Archivi tag: journey

Ganpati Bappa

ganesh on varanasi walls

One day Goddess Parvati was at home preparing for a bath. As she didn’t want to be disturbed, she told Nandi, her husband Shiva’s Bull, to guard the door and let no one pass. When Shiva came home and wanted to come inside, Nandi was guarding the door, but he let him enter, because he was loyal first to Shiva. Parvati got really angry because of that and even more when she realized that she had no one as loyal to herself as Nandi was to Shiva. So she decided to create a son that would be loyal to herself. She took the turmeric paste from her body and breathing life into it, she created Ganesh.

The next time Parvati took a bath, she posted Ganesh on guard duty at the door. When Shiva came home, he find this strange boy telling him he couldn’t enter his own house. Shiva got furiuos and ordered his army to destroy the boy, but they couldn’t cause he was Parvati’s son and had this power.

This surprised Shiva. He decided he had to fight him and during the fight he severed Ganesh’s head, killing him instantly. When Parvati got to know what happened, she was so enraged and insulted that she decided to destroy the entire Creation. Lord Brahma intervened. He was the Creator and he didn’t want that could happen. He pleaded her to reconsider her drastic plan. She said she would, but only under two conditions: one, that Ganesh be brought back to life, and two, that he be forever worshipped before all the other gods.

Shiva agreed to Parvati’s conditions. He sent Brahma out with orders to bring back the head of the first creature he crosses with its head facing North. Brahma soon returned with the head of a strong and powerful elephant, which Shiva placed onto Ganesha’s body. Breathing new life into him, he declared Ganesha to be his own son as well, and gave him the status of being foremost among the gods, and leader of all the ganas (classes of beings), Ganpati.

Ganpati Bappa Moriya Pudhchya Varshi Lavkar yaa.
Oh Ganpati My Lord, return soon next year. 

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My passage to India

The recipes of this post are garam masala and tamarind paste.

My first encounter with India was not the best.

Around midday, forty-eight hours after I left the Italian grounds, I arrived in Pune. And the problems soon started.

Travel is nothing but an inconvenience. There is always enough trouble where you are.

Charles Bukowski

To be honest, I’ve already met India the night before. It was late at night when I landed in Bangalore. The dazzling lights of the airport and the continuous comings and goings of people burdened by luggage made me think of being in a parallel universe, where day and night get confused. Appealed by the opportunity I had to finally have a look to this subcontinent and encouraged by the tobacco dependence, I set out for the sliding doors. The Indian airports are monitored beyond measure. None can enter without a flight ticket, or a visitor permit. Outside the doors there are barriers to divide the travellers from the rest of the world. Since that moment, I haven’t crossed the continent, except for a short visit in Morocco, and I had no idea about what I was getting into. I was out. A soldier, long in the tooth and a bit too slim, with a tommy gun in his hands, immediately blocked me. Now I think he sensed my hesitation. Do you know that if you go out, you can’t go back? I was doubtful. I have a plane tomorrow morning…I just wanted to smoke a cigarette. You can’t here. You have to go there. I looked around. There was nothing. The was nothing but me and him. At around 7 feet from us a bunch of possessed people flocked together around the barriers. I though if it was the case to leave the safety of silence and order to get into that din. Probably. I sacrificed my shelter e I steeped in the chaos. Rickshaw! Taxi! Where do you have to go? Give me your bags! Come with me! Come! Come! I was literally crushed by those words, I couldn’t possible understand. What did they want from me. I just want to smoke a cigarette. I gave up. Before I had time to light one up, I was already inside the airport. I was sure I was not going out any more.

I still had several hours to spend inside the airport. And if I was not brave enough to face the Indian crowd, I could try to explore the Indian cuisine. I sat in a café and I looked inside the window. There was nothing tempting and nothing really particular. But the smell was quite strange.

Vacuously exotic, unpredictably nauseating. The day after, walking through the street of Pune, I could still smell that aroma. The smell of food and incense, but also the smell of garbage and smog. The smell of temples and rituals. The smell of tradition. Of turmeric and cinnamon. Of chicken tikka masala and masala chai. Of lotus and fresh coconut milk. Of cherry pan and red chewed betel. Of burned garbage. Of urine. Of sickness. An astonishing mix, that when I left India, I hoped to have conserved under my skin.

