Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ze city

New York, New York

I spent a week toodling around the sweltering city while V worked all hours of day and night. I cannot accurately describe how I feel about NYC without wading through the various emotions it inspires in me and also probably hurting someone’s feelings. Let’s just say that in the woolly cloud of emotions, for me, it is a wonderful holiday city and just a block away from gastronomic heaven. But if push came to shove and I had to live there I don't know how I would deal with it. The week went by with alarming speed and although every minute of it was chock full of something, many of them were just blank-mind enjoyment moments, like strolling down 5th Avenue with nothing in my head but the thought ‘Ooh, what an ugly bag – who in their right minds would pay THAT kind of money for it?’.

I met 4 school classmates, 3 of them after a gap of 14 years. Technology has a lot to answer for. In the days of snail mail and old fashioned land lines it was very easy to lose touch. You swore in slam books, year books, autograph books, that you would be friends eternally. Then you all went to college in a hundred different towns dotted around the country with just a poor mans stamp to fix to a letter. After a few exchanges the letter would start to get lost, be misdirected, forgotten and then dropped off the agenda. Long distance phone calls were exhorbitant and college way too exciting and grown-up to be hankering after school friends. The ones who wrote/ called and to whom you wrote back/ called stayed your friends over the years while the bulk dropped like flies. Everyone, except the postal service, thanked the Lord when e-mail made its entry, boldly saving trees and friendships.
The 3 I met after the huge gap had been good if not close school friends of mine. We never got back in touch even when e-mail appeared and the only reason we met now was because of an alumni group email where I was arranging to meet the 4th schoolmate – someone I had maintained irregular touch with, whose email ID I had lost and whom I was keen to meet again. Two tea’s and a lunch later I knew why we hadn’t stayed in touch – it was because we were essentially very different people with very little in common other that the nostalgic memories of school days and because we were geographically and mentally at different places in our lives (and had probably always been). It was fun in some ways to meet and talk about school, exchange gossip and find out how the intervening 14 years had shaped lives. But other than that there were just the same existential questions – living abroad as a desi, children and why none of us have them yet, holidays, spouses, weight, thinning hair, parents blah blah blah. Conversations I seem to be continually embroiled in, nothing new or more or better. I will do it again in 14 years.

Needless to say I shopped although not nearly as much as I hoped to. In my minds eye I was dreamed up this huge pile of clothes and shoes and jewelry and make-up that, when I got back, would mostly have to live on the guest bed because my cupboard would be already be overflowing with my stylish New York get-up. Sadly I and my overactive imagination are like estranged twins. There I was in Bloomingdales, then Saks and then Macy’s – each time confused by the sheer volume and varied choice – overwhelmed and outnumbered, I spent too much time browsing and not enough flashing V’s credit card. When I finally got down to it I shopped but kept checking my impulse to purchases using all kinds of inane parameters (spending money/ world poverty/ children in hunger/ whom to blame for greed genes/ guilt at spending all the money/ deserving as I work hard/ generally charitable, so OK then – and then again in a loop). So I bought fewer clothes and shoes than the plan. And of course since it’s already Autumn/ Winter in the United Kingdom I’ve had to put them all away in the hope that someday summer will return to this Queendom.

Talking of weather, did I already mention it was sweltering? Let me say that again – Sweltering – ah! That feels better. The warmth of your glares, my English roses, is brighter than the sun. It was in the ‘high nineties’ which translates to ‘very hot’ in my vocabulary. One night there was a huge storm, a veritable thunder and lightening show with pounding sheets of rain adding to the music – simply beautiful and reminiscent of storms the monsoons bring in India. The concrete didn’t have the mitti smell but the sheer beauty and power of it was a welcome change from the never ending drip from the sky that invades the UK and can only be described as damp. The clapping thunder and shockwaves of light were mesmerizing and the big drops of rain left everything undeniably soaked. The heat was unbearable only on one day, when all I craved was Air-conditioning and iced water. But other than that I loved the heat, proving undeniably, much to the amusement of my brother, that I have indeed become ‘firangi’.

Walked everywhere and thoroughly enjoyed the sun beating down upon my back. Mid-town Manhattan is a walking tourists semi-paradise. Its all in a grid with Avenues and Streets cutting across each other so there is no chance of getting lost. The ‘semi’ portion refers to the inane traffic and honking of horns and the dirt on the sidewalks. London is a much cleaner city that way and traffic is very civilized in comparison. I walked to and through Central Park, up and down Riverside Drive, Park Avenue. Visited the Met and MoMA and bought myself a cute Travel card holder (could not bear my London Transport one any longer). Met cousins, an aunt and ex-work friends. Spent an afternoon hurtling through New Jersey, to the fantastic home of friends for an evening of barbeque and talk. Followed the instruction of many a New York blogger on where to eat and what to do. Filled my days with laid back busy-ness, eating sumptuous meals and meeting people, watching American TV and gaping at the confidence of Noo Yaawkers.

