Raithaane

I’ve just eaten for the second time at Raithaane in Saugal, Patan, and hope to do so again before long.

Raithaane, near Patan Durbar Square, note the low overhead

The restaurant is a little hard to find at first. It’s about 300 meters east of Patan Durbar Square. The best route there is a walk through small alleyways.

Raithaane menu

Raithaane serves tasty, inexpensive, local food from many regions of Nepal. It’s all fresh and organic. As our waiter explained they use tomatoes only where it’s appropriate to the particular dish, not tomato sauce on everything.

Chamre & Yangben-Faksa (pork and lichen curry over rice)
With Sujan, a friend we happened to see on the way back
Friendly, informative service
No wasted space

Tea for two?

A friend here in Nepal asked whether I had eaten. When I said “no,” she replied that there were still people in the café up on the 6th floor.

I realized that I had been wondering whether there was still food. A person in Nepal might wonder that as well, but would think first about whether their friends would be there.

Without friends it’s not lunch, even if there is food.

What kind am I?

Shortly after I arrived in Kathmandu, I developed a standard walk to work. It was relatively safe from traffic, utilizing UN Park and side streets. Making it more interesting were were two bridges, one over the Bagmati River and one over Dhoki Khola, a tributary.

Along the way there were shops, hiti with stone water spouts, Buddhist stupas and prayer flags, Hindu mandirs with temple bells, free range cows, goats, and poultry, wild dogs, schools, parks, snooker halls, motorbike repair shops, restaurants, tailor shops, soldiers, joggers, yoga and meditation practitioners, vegetable stands, young cricket players, roasted peanuts, and people of all ages, occupations, dress, and personalities.

This is just a small fraction of what I see, hear, taste, feel, and smell every day. There is a lot packed into one and a half miles. It’s impossible to summarize it all in a single blog post, much less with a label, such as “capital city,” “Himalayan country,” or “developing nation.”

During my walks, I came to know one family fairly well. We speak as I pass by in the morning and evening, but also when I go out for tea or a neighborhood walk.

A ten year-old girl in the family asked me when we first met:

What kind are you?

Her English was limited (although far ahead of my Nepali). Maybe she meant “what is your name?” or “where are you from?” She might have been thinking “how tall are you?’ or “how old are you?” which are questions I frequently hear in schools.

But her question as posed stuck with me. If I don’t self-identify with a proper noun, and I can’t answer with a number, what would I say?

It’s remarkably easy to apply a label to another person–an “entertainer,” a “jerk,” a “scholar,” a “homemaker,” a “fun-lover,” “a ten year-old girl,” and so on. But doing the same to ourselves, leads to a protest.

Yes, I am an “American.” Perhaps, that’s the type of answer my young friend expected. I have US citizenship and live permanently in the US. But that label alone is very incomplete.

At the moment, I’m American, but working and residing in Nepal, a country for which I feel a great affection and even identification. I’ve also lived in other countries and have a generally internationalist perspective. Even with respect to the US, “American” captures only one aspect of who I am. I don’t want to be reduced to a single word. Why would I do that to another?

So, I might grant myself the freedom to answer her question with several words. I recall giving her a facile answer at the time, a guess at what she must have meant. But if I really listen to what she said, and I have to answer in terms of what kind of person I am, or want to be, what would I say?

What kind am I?

February rain

Dhoki Khola in flood

Dhoki Khola in flood

A torrential rainstorm with angry winds woke us this morning. It appeared to be a day to hide under the covers.

But the rain soon stopped and revealed a Kathmandu that is not always seen. Both the Bagmati River and the smaller Dhoki Khola were full and rushing. I longed for a boat to launch into the waves.

Chandragiri Hills

Chandragiri Hills

Arriving at King’s College, I joined others up to the roof to look at the surrounding snow-capped hills. A friend, Arjun, said that he had never in his life seen it so clear.

Of course, the phone camera fails to show what it really looked like, but with a little imagination you can see the Chandragiri Hills to the southwest and the snow on top.

Time travel in west Texas

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Sunrise out of the cabin

Ever since reading The Time Machine as a teenager, I, like most people, have wondered about time travel. And despite annoying naysaying from logicians and physicists, it still seems like an intriguing idea.

Wolf spider

Wolf spider

Susan and I just spent a week in far west Texas, where we experienced something like time travel. We stayed in a cabin in a caldera near Fort Davis. Other than a barbed wire fence, a single electric line, and a narrow, rutted dirt road there were no signs of human habitation––no other buildings, no cell service, no flights overhead.

An astute rancher might have pointed out that the male cattle were steers, not bulls, and that the cattle and many turkeys around were probably being raised for market. Closer inspection would reveal that there were some planted trees, both for shade and for pecans, but on the whole the impression was of desert isolation.

In this land the people are hard to find, but we could see yucca, sotol, ocotillo, prickly pear, sagebrush, mesquite, live oak, and uncountable wildflowers. We saw buzzards, mockingbirds, huge spiders, whitetail and mule deer. These living friends were framed by gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and unbelievable cloud formations.

(Reconstructed) Fort Davis from 1854

1854 Fort Davis (reconstructed)

This all made me think of my early days in Fort Worth. We lived then in the new suburbs on the edge of ranchland. In our childhood explorations we could find tarantulas and horned toads, tumbleweeds and cockleburs, scorpions and butterflies. The land seemed to stretch forever into remoteness and romance. When we looked up we could see the Milky Way and thousands of stars.

Fort Davis felt like that Fort Worth of long ago. The contentious Presidential race was irrelevant. The old cashier at the local market wanted to share interesting stories rather than to ring up grocery items. The buildings and houses looked like stage props for an old Western, until you realized that they were still in use, probably by the same family that settled here a century or two ago.

