Like most modern hotels in Mumbai - and, I suppose, throughout India - the Marriott Courtyard looks very out of place amongst a dense tangle of aged, sooty, low-to mid-sized store fronts and buildings. An oasis, just getting onto the Marriott grounds by car requires a thorough search by a bomb-sniffing dog and two security guards poking about the hood and trunk - and that's before the metal detector fronting the lobby. The streets just outside the grounds are another world and fairly intimidating. They're thronged with speeding tuk-tuks, garish trucks the length of a scooter but two stories tall, Ford Figos, Chevy Sparks, Toyota Innovas and a swarm of locals on foot. The men wear slacks and a button down long sleeved shirt; the women wear saris. A good portion of these people, let's face it, just look dirty, like street people. In many cases they are dirty and likely live on or close to the street. I'll be honest - leaving the hotel to walk those streets feels risky.
The reality is that the majority of these folks could care less about you and those who do are only interested in giving you a smile or a brief "Namaste". Walk into any of these seemingly decrepit businesses and you encounter well-dressed professionals with a good grasp of English and a work ethic putting most of us to shame. The poverty here is so rampant it's inescapable. The streets are covered in grime and refuse, the needy crowd every street corner, but the locals are used to it and spend little time judging it. It's just how things are. The high and low born mix together so neatly, they're inseparable. It's a crazy, high energy Indian stew that's worked for centuries. We're just another bunch of outsiders passing through who, other than having an atypical height and skin color, are not particularly interesting.
The staff in our hotel can't be friendly enough and gather about little Archer whenever the three of us head down to the restaurant off the lobby. We time these trips to correspond with Archer's naps so the staff are continually frustrated with closed eyes and an unresponsive little cutie. The lobby is quite expansive and modern-looking, giving off a pleasant, well-scented, business professional vibe. The smoggy smell so familiar to us at the Novotel is still outside though less pronounced here in the city center. Our room is thankfully spared the smell entirely, letting in - through a floor to ceiling window - only a brightly lit view of the pool, construction sites and a vast urban landscape.
We have been provided with a microwave and electric teapot - our bottle sterilizer and bottle warmer, respectively - so the room is fairly self-sufficient. We have most meals brought to the room just because it's easier so we keep a stack of 100 ruppee bills (about $2.25) for tips. Archer spends his days in our arms or on the bed. To give the room service crew access, Shannon and I will take Archer to the exec lounge - we managed to get ourselves on the Exec floor - which is air conditioned enough to store beef for days but offers free drinks and tea biscuits so we can call it even. We even think of this lounge as our escape hatch should Archer get inconsolably crabby at 3 in the morning. Our neighbors didn't pay good money to be awoken by even the cutest of babies - which, of course, he is.
Surely news to my American friends and family, the cricket world cup is underway with, no kidding, India top ranked. Most days are fairly open ended for us so I've had lots of time to become a cricket "fan" and actually follow along with these eight hour matches. (The quotes mean no, not really, I'm no fan. But hey, sports are sports.) Otherwise, Shannon and I do some reading and have learned to tolerate the very random and often disappointing selection of English-language movies on the tv. As a treat we bundle up Archer and take him down to the pool for some time under an umbrella. Or we search high and low for a bag of Lays potato chips which, for some reason, represent home as well as anything for Shannon.
I'd mentioned in an earlier post my efforts to figure out a way to stream Netflix and Hulu to my laptop here in Mumbai. The good news is I solved the problem. We're using proXPN. Another option is IAPS. The bad news is that the streaming bit rate from the US to India is so slow that Netflix is completely unwatchable - the video endlessly freezes - while Hulu is tolerable but also a trier of patience. It's possible that some company can help compensate for this sluggishness but I've yet to find them.
This is our one room home. We've yet to figure out a way to move our US Consulate visit earlier than the 15th of March, far longer a stay than we'd anticipated. Assuming we can't move that date up, figure another three to five days to physically get a passport in hand and then another day or two to get Archer's exit visa. All told, we may not be out of India until around the 20th. That's over one month in India, nothing compared to the length of time suffered by some of our European blogosphere friends but still a struggle. We'd love to introduce Archer to his own home, not this borrowed one.
And introduce him - through scent, anyway - to a chicken parmesan sub which sounds abso-friggin-lutely fantastic right about now.
3 years ago