Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to friends all over the world!

Though it has nothing to do with the New Year, here are two views of a recent afternoon at MoMA...

Monday, December 27, 2010

The magic (before the nightmare)

I've got to confess I don't like snow. I don't mind the verb (as in snowing), which is beautiful, but the noun, trust me, it's an ugly thing. Well almost, most of the time, but not always. Snow, the noun, retains some of the magic of the verb for the first few hours of its life...

Harmony in gold and white (or as it happened)

Central Park: the morning after


Friday, December 24, 2010

New York: Here and somewhere

Yesterday was my first full day back in New York. I'm not counting the previous day because I managed to sleep half of that (a one-shot cure to jet lag as it turned out). I was itching to do something - perhaps go to the cinema or even the opera - and so I did.

I began with Somewhere, which I had been excited to see since Lola's preview from the Venice Film Festival. It is one of those films that I have enjoyed thinking back on even more than I enjoyed watching it.  Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it in the cinema. In real time viewing I enjoyed the hazy Southern California light evoked beautifully by Coppola and cinematographer Harris Savides. I enjoyed how the shots were framed, as if by a curious, sympathetic, slightly-too-insistent observer. The first time around it was really about a mood, a slowly evolving feeling -- malaise stretching into unease, into perhaps a ray of hope. But then thinking back on it (which is my "second viewing"), behind the seemingly lazy amble of scenes and episodes there was more purpose than chance. And the eye / camera really stays in the mind as the main character in the film: not only what is observed, but how long, which how much attention, from what angle, in what light. In this the film reminds me a bit of Antonioni (many thanks to Tony Scott for making this connection). And I'm sure a real second viewing would be very rewarding.

Then I went off to the opera, which turned out to be a perfect pairing with the film: Pélleas et Mélisande by Debussy. It's also more about a feeling than very much happening (at least for much of the opera, by the end there's a murder, a birth, and a death -- after all it is opera). The orchestra takes us through a subtle, evolving shade of feelings, like a dark grotto lit up by reflections and refractions from the water. There are ambiguities, elisions, uncertainties, all of which the orchestra traverses steadily and mysteriously. The spoken and sung words never resolve anything; they only magnify and punctuate feelings. And when things happen - and they do - they too aren't climaxes or resolutions, only knots in the wood. And making the connection to film, Mélisande seems like a precursor to the impossible enigmatic heroines of French film: she never answers a question directly, doesn't hesitate to lie, causes men to fall in love, falls in love herself, all without really saying what she means. Yet she is irresistible in her shifting ambiguity.

Just to bring some certainty to my day, I ate a slice of pizza on the way home - a glorious, non-gourmet, stomach-filling New York slice. I've "known" the man behind the register for years -- we recognize each other, and he has seen me in every possible situation: with friends, parents, friends, exes, hungry, angry, funny, sad, silly, drunk, sober.... But after these two subtle works of art in one day, I felt wonderfully in balance, and of course so happy to be back in New York.

Wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Years. Wherever you are, I hope you are with family, friends, loved ones, and surrounded by joy and beauty.



Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A life without Blogger, Facebook, and Google

A bit like that Christmastime classic, It's a Wonderful Life, one sometimes wonders what life would be like if some small, seemingly inconsequential detail were changed. What, for example, would life be like without Blogger, Facebook, and Google?

I got to run this little experiment during my week in China, since these three sites are blocked there. The middle of three seems the easiest to do without. After all, you can still e-mail your friends. The last was a handicap certainly. And the first -- outright painful! Yes, dear friends, I missed you all! And not only that, but I missed myself, if you know what I mean (and I know you all do): the act of writing is not only expression, but also creation. Describing what we see or feel, our musings, helps them take shape, forces a cloud of possibilities and probabilities to condense into a particular form.

Hope you are all easing into the holidays nicely. Look forward to catching up on some missed blog reading and writing soon!



Changed planes in SF yesterday. This was the view. Almost makes an 11 hour flight worthwhile!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lisztomana or Lost in Translation

I feel like one of the characters in Lost in Translation. One - which one -  perhaps both.

I am sitting in the airport in Hong Kong. I got up at 3.30 am today, without an alarm, left the friends with whom I was staying [I added an extra day to my work trip so I could walk around a little - the office generously expropriated only half of my day off] by 5 am, only to discover at the airport that my flight was canceled and I had to wait until noon.

