There is such beauty in transition. For example an exceedingly dreary day of rain and colourless skies can make way for a pretty sunset as it did today. The sun set in a flaming ball of fire way faster than I could pound across the pavement to get to it. This is the second time it has happened that it has given me the slip, within a week. I guess I have to time these runs better. But within the matter of a half hour, the skies had changed tune again. This time they graduated to a dirty grey pink that made way for a smoky blue.
The waters that had lapped gently against the mossy breakwaters in a rippling of sheet silver as if adapted to the change of tenor to a blackish-blue tinge. Usually I would have made my way home because it had turned stormy, oh but the hypnotic pull of the waters, the many twinkling lights of the port glittering like jewels against the inky backdrop and the thin strip of vibrant orange as if separating the river from the sky… The leaves of autumn that had arrived late in my part of the world started wafting towards me in fistfuls, glinting golden under the halogen of the street lights, twirling and pirouetting like fluid ballerinas. I was sold. I could not stop running under the stormy skies and the park was all mine apart from the tubby squirrels and a couple of dogs and their masters – the bearded terrier checking out the tiny pooch with perked-up ears and the stance of a tiny brave warrior.
It really was. The kinds you hold to the bosom and say, ‘Oh please do stay, for another day.’ I was indulging in a spot of self-pity which has the tendency to spread itself out like a dab of ink on blotting paper, you know, so I decided to kick it and head out for a run. The legs were a bit wobbly — was it the DayQuil I wondered. It is this medicine that is less potent than its night version, NyQuil, which knocks you out within one hour of popping it in. I trudged even on plain ground and when I ran up and down the gentle slopes I wanted to flop down on the grass with the sprightly squirrels. Naturally I took breaks in between because you have got to listen to the body after all. Yet it was a long run and it feels good now that I am back home, sipping on red wine to welcome Friday the right way, with fairy lights and Diane Lane on the telly.
There were dogs resting with their masters on benches along the river, a boxer who had done a good deal of walking up and down the hills because I ran past him twice, and then a labrador who demanded a cuddle. I had to hold myself back. It’s difficult business being a dog stalker. One little fella tried dragging his owner to a little enclosure where dogs are allowed to go crazy. But the man resisted because he was enjoying his smoke and he knelt and said something to him. I wanted to bop the man on his bald head. He held the poor thing back with all his might. Also, I wondered why they do need to have an enclosure for dogs in a huge park. Should they not be allowed the run of the entire park just like us all?
At one point as I was photographing the sight of the dreamy blue water gleaming across the park, I noticed a chubby squirrel chomping away. But he was watching me and he straightened up on his legs just like a meerkat does when he notices you. I decided to stay away and zoom in as always. Foodies are not to be disturbed in their serious quest for happiness, right?
The perfect end to the run was a cup of cappuccino which was just right. Not too hot, not too strong, for you know there is science to serving the perfect cappuccino. I could write reams upon it but I shall curb such alarming notions and just tell you that it was chased up by a flaming sunset and leaves collected in the fading light of it.
Cooking is such a labour of love. I prepped up the marinade for murgh malai kebabs, basically creamy (malai) melt-in-your-mouth chicken (murgh) kebabs, in the morning because Adi gets back home from Worcester tonight. After a long drive there is nothing that will make him happier than a hot home-cooked meal. He has been toiling away with Indo-Chinese and Thai restaurant meals which by the way he is thoroughly loving, but we have evolved from this couple who lived to eat out to the duo who like to rustle up most meals in the kitchen. You know what’s going into your body and all that. With illnesses in the family, the importance of eating well strikes home harder.
A dull day has progressed into a duller evening so I am watching the trees in the park nod gently while sniffling away. Yes, my immunity to flu is at an all-time low. From priding myself on not contracting a cold easily, this is the second time in two weeks that I have to deal with nostrils that have been chafed thoroughly. Going for a run has been tossed out of the window for the day. Instead it is time for more Diana Gabaldon and her Dragonfly in Amber novel with enough tea to drown my cold in. The woman is a genius. How on earth she conceived of Outlander without stepping anywhere near the Highlands is something that makes me wonder. Also it makes me want to kiss her fingertips. You simply cannot put her books down. Other than writing, I have been pottering around the apartment straightening things up, munching on salad and taking photos to calm the nerves. Fiddling with ornaments at home, it seems, is not a bad thing to keep you from going stir-crazy through creating some autumnal hygge.
