Thursday, January 2, 2014

Indiana Jones and the Ratty Nepalese: A Winter's Tale

Meet The Ratty Nepalese, a character in Raiders of the Lost Ark, wherein his job is to attack Harrison Ford at a bar in Nepal. Which is located, it turns out, in Patan. Just like me.

The Ratty Nepalese.
That's really the official name of the character
played by, uh, Malcolm Weaver.

There are three things that people not in Nepal tend to think of on those rare occasions when Nepal happens to cross their minds: Mount Everest, yetis, and that bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark where you see Marion's bar in the howling, snowy remoteness of the high Himalayas. I bet you didn't know that Marion's bar was in Patan. But apparently that's the case.  So according to Spielberg, this is what my house should look like.

"It's a crummy dive in a Nepalese village that  nobody would otherwise visit,
but the local enjoys the warmth of the fire, and the climbers who hike through here
enjoy the company and the booze." -- Marion Ravenswood, on her bar in Patan

Those who know Nepal might quibble that Patan is a city of over 200,000 people who answer census questions (and maybe a million who don't), and is to Kathmandu what Brooklyn is to New York. It's K-Town's Siamese twin, or rather Siamese quadruplet, since there were once four kingdoms in the Valley -- Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur -- whose kings, being relatives and hence bitter rivals, engaged in a long game of one-upmanship that involved trying to build more temples than each other. It was a familial Cold War fought with temples, and left the Kathmandu Valley with more temples than Wyoming has missile silos. They're everywhere. And so, now, is Kathmandu, which is really one tangled multi-limbed quadruplet of a city, complete with clogged arteries and, well, a whole lot of temples.

In spite of all the concrete and an overall population of maybe 2 to 5 million (give or take a million, because who's counting?), it doesn't sound right to use the word "metropolis" for a place where cows roam on dirt streets. But Patan can be told apart from Kathmandu only because they're divided by the Bagmati River, which you could walk across if you were a cow and didn't mind using shoals of plastic and coagulated debris as a sidewalk. I have seen cows walk across it, munching on plastic. Free-range cows, fed on free-range plastic. Got milk? It comes with added BPA!

I'm in Technically Patan, but it would take me about 10 minutes by bicycle to get to Technically Kathmandu, if I got up the nerve to brave the highly creative traffic pattern and didn't get smacked by a hit-and-run motorcycle or fall on the bumpy potholed roads. Both of which have happened to me. Whereas it does not look as if Marion had that particular worry, in her version of Patan. Although she did have to worry about Giant Sherpas, who have not, thus far, caused me any particular trouble.

At left is Indiana fighting in the frigid remoteness of Patan with The Giant Sherpa, played by Pat Roach (who was also The German Mechanic in the same film, the Chief Guard in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and a Gestapo in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and thus may have been Indiana's most persistent foe.) At right is a Not Giant Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, with Edmund Hillary during their first interview after they summitted Everest in 1953. Hmmm. Come to think of it, he really was kind of giant.                                                                 

Actually, Patan looks like this, if you're taking pictures for a guide book ...

Patan Durbar Square, about a 20-minute walk from our house

             ... or like this, if you're just taking pictures of your kid on the roof ...

Scenic view from our roof, with teenager, laundry and urban sprawl

                                    ... or sometimes like this, if you're walking down the street and all of a sudden a giant tree thing comes lurching at you.

Happy Holidays! But this is not a Christmas tree. It's built to make it rain,
which it achieves each year by getting pulled on ropes through the streets of Patan
by the people of Patan, or at least by a bunch of rowdy young men,  as a huge crowd follows because

it's sacred and it's tradition and also because it's like watching a giant wreck about to happen.
And it does rain afterwards. So I'm not arguing with experience. 
Plus I wouldn't want to jinx it. The darned thing is about five stories tall.

See? No snow. No howling wilderness with Ratty Nepalese and Giant Sherpas bursting in from the cold to have fights with Indiana Jones. No Sherpas at all, traditionally, since their homeland is up north in Solu Khumbu (at least before half of them bought trekking agencies and then moved to the US to run restaurants). But here's the thing. You don't need snow to be cold. What you need to be cold is to live in Nepal in the winter. Because we have no central heating. So on another level, beyond the deceptive surface of concrete houses and stores that sell Tang and transplanted Sherpas who run trekking agencies and own multi-story houses with marble floors and yet no heat (until they get tired of being cold and move to Florida and rent their house to foreigners), this is definitely Spielberg's Nepal.

Except for one problem. Look at that fireplace. Seriously. That FIREPLACE. Who has ever seen a real Nepali house with a fireplace like that?

I want that fireplace!

You get this ...

Typical rural cook stove

Or you get this ...

True, it doesn't have quite the golden romantic glow of a fire in a traditional home.
But if you need a fire,  well, you can build it right in the hallway.
And if a Giant Sherpa comes in, she can disarm him easily by offering a cup of tea.

Or, in the city, you can enjoy the warm glow of liquid propane cylinders in cabinet heaters.

But you don't get fireplaces in a Western sense, with a mantle to decorate for the holidays. Not unless you're in a tourist guesthouse or a modern house with a fireplace added so it can be rented to expats. Fireplaces in Nepali homes are practical affairs: they're either mud stoves or, high in the mountains, open hearths in the middle of the floor, and you cook on them as well as warm yourself. This is why, when we lived in Washington DC, my husband may have been the only guy in our neighborhood to roast potatoes in our living room fireplace. And it's also why my mother-in-law, when she visited America, had absolutely no interest in sitting around the fire just to look at it. She'd been making fires every day of her life; to her, it was about as fascinating as sitting around gazing at an oven.

Many years ago, on my first trip to Nepal, I recall the complaints of a French couple I met on the trail in an area with few tourists and no "apple pie" guesthouse culture: It is smokey. We cannot sleep in the houses because it is smokey. Why do they not have chimneys? In France, all the old houses have a chimney. They had come to Nepal and discovered, to their chagrin, that it was not France.

All would have been well if they'd just found Marion's bar. Because she has a lovely fireplace, with a mantel and everything. I am going to look for Marion's bar right now, because there's a gas shortage and our cylinder needs changing and we will soon be freezing in the cold chill of Spielberg's Nepal.

Marion's fireplace has the added benefit of coming with Harrison Ford.
My source of heat is a cabinet heater with gas cylinder. It comes with my husband.
But he does have an Indiana Jones hat. So it all works out.

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