Oh yeah… Real Life.

Believe it or not, it’s not all just fun celebrations and festivals for us here in Kathmandu. I know the blog has made it appear that way thus far, but we do actually have daily routines, and… you know… WORK that we have to do. Drew spends his days zig-zagging through the city, conducting interviews, observing activities at various offices, making contacts, talking to local people, compiling field notes, etc. – all the things one does as an anthropological researcher. My routine includes less zig-zagging (I spend most of my time in Lalitpur/Patan), and consists mainly of three things: exercise, Nepali language lessons, and art-making.

I’ve been working out three days a week at CORE Fitness Studio -about a 10 minute walk from our current apartment- taking yoga, pilates, and… ummm… zumba classes. Yes, it’s true. Zumba. Possibly one of the cheesiest fitness crazes of all time, but you know what? I don’t care. I’m coming out. I LIKE ZUMBA. There. I said it. Generally, I think exercise is boring and I hate doing it, but zumba is actually fun. It’s me and a bunch of upper-middle class (or maybe just upper upper class?), middle-aged Nepali ladies, and we are killin’ it in our colorful little dance studio (that coincidentally has a few copies of German Elle magazine for you to peruse at your leisure – umm… OK sure, why not?)…

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The best part about my exercise routine is not the German Elle, the endorphins, or the benefits to my physical health, oh no. It’s getting to visit the strange and wonderful building in which CORE Fitness Studio is housed several times a week – The International House in Sanepa… IMG_0701A colonial-style building with lots of quirky charm, the International House seems to be simultaneously in active use as a fitness club and event space as well as a crumbling relic of colonial history in Nepal (*Note: Nepal was never technically colonized by any country, but the British Empire certainly had a presence throughout Nepal’s history, and even today through NGO and international aid work). If anybody has Wes Anderson’s phone number, please call him and tell him that I’ve scouted the location for his next film…

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I delight in the little touches throughout the building that give it life and humor… like the brass bowl full of water and various flower petals at the entrance, and the ‘tiger skin’ rugs hanging on the walls in the foyer… IMG_0695IMG_5555

Note the 'tiger skin' on the second floor there... it's a woven rug. I've seen them in stores. AWESOME.

Note the ‘tiger skin’ on the second floor there… it’s a woven rug. I’ve seen them in stores. AWESOME.

Ah, but I digress. Forgive me, it’s easy for me to get lost in old buildings…

In addition to my exercise routine, I’m taking Nepali language lessons with a private tutor two times a week. Umesh-ji (Mr. Umesh) is a friendly and gentle soul, recommended to me by one of my American friends here, and he only charges $5 an hour for private language lessons! Yippie!

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I’m learning slowly, as I’m not able to dedicate 100% of my time and effort to language acquisition, as one really should when trying to learn an entirely new language with an entirely different alphabet. (Sigh). At this point, I can introduce myself, ask you your name, and ask a few basic questions about your family, where you live and what you do for work. I can tell you in various ways that I only speak a little Nepali and not very well, and I can ask if various things are available in a store. I can ask how much something costs and I’ve even learned a few key phrases for haggling with taxi drivers (which are quite useful, indeed). Most people are thrilled to hear a bideshi (foreigner), trying to speak Nepali, and they generally become quite enthusiastic about it – they always tell you how well you speak, even when it clearly isn’t true. (It’s a far cry from my days trying to speak French in Paris, I can tell you!) The encouragement is really very nice, although like everywhere, there are definitely some people who are simply not impressed.  But that’s okay. Ke garne? (“What to do?”)

One thing that has been challenging for me as I learn Nepali is the constant mixing of French and Nepali in my mind. Apparently, my brain only has two language slots – one for English and one for some other language, but it seems there can only be one second language at a time. Trying to resurrect my French with some new francophone friends recently has been exceedingly difficult – it’s as if the Nepali is elbowing it’s way in and kicking the French out! How do people speak 3, 4, 5 languages (or more)?! I just don’t understand it, and I am oh-so-envious of that skill.