You know what works great just after a lengthy run? A cup of coffee with a dash of cinnamon. The sky turned deep blue and I heard the boom and crash of thunder through the music playing in my headphones. Suddenly the dying rays of the sun fell upon a factory, illuminating it and the smoke spewed by a lone chimney, against the smoky backdrop of the sky. It was such a beauteous evening you know, the kind of evening where everything falls in place as you run and feel the brisk air in your hair. The wonky witches upon brooms who smile back at you from their perches upon trees and fences, the macabre lion heads that sit upon wreath-like bodies floating around in tattered shirts upon porches, the sun as it disappears behind a sheath of clouds leaving behind a streak of peach-lavender upon the tranquil waters of the Hudson, the old shop that says Furs by John Keffas and looks quite shut, the old bakery that declares that it has stood there since 1924. Whatever must Bayonne have looked like in the ’20s, you wonder. Did flapper girls walk down these streets looking all posh and hoity toity? I have my doubts but then who knows if one of them stepped into the bakery then and stared greedily at the display window stuffed with cakes that look like they carry a world of sumptuousness within their many layers.
The squirrels have become plumper I notice, elevating their cuteness quotient, and their tails have plumped up accordingly. Adi says they use them to wrap them around their bodies in winter. And lo and behold, today I caught one of them burying nuts in the ground before he scampered away. I zoomed in – because it was engaging, the way he dug with his tiny paws so very furiously and I did not want to scare him away. The result is a blurred photo but I shall take it.
Lately I have been seeing #metoo do the rounds of social media. No I am not about to rant about my experiences because I can really rant and it just uselessly raises my blood pressure even now to think about various incidents in the past. Some things are better left behind I suppose. But in the spirit of it, there was something that bothered me lately. A blogger friend had befriended me on fb and started chatting with me. This was someone who had told me that I was like his daughter. Well, one day the chat took an odd turn and I was hugely discomfited. Now the thing is people know when they are causing discomfort. You know that they know and they know that you shall know it right there and then. It is all about testing out the waters. And I am all for giving someone the benefit of the doubt but I could not for the life of me go with it. I ghosted him. Blocked him from my fb. So yeah, if you are reading this, I would like you to know that I did not accept your friendship request because I wanted to set a honeytrap or because my marriage is a troubled one or that the government supports me in my travels…whatever load of bosh you wrote in your post and which I read. Which by the way vindicated my decision to block you. And this is just to let you know that it is not okay to abuse trust.
Now moving on, I did capture some photos of leaves that I cannot wholly identify. Can you? Are you one of those wonderful tree people who knows sugar maples from beeches and silver maples from elders? Then I would love to know what kind of leaves I photographed today. I often point out trees to Adi when we are driving, identifying them, and he mutters that I am having him on. I have an astute husband. Now I am busy placing the leaves I collected today within the pages of books, waiting for them to turn flat, a deeper shade of yellow and red and pink, and then some of them shall be ready to go on the door outside our apartment. All in the spirit of the season.
During an Easter break in 2015, we arrived at a Victorian cottage called Sunnybank, positioned high above the village of Looe, upon a hilly road. It was in the late hours of night when we reached it and yet we were stumped by the quaint prettiness of the village strung together by festive fairy lights, the sound of the sea in the backdrop crashing against the rocks and emphasising upon the solitude of our cottage. In the morning, we found the windows of the living room opening out to views of the sea one side, and on the other, rows of cottages clinging to the sides of cliffs in a higgledy-piggledy manner. The river Looe split the town into East Looe and West Looe, and while it remained dry for the best part of the day, tidal waters would stream in through an inlet and the boats would start bobbing prettily. On the harbour stood the bronze sculpture of a one-eyed seal called Nelson who had adopted it as home for about 25 years. Here Nelson had lived a full life, entertaining locals with his antics and sunning himself upon the rocks, till he died in 2003.
In the village of Nelson the seal, we were in the more bustling quarter of East Looe. Everyday we would trudge up a steep road to our cottage from the network of streets below — where pubs such as Smugglers Cote and Ye Olde Jolly Sailor livened up things with stories of smuggling and privateering. While sitting at the Smugglers’ Cote one morning, we heard about an old tunnel that was discovered there, which lead all the way to the fishing quay.
A story goes that the landlady of Ye Olde Jolly Sailor hid a contraband keg beneath her petticoats during a sudden raid and knitted away with poise as her quarters were searched. Almost 20 per cent of the government’s excise duty was lost through smuggling and yet the Cornish smuggled away with impunity for the simple reason that they knew that the excise men from London were five days away by stagecoach from Cornwall.
There are no smugglers today though – just shark anglers, who operate on a policy of catching and releasing the shark, and avid crabbers. We did not catch shark angling, but we did notice little girls and their fathers crabbing away at the river while we hunted for ice creams and cakes.
