Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When 55 words aren't enough

Every year she buys two dozen tulips. Back from work he pretends not to notice, even though they undeniably sit in the giant unused fish bowl. He talks about watching sport and catching up on a year of under slept overworked days. As they wake up on Christmas morning, he will turn to her and say, “They are lovely darling, but not as lovely as you”

Christmas tomorrow is 7 years since we stood under a tree, adorned with jasmine strings and hanging lamps, on a sunny Delhi winter morning and promised to be together for as long as this life would allow. Happy anniversary my love.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Have and want

I have a house and life full of junk and yet I want more. Somebody stop me! The reality is that I don't have as much junk as I make this sound but enough to clutter up my mind space - and certainly more than my home can handle. The toss up this Christmas/ New Year season on what to indulge in is a pretty serious debate. And one that I am losing, inspite of my strong opinions and bossy methods. I think V has finally got the measure of me and how to say no, make me say no and make me think it’s my idea. In his tough life (ha!) he has me and my genetic need for things to contend with. Here's the current example:

I love random desk prettiness. In my first job, on my first diwali, I got a sand zen garden in a box. It looked calm, peaceful, organised and I looked after it as if it were a diamond which required daily polishing. I forget what I did with it when I left to go study. But as every desk I have ever had and all that adorned it are testament to, I love random things to sit on my desk and look interesting for when I lift my eyes from work.

My current desk has:
1. A miniature model autorickshaw from Delhi (thanks to the Nik)
2. A small bottle of holy water from lourdes (thanks to a friend)
3. Two baby clay models – one of a bolivian woman with a baby in a sling on her back and another of a little bolivian girl carrying a little cooking pot. (I bought one and a colleague gave me the other)
4. A colour cutout of a garfield comic – Frame1: Jon says to Garfield: You need to lose weight. Garfield says: Correction. And in Frame2: Garfield says: I should lose weight. In Frame3: Garfield says: I NEED cookies. (me - this always makes me smile)
5. A box of Peaches ‘n’ cream ice tea bags from Atlanta. I don’t much care for the tea but I like the little fake chest it came in. (thanks to a friend)
6. A bead figure with straw hair, from Ghana (thanks to a colleague)
7. My etsy desk calendar - (thanks to my random memory skills I have a refill for this year as well)
8. A stress ball in bright orange - (thanks to free stuff distribution in London Bridge station each summer)

On my pin board:
1. A cutout from Anita Roddick’s memorial service – it says ‘I am an Activist’.
2. A picture of a baby rhino (postcard from a friend)
3. An art card with a drawing of an American Indian in front of an oldy-worldy Coka-Cola sign (misspelled) – (picked up at an art gallery)
4. A birthday card with a police line-up of different sized/ types of dogs on the front and ‘From all the usual suspects’ on the inside. (thanks to my colleagues)
5. Another birthday card with a black and white picture of a woman sitting in front of a typewriter and a telephone. It says ‘This morning, the boss had brought in a device capable of doing the work of 10 men’. And on the inside, it says ‘A woman’ (thanks to my lovely colleagues).

As if I don’t have enough stuff, now I want one of those newton cradle thingies – although I refuse to buy something online as I want to see and test it and check it will fit on my already cramped work desk. I’m getting a really nice amnesty diary this year – thrilling in my small and unadventurous world.

No, I think I want a desk at home, so I can gather more desk junk, get another zen garden and stop using my lap or the dining table for the laptop. And maybe file things neatly. Or is that a myth? Also we have NO space for said desk. Two new bookshelves are crucial though as the stacks of books are threatening to overwhelm us. So bookshelves or desk or neither - for gifts to self this December?

I already, clearly, ‘have’. I need to curb the ‘want’.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SFO: Done, dusted and growing a redwood tree

All bullet points – else we’ll never get to the end of this.

