MmmMumbai

There are cities people talk about as if they have a soul – New York, New Orleans, Paris, Budapest – collections of stone and steel that set the heart to yearning when distanced for too long.

Dirty, crowded, crime-ridden, expensive – those who have bonded with the stone and the steel love the metrapole morning breath and all. They love it not just because it is home and all the folks of home live there, but because the city itself is a member of the family.

Mumbai, I think, is one of those cities.

A few years ago I read Gregory David Roberts’s novel Shantaram and my interest in Mumbai was piqued. Now I’m reading Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games and I have a full-blown crush on Mumbai. In both novels, the city is as much a character as any of the people in the thousand pages of narrative.

Shantaram idealized the city and people, yet showed both warts and all. Sacred Games has a much less heavy hand. Roberts’s is trying to seduce us with Mumbai; Chandra is coy.  Still, both portray Mumbai as the raandi with the heart of gold.

Over the years, I’ve fallen deeply in love with places because of a book; places I’d never seen. Early on it was Cornwall and London; later St. Petersburg and Geneva. With those great cities, I fell in love with them as they were a century or two ago. This Mumbai  affair is for the Mumbai of now.

Of the cities I’ve mentioned, I did get to see London, but my time there was too short and the opportunities to explore too limited. I left astounded that I liked the modern city and not just the ancient one that lived in my head. I didn’t fall in love with New York until after I’d visited, but now I can read novels set in the city and they’re richer, fuller. 

I have a yearning to visit Mumbai – a city that will make my heart simultaneously soar and break.  I can’t foresee the when or the how of Mumbai and I meeting, but I can daydream in the vivid colors, scents and textures that are India in general, and Mumbai in particular.

Well, Ain’t This Just a Fine Mess

Bear with me, folks. 

I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I am not happy with my blog layout and design.  It seems like everybody I know is re-doing their blog which got me to looking critically at mine.  One thing led to another and I started fooling around with some new templates.  Did some housecleaning.  Zapped some widgets.  Flirted with a footer.  I can’t predict what the blog will look like when you read this and it may look different if you decide to re-read it.

With any luck, I’ll be done with this peer-pressure foolishness and leave well enough alone.  I’ve identified what I want in a template and, for the moment, a wordpress hosted blog doesn’t offer one that makes me happy.

Just call me a malcontent.

The photo is of the Queen Anne’s Lace outside the fence.  QAL has always been one of my favorite wildflowers and this is proving to be one really good year for the wild carrot.  They’re tall, they’re beautiful, and they’re sturdy. 

Between fooling with templates and custom backgrounds, I looked up the legend of the plant’s common name.  Boy, was I wrong.  I had the wrong Anne and thus the wrong King which made my surmising the reason for the “drop of blood” in the center all wrong.  All wrong.  As wrong as the templates I keep test driving.

Cold Tub

Sun Worshipping, Yet Vigilant Willy

In 2002, The Ex and I bought a hot tub, er. . . I mean spa. We had always wanted one, but after we installed the fence to corral puppies, the perfect alcove was created. It would have been a crime not to put a hot tub spa in that spot.

One of The Ex’s most annoying and most redeeming qualities was that he shopped things to death. Except for one notorious car deal, I don’t think we ever paid one cent more than rock bottom on any major purchase. He was legendary in his wrangling which was not limited to just the major purchases. The guys at Firestone still talk about him and his fist full of coupons and competitors’ advertisements. He felt a failure if he paid more than $10 for an oil change.

We schlepped all over three states and the entire internet looking at hot tubs spas. In the course of comparison shopping, we were informed that the cool kids refer to them not as hot tubs but spas. Hot tubs are large vats of hot water. Spas are mini-vacation experiences that involve jets. The number of jets determines how much you get to swagger at the convention of Cool Kids with Spas.

I was pretty sure that standing around in showrooms peering at molded acrylic wasn’t the best way to determine the suitability of any one hot tub spa. I got in them and sat down. Sometimes they had water in them, sometimes not. Through trial error we determined the features we were willing to pay for and the ones we wouldn’t tolerate at any price. We then narrowed brands. Then price. Then swagger.

Finally, we ordered the damn thing. Finally, it arrived.

During the shopping phase, I was quick to say that it was primarily for The Ex. He had always wanted one. When we went on vacation, he gravitated to the nearest hot tub spa and soaked for hours at a time. Hot tubs Spas contented him in a way I never did.

I liked them well enough, but after twenty minutes or so I’d had enough.

Well. We got one. Here. At the house. Bathing suits optional. Privacy guaranteed. Open at any time of the day.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

The spa boasts 57 (I think) jets. I fell in love with each and every one of them, but particularly the configuration of five that massage my back in just the right spots. My back that had ached for 20 years, ached much less. My stress levels plummeted. It was all good if pruney-skinned.

Even in winter, particularly in winter, I loved to sink inch, by inch, into the hot, steamy, bubbling water. As long as it was warmer than -10F, it wasn’t too cold to dash naked from the family room to the spa.

The biggest pain was lifting the cover. It was a good sized and, particularly with an inch or two of snow sitting on the cover, getting the cover off could be challenging.

