Sunday, November 13, 2005

A field trip

Countries do not summarize well. If you don't believe me, try explaining yours to anyone who does not normally share your continent. Go ahead. Take a day or two, if you'd like. Answer as honestly as you can, keeping in mind that your guest has little or no background in your history or culture, and that whatever you say is probably going to form the basis of his/her understanding of your culture for some time to come.

Just a sampling of the questions I attempted to answer today:

  • What is the difference between rock and jazz?
  • What do people do in a church?
  • What, exactly, is dating, and why do people do it?
  • Is it true that everybody here (insert any everyday activity you take for granted) and that everybody thinks that's okay?
  • What are Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween for?

I learned late Friday afternoon that one of the contractors in the office where I work will be here for only one more week before returning to his native India. His contracting firm has been putting him up in a long-term stay hotel (a studio apartment with a bed, chair, bathroom, and tiny kitchenette). This will be his last weekend in California. In the few months he has been here, he managed to get out once to see the Golden Gate Bridge. The other dozen or so weekends he spent working or staring at the inside of a hotel room, because he has no transportation here.

I have only worked in this group a couple of weeks, myself, so I barely knew the guy before today, but I picked him up at his hotel this morning and spent most of the day sampling a few of the things to see in this part of California. I toured the Winchester House earlier this year, so I waited outside while he took the tour, but there is no place else quite like that in the world, certainly! We looked around at the nearby Mission Santa Clara, on the Santa Clara University campus. The De Saisset museum there, which we visited briefly, had an exhibit of photography of Nazi concentration camps and their survivors, taken in the present day. Add to the list of questions above, then, to explain those to someone who didn't get that part of history in class!

For lunch, I took him to a small, vegetarian Indian restaurant nearby. I worried about that choice a little, because the one time I tried eating there, the food was much too spicy for me. It turned out to be a good choice. It gave him a chance to be the expert for awhile, identifying foods mild enough for me and spicy enough for him. (He picked at the food in an Italian restaurant a couple of weeks ago when a group from work went out, because he found it tasteless, at least before applying a very generous sprinkling of the red pepper flakes.) He also explained a painting on the wall to me, a scene of Krishna and his nephew riding into battle at the end of a war.

Had you asked me before today, I would not have guessed that yogurt and flatbread would make a good lunch, but with the spicy pickled something-or-other and the goodies in the bread, it was surprisingly satisfying and tasty. The mango drink was definitely the highlight of the meal, though.

After lunch, we drove into the hills above Los Gatos and Saratoga. I don't think there are natural spaces like that in India, at least not anywhere close to his part of it. I had intended a short drive and a short walk, but I missed a turn somewhere, so it turned into simply a long, scenic drive. Many of the trees in those hills are evergreen or hadn't yet turned their fall colors, but a few glowed in bright yellow and orange contrast and sprinkled glittering leaves across our path. The forested hills took on a magical quality in the fading light of a November afternoon, and I'm glad we saw some of them.

At the very end of the day, scanning the radio in an attempt to find an example of jazz, we instead found a song in Hindi, something I wouldn't have identified on my own. He speaks five languages (I hadn't even thought to ask!): Tamil, Hindi, English, Kannada, and one other I didn't catch. He thinks he'd like to learn French next.

I hope he enjoyed his day out as much as I did.


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