmalade before.

I was excited to take a few jars with me to Montreal a couple of weekends ago to give to my dad, Kelvin Sr.  The grandpa listed in the recipe, is my grandpa Johnson --  Miles.

Dad tasted it and loved it.  He is a jam guy afterall.  He told me he didn't remember it having oranges or lemons in it.  They may have been too poor and it may have just been made with tomatoes and sugar.

Well, I can tell you, the tomatoes get candied in all that sugar and taste pretty darn good.

A couple of weeks later my neighbour used the same recipe but substituted fresh pumkin instead of tomatoes.  She said it is lovely.

Good luck to any of you out there with bizzillions of green tomatoes who try this recipe.

Boiled Raisin Cookies --- Mmmmmm

I know what Arta is going to say when she sees the title of this post:  Gross.  Why would you make those.

In fact, I think she may have even said that to me in person this September when she was visiting me.

But I love them.

Tonight I decided to make them. 

Here is the recipe I used taken from the following Blog called My Tiny Oven

2 cups raisins
1 cup of water
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp all spice
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
4 cups all purpose flour

Put the water and raisins in a small sauce pan. Out over medium high heat and cook until the water starts to boil. Keep at a boil for 5 minutes. Do not let it boil dry!
Remove from heat and stir in the 1 tsp. baking soda. Let the mixture cool a little.
In the bowl of a stand mixer cream the softened butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Add in the vanilla and spices. Gradually add in the flour. Mixture will get very stiff and a little crumbly, don’t worry! Add in the raisin mixture, with any water that is left in the pot. Gently stir all together.
Drop by the heaping tablespoon onto a silpat lined baking mat.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Local Bread Confection of Kuala Lumpur

Greg and Dave chat  in the mall while Moiya and Wyona spend money
Nov. 22, 2012

After our tour of Kuala Lumpur's Little India, and back at the elegant market, we had ten minutes to get to our bus coach.

Moiya and Wyona had ringgit that was unspent.

Both of them know how to move the last few dollars out of their purses and pockets and into the local economy.

The women pool their money to see how much must be spent.
They buy carbonated beverages to take onto the boat, a soft ice-cream cone for all and with the money left Wyona and Moiya begin to pick pastries out of glass display cabinets, asking the clerk to wrap them separately so they don’t get squished.

Afterall, when we were dropped off we were told to go have lunch, but food was not anywhere on our agenda.

Now there would be a 1 and ½ hour ride back to the boat and time to eat.
I am hungry and snap pictures of food I wish I could eat.
I don't buy. 
If I take the time to figure out the conversion on the ringgit,
I won't have time to take pictures.

 Two women picking out food is enough.

I idly take my camera and try to catch the look of the small bakery.

Fast lunch ... or would that be fast dessert
Once onboard, Wyona distributes the food among us.

I am a few isles away.

The nicest looking pastry of all is handed to me – one with a popsicle stick in it.

 I am sitting by the boat photographer, since I am always alone on the buses and when the seat is taken, it is often by some of the people who work on the boat and who are allowed to accompany the excursion.

I turn to her and say, please have some.

Which would you like?  One lightly dusted with icing sugar
  Or the chocolate icing with candy sprinkles
"Oh no," she counters.

She is sitting there soaking wet, having been caught in the 4 pm Malaysian downpour.  I brought my umbrella for the occasion, but left it in the bus, so I didn't have to carry it all day. Because I am "old" the bus driver lends me an umbrella so I won't get wet.

"Well, I can hardly eat it all.  Just take a bit.  I haven't touched it and you will get to see what the local pastries taste like."

She takes a piece and we take our first bite together but do not chew.

She turns wide-eyed to look at me and says nothing.

I spotted that fancy stick in the pastry and
wondered if Wyona and Moiya would buy it.
Note the attractive covering on the bun, upper right corner.
I am horrified and burst out laughing, saying, “I think that this feathery lacy toasted coating is dried translucent fish and not cocoanut. Be my guest and take it back out of your mouth.”

