Bedazzled

I was just wondering the other day as we walked into Times Square, surrounded by those giant billboards and dazzling neon signs, the crowds, the clouds gathering steam above our heads and the insanely tall buildings – what if Charlotte Brontë found herself here? I will tell you why that strange thought entered my mind. I was carrying a capacious cloth bag that I had bought at the home of the Brontë sisters in Haworth the previous summer. On it is a logo drawn out in lashes of thick black ink which puts you in mind of Charlotte sitting at her mahogany desk.

It makes for such a wild leap. Haworth to Times Square. The house in the open country leading to the vast moors, a time capsule of sorts, and then several worlds away it seems, this ultimate tribute to capitalism.

‘It is a strange kind of parallel universe,’ Charlotte might have noted in a letter to her dear sisters, never mind the alcoholic Branwell. ‘The girls they wear pies on their heads, the men wear shiny costumes with crowns around their heads and I cannot take my eyes off the neon signs towering above me. I fear my neck might snap off from the effort of staring and swivelling my head to take it all in.’ One thing is for certain – that it would have been a welcome reprieve from the dark industrial world she was born into.

To return to Midtown Manhattan to the arms of flashing neon capitalism. The billboards that dwarfed us, Broadway marquees, the people braving the heat in their motley costumes – indeed here was butch Liberty walking around with her beacon of hope, a couple of Spidermen chatting with passers-by, a Minion or two there and the Fat Blue muppet. Odd to think that it was the centre of a horse exchange trade sometime in the 1870s, then its reputation as the ‘Thieves Lair’ because of the seedy entertainment (gambling and prostitution) it offered and its sudden growth following WWI… Times Square has history and the promise of a gazillion musicals to make the head spin. Adi and I did not know where to look.

There was a reason why we had ended up last Saturday in Times Square. During a pitstop in an Irish pub for strong ales to tide the sudden stifling heat outside, we had a craving for Buffalo Wild Wings. The last time I had tried it (also the first time) was in Seattle with my sister-in-law and her family. We ordered up portions of Wild and Mango Habanero wings along with a sampler of Blazin’ wings which arrived as a small tub of sauce churned out of  Ghost Pepper. It is Bhut Jolokia, a hybrid chilli from India and one of the hottest chillies in the world. It would be no surprise therefore that I could feel my ears singe. Meanwhile my tongue begged to be soaked permanently in a vat of beer.

With it came the realisation that no longer are Adi and I ready to take part in the Blazin’ challenge which means that you have got to eat 12 Blazin’ wings in 6 minutes, without using a napkin. Burning skin, burning ears, burning everything…you would be on fire and really have earned that place on their wall of fame. It makes me shudder to think that my young niece has a plan for her mother and I. She is of the opinion that we can conquer the ghost at The Wing Dome, a local Seattle wing hotspot, where they have a similar 7-Alarm Challenge.

Where beer could not help, sweet treats did. I took refuge in bite-sized cupcakes, and in the matter of a few minutes, crisp churros coated with chocolate. Adi was delighted. For the rest of the evening he kept calling out to the fat girl who lives inside me.

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Perchance, Charlotte travelled to NYC
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Bigger and badder indeed
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She loves her pie
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Eye-catching marquees
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Times Square’s busy persona

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Wings to make you sing
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Cookie-creme offerings from Cupcakes by Melissa
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Double chocolate and salted caramel mini cupcakes
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To round it off – chocolate and almond encrusted churros. Let’s not live half a life.
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Let’s Get Our Trinkets Out

‘The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.’

Emily Dickinson

Have you made jewellery pacts before? Well I have, with the lovely girls, AngelaPamelaCheila and Lyz, and in the spirit of the game here we go.

Over the last few weeks, I have been in the process of trimming the contents of my jewellery boxes. It is curious that we often hoard for the sake of it. Yet every piece carries its own story. The core pieces remain. They are the ones that carry memories within their many loops and filigrees. The earrings bought in Brussels (because I had not carried enough jewellery while travelling for a month through Belgium), the pair of statement earrings I bought with my first salary, …My favourite statement pieces are contemporary earrings and head jewellery crafted out of silver from an Indian boutique brand called Amrapali. They rarely fail to ensnare the eyes.

Now my heart beats for the kind of jewellery that make you think that a girl can indeed live without her diamonds. But I did lust for the designs I laid eyes upon at the fashion weeks in Delhi. Jewellery collections that smacked of savoir faire. Yet they were always more expensive than the wallet would allow. All my earnings were frittered away on eating out and partying. As a result, I never ended up buying even an itsy bitsy piece. Now I wonder if I should just pick up a couple to sate that old desire…

Some unworn pieces remain in my boxes but then they shall stay for as long as I live. You see they are bits and pieces from my mother’s collection. They effortlessly pick me up from now and deposit me into the body of the little girl who used to watch her mother get ready for an evening out. Transfixed by the rituals of dressing up, the trappings of femininity. How she used to take her time. Drape on a beautiful sari, when I used to be at hand to pull at the edges to straighten out the folds while feeling the texture of the lush fabric at the same time, apply a hint of foundation since she had flawless skin, don pretty jewellery, apply her favourite shade of lipstick and at the end, dab herself with Estee Lauder’s Beautiful. I have never been able to shake off the haunting fragrance of Beautiful since. The faint smell of it lingers in the air (even though I do not own a bottle of it at the moment). But what am I waffling on about. That’s the power of memory and nostalgia.