I talked my way into the pre-flight lounge and found myself pondering the following after my second cup of coffee:
  • What do the lyrics of Lisztomania really mean?
  • Is it wrong to drink before noon 7 am? (And I don't mean when you've stayed up all night - in that case if you are still capable of drinking then I think you've earned it.) This is one of those moments where I wish I were standing at the bar in some small town in Italy in December where the old men don't doubt the good sense of getting a shot of grappa in their espresso.
  • What does it all mean? No, I don't mean life, but I mean my Google and Blogger tabs which have all kindly been translated into Chinese for me.
A few postcards from the last few days. Hope you're easing into the holidays. A few more days for me and then home!



Monday, December 13, 2010

New York Remembered

One of the reasons I enjoy taking pictures in New York is that (almost) no matter where the lens points it finds something that looks instantly timeless, New York remembered as it always was and always will be. This is probably because even for those of us who live here we are more used to remembering New York through just such images.

Sitting here in Hong Kong (pictures certainly to follow!) here is the New York I remember (from last week and from always)...



Saturday, December 11, 2010

Home away from home

I know I've written about this before, but I am still always taken by it. You get on a plane, fly 7 hours, and then fly 14 hours more. You are disoriented. Sleep not enough or too much. You wake up dehydrated and with a headache. Feeling a little displaced. And you crack open your computer... and you feel at home right away. Is it beautiful, this modern virtual existence of ours, where our friends are online and where the the desktop is the home?

Yes, and a little sad as well. Because as much as these images and words bridge time and space, and as much as I believe that oldest virtual world and connection of all (ideas and images which we hold in our mind) do the same, there is no substitute for local living.



Not sure why I love the grime and decay of New York, but I do.

Hang on Emmy!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On the road, BB edition


I am back on the road for the next days. In some ways exciting (frequent flier miles - attempted exclamation point), in other ways not (14 hours sitting in a middle seat anyone?)

Being more flugelbindery than personal, this trip may not lead to many exciting posts, but it will lead to me being back, and more posts in that sense (if this makes sense - no it does not).

So wish you all a great week or 10 days. Will try to post from the road, but if not, then see you very soon.



Friday, December 3, 2010

Super sad true love story

Every returning New Yorker asks the question: Is this still my city?

I have a ready answer, cloaked in obstinate despair: It is.

And if it's not, I will love it all the more. I will love it to the point where it becomes mine again.

*           *             *

We were walking hand in hand now along the vast grassy Sheep Meadow, which felt comfortable and familial, like a worn rumpus-room carpet or a badly made bed. Beyond it, on three sides, lay the constellation of once-tall buildings, the old ones mansard-topped and stoic, the new ones covered with blinking information.

*           *             *

Gray clouds bearing some kind of industrial remnant moved into the foreground; a yellow substance etched itself into the horizon, became the horizon, became the night. As the sky darkened, we found ourselves enclosed on three sides by the excess of our civilization, yet the ground beneath our feet was soft and green, and behind us lay a hill bearing trees as small as ponies. We walked in silence...

*           *             *

It was time to leave. We headed south, and when the trees ran out the park handed us over to the city. We surrendered to a skyscraper with a green mansard roof and two stark chimneys. New York exploded all around us, people hawking, buying, demanding, streaming. The city's density caught me unprepared, and I reeled from its imposition, its alcoholic fumes, its hubris, its loud, dying wealth....

-- from Super sad true love story: a novel, by Gary Shteyngart

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Too much to work, too much time

It was Thanksgiving here the past weekend. Even though it's my favorite American holiday, I'm rarely around to enjoy it. The four day weekend is normally an irresistible opportunity to travel, often to Canada, occasionally to Europe, and even India a few times. So I usually miss out on a festival that is all about gathering with friends and family, and cooking and enjoying good food. It is day on which it is all about making something (perhaps many things) and being together, rather than buying things (although that starts on day after Thanksgiving, the infamous Black Friday).

This time I decided to stay put, which necessitated the further decision of whether to stay in Boston or New York. New York was appealing, with more than one friend's Thanksgiving dinner to choose from and after all it is New York. But after a lot of road trips recently and more travel on the way, staying put after the work week seemed like the nicest possible thing. So stay put I did. A colleague invited me over, a colleague who I like, who had invited other colleagues who I like. It turns out they cook well, but I had taken the precaution of bringing a really nice cheese plate with me. And it's the one occasion when no one looks askance if you try three different kinds of cake and pie and then return for seconds. And then a friend was visiting from New York, and then another, so all in all it was really nice.

The only problem was that I had too much time on my hands. No, really I mean it. It's not that I don't enjoy a good holiday. I got up on Thursday and was mentally running around the house imagining the thrill of a day without work, while physically I stayed in bed an extra hour (or two -- it's a great combination). Then I did the same again on Friday, And on Saturday. By Saturday evening I had had so much of doing nothing that I was desperately trying to find the Netflix movies I knew were lurking somewhere in the house (The Mirror, where are you when I need you?)

