Weekly Photo Challenge: Kathmandu at Night


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The city seems so calm and quiet at night.

No, this post isn’t about the nightlife — if there is any here — its about the city after nightfall in a place where power outages are scheduled to handle the overloaded demand for power. Load sharing ensures that the power goes out every day at scheduled times, although no one seems to be sure if the schedule means anything. Power seems to go out anytime during the day and at night. For us its just the inconvenience of a one or two second delay while we wait for the generator to kick in. But for most people its a way of life.  Even we have stopped looking up when the power goes out.

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For those lucky enough to have a generator (including us) the night lights remain on. These are the pools of light glowing in the otherwise dark. It reminds me a little of Spetses during a power cut where you can see the flicking light of kerosene lamps from across the valley.

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From the other side the blackout is even greater. Above the skyline of the houses are the foothills with just one or two shining lights above in the blackness. I imagine how dark it must be on the other side of the hill without even the distant glow of Kathmandu to light the sky. I want to go there!

This post participated in the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime

First Glimpses of Kathmandu


Well we made it through the first few days of settling in, survived jet lag, filled in a million different forms and encountered the minor difficulties of the newly arrived. What’s it like everyone is asking me?  So to illustrate, here are a few pictures taken from our three rooftop terraces showing the area around our home:

Kathmandu Rooftops

From our upper rooftop….I’m so glad that we have some views of the mountains. I hear they get better later in the year.

Kathmandu Rooftops

Not so many trees but little pockets here and there….and occassionally open views to the distant countryside that remind you that Kathmandu is not so big

Kathmandu Rooftops

View from my lower rooftop. Crumbling house next door is still occupied. Note the broken satellite dish with pieces missing on the roof and the newer, smaller one alongside. Abandoned yard behind has overloaded persimmon tree and a pomelo tree.

Kathmandu Rooftops

There’s some smarter looking homes in the other direction.  But generally speaking our central location is a mish-mash of old and new, rich and poor, all thrown in together.  As far as I can tell there isn’t really a smarter area of town.

Roofs of Kathmandu

View of a neighbour’s yard. What is that? Well I think it is sort of a ostentatious temple to wealth. I guess you could throw garden parties in it….but talk about incongruous.

Outside the gate things there’s plenty going on.  After Manila, the traffic volume doesn’t seem nearly so constantly high, but I’ve been here for five days now and have yet to see a traffic light anywhere.  You can imagine what that does to intersections.  Here are some snaps around Kathmandu from the car as we take our first drives around the city:

Kathmandu Roads

Driving with motorcycles. There’s a lot of them. Not as heavy as Jakarta (Kathmandu doesn’t have the road infrastructure) but they are everywhere and fearless…

Kathmandu electric cables

Crazy wiring is everywhere. You should see the route of our internet cabling over other people’s rooftops…

Kathmandu Streets

Typical street scene. There are a few main arterial streets and a ring road but most streets are smaller like these.

Kathmandu Streets

Lots of produce loaded bikes around. I think these guys had picked up produce from the nearby wholesale to sell at the their own stands.

Kathmandu Streets

Although the river water’s polluted, it still looked like a river which you could imagine flowing to a cleaner place. It was full of garbage but still cleaner than rivers I have seen in provincial areas of the Philippines.

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…and finally, stray cows. I had been warned but saw none for days. Today they were everywhere. Three brown cows walked three abreast today in the middle of the road outside my gate. Of course, I didn’t have my camera, so these garbage-eating cows at a local market will have to do.

Sign Language: No Comment


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Usually the Sign Language feature on my blog is about public signage and the comments it make about the culture, economy, or character of a place. Heading on the highway towards Athens airport dozens and dozens of billboards appear, but they are all advertisement-free, except for the occasional scribble of graffiti. It was interesting how saying nothing could comment so much on the current state of affairs in Greece. I hope things improve soon.

Coming Home


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We get around more than most people, I know.  Last summer was pretty intense with travel.  This summer even more so.   My travels started in June and will continue until the end of September thus:  Manila – Washington DC – New York – Washington DC – Greece – Kathmandu – London – Kathmandu….with enough side trips at the various locations to keep us permanently living out of suitcases for a long while yet.  When we got to Greece a couple of weeks ago, I posted “Home, finally!” on Facebook and someone asked me to explain what that meant.  It  made me wonder about the definition of the word, and what feels most like home to me.  I certainly would have defined home as Manila at different points in the last two years, but our Greek home is Home in so many ways.  For others, working overseas for a while and planning to return to the place where you grew up is pretty straightforward classification:  permanent home and temporary home.   We however have been moving around for so many years that I have lots of definitions.  There’s:

Original Home:  London.  Where I grew up and where I visit almost every year.  That’s where my family is and so many familiar things.  Many unimportant, trivial, yet comfortingly familiar things like chocolate bars, tv shows, bus stops or familiar streets.  Going to London is like a grounding in who I am and where I came from.  But as the years go by there are very little concrete remains of the old memories, and very little real “home” except for the care that my family gives me.  Out on London streets there are very few doors left that I can knock on any more, but I still consider myself a Londoner.