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Cuffs and bracelets
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Amrapali earrings
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Cheap earring bought from some odd market
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Collar necked in pearl
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A chain of armour? Psst: Turns me into Cuptain Cupcake
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Amrapali, Delhi
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Black lace choker and a pendant from Portobello Market
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Higgledy-piggledy assortment of earrings
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Busy corners 
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Amrapali. This one makes me feel like a diva. 
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The box that holds the tiny studs
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The pop-arty lady from the streets of Alfama who stands above my dressing table and reminds me to go dress up for life.

 

 

These Fleeting Days of Summer

Midday. I was standing on Broadway, the stretch on Bayonne where a row of ramshackle storefronts stands shoulder to shoulder. Old-timers from the look of it. Dry cleaners, pizza joints, a dental center or two, a bank… humdrum life passed by me. Then an old geezer flashed by on a Harley. One of those muscular, red breeds. Not the man, the bike, broad, low-slung and stylish. Its rider’s blond white moustache defied gravity in the face of momentum. It was all over his face not unlike bleached cotton candy (if it could glide in the air). Now I have seen all kinds of moustaches – the narrow, pointy and long Dali one, the broader Chevron, the spaghetti variety…but this was the stuff that legends are made of. I suppose if doormen of old hotels, with their plush Victorian whiskers, were asked to take over the roads on superbikes, they would look just so. Of course they would have to swap their livery for leather. You’ve got to respect tradition.

The humidity levels are abating and my hair feels better already. On early evenings, I find myself savouring sprints in the park. They are no longer a painful chore. Is autumn knocking on our doors already? It certainly feels like it as I jog down to the waterfront, the heart and feet pounding at tandem along the length of the wooden path that trails through marshy green acres by the mighty Hudson, long reeds swishing in the cool breeze of the evening. A solitary gull steps nimbly through tiny pools of water, peering intently into the shallow bed. It is a great stretch for birdwatchers, for warblers, herons, yellowlegs and egrets like to swoop in once in a while for their inspection of the scabby marshes. The turnpike bridge over the bay brings in a spot of the city in the backdrop but otherwise you might as well be in the boondocks. Nearby in wooden sheds, people have scribbled odd somethings.

I wonder if it is true – what they say about the park. At one point it had been a boat-building factory where PT boats (Patrol Torpedo boats which were torpedo-armed fast attack crafts used by the US Navy during WWII) were manufactured. There was supposed to have been an accident at the factory. A boat fell off its railings crushing two men. The daughter, of one of those unfortunate men, is said to roam the area calling out for daddy. It is a good thing that I wrap up my run before dusk falls.

It would be even better if I could manage to take Adi running there and he could encounter the young girl. He is such a braveheart. But no, that is not to be because my husband shall not be budged from his seat on the couch. Nowadays he is working from home, and in between work, sneaking in sessions of solving puzzles. We have been incredibly indolent this summer. Apart from the occasional jaunts into the city, we have been sitting at home, doing it up slowly, binging on TV shows, reading, tucking into popcorn and pizza, attending rooftop barbecues and meeting neighbours, guzzling bottles of wine and hunching over jigsaw puzzles apart from demolishing home-made cakes quite readily. A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Who cares? Not Adi. He will have you know, if not through words, that he Shall Not Run because my man is a man of action, if I may say so.

I have been ripe for a disjointed summer ramble for some time now and this is my bit towards the end of summer musings along with some photos from Bayonne.

Toodle-oo.

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Good Morning World

It is 4 in the morning and I am wide awake. Exams, nope. Work, nope. Stress of any darned sort, nope. If I string together any more ‘nopes’, you shall bop me, I get it. Plus I should not be blathering at 4 bloody o’ clock. It is plain unhealthy.

We went to bed with the music of a duo of Croatian cellists in our ears, rather late. Just about three hours ago.

So when the fire alarm went off in the apartment, we leapt up bewildered. I managed to slip on my glasses sleepily and stumbled out of the bedroom only to catch my husband fanning the fire alarm detector in the apartment. Hmm an innate response given the fact that every other noon he does it – when it goes off as I cook. Yes, despite the might of the extractor in the kitchen.

In our apartment in Northampton, the fire alarm would go off in a trice. We would just stay in. Stupid, I know. Especially bearing in mind Grenfell Towers. But it had never gone off in the middle of the night – or early morning as it turns out. Today the alarm must have gone off around 3-ish. And it was dire. Imagine the loudest level you can put your alarm clock on. Now multiply that about roughly 50 times or so. That would be it. We rushed down the stairs and it was not too long before we were out with a fair number of the residents on the pavements outside. An odd sort of get-together, meet-your-neighbour kinda affair. In your pyjamas, hair dishevelled, wonderful morning breath in place – someone was even bare-chested in the chilly morning air. Good time to show off tattoos.

The dogs were going berserk. My legs were shaking from the sound. They must have been scared witless. One by one they streamed out of the building, the black Great Dane like a silent creature of the night, big and mournful, the tiny cute Corgi who wanted reassurance from all of us around him, the white poodle who sat shivering in his master’s arms, the golden retriever sitting between his master’s legs with his ears perked up and looking suspiciously calm. There were others too.