On Sunday I woke early, but while I was engaged in my now habitual early morning laze the thought of all the work I had postponed popped into my mind. I realized that I had so much work to do that if I worked non-stop for the next 10 days I might just make it through to my next trip. It did take another 12 hours for me to succumb to that thought, but by evening I was working flat out, with one thought rankling me: if I had just worked two or three hours each day over Thanksgiving then that would be have one less episode of Hurling Pumpkins and a few less days of hair-pulling over the next few days.

Perhaps true, but nonetheless those four days of nothing everything were fantastic.

I leave you with some snaps of the last week.

A fantastically vertiginous room at the ICA, Boston

Do you spot the moon?

Follow the birdie, SoHo. NYC

Crossing boundaries, SoHo, NYC


Monday, November 15, 2010

Before it's too late (or is it too late already?)

I have posted and confessed before about my unusual musical tastes. I often tell people that the 1980s were my lost decade, but the truth is so were the 1970s, at least musically (although at the age I was then not everyone has intense musical memories, but some do...)

I'm not blaming anyone; indeed in many ways I am grateful, because the music I listened to growing up is still the core of my listening: mostly European classical music, with some veins of North Indian classical as well. My brother was the real music lover in the family, and he quickly took to European classical music, and I enjoyed drafting off his passion. My parents were very supportive of our interest. You might think it's an easy habit to encourage in your children, but revisit that thought after listening to Richard Strauss's Salomé blasting at full volume while you try to go about your business. My parents were also very generous in letting us travel on our own at an age when you might decide to lock your children in the house for their own good. That travel led me to good places, including Toronto, New York, Vienna, and Salzburg, and was my first exposure to Europe.

I truly came to appreciate this upbringing a few years later, when living on my own I began to revisit all the music I had listened to as a child and teen. And with some transformation that is perhaps maturity or experience everything that I had enjoyed culturally I began to enjoy personally, emotionally, viscerally. A few years later I added jazz into my listen repertoire.

The one byproduct of this path, though, is that my knowledge of anything other than classical music (or jazz to some extent) is random and in some sense tasteless. When I say tasteless, I mean just that I have no coherent taste. I also have gaps in my knowledge that people my age find truly bizarre.

Sometimes I come to music so much later than everyone else that it almost bizarrely retro-cool by the time I get to it. Other times, people shake their heads in mystification when some Robyn makes it into my iPod playlist at parties. Until recently my only real salvation has come through some intense cramming sessions with Mia whenever I am in Venice. The last few months or so I have been doing more than my share of road trips, so the car radio has been keeping my knowledge updated, while doing no good to my taste though.

This brings me at last to Phoenix. I've been reading about them on the blogs (Lola, Jane). I have heard them on the radio. And I've really begun to like them. Perhaps, for once, I might be on the right side of cool to declare my allegiances? But then as I was channel surfing a few nights ago, I heard them in the background to a club/dance scene on a cop drama on network television. Then I began to think, perhaps it's too late.

Oh well, I'll always have Boulez. He's sort of trendy in a Gallic-cuddly-old-man sort of way, isn't he?



You can deal with this or you can deal with that*

One of my favorite features over at Jane's blog is "You can deal with this or you can deal with that". It points up the essential fact: there are some things you can't avoid. And so in that spirit.

You can deal with this:

(David, the Power of Beauty, in Florence -- temporarily reinstalling a replica of David where it was originally intended to be displayed.)

Or you an deal with that:

Event Horizon by Antony Gormely, which I had seen in London in 2007 and was recently displayed here in New York.

Or come to think of it, this:
The Miracle of the Slave by Tintoretto, which hangs in Accademia in Venice.



* Had a great time with Jane in Montréal over the weekend. Let's just say there were three people, one bottle of prosecco, and only two drinkers....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You decide (8) or On the street where I live

Ugly or futuristic? Impressive or monstrous? ( I am referring to the tower with terraces and stacked levels.) You decide.

After you've decided, you can follow this link, and if you do let me know whether you changed your mind!


P.S. It's the street where I live in Mumbai...

Monday, November 1, 2010

You decide (7)

Cute urbanites, annoying overachievers, or just another New York couple?

Kenneth Dickerman for The New York Times

For the full details, you can read the article here. But the gist (liberally drawn from the NYT article) is as follows:

Emily Nemens, the communications director for the Center for Architecture/AIA NY:
  • Age 27,
  • Was writer-in-residence at the Kerouac Project in Orlando, Fla., where she completed a short-story collection called “Scrub.”
  • She contributed to a graphic novel version of Studs Terkel’s “Working,”
  • Played the baritone saxophone at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, twice
  • She paints, she sews, she plays soccer and she is a virtuoso cook.