Adopted Home:  New Jersey. There’s the NJ town where I lived for lots of years (one of my favourite places) and American friends and family and the cultural connection I have built over the last 25 years of being married to an American.  Its less about the place and more about the culture.  I don’t miss NJ.  I do miss the town where I lived.  Now I am an American but I’ ll don’t think I’ll ever consider myself a New Jerseyite.

Assigned Home:  Wherever we are posted.  It was Manila, its about to be Kathmandu.  I’m sure I will learn to love (and dislike) many thing about Nepal and, like the Philippines, it will become part of my world “home” places as all the crazy new stuff becomes normal and navigable.  But in an assigned home for a predetermined period of time works very well to deter you from the kind of attachment formed in other places.  Its really just the people that stick with you.

Permanent Home:  Greece.  Home of our house, our things, and friends we see every year. The place where we raised our son for his preschool years, a place of consistency…sort of.  Every year is different and this year more so than most.  But there’s something about returning to a place where your clothes are already in the closet and your favourite sheets are on the bed that makes it a Home with a capital H.  I’m sure we are classified by many locals as one of the temporary summer families that are around for a short while and then are gone through the majority of the island’s year.  But, unlike other Summer families, we ain’t got no other home to go to!  (You’d have to be a Londoner at chucking out time to get that one.)

The Elusive Greek Tomato


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Greek Tomatoes from Crete. Perfect, regular and probably tasteless

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More perfection of appearance (only)

Mythological Fruit or Lost National Treasure?

When I first came to Greece in the early eighties it was a vastly different place.  Since then so many things have changed — for the better and worse — before we even get to its economic troubles today. It always easy to look back and see a kinder, simpler time and let sentiment cloud judgement.

Back then I was a twenty year old English girl who grew up on fresh fruits and vegetables from the local greengrocer (not a supermarket) including seasonal Canary Island tomatoes and home grown tomatoes from my dad’s greenhouse in August.  Canary tomatoes are small, uniform, and not particularly special, but they sliced up beautifully in perfect little segments on a salad.  When I first saw a Greek vegetable stand the lemons were piled high with leaves still attached and knobbly, misshapen bright red tomatoes were everywhere.  When you cut them open, they were red through and through, juicy, sweet, and full of seeds which seemed to randomly cluster throughout the flesh of these tomato monsters.  Quite frankly, they looked a bit weird.  Cut up on a Greek salad they were easy to eat because they tasted so good, but they shook my limited definition of what a tomato should be.

Flash forward twenty five years and I am beginning to doubt that those tomatoes ever existed in Greece.  Now they seem impossible to find, and have been replaced by large, uniform fruit that look impressive and much more perfect, but cut them open and — I’m sorry — they are just not Greek enough.  I’m told time and time again that “so and so” has fantastic tomatoes this season, and off I go to buy some.  Only to be disappointed in what I find. So much so, that I’m starting to question whether I have idealized them to the point that no mere tomato can ever live up to my expectations?

I’ll illustrate this with a story.  My husband loves the Greek dish, Macaroni me Kima.  Its a Greek version of Spaghetti Bolognese with the distinctive addition of cinnamon.  The basic recipe is not complicated and there’s not that much variation on how to make it.  I would make it for him and ask how he liked it and he would always say “its very good, but its not like Maria’s”.  He could never tell me what Maria did to make it so good and she wasn’t around to ask.  I tried numerous versions of the recipe, but as I say that’s not that much room for variation.  From time to time I would ask a Greek friend (or better still her grandmother) to show me how to make it.  Every time the preparation seemed pretty standard to me and Robert’s reply was the same:  “very good but not like Maria’s.”  It literally took me 15 years to realise that it was not Maria’s skill as a cook that my dish missed, but the long hike to her house and the hard work outside in the Greek sun that preceded the reward of her Macaroni me kima lunch.   It was the context and sentiment that my recipe lacked.  So, my question to myself was whether this was happening here with my elusive Greek tomato?

