Random randomness: road safety by India’s Border Roads Organization (it had to be abbreviated with Bro, what else?)

A few of the many incredible signs you find on the road to Zanskar. Whether they’re effective or not is not for me to judge (the drivers don’t seem particularly humbled by them, but then again I’m alive after passing through these valleys twice, so maybe that’s proof enough!)

A Buddhist riming one:

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A direct one:

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And some more I didn’t manage to take a picture of:

“If married, divorce speed” (allowing single people to rush through!)

“After whisky driving risky” (risky…but not necessarily forbidden)

A grim pun : “better be mister late than late mister”

And a flirty one: “I’m curvaceous be slow”!

There was a girl, and her uncle sold her. A quote on life and numbers

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Today I did my periodic scanning of the news, something I do once in a while here when I’m able to get WiFi, and since those days have been spaced out in weeks recently due to bad connections and me travelling (quite willingly) to the most remote places, the news pile up and it turns jnto an even more it’s grim and shocking exercice. Today it was more news of refugees let down by quotas in Europe, earthquake in Pakistan and Afghanistan with growing numbers of deaths and injuries, election results in Switzerland that will surely lead to more xenophobic and self-centered laws I’m the near future and you probably know the rest already, this is just a small sample.

I thought about individual lives in those great tragedies, how media will go for the most sensational picture (passing through Kathmandu a few days ago was a striking reminder of it, as most of the city is holding together, despite what we could see in the news at the time of the earthquake, and it saddens me that it seems we all need the grimmest picture to get some interest, even if a more faithfull one would still have meant destruction of thousands of houses in that case), how quickly we loose interest and go back to our lives – or the ones of our direct neighbours, how fickle we are in front of it all.

It made me think of this quote – well, a rather long one – from Neil Gaiman, in American Gods, where he says it best, as he always seem to be. (I’m rather a fan of every single thing he has ever written, I think). Don’t want to spoil the simple force of it, so I’ll let you with it, and go back to my individual, rather similar, rather unique, life.

There was a girl, and her uncle sold her. Put like that it seems so simple.
No man, proclaimed Donne, is an island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived and then by some means or other, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as any other tale, as unique as any other life. Lives are snowflakes – forming patterns we have seen before, as like one another as peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There’s not a chance you’ll mistake one for another, after a minute’s close inspection) but still unique.

Without individuals we see only numbers, a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, “casualties may rise to a million.” With individual stories, the statistics become people- but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless. Look, see the child’s swollen, swollen belly and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, this skeletal limbs: will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears? To see him from the inside? And if it does, are we not doing a disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted distended caricature of a human child? And there, if we feel for them, are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for the flies’ own myriad squirming children?

We draw our lines around these moments of pain, remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearllike, from our souls without real pain.
Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.
A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.
And the simple truth is this: There was a girl, and her uncle sold her.

Tales of mist, melancholy and more book review: the Inheritance of loss, by Kirkan Desai

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This is a book I read a few months ago, when I was in South India, desperately hunting down any interesting book I could find in the small hospital campus shop (that was pre-ereader era, when more than 50% of my bagpack’s weight was just books), but I thought about it today, being not so far away from Sikkim, where the story takes place, and in a  loosely similar context of Indo-Nepalese tension at these border regions. Also, it has been a misty day here, with a look of perpetual crepuscular strangeness, even at noon , and somehow the first sentence of that book was stuck in my head.

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Incy wincy … on the many uses of books while travelling: number 476: to kill a mocking spider

So today I arrived in Eastern Nepal, after a crazy bus ride (sitting on the top of it, with about a gazillion other Nepali, because it’s more scenic that way, and also because there has been no fuel in this country for the past 3 weeks, so the buses that do run are slightly packed), a tiny plane journey (by that I do mean it was a very short flight, but also the plane was indeed tiny, and not, it seemed, totally able to stay on its trajectory while passing through huge clouds), a crazy taxi journey, where the first cab driver brought me to a field and asked for more money, so I yelled at him, called a friend on the phone so he could yell at him more efficiently in Nepali, took another cab, and arrived after several hours in the small city of Dharan.
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Survival is insufficient Book review: Station Eleven – a novel, by Emily st John Mandel

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A few years after the apocalypse (created by a new strain of flu, amongst other things), in the nearly deserted landscape that has become North America, a company travels to bring Shakespeare and music to the small towns, judging, after Star Trek, that mere survival is insufficient. The book travels back and forth between before the end of days as we know them, to a night in  Chicago where a famous actor died playing Lear, his life, his diaries, his wives, and after everything has collapsed, and we follow Kirsten and her fellow actors, struggling to do more than survive in a land of insecurity, new prophets and their suspicious cults.