Benjamin Shuldiner.
  • Age 33,
  • Became the state’s youngest high school principal seven years ago at age 26 when he co-founded the Crown Heights High School for Public Service.
  • Ran for Congress in a district north of New York City, where his family lives, coming in third in the Democratic primary.
  • Was a junior state chess champion.
  • As a student at Harvard, the host of his own hip-hop radio show.
  • He’s also an ace marksman with a light rifle.

Emily and Benjamin decided to live together, but preferred to rent two apartments right across the hall from each other, "spaces so close that the two of them can dart back and forth in their underwear with little fear of being seen by the neighbors". Their apartments are in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, right near the trendy Bedford Avenue L-train stop. They spend most weekends at Benjamin's three-bedroom house in Mohegan Colony in northern Westchester County.



Friday, October 29, 2010

One-liners (2)

Life is beautiful

but the world is hell.

-- Harold Pinter, quoted by his wife Antonia Fraser in her memoir "Must you go?"

One-liners (1) or Manifesto

have decided
to be happy
because it
makes me


{I was inspired by this post by Jane.}

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Off the wagon and back on again

No don't worry it's not that kind of thing...

But this week the flugelbindery sent me on a flash trip to DC, and for a few minutes here and there I felt like an addict reintroduced to the drug you've learned to love and hate. Though not in the big leagues of work travelers, I've done my share of the shuttle: New York - Boston was a weekly ritual for a long while, and then NY - DC as well and of course monthly trans-Atlantics for a few years. I had the uncomfortable feeling of recognizing the old me in some of my fellow passengers: shuttle veterans who know the flight staff, regulars who know exactly what they're going to drink or which snacks they like and exactly how many. Not unlike George Clooney in Up in the Air, I quickly recovered my instincts for going through all the security screening without missing a beat. Even the slightly antiseptic, stale smell of the aircraft seemed vaguely comforting and familiar. In short, I was off the wagon.

But then this morning as I woke at 5 am just a few minutes before my alarming was going to ring (yes, that is the worst part; I get so wound up that I end up waking up before the alarm no matter what time I set it to...), the charm had worn off and I was happy to be heading home.

Actually I'm staying in Boston this weekend, and the weather is getting cold, so it could well be one of those stay at home, cook, Netflix, cheese and wine kind of weekends. A good antidote to a hectic week...

*         *         *

When I travel, the people I admire are those who are beautifully composed, present (i.e. not distracted or frazzled), focused, and uncluttered. The last is the one I wish I could achieve the most, because if I weren't so cluttered, I wouldn't be frazzled, and I would certainly look better composed... I always aspire to travel with nothing in hand. I did do this once on a trip to India, and it was magnificent (but I was staying at home there, so it was possible). But somehow by the time add my computer and the basic clothing, it's already too much. Perhaps one day they'll invent a way to travel with nothing in hand. No clothes, no cellphones, no travel guides or work files weighing you down. Just your hands by your side,  your eyes watching, your ears listening to the sounds around you, and your mind enjoying it all.



You decide (6)

Order, chaos, or harmony?


Friday, October 15, 2010

When the weather is grey (an afternoon indulgence)

When the weather is grey, and I've almost tamed the beast of work (or let's just say worked hard enough to put it to sleep for a few hours), and I've managed to elude guilt for an afternoon, I allow myself the occasional indulgence of an afternoon at the cinema. And one of the pleasures of New York is that you get to see things before almost anyone else (except of course your friends who frequent film festivals). Clint, Matt, here I come...



You decide (5)

Bizarre, beautiful, or both?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


As they say in Hollywood, I am humbled.

No, what I mean is that I am honored and touched to be included in such fine company by Jude, whose blog I love reading -- I know I have a smile in store for me when I see that she has a new post up, whether it's a musing, a picture of Hawaii, or a recipe...

I am supposed to write about 10 things that I love. I'm not sure which way this list will go, but let's start and see:

Over the last few years I have developed a (small) obsession with (veggie) burgers. It might seem strange for a vegetarian to obsessed with burgers, but really I have my mother to credit or blame. She makes the tastiest veggie burgers: a potato, carrot, and pea patty filled with delicious Indian spices, and served on a bun with onion and green chutney. (A good reminder -- I've got to ask my mother for the recipe.) It's gotten to the point that I'll even eat the bland oat and who-knows-what veggie burgers you get in bars.

