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JUNE 2005
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In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Alan Jakubek



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    I spent some time in Florida covering mesonets, small local networks that gather weather information and provide forecasting services on a very detailed and local level. A mesonet was set up by a number of parties to help southern Florida farmers who were growing exotic flowers and fruit. A strong wind or freeze could destroy the entire crop.
    I was able to visit a farm whose owner relied on mesonets, and he took me out walking in his groves of exotic fruit trees. It was one of the most peaceful, healthy, and spiritually calming environments I'd ever been in. And, oddly enough, it made me realize something about Shakespeare. In Shakespeare's day a man of leisure would build a walled garden and grow fruit trees in it. I could see exactly why: There is such a tremendous sense of contentment. I also realized that this was why Shakespeare had Hamlet's father murdered by his own brother in his orchard. It was a complete and utter violation of that sanctified calm. I had no clue that I would identify with Shakespeare when I went to look at these trees.
    The monsoon is so vital to India, and to Asia in general, that every year the Indian meteorological department—with tremendous fanfare—makes a forecast that says when the monsoon will reach India and whether it will be wetter or drier than average. It's really a matter of international importance. So I went to southern India to watch the monsoon come ashore and to interview the meteorologists. 
    Watching the monsoon was utterly spectacular. But the next day the India Meteorological Department refused to talk to me; they were under the bizarre impression that I was making a movie. Even though I'd turned up at their office with only a pen and a notebook, they insisted that I did not have the correct permits to make a movie. I had gone halfway around the world to get an interview and had even talked to one of the head meteorologists—who was very pleasant—prior to my arrival. But when I finally arrived, I was told he wouldn't talk to me. I was completely stymied. 
    The day that I had been rejected by the Indian meteorological department, I was reeling around to figure out what to do next. I went to Kovalam Beach, a hippie colony turned backpacker resort at the southwestern tip of India. A film was being shot, and I was asked to be in it.
    My big scene took place in a beachfront restaurant. All three of the lead actors were smoking cigarettes and drinking beer—Western behavior often associated with decadence in India—so I assumed it was a gangster movie. Meanwhile, I was drinking a Sprite and deep in improvised conversation with another extra, a young English lady who was staying in Kovalam, training to be a masseuse.
    The director asked me to play a foreigner who was complaining about being overcharged for something. That really didn't have anything to do with sitting in a restaurant drinking a Sprite, so I suspect they actually meant me to be in the previous scene, which was shot in a gift shop. No one had any idea what was going on, and the director never gave any instructions once shooting was underway. He offered to pay me, but I waived any fee. He did, however, pay for the Sprite.
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