Garam Masala

Ingredients

  • 200gr cumin seeds
  • 75 gr coriander seeds
  • 45 gr black cardamom bean
  • 45 gr black pepper in grains.
  • 40 gr green cardamom bean
  • 40 gr ground ginger

Put all the ingredients in a clean coffee grinder or other spice grinder and grind as finely as possible. Store in a tightly lidded jar, away from heat and sunlight and use as needed.

When I reached Pune it was almost noon. This time I felt safer going out from the airport. I knew there was a car the hotel sent that was waiting for me. I waited. But none stopped to pick me up.

I came close to the swarm of rickshaw that were just waiting to worm some money out of me. I showed those men my hotel address. They all had an indifferent expression on their face. They all wore white or brown open shirts and slippers. Barefoot sometimes. Apparently dirty. Any India’s travel guide will inform you to be wary of rickshaw drivers. And for all the time I spent there, just few of them where honest with me. To take a rickshaw is probably the most exhausting experience you could have in India. Their capacity in the rip-off and their constant deny of the obvious has to be admired. A continuous cascade of excuses. The meter that is not working. The false tables that to every km associates thirty rupees more. And the most odious one, when they don’t want to take you in some place, because of an indeterminable reason. But also between them there was a glimmer of light. Every morning I used to take the same rickshaw to go to university. A wise old man, with a warm and comforting smile everyday was waiting in his rickshaw reading the daily newspaper. He didn’t speak english. I didn’t speak hindi. We didn’t talk. We greeted each other with a smile. He had never asked me for a rupee more than he should.

Tamarind Paste
Ingredients:

  •  50gr tamarind

Infuse the tamarind with 4 tablespoons of water for 30 minutes. Filter to eliminate the impurity. Use tamarind to flavour meat and vegetable curries, chutneys and dhals.

I looked into the prices. As soon that I heard that it was less than the one the hotel asked me, I got into the rickshaw and left the airport. Inside this Indian version of Ape, that someone called ‘a sort of yellow cubicle hitched up to a moped’ I could have a look of what I didn’t expect. Broken streets, people sleeping on pavements, women washing clothes in the river, men cleaning themselves in the river, minute and dirty children begging holding younger and dirtier children in their arms, stray dogs, garbage everywhere. I felt like a stranger in those places, but I also felt the need to know it better. After all, it could not just be that.

The recipes of this post are garam masala and tamarind paste.

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Prastāvanā

This book, more than an insomnia, is a journey. The insomnia belongs to the one who wrote the book, the journey to the one that made it. Nevertheless, since it also happens to me to walk through the same places the main character walked through, I found an opportunity to provide a short index of those.
I’m not sure if I’m doing this for the illusion that this topographic catalogue, with the power of reality, could give light to this Nocture, in which i’m looking for a Shadow; or for the unreasonable lust that one day some lovers of incongruous paths could use it as a guide.
Antonio Tabucchi, Indian Nocture.

Along this line my journey to India begins.
Ten months of unbearable and flavourful life, marked by the traffic noises and the mantra sounds. A life immersed into the dioxin’s odour and masala’s scent. A continuous struggle between the external heat and the interior wintery. Totally wet at the beginning, totally dry at the end. I was certainly not ready for this life. I suffered. I faced it. And now, I remember it fondness. I regret it sometimes.
What I’m going to say is not what I really lived, or to be precise, how I really lived. In my memories those experiences became softer and milder. Now the calm impregnates my mind. The tranquillity to know that everything is now just the past. And is about this past that I want to talk about.
The ‘short index’ of places I have walked through (with the same A.T.’s desire, that ‘one day some lovers of incongruous paths could use it as a guide’):

