Monday, February 2, 2015

Belgique

The weekend before last, we took an extremely quick trip to Belgium and managed to simply 'touch' Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp.

I think that in absence of a car, we have been missing taking in rural scenes and towns that live between cities. Am so glad we were able to take day trains to Antwerp and Bruges. The home structures is very different from any I have seen so far, as is the architecture. I must say, the architecture and building design in Belgium used to be quite unique. Now, ofcourse, there is a more generic steel and glass design everywhere.

Brussels is the seat of the European Commission and there was a certain seriousness to the part of the citywhere the offices are. We saw a portion of the Belgium Wall outside the offices. Couldn't take a picture as it passed by too quickly and we were in a bus.

Bruges is a gorgeous town, and it so turned out that it was sunny the day we visited it. Loads of colourful homes decorate the side of roads. And it was very Venice-like, except that the canals didn't stink!

I think we had very little time in Antwerpen , but still managed to walk around a bit, go see the main square, and say hello to the port. Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe. It was rainy, cold and windy!

I think we didn't do justice to Belgium in terms of museums, urban exploring, etc. But we definitely got a feel of it. It's famous for its french fries (!!) and waffles (and ochocolates, and Antwerp for its diamonds!!)

This coming weekend will see us in Paris one last time before we formally announce the French sojourn over! :)







Bruges
Bruges
Bruges 
Bruges
Bruges
Antwerp
Antwerp
Antwerp
Antwerp
Antwerp
Antwerp

Friday, January 23, 2015

Racing against time

Dhaval's tenure here in France gets over when his work permit expires in March. We booked tickets to fly back home on the 28th of Feb. Two freaking, wonderful years of the adventure in France are coming to an end.

I have been trying to think of ways to make this last month the liveliest. I had told myself I will head out everyday, rain or shine. But I am not a fan of fighting cold rains and gusty winds. I'll think up of something.

I have no idea how to start the process of wind-up. I am calling people and setting dates to see them one last time over tea or coffee.

I remember the day we arrived and even before that...I remember the post I wrote when we were packing up THAT house in B'lore to come here. All I know is you leave bit and pieces of yourself wherever you go.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year's Eve

I have managed to ignore the blog lately. For the coming year, I hope for a consistency in the things I do!

I saw the sun go down and managed to get a blind spot that lasted a while.

Hope you have a glorious 2015.




Thursday, October 2, 2014

It's October already!

I love this month! Not only is it the month of birth of all 3 of us siblings, which really isn't the only reason behind my fondness for it. But the change in weather is beautiful. In France, apart from temperatures dropping and going up, other seasonal changes are also so visible. People on the streets, the colour of their clothes, the vegetables in the market, the skies. I am pretty sure that even if I were born during one of those hot summer months, I would have loved October.

I have let a couple of months pass by without blogging about it. July was different this year. The summer wasn't as intense as last year. And I feel these past few months have really flown by. I remember vignettes, but feel like it all occurred ages ago.

In August, my sister and her little family visited. I went to Paris to look after my niece so that my sister and her husband can roam around the beautiful city on their own time. It was a lovely and different experience, looking at Paris through a toddler's eyes. Short trips to Barcelona and Madrid followed. Barcelona is a very lively city, very youthful and colourful. Madrid is a sophisticated, charming city. My sister and I had the best experience one day in Madrid, when we treated ourselves to an evening of Flamenco. It is such a rustic yet classic style, with live music and singing. The style of singing reminded me of Ra├».

A couple of friends we made last year moved to another city. In September, I had the pleasure of having them over for dinner. They are from Romania and their former flat mate, who attends drum class with me, is from Latvia. I cannot begin to tell you the amount and openness of our political conversations. For some reason, they are well aware of India’s continued issues of control with her many neighbours. And we draw similarities from across the world, especially from across Europe.

Yesterday, at Claudio's place for Hindi class, we had just finished reading an extremely formal letter of application asking for leave of absence. I told him nobody speaks so formally like that anymore. Perhaps, they still write like that in the government where you have to sound like you will remain forever obliged to your superior if they grant you leave!

This led us to talk about 'monsieur' and 'madame', which literally is 'my-sir' and 'my-dame'. He said in the great old times, the royalty used to address their queens and kings like this. So, you are 'my-sir' or 'my-dame'. And that continued as it is.

THAT led us to talk about the origin of the word ‘ciao’. In Italy it is ‘hello’. In France, it is ‘bye’, although I feel it is more an outside influence than an original term in French. It turns out the Latin for ‘I am your slave’ (used during the Roman Empire) lends itself to ‘schiavo’, which is Italian for ‘slave’. ‘Ciao’ is a version of that.

Imagine!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Get a hang!


I was only recently introduced to this instrument when a street artist was playing it in Venice. The 'hang' or 'spacedrum' was developed in as recently as 2000 in Switzerland. Can you tell that it is partially influenced by the 'ghatam', among other idiophones? I was transfixed by the sound when I first heard it, mostly because I couldn't figure out how it plays. You'd think someone is playing a string instrument!

Monday, July 14, 2014

My World Cup Fever

After the FIFA WC ended in 2010, I remember updating my status on FB to say that I am relieved it's over. Life can go back to normal and my page will have some meaningful posts once again. We were living in Bangalore then and I was surprised by my countrymen's interest in a game they had no stake in, at least not a national one like we see for cricket.

