Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why India?

You may wonder why we wanted to go to India, why this would be one of our retirement highlights.  The best way to explain it is to go back to the beginning.

We met in the late 1970s in Los Angeles, and many of our fondest memories are of meals we had at small restaurants and cafes.  Even then, we preferred ethnic restaurants, and would drive an hour to go to a favorite restaurant.  We loved Chinese, especially Panda Inn (the parent restaurant of the now ubiquitous Panda Express), and we'd regularly go to Monterey Park for dim sum.  Our favorite Indian restaurant was the Bengal Tiger in Hollywood and we'd always include the Vindaloo, though sometimes we'd regret it later that night.  For Thai we might go to West Hollywood or out to the Valley where Judy found a restaurant during her internship at the VA.  You could say that we bonded over food.  In Los Angeles, ethnic food was plentiful and cheap, and at home we ate more simply or barbecued.  

We moved to State College, PA, in 1986, in part to eliminate the insane commutes we had in L.A., and to be able to spend more time with our kids.  We were unprepared for the fact that there was a very limited restaurant scene here, dominated by pizza parlors and bars.  There was one bakery outside of the grocery stores, and it was decidedly mediocre.  Within a few years, Judy learned how to bake and began learning to prepare the ethnic dishes we couldn't find locally.  One of the assets State College has is to be equally distant from a lot of East Coast cities with excellent restaurant scenes, New York, Washington, Philadelphia.  We'd trek to a city as often as we could, but in the end, learning how to cook the dishes we preferred was the best option.  Especially since our children developed a taste for spicy and hot food.  For the past 30 years, our family's Christmas dinner consists of Thai Wonton, Spicy shrimp with cashew, Pork Lo Mein, Thai Ginger chicken, Beef & Broccoli, and/or Sesame Chicken.  I know it sounds strange, but those are the kids' favorite dishes.

By 2000, we took the last of the kids to college, which allowed us to begin doing more foreign travel together.  Steve had been going to Sweden and the UK fairly regularly, but he also started getting interesting invitations in Asia, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore.  Whenever possible, we went together and thoroughly enjoyed the cuisines.  At the same time, we traveled all over Europe, although we returned most often to France.  In 
2007, we took a cooking class in Provence, at Julia Child's former home, taught by a chef who had known and worked with Julia and Simone Beck.  We also started taking classes at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, in bread baking and pastry.  It also turns out that Zingerman's has some "culinary adventures" that they do in conjunction with travel partners.  So last year we decided to go to Tuscany with Zingerman's and Peggy Markel.  We had been to Tuscany several times before, but we liked the idea that these are very small groups and that the emphasis is on both cuisine and culture, and that we would have experiences we wouldn't have been able to find easily on our own.  The trip we took last Fall exceeded our expectations.  Peggy has developed personal relationships with the purveyors we visited (heirloom pasta, wines, parmigiana, prosciutto, etc), and there was a nice mix of cooking and demonstrations.  We also appreciated the relaxed approach to the schedule, which allowed plenty of time to explore and enjoy what we were seeing.

While we were looking at the Tuscany adventure, we also saw that Peggy went to some more exotic locations, Morocco and India.  We had always talked about India being somewhere we'd like to go, but that the travel seemed challenging.  We have some colleagues from India, even a Fulbright Scholar who had come and worked with Steve for a semester.  I had a few clients who had gone, and their tales were a little harrowing.  But when we read Peggy's description of her India adventure, we felt it was something we wanted to do.  First, and foremost, she has developed relationships with guides and businesses and we trusted her to choose venues and experiences that we would enjoy.  And, as my kids will say about me, since my idea of "roughing it" is a Holiday Inn, it appealed to us to be staying in 5-star establishments.  Many people we've talked to who had gone to India talked about the digestive challenges, but having traveled in Southeast Asia and Peru, we are pretty experienced at avoiding unfriendly bacteria.

The last part of our decision was an extension of what we said when we went to Peru and Machu Picchu last year, and that is that we will not be able to do challenging travel forever, so the time to do it is now.  The India trip was wonderful, and we were at least a decade older than the next traveler.  In fact, one of our new friends kept saying what a "cute couple" we are, which I think may imply something about our age.  The other thing about this type of travel is that it is, truly, exhausting.  While you're there it's so exhilarating that you often push yourself, but when you get home it can take a week or even two to really recover (especially with jet-lag).  

So now we're starting to plan a trip to Thailand, which has always been on our list of places we'd like to go.  And I'd love to take a culinary trip to Oaxaca, the home of excellent mol├ęs.  And then, who knows?

What we do know is that we're creating wonderful memories for when the time comes that we can no longer travel this way.  Steve is both a wonderful photographer and documenter, so we have DVDs and a book to memorialize each trip.  I'm sure there will come a day when we will spend many happy hours looking back over our travels, and we'll have no regrets for missed opportunities.


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