- It’s been WEEKS since we’ve been back and nobody but seems to mind the extraordinarily slow pace of my writing and so despite telling myself each time that I would post in quick succession it NEVER happened. Why can’t I do things unless people hold me to them? Where has my willpower gone? I blame the artic London winter.
- So Chinatown in SFO. I love it. In 1998 day my donut friendly friend and I spent an afternoon wandering Chinatown. Sadly when I got there this time I didn’t remember anything beside the fabulous Chinese meal we ate a in corner restaurant. Of course the chances of finding it again were spectacularly slim. Chinatown looked totally different from my memories this time round. The streets seemed straighter, steeper, cleaner and more organised – lovely to walk through and see all the Chinese people who work and live there, going about their chores. This time we ate dinner with my cousin A, her hubby and very cute (unseen before this) son in C-Town. They lived in London once upon a time and it had been too long. So we talked and ate at the Empress of China which was at the top of a building with a great view of SFO. The d├ęcor was a bit once-grande-now-old, the entrance was a bank of lifts, after walking through a very large Chinese shop. The food was yum though we were too late in the day for any dim sum.
- We had a very heavy brunch at an all-American diner near us (YAY gallon of milkshake!), and then courtesy my cousin’s hubby and his friends (cousin and girls long gone to thanksgiving thing in another city) we drove up to the Golden Gate and joined the masses of photograph takers. Then we drove up to a higher vantage point and looked down on the foggy bay and the resplendent bridge. I like it but think that the Bay Bridge looks nice and more imposing somehow.
- Then we drove to Muir Woods, which has apart from nieces become my favourite thing about the whole holiday. I am such a city girl that I was totally not expecting to fall so head over heels in love with these giant redwood/ sequoia trees. They are lovely, big, tall and whole and yet fallen, bruised, burnt and shadowy. All at once. We walked a short trail around them stopping to take pictures and listen to a short lecture on how they grow etc. and then went to the coffee shop to get warmed up with hot drinks. Redwood trees grow from burls, tumour like growths that they develop on their bark, like a bulge of bark. These burls once cut and kept in a bowl of water sprout shoots and grow into new redwood plants/ trees, that can be planted and encouraged to grow. I bought a small burl from the shop and brought it back with me. It’s sitting pretty in a bowl on my kitchen counter and its shoots are growing green and bright. I’m still thinking about a name for my plant. I think Shoot. Then I think Tom. Then I think Sam. What do you think?
- The next day we took a guided Napa Valley wine tour. BIG MISTAKE. Over a 9 hour period we saw 3 vineyards for an hour each and spent the first 5 minutes of each of those hours being sold the wine by tasting a bit in a glass and directed to the gift shop. Not a word on how wine is made, types of grapes, climate or anything remotely related to wine making beside a plug for the purchase of the end product and its various toys like a foil cutter, wine opener, glasses etc. I recommend if you want to do Napa Valley with even an iota of sense you should hire a car (i.e. learn how to drive/ get a license – a skill we are missing) and do it on your own. The only redeeming factor of the day was the hour long stop in the (touristy yet) pretty town of Sonoma for lunch. I had delicious fish tacos in a Mexican place called Maya which I would recommend unreservedly. I warned you - save your $70 each or be a gift shop bride.
- We spent the bulk of one day and most of the next just glued to our TV’s watching the unrelenting bad news pour out of Mumbai. For what it is worth the American coverage was better, more even, than the Indian coverage – especially CNN – insightful, calm, collected and respectful of its surroundings – quite unlike the shoving, pushing, stammering, one sided Indian coverage, which had very little to commend it. Then the day we came back I watched a Barkha Dutt special on NDTV. I don’t think the baton for journalism has ever fallen that low.
- Even with the depressing change in currency rates for us, the shopping is good. We missed the bulk of the Thanksgiving sales because we were enjoying the company of friends and the outdoors instead of queuing around the block waiting to get in anywhere on Black Friday. But I bought enough stuff, mostly in dribs and drabs, to comfort the shopaholic in me.
- The windy, up down streets are quaint but a bitch to climb up and down. The streetcars and cable car were fun if a tad slow. I loved the atmosphere which is busy yet gentle compared to the rush of Manhattan or London. It hums rather than buzzes and that is always good background music for a holiday.
- One of the things I will always remember about SFO is how on 6th Avenue between Lombard and Howard ( think), at the corner, there is this white painted brick building which has random real household objects stuck to its side – a fridge, a bathtub, a sofa among others. I didn’t manage to get a picture but I absolutely remember looking at it and grinning. If that is not the point of installation art I do not know what is.
- Will we ever see pictures? Who knows?! I still haven’t put up our Paris or Singapore ones from months before, so I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.
- SFO is done and dusted. We’ll be back someday - of this I am sure.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

SFO: Mini donuts vs. Sea Lions

The thing about SFO was that it was never ever going to be a rushing around visiting every tourist landmark holiday. None of our holidays ever are. The main reason is not lack of interest, it is pure unadulterated laziness. The need to relax and take in what we can rather than tick every box in the book. I had done the tourist trail in SFO many many years ago. So long ago in fact that I remembered only snatches of it, vague flashed of images and associated names of touristy places.

