Saturday, April 28, 2007

Now Then

When I first went to the US of A in 1998 I was a relative newbie to the business of travelling alone and a definte newbie to the country. As things transpired I had 12 hours as I landed in New York to catch a connecting flight to Chicago to begin a long cross country working tour. I had that one day only to get my glimpse of New York.

My dad's first job was in an office in Battery Park, just across from the Staten Island ferry. His company then became one of the first shift of tenants to move into the World Trade Centre when it was completed in 1971. When I sought his advice on what to do in that one day he said that ideally I should get myself from the airport to the World Trade Centre and then sit in it's shadow with a Pastrami-on-Rye sandwich from any of the many deli's in its vicinity for company and contemplate the world sitting the shadow of the towers. And then I could go and do the touristy sightseeing. Of course he was being sentimental. As it turned out his conviction that this would be a good introduction to a city was spot on. They were magnificant buildings, like nothing I had ever seen before. After a quick sandwich hunting walk around the area I sat on a bench and stared at their looming dominance whilst chomping on the tastiest sandwich ever. I'm ever so glad I took my dad's advice all those years ago.

I was going back after 9 years and it was not without trepidation. So much has changed, the world itself was such a different place. It is quite something to go back to that place and not see the towers but instead a building site for the Freedom Tower. V never had the opportunity to see the original buildings but he could see how much I wanted to go back to have a look, so after lunch that the very first day in New York, we went along to have a look. The area is buzzing with people and a palpable energy but there is an unmistakable silence that resonates from the spot where the towers stood. Ground Zero as it is now known is encircled with a wire-metal fence and these wonderful large format photographs adorn it in memory of the people who lost their lives there. As we stood there I reflected on how lucky I was to have seen the original buildings. Old photographs do not do them justice.

I should listen to my father more often.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Big Small

This was not meant to be my first New York post. The pictures and bit I wanted to post first are sitting as a draft on the dashboard but when I tried to edit/ post them just now they seem to have jumped blog. Maybe because I used Picasa (thank you for the tutorial wise blogger-ji) at home to upload them into blogger and then didn’t try to post till I came into work today. Or maybe not, as this post seems to have all 3 pictures intact. I don’t know. It’s all still a mystery to me.


This dude lives outside the Rockerfeller Centre in midtown Manhattan. The building behind him is pretty drab although its massive girth and height more than make up for beauty.

All of V’s sightseeing in his many work trips to NYC has been the view from a taxi window. This was our first time in the city together and with no work agenda for V we decided we would stick to the take it easy plan. That’s the one with no fixed agenda other than to obey our regular cravings for food. So instead of pushing ourselves to squeeze in culture by racing around the museums on a very crowded long weekend we decided to take it all in with just walking around imbibing the air and energy. We’ll be culture vultures next time I promise

We stuck to midtown Manhattan in our two&abit short days. One of the things that appealed to me most about Midtown is the way it is set out. How the Avenues that run from north to south intersect perpendicularly with the numbered streets running from east to west thereby forming blocks. And how Broadway defies this order by running diagonally across, as if to prove its better than the others and doesn't need the same order to be just as successful. But in the main it’s all based on lovely logic and that with me is always a winner. The great wide avenues are busy busy places with madcap traffic traversing the oneway system with a great deal of honking. Everyone is in a hurry ALL THE TIME. We strolled among the rushing public, taking in Park, Madison, Fifth, 6th and 7th Avenue, up and then down, admiring the scale of it, jumping over potholes with steam escaping from the city's hot belly.

Manhattan is big and its buildings take that word and stretch it to its full meaning. If I had only two words to describe it I would use large and looming. The architecture is not pretty or ornate like in London but the sheer size is an overpowering fact. All of these tall towers are built quite snuggled together and the word concrete jungle is utterly apt. It seems to be a city that takes the business of using space quite seriously and the scale is blaringly immense. (I can't help use the word scale again and again - stop me please). They word skyscraper is literal and we spent a lot of time with our heads turned unnaturally upwardly, necks straining open mouths to their widest to catch glimpses of the tops of buildings. Every inch is used carefully with these gigantic buildings dominating the landscape and people and cars filling in the gaps. It looks busy and really it is busy as just one trip to Macy’s (which has a whole block of its own) brought home.