Then I turn to the tour guide who is now handing out key chains of the Petronus Towers to everyone. She has come to give us ours.

“Could you tell me the name of this pastry.”

She gives me the name of the pastry, tells me it is a local trademark of Kuala Lumpur, confirms that the coating is dried fish and continues down the isle.

“Congratulations,” says the young ship photographer to me. “You got me to do something my mother couldn’t get me to do growing up in England. Eat fish.”

She puts her piece in our garbage bag.

 I continue to eat mine.

“Don’t do it. Don’t do it," she says.

I am compelled to. At each bite I am trying to figure out what it is that people like about these 3 flat rings with a stick through them, and finished off with dried fish. The sweetness of the bun reminds me of pork buns in China town. I taste the brown sticky topping that holds the fish flakes to the pastry: soy sauce.

Later that evening I go up to the Photography Studio to pick up some pictures from a prize I won on the boat. She is there arranging the shots: 8 1/2 by 12's  --  one from each of the 3 formal dining nights, taken from the gang plank as people go ashore, from informal sittings – all posted in the open for people to see.

I know she is working.  I go up to her and say quietly behind her back, “Fish breath.”

She turns to me and says in an equally quiet voice, "I told all of my friends about you at dinner and that you continued to eat the bun, even after knowing what it was. They know who you are.”

She is right.  They do know who I am.  That is for another story.


Kuala Lumpur Indian Market

November 22, 2012 Kuala Lumpur, Quick and Easy – that was the name of our destination tour. The tour guide was phoned at the last minute and was ill-prepared and not a good reader, but that didn’t take the shine off of the tour or the day. I kept my eyes glued out the window, occasionally grabbing my camera to take a picture of something I had never seen before.

And at dinner that night, when talking about the number of people who had put in complaints about the tour, Greg said, “I will now let you eat and I will give the lecture I would have given if I had been the tour guide.” And then the dinner conversation sparkled with Greg’s mini-history of the politics, religion, and natural resources of India ending with, ... and so Malaysia is the poster-child of the nation who has done what the text books said couldn’t be done. His lecture began with, “What the tour guide didn’t tell you when we stopped at the War Memorial to honour the dead in Malaysia’s fight for independence was ....” I should have taken notes or at the very least, given Greg a big tip at the end of the evening. Instead of kept using my knife and fork . The guide dropped us off at an elegant shopping centre, and said we would meet again at 4 pm. The 45 minute driven from Port Kelang was a wall to wall traffic jam of container 18-wheelers, exasperated because one had spilled its contents on the high, making us a bit homesick for our own experiences with that on the trans-Canada Highway.

Our group of five had no plan. Emile Baladi’s destination lecture about Kuala Lumpur had been attended by 4 of the 5 of us, and I remembered him saying, if you want shopping, go to Little India. The prices are competitive among the merchants and you will be surprised at the variety of goods there. What I like about our group of five is this. Those with the skills come forward to do what they do best.

Wyona find an information booth to ask how to take the LRT to Little India. “Down this escalator, through the long food court, out the other side to the LRT and then 3 stops.” If we had followed those directions we would have been there sooner than the circuitous route to the airport first – but what did we care. Instead we took the advice of the woman changing money so that LRT tokens could be bought, tickets equivalent of 50 cents each and we learned how to use their tokens to get through the gate, how to use the tokens to get out of the gate, how to line-up in their air-conditioned subway, how to stay within seeing distance of each other and we got above ground on a couple of long legs of the journey. We could see an urban Kuala Lumpur that Greg, Moiya and Wyona did not recognize from the one they saw 40 years ago.

“Why did the destination lecturer say to go to Little India and not Chinatown as the tourist bureau suggest,” Wyona asked. For once, I had been taking notes in the lecture instead of falling asleep in them and I could remember him saying, “Every city has a Chinatown. Only a few have Little India.”

Greg and Dave made us time ourselves – you only have 45 minutes for this market. Now go! In one-half of a block and we knew this market had the wonderful shape of every other little market we have ever seen, though it was grander in the sense that one block of it was under the cover of green and opaque coloured high glass ceilings.