Rhyolite porphyry in fantastic shapes from volcanoes 35 million years ago

Rhyolite porphyry in fantastic shapes from volcanoes 35 million years ago

Fort Davis itself lies at the base of a rhyolite cliff, the south side of the caldera, or box canyon, that held our cabin. With just a few steps we could reach the path to climb the cliff shown above. Without realizing it, we zoomed even further back in time, to an era of intense volcanic activity, which created the Davis Mountains. The rhyolite columns, tuff and pumice, volcanic peaks and domes, took us entirely away from the human world.

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope at the UT McDonald Observatory

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope at the UT McDonald Observatory (from mcdonaldobservatory.org)

But not long after that we learned what time travel could really be. We went to the nearby University of Texas McDonald Observatory, which takes advantage of the clear mountain air.

Among many projects at McDonald is the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX). This seeks to uncover the secrets of dark energy, using the large Hobby-Eberly Telescope and to survey the sky 10x faster than other facilities can do. It will eventually create the largest map of the Universe ever, with over a million galaxies. In doing so, HETDEX will look back in time 10 billion years.

If there is anything more amazing than the mind-stretching that Fort Davis does, it is that the area is so little visited. In addition to the sites mentioned above, there is a state park with numerous hiking trails, the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens, interesting towns such as Alpine and Marfa, and the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, under the trees at Balmorhea State Park, which takes one back to the wonderful CCC projects of the 1930s.

 

Newfoundland diary: Bottle Cove

York Harbour

York Harbour

I had intended to write a Newfoundland diary, but the onslaught of beautiful rocky coasts, wildflowers and butterflies, fragrant forests of balsam fir, moose and caribou, seabirds, icebergs, quaint fishing villages, lighthouses, Paleoeskimo archeology, world renowned geological sites, challenging hikes with gorgeous views, tundra, friendly people, widely divergent regional dialects, and more has distracted me.

This is beginning to look more like a five-day report, maybe a quinquery? Even now, I feel that I’m just highlighting a few of many rich experiences.

Bottle Cove

Bottle Cove

It wasn’t just the overload of rich experiences. The problem began on the first full day. We had arranged to stay in a cabin in York Harbour, on the central west coast, not far from Corner Brook. The cabin was on the seacoast, with a view of mountains and islands. That would have been difficulty enough.

However, the next day we ventured to Bottle Cove. It’s a fishing village with a population of just 10 people, but deservedly has its own Wikipedia entry. Two of those ten were very good friends who welcomed us with treats, including cheeses and homemade beer.

Trail's End, named by Captain Cook

Trail’s End, named by Captain Cook

The cove is aptly named, given its narrow mouth, but apparently it’s actually an Anglicization of the French bateau, from its days as a French fishing village.

The surrounding terrain is part of the Appalachian Mountains. That’s the justification for including the trails in the area in the International Appalachian Trail system.

We had a beautiful walk to the headland named Trail’s End by Captain Cook, when he first explored the area. The trails are suffused with wildflowers, beautiful mushrooms, and interesting rock formations.

The rocks are mostly ophiolites, meaning they came from the oceanic crust and the upper mantle of ancient seas.  They were uplifted and exposed above sea level, often on top of shale and other continental crustal rocks. A prevalent and striking example are the green serpentinites. We saw them in walks around Bottle Cove and also at the nearby Cedar Cove, another beautiful, but quite different formation.

View from the headland

View from the headland

After a day in the Bottle Cove area I was in a mixed state, exhilarated from the beauty and good experiences, but depressed by the thought that everything to come would be a let-down.

Personal geography: Walking

Lake Silvaplana

Lake Silvaplana

In Die Götzen-Dämmerung (Twilight of the Idols), Friedrich Nietzsche writes that his best ideas come from walking:

On ne peut penser et ecrire qu’assis [One cannot think and write except when seated] (G. Flaubert). There I have caught you, nihilist! The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit. Only thoughts reached by walking have value.

An important example of this for Nietzsche was his concept of the eternal recurrence of the same events. It occurred to him while he was walking in Switzerland in the woods around Lake Silvaplana, when he was inspired by the sight of a large, pyramidal rock. His inner life as writer and philosopher could not be separated from his embodied life as a person who spent hours walking in beautiful spots in Europe.

Why does it require the direct connection reached through walking to embrace an idea like eternal recurrence? Why not just use a map? Reading a book, map, diagram, photo, movie, etc. can be a powerful experience. Why can’t we have the same insights without being there? And what is the relation between reading a text  about a phenomenon and experiencing it more directly?

A philosophy of walkingJohn Dewey addresses this dichotomy in The Child and the Curriculum:

The map is not a substitute for a personal experience. The map does not take the place of an actual journey…But the map, a summary, an arranged and orderly view of previous experiences, serves as a guide to future experience; it gives direction; it facilitates control; it economizes effort, preventing useless wandering, and pointing out the paths which lead most quickly and most certainly to a desired result. Through the map every new traveler may get for his own journey the benefits of the results of others’ explorations without the waste of energy and loss of time involved in their wanderings–wanderings which he himself would be obliged to repeat were it not for just the assistance of the objective and generalized record of their performances.

Sunset on the Dardanelles

Sunset on the Dardanelles

I’ve been thinking along these lines while reading, A Philosophy of Walking, by Frédéric Gros. The book is a pleasure to read (though not while walking). It intersperses Gros’s observations with accounts of other great walkers such as Rimbaud and Nietzsche. Gros writes,

By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history … The freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life.

Curiously, the anomia and ahistory of walking, its “freedom,” is what allows the walker to connect to a greater degree with history, geography, and ideas in general. This has become even more evident to me during our stay in Turkey.

To be continued…