Friday, May 25, 2007
The Best of Barbados
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I shall have to go home and fish them out, so please be patient, and enjoy the 3 sets that still appear.
P.S. I need a tutorial that will enable me to put 15 pictures in one post. Is it Blogger or Picasa or just thick-with-age ol' me? Anyone?
Watch out for creatures from under the sea.....
....and fish on their way to school
The over-enthusiastic Indian fans - at the wrong match!
Big screen head
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I heart Barbados
So here we are in Barbados, our New York shopping stuffed into our suitcase, forgotten for the moment and our young (!?) and eager minds ready to give this holiday a go for its money. I won’t bore you with the long version travelogue on Barbados. But for the sake of memory, to read back in months when there is no sun and relive it, I’m going to list down what I remember in the most orderly fashion possible.
1. I’ll start with the words that describe this country aptly - sandy beaches. I emphasize the sandy bit because Britain, though an island, is home to pebble beaches. Pebbles of the kind that aren’t kind to the delicate soles of feet. Barbados is the extreme opposite; white-light brown sand adorns the entire coast, its pristine-ness highlighted by the bluest blue sea. We promptly took residence on a beach lounger outside our room, the spectacular view of which you’ve already seen, and rooted ourselves to the spot for as many waking hours as possible. Short steps to the edge of the water, feet treading soft granules, to feel the ocean lapping at my feet was bliss. I love the ant-like feeling that being on a near empty beach gives. The one where I feel the worry of the world lifted, if only temporarily, and replaced by existential answers like “I’m so insignificant in the grand scheme of things that worry about everything is just shortening this life and so I should just stop, if only for these moment”. Of course this also leads me to think of more philosophical stuff but I am quick to brush those aside and just let my mind drift and admire the awesome-ness of nature, it’s absolute power and reign over anything manmade. In other words I am an addict of the nothingness that beach holidays allow. I long ago mastered the ability to lie in one spot under the shade of a drooping baby palm or leafy coconut tree and completely disconnect in 5 seconds. Now, now. I hear you Tsk Tsk-ing out there, telling me how wrong it is to be so blissful and happy while the world is at war, children are dying, poverty reigns. Thankfully I can’t hear you over the roar of those waves.
2. Being the wife of said sports fan I am compelled to take my holidays where there is sporting action. Thankfully the World Cup cricket allowed us to marry our two interests very well – his intention to watch cricket and mine to laze, read and swim in the sun, each of us enlightening our minds. There was no escaping the fact that Barbados was all geared to turn this sports venture into a lucrative one. From well rolled roads to welcoming messages and inflated prices, everything screamed ‘Want to watch cricket, give me your money’. Our hotel was bursting at the gills with cricket crazies, often accompanies by their bored families looking for a bit of R&R. Even though India crashed out there was no way we were going to waste our tickets. So off to the wonderfully refurbished and utterly well organised Kensington Oval it was, to enjoy a day of England vs. Bangladesh. While the entire Gujarati population of the United States tried to sell of the extra tickets they had bought in the hope of Indian fans flocking to watch a great clash, we traipsed through a well planned and executed security cordon to the stadium. Attendant in the stands were the entire England brigade, the breathless-with-wonder-at-having-come-so-far, utterly optimistic Bangladeshis, the West Indian organizers with trumpets and drums to stir up the crowd and of course, half the population of India, disappointed but determined to show off their fan-status-skills by wearing the blue India shirt. So sitting between English fans and trying to decide whom I am supporting (England because that’s where I live, or Bangladesh because that’s neigbourly) I glance over to some serious chanting in the adjacent stand. Who is it? A horde of India fans dancing and shouting slogans like “Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega”. You know the ones. Victory cries. And there were others parading around them, encouraging the mob as it were, with banners lettered “Fans are here TEAM INDIA, where are you?” and “India fans want a refund”. Nice calligraphy though sadly droopy boards and SO OUT OF PLACE. I mean, its one thing to be a fan or even a super-fan but really guys, cheering for a team that got knocked out, in front of two teams who are playing, one of whom probably could do with support, NOT COOL. Good dancing though – I have a picture somewhere.