A window was flung open on the first floor, and a male voice informed us, ‘I called 911. They said we could stay in.’ Right. Never mind the sound in yours ears, intense enough to give you palpitations.

The morning air was chilly, and in about 10 minutes, three red fire trucks arrived. Is it an odd moment to slip it in that American fire trucks are glitzy? Four beefy firemen strapped up in their protective bulky gear and self-contained breathing apparatus trooped in. Then it took an eternity while they went around the building.

Meanwhile we chatted with a couple we know from a rooftop barbecue party. Then a woman with her little one. Her husband, a doctor, had refused to follow them out because he had to get up in an hour anyway to get to work. Heavens. I was genuinely impressed by his powers of endurance.

After their survey, the firemen finally shut the alarm 20 minutes before we were allowed back into the building. But I did manage to see an odd sight, a woman doing make-up in a pick-up truck right opposite the building. At 4 in the morning. What are the odds of that, eh?

P.S.: There are no photos. I had left my phone, wallet and fob inside because I had just about managed to take myself out.

 

Who Wants Curry When There’s Indian Accent…

The night air’s soft and balmy. People lurk near squat fountains, bathing in the mist as if to dissipate the heat of the summer evening, people watch other people and a sudden bit of quiet descends upon us in the midst of the surrounding skyscrapers. Are you with me? Then here is the conundrum. Can an oasis of green and tranquility sit within the chaos of Manhattan? Here lies Bryant Park, a heartbeat away from Times Square.

Then, Magnolia Bakery in Rockefeller Center, a vintage dream woven with cupcakes, puff pastries, brownies and blondies, cookies and macarons. All American-style. Slobbering and giving into temptation with four measly cupcakes when a whole world of goodies wink at you. Oh heart, clad in an iron armour, to not melt in the face of such luscious beauty.

But maybe you have had your fill for the day because why you have just tripped out of Indian Accent, that fine-dining modern Indian restaurant sitting on 56th Street.

Food memories. The dishes you have had growing up have been put on the menu by a renowned chef. His modern take on them is calculated to baffle the senses. Works.

The concept is degustation. Tasting menu. You eat a bit of everything. My usual grievance of not possessing four stomachs is taken care of. One stomach will do just fine.

Every dish, in the four-course menu I opt for, tastes different. Indian dishes do often run the danger of tasting somewhat the same. Adi goes for a three-course menu, so between the two of us, we have a plethora of tastes to sample.

The well-felt pinch on the pocket is redeemed by two dishes on the house. Miniature discs of naan that you pop into the mouth. Chew and a warm molten centre of Danish blue cheese is released into the mouth, piquant and sharp. And before you can crave more, pumpkin soup in a mini mug. Moreish.

It is difficult to choose from the line-up of dishes. Everything’s familiar yet there are unfamiliar pairings which stoke the taste buds and the imagination. The soya keema – that was often a constant on the table at home when I would throw a fit at the daily diet of fish – arrives in a small, deep pan topped with quail eggs. Oh, the taste of childhood all over again, but teamed with a mouthful of butter-slathered fresh mini paos (buns) that are redolent of lime leaves.

Nuggets of cauliflower? Did we order cauliflower?! Ahem. The dismay of the non-vegetarian. But then the realisation as you dig into them that they are crab claws slathered in the time-tested winning combination of butter, pepper and garlic.

Oh let’s not think any more.

After a long drawn affair involving smacking sounds and sighs of pleasure, the final stroke of goodness. A magical affair with a candle sticking on top to celebrate Adi’s birthday.

It looks like cake, but it is not cake, my darlings. Oh no. This is a token of a closely-guarded secret from the narrow alleys of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, where the narrow lanes are upholstered with shops selling silver, spices, antiques, sweets and fried food diverse enough to leave the food lover in a tizzy. This is where you want more than four stomachs, my friend. But to return to the frothy matter at hand, it is called Daulat ki Chaat. An ethereal concoction of milk, saffron, sugar and nuts that disappears into the mouth, offering you a glimpse of paradise. Light and airy.

This is how we sail out of Indian Accent – floating on a cloud of heavenly saffron and potent Belgian ale – you could go with wine. Know this that we had already been drinking beer the entire evening and a few glasses of wine would have sent us into the arms of deep sleep. Plus who wants to have just arrived in NYC and already kickstart the process of getting thrown out of restaurants, you know. All in good time.