We invested in a lifter – a metal contraption that works on the principle of torque. With one hand, I could rock the cover open or closed. It was better than all good.

I started most days and finished nearly every day with a good soak. I particularly loved morning coffee. That little alcove just the perfect size gets morning sun. After dark, I would turn the underwater light on and sip wine while pretending to be one of the idle rich I was genetically predestined to be but which, through a cruel twist of fate, was not.

During the cool days of spring and fall, Willy and I discovered that sitting on the cover was the perfect solution to wanting to be outside but it being too cold to be outside. The cover absorbed and retained heat from the water beneath and the sun above – the top was 10F warmer than any other place outside. He and I clocked a lot of hours sprawled on the cover.

When the heat of summer hit, I would turn the temp down to lukewarm. Mid-day soaks were still out of the question, but mornings and nights were wondrous.

Vapor barrier, styrofoam and the sweat of my brow.

The cover, and the spa, are now nearly 8 years old. Last year, the cover began disintegrating. The vapor barrier split and peeled. Covers, I learned, are nothing more than steel reinforced Styrofoam. The foam waterlogged. Slowly, as the wet summer of 2009 dragged on, it became more and more difficult and finally impossible to lift the cover.

I kept hoping that if it would quit raining long enough, the cover would dry out and I could Mickey Mouse a temporary vapor barrier that would last me until I could get the money together for a new cover. Styrofoam is more costly than I would have thought possible. Nothing doing. Once the thing waterlogged there was no drying it out.

This weekend, my brain fried by the heat, I decided to wrassle that cover off and at least use the spa as a miniature swimming pool. I figured I’d have to use a boat load of chemicals to keep the algae at bay and still have to drain it regularly, but it seemed like a good idea. There would be no jets and no nifty underwater light as there’s no way to operate the thing without the heater running. I’m not about to pay Appalachian Power to heat the already too hot great outdoors. Stupid design.

Stupid Thing

Wrassling the cover doesn’t begin to describe it. Two 8x4x3” panels of high-density, waterlogged foam hinged together and wrapped in a tasteful brown vinyl nestled in a perfect little alcove are a bitch.

The hacksaw was useless and I figured I didn’t need to be poised over 3 feet of bacterial infested water with power tools. It came down to me, a bread knife, and a pair of pinking shears.

It was ugly. After nearly concussing myself, coming close to stabbing my thigh and almost lopping off a finger, I managed to get one of the panels off the spa and into the yard WHERE IT WOULD NOT BUDGE.

I pushed. I pulled. I prayed.

All this in 95F with 90% humidity.

I had a tantrum and kicked the damn thing. Evidently, I kicked it in just the right spot and the foam cracked like the shell of a hardboiled egg.

The second panel was a lot easier.

After all that, it took the rest of the day to get the spa to cycle completely through the start-up phase of pump priming and whatnot. I was fixin’ to have another tantrum when the pump finally started to pump, the jets began to bubble and the digital readout informed me the 9 month-old water was 76F.

I drained that puppy and cleaned it between attacks of heat stroke. Had I not been able to get it to start up, I was going to take a sledgehammer to the thing, haul it out in pieces and install a $10 kiddie pool from the K-Mart. But it did start and Plan A is being executed.

Oh, Lord, it's cold...mmmmmm

Today, I am finally filling it. In an hour or so, I expect to slip inch by inch into icy water as the sun slips over the hillside and the solar lights begin to flicker on. While it’s possible I’ll opt for a glass of wine, it’s probably a surer bet I’ll be nursing a mug of hot coffee. One of the more gruesome aspects of this heat wave is that my caffeine levels are well below normal.

The cold tub spa will soon be open and I am thankful for small mercies.

Redemption

Faulkner could have written a short story about this heat – the heat and the spiders and the beer going down like a gulf sunset at 78 degrees past midnight – the t-shirt plastered to my back and the mosquito bites rimming my ankles.

What Faulkner would have done with my character is something to ponder. Maybe I’m more of a Tennessee Williams kind of chick.

Either way, I’m a careworn woman living alone in an old ramshackle house where the heat intensifies my age, coloring it with angry reds and slashes of orange. The arrival of midnight mutes those colors, moonlight softening to pink and tangerine, taking out the hard edges. I might be beautiful in this light.

The house is cooling down and this beer tastes like sweet relief.

The big white floor fan is just behind me. The sweat is drying, gritty and tight. My hair is damp and there’s a blister on my finger from scrubbing the lawn furniture – trying to keep the mildew at bay.

I succumbed and turned the dryer on for want of sweet towels. With the beer, the fan and 78 degrees past midnight, I think I can bear the heat of the dryer.

I can smell the bleach I used in the house to battle the debris of a dirt road, the mold of a wet summer, and the joy of three small dogs.

The beer and the fan are deep pleasures..

The youngest of the old dogs is licking my arm. I lick to taste what she tastes. I’m salty from the heat and work of the day. A tepid shower and straightforward soap will strip my skin of the salt and the dirt and the honesty of a day spent in yard work, housework. Will sluice the worries of a ramshackle house and the cares of a woman who might have been a character in the story of an old, southern writer.

It’s 78 degrees past midnight and this beer tastes like redemption.