Meet Shashi and Peter, fellow members of one of the most exclusive love clubs in the world.
Peter and I may be the only people on Earth who can say they were Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Nepal and fell in love with a beautiful Limbu woman from the eastern town of Ilam. I was posted in Ilam during my first year of service, teaching in a school where Champa was also a teacher, which is how we met. Peter served several years later, in another town, and met Shashi, who grew up in Ilam near Champa. They married and have now lived for many years in the Chicago area, with two terrific kids.
When we visited yesterday, Shashi cooked one of her amazing meals. (I’ll be disappointed in my foodie friends back in Durham if they don’t post some comments about the spread she laid out, shown in the top photo.)
What was even more amazing, though, was her disappointment that we didn’t bring G, the traveling Blue Devil gnome. (He was taking a nap in our car and we didn’t want to disturb him when we left in another car.) Shashi’s niece joined in scolding us with a smile, saying she’s been following G’s adventures (instagram.com/davidjarmul) and wanted to see what he looks like in person. Shashi also hoped to introduce him to her own garden gnome, who you can see in the photo under her right hand.
In the video below, Shashi makes clear that we better not show up again without the gnome. (She calls me Binaju, or “Bina,” which literally means brother-in-law but is also used with close friends.)
Shashi, we promise. We’ll be remembering you and all of our Chicago friends as we embark on one of the longest drives of our journey, a four-day stretch across Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana, ending up at Glacier National Park. Off we go.
A temple of science, a temple of faith. That’s what we saw today in the western suburbs of Chicago.
The temple of science was the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. It’s near the home of our Nepali relatives, where we’ve been staying. They’d been meaning to visit Fermilab but had never quite made it. Our visit changed that. As a long-time science writer who once worked on an article with Leon Lederman, the “God Particle” Nobel Prize-winning former director of the lab, I asked whether we could make a quick visit.
Even though it was Saturday and the lab’s welcome center was nearly deserted, we all had a great time touring the exhibits and beautiful grounds, which include a herd of bison. Muons! Neutrinos! Water fountains on a hot day!
The temple of faith was the Sri Venkateswara Swami (Balaji) Temple in Aurora, which mainly serves the large South Indian community in this area. While we were there, temple members began celebrating Teppotsavam, a colorful ceremony in which devotees carry religious objects from the temple to a float on an adjacent pond. As you can watch in the video clip below, the procession was accompanied by drums, horns and prayers.
And so we wrapped up a great stop in the Chicago area, although you’ll see one more post tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon that involves a certain gnome. You’ll also meet a couple of friends who, along with Champa and me, may be the world’s only members of an extremely exclusive club.
Finally, a request: Even if you’re reading this blog via our Facebook site, we encourage you to subscribe to it here on WordPress. Likewise for our “gnome site” on Instagram (instagram.com/davidjarmul). Doing so will help us track our readership. Please sign up (twice) — and either post or send us comments about what you think. We’d welcome the feedback. (Being on the road, it’s really hard to know.) In advance: Thanks!
Why didn’t anyone warn us about the mosquitoes in Indiana?
We enjoyed driving through the state yesterday. We really did. The lush fields of corn and soybeans, the picturesque barns … it all made for a lovely trip as we made our way from Cleveland to Aurora, outside Chicago, where we’re staying for a few days with Nepali relatives.
We decided to break up the trip with a picnic and hike. While flipping through a brochure at an Indiana rest stop, I found a listing for the Ropchan Memorial Nature Preserve in Steuben County. It was only 15 minutes off the highway, so we decided to give it a try. (Serendipity!) I entered the coordinates into our GPS and, sure enough, we soon ended up at a trailhead on a remote country road. Ours was the only car there. After a quick lunch, we set off on the trail.
We hadn’t thought to apply insect repellant before we left. To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: “Big mistake. Huge.” Halfway into the hike, we passed a swamp and were attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. We walked faster and faster, flapping our arms, but still they swirled and bit us. (Possible caption for this photo: “Champa, take my photo for the blog!” “Forget your stupid blog! I’m not stopping!” You’ll notice she took one anyway; feel free to thank her with comments here.)
So, if you ever find yourself in northeastern Indiana and want an idyllic place to hike, check out the Ropchan Preserve. It’s off the beaten track but beautiful and worth the trip. Just don’t forget the mosquitoes. They’ll be waiting for you.
In my last two posts, I wrote about food and spirituality. But any great culture also needs, well, great culture.
That’s what we’ve enjoyed during two days in Cleveland, a city we had never visited before. We drove up yesterday from West Virginia, stopping en route to tour a candy-making factory in North Canton whose operation made Champa think of the famous Lucy episode where the assembly line runs wild.