While we look at merchandize, Greg is usually standing in a corner, but in his case it is still water, running deep. I was out of the market sooner than the other women and he remarked that more women are wearing the religious head dress than were wearing it 40 years ago, a material sign he thinks that Islam is putting its stamp on Malaysia.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

The 2012 Pig Roast

I finally blogged about the Pig Roast that Richard and Miranda began several years ago and for which many people share their edible, musical and humorous talents.  Thank you to all for a wonderful day!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Life in Vaikom

We had two tours in India. The first one was sponsored by the ship for Captain’s Club Members and those travelling with them. That is how Moiya, Dave and I spent our first day in Cochin. The evening ended with a show at a hotel. The sun was setting over the sea, chairs were set up on the hotel lawn, and before the show, proper, there was a demonstration about how emotion is interpreted through dance. When Moiya and I try to go back to that first day in India, we keep listing how much happened in that day. How could we have seen the Chinese fishing nets, the murals that capture the myths of the Indian gods, shopped on Jew Street, and kept our noses on the coach window as we saw India pass by us, block after block.

The next day we were signed up to see rural India. The catalogue description of the trip was short. “Located in the district of Kottayam, Vaikom is one of the oldest villages in Kerala and is a fine representation of rural life in Kerala. During your visit you will be able to walk through and see what life is like here on a typical day.” We had no idea that the following would happen. We were loaded into tuk-tuks that took us down the narrow roads and into the village. Ropes of flowers were hung around our necks, the smell of which I didn’t really process until I arrived back in the ship and was going up the elevator. “Oh, I had no idea of the smell of these flowers, until I got into this elevator,” I apologized to the other occupants who were riding up the shaft with me. “Don’t worry – it is fantastic – like gardenias,” they said. By that time the red mark that had been put on my forehead was smudged and I was looking for some quiet time to process an amazing day. I don’t know how to describe the feeling of returning back to the ship. Much of the time in the village I had been on the cusp of a good cry, but not the one that comes from sorrow. This emotion was wrapped up in the wonder of the village. I watched women weaving mats from reeds, their hands working deftly and their toes anchoring their work to the ground while they thatched the material that slipped up and down through their fingers. An old woman was weaving baskets. We watched, left to go see something else and I said to Wyona, I want to buy one of those baskets. Wyona slipped into her merchant mode, grabbed me, and then one of the tour guides who was standing idly by the side of the stream and asked him to find out how much for a basket. There was some price negotiations, and the purchase was finalized. Wyona wore the baskets on her head for a while. They will be my most treasured souvenir. Across a creek, a woman stood on some stairs by a canal, cutting her vegetables for dinner. Another woman, seeing my interest, paused to take the large pot off of her head and show me the fish she had caught, small ones – maybe 50 or so of them. I watched Wyona and Moiya play with the children who walked alongside the group – the boys wanting to know people’s names and where they were from. While other tourists were snapping pictures of houses, or of a woman making medicinal powder from bettle nuts, Wyona was snapping pictures little boys’s faces, and asking them where the little girls were. Did the village only have boys, she asked? I loved seeing the laundry on the lines, ducking under ropes or slipping around a tree to see the cocoanut husks shredded by a woman making rope. Clay pots were being thrown. The wheel was manually operated by another woman who sat cross legged on the ground, making sure it kept moving by rotating it with her hands. Three days and the pot would be dry. No need for a kiln. The weather was perfect. I could hear the birds in the trees. The jungle smells were delicious, new to me – perhaps the reason I missed the fragrance of the flowers I was wearing until I got back home. I have some lovely pictures, which I will post when I get more internet time. The boat is perfect in all ways, except concerning the speed with which I can send pictures up to a blog. Arta

Solstice Buffet

The lunch buffet happened again today.

As Moiya, David, Wyona, Greg and I chatted and ate, Wyona said that she had been off at the Captain’s Club for the morning, trying to book another cruise, this time a back to back one leaving Vancouver, going down the west coast, across to Hawaii, through Polynesia, and over to Australia.

