First Snow of the Season

I am smitten by snow. There is no earthly reason why I should not. I do not care about the slushy aftermath of it, really, I do not give two hoots. Because right now it is glorious. I am wrapped up in my fur throw watching it snow prettily, a few extremely buttery garlic knots and pizza slices in my stomach. It has been snowing since morning and my world is quite so white and wonderful.

Earlier on, I put on my boots and warm jacket and rushed out to the waterfront. The park had turned pristine white, only footprints showing through the snow (someone was out running too), brown autumnal leaves now caked with snow, the dark brown of the barks adding some contrast to the startling white outside. I was hoping to meet Alex again. He is the best looking boy I have met in some time. Now Alex is a golden retriever before your eyebrows touch your scalps there. He is quite the blonde, with well-groomed hair standing in little tufts and bits about his face, and he has a weakness for jumping on unsuspecting humans to share some of his drool-some happiness. Alas, I did not spot Alex today. I had met him by the waters yesterday so I made my way back there hoping to catch him playing in the snow. Instead I saw, shivering with delight through a curtain of snow that the waters had turned a shade of steely teal, globules of snow dissolving into the ripples and sheathing the boulders. The bridge and the cranes at the port — they had vanished behind a wall of dense white fog.

Then Adi and I walked to the store a couple of miles away, not a good idea – which we realised in a while – but besides fingers turning immensely numb inside the gloves because I was taking photos more than walking, I did spot a squirrel duo up in the branches of a tree with blobs of snow around on them. One chomping on a nut and the other had spotted just one, so it was chuffed. A little tableau of survival playing out right there in front of our eyes, though blurred by snow.

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Vignettes

Central Park looked like a big beautiful canvas as I strolled through it to the American Museum of Natural History in the Upper West Side. Dried leaves glowed in vivid tones of gold and russet. Old men read books on benches which tell stories through those small plaques. You might take a seat on one but oh do leave some space for the couple’s dog who loved hanging out there too. They are all long gone… what remains is the warmth of the thought that you share the bench with souls that might have dissolved in ether, but they too savoured the solitude, as much as you do now. Beneath those flaming bowers, bright-eyed squirrels scurried up and down wire fences, a man stooped to gather a bunch of leaves in his arms, to throw them in the air, let them rain upon him in a shower of gold as his partner waited to capture it on her camera with a bashful grin, an old man rowed his boat serenely by.

Then I found my way to the pink granite largesse of the Natural History Museum where the suggested amount for entry is $23 – but you can shell out what you want to enter it. I wanted to pay a buck and see what their reaction might be (just to be perverse) but then I rose above that notion. Those mighty quotes of Ted Roosevelt staring back at you — exalted thoughts and words, they make sure that any pettiness is put to shame. Right after, I lost my mind — to the beauty of animals carefully preserved by an American taxidermist towards the late part of the 19th century, reproductions of dinosaurs from fossils, the Mayan gods, paraphernalia from the Silk Route, hunting apparatus of the Amazon Indians, strange shrunken heads that looked like tiny balls with hair flowing from the heads, sewed up lips and head because the South American people such as the Shuar counteract violent death and the need of the soul for revenge by keeping the spirit trapped inside the heads.

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The ultra tall Barosaurus defends its young from the Allosaurus up front. An encounter that might have taken place in the western part of the US about 140 million years ago.
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An alarmed African elephant

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Early copy of the Koran retrieved from somewhere in Africa.
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Golden wares of Samarkand where caravan roads converged, bringing in exotic goods from China, India, Armenia, Persia and the Near East.
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A Mayan god
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Colossal Olmec stone head from Southern Verz Cruz and Tabasco in Mexico

Twilight

The sunset’s fiery kiss to the Hudson today on the second day of December stopped me short in my tracks. These spectacularly beautiful days are altogether unmissable. I want to trap them in my fists, shut ’em tight and hold time in my hands. How does one let go of these evenings of flaming oranges and lavenders, rose gold and smoky blues?

The Christmas lights are up. It seems that Bayonne with its worn-out air can also go ballistic with decorations. Less is clearly not more here.

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Late November Goodness

The Happy Holidays banner has been strung up across the streets of Bayonne. Mini snowflakes and golden balls, trees wreathed in fairy-lights are making the evenings a little festive on a certain stretch of Broadway where I pop down for my regular fix of coffee. I am suddenly reminded of the sight of Oxford Street, glittering with dozens of sparkly snowflakes dripping like ornaments upon the busy streets of London where people huddled in their long coats and boots would be clacking down the pavements past windows displaying the best of their Christmas booties. Then onwards to a bar, a gourmet pub to grab a few drinks and then a lovely, hot dinner. The gigantic Christmas trees twirled with shiny strings of fairy lights winking back at us from the fresh market square in Northampton and the one that stood tall and proud before the grand old All Saints’ Church. Let’s see what New York City has in store for us.

Meanwhile the evenings are cold and windy. On days I feel like the wind can lift the scalp straight off my pate. There are a handful of lunatics like me who brave it and continue their daily jogs around the park. A few days ago on the windiest day of all, I took Adi along the Hudson, who refused to give into this strange madness, huddled into his jacket and scarf and cantered home with single-minded determination to get back to the cosy warmth of it.

I have not seen late November so beautiful and golden yet in my life. These are the mixed blessings of life, in Bayonne. My heart fills with some unknown emotion as I lay my eyes upon the trees in the park across from my windows. They are still flaming red and golden, possibly because they are late bloomers who might not have been showy starlets in the early stages of life but later on do startle others with their quiet elegance.

