Sunday, December 16, 2012


When I came in from the AIDA, HD Live from the Met this afternoon, I went upstairs, threw my coat and plain black scarf on the table and did a few dishes. While I was finishing them up, Matiram Pun walked through the door to go to work, touched the scarf, then picked up it, turned to me and said, “Pashmina.” I took my hands out of the soapy dishwater and said, “Although I wore that to the opera, I haven’t told Kelvin that I bought it. It cost too much, was a guilty pleasure and now I was exposed. Come downstairs and have a supper of left-overs with us and tell me how you can tell pashminas from a distance.”

He declined saying he was on his way to the lab and went to say good-bye to Kelvin, who also invited him to join us. It was then that Mati took off his coat and sat down, the three of us enjoying the bounties that are left when turkey is served the day before.

We sat around a small table; I put some salt shakers in front of him, saying that the two pieces in front of him, I have had for 50 years, small crystal ones with mother of pearl tops, the silver rims of them now a blackened colour. “In those days it was popular to have a small set of salt and pepper shakers beside each plate,” I explained. “Now I only have 3 singles left.”

“I rarely eat salt without thinking how precious it was to us in the village,” he replied. “If my mother needed salt and had to borrow it, it was one item she always returned. So precious in our landlocked area and so rare to have when I was growing up. Here you throw salt on the road to control the ice. In my culture it is wrong to waste even a pinch of salt,” he said, holding what seemed to be only a few grains between two fingers. “Oh, not so much now, but that belief is still deep in us.”

“I was working beside a researcher lately,” he continued, “and he wanted to know how someone from a small Himalayan village moved from there to being a researcher about high mountain medicine in Calgary.”

And so more stories from Mati unfolded as we ate, partly because I wanted to know, not what he is a researcher, but how he was an expert on pashmina scarves pashmina scarves. He explained that he would watch the scarves foreign women were wearing and he could tell something about the women from them – the scarves on women who would come to Nepal on aid missions, the scarves on women who had travelled the world -- they would have on ones with script or slogans from their culture, the scarves on women who were experienced travellers who might have on silk or pashmina, a scarf woven in his culture.

And then he told us all about red blood cells, how they have no nuclei, and how that transfers to the difference between the llamas of South America and the goats from whom the hair of the pashmina wool is taken.

I was thinking as we shared out leftovers and talked, that many but not all of the holy moments are experienced in church. Some are about salt.  And now the next time you see me, see if you can spot the pashmina. As well, I have a faulty link to the published Matiram Interview I posted a few weeks ago. If this one doesn’t work, please tell me.



  1. I told Mati he was a wonderful teacher. He brushed aside the compliment. But I do think he said how he loved teaching little ones in a previous season of his life. I could relate to that twinkle in his eye. Today I had some very wonderful belly laughs as I worked teaching little one's myself.

  2. The link worked. I enjoyed reading the interview. Thank you.

    I liked Mati's advice. If you don't like your profession, do something else. I do like the challenge of connecting with children every day. It's a great part of my job. I also like reading over a well written report (by a colleage or even by myself - LOL).

  3. At a christmas party this week one of my colleagues told us him mom had just been to nepal or pakistan and has bought a real pashmina. He couldn't believe how much it cost until him mom explained that all the hair to weave it comes from just the chin of the goat and it might take 2 years to make one. He was floored.

    I have shared with him Mati's scientific take on the difference between lamas and the goats of nepal. I love to be the person who appears to know everything. Keep collecting and sharing all the worldly wisdom you can Arta. And thanks to Mati.

  4. Hi Mary,

    Thanks for your comment. I was telling Bonnie last night that I don't think I made it clear why Mati was telling me about the red blood cells. Did you get from the post, that the red blood cells of the goats from whom the pashmina scarves are woven, do have nuclei, as opposed to those in most other mammals who don't. Just another bit of fun trivia.