This year, I have been humbled by my own curiosity and have been shown my place, rightly so. I don't follow any sport religiously. But decent doses of patriotism and display of loyalty by the various teams put me in the chair in front of screens across the city showing WC matches. I don't claim to have seen them all. But the few that I saw were enough to seal the deal!

One aspect of the game that had me glued was sheer athleticism. A player it reported to run nearly 7 miles in the course of a single match! Add to that the shock the body takes when players collide, fall or simply break their run to kick the ball around. It's one thing to marvel at the human body's capacity to absorb this shock (as seen in the Finals when Christoph Kramer was struck in the head) and it's another to actually go through it and come out fine and dandy!

The other vital thing that helped me form an interest was my drum group. The afro-brazilian drum association is run by a fantastic percussionist from Salvador in Brazil and the form of art is Brazilian too. On opening night, when Brazil played Cameroon, we got together to play and lend beats to a local samba group. Before and after the match and during the break, we played as if consumed by the indigenous gods! The ambiance was nothing short of the much acclaimed carnivals of Rio.

Other than Brazil, I found myself supporting France, which is currently my country of residence and Algeria, because a large majority of my fellow citizens are Algerians (When none of these played, the underdog got my support.) In fact, the French team has a lot of players of Algerian origin. And I am sure the security officials heaved a sigh of relief when France did not meet Algeria in what would have been an extremely aggressive face-off! Violent fans are a part of any game and this one match would have met with its fair share, without doubt. Whenever Algeria played, the roads would be lined up with police cars and officials would be found patrolling by-lanes and streets to make sure things are peaceful. When they qualified for the Cup, riots broke out in Lyon, Marseilles and Paris.

Any major sporting event is organised on the weak and marginalized shoulders of labourers and sometime, at the cost of national interest, as we saw from the 2013 protests across Brazil. And already, the Qatar World Cup 2022 is in news for allegations of ongoing corruption and the plight of labourers who have immigrated from poorer countries for construction jobs. A number of them have lost their lives under pathetic living conditions meted out by the officials. To all of this, FIFA has turned a blind eye.

I love a good event, where displays of inspiring sportsmanship and camaraderie make it worth the time. But when fanaticism, violence and reports of prejudice, discrimination and unequal treatment become abound, it's vital to remember that it's just a game. And that there are more urgent matters at hand that require global attention.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What is happening to restaurant food?!

‘If only I could find a nice, warm plate of good food to comfort my tired bones…’ These were my thoughts as I was walking around Venice, in May 2014, during a particularly wet and chilly evening. It was the 6th day of our budget trip that consisted of walking from mid morning till late night, exploring beautiful cities and monuments, running to catch buses and trains to take us across Italy. So far, food had consisted of rice and ready-to-eat packets of chole, sandwiches, and Haldiram savories. The high that comes from being in a new place was wearing off and the body had begun to demand comfort food and rest.

A few weeks before I embarked upon this trip, I was spending an afternoon at my friend’s place. I teach him Hindi. He, who speaks 12 other languages and teaches Spanish in high school, gives me a chance to spend two glorious hours learning more than I can teach him! On this particular afternoon, we were in the mood to exchange recipes. I often describe, on demand, how to make Indian subjis and, on occasion, have even demonstrated the same in his tiny kitchen. I happened to ask him about ‘spaghetti, aglio, olio e peperoncino’ and he cooked it for me and we had a good Hindi lesson over spicy, warm yet simple spaghetti. He insisted I try to find and have some when in Italy.

So on that chilly evening in Venice, I found myself pining for some warm, fulfilling ‘spaghetti, aglio, olio e peperoncino.’ It’s not too much to ask when you are in the heart of one of Italy’s most famous tourist destinations, right? Turns out it is! After settling into a cozy and well-established restaurant, I had to settle for watery spaghetti that remained warm only for the first two bites. So you can tell that, while it was a fresh preparation, the pasta was pre-cooked and then heated in a microwave, perhaps? I was not alone as my husband too felt that his ‘spaghetti pomodoro e basilico’ could have been better. We paid through the nose and remained unsatisfied. This dissatisfaction was in continuation of a long quest to find good, heartwarming food that is worth its penny.

I was left comparing the two versions of spaghetti I had had. The first was cooked right in front of me, using fresh ingredients. The second was cooked in the kitchen of a good restaurant. Was that the only difference? Then why, when eating out is so normal, are food standards coming down? Why must the average Joe not be able to afford an enjoyable evening in a restaurant that serves ‘good’ food? And from the looks of it, why is it becoming so easy for restaurant owners to serve mediocre food? Should we be scared? Personally, this only strengthens my desire to invest in good kitchen ware to be able to dish out delicious food from the comforts of my own kitchen.

‘Good’ food for me isn’t that what comes in 3-4 bite-size morsels, decorated with green sprigs and a few ribbons of colourful sauce, served on a mile-long platter. It is that which is true to its origin and gives satisfaction, all caps. Even something as basic as daal-chawal and roti-subji can go wrong when the rice in even slightly undercooked and the roti arrives ten minutes before the subji.

With such essential things going wrong for restaurateurs and clients demanding food to match their developing tastes as their exposure expands, I will not be surprised when a new legion of critics arises. This time however, the critical point of review will not be whether one should have chicken tikka or chicken kolhapuri, but whether the chicken was cooked at all!

[PS: Soon after I wrote this, a bunch of people I know started www.ahmedabadfoodcritics.com, as if to make my wishes come true! Public service takes place in many forms. And they serve by guiding you through the millions of upcoming fancy eateries in Ahmedabad! :)]