Kelli and Jen and little baby Zane must have had good karma last Sunday on the way to Berkeley’s twentieth annual Himalayan Festival. They had no trouble finding a parking space on Shattuck Avenue, although it was behind a car bearing a “Bush for President” bumper sticker. But while the day seemed nice for a gathering of the tribes, there were bad vibes and weird scenes on the way to Live Oak Park.
When our little crew asked a middle-aged woman wearing braids and a babushka if she knew the way to the park, this innocent query brought forth a tirade of, like, total meanness. “Do I ever know the way to the park!” the woman exclaimed. “I live right next to it! Every year, there’s more and more people that come and park in MY neighborhood.” As she warmed to the topic, our NIMBY’s face turned bright red and shards of spittle flew from her mouth. Everyone got out of her way as this angry woman continued her rant about people hogging parking spaces, and in general, conspiring to make her life as miserable as possible. It was obvious that this woman’s third chakra was overblown.
Shortly after we had safely passed this pocket of bad energy, there was yet another altercation, this one involving a stolen parking space in the Longs parking lot. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” a woman screamed as she got out of her Saab and confronted the other driver. And they say Oakland is dangerous.
Happily, before anyone else could start freaking out, the little park appeared. The suggested donation was five dollars, with proceeds benefiting charities from India, Nepal, Tibet, and Afghanistan. People kicked a Hacky Sack around and someone was playing “Shine on, You Crazy Diamond.” Prayer flags fluttered in the breeze. People were dressed in their favorite naturally dyed and hand-woven garments. The sound of bells and tambourines and throat singers filled the air. Conversations starting with the sentence “When I was last in Nepal… ” occurred with alarming frequency.
The park smelled of weed, curry, and hot grease. Behind every booth were huge vats of boiling and bubbling oil. Each vat’s attendant would periodically drop food into these cauldrons. Although food cooked in grease would seem to go against the formal Hippie Rules of Cooking, state that fried food is actually okay as long as it is from an Asian culture. If, for instance, samosas are made with huge amounts of canola or yak butter, it’s perfectly fine because they have better karma than fried foods from America. Onion rings are tools of the bourgeoisie, and donuts are food of the fuzz, but Japanese tempura is far out.
But it wasn’t all hippies. Real, honest-to-God people from Tibet and Nepal sold traditional food from their homelands. A massive snake-like queue demonstrated how delicious and popular the grilled lamb and chicken kabobs were. Another booth sold savory and highly addictive Nepalese dumplings called momos.
A few yards away, another food purveyor offered a sampler plate of Indian cuisine. Jen and company stood in this line. The background music was courtesy of a young fellow determined to play the loudest, longest, and worst version of “Hurdy Gurdy Man” in history. “Please help,” his sign said. “One love. I am a wandering mystic.” A few members of the captive audience discussed the compatibility of Pisces men and Gemini women, while two women could be heard discussing their nutritional restrictions and gastric maladies with little concern for those around them.
When Jen finally arrived at the counter, there was yet another snafu, this one concerning a sweet laddu. A long discussion ensued about whether or not it had been paid for. People practiced their breathing exercises, but they weren’t helping much. In the heat, it was apparent that somebody’s Tom’s Of Maine natural deodorant was not quite working.
Jen ordered the big sampler plate, which came with kadhai chole (chickpeas and tomatoes), two chapatis (Indian bread), sweet laddu (“laddu” means balls, but these were squares that tasted almost like butterscotch), and a spinach paneer (spinach with cottage cheese) that looked as it would be cool and refreshing. None of this food was impressive, however. Although it seemed Indian, it could really only be described as Northern California Hippie cuisine — that underheated and underspiced combination of Eastern cuisines that miraculously fails to taste distinctive.
Happily, we also got an order of pakora (spinach and onion dipped in a chickpea-flour batter and then fried). Oil seeped out of it, and it looked sort of like a big scary apple fritter. It was much more delicious than it appeared, and was eaten quickly.
Then it was time to look at the wares. There were tables and racks filled with silver jewelry, singing bowls, cashmere pashminas, hand-tufted rugs, I (heart) Tibet! stickers, silk scarves from Thailand, brightly colored clothes with little mirrors stitched in, and figurines of chickens handmade from hemp rope.
Suddenly, coming up the hill, appeared a terrible, terrible sight. “Oh my God,” whispered Jen. “Do you see that?” It was a walking massage chain. Five people were strolling in a daisy chain, each giving each other back massages. Kelli grabbed the stroller and ditched out of the way. Getting a baby carriage down a steep hill quickly is difficult, but when a hippie massage train is in your path and picking up steam, one has to think swiftly.
Our close call was thirst-inducing, and all day long, we’d seen people drinking from coconut shells. Finally, we found a sign that read “young coconut.” Ah, at last, nirvana in a shell. But alas. “We just sold our last one,” said the young counter person, examining his nails. “Goddammit!” exclaimed an anonymous stranger, before stomping away in a huff.
Breathe. Remember to breathe.