Dommy and Tommy return to Hungary from ten months’ travels in one week. Like an excitable Kindergartner’s first day outfit, their top travel tales are raring for attention. Dommy’s common thread: we-nearly-died-but-it-made-a-good-story. (She likely passed up themes such as “maiming-be-damned” and “worth-the-nub.”)
Her finale, told around a desert campfire under a Van Gogh-ian Starry Sky, involves unscriptably bad luck rather than prospective death. She relays an ill-fated day of snowboarding which entailed: 1) two mid-air collisions, one with an ice wall, providing a black eye and another with a fellow snowboarder, registering a badly bruised shin; 2) an errant or precisely aimed ice ball blackening and bloodying her other eye; and 3) a fainting spell (nearly blind and dragged to a club by friends, she limps out to the dance floor only to offer a round of drinks when a disco ball falls on her head and she faints. You’re generous to a fault, Dommy.) The absurdity strains my belief to near-breaking point like a delicate chewing gum isthmus. While I could comfortably stomach another mid-air collision, a second disco ball incident would definitely raise questions.
Emboldened by Dommy’s finesse, Tommy jumps out on the story-telling highwire. Tommy describes the godsend it is for them having an uncommon language. We all see the utility and encourage him to continue. At Macchu Picchu, an overweight woman backs into him while taking a picture. He says to Dommy in Hungarian, “this fat dude needs to watch out!” The woman’s sharp look and gesture immediately indicate Hungarian origins. Tommy processes this but falls a touch short on follow-through–he exclaims further, in Hungarian, “oh shit that’s not a fat man, that’s a fat Hungarian lady!” He subsequently apologizes in English.
Before gaining inkling that memorable characters will theme our Indian Rajasthan trip, Yanara (Wonderlust: Golden Poopy) and I meet Yogi. Yogi, a gracious guesthouse owner in the blue city of Jodhpur, is inexplicably drawn to sharing personal secrets and details with me. He encourages me to pretend I am his cousin with his friend Veronique in NYC. He adamnantly claims she will give me first row seats to concerts. Why, Yogi? “I love her like a mother and treat her like a girlfriend.” Yea..uh..hmm. Impenetrable like an armadillo. A motherly/girlfriend-y armadillo.
Yanara encourages me to get more creative in answering the frequent questions about my heritage. I have my first opportunity when long-haired, 40+, visibly intoxicated Ian asks at the Artist’s Lodge in Jaisalmer. I give my habitual answer however, “I was born in the U.S. Parents born in India.” It occurs to him rightly or wrongly that this makes me eligible for the Indian presidency. Well, Ian, actually I am traveling the country to canvas receptivity towards my potential candidacy. “You’ll be president in less than 10 years. Believe. No bullshit. Believe. No bullshit.” Sometimes he catches me off guard with a second “believe” in a row, just when I figure a “no bullshit” is coming. Judging from the extent and length of the ongoing, nightlong pep talk, I exude uncertainty. What must be a very presidential brand of uncertainty.
He suddenly expresses dismay at whether I will even remember him when I win the presidency. He loses his buoyant boyish ways. Cheer up, Ian! Little does he know he is top contender for campaign management.
A tabla. With the Indian drum in front of him and a menu and a quandary in front of us, he realizes an opportunity to sing an apropos melody. That is, in song, he guides Yanara and me towards his suggested dessert. “Apple strudel. Apple strudel. Apple strudel. AND CUSTARD!!” Think twinkle twinkle little star AND MEGADETH!! As a matter of principle, I embrace passionate dessert suggestions.
Ian fades to black as a spectacularly unibrow-ed, bowl-cutted harmonium player enters the scene while we enjoy our CUSTARDy dessert. Adding a “ji” as a title of respect, he alternately serenades Yanara-ji and Pushana-ji, who I assume is me. I have video of this and hope to upload it soon. In the meantime, it suffices to say his deeply inspired and loud singing enchantingly harmonizes with his Ripley’s believe-it-or-not unibrow. The look of heavy concentration on his face beautifully v-shapes it, like birds migrating south.
We somehow decide to skip Artist’s Lodge the next day. We instead seek out Desert Boy Dhani. It apparently has floor cushion seating. I like to recline while I eat. Maybe even more than getting serenaded with a name vaguely resembling mine. So I ask around how to get there. At a tea shop, a guy provides a loose indication. We thank him and head that direction.
No more than 2 minutes later, he shows up beside us on a motorcycle. He tells us to hop on because he works at Desert Boy Dhani and heads that way. Maybe we reminded him that he was late for his shift. Or maybe we reminded him that he worked there in the first place. Either way, he apparently chugged, shotgunned or funneled his previously leisurely-paced tea, conjured this bike from nowhere and spared not a second in tracking us down. He may have been concerned that time’s passage would lead to trouble contextualizing where we had seen him before. In any event, we decline the polite invitation. He drives off a different direction than the one he told us and never appears at the restaurant. Weird he would just blow off his shift like that.
While in Jodhpur, I asked Yanara whether she thought traveling is more about the people or the places. Their inseparability makes it a pretty academic question, we concluded at the time. It’s probably best to simply enjoy how they complement each other. Traveling with a friend for life met while traveling, and coming across a motley crew of interesting types, through the magical desert of Rajasthan, is a prime example. I love it like CUSTARDy apple strudel and treat it like a fat unibrowed Hungarian on a motorbike. Maybe I’ll make it my campaign headquarters. Believe. Believe.