Bands of smoky blue clouds with silver linings, flaming sunsets, quiet sunsets, streaky sunsets, lens flares, gulls gliding in the icy winds above the Hudson, learning to crochet, undoing long woven strips to get this caboodle of knitting in place, reading books on covering fashion in Paris, slipping into Diana Gabaldon’s alternate world of reality through the Voyager, roasting meats and veggies, letting the lemon and verbena candle perfume the air in the rooms, … these are how the November days are slipping by in a harmony of solitude, colour, light and warmth.

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A Pennysylvanian Victorian Town

The weekend we drove to Jim Thorpe, an old coal mining town in the Pocono mountains brimming with pumpkins and haunted houses, we noticed a huge banner on a highway route through the Lackawanna County. A well-lined face crinkled by a grin and a head full of silver hair stared back at me. The man, it turns out, had disappeared. Yet another of those baffling cases where the family woke up one morning to find their husband and father to have vanished. My inner Wallander was mystified. It was as if we were on the sets of a drama like The Missing, a chilling prospect.

Weaving our way through roads flanked by trees which were still in the nascent stage of light oranges and pinks, we reached the town of Jim Thorpe surrounded by lush hills that had turned a brooding shade of green under the blue-grey skies. We deposited the car in the parking lot next to the Lehigh river and started for the town of Jim Thorpe, following a demarcated path. That is when I stepped out of line. For a second though. I had detected an old railroad crossing gate and wanting to photograph it I had made a beeline for it. No cars incoming too, but hey-ho, a booming voice rang across the parking lot on that cold October noon like a bullet, ‘RETURN TO THE WALKWAY RIGHT NOW!’ piercing my skin and senses with precision. I scurried, suitably chastened, back to my place next to Adi on the path. Mortification.

I espied a bunch of people crossing the parking lot in the exact way I had attempted to, the next morning. The same people in the parking lot booth, yet they turned a blind eye to the errant six. Life — it works in mysterious ways.

In Jim Thorpe, you meet cordial railway men. They point out scenic geographical features of the Jim Thorpe National Park within which the town is located. You shall chug through the park if you buy a ticket for the steam train, and you hear about black bears who romp around the market square, rummaging in bins, when they fall short of food. The Lehigh River gleamed emerald green in places, in others midnight blue and rust (with mineral deposits), as it skirted the town, passing through a landscape mottled with ancient woodlands of white pine, rhododendron, ferns, abandoned sheds and railroad. A peaceful scenery punctuated by the gushing sound of waterfalls making their way into a gorge. And the few hikers and cyclists who waved at the train passing by.

Them training their cameras on the train. Us training ours on them.

Later after we had had our fill of regressing to a state of child-like glee, we walked around the narrow alleys and winding roads of Jim Thorpe that was named after a former Olympian athlete called Jim Thorpe – it had no connection with him whatsoever though. The words ‘Mauch Chunk’ leapt out at us from signages. The Lenni Lenape tribe is supposed to have named the town for the mountain nearby, Mauch Chunk or ‘the Mountain of the Sleeping Bear’.

Atmospheric cafes; stone churches stained black by the passage of time; second-hand bookshops where I went into a tizzy, laying my hands greedily on beautifully bound tomes; antique shops; stores selling dream catchers and trippy, psychedelic stuff; boutiques selling handmade, embroidered leather boots; former old jails where the Molly Maguires, an outfit of Irish immigrant coal mine workers, were imprisoned and executed; old ladies with faces like immobile masks sitting on their old porches (straight out of a supernatural thriller in my fervid imagination).

Jim Thorpe has a fair bit going on. You might want to cycle along the abandoned railroad because it does seem like the kind of activity where you feel at one with the old forests around you, breathing in the scent of the pine trees, the possibility of meeting a black bear… but if you end up there, remember not to step out of bounds of the path in the parking lot, okay? The grinches shall get you.

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Les Feuilles Mortes

The Dead Leaves, says the title. Pourquoi? Well they are just out there and how does one just turn her eyes away from the golden, rustling beauty of them… How fast the days fly by as I sit at the desk with my thoughts, trying to put them down into a project which seems to be taking forever, devouring the Outlander books, baking once in a while. Smidgens of self-doubt have been bogging me down. The problem with smidgen is that it tends to balloon into mammoth proportions and then you are caught right under the heaviness of it, the self-doubt that is, and you feel nothing less flat than the perfectly pressed leaf which comes out from between the pages of a book. The leaf has more leverage in all of this as you can imagine. It holds more beauty in its faded glory than anything else pressed does.

The blustery wind whipped away chunks of these thoughts with icy fingers as I ran, bathed in the golden stream of the early evening sun, the trees bare and leached, the gulls gathered in little clumps around as the waves rose and ebbed in choppy harmony. I passed by the old man who has determination in his fingertips. He must be above 80, wizened by age. It seems that a stroke has robbed him of movement on his right side, so he leans in heavily towards the right. It has become a ritual for us to acknowledge the other with a wave. The only other person who haunts the park and the river front, along with the old man and I, is a young boy of about 15. He is a beanpole, all arms and legs, possibly a soccer player.

I find persistence and hope at the sight of these two.

Towards the latter part of the evening, a couple of squirrels decided to turn playful on me. I was kneeling to shoot mounds of dried leaves when these two tubby fellows capered around, coming up close and dodging like we were at some game invented by the two of them. Catch me if you can.

Naturally, I feel like I have had free therapy. Now the lemon and verbena candle is making the room smell so cosy and citrusy and it feels doubly nice as I dig into a hot salad of chickpeas and grilled vegetables, spruced up with a handful of blackberries, caramelised pecans and roughly chopped gouda. So I shall leave you behind with this jazz number and a few photos of sunset, armies of white clouds, ducks, geese, gulls, squirrels and dead leaves.

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