Fisherman’s Wharf is an iconic SanFran tourist mark. Somehow all tourists find their way there at one time or another. Fisherman’s Wharf was my one solid memory. Hanging around Pier 39 for an afternoon with my newly-married-and-moved-to-the-Bay friend, sharing a bucket of freshly friend cinnamon sweet mini donuts, watching the really loud sea-lions yell their thing. It was a fun day and we had so much to catch up on that time and the donuts just couldn’t keep up.

V and I made a lazy start on our first sunshine filled San Francisco morning. We walked the mile or so to our recommended breakfast joint and joined the waiting line outside the revered institution of Mama’s at the corner of Washington Square. The green awning is like a hundred others dotted around the city. The line of hungry people outside is the dead givaway of fame. We read the menu in the window and I changed my mind a million times by the time we were ushered into the 'pay at the counter and then sit down' place. We both chose omlettes. V because he is boring like that (and believe me when I say he ALWAYS wants an onion and chilli omlette and went for the closest proximation of it. We (no make that I) fought through breakfast). Mine was a difficult choice. I was deciding between a stack of banana pancakes, cinnamon - orange french toast and an Italian sausage omlette. I had so confused myself by the time I reached the payment point that I just SHOUTED out the thing that was foremost on my mind: Washington Square Omlette. And was it an omlette!! About the size of a small ship, balanced on my plate, served with delicious grain toast and home fries (an American concept, of lightly fried chunks of potatoes – they really do go with everything – I vote home fries for England!), stuffed to the gills with peppers, onions, tomatoes and delectable italian sausage. Of course I ogled at our neighbouring tables, where french toast and pancakes were amidst the order. I was mentally trying to eat their food, complaining in my loudest hindi about how I had made the wrong choice blah blah blah, all while polishing, and I mean POLISHING off my entire (what felt like) 20 egg omlette.

It was all downhill from there. Thankfully this was literal as the road wound its way downwards towards the Wharf. We ambled along slowly and painfully with our very full stomachs. As we approached the Wharf I saw a Steve and Barry, a concept I have always been taken with ut never had a chance to look closely at. Went in to racks of clothes and accessories, very warhouse like, and came out with a pair of small gold sparkly hoops designed by SJP. At $4.99 they were a steal.

Then along Fisherman’s Wharf, taking in the seafood shacks and touristy shops and thronging crowds, till we got to Pier 39. Wandered in to have a look, past the gigantic Christmas tree with a lone busker beneath it. Clearly my memory isn’t what it was in my 20s or I am now a jaded tourist because it all looked more commercial and cheesier than in my mind’s eye. The bay and view of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge were exactly how I remembered them though – grand and sweeping and with an air of mystery (and fog) surrounding them. V enjoyed the view immensely – his first experience of a city beside mid-town Manhattan (don’t ask) was turning out well.

The big fat sea lions were still bobbing up and down in the K-dock, on floating rafts purpose built for them. Instead of spreading themselves out nicely on the numerous rafts they all piled themselves into one another using only a fraction of the rafts, dangerously tilting some of them till one of them fell into the water. But that didn’t deter them, they’d carry on regardless, swimming right back and hopping up to find themselves a warm body or two to squeeze themselves between. It was a mesmerising few hours just leaning against the railing watching their antics and pillow fights. The bag of hot mini donuts no doubt helped. One of the sea lions did a little turn in the water for us, leaping up and down through the water like a sleek arrow, belying their huge girth and showing off their innate skill. A few others picked fights or courted their fellow sea lions - it was amusing to say the least. If I had to choose between taking home a sea lion and a bucket of mini dounts I'm not sure which way the coin would fall. Maybe I'd eat the mini donuts and then carry away the sea lion! Stomach and hands to good use.

We walked a bit more and generally chatted about nothing at all. To cap off our long day we finally took a slow mo street car all the way to Castro, crossing through the centre of the city, taking in the changing landscape of this up and down, hilly city, watching people mill around their city, going about their daily lives.

By dinner time our humungous breakfast was duly digested.

Mama’s: (On Washington Square) 1701 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94133. No reservations. Closed Mondays.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

SFO: the delights of nieces abound

There is no excuse for tardiness, especially in the unpredictability of this here today gone tomorrow kind of life. So I’m pulling up my socks and making good on a new year’s resolution to post more often. Better late than never?

Our first two days in the Bay area were in my cousin 40in2006's lovely high ceilinged home. I had some serious jetlag issues and the first night just could not get to sleep before 2 am (11am in the UK, by which time I had been awake more than 24 hours). It helped that my cousin and I sat and chatted till we could keep our eyes open no more. The two days absolutely flew by in a flurry of activity. The highlights included:

We visited the Container Store – a magic kingdom of all things packaging OCD. I could easily live in this store. I managed to convince V to come as well and if he hadn’t I’d have trotted home with armfuls of unnecessary (but Oh So Pretty) junk. I limited myself to some paper thin silicon cutting boards and magnet measuring spoons. V came away with Cable ID (do not ask).