After a while all the big buildings began to meld into one in my blurry eyes. An unsuccessful journey to the Empire state building (seriously, the 3 hour waiting to get to the top has put me off permanently) made me crave the ornate short beauty of the square mile that is London City. The hidden gems of Manhattan architecture are the churches that dot the landscape every few blocks. These are utterly short in comparison to their neighbours but sit squarely and resolutely gleaming with purpose, daring their taller neighbours to cast shadows on them. Their stark difference from the concrete and glass scapers and obvious care of appearance was utterly endearing. The two pictured here are the two I loved most: the grey one is St. Patrick’s Cathedral on East 50th & Madison and the other is on Park avenue but it’s name now escapes me. I loved midtown for its buzz and theatre district and shopping but its buildings were overpowering, more awe inspiring by size than design.

I asked 6 genu-ine New Yorkers this question and although each thought there was definitely a cogent explanation, none of them knew what it was: Why is 6th Avenue called the Avenue of the Americas?


Monday, April 23, 2007

Real world transition

I have several posts to post, all words in a cloud. All neatly written out on wide-margined foolscap paper with a blue-black ink pen, and laid in a neat pile on that beautiful crafted desk that resides in the book lined library in my head. It’s all there, the information about our holiday, neatly chronicling all the places we saw, food we ate, books we read, drinks we drank and trivia bits & bobs that are worthy of this ‘content low, experience medium' blog that I call home. But before I get to the ‘what I did last holiday’ post I must first get back into the groove of the real world – or at least my very real, very cluttered, very busy world. The one we went on holiday to escape from.

So back in town mid-week and on some crazy whim I have declared that the holiday is not over till I say so or Sunday. Whichever comes first. So for the remainder of the week this means that I shall behave like a slug, drink more alcohol than water, gorge on large plates of oily food and definitely NOT go to the gym. The first day back at work was a doddle. I spent all morning showing off my now sunburned skin and pretending that patchy black was the new black. And then all afternoon trawling through the 3476 e-mails that have made my out of office assistant a mad witch whizzing around that many other poor people’s boxes. Then I posted the short post below this and called it a day.

The rest of the working week flew by as I declared each day a holiday (in my head) and basically sat through VERY IMPORTANT meetings doodling palm trees and ocean waves on expensive stationery.

It’s not easy being on holiday at home. Mainly because there are no beach loungers on my terrace, no sand to cushion my footfall and most importantly, no colourful umbrellas to twirl around in my cocktails. Then there is the annoying business of laundry, cooking and dishes to contend with. I made the most of the first few evenings back in London town, just lounging around, moving from sofa to sofa, listening to ABBA on a loop and continuing a staggering pace of reading while nursing a wine glass to it's natural end. Until my eyelids would not stay open even with the aid of matchsticks.

Thank goodness the weekend arrived. We met up with friends to talk their ears off about our holiday. Thankfully (for them) they had just come back from one as well so we spent the better part of an hour swapping tales, covering trails, weather, food, highlights, booklists, sun screen factor and generally sighing about how it had all gone by way too fast. To celebrate our safe and rejuvenated return we had decided to go out for a meal.

So to Alounak we tubed it. Thankfully we had booked a table because when we arrived in this West Kensington eatery, the small narrow restaurant was bursting at the seams. Alounak was highly recommended by a trusted colleague of our friend who said he went there to get his “fix of middle eastern grub”. It serves Iranian food in what could be described a lively, bright yet softly lit and snug space. The skylight was mainly obscured by a large glittery chandelier and fake plants hung from various corners. An indoor fountain squashed next to a table had fish swimming in it instead of water spouting from it and we sat by a long aquarium built into one of the walls. We had a mixed starter which consisted of hummus and 3 other dips (one each of chicken and aubergine and a third unidentifiable flavour) and some taftoon bread, which is very similar to a tandoori roti only a bit thinner. We shared 3 main dishes including the special of the day which was lamb accompanied by some dill flavoured rice. The chelo lamb skewers (one each of mince and fillet) wrapped in the bread and the chicken skewers accompanied by a simple salad, made up the 3. Washed down with Persian lassi (quite like chaas) and the BYOB of Spanish wine the meal was a very pleasing start to the end of our holiday time. Persian food is very meaty and subtly spiced. The service was friendly enough and the meal reasonable enough at about £16 per head, given that after that starter and main course we stuffed a plate of zaloobias (jalebis) and some other sweets including some very below average pistachio ice cream and falooda down our throats. Alounak expects to turn over its tables a few times each evening so the meal was fast paced but not rushed. The slow shuffle back to Holland Park Station was testament to a very filling and utterly satisfying meal.