 

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Blue cheese naans, the signature dish of Indian Accent.
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Pumpkin soup. You can see that I had drained off a fair bit of it before I took a shot. Patience is not often a strong suit of mine.
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A trio of traditional dishes – smoked aubergine, duck khurchan and chicken khurchan – stuffed into flaky biscuits. Khurchan is basically scrapings off the bottom of a dish. In this case, well-cooked, crisp lashes of meat.
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Crab claws in butter, garlic and pepper. Not cauliflower. 
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Chicken kofta (meatball) with pakora in the shape of an onion ring and greens.
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Pathar beef kebab and bone-marrow nihari. Pathar kebabs are a speciality of the southern state of Hyderabad in India. Marinated meat is cooked over pathar or stone while nihari is slow-cooked meat (usually beef or lamb) presented along with the bone marrow.
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Soya keema (minced) topped with quail eggs and lime-leaf flavoured pao.
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Butter chicken-stuffed naan. Guaranteed streak of delight.
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Ghee roast lamb and roomali roti pancakes. Roomal is Hindi for handkerchief, so these breads or rotis are as thin as handkerchiefs.
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Dal makhni (creamy black lentils) chaperoned by garlic & butter naan. 
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Adi and his unusual birthday non-cake. A dewy cloud of milk flavoured with saffron, rose petal jaggery brittle and almonds.
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Neon-lit streets of Manhattan.
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Scandalous graffiti
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Bryant Park
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Steel-and-glass glory of 7 Bryant Park, in rainbow hues.
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There’s always space for more dessert. Magnolia Bakery.
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American vintage bakeries and cupcakes

 

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The top right-hand side cupcake got a bit squished, but hey, what is beauty without a flaw? They were good, bordering on the sweeter side of it, but the lemon blueberry cupcake on the top left-hand side stole the show (whispers: Hummingbird Bakery might still win the cupcake war, but I am not taking on a New Yorker yet).
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Ending the night on a ‘Sex and the City’ note. Carrie and Miranda. Love lives and cupcakes. Shut your eyes and take both.

Three Awards in One

The way I look in the photo is how I felt when my dear lady Cherylene nominated me for three awards. Not all at one go but over a period of time. I take my time in getting around to answering these award questions, not because I do not want to do them, but because I take time to babble. You know I take it seriously – the art of talking as little sense as possible.

Through her blog titled ‘Living Vs. Existing’, Cherylene motivates and inspires readers to stay strong through the travails of life. She almost always pops up on my various posts from time to time and leaves lovely thoughts. You can see why she is a great friend to have your back. To get to the task at hand, the questions under each award are all hers.

Thank you Cherylene, I had fun answering these questions. Made me ponder and smile.

 

Sunshine Blogger Award

Do you prefer to smell the roses or grow them?

Grow them, smell ‘em and see them wither away. The cycle of life is inescapable.

Are you the adventurous type or more reserved?

My stomach will tighten into knots and my heart shall pop out of my mouth, but Adventure, you scamp, you’re not getting away easy!

Do you prefer cake as a dessert or ice cream?

There are whiffs of existential crisis in that question.

Do you prefer to drive or be driven?

I drive in my dreams. My husband does not dare to let me drive in reality, yet. But I have agreed to polish up my driving skills by enrolling in a driving school in the US, ‘polish up’ being the key words here.

Where is your ideal vacation spot?

Cornwall.

Can you cook?

Yes.

What is your favourite dish to prepare?

Chicken biryani/ Aglio e olio

Who is the most supportive person you know?

My husband. My brother and father have been my rock during the formative stages of my life.

Who is you favourite singer?

Bob Dylan/Leonard Cohen. How do I choose between them?!

When you think of blogging, list one word to describe the feeling it gives you.

Contentment

Do you pamper yourself as much as you like?

Without doubt.

 

Unique Blogger Award

If you could be any Marvel superhero who would you be and why?

Marvel needs to contact me for a patent. Cuptain Cupcake. Need I say why after you read my name?  I even know what I shall charge Marvel. A lifetime’s subscription to cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery.

How do you cope with stress?

Devouring popcorn and reading crime thrillers. Works like magic for me. I also walk around the room talking to myself (so I reveal at the cost of coming across as a certified loon).

If you were given the opportunity to act in any movie, would you take it? What type of movie would it be – action, romance, horror, drama, sci-fiction or comedy?

Why, of course, the superhero genre. Remember Cuptain Cupcake? I think I would be a darling at it.

 

Real Neat Blog Award

Your three favourite foods 

Mustard Hilsa (freshwater fish cooked in mustard, atypical of Calcutta), Chicken Biryani (Calcutta-style biryani strictly) and Lal Shaak (red spinach the way my mother cooks it).

Do you prefer watching sports or playing sports?

Playing sports

Would you choose a vacation in Hawaii or Alaska? Why?

Both. I would love to walk upon the volcanoes of Big Island and soak in the charms of its canvas of environments. I have watched some fascinating documentaries on Alaska which intrigued me. Plus I would feel like I were on top of the world.

If you would go back in time, what year would you travel to?

To the year 2011. Adi and I travelled together through the UK and discovered our common passion for being on the road.

What has been your biggest challenge?

To return home safe each day when I lived and worked in Delhi. Just reminiscing about the incidents that were a part of my daily life makes me prone to ranting about the importance of safety of women in that city.

Something you miss the most from childhood?

The early idyllic years in Salalah, Oman. My brother would visit us from time to time during summer vacations – he lived in a monastic hostel on the outskirts of Calcutta. I remember days spent on the beach by the rugged Jabbal mountains; attempting to steal flowers from my neighbour aunt (who used to open the door just at the time that I reached it – I realise that I used to turn up at the same time every day); heading to the souks in the evenings with my parents for Lebanese bread fresh off the tandoor (the fragrance of which is still lodged in the memory cells); and long drives through the deserts of Oman.

What does a perfect day look like to you?

