Today, I am interviewing the lovely Barb Taub, author of Do Not Wash Hands in Plates, which I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing for you yesterday.
Let me know your thoughts, questions or comments at the end. Put the kettle on, have a brew and sit back and enjoy…
1. Where did your passion for traveling begin?
Right from the beginning, I figured out that the best travel stories come from what goes wrong. Visiting relatives? Boring. Driving across country with your nine siblings when you cross the path of a tornado because your father doesn’t believe in wasting money on newfangled inventions like car radios? Interesting. Going camping? Boring. Unless… it’s part of growing up in northern California, where my parents thought it was fine if my friends and I strapped sleeping bags and some sandwiches to our bikes and headed up to the redwoods or the beach for a few days. If they knew what we got up to, of course, I’d probably still be locked in my room. But it was the seventies—religious fanatics didn’t move to Guyana and kill over 900 people in a murder-suicide pact. Nuclear power was going to be cheap and clean and never ever cause accidents. Certainly, neither we nor Forrest Gump had ever heard of AIDS.
I remember one ‘camping’ trip where we met up with other kids, pooled our joints, and all crammed into the hollowed out center of a giant redwood tree. And that’s when the park rangers showed up. “Normally,” they told us, “We wouldn’t hesitate to arrest the lot of you.”
In the dead silence inside our tree, I could practically see the “Oh, shit. There goes college…” bubbles like cartoon thoughts above each head.
“But.” The rangers looked at each of us. “At the moment, we’re more worried about the tree. Do you have any idea how much damage you’re doing to it right now?”
The thought bubbles—or maybe it was those mushroom thingies one kid had tossed into the share bowl of pharmaceutical enhancements in the center of our circle—turned to capital letters. “OH SHIT, I’M A TREE MURDERER.” Because if there was one thing our generation was even more about than MakeLoveNotWar, it was The Planet. Just the week before, my friends and I had gone up to San Francisco to buy “Save the whales” and “Stop the baby seal massacre” signs from hippies in the Haight. And now we were murdering trees?
“There’s only one thing that can save the tree,” continued the ranger who seemed to be in charge. “You have to pound on the trunk to get the sap flowing. It will take at least an hour, maybe two, and we have to finish our rounds.”
We climbed out of the tree, and all started tapping the trunk.
“No, you really have to put some muscle behind it. There’s no time to waste.” The ranger seemed to be choking as he spoke. Maybe it was the smoke?
“Just to be on the safe side, I’ll take this.” The other ranger darted into the tree and picked up the goody pile in the center. The two rangers moved back into the shadows as we frantically began pounding on the bark.
I’m guessing those rangers are still laughing…
I’m sad that sense of freedom and independence is no longer possible for my children and their children, even as I wonder what my parents were thinking of to let me out the door. (Maybe because I was one of ten kids, they figured they had spares?) But I can still recall feeling that I could go absolutely anywhere and do anything and the whole world was open to me. That’s traveling.
2. What was the first place you visited along your travels?
I moved to the midwest for college, but I was fundamentally a California girl—car keys surgically grafted to my palm the day I turned sixteen—so of course my car went with me. On long weekends or term breaks, I’d often head out with no destination in mind. Two of my friends who came along on those jaunts were my roommates Janine and Jaya. We joined in a fish boil in Wisconsin, had creepy mechanics stalking us after a car breakdown in Indiana, and spent a fabulous weekend after being towed out of a ditch in Omaha.
After graduation, we did the same thing but headed separately for Europe this time. Nobody who knew any of us would have thought it possible in those pre-cellphone/web days, but to everyone’s shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we met up in Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was visible on satellite images.
3. Favorite places you visited and why?
I’ve actually loved almost every place we ever visited, both in the USA and abroad. And the ‘why’ is always the same—the people. I love meeting them, getting a glimpse of their lives, eating new foods, visiting incredible natural and human-made wonders. Okay, with surprising frequency these experiences include close encounters with international medicine—I really like eating the food!—but that’s interesting in itself.
4. What do you like least about traveling?
I don’t like having to go out to breakfast. Shallow, I know, but when I wake up at some ungodly jetlagged hour, I want to be able to have a cup of coffee and a bowl of granola. So you can usually find Starbucks instant coffee, long-life milk, and a baggie of granola in my luggage. Oh, and I hate not having wifi. Which, given the places I travel, happens a lot.
5. What three pieces of practical advice would you give to travelers to India?
When I was getting ready for my first trip to India, a friend said that she had brought a suitcase full of food so that she never had to risk getting sick. My first piece of advice? Eat everything except ice-cubes. Indian food is an incredible, indescribably delicious feast of new things to experience every meal. Don’t miss any of it. (Hospitals are cheap there and prescription meds practically free. And the nurses are really nice.)
Avoid commercial tours if you possibly can. Hiring a car and driver is an excellent option. Having a lifelong friend (like my college roommate Jaya) living there who already has a car and driver, not to mention actually loves to organize things, is an even better idea.
Bring an empty suitcase. The gorgeous, artistic, fabulous artwork and tribal crafts are incredible and amazingly affordable. For those who are planning a trip to India, here are a few simple rules for shopping:
1. Rules. Like everything in India, there are no rules. Only guidelines.
2. Price. The “price”, “final price”, and “final, final price” are just points on an infinite spectrum of possibilities. As far as I can tell, there are no such things as the last two; there is just a point where buyer and seller get tired of bargaining.
3. Do not sit down. Once you’ve accepted the politely proffered seat which even the tiniest booth will magically produce, they own you—body and wallet. (And if you let them give you tea, they might own your soul too.)