Before I go and begin to think/ drool about the inevitable Nu Yark food post that follows, let me just say that I am in love. With the Container Store and Anthropologie - absolute opposites of each other. The first because as the name indicates, its all to do with organising stuff and that fits right in with my main OCD of everything in its place etc. The second because the entire store is a hodgepodge of pretty clothes and house wares, all feminine and exacting and plain heart-breaking-ly pretty. I am torn.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ze flights

When I write my memoirs they will not be much more than a collection of short and funny and sometimes bizarre stories about airplane journeys.

On the way there:

On a day journey from London to New York two Friday’s ago I sat squashed in my beaten leather-from-the-80s-seat and tried to ignore the milling crowds stuffing their life’s belongings in the overhead bins. Three families, each with two adults and two kids, were traveling together, on holiday from the ugly British weather and school, onward to New Orleans from New York. The mothers spent the entire flight attempting to paint their nails and foist some discipline on their children while doing so. Dribs drabs and wisdom:

Ashley, sit down. SIT DOWN. I said, SIT DOWN ASHLEY. NOW Ashley. Don’t get mummy angry Ashley.

Pete, do not touch that, what did mummy say Pete, do NOT touch that.

No, he will not eat Pasta, give him the chicken. He doesn’t know what he wants, he’s only 6.

New York, we are going to New York. And then in another plane to New Orleans. Yes, New York is in America. ANOTHER plane (mild notes of high pitched-panic at the thought - for the mothers, relief for me as I was NOT going to be on that flight)

Yes we are on holiday darling. No, you can’t have coke till we reach America because that’s when the holiday starts darling. Yes, I did say we are on holiday darling. Ok you can have ONE coke. Only ONE.

No you can’t change seats. You chose to sit with Ashley and now you will have to sit with Ashley. (And then similar string with all 5 other children)

Yes, she will also have the chicken. Don’t ask them, please just give them the chicken.

AJ, don’t hit your sister. SIT DOWN and do NOT hit your sister. I said NO.

Tia, sit down and put on that seat belt. No you can’t walk up and down. No they are not going to show Shrek 3 and no you can’t change seats with mummy.

Do NOT make me say it again. SIT DOWN NOW.

Tara, if I see you pinch him one more time you will be in deep trouble yourself. One MORE TIME.

What part of No did you not understand?

I’ll count to 3. wuuuun, wuuunnnn anna half. Ta-wooooo. Ta-woooo anna haaaalf. NOW. Thuuuuurrrrreeeee. That’s it. You young man, are getting off this plane.

Yes, New Orleans is also in America.

And so on and so forth. For 6 straight hours. In the 7th hour, stuffed with chicken, a variety of snacks and clearly over the hyper-ness caused by the forbidden coke, they slept. Mothers completed the nail painting job and gossiped loudly about their wonderful angelic (read asleep) children.

What did the three fathers do, I hear you ask? They sat together in another row, baseball caps pulled down low over brows, earphones stuck over ears and ignored said wives and children by watching Fracture with Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling and holding intense conversations about golf and the increasing cost of life in the English countryside. Typical!

On the way back:

The flight boarded at 7.30pm just 10 minutes before our scheduled time of departure. Not a minute too soon as I had had to shuffle my baggage along the floor in a disorganised winding line in a hot humid terminal full of irate passengers - 1.5 hours just to check in. And of course I was then ‘specially selected’ for a ‘special security check’. With every bit of me and my hand baggage x-rayed, patted down, checked for spurious substance and declared fit about 10 minutes before boarding time I was exhausted, worried about missing my flight, missed out on last minute cheer-me-up duty free retail therapy and ready to fall asleep standing up.

The flight leaves the gate at 8.10pm, taxi-ing along slowly. At 8.50pm, yes a whole 40 minutes later, we are still taxi-ing along the runway. I think we are going around in circles or squares or rectangles. I don’t really care. All I want is something to drink and the security cartoon to stop playing on a loop. In the seats behind mine is a Gujju uncle traveling with a very well behaved 5andabit year old son. The seat adjacent to mine is empty and I dream of pleasant sleep once we are airborne.

My phone is off in anticipation of leaving (on a jet plane, humming that for no apparent reason) so I stop one of the stewards and ask the time. Its 9.05pm he says. Amidst the dead silence of the exhausted slumbering passengers the little boy behind me asks, “Papa, are we driving to London?”

We take off at 9.30, only an hour and 50 minutes late. Two families flight about one small child kicking the other older family’s seats from behind. The words ‘slander’ and ‘sue me’ are used loosely and repeatedly till the older family is moved to another section of the plane. The child begins to wail and is repeatedly slinking off her seat onto the floor shedding bucket-loads of tears. The mother and father fight, move to separate rows and the child toddles between them for the first half of the flight. The mother insists her child be allowed to sleep on the floor in the aisle and the stewards vehemently disallow. Drama of the Bollywood kind ensues with mother and father uniting to rubbish the airline and claim the rights.

About 3 hours into the flight (ie. 4 hours and 50 minutes after being trapped in the lunatic flight from hell) we all get some peace and quiet. The mother and father have decided after a loud whispering fighting match that separate rows are best. The little girl has cried herself to sleep near her father. I’m so sleepy I’m beyond sleep. Thank god for my Ipod and the History of Love.

My expectations are so low they sometimes frighten me.