Kafka taught me years ago to fear bureaucracy. Today I dutifully walked down to the Nepal Tourism Board to get trekking passes. I used to be puzzled by people wearing surgical masks in cities, but here they are pretty much required. The dust when walking the streets gets deep in your lungs. Couple that with the sheer craziness of motorcycles, scooters, cars and people moving at different rates in the same space, and at times it feels like one of those car race video games where I keep waiting to see the accident unfold in front of me, but everyone veers off at just the right moment in a bizarre human-machine ballet. The road bordered a large field where the Nepalese Army was parading, complete with horses. I arrived at the NTB just when they opened and soon filled out three lengthy forms for the various required permits. I carefully entered all the information required, happy to have plenty of ID photos and all the proper documents. Still, it was with trepidation that I presented my forms to a staffer who barely looked at them and instead took my 4000 NPR, stamped some cards and handed them back with a smile. Kafka should have let Joseph K come to Nepal; it would have saved him considerable anxiety. I later stopped at my Himalaya Java for a coffee where I met a San Francisco dentist who was originally from Nepal. Good looking guy with bright white teeth he seemed to like to flash, a good advertisement I suppose. Turns out he is here interviewing women to be his wife. He had been sitting talking with an interesting and engaging woman, though I’m not sure if she was a candidate for matrimony, guess I should have listened to their conversation more closely. Then I ducked out for lunch having now found some good street food stalls– had a large plate of dumplings for $1. On the way back I stopped to watch a crew of kids working in a pile of rubble that had once been a multistory brick building. Apparently they were doing some new foundation work, wiring together rebar grids. A young boy was cutting it to length with a dull hacksaw. Rebuilding is a slow and arduous process. I’ve arranged for transportation to Sundarijal tomorrow morning. It’s about 25 km from Kathmandu and the starting point for the Helambu trail. It works its way through some not too-high mountains north toward Tibet. It is a highly recommended trek and a good warm up for the Annapurna circuit which I’ll start near the end of the month. After picking up some snacks and toilet paper from the “super market” I laid out my equipment to be ready to leave first thing in the morning, then spent a few hours finishing re-reading Peter Matthiesson’s magnificent Snow Leopard which is about a trek north west of the Annapurna circuit in the Dolpo region. I wanted to follow his narrative of trekking in Nepal as a student Buddhism. Instead I found myself studying his style, hoping to learn his descriptive energy. Then I made my way back to the New Orleans Cafe, a place that for some reason makes me think of Hemingway. Sitting in the courtyard tonight I better understand the name. Along with a jazz soundtrack and occasional live music, the structures rising up around the courtyard give a real French Quarter feel, though it is clearly Nepal as the heavy wood columns supporting three stories of brick are intricately carved, the capitals depict scenes from some version of the Kama Sutra. Tonight the black cat prowls on the tin awning above the courtyard while a boxer mongrel patrols the ground floor.