4. Beware the Special Suitcase. Because the vendor recognizes your innate taste, discernment—and disposable income—he or she will pull out a suitcase of extra special items. “Just to show Madam. No need to buy, but no cost for looking, right Madam?” Obviously, you’ll already be sitting down (see #3), so you will find yourself helplessly admiring the miracles pulled from the special suitcase.
6. I loved the book. What resonated most for me was your friendship with Jaya and Janine. How do you nurture a friendship for so long?
As I said in the book, I am not a sharer. My dog is never allowed in my bed, my books never leave my house, and I never ever occupy a hotel room with those I haven’t wed or given birth to—and sometimes, not even with them. So I was worried about how sharing hotel rooms for several weeks with my two roommates from University days would work. Answer: amazing. Apparently, a lifetime of responsible jobs, marriages, and kids can evaporate in an instant when someone says, “Hey, remember the time we couldn’t find our exit tickets and had to jump the turnstiles at 57th Street?”
7. Reading your book made me very hungry! (cheers Barb…) What was the best thing about the food in India?
Parathas. They’re like a grilled, ghee-doused crepe which could be eaten plain or with a huge variety of fillings. I could eat them around the clock and still have them for dessert. Aside from that, the thing that was amazing about Indian food is…everything. Because Jaya is a vegetarian, we stuck with all veg meals. But the variety of preparations and flavors and local dishes is literally infinite. I think the only time I lost my nerve was in Jaisalmir. Jaya’s nephew had told us that we absolutely had to try a bhang lassi drink. Our guide was astonished when we asked, but he took us to a Bhang shop. When Jaya asked what was in the drink, the man out front looked offended and pointed to the sign. “Government Authorized,” he insisted. “Very very legal.” Inside the dark little shop, they told us to sit down and order. The shop was papered with what looked like marijuana leaves, as was the menu itself. When we again asked what was in the drink, the attendant smiled and pointed to the line at the top of the menu. The bhang lassi, it informed, was “A magic carpet ride” and carried the warning “Don’t ride a camel afterwards”. Deciding we probably didn’t need to drink what appeared to be liquified cannabis at 10:00AM, we thanked him and left. Our relieved guide was happy to show us to a local restaurant that specialized in my current-fave mood enhancer (parathas) and all was good in my world.
8. I loved the fact that you saw the humor in the challenging situations. That feels like a sentiment to live by…
A lady who had been quilting for more decades than I’d been alive told once told me that some expert quilters deliberately put a tiny mistake into one quilt block to show that only God achieves perfection. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I don’t find perfection nearly as entertaining as the challenges. And if those challenges let me meet wonderful auto mechanics and medical personnel, I’m still up for them. (Full disclosure: for some reason, my husband does not enjoy it when I greet each new disaster with “I can so blog this…” Go figure.)
9. Do you have any tips for budding travel writers?
Make sure you drive old vehicles that will be sure to break down, travel with good friends, and eat everything. And bring along lots of Starbucks instant coffee. (You’d be amazed how many places where that’s the perfect hostess/mechanic/good Samaritan/medical personnel gift.)
10. So what is next for Barb the author? Where can we expect to see you next?
A blogging friend once told me, “I don’t understand your life.” I have no idea either how I got so lucky, but I’m damn grateful. As I write this, I’m staying in a 300+ year old converted stone mill in central Spain. (It’s not all that converted—the machinery is still in the central room and the stream runs under the house). I’m taking the summer to write the final book in my Null City series plus start my next travel book, India 2.0. Trying to squeeze itself onto the writing schedule is also a cozy mystery story inspired by an amazing character we met when we stayed at his family haveli (palace) in India. Plus Jaya, Janine, and I are planning our next India trip.
Barb you rock! Thanks for taking the time to give an absolutely riveting and hilarious interview 🙂
In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb Taub wrote a humor column for several American newspapers. With the arrival of Child #4, she veered toward the dark side and an HR career. Following a daring daytime escape to England, she’s lived in a medieval castle and a hobbit house with her prince-of-a-guy and the World’s Most Spoiled AussieDog. Now all her days are Saturdays, and she spends them traveling around the world, plus consulting with her daughter on Marvel heroes, Null City, and translating from British to American.
Barb takes a humorous look at writing, book reviews, and life at Writing & Coffee. Especially Coffee. Her books are available from major online sellers including Amazon US and Amazon UK. When she’s not traveling or blogging her latest travel disaster, you can find her at home in Glasgow, Scotland trying to hide from feral packs of rampaging haggis. Or you can reach her via Twitter (@barbtaub) or Facebook. She would love to hear from you!
Nonfiction: Do Not Wash Hands in Plates text by Barb Taub, photos by Janine Smith & Jayalakshmi Ayyer
The story of three women eating our way across India in search of adventure, elephants, temples, palaces, western toilets, monkeys, the perfect paratha…and the kindness of Indian strangers.
Fiction: Null City series
Warden Carey Parker’s to-do list is already long enough: find her brother and sister, rescue her roommate, save Null City, and castrate her ex-boyfriend. Preferably with a dull-edged garden tool. A rusty one.
Carey knows superpowers suck, her own included. From childhood she’s only had two options. She can take the Metro train to Null City and a normal life. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes. Or she can master the powers of her warrior gift and fight a war she can’t win, in a world where she never learned how to lose.
It just would have been nice if someone told her the angels were all on the other side.
Coming soon to Leaves et Livres for #comedybookweek
July 21st – Review of Can You Stiff Your Divorce Lawyer? by Portia Porter Esq.
July 22nd – Interview with Portia Porter Esq., author of Can You Stiff Your Divorce Lawyer?
Watch this space…
Check out the Comedy Book Week site for details of all upcoming events during the funniest literary week of the year…probably.