Life Comes Back in the Mailbox

Life Comes Back in the Mailbox
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New York is at its most glorious during the spring season. Tall, thin, elegant tulips cluster around trees lining the streets, adding color against the base of statues standing high above the earth. Quietly swaying to the rhythm of the wind in the narrow malls that appear up and down in the middle of Park Avenue. Red, pink, yellow, white, black, and even multi-colored blooms. One next to another. Trees bloom, their blossoms so heavy the branches bend almost to the ground as they preen and pose so pleased to have their bare branches covered. We stand quietly and admire them.

The winter season can be brutal. Bone-chilling wind and ice and snow, occasionally limiting our mobility. The days are short, and the long black nights can seem endless. Now we embrace the daffodils, tulips, pansies, and crocuses, adding color to the streets as we feel the warm weather against our skin. This spring, particularly.

Last March New York was shuttered. Silenced. Horns, screeching brakes, the clip-clop of horses drawing carriages, the music of street buskers, laughter, conversations in languages and dialects too many to count, whistles, and even drunken revelers were silenced. Replaced with the shrill of sirens.

Spring has circled back and has ushered in a sense of renewal. The restaurants have designed cafés on the street hung with festive lights. The museums have opened with timed admission.  The parks are filled with bicycles, individuals pushing prams, couples walking arm in arm. Understanding that our magnificent city will take years to fully heal.

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William “Bill” J. Dean was a dear friend. I shall miss him. He left too quickly when we were all quarantined and we were left without having an opportunity to say farewell. He often spoke of his planned trip to India. Through my writing, I intend to keep sharing my love of New York City, Central Park, and trips up the Hudson to his beloved Midwood, a home owned by our dear mutual friend.

I have traveled to India and thought I would look back in my journal when I was traveling with my late husband, Thomas B. Moorhead who was Deputy Under Secretary of Labor for International Affairs in the United States Department of Labor. For me traveling to India was like falling in love. I left enchanted with the place and the people. Let me share with you my impressions of India when I was there in February 2002.

A visit to India

When you are leaving Manhattan there is a point on the FDR Drive, just as you turn onto the Drive from the entrance on 96th Street, the moment when the benches on the path along the river come into sight and the footbridge across the East River forms an arc in the sky. It is a moment of reflection. Nothing is ever the same when you leave and come back again.

“India will be different from anything you have ever experienced,” a friend had told me. I consider international travel an opportunity to devour books. On the flight from New York to London, I read the William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns, A Year in Delhi, enchanted with his stories of spending a year in Delhi with a young wife. Envious of their youth and their sense of exploring a new place.

When I arrived in Delhi, I was warned by my driver that the traffic had been very heavy driving to the airport. It was almost 2:00 a.m. and from the number of lorries, busses, and just general traffic it was clear that this was normal, although the general cacophony of this was not so different from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway driving from JFK airport in New York on a busy summer evening.

We were staying at the Hyatt Hotel at Bhikaji Cama on Ring Road and I still can, in my mind’s eye, visualize the beautiful woman greeting me with folded hands: “Namaste,” then applying a tikka to my forehead while holding a plate with rice, a sweet and a small candle. I wrote about walking through a flower market and watching young children stringing garlands of marigolds they took from mounds of flowers. I loved the yellow marigolds and still have a dried garland in my closet.

My husband was traveling from a meeting in Brussels and I had learned that a former British diplomat I had met in New York was now stationed in Delhi with his wife. They invited us for dinner at the Imperial Hotel and we sat at the bar in the Patiala Lounge. I wondered then where in the world we might meet next.

While Tom’s itinerary was tightly scheduled, we did have an opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal.  We brought back a white plate with red geraniums and an exquisite box designed with pieces of coral and diamonds. I often hold it up to the light and watch the sunshine through the white stone. We met lots of children. The boys with their deep-set black piercing eyes and the girls who seemed to intuit grace, moving gently, their high cheekbones, wide-set eyes frequently offset with the beautiful color of a silk scarf wrapped around their heads. We visited homes of children who were working and even in these simple dwellings their shrines, candles, and incense holders displayed with a sense of beauty. Tom was greeted warmly and reached out to embrace the children into his large frame.

We returned to Delhi from Agra by train. What I recall is how romantic it seemed sitting on straight back green leather seats, curtains at the windows, and low metal racks like the ones might expect to find traveling in the 1930’s. We were served a simple supper of soup in a cup, followed by rolled bread and a vegetarian dish, yogurt and a sweet. We arrived at the train station in Delhi in the late evening. It was raining, the dampness and heat wrapped around us as the energy from the people in the crowded station absorbed our senses.

The next day we had been invited for lunch at the American Embassy with then Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill who had assumed his duties in India on July 27, 2001, and was clearly enjoying the assignment. He enjoyed setting up roundtable lunches and dinners modeled after those of Katherine Graham hosted in Washington. We were also able to spend a night at the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur. We had been given a suite with a lake view. In addition to attractive seating, a jhumar squarely in the center of the room, hanging from the ceiling, was a large swing. It was so glorious how could we not invite the delegation of American and Indians officials traveling with us to visit. So, I hastily arranged a meeting with the manager to see if we could think of something creative.

“You can have our bagpipe and drum players at 6:30 when your guests will be arriving.” After a reception and a lovely demonstration of Indian dancing, we left for a dinner with members of a local business organization for a discussion that centered on trade issues.

At the end of the week, I realized I wanted to stay. I longed to spend more time with the children and to explore the entire country. To learn the art of preparing Indian food.

“It dances today, my heart, like a peacock it dances, it dances.

It sports a mosaic of passions

Like a peacock’s tail,

It soars to the sky with delight, it quests, O wildly

It dances today, my heart, like a peacock it dances. …”

(“New Rain” by Rabindranath Tagore, Selected Poems)

About the author: Elizabeth Howard
Elizabeth Howard
Elizabeth Howard held corporate communications positions with two Fortune 500 companies before founding her own firm Broadbridge International Group. She has been a member of a number of organizations involved with international issues including the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs and the Women’s Foreign Policy Group. She was a member of the board of the Ricardo O’Gorman Library in New York and served on the Board and as President of the Women’s Education Project, an organization that works with young women in India. She has published four books and her articles have appeared in The New York Law Journal, the Laconia Daily Sun, Communication Arts, Board Member and other American and international journals. She was married to the late Thomas B. Moorhead, who served in the Administration of George W. Bush. She is host of the podcast, The Short Fuse, produced by the Arts Fuse, an online journal of art criticism and commentary. She is currently the writer in residence at Randall’s Island Park Alliance in New York City and leading programs for their Literary Program. Follow her on Instagram at elizh24

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