Just being in the company of my love.

The Angel Takes Manhattan, With Love

On the Upper West Side, we sauntered around under the sun on a steamy Saturday till we found an Italian eatery called Polpette tucked into one of the streets. Now if you come upon this modest place and see empty chairs and tables upfront, do not pray stride off into the sunset. In its rear section is a surprise of a garden, a square little affair enclosed by walls painted with murals. Festooned with vines and à la mode Edison light bulbs, it felt like we had been whisked off to the atmospheric back alleys of Roma. Checkered table cloths, rustic green chairs and dappled sunlight. Random joys from the random pickings of life.

An Italian waiter brought us two heavenly baskets of bread and fish and chicken dishes which were exquisite in their own right. A red snapper, accompanied by shrimps, doused in pomodoro sauce ripe with flavour, and a humble chicken dressed up in fragrant juice, redolent of rosemary. The Italians have mastered the art of infusing intense flavour into whatever they dish up and yet they use a few ingredients to achieve the effect.

The simplicity of the meal was heartening, and halfway through the act of uttering sighs of pleasure while masticating, we had to pick up our plates and rush into the eatery because it had started to pour. The waiter remarked that the weather would be quite so the entire day. Did I detect a smirk?

We got out, taking nimble steps under our small umbrella, but the glory of it is that it seemed, as if from above, someone had turned the tap off. The rain petered out, the sun peeking out albeit hesitantly.

We walked through leafy avenues, flanked by rows of pastel hued and brownstone townhouses originally built in the 19th century, vintage street lamps lined up alongside.

Then, Central Park. Finally.

And that spot in it, the Bethesda Fountain, ‘where if you sit there long enough, the entire city walks by.’ Matthew Perry had pointed it out in Fools Rush In. 

Or wait, if you are one for Gossip Girls, remember Cyrus quoting Herman Hesse as he married Chuck and Blair beneath the arcade, ‘we are not going in circles/we are going upwards/The path is a spiral/we have already climbed many steps…?’ It was one of my favourite scenes from the show.

So there we were, right at that iconic spot which you and I have seen numerous times in TV shows such as Sex and the City, movies such as Home Alone 2 and One Fine Day. One of those pinch-myself-is-this-really-happening-to-me moments in my book of life.

A wedding shoot was taking place when we walked into the arcade. The bride in her bustier wedding dress, wrought in lace and sparkling diamanté, must have been burning up in the heat of the noon. Oh but look how gracefully she stood there, a sparkling tiara atop her head, a posy of white blossoms in her hand, and a smile radiating from her pretty face. Bridesmaids in gowns of delicate pink hues stood in front of her, one of them passing by and flashing us a ravishing smile.

The arcade was the stage for many acts. In the backdrop, a guy in a white tunic and pants made of shiny latex, golden sneakers on his feet, stood frozen in a ballet posture. Just the sight of latex on a scorching summer’s day, uncomfortable levels of humidity in the air, can do things to you. Not in a good way, I mean.

Meanwhile, outside the arcade, an artist stood under the rays of the afternoon sun, a mini canvas mounted upon a tripod. Despite the sweltering heat, he found his inspiration in the angel that stood poised above the fountain in front of us.

A perfect swathe of clouds billowed in the backdrop of the Angel of the Waters – the statue that not only symbolises healing and love but was built upon the very foundations of love. How, you might ask? Well its sculptor, Emma Stebbins, was a lesbian who was in love with a leading actress of the American and British stages of the time, Charlotte Cushman.

Picture the mid-1800s when lesbian artists of the time were deemed the ‘female jolly bachelors’. These artists were among the first few women to be in relationships with others of their own sex and they all rallied around Cushman who is said to have given Stebbins the kind of support she needed to design the statue. It induced in me, a flash of emotion, a surge of pride. Stebbins was the first woman in New York City to have designed a public piece of art. For feminism creeps into you from the day you truly open your eyes to the world, isn’t it?

Now the changes have been negligible since the day it was unveiled to the public in 1873. The vista has really remained the same. The angel and her cherubs and then the beautiful lake framed by the woodlands, the colorful gonfalons (medieval-style banners) adding the necessary touch of majesty to it all.

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Demolishing bread baskets in Polpette
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Chicken and rosemary, a delectable duo.
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Red snapper and shrimps in pomodoro sauce.
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In a scanning-the-sky mode in Central Park where boys play football in the muddy fields.
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Fire trucks and carriages that prance down the park.
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The intensely soothing serenity of the Elm woods of Central Park.
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Canopy of Elms
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The old boathouse that stands adjacent the lake where people row boats, true to a 15–year-old tradition of rowing Venetian gondolas. The fans whirr in slow motion inside the dark non-air-conditioned interiors and make you think of the days of yore.
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Little girls in dresses of tulle walk down the park.
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Carriages appear every few seconds as you make your way through the park.
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Camouflaged occupant of the woods. He was adorable if I may state the obvious.
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In summer squirrels have to really hunt for their meals because the nuts are usually not ripe enough for them.
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So Adi chastised me for distracting this little fellow when he turned towards me and the nut slipped from his grasp. He spent aeons looking for it, after.
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Upper Terrace of the Bethesda Fountain
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Bethesda fountain was inspired by a Biblical verse. ‘Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called…Bethesda…whoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.’
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The arcade as it looked in the early 1900s. These old photos are sourced off the Net.
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The wedding shoot
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Inside the arcade are these beautiful Moorish-patterned tiles.
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He who paints the angel under the harsh sun shall be rewarded with true love, cupcakes and lemonade. 