After reaching Cleveland, we spent most of the afternoon at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The breath and quality of its collection was impressive, spanning a wide range of eras and styles. It was housed in a magnificent facility conceived by Rafael Viñoly, the same architect who designed the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
Today we devoted the entire day to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which exceeded my high expectations. I grew up with this music and was engrossed by the exhibits, videos and memorabilia, which ranged from Jerry Garcia’s guitars to Michael Jackson’s glove to gowns worn by Diana Ross and Beyonce. (Yes, that’s a custom motorcycle owned by Elvis.)
After leaving the museum, we drove to Edgewater Park to walk along Lake Erie. Then, we joined a large crowd of our new Cleveland friends at a free outdoor R&B concert at Wade Oval, a park in University Circle where Case Western Reserve University and other institutions are located. (That’s a video snippet below.) Finally, we ate a late dinner in Little Italy, eating pasta and listening to Dean Martin on an outdoor patio at a family-owned restaurant.
Fine art. Rock. R&B. Deano. Cleveland does rock.
Birds chirped. Frogs croaked. From our bench beside a lily pond filled with blooming flowers, we gazed on a golden temple. No one was around us as the sun began to set and a gentle breeze rustled the tall grass.
We were in New Vrindaban, a Hindu temple and retreat near Wheeling, West Virginia. We’d heard about it for years from Champa’s family and friends, so decided to finally visit.
I’m not a Hindu or Hare Krishna devotee, and I didn’t participate in the prayers, but the generosity and serenity of our hosts was undeniable. We ate a delicious vegetarian dinner — sorry about my previous post — and stayed overnight in their lodge.
At Duke, my life was always hurry, hurry. Here, I had no cell phone reception, no wireless connection, no worries. What a difference. Hare, hare.
[Vegetarians Should Consider Skipping This Post.]
We traveled today from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, where we drove around the city, rode the Monongahela Incline and marveled at the endless bridges.
The real highlight, though, was an outrageous lunch we ate at Fat Heads, a local saloon that features “headwiches” — sandwiches as big as a person’s head. We saw it recommended on both the Roadfood and Food Network sites.
Champa ordered the Bay of Pigs, made with pulled pork, ham, Swiss, pickles, honey mustard and “killer sauce.” The menu compared it to “an invasion of your stomach.” I ate the Mighty Fine Bovine, which featured brisket, pastrami, Swiss, hot pepper-kraut, onion, pickles and garlic-parm mayo. Providing nutritional balance were abundant house-made potato chips.
Each of us could only finish half of our sandwich, so we saved the rest for dinner. This reduced the overall caloric load, cost and guilt for the day. Now we feel virtuous.
Steelers, Pirates, Penguins … all good. Sandwiches as big as your head? Definitely worth a visit.
Almost every family that likes to travel has one person who does the planning. In our family, that’s me. I’ve always considered planning to be half the fun of a trip — figuring out where to go, what to eat, where to stay. As you can see from the photo, I’m now focusing on our upcoming stops in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, reviewing brochures and checking information online. Champa and I will be leaving Philadelphia tomorrow, after spending two great days with our family, and I have a pretty good idea what we’ll be doing for the next stretch. That won’t surprise anyone who has worked with me. I’m a planner who likes schedules.
Until last night, however, the extent of my planning for Pittsburgh was to know it is west of Philadelphia, along our general route. I deliberately resisted my natural urge to spend hours on TripAdvisor or local websites coming up with a detailed plan. For there and elsewhere, I have tried to keep our trip open to serendipity, or at least to keep planning to a minimum. If we’re so busy racing to Site No. 4 in a city, I figure, we may not spot the charming church fair or local pie stand along the road, much less stop to take a look.
When people asked me over the past several months why I would walk away from a job and colleagues I love to travel around the United States and Nepal, I spoke often of how Champa and I love to travel — which we do — and of our desire to take a break from the conventional routine. But it was more than that. After being tied to calendars and project schedules for so many years, I wanted to embrace the unknown. The phrase I found myself using was “put myself in the path of serendipity.” Mike Schoenfeld heard me say it so often that he bought me this book about the origins and unexpected usages of the word “serendipity.”
I’m not sure Pittsburgh and Cleveland have appeared often in the same sentence as “serendipity,” and the top photo shows I will retain my planning instincts no matter how serendipitous my current intentions. Still, I know there has to be a better balance between the two, and I want to find it. Louis Pasteur famously noted that chance favors the prepared mind. And, yes, Drew Carey famously noted that Cleveland rocks. So bring it on.
[An Editorial Note: The Blue Devil gnome we’ve nicknamed “G” is still traveling with us. You can follow his humorous photo adventures — GNome Expression — at davidjarmul on Instagram. We welcome your comments here about both this blog and the Instagram photos. Write us!]