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These are tomatoes?! You have to friggin’ be kidding me! I would be embarrassed to give these away.

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Perfect, shiny and a beautiful red. Buy me it screams…but look at the cut away. That white ring is a good sign its tasteless and probably mealy too. No thank you! I’m not obsessed with this….really!

I went to buy tomatoes last week from a local grocer who has fresh produce three times a week.  She is a lovely woman and I don’t question her sincerity one bit. She told me the prices of two types of tomatoes she had and one was twice the price of the other as it was the better product.  The more expensive variety was mostly green and had the shiny, plastic appearance of wax, the hallmark of something raised in a greenhouse. I asked her if they were imported as that might account for the difference in price.  But no, the box showed they were Greek.  Really?!  Here we are in August, in Greece, and this is the best you have on offer?  Something is really wrong here.  Has everyone bought into this myth that perfect-looking tomatoes must be better?  Am I the only sane one left?!

I don’t think its me.  I don’t think that the Greek tomato of the 80s and 90s is a myth in my mind.  I think its demise is the work of the bastards at Monsanto and other giant seed companies who are messing with our food, messing with our culinary heritage and messing with our seed stocks.    Its heartbreaking to know that profit is driving them to purchase traditional seed stocks with the intention of discontinuing them permanently, so they disappear from our tables forever.  The replacement is proprietary, hardy seed stocks which produce perfect-looking produce that resist disease and transport better at the price of quality and taste.  People buy into the glossy perfection of perfect produce and forget about taste.  How else could I ever explain the grocer’s honest belief that she was selling me a better product?

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Now this looks like a good tomato! I can’t taste the picture but my money is on this one. Do you know how many google images I had to scroll through to find this..? Which is kind of my point…

But I still live in hope that one day I’ll bump into an old farming family in the corner of a laiiki somewhere who will sell me tomatoes from his grandfather’s seeds that really taste like a Greek tomato.  If this ever happens, I don’t know that I’ll even eat them.  I may just scrape out the seeds and save them and start my own subversive tomato farm somewhere.  Someone has to save this national treasure if it hasn’t already gone forever!

Walking NYC


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A quick snap from the back of a taxi. I sort of love the weird poses of the walkers!

Aside from our Central Park adventures, there was lots to see and explore in the Upper West Side.  Interesting architecture, cafes, stores and restaurants made the area very walkable and it wasn’t nearly as crowded as midtown.  We were there during a spate of extreme heat which made exploring a little challenging at times.  Having been in a deep sweat for 2.5 years in Manila, I really had to push through my fear of being boiled alive as I walked around.  After 2.5 years of non-stop heat, there are days when I look up at a clear, sapphire blue sky and pray for clouds.  The heatwave in NYC didn’t help with that!

Fortunately, towards the end of our stay we got a break in the weather.  It was blissfully coolish in the upper 70s and the perfect time to get outside for the day.  It even threatened to rain a little.  Carla was visiting for an overnight stay and the next morning we decided to do another of our destination walks down to the High Line in Lower Manhattan.  From W 87th it took about 1.5hrs, walking straight down Columbus and 10th St, through midtown and down to 23rd where it currently begins.  If you’re not familiar with the High Line, it is a park, recently developed from an abandoned raised railway line and an excellent, imaginative use of space in crowded New York.  However, it seems to be the “undiscovered” trendy thing to do, and everyone is doing it.  Undiscovered it is not.   Especially on the first cool morning for weeks. Seems like everyone else had the same idea.  It was packed! Maybe this would have been a better experience off season on a Monday morning? We decided to leave the trail at the first exit and grab some lunch, after which Carla took the train home and I decided to walk alone back up to the Upper West Side. By now we were on 34th near Penn Station and I snapped a couple of typical New York scenarios:  iconic yellow cabs,  walk/ don’t walk, traffic, people, non stop everything…

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Walking the narrow Hi Line from W 23rd St

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A quiet walk in the park? I don’t think so. Too many people for me.

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A glimpse down 34th and 8th

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My route back was up 8th, taking me through Times Square at an hour approaching the end of the work day.  Big mistake….I cut back over to 10th, weaving through the throngs of people to a much more tolerable walk home.

I was so glad for the break in the weather which allowed me to see New York on a grander walking scale than before, piecing together the different neighborhoods on foot.  Had we been blessed with more cooler weather and a little more time, I would have done the same North, West and East, but time had run out.  At the end of the week we were heading back up to Washington DC for one more week, and then on to the vacation part of our trip:  Greece!

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The wonderful Upper West Side garden where we stayed, caught up with family, and got a little respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.