Tango and Fireflies Among the Elms

I sat on the bench that Steve Kaplan had once sat on, my love by my side. The stifling heat of the day had been unbearable, and as much as we had let our senses be overwhelmed by the dazzling duo of chilled beer and jazz earlier on in the evening, it felt nice to just be. There was a hum in our heads and a hint of a breeze in the air as the clouds swooped in upon the strange hour of twilight which brings with it the twin emotions of contemplation and melancholia.

The lamps in the park twinkled as people hurried on, giving into the nudge from the darkening skies to find their way to the nearest shelter, because as surely as the stars that cling to the sky on crisp clear nights, a nasty spell was about to be unleashed upon us.

We, however, held on to the bench. I could feel peace stealing in upon me.

Was it the fact that we were enveloped in a cocoon of sorts in Central Park – that vast oasis of green which sits dab in the middle of Manhattan and yet seems far removed from the trammels of city life? I know not for sure but the sense of contentment that had been eluding me (both of us for that matter) for some time now, was just there, waiting to be embraced. A change is difficult. Getting used to a new environment is such an insidious process. You might think you can work it all out in your mind, and go about falling in love with a new place in an organised way, but some things in life just do not go according to plan, do they?

The man on the neighbouring bench stared intently at something so I squinted at whatever he was staring at. Oh, but it was a firefly, and he was trying his best to trap it in the cupped hollow of his hands. We whirled around, and why behind us in the woods, there was an orchestra of luminescence.

Whimpers of gold as those busy fireflies went about finding their soulmates, for do you know that they emit optical signals to attract mates? Some are deceived in this battlefield of courting because they are lured by the honey traps of femme fatales – the carnivorous females who lure lovesick males and simply gobble them up. How many had found their true mates on that summer evening and how many had been lost their lives, who knows, but it was all for love. And oh so magical.

In tandem with the fireflies, the immediate world around us was full of little pieces of joy. Like the many acts that come together to make a play count. We just had to look.

A couple walked by with their two cuddly daughters tucked into a double buggy and smitten by their rainbow cones of joy. Ice lollies to beat the heat of the day. Perfect. But one of those errant lollies took a toss – and the little girl who was the proud owner, her face crumpled up.

Before she could let loose a wail upon the world at large, her father dived to the ground. He picked up the cone, gave it a brush, and handed it right back to her. You should have seen the look on her face (of pure delight), ours (aghast) and her father’s (sheepish) as he turned around to us grinning, ‘All’s well. The five-second rule guys!’

A heartbeat away, at the south end of the part of the park called the Mall, two literary greats sat far, far away from home. Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. One stared at us moodily and the other gazed into the sky dreamily all poised to write on his scrolls of paper. Nearby stood Columbus, that lousy navigator who aimed for the East Indies and landed up in the West Indies. That man gives me hope. So what if I have a woeful sense of direction? Look where it took Columbus. Now he stands along with the Bard in that part of Central Park known as the Literary Walk staring every Saturday at clusters of couples dancing the tango in their heels and pretty dresses.

You can find them every weekend, those dancing divas and their hopelessly dressed men, regardless of thunder and lightning, rain and hail. As we found out soon enough to the tune of all with the exception of hail. We stood beneath the branches of a massive tree and huddled beneath my small plaid umbrella, which is only as effectual as pretty little things are, got wet, giggled and wondered aloud about tango in the rain.

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Street lamps light up the south end of the Mall in Central Park.
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The power of social media 
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Far from the lochs and glens of Scotland, here he sits on the Literary Walk…
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…along with fellow Scot, Burns
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Columbus
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Tango in the park beneath the eagle eyes of the Bard
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Just before it poured buckets.
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And that’s just about the power of green.

Remembering the Sammies with Three Old Men and All That Jazz

‘She was not crying for France, or for the doctor, who represented France, or for her father, shot with his own revolver. She was not even crying for himself. He felt she was crying for something that he could never have understood without her, and now did understand because of her. Deep and complete, within himself, all these things were part of the same thing, and he knew that what she was really crying for was the agony of all that was happening in the world.’

HE Bates, the English author who lived in my former home county of Northamptonshire in England, wrote these haunting lines in Fair Stood the Wind for France, one of the finest war novels I have read. Lines that could have easily echoed the sombre mood in France in 1917 in the midst of the First World War. In the summer of that year, American soldiers (nicknamed Sammies by the Europeans) got off their ships in the commune of Saint Nazaire in Brittany.

A hundred years have passed. And such events have got to be remembered. So in commemoration of this centennial event, even as I write and we go about our lazy Sundays, four trimarans are racing on the Atlantic alongside the Queen Mary 2, the iconic transatlantic ocean liner from the Cunard Line.

(On the first day when we moved into our building in Bayonne, I remember standing on the rooftop, watching the Queen Mary 2 as it docked in the Manhattan terminal, with a sweet old woman called Lorraine. And that was a completely blatant aside. So blatant that a few eggs my way would be not welcome but well deserved.)