  • Parichay Hotel, 1199/1A, FC Road, Pune, Maharastra
  • Duplex 14, Four Wings Society, Sindh Society, Aundh, Pune, Maharastra
  • Mariam’s House, Sirur Park Road, Seshadripuram, Bangalore, Karnataka
  • SRE Travels (Ananth Group) bus Bangalore-Hampi 8h45m
  • Ahmedabad Ac Ex Train from Gadag to Pune, 10h55m
  • Sea Shore Hotel, 4th fl, Kamal Mansion, Arthur Bunder Rd; Mumbai, Maharastra
  • Mumbai CST-Chennai Mail/11027Train from Pune to Chennai, 24h40m
  • Hotel Kurinchi, Nungambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
  • New Guest House, 64 Romain Rolland St, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu
  • Mano Residency, 16 P.K. Salai, near New Bus Stand, Karaikal, Tamil Nadu
  • Janne and Haha’s House, 632, HIG Anna Nagar, , 80 Feet Road, , Madurai, Tamil Nadu
  • Hotel Tri Sea, Kovalam Rd, Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu
  • Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyar Dam P.O., Thiruvananthapuram Dist (Trivandrum), Kerala
  • Jicky’s Room, Near Helipad, Kurakkanni, Varkala, Kerala
  • Rose Wood Residency, H. No. 2 / 534, Poovath Abdul Kader Road, Near Gov. Hospital, Fort Kochin. Kerala
  • Hotel Ess Gee’s 12 / 9, East Patel Nagar, Nuova Delhi
  • Hotel Eritage, District Jhunjhunu (Shekhawati), Mandawa, Rajasthan
  • Hotel Bhairon Vilas, Next to Junagarh Fort, Bikaner, Rajasthan
  • Desert Moon, Near Sunset Point, Achalvansi Colony, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
  • Devi Bhawan, Ratanada Circle, Defence Laboratory Road, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
  • Atithi Guest House, 1 Park House Scheme Opp All India Radio, M.I Road, Jaipur, Rajasthan
  • Hotel Sheena, Eastern Gate Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
  • Povi’s Huts, Colamb bay, south end of Palolem Beach, Goa
  • Hotel Taj Plaza, Near Hotel Amar Vilas, Shilp Gram VIP Road, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
  • Hotel Pradeet, C 27/153, Jagatganj, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
  • Nangaldam Kolkata Gurumukhi Express/12326Train from Varanasi to Kolkata, 14h
  • Hotel Circular, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Rd, Kolkata, West Bengal
  • Hotel Marine View, behind Marine Hall,near Phonix Bay jetty,Port Blair, South Andaman Island
  • Cross Bill Beach Resort , Havelock No. 3, Havelock Island, Andaman Island
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Persian sounds nicer and friendlier

Persian sounds nicer and friendlier

Iranian is slow, Iranians don’t even say we’re Iranians, we say we’re Persian.
You know, it’s sounds nicer and friendlier. We even smile.
When we say we’re Persian we smile. I’m Persian.
I am not dangerous, I’m Persian. Like the cat, meow.
Maz Jobrani, Iranian-American comedian.

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I <3 Tehran – part 2 –

The recipe of this post is khoresht-e ghormeh sabzi.
The pics are here.

A good reason to wake up in the morning in Tehran, Breakfast.

I’m not a big lover of breakfast. Or at least the breakfast we have here. I’ve always preferred a slice of bread with olive oil and coffee than the usual biscuits and milk. The Persian breakfast completely reflects my taste.

Not so grand as the English one, not so sweetish as the French one, the Iranian breakfast tells in its delicate simplicity the perfect balance of flavour.

After waking up, we used to sit around the counter top that divided the living room from the kitchen.

Sob bekheyr azizam.
Azizami, sob bekheyr. Khubi?
Man khubam, merci. Khubi?
Kheyli khubam, merci.
Chay mikhai?
Bale, merci

Every morning I could brush up on my poor Farsi. How are you, dear? Fine, thanks my dears. And you? Really good. Do you want some tea? Yes, thanks. Hamed’s mother gave us a steamy cup of tea to drink while eating everything that was already on the table: panir, the french feta, more creamy and less salty than the greek one, honey, walnuts, marmalade and bread, usually lavash, sometimes sangak.

I love Persian bread.

Sangak and Lavash

Sangak is a plain, rectangular, or triangular Iranian whole wheat sour dough flatbread. It is considered to be Iran’s national bread. Its name consists of two parts: ‘Sang’ in Persian means stone or pebble and ‘sangak’ means little stone. There are, normally, two varieties of this bread offered at Iranian bakeries: the generic one which has no toppings and the more expensive variety which is topped with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
Lavash is a soft, thin flatbread. Traditionally the dough is rolled out flat and slapped against the hot walls of a clay oven. While quite flexible when fresh, lavash dries out quickly and becomes brittle and hard. The soft form is easier to use when making wrap sandwiches.

The ritual was always the same: take a piece of lavash, put on a bit of cheese, nuts and some honey, wrap it. Never put sugar in the glass of tea, but always in the mouth. A sugar cube at a time, paying attention to not let it melt at first. A sugar cube should be enough for a whole cup of tea. I couldn’t do it.