To make the stomach rumble, because that is what holidays are meant for, we had a host of pasty shops to choose from. Bacon, cheese and leek; potato and leek; onion and pickle; steak and stilton… Life is pasty-some in Looe. You could lunch like a miner and feel rum about it. There are a smattering of creperies, Thai restaurants, cafés and bakeries too if you overdo the pasty aspect of the holiday. The idea for us was to eat our way through town and if we felt the need for more (which I always do), there was a bookshop up a hill where the books were beautiful, their pages yellowed by time, and the wonderful welcome smell of nostalgia hitting the right notes as you entered the shop. It was a treasure house of tomes — that old shop. The lady who sat at the till always had time for a natter, sharing notes on out-of-the-way authors like Anne Radcliffe who could infuse her tales with the supernatural effortlessly…why Radcliffe you might ask, because she is not quite popular, is she? Jane Austen poked fun at the tenor of Radcliffe’s Gothic novels in ‘Northanger Abbey’, if you remember. But the lady of the shop had written books on Radcliffe, as it turned out, and I was not about to pull an Austen on her. Plus I had found myself engaged by Radcliffe’s brand of electrifying novels which are difficult to lay aside even for a second.
After days of mooching around the narrow alleys of Looe, exploring the other nearby villages of Polperro, Mevagissey and Fowey, solving puzzles lying around at Sunnybank, on our last night in Looe, we spent time on the sandy stretch of beach beneath a sky riddled with stars. Here smugglers would have unloaded their contraband goods decades ago. Off its coast stood the dark outline of Looe Island where goods used to be discreetly dumped too. I could picture it. The silhouette of a ship as it pulled in with 400-500 men on board – but mooring a little away from the shore. Then smaller boats would have been sent out to the beach with booties of brandy, rum and gin, men scurrying nimbly to get their goods under the cover of the night. And to the fervent mind came Rudyard Kipling’s ‘A Smuggler’s Song’:
If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.
Keeping in theme with the tone of the guest post on Seville by Sophie, I thought of my Andalusian adventures that kicked off from Málaga, the Andalusian port city of Spain, that lies across the tip of Africa. It was February and yet the heat, oh it was blistering. Ir ran along the lines of an Indian summer that tends to sear the mind and the soul. The day we landed in Málaga, the city was enveloped in a haze that was a curious shade of jaundice yellow. It is a common feature there in Málaga – the desert wind, Calima, blows in from the great Sahara Desert bringing with it poor visibility and high temperatures. During the course of the next few days, the haze gradually lifted but the heat, boy it was a stunner.
Now Málaga is the underrated cousin of the Spanish biggies, Madrid and Barcelona, and I do not know why because it has infallible charm. Walking in the shadow of the grandiose Alcazaba, the towering cathedral and the baños (Arab baths), the imagination tends to be overwhelmed by tales of the Moors, that mixed race of Berbers and Arabs who crossed over from North Africa and occupied Andalucia for seven centuries. But ancient Iberians, Phoenicians and the Romans were here too and you see the strange confluence of cultures in its many alleys.
My first impression of Málaga was formed by the sight of the many palms that line one of its main avenues. Those trees bring upon me a wave of nostalgia for things left far behind in the past – hazy memories of the desert city that I was born in. A glorious park, the Parque de la Alameda, was my refuge from the heat of the morning with its green surroundings filled with exotic plants procured from five continents. It was but a paean to man’s potential for creating beauty from zilch. You see, the park was created on reclaimed land.
Sauntering down one of Málaga’s busy streets, I chanced upon an imposing horseshoe archway. The Ataranzas. A market for fresh produce and paella. Ah, now I could not leave it alone, could I? There is something alluring about the mercados of Spain. Be it in Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga or even a small place like Zaragoza. Is it an old-world charm, you wonder, with vendors and customers exchanging notes over fresh meat, seafood, vegetable and fruits? A plethora of colour for as far as the eye can see beneath the warm lighting of the market hall. My nose led me into a massive hall that was once a shipyard (in Arabic it is Ataranzas) with seven grand arches. Only one of those arches remain and it was the one that had lured me in.
A shipyard in the middle of the city, you might ask dubiously? Things were different till around the 18th century. The sea reached till where I was walking a while ago – on the streets around the present-day market. Once fishermen would have sat along the walls of the former shipyard and trawled the waters for the catch of the day. Apart from housing a shipyard, the Ataranzas had many avataars. Convent, military fort, hospital and subsequently a medical school. So many stories, so many memories, all embedded within its walls. Now only if those walls could speak, the tales that might tumble out.
This was just the start to my extensive rambles around the city, and lest I lull you into a sound sleep, I shall retire till my next post on Málaga.
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.