Monday, January 26, 2009

Another weekend

I am on the train. Sitting by myself. I am next to a noisy group of 4 co-workers, who are telling rude jokes and laughing. One of them has a wheezy laugh.

Which inner BB should I channel? The stoic or the feisty?

They are now checking their Blackberries. Hmm… Blackberry=BB (though I myself don’t have one…)

I’m going to let them off tonight… (though they don’t know it….)

* * *

I've just made it back to my apartment in NYC! (10 second pause)

That was the sigh heard across the world.

* * *

Just had dinner at my usual neighborhood spot. I was sitting next to a very severe woman who looked liked she didn't want to talk. But this is NY... Eventually we were chatting away.

I had the same experience in Boston recently, sitting next to a severe woman. But after I tried to speak with her, she took out a crossword! I know you Europeans don't talk to strangers while eating your dinner at bars, because you don't eat your dinner at a bar and you don't talk to strangers! But it's one of the pleasures of New York. I have my "bar buddies" -- who I know by first name and nothing else: Mark, the gay food stylist for Gourmet magazine; Yvette, the Texan woman who loves to have weekends in New York (but she emphasizes, and I quote her, "New York is just fun and nothing else. There's no choca-laca going on while I'm here"); Sam my Hawaiian bartender; Amy, the aspiring actress who has sadly moved on to other gigs.

Bar buddies aren't a substitute for well-loved friends, of whom I have a number in New York, but they are their own wonderful thing. And in a place like Boston where I don't know too many people, it could have been a nice way to get to know some locals. Could have been...

But I've got a weekend in NYC ahead of me!

* * *

I saw a film, Revolutionary Road, and went to a concert (the now venerable Italian maestro Ricardo Muti), which we followed by two glasses of champagne and slightly dizzy conversation. It was wonderful.

* * *

I'm back in Boston now, Sunday evening, watching Renoir's The River. An imperfect but wonderful film. As Renoir says in his introduction to the film, "[India] is one of the least mysterious countries there are. For a Frenchman, India is very easy to understand. People there have just about the same reactions as people here do." So profoundly true, and so profoundly wrong. Exoticism is what most filmmakers want to find when the look abroad for their stories. But exoticism is exactly the failure to see oneself in others. At the same time, there are real differences in how different countries look at the world. The irony and beauty of the film is that Renoir both succeeds in rendering India utterly exotic and utterly quotidian at the same time. It is beautifully observed (in the background -- the village scenes) and above all the colours, so intense! characters, both English and Indian, are more than a little cliched, but it didn't matter..

I am also enjoying a risotto I just made with a vulgarization of a procedure the Mia passed on to me a while ago. I added oven-roasted curried acorn squash and tomatoes, and adapted it to a red-wine risotto recipe. Truth be told, I over cooked it by just two ladles of stock, but nonetheless it turned out very nicely.

Hope you've all had a wonderful weekend.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dance of the Seven Layers

OK - must admit - I don't know what this post is about. But as I was walking to buy some groceries this morning in -12 C weather, I realized that my body didn't feel cold (unlike my feet, which were so cold that I couldn't feel them at all). It's true that I live only 3 minutes on foot from the grocery store, but when it's this cold, distances are measured by the meter.

An aside on my use of the metric system. In school I studied metric, or System International, as most of the world does. But it was still in the transitional days so though I learned both there are some inconsistencies. I think of temperatures in Celsius, short distances in Imperial (because our paper is still measured in inches and so one gets used to this for thinking of anything that size), and longer distances in SI. 

An aside within the aside. A friend of mine noted that if you ask someone who lives in the US how far is it from City A to City B they tend to respond in time, not distance. It's 4 hours from Boston to New York. By car. Even I, who fly (it's 35-40 minutes), might say so. It turns out that it's about 300 km, which explains how I once drove door to door in 3'15".

An aside within the aside within the aside. It really should take about 4 hours by the time you factor in the traffic getting out of and into the cities. But I wasn't shy about using my autobahn skills to the fullest.