Talking about food I remember that night when Pooya invited us to have dinner at his place. His mother, a tiny woman with cute eyes, cooked all the possible Persian food. It was like ending up in a paradise for lovers of food. I’m going to try to remember everything, but it’s difficult : Khoresht-e fesenjān, a poultry stew with pomegranate juice and nuts; mirza-qasemi, a mix of roasted aubergines with garlic, tomatoes, turmeric, oil, butter, salt and pepper, with an egg on the top if you like it that way; koofteh berenji, huge meat balls with green peas similar to the greek kufta; tachin, a rice pie with jogurt, saffron and chicken; ghormeh sabzi, a lamb stew with herbs, amongst them parsley, coriander, leek, spinach and fenugreek. Obliviously not wine or beer to drink, but coke and a flavoured non alcoholic beer. My favourites were lemon and peach flavour.

Beside the incredible food, that night I could also get a life story from this family. Pooya’s father told me about his life. First an engineer in Iran and than a taxi-driver after the Revolution. Pooya is not a muslim. Neither is his father. His mother is Muslim. I was not used to seeing women with scarfs inside the house. They are not Muslim in Hamed’s house. Pooya’s mother always covered his head when another man was there.

I told them about a movie I watched, Persepolis. I noticed a bit of bitterness in the air. Pooya told me the story of his uncle, he fought for the war, he was not Muslim. He had his own ideas. After the revolution, when the Islamic Republic began he was sentenced to death. It was a story similar to the one you could see in Persepolis.

Khoresht-E Ghormeh Sabzi

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans
  • 1 handful fresh fenugreek leaves or 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 3 small bunch coriander
  • 2 bunches spring onions
  • 1 handful dill
  • 2 bunches chives or 2 bunches of shallot greens
  • 360 g diced lamb
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large dried lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 lemons, juice of
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Wash fresh herbs. Chop finely and remove stalks/roots. Fry the herbs (sprinkling in the dried fenugreek if using) in the olive oil, turning constantly, adding more oil when necessary until the herbs begin to darken (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside. Fry chopped onion in pan until soft. Add meat until they get brown. Stir in the herbs. Add the beans and enough water to cover. Put lid on pan and simmer gently for forty five minutes. Slice the dried lemon into quarters and add to stew. Simmer gently for forty five minutes. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

The recipe of this post is khoresht-e ghormeh sabzi.
The pics are here.

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I’m more beautiful like this

Senzanome

At the Golestam Palace there was a sort of exhibition about the nomad popolations in Iran. In Iran there are a milion and a half nomad gruops, always looking for green grazing. I remember a little girl wearing a traditional dress. I took a picture of her. She told me something in Farsi and she ran away. After a while she came back ready for taking another picture. “I went to take the scarf, I’m more beautiful like this” Hamed translated me.

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I <3 Tehran -part 1-

The recipes of this post are koobideh kabab and lavashak.

Let’s get back to what I was talking about.

It has been difficult to choose a journey to which I could start the blog. I choose one of my last. The one that remains more in my heart.

The journey began in may 2011. In that year I myself was in India, for an exchange program with the university. During my stay in India, Pune to be exact, I met a guy, Hamed. We’ve been together since the beginning. We probably knew this story couldn’t last forever, but it didn’t matter at the time. For the time I was in India, we were always together.

Hamed is Iranian. He was already studying in Pune before I got there. Going out with him, I met a lot of his friends. They were Iranian too. Thanks to him I could come closer to a culture I didn’t have an idea existed. I will always be grateful.

Charmed by him and his story I decided I had to stop in his country before going back to Italy. It has been the wisest decision I’ve ever made.

Therefore, in May 2011 I embarked on an Emirates flight from Mumbai to Tehran, with a stop in Dubai. As soon as I landed, a new beautiful experience began.

To be honest, I could smell a different atmosphere as soon as I got into the airplane. I think I was probably one of the few non-Iranians inside this plane and I felt everyone was looking to go home. The people sitting next to me were the first to ask me with curiosity why I was going to Iran. After them, several others asked me the same question. We’re not use to having a lot of tourists. They were kind of upset. But you’ll do fine in Iran. We’re really welcoming. We like to show our land and whatever we have to offer to our guests. During my stay I can say that it was exactly like that. With regret this time, they explained some rules that I had to follow. Remember you have to wear the scarf. Unfortunately here it works like this.