3. To break the obvious monotony, V’s not mine, of lying supine on a beach towel for 7 straight days we decided to venture out to sea one day. Quite literally we ventured. We took a Submarine trip into the deep down ocean on an Atlantis submarine. Before I came here and heard of this I didn’t think it was a commercial proposition, this having a submarine ride, UNDER THE OCEAN, WITH ALL THAT WATER ABOVE YOU. I mean its not like diving where its just you and the oxygen tank. It's a bus of people under the water and though it may not seem like a lot I'm sure it's pretty darn heavy. Lucky for us it is commercially viable. It’s a costly experience but well worth the trouble to go the 150 ft below sea level in the chilled interior of a capsule, clicking away at teeming ocean life. Beside the reef and artificially sunken wrecks there are wonderful anemone like creatures and schools of curious fish who come right up to the round porthole windows as if on an outing to discover who we are. The highlight for me were the turtles, swimming gently while nibbling away on ferns, and the sheer beauty of the sea bed, a delicate and rugged ecosystem all at once. The colours go all fascinatingly skewed at that depth: the blue of the water more pronounced, anything red or orange turning to purple-black and the whiteness of teeth becoming a comic fluorescent (like a signpost to the face). We had a lovely chatty submarine driver Peter and a conductor Stephanie, who cracked bad fish jokes while explaining the surroundings to us. Although only an hour or so under water it was an experience that will stay with me for a while.
4. What can I say about the food but that it was expensive and although by and large tasty, not outstanding value for money. Even before we arrived we got the sense from guidebooks and traveler opinion that food was expensive. I guess it is the prerogative of a country whose main business is tourism, to charge its customers high rates for walking all over their land. While restaurant meals were costly they usually consisted of fresh well cooked fish dishes in the local Bajun (pronounced bay-shun) style. Accompanied by french-fries. We especially fell in love with the WI hot pepper sauce, a dire looking yellow substance, that splashed too eagerly on meals could turn ones insides into yelling enemies. Too lazy to venture far for mid-day meals we ate by the poolside nearly everyday, absolutely gorging on the local beer called Banks (which tastes like an Indian beer) and baskets of crisp french-fries. Some evenings we deserted the hotel in favour of walks along St. Lawrence Gap which is the main tourist vein. It’s nothing but a road with pricey restaurants, information booths and souvenier stalls on either side. Sorta like the Lan Kwai Fong of Barbados only not as nice or buzzing. We ate in open air grill places and ranch-style restaurants. Some good, some average, none ugly.
5. Barbados is a quintessentially boond barabar desh, a drop in the ocean, blessed by its weather and friendly people. We shunned the grossly overpriced Mercedes-style taxis for rides in van taxis where we flag down the van on the side of the road and the conductor shuffles us into a tin-like van, stuffed between local people getting to work/ home (like sardines in a tin) before signaling the driver to carry on. The driver does so, careening at break neck speed down very thin winding roads, blaring music cutting out any honking and giving our throats a fair bit of exercise while trying to convey our destination and chat with our neighbours. All 23 of them. All simultaneously. All for just BBD$1.50 each. We also did a fair bit of walking up and down the centre of Bridgetown, the elegant capital. The architecture is a pleasing mix of old English (remnants of Colonialism) and vibrant fun West Indian style. It’s all well maintained and colour is used liberally giving the place a healthy, bright feel. The centre of the island could be described as mildly hilly, with winding roads to flamboyant housing and an overpriced tourist trap called Earthworks which sells pottery and is strictly to be avoided. Where it’s not coastal sandy beach it’s brilliant lush green vegetation. The sun shone everyday and mostly gleaned off the neat bright habitation. You need only one day to do any real sightseeing although touristy things like safari's are on offer and we avoided them all, hitting them away with the swish of a beach towel. We bought guava jelly jam ( my most favourite) and some delicious smelling ground coffee, both native to Barbados, as our souvenier. When finished we shall have nothing left to show of our trip but memories.
On reflection I can say with certainty that Barbados is indeed one of the gems that make up the West Indies. In spite of it being quite touristy, pricey and busy I’m glad we went all that way. There is nothing like a holiday on a quiet beach to remind one of the pleasures of life, the joy of knowing that however ant-like the ocean can make me feel, at least I have my fellow ant by my side. We took long walks on the beach, spent quiet moments on our loungers gazing out into oblivion, dozing under the spell of the sun, reading stacks of books and ever so often glancing up to check all was right with our world, and smiling, ever so slightly. Those moments were priceless.
Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega: slogan roughly meaning 'India will win'
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Balm for the soul
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
However, two meals deserve special mention.