But getting back to metric, I must confess that here in the US referring to temperatures in Celsius is a deliberate albeit mild act of international provocationalism (I don't think this is a word, but you get the idea).

And finally getting back to my layers, I realized that I was in fact wearing seven layers to protect myself from the outside world. Perhaps this isn't quite the place to count off the details, but use your imagination.

* * *

While I was walking, I was also thinking of the plane sitting in the Hudson River a few miles down from me (inconsistency - I think of distances in Manhattan in miles because 20 blocks= 1 mile), with its wing pointing to the sky like a whale that had gone belly up. I'm sure all of you have read about the dramatic emergency landing in the Hudson earlier this week. The New York Times reporter interviewed some people who had gone to  see the plane where it had been moored. They said, "No one died, it was a great rescue, so that's why I came down here to take a look -- if people had been hurt, I wouldn't have come". But I fly often, indeed weekly, from La Guardia airport, usually on US Air. And though I'm relieved that there were no serious injuries, it's a bit worrisome to realize that it can happen just like that. 

And then I thought back to 2001, the last time a plane touched down in New York with such death and destruction. That time instead I, and many other New Yorkers, felt a need to go down to the World Trade Center. Absolutely not to take a look or snap pictures or pick up dust as a souvenir (all of which I saw people doing), but to express solidarity, to share pain, to honor those who suffered, to mourn the loss, all of which could only be done collectively, by being there, by looking into the eyes of your fellow New Yorkers and seeing the defenses come down and a flicker of understanding pass between you. 

On this occasion thankfully no one died, but it was too close a call for me to go down and want to make a spectacle of it. Say prayer; thank fate or God or luck as you see fit, instead.

* * *

And then I snapped out of it! My feet were numb, but otherwise I was boilingly hot.  I had reached the grocery store and it was time to do battle! 


Monday, January 12, 2009

Ahem... Did someone ask for snow?

It started like this.

And then someone wished for snow... And then it became like this...

And then like this...

The lesson of this tale: be careful what you wish for... because others may get your wish.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

To the New Year

To the New Year*

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

from Present Company by W.S. Merwin

* I was inspired to read this collection after hearing an interview with William Merwin on National Public Radio. You can hear it here:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In Search of a Midnight Kiss or New Year's Eve Movie Marathon

My New Year's eve was spent flying back from Bombay to New York. I left at 1.30 pm on the 31st, changed planes in London, and flew into Newark. In Mumbai, I was told that my outgoing flight was delayed and that I would miss my connection. The airline, Virgin, transferred me to an earlier flight on Jet Airways, which would allow me to make my connection in London. One thing that Virgin and Jet Airways (India's second international airline, and the first private airline from India to fly internationally) share in common is an excellent on-demand video system in all classes of service. So I had a lot of films to choose from. The flight was 9 hours and 20 minutes. As they say in the movies, "you do the math": 9 hours / 2 hours = 4 films.

First up was, "Vicky, Christina, Barcelona", by Woody Allen that I had missed in the cinema. It's as good a Woody Allen film as you'll see these days. Next up, "Mes amis, mes amours", a fine illustration of the fact that French cinema can be as clich├ęd as Hollywood, yet be more stylish. Number 3 was "How to Marry a Millionaire" -- a classic, not much more need be said (though as an aside, I love films set in New York where I get to see street scenes). By then I had exhausted all the films I really wanted to see, so opted for "Hellboy 2". I can hear the eyes rolling out there (if you'll permit me to mix my metaphors). In my defense, it is directed by Guillermo del Toro, but that's pretty much all I can say. Indeed, I fell asleep at some point and didn't bother to try to see the rest of it.

I landed in Heathrow and sprinted through security to make my connection. Fortunately, I'm well trained in the 2k terminal dash and had time to spare. Even more fortunately, I discovered an upgrade, a warm shower, two glasses of champagne, and a friendly bartender waiting for me. (I like to believe it was the dignity with which I conducted myself at Mumbai while negotiating my rebooking that led them to upgrade me -- more realistically I think it was the miles I logged last year on my London-New York runs -- no matter, take the upgrade and run).