The pilot announced we were almost ready to land. A general confusion started. All the women without a scarf on their head, probably all of the female passengers, began to cover them selfs. They didn’t seem upset to me, but used to the inconsistency of their gesture. I remember a woman wearing a top and a skirt. She tried to cover as much she could with the blankets the plane company provided us with. She laughed with her friends, like they were saying ‘what an absurdity’.

In the airport Hamed and his sister were waiting for me with a beautiful bouquet. She didn’t speak English, but I could feel she was really happy and kind and we tried to communicate as well as we could. Hamed helped us by translating.

We got into the car and drove towards home. I noticed an industrialized landscape. Huge streets. Several cars moving in an ordered line. I didn’t expect that.

When we entered into the house I got a hearty welcome. Hamed’s mother hugged me and started to tell me so many sentences in Persian I couldn’t possibly understand. Only azizami was clear to me. My dear. We ate some fruit and smoked shisha. I felt at home.

In the evening we had dinner with our friend Pooya. A small empty room with white plastic tables and chairs. A delicious koobideh kabab. It was not the first time I had one. In India it was quite common, but my first koobideh in Iran was not comparable.

Koobideh Kabab

To prepare koobideh, one uses minced lamb or beef, mince the meat twice for a better consistency (the kabab will feel like a hamburger if you mince it just once). Add salt, garlic powder, black pepper, celery powder, sumac, very finely grated onion (the extra juice can be squeezed out and saved for later application) and one egg yolk per pound of meat. Mix all ingredients, cover, and let it marinate in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight…
Grill on skewers over hot coal. Serve on Polo (Persian Rice Pilaf with oil, salt and saffron) or Adas Polo (same rice pilaf with lentils), accompanied by grilled tomatoes and onions cooked on the grill next to the kabab. Sumac is usually served as a tableside garnishing spice.

The following days were accompanied by site seeing and eating iranian cuisine.

I should write a special post about the Iranian cuisine. I love it. It is sublime. One of the best cuisine I’ve ever tasted. There was no food I had that I didn’t like. Everything was deliciouos.

There are many things one should visit once in Tehran: the Golestan Palace, the Niavaran Palace Complex, the Milad Tower, the Azadi Tower, Darband…

Well, let’s talk about Darband. Darband was a small village and now is a neighbourhood close to Tehran. From here an excursion to the Tochal mountain begins. There is also a gondola lift or as the iranians call it telecabin, for those who don’t like to walk.

Hamed, his brother and I went there. It didn’t seem like I was in Tehran any more. It seemed like I was in a hunky dory between the mountains and the city. Going up we could see small cabins build on the rives around us.We sat on a carpet off the ground on a bed built on a river where you could sit and enjoy a shisha and a warm tea. It was cold there. We could only hear the sounds of the water crashing on the rocks. kabab smell and people talking all around us.

Lavashak

Ingredients:

  • 20 plums
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup water

Wash plums and remove pit. Place plums, water, and lemon juice in a non-stick pot. Cook on low for 30 to 45 minutes until plums have cooked all the way through and very little juice is left. Make sure to stir every so often so that the bottom does not stick. Puree plums with a food processor. Spray some cooking oil on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Spread the pureed plum on top in a very thin layer. You can initially bake the plum puree for one hour in a 250° oven to speed up the process. Then cover the cookie sheet with cheese cloth and place it in the sun for a couple of days. You can skip the baking part and just leave the lavashak in the sun for 4 days instead of 2. Once the lavashak has dried, carefully peel it off of the foil.

I will always remember the pleasure of cutting into a piece of these fruit papers and enjoying them as they melt in my mouth. I haven’t tried to make it. Actually I had no idea it was so simple. Thanks to this blog I’ll probably do it very soon.

Those sticky papers were everywhere, rolled up like giants sheets. Oh god, how amazing would it be to find it in the market tomorrow.

Coming back from Darband, a group of people called us from a traffic light. They were taxi drivers. All sat on a carpet appreciating a shisha and some tea. They invited us to sit with them. We accepted and joined them. They told me the story about the Shah’s fall and the Islamic revolution. If we knew we’re going to end up like this, we wouldn’t have done it. They make us believe we’re fighting for freedom. And look at us now.

I think that Iranian people have been fooled. They believed in the revolution. They fought with their hearts for what they believed was right. They fought for their freedom. And now they feel like prisoners of their own beliefs.

A taxi driver once told me, we could do what you have done with the church, take all our Imams and put them somewhere else.

I think that’s enough for tonight.

Good night.

The recipes of this post are koobideh kabab and lavashak.

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