Thursday, September 28, 2006

Deadly Virus Resurrected

This is a sort of fascinating article about the 1918 flu that killed so many people in Europe. Read it if you have a spare minute. :)

Resurrected virus shows how 1918 flu strain committed mass murder from

Scientists testing a resurrected version of the 1918 flu virus on lab mice believe the 20th-century's deadliest pathogen reaped its toll through a combination of runaway tissue inflammation and cell death.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How many pots could a potter pot if a potter could pot pots?

After visiting the church in Idaikattur, we went to the small town of Manamadurai to see a local pottery operation. The director of the Tamil program Dr. Bharathy knows my interest, and I think that was the main reason for that part of the journey. It was an amazing operation. They were organized as a cooperative, a number of families sharing facilities, and the work involved in firing. They also appeared to be involved in fairly large bulk production operation, and were in the process of loading the pots in to trucks with straw cushioning when we visited. They make a variety of vessels, although the proportions have changed. Ceramic cooking vessels are used in the home here only on special or ritual occasions, and small oil lamps for altars are common. But the largest volume is flower pots, which are all hand made.
I would have loved to have studied pottery there with them, especially because of the family environment, but it's really too far to travel from Madurai on a regular basis. Instead I'll be taking pottery lessons twice a week in the village of Vilaachery about 45 minute bus ride from my neighborhood.
I don't start classes until next week but I'm excited, and I'll post pictures, if I manage to make anything with any success.

A young girl making small oil lamps for use in temples and home altars for worshipping the various Hindu deities.

Large piles of pottery, finished and ready to ship.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Replicating Reims Cathedral

It was already sweltering hot when we four students piled into a jeep-like vehicle to visit the Reims Cathedral of the East. This impressive structure was built in 1894 by a French jesuit priest. He had wanted to built a church in the small village of Idaikattur in Tamil Nadu, but lacked the funds. And so, he went home to France for funding and found a protestant woman who had been miraculously cured of a heart ailment after praying to the Sacred Heart. She donated 2000 francs, which allowed the kindly French father to return to India to build his majestic cathedral, and in doing so encroach on a large section of the villagers land.

The villagers protested, but the Father had already laid the foundation, and refused to change his plans. The peasants took their case to court, and tried to prevent the building of the church. Though the Father's lawyer advised him to lie in order to win the case, the honest father refused. He had faith in the lord.

Then the judge had a dream, in it the church was being built by 153 angels. (He counted them all. How he could tell them apart I don't know. I always have trouble telling one angel apart from another.) In any case, the Judge found in favor of the father, and convinced the villagers to give up their land. The church was built. In it he installed sculptures of many saints, as well as the 153 angels. Whether they each sat for portraits individually, I don't know.

It was indeed quite beautiful. The stained glass and statues were imported from france although they decided pews were unnecessary as the villagers were used to sitting on the floor.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pass the Roti

Ah, there's nothing better than a refreshing dose of bureaucracy. Today I decided to plan my travels outside of Madurai, to go visit my friends in Ooty, and to go to Hyderabad over my fall break. I started by looking at the newspaper to see which airlines were advertising the lowest rates. AirDeccan was advertising a rate from Hyderabad to Chennai for 74 Rupees, or about $1.85 plus taxes and fees. I went to their website to no avail, I tried every search possible and this fare did not exist. The actual rates were 700 Rupees, from Hyderabad to Chennai and 1500 from Chennai to Hyderabad. A round trip ticket costing about 5000 rupees with taxes and surcharges. This is ridiculous compared to train fares, so I decided to try booking train tickets online. The train ticket booking online doesn't allow for round trip tickets, and each leg had to be booked individually, with a service charge for using the internet booking facility. Because I had 6 separate journeys, I decided to give up and go to the railway reservation office, and despite having to fill out a separate form for each leg, I would probably get it done in better time. I also had received my ATM card from the State Bank of India, with a notification to obtain my pin by going to the branch office. I went to the bank to do this, and was informed by the security guard that I had to speak with the bank manager. Then he asked when I received the card, and I told him yesterday. He then informed me that the pin would not be available until Monday. I must come back then. I asked if I could speak with the bank manager anyway, and he said no, come back Monday.
No problem.
So then I had to wait in a 5 or 6 person line to withdraw cash from the bank without an ATM card, when woman carrying two two thousand rupee notes decided to cut to the front of the line, as if having large denominations of cash gave her that right. Even the man behind the counter yelled at her. He still took her in front of 4 other waiting people. After receiving my cash, I went to the railway reservation office, filled out 6 individual sheets for reservation requests with mostly redundant information. The only thing that changed was the date, and name and number of the train. Otherwise, I wrote the Class, number of berths, my full name, age, sex, berth preference, full address, telephone number, date and signature 6 times. But for 270 rupees I am going to Ooty to visit my friends for a weekend, and for another 850 rupees I am going to Chennai and Hyderabad for my break.
I know it will all be worth it in the end. On top of which I will have contributed to the archives of the Indian railway, which some future graduate student will surely study. If it doesn't all burn down. I mean, I think that amount of paper all held in one place has a natural tendency to spontaneously ignite.

On another note, my friend Vivek, and several of his friends have a blog about Indian politics and current events which is very informative. It can be found at

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I guess I do have something to say after all...

For many years now I have resisted the idea of creating a blog, because, as I told people, I have nothing to say, and besides, no one would want to read it anyway. I have finally come to the point at which I don't really care if anyone reads it; and it turns out that I do have something to say after all.
This blog is the beginning of my commentary on events, politics, and my own personal experiences in the world, as strange and absurd as it may be.
Do I have any expertise, you may ask yourself. And I can say, no, probably not. Perhaps on some subjects.
And so I give you opinions, some justified, others not. I cannot promise to write without bias, since I think that's an impossible goal.

So I will quote Umberto Eco:
"I asked for a lawyer and they gave me an avocado."