The rest of the weekend was slow and steady, with loads of naps and music and lovely meals to make that transition between my holiday head and real world head as easy as possible. Tried to get into the right frame of mind to attack the fat/ gym by cheering the London Marathon runners along on Sunday morning. Went and watched a movie but I need to mull it over a tad longer before I can be sure what I really thought about it.

And finally V downloaded all our holiday snaps. So my long posts on the holidays shall begin in a day or so and I'm hoping to do them in quick succession. And what a change of pace that shall be...

Alounak: 10 Russell Gardens, Olympia, London, W14 8EZ

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


The suitcase needs unpacking. The sunburn needs calamine lotion. The pictures need uploading. The house needs vaccuming. The plants need watering. The laundry needs loading. The blog needs a post or two. And I need a hot home cooked meal of dal, chawal and aloo subji. And my own pillow.

Being jet-lagged and being at work are not happy companions.

I’m off to fall asleep on my keyboard. Again.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Away. My way.

First let me get the disclaimers out of the way.

Trips to India are so filled with the loving grasping arms of friends and family, certain social obligation meetings, sumptuous meals and kilos of shopping amidst heaving crowds and maddening traffic that they don’t really count as holidays. I think of trips to India more as ‘returns’ to a beloved place, to all things familiar, many things new and that blend of memory and reality. In my very personally tailored dictionary, for any holiday to qualify as long, it has to be 7 days or more. These 7 days can include some travel, though if the trip requires more than 18 hours of travel time (including short stopovers) then it needs to be more than 7. If it’s less than 7 it’s merely a break.

Having disclaimed the returns as holidays and proclaimed what constitutes ‘long’ in my book, it appears that our last long holiday was over 2 years ago in February 2005. Last year we made two short trips to Amsterdam and Bruxelles, one at each end of the year, like bookends to a row of wonderful months.

My first job out of college involved a lot of travel to foreign climes. It was a great job and I got to look at quite a few places before it was time to move on to bigger and better things. The highlight of course was the Tiger. Then came the wedding and this life in London, where we have so many opportunities to travel that the mind boggles. Like with every working couple we know we too have only been held back from traveling more by the 3 usual suspects: the painful processes of begging for visa’s, lack of more time off from work and an overflowing bank account. We have managed to convince visa officers of our honourable intentions and used as much holiday time as our company and budgets have allowed but after a yo-yo year of stressful buying/ peaceful moving into our own home what we really need is a holiday.

Short city breaks are characterized with racing around and trying to fit in as much as is humanly possible into a 2.5 days of a long weekend. Museums with lofty art and sculpture, architecture of eras bygone and new, local flee fruit & veggie markets, show/ theatre/ dance performance, copious amounts of local food, excursions to nearby medieval township/ village known for rare crafts, supermarkets and boutiques to see what they have that we don’t, tram/ metro/ bus/ cab rides to feel the length and breadth of the city. It’s enough to make us come back to work in dire need of another break.

Holidays, in my book only, are characterized by a slower pace of life. A longer, more languid time. To explore and rest in equal measure. Eating our time away with top-notch food, under a band of ever-pleasant weather. Lots of wandering, enjoying the newness of the place and its oh-so different culture and ways of traveling. Ooh-ing and Aah-ing at the sights we never imagined we’d ever see and gazing longingly through shop windows. A firm agenda of lounging by a pool/ beach and devouring books and cocktails like we’d never get this chance again. And of course that hunt for a token souvenir purchase, something exotic and sturdy and unique. So special in fact, that every time we look at it on our return, it conjures up smiling eyes and blue azure sky memories of that holding hands time.

This will be our third such holiday since we got married 5pointsome years ago. Already I can feel the sun on my back and the wind ruffle through my hair.

This is my blog break, London life hiccup, mundane-ness speed bump, bone warming machine, mind enlightening list and gourmet adventure. I’m off to find serenity. First stop: NYC. Second stop: a Caribbean beach.

I better go pack. Seeya in a few weeks peoples......