She said, “Arta, don’t you want to come with us.”

“Please, I beg you, don’t make me think about it. I am so full from this buffet that I couldn’t make a rational answer to your question. I am just in no position to think right now.” “Well, hold onto the idea. The cruise doesn’t leave until Sept 25, 2013, and you can cancel 75 days before hand with no penalty.” All of the energy I had was being used in the Grand Epernay Dining room. I didn’t know how to work the buffet. In the end, I spent the first half hour, just walking around it, no plate in hand, taking pictures, just enjoying the visual feast. Then I ate for a while. And when I was full and the other left to go somewhere else, I walked around the buffet for another hour, this time, watching the crowd that came a little later, as they ordered their crepes, or watched while their omelettes were cooked. Since back to back cruises offer the same experiences, at least along the line of food, I have to think about what I saw that was different.

 For one thing, the round of parmesan cheese must have been 18” in diameter and 12” high. When I asked if it was real, or just a decoration, the server said, “Yes, this is the biggest one that I can carry. The others are bigger and have to be rolled.”

 Only two or three inches of the round had been scooped out, and was now holding the cheese that was put on top of the Caesar salad station.

Another highlight for me was the train that ran around the fruit table.

 Can you imagine a huge buffet table covered with fruit, and a small electric train running around its perimeter. “Cute. This is the first time the train has been running.”

“Yes,” said the head waiter back to her. “I got it working for this buffet. What I had to do was call in the electrician and now it works perfectly.”

I took my food from the Middle Eastern selection after admiring the decorations on its table for a long time. I can’t say that I have ever seen a table where the spotlightt was on a 20 pound bag of jasmine rice, and where the lemons and olives that were artfully spread along the perimeter of the table were sprinkled with sumac.

I selected the biryani lamb and some curried chicken.

On writing this, it is hard for me to know why, since the sushi table was exquisite, the shrimp cocktail line up was long, people waiting patiently at the crepe table.

 I was alone, a long table just for me.

The truth is, just about every day I am taking the lamb selection from the menu – the lamb shank, lamb pork chops, lamb curry – the cut changes every day. “How do you know the difference between the mint jelly and the mint sauce,” Moiya asked me.

 I had to tell her that anyone who has been eating lamb for as many days as I have gets to know all of the condiments that go with lamb. We all have our food favorites.

Greg likes the afternoon tea time – which all of us accompanied him to this afternoon. I went to check it out yesterday, after Wyona told me that Greg always slips up to the Ocean View Cafe, where there is a one hour window for tea and snacks.

The honey glazed raisin soda biscuits sit beside the strawberry jam and the whipped cream. Greg is not the only one on the boat who is living up for that sweet.

Others of us like the crust less brown triangle sandwich that is filled with fine slices of ham, mayonnaise and a piece of pineapple. “This is good. Really good,” said Moiya.

I just think it is a miracle that any of us can eat anything after the 10 am buffet. But it is 4 pm and possible to be enticed by one-bite open faced salmon sandwiches and chicken croissants, even if when we finish, dinner is only one hour away.

Dave Wood has been wanting Moiya to take a car trip with him, either up to Alaska, or fly to Australia and drive the roads there.

“If you plan the hotels for the night and the meals during the daytime,” she replies. “And no! A truck with a couple of sleeping bags just won’t do the trick for me.

We are seeing fabulous sites on land, enjoying great entertainment on the boat, eating well ... and best of all, enjoying each other’s company during three meals a day.

 That last point is the best one of the whole cruise.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Moiya Doesn’t Want to Leave Home

Today at lunch Greg said he can’t believe that this ship is going down to Australia, then up through Hawaii and on to Seattle so that it can do the Alaska cruise. Next year. “What ship are we on?” said Moiya. 

“The Solstice,” said Greg. 

“Oh.  I have been on it so long, I think of it as home,” said Moiya.  “And I can tell you, I don’t want to leave home.”

“Write a note to your kids and tell them that – just go on from Singapore to Australia, and on and on, and when you finally die, the ship can just drop your ashes in the sea.”