The first meal, or rather part of, is pictured here. This is a traditional bar-b-que at Wonjo on 32nd Street, the heart of Koreatown or K-Town as it is colloquially known. K-Town is easily likened to a Chinatown or Southall in that it is a vibrant mini-township within a city, a magnet for migrants and curious visitors alike. I love how whole migrant populations are drawn to each other for the familiarity of their own peoples and will build whole communities around each other. It’s all a bit like a long flow-y, manifold, swirly skirt, gathering itself up and then settling itself down and gathering its people into its folds. Among these folds there are shops with imported delicacies, favourite strange drinks and unimaginable ingredients. There are restaurants designed to make the heart ache for a homeland but reassure with comfort cooking so familiar yet so far away. K-town is all this and more. As we walked along the streets that call themselves K-Town (just after an unsuccessful trip to the Empire State Building) we saw vegetables and meat being unloaded into the basement kitchens of rows of restaurants by a chattering few men. When we came back for our meal the chatter was a fair few decibels louder as the bustling pavements threatened to spill out into the fast moving traffic and people hunted for the location of their next meal.
Wonjo is one of many many that advertise itself as the BEST KOREAN BAR-B-Q. Of course they each spell barbeque differently (B, BE, BI and Q, QUE, QU, even KYU) and for a fleeting moment I wondered if each is the best at their particular spelling. V originally came to Wonjo with and on the recommendation of a colleague. He raved about it so that we decided to meet friends there, to catch up over dinner. It was a brilliant choice. They are one of the few (or the only, I forget) that bring live wood charcoal to put under the centre grill in the middle of the table. We had a lovely hot shallot pancake to get us going, followed by the barbeque. All the small dishes you see in the picture are accompaniments to the meat which is cooked on the hot grill plate built into the table. They include kimchi (best known) and a variety of chillies and sauces and marinated tofu and unidentified fantastic objects. The meal is a sort of quick encounter as the grill man puts in the coal, arranges the dishes, leaves the meat to sizzle, comes back to turn it occasionally and finally signals when its ready to consume, all in the space of a few minutes. Then it turns into a do-it-yourself affair as each person manipulates their chopsticks to place some meat is in a large lettuce leaf and add in a condiment accompaniment from the pretty selection. Wrapped up tight and popped in the mouth this is one of the most wonderful explosions of taste, hot and cold, spicy and piquant, all at once. We jabbered away between mouthfuls, talking about random things, common friends, the differences between the American way of life and a Londoners existence. Talking over a tasty hot meal at the tail end of cold windy New York day was the perfect ending to an evening.
Our other mentionable meal, not pictured here, was at Keen’s Chophouse. The inside of Keen’s is quaint and very old American English, if you know what I mean. Dark wood Gentlemen’s Club, if you don’t. They claim to have the largest collection of pipes (the smoking kind, not the draining ones) and while some of the older, rare specimens are framed to adorn walls the entire ceiling is taken up by rows of clay pipes hung closely together. It makes the headspace lower and the setting more intimate. The name is vaguely reminiscent of a Chinatown take-away but this restaurant is as far away from it as the Earth is from the other one.
I won’t meander on explaining what we ate, only say that it’s the best steakery in the known universe and although a bit steep well, well worth the time, effort and money. V and I spent a long chatty evening, beginning the unwinding process that is key to a break’s success. The steak portion was larger than my head and cooked to perfection, which helped immeasurably.
What is food without music I hear you say? Well on that count we weren’t disappointed in the least bit. We got ourselves matinee tickets for Mama Mia and wandered up and down Broadway in anticipation for hours before the show wearing away at the road and taking cheesy shots of Times Square. The show did not disappoint and we got more than the value of our heavily-discounted-but-still-expensive-as-hell tickets. Divine voices and 22 ABBA songs all woven into a brilliantly made-up age old story involving romantic island, triangular love twist, a wedding, trial & tribulations of growing up, identity etc. Hindi masala movie with suspense and all. And more than the voices it was the energy and choreography that drew the eyes to the stage. Thank goodness for CD’s as I am now listening to it over and over again in a loop. So catchy!
We did so much without doing very much beside eating, walking, talking and shopping that our 2&aBit days seemed longer and utterly filled in. So when it was time to head off to our actual holiday by the beach it seemed too good to be true. I’m all for this new format of short break & then long holiday, all in one go.
Wonjo: 23 West 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 695-5815
Keen's Chop House: 72 West 36th Street, New York, NY 10018. Tel: (212)847 3636