I’ve also noticed a subconscious nodding of my head when I speak Nepali – back and forth ever so slightly, like the locals often do. And when I speak French, I notice that I push my lips out, in a pout-like expression, also a subconscious gesture. What is this? How interesting that various physical gestures/expressions come with a language – a ‘package deal’ of sorts. I wonder, what is the gesture or expression that comes with English? As a native speaker, I’m certainly not aware of it. And is there a difference in that English gesture/expression if you are learning from an American, or a Brit, or an Australian? Oh, language. It just never ceases to fascinate and intrigue.

Of course, life isn’t all Nepali language learning and zumba classes. The majority of my time is spent in the art studio, of course. I’m two months into my six-month artist residency at the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Centre (KCAC), and it’s going quite well! The studio and its surroundings are absolutely lovely, and I’ve been working hard on some exciting new pieces. I’ll start with the studio itself…

KCAC is located inside the Patan Museum in Patan Durbar Square, the old palatial/temple complex of Patan, back when it was a separate kingdom from Kathmandu. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite places in all of the Kathmandu metropolitan area. A beautiful historic site, it is also an active place of religious worship, a community gathering spot, and a ‘playground’ for the local children. It’s a park, a town square – alive and breathing – bustling with activity… IMG_0224 IMG_0446 IMG_0454 IMG_2019 IMG_3505 IMG_4523 IMG_3939 IMG_3497 IMG_3978IMG_0456 IMG_2003 IMG_2004 IMG_2057 IMG_2050

Every other day or so, something special happens in the square – concerts, various political and public service demonstrations, special events, and even the filming of music videos…

Note the sign - "Enormous Public Felicitation Ceremony." Love it.

Note the sign – “Enormous Public Felicitation Ceremony.” Love it.

A concert for "World Social Work Day."

A concert for “World Social Work Day”…

A demonstration about women's rights just before International Women's Day.

A demonstration about women’s rights just before International Women’s Day…

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An action to raise awareness and seek justice for a Nepali woman who was raped in India a few months ago...

An action to raise awareness and seek justice for a Nepali woman who was brutally raped in India a few months ago…

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Low-budget music video shoot...

A low-budget music video shoot…

... and then a project with a much higher budget!

… and a project with a much higher budget!

The Patan Museum itself is located inside the old palace…

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The museum deserves a post of its own, so I’ll skip its collection for now and head straight to the studio….

I can enter through the main door, which is always flanked by old Nepali men watching the world go by…

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… or I can enter through the side-door, which is surprisingly unlocked at most times of day…

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Entering through the main door, I walk through a beautiful courtyard…

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… through an amazingly carved wooden door…

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… into a second courtyard where the museum cafe and garden are located…

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…and then I head into a small hallway where I walk up the dark stairs, past the “No Entry” sign (V.I.P. baby!)…

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…through two floors of empty gallery space…

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(Although the galleries are sometimes in use for various exhibitions)…

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… and then I go up the attic-like stairs to the third floor…

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There are two studios on this floor, connected by a lovely balcony with a wonderful view of the cafe and gardens below, as well as the tiered pagodas of the palace…

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Beautiful architectural details delight, and I have to remind myself to take the time to appreciate them everyday, lest they begin to feel ‘ordinary’ to me and loose their appeal…

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My studio is the smallest of KCAC’s four studios, but it’s the most cozy, in my opinion…

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The views from my windows? Well, they’re not bad. Not bad at all…

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There is lots of shelving for all of my supplies and studio ephemera- I have so many images and objects that I like to look at while I work…

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IMG_1130(“Home” printed doilies by Emily Manalo-Ruiz)

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My favorite shelving features are the tiny lighted alcoves that make whatever you choose to place there feel so very special…

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For the bulk of these last two months, I’ve been the only artist working in this particular section of KCAC, on the third floor. The other two studios (and library/office) are located downstairs, behind the museum cafe, in a beautiful wooded area…

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… just about every day you can find various museum employees gambling during their breaks on a platform in the back of this wooded area – guards, cooks, waiters, etc. It’s a silly ‘Village People’-esque scene that makes me chuckle…

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When I first arrived at the residency in February, two artists were working in the studios in this area behind the cafe, Lorene Taurerewa from New Zealand (via New York) and Rosie Lascelles from London…

Rosie on the left, Lorene in the middle...