Now the race ends tomorrow. But my post is not about a transatlantic race where expert seamen are vying with each other for distinction as they trace the voyage of the Sammies, nor is it about a trimaran (which if you are wondering about it, is a sailing boat). Instead the post finds its matter in the twin American passions for jazz and basketball – that the American soldiers carted along with them to France.

In December of 1917, in the middle of the war, a New York bandleader called Lt. James Reese Europe led his infantry troops of black soldiers through the small farms and concert halls across France, introducing locals to the sounds of swing and jazz. It confounded the French alright but they could not ignore its allure. In time, the Nazis did their best to do away with this brand of ‘degenerate music’ during their occupation of France yet the end of WWII saw jazz clubs accompany the wonderful proliferation of smoky literary cafés in Paris.

Years and years later, there we were on a hot hot summer’s day in Central Park, sitting with a big bunch of Frenchmen and women dressed in vintage straw boaters, white dresses and pinstripes, fanning ourselves and tapping our feet to the thrilling sounds of jazz. All in remembrance of those brave men.

You see it was Adi’s birthday, and being broke – how a move slashes the pockets through and through – I wanted to reserve a fancy dinner place. It was the only expensive thing we could do last night. The thought of a free jazz concert made my eyes twinkle.

If you are in New York during summer, you will be delighted to go find yourself a place in the SummerStage concerts. They are often staged for free in the blissful part of the city where its heart beats. I mean Central Park, of course.

In the concert area, you might find yourself scrambling up to the top of the stands, and seated next to a trio of jolly old men. As we did. Three veteran concert goers they were, and by that I mean, they were darned serious about it, attending about 6-7 shows every week, if you would believe that. They are the NYC concert know-it-alls. We were in hallowed company.

The frail old man, a former Texan, who sat next to me, was one who remains on top of the game with Twitter. He receives 250 tweets a day, which inform him about every cultural event in the city, and they also importantly update him about the whims of the clouds. ‘It will start raining again, you know,’ he informed me seriously. ‘And then the police – who are wonderful in times when you need help, so I cannot say bad things about them – will wrap up everything. No matter how important the singer up there on the stage.’

Half an hour into sitting up there, I wondered aloud to Adi, ‘What about beer?’ I could see tumble-y topple-y times ahead if the stand filled up soon. A bit alarming that, given me my well-placed concern for beer, ah icy beer. Plus my former flatmate would arrive with her husband and son soon to say hello before they took off for an opera. I got up and turned around to take our leave of our chatty friends. Their eyes had crinkled up with amazement. ‘What, moving already?’ they seemed to say. I assured them quickly that there were matters of beers, friends and loos at hand to be dealt with.

‘Ah very wise,’ they quipped. We would probably see them soon anyway around the city, they promised us with big smiles on their weathered faces, gleaming with kindness and sweat.

It had rained earlier in the day and a blanket of humidity was ready to choke the happiness out of us even as the sun chose to mellow down gradually. That mellowing down took a such long time – isn’t it surprising how a stifling summer’s day can seem to stretch forever?

A couple of purple bands issued at the entrance helped us bag a couple of excellent India Pale Ales each, for free, and the evening was beautiful. Suddenly we could say hah to the heat with impunity.

The French crooner sang her heart out in deep, dulcet tones. The violinist did a wonderful solo, exhaustive and electric, making me want to go break into a crazy dancing routine, while the sounds of the trumpet and the saxophone and the cello came together in perfect harmony. All for the cause of the Sammies who had fought valiantly in a war in a land not their own and taken along with them these sounds across the Atlantic that stayed on in that distant land for a long, long time.

But our remembering had to be short because the clouds had gathered in their dark numbers in the skies like determined hooligans and the ushers had sounded out the ‘the-stands-shall-be-evacuated-soon’ routine. Our former Texan friend, it turned out, was bang on target about the drill.

So in going with the theme called life where a few gaps, inconsistencies and anti-climaxes have to have their say, the perfect-imperfect end was at hand. The heavens did break loose upon us.

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Mattress Hunting in New York

The business of setting up home is a strange blend of weariness and exhilaration. I find myself oscillating between these two extremes as the process kicks off. On Saturday we made our way to Macy’s on Manhattan’s Herald Square. If you are not from this country, you need to know that it is the iconic American departmental store that sets the heart of the locals throbbing (you can call me out on this one if you are not a fan, but what are the chances of that, eh?).

The idea behind spending our time at Macy’s was to throw ourselves on mattresses stuffed with all kinds of memory foams and promising firmness in varying degrees. Adi is firm about it being firm, you see.

And throw ourselves we did, Adi with immense pleasure, I with some reserve. The idea of laying back, then turning around and pretending that I am sleeping on my own bed when the reality is that it is actually a department store, however hallowed its halls might be, is disconcerting. Never mind the woman on the next mattress, in her yellow sundress taking off her shoes to lay down on her stomach and change angles as she decided what worked for her. I know, that is the way you buy a mattress. But I cannot and shall not fall in line. I have Adi to do it on my behalf.