I had hoped to see at least two more films on the second flight, and with 7 hours it should have been possible. But I was so tired. But I didn't want to sleep (all part of the anti-jetlag strategy). I spent most of the flight dozing and fighting sleep. I did manage to watch "In Search of a Midnight Kiss", a charming, low-budget black and white film from last year. It's about a down-and-out would-be screenwriter looking for a spark of hope on New Year's Eve. He puts up a personal ad under the heading "Misanthrope looking for misanthrope". A girl calls in, and, well, it goes from there.

This was tricky viewing matter for me, given that I was probably going to spend my New Year's in the airport at Newark or in a cab on the way to Manhattan. But we landed 40 minutes early at 10.50 pm (winds be praised!) I had exchanged e-mails with my friend Till from Bombay and knew that he and his girlfriend were planning a quiet New Year's -- hoping to catch the fireworks from an uptown office building where Till works -- and had kindly invited me along -- if I could make it. I was out by 11 pm. My car service took only two minutes to arrive. At 11.15, I was entering the Holland Tunnel. At 11.30, I was at my apartment dropping off my computer and picking up a hat, because it was -7C outside. At 11.54, I met up with Till and Julia, and at 11.59 we were on the roof in blistering wind, with a half-bottle of ice-cold champagne, and in excellent company. The fireworks in the distance were wonderful.

There’s something magical about seeing fireworks but not hearing them. It makes you feel like you're in space looking down on earth - you can feel the cold, you can see, but you can't hear. But also (yes Till -- here goes my attempt at greeting-card philosophizing) it makes you feel like you are looking at arm's length on your life. You too are now a witness to the year's trials, tribulations, joys, and triumphs. You are a character in a play that you co-wrote, but where there were other actors reading from their own script. I would say that all in all 2008 was a good year; it had many surprises, many transitions, but I would have to say that it was also a year in which I was reacting to events as they occurred. There was no grand plan, no resolutions, no roadmap. It's not that I have any of those for this year. But having aged another year, it's not that I feel old, but I do feel that I have glimpsed the curvature of life. The earth is not flat, nor is life, nor is time, though it is easy from moment to moment, from step to step to feel that it is.

So for 2009, I have no grand plan, but in addition to living well, thinking well, and feeling well, I hope to find some hint of the path ahead.

Wish you all the very best for 2009!


Pre-New Years, Pre-Birthday Before / After

Shamefullylessly ripping off my friend Lola's wonderful before after feature, you've seen the after:

Here's the before:

If you're adept at maths, you will have noticed that there are only 6 bottles of champagne in the before and 10 corks in the after. As it turns out guests were most generous. A friend of mine, Kris, noted that it's a feature of aging: when you're young(er) and have a party, you buy decent alcohol, and at the end of the night your good stuff is gone and you're left with stuff that wouldn't drink even if you were desperate. Fast forward, ahem, 10 years, and after a party you're in surplus, and it's stuff you would gladly drink.

This also gives me a chance, at long last, to respond to PH's tag what's in your refrigerator. What's in my refrigerator: 4 bottles of Lassalle champagne (a fine, single-estate champagne -- highly recommended as a house champagne), two bottles of Ruinart blanc de blancs (one of my two favorite champagnes -- a bit of a splurge here in the US, but if you're in London and can pretend to be French, Nicolas will give you a big discount), 5 bottles of Poland Spring water, 2 bottles of cranberry juice, 5 pots of Fage Greek 0% yogurt (love this word, "pot" -- very British, not used here in the US, where instead you would call it a container, tub, or more technically "thing"), some sort of Austrian cake I bought at Bouchon Bakery (great place in a terrible location if you're in NYC -- it's the bakery attached to Per Se, the impossible-to-get-into 4-star restaurant -- but the bakery is open to all, but sadly located in The Mall, The Time Warner Center), 250g of Lescure AOC butter, lime juice, Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, and some cubes of The Laughing Cow (Light) cheese.

Hope you're all having a wonderful 2009!


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