Over the last two months I have fallen for Toscanini's Ice Cream in Cambridge. Toscanini has been in Cambridge as long and longer than I've been here. But when I first moved here I was very much a gelato person. I still am. But recently I came to realize that American ice cream, if made by mad geniuses, can be a wonderful thing in its own distinct way. I don't go for the traditional flavors here, but their kulfi (which is Indian ice cream - somehow they transform it into ice cream exploding with cardamom flavor), green tea, black sesame, and salty caramel would probably make my top-10 list of best ice creams I've had.

Wine -- why deny it? -- is a happy part of my well-balanced diet. But let me narrow it down more. The love of the moment is German Riesling.  Somehow as one grows in sophistication as a wine drinker, one tends to gravitate toward drier wines, but I've been on the opposite swing recently , recognizing that some sweeter wines are exploding with flavor, subtlety, and joy. German Rieslings make almost everyone happy. Initially people ask themselves, should I confess to loving a wine that tastes (varyingly) sweet? The answer for me is yes.

In keeping with the food theme...

Well, the next confession is a big one. Mad Men. Yes, it's the first television show I've allowed myself to be pulled into in years. The characters, the story, the epoch, and the visual integrity -- it is difficult to resist the combination. And speaking of the visuals, each episode is like a game of hide and seek for people who love post-war design. There's always some contemporary piece of design hiding in the frame.
    This is quite a leap, or perhaps not, but opera is something I have loved since... well, shall I confess?... 1984. How do I remember the year? Because my brother and I became obsessed with the scene from Don Giovanni in Amadeus, which came out in the 1984 (apparently -- I would have guessed 1982...)

    Perhaps this then is exactly the right moment to confess that about 10 years after everyone else I've finally discovered Norman Quentin Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, or more precisely discovered that I already knew his music, which is the kind of thing that you would have had to live in a cave not to know to some degree. There's something bizarre and fun in being out of cycle with everyone else (at least sometimes).  (I wonder what my contemporary music adviser will make of this self-directed discovery? Mia, I hope I have not gone astray!)

    I love 3-legged chairs. I have two sets of them. One that looks like this:

    (indeed, this is my dining table in New York). And the other like this

    I have been told they are a little impractical, especially by guests who tip over while seated on them... But that's why I love them (the impracticality I mean, not specifically the tipping over part). They are outside nature and just from the human imagination.

    While I'm on the acquisitive wavelength, I recently acquired one of these:

    And it's instant love. I remember as a child my father would tell my brother and me stories in which the municipal water supply was suddenly transformed into coke, or milk, or juice. Well, this machine has the same element of magic to it. I've concluded that my one true addiction is bubbly water. And I've been carting those bottles home from the grocery for years now. Forget the environmental damage, it's my back (and hands) that I'm worried about... Now I filter and chill the water and have bubbly water on tap. Magic.

    Finally I love the Sunday New York Times. In New York, you actually get most of it on Saturday, but I am disciplined and don't read any of it until Sunday morning. My Sunday habits have changed over the years, but right now it's this. I get up, walk out in search of the weekend brekkie (usually a croissant, but having failed to find good ones recently I've switched to a brioche). Back home, I make cappuccino, climb back into bed, and the paper for a few hours.

    Now there are a few good thoughts to tide me over till the weekend!



    Friday, October 1, 2010

    You decide (4)

    When I first began living by myself, as a student back in the 20th Century, my parents helped me to move into my place. As my parents were leaving, I noticed my father slip an envelop into my desk drawer, but was too busy saying my goodbyes to my mother to ask.

    I didn't think it was money, since I had already gone through a series of big talks with my father (my parents more generally, but in general my father took the lead in these talks, interestingly even if the topic was domestic matters - something like cooking - in which he had little experience) on how to get by. I was half right, and half wrong.

    It was indeed an envelop with "Emergency Cash" written on it, containing a hundred dollars. When I asked him about it over the phone a few days later, he said that I should hang on to it for one of those situations in which I lose my wallet and the bank doesn't open for another day.

    The envelop remained unopened for 18 years, indeed until yesterday.

    It's not that I had specifically avoided opening it, but I'm a pretty organize person. Thankfully, I've never had my wallet stolen (although someone did once pickpocket me for some poems, but that's another story). But yesterday I left my wallet at the office. I didn't feel like driving back, but I had a yearning for ice cream.

    I thought about trying to offer them Euros from my leftover travel money or pooling together leftover change, but then I recalled that somewhere in my current apartment that envelop must still exist. It does. Orange-honey-ginger and rosemary ice cream never tasted as good.

    Tonight I'll top up my emergency fund for whenever I need it next.


    Monday, September 27, 2010

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