There is a little bit of that feeling in all of us.

On other matters, I have been going to the dining room every morning to check the lunch time menu.  It is posted on the “My Time Dining” side of the ship.  I have been waiting for a repeat of the Balinese Style Chicken and Beef Satay with Peanut Sauce.  Today I found it on the menu, along with  Papaya with a Hint of Lime cold soup.  “I am doing the cooking and inviting everyone for lunch at the dining room,” I told Greg and Dave at the in-depth 11:00 am lecture on Malaysia. 

Ordering was hard, for we just wanted Marius to bring us sticks of vegetable, beef and chicken sticks of satay, like the ones they serve on the streets of Malaysia.  “Just put them in the middle of the table,” said Wyona.  “This is an all-you-can-eat-buffet, isn’t it,” said Wyona.  To make it easy for the cooks in the kitchen the server wanted to know how many times to order these three dishes to change them from an appetizer size to a main course. 

Another server came by and laughed when he saw us.  “We have been eating this in the crew section of the ship for the last three days,” he said.  “You should have been eating down there with us.  I ate 11 sticks last night,” he said.
“We have been trying to get down to that dining room,  to where you eat, but they keep a line between us.  We have always suspected you are getting better food down there.”

I have a half an hour before I go to Art 101 this afternoon.  The class is causing Moiya a lot of stress – she doesn’t like the mess, or maybe I should call it the freedom that comes with watercolour.

 “I want a face on this body.  Here, just put a dob of red here, and there the face is,” said the teacher.  That just doesn’t work for Moiya or me.  This morning we had another water colour class, and David just brought back a lovely print, a gift from an art lecture he attended. 

“I have never seen water colour classes given on a boat,” said Wyona.

 “We are so many days at sea,” said Greg.  “We are going right around the world on a boat and they have to figure out things for people to do who don’t want to go for $200 massages, or work out on the treadmill all day.  What is popular are the classes they run in the internet lounge.  So many classes there and people are standing shoulder to shoulder to listen in.”

On the point of classes, lectures and shows on the boat, we keep going to the Love and Marriage Game Show which is hard to run on this boat, given the demographics of the people who are sailing.  It is the first time this boat has gone through the Suez and around India and the trip has attracted seasoned cruisers.  This morning at 10 am in the elevator, I caught the scent of the specialty coffees offered to these cruises from 8 am to 10 am.  Their speciality lounge was closed down and they were on their way back to their rooms, carrying their coffees.  These are not the kind of people who join up for the Love and Marriage Game.  One couple said they had been on the game, many years ago, and then the husband piped up, “And since that day, I have been sworn to silence.  I don’t talk at all.”  Either the couples are too smart to go on the show, or they have rehearsed and refined the answers to the questions that could be problematic to their marital happiness once the show is over. And those are the questions that make the rest of us laugh.

We have heard a new question.  What is it that your wife likes to do out of the house?  Between the five of us, we have been making guesses about how others in our group would answer that question.  Dave says he like to fix things.  Greg says he likes to go to lectures. The answer given by most men about their wives is ... my wife likes to shop. 

This is not true in our cases.  “I don’t like to shop,” said Wyona.  “I shop because we have to have groceries, because someone else needs new clothes, because an appliance needs to be replaced.”  Here is my answer as to what I like to do out of the home she continued.  “I like to cruise.  And Greg, what do you mean by saying you like to go to lectures.  Where do you go to them all?  On cruises!  So give it up and just say it.  You like to cruise as well.

Well, way to open up my eyes, though I say to everyone, there is something about saying that phrase that makes me uncomfortable .  Wyona points out that years ago cruising was absolutely out of sight as something a person might do.  But now many people cruise.  “Not my friends,” I countered.  But that really isn’t true.  Still ... the word cruise can be softened by saying I like to travel, a phrase that means the same thing.