Then came the tut-tutting of the sales woman guiding us through the sacred rituals of choosing The Mattress. This grey-haired matriarchal figure was not in the least like our cordial little Mrs Marple. She cast a gimlet eye upon me, and observed, “I have been noticing that you have been standing for the most part while your husband has been testing it out.”

Adi got his chit of approval and showed me all of his shining teeth. I, in the mean time, played the part of the sheepish one. Then came the deal breaker. The part where all kind of hearts, young and old, stumble and fall. Prices.

Adi’s grin started fading bit by bit. Till it was time to take ourselves out of the vicinity of those rectangular beacons of firmness to think sanely.

In almost every situation in life, when you feel overwhelmed, it helps to take a step or a few steps aside, and just let it be.

That is what we did, and the result was that while sauntering down the all-important doyen of avenues, Fifth Avenue that is, we espied a store that declared itself to be Mattress Firm. ‘Surely a sign’, we thought to ourselves, and entered the store past a bunch of police crowd control barriers, wooden, blue and pretty. A sign that Fifth Avenue had been the venue of a parade earlier on in the day.

An old-world lift whisked us into a massive hall which was a neat picture stacked with rows and columns of mattresses, boxsprings and more mattresses. A head popped out of the corner. A grin accompanied by a booming voice as the words came our way, “You folks are the first people to step in, so come here quick. Give me a hug! Let’s have a group hug, y’all.”

Javon was his name and he pronounced it as Gio-vaan as he indeed engulfed the two of us in his big arms and gave us a tight hug.

A start with a hugging salesman is prophetic of good times to come. Symbiotic for both parties – we got our mattress – and good on Javon. He achieved his sale without breaking a sweat. And he added to the experience by giving us tips on how to catch the best views of NYC while sitting atop rooftop bars, which burgers to chomp on, the best track for running in Central Park, meeting celebrities like Julianne Moore (who inclined her head to let him him know that it was indeed her). He also mentioned his momma who lives in Little Italy in the Bronx.

Now this Italian neighbourhood is not the same as the Little Italy which I had come upon in Lower Manhattan. The Bronx one is the original they say, and no, the Italian mafia has not sunk its claws into it because its notoriety means that even the dons had to think twice about dominating the area. Which is not to say that there are no mobs around.

On our first day in Jersey City, we had met a burly and chatty cab driver who drove us into Manhattan. He had alluded to the infamous Bronx as he noted, “Two blocks up and down my house in Newark, it is not quite safe. But then I have lived in the Bronx. So I know how to take care of myself.”

We shall go one day to the Bronx. Before which I shall arm myself with copious quantities of coffee to steel the nerve. Not a bad plan, right?

Back in Javon’s Fifth Avenue hood, two hours passed by in a whirl of natter. The perfect salesman had made his sale, sans judgement about how I was not focusing enough upon disappearing into the mattress, and we had snagged us a deal that was a neat thousand dollars cheaper than Macy’s. The business of achieving the perfect sleep dealt with, we strolled down Fifth Avenue where we gleefully grabbed bags of dark Lindt chocolate and indulged in fashion dilemmas in Adi’s dearest Abercrombie & Fitch store – ‘Why I am in the flagship store!’ he remarked with awe because he had made it a point to drag me to all of its European locations. This was followed by a long drawn dinner of delicious Indian fare at Moti Mahal.

The euphoric moment of the day was unplanned – it lay in the transition from daylight to dusk.

New York at night. Those of you who have walked its bedazzled streets by night know this that the city knows how to work it once dusk falls like no other. Oh, the streets were a miasma of activity. The women came out in throngs in dresses, tipsy boys hollered around the streets, pretty young women waited in dimly-lit sidewalk cafes (waiting for their dates?), dogs sat patiently in bicycle trailers as their owners whizzed by us, and people spilled onto the streets drinking and diving into appetizers at cocktail bars. Yellow cabs rushed by us with their passengers and Hello Dolly ads as the balmy night air caressed our hair and welcomed us to the city.

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Herald Street in Manhattan and its iconic departmental store
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And that’s not even the tallest building in NY 
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Insights into its colonial past
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By dint of habit and height, every photograph tends to be vertical here
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Remnants of barricades and parades
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Golden sunburst. The Chrysler Building. This marvellous dream in art-deco was conceived as the headquarters of the car manufacturer but it was built by Walter Chrysler, the founder, using his personal funds because he wanted it to be inherited by his descendants.
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Down the glitzy Fifth Avenue where the brands come flying at you, fast and furious.
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Rockefeller center. In front of it artist Jeff Koons has installed a 45 foot high inflatable art installation. Meet the Seated Ballerina as she towers above onlookers and engages with them in a kind of conversation to raise the awareness for missing children.
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The ornate doors of the various flagship stores are riveting
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Ahem!
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Life passes by in a blur down Fifth Avenue
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Churches along the way

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When we stepped into a Moti Mahal to dig into creamy malai tikkas …
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Butter naans
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…and butter chicken. You have got to work off all that walking around the city with such rich fare. Also importantly, Adi threw a fit about missing Indian food. Do not mess with a hungry husband.
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Delicious rolls that can whisk in to the alleys of Calcutta. The original Kati Roll company of New York which has established an address in London too.
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Where atmospheric cocktail bars rub shoulders with temples
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Leafy NY neighbourhood
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And when just like that nostalgia makes it way in.