We enjoyed a summer day barbeque thanks to my cousin-in-law, who deftly marinated some steak and salmon and fed us thin, flavourful slices. We sat out under their green leafy gazebo and ate till we had no more space left in our bodies.

I went on the school run with my cousin, dropping & picking up – from school and art class, picking up from movie afternoon. Mundane tasks like grocery shopping, filling gas – all pleasurable because of the company and the novelty of being in a car on America’s big wide roads. I felt like a country bumpkin for behaving as if driving were the greatest invention since sliced bread. It's what the London tube system has conditioned me to.

Spent an evening looking at photographs and listening to stories of their European vacation, of trawling through pictures of other nephews and nieces, festivals celebrated through the years, till finally the jet lag caught up, my eyes gave way and I fell into bed

The cherry on the icing of this cake was without a doubt my nieces, whom I hadn’t seen in too long and whom I apparently love more than I knew. At 7 and 11 they could not be more different, both in stages of development and in personality. In both I see glimmers of hereditary genes, small nuances and habits that they have from their parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts. It is amazing how level headed and logical the elder one is, serious yet firm in her likes and dislikes. While the younger one flits merrily between myriad available choices, smart comebacks and the insecurities of being the younger sibling. To buy them birthday/ New Year gifts in lieu of the many years I have missed we decided to take them to the mall and let them go wild. I told them this 24 hours in advance so they had a chance to think about what they might want. The elder one immediately declared her disdain for shopping and settled on books. The younger one had a list as long as a monkey’s tail and she kept asking if she could change her mind or have everything. In the mall they each chose a webkinz (DO NOT ASK – google your curiosity) and then we went to the bookshop where the elder one picked two books after careful consideration. The younger one changed her mind about the webkinz about 5 times in the shop and then could not decide what clothes she wanted for it. As for the bookshop she soon had a small pile and could not decide which two to buy. One so decisive and the other so dramatic. Each so lovely.

They are so different and yet so similar that I’m not sure my description is doing them justice. They have these full busy lives with school, friends, activities, their sibling love-hate relationship – all balanced delicately as their parents try and inculcate the best of both world. It looks hard this parenting in a foreign land, the juxtaposition of American existence with an Indian life.

Monday, December 01, 2008

SFO: Back to front

I'm sitting in the airline lounge sipping on water and waiting for our flight to bring us back to London. I cannot believe how quickly our holiday flew by. It was sunny, bright and all things nice - a sharp contarst to the horrific Mumbai news which we spent days following across the American news channels from our hotel room. From all these miles away there was nothing to do but call all the people we love and know in Mumbai to check their wellbeing. And seethe with shock and anger and sorrow and sadness at the unfairness and hideousness of the situation. I have many thoughts that I want to write here but I need to calm down and think clearly before I do.

Our flight is in an hour and I'm hoping that we take off on time.

The Saturday we left from London dawned grey and bitterly cold. While London was expecting 'artic winds' we were at the airport, enjoying the warmth and food of our T5 airline lounge well in time for our flight. I was so over excited at the prospect of seeing my cousin, her hubby, my uncle and nieces that I just couldn't sit still. As I bounced around on adrenalin they announced our flight and of course with V dwadling at a computer terminal (something about sports scores, I wasn't paying any attention) we made it to the gate just as they made the final call.

Finally, we were on the plane. Seated in our places and chattering away about our impending holiday we almost missed the announcement. A luggage truck loading suitcases and bags onto our flight had collided with the plane causing serious enough damage to the body to be declared unfit for flight on inspection. So we disembarked to the nearest lounge where I emailed my cousin to let her know of the delay and to wait impatiently for a replacement aircraft to be found. A 3 hour delay was made shorter by a long chatty phone call to a friend. The 11 hour flight was soon on its way. Not soon enough there we were in San Francisco, through immigration quickly and with our suitcases intact, being greeted by hugs and kisses and all things family. Our holiday was well and truly on its way.

I'm hoping we have less excitement on our flight back now. There is no family to make the flight shorter or more readily enjoyable, only the prospect of a cold winter and a week of work. Thank goodness we have a weeks' worth of sunshine to hold in our hearts and minds as we fly across the pond. For there, in London, I have no doubt, it will be brrrrr.