Rosie on the left, Lorene in the middle…

Lorene with her chicken balloon during one of our coffee breaks...

Lorene with her chicken balloon during one of our coffee breaks…

They had a great exhibition at the end of their residencies at KCAC in early March…

Colorful paintings by Rosie:

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And the lovely, dark watercolors by Lorene:

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While Lorene and Rosie were here, as well as after their departure, it’s true that I have been up on the third floor with no other artist to keep me company – but that doesn’t mean I have been alone. Oh no! There’s always some rogue tourist who ignores the “No Entry” sign and goes exploring – they inevitably find me in my studio and chat with me in broken English. And there are the cleaning ladies who come up a few times a week to push dirty mops across the tiled floor of the balcony – they shout at each other and generally make a ruckus (but they’re sweet).

There was also a lot of roof tile repair being done in my first month at KCAC, so it wasn’t uncommon for a man to appear suddenly on the roof outside my window, walking along the clay tiles barefoot, with seemingly no safety precautions in place. Those of you who know me well, know that in certain circles my nickname is “Risk Management,” so needless to say this whole situation was a wee bit stressful for me, all the worrying for them. Luckily nobody was ever hurt!

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...even in the rain!

…even in the rain!

And then, of course, there are the furry friends that hang out on the third floor with me. When I first arrived, I was warned not to leave my windows open when I left the studio because of the monkeys. The evidence of their presence was clear…

What I believe to be monkey prints are on the wall in my studio...

What I believe to be monkey prints on the wall in my studio…

… BUT I never seemed to catch a glimpse of them. Lorene saw them once, so I knew they weren’t entirely fictional, but still… nothing. I waited for weeks and weeks to see them, and just as I started to think that they were only a myth, they FINALLY appeared. Just the other day, I was out on the balcony talking with some friends, and there they were – very nonchalantly sitting on the roof just above our heads, scurrying around, with little concern for the short distance between us…

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Before the monkeys made their appearance, my only furry friends on the third floor were the cats – a colony of (at least) three feral kitties. They scamper along the rooftop, meowing and calling out as they walk past my open windows.  Sometimes they sit there for a quite long time, just ‘talking’ to me (and yes, I respond in their ‘language’ – not that I know what I’m saying to them!)…

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They leave tracks of their own on the walls as well…

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I was hoping we’d become friends and that they’d eventually come hang out with me in my studio, but no such luck. They are quite skittish – it was a small miracle that I was able to nab a few pictures of them!

A few weeks back, I had a little studio ‘break-in’ by somebody in one of these two camps – monkeys and cats – but I’m not sure which. Because of the way the studio doors lock, they can be pushed open a bit, just enough for a cat or a small monkey to squeeze through…

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Luckily, nothing was permanently damaged… just some pens and paintbrushes that had been sitting in a cup were knocked over and scattered about the floor. The primary target seemed to be the trashcan…

IMG_3553I’d purposely left no food in the trash – just some empty wrappers – but apparently, that was enough to invite my furry friends inside for a visit. Lesson learned. The culprit(s) remain a mystery. What do you think? Monkeys? Or cats? (Cast your vote in the comments below!)

But I digress… the work! The actual ART that’s made in this studio – perhaps I should tell you about that? Well, I’ve spent so much time describing the environment in which I work in this (very long) post, I fear you may not have the spare time or attention to actually look at the art. Soooo… photos of new works (and works in progress) are coming in the next post, very very SOON!

6 thoughts on “Oh yeah… Real Life.

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