It is as much a book about the end of civilization, and what constitutes indeed our civilization, how fragile it is, than it is about human relationships. It is about sadness, is is tinted with a sort of slow melancholy, and it is multi layered, but what impressed me the most was how it is constructed: all along you discover tenuous links between the characters, one I can reveal without spoiling the book is that the title refers to a  comic book that one of the famous actor’s wives wrote, and that Kristen cherishes. That book inside the book is about an explorer exiled in another planet after earth has been destroyed, (again, so many layers!) but there are many others, that always bring you back to the one night before everything started, when King Lear died on stage.
Impressive, then, beautifully written and very difficult to put down once you’ve started. I know it is in fashion to write and read postapocalyptic novels, right now, but this one is much more than just a book following a trend. Read it!

Quotes: 1st sentence:
The king stood in a pool of blue light,unmoored.

Have some news, have a kit kat. On the smallness of big moments

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Sunrise over Thorong peak

Yesterday, I climbed upto a 5416 meter high (every meter counts) pass in Nepal, starting before dawn, to arrive early at the top before the wind was too strong. So we walked, in the dark first, a small caravan of flash lights in the emptiness, looking at the stars slowly disappearing as the sky became clearer, and suddenly the sun  reached the peaks and the world was full of colors. It was one of those moments where nature is so splendid you whish you were an ancient bard, able to compose an ode to it, this beauty, this moment, you feel like it shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Afterwards, we reached the top, I almost lost a few fingers waiting for my companions to arrive, in the icy windswept pass, and we started going down in a growing sandstorm, back to a valley with a village, a good coffee, and a slow WiFi. There, mechanically checking my emails after 5 days of unconnected bliss, I discovered that I had finally received the confirmation that I had passed my final exams. I am now, officially, a doctor. I didn’t really know what to do with this news, to be honest. I went down to the “general store” of the village, and bought the closest thing to a celebration gift for myself I could find : a kit kat (and some toilet paper, less glamorous, that’s another story).

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A lovely goodbye, book review : the love song of miss Queenie Hennessy, by Rachel Joyce

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In her room, in an hospice near St Berwick upon Tweed, Queenie is waiting. For Harold Fry, a man she once knew, because he has told her to do so: he decided to walk through England to come see her. So Queenie and the other patients, at this palliative care hospice, have something else to wait for than death, and their life is changed. Queenie remembers the years she spent working with Harold and the years since, and writes him, for the first time, an honest letter. This book goes side by side with “the unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry”, who tells Harold’s side of the story, and even if I might have liked Harold”s book better, because it’s a wonderful tale of hope and kindness, and of all the crazy people the character met while walking, The love song of Queenie Hennessy is a great book on its own, about end of life, about making peace with your past. I’m looking forward to the moment at the end of this gap year when I’ll put these two side by side in my bookshelf, when I’ll have a room again. I’m very attached to them.

Quotes: first sentence: Dear Harold, this may come to you as some surprise.

I applied her rule to my life; after all, we are all searching for them, the rules. We pick them up from the strangest places, and if they appear to work once we can live a whole lifetime by them, regardless of the unhappiness and difficulty they may later bring.

The world if full with women who have children, and women who don’t, but there is also a silent band of women who almost had them, I am one of those.

Sometimes you have to do something with you pain otherwise it will swallow you

You don’t get to a place by constantly moving, even  if your journey is one of sitting still and waiting. Every once in a while you have to stop in your tracks and admire the view. (…) You have to see what you did not see before. And then you have to sleep

Ladakh and Zanskar, part 2, in the land of Chang and…more Chang

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I had stopped the last article I wrote about Ladakh and Zanskar at the point where we came back from the trek, ready for the wedding (though I’m not quite sure you can ever be ready for such a thing as a zanskari wedding). This was a 3 days celebration, which is the “shortest long wedding” you can do, some of them last up to 7 days. I don’t know how the people can last so long without passing out, but they indeed seem to have an extraordinary resilience, especially for drinking and dancing.

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Love and lost, book review: Gut symmetries, by Jeanette Winterson

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Disclaimer: I love Jeanette Winterson’s writing. I’ve loved every single book I’ve read by her and want to read it all. (Which I would have already done if my library  (that is the public one next to my place, I’ve decided a long time ago that it is just an extension of my own bookcases, and can get very territorial about this) so if the library had more of her books. In any case, I’ve given up waiting for them to arrive and bought “Gut symmetries”.

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Ladakh and Zanskar, part 1, in the land of earth and water

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The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dustcaught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched

Thoreau, Walden, or life in the woods

This is, after all, a travel blog, (or at least it’s supposed to be, it’s too early to be dwelling on the true nature of things, I’ve not had a coffee yet) so let’s travel a bit. I’m taking you to Ladakh and Zanskar.

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