Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bombay Alive!

Mumbai, India is under attack. Indians and foreigners dead, injured and held hostage. Co-ordinated hate aimed against the whole international community. Rabid wolves set loose in the "city of dreams".

Thousands of miles away, here in Vancouver, I long ago named one of our guest rooms Bombay. I did that to honour a great connection that I feel to India. When I first visited that country, memories of the "Raj" where more alive than today. Still, even now, Indians are as likely to use the Anglicized name of Bombay over Mumbai and prefer Victoria Terminus ("V.T.") over Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

Photo of Bombay University courtesy of Durga 22

Like so many visitors to Bombay, I stayed largely within the old Victorian sector of the city, anchored at one end by the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Hotel(I stayed at the "Sally Ann") and studded with the architectural jewels of Bombay University, the Prince of Wales Museum, the High Court and V.T. itself. The mouldering neo-gothic splendour of those British monuments, surrounded by palms and lush tropical greenery, flooded by monsoon downpours and roost to pigeons and rats the size of rabbits, still form a backdrop for modern Mumbai's sensual, brash, and free-wheeling spirit. Its magnetic attractions may soon make it the most populous city on earth.

Amidst the crowding, the multicultural clamour and colour, India remains the most human of societies. People remain interested in one another. In so many ways, I found a lot of love in India. There is certainly a great deal of common decency. Bombay is often called the New York and Hollywood of India. Imagine a city that can play that role for a sixth of humanity. For me, Bombay answers the important Why? of travel. It is a place where human needs and aspirations meet.

Photo of Bombay's Marine Drive courtesy of Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

So Bombay will survive this. Mumbaikars have always been survivors. This great and difficult city, will continue to express the human condition in all it's shades of good and evil. For those of us born to an easier place, we can ask ourselves - what have we done for the common good?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One egg at a time.

I remember my first B & B guests. They came to me courtesy of a local bookstore named Wanderlust. Don't you love the name? They were from Calgary and I put them in our old "Fiesta" room. Please understand that the year was 1990 and I had just lived the last five years of my life out of Dallas, Texas. The room was done up in a sunny Southwestern decor, complete with howling coyote artwork. The Calgarians loved it and the Texas talk, you know - the awl bidness, new skyscrapers and the legends of the West, formed a mutual vocabulary. At breakfast, I served them a sandwich that I had always loved making for myself - a thick baked ham slice with both Canadian Cheddar and Dutch Edam, slathered in both honey mustard-mayo dressing and tart French honey-dijon. To make it breakfasty, I served it open on a toasted kaiser with a poached egg on top. Apple slices for garnish. Nothing gourmet but all my own invention. They loved it. And I exhaled. This was a recipe for success!

I was my own man. The very reason that justified my walking away from the percs and privileges of a Foreign Service career was right there in the satisfaction of those first guests. Corporatism, whether it be for profit or governmental policy, takes the "best and the brightest" recruits and drains them of the very attributes for which they were allegedly hired. Initiative is slowly drained away. Brave and independent thought is actively discouraged. Be it ever so humble, give me the work that is done with two hands, where a boss or a committee has no say over which direction to go. Farmers, artists, craftspersons, maybe even architects and entrepreneurs are the kind who will save this planet. Innkeepers may make it a kinder place.

Like so many self-employed persons, I have become a one man band, simultaneously a planner, builder, decorator, cook, washerman, cleaner, marketer, webmaster and accountant. In the early days, there was no one to ask the how-to questions to. No internet back then! I sketched out my future on a day to day basis and felt no regrets about losing the "security" of a regular wage or a guaranteed pension. The creative right side of my brain grew abs of steel. The left side applied discipline and focus. One egg at a time.

Just for fun, check here whether you are using more of your left brain or right brain.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Baby Bed and Breakfast

Over eighteen years, I've been an innkeeper. My standard joke with the guests is that if I had been planning ahead, that I might have a teenager around to help out at the B & B. Guest response is usually along the lines that THAT might be more trouble than not. Well, Nelson House B & B is my baby. Anyone who has ever been self-employed knows what I'm talking about. First you dream about the little one, then you decide to go for it, then it's too late - you have cut the salaried umbilical cord and the damned thing is moving all on its own! Very quickly, you learn if you have any parenting skills - very quickly, before the money runs out. And then you stagger off, changing your life forever as baby learns to walk and talk.

I never looked back. I only looked ahead. I imagined that I wanted a B & B because I enjoyed old houses. In fact, I had always been over-housed. At first, I was an "only child" in a four bedroom brick house that my grandfather bought in Almonte, Ontario when he retired from farming. Then, I inherited my parent's house when they passed away. Then I saved and bought my own first house in Ottawa - yep, a four bedroom brick house for me and my dog. Then, in a Foreign Service career, the tax-payers of Canada, perpetually housed me in truly grand style in several foreign countries so that I could better represent them. In dip-speak, the housing was "representational".

I imagined that I could run a B & B because of 15 years experience as a public servant. After all, I did deal with all kinds of people in all kinds of different situations. But my friends asked me rather practically: "Who will cook breakfast?" They had not seen me whip up a souffle in decades. I figured I could learn. One egg at a time.

Really, I imagined a bed and breakfast that captured the spirit of my first international travels - a year off from university spent backpacking in Europe and Asia. I remember my first B & B was a discount "Europe on $5 a Day" discovery in Sussex Gardens, London. The rooms were shared. The bathroom was down the hall. The toast was cold. The lady of the house scooped the greasy plate from under my nose as she sang "and you'll be on your way now luv". Well no, that's not the spirit part. The spirit was in the fellow-travellers that I met. The smiles, the rapid trading of useful information, the who, what, when, where and ultimately WHY of travel. Maybe it's hard to believe that cold-water youth hostels could engender the romance of the open road but those hostels led me to the exotic flea-bag hotels of Istanbul, Kabul and Kathmandu.

I believe that the sharing of food with strangers makes them friends. The sharing of travel tips leads to laughter. The sharing of bonhomie reinforces our humanity. That's the spirit that I hoped for in my baby B & B.


Sometimes the best way to start something is to plunge right in. Personally, I despise blogs that simply act as an advertising medium for one's own business. Listening to me blow my own horn would be a boring one note bleat. Now, if I were to mix in a dash of candid opinion, a little daily diary dish, some fair commentary as a Vancouverite, a Canadian and a gay guy, then we might have something more tuneful. Let's see.