David says he likes to fix things.  He hasn’t been doing much of that on the boat.  He wakes early – and nothing really begins before 10 am, except breakfast.  He does go to everything – participates in the ship OlympiX; today he went to a lecture on how the engine room runs, as well as the destination lecture on Port Klang.  As well he goes to the 9 am Bible Study Group – now a person really has to have read every possible thing to do in every hour of the day, to have found that group. 

Yup.  A good question for all of us to answer.  What is it we like to do outside of the home?  Not much question about what we like to do.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Elite Tour

I began cruising not even two years ago when Wyona offered me the chance to go on a budget trip to Russia.  “We have to email before midnight; you have one hour to decide if you want to go or not.”  That was pretty well a no brainer.  A chance to go to Russia.  I didn’t have to think for very long.  Since then, she looks for interesting places to go and I am either the third with Greg and her, or she finds a way to compliment our party of three with other people.  This has happened until I have achieve Elite Status – a word I don’t really like, and a situation that is a little goofy, since the perk is a pre-dinner drink, something that would only make it impossible for me to really eat a good dinner. 

However this cruise is the Captain’s Club Cruise, only one a year, run this year from Dubai to Singapore and so instead of having a small number of people on the boat be elite members, there are 1200 of them.  We have been feted in a royal fashion.  A lovely gift was a tasteful shoulder pack – just right for the number of things you might take on a five hour trip off of the ship.  Last night there were special ear buds in a velvet bag, just made to come out of the top of that shoulder bag.  The queen of the perks was an Elite Tour of the Highlights of Cochin.  Partners of Elite Travellers also have the perks – so Moiya and David sport a bag over their shoulders as well as we boarded the bus yesterday for the tour. 

We visited the Church of St Francis were Vasco da Gamma was buried, the oldest European constructed church in all of Indian (1503).  We took pictures of the Chinese Fishing Nets, a picturesque area, made for tourists, since the water no longer gives up the fish as it used to for these nets that drap over the bay.  We admired the murals in the Mattancheri Palace – which was a gift for the Raja of Cochin, and later rebuilt by the Dutch.  Now the mansion is sometimes called the Dutch Palace.  “The outside doesn’t look like a palace,” said the guide, “but you don’t want to miss the murals on the inside if you can possibly walk up the stairs. Original colours and the murals tell the mythological stories of Cochin.” 

Each guide boasts that this area has religious tolerance – 40% Muslims, 30 % Hindi, 30 % Christians, and a smattering of Jews – 10 of them in a population of 1.2 million people.  Soon the synagogue will be come a museum, for as things stand now, there are not enough males among them to merit having a rabbi for the congregation.

Our afternoon tour was too late for David and excited me to step on Indian soil, so after we stood in the Visa line-up for a face to face processing of papers to get us off  the boat, we headed down the gang-plan, following others around 2 story high piles of scrap metal and past the visa check-point.  That is where the tuk-tuks were lined up, offering their services.  Ten dollars would take us six miles into town.  One block later, the price was five dollars to get us to the shopping district.  By the third block, the price was two dollars.  “Come, on, mama, you can’t walk that far.  I take you.  Good price.”  David and I walked along, deep in conversation and the tuk-tuk driver beside David ran along saying, “I can take you.  Very cheap price.  I have an Indian farari; I show you any place you want to go for $10.”

“No, I am talking to her,” David said, looking at the driver, but pointing at me.  At this point the tuk-tuk driver ran behind David, came up on the right side of me, hen in front of me, saying, “Please, you don’t talk to him anymore.  I need to talk to him.  He talks to me. Not you..”  Then he ran back to David’s side and said, “I talk to you now.  I was laughing so hard inside.  We walked on.  David and I agreed that the morning hour and a half stroll through the streets adjacent to the dock was where we got a taste of India that other travellers will have missed.  We walked by women sweeping the streets with straw brooms, past the local bus shelters, felt the soft dirt under our feet in the ditches, hopped over broken pieces of cement on the side walks, and kept turning down the occasional tuk-tuk driver who would dart across the road to say, mostly to me, “Mama, you are too tired.  I take you where you want to go